Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Four Hundred and Seventy-three : Damaged


Sunday afternoon — 1:43 p.m.

“Who’s that?” Chet asked his sister, Tink.

“Uh,” Tink looked up from the chess game she was playing with Aden on the picnic table in the Castle backyard.

Chet pointed to a man talking to Heather. They were hanging out at the Castle this afternoon for a barbeque. It was time to take in the last of the summer harvest and turn the beds over before winter. Jacob and Mike were in the middle of a battle for who could turn over the beds best and fastest. Delphie stood in the grass as the judge. Sandy, Jill, and Valerie were making jam in the kitchen with Noelle and Candi’s eldest ward, Kimber. The younger children were playing near the back fence while the adults were in groups talking and laughing.

Aden moved a piece on the board and Tink’s attention returned to the board.

“The guy?” Chet asked.

Tink looked where Chet was pointing.

“That’s a friend of Blane’s,” Tink said. “He works with Ava, you know Seth’s wife? You’ve met her. She was over a couple nights ago for dinner.”

Chet watched Nelson talk to Heather. Blane walked over to them carrying three bottles of beer. He gave one to Heather and then Nelson before opening his. They were smiling and drinking beer.

“Blane’s gay,” Chet said.

His words caused both Tink and Aden to look up at him in surprise.

“I told you that,” Tink said.

“What about Heather?” Chet asked.

“Like all relationships, Heather and Blane have made their own rules to their relationship,” Aden said evenly. “They went into this with their eyes open.”

“But Blane’s gay!” Chet said.

“They are the most honest people I know,” Aden said. “You should ask them about it.”

“But they have kids,” Chet said.

“And?” Tink asked. “Gay people have kids. The biology works.”

“But what about…?” Chet asked.

He shook his head in irritation and walked away from them.

“What’s that about?” Aden asked.

“No idea,” Tink said. “Why did you make that move?”

Aden opened his mouth to explain, but Chet didn’t hear the answer. Chet strode away from his sister. He wasn’t sure why but he felt anxious and very angry. He walked over to where Blane, Nelson, and Heather were standing.

“So you’re gay?” Chet asked Blane. He gestured to Nelson. “This guy surely is.”

Chet sneered in Nelson’s direction. Nelson chuckled, and Chet threw himself at Nelson. Chet punched and hit at Nelson, who easily avoided his punches. Blane grabbed Chet from behind, and pulled him off of Nelson. Jacob and Mike ran over. Blane wrapped himself around Chet in a safety hold. Chet raged and snarled like an animal. Jacob held out a hand to Nelson and he jumped up. Tink and Aden ran down from the deck.

Chet kicked and writhed against Blane. Without warning, his eyes rolled backwards and he began to foam at the mouth. Heather took a step toward them, and Chet began to seize. Blane gently let him down onto the soft grass where Chet went into a full blown grand mal.

“Get Jill!” Mike yelled to Delphie.

“Nash!” Heather yelled. “Call 9-1-1!”

“Got it,” Nash said from where he and Teddy were wrapping the tree trunks with protective paper.

Delphie ran toward the kitchen. Charlie took off from where he was picking blackberries. Charlie made it to the kitchen first. A few minutes later, Jill came running from the kitchen. Heather grabbed Tink to keep her from throwing herself at her brother. Tink wrapped herself around Heather and began to cry.

“I’m a doctor,” Nelson said, rolling up his sleeves.

“PhD?” Blane asked.

“Medical, Emergency Medicine,” Nelson said, dropping down to his knees next to Chet. “It’s a long story.”

“What can we do?” Heather asked.

“Nothing, really,” Nelson said. “Make sure he doesn’t hurt himself and stays breathing.”

They held the boy between them until Jill arrived. Jill dropped to the boy’s head.

“What is she going to do?” Nelson asked.

“She’s a healer,” Blane said. “Mike, too.”

“Healer?” Nelson asked.

“She’s good at getting an idea of what’s going on,” Blane said.

Jill fell silent as she focused on Chet’s brain.

“His brain is tearing apart,” Jill said. She opened her eyes and looked up at Nelson. “Is that even possible?”

“What do you mean?” Nelson asked.

“This is something …” Jill fell silent again.

After a few minutes, Chet stopped seizing. Noelle came running from the front where she’d let the ambulance in. When the medics dropped down to work on Chet, Blane, Nelson, and Jill got up. They stood to the side while the medics worked.

“What was that you were saying?” Blane asked in a low voice.

