CHAPTER FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTY-FOUR
“I wanted to talk to you …” Sissy said.
Sandy stopped eating to look up. Her mind raced with possibilities. Sissy was pregnant. No, she knew Sissy had the implant because Sandy had put it there herself. Sissy and Ivan were getting married. Sissy and Ivan were breaking up. She wanted to come home. Sissy was sick or needed money or …
“Did you panic?” Sissy asked. She rolled up her sleeve to show the implant. “I’m not pregnant.”
Sandy gave a relieved laugh. Sissy grinned.
“You know that Wanda is having her surgery on Tuesday,” Sissy said.
“I wanted to come home to be there for Wanda but …” Sissy said. She took a bite of pancake and ate it before adding, “I was just there.”
“What does Ivan say?” Sandy asked.
“Is our life,” Sissy said in a mock Russian accent. “We live as we live. Here or there. Why does it matter?”
“Why does it?” Sandy asked. “You’re not working now and school is mobile.”
“I know,” Sissy said. She leaned forward. “You don’t think it’s kind of …”
Sissy raised her shoulder for a fast shrug. Sandy shook her head that she didn’t understand.
“Rich, I guess,” Sissy said. “Spoiled. Stupid. Make up your mind! Ostentatious.”
“Yes, mother,” Sandy said in response to Sissy quoting their mother.
“I think that this is your life,” Sandy said. “I understand that most of your life, you’ve been in one place, on one path. You don’t need to do that right now. Why not enjoy it while you can?”
Sissy shrugged and looked away.
“It seems like things are going well,” Sandy said. “Ivan’s likely to be back to work soon. You’ll be back in ballet school. In just a little bit of time, you won’t be able to come home, even if you wanted to.”
Sissy turned back to look at Sandy, who shrugged. Sissy nodded.
“What is it really?” Sandy asked.
“I don’t know,” Sissy said. “I wish I did, but I don’t.”
Sandy nodded. They fell silent eating for a while. The waitress came to fill Sandy’s coffee. When she left, Sandy looked at Sissy for a long while.
“What?” Sissy asked.
“Why do you think there were so many ballet people there last night?” Sandy asked to avoid asking Sissy the same question again.
“Ramona,” Sissy said with a nod. “You know, my friend who was an apprentice with me?”
“I remember her from the hospital,” Sandy said. “Nice girl. Was she there last night?”
“She works in the office for a stipend,” Sissy said. “She sent everyone on the ballet’s list a copy of the first video.”
“Will she get in trouble?” Sandy asked.
“No,” Sissy said. “Nadia called school last night and left a message that she’d instructed Ramona to do it.”
“I guess she’s a big wig,” Sissy said.
Sissy nodded. They fell silent while they finished eating.
“So … what is it really?” Sandy asked.
“I’ve always lived this life, you know,” Sissy said in a flood of speech. “This thing leads to that thing. First it was finishing school so I could get away from mom or maybe if mom went to rehab she’d be a real mom or at the very least she would say she was sorry to you and Charlie! And dance. I’d dance and dance and dance and then go be an apprentice and then …”
“Get hired at a ballet company,” Sandy said when Sissy took a breath.
“I remember,” Sandy said. “What’s changed?”
“Now …” Sissy shrugged.
“What’s …” Sandy imitated Sissy’s shrug, “ …mean?”
“I don’t know if I want to be an apprentice anymore,” Sissy said. “Or live here in New York. It seems like my whole life is in Denver. And Ivan … I don’t know where Ivan fits into anything.”
“He certainly wasn’t in the original plan,” Sandy said.
Sissy nodded. Sissy leaned forward.
“I don’t want to be away from him,” Sissy said.
“Why would you have to be away from him?” Sandy asked.
“If I’m a ballerina, I …” Sissy nodded. She fell silent while her head moved up and down. “Actually, I don’t know why I’d be away from him. I guess, I don’t know any married ballerinas. Well, there’s that one …”
Sandy smiled and took Sissy’s hands.
“We’re all just making it up as we go,” Sandy said. “You can come to Denver for Wanda’s surgery and be back here on the weekend. Hell, if you travel by fairy, you can do it in a few seconds.”
Sissy laughed. For a moment, everything seemed really good and happy. Just for a moment. Then, the weight of Sissy’s worry returned.
“Will you help me?” Sissy whispered.
