Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Four Hundred : Five days later

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Five days later
Wednesday morning — 8:12 A.M.

Humming to herself, Ivy came around the corner from the stairs and into the kitchen. Jacob was sitting at the kitchen table. She stopped short when Jacob looked up at her.

“Oh, sorry,” Ivy said.

“Sorry?” Jacob asked with a smile.

“I didn’t mean to disturb you,” Ivy said. “I thought you were upstairs.”

“I thought I was the only one here,” Jacob said.

Ivy giggled uncomfortably.

“Can I get you some breakfast?” Jacob asked.

Ivy looked at the table and was surprised not to see the remnants of many bowls of Capt’n Crunch with Crunchberries. Noticing her eyes, Jacob shrugged.

“I haven’t gotten there yet,” Jacob said. “Can I make you some eggs? Cereal?”

He gave her a long look.

“I have no idea what you eat for breakfast,” Jacob said.

“You’re usually at work by the time I get up,” Ivy said.

Jacob nodded.

“How come you’re not at work?” Ivy asked.

“Why am I not at work?”

Jacob gave a mild correction. Ivy nodded. She’d asked everyone to help her “stop sounding like a hick.”

“Why aren’t you at work?” Ivy asked with a smile and a nod.

“I kind of got the sack,” Jacob said.

“Oh,” Ivy said.

She looked at the ground for a moment before looking back at him. She tried to scan him for his meaning.

“Don’t scan me,” Jacob said, irritably. “Use your language.”

“What if you get mad?” Ivy asked in a whisper. “I mean, most adults don’t like nosey kids.”

“I have a particular fondness for nosey kids,” Jacob said with a smile.

“Oh,” Ivy said. “What’s ‘get the sack’ mean?”

“Technically, it means that I was fired,” Jacob said.

“Were you fired?” Ivy asked with a gasp.

“Not really,” Jacob said.

“Then, why are you home?” Ivy asked more insistently.

“There are a lot of answers to that question,” Jacob said. He got up from the table and went into the kitchen. He started taking things out of the refrigerator. “I’m at home because, at this moment, I don’t have anything else to do. Delphie asked if I could take you to your appointment and I agreed.”

“But you always have lots to do,” Ivy said.

She went into the kitchen to watch him cook. He turned on the burner to a small cast iron pan before giving her two eggs, a small bowl, and a fork. She proceeded to crack the eggs and scramble them. He chopped some green onions, broccoli, and spinach. When she set the eggs down, he saw her honest curiosity.

“I have a kind of break in the action,” Jacob said. “I was living this one life, and it just came to an end. Nothing bad. No one’s mad, and certainly, I can continue doing what I was doing. It’s just that it’s time to move on.”

Jacob nodded. He put the eggs in the warm cast iron pan.

“Would you like some cheese?” Jacob asked.

“I don’t like cheese,” Ivy said.

“Good to know,” Jacob said. He was silent for a moment while he cooked. “So, I went from being super, extra, way too busy to having nothing to do.”

Jacob nodded to Ivy. He slipped the vegetables into the omelet and put it on a plate.

“Can I have toast?” Ivy asked.

“Sure,” Jacob said. “I thought you were an expert at toast.”

“I don’t usually get the bread out,” Ivy said.

“Seize the day!” Jacob said, and Ivy giggled.

She got the foot stool and opened the bread cabinet. They went through so much bread here that it didn’t need to be refrigerated. She took out a bag of sliced sourdough bread.

“I feel like that,” Ivy said as she put the bread in the toaster.

“Like what?” Jacob asked.

He gestured for her to put the bread back. She blushed at his reminder and put the bag of bread back into the cabinet. She put the footstool away for good measure.

“I had this whole life, you know,” Ivy said. “Mom died, and Dad died. Then me and my grandmother spent all our free time looking for Aunt Delphie. We had a lot of adventures. Then she died, and I was out on the streets. Then everything …”

Ivy got down the butter dish from the counter next to the refrigerator. Sarah, the yellow lab, and Buster, the ugly dog, showed up when the toast began to smell like food. Jacob shoed them out of the way. When the dogs were insistent, he put them out in backyard.

“Now it’s just over,” Ivy said. “Over. Bam. It’s like dying.”

Jacob gave Ivy a long look.

“I have this new life,” Ivy said as she buttered her toast. “I mean, it’s great, really. I’m not complaining. And if everything hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be here. And I belong here. I know I do. And I know this is my life. It’s just that I had all of this big, heavy stuff, and now all of the sudden it’s all gone.”

Ivy fell silent as she took a bite of toast.

“You’re in a gap,” Jacob said.

Ivy nodded.