“This is the second time he’s had a seizure like this, right?” Jill asked.

“That we know of,” Heather said.

“I don’t think they’re seizures,” Jill said.

“What do you mean?” Nelson asked.

Jill’s eyes flicked to Nelson. She looked at him for a moment before registering who he was. She shook her head by way of apology.

“I don’t really know what I mean,” Jill said. “It’s like … something’s causing it, maybe an implant or …”

Jill shrugged.

“You’re saying that something is triggering these episodes,” Nelson said.

“He never had them when we were kids,” Tink said.

“What causes this kind of thing?” Heather asked.

“Traumatic brain injury, certainly,” Nelson said. “You said he was in a conversion therapy center?”

“Was it …?” The medic’s question included the name of the treatment center Chet had been in.

Blane, Heather, and Tink nodded.

“Why?” Blane asked.

“We’ve seen this before,” the medic said.

“He’s going to be okay right?” Tink asked in a soft, watery voice.

The medic looked at Tink, squinted, and didn’t respond. They got Chet on the stretcher and started across the grass.

“I’m going to …” Nelson pointed to the ambulance.

Blane and Heather looked at each other.

“I’ll go,” Blane said.

“We’ll be right behind you,” Heather said. Calling after Blane, she added, “Where are you going?”

Blane asked Nelson and turned back to her.

“Denver Health,” Blane said.

“We’ll meet you there,” Heather said.

Charlie pulled Tink away from Heather and Delphie came to give Heather a big hug. They stood there until the ambulance left.

“Denver Health?” Jacob asked. “Mike and I can take the kids if you’d like to go.”

Jill looked at Jacob and he gave her an assuring nod. Heather gave them a worried look.

“Edie and Valerie are here,” Jacob said. “Delphie can go with you.”

Delphie nodded to Jacob.

“Come on, let’s get cleaned up,” Delphie said, in a solemn voice.

The adults started to head into the house. Jill paused at Jacob.

“You know something,” Jill said.

“I saw what you saw,” Jacob said.

“And?” Jill asked.

Rather than respond, Jacob shook his head. Reading his gesture, Jill nodded.

“Let me know how you are and how it’s going,” Jacob said.

“I will,” Jill said.

After a few minutes, the cars pulled out for the hospital. Jacob, Mike, and Aden stood in the middle of the garden. Edie and Abi came from the house to play with the kids.

“Shall we finish up?” Fin asked.

Mike gave a maniacal laugh, and the men started to dig.


Sunday afternoon — 2:15 p.m.

“Oh hey, Noelle,” Edie said. “I wondered if you had a second to talk to me.”

“Sure,” Noelle said as she set down a case of jelly jars on the table in the kitchen. Noelle looked up at Valerie. “Do you need my help washing these?”

“Jake’s on that detail, honey,” Valerie said. “Why don’t you go talk to Edie for a minute? You can help him load the disinfect them when you get back.”

“Okay,” Noelle said.

“I thought we could talk more privately in here,” Edie said.

Edie gestured to the smaller room off the main Castle living room. Noelle nodded and followed Edie into the room. At the doorway, Noelle stopped short. Kimber, the girl who had bullied her, was sitting in an armchair. The girl had a crumpled tissue in her hand and her face was red. Her nose and eyes were swollen as if she’d been sobbing. Noelle shot Edie a questioning look.

“Have a seat,” Edie said.

Noelle sat down in on the front edge of an armchair near the door. She wanted to make sure she could get out of there fast.

“What’s going on?” Noelle asked.

“I was just talking to Kimber and I thought maybe you’d like to hear what she was saying,” Edie said.

Noelle could almost taste the magic in the air. She squinted with distrust for the fairy. She was about to ask what was in it for Edie, when Kimber spoke.

“You don’t have to,” Kimber said. “I’d understand if you didn’t want anything to do with me. I don’t even want anything to do with me.”

Noelle’s head jerked to look at Kimber. For a moment, Noelle was shocked that there was another person in the room. She’d seen Kimber in the room. She’d even sat on the edge of the chair to escape the girl, but when Kimber spoke Noelle was stunned to hear another voice.

Magic. Noelle gave Edie a strong look and Edie smiled.

“Noelle?” Edie asked.

“I … uh … I don’t have to go anywhere,” Noelle said.

Noelle turned to look at Kimber and saw that the girl was crying. The moment Noelle’s heart welled with sympathy for Kimber, the weird isolated feeling faded.

