Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Denver Cereal - Chapter Two Hundred and Twenty-Seven : Belong


Monday night – 9:17 p.m.

“You haven’t said word since you got out of your interview,” Aden said to Charlie.

Aden looked over at Charlie and turned left on Lincoln Avenue. He stopped his SAAB at the light in front of the Colorado Capital Building before turning right on Colfax Avenue. Charlie grunted. Aden pulled into the McDonald’s drive-through on Pennsylvania Street.

“Do not tell your sister,” Aden said.

Charlie nodded and Aden ordered the boy a meal deal with a couple extra double cheeseburgers on the side. Aden pulled into the parking lot so they would have a chance to talk. Charlie powered his way through one meal deal before he said anything.

“Hungry?” Aden smiled.

“Starved,” Charlie said. “We had the hardest work out before… before…”

Charlie scowled and turned his attention to his French fries.

“What’s got your goat?” Aden said. “You know that holding on to anger makes you more likely to use.”

“I want to,” Charlie punched the dashboard. “Ow.”

Aden smiled. Charlie gave Aden an impish grin.

“Angry?” Aden tried again.

“They kept asking me if I’d had sex with these girls,” Charlie said. “Like I was only friends with them because I wanted sex from them or like I’m a pimp or something… gross.”

“Did you tell them?”

“No,” Charlie said. “But they asked three times. Three times!”

“Hmm,” Aden said. “What do you think that was about?”

“No idea,” Charlie said. “I felt… stupid… ashamed… small.”

“Do you think they wanted you to feel small?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

Charlie drained his soda. The straw made a slurping sound and he shoved the straw down into the ice. Aden raised an eyebrow. Charlie nodded and set the cup in the cup holder. Sandy would kill him if she heard him making that “foul noise.”

“Did you have sex with the girls?” Aden asked.

Charlie looked at Aden for a moment.

“You’re as sick as your secrets,” Aden said and Charlie nodded.

“Yes. No. I don’t really know. Maybe. Probably,” Charlie shrugged. “You remember how it was being out. You’re cold, high, and there’s no one telling you not to. The stuff you have to do just to stay alive… It was nice to have someone warm and there at night. But I never, ever raped anyone or helped a girl because I wanted to screw her or…”

“Even when you were high?” Aden asked.

“No,” Charlie said. “Girls have always liked me. They called me Pan and… Trying to help them, protect them, and the guys too… It made me feel closer to my dad, I guess. And the sex was just… life, I guess. I didn’t realize sex was a big deal for kids until I started playing basketball at East. I just thought… I don’t know, whatever. You want to have sex, you have sex.”

“Even for Sissy or Noelle?” Aden asked.

Charlie shrugged.

“Is it different for girls?”

“It’s different for people who are sheltered, innocent,” Charlie said. “But that’s not me. I’ve seen…”

Charlie did a kind of hiccup. He looked away from Aden and began to cry. Aden put his hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“I was out for years and years,” Charlie said. “Hungry, cold. I was so alone, so alone. Predators everywhere. The homeless shelters are the worst. And… I guess it sounds fun and free love – drugs and lots of sex. But it was… lonely. I was so lonely. I wanted to help because it made me think I wasn’t scum. Is that so weird? So wrong?”

“No,” Aden said. “It’s not.”

Charlie slumped into his jacket and cried. When the storm passed, Charlie hit the dashboard again.

“They want me to build a case for them,” Charlie said. “Get the girls to talk about what happened to them; tell the guys to talk about beating up the bastards; and testify myself. It’s so…”

“Hypocritical?” Aden asked.

“Stupid,” Charlie said. “No one gave a rat’s ass about me or any of those kids. I mean, Sissy did, and I know Sandy and whatever, but you know what I mean.”

“I do,” Aden said.

“Now, I’m supposed to give up the only thing that makes me happy so they can… what? Add another star on their chest? It feels stupid and wrong.”

“You’d have to quit basketball,” Aden said.

“How did you know?” Charlie asked.

“Nash recognized a few of the boys in that video,” Aden said.

“Oh,” Charlie said.

“He was very upset,” Aden said. “Threw up and cried. Both he and Teddy were freaked out by the video.”

