Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Four Hundred and Ninety-two : Unlikely love


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

Claire Martins grinned.

“Yes. He felt the same way,” Claire Martins said. “It was like something just fit.”

Claire Martins shrugged.

“It was very overwhelming, terrifying, for both of us,” Claire Martins said. “We decided not to see each other. Not ever. He will tell you that he avoided Paris. I will tell you that I tried to meet someone else.”

“What happened?” Sissy asked.

“We crossed paths when I was eighteen,” Claire Martins said. “Just something that couldn’t be avoided. He was working with my mother again. I was standing in the Place de la Concorde, and he was running with Patrick Hargreaves. I could feel him come closer to me. We snuck around a bit and then, when it was clear that there was no way we’d live without each other, we let my mother know what was happening.”

“How did she take it?” Sissy asked.

“She thought it was funny,” Claire Martins said. “We were married very soon afterwards. It was good because three years later, Ben was caught up in something difficult. I didn’t see him for six years.”

Claire Martins nodded.

“So when I ask about Ivan, I know what I’m asking,” Claire Martins said.

“What would you do?” Sissy asked.

Claire Martins sighed. She looked off in the distance for a moment before looking at Sissy.

“I am not you,” Claire Martins said. “I did not just survive being shot. I have a loving family. My mother and father have always been there for me. But …”

Claire Martins sighed.

“You can tell me,” Sissy said.

“In retrospect, I got a lot of out of those years away from Ben,” Claire Martins said. “I grew up in ways, I couldn’t describe. When Ben returned to my life, I was more able to hold my own. I know that you hold your own with Ivan and he is very sensitive to your feelings. It’s just …”

Claire Martins shrugged. She got up from the bed and kissed Sissy’s cheek.

“I think you should come here, study ballet, live with us, and give your love for Ivan some space,” Claire Martins said. “In two years’ time, you’ll be done with school and more ready to start your adult life. It is just another thing to think about, for you.”

Claire gave Sissy a nod and started out the door.

“Ivan is in the basement with my husband,” Claire Martins said. “When I checked on them, they were already drinking cognac. Don’t expect him anytime soon.”

“Thanks,” Sissy said.

Claire Martins nodded.

“I am off to check on the Esprit de Corps rascals,” Claire said. “Wish me luck.”

“Good luck!” Sissy said with a smiled.

Claire closed the door. Sissy looked at the back of the door for a moment. Too exhausted to think another thought, she got in bed and dropped into a dreamless sleep.


Saturday evening — 9:32 p.m.

Paris, France

“You were older than I?” Ivan asked, his voice reflecting his surprise.

“Older, more wizened,” Ben said. “I’d been through countless wars. I knew that love was possible, because I was close with Patrick and Rebecca Hargreaves. But I never, not even in my wildest dreams did I think it would come to me, especially like that.”

Ivan nodded. They were sitting in a small sitting area off Ben’s basement office. The remnants of a fire burned in the fireplace.

“Lots of women tried to capture my heart,” Ben said. “They got only my body, my bed, sometimes my mind.”

“But none…” Ivan put his hand over his heart, and Ben nodded.

“Out of nowhere, I was standing in front of this girl and…” Ben said. “My daughter, Helene, tells me that I’m a terrible chauvinist to be with such a young girl. She has no idea how much shame I lived with, for years, really until Claire was in her thirties.”

Ben nodded.

“Clarie’s not much older than my eldest child,” Ben said. His eyebrows lowered. “Do you have children?”

Ivan shook his head.

“How did you manage that?” Ben asked.

“Date people connected to the ballet,” Ivan said. “No one would give up their career for a child.”

Ivan shrugged.

“I also didn’t want children. I am careful by nature,” Ivan said. His voice became very soft, “You see, I have known Sissy since she was three years old. She has always had my heart.”

Ivan made a disgusted face.

“God, I hear myself and I am repulsed,” Ivan said. “I sound like those loathsome pedophiles who prey on children and then blame the child. Sissy’s sister Sandy had a lot of trouble with that. Breaks my heart, even to this day. To think that I…”

“Did you?” Ben asked. “Be honest. Did you lust for Sissy when she was a young child?”

“No.” Ivan shook his head. “I never thought of her sexually until very recently. Not even once.”

“There’s the difference,” Ben said.

Ivan opened his mouth to say something but Ben cut him off.

And, I know what you mean,” Ben said. “I had this powerful… desire, I guess is the best word, to have this young girl at the very center of my world. Not necessarily sexually. I wanted… her. Just Some girl. That’s what I told myself. I could barely look myself in the mirror. I felt ugly, dirty. Contrary to what my daughter says, I actually like women who are my age and older.”

Ivan nodded.

