CHAPTER FOUR HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FIVE
Monday early-morning — 12:56 a.m.
La Guardia Airport, New York City, New York
Tink walked down the long, odd smelling hallway. She glanced behind her at Charlie. His boots clomped against the square hallway floor. He was carrying her heavy bag in one hand and his carry-on in the other. Her backpack was strapped to his back. Feeling her eyes, he looked up at her. He gave her a soft smile. They stopped because the man in front of them stopped. They waited for a moment and continued forward.
She wasn’t exactly sure why it happened, but she felt almost nothing. She knew when it happened — sometime between picking up Chet’s body from the Denver Health morgue and getting to the funeral home. She was sitting in the front seat of the hearse at the light at Alameda and Monaco when she realized that he felt nothing. She pushed her fingernails into her palm to see if she felt any pain. She had pressed and pressed until the marks on the palm of her hand were full-blown cuts.
She felt nothing.
Her numbness grew as she’d watched Chet’s body roll behind the counter at into the funeral home. Heather held her hand and Blane had his arm around her, but her heart was still and her head quiet.
They were in the car, Heather’s Subaru, when her parents told her the news — her mother and step-father were very angry. Heather and Blane had already been contacted by a lawyer who said that Monday morning, they were suing everyone involved.
Tink had opened her mouth to launch a diatribe about how awful they were, but found that she was too numb to even both responding. Then she heard the news — her real parents, Heather and Blane, thought it might be better for Tink to spend time with friends for a while.
They drove straight to the airport. Charlie and everyone was there waiting for her. Blane had already packed her clothes. Sandy gave Tink a credit card to pay for anything she needed. The kids had drawn pictures for her and Katy made her special brownies. They hugged and kissed her.
Tink knew how to behave appropriately. She smiled and hugged them and said all of the right things. But none of their love and kindness broached her numbness.
Charlie refused to leave her side, so they were on their way to spend time with Sissy and Ivan.
Tink walked out into the terminal gate. She, Charlie, and the people on their plane were nearly the only people in the terminal. There was a woman pulling the plastic trash bags out of the can. A few feet away, a man was vacuuming a gate near the concourse. Tink felt like the lonely terminal felt as hollow and empty as she did inside.
Tink sighed. Seeing the security agents, Tink looked down. She let Charlie walk in front of her to protect her.
She ran right into something hard and soft at the same time.
Her head jerked up.
Sissy put her arms around Tink. The numbness melted away and Tink began to cry.
Monday morning — 5:45 a.m.
“I’m saying that I don’t know,” Noelle whispered to Nash and Teddy. “I’m saying that…”
The door to Nash’s room opened and Sandy appeared in the doorway. She was wearing only her nightshirt and bathrobe. Her hair was sleep tossled as if she’d just stepped out of bed. Surprised, the children stared at her from their perch on Nash’s bed.
“You’re saying that?” Sandy asked. “Go on.”
“I …” Noelle looked at Sandy and then back at Nash and Teddy. “Uh …”
“We were talking about Chet,” Nash said.
“And what happened to his … brain,” Teddy said.
“We didn’t go to rescue him, even,” Noelle said. Exhaustion and sorrow etched her young face. “But we …”
“ …hurt,” Teddy said.
“Bad,” Nash said.
Nash, Noelle, and Teddy nodded.
“But it’s weird because we didn’t really know him,” Noelle said. “I mean, I know Tink and she’s like a sister because of Charlie, you know. And, I knew that Tink had a brother, but I didn’t really know him, you know?”
“It feels kind of fake to be so sad, but …” Teddy said.
“We’re sad,” Nash said with such finality.
“I hurt too,” Sandy said. “Your dad is really sad. I think we all feel a little helpless. After much waiting, Chet just appeared into our lives and then … was gone. Just gone.”
“Forever,” Teddy said.
Noelle and Nash nodded.
“We know people die,” Nash said.
“Scooter died,” Noelle said.
“But Scooter was old,” Nash said. “Chet was our age. Just figuring out what life is about and …”
Nash stopped talking. For a moment, no one said anything. Tears started running down Noelle’s face. Nash looked down at his hands and Teddy closed his eyes. They looked so very young.
