Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Five Hundred and Sixty-eight : Healing power of love


Saturday morning — 6:04 a.m.

“What are you doing?” Teddy whispered.

“I’m going to see my mom,” Noelle said in a whisper. “Dad said I could see her today. It’s today.”

“What time is it?” Teddy asked.

“Early,” Noelle said. “But it’s still today! And Dad said I could see her today.”

She was standing on the den floor in her pajamas.

“Shh,” Noelle said. “Don’t wake Nash.”

She gestured to the figure on the other couch. Teddy nodded.

“I don’t know if I should …” Teddy started.

“Come on!” Noelle said. “You’ll wake Nash.”

Noelle made a dramatic show of tiptoeing toward the door where Sandy was staying. Teddy rolled his eyes at her efforts. She had to stop and hold her mouth to keep from laughing. He shook his head and pointed to Noelle’s socked feet. He slipped his feet across the hardwood. She nodded.

They slipped over to the door.

“What about your Dad?” Teddy whispered.

“He sleeps through anything,” Noelle said with a nod. “He won’t wake up.”

“You’re sure?” Teddy whispered.

Noelle nodded.

“I don’t know,” Teddy said. He looked worried. “I might have to see dead people who were startled to death.”

Noelle hugged him tight. He sighed out his intense emotions.

“Where’s the dog?” Teddy whispered.

“She went up with Ava and Seth,” Noelle said. “Come on. Dad said we could see her today.”

Teddy nodded. Noelle cracked the door open just an inch. She stuck her nose in the room. Turning back to Teddy, she nodded.

She pushed the door open a crack wider and slid into the room. Teddy slid in behind her. Sandy was lying in the bed near the middle of the room. She was still hooked up to machines and there was an IV dripping, but her cheeks held a little color.

Noelle noticed that Cleo the cat was asleep above Sandy’s head on the edge of her pillow.

They continued their slide into the room. Noelle pointed to her father, who was sound asleep on a smaller daybed. A tall man, his feet dangled off the end of the bed.

Teddy held his finger to his lips to remind her not to talk.

She nodded.

They slid silently toward the bed.

“Oh,” Noelle said out loud when she got there.

Nash was asleep on his side with his arm over Sandy’s stomach. His face was puffy and red as if he’d been crying. Nash didn’t wake up but Sandy did. She tried to reach of Noelle and Teddy but wasn’t able to with her broken fingers.As tears streamed down her face, Noelle fell over onto Sandy. Teddy was so overcome with emotion that he stood there.

“She can’t speak,” Aden said from the daybed behind where Teddy was standing. Teddy looked at him. “I know she wants you to hug her.”

Teddy began to cry. He leaned over her legs.

“Good thing we didn’t wake up the kids,” Seth said with a laugh.

Everyone turned to look at him. Maresol came in behind him.

“You okay Sandy?” Maresol asked.

Sandy’s eyes flicked to Marsol. Her head went up and down very slightly in a nod.

“I’ll get breakfast,” Maresol said. She pushed Seth into the room. “Your dad would like to see you.”

Sandy’s eyes flicked to Seth. He took three steps and joined the kids in hugging her.


Saturday morning — 9:14 a.m.

“Are you in terrible pain?” Sissy asked Sandy.

They were talking on a computer program via the Internet. Because Sandy’s jaw was wired shut and her fingers broken, she was only able to tap out messages on the keyboard. Sissy would ask a question and then wait while Sandy answered via text.

“On lots of meds,” Sandy tapped out.

Sissy nodded.

“You look horrible,” Sissy said.

“Gee, thanks,” Sandy said. She made the effort to do a big wink.

The absurdity of Sandy’s wink made Sissy laughed. Sandy gestured to Sissy.

“Please,” Sandy typed. “Tell me about you.”

“Me?” Sissy asked. Her hand went to her chest and she shook her head. “I didn’t just almost die!”

Sandy’s head moved from side-to-side.

“I’m just worried about you,” Sissy said.

Sandy’s braced hands went together in a prayer position. Her blue eyes plead with her younger sister. Sissy nodded.

“Well …” Sissy sighed and looked down as she tried to think of what to share. “The term is winding down. Can you believe that I’ve been here a whole year?”