“God,” Charlie hit his head against the passenger window. “I hope he knows that I would never…”

“Of course,” Aden said. “He was upset by the violence and worried about you. He and the girls are sleeping on your futon. They’re worried about you.”

“I told them that this was bad for the little kids,” Charlie said.

“Don’t call them that,” Aden said.


“Little kids,” Aden said.

“But they are little kids.”

“It’s demeaning and they’re not that much younger than you,” Aden said. “It’s a way of setting yourself apart from the family, a way of being alone while surrounded by people who love you. Is that what you want?”

“No,” Charlie said.

Charlie had taken too much of a beating tonight to tell Aden he was right. Aden glanced at the boy and Charlie gave him a “You’re right” nod. He picked up one of his double cheeseburgers and wolfed it down.

“Can we go home?” Charlie asked.

Aden smiled and started the car. They continued up Colfax and stopped at the light at Downing.

“I think you have to find a win for yourself. Something you can believe in,” Aden said when they started through the light at Downing. “Do you believe in helping people?”

“I try to,” Charlie said. “I like to. I help out at home and with Delphie and stuff.”

“Would you be helping the girls?”

“I don’t think so,” Charlie said. “Most of them have moved on. Who wants to dig up all this crap?”

“Do you think these boys will continue hurting people?”

Charlie focused on his last hamburger and Aden let the silence do the work.

“They will,” Charlie said.

“Of course they will. Do you really want to associate with boys like that?”

“No,” Charlie said. “No way. But…”

Charlie fell silent again.


“Can’t they just arrest them and I can play basketball?” Charlie asked.

“What did they tell you?”

“They said they have no one to testify, no case,” Charlie said. “They had no leads until Mr. Colin sent the video in.”

“Are you angry about that?”

“No way,” Charlie said. “I feel… awful… stupid for giving out Nash’s phone number… irresponsible… like a bad brother. Did he really throw up?”

“He did,” Aden said. “When he told me about it, he was shaking.”

“God,” Charlie said. He bounced his head against the passenger window a few times.

“You can get mad at yourself. I understand that,” Aden said. “What strikes me about Nash is that he’s a truly, deeply, nice person. It always shocks me to see what nice, good people Nash, Noelle, Sissy, and you are. It always surprises me that these are my children, you know? But I think you should take notice of how nice people react.”


“Because these boys have a little industry of selling videos and photos of their encounters,” Aden said.

“How do you know that?”

“Seth told me,” Aden said. “He didn’t want Sandy to know, but of course that’s the first thing she thought of.”

“So everybody knows what I did,” Charlie said.

“You didn’t do anything,” Aden said. “But now that you know about of this, you know Sam would say, ‘What will you do now?’”

“This life…” Charlie said. “It’s great but so hard. Basketball is the only thing that gets me through. I don’t interact with those guys very much and…”

“Knowing what you know now, would you want to play basketball with them?” Aden asked. “I think that’s the question.”

Aden pulled the car into the Castle driveway and clicked the button for the gate.

“I was a lot older than you when I had a chance to meet nice people,” Aden said.

“But these kids, my old friends – girls and guys – are really nice, good people,” Charlie said. “They just lived outside because no one loved them.”

“They are nice people,” Aden said. “Why would you want to play your favorite sport with guys who aren’t?”

Aden parked and they went inside. Aden followed Charlie up the stairs to the second floor.

“I think everyone is asleep so we should…” Aden said in a low voice.

The door to their apartment flung open. Sandy, Noelle, Sissy, and Nash were standing in the doorway. Charlie stepped into the hallway and they didn’t come out. For a moment, everyone just looked at him.

Nash broke free and threw himself at Charlie.

“I’m so sorry,” Nash said. “I didn’t mean to…”

“I’m sorry too,” Charlie said. “I never would have given them your number if I had any idea that they…”

Sissy joined the hug and Noelle followed her.

“Let’s get inside before we wake everyone up,” Aden said.

“Did Charlie make it home?” Valerie’s voice came from down the hallway.

They heard running feet and Valerie appeared with a baby monitor in her hand. Delphie poked her head out as well. Sam appeared from downstairs to give Charlie a bear hug. MJ brought Honey up to see Charlie and Jacob brought Jill down.

Soon everyone who lived at the Castle was standing in the hallway. There were lots of hugs and kisses and a few baby monitors.

