CHAPTER FOUR HUNDRED and EIGHTY-ONE
Melinda gave him a coy smile, which only caused him to glare at her further.
“Do you think this is a game?” Ivan asked.
“No,” Melinda said. “I most certainly do not.”
“You want to hold power over me. Is that it?” Ivan asked.
“You’re being a dick,” Melinda said, taking a page out of Sissy’s book.
Ivan stopped short. His hands came to his hips and he squinted at Melinda. She nodded at him, and he burst out laughing.
“Sissy is good for you,” Ivan said.
“Sissy is good for anyone who knows her,” Melinda said.
He hooked arms with her and they left the classroom.
“Lunch?” Ivan asked.
“I have time,” Melinda said. “You?”
“Just an hour,” Ivan said.
He mentioned the name of a salad restaurant and she nodded. They caught a taxi at the door and were at their table in a matter of moments. Ivan ordered for them, with a note that they were in a hurry, before turning his intense gaze to Melinda. She batted her eyes at him.
“How do you know what I have yet to understand?” Ivan asked.
“Well …” Melinda leaned back so that the waiter could fill her iced tea glass. “After you left, Tink went to talk to Sissy. Tink and Charlie were in the kitchen this morning when you and Sissy were talking. Did you know that?”
Ivan shook his head.
“Giovanni?” Ivan asked.
“Tink and Sissy had a real heart to heart,” Melinda said. “Probably just what the girl needed.”
“Tink convinced Sissy to talk to Charlie,” Melinda said. “There was much said, many tears, but Charlie promised to tell Dale.”
“Dale called you,” Ivan said.
“Correct,” Melinda said. She pointed at Ivan. “Give the man a cookie.”
Grinning at her attitude, Ivan shook his head. Their conversation lagged as they doctored their salads. Melinda had just taken a bite when Ivan’s attention turned to her again.
“What must I do to find out what is going on with my …” A muscle in Ivan’s jaw popped out when as he clenched his teeth. He cleared his throat. “Sissy.”
Melinda gave him a soft compassionate smile.
“You really do love her,” Melinda said.
Ivan’s face became impassive.
“I mean, I knew it, I just …” Melinda said.
“Melinda!” Ivan said.
“Yes, sorry,” Melinda said. “Sissy is terrified of disappointing you. She said that you used to give her this lecture all the time. She called it the ‘You will not embarrass me’ lecture.”
“Never,” Ivan said.
“I’ve heard you say it,” Melinda said. Ivan shook his head, so she repeated what she knew he’d said a lot: “‘You will be polite. You will do exactly what you’re asked to do. You will do your very best no matter what. You will not speak out of turn. You will not behave childishly or stupidly.’”
The muscle on Ivan’s cheek popped out again. His face flushed.
“She told Tink that she knew what you thought of her and her dancing by the slightest glance at your face,” Melinda said. “This is a school! She doesn’t want to disappoint you if she’s one day she’s better than everyone and another she’s worse. She doesn’t want to see that look of disappointment …”
Ivan opened his mouth to speak.
“Those are her words,” Melinda cut him off and continued, “ …if she’s not liked or gets in an argument with the other girls or any of the other things that happen at school every day of the week.”
“I …” Ivan started with a shake of his head, and then stopped.
“She feels like she has more to lose now,” Melinda said.
Ivan didn’t respond. He looked away to keep control over his emotions.
“She would rather give up dance all together than lose you,” Melinda said.
Ivan didn’t respond. He was still and silent for so long that Melinda wasn’t sure he was breathing.
“Ivan?” Melinda asked.
When his eyes shifted to her, they were filled with tears. He shook his head.
“I am not dostatochno khorosh, chtoby byt’ yeye lyubov’yu.” Upset, Ivan’s English fell away.
He dropped his head into his hand. She watched his chest heave as he took a few breaths.