“I don’t want to be fake or make it all about me,” Noelle said. “But why did this happen?”
“I know that awful things happen,” Teddy said. “I know about war and addiction and all kinds of cruelty. I think we all do.”
Nash and Noelle nodded.
“We’ve seen it first hand,” Nash said.
“But this seems so … senseless,” Teddy said.
“Dumb,” Nash said.
“Impossible,” Noelle said. “Last night, I tried to sleep but every time I dozed off I felt like I was in a movie or something. Chet died — right there — on the grass in the backyard.”
“Right in front of us,” Teddy said.
“It doesn’t seem real,” Noelle said.
“I don’t have any words to make you feel better,” Sandy said. “I know that we can feel better or that we should. Chet was a young man, who had to live a very hard life. We all hoped that we could make a difference in his life, to help him live free of … everything, I guess. Heather and Blane are just destroyed, and I …”
Sandy touched her chest and her eyes welled up.
“I … I had … a really hard life,” Sandy started, and then stopped. “But I had a … a chance to get over … it all, to live beyond all of what happened and create all of … this. I wanted to help Chet in the way I was helped. I hoped that I could, but …”
Sandy nodded her head rather than finish the statement. She felt movement and Aden appeared behind her. His hand moved across her shoulders until it rested in the small of her back.
“We wondered if you’d like to stay home today,” Aden said.
“This week,” Sandy said.
“Just to give yourself a chance to rest, grieve,” Aden said.
Rachel ran around Aden’s legs and threw herself onto Nash’s bed. Noelle picked up her sister and put her onto the bed in the middle of them. Nash hugged the little girl.
“I want to go to school,” Noelle said.
Nash and Teddy nodded.
“Chet went to school,” Teddy said. “We think we should have a real wake or a memorial.”
“There’s only a few people in our class,” Nash said. “Chet was a part of our class, our school.”
“Can you make something?” Noelle asked Sandy.
“Sure,” Sandy said.
“I’ll go wake up Jake,” Aden said. “He and Val can talk to the school and your teacher. I know they’ve already arranged for counselors to be there in case anyone needs to talk.”
Noelle, Nash, and Teddy nodded in near unison.
“What makes sense to me,” Sandy said, “is for each of you to write down how you feel.”
“Can I draw?” Noelle asked.
“Sure,” Sandy said. “Express yourself from the heart.”
“About Chet,” Aden said.
“I don’t think I can do that at school,” Noelle said.
“Let’s talk to Jake,” Aden said. “Maybe you work on it this week and we have a wake later in the week, maybe this weekend. Hopefully, Tink will be feeling strong enough to come home.”
“Can we do it for us and then do it for her later?” Teddy asked.
“I don’t see why not,” Aden said.
“I just feel so…” Noelle said.
“I think we all do,” Sandy said.
Everyone nodded, including Rachel.
“Charlie’s not even here to make pancakes,” Rachel said.
“Hey! Who do you think taught Charlie how to make pancakes?” Sandy asked.
“Get dressed,” Aden said. No one moved. “Go on.”
He gestured them into the bathroom.
“We are alive,” Sandy said. “We owe it to Chet and everyone who’s gone to live our lives because they can’t.”
Not sure of how to respond, Noelle got up, went into the bathroom, and slammed the door. They looked at the door for a moment before Sandy picked up Rachel.
“You want to help me make some pancakes?” Sandy asked.
Sandy kissed Rachel’s nose, and they left the room.
“Teddy, use ours,” Aden said.
Teddy passed Aden and they left. Nash went to pound on the bathroom door as he did every morning.
“This is my life and I don’t want to spend it waiting to pee!” Nash said.
Monday morning — 5:45 a.m.
Heather touched Blane’s shoulder as she passed his seat at the bar in the kitchen. He looked up at her. She took down two cups from the cabinet and poured coffee from the automatic drip. She added cream, and set one in front of him. He nodded. She went to lean against the counter. They both drank their coffee in silence.
“I remember when I first had coffee,” Heather said wistfully. “It was with the Sufi’s in Yemen, I think. It wasn’t at all like this. Of course, it was 1456.”