Sandy as big of a shake of her head as the neck brace would allow.

“Me too,” Sissy said. “I’ve decided to stay an additional year, even though I’ll be older when I leave. Do you remember that we talked about that?”

Sandy gave a restricted nod. They’d spent hours in video Internet calls going back and forth about Sissy staying or going. She’d finally decided to stay.

“Almost no one in my class is staying,” Sissy said. “Just the head male and head female. They said that they wanted to refine their skills, but really they are looking at the best companies in the world. Another year will allow them to be a little more choosey. I’ve wondered if they’ll stay the year.”

“Is …that …what … you …are … doing?” Sandy tapped out.

“I’ll stay the year,” Sissy said.

“Better offer?” Sandy tapped out.

“Maybe. I mean never say never, right?” Sissy asked. “Mostly, I’m not sure if I want to stay in Paris at the Ballet de l’Opéra national de Paris or come back to the US to work or wherever.”

Sandy didn’t respond so Sissy continued.

“I guess you know that,” Sissy said. “I think that I have to be honest and say that I’m a little scared to be done with school. I mean, I love being here. In Paris, sure. At school, of course. I know that I went to school in New York, but here it’s just … le vie.”

Sissy blinked at Sandy and then translated, “the life. Ballet is life here not just something I do for school.”

Sissy nodded to herself.

“Ivan says that being a part of a company is like being in school but more intense because everyone has their level and is competing to move up. I don’t know if I’d like all that competition, you know?”

Sandy’s eyes seemed to laugh at Sissy.

“Okay, I know,” Sissy said. “It’s not like I’m non-competitive or anything.”

Sissy sighed.

“Maybe it’s just me,” Sissy said. “After almost a year of ballet school in New York, getting shot and almost dying, and then coming here … Maybe ballet is my life now because my life is ballet, and has been ballet for a long time.”

Sandy’s mouth shifted to a kind of grin for Sissy. She shrugged.

“I think it’s the right choice,” Sissy said. “I still love living with Claire and Ben. It’s a crazy place. You never know who’s going to be at dinner. That’s some of the fun. They’ve been incredibly kind to me. Supportive. Even with Ivan. That’s a reason not to rush out of school.”

Sandy nodded.

“You think you’ll still be able to come to our final performance?” Sissy asked.

“If I can,” Sandy wrote out while Sissy waited.

Sissy nodded.

“I know what that’s like,” Sissy said with a sigh. “Dinner tonight is with Alex and her team. I guess they are heading to do that thing for Nash.”

Sandy gestured to herself.

“That’s right,” Sissy said. “It’s your book.”

Sandy gave a slight nod.

“Anyway, it’s madness when they come,” Sissy said. “Fun, but completely insane.”

“Summer?” Sandy typed.

“I’m still not sure what I’m doing this summer,” Sissy said. “Ivan’s been invited to help with those mass graves near the prison he was in. He’s not sure he wants to go, but Ivan and Jill’s grandfather are the only ones who were there and are now still alive. That alone seems like a reason to not go, but he also wants to make sure that people get home to their families.”

“O’Malley,” Sandy typed.

“So much like O’Malley,” Sissy said with a laugh. “Do you think Ivan got that from Seth?”

Sandy lifted a shoulder in a shrug. Sissy nodded.

“Anyway, I might go with him to Siberia,” Sissy said. “I might come home.”

Sandy brightened, and Sissy laughed.

“New York City,” Sissy said.

“Come see me,” Sandy typed.

Sissy grinned.

“Rachel Ann says that at the end of every conversation,” Sissy said. “Noelle and Nash too.”

“Not Charlie?” Sandy asked.

Sissy laughed.

“Charlie wants to come here for the summer,” Sissy said. “He and Tink want to come here.”

Sandy shook her head.

“You’re right,” Sissy said. “That’s not going to happen.”

Sandy smiled. Her smiled began to fall as desperate fatigue overcame her.

“Listen,” Sissy said leaning forward. “Heal up. You have a big life ahead of you. Heal up.”

Sandy nodded.

“Do you remember saying that to me when I was in the hospital?” Sissy asked.

Sandy’s hand went to her chest. Sissy nodded.

