“I spoke with your doctor,” Maresol said as she walked into the room.
Not quite asleep but not awake, Sandy blinked at her. Maresol put her hands on her hips.
“He was very clear that you needed quality nutrition,” Maresol said. “Soups, stews — things that are easy to digest since your system is still coming up.”
Sandy closed and opened her eyes.
“Oh, don’t give me that,” Maresol said. “You’ve been playing the whole ‘I’m asleep, why are you bothering me?’ game since you were a little girl.”
In spite of the discomfort, Sandy grinned.
“I know my girl,” Maresol said. “So soup?”
Sandy shook her head. She touched her stomach and said, “Sth-ick” through her wired jaw.
“What about a smoothie?” Maresol asked. “Some fresh spinach, protein powder, that fruit you like.”
Sandy lifted a shoulder in a shrug. Maresol scowled at her. They stood like that for a full minute.
“What are you up to?” Maresol finally asked.
Sandy pointed to herself and feigned innocence. The door opened behind them. Tanesha, Jill, and Heather came in. Tanesha was carrying an extra-large Styrofoam cup with the name of a local hole in the wall diner stamped on the side. She set it on Sandy’s tray.
“Just how you like it,” Tanesha said.
Shaking her head, Maresol did her best not to laugh.
“You girls haven’t changed much since you were ten years old,” Maresol said.
“We’re bigger now,” Jill said.
“Not by much,” Maresol said with a snort in Jill’s direction.
“Would the rest of you like some soup?” Maresol asked. “I made some for the Princess of the Chocolate Shake.”
They laughed again.
“You know, I could have made you a chocolate shake,” Maresol said.
Sandy pointed to the shake and Jill said, “Not like this one.”
“You girls never change,” Maresol said with a rueful shake of her head.
“We would love some of your amazing soup,” Heather said. “Sandy will too. Can we help at all?”
Maresol looked at Heather. She smiled at Heather and shook her head.
“Just love our girl,” Maresol said. “It’s what she needs the most.”
“Always,” Jill said.
Heather nodded, and Tanesha hugged Maresol.
“I’ll be back to check on you,” Maresol said, wiping her eyes.
She nodded to the women and left the room. Jill put a silicone straw into the shake and held it up for Sandy to eat. For a moment, they watched Sandy drink to shake. Sandy nodded, and Jill set the shake down.
“Wh’ hap-ng?” Sandy asked.
“Well …” Tanesha started.
They chatted about nothing for the next half hour until Sandy was sound asleep again. They each kissed her forehead and left the room.
“Lunch?” Maresol asked.
Tanesha, Jill, and Heather looked at each other before laughing.
“Come and sit,” Maresol said. She tapped the bar at the kitchen. “Tell me how you are.”
For the next half hour, they ate vegetable soup, homemade bread, and talked to Maresol about life.
“Okay, I know,” Sissy said. “It’s not like I’m non-competitive or anything.”
“Maybe it’s just me,” Sissy said. “After almost a year of ballet school in New York, getting shot and almost dying, and then coming here … Maybe ballet is my life now because my life is ballet, and has been ballet for a long time.”
Sandy’s mouth shifted to a kind of grin for Sissy. She shrugged.
“I think it’s the right choice,” Sissy said. “I still love living with Claire and Ben. It’s a crazy place. You never know who’s going to be at dinner. That’s some of the fun. They’ve been incredibly kind to me. Supportive. Even with Ivan. That’s a reason not to rush out of school.”
“You think you’ll still be able to come to our final performance?” Sissy asked.
“If I can,” Sandy wrote out while Sissy waited.
“I know what that’s like,” Sissy said with a sigh. “Dinner tonight is with Alex and her team. I guess they are heading to do that thing for Nash.”
Sandy gestured to herself.
“That’s right,” Sissy said. “It’s your book.”
Sandy gave a slight nod.
“Anyway, it’s madness when they come,” Sissy said. “Fun, but completely insane.”