Blane burst out laughing at the absurdity of her words. He laughed and laughed until he was crying. Heather stood her ground. They had been able to keep themselves together until Tink left. Tanesha and Jeraine took Jabari, Mack, and Wyn to the mountains to give them time to get through this.
They had spent most of the night crying, raging, laughing, or some combination of all of that.
“I can’t get over the feeling that he died because we brought Nelson around,” Blane said. “I know that Nelson thinks that.”
“He died because some butcher put some thing in his head in some backroom surgery at the whacko Christian conversion center,” Heather said. “You heard what the coroner said.”
Nodding, Blane snorted some amount of snot. Heather threw a box of tissues in his direction.
“The device was wired to the sexual centers of the brain,” Heather said. “Anytime he felt excited or aroused, it was to give his brain a shock.”
“It malfunctioned,” Blane said.
“It was also infected with what she thinks is MRSA,” Heather said.
“He was dead a long time before he came to live with us,” Blane repeated the words they had each said at least ten times. “I just wish that …”
“How would we know?” Heather asked. “He passed the physical — all the blood tests, the extra tests for HIV and Hep C and everything. I mean, his white cells were elevated but we’d just rescued him from that place. His white cells should have been elevated! And, anyway, Delphie didn’t even know!”
While Heather’s words were factual, they felt hallow. Blane nodded as he had the time he’d said the same thing.
“There was nothing we could have done,” Blane said. “That doesn’t mean it’s not …”
“Awful,” Blane said at the same time Heather said, “Horrible.”
They both looked to the front of the house as the sound of a van pulling up in front of the house broke the still silence of the early morning. A moment later, they heard a man talking loudly to someone else. Heather went to the front to peek out the window.
“TV news,” Heather said. She shrugged, “Jeraine’s not here.”
“They can’t come here for Jeraine,” Blane said. “Fairy magic.”
“Then what?” Heather asked.
Someone pounded on the door.
“Mrs. Lipson, this is Channel 4 news,” the man said.
Heather and Blane looked at each other in horror. The news media were there to talk to them. They stood like statues in the living room.
“I swear that I saw the curtain flicker,” another man’s voice said.
“Mr. Lipson, we want to talk to you about … uh … Chester?” the man yelled through the door.
A sound came from the back of the house. Expecting more reporters, Heather and Blane flipped around to look at the backdoor. They stood still as steps came in their direction.
Mike appeared from the back with Valerie.
“Grab what you need and come on,” Mike said.
Heather ran upstairs to get her purse. Blane took his wallet and phone from the cubby in the kitchen. Mike took Blane’s phone from him and went to the kitchen sink.
“They’ll track your phone,” Mike said.
He turned on the kitchen faucet to fill a basin.
“But …” Blane said.
“I’ll buy you a new one if you need it,” Mike said. “Heather?”
She gave Mike her cell phone. Mike took off the protective cases and dropped the phones into the water. Mike grabbed Blane and Heather’s arms and started toward the back. They were at the back door when Valerie opened the front door.
“Thank you for your concern,” Valerie said in the tape they saw a week later. “As you can imagine, my brother and his wife are very upset. They are asking for privacy in this terrible time.”
Valerie slipped back into the front door, bolted the locks, and ran to the back where Mike was waiting. Valerie got into the back of Mike’s Bronco and they laid down the entire way to the Castle. Once inside the gates, Mike led Blane and Heather around the back of the Castle to the kitchen. Jill and Sandy took Heather into the living room leaving Blane with Sam.
“How did you know?” Blane asked.
“Believe it or not, Val got a call from TMZ,” Mike said. “They wanted a quote from her. In return, they told her that Chet’s parents have sent out publicity notices that it was God’s judged Chet for his homosexuality and put him to death. It also has some choice things to say about you and Heather. We figured we’d head them off at the pass.”
“Thank you.” Blane gave Val a numb nod.
“Samantha’s already called,” Mike said. “She said that Max has someone at his firm that will help you. He should be here in a half hour or so.”
“Where’s Jake?” Blane asked, looking around for him.
“He’s at school,” Valerie hugged Blane. “We have to get ready for the kids and the press. He’s there with Helen working out what’s next. But …”
Valerie grabbed the front of Blane’s shirt and shook him a bit.