“Now, it’s your turn,” Sissy said. “Heal up.”

Sandy gave Sissy an exhausted nod.

“I’ll call tomorrow,” Sissy said.

Sandy gave a vague nod.

“Love you, Sandy,” Sissy said.

Sandy’s hand went to her chest and Sissy nodded. When the screen when black, Sandy fell back against her pillow. She was asleep when Aden picked up the laptop and set it aside. He kissed her cheek and went back to sit on the couch.


Saturday morning — 12:14 p.m.

“I spoke with your doctor,” Maresol said as she walked into the room.

Not quite asleep but not awake, Sandy blinked at her. Maresol put her hands on her hips.

“He was very clear that you needed quality nutrition,” Maresol said. “Soups, stews — things that are easy to digest since your system is still coming up.”

Sandy closed and opened her eyes.

“Oh, don’t give me that,” Maresol said. “You’ve been playing the whole ‘I’m asleep, why are you bothering me?’ game since you were a little girl.”

In spite of the discomfort, Sandy grinned.

“I know my girl,” Maresol said. “So soup?”

Sandy shook her head. She touched her stomach and said, “Sth-ick” through her wired jaw.

“What about a smoothie?” Maresol asked. “Some fresh spinach, protein powder, that fruit you like.”

Sandy lifted a shoulder in a shrug. Maresol scowled at her. They stood like that for a full minute.

“What are you up to?” Maresol finally asked.

Sandy pointed to herself and feigned innocence. The door opened behind them. Tanesha, Jill, and Heather came in. Tanesha was carrying an extra-large Styrofoam cup with the name of a local hole in the wall diner. She set it on Sandy’s tray.

“Just how you like it,” Tanesha said.

Shaking her head, Maresol did her best not to laugh.

“You girls haven’t changed much since you were ten years old,” Maresol said.

“We’re bigger now,” Jill said.

“Not by much,” Maresol said with a snort in Jill’s direction.

Everyone laughed.

“Would the rest of you like some soup?” Maresol asked. “I made some for the Princess of the Chocolate Shake.”

They laughed again.

“You know, I could have made you a chocolate shake,” Maresol said.

Sandy pointed to the shake and Jill said, “Not like this one.”

“You girls never change,” Maresol said with a rueful shake of her head.

“We would love some of your amazing soup,” Heather said. “Sandy will too. Can we help at all?”

Maresol looked at Heather. She smiled at Heather and shook her head.

“Just love our girl,” Maresol said. “It’s what she needs the most.”

“Always,” Jill said.

Heather nodded, and Tanesha hugged Maresol.

“I’ll be back to check on you,” Maresol said, wiping her eyes.

She nodded to the women and left the room. Jill put a silicone straw into the shake and held it up for Sandy to eat. For a moment, they watched Sandy drink to shake. Sandy nodded, and Jill set the shake down.

“Wh’ hap-ng?” Sandy asked.

“Well …” Tanesha started.

They chatted about nothing for the next half hour until Sandy was sound asleep again. They each kissed her forehead and left the room.

“Lunch?” Maresol asked.

Tanesha, Jill, and Heather looked at each other before laughing.

“Come and sit,” Maresol said. She tapped the bar at the kitchen. “Tell me how you are.”

For the next half hour, they ate vegetable soup, homemade bread, and talked to Maresol about life.


Saturday afternoon — 2:04 p.m.

“Have you been here before?” Nadia asked in a low voice as if someone could hear her.

She pulled into a parking and turned off the car. Nash sat in the passenger seat and Teddy was in the back.

“I’ve only heard about it,” Nash said. “You?”

Teddy shook his head.

They were sitting in the parking lot of a three floored historic brick factory. There was a small unassuming sign that said “The Factory” on the winter dead lawn. The red brick of the building was only interrupted by large double pained windows. The receiving bays were now windows.

“It’s so …” Nadia started.

“Small,” Nash said.

Nadia turned to look at him.

“See that building?” Nash pointed to a cinderblock structure in that took up the back half of the city block.

Nadia and Teddy looked at the building.

“It’s a parking garage,” Nash said.

“How do you know that?” Nadia asked.

“Raz has a parking sticker with the lot address on it,” Nash said. He pointed to a sign. “That’s a Park-N-Ride sign.”

