Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Four Hundred and Eighty-four : New


“My father’s best friend asked him to help me,” Sissy said in French, in an attempt to be vague.

“Your father’s best friend?” the man asked in French.

Sissy nodded and hoped it would drop. The man assessed her again.

“So you are learning French and Russian,” the man said. “Do you study anything else?”

“Ballet,” Sissy said with a shrug. “It’s kind of my passion.”

“Kind of?” the man asked.

“Well …” Sissy said. “I would tell you that it’s my life but you are a stranger and you might think I’m really good when I’m just a student.”

Thinking, the man looked at her and blinked for what felt like hours.

“I know where I’ve seen you,” the man said.

“Where?” Sissy asked.

“At ballet parties in parks around America,” the man said. “I’d swear I’ve seen you there.”

“I’ve been to those outdoors parties,” Sissy said. “They were my boyfriend’s idea when our family was in New York for this big funeral thing. My sister’s boyfriend got a new camera and set everything up. We’ve been doing them ever since. It’s fun.”

“You’re Sissy Delgado,” the man said.

“I am,” Sissy nodded. “Does that matter?”

“Your father’s friend is O’Malley,” the man said.

“So?” Sissy asked adding a shrug.

“So …” the man said. He thought for a moment before looking at her again and laughing. “I expect ballerinas to be so proud, so full of themselves, so …”

“I’m just me,” Sissy said. “Like I said, I’m not really a ballerina yet. Just a student.”

“Well, just me,” the man said. “Do you play cards?”

“I can’t play poker but I can play gin,” Sissy said.

“Gin it is, then,” the man said with a large smile.

He took out a deck and for the next few hours they played gin rummy and laughed. The man was oddly funny, bright, with a sharp wit. He had sharp eyes and an easy smile. He was exactly what Sissy’s anxiety needed. The man was escorted off the plane when the plane landed but before they reached the dock.

Sissy woke Jammy up from his nap. He yawned and stretched. Noticing they were at the terminal, he stood up to get their travel bags. Jammy was tall and very thin with spindly arms that easily reached over her.

“Did you rest?” Jammy asked.

They were near the front of the plane, but needed to wait for those ahead of them to leave before they could follow.

“Too nervous,” Sissy said. “I played cards with this funny Frenchman.”

“Funny Frenchman?” Jammy asked.

“He was sitting across the aisle from me,” Sissy said. “He was really fun. We had a great time.”

“Did you get his name?” Jammy asked.

“He never said it,” Sissy said. “I’ve been around Alex’s house enough to know that when someone doesn’t give their name, there’s a reason for that. It’s best not to ask.”

Jammy nodded. As they were leaving the plane, Jammy pulled the flight attendant aside. Sissy waited just to the side. A few minutes later, they were walking toward the terminal.

“Who was he?” Sissy asked.

Jammy said the man’s name. Sissy shrugged and kept walking.

“He’s on the board of the Paris Opera Ballet,” Jammy said. “Ran the school for almost fifteen years. What did you say to him?”

“Whatever,” Sissy said.

“Did you speak English?” Jammy asked.

“French,” Sissy said. “Mari’s been helping me with my French.”

“Good,” Jammy said.

“Why is that good?” Sissy asked.

“One of their reservations about you was that you don’t speak French,” Jammy said. “You wouldn’t be able to keep up with school if you don’t speak French.”

“Oh …” Sissy said.

“Exactly,” Jammy said. “You either eliminated their biggest hesitation or made it that much worse.”

Nodding, Sissy followed Jammy through the airport.


Thursday morning — 7:10 am

Denver, Colorado

Aden came out of the Castle and scowled. He looked around, finally spying Jacob across the street. Shaking his head, he went out the gate, past the paparazzi, across the street and down one house to where Jacob was standing. Aden turned to face the Jacob was standing. He followed Jacob’s line of sight to look at the dilapidated house in front of them. They stood there for a moment.

“What are you doing?” Aden asked.

Aden clasped himself in an effort to stay warm.

“Forget your jacket?” Jacob asked. He glanced at Aden and then turned back to look at the house.

“When I went looking for you, I didn’t know you’d be out here in the freakin’ cold like a madman,” Aden said.