“Me, too,” Jacob said. “I can pick up a lot of things — play with the kids, work in my rehabilitation business, hang out with Jill, take a class, travel, play golf, fishing, really anything …”

“But that’s just filling the gap,” Ivy said. Still holding the butter knife, she made a gesture like she was stuffing a bag full of stuff. “It’s like — ‘I have an empty bag so I should steal some stuff.’”

“So you don’t have an empty bag,” Jacob said.

“Uh-huh,” Ivy said. “I could paint, but that’s Noelle’s thing. I could dance, but that’s really Sissy’s thing. I could be an actress like Valerie or an interior designer like Jill or a hair stylist like Sandy or a fortune teller like Delphie or … But that’s their thing, you know. I’d just be stealing from them.”

“Exactly,” Jacob said. “That’s very astute.”

“Astute?” Ivy said. “What’s that mean?”

“Perceptive,” Jacob said. “Smart with an edge of being able to see things other people can’t.”

“That’s me,” Ivy said with a nod. “I’m astute.”

Jacob grinned at her confident nod. He carried her plate to the table. She brought her toast. He poured himself a cup of coffee, doctored it efficiently, and returned to the table with his coffee and a glass of milk for her. They sat in silence for a moment while she ate and he drank his coffee.

“So what do we do?” Ivy asked.

“I’m not sure,” Jacob said. “That’s why I was sitting here.”

Ivy nodded. She finished her breakfast and leaned back.

“Can I sit here with you?” Ivy asked.

Jacob turned his head to look at her.

“We can share the gap,” Ivy said.

“I’d like that,” Jacob said. “We have to get to your therapy appointment in a few minutes.”

“I know,” Ivy said. “I was being meta-phor-ical.”

Jacob’s eyes flicked to her.

“It’s my word for the day,” Ivy said. “It means: relating to the characteristic of or comprising of a metaphor. You know what a metaphor is?”

Jacob nodded, and she smiled. They sat together for a few minutes — he drinking coffee, she drinking milk. When the time came, they got up. As if to hold their place in the gap, Jacob left his coffee mug and her milk glass on the table.


Wednesday afternoon — 2:15 P.M.
New York City, New York

Ivan kissed the top of Sissy’s head and got up from the daybed near the window in the living space. Since the trial was over, Charlie, Dale, and Giovanni had started exploring the city in the afternoons giving Sissy and Ivan some time to themselves. Sissy spent the mornings working on school. After their noon cardio session, she most afternoons on this daybed in the sun. Ivan read novels by her side.

“How did you like having Melinda help us this morning?” Ivan asked.

He went to the bookshelf to take down the book he was currently reading.

“She’s really great,” Sissy said. “I liked the way she worked with Charlie. She got him to really move, but not to get injured.”

“She teaches not pushing to injury,” Ivan said with a nod.

“How was it for you?” Sissy asked. “She was your student, but today, she was our teacher.”

“I am no teacher now,” Ivan said. “I’ve been so lucky not to have an injury like this when I was in my prime. I have much to learn about being injured and helping those who are injured. There are so many injured. I believe this will be my next field of exploration.”

Sissy smiled. He’d been very gracious about getting help. She knew that if she ever returned to ballet, she would have to embody this kind of graciousness. It just didn’t come naturally to her. He sat down on the edge of the bed.

“How are you, my darling?” Ivan asked.

“Good,” Sissy said with a smile. “Happy.”

“And with everything?” Ivan asked.

“I’m glad the trial is over,” Sissy said. “He’s in prison for the rest of his life. The guy who financed everything is basically dead. I’m getting better. You’re getting better. We’ll be dancing soon.”

“Do you miss your family? Your home?” Ivan asked.

Sissy sat up to look at him.

“What is all of this?” Sissy asked.

Ivan gave her a soft smile and shrugged. She scowled to encourage him to answer.

“Things for us have moved quickly since the trial ended on Friday,” Ivan said. He lifted a shoulder. “The celebration Friday night and everything it led to Saturday’s party, our nights together, Sunday’s amazing brunch in the park, and … I just wondered if you …”

“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier,” Sissy said.

“But …” Ivan started.

Sissy shook her head and reached out to him. He took her hand. For a moment, they just looked at each other.

“Are you happy?” Sissy asked.

“Very,” Ivan said.

“That’s all you need to know,” Sissy said and leaned back. He opened his mouth to ask again, but she cut him off, “Tell me about your first time.”

He laughed. Setting the book on the daybed, he walked toward the kitchen.

“My first time?” Ivan asked from the kitchen. “I don’t remember much about it to be truthful. Like you, I was an apprentice at a large company. I was the only heterosexual male in my year and the year or two above and below me.”

He turned on the electric kettle for tea.

