Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Three Hundred and Ninety-eight : Presentation

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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND NINETY-EIGHT

Thursday morning — 6:35 a.m.

Ivy stood in front of the full-length mirror hung on the closet in her small, warm bedroom, just off Delphie’s apartment kitchen. A small girl, her body took up only the bottom portion of the mirror. The reflection of her twin bed with its purple comforter and her violet dresser hung in the mirror a halo over her head.

Ivy tugged on her shiny purple dressy vest. Much to Ivy’s surprise, the garment was too small. So were the shiny dark purple shoes she’d planned to wear to court. Her skirt barely covered her rear end now. She grimaced at herself.

She knew she’d been growing. She’d just planned on wearing these clothes because Honey had given these clothes to Ivy when she first came to live with Delphie. Ivy loved Honey. Plus, Honey knew exactly how Ivy felt because Honey had been through an awful trial. Ivy was sure that these clothes would give her the strength to get through her stupid victim’s statement.

Ivy tugged on the skirt. It inched down. As soon as she let go, the skirt popped back up to show her underwear. For a moment, she wondered if Delphie had shrunk her clothes in the washer.

Truth be told, Delphie wasn’t much of a housekeeper and not a great caretaker. Delphie loved Ivy completely. She loved all the good and every inch of the bad, angry, resentful, mean Ivy. Delphie was there for Ivy any moment Ivy needed her, even if Delphie was doing something else or it was the middle of the night. Delphie just wasn’t very good at the laundry or keeping the house clean. And her casseroles could scorch paint off metal, at least that’s what Jacob said.

Ivy flashed a smile at the joke before she scowled at her clothing problem.

How did she get so tall? Why was this happening? She went over to the door jamb where she measured herself. She backed up to the trim and held her hand over the top of her head. Scooting out from under her hand, she took a look. She was now an inch taller than her careful figuring of how tall her grandmother had been. She was almost as tall as the mark she’d made for her Aunt Gracie the last time Aunt Gracie was in town on leave. Ivy was still shorter than Delphie, but definitely catching up.

“You’re healthy,” Aunt Gracie had said when Ivy told her about growing so tall. “You’re happy. I can’t think of a better thing.”

Ivy stood in the mirror and wondered the question she was afraid to ask anyone.

What if she blew the whole case because she’d grown so much? Because she was so happy?

She should be miserable after what those guys did to her. And sometimes, she felt miserable. Delphie stayed with her when she’d cried all night after seeing the guy again. Sometimes, she got so scared that her whole body shook. More than once, she’d woken up screaming in terror. Delphie was right there with tea and warm love.

But sometimes, Ivy laughed and laughed. Sometimes, she and Noelle made a sheet tent in Delphie’s living room and gossiped about boys until long after bedtime. Sometimes, she spun in circles with Katy and Paddie until they all fell over. Sometimes, she played dress up with Noelle, Katy, and Tink with Ms. Valerie’s expensive gowns. Sometimes, she and Charlie played competitive Solitaire. And sometimes, Charlie was the Pan, and the Pan always let Ivy win.

Sometimes, Ivy sat on Mr. Sam’s lap. Mr. Sam had a really nice lap that seemed to help her when she was sad or feeling stupid or small and invisible. She’d climb up on Mr. Sam’s lap, and he would hold her there until she felt better. She always felt better after being on Mr. Sam’s lap.

Sometimes, Ivy even forgot all about what those guys did to her and how she almost died and how they beat her and raped her and made her feel like it was all her fault. Sometimes, she forgot that her dad died in Iraq and how cancer made her gran fade away. She even forgot that Auntie Gracie was in terrible danger on active duty in some stupid war.

Sometimes, all of the bad stuff felt like it was over.

Sometimes, Ivy was happy, really happy.

What if the judge and jury looked at her and thought — “This happy girl is so silly. She wasn’t hurt! She didn’t suffer at all! She’s making the whole thing up.”

Ivy was sure that she was going to ruin everything.

“Stupid,” Ivy said to herself and tugged on the vest again.

“Who’s stupid?” Honey’s voice came from the door. “You’d better not be talking about my friend, Ivy, or we’re going to rumble.”

Ivy jerked toward the sound. Honey was sitting in the doorway in her sport wheelchair.

“Honey!” Ivy yelled at the top of her lungs.

