Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Four Hundred and Ninety : Me, too

CHAPTER FOUR HUNDRED and NINETY

Thursday evening — 5:30 p.m.

Denver, Colorado

“So did you?” Tanesha asked as she sat down in Sandy’s barber chair.

“No,” Sandy said. “You?”

Tanesha shook her head. Their eyes held in the mirror for a moment. Neither woman said anything.

“Heather? Jill?” Tanesha asked.

“I don’t know,” Sandy said.

“I doubt it,” Tanesha said.

Sandy put her hands in Tanesha’s long afro. She checked the length of the hair. She looked to see if there was a lot of broken hair or if Tanesha’s hair was dry. While Sandy did this, Tanesha stayed quiet. Sandy’s assistant left the shop for the night. They were alone.

“I’ve had to hear about it all fucking day,” Sandy said in a low tone. Her voice shifted to a Southern drawl. “You won’t believe what happened to me.”

“It feels so good to just be honest about it,” Tanesha said, mimicking someone else.

Sandy snorted in agreement.

“Can you believe someone actually said to me: ‘Now I know nothing happened to you …’” Tanesha added.

“You’re lucky Sandy, you work for yourself. You’ve never been assaulted or been humiliated by your horney boss,” Sandy said in a low tone. “I wanted to say … I mean, I wanted to … but … what was I going to say? ‘You’re right. They just got my child porno videos off the Internet.’”

“Me, too,” Tanesha said.

Sandy laughed a genuine laugh. Tanesha grinned.

“I don’t want to take away from someone else’s experience,” Sandy said.

“I don’t want to say that what happened to me was worse than what happened to someone else, because…”

“How would I know?” Sandy asked.

“That’s right,” Tanesha said with a nod.

They fell silent for a moment. Sandy looked down at Tanesha’s hair.

“What are we doing with your hair?” Sandy asked.

“Cut it off,” Tanesha said. “I don’t want to deal with it when school starts.”

“No twists?” Sandy asked. “Sister dreads?”

“Who am I kidding?” Tanesha asked. “I don’t have time for that nonsense.”

“You could wear it naturally,” Sandy said.

Tanesha pointed to the six inch afro on her head. “This is enough work for the year.”

Sandy smiled.

“All the way off?” Sandy asked.

“Leave a little,” Tanesha said.

“Longer on top?” Sandy asked.

Tanesha nodded.

“Lighter?” Sandy asked. “A fun color.”

Tanesha shrugged and Sandy nodded.

“Jeraine’s going to bitch,” Sandy said.

“He can get in line,” Tanesha said. “My entire Facebook timeline is pissed at me because I won’t ‘me, too’ it up with them.”

Nodding, Sandy led Tanesha over to the wash bowls. She gave Tanesha a scalp massage and then put on a nice smelling deep conditioner.

“I just…” Sandy started.

She didn’t say anything else. She sat with Tanesha while the conditioner did its work. When it came time to wash out the conditioner, Tanesha put her hand on Sandy’s arm.

“I didn’t do anything,” Tanesha said. “I was just there. It was all on him. Saying ‘me, too’ points the finger at me, when the finger should be pointed at him. He had the perversion. He was the one who was evil, broke the law, did… things. He was the broken SOB who kept my mother enslaved by the mere threat of fucking me. I was just there. To say ‘me, too’ makes it about me when it’s all about him. I’d say ‘him too.’ I’d stand on a ladder with a bullhorn and say ‘him, too’, but he’s dead and gone. Mom’s free. Ava and her family have been humiliated enough.”

“Exactly,” Sandy said.

