Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Four Hundred and Ninety-four: Decisions


Saturday night —10:02 p.m.

Paris, France

It had been a whirlwind of dance and flight. Sissy, Ivan, and her friends, Ramona and Piper, had met Seth O’Malley and Sandy at Kensington Palace. Sissy and Ivan had danced a short ballet inspired dance for the Duke and Duchess’ young daughter and then were rushed back to Paris where their outdoor ballet parties was continuing at the gated entrance to Les Jardins du Tuileries.

Tired but exhilarated, Sissy and Ivan were the stars of the show. Ivan encouraged and supported the young dancers, including the male members of the Esprit de Corps from the New York ballet where Ivan was teaching. Sissy danced and laughed with her friends. She made new friends with the older students from the Royal Ballet as well as from the Paris Opera Ballet. Both schools had come to the outdoor show to share their talented students with the Internet. Parisian bystanders were joined by Londoners to watch the dance.

A piano from the Paris Opera Ballet appeared the moment Seth arrived. Sandy had helped Seth set up and had sat with him until he was comfortable. Not sure what drew her attention, Sissy looked up and noticed that Sandy was sitting alone. Sissy zoomed over to talk to Sandy.

“May I?” Sissy asked.

“Please!” Sandy said.

Sandy held up the thick blanket on her lap. Sissy scooted under its warmth. The sisters sat together for a few minutes just watching the crowd.

“I wanted to…” Sissy started.

“I know,” Sandy said.

“You do?” Sissy asked.

“You’re thinking about staying here — either in Paris or London,” Sandy said with a shrug.

“I was hoping you could help me think it through,” Sissy said.

“What does your heart say?” Sandy asked.

“Oh,” Sissy blushed. “Go back to New York and stop this foolishness.”

“That sounds more like Mom,” Sandy said with a laugh.

Sissy grit her teeth and nodded.

“I think it’s hard for us,” Sandy said. “Our minds tell us that we need to have this kind of nuclear family. Father, mother, children. We should get up together, go to bed together, and eat some meals together. We should fight over things like…”

“What TV programs we watch,” Sissy said.

“Or staying out late with your friends,” Sandy said.

Sissy’s older brother Charlie plopped down next to Sissy. She gave him some blanket.

“We’re talking about…” Sandy said.

“I heard,” Charlie said. “We should fight about boyfriends, girlfriends, ‘Did you do your homework?’”

“‘I found a cigarette in your backpack,’” Sissy said with a nod.

“No you didn’t,” Charlie said. “Not my backpack.”

Sandy laughed.

“Why is that funny?” Charlie asked. “I do not smoke — cigarettes or anything else.”

“I was talking about what we should fight over,” Sissy said.

“Oh,” Charlie said, sheepishly.

“You prove my point,” Sandy said. “We don’t fight about those things because we’ve had to raise ourselves. Charlie spent more time on the streets than at home. And you, Sis — you were either taking care of Mom or in rehab.”

“Dancing,” Sissy said.

Sandy and Charlie nodded.

“We didn’t have the normal family,” Sandy said. “Maybe that was bad. Maybe it’s good. Maybe you need it so badly now because you almost died and have been sick.”

Sandy shrugged.

“I don’t have answers,” Sandy said. “But I’ll tell you this: you two are grown up. I don’t care about your age. You’ve basically raised yourself without help from anyone.”

“We had you,” Sissy said. “That was really great.”

Charlie nodded. Sandy blushed and continued on.

“You know what you need to do, what’s next for you.” Sandy said. “Aden and I are only here in case you get in trouble or skin your knees.”

“To talk things through,” Charlie said.

Sissy nodded.

“So what’s the hold up?” Sandy asked.

When Sissy didn’t respond, Charlie knocked into her shoulder. She looked at him.

“Not so long ago, I was really unhappy,” Sissy said. “I mean, Mom, and not eating, Charlie was living on the streets. I felt so alone, so terribly alone.”

