Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Three Hundred and Ninety-one: Almost there

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Tuesday afternoon —4:30 p.m.
New York City, New York

“What’s it doing?” Sissy asked.

She leaned forward to peer into the computer.

“You have to wait a minute for it to connect,” Charlie said.

“I do?” Sissy asked.

“You know you do!” Charlie said with exasperation. “You’ve done this a million times! When did you get so blonde?”

“That is not a very nice thing to say, Charles Delgado!” Sissy said. “You know that I’ve always been blond!”

“Well, don’t be an idiot, Sissy Delgado,” Charlie said.

“I don’t remember! I’ve had one or two thing happen in my life since the last time I video chatted,” Sissy said. “And anyway, you promised Sandy that you would help me and not be such a know-it-all dick.”

“Like that’s even possible,” Wanda’s voice came from the computer.

“Wanda!” Sissy said with a laugh.

Wanda’s smiling face filled the computer screen. Wanda and Sissy met in the eating disorder clinic when Wanda was Ward. Even though Sandy had such a great friends, Sissy’s obsession with ballet had left her too occupied to have girlfriends. Wanda was the closest thing to a best friend that Sissy had ever had. Wanda waved to Sissy and Charlie.

“There,” Charlie said and did his best to stalk out of the room.

“Close the door,” Sissy yelled after him.

He slammed the door.

“I see that some things haven’t changed!” Wanda laughed.

“Oh,” Sissy said with a sad shrug. “He’s really been great. I been so sick since we got back that…”

Sissy nodded to Wanda’s concerned face.

“He has been, too,” Sissy continued. “Yesterday, we both just kind of collapsed.”

“After your hearing thing?” Wanda asked.

Sissy nodded.

“And today?” Wanda asked.

“I’m still pretty sick,” Sissy said. “I keep thinking I’m getting well, but then…”

“Mom said that the ballet school agreed to keep you and Ivan on,” Wanda said.

“They’re giving us until the end of the summer to see how much we’ve recovered,” Sissy said. “Then, they’ll make a decision — or at least that’s what they told Sandy.”

“Three months doesn’t seem like a long enough,” Wanda said.

“We’ll see,” Sissy said. Her voice echoed her sadness. “Right now, I don’t feel like I’ll ever get well.”

“You felt like that when we were in the eating disorder clinic,” Wanda said. She put the back of her hand on her forehead for effect. In a mock old movie accent, she said, “I simply do not believe I will ev-a get well.”

Sissy laughed until she was wheezing. Giovanni came rushing in to check on her. She took a breath from her inhalation aerosol and nodded to him. He waved to Wanda and disappeared.

“He is so hot,” Wanda said.

“I guess so,” Sandy said with a shrug.

“Look at you!” Wanda said. “You’re like: ‘He’s not hotter than my man.’”

Wanda laughed at Sissy’s blushing nod.

“He wants to be a Chef,” Sissy said. “It’s like the whole apartment is some weird cast of ‘Fame.’”

“Movie or TV show?” Wanda asked.

“Either,” Sissy said. “We’re all trying to be something we can’t quite become. It’s pathetic, really.”

“Yes, but you will live forever,” Wanda said.

“Yeah,” Sissy said with a snort. Still quoting the lyrics to the Fame theme song, she added, “People will see me and cry — and not just…”

“…because I’m so ugly,” Wanda and Sissy said together. They laughed.

“Did you hear what happened to Noelle?” Wanda asked.

“Sandy said she was on an adventure with Katy and Paddie,” Sissy said with a shrug.

“She’s stuck inside the school,” Wanda said. “Dad’s there now trying to help figure out how to get them out without taking the whole building down. Turns out, there was a passageway to where they are, but it’s now mysteriously sealed.”

“Sounds kind of awful,” Sissy said.

“Mostly, it’s a cover for her being on an adventure with Katy and Paddie,” Wanda said with a smile. “They moved everyone to the old school for a ‘Citizen of the World’ day.”

“What’s that?” Sissy asked.

“It’s where the older kids help with the younger kids,” Wanda said. “I had to see the doctor so I would have missed it anyway.”

“I was supposed to talk to Noelle today,” Sissy said. She suppressed a cough so it came up as an odd noise. Wanda pointed and laughed. Sissy grinned.

“Why are you so glum, Sissy?” Wanda asked. “You’re in New York with gorgeous Ivan, who loves you. Your position is being held at the ballet company. Noelle said that there are now other companies that want you to dance for them. Everything is really fabulous.”

“I think it’s the meds,” Sissy said.

“Are you in pain?” Wanda asked.

“I had this thing happen yesterday,” Sissy said.

