Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Denver Cereal - Chapter Two Hundred and Twenty-Four : Kiss


Monday morning — 5:40 a.m.

After seeing Sam off, Delphie knelt at her altar. Yesterday’s sun and activity put a glorious cap on what had been a wonderful weekend. Delphie lit a candle in front of her porcelain statue of Quan Yin, the Buddhist Goddess of Compassion.

The chapel had been consecrated with love. Yvonne and Rodney’s union had been reblessed. At dinner last night, Tanesha had shared a photo of her parents standing in front of the Eifel Tower. They looked happy and in love.

Saturday marked the arrival of tiny Margaret. Delphie smiled and lit a candle to the Hindu God Ganesha. Maggie, as her parents called her, might be small but she surely knew how to get what she wanted with her robust cries and charming smiles. While she had none of Jackie’s innate old world elegance, she had charmed everyone completely.

And yesterday’s Harvest Day had been amazing. She lit the votive in front of the replica of a statue of Demeter, the God of the Harvest. Alex and Max had arrived early to help Delphie with her hives. They’d harvested more than a hundred pounds of honey. Members of Alex’s team had spun and bottled everything leaving Delphie with a closet full of honey bears. Sandy’s kids and their friends had harvested the fruit from the trees. While the little kids and adults picked the vegetables. Mike, Jacob, and MJ made quick work of chopping the plants for the compost pile, turning the beds, and putting the garden to rest.

And the tomatoes! On tomato duty, Valerie had already made two pots of tomato sauce. She enlisted Jill’s help in juicing. Sitting at the kitchen table, Jill kept the juicer running late into the night. They had enough tomato juice and tomato sauce to last most of the winter.

She knew that she was responsible for the creation of this bounty. She had planted every seed, made sure it was watered, enlisted help to pull every weed, made sure the soil was ready, turned the compost, dug the holes, and still, she knew in her very soul the bounty of love and babies and honey and vegetables were a gift from the benevolence of something much greater than herself.

Humbled, she lit a stick of incense at the feet of the statue of Saint Mary and said her thanks.


Monday afternoon — 2:45 p.m.

Charlie waited for Tink outside the front entrance of East High School. They hadn’t agreed that he would meet her after school, but he thought she might like it. After yesterday, she was definitely his girlfriend. Or at least he thought she was his girlfriend. Anyway, he knew they were coming this way because Jake was picking them up for martial arts practice.

He glanced at his watch. He only had a few minutes before basketball practice, so he hoped she showed up soon. His basketball coach made him run laps if he was late. He didn’t care about running laps. He just hated the look on the Team Captain’s face when Charlie screwed up. Charlie had grown to not like that guy. Charlie felt stupid for even thinking it, but he didn’t like the way the Team Captain talked about girls or Moms or women teachers. The Team Captain didn’t like him because Charlie was a better basketball player than he was. So Charlie figured they were even.

He saw Sissy and Tink near the door and waved. Sissy waved back. They waited until their friend Wade, no Wanda, came out before walking toward him. Sissy had given Charlie an entire lecture on Wanda, so he should know all about the guy, no girl, but he hadn’t been listening. He didn’t really care if Wade was Wanda or whatever. He was just glad Wade, no Wanda, had nice friends and a family who supported him. Kids like Wanda didn’t do very well on the streets. When they got close, he noticed that Wanda was actually starting to look like a girl. As if he, no she, could read his mind, she gave Charlie a pretty smile.

Tink ran up and kissed him on the lips. He kissed her back.

For a breathless moment, nothing else mattered. Then sound returned. Sissy was squawking about something. Wanda was giggling.

Sissy cleared her throat and acted offended, but she smiled. Sissy liked it that he was dating Tink.

“I have basketball,” Charlie said.

“I have to go to counseling,” Tink said. “Heather’s going with me today.”

“How come?” Charlie asked.

Tink shrugged.

“She wants to help,” Sissy said. “Heather is going to be Tink’s forever Mom and that’s what Mom’s do.”

“How would you know?” Charlie asked.

“That’s what Sandy does,” Sissy said.