For the moment, Charlie knew he was a real part of this family and being a part of something was pretty nice.

“Good thing I made a couple of pies,” Sandy said.

“I have ice cream!” Jill said.

“Shall we?” Aden ushered everyone inside for a mini-celebration.


Monday night – 10:37 p.m.

“I think that’s about it,” Risa, their social worker said. She stood and gave Heather her coffee mug. “Thank you for the cake and coffee. After the day I’ve had, and the night I’m going to have, it was absolutely perfect. Mostly, thank you for being willing to help out at the last minute.”

“It’s our pleasure,” Heather said.

“I’ll walk you out,” Blane looked at Heather and she nodded.

She watched him help Risa with her coat. When Blane left to walk Risa to her car, Heather went upstairs to check on the girls. She peeked into the room that had been Blane’s room, but was now Tink’s room.

Ivy was laying on the air mattress next to the bed and Tink was on the bed. Both girls had their eyes closed. They looked like they peaceful angels.

It had taken three washings to get all the muck off of Ivy. Tink helped her clean up and then shared her new clothing with the girl. Of course, Tink was twice the size of Ivy, but Ivy didn’t seem to care that her clothing didn’t fit. After Ivy was clean and dressed, they’d been too tired for cake. They went to bed without a fuss which was good because Risa was watching.

Heather smiled and began to close the door. The door was open just a crack when Ivy said something. Heather groaned at herself, but she couldn’t help but stop to listen.

“Tink?” Ivy asked.

“Yeah?” Tink’s sleep-filled voice came from the bed.


“Ok.” The bed groaned as if Tink sat up to look at Ivy. “What’s going on?”

“I just wanted to say that these people seem really nice,” Ivy said.

“They are,” Tink said. “Wait ‘til you meet Mack.”

“No, I mean they aren’t making you go to school tomorrow because we’re up so late,” Ivy said. “And we get to see Pan and his new family and everything. They just seem to get it.”

“Blane was out of doors off and on for most of his life,” Tink said. “I think he gets it.”

“That’s good,” Ivy said.

The bed springs squeaked as Tink lay back down.

“Tink?” Ivy asked.


“I want you to know that I’m not going to blow this for you,” Ivy said. “I’ll stay clean and do whatever I have to. You deserve to be here and…”

“I never thought you would,” Tink said.

“Well, I won’t,” Ivy said. “And… thanks.”

“For what?”

“For including me,” Ivy said. “I haven’t been feeling really… good lately and…”

The bed groaned as Tink sat up to look at Ivy again.

“It’s the drugs,” Tink said. “Give it a few days, you’ll feel better.”

“You ever wish you had died?”

“All the time,” Tink said. “But if I had died, I’d never be here. I’d never have a chance at this great life and… I’m glad I made it through all of this. You will be too.”

“I miss Jeffy.”

“I miss all of them,” Tink said. “I figure I have to try to have a real, normal life because Saint Jude took everything from them, even their life. I kind of feel like I have to live for them, you know?”

“I like that,” Ivy said. “I have to live for me and for Jeffy.”


Heather heard the bed shift as Tink lay down again. She stood there for a little longer then left to find Blane.


Monday night – 10:39 p.m.

Tanesha pressed the phone against her ear and closed her eyes. Bone tired, she stepped into the elevator to the penthouse without opening her eyes. Her mother’s light happy voice continued to tell her about their “Amazing Trip” to Paris.

Tanesha was more than happy that they were happy. Tonight, she was just exhausted. After last night’s full harvest-fest, today felt like a long, long haul from lecture to lab to study group to lab to studying in the library to waiting an hour for the bus. The elevator doors opened at the penthouse.

She was finally home.

With her eyes still closed, she walked into the house. Still listening to Yvonne, she pulled off her boots and left them in the hallway. She’d gotten all the way to the kitchen before she realized something was wrong.

The loft was empty.

Jeraine had left her.


And her mother kept talking.

“Mom? Mom.” Tanesha’s voice cut into her mother’s happy tale about how her father had met a guy who got them into a private part of a famous museum somewhere in the Paris suburbs.

“Yes Tanni?”

“I’ve got to go,” Tanesha said. “I just got home and I’ve got to go.”

“Okay sweetie,” Yvonne said. “I’ll send today’s pictures. You doing all right?”

