CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and FORTY-FIVE
Monday morning – 7:42 a.m.
“Wasn’t the weekend fun?” Noelle’s bright chatter made Sandy turn look at her. Sandy gave Noelle a probing look and the girl blushed. Rachel gurgled from her spot on Sandy’s hip.
“Sissy! We have to go!” Sandy yelled down the hallway.
“We’re riding our bikes,” Nash said.
Nash and Teddy walked by her with their bike helmets on. Teddy stopped to smile at Noelle.
“Good morning,” Teddy said
Noelle beamed at him. Teddy glanced at Sandy and Sandy scowled. He nodded and jogged to catch up with Nash.
“What’s going on with you and Teddy?” Sandy asked.
“Nothing new,” Noelle twirled back and forth.
“Uh huh,” Sandy said. “Sissy if you don’t hurry, we’re going to leave you here. You’ll have to drag all your ballet crap to school yourself.”
“I’m coming!” Sissy hustled down the hall with a duffle bag full of her dance gear.
“Charlie!” Sandy yelled from the living room.
Charlie turned the corner from the kitchen and looked at Sandy.
“Oh good, you’re here,” Sandy said. “Mike’s not here to walk you to basketball . . .”
“So Jake’s taking me,” Charlie said. “Yes, I remember from the last forty times you told me.”
“Good,” Sandy smiled and he scowled.
“Noelle’s right, you know,” Charlie said. “Last weekend was great.”
“God, not you too,” Sandy said. “Yes, I know. Young love is in the air.”
Charlie wiggled his eyebrows and Sandy shook her head at him. Sissy caught up with her and Sandy gave the girls a nudge out the door. She followed Sissy and Noelle down to the enormous SUV. Noelle helped Sissy put her stuff in the back. The girls sat together in the back because Rachel, her diaper bag, and her command center car seat took up the middle seat. Sandy got in the driver’s seat.
“Anything you want to talk about, Noelle?” Sandy asked as she started the car.
“What do you mean?” Noelle asked.
“She wants to know if you and Teddy did it this weekend,” Sissy said.
“What?” Noelle looked horrified. “Why would you think that?”
“You’re all glowy,” Sissy said.
Sandy turned up Sixteenth Avenue toward East High School.
“Oh,” Noelle said. “I’m just really happy. I get to spend the afternoon with Teddy’s step-mom and . . . I just feel . . . really happy.”
“Yeah,” Sandy said. “How’d you get so happy?”
Sissy giggled and Noelle blushed.
“I would never betray the trust you place in me and in Teddy by having sex at my age,” Noelle nodded. “We agreed and shook hands and everything.”
“But?” Sandy asked.
“I hear the ‘but’ too,” Sissy said.
“But kissing doesn’t count, does it?” Noelle asked.
Sissy squealed and laughed. Sandy looked at Noelle in the rearview mirror.
“What are you doing with Teddy’s step-mom this afternoon?” Sandy asked.
“We’re going to the park,” Noelle said. “I’m going to paint her portrait. She’s very beautiful. Have you met her?”
“I have,” Sandy said. “And you’re right, she is very beautiful.”
Sandy pulled up in front of East High School.
“Sissy, you remember what Dr. Bumpy said, right?” Sandy asked. “You’ll be super careful?”
“Ivan’s picking me up at noon,” Sissy said. “I should be gone all afternoon. Ivan’s dropping me off at home for dinner. I’ll be with Ivan until I’m home.”
“You have your phone?” Sandy asked.
“I promise. I’ll okay,” Sissy said. “You’ll see. Those guys are just begging to get caught. We’ll laugh at them tonight.”
Sandy gave a worried nod. Noelle hopped out of the car and helped Sissy carry the heavy duffle bag to the office. Sandy talked to Tanesha on her iPhone until Noelle came back. Noelle got in the passenger seat.
“How’s Tanesha?” Noelle asked.
“Her parents are back from Paris,” Sandy said. “I think she’s a little overwhelmed with them and school and Jeraine, but you know Tanesha.”
“Tanesha can do anything,” Noelle said. “She’s wonder woman.”
Sandy gave a slight nod. She started down the East High Esplanade and turned right on Seventeenth Avenue.