Sissy nodded. She glanced at Sandy and Charlie to see if they were listening. She smiled because she held their full attention.

“Now I have so much,” Sissy said. “I have real friends like Wanda. Charlie is safe and happy. I have Ivan, and I’m even making new friends, nice friends like Piper and Ramona. None of this happened before. It was just me facing the wall of insanity.”

Sissy nodded.

“You’re not alone anymore,” Sandy said.

“You’re afraid that moving here or London is like going back to that lonely place,” Charlie said.

“Yes,” Sissy said. “I mean, I know that Ivan and me are going to be okay. It’s crazy but I know in my heart that’s true. I know that I’ll talk to Sandy every single Friday like we do now. Wanda and I will talk on Tuesdays. I know that I can call and talk to everyone at any time and they will drop everything to help me. I am not alone anymore.”

Waiting for Sissy to finish what she had to say, Charlie and Sissy didn’t say anything for a moment.

“I just…” Sissy said. “These people speak French, all the time. Sometimes, it’s okay and other times, it’s like talking to Martians. Exhausting. Even now, I have that feeling…”

Sissy pressed her hand into her chest and folded over.

“If I were standing right next to you,” Sandy said, “would that feel any different?”

Sissy stayed quiet for a long moment. Charlie put his arm over her shoulder and rubbed her shoulder with his hand. Sissy shook her head. She stayed like that for a moment before sitting up.

“It wouldn’t make any difference,” Sissy said. “I’ve been at the Castle with everyone and still felt that way.”

“When do you not feel that way?” Sandy asked.

“With Ivan,” Sissy said. “Well, most of the time, and all the time with Rachel Ann.”

“She’s a special girl,” Sandy said.

“So sweet,” Sissy said.

“You were that sweet,” Charlie said. “Rachel Ann reminds me of you, Sis.”

Surprised, Sissy’s head jerked to look at Charlie and then at Sandy.

“It’s true,” Sandy said. “The only one who was sweeter was Charlie. He was such a kind boy, so like Dad.”

Sissy nodded.

“We have this programming,” Sandy said. “Maybe it came from Mom or Dad. Maybe it’s a past life or past experience, whatever. I don’t know. But we have it.”

“I’m doomed to feel this way for the rest of my life?” Sissy asked.

Sandy felt the heat of Charlie and Sissy’s eyes on her face.

“No,” Sandy said. “But, you’ll feel this way as long as you do the same things. Stay with me and Aden. Stay at the Castle or with Ivan and you’ll stay the same. If you want to feel differently, you have to do something different.”

Neither Sissy nor Charlie responded.

“I know it sounds crazy,” Sandy said. “I know it does. But it’s the only thing I’ve found to be true in my life. We have to do something different to feel something different. If you don’t want to feel so alone for the rest of your life, then you have to try something new, make new friends, and work on that feeling. What would it be like to be away from Ivan?”

“Horrible,” Sissy said.

Sandy nodded.

“But survivable?” Sandy asked.

Sissy sighed and gave a slow nod.

“And Ivan?” Sandy asked.

“He wants me to take this opportunity,” Sissy said. “Learn as much as possible. Grow. It’s only two years, and stuff like that.”

Sissy leaned over again.

“Are you sure you’re not just afraid it will be too hard?” Charlie asked.

Sissy didn’t sit up or say anything.

“I knew it,” Charlie said. “You were always like that. You’d rather not do anything that have to face something that was too hard for you. But really — name one thing that’s been too hard for you?”

Charlie’s challenge caused Sissy to sit up straight. She didn’t respond for a while. They watched the party wind down and the dancers begin to leave. Sissy sighed.

“So,” Sandy said.

“So,” Sissy said.

“You’re staying Paris, aren’t you?” Charlie asked.

Sissy didn’t respond.

“Claire is going to drive you crazy,” Charlie said. “She’s very motherly.”