“Always,” Sandy said.
“Even if I don’t live a straight line life anymore?” Sissy asked.
“I won’t judge you even if you live a wild and untamed life,” Sandy said with a nod.
Sissy wrinkled her nose at Sandy repeating their mother’s words.
“She’d be so mad,” Sissy said about their mother.
“Oh, who cares?” Sandy asked. “Did you know she said I was like a cow because I was breastfeeding Rachel?”
“No!” Sissy said. Shaking her head, she added, “Such a bitch.”
Sandy laughed and Sissy smiled.
“You heard that Nash and Noelle’s mother, Nuala, is here in New York?” Sandy asked.
“Aden’s meeting with her right now,” Sandy said.
“Better him than us!” Sissy said with a sneer.
“Exactly,” Sandy said.
“Do you think …?” Sissy started to ask and then stopped.
Sandy watched her sister for a long while before Sissy took a breath and started to speak.
“Everyone says you need time alone, you know, to find yourself,” Sissy said. “I always thought I’d do all of this alone and then maybe meet someone later when I was a famous ballerina and …”
“We’ve talked about this before,” Sandy said.
“Is it okay to talk about it again?” Sissy asked.
“You’re worried that you won’t …” Sandy started and then shrugged. “I don’t think we’re sure what you won’t be able to do now that you’re with Ivan. Is he limiting you in anyway?”
“Not that I can tell.” Sissy shook her head. “I haven’t felt like ‘Oh, I want to do that but Ivan won’t let me’ or ‘If I wasn’t with Ivan, I’d do this thing or that thing.’ Like I said, he’s very much like …” Imitating Ivan again, she added, “‘We aren’t in gulag. We do what we decide with our life.’”
“Hmm,” Sandy said. “So this is coming from inside you.”
Sissy nodded. Sandy’s head went up and down in sympathy.
“I think so, but how do you ever know?” Sissy asked.
Sandy took a drink of coffee to give herself time to think. After a moment, she nodded.
“What I know is that love makes everything work,” Sandy said. “It seems to me that with your love for Ivan and his love for you, you will both be able to move mountains.”
“You sure?” Sissy asked.
Sandy gave her a soft nod. Sissy smiled.
“We can’t know the future,” Sandy started one of their father Mitch’s favorite sayings.
“Let’s just take it one decision at a time,” Sandy and Sissy said together.
“I don’t want to look back and think that I could have had an awesome life if …” Sissy lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “You know, like mom. Her whole story is that her life would have been better if she didn’t have kids or marry our dad or …”
“So, don’t do that,” Sandy said. “You can decide today that you’re going to live your life facing forward. Make a decision today, move forward. Make another decision.”
“You mean like Dad?” Sissy asked.
“I never heard Dad say that he regretted anything — not even the Agent Orange that gave him the sarcoid,” Sandy said.
“‘What a grand time that was!’” Sissy quoted Sandy quoting their father.
Sandy smiled at the memory of their father, Mitch.
“I think he’d be really happy for you,” Sandy said. “Should we ask Delphie?”
Sissy shook her head and then after a moment wagged her head side to side.
“Maybe,” Sissy said.
“You can ask her when you’re home,” Sandy said.
“When you come home next week, are you staying at the Castle?” Sandy asked. “Or at Ivan’s condo?”
“Ivan’s rented the condo to someone from Denver Ballet,” Sissy said.
“Oh?” Sandy asked.
“It happened after the wedding,” Sissy said.
“I thought maybe we’d stay at the Castle,” Sissy said. “You think we could … you know … stay together? Ivan and me?”
“I’ll talk to Aden,” Sandy said.
Sissy grinned at Sandy.
“But not today,” Sandy said.
“He’s going to be plenty mad when he gets done with Nuala,” Sissy said with a nod.
“Do you have to deal with that today?” Sissy asked.
“No,” Sandy said. “I have to deal with Seth.”
“Actually,” Sandy said. “Everything is done. I just have to sign papers and go to the party, then head home. That’s not too hard. As far as I can tell, Seth has not created any Sethian chaos. Yet.”
“Everyone is saying it’s the party of the century.” Sissy nodded. “A real send off.”
Sandy smiled at Sissy’s exuberance.
“Let’s get out of here,” Sandy said.