“Would you like my jacket, my dear?” Jacob asked.

“Very funny,” Aden said.

Jacob went back to staring at the house. A few minutes later, Blane pulled up in his SUV. Blane got out of his vehicle and stood at the other side of Jacob. Blane stood there for a moment before looking at Jacob, and then at Aden.

“What are we doing?” Blane asked.

“No idea,” Aden said. “Ask the man.”

Jacob laughed. They stood there looking at the house for a few more minutes.

“Come on, man, it’s freezing,” Blane said. “What are you doing?”

Jacob laughed.

“I’ll tell you in the car,” Jacob said. “Aden’s dying from the cold.”

“I have an extra jacket,” Blane said.

Blane ran back to the SUV and took out a thick sheepskin coat. He gave it to Aden. Aden put it on. Taller and generally bigger than Jacob and Blane, his wrists stuck out of the sleeves by at least three inches. Jacob shrugged.

“At least it’s warm,” Aden said, and stuck his hands in the pockets of his jeans.

“I wanted to show you this house,” Jacob said. “I have a client who bought it a dozen years ago. I refurbished the carriage house and was going to start on the house, but he had a change of heart. So it’s just been sitting here.”

Jacob glanced at Blane and then at Aden.

“He called late last night and asked if I could take a look at it again,” Jacob said. “He needs a couple of apartments and a family area. Kind of like what we have at the Castle and over at Alex’s rooming house.”

Aden scowled and Blane looked at Jacob.

“I was thinking of making it into lofts,” Jacob said. “You know top floor attic apartment, middle floor two lofts, bottom floor shared family space, and a huge basement for a recording studio and an apartment or two really, there’s lots of space. He said six adults, three kids.”

Jacob nodded. He glanced at Blane and raised his eyebrows.

“Anything to add?” Jacob asked.

“Nothing has happened,” Blane said.

When Aden’s head jerked to look at him, Blane blushed.

“What are we talking about?” Aden asked looking back at Jacob.

“Dr. Nelson Week lives in the carriage house here,” Jacob said.

“Ah,” Aden said with a nod. “Don’t want to kiss and tell?”

“We had pie last night, you know, all of us,” Blane said. “I haven’t even been on a date with the man. How do I know how he’ll be with the kids and … you know … I haven’t even been on a date in … many, many years.”

“No time like the present,” Aden said.

Blane looked like he could melt with embarrassment. Jacob laughed and clapped Blane on the back. Aden just raised his eyebrows.

“Can we get breakfast now?” Blane asked.

“I need a jacket,” Aden said. “Plus, I have to ask you guys something first.”

“Shoot,” Jacob said.

Jacob turned and they walked back toward the Castle.

“I’m wondering if you would be willing to help teach some classes at Lipson,” Aden said. “You too, Blane.”

“Classes?” Jacob asked.

“We need to prove that we do everything in our power to hire United States citizens,” Aden said.

“I thought Lipson didn’t hire undocumented labor,” Jacob said.

“Right, we have a whole department to get people documented,” Aden said. “English classes, citizenship, hell, I don’t need to tell you. You set it up.”

“What’s the problem?” Jacob asked.

“No problem,” Aden said. “The documentation department thinks that if we have a program to train Americans it will help keep the Feds off our backs. Rodney and Bambi thinks we could use the program to give support to underprivileged, women, and people out of prison.”

“As long as we offer it to everyone,” Jacob said as he opened the gate.

Everyone doesn’t want to work digging holes every day,” Aden said.

“Anyone, then,” Jacob said.

“If people want a job, we’ll train them,” Blane said. “I like that. I’m in.”

Aden pulled the gate closed.

“Why does it matter?” Aden asked.

“We have enough problems with people saying we’re favoring people of color because so many people of color have bought shares in the company,” Jacob said. “I don’t want to be the target of someone saying we are discriminating against white people. That’s a whole freak show that we’re best to avoid at all costs.”

Aden stopped walking and looked at Jacob.

“What?” Aden asked.

“The way of the world is that white people, usually men, are the ones who write the checks for construction projects,” Jacob said. “We don’t want them to think that we’re excluding their kids. It’s just bad for business.”

