Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Five Hundred and Sixty-five : Deep friendships


Valerie nodded.

“I understand what you’re saying,” Jacob said. “I even remember those pink shoes. Do you remember what happened to them?”

Valerie shook her head.

“You got terrible blisters,” Jacob said. “You had to see Dr. Bumpy and got a lecture from Nurse Dionne about taking care of your feet. ‘No fashion is more important than caring for your feet, young lady.’”

Valerie grinned.

“She’s right,” Valerie said.

“Of course she is,” Jacob said.

When she didn’t say anything else, he continued.

“I don’t think that you have a love of money,” Jacob said.

“I was furious with Mike over those stupid paintings,” Valerie said. “He was like: ‘What? I’ll paint more. The Denver Art Museum has helped me a lot. They need to raise some money. What’s the big deal?’”

“Of course, he’s right,” Jacob said.

“Hrmpft,” Valerie said.

She crossed her arms over her chest.

“I don’t think you have a love of money,” Jacob repeated. “I think you wanted to be safe.”

Valerie turned to look at him.

“Social safety was always important to you,” Jacob said. “You didn’t want to be made fun of or be bullied or taken advantage of. You felt small. I don’t know why, but it still comes over you now. It’s crazy to me, but you feel small, sometimes. Overlooked. Money seems to make that go away.”

“Seems,” Valerie said. She shifted back to look at her mother’s gravestone. “Money steals away everything else.”

Valerie sighed, and Jacob waited.

“I’m thinking of leaving acting,” Valerie said, firmly.

Jacob laughed. She hit him again, and he laughed harder.

“Why are you laughing?” Valerie asked.

“You love acting,” Jacob said. “You love everything about it. You’ve already signed contracts for two more movies and a commercial and whatever’s next.”

Valerie scowled.

“Whatever you do, you’re not quitting acting,” Jacob said.

She sighed.

“Maybe now that the money thing is not such a big deal, you just need to add more of the things you love into your life,” Jacob said.

“Like what?” Valerie asked.

“Like hang out with Samantha,” Jacob said. “She is your best friend. Like take really great care of yourself for a while. Or just play.”

“Philia. Philautia,” Valerie said. “Ludus.”

“Oh God, not you too,” Jacob said, mock groaning. “Mike’s been whining about being ‘charged with Agape.’”

“He wants someone to pay!” Valerie said with a laugh.

They laughed for a moment.

“Actually, I can’t think of anything better than focusing on the different kinds of love,” Jacob said. “We need them so desperately now. The world seems to have a shortage of love. As Aristotle said …”

“All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself,” Jacob and Valerie quoted their mother with Jacob saying, “woman” and Valerie saying “man.”

They sat in front of their mother’s grave in silence. They missed her so desperately and, yet, somehow, she was still there with them. Valerie sighed.

“Is Mom here?” Valerie asked.

Jacob shook his head and sighed.

“I haven’t seen her in a while,” Jacob said. He gave a soft shrug. “I assume she’s needed elsewhere.”

Valerie gave a soft nod. After a few more minutes, Valerie stood up.

“Love you, Mom,” Valerie said.

“Now and forever,” Jacob added.

Valerie hooked her hand through his elbow and they walked back to his truck.

“Buy me lunch?” Valerie asked when they were in his truck.

“Famous lunch or just lunch?” Jacob asked.

“Just lunch,” Valerie said.

“Good,” Jacob said.

He started the truck and they slowly drove from the cemetery.


Friday afternoon — 1:31 p.m.

Sandy opened her eyes.

While she had no idea of where she was, she knew the sound she was hearing — her girlfriends were here.

“Look,” Heather said.

There was movement in the room. Jill appeared in front of her.

Sandy smiled or tried to smile.

“Don’t smile,” Jill said in a soft tone. “Your jaw is wired together.”

Sandy’s left eyebrow dipped for a moment as Sandy tried to remember what had happened. Jill opened her mouth to tell Sandy. Sandy tried to nod but she was restrained by a neck brace. She remembered.

There was more movement in the room. Heather sat on the other side of the bed.

“Tanesha was here early this morning,” Heather said.

“S-k-l,” Sandy said gutturally.

Jill and Heather nodded. As if Sandy had just left the room to get something from the kitchen, Heather updated her on their conversation.