“What’s going on?” Noelle asked. She glanced at Edie and the fairy raised her eyebrows and nodded toward Kimber. “Kimber. What’s going on?”

“What’s not going on?” Kimber asked.

The girl took a breath and started to talk. She told Noelle about her mother dying and losing Jazmyne and how she sucked at school and how no one liked her and she had to take care of her siblings, who now don’t belong anywhere, and while everyone seemed really nice, it was all really overwhelming, and … The girl talked on and on without ever giving Noelle a chance to say anything.

Just like Noelle talked when she wanted to make sure she got all of her words out before the other person left or abandoned her.

Kimber kept talking. The more the girl talked, the more Noelle realized how much she and Kimber had in common. She realized how she, Noelle Norsen, lived in a bubble of her own words and feelings.

Noelle swallowed hard and leaned back into her chair.

More than anything she saw that this girl, Kimber, was using her language and actions to keep people from hurting her.

Just like Noelle did. Kimber took a breath.

“I know what it’s liked to feel like no one loves you,” Noelle said. “I mean you have all this proof, you know. Probably you just made up the proof — and you know that you probably just made it up — but it feels so real. Like the only thing that’s real.”

Kimber stopped talking and looked at Noelle.

“Right, like everything is fake except for this one fact — nobody loves me,” Kimber said.

“I think everybody knows how that feels,” Noelle said. “I mean, at least everybody that I know really well.”

“How do you know what it feels like?” Kimber asked, defensively, as if she was sure Noelle was making fun of her.

“My mother doesn’t like me very much,” Noelle said. “She doesn’t like the sound of my voice. I could tell you about all the bad stuff she’s done — to me, specifically — but really the hardest is that she doesn’t like me. I mean, she didn’t like me when I was a baby. And it hasn’t changed. Just a week or so ago, she told Dad that she wanted to spend time with her son, meaning Nash. When Dad reminded her that I exist, she was surprised. I mean, they didn’t tell me that exactly but …”

“You know,” Kimber said with a nod.

Noelle took a breath and gathered her courage.

“That’s why it hurt me so much when you were mean to me,” Noelle said. “It was like you made sure that everybody knew how horrible I was. I felt so stupid, like I wanted to just die.”

“I guess I can see that,” Kimber said.

Kimber didn’t say anything. She just nodded.

“That’s all you have to say?” Noelle asked.

“I guess you could get me back now,” Kimber said.

“That’s not who I am,” Noelle said, in her snotty girl voice while she sat up a little straighter.

Kimber’s eyes welled with tears and Noelle’s heart ached for the girl again.

“Well, at least that’s not who I want to be,” Noelle said.

Kimber’s head jerked up to look at Noelle.

“My mom Sandy says that we are all learning,” Noelle said. “I’m trying to learn to be a better person — so I don’t hurt like by bullies and I don’t get hurt by bullies. It’s kind of complicated.”

Kimber looked down again.

“And I don’t bully other people,” Noelle said. Kimber looked at her again. “It’s too much work. I’d rather focus on my stuff.”

“Why don’t you tell Kimber about your art?” Edie asked.

Noelle started talking, and she noticed that Kimber was really listening.

“I’m so sorry,” Kimber said. “I don’t know why I was so mean.”

“I do,” Noelle said.

“Why?” Kimber said.

“Because we have a lot in common,” Noelle said. “You hate me because you see in me the things you don’t like about you.”

Noelle shrugged.

“Is that true?” Edie asked.

Kimber thought for a moment before nodding.

“You’re going to my school tomorrow, right?” Noelle asked.

“I have to wear a stupid uniform,” Kimber said.

“I love wearing a uniform,” Noelle said proudly. “I get to focus on my school work and not what I’m wearing.”

Kimber looked at Noelle liked she’s spoken in a foreign language.

“What do you like to do?” Edie asked Kimber.

“I … Well, I guess I don’t know,” Kimber said.

“Maybe that’s something Noelle can help you with,” Edie said. “This family is large. There are lots of opportunities to do all kinds of things. Would you like to try some new things?”

Noelle saw Edie move her fingers and was sure she’d put a spell on Kimber. Noelle was about to say something when she glanced at Kimber. The girl looked happier, but more than anything she looked hopeful. There just might be a reason for fairy magic.

“Noelle is going horseback riding in a little bit,” Edie said. “Would you like to go, Kimber?”

“Horses?” Kimber asked. “I don’t know if I like horses.”

“This would be a chance to try them out,” Edie said. “What do you think?”

Kimber didn’t say anything. She just looked at the ground.

