CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and FORTY-EIGHT
Monday evening – 7:13 p.m.
“Mom?” Noelle whispered.
Sandy got up from her chair and sat on Noelle’s bed.
“Mom?” Noelle whispered again.
“I’m here,” Sandy said.
Noelle’s head rolled over to look at Sandy.
“The boys?” Noelle croaked.
“They went home,” Sandy said. “Charlie and Aden are at the police station. Alex’s husband, John, you remember him? He’s very handsome?”
“He took Teddy and Nash home to their house,” Sandy said. “Sissy and Tink were here and with Wanda for a while. Auntie Heather took them home for the night. Sissy said she would be here first, first, first thing.”
“She wanted to stay with you, but we can only have one person,” Sandy said. “We thought you’d want me here.”
“Where’s Rachel?” Noelle sat up in a panic. “Did you forget her? Leave her?”
“Rachel is with Auntie Jill for the night,” Sandy said. “Jill picked her up from school when she got Katy. They are having a trial run of what it’s like to have a baby. Rachel is their practice baby.”
“Rachel is a really good baby,” Noelle gave a sincere nod. “I bet those boys won’t be as good of babies.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” Sandy smiled. “But we’ll be there to help.”
Sandy patted Noelle’s shoulder and the little girl laid down again. Noelle stared at the ceiling for a while.
“Mom?” Noelle whispered.
“I’m here,” Sandy said.
“I was so scared,” Noelle whispered. She scooted around so her head was on Sandy’s lap. “So …”
Noelle began to sob. Throughout this entire ordeal, Noelle had laughed, told big stories, and even bragged to her brothers. The doctors had marveled at how well she’s come through the entire ordeal.
But Sandy knew her daughter. When the boys were gone, and excitement wore off, her terror would return. Sandy stroked Noelle’s back and hair and let her cry.
Through the tears, Noelle told her story. It wasn’t a big story of ‘whooping up on those jerks’ like she’d told her brothers. It wasn’t even the horror and overwhelm filled story she’d told the police. Noelle told a smaller story of a little girl who went to the park and was all alone when she was attacked by a lot of scary boys.
Noelle hiccupped and sobbed her way through her story; and Sandy held on. Sandy had never felt so inadequate and ineffective in her entire life. She had no idea if she was healing or helpful or even kind. She just listened and loved. It was all she could think to do.
When Noelle’s story was over, the little girl fell silent. Sandy kept stroking her back.
“I think she’s asleep,” the nurse said. “Let me help.”
Together, they set Noelle back against her pillows. The nurse fussed over Noelle’s covers and checked her IV lines. Sandy stayed next to Noelle on the bed.
“You can get in the bed with her,” the nurse said. “That’s what I’d do.”
“You would?” Sandy
“Of course,” the nurse said. “I’ll help.”
The nurse moved Noelle over a bit.
“Just lie down with her,” the nurse said. “It’ll help.”
Sandy lay down in the bed next to Noelle. The little girl opened her eyes for a moment and closed them again.
“After such a big ordeal, you can’t give a child enough snuggling,” the nurse nodded to Sandy. “Especially such a brave child as Noelle.”
When the nurse left the room, Sandy lay on her side next to Noelle and stared at the wall. Sandy knew exactly how horrified Noelle had been. Images of her own terrifying experiences flashed across the cheery hospital wallpaper. Sandy wouldn’t wish that horror on anyone, especially not Noelle. She bit her lip to keep from crying.
“Mom?” Noelle whispered.
“I’m here,” Sandy said.
Sandy gave Noelle a soft hug. Noelle turned her head to look at Sandy. For a moment, the little girl just looked at her. Sandy felt the child’s eyes review her forehead, her nose, and her lips. Noelle gave a little nod and settled back on her pillow.
“Love you, Noelle,” Sandy said.
“Mom?” Noelle whispered.
“I’m here,” Sandy said.
Noelle nodded. Sandy’s last words echoed in her own ears.
She’d said it over and over again tonight because it was all she could think to say. Noelle was calling for her mother; Sandy was here, right here. Sandy wasn’t there in the horror filled past. She was right here with a little girl who loved her.
Noelle had miraculously escaped the horror and violence that had almost killed Tink.
Sandy had also miraculously escaped the horror and violence that had been her life to, by some miracle, wind up right here.