“I was just telling Jill that Jeraine is having trouble in Vegas,” Heather said. “Seems like Hecate found him a place to play but the guy he signed a contract with …”

Heather stopped to see if Sandy remembered. She gave a slight nod.

“He’s now saying that he never intended on having Jeraine in residence there,” Heather said.

“He signed Jeraine only to lock him into not playing anywhere,” Jill said.

Sandy made a guttural sound of disgust.

“I said the same thing,” Heather said with a grin. “What a jerk.”

Sandy nodded. Sandy gestured to her ring finger.

“Aden’s been here at night,” Heather said. “He’s at Lipson now. Would you like me to call him?”

“He wanted to save his sick time so that he could be home when you get there,” Jill said.

“He seems okay,” Heather said. “He’s worried and misses you terribly, but otherwise he seems okay.”

“Jsssst,” Sandy said. She drew a question mark in the air to indicate that she was just asking.

Jill and Heather nodded. Sandy put her arms in a gesture of “baby.” Jill shot Heather a look. Sandy hadn’t asked about the children yet. They’d argued over what to tell her. Heather nodded to Jill.

“Rachel misses you terribly,” Jill said. “Mack and Jack have kind of taken her under their wing. Maggie has been great. She has so much experience with her father being gone. They are amazing.”

Jill lifted her shoulders in a shrug.

“Valerie’s home, so she’s helping with the kids,” Jill continued. “It’s nice to see her enjoy some family time. The kids adore her, of course. The doctor won’t let the kids come to see you yet.”

Sandy made a “why” face.

“You’re fairly bruised and swollen,” Jill said.

“You don’t really have the strength yet to take care of them,” Heather added.

Sandy tried to make a fist. When she was unable she lifted her hand up to see. Her hand was in a full cast, fingers and all. She groaned.

Sandy made the baby gesture again.

“Do you …?” Jill looked at Heather.

Heather shook her head.

“N-sh, N’ll?” Sandy asked. “Ch-rly. S-ssy?”

“Sissy is good,” Jill said. “She calls every night to see how you are.”

Jill nodded her head to Heather.

“You probably remember that the other kids are staying at O’Malley’s,” Heather said.

Sandy nodded.

“I’ve heard that they are having a great time,” Heather said. “Teddy is learning to cook from Maresol. Katy said that Noelle sat in with them at their piano class. Nash is helping Delphie in the new greenhouse they built.”

“N-sh?” Sandy asked.

“He’s very sad,” Jill started.

They fell silent.

Sandy held her arms out in a “Why?” gesture.

“He feels responsible for what happened to you,” Jill said.

“Abi destroyed his and Teddy’s phone,” Heather said.

Sandy nodded and gestured that this was why Nash was sad. Jill and Heather shared a look. Jill nodded to Heather.

“I think he genuinely feels bad,” Heather said. “I went to school to talk about the six kinds of love according to the Greeks. He was almost non-responsive.”

“Delphie talked to him about his phone addiction,” Jill said.

“G-d,” Sandy said. She gestured to her ears.

“Oh,” Heather said with a sigh. “I think he heard her. He is very upset. Won’t speak to Nadia. Cries in his sleep. He’s very …”

“He loves you,” Jill said.

“But T-d,” Sandy said.

“Well, Teddy admits that he was why you turned,” Jill said. “He feels badly but it’s really destroyed Nash.”

“Teddy has been through so much that he’s a little more resilient,” Heather said.

“Or he’s keeping a strong face because Nash is so upset,” Jill said.

“Either way, we have eyes on him,” Heather said.

Sandy gave a little nod. She paused for a minute. She couldn’t write because of the injuries to her hands. She pointed to herself.

“You …” Jill said.

Sandy pointed to her eyes.

“See?” Jill said.

“She wants to see herself,” Heather said.

The women shared a look over Sandy’s bed.

“I don’t know, Sandy, it’s not a great idea,” Jill said.

Sandy gave Jill and then Heather her intense look. The women looked at each other for a moment. Heather acquiesced, but Jill was firm.

“Pl-ssss,” Sandy said.

Jill’s resolve broke. They took out a small mirror from Jill’s backpack. They leaned in together and held up the mirror.

Sandy’s eyes welled with tears as she assessed the damage.