“First time, the second time, or even the twentieth time.” Ivan shrugged. “I was twelve or maybe thirteen. It just happened.”

“Charlie’s was like that,” Sissy said.

“Yes,” Ivan said. “Same situation. Lots of girls wanting to explore, almost no boys to fill their needs. It’s good odds.”

Ivan gave her a dashing smile, and Sissy grinned at him.

“Did I ever tell you about my first time playing the Prince in the Nutcracker?” Ivan asked.

“I don’t think so,” Sissy said.

Expecting a good story, she sat up a bit. He was silent as he put together a snack of nuts, cheese, and fruit. He debated whether to have the fresh croissants Giovanni had left for them. He set one on the tray with a knife before responding.

“I was, oh, I don’t know, eighteen, maybe just nineteen?” Ivan shrugged. He took the loose black tea from the cabinet. “The director came to me and asked if I could dance the part. The company director had insisted that they spice up the performance with ‘new blood.’ He had me demonstrated my ability with one of the ballerinas. Like most male roles, it’s not a very challenging part. I performed it easily. He sent the ballerina away.”

Ivan poured hot water from the faucet into the teapot to warm it.

“I had never been alone with the man,” Ivan said. He spooned tea into the teapot’s screen. “I didn’t know if he preyed on boys such as me. It was always a risk, especially in communist Russia. It was a very repressed place. Lots of young men were assaulted in secret. There was no one you could tell. No one to help. I saw this happen to other boys. Heartbreaking.”

Ivan glanced at Sissy to see if she was still listening. She nodded at his attention.

“He says to me, ‘Are you a pidarast?’” Ivan said in a gruff voice. Shifting to his own voice, he explained, “That is a very horrible term for someone who is homosexual. It is a horrible thing to say to any male. I was terrified he would assault me or kick me out and all of my dreams would be gone. I was so nervous I couldn’t answer.

“‘Speak up boy.’ He bullied me, really. I finally shook my head. He asked if I was sure and I nodded. So he says, ‘I can tell that you are a virgin,’ which as I said, I was not. ‘The prince is supposed to be worldly. No matter what the director says, I won’t have some virgin as my prince.’ I tried to tell him, but he didn’t believe me. He sent me back to my quarters.

“I was very upset. I sat on my little cot for a long time trying to decide what to do. Should I leave? Is he going to assault me so that I fit what he wanted? I didn’t eat or practice. I only worried. This director was powerful, influential. If I got on his bad side, that would be it for me and my career. I had seen him do it to other people. After dinner, he arrived in my room.”

Sissy gasped, and Ivan nodded.

“He said, ‘We have to get you tra-khat,’ which is like ‘fucked’ or sometimes ‘raped,’” Ivan said.

“What did you do?” Sissy asked.

“I tried to protest, but he was insistent,” Ivan said. “I told myself that being the Prince, my first lead part, was worth anything that happened. I had come this far. I would endure whatever sadistic thing he had planned.”

The electric kettle clicked off indicating the water was ready. Ivan poured out the warm water from the teapot. He set the screen filled with black tea into the teapot and filled the pot. When he looked at Sissy again, he saw that she was suffering from not knowing the end of his story. He came over to kiss her.

“Don’t worry, my love,” Ivan said.

“What did you do?” Sissy asked again.

“What could I do? I went with him,” Ivan said. “We took a limousine to a private club. In communist Russia, a private club could be anything from an expensive restaurant to a sex club. I went in, and he said, ‘Take your pick and get it done.’ We were in a brothel. Ten or so women came to talk with me. I caught the eye of the madam. She pushed the other girls away and took me in the back. I found the entire thing repugnant, but she was …”

Ivan shrugged.

“Lovely,” Ivan said with a shrug. “She was near sixty years old, very experienced. She spent all night with me and invited me back. We had a relationship for six months or so. She would send a car for me, and I would spend the night with her. The director, really everyone, was envious. She tired of me after a while, which was just as well for me. You see she’d told me the truth about my sister, but I didn’t believe her. I thought it was just a lie said by a woman who lied for a living. We never spoke honestly about my feelings; I’m not sure I was capable of such a conversation then. As it was, I was relieved when she was done with me. You know, when I went to the gulag, one of my charges was cavorting with a prostitute. All those years later, her six-month distraction with me still meant something to some people.”

Ivan shook his head. He carried a tray with their tea and snack onto a small table by the bed. Sissy scooted to the side of the bed to sit up.

“The director was satisfied,” Ivan said with a shrug. “And I danced the Nutcracker and many ballets after that.”

Sissy grinned at him, and he smiled.