That was the last they spoke of it.

~~~~~~~~

Friday morning — 8:02 a.m.

London

Sissy swallowed hard and followed James Schmidt into the office of the director of the Royal Ballet. With his hand on her low back, Ivan followed her into the office. James Kelly followed them into the office. There were two other people sitting with the director. Sissy thought she recognized them but with everything that had happened in the last few days, she wasn’t sure. She smiled and nodded to the woman and man.

“Ivan,” the woman came forward to hug Ivan.

They gave each other a warm hug. Ivan kissed each of the woman’s cheeks. They spoke back and forth is quick Russian before Ivan shifted away from her. He introduced her as “Liliya.” Sissy gave the woman a warm smile and said what she thought was, “Nice to meet you,” in Russian. The woman grinned at Sissy and shook her hand with both hands.

“She is lovely,” Liliya said in Russian to Ivan.

A little color came to his cheeks and he gave a quick nod. With his nod, Sissy remembered meeting Liliya.

Liliya was a famous Russian ballerina who defected from Soviet Russia by pretending to be dead. Ivan had known her at the Bolshoi and knew about her subterfuge. One late night recently, Ivan had told Sissy that Liliya’s secret was one that he’d kept from the KGB. To this day, he would not admit to anyone but Sissy that he knew that she was alive. Liliya had come to Denver with her family when Sissy was five or six years old. Sissy remembered how beautiful she was and how well she moved, even though her dance years were long gone. Sissy smiled.

Liliya stepped back to introduce the man she was standing with. The director said that Liliya and the man were both teachers at the Royal Ballet. They worked with the older students. Sissy was on the cusp of going to the older school. The teachers had come to speak to Sissy about whether she’d prefer to move up or stay with the sixteen year olds.

Sissy nodded. Ivan gestured for Sissy to sit down and she sat between James Schmidt and Ivan. James Kelly stood near the door.

“Because of the extraordinary circumstances of your visit,” the director started speaking. She looked at Ivan and then changed tack. “What will you do, Ivan, if Sissy comes to our school?”

“Me?” Ivan asked. “This is not about me. This is about Sissy. She is looking for a place to learn and grow as a dancer. That is why we are here. I am inconsequential.”

“I see.” The director’s eyes flicked to James Schmidt. He simply raised his eyebrows. The silence lagged.

“Is there something we should address?” James Schmidt asked after a moment.

“Well,” the director said and paused.

“Please speak plainly,” James Schmidt said. “If there is something here that you are uncomfortable with, I will tell you that the Paris Opera Ballet has already made a substantial offer for Sissy to go to school there. I can assure you that they have no concerns about Ivan. None.”

The director nodded. She looked at Sissy and then at Ivan.

“I can see a scenario where a young dancer has her heart crushed by her Lothario lover,” the director said looking down at her hands. “She destroys her dancing career and her life over a man. I don’t wish to have the school involved in something sordid, of course. Mostly, I don’t wish to see this beautiful girl suffer and give up her God given gift for a man who at least is twice her age.”

Her eyes flicked to Sissy.

“I have known Ivan almost all of my life,” Sissy said, firmly. “If he has a singular interest, it is in the dance — not in seducing women. If anything, I’ve seen women throw themselves at him everywhere we go.”

No one said anything for a moment.

“Lothario: man who’s chief interest is in seducing women,” James said, reading from his phone.

“Unscrupulous,” Sissy said, evenly. “Like Don Quixote.”

Ivan laughed. With his laugh, the director shrugged her shoulders.

“Well, all right,” the director said. “You’re right. It’s not the right term. And … Ivan has a reputation with women.”

“So what?” Sissy asked with a shrug. “People talk about the most ridiculous things. They’d rather waste their time talking about what Ivan might be doing rather than focusing on their own life. It’s absurd.”

The director squinted at Sissy for a moment.