Valerie’s baby Jackie squawked with surprise on the other side of the wall. Ivy blushed. Honey held out her arms and Ivy threw herself at Honey. Even though she was not such a little girl anymore, she still fit in Honey’s wheelchair. Honey kissed Ivy’s honey blonde hair.

“Whoa!” Honey said as she saw Ivy’s underwear reflected in the mirror. “That skirt is too short.”

“I know!” Ivy said. “Isn’t it awful?”

Ivy stood up and turned around to show Honey.

“We need to go shopping,” Honey said.

“I have school!” Ivy said.

“Luckily, we’ll have time after work,” Honey said.

“Work?” Ivy asked. “Wait, why are you here? I thought they were going to do some and you were going to walk again.”

“Turns out that the magic is not so instantaneous,” Honey said.

“What’s that mean?” Ivy asked.

“It takes a while to make it all happen,” Honey said.

“Why didn’t you stay in New York?” Ivy asked. “Sissy showed me the apartment when we talked. It’s really great. She said there’s a Chef named ‘Giovanni.’ He takes care of everything and he’s cute. Pretty nice.”

“It is amazing,” Honey said. “But …”

Honey shrugged.

“This is my life,” Honey said. “Plus, I wanted to be here for your big day. I really couldn’t miss that.”

Ivy hugged Honey again. When she pulled back, Ivy had tears in her eyes.

“Did you hear that I got a big promotion?” Honey asked to keep Ivy from crying.

“Um-hm!” Ivy said with a nod.

“Maggie and I thought we’d come home and see what was what,” Honey said. “Plus, I wanted to have time to spend with my brave friend while she does this really hard thing.”

“When’s MJ coming home?” Ivy asked.

“This weekend,” Honey said.

“And Maggie?” Ivy asked.

“She’s next door playing with Valerie and Jackie,” Honey said. “MJ can’t really take her to work.”

Ivy laughed at the idea of MJ taking their baby to his military training. Honey grinned at Ivy.

“How are you holding up?” Honey asked.

“Okay,” Ivy said. “But …”

Ivy looked up to see Delphie standing behind Honey. Delphie hugged Ivy and kissed her cheek before wandering into their kitchen.

“But?” Honey asked.

“I’ve been pretty happy,” Ivy said in a low voice. “I mean, not happy about what happened or anything.”

As if she’d explained everything, Ivy nodded. Honey gave a little shake of her head to indicate she didn’t know what Ivy was talking about.

“If he’s going to get his worst sentence, don’t you think I should be in bad shape?” Ivy asked keeping her voice low. “You know, like I haven’t ever been happy not at all or anything because of what he did?”

“I know what you mean,” Honey said in the same conspiratorial tone. “I felt like that.”

Ivy gave Honey a sincere nod.

“And honestly, I don’t really know,” Honey said. “If you were really sick or in the mental hospital like that one girl, maybe he would get a worse sentence, but you’re talking a few more years. He’s not going to live long enough to get out of prison so what do a few more years matter?”

Ivy nodded.

“And where would you be?” Honey asked. “I wouldn’t have married MJ. We wouldn’t have our Maggie. I wouldn’t be getting my big promotion because I’d have had to start from scratch after the trial, rather than working with Bambi this whole time. I wouldn’t even have done a year and a half of college!”

Honey shrugged.

“It’s not worth it,” Honey said. “He’s not worth it.”

“Are you sure?” Ivy asked.

“Positive,” Honey said. “Plus, if you were in the mental hospital you wouldn’t be able to help me make waffles.”

“Waffles?” Ivy brightened. “How come?”

“We’re celebrating how lucky we are,” Honey said.

“Lucky?” Ivy asked.

“We get a chance to be together,” Honey said. “That’s pretty fabulous.”

“Yes it is!” Ivy said. She jumped up and down with excitement.

“Why don’t you get changed and I’ll get started?” Honey asked.

“Okay!” Ivy said.

Honey wheeled out of Ivy’s doorway and Ivy shut the door. Delphie mouthed “Thanks” and Honey smiled.

“See you at breakfast!” Honey said.

