Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Four Hundred and Ninety-one : Belong


“Um …” Tanesha said.

“You mention your Dad and prison, so it must be before he got out,” Jeraine said.

“Before Mom was freed,” Tanesha said.

“Before Jabari,” Jeraine said. “Before the fairies, because you never thought your mom’s head would be healed.”

Tanesha nodded.

“So?” Jeraine asked.

“High school, maybe,” Tanesha said. “College, no, you were fucking around and I …”

Tanesha shook the memory of pain and betrayal out of her head. He waited until her vision was clear.

“Maybe you thought you’d like to live here with me alone,” Jeraine said. “And what you actually like is living in the middle of the big chaos of a family — friends, children, good food.”

He turned to look at her.

“You’re so smart,” he said. “So, so smart. You don’t have time to think about food or wall colors or making everything perfect.”

“Shouldn’t I?” Tanesha asked.

Jeraine shrugged.

“Do you think less of me?” Tanesha asked.

“I think you are a Goddess, plain and simple,” Jeraine said, holding her eyes with his own. “The longer I know you, the more sure I am that I cannot ever know your magnificence.”

Tanesha’s eyes welled with tears.

“No, really,” Tanesha said.

“Really,” Jeraine said. “Yes, our life doesn’t look like it came out of the Pottery Barn catalog. Our life is a little crazy. But that’s what makes it magnificent. Are you happy?”

Tanesha nodded emphatically.

“Are you?” she dared to asked.

“Happier than I could have ever imagined I would be,” Jeraine said.

“Even if we usually don’t see each other every day?” Tanesha asked.

“I see you via video, talk to you, listen to what you have to say — sometimes twice a day,” Jeraine said. “I don’t know many couples who do that except maybe my parents.”

“Mine,” Tanesha said. “My mom drops by to talk to my dad at work.”

Jeraine nodded. After a moment, he shrugged. With great flourish, he set down her favorite breakfast — a variety of sautéed vegetables, yams, and eggs mixed to savory perfection — called “hash.”

“I like knowing that you’re taken care of when I’m gone,” Jeraine said. “I like coming home to Blane and Heather. Man, Blane and I … we’ve talked deep, deep. He’s like my brother through and through.”

“He feels the same way,” Tanesha said.

Jeraine actually blushed and grinned. Tanesha leaned forward and kissed him.

“Eat your food, woman,” Jeraine said. “We’ve got house looking to do.”

“Are you sure?” Tanesha asked. “We could always stay here.”

“I’ve never seen you as happy as you have been living with Heather and Blane, going to school, and having things go so well with us,” Jeraine said. “Never. I think we need to be with them. They are our community, our family. I imagine they feel the same way about us.”

“They say that,” Tanesha said.

“Then, let’s not over think it,” Jeraine said. “This works for now. If it stops working, we’ll do something else. What do you think?”

Tanesha nodded and settled in to eat.


Friday afternoon — 3:15 p.m.

Paris, France

Sitting in stifling director’s office of the Paris Opera Ballet, Sissy found her attention lagging and her understanding of French slip. Luckily, James Schmidt spoke French as if he were born to the language. He had taken over when it was time to discuss Sissy’s placement at the Paris Opera Ballet. The funny little man whom she’d met on the plane was sitting next to her.

“It is quite boring,” the man said quietly, in almost unaccented English.

Surprised, Sissy turned to give him a shocked look. He laughed with delighted glee.

“I had to know if you could do it,” he said. “I went to school in America after my ballet career was over. I know how difficult it is to live and go to school in a language that is not your own.”

Sissy nodded in an attempt to stay awake.

“After your ballet test, I can only say that I’ve never been more sure,” the little man said.

“Of?” Sissy asked. She turned to him slightly fully awake now.

“This is exactly where you belong,” he said.

Ivan looked at the man and gave him a curt nod. The little man reached over to squeeze Sissy’s hand before interrupting the proceedings. In a few minutes, they were standing in the cool air of the hallway while James Schmidt was shaking the director’s hand. The funny little man kissed both of Sissy’s cheeks squeezed her hand and walked down the hallway.