“Not that I didn’t like Claire or respect her,” Ben said. “I just…”

“I have worked with children in ballet since I was brought to America,” Ivan said. “I love children; I do not lust for them. It is always something that comes up in conversation — ‘Do you have a criminal background?’ ‘Will you be willing to be fingerprinted?’ ‘Of course, no problem,’ I say. ‘I feel exactly like you do about pedophiles.’ Now I am in this… thing… that says ‘Big Pervert here.’ And the ballet company is more than happy to tell me how disgusting I am.”

“You could be an oligarch,” Ben said.

“Yes that’s the other thing,” Ivan said. “It’s not tremendously uncommon for rich older man to get a younger bride to have his children.”

“Nadia’s father,” Ben said.

“The man they call ‘Otis,’” Ivan said. “Anjelika’s mother was the source of much of his problems with his sons.”

“Although they turned around and married women decades younger than them,” Ben said.

Ivan nodded and finished his cognac. Ben got up and poured a bit more into Ivan’s glass. Ivan swirled the amber liquid before taking a deep inhale of the caramel and apple fragrance.

“Yes, well, being equal to the moral debauchery of an oligarch’s offspring is not exactly what I have aspired to be,” Ivan said.

“And now?” Ben asked.

“We have separate rooms,” Ivan said. “She has no idea how much I desire her. I simply cannot bring myself to give in to this relationship with my heart and soul.”

“Like you would with any other woman,” Ben said.

“Any other woman,” Ivan said. “The difference is that this woman truly owns my soul, my heart, every possession, and most thoughts. I can’t bear the thought of messing that up.”

“I remember this,” Ben said. “I was luckier than you.”

“How so?” Ivan asked.

“I traveled,” Ben said. “I was able to stay away until she was older.”

“How much older?” Ivan asked.

“Eighteen going on nineteen,” Ben said. “Ask yourself. How much older must Sissy be for you to feel comfortable?”

“Thirty,” Ivan said.

Ben laughed.

“We had two children, right away,” Ben said. “And then I was stuck in a foreign prison for a number of years, then in a hospital for a year and then stuck in meetings for a year after that. When I finally returned, the kids were six and seven and she had grown into this beautiful woman. She had started her dress business to support herself and our children while I was gone. From the moment she started designing dresses, she was popular with movie stars and the glamorous — royalty even. I was lucky that she even gave me the time of day.”

“I think I’d have to be in a prison to keep away,” Ivan said. “Especially after everything that’s happened this year.”

Ben nodded.

“Have you thought about what you’ll do if she decides to come here or to the Royal Ballet?” Ben asked.

“I will cross that bridge when it comes,” Ivan said. He blew out a breath. “It’s a little different for me. I’ve spent so much time working with her to become the best ballerina she can possibly be. We have worked so hard, especially this year since we almost died. I want her to succeed. I am immensely proud that she has the chance to even interview here, let alone get accepted as a student at both schools. It’s a dream come true — for me as well. But…”

Ivan stopped talking and shook his head.

“What will happen to you?” Ben asked finally.

“To us,” Ivan said.

“You could come with her,” Ben said.

“I don’t want that,” Ivan said. “And why would she? She deserves someone who is deeply interested in their own questions, not someone sitting around waiting for her to come home. In order for us to succeed, I must find my next wind, change tack, and sail forward.”

Ben nodded. They fell silent, each man lost in his own thoughts. Finally, Ben looked up at Ivan.

“I read your conversation on the plane ride over,” Ben said.

“That was fast,” Ivan said.

Ben lifted a shoulder in a shrug.

“You didn’t finish all you had to say, did you?” Ben asked.

Ivan shook his head.

“Will Sissy be safe here?” Ivan said.

“I believe so,” Ben said.

“Why do you believe so?” Ivan asked.

“He has no idea that you’re talking to us,” Ben said. “You’ve already implicated him in cases where he was the suspect. They have a lot of documentation, ‘proof’, but no one to say that they were there. As soon as your conversation was transcribed, they put the word out. They now have two witnesses to the murder you spoke of. The next time he leaves Russia, which is supposed to happen in the next few days, Interpol will pick him up.”

Ivan nodded.

“Even if he is not behind bars,” Ben said. “I still believe that Sissy is safe here, and probably at the Royal Ballet. Both schools are closed schools and…”

“A man came into ballet school where I was teaching,” Ivan said. “His intention was to kill Sissy and myself. That is a locked school with security guards.”

“Point taken,” Ben said. “I am sure that Claire will invite Sissy to live with us. That will help us keep an eye on her. But you must know…”

Ivan looked up at Ben.

“Now that this threat has been leveled, Sissy is not safe in New York or Denver either,” Ben said. “Neither are you. Until this is dealt with, it’s best to be careful everywhere you go.”