“I wanted to talk to you about . . .” Sandy asked.
“What’s going on?” Noelle asked.
“Jake talked to Aden and I last night after you went to bed,” Sandy said.
“Oh?” Noelle asked.
“He was warned that something might happen to you today,” Sandy said. “In the park.”
“I’ll be with Teddy’s step-mom,” Noelle said.
“You’ll be safe?” Sandy asked.
“You have your phone?” Sandy asked.
“I just . . .” Sandy started. She pulled into the parking lot of the Marlowe School. “I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“I’ll be careful,” Noelle said. “I won’t risk myself. I promise.”
Noelle grabbed her backpack and got out of the car. Sandy watched her go inside the building before getting Rachel from the back. She couldn’t shake the feeling that something horrible was going to happen. Sandy shook her head at herself. Her past was not Noelle’s present. She hoped.
Sandy cuddled her baby for a moment before taking her into the nursery. She chatted with Anjelika and went back out to the car. Sitting in the driver’s seat, Sandy nodded to herself.
“Everything is going to be fine,” Sandy said out loud.
Anxiety shot through her gut. Sandy scowled and started the car.
Monday mid-day – 12:05 p.m.
Jacob cleared his throat and walked to the front of the room. The site managers had gathered everyone for a noon meeting. In order to avoid confusion, they had waited to distribute lunch until Jacob had finished talking. As he walked, he saw men and women he recognized. Some had worked for his parents. Some he’d hired himself. Rodney touched his shoulder in a gesture of support as Jacob past.
“I apologize for disrupting your day,” Jacob said. “I called this meeting because I have a few things to say, and we as a company need to make some decisions. I am going to speak for a few minutes and then we’ll have lunch. My father, Aden, Blane, and Tres are in the back. They will be available to answer your questions until the end of the hour.”
He looked out at the employees in front of him and smiled.
“I’m confident that you’re aware of the tension that’s developed within our company,” Jacob said. “I realized this weekend that some of the strain stems from the fact that you don’t know why my father, Valerie, and I are selling Lipson Construction.”
He saw heads instinctively move up and down.
“My mother and father started this company,” Jacob said. “They ran it out of our basement. As some of you remember, Val and I worked every day after school and all summer. I can’t tell you how many nights, weekends, birthdays, and dinners one or the other of my parents missed because they were on a backhoe, writing up a bid all night, or just trying to make ends meet. My father worked side carpentry jobs to support the company the entire time I was in grade school. And then something miraculous happened, Denver needed a new airport and we got the bid.”
“My family had a lot of problems,” Jacob said. “And my mother died.”
Jacob’s voice caught with emotion. He could never utter the words without feeling his heart squeeze.
“And Lipson continued to grow,” Jacob said. “My mother’s dying wish was that the people who had made Lipson Construction great – her employees – could one day reap the benefits of their hard work. It was her dream, what she wanted.”
“That’s exactly right,” Bambi yelled out from the back.
“Told me that herself,” Jerry said.
“It’s taken a long time,” Jacob said. “My father was plagued with people who wanted to gut the company for its cash value. I bought most of the company from him and have been fighting with the same men since then.”
Jacob swallowed hard.
“It comes down to this, they don’t want you to own this company,” Jacob said. “They don’t want you to own any company.”
“No, they do not,” DeShawn yelled out.
“They want the money that selling this company to the highest bidder will bring them,” Jacob said. “As you’ve learned in the last six months, there’s a lot more to running a company than making money.”
There was a general rumble of people agreeing with him.
“We believe the company should belong to you,” Jacob said. “And we want you to be successful. If I had allowed people to buy the entire company from the very beginning, like some of the more vocal employees have proposed, it would fail within a year. That’s what has happened to every single company in which employees have assumed one hundred percent ownership right away. This company, and any company, really, is too complicated. By slowly selling shares, we hold the responsibility and risk while you learn the ropes.
“People have asked me – ‘Why are you doing it Jake?’ We’re doing this so you can succeed. We’re doing this so the company my parents sacrifice so much for doesn’t fail. In fact, the only people we’re sticking it to is ourselves!”
Jacob felt a wave of anger and his heart raced. He put his hand on his chest against the angina he still felt when he was angry.