She leaned against the wall empty wall and closed her eyes. Right now, all she wanted to do was sleep. Maybe eat. Yes, eat first, sleep second.

“James?” a woman’s voice asked. “Sissy? Ivan? Whaa …?”

Sissy opened her eyes to see James Kelly fondly greeting a smallish, sturdy woman with a long salt and pepper braid down her back. She turned to look at Sissy and Sissy’s mouth dropped open.

“What are you doing here?” Sissy asked.

“I think the better question is what are you doing here?” dress designer, Claire Martins, asked Sissy.

When Sissy had met Claire the first time, Claire’s English had not been very good. Clearly she’d practiced quite a bit since then as her English today was clear.

“Our Sissy has been accepted to finish her schooling here,” Ivan said, not hiding the pride in his voice.

Ivan hugged Claire Martins in greeting. They kissed cheeks.

“Oh Sissy,” Claire Martins said. “That’s wonderful.”

Claire Martins hugged Sissy tight.

“But …” Sissy said.

Tired and now very hungry, Sissy wasn’t sure why this friend of Alex Hargreaves, Valerie Lipson, and Jill Roper-Marlowe was standing in front of her. Claire Martins took in Sissy’s face and patted her arm.

“You look exhausted,” Claire Martins said.

Sissy nodded.

“If you weren’t so tired, I’m sure you would remember that I live in Paris, Sissy,” Claire Martins said with a laugh. “I am designing costumes for a few shows this year and helping with the chorus’s costumes. It’s a great honor.”

“They are very lucky to have such a talented designer,” Ivan said.

Blushing at his words, Claire Martins beamed at Sissy. The older woman leaned in.

“My daughter Camille loves to ballet,” Claire Martins said. “They let her come to classes in the afternoons if I help them with costumes. She could go all day, but I … I like to have my children at home with me. They are young for such a very short time.”

Claire Martins nodded at Sissy.

“Jammy!” Claire Martins said when James Schmidt turned to face the hallway. They hugged fondly and spoke back and forth in quick French.

“Please, you must come to dinner,” Claire Martins said. “In fact, where are you staying?”

“We were just going to get a hotel,” James Schmidt said. “We spent the morning in London.”

“You must stay with me,” Claire Martins said. “Helene is in Boulder at school. Frederec is in the apartment. We have the space. This would not be the first time James Kelly has slept on our couch.”

“Couch, basement, floor, bathroom floor,” James Kelly laughed.

“We will have a big meal,” Claire Martins said. “I will just call my husband so he can get something started.”

“Ben cooks now?” James Kelly asked with a sly grin.

“Retirement has brought out his domestic side,” Claire Martins said. “He will love to see you — all of you. Now, I must insist.”

Sissy looked at Ivan, who seemed completely charmed by Claire Martins. James Schmidt was looking at Sissy. He shrugged and she smiled.

“I’d love it,” Sissy said. “But my brothers, Tink, Nadia — they are in London.”

“My Esprit de Corps men took the train with us this afternoon,” Ivan said.

“Will everyone fit?” James Schmidt said. “We can easily get a hotel.”

“We have more space than you could imagine,” Claire Martins said. “You are all welcome. The Esprit de Corps can stay in my work space if we run out of room in the house. Of course, if it’s too much or the boys drive us crazy, they can stay with Frederec. He would love that. Oh.”

Claire Martins looked at each of them in turn.

“Are you having one of those dance parties in Paris?” Claire Martins asked.

“We’d planned on one,” James Schmidt said.

“How fun!” Claire Martins clapped her hands and beamed.

“Then it’s settled,” James Schmidt said.

“I’ll go get Charlie, Tink, Nash, and Teddy,” James said.

“I will call the Esprit de Corps,” Ivan said. “They are waiting for my call.”

“First, we must retrieve Camille,” Claire Martins said.

Claire continued down the hallway. They hurried to catch up.

“Her English is so good now,” Sissy said under her breath to Ivan.

“We were speaking French,” Ivan said. He gave her an ironic grin. “You are very tired.”