“I am your spokesperson, at least until the lawyer says otherwise,” Valerie said.
“Samantha said that if we like the lawyer, he’ll be the spokesperson,” Mike said with a nod.
“You’ll stay here,” Sam said. “At least until this blows over.”
“When’s that going to be?” Blane asked Sam.
Sam responded by hugging him.
Monday afternoon — 12:45 p.m.
The door to the dark room opened and the light from the hallway filtered into the room. Lying on her side in bed, Tink blinked at the light. A moment later, Charlie came in the room carrying a tray with sandwiches, fresh strawberries with a dollop of whipped cream, and a pot of tea. Tink grunted and pulled the covers over her head.
“Giovanni says that you are awake,” Charlie said.
“So?” Tink asked from under the covers.
“So, you must bring food to sustain the precious girl in her grief,” Charlie said in a funny accent.
“What’s that?” Tink asked from under the covers.
“You’ll have to come out and see,” Charlie said. He picked up a quarter sandwich. “I will tell you, this is some good food.”
Charlie loudly ate and smacked his lips. In all the years he’d known her, Charlie had never seen Tink turn down a meal. He waited a moment and picked up another sandwich.
“If you’re eating my fancy sandwiches, you’re going to pay,” Tink said from under the covers.
Charlie chuckled and peeled the comforter away from Tink’s face. He leaned down to kiss her cheek.
“How are you?” Charlie asked in a soft voice.
“Starving,” Tink said. She gave him a soft smile but didn’t move. “Where are we?”
“Sissy and Ivan’s place,” Charlie said.
“Oh,” Tink said. “It’s dark.”
“You’re in the guest room,” Charlie said. “The one Dale and I stayed in when we were here.”
“Where are you sleeping?” Tink asked.
“I’m in with Sissy,” Charlie said.
“Sissy and Ivan don’t share a room?” Tink asked.
Charlie shook his head.
“They don’t do that on the continent,” Charlie said. “At least that’s what Giovanni said. Mostly, I think it’s because Sissy is still healing, but …”
“Why aren’t you here with me?” Tink asked.
“I didn’t want to besmirch your good name,” Charlie said.
“What good name?” Tink asked with a laugh.
She flipped off her covers to show that she was actually dressed. Charlie picked at her shirt and she laughed. She leaned over the tray of food and took a smell. Wiggling her eyebrows, she picked up a fourth of a sandwich. She groaned like she was in heaven and ate two quarters in quick succession. She gestured to the tea and Charlie poured her some. She drank down the peppermint tea with a contented smile.
“Why aren’t you here?” Tink asked.
“You were with Sissy when we got in,” Charlie said. “You passed out talking to her. I didn’t want to bother you so Sissy helped you change. I slept in with Sissy.”
“Have you been awake a long time?” Charlie asked.
“I don’t know,” Tink said. “I couldn’t bear turning on the light.”
Charlie watched Tink for a moment before she continued.
“If I turn on the light, then I have to live in a world where my brother doesn’t exist,” Tink said. “If I turn on the light, then it’s all real. And I …”
“I don’t want it to be real,” Tink said with a nod.
She squinted her eyes and bit into the last sliver of sandwich.
“What do you think is in these?” Tink asked.
“Heroin and antidepressants,” Charlie said.
Tink gifted him with a real laugh.
“I don’t know,” Charlie said. “Some fancy thin sliced Italian mean and soft cheese and yumminess.”
Tink sighed. She leaned against Charlie and he put his arm around her. They sat in the dark for a long time.
“Would you mind if I go back to bed?” Tink asked.
“Do you want me to stay?” Charlie asked.
Tink was quiet for a while.
“Why don’t you rest here?” Charlie nodded. “I’ll get Giovanni to make some fabulous pastry or fancy thing.”
“You’ll come back?” Tink asked.
“In an hour,” Charlie said. “How’s that sound?”
Tink nodded. Charlie got up. He set the pot of tea on the bedside table and carried out the tray. He’d already closed the door when Tink flipped her legs up on the bed and pulled the covers over her head.
Denver Cereal continues tomorrow…
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