“Today, I received the current evaluation of Lipson Construction,” Jacob nodded to Tres and he put the chart on the overhead. “I want you to see that the value of Lipson has risen significantly. We have no intention of changing your share price. You, and your hard work, make this company successful. You made the value rise. You deserve to purchase the company at the original offer price.”
“We are aware that a number of you are unhappy with your situation,” Jacob said. “We’ve heard that more than a few of you feel cheated. In response to your feedback, my father and I have decided to launch a buy back. This is your opportunity to sell back your ownership shares for what they are currently worth. Selling your shares will not affect your employment, however, you will not be able to repurchase your shares at the original price. If you chose to repurchase, and we chose to offer them to you, you will pay the current market price.”
Jacob looked up at the men and women in the room.
“Now is your chance,” Jacob said. “We’ll give you the rest of the hour to have lunch and arrange to sell back your shares. Tonight at six, the Lipson construction owners will meet back here to make some important decisions. For the next hour, you have the option to rid yourself of what many of you now think is a scam, and make a profit. If you still own Lipson Construction stock this evening at six, and decide you do not wish to own it, the only way to unload your stock will be to permanently end your employment with the company. The terms are non-negotiable. Thank you.”
With that, he nodded, and left the room. He walked to the parking lot and got into the passenger seat of Jill’s SUV.
“How did it go?” Jill asked.
“I don’t know,” Jacob said.
“Okay,” Jill said. “Lunch?”
“Lunch with my girl sounds fabulous,” Jacob said. “I need to be back around two to take Charlie to basketball.”
“We have plenty of time,” Jill smiled.
“Smile like that and I’ll want to go home.”
Jill laughed and drove out of the parking lot.
Monday early afternoon – 2:05 p.m.
“I like this area of the park,” Noelle pointed to a quiet grove of the trees. “No one ever comes over here anymore. I mean, the running path is over there and the fields, but no one can see you here.”
“Is that safe?” Bestat Beher, Teddy’s step-mother, asked. She pulled her Mercedes sedan next to the running path. She was a stunning woman with almond-shaped rust colored eyes, long jet black hair, and golden skin.
“I don’t know why not,” Noelle gave her a bright smile. “I mean if there’s trouble, people are over there or over there, you know. Plus, I thought it would be good to have some privacy.”
Bestat looked for a moment before saying asking, “Why?”
“I saw you,” Noelle gave Bestat such an innocent smile that the woman scowled.
“When we were in Brighton and everything was turning for the worse,” Noelle said. “You fought the demon.”
“And you know this?” Bestat asked. “How?”
“I see things for how they actually are,” Noelle said. “Like your baby. She’s like you even though she has Mr. Zack’s eyes.”
Bestat sat very still.
“No one will ever believe me,” Noelle said. “You can stand there and I’ll still be able to paint you as you are.”
“Have you always had this . . . capacity?” Bestat asked.
“Dad thinks Nuala, the lady who had me, took drugs when I was inside her,” Noelle said. “Well, we know she did because I was high when I came out, but . . . maybe she was like this too. Maybe she just didn’t understand it. Anyway, I’ve always been like this. Mike, my teacher, he says I have ‘the sight’, whatever that means.”
“Do you see anyone else?” Bestat asked.
“I know that Mrs. Alex is a fairy; I can see her wings. Her husband has a blue fairy that follows him around,” Noelle said. “I don’t think he trusts his fairy very much; I don’t trust her either.”
“Fairies always have their own agenda,” Bestat said.
“But not Mrs. Alex,” Noelle nodded.
“No, Mrs. Alex is very special,” Bestat said. “What about Teddy or my Zackary?”
Bestat’s voice seemed to purr when she said her lover’s name.
“Your Zack is a dragon rider. But my Teddy?” Noelle mimicked Bestat’s words and Bestat smiled. “He has a kind of glow about him. Mike says it’s his shining armor, but I don’t know.”
“Sandy?” Noelle nodded. “That’s easy. She has the warm glow of an earth mother or something. Just watch when everyone’s around her. They kind of melt. Tanesha’s wonder woman. Everybody can see her cape. Heather is a connector, like a bridge or a highway. And Jill is the happy elf meddling in everyone’s life.”