“Their kids are playing video games and smoking pot!” Aden said.

“Your kids aren’t,” Jacob said. “And anyway, why do you care? Just open the classes. Teach whoever shows up. End of problem.”

They stopped in the main Castle living room for Aden to get his coat, lunch, and backpack. While they were standing there, MJ and Honey’s daughter, Maggie came running through. She stopped in front of Blane.

“Hi!” Maggie said.

She held out her arms. Blane leaned down and hugged Maggie. The tiny girl kissed Blane on the cheek. She let go of Blane and went to Jacob.

“Hi!” Maggie said to Jacob.

Jacob knelt down to hug Maggie. The girl gave him a kiss on the cheek and went Aden. She repeated the ritual and then ran off into the kitchen. For a moment, the men watched the little girl go.

“Video games and pot,” Aden said and gestured after Maggie.

“Exactly,” Jacob said.

Shaking his head, Blane just laughed.


Thursday morning — 1:15 pm

In the Chunnel on the Eurostar train

“I’m not messing around with you, Sissy,” James “Jammy” Schmidt V said. “We did not come all this way for you not to eat. You have to eat.”

“You just said the exact same thing about sleep!” Sissy said. She smiled to temper her irritated response. “I can’t sleep and eat at the same time. Plus, when did you get to be my dad?”

“I’m your agent,” Jammy said. “It’s the same thing.”

“I bet you don’t do this to Uncle Seth,” Sissy said.

“You’d better believe I do this to your Uncle Seth,” Jammy nodded. They were sitting in first class seats on the train between Paris and London. He leaned over. “Eat this now. Change your clothing. Did you shower? How many hours of sleep did you get? Stop playing ‘sing a long’ and go to bed.”

Jammy gave her a sincere nod.

“Maresol does the same thing,” Sissy said with a nod. She took the sandwich from Jammy and leaned into the seat. “Do you think it’s because he didn’t have a mom?”

“O’Malley had a mother,” Jammy said. He nodded toward the sandwich and Sissy took a bite. “He’s just … I don’t know really how to say it — focused, I guess. He has a talent that’s … expensive and extraordinarily rare. I know that you’ve grown up with him so to you, he’s just Uncle Seth. But his talent …”

Jammy sighed. He held out a canned protein drink and Sissy took it.

“That’s really good,” Sissy said about the sandwich.

“Giovanni said it was your favorite.” Jammy nodded in response.

Sissy smiled at his thoughtfulness, and Jammy actually blushed.

“You asked about O’Malley,” Jammy said, clearing his throat.

Sissy nodded.

“I know that you’ve been dancing since you were little,” Jammy said. Sissy’s mouth was full so she just nodded. “But Seth … this thing is like an amoeba that took over his life when he was four years old. He was so young that it invaded him completely. It took Sandy’s mom and your dad to force him to carve out a space for some kind of normal functioning and even then …”

“Is that why he used drugs?” Sissy asked.

“Like everything,” Jammy said. “He got into drugs because of your father. But yes, drugs kept the monster away.”

“Monster,” Sissy mouthed. She drank down her protein drink. “Do you have some water?”

Jammy took a bottle from his bag.

“I think what I’m trying to say is that talent has a cost,” Jammy said. “Jeraine’s talent almost cost him the thing he held more precious.”

“Tanesha,” Sissy said with a nod.

“O’Malley’s talent has cost him all sense of normalcy,” Jammy said. “He writes plays and music or solves mysteries. There’s not much else. Everyone in his life must either accept that fact or leave.”

“You mean like Ava,” Sissy said.

“Ava, Maresol, Claire, and … there’ve been others,” Jammy said. “It hasn’t always gone well.”

“Like Ivan and Kate,” Sissy said.

Jammy thought for a moment.

“Probably,” Jammy said. “I don’t know Ivan well enough to say, but he is certainly talented and she certainly felt like he didn’t have mental and emotional space for her.”

Sissy nodded.

“I want you to think about what your talent costs you,” Jammy said. “What will it cost you?”

“You mean like Ivan,” Sissy said.