Sissy nodded. They stopped into a classroom. The teacher made a big deal out of Sissy and Ivan — the Internet ballet stars. Nearly a half-hour later, they left with ten year old Camille Martins in hand. Claire and James Schmidt spoke back and forth leaving Sissy and Ivan to follow closely behind. They took the subway to Claire Martin’s street and walked the short distance to her home. The very air of Claire Martin’s home felt inviting. Claire Martins hustled Sissy off to a warm bath. Sissy lingered in the warm scented water until she felt more herself. When she came out, she heard Charlie and Nash laughing at something downstairs. Smiling, Sissy went down to join the party.


Saturday morning — 9:32 a.m.

Denver, Colorado

“No,” Sam said to Delphie.

“But …” Delphie said.

“No,” Sam said. “You’ll just hurt yourself.”

“I will not!” Delphie said.

Sam gave Delphie a hard look. They were standing in front of the weapon safe in the basement. Delphie wanted to take a shotgun with her on their trip to the Fire of Hell. Sam wouldn’t give Delphie the key to the safe.

“You’re going with a God,” Sam said. “That’s enough power for an adventure.”

Delphie scowled at Sam.

“Why do you want a gun?” Sam asked.

“Well …” Delphie said. After a moment she shrugged.

“You don’t need me to tell you that evil cannot be killed by a weapon such as a gun,” Sam said.

“I’m just scared!” Delphie said. “All right. I admit it. I’m scared! Is that what you wanted?”

Sam pulled her tight to him. He held on for a moment.

“Why?” Sam asked softly.

“Because I want it so badly,” Delphie said. “It’s always there. Ever since that time we went there. It lingers just right outside my mind. If I look at it, I crave to be there. If I ignore it, it comes back over and over again. It’s …”

“Evil,” Sam said.

“Then so am I,” Delphie said.

Sam chuckled deep in his chest. Angry, Delphie pushed away from him.

“Don’t laugh at me!” Delphie said.

“I’m not,” Sam said. “No. I’d never mock you. Ever.”

He took her hand and they walked to the meditation room. He sat down on the couch. She stood up and stared at him. He patted a cushion. After a moment and some serious scowling, she sat down.

“This thing you’re going after,” Sam said, and sighed. “It wants you. It’s coming for you, using your intuitive pathways. You’d know this but Levi messed up your senses about cemetery. It’s even likely that you were hooked into it when you lived with Levi.”

Delphie watched his face.

“Living here, especially these last few years, since he died, you’ve been free of all of that,” Sam said.

“It’s coming after me,” Delphie whispered.

“That’s exactly right,” Sam said. “A gun isn’t going to keep it away. What would help?”

Sam waited for a moment for Delphie to respond. When she didn’t, he turned in his seat to look at her. Her eyes were vague and then they flicked to him.

“You grew up with this — evil and pain — all mixed together,” Sam said. “It was all you had, so you’d think that it might be a kind of love.”

Delphie nodded.

“You are not evil,” Sam said. “That’s why I laughed. It feels familiar because you were surrounded by it when you grew up.”

Delphie didn’t respond.

“Do you remember what you used to tell Yvie? Yvonne,” Sam said. “When she was with that horrible Alvin?”

“What do you mean?” Delphie asked. “I told her lots of things.”

“You told her that even though she was surrounded by evil, she did not have to give in to it,” Sam said.

“That’s what I’m saying, Sam,” Delphie said. “I want to give in to it.”

“Why?” Sam asked.

Delphie didn’t respond for a moment. She gave a deep sigh and leaned against Sam.

“Is it crazy to say that I miss it?” Delphie asked. “All of it. The drama, the attention, I mean, no one really needs me now.”

Sam smiled at Delphie.

“Don’t you laugh at me, Sam Lipson,” Delphie pointed at him.

“Everyone needs you, now more than ever,” Sam said. “If you ask me …”

“You’re certainly talking,” Delphie said under her breath.

Sam laughed so hard that Delphie couldn’t help but smile. When he stopped laughing, he kissed the top of her head.

“Okay fine, spit it out,” Delphie said.

“It is my opinion that you are addressing this situation right now because …” To annoy her, he paused. She hit him with the back of her hand and he grinned. Sam took a breath. “ … you are so needed now. You can’t have this root, this anchor line there and be such a part of everything here.”