Overwhelmed with gratitude, Sandy began to cry.
“It’s okay, Mom,” Noelle said. “I’m right here.”
“I’m glad,” Sandy said.
Noelle grinned and fell into a sound sleep.
Sandy knew it wasn’t over for Noelle. There would be hearings and eventually a trial. Noelle would have to repeat her story over and over and over again. Long after her physical wounds had healed, she would also have to heal mentally. She’d probably have nightmares and need to see her therapist again.
When all was said and done, Noelle was here.
Sandy was here.
That was all that really mattered.
_Monday evening – 8:25 p.m._
“Hey,” Frankie said when he entered Wanda’s hospital room.
He wore an orange jumpsuit and his hands were handcuffed in front of him. A uniformed police officer stood by his side. Wanda’s Mom, Edith, looked at Frankie and then at Wanda before getting up out of her chair.
“Why don’t I wait outside for a minute?” Wanda’s mother asked. “Officer? Would you like to join me?”
The uniformed officer looked at Wanda’s mom and at Frankie. He unhooked one of Frankie’s hands and hooked the handcuff to the rail on Wanda’s bed.
“Don’t go anywhere,” the officer said.
“I won’t,” Frankie said.
“This is a special favor,” the officer said. “Screw this up and you’re back in with the pack.”
“Yes, officer,” Frankie said.
“All right then,” the officer said. He followed Wanda’s mom out of the room.
“What’s going on?” Wanda asked.
“I have to go to Gilliam tonight,” Frankie said. “Juvie. I’m ‘sposed to go to the Children’s Home, you know, ‘cuz of the stuff with my step-dad. I can’t go there ‘til there’s a bed.”
“Why?” Wanda asked.
“It’s part of my sentence,” Frankie nodded. “I went to court and stuff last week. This is a pretty good deal. I got it, mostly, ‘cuz of my brother.”
“You turned in all those videos,” Wanda said.
“How’d you know that?” Frankie asked.
“Your mom came by,” Wanda said. “She said you gave those big Homeland Security guys enough evidence to figure out what’s going on from top to bottom. She said she’s really proud of you. I am too.”
Frankie shrugged his eyebrows and scowled.
“Listen, I wanted to tell you,” Frankie glanced at Wanda and looked down. “If you’re doing all of this because of me, you don’t have to. I already told my mom.”
“What did you tell her?” Wanda asked.
“That I’m gay,” Frankie blushed. “And that you and I … when we were in junior high and … Well, she’s okay with it.”
“Are you sure you’re gay?” Wanda voice rose with anxiety.
“Well there’s that stuff with my step-dad,” Frankie said. “And you. And I could never … I mean the guys made fun of me because I …”
“Just because you’re not a rapist doesn’t mean you’re gay,” Wanda said.
“What about you?” Frankie asked.
“I’m a girl,” Wanda said. “I told you over and over again. I knew I was a girl when I was three or four. I told my mom but she and dad thought I’d grow out of it. Then …”
“Is that why you starved yourself?” Frankie asked. “I always thought it was ‘cuz you didn’t want to be gay.”
“I wanted to control my body,” Wanda said. “When you’re starving, you don’t go through puberty. And …”
“You almost died,” Frankie said. “I don’t like that.”
“If you’re gay, then we can’t be together,” Wanda changed the subject away from her eating disorder.
“Why?” Frankie shrugged.
“Because I’m a girl,” Wanda said.
“But …” Frankie shook his head. He leaned in. “Are you going to … you know?”
“Eventually,” Wanda said. “I have to live like a girl for at least a year. But even my dad thinks it makes sense that I’m a girl.”
“Oh,” Frankie said. “Your mom?”
“She doesn’t like it,” Wanda said. “She thinks she did something wrong. Or that I’m doing this because I love you, but …”
“You love me?” Frankie blushed.
“You know that,” Wanda said.
“Even after everything and all of this?”
“You love me too?” Wanda asked.
Frankie nodded and Wanda smiled.
“It’s pretty weird to love a girl like me,” Wanda said.
“Don’t think there’s anything I can do about it,” Frankie shrugged.
“Are you going to get better?” Frankie asked.
“Yeah,” Wanda said. “You?”
“I don’t know,” Frankie said.
“How ‘bout if we promise to get better?” Wanda asked. “I’ll do everything I can and you do everything you can.”