Grinning, Honey left the apartment. Mike was standing outside of the door to help her downstairs. Once down, she started on the waffles. Soon, the coffee was going; the waffles were baking; and the morning was underway.

~~~~~~~~

Thursday morning — 8:35 a.m.

“Are you ready, my love?” Ivan asked.

Sissy nodded. She wore a large light pink shirt with a boat neck wide enough to show her thin, white shoulder. She wore her pink knee length practice skirt. She had put on her toes shoes and favorite pink tights. Her long hair was up in a classic knot. She sat in a high backed wooden chair in the middle of the workout area. There was a green screen behind her. Ivan was looking into the digital video camera on a tall tripod. Charlie and Dale were sitting at his feet. They were taping her victim’s statement. Giovanni’s head flashed in the open doorway.

“Can I bring you anything before you start?” Giovanni asked.

“I just want to get it over with,” Sissy said. “Charlie has to do his, too.”

Charlie nodded. They had to finish their videos early this morning so they could go to some video guy Ivan knew. Ivan had insisted that the videos be as professional as possible. Sissy and Charlie were stars. Everything they did should be treated as such. Ivan walked to her. When it was done, this video should look like a short film. He tucked a loose hair behind her ear. He lightly touched her chin before stepping back.

“How do I look?” Sissy asked.

“Beautiful,” Ivan said at the same time Charlie said, “Fine.”

Sissy nodded. Charlie fidgeted in a way that showed that he was in pain. Ivan put his hands on Charlie’s shoulder. After years of teaching ballet, Ivan was skilled at relieving pain with his hands. After a brief moment, Charlie sighed.

“We go to banya when we’re done,” Ivan said.

He patted Charlie’s shoulder. Charlie looked up at Ivan with a fondness that made Sissy smile. Ivan nodded to Dale. Ivan went behind the camera.

“Are you ready, my love?” Ivan repeated.

Sissy nodded. For the briefest moment, she thought she’d forgotten the statement she’d been up all night memorizing. Her panicked eyes flicked to Ivan. He smiled. In his smile, she saw the strength of his belief in her and the memory of it all — dying on the sidewalk, the screaming ballerina, his statement that he was her husband, her father coming, Sandy’s demand that her soul return to this body, their fight for their lives, Olympia, watching the vignettes of his life, and the sprinklers watering the freshly turned gardens in the Castle backyard. Like a slideshow, the images flashed in front of her eyes. Ivan nodded, and Sissy took a breath.

“My name is Mitzi Delgado,” Sissy said. “Everyone calls me ‘Sissy.’”

She gave the camera a bright smile.

“Not so long ago, I was shot by a man you paid to kill me and my sister, Noelle, to keep my brother from testifying,” Sissy said. “A minute before the bullets left the handgun, I was an up and coming ballerina. I had a contract at a prestigious ballet company in New York City, a dream I had worked my entire life to achieve. I’d overcome the death of my father to an Agent Orange related illness. I’d survived a horrible eating disorder. I’d risen above my mother’s mind bending mental illness. All through it, I’d worked and worked and worked to transform myself into a ballerina.”

Sissy took such a large breath that her entire body moved.

“All of that vanished the moment the bullets struck my body,” Sissy said. “I will never be the ballerina I once was.”

Sissy gave the camera a sad smile.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen for me,” Sissy said. “I know how to work, so it’s likely that I’ll keep working to be a ballerina. But the truth is that one phase of my life is over. My next phase has yet to start.”

Sissy nodded

“While my next phase is a mystery, I do know what will happen next for you,” Sissy said. “You will go to prison where you’ll live out the rest of life.”

Sissy touched her chest.

“From my heart to yours, I hope it’s not too awful,” Sissy said. “I hope the sun will shine on your face. I hope you’ll have time to think and read. I hope your tortured heart has time to heal.”

Sissy smiled.

“You’re probably wondering why I want these positive things for you,” Sissy said.

She gave the camera a long look before pulling off the shirt. She wore a peach colored lace bandeau top that cover her breasts. Lifting her left arm, she pulled off the bandages from her injured side. Her left side still had a drainage tube. There were long red stripes of scars and dots of red scars where the ER doctors had stapled her back together. There were indented spaces where she no longer had ribs.

“You will be with me for the rest of my life,” Sissy said. “There won’t be a day when you are separate from me. For better or for worse, your desire to avoid punishment married you to me and me to you.”

She nodded.

“I will carry you with me for the rest of my life,” Sissy gave the camera a sad smile. “Every time I look at myself in the mirror, I’ll see your handy work. Every time I attempt to dance, I’ll feel the clench of your selfish actions. Every time I take a breath …”

Sissy tried to take a full breath. She started to cough. Dale ran forward with her oxygen. For a full minute, she struggled to breathe. She pointed to the face mask and nodded.

“What impact has this had on my life? All I can say is that it’s changed everything,” Sissy said with a nod. “You are now a part of my body and my life.”

Sissy paused for a moment. She took a breath from the oxygen mask before pulling it away again.

“I will never be free of you,” Sissy said. “So I want good things for you because I want to hope that there is hope that good things might happen for me.”

She squinted her eyes and gave a quick shake of her head.

“I will never be free of you,” she repeated.

She put the oxygen mask over her mouth again and continued looking at the camera. After a few moments, Ivan shut off the camera. When she looked, Charlie and Dale were wiping away tears. Ivan gave her a sad smile.

“How did I do?” Sissy asked.

Unsure of what to say, the men simply nodded. Sissy nodded and got up from her seat.

“Your turn!” Sissy said with a laugh.

“Let’s take a break,” Ivan said. “From the smell of it, Giovanni is removing some delectable creation out of the oven.”

With his words, Charlie got up and hugged Sissy. The two clung to each other while Dale and Ivan made their way to the kitchen. After a moment, Charlie pulled back. They walked arm in arm to the kitchen.