“Just had a long day,” Tanesha said.

“My medical student.” Tanesha could hear her mother’s smile in her voice. “Love you Tanni.”

“Love you too,” Tanesha said.

She tapped the phone against her jeans and looked around. The loft was still, silent and empty. Even the rugs were gone.

Of course, it was still dirty. He probably expected her to clean it up before the IRS came. She made a sour face and went into her bedroom.

“Ah great,” Tanesha said.

Her clothing was gone. That jerk even took her clothes. She wondered if he had thrown it off the balcony like he did a few years back after she caught him with some girl in their bed.

“Probably was stolen,” Tanesha said. “Shit.”

Not sure of what else to do, she went out to the living room and lay down on the hardwood floor. She wanted to cry, but she was simply too exhausted.

“God, if you are listening, I promise to never go through this again with that man,” Tanesha said. “Never again.”

She gave the floor a firm pat to emphasize her commitment to being done with Jeraine forever. Mostly, her hand fell to the floor.

And then she remembered her tea. He’d never taken her tea before. Even if she had to use hot water from the faucet, a cup of tea would be really nice. She rolled to her side and went to the kitchen.

No tea.

That man was going to fry.

She stormed out of the kitchen to get on with her life. She slid down the wall to put her boots back on. Reaching for her boot, she saw an envelope on the floor.

She scowled and muttered to herself, “More of that boy’s bull.” She put on her left boot before picking up the note.

“Let’s see. Is it ‘My music is important and you can wait,’ or ‘I gots to go,’ or ‘See you later, baby,’ or ‘You just ain’t got it for me anymore,’ or…”

She ripped open the envelope.

Inside was a key. She pulled the card out of the envelope.

I’m waiting for you.

She scowled. What was this? She looked at the key. The address to the yellow house was written on the side.

She blinked. Picking up her backpack, she hobbled to the elevator before realizing she wasn’t wearing her right boot. She went back and put on the boot. She leaned against the wall. All she wanted to do was sit there and sleep. She closed her eyes.

Her phone rang. She looked down at it.


She clicked the phone on to take the call but didn’t say anything.

“Are you coming home?” Jeraine asked. “I have the night off. Dinner is warm.”

“Just so tired. Don’t want to move.”

“Should I come there?” he asked. “We could picnic…”

“Wait, where are you?” Tanesha jolted fully awake. “Are you in my house?”

“Yes ma’am.”

Tanesha clicked off the phone and got in the elevator. She wasn’t sure how she made it to the little yellow house, but the next thing she knew, she was there. Jeraine had the front light on.

The front picket fence stood erect around the edged and was painted a perfect white. The house was an impeccable yellow with white faux shutters and window boxes filled with pansies under the front windows. The garden wasn’t all the way in but the brick path didn’t have the big dip in it. A couple of wooden chairs and a little table sat on the porch next to the redwood porch swing. Behind the storm door, the front door was gorgeous antique oak with a lovely stained glass pane where the broken window had been.

She was about to use her key when Jeraine jerked the door open.

In a breath, she was in his arms. Tears streamed down her face.

“Is it all like perfect this?” Tanesha asked.

Jeraine nodded.

“I want to see everything,” she said.

Her dream had come true and they went inside.


Tuesday early morning – 12:39 a.m.

“Charlie,” Sissy whispered.

Sound asleep on his futon, Charlie stirred but didn’t wake. Sissy pushed on his leg with her foot and jumped back. Like he always did when he was awoken at night, he came up swinging.

“What?” he growled at her.

She gestured for him to come with her.


She gave him the evil “Do what I’m telling you to do” sister look and he got out of bed. She crept down the hall to her and Noelle’s room. She waved him into the room. Charlie groaned.

“Shh,” Sissy said. She glanced down the hallway toward Sandy and Aden’s room. “Come on.”

Charlie stumbled after her. Stepping through the threshold, he saw that Nash and Teddy were waiting with Noelle. He looked at Sissy.

“Teddy rode his bike over to help,” Sissy whispered.

She softly closed the door.

“What’s going on?” Charlie asked.

“Shhhh,” Sissy said. “Whisper.”

“Ok,” Charlie glared at her and whispered, “What’s going on?”

“We have a plan,” Nash said.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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