“But she…”

Charlie started to remind Sissy that Sandy was their sister, but Tink waved to someone and he got distracted. Auntie Heather waved back. He thought it was a little weird that his Auntie was going to be his girlfriend’s forever Mom. But he didn’t say anything. He didn’t want to jinx it and he really liked Auntie Heather. He waved to her too. Tink turned and kissed him again before running to Heather’s car. He looked up to see the basketball Team Captain sneering at him. The boy walked into Charlie’s shoulder as he passed.

“Hey!” Sissy said.

The Team Captain gave her a cruel look and continued into the school.

“I don’t like that guy,” Sissy said.

“Yeah?” Charlie raised his eyebrow to show her he felt the same way. “I’d better go.”

He realized he hadn’t said anything to Wade, no Wanda. So he smiled at her.

“You look nice today,” Charlie said.

He groaned internally. Now he sounded like Nash. But Wanda smiled and looked less depressed so that was worth it. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jake pull up in his SUV. Sissy and Wanda got in.

Charlie went into the gym. His teammate threw him the ball and they began warming up. Charlie was all business when it came to basketball. He and the other guy going to online school always warmed up together. They worked out for a while before the Team Captain and his crew joined them.

“D’you hear On-Line here is dating that slut?” the Team Captain asked.

“I saw him wid his tongue down da slut’s throat,” another boy said.

The idiots laughed. Charlie kept working the drill.

“Don’ wanna date that girl,” the Team Captain said.

“Seriously man,” a different boy said. “That girls done it all with everybody.”

“Good to know you’re virgins,” Charlie said. “Are you all virgins or just our Team Captain here?”

“Ooooh,” the crew of idiots said while they laughed.

“Harsh On-Line, harsh,” the Team Captain said. “I’d worry about what you say if I didn’t know you can’t read.”

The crew of idiots laughed.

“Nah dog, seriously,” one of the boys said. “You don’ wanna date that girl.”

“Yeah?” Charlie looked at the boy. “Why?”

“’Cuz she don’ nasty,” the boy laughed. “Everyone knows.”

“You mean like everyone knows you’re a virgin?” Charlie asked.

“I ain’t no virgin,” the boy said. “Here I can prove it.”

The Team Captain and his boys stopped working out. A look passed between them. The Team Captain sneered at Charlie before nodding his head. The boy got out his fancy cell phone.

“Whaz your number?” the boy asked.

Not thinking much about it, Charlie rattled off the only cell phone number he knew by heart – Nash’s cell phone.

“Der,” the boy said. “You watch dat and see if you wanna date dat slut. We’re doing you a favor.”

“Yeah, a favor,” one of the other boys said.

“Hey!” their basketball coach looked up from his meeting. “What the hell is going on?”

“Coach, we’re trying to help On-Line here,” the Team Captain said.

“Why don’t you help yourself to laps?” the Coach asked. “But only if you girls are done talking.”

“Yes Coach,” the boys said.

Charlie followed the other boys out the door to the track.


Monday afternoon — 3:12 p.m.

Nash looked up from his book when his cell phone buzzed. He and Teddy were making quick work of their homework before martial arts class. Mr. Colin had been on them about finishing their homework and getting good grades.

“Ninjas get good grades,” Mr. Colin always said.

Nash and Teddy were on track to becoming ninjas except for the fact that they didn’t always get good grades. Teddy was living at his Auntie Alex’s house this week, so Nash just went there after school. Nash’s cell phone buzzed again.

“Shouldn’t you get that?” Teddy asked.

“Nah, it’s just Charlie,” Nash said. “He can’t remember anyone’s number but mine.”

“Why does he remember yours?” Teddy asked.

“It’s the same number as his drug dealer’s,” Nash shook his head at Charlie’s stupidity. “Different area code.”

“Charlie is never going to be a ninja,” Teddy said.

“You got that right,” Nash said. “You done?”

Teddy nodded.

“I have one more problem set,” Nash said. The cell phone buzzed again. “Can you make it stop buzzing?’

“Sure,” Teddy picked up the cell phone. Teddy pressed the button and a video started to play. “What the hell?”

“What is it?” Nash asked.

“It’s a video,” Teddy leaned over to show Nash. “A nasty video.”

“That’s Tink,” Nash said.

“Oh my God,” Teddy dropped the phone on the table. “That’s horrible.”