Sandy had two deep wells of dark purple under her eyes. Her eye lids were thick pads of black and blue. Her nose had been reset by the plastic surgeon. It was covered in a kind of a cast. The rest of her face was a mottled display of yellow, purple, and red. She put her hand to her neck.

“You have cracked a vertebrae,” Heather said. “They believe it will heal without intervention. The neck brace will help with that.”

“You broke your ankle and then your leg,” Jill said. “They were set in surgery. The doctors think they should heal easily.”

“The biggest worry at this point is infection,” Heather said.

Sandy nodded that she understood. She continued to look at herself in the mirror for another moment before dropping it to her lap. Sandy’s eyes closed.

After a moment, Heather and Jill moved away from the bed. Sandy had been awake and asleep for the last few days. They had some concern about her memory as Sandy often asked about the same things over and over again. She didn’t always remember what they’d said the last time.

But for now, she was resting.

And that was good.


Friday afternoon — 2:01 p.m.

Marlowe School

After tapping on the door, Dr. John Drayson leaned his head in to the classroom.

“Now!” an adult man yelled.

The room was in the middle of some kind of experiment. A medical doctor, John tried to figure out what they were doing. The students had been in two tight groups together. When the science teacher had yelled, they began to spin in place out of the group. The groups began to mingle.

“Create a third group!” the man yelled.

“Second law of thermodynamics.” John’s first words in the classroom.

The students continued their spinning until the entire room was full of spinning, giggling students.

“Can you feel it?” the man who was clearly the science teacher yelled. “More energy in the third group.”

The students were so intent on laughing and spinning that they continued despite the science teacher’s words.

“Okay, let’s stop now, so we have time to talk about what happened,” the man said.

Caught up in their adventure, the students kept bumping into each other and laughing.

“We have to stop!” the man said.

John let out a very loud whistle. Everyone in the classroom turned to gawk at him. Charlie started walking in his direction.

“Who are you?” the man asked.

“I apologize. John Drayson,” John said, in his clipped London accent. “I was just trying to help.”

“Yes, well,” the man said. “I’m their science teacher.”

“Yes, I noticed — Second Law of Thermodynamics?” John asked.

“Exactly,” the science teacher said. “We’re all together here so I try to find fun ways for the older kids to engage with the younger kids.”

“It looked very fun,” John said. “I wish you were my science teacher.”

The science teacher blushed and looked back at the room. With a break in the conversation, Charlie hugged John.

“How are you, Charlie?” John asked.

“I’m good,” Charlie said. He stood a little straighter. “I’m getting through high school.”

“Great job,” John said. “I’m proud of you.”

Charlie looked at the science teacher and back at John.

“This is Dr. John Drayson,” Charlie said. “He saved my life.”

John waved his modesty waved his hand in no and shook his head.

“He seriously did,” Charlie said.

“How did you save Charlie?” the science teacher asked.

“Charlie had been badly beaten,” John said. “He had an artery that began to lead. I was his surgeon.”

“In the ICU,” Charlie said. “While I was awake. He was making jokes with his wife.”

“I think that she was making the jokes,” John said. “To keep you cheerful.”

Charlie nodded.

“That is impressive,” the science teacher said. “Are you here for Charlie?”

“While it’s always nice to see Charlie. And Noelle;” John smiled at Noelle. “I am actually here for Nash Norsen.”

“How’s Sandy?” Noelle asked in quick anxious language. “Have you been to see her?”

“She’s healing,” John said. “It’s just going to take time. I know she was hoping to go home tonight. With any luck that will happen. She is still in early healing.”

Everyone in the classroom knew what had happened to Sandy Norsen, the wife of Lipson Construction CEO, and their friend’s mother.

“Do you need to see the note as well?” John asked the science teacher.

“Note?” the science teacher asked.

“For Nash,” John asked.

“Oh, no,” the science teacher said. “You checked in with the office.”

“I did,” John said. “A security guard brought me here, but he was called away for a lack of toilet paper emergency in another area of the building.”

The science teacher gave John a quick grin before nodding.

“I understand that Nash will miss the wrap up of this lesson,” John said. “I will engender to do my best to help.”

“It’s okay,” the science teacher said. “We really just try to give them a taste of this stuff now. If they’re interested they will pursue it.”

Teddy ran up and hugged John.