~~~~~~~~

Thursday midday — 12:05 p.m.

Nicole stood at the side of the small stage in the Marlowe School Auditorium. The principal, Mrs. Siegle, was talking about their first week of school. The kids were happy and excited because they knew something special was going to happen. Photographers with long lens stood along the back of the auditorium.

“I want you to imagine for a moment,” Mrs. Siegle said. “Your parents have died or quite possibly abandoned you because they cannot feed you. You’re three years old or ten years old or even sixteen years old. Your entire life consists of trying to find food, shelter, warmth …”

Mrs. Siegle looked out across the audience.

“Then someone comes to you,” Mrs. Siegle said. “They tell you that all you there’s work out west. They tell you that you can work in a factory or on a farm. They tell you that you will be fed, clothed, and cared for. What would you say?”

The auditorium was silent.

“Yes!” Katy said at the top of her lungs. The rest of the children followed with a general cheerful “yes.”

“Exactly right,” Mrs. Siegle said. “The Orphan Train relocated thousands of children, possibly as many as a million, from the cities of the east to the farms and factories here in the West.”

Pictures of children on the Orphan Train flashed on the screen behind her.

“As you may have heard, something special happened this week,” Mrs. Siegle said. “Our students Patrick Hargreaves, Katherine Roper-Marlowe, and their friend Noelle Norsen learned that one of these Orphan Trains derailed right behind the school.”

Mrs. Siegle gestured behind her, and an image of the train track behind the school appeared on the large screen.

“This week, three of our students discovered that there had been a train derailment behind our school,” Mrs. Siegle said, giving the official story. “Unable let such a big even go unnoticed …”

“Because of the ghosts!” a boy’s voice came from the middle of the crowd.

There was a general titter of laughter among the kids. Mrs. Siegle waited for them to settle down.

“Our very own, Noelle Norsen, Katherine Roper-Marlowe, and Patrick Hargreaves …”

“Yay Paddie!” an Irish accented male voice yelled from the back.

“ … decided to honor these children with a truly incredible work of art,” Mrs. Siegle said. “Now, I would take each of you there, but the space is too small. Instead, one of our local news stations has spent the morning videotaping the memorial. Let me tell you. It’s incredible. We have our own Sistine Chapel.”

“Noelle? Katy? Paddie?” Mrs. Siegle asked.

Noelle, Katy, and Paddie went up to stand with the principal.

“From what I understand, Noelle had the inspiration and did much of the creative work,” Mrs. Siegle said.

“We drew in some of it,” Paddie belted out.

Unable to contain himself, he jumped up and down. Katy did a few jumps so he wouldn’t look weird.

“It’s beautiful,” Mrs. Siegle said. “Noelle?”

She gave Noelle the microphone.

“We’ll play the video and you can tell us all about it,” Mrs. Siegle said.

“Um …” Noelle thought she was going to pass out. She took a breath but was too panicked to speak. Her eyes flicked around until they caught Teddy’s. His eyes were focused only on her. Nash was sitting next to Teddy and he was mouthing her first words.

“I wanted to say first that we felt really badly for these kids,” Noelle said. “They died so far away from their homes and their families. We wanted to celebrate their transition from this life to whatever is next.”

Noelle kept her eyes on Nash. His eyes flicked to Noelle’s right. She turned toward the screen, and the video began.

“We did that!” Paddie said.

Noelle smiled at him and Katy.

“We sure did,” she said.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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