“We have to figure out what to do.” Transfixed by the violence, Nash stared at the phone.

“Awful,” Teddy said. “Stop watching.”

“I have to figure out what to do with it,” Nash said. “These guys don’t even care that their faces are on camera.”

“Awful,” Teddy put his hands over his ears to block out the girl’s screams.

“Why the hell aren’t you doing your home work?” Teddy’s guardian Captain Andrew “Trece” Rodriguez came into the room. A bodybuilder, the man seemed to take up all of empty space in the small room.

“I finished, sir,” Teddy said but didn’t uncover his ears.

“What is that?” Andy took the phone out of Nash’s hand. Nash’s head dropped to the table. “What are you watching?”

“It’s not ours,” Teddy said. “I swear. It’s not ours.”

“Where did you get this?” Andy asked. “Do you know what they’re doing to this poor girl?”

Nash got up from his seat and ran to the bathroom. He threw up. For good measure, he threw up again. He stuck his entire head under sink’s cold water tap to try to wash the images from his brain.

“Where the hell did you get this?” Andy filled the door to the bathroom.

“Someone sent it to me,” Nash said.

“Did you ask them to send it to you?” Andy asked.

“No,” Nash said.

“How did it get on your phone?”

“Someone sent it to me,” Nash repeated.

Andy gave Nash a horrifying look. Nash’s entire body shook. He turned around and threw up.

“Why would someone send this to you?” Andy asked.

“I don’t know,” Nash said. “I don’t know. You have to believe me. I don’t have any idea. I like Tink. I think she’s pretty and she’s my brother Charlie’s girlfriend and Sissy’s best friend and… I would never… I have a sister!”

“Oh my God! Noelle!” Teddy pushed Andy aside to throw up in the sink.

“What happened?” Colin Hargreaves asked Andy.

While Teddy was throwing up, Colin and Andy had a quiet grown-up talk. Colin came into the small bathroom. He hugged Nash and Teddy. With his face mashed against Colin’s stomach, Nash started to cry. Nash’s tears brought Teddy’s tears. The boys cried for a while. When they stopped, Colin let them go. Teddy hugged Nash.

“You will never speak to anyone about what you saw on that video,” Colin said.

“Unless it’s the police,” Andy said from the doorway. “I mean, you can talk to us about it, of course, but… Ah shit, you know what I mean.”

“He’s trying to say that we’re here for you,” Colin said. “For anything, any time. We’re happy to talk to you about this.”

Nash and Teddy nodded.

“What are we going to do?” Nash asked.

“It’s done,” Andy said.

“You two are going to practice,” Colin said.

“What about my phone?” Nash asked.

“We have to keep your phone for a while,” Colin said. “You won’t need it in class.”

“But…” Nash started.

“I will personally replace your phone if anything happens to it,” Colin said. “Do you get a lot of calls?”

Nash shook his head.

“Then you won’t miss it,” Colin said.

“But Sandy…”

“I’ll speak with your Mom while you train,” Andy said. “You’ll have a phone by the end of practice. It probably won’t be as cool as this, but it will be a ninja phone.”

“A ninja phone!” Nash stood up a little straighter.

“Do I get one too?” Teddy asked.

“Of course,” Andy smiled. “Go train.”

There was a noise upstairs.

“The girls are here,” Colin said. “You are not to say a word to them. Got it?”

Nash and Teddy nodded in unison.

“Great!” Colin smiled. “Let’s get to work. Jake’s coming to teach you some jujitsu techniques. I think you’ll get a lot out of them.”

Teddy went down the hallway. Nash watched Mr. Colin and Andy share information in a long look. Not wanting to know, Nash jogged to catch up with Teddy.

“Teddy!” Noelle said. “Are you feeling all right? You look a little sick.”

Teddy hugged Noelle tight. Feeling a little lost, Nash stood next to them.

“Nash?” Jacob touched Nash’s shoulder. Nash threw himself at the man. Jacob held him tight.

“You did exactly the right thing, Nash,” Jacob said in a low tone. “You have to be strong now. Charlie too. But real ninjas work to make everything right.”

Nash had to bite his lip to keep from crying again.