“What happened?” Wanda asked.

“I didn’t take my pain meds so I could be clear headed at the ballet company,” Sissy said. “Then Sandy was here, and I got really tired and went to bed. I woke up and… Wow. So much pain. Crazy. I thought I was going to die.”

“How awful,” Wanda said.

“I couldn’t yell out and I was alone and…” Sissy’s eyes welled with tears. She nodded.

“Sorry, Sis,” Wanda said. “What did you do?”

“Nadia came in,” Sissy said. “She gave me this vaporized morphine and the lung loosen stuff. I didn’t know it but they put a baby monitor in my room so they’d know if I had trouble. That’s how Giovanni just came in..”

“It really sounds awful,” Wanda said. “I’m so sorry.”

“Now, I’m afraid to not take the pain meds,” Sissy said. “What if I get addicted to pain killers?”

“What if monkey’s fly out of your butt?” Wanda asked.

“Then I’d really need pain pills!” Sissy said.

They laughed. Sissy stopped laughing and shook her head.

“It’s just that we were both doing so well when we were home,” Sissy said. “It makes me wonder if we need to go back to Denver.”

Sissy took a breath and took off talking.

“I mean, what if we can only be well in Denver?” Sissy asked in rushed speech. “What if we can’t ever live in New York? How will we ever dance again if we’re not right here in the hub of ballet? What if it’s just me? Ivan can stay here and dance but I have to live in no-where-ville? I mean, Ivan’s at the Russian Spa and I’ve been in bed all day and…”

“What if you turn into a Unicorn?” Wanda asked with a raised eyebrow.

Their favorite counselor used to ask Sissy this very question when she went down the rabbit hole of “What If.”

The girls giggled.

“Come on,” Wanda said. “Repeat it with me.”

Sissy rolled her eyes. But Wanda gave her a firm “do it” nod.

“We cannot know…” Sissy started. Wanda joined her. “… the future. We can only make our choices and do our best. The outcome has nothing to do with us.”

Sissy gave Wanda a partial smile, and Wanda grinned.

“So…” Sissy said. “How’s Frankie?”

Wanda blushed.

“Nice!” Sissy said. She wrinkled her nose. “Did you…?”

Her blush deepening, Wanda nodded.

“And it was good?” Sissy asked.

“Really good,” Wanda nodded. “Have you?”

Sissy shook her head.

“You will soon enough!” Wanda said. “I don’t know how you’ve waited so long. I would have jumped the man the moment I knew he was interested.”

Sissy shrugged.

“I’d just like to be able to breathe before he ‘takes my breath away,’” Sissy said.

Wanda gave Sissy a knowing smile.

“Now, I have to ask,” Sissy said. “How’s the trial?”

Wanda groaned. She leaned back in her chair and gave Sissy a tortured look.

“Awful,” Wanda said. “That’s how the trial is. I gave my testimony on Monday afternoon. I was supposed to come back today but they had to cancel the trial.”

“Why?” Sissy asked. “I thought that judge was like, ‘we’re doing this no matter what.’”

“The jerk had a mental breakdown or something,” Wanda said. “Ms. Hargreaves came to the house and said they’ve postponed the trial because he’s in the mental hospital.”

“What?” Sissy asked with a shake of her head. “Just another bullshit defense ploy.”

“I thought that too, but Ms. Hargreaves demanded to see him and all the reports,” Wanda said. She leaned close to the webcam. “She said that he had a fit in the middle of the night. He started screaming that he was being burned alive by fire breathing dragons. She saw the videotape. He was asleep in his private cell. Suddenly, he starts screaming. Here’s the weird thing.”

“What?” Sissy asked.

“His skin is blistered and stuff like it was burned,” Wanda said.

“Wow,” Sissy said. “Really?”

“I saw the pictures,” Wanda said. “He’s in Denver Health lockdown psych ward. They think he did that with his mind.”

“Still sounds like a ploy,” Sissy said cynically.

“That’s what Ivy says,” Wanda said. “She’s mad because she wanted to look him in the eye and show him he didn’t kill her.”

Sissy nodded.

“Ms. Hargreaves said this situation he’s in is worse than any sentence they could have given him,” Wanda said. “The DA’s pissed because he wanted to win the trial before the election. The Defense is trying to put the whole trial on hold until the jerk’s better but…”

“But?” Sissy asked.

“He’s not getting better,” Wanda said. “I mean it’s only been a day. But when he’s awake, his skin starts to blister like he’s on fire. They put him in a coma.”

Scowling, Sissy thought about what Wanda said.

“Do they know why this happened?” Sissy asked.