“I don’t know what that means,” Melinda said, “but if it means, ‘I think Sissy should do her dance at 3:10 p.m. this afternoon’ …”
Ivan’s head jerked up to look at her. She nodded in confirmation.
“Then I agree,” Melinda said, her head still bobbing from her nod. “Tink and Charlie are coming with her. Charlie called Seth and he’s going to be there to play the piano.”
“I should not go,” Ivan said with a nod.
“You should not be a dick,” Melinda said.
Ivan shook his head that he didn’t understand.
“When she was your dancer, her actions and ability impacted on your ego, your reputation,” Melinda said. “She is a young woman now. What she does or doesn’t do is up to her — even though she is still quite young. That’s what Tink and Charlie convinced her.”
Ivan bit the inside of his lip while he thought it through. He nodded.
“I think I understand,” Ivan said. “You are saying that Sissy must want for herself to be there, must dance for herself, not as some extension of me. She must be free to have her school experience without feeling like she will disappoint me in some way.”
“I will quit the school,” Ivan said.
“See?” Melinda shook her head. “You’re doing it.”
“Doing what?” Ivan asked.
“You’re making what Sissy does or doesn’t do about you,” Melinda said. “Quit the school because you don’t want to be there, not because she’s doing one thing or another.”
Ivan’s eyebrows moved up and down as he thought it through. He shrugged.
“We can only take each day as it comes,” Ivan said.
“We have a problem,” Melinda said.
Ivan looked at her.
“Sissy is quite famous,” Melinda said.
“You mean from being injured?” Ivan asked.
“From the dance parties and the Internet,” Melinda said.
“Just have her tryout by herself,” Ivan said with a shrug.
“I tried that, but people at school already know,” Melinda said. “I had to move it to the auditorium.”
Ivan’s eyebrows dropped in concern.
“When we left, there were already people waiting in line to get in to see her dance,” Melinda said.
“People?” Ivan asked.
“Students, teachers — from our school and others,” Melinda said.
“What should I do?” Ivan asked. “If I go, then it will put more pressure on. If I don’t go, I am uncaring. I don’t …”
“I know you Ivan,” Melinda said. “You’ll know exactly what to do.”
“When the time comes,” they said together.
“Yes,” Ivan said. He turned his wrist over to look at his watch. “We should get back.”
He picked up the bill. He waited for her to get up and they walked together to the front where he paid. They were in a taxi on their way back to the school when he turned to her.
“This is really happening?” Ivan asked.
“It is,” Melinda said.
He looked forward and sighed.
“You’d given up hope?” Melinda asked.
“I didn’t realize it but I guess I had,” Ivan said with a nod. “She’s just been through so much.”
He glanced at Melinda.
“I’m not sure I would go back if I were her,” Ivan said. “Especially if I felt like my actions risked losing what we have.”
“Then, you understand,” Melinda said.
“More than you could imagine,” Ivan said.
The taxi pulled up to the school. Ivan got out of the taxi, helped Melinda out, and paid the cab driver. He took her arm and they went toward the school. He felt the anticipation in the air the moment he entered the building. Everyone they approached gave him an expectant look. He swallowed hard.
“It’s going to be fine,” Melinda said.
He looked at her. Unable to respond, he simply nodded. She went about her business and Ivan went back to his classroom for office hours. His attention may have been on his students, but in his mind, he was counting down the minutes until Sissy returned to the stage.
Wednesday afternoon — 2:13 p.m.
New York City, New York
Holding a black eyeliner, Tink leaned in to Sissy. She made a swipe with the eyeliner along the lash line of Sissy’s left eye and leaned away to check. Nodding, Tink did a swipe on Sissy’s other eye. In order to get the best light, they were standing near the windows in the living area of the loft. Charlie was reading a book in the chair next to the couch.
“I should be taking care of you,” Sissy repeated what she’d said all morning. “I must be the most selfish friend.”
Tink leaned back again to look at Sissy’s eyes.