“Maybe,” Jammy said. “I’m not dooming your relationship. I’m saying look at what your talent and passion for ballet has cost you.”

“Now?” Sissy asked.

“Now will grow into a lifetime,” Jammy said. “That’s what we’re doing, right? Starting a lifetime of dance?”

Sissy nodded.

“Your dad, well, and mine, helped O’Malley see what he needed to function as a person,” Jammy said. “O’Malley has set up his life so that he had Maresol in Denver, Claire in New York, me when we’re on the road, and a few others along the way. They take care of his body and general personal needs.”

“Are you saying that Seth has sex with these ladies?” Sissy asked.

Jammy smiled at her.

“‘Have you eaten?’ ‘Did you shower?’” Jammy asked. “He can be with Claire for less than a minute and she knows whether he’s brushed his hair, teeth, showered, had too much coffee, … He needs that.”

“Oh,” Sissy said. “I don’t think I need that.”

“I don’t think you do either,” Jammy said. “The question is what do you need? Melinda helped you with your stretching and Pilates. Giovanni cooks for you. Ivan is always there to support you. If you take a position in Paris or London or Moscow, they won’t be there.”

Jammy stopped talking.

“And?” Sissy asked.

“And we don’t know what your talent costs you,” Jammy said.

“Friends, close people, you know?” Sissy nodded. “I’ve never really had any real friends. I mean, I love Tink and Wanda, but they became my friends like yesterday. Dance has always taken the space where going to the mall or a movie or even birthday parties would go.”

“Okay,” Jammy said. “What else?”

“You’re saying I have to figure out what I need,” Sissy said with a nod. “Like Uncle Seth.”

“We can negotiate for somethings — private rooms, special time to stretch, medical assistance, or whatever,” Jammy said. “But I have to know what’s missing in your life so that I can help you compensate for it.”

“What if the schools can’t or won’t help me?” Sissy asked.

“Then we look for who can,” Jammy said. “Your Uncle Seth has said to spare no expense. If you need something he can’t buy you, Nadia thinks of you as her sister, Ivan has more money than you’d think, and that’s without reaching into the very deep pockets of your oligarch mentor, Otis. You have financial resources to buy what’s not provided by the schools. The question is really what do you need.”

“I think I understand,” Sissy said.

“The Royal Ballet is similar and different from the Paris Ballet Opera,” Jammy said. “When you’re there, look at the people — are they like you? Do you innately like them? Are there things you need here in London that you couldn’t get easily in Paris?”

Sissy nodded.

“We’ll do the same thing for Moscow and St. Petersburg,” Jammy said. “So you need to be thinking about it now.”

“Why?” Sissy asked.

“Because maybe what you need is to be home to New York or Denver. Maybe you can’t be away from Ivan,” Jammy said. “There’s nothing wrong with going to school where you are already enrolled or returning to Denver. Your talent affords you the opportunity to pick where you’re most comfortable.”

“Where I’m most comfortable,” Sissy said.

“Exactly,” Jammy said. “I lobbied to take this trip with you alone so that Ivan or Otis or even O’Malley won’t get in the way of you choosing what’s best for you. I am good at helping people chose what is best for them. It’s my particular passion.”

Sissy nodded and said, “Thanks.”

“Now, back to sleep,” Jammy said. “We’ll be there in another hour and a half.”

Sissy didn’t need his encouragement. Her lack of sleep the night before was catching up with her. She wanted to be refreshed and sharp for her interview with the Royal Ballet. Sissy opened her mouth to thank Jammy, but fell into a sound sleep before she could get the words out.


Thursday morning — 3:15 pm

Denver, Colorado

Delphie went to the door of her apartment and opened the door.

Abi was standing in the hallway.

“It’s time,” Abi said.

“For what?” Delphie asked.

“To sojourn to the Fires of Hell,” Abi said.

“Really?” Delphie asked, her voice rose with surprise.

“Tomorrow morning,” Abi said. “We will meet at ten to make our battle plan.”

Abi turned in place and walked away from Delphie’s door. Delphie closed her apartment door and leaned against it.

“Yes,” Delphie said.

She went into her apartment to get ready.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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