Ivan nodded. The men fell again into a long silence. Ivan finished his cognac, nodded to Ben and left for bed. Ben sat watching and remembering for another hour before heading to bed himself.


Saturday afternoon — 3:59 P.M.

Denver, Colorado

“You have everything,” Sam said to Delphie.

Delphie nodded.

“You’re sure?” Sam asked.

Delphie grinned at him.

“What did you do?” Delphie asked.

“Me?” Sam pressed his hand into his chest. “Not one thing. What ever could you be asking about, my love?”

Delphie laughed.

“I know you too well to not notice that …” Delphie said.

Jacob came up behind them and put his bag into the back of the SUV.

“What are you doing?” Delphie asked.

“I’m going with you,” Jacob said.

“What about Jill and the boys?” Delphie asked.

“We’ve agreed that I should be with you for this trip,” Jacob said. “She’s happy to be rid of me so she can study for her finals next week. Edie’s here to help transition the boys to day care this week while James is with Sissy. If we’re still there next weekend, my and Blane’s family will come up.”

“But …” Delphie said as Jacob got into the back seat of the SUV.

While Delphie tried to find the words, Blane jogged up. He tossed his bag into the back of the SUV and got in next to Jacob. Delphie squinted at Sam.

“What did you do?” Delphie asked again.

“It wasn’t me,” Sam said. “It was Jacob, well, Jill really. Abi told her that we would be wise to have a place to rest. She found a lovely house just on the edge of the cemetery. It’s big enough for all of us, even if the kids come next weekend. Yvonne and Dionne are already there. Maresol is on her way. We’ll be the last ones there.”

“But …” Delphie said.

Sam got into the driver’s seat of the SUV leaving Delphie standing outside of the vehicle. Jill and Katy ran out of the house with a big Tupperware full of brownies.

“For the trip,” Katy said with a big smile.

“But …” Delphie said.

Jill held out her arms and hugged Delphie.

“Don’t worry, Delphie,” Jill said, in the woman’s ear. “We’ll be there when you need us.”

Jill kissed Delphie’s cheek. Taking Katy’s hand, they ran back into the trip. Delphie stood outside the SUV in the cold. Finally, Jacob rolled down the window.

“Are you coming on your own adventure?” Jacob asked.

Delphie looked at him for a moment. She blinked. Without saying a word, she went around the SUV and got into the passenger seat.

“You’d better not be eating my brownies,” Delphie said when she settled in.

Laughing, Sam back up the SUV and they set off to Leadville for their adventure with the Fire of Hell.


Sunday morning — 6:32 a.m.

Paris, France

“Tink?” Sissy asked.

Tink was sitting in a window seat near the front of the building. Her knees were up and her arms were around her knees. Tink looked over at Sissy and smiled.

“I was watching the ducks on the river,” Tink said.

Sissy held out a mocha latte and Tink took the warm drink from her. Tink moved over and Sissy joined her on the window seat. They looked out the window for a few minutes.

“It’s so quiet here,” Tink said. “So pretty.”

Sissy nodded.

“I keep thinking about Chet, you know,” Tink said. Her eyes wet with tears. “How much he wanted to travel, to go to New York City or Paris. We used to talk about it when we were kids. Our step-dad would have disciplined us for doing some stupid thing. He’d lock us in the creepy basement. We’d hold hand and lie on the dirt floor. I’d tell him stories about what Paris was like, how much fun we’d have …”

Tink stopped talking. Silent tears ran down her face.

“I never thought I’d get here and he wouldn’t,” Tink said. “Never, like never ever. I always thought that he’d get here and I’d … Well, I’d be so jealous.”

Tink sniffed. She wiped her tears with the palm of her hand. Sissy knew what it was like to lose someone important. She knew that Tink just needed to talk, so she didn’t say anything.

“It’s been a dream come true,” Tink said. “We had so much fun in New York. I mean New York City! It was everything I dreamed it would be and more. Giovanni is such a great friend to us. He had all of this insider information and all of these connections. He set up all of our tickets and even came with us a few times. Then whoosh I’m in Paris in France! I mean, when Heather insisted that I get a passport, I thought she was crazy. I mean, it’s not like we have tons of money. Then we’re all here — just here. And that’s after spending a day in London in England!”

Tink slowly shook her head.

“Giovanni showed us all over London,” Tink said. “He and Nadia have a big plan for today. Then tonight, we have a dance party, and then it’s back to Denver.”

Tink shook her head at the improbability.

“Charlie and me will be back at school in two days,” Tink said. “Wearing our uniforms, studying our lessons, and …”

Tink’s jaw muscles popped out as she ground her teeth together.

“And?” Sissy asked.

“My baby brother missed everything,” Tink said.

Tink broke down. She leaned her head against her knees and cried. Sissy softly rubbed her back to let her know that she wasn’t alone in the world.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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