“I think you’re right,” Bestat said.
“Will you still model for me?” Noelle asked. “No one will ever, ever, ever believe it’s you. They will just think it’s me being my silly self.”
“Delphie and Jacob will know,” Bestat said.
“Yeah, but they know everything anyway,” Noelle said.
“How about this?” Bestat asked. “You will do one of me here. I will commission Michael to do another of my family. At that time, you will agree to paint me as a woman.”
“I’ll do it,” Noelle said. “I’m just learning though. I’m not like Mike or anything. I’m just a kid.”
Bestat put her hand on Noelle’s leg.
“We all start somewhere,” Bestat said.
“You can just be invisible,” Noelle said. “So no one will see you in the park. But I’ll still see you, right? You can do that right?”
Bestat gave her a slight nod.
“Will you have another baby?” Noelle asked.
Bestat gave her a sly look and Noelle giggled.
“Can I ask you something?” Noelle turned to look at her directly.
“Do you see the future?” Noelle asked.
“I see the river of life,” Bestat said. “Why?”
“Will Teddy and I . . .?” Noelle’s forehead wrinkled and she looked like a very little girl.
“You don’t need me to answer that question,” Bestat said. “He is your knight.”
“Shall we?” Bestat asked.
Noelle got out of the passenger seat. Looking out when across the grove of trees, she saw one of Charlie’s basketball teammates. She sneered. The boy didn’t appear to see her so she went to the trunk of the car.
“What is it?” Bestat asked and opened the trunk.
“One of those boys who’ve been hurting girls,” Noelle said.
Bestat cast her eye in the boy’s direction.
“Let’s not let him spoil our fun,” Bestat said.
Noelle beamed. She grabbed her portable easel and paints supplies.
“Over here!” Noelle yelled. She ran into the grove of trees.
Bestat’s eyes followed the boy until he was gone. She made a mental note and followed Noelle into the grove.
Monday afternoon – 2:25 p.m.
“We know what we wants to do.” The leader stood in the middle of the circle. “We jus’ can’t today.”
Their leader had a joint hanging out of his mouth. His eyes were glassy and his pupils large. He paced back and forth in the middle of the circle of boys in the East High School parking lot.
“Why?” the boy Noelle had seen asked.
“‘Cuz On-Line’s sister ain’t here,” Sergeant Aziz’s brother said. “She left before lunch.”
“I thought you liked that girl,” the boy Noelle had seen said to the Captain of the basketball team.
“Dis is more important,” the Captain of the basketball team said. “Somebody’s been talking to the po-lice. Dat somebody’s sister is gonna pay.”
“So we agree,” the boy in the middle of the circle said. “We get this tomorrow?”
“He has another sister,” said the boy Noelle had seen. “She’s just over there.”
He pointed to the park.
“Who she with?” the boy in the center of the circle asked.
“I didn’t see nobody,” the boy Noelle had seen said. “I went back to check. She set out her art crap and started painting. No one was with her. She’s in that hidden place in those trees over there.”
The boy Noelle had seen realized everyone was looking at him. He stood a little taller.
“I say we hit that,” the boy said. “She’s younger and fresher.”
“Good thinking,” the leader in the center of the circle said. “You know how much I love how the virgins scream.”
“We gonna kill this bitch,” another boy said. “Teach On-Line a lesson.”
“We mess her up, have our fun, then kill her,” the boy in the center of the circle said. “On-Line won’t fuck with us anymore.”
“Where she at?” one of the boys asked.
The boy Noelle had seen pointed toward the park. The boy in the middle of the circle gave him a nod of appreciation, lit his joint, and then headed into the park. The boys followed in his drifting smoke. A couple boys passed around joints laced with meth like they always did before these events. The boys were hopping with excitement. Sergeant Aziz’s brother didn’t follow them. He stood staring at his car.
“You better get your ass over here,” the leader said.
“Yo Momma’s next,” the boy next to him pushed Sergeant Aziz’s brother.
The boy nodded and made a move to follow. In his pocket, he texted his brother one word:
Hitting send, he said a silent prayer that this would be over today.
The boys started across Seventeenth Avenue and Sergeant Aziz’s brother ran to catch up.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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