“Helene is one of my favorite people in the whole world,” Sissy said. “If I could be half as gracious as she is, I’d…”

Sandy grinned and didn’t say anything. They sat in silence for a few minutes. A few dancers came up to say goodbye to Sissy and chat for a moment. When they left, Sandy sighed.

“Oh, God, I’m going to miss you,” Sandy said.

“I’ve been in New York most of this year!” Sissy said.

“O’Malley let me fly there as much as I wanted,” Sandy said. “I always knew if I wanted to see you that you were only a few hours away.”

Sandy nodded.

“I will miss you too,” Charlie said. “But…”

Charlie sighed.

“We will come to visit at Christmas,” Sandy said.

“And every holiday,” Charlie said. “You can come home in the summer or we’ll come see you.”

“We’ll talk once a week,” Sandy said.

“The time is going to go really fast,” Charlie said.

“I’ll miss your basketball games,” Sissy said.

“You would have missed them anyway,” Charlie said. “And, that’s a good thing. We didn’t have much time as a tight family, and maybe that’s good. Now we can be apart and still love each other like hell.”

Sissy put her arm around her brother and her sister. They held each other for a moment.

“We have to fly home,” Sandy said. “I know you want to talk to Ivan before we go.”

Charlie stood up and pulled Sissy into a hug.

“Love you, Sis,” Charlie said. He kissed her cheek.

Tink ran over to join in the goodbye saying. Sissy was passed from person to person until she reached Sandy. Sissy clung to her sister for a moment.

“I am here for you,” Sandy said in Sissy’s ear. “24/7. I am here. If you need anything, I’ll get here as fast as I can. You know, I can get here in a blink of an eye via friendly fairy.”

Sissy squeezed her sister tight.

“What if I can’t do it?” Sissy asked.

“What if you can?” Sandy asked.

Sissy laughed.

“Mari can bring you home,” Sandy said. “Claire told me that Alex comes through Paris every other month sometimes more. Seth will come. Gosh, we’ll be here by phone, email, video phone. You are not alone.”

“You mentioned Mari,” Sissy said.

“I saw her in New York when I was getting Seth,” Sandy aid.

“Why isn’t she here?” Sissy asked. “I thought she and Otis would be here.”

“They will be,” Sandy said. “They are waiting to deal with the Russian stuff.”

Sissy nodded. The sisters squeezed one more time and then they ran around to frantically close up the party. They packed up costumes, helped Teddy and Nash with their cameras, laughed talked to people, and finally were all packed into an armored car on their way to the airport with the Esprit de Corp men were in a van behind them. Sissy talked and laughed with everyone. They made plans for when Nash and Teddy would come through on their way to Poland during “hunting week” break in two weeks.

And, suddenly, she was standing in front of Ivan as everyone was loading onto the plane.

Ivan opened his mouth, and then shook his head. He picked up her hand.

“I love you,” he said.

With that, he turned in place and walked up the ramp to the plane. He didn’t turn around or look at her. She waved to the plane until James Kelly ushered her back into the armored car. Out of respect for her, they were out of the parking lot before he said anything.

“How are you?” James Kelly asked.

“About as sucky as you’d think,” Sissy said. “Where’s Jammy?”

“Your agent is signing all of the contracts,” James Kelly said.

“What contracts?” Sissy asked.

“For school,” James Kelly said. “Here’s what’s going to happen…”

Sissy didn’t say anything, so James Kelly looked at her.

“No comment?” James Kelly asked.

“Oh,” Sissy said. “I was waiting to hear what was going to happen and thinking that I was going to cry my eyes out.”

James Kelly shot her a sympathetic look.

“You never get used to it, Sissy,” James Kelly said. “At least I haven’t. I just try to get home in one piece. That’s my job.”

“What if their life moves on without me?” Sissy asked.

“Their life will move on without you,” James Kelly said. “Your life will move on without them. That’s how it works.”

“That sucks,” Sissy said.

“Not really,” James Kelly said. “All of that movement creates this awesome energy. When you’re together, you have so much to share. You will see. It’s awesome.”