“Bruno told me, one day out of the blue, that she tried right after I was and put to death,” Ivan said. “Crimes against the state or, more likely, knowing about crimes against the state. They asked her if she had any regrets, she said she regretted not being able to say good-bye to me.”

“Wow,” Sissy said.

Ivan nodded.

“Do you still want to go to Russia this summer?” Sissy asked. “Find your sister’s grave?”

“I haven’t thought about it,” Ivan said. “I remember talking about it in the car that day. That seems like a very long time ago.”

“Maybe we could look up your madam friend’s grave,” Sissy said. “Just to say good-bye.”

Ivan gave her a soft smile.

“Let’s see how well we heal,” Ivan said. “All that is dead is buried. It will wait for us.”

She smiled at him.

“You have the most beautiful smile,” Ivan said. “I could live forever in your smile.”

She leaned forward, and he kissed her.

“Now, rest up, my love,” Ivan said. “We have another workout this evening, and I promise it will not be as much fun as this morning.”

Sissy lay back on the day bed. He sat next to her to read his book and drink his tea. As the day aged, Sissy thought about his story. She’d been so lucky to have him as her teacher. She could have had the same trouble. Smiling, she was sure she’d never been as happy as she was at this moment. She glanced at Ivan only to find that he was looking at her.

Laying on the day bed in the sun, Sissy felt as if she could see her future along a road paved with happiness. She sighed. Thank God, these dark days were over, at least for now.


Wednesday afternoon —4:35 P.M.
Denver, Colorado

Blane pulled up to the Marlowe School and waited for Tink. They used to go in the school to get her, but recently she’d said that she was kind of embarrassed to be picked up inside. Most of the kids Tink’s age drove themselves to school. Since Tink didn’t have a driver’s license, and didn’t want one, they’d agreed to meet her outside if she picked up Mack and Wyn. She agreed to get the younger kids.

As four thirty became four forty, Blane wondered if they’d made the right choice to let Tink meet him outside. She’d stayed late at school today to work on a group history project. This was her first school project, so Blane was understandably nervous. How would the kids like her? Would she fit in well? Now that the trial was over, Blane hoped she could settle into being a normal teenager.

“Sorry,” Tink said as she opened the back door of the car.

“Dada!” Mack said with a squeal. “Hi! Dada!”

Blane got out and helped her wrestle a wiggly Mack and a sleeping Wyn into car seats. A few minutes later, Tink was sitting in the passenger seat and Blane behind the wheel.

“Where’s Heather?” Tink asked.

“She had to go,” Blane said.

“To Olympia?” Tink asked. “Now?”

“She thought that since the trial was over, you’d be okay,” Blane said.

Tink fell into a moody silence. Blane gave the girl a worried look before pulling out of the spot and starting toward Tanesha and Jeraine’s home, where they were staying.

“Are you all right?” Blane asked once they were underway.

“Why did she have to go now?” Tink asked.

Mack babbled an answer and Blane looked at him in the rearview mirror.

“We were pretty lucky, you know,” Blane said. “She could have had to go last week when she was at the trial with you.”

“I know, it’s just that …” Tink said.

Tink looked at Blane and shook her head.

“What don’t I understand?” Blane asked.

“I’m just starting my new life!” Tink said. “New kids. I mean this project and …”

Tink shook her head.

“What’s happened?” Blane asked.

“Nothing,” Tink said. “That’s the point. It’s time for happy life and Heather’s gone!”

Grinning, Blane turned onto Colorado Boulevard.

“Don’t laugh,” Tink said. “I’m totally serious. The jerk’s going to be in prison for the rest of his life and then some. And, I get to get on with the rest of my life.”

Tink smiled at Blane.

“It’s over!” Tink said in a singsong voice. “And I get to live the happy life.”

Blane shook his head at her, and she sighed.

“I miss her terribly when she’s gone,” Blane said.

“Me, too,” Tink said. “You know who doesn’t?”

“Who?” Blane asked.

“M-A-C-K,” Tink spelled out his name so the little boy wouldn’t know they were talking about him.

“Why do you think that is?” Blane asked.

“I think she visits,” Tink said. “WE can’t see it because we’re too old. But M-A-C-K still sees her every day. Wyn will probably too.”

Blane smiled.

“That seems pretty good to me,” Blane said.


“Because it means she’s around,” Blane said. “Even if we can’t see her.”

Tink shook her head and fell silent again.

“I just miss her,” Tink said as Blane pulled up in front of the house.

“Me too,” Blane said.

“Any idea how long she’ll be gone?” Tink asked as she grabbed her stuff.

“Time’s different in Olympia so there’s no way to know,” Blane said.

Tink gave a grim nod. She got Wyn from his car seat and followed Blane, with Mack walking by his side, inside.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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