“It feels good for me to have someone to take care of,” Tink said with a nod. “You’re really doing me a favor.”
Sissy gave Tink a doubtful look and Tink nodded.
“Anyway, you’ll have all night tonight to deal with me moaning around,” Tink said. “Tomorrow, the next day …”
Walking by, Nadia grabbed Tink’s head and kissed the top of it. The girls looked up at her. She smiled, shrugged, and gestured to the couch.
“May I?” Nadia asked.
“Please,” Sissy said. “I could use some of your ever present confidence.”
Nadia laughed and flopped down on the couch. Nadia was returning from an overnight at the hospital.
“Do you girls do this a lot?” Nadia asked.
“Us?” Tink asked.
Sissy and Tink shook their heads. Tink took out a tube of mascara and worked with Sissy’s long lashes.
“I was an only child,” Nadia said. “Because of my … situation, I didn’t have close friends until I met Ivan. I always figured that sisters and good friends did this kind of thing all the time.”
“I was the only girl in my family,” Tink said. “My mother wouldn’t allow other girls to come over because they might not be good Christians.”
Tink looked at Sissy.
“I’m the only girl in my family, too,” Sissy said. “I mean, Sandy moved out — well, really my mother kicked her out — when I was four or five. We did makeup a couple of times when I lived with them at the Castle, but that was mostly for events.”
“Heather,” Tink said.
Sissy nodded and said, “Heather.”
“Heather?” Nadia asked.
“She’s really great with makeup,” Tink said. “She does everyone’s makeup for events, even Valerie’s movie events. She’s been teaching me.”
Nadia nodded. Tink set down the mascara and took out her tweezers to perfect Sissy’s brows.
“I had one thing you girls didn’t,” Nadia said.
“What’s that?” Tink asked.
“Ow!” Sissy said after Tink plucked a stubborn eyebrow hair.
“Sorry,” Tink said.
“My mother was a lovely person,” Nadia said. “She would have loved you both and all of this. She wore makeup like a model and dressed … not like me.”
Nadia plucked at her scrubs.
“It’s nice to be your friend,” Sissy said. Her eye’s flicking to Nadia. “To live here with you, Nadia. You are like my sister here.”
Tink nodded. Nadia blushed at the compliment and cleared her throat.
“What do you think?” Tink asked.
Sissy turned her face to look at Nadia.
“Beautiful,” Nadia said. “But then, you’re starting with such a lovely girl …”
Charlie snickered from his spot in the chair next to the couch. Tink and Sissy shot him shocked and injured looks which made him laugh. Nadia’s foot was close enough to kick his leg.
“Just ignore him,” Tink said, finally.
While Charlie laughed, Tink evaluated Sissy’s face.
“Lipstick?” Tink asked.
“I usually wear that one for stage,” Sissy said.
“What are you wearing?” Nadia asked.
“Usual leotard, tights,” Sissy said.
“What are you wearing?” Tink asked Nadia.
Surprised, Nadia looked down at her scrubs and then back at Sissy.
“If you’re a sister-friend, you’d better show up to big events,” Tink said.
Nadia gave them a curt nod and hopped off the couch.
“Tink!” Sissy whispered. “She just worked like fifty hours!”
“She said she wanted to be like a sister,” Tink whispered back. Tink shrugged.
The bell rang to indicate that someone had taken the elevator to their floor. Giovanni came from the kitchen to open the door. He stepped back to let in Melinda. The ballerina shed her warm outdoor coat and her shoes at the door.
“It is our Melinda,” Giovanni said.
“Hi, Melinda!” Tink said as she handed Sissy the lipstick.
Melinda moved through the apartment with fluid ease.
“Are you ready to go?” Melinda asked.
“I … uh …” Sissy got up and went into her room.
Tink ran after her but Sissy had slammed and locked the door.
“Sissy?” Tink tapped on the door. “Sissy?”