“Ok,” Frankie said.
“I don’t know if we’ll be together forever, like some movie or something,” Wanda said. “But at least if we get better together, that’s really good. That seems like a really good way to love someone.”
“So you’re saying you won’t starve yourself anymore?” Frankie nodded.
“And you’ll work hard to get better,” Wanda said.
“For you,” Frankie said.
“They’ll tell you that you have to do it for yourself,” Wanda said.
“I am,” Frankie said. “If I get better and you get better then we stand a chance at … life.”
“I’m glad you’re okay,” Frankie said.
“I wouldn’t be if you didn’t help,” Wanda said.
Frankie smiled. The police officer came in the door.
“Kiss the girl good-bye, dummy,” the officer said. “That’s why we’re here.”
Frankie leaned over and kissed Wanda’s lips. She touched his face and he smiled. The officer re-handcuffed him and they shuffled out the door. Wanda’s mom came back in.
“So is all of this about Frankie?” Wanda’s mom asked.
“No, Mom,” Wanda said.
“Just checking,” Wanda’s mom said. “Because he’s pretty cute.”
“He is,” Wanda smiled.
“So are you,” Wanda’s mom said.
She leaned over and kissed Wanda’s forehead.
“I saw you and Dad talking,” Wanda said. “Are you …?”
Wanda’s mother raised a stern eyebrow at her and sat down in her chair. She started flipped pages in a magazine.
“Okay, the excitement’s over,” the nurse said when she came in the room. “Time for you to sleep. You have surgery for that leg tomorrow. You need rest.”
The nurse fussed over Wanda and flipped off the overhead lights. Wanda’s mom turned on a floor lamp. The lamp gave the room a warm yellow glow. Wanda rested for a while.
“Dad’s been really great,” Wanda said.
“He has,” Wanda’s mom said.
“He’s pretty cute too,” Wanda said.
“He is,” Wanda’s mom said and pretended to read her magazine.
“And he doesn’t have a new family like you thought.”
Wanda’s mom scrunched up her face and said, “You think …?”
Wanda nodded. Her mom smiled.
“Maybe you could have another kid,” Wanda said. “A real boy this time. He can have all that stuff you bought for me.”
“Don’t push it,” her mom said in a strong voice, but she smiled and Wanda smiled. “Go to sleep.”
“Okay,” Wanda said.
It was pretty hard to fall asleep when she was all tingly from being kissed by Frankie. She was just about to say she couldn’t sleep, when she fell asleep.
Monday night – 10:23 p.m.
“Hi,” Jill said in a low tone.
Jacob was sitting on the couch with his back to her. Hearing her voice, he turned to look at her. She came around the couch and sat on his lap. She tugged on his tie and kissed his bruised mouth. He grimaced and kissed her.
“Whatcha doing out here in the dark?” Jill asked.
“Thinking,” Jacob said. “I’m dead tired and feel like I’ve been hit by a bus, but my mind is … crazy.”
“Can I bring you some dinner?” Jill asked.
He shook his head.
“Bath?” she asked.
“Only if you can join me and I don’t think you can,” he said.
“Probably not a good idea,” Jill said. “I’m starting to dilate and …”
“You knew that,” she smiled.
“Why don’t you stay right here on my lap?” he asked. “Do you mind?”
“Not at all,” Jill said.
“Today, before everything happened, you know, I … I just wanted to run away … to you,” Jacob said. “I wanted to just look at you. And … that’s all I wanted.”
“I feel … guilty for wanting to leave Noelle, for not thinking of Katy, for …”
Jill put her fingers over his mouth.
“You’re taking something very sweet and making it bad,” Jill said. “Did you think that maybe you thought of me to gain strength to do something really hard?”
Jacob gave a sad shake of his head.
“Plus, you didn’t leave Noelle,” Jill said. “You’ve never left Katy.”
Jacob gave a sad nod.
“What happened tonight?” Jill asked.
“Oh tonight,” Jacob pulled on the knot of his tie and pulled the tie off. “Tonight was good. Bambi had to fire a guy who was whining, but after that everyone worked. All of the people were very reasonable, smart. They knew what was going on but the curmudgeons shout so loud, they couldn’t get a word in edgewise. They just focused on their jobs and hoped it would work out.”
“So you’re leaving the site?” Jill asked.