“Katy and her friend Paddie have a trip scheduled,” Edie said to try to engage Kimber again. “I thought you girls might enjoy going too. They have some horses that don’t get enough exercise. You’d be helping out the horses and the stable by riding them. They won’t go very far today because they’re getting a late start.”

“I don’t think she has anything to wear,” Noelle said.

“Oh,” Edie said. “That’s easy. We probably have something here you can wear. If not, we can always get something.”

“I don’t have any money,” Kimber said.

“You might not have money, but you have friends,” Noelle said. “We’ll figure something out.”

Noelle got up and went to the door.

“Come on,” Noelle said. “Let’s go find you something to wear.”

Kimber looked at Edie, who smiled and nodded. Kimber got up from her seat and followed Noelle to find something to wear to go horseback riding.

Edie waited until they were up the stairs to Noelle’s room. Smiling to herself, she went out into the kitchen.

“How’d it go?” Valerie asked.

“I think it’s going to be okay,” Edie said.

“Good job!” Valerie smiled at the fairy.

“Thanks!” Edie said. “I’m off to get Katy ready. Wish me luck!”

“Good luck,” Valerie said.

Jacob came into the kitchen from the back.

“Ready?” Valerie asked.

“I was born ready to do dishes,” Jacob said with a laugh.

The siblings got to work getting the jars ready to hold some of their fresh plum jam.


Sunday afternoon — 4:22 p.m.

“What are you saying?” Heather asked. She looked at Blane. “He’s saying words, but I can’t make sense of it. Is he speaking English?”

She stepped away from Blane and the doctor. Her hand went to her chest. They were standing just outside of a private family room where their friends and family anxiously kept vigil. Tink had become so upset the last time she’d visited her brother that they had sedated her. She was weeping in the back of the room while Charlie held her tight.

“Am I speaking English?” Heather asked.

“Seem to be, at least, I understand you,” the Neurologist said. He gave her a kind smile. “I even understand why this is confusing.”

“He was fine!” Heather said. “Just a few hours ago.”

“Yesterday,” Blane said. He put his arm out and Heather walked into his arms. “We were here when he had the last seizure. He was fine! How can this be?”

“I don’t know how it can happen,” the neurologist said. “I can only tell you that it’s not the first time I’ve seen this.”

Heather and Blane looked at him.

“Usually, we see this kind of thing in traumatic brain injury,” the neurologist said, mostly to himself. “Car accident, hitting your head on a post, football — you see a lot of it during football season — bikes; I mean kids fall off bikes and… I’ve never heard of it happening like this — but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. It just means that I haven’t heard of it. And, well, you can’t hear of everything.”

“What?” Blane asked.

“The real question is whether or not you’d like to keep him on life support,” the neurologist said. “I mean, it’s possible that he will recover but since his brain continues to deteriorate…”

The neurologist shrugged.

“I supposed I should be more hopeful…” the neurologist said.

The neurologist noticed that their mouths were hanging open.

“This happens, a lot, to me,” the neurologist said.

Heather clapped her hands and the neurologist shivered. He tipped his head to one side as if he was stretching his neck. He stretched his neck to the other side. Then he shook his head as if to clear it.

“I’m sorry,” the neurologist said. “It’s Heather, right?”

Heather nodded.

“Blane?” the neurologist asked. “It’s really a matter of time. The boy’s brain has lost primary life sustaining function. We can keep him alive until you’re ready. But for all intents and purposes, he’s no longer alive.”

Heather gasped, and Blane fell almost too silent. She blinked at the doctor and then blinked again. Her mind flooded with all of the close scraps, the awkward mishaps, and near misses she’d seen in her long life.

She’d never seen anything like this.

“Are you sure?” Blane asked.

“Yes,” the neurologist said. “I am sure.”

Heather and Blane gawked at the man. Out of the corner of her eye, Heather saw Chet’s social worker get up and walk toward them.

“I think the device caused it,” the neurologist said.

“Device?” Blane asked.

“I’ve never seen one before,” the neurologist said. “It looks like something new-ish. Maybe it’s been in his brain for a month or two, not more than six. It looks like it shorted out or something. I don’t really know. I planned to give it to the Coroner for investigation.”

“So this isn’t a natural death?” Blane asked.

“Oh no,” the neurologist said. “I’m not going to say that it’s murder, because who would murder a kid? Let’s just say it’s suspicious.”

The neurologist nodded and walked away. Heather and Blane gawked at the man’s back.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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