Delphie crossed his arms and turned away from him. He gave her a few minutes. He was about to say something when she turned back.

“Of course, you’re right,” Delphie said.

“Then let’s get it done,” Sam said. “I’m an old man. We’ve been fighting this thing since I was ten years old. We have the oldest woman in the world to help us. All the fairy power and whatever else your friends bring to make it happen. Let’s be done with it once and for all.”

“What if it takes me?” Delphie asked.

“Not going to happen,” Sam said.

“How can you be so sure?” Delphie asked. “I yearn for it.”

“Only part of you,” Sam said.

“How do you know?” Delphie asked.

“Because the rest of you is here,” Sam said. “If Katy appeared in the doorway right now and wanted you to do summersaults or let her levitate you, you’d stand up and do it. You’ve been beside yourself for days about Val. You’ve only let it go because you know that Jake is taking care of it. We — all of these crazy people who live in your home — we are your life now. Not that.”

Delphie nodded to him.

“I want the gun so that you will kill me if I give in to that thing,” Delphie said, evenly.

“Just not going to happen.” Sam held her close to him.

“How?” Delphie asked.

“Love always wins,” Sam said. “Always.”

Delphie grunted and leaned against him. Sam looked up at the ceiling for a moment.

“How about this?” Sam asked. “I promise to not let that thing take you.”

Delphie sat up to look at him.

“You have my word,” Sam said.

“You’ll kill me rather than let that thing take me?” Delphie asked.

Unwilling to say the words, Sam nodded. Delphie hugged him tight.


Saturday evening — 9:32 p.m.

Paris, France

“You know that the dorms are closed at the Opéra de national Paris,” Claire Martins said to Sissy.

They were upstairs in Helene’s room changing the sheets. Sissy had a pillow in her arms and was sliding the pillow case on.

“For the holidays?” Sissy asked.

“Every weekend,” Claire Martins said. “It is to keep foreigners from applying. The dorms are closed from Friday night to Sunday night. You go back on Sunday night.”

“Oh,” Sissy scowled. “Where do people go?”

“The majority of the students are French,” Claire Martins said. “The children go home.”

“I don’t have a home here,” Sissy said and threw the pillow onto the bed.

“You could always come here with us,” Claire Martins said. “Stay with us for the weekend. Go home to America over the longer holidays.”

Sissy didn’t know how to respond.

“For that matter, you could live with us during the week,” Claire Martins said. “The dorms are only a service for those who live too far away.”

“What would your husband say?” Sissy asked.

She didn’t know Claire Martins’ husband but she knew that he could be really scary and intense sometimes. She’d seen it for herself when Helene’s military boyfriend had died.

“He is the one who suggested it,” Claire Martins said. “You wouldn’t have to pay us. We might ask for some free babysitting, sometimes.”

Sissy smiled.

“Just something else to think about,” Claire Martins said. She gave one last tug on the comforter and sat on the bed. “What about Ivan?”

Sissy sat down in a nearby chair.

“What about Ivan?” Sissy asked.

Claire Martins smiled and nodded.

“I met my husband when I was just your age,” Claire Martins said. “No one knows this, so don’t tell anyone, but we were like an explosion. Boom!”

Claire made an explosion with her hands.

“He was working with my mother and father, who were spies,” Claire Martins said.

Sissy didn’t respond so Claire Martins continued.

“I saw him here in the hallway,” Claire Martins said. “Just outside this door.”

“You grew up in this house?” Sissy asked.

Claire Martins gave a quick nod.

“My parents gave the house to us when we got married,” Claire Martins said. “They live not far from here.”

Sissy nodded.

“I was sitting on my bed like this and he walked by the doorway,” Claire Martins said. “I think it was maybe six hours, maybe seven, before we felt this overwhelming sense of not being able to live without each other.”

“What?” Surprised, Sissy’s mouth fell open.

“I know,” Claire Martins said. “I was thinking about maybe having my first sex with my boyfriend who I loved with every inch of my heart and then some. Then here I was — completely lost to this stranger. It was like my world reoriented. Boom.”

“Did he feel the same way?” Sissy asked.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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