“I’m going downtown in the morning to talk to the state inspector’s office,” Jacob nodded.
“That’s really great news,” Jill said.
“Everyone worked hard,” Jacob said. “You should have seen them. When tempers flared, someone made a joke or they talked it through. We were able to get there, together. I was … blown away. Dad came late after checking on Noelle and Wanda. He … was really proud. That’s what he said.”
“Nice,” Jill smiled.
“So what leaves you out here and not in bed?” Jill asked.
“Just a feeling,” Jacob touched her face and she turned to look at him. “I’ve given up so much, one tiny bit at a time, and … I …”
He leaned forward and kissed her.
“We have to be careful not to let the cynics and scowlers take everything precious to us – hope, love, joy, faith, grace – one sarcastic comment at a time,” Jill said.
“Yes,” he said. “That’s what’s happened to me – one tiny word at a time, I’ve lost hope and faith and joy … It’s like liquid depression with no beginning or end. And … Scowlers?”
“You know what I mean,” Jill shrugged.
“Well, this deal should be done before we have the boys,” Jacob said. “I can leave Lipson in good conscience.”
“You’re going to take time off work?” Jill grinned.
“I know, it’s unlikely,” Jacob said.
“Probably,” Jill said. “We’ll have fun anyway.”
Jacob tugged her a tiny bit closer.
“Are you okay?” Jill whispered.
“I am,” Jacob said. “I just had to say ‘enough’ and stand up for hope and faith and joy and love and grace and … life.”
“And the liquid depression?” Jill asked.
“I’m okay,” Jacob kissed her. “I have such a wonderful life. I need to say ‘enough’ more often so I can enjoy my life more.”
Jill got off his lap.
“Come to bed,” she held her hand out to him.
He looked at her hand for a moment before taking it. They walked to the bedroom. She helped him undress and get into bed. She had just slipped in beside him when she realized he was sound asleep. She kissed his cheek and lay back. She stared at the ceiling for a moment before whispering, “Thanks” to whatever had helped Jacob shake off the funk he’d been in. As if she’d heard a reply, she nodded and fell asleep.
Tuesday early morning – 12:23 a.m.
“Charlie!” Aden came into the living room. “What are you doing awake?”
“I …” Charlie started.
Aden took in the boy’s red swollen eyes. His handsome face was blotchy with emotion. Aden sat down next to him on the couch.
“I … all of this … and …” Charlie tried to express himself.
Aden tugged on his shoulder and Charlie fell over into his lap. The boy began to weep. When Charlie stopped weeping, the boy stared straight ahead.
“What is it?” Aden asked.
“It’s all my fault,” Charlie whispered. “They attacked Noelle because she was my sister.”
“None of this is your fault,” Aden said.
“But Noelle …” Tears ran down Charlie’s face. “Jake and, God, poor Wanda.”
“Only the boys who decided to beat up your sister and her friend are at fault,” Aden said. “Not you.”
“Why does it feel like it’s my fault then?” Charlie asked.
“Because if it’s your fault, you can control it,” Aden said. “Make it stop.”
“They told me at the police station that only I could make it stop,” Charlie said.
“Art and Colin didn’t say that,” Aden said. “Did they?”
Charlie shook his head.
“Why do you think that is?” Aden asked.
“They’re our friends,” Charlie shrugged.
“I think they didn’t say that because they are honest men,” Aden said. “They told me that you were very brave and without you, none of this would have happened.”
“That’s what I mean!” Charlie said. “None of this would have happened!”
“None of the arrests would have happened,” Aden said. “These boys would have kept getting high and hurting girls. You made that stop. That’s a pretty big deal. They even caught the leader. He’s wanted in other states for doing the same thing.”
Charlie didn’t know how to respond so he didn’t.
“That’s the truth,” Aden said. “You can believe you screwed up or that you set things right. It’s up to you.”
“What do you think?” Charlie asked. “Sandy? Noelle?”
His voice caught with Noelle’s name.
“We think you’re pretty wonderful,” Aden said. “Noelle told Sandy that she didn’t realize how brave you were until she saw how scary those guys were.”
“Sounds like Noelle,” Charlie said. “Do you think this is over?”
“God, I hope so,” Aden said. They sat in silence for a while before Aden repeated, “God, I hope so.”
“Me too,” Charlie said. Denver Cereal continues next week…
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