“Where did you come from?” John asked. Looking at the science teacher, he said, “Teddy lives in my household sometimes. His father is in the military so Teddy lives with Nash in the summer and with us part time during the school year.”

“What are you doing here?” Teddy asked.

“I came to talk to Nash,” John said.

Teddy blanched and looked back at Nash.

“You should be nice to him,” Teddy said. “He’s really upset.”

“I was nice to you,” John said mildly.

“Were you?” Teddy asked. “It didn’t seem very nice to me.”

“So says the one who should be in Federal Prison,” John said quietly.

“That was a long time ago!” Teddy said, indignantly.

John laughed openly, and Teddy looked a little embarrassed. Recovering quickly, John turned to the science teacher.

“I will return him to where he’s staying,” John said.

The science teacher nodded and turned to Nash. The boy shuffled to the door. He grabbed his backpack out of his locker and followed John out the door. John put his arm over the boy’s shoulder to guide him out of the school.

They drove up Smith Road until they reached the Sand Creek Greenway.

“The dogs will hate us for not bringing them,” Nash said when John parked.

“It’s okay for us to spend some time talking,” John said. “If Maggie or Buster or even Sarah were here, we’d play with them and never get to the heart of the matter.”

“What is the heart of the matter?” Nash asked with a sigh.

“That’s what we need to figure out,” John said. Softly, he added, “Come on.”

They walked across the bridge and into the greenway.

“Did you ever come here before the clean up?” John asked.

“I’m fifteen,” Nash said.

“That’s right,” John said with a laugh.

Nash glanced at him. John had a beautiful laugh. Nash had never heard it before. In fact, Nash had never spent any time along with this man. Even so, he was one of Nash’s ideal men. John was gorgeous, fit, and muscular. He was tall like Nash was going to be tall. His best friend was gay and he had no problem with that. But mostly, John Drayson had been married to the same woman for a long time.

“Happily married,” MJ’s voice jumped into Nash’s mind. “It’s mind blowing how happy they are. So when John talks, I listen, because man — who else has credentials like that?”

Nash smiled at the memory of MJ.

“What are you thinking?” John asked.

“I was remembering MJ,” Nash said. “He says that he always listens to your advice about marriage because you’re so happy.”

John nodded.

“I’m a little surprised that you aren’t wondering why we’re out here,” John said.

“Murder me and leave me here for the coyotes?” Nash asked.

“What?” John asked in a horrified voice. “No. I …”

Nash laughed. John gave a rueful shake of his head, and they kept walking. They reached the Sand Creek River. Golden-red in color from mine run off, the sandy bottomed river was a haven for big birds. John pointed as a Red Tailed Hawk flew overhead.

“I figured it was because I had this weird conversation with Samantha Hargreaves,” Nash said. “She came over to talk to Val and they talked to Noelle.”

“Who said nothing about you,” John said.

Nash grunted.

“My sisters are like that,” John said with a smile. “To this day. Someone says, ‘Oh are you John’s sister?’ and they are like ‘Who wants to know?’”

“IRA training,” Nash said.

“That’s the PIRA to you, young man,” John said with a laugh.

“What’s the P mean?” Nash asked.

“Nothing,” John said. “I’m sorry I said that. It was a long time ago and won’t help you feel better.”

“I don’t think anything will help me feel better,” Nash sighed.

“I wanted to tell you a story,” John said. “I think it might help.”

Nash glanced at him.

“Do you mind if we walk and talk?” John asked.

“I’d like that,” Nash said. “Is it about Alex?”

“It’s about me,” John said.

“Okay,” Nash said. “But how …?”

“My wife and her twin decided that I could help you,” John said.

Nash grinned.

“They are usually right, so I agreed,” John said. “Although, if I’m being truthful, I usually agree to what they ask because I love them and they truly ask for very little.”

“Sounds like them,” Nash nodded.

“Of course, if our chat doesn’t go well, they will know,” John said.

John pointed up into the air.

“Satellite,” John whispered.

Nash laughed out loud. It was the first real laugh he’d laughed since Sandy had fallen. The laugh turned into a cough and his eyes welled with tears. John put his hand on Nash’s shoulder.

“Would you like to hear my story?” John asked.

“Please,” Nash choked.

John looked at Nash for a second and began.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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