“No clue,” Wanda said. “Or at least that’s what they told me. Ms. Hargreaves said that it’s not totally unknown. It’s just super rare.”

“Why now?” Sissy asked.

“Right,” Wanda said. “If he was going to lose it, why not lose it before? He was very smug when I was testifying — not that I said anything to you about it.”

“Did you say something?” Sissy asked with a grin.

“That Bestat Behur testified this morning,” Wanda said. “I bet she did it.”

An involuntary shiver went up Sissy’s spine. Wanda nodded.

“Whatever reason, the trial’s on hold,” Wanda said. “The Denver Post went hysterical about the whole thing.”

“I’m sure they’re five readers will be up in arms,” Sissy said.

Wanda smiled.

“I like my new school,” Wanda said. “Noelle does, too. Nash is there and Tink and Teddy, too. There aren’t so many of us older kids yet. Since they just started letting us come and all. It’s kind of nice to just be with the people I like.”

“There aren’t kids from other employees?” Sissy asked.

“There are some,” Wanda said. “Most of the older kids were already settled in schools. We’re freaks enough that our parents didn’t give us a choice.”

Wanda shrugged.

“That sounds like I wished I’d stayed at East High,” Wanda said. “I don’t. I sometimes wish you were here, but that’s all. You’d like the Marlowe School. Our teachers are smart. They’ve all done what they’re teaching. So my math teacher worked as a statistician before coming here. Noelle’s art teacher has paintings in museums. Stuff like that. Charlie will come here when he gets back.”

Sissy nodded.

“Did you try to do a distance program from here?” Wanda asked.

“I don’t think they have one,” Sissy said.

“They always say if they don’t have something, we should ask for it,” Wanda said. “That’s the privileged of being the first kids there. Or that’s what they say.”

Sissy gave a hopeless shrug.

“I’ll ask,” Wanda said. “I’m on a school committee with Tink. Maybe we can get it passed.”

“We’re going to the online school,” Sissy said.

“It can’t hurt to ask,” Wanda said. “Nash and Teddy talked the PE teacher into starting a Survival class. If they can do that, maybe we can work something out.”

Sissy gave Wanda a sad smile.

“I miss you,” Wanda said.

“I miss you, too,” Sissy said. “I’ve been sick or in the hospital or dealing with stupid stuff for such a long time that I almost can’t remember what it was like to just… live.”

“I’ll bet,” Wanda said with a nod.

Sissy nodded. The door opened behind her and Ivan came in. He kissed Sissy’s cheek and whispered hello before leaning in to the webcam.

“Hello, Wanda,” Ivan said. “Giovanni told me you were speaking in here. I wanted to say hello. And I must say …”

Ivan gave Wanda a bright smile.

“You look beautiful today,” Ivan said. “Are you wearing makeup?”

“Heather’s been showing me how,” Wanda said with a blush. “Sandy did my hair.”

“Very pretty,” Ivan said. “Feminine. How is our Frankie?”

“Good,” Wanda said. “Happy. He’s staying here tonight.”

“Fantastic. Tell him I said ‘Hello’,” Ivan said. “I will let you talk. I just wanted to say hello. Lovely to see you, Wanda.”

He kissed Sissy’s cheek and left the room. They waited in silence for a moment before Wanda started waving her hand in front of her chest.

“Oh my Lord, that man is fine,” Wanda said in a fake Southern accent.

The girls giggled.


Tuesday afternoon —3:00 p.m.
Denver, Colorado

It wasn’t very good.

The drawing that is.

At least that’s what Noelle thought. She just tried to stay in the flow. She let inspiration come to her hand and fought to keep her opinion out of the way.

But truth be told, she’s never ever drawn this long or worked on anything this big.

Paddie and Katy looked exhausted. They didn’t mind the hard work — which was good, because after an hour or so, this project was hard work. Noelle was hungry, thirsty, and starting to feel depressed.

Katy had tried to get them lunch, but nothing came. Katy said you have to know where something is to bring it to you. No matter how hard she tried, and she’d tried hard, they hadn’t eaten since breakfast.

Everywhere Noelle looked, there were children’s ghosts. Their sad faces had inspired her to work harder. But in the last hour, she’d started to not care.

Noelle wanted out of this space and away from this project. She knew that Katy would never ever say it but Noelle was pretty sure Katy and Paddie felt the same way.

Noelle had planned to put the entrance to the “other side” on the ceiling. That was still a floor away from Noelle. She looked up at the ceiling and sighed. She was about to keep drawing when she just got sick of everything.

“That’s it,” Noelle said in a tone that vented some of her frustration. “I’m putting the portal to the other side right here.”