Sandy grabbed the check from the table and they went back to Ivan’s home. When they arrived, the apartment was a hive of activity. Everyone was up and excited for the party to come. Sandy and Sissy allowed themselves to be caught up in the stream. They were soon in Harlem. Sandy left Sissy with Ivan to sign papers.
“How was breakfast?” Ivan asked.
“Good,” Sissy said.
“Are we going to Denver for Wanda’s surgery?” Ivan asked.
“Is that okay?” Sissy asked.
“Is our life,” Ivan said. “Not gulag. We do what we want.”
Grinning at Ivan, Sissy nodded in agreement.
“Oh look, it’s Seth,” Sissy said and pointed.
Seth stepped up to a piano and began to play. The concert began.
Sunday morning — 8:01 a.m.
New York City, New York
Aden stepped out of the taxi at the address where Nuala said she was staying staying. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting. With five steps up to the front door, the apartment building looked like any other apartment building in Queens. He knew from the Internet that Nuala was staying in a living community where she had a nice apartment and one roommate. The living community had buildings all over the city and throughout the country. Her only restriction was that she had to stay sober and she couldn’t break the law.
Aden had scowled when she’d told him last night.
Her very presence put her within one hundred feet of Nash and Noelle. She was, right at that moment, breaking the law. She was furious when he brought it up. Standing there on the sidewalk in the middle of Hell’s Kitchen, Nuala had called Aden every name in the book. The less he reacted, the more she screamed. When a New York Police Cruiser pulled over, Aden was afraid they’d arrest her. He managed to get her into a cab with the promise of meeting her here this morning at eight o’clock.
Now he stood outside this building, on another sidewalk, staring up the five steps up to the front door, in another part of a city that he didn’t live in. He sighed and wished he’d had gone to breakfast. Would Sandy think he was weak if he just went back to Seth’s or better yet, Vancouver? He scowled and looked down at the sidewalk.
There was no way he could leave this for Nash and Noelle to work out. He was the dumbass who picked an insane woman to be the mother of his children. This was his problem. He had to deal with it now before it got out of hand, and it always got out of hand. His mind flashed on scenes where Nuala had endangered their children. Rage pulsed through him. He would not let that happen again. As fast as his rage appeared, it drained away, and was replaced by resignation. Nuala was who she was. This was what she did, what she always did. He had no one to blame but himself. He sighed and looked up at the door again.
“Just have to get through the door,” Aden said.
Feeling movement, and prepared for the worst, Aden turned abruptly to find an aged man in an expensive three piece brown tweed suit carrying a briefcase. He wore a bowler hat, brown leather gloves, and a deep purple silk handkerchief in his suit pocket.
“That bad, eh?” the man asked with a smile.
His jovial tone caused Aden to relax. His accent was somewhere between P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeevs and the Scottish guy who used to have a late night talk show. Aden squinted to see if he’d remember the talk show host’s name. The man gave him an expectant grin.
“I just have to do something …” Aden said.
“It is always hard to do things we have to do,” the man said.
“I’m pretty good at doing things I have to do,” Aden said. “I like the cool precision of filling out forms, even taxes. I run a construction company. There’s a ridiculous amount of things we have to do to get any work started.”
“I see,” the man said. “That being the case, don’t you think we should head inside? Face the music, as it were.”
Aden startled. He looked at the man again.
“We?” Aden asked. His stomach sank. “I suppose you work for Nuala.”
The man simply looked at him.
“God damn it,” Aden said. “I didn’t even think of having a lawyer here.”
“Yes, I am aware of that,” the man said.
“I suppose you work for Nuala,” Aden repeated.
“You may suppose whatever you wish, sir,” the man said.
Aden squinted as he ran through their entire conversation. He stuck out his hand.
“Aden Norsen,” he said.
“I assumed,” the man said with a twinkle in his eye. He shook Aden’s hand and said, “I am Wooster.”
The man took a breath to continue but Aden interrupted.
“Bertie?” Aden asked quickly without thinking. “You sound like Jeevs.”
He was treated with a wide grin.
“Fortunately not,” the man said. “I am Allister. Allister Wooster. Thank God my parents had better sense than to name me Bertram or even Bertie.”
Aden grinned at the man.
“You can see why I had to leave Britain,” Allister said.
“Yes, I can see that,” Aden said.
“You may call me, Allister,” the man said. He gave Aden an assessing look before adding, “No one reads P.G. Wodehouse these days.”