“Your girlfriend is a fairy,” Sissy said. “She can see you everywhere.”

“We don’t live like that,” James Kelly said. “Do you love Ivan enough to allow him to be magnificent?”

“Ivan is magnificent already,” Sissy said.

“Then you’ll be fine,” James Kelly said.

Sissy sighed.

“So what’s going to happen?” Sissy asked.

“It will be announced that you are going to school at the Royal Ballet,” James Kelly said.

“But…” Sissy said.

“You will actually attend the Paris Opera Ballet,” James Kelly said. “It won’t fool someone who really wants to know, but it will keep most people from knowing where you are. You’ll head to London a couple times a month and get your picture taken there.”

James Kelly shrugged.

“We do this for celebrities all the time,” James Kelly said. “France is a place with strong security laws. You won’t be bothered here. Living with Claire and Ben, you’ll be safer than if you were almost anywhere in the world.”

“Accept Alex’s house,” Sissy said. “Does Alex really stop by here a lot?”

“Every chance she can,” James Kelly said. “Me, too.”

“That’s good,” Sissy said.

James Kelly smiled and nodded. They drove the rest of the way to Claire and Ben’s house in silence.


Saturday night —8:02 p.m.

Somewhere in New Hampshire

Exhausted, Valerie stumbled out of makeup and costume removal. She walked down the path toward her trailer where she was supposed to meet Mike. She was so tired that she’d secretly hoped that Mike wouldn’t be there. She needed sleep, real sleep.

Sighing, she opened her trailer door and hefted herself up the steps. Mike wasn’t there.

“Mike?” Valerie asked.

Mike came out of the bedroom in the back.

“Shh,” Mike said.

Valerie tipped her head to the side and listened. She heard a sound that could only mean one thing. She floated more than walked toward the back.


Her two month old baby was lying on the bed.

“He came for a visit,” Mike said.

He held out an arm to hold her, but she rushed to her child. Eddie opened his eyes the moment she was there and reached out his hand. As if in a trance, she picked him up and held the baby close to her. Mike wrapped them both in his arms.

Valerie breathed in her baby’s scent. She felt his hot body against her check and Mike’s protective hold. She drew it all in.

One breath.

Two breathes.

A tiny bit of her old energy returned. She looked up at Mike to see that he was looking at her.

“Can he stay?” Valerie asked.

“It depends on how you’re feeling,” Mike said. “No one was trying to keep your baby away from you. We were trying to give you space to do what you wanted to do.”

“And Jackie?” Valerie asked.

“She’ll come on the weekends if you’re up to it,” Mike said.

Valerie looked at Eddie.

“Did you come by fairy?” Valerie asked the child.

“They both travel really well by fairy,” Mike said. “So they can be here when you can enjoy them and go home when they are too much.”

“How could you be too much?” Valerie asked the child.

Eddie threw up on her shoulder.

“Oh, yeah,” Mike said. “Mari said to watch for indigestion. I guess it’s common in this kind of flight.”

“Mari?” Valerie asked while never taking her eyes off her child.

“Otis is in the middle of some Russian thing,” Mike said. “Mari was trying to stay out of the way so she’s helping Edie with the kids. Abi’s with Delphie to deal with the cemetery thing so Zoe and Zaidy are with Edie.”

“Not Fin?” Valerie asked.

“He set up a tournament to test the skills of the babies,” Mike said. “Katy happened by, so he asked her to do the tasks. She refused to compete with the children. Katy was in the middle of taking a stand when Jill found them. Edie has the babies and Fin is sulking.”

Valerie made a noise. Truth be told, she didn’t really care what Fin was sulking about this time. She had one of her babies and that was about all that mattered. Reading her easily, Mike grinned.

“Come on,” Mike said.

He led her to the bed where they sat down. Mike pulled her back and she lay down with Eddie on her chest. When he looked at her, she was sound asleep. Smiling, he put his arm around her and let her rest for a while.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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