“Let’s get started,” Colin said. “Girls over here and…

Jacob patted Nash’s back and went to the front of the room. Nash waited for Teddy and they went to the boys side of the room. He saw the adults talk in low voices. Mr. Jacob took over the class and Colin left the room. When Colin came back, he gave Nash a nod.

Mr. Colin had taken care of it.

Nash was terrified.


Monday afternoon — 4:52 p.m.

Charlie knew something was going on.

He just didn’t know what.

About an hour into practice, a uniformed policeman came into the gym. He tried to look natural, but Charlie could tell he was watching practice. The coach went over to talk to the officer. When the Coach looked up, he ordered the hardest set of workouts Charlie had ever done.

They ran suicides back and forth between the lines, touching every line on the court. After that they had to bounce the ball against the walls for two full minutes and then run the lines again. They kept at the brutal drills until Coach changed it up and they were doing push-ups and burpees and all kinds of other body weight exercises. The other boys groaned and moaned, but Charlie focused on the workout and the growing number of police officers. He pumped his urge to run from the cops into the drills and churned out exercises twice as fast as the other boys on the team.

Two more officers came in when the team had finished running suicides. A couple more were standing in the hallway talking to the principal. Charlie felt a tingle up the back of his neck. Whatever was going down was not going to be nice.

He was halfway through his last set of burpees when Aden came in the gym and did something weird. He came over to where Charlie was working out. He didn’t say anything to Charlie. He just leaned against the wall.

Coach blew his whistle to call practice. Instead of getting everyone together, he walked out of the gym. The other boys noticed the police officers for the first time. Charlie walked to where Aden was standing.

“What’s going on?” Charlie asked under his breath.

“They’re here for you, son,” Aden said.

“Me?” Charlie could not have been more surprised. “What did I do?”

He looked up to see the uniformed police officers coming toward him.

“I don’t know,” Aden said. “They’re being very quiet about what they want. They’re going to take you downtown.”

Aden hugged Charlie.

“I love you, Charlie,” Aden said. “Go with them. Tell them everything you know. I’ll be waiting for you in the waiting area.”

“But…” Charlie said.

A man put his hand on Charlie’s shoulder. Charlie looked up into the face of one of Uncle Seth’s good friends.

“Can you put your hands behind your back?” the man asked. He acted like he’d never seen Charlie before. “I don’t want any trouble.”

Charlie looked at Aden.

“Just go with itr,” Aden nodded.

Charlie saw something in Aden’s face. Aden was angry, really angry.

“What…?” Charlie started.

Uncle Seth’s friend jerked Charlie’s hands back. While his basketball team gawked, the uniformed police officers closed in. Two officers made a big show of cuffing Charlie.

His basketball Team Captain said something snide under his breath and his buddies laughed. Aden shot the boy a dark look.

Two officers grabbed Charlie’s upper arm which caused him to bend over. Someone threw a towel over his head. He felt himself marched him out of the gym.

He felt more than knew they were outside. He heard the click and whir of cameras. Reporters were shouting at the police. Charlie could only see the pavement. The policemen put him in the back of a police cruiser. With the siren blazing, the car sped off.

Charlie counted the streets. They turned onto Colfax and raced toward downtown. The cruiser made a sharp turn on Broadway and a quick right down Thirteenth. They were going to the downtown station.

Charlie’s mind raced. He tried to figure out what he had done.

He’d gotten up early, made breakfast for the kids, and helped Sandy with Rachel. He was trying to be extra good because Aden told him he could take Tink to the movies or dinner or something fun next Friday. He was trying to repay Aden’s gesture, and make sure the privilege wasn’t taken away, by doing what he was supposed to do.

He really wanted to go out with Tink.

He’d done every school assignment. He’d made sure everything was up to date before he went to school. He’d hoped for more than a couple kisses from Tink, but the kisses were nice.

The cruiser pulled into the parking lot and Charlie remembered that Uncle Seth didn’t work for the Denver Police anymore.

Charlie’s heart sank. A sense of doom came over him. .

The cruiser jerked to a stop. He felt the door open.

“Get out,” the driver said.

Charlie felt the door open. He got out of the back of the car. Two uniformed police officers appeared at his side and escorted him into the station.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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