Nadia came out of her room wearing jeans and a silk blouse. Seeing Tink, she stopped short and went back into her room. She returned with a lock pick kit.
“What?” Tink looked confused.
“Mobster training,” Nadia said. She dropped down to insert the lock picks into the door lock. “I think every Russian Mob boss teaches their kids to pick locks.”
“You mean like, Anjelika?” Tink asked.
“Oh, definitely,” Nadia said with a confident nod of her head. “You’ll have to ask her.”
“I will,” Tink said as Nadia opened the door.
Tink reached to open the door when Sissy came out. She’d changed into her pink leotard and tights but her hair was now down and makeup was destroyed from tears.
“I can’t do it,” Sissy whispered.
“I talked to Ivan, Sissy,” Melinda said.
Sissy shut her mouth tight, crossed her arms, and shook her head. The women began to speak in unison.
“Oh Sissy, everything’s going to be okay,” Tink was saying at the same time Nadia was saying, “Poor Sissy, you’ve been through so much,” all the while Melinda was saying, “Ivan understands now and …”
Charlie put his fingers in his mouth and he blew a loud whistle. The women looked at him.
“I need to speak with my sister,” Charlie said.
“I …” Melinda started.
“Alone,” Charlie said.
“But …” Tink started.
“Now,” Charlie said.
Stunned by his certainly, the women shuffled away from the door. Sissy began to sob. Charlie pushed and negotiated her back into her bedroom. He helped Sissy sit on the bed and waited. After a few minutes, Sissy looked at him.
“Aren’t you going to say something about how Dad would want me to go or I deserve to live my fullest life or …” Sissy hiccupped a sob.
“Do you remember going to pre-school?” Charlie said.
“What?” Sissy asked.
“First grade?” Charlie asked.
“What are you talking about?” Sissy asked.
“The first time you took ballet lessons at the rec center?” Charlie asked.
Sissy wiped her eyes with the back of her hands. Charlie got up to get her a box of tissues. He waited until she had wiped the tears, makeup, and snot from her face.
“Answer the question,” Charlie said.
“I don’t remember, Charlie,” Sissy said, meekly.
“You were just like this,” Charlie said. “Scared and sad. You cried for three hours before finally trying pre-school for the first time.”
“How do you know?” Sissy asked.
“I called Sandy when you ran in here,” Charlie said.
He tapped his temple to indicate how smart his was. She gave him a wry smile.
“What did Sandy say?” Sissy asked. She was surprised at her own hunger for the information.
“She said that you were so excited to go to pre-school that you got up early to get ready,” Charlie said. “You got dressed and brushed your hair, but when it was time to go …”
“Yes?” Sissy asked when Charlie stopped talking.
“You did this,” Charlie said. “You sobbed for hours. Sandy was beside herself. You know, our mother — there was no way you could stay at home. Sandy finally got you to agree to go if Sandy went with you to the school.”
“What happened then?” Sissy asked.
“You went inside and never looked back,” Charlie said. “Sandy said you never even noticed that she was there. The girlfriends were with Sandy at your preschool. You can ask them if you don’t want to ask Sandy.”
“What’s wrong with me?” Sissy said as she began to cry again.
Charlie put his arm around his sister’s shoulders.
“Do you want to know what I think or what Sandy said?” Charlie said.
“Both,” Sissy said. “Sandy.”
“Sandy said that you seem to innately know when your life will change forever,” Charlie said. “Like the seizure you had when Sandy and Teddy’s dad took us to lunch. You just know that things are going to change. You get so upset that you overload your circuits, like the seizure or …”
Charlie waved to her current state.
“Oh,” Sissy said. “What do you think?”
“I think you’re a total pain in the ass,” Charlie said.
Sissy sat staring straight ahead for a moment before she started to chuckle. Charlie chuckled with her. They laughed a slight sad laugh for a moment.
“Do you do this?” Sissy asked.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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