“You are very fierce,” the director said.

“I stood on the brink of death this year,” Sissy said. “I remember the knife like edge of life and death. I don’t feel like I have time to play nice games with anyone, even those I respect immensely. I want to dance. I want to learn. If I study here, I want it to be about the dance, about learning — not about who I love or who loves me.”

The director nodded. She looked at Ivan.

“You don’t have anything to say?” the director asked Ivan.

“I will only repeat what Sissy said – how do Americans say it? Me, too? I remember the knife like edge of death and life,” Ivan said. “I’m Russian. We bleed one part poetry about the bleakness of life, one part the philosophy of darkness and death, and one part Vodka, which is the first two combined. I can only say that, from my recent experience, life is more fragile that we give it credit for. We must use it — fully — because it will end sooner than any of us is ready for. I intend to use my life, whatever I have left.”

Ivan gave a nod.

“This seems like a good time for me to intervene,” James Schmidt said.

The director held her hands palm up facing James Schmidt. He stopped speaking.

“I apologize,” the director said. “I had to be sure. Specifically, would you come with Sissy, Ivan?”

“We have not discussed it,” Ivan said. “I am moving out of teaching to become a student myself. I am hoping to learn how to help dancers heal injuries and teach how to dance a longer time. This is how I wish to spend the rest of my life. I would not be able to teach here, if it were offered.”

The director gave a quick nod. She’d planned to say that she wasn’t going to offer him a job, but only a fool would turn down having Ivan as a teacher at their school. She knew exactly what her Board of Directors would say if she told Ivan not to come. Instead, she smiled.

“We would like to offer you, Sissy, a position at the Royal Ballet,” the director said with flourish. “We can offer you financial assistance in the form of …”

“Sissy won’t need it,” James Schmidt said.

The director blinked at James.

“She’s incredibly talented,” James Schmidt said. “She doesn’t need financial assistance — all of her schooling and care is paid for by a trust.”

Having no idea what he was talking about, Sissy shot James Schmidt a glance. He did not meet her glaze.

“Then, the only question remains whether you’d like to spend a year in these lower grades before transitioning to the school for older children or if you’d like to go to be with the older children now,” the director said.

Sissy took a breath to speak but James Schmidt cut her off.

“Ms. Delgado is clear that she would like to spend a year with the lower grades,” James Schmidt said. “This will give her time to assess whether she wants to stay in school or transition to professional life.”

The director nodded. James Schmidt looked at the teachers, Liliya and the man who’s name Sissy had forgotten.

“Our concern is that she will not get enough stimulation in the lower grades,” Liliya said. “She’s already more than proficient for what is taught at that level.”

“We can discuss additional tutoring,” James Schmidt said. “Ms. Delgado gets extra tutelage from other teachers now — Pilates, stretching, and even some ballet drills. With her talent, she needs the extra practice. With her injuries, she needs the extra time.”

No one said anything for a moment. The director took a breath and launched into what seemed like a fairly straight forward sales pitch for the school. They would be able to keep Sissy safe. They would love to have her there. They’d already heard great things about Sissy from the other students. They were excited to get started and needed to know as soon as possible.

With a round of shaking hands, they were escorted out of the office. They followed James Kelly out of the office stopping near the entrance of the building.

“Where to?” James Kelly asked.

“We have an appointment at the Paris Opera Ballet,” James Schmidt said. “Will you come?”

“Sure, why not?” James Kelly grinned. He gestured to the right. “The car is this way.”

Before Sissy could say a word, they were on their way to the Paris Opera Ballet to learn the outcome of her interview with them.