“The stories are funny,” Aden said. “I like to listen to books on my way between job sites. We have a policy that the CEO must be on every work site at least once a week. It’s a lot of driving.”
“I imagine that is so,” Allister said. He smiled. “Before you suppose I work for your ex-wife again, I am employed by Ms. Kerminoff.”
“Nadia,” Aden said. The man nodded.
“Actually, I worked for her father, mostly,” Allister said. “Her mother needed me much less and I can say that this is the first time I’ve had to actually do anything other than review papers in years. It’s kind of exhilarating.”
“I imagine that’s true,” Aden said with a smile.
“I will say that I had the dubious honor of procuring Nadia’s mother,” Allister said.
“Oh?” Aden asked.
“She was fifteen,” Allister said. “Not a day older than your Nash.”
Aden wasn’t sure why but he felt flush of embarrassment.
“I’m not selling Nash,” Aden said. “He’s not for sale!”
One look at Allister’s face, and Aden felt immediately ridiculous. Allister smiled at Aden until Aden laughed.
“Come now,” Allister said. “I told you that to make you feel more comfortable. I like your Nash. He’s smart and funny, surprisingly handsome. I wouldn’t have picked him for Nadia — and I’m not above having judgements about the entire torrid affair — but somehow, Nash and Nadia just fit.”
Aden gave a slight nod as he didn’t know how he felt about Nash and Nadia either.
“I am surprised to say, I like you as well,” Allister said.
“Oh?” Aden asked. “Thanks. I like you, too.”
Aden glanced at the building and the entire thing came back to him — Nuala’s rage and criminal tendencies and his need to fix it right now.
“Come now,” Allister said. “It can’t be that bad,”
“You don’t know her,” Aden said.
“Yes, well,” Allister said. “While that may be the case, I am familiar with the effects of money on the criminally inclined.”
Shocked, Aden turned to look the man in the face.
“You’re saying that Nuala showed up out of the blue because of money?” Aden asked.
“What has she ever used her children for?” Allister asked.
“Oh God.” Aden felt his knees go weak. “I don’t have any money. I mean my wife just got some amount of money from the sale of her mother’s… I bet Nuala saw that in the paper and … Oh crap. I can’t. I just can’t take money from Sandy, or really Sandy’s mother, and give it to Nuala. We have five kids! College is coming and … Not to mention braces for every single child and all of Charlie’s medical … I mean even though Sissy’s here in New York, we still support her needs … and Nash … God knows that Noelle won’t make a living anytime soon …”
“She is thirteen,” Allister said.
“What?” Aden asked.
“Noelle,” Allister said.
Aden realized what he’d just said and he laughed.
“That’s why I am here, dear boy,” Allister said. The lawyer patted Aden’s arm with a gloved hand. “Now, before we go in …”
Aden raised his eyebrows.
“Do you have access to backstage passes for today’s event?” Allister asked.
“For Nuala?” Aden asked.
“No,” Allister said. “I’m a bit embarrassed to say but I have quite a thing for Seth O’Malley. He’s simply beautiful — inside and out. Do you know him?”
“He’s my wife’s father,” Aden said. Before the man asked again, he added, “But you should know that Seth’s not gay. Not even a little bit.”
“Oh,” Allister sighed. “I know. I’m not exactly single either.”
“I can get you as many backstage passes as you need,” Aden said with a nod. “Worst case, you can get in with me. Sandy will be so grateful that you’re helped me that she’ll make sure you get in.”
“Sandy holds the key?” Allister asked.
“You probably know this, but Seth has a bad drug problem,” Aden said. “Sandy controls his money so that if he relapses he can’t do too much damage.”
“Was this her idea?” Allister asked.
“No,” Aden said. “Seth set it up. He’s given away almost everything he owns so he’s not tempted to cash in.”
“Does it work?” Allister asked.
“He’s sober,” Aden said. “Has been for a while. Of course, Mitch died so he’s not tempted very often.”
“Brilliant,” Allister said. “Makes me admire the man a little bit more.”
Allister looked up the short flight of stairs.
“Shall we?” Allister asked.
Sighing, Aden nodded.
“Let me do the talking,” Allister said as they walked up the steps. “It’s my job. I happen to be good at it.”
Aden nodded. Nuala opened the door to the apartment building and they stepped inside.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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