Katy and Paddie cheered.

Noelle gaped at them. She’d been so sure that they had wanted the “other side” portal on the ceiling where it should be. But they were waiting for her! As if he was standing right next to her, she heard Mike’s voice.

“This is your painting, Noelle,” Mike, her mentor, had said a hundred times or more. “The Universe is connected to you and you only. Do what makes sense to you. No one else is capable of seeing what you see because they don’t have your connection.”

Noelle nodded in response to the Mike in her head. She closed her eyes for a moment. On an out breath, she drew the opening to the other side. She tried to make it inviting so that the kids wouldn’t be scared. She worked like she was on fire. When she finished, she look down at Katy and Paddie.

“Wow,” Katy said.

“Beautiful,” Paddie said while he jumped up and down.

“It’s not colored in but I don’t think it matters,” Noelle said. “Can you make an opening to the other side, Katy?”

“I don’t know how,” Katy said. “But my Daddy does!”

“There’s no space for Jacob to come in here,” Noelle said.

“I’ll call him and ask him how to do it,” Katy said with a bright smile.

She took out her phone and looked at it.

“The battery’s dead,” Paddie said, pointing to the battery indicator.

“Oh no!” Noelle said.

“It’s the ghosts,” Katy said. “They suck the energy. Happens to Delphie all the time. She just …”

Katy turned the phone over and took off the back. She disconnected the battery. Counting out loud, she counted to ten. She put the battery back in the phone. It came on.

“Hooray!” Noelle and Paddie cheered.

Blushing, Katy nodded and pressed a button.

“Mommy?” Katy asked.


Tuesday afternoon —3:00 p.m.
Denver, Colorado

Sandy loved Jill, but Jill’s husband was driving Sandy crazy. She scowled at Jacob. The longer the children were stuck in the utility space, the more Sandy blamed Jacob. After all, he had created this stupid space and let it get filled with ghosts.

Jacob caught her look and smiled. He put his hand on her shoulder.

“They are all right,” Jacob said. “Hungry, tired, but happy.”

“And trapped!” Sandy said. “You forgot the trapped part! Noelle isn’t Paddie or Katy. She doesn’t have any special skills or mythical swords. She’s just a girl!”

“She’s all right,” Jacob said. As uncharacteristic of him, he grabbed Sandy and hugged her tight. In her ear, he said, “I promise you, Noelle is all right.”

Oddly, Sandy felt better. Jacob nodded and stepped back. When Sandy looked up, she saw that everyone had gathered to report their findings. The building engineers were standing together. Delphie stood next to Jill and Julie. Wanda’s dad, Erik, was standing with Pete, DeShawn, and Jason, the Lipson Construction team. Dionne, Jeraine’s mother and nurse, was standing next to Delphie. The plan had been to get together at three and decide what to do.

“Oh good, you’re all here,” Jacob said. “Sandy’s concerned about the welfare of the children. I wondered if we can start with Dionne. What do you think? What condition should the children be in?”

“Jill said that the kids aren’t injured,” Dionne said. “That’s probably the biggest thing. As long as they are not injured, they should be fine. We saw Paddie, Katy, and Noelle just before the term started for their physical. They are healthy and strong. They’ve gone without water and food for three or four maybe five hours now. It’s a long time for a child, but not impossible.

“How much time do they have?” Sandy asked.

“Without facing serious consequences?” Dionne asked. “Of course it’s hard to say, but knowing these kids, I’d say they can go quite a while.”

“Should we call the paramedics?” Jill asked.

“Probably best to be sure,” Dionne said. “We will be ready with water for them, and a toilet.”

The adults in the room nodded.

“I’d like to know about these ghosts,” DeShawn said. “I think of myself as sensitive to spirits and I didn’t feel a thing. We were here day and night working on this building. There weren’t any weird noises or moving tools or any of the stuff you get at the average Capitol Hill mansion. When I sold drugs, I delivered to some freaky haunted places in the Cole, Five Points, Park Hill, hell, all over Denver.”

The other two project managers, Phil and Jason, nodded.

“This place was not like that,” DeShawn said.

“Delphie?” Jacob asked.

“I did some research,” Delphie said with a nod. “There was a train derailment about a block from here in 1904. The train was hauling children packed into stock cars in a program called the ‘Orphan Train.’ Hundreds, maybe thousands, of kids were killed. No one knows for sure how many kids were killed, and, as you can imagine, the records are thin.”

“What’s an Orphan Train?” Sandy asked. Her hand was to her heart and she looked horrified.

Jill’s phone rang.

“It’s Katy,” Jill said to the room. “Hello?”

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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