~~~~~~~~

Friday morning — 6:02 a.m.

Denver, Colorado

Wearing only her bathrobe, Tanesha stood at the window in the back door of the little yellow house. She held a cup of tea in her hand. The garden beds were turned over and waiting for spring. The grass was extra seeded and fertilized with some organic, natural product that smelled like ducks. Her mother, Yvonne, had come over the weekend they were in New York and painted a beautiful bouquet of sunflowers on their small brick garage.

Everything was perfect. She could build a life here. She’d planned on building the perfect life here.

Jeraine and she would live in this child free home until they finished medical school. They would live and love and study every single day together. When the time was right, they’d have a child or maybe two. When they had thriving medical practices — hers as an OB/Gyn and his as an Immunologist or maybe a surgeon of some kind — they would consider adding on to the house. Her Gran would live out her days across the street. When her Gran died, Tanesha would be deeply depressed, but Jeraine would be right there with her. They would sell the house and put the money in a trust for the eventuality that her mother would out live the Spider that held her captive. When her father died in prison, she and Jeraine would go to the prison to get a box of his ashes. She would bury his ashes under a tree in the backyard. Eventually her and Jeraine’s children would play on a rope swing under a branch of the tree growing out of her father’s ashes.

That was Tanesha’s plan.

But of course, everything was different now. Jeraine hadn’t started medical school; she had. Her first child arrived one cold day and now Jabari owned her heart if not her life. Jeraine had quite literally purchased her mother’s freedom from the Spider’s enforcer. Tanesha’s father’s conviction was overturned and he went to work every day for her best friend Jill’s husband’s company. Her mother and father lived only a few streets away in their own lucky yellow house. Her mother had even recently regained her mental capacities. And, it turned out that Tanesha’s Auntie was actually her Gran’s lover and a fairy. Her Gran wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

That didn’t mention the biggest change of all — Jeraine had returned to his life as a traveling, gigging, R&B singer. In a happy coincidence, Heather, Blane, and their children had moved into the little yellow house. Tanesha’s entire first year of medical school was punctuated by endless middle of the night chocolate cake, Blane mandated workouts, laughter, teen angst, pillow fights, and so much joy. So much joy.

Tanesha had been an only child raised by her angry, bitter grandmother. This last year, she was a big part of a funny, loving, imperfect family. Combined with Jeraine’s transformation into a nearly perfect husband and Jabari’s love and school, this was probably the best year of Tanesha’s life.

Blane and Heather and all of their chaos were gone now. They’d moved out when their about-to-be-adopted son, Chet had died only days ago.

Jabari was spending the night with Jeraine’s parents and Tanesha and Jeraine had the house to themselves again.

“It’s so quiet,” Jeraine said, coming up behind her.

Tanesha didn’t say anything. He slipped his hands around her waist and looked over her shoulder. They stood in this silent embrace for a while.

Tanesha was supposed to decide what to do with the house today.

She sucked in a breath and moved away from him. Without looking at him, she went back into the kitchen. He followed her out of instinct. She turned on the tea pot.

“You okay?” Jeraine asked.

Tanesha’s eyes flicked to him. She squinted as she tried to figure out what he’d said.

“I’m sorry,” she said finally. “What did you ask?”

Jeraine smiled. He hugged her and kissed her forehead. His hand ruffled now inch long, copper top of her hair.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Jeraine said.

“Oh you do?” Tanesha asked with a grin.

Jeraine nodded.

“What am I thinking?” Tanesha asked.

“You’re wondering if you can really part with this house,” Jeraine said.

“Nothing’s turned out the way I thought it would,” Tanesha said.

“Is it worse than you thought?” Jeraine asked.

Tanesha looked away.

“You’re struggling with the gap between the world the way you thought it was and the world the way it actually is,” Jeraine said. “It’s really common, especially for folks who are addicted or who love addicts. We want the world to be the way we want it to be, the way we think it should be. But, the world? She doesn’t care. She just is what she is what she is.”

Tanesha looked at him.

“Is it worse?” Jeraine asked. “That’s the question I’ve learned to ask myself.”

“Is what worse?” Tanesha asked.

“The world the way it is,” Jeraine said. He patted a stool and said, “Sit here. I’ll make something yummy for breakfast and you can compare and contrast for me.”

Tanesha gave him a worried look.

“Don’t worry,” Jeraine said. “I won’t get mad.”

“Promise?” Tanesha asked.

“Promise,” Jeraine said. “If I get mad, I’ll give you deciding power over one decision in our next move.”

“One each time you get mad,” Tanesha said.

“Okay,” Jeraine said. He held out his hand. “Deal.”

They shook hands. Jeraine went to the refrigerator and started taking out food.

“It’s definitely a good thing that my dad didn’t die in prison,” Tanesha said. “I had this idea that we would plant a tree over his ashes and our kids would swing on a rope swing from its limbs.”

“Definitely a good thing,” Jeraine said. “Kind of morbid, but I see where you’re going.”

Tanesha nodded. Tanesha watched his hands move but didn’t exactly track what he was making.

“It’s absolutely a good thing that the Spider is dead, Mom is healed, and Mom and Dad are back together,” Tanesha said.

“Good thing?” Jeraine asked.

“Like wish upon a star good,” Tanesha said.

Grinning, Jeraine nodded.

“Jabari,” Tanesha said.

“Wonderful,” Jeraine said. He turned his back to her and worked on the stove. “So …”

“I thought we would live here and we would …” Tanesha said. “Now you’re getting ready for another publicity tour before another music tour. I miss the madness of living with Heather and Blane and the kids; being a family. I miss them. What have I lost?”

Tanesha pressed her hands into her heart.

“What inside me have I betrayed, given up, abandoned …?” Tanesha asked.

“Let me ask you this,” Jeraine said. “When did you make that dream?”

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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