“So those people are …” Nadia started.

“They’re not taking the light rail,” Nash said.

“Where did they go?” Teddy asked.

Nadia looked at Nash, and then glanced at Teddy. They stared at the historic factory.

“It looks too small for all of those cars,” Nash said.

Nadia nodded. As they watched, they saw Colin Hargreaves come out of the door of the building. He waved to them. Uncomfortable, they followed his summons by getting out of the vehicle and walking over to where he was standing. Colin shook Nadia’s hand and grinned at Teddy and Nash.

“I or someone from the team will meet you out here anytime you’re scheduled to be here,” Colin said. “If it’s someone you do not know by sight, do not go with them.”

“Why?” Nadia asked.

“You never know what could happen,” Colin said with a shrug.

“Why didn’t you go to Poland?” Teddy asked. “I thought you were going?”

“I’m kind of big for a small tunnel,” Colin said with a grin. “Plus, it’s my anniversary.”

The boys nodded and Nadia smiled.

“Anything fun planned?” Nadia asked.

“We’re going to the beach for the weekend,” Colin said.

“Which beach?” Nadia asked.

“That’s still up for debate,” Colin said with a grin.

He held open the enormous wood door and nodded for them to enter the building.

“Hey, I know that door,” Nash said.

“Yeah?” Colin asked.

“It was in Jacob’s shop for about a year,” Nash said. He stepped inside the door. “So was that. And that …”

Nash pointed to the open stairwell and the banister. Teddy pointed up. There was a gorgeous wooden frame around the second floor.

“This is stunning,” Nadia said. She looked at Nash. “You say that Jacob did this?”

“Sam did that,” Nash said pointing to the row of round wooden tables set around the old receiving bays which now were large glass windows.

“Jake’s dad is a carpenter too,” Teddy said.

“I imagine that there was enough work for both of them,” Colin said.

“They have a team of guys too,” Nash said. “They’re from Mexico. Carpenters too.”

Nash looked down at the floor.

“He had a few of these beams in his workshop, too,” Nash said.

“Do you spend a lot of time in his workshop?” Nadia asked.

“Not really,” Nash said. “I like to watch him work. He’s really fast and well …”

Nash gestured around.

“He makes beautiful things,” Nadia said.

“Order out of chaos,” Teddy said. “At least that’s what he says.”

“We love this building,” Colin said. “It was designed by the Army Corps of Engineers and put together by Jake and a couple of his teams. There are these amazing little details that you can see, kind of, everywhere. It’s amazing.”

Nadia, Nash, and Teddy could do nothing but nod in agreement.

“Come on,” Colin said. “I’ll take you down.”

He went to the left elevator. Before they got on, he scanned his retina and punched in a code.

“If you’re thinking of hacking this,” Colin said, giving a strong look to Teddy and then Nash, “the code changes daily as do the biometric feature. Today, it’s retinas. Tomorrow, it will be something else.”

The elevator door opened and they got on.

“Like what?” Teddy asked.

“Is this a purely academic interest?” Colin asked with amusement.

“It was a long time ago that we hacked that satellite!” Teddy said.

“We didn’t know any better!” Nash said.

“You hacked a satellite?” Nadia asked.

Colin groaned and pressed the number 7 and the number 2 at the same time. They started to drop. Excited and more than a little nervous, they watched in silence as the numbers above the elevator door changed. They reached the floor and the door opened.

“You are entering a secure facility. Here is a locker for your items,” Colin said. “If you step through the door with them, they will be fried, even if they are shielded. Before you enter the floor, you’ll be scanned for metal and other noxious items.”

“Really?” Nadia asked.

“You are welcome to leave anything in your locker,” Colin said. “But enter the floor with it and it will be destroyed.”

“Good to know,” Nash said.

The boys emptied their pockets into lockers while Nadia put her purse inside. She also took off the USB drive that looked like a flower that she wore around her neck.

“Anything else?” Colin asked.

The boys patted themselves down while Nadia shook her head.

“Let’s go inside,” Colin said.

He stepped up to the door and pressed his hand against the reader. The door clicked open. They passed under an x-ray scanner and onto the Fey Team floor of the Factory.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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