“Summer?” Sandy typed.
“I’m still not sure what I’m doing this summer,” Sissy said. “Ivan’s been invited to help with those mass graves near the prison he was in. He’s not sure he wants to go, but Ivan and Jill’s grandfather are the only ones who were there and are now still alive. That alone seems like a reason to not go, but he also wants to make sure that people get home to their families.”
“O’Malley,” Sandy typed.
“So much like O’Malley,” Sissy said with a laugh. “Do you think Ivan got that from Seth?”
Sandy lifted a shoulder in a shrug. Sissy nodded.
“Anyway, I might go with him to Siberia,” Sissy said. “I might come home.”
Sandy brightened, and Sissy laughed.
“New York City,” Sissy said.
“Come see me,” Sandy typed.
“Rachel Ann says that at the end of every conversation,” Sissy said. “Noelle and Nash too.”
“Not Charlie?” Sandy asked.
“Charlie wants to come here for the summer,” Sissy said. “He and Tink want to come here.”
Sandy shook her head.
“You’re right,” Sissy said. “That’s not going to happen.”
Sandy smiled. Her smiled began to fall as desperate fatigue overcame her.
“Listen,” Sissy said leaning forward. “Heal up. You have a big life ahead of you. Heal up.”
“Do you remember saying that to me when I was in the hospital?” Sissy asked.
Sandy’s hand went to her chest. Sissy nodded.
“Now, it’s your turn,” Sissy said. “Heal up.”
Sandy gave Sissy an exhausted nod.
“I’ll call tomorrow,” Sissy said.
Sandy gave a vague nod.
“Love you, Sandy,” Sissy said.
Sandy’s hand went to her chest and Sissy nodded. When the screen when black, Sandy fell back against her pillow. She was asleep when Aden picked up the laptop and set it aside. He kissed her cheek and went back to sit on the couch.
They were talking on a computer program via the Internet. Because Sandy’s jaw was wired shut and her fingers broken, she was only able to tap out messages on the keyboard. Sissy would ask a question and then wait while Sandy answered via text.
“On lots of meds,” Sandy tapped out.
“You look horrible,” Sissy said.
“Gee, thanks,” Sandy said. She made the effort to do a big wink.
The absurdity of Sandy’s wink made Sissy laughed. Sandy gestured to Sissy.
“Please,” Sandy typed. “Tell me about you.”
“Me?” Sissy asked. Her hand went to her chest and she shook her head. “I didn’t just almost die!”
Sandy’s head moved from side-to-side.
“I’m just worried about you,” Sissy said.
Sandy’s braced hands went together in a prayer position. Her blue eyes plead with her younger sister. Sissy nodded.
“Well …” Sissy sighed and looked down as she tried to think of what to share. “The term is winding down. Can you believe that I’ve been here a whole year?”
Sandy as big of a shake of her head as the neck brace would allow.
“Me too,” Sissy said. “I’ve decided to stay an additional year, even though I’ll be older when I leave. Do you remember that we talked about that?”
Sandy gave a restricted nod. They’d spent hours in video Internet calls going back and forth about Sissy staying or going. She’d finally decided to stay.
“Almost no one in my class is staying,” Sissy said. “Just the head male and head female. They said that they wanted to refine their skills, but really they are looking at the best companies in the world. Another year will allow them to be a little more choosey. I’ve wondered if they’ll stay the year.”
“Maybe. I mean never say never, right?” Sissy asked. “Mostly, I’m not sure if I want to stay in Paris at the Ballet de l’Opéra national de Paris or come back to the US to work or wherever.”
Sandy didn’t respond so Sissy continued.
“I guess you know that,” Sissy said. “I think that I have to be honest and say that I’m a little scared to be done with school. I mean, I love being here. In Paris, sure. At school, of course. I know that I went to school in New York, but here it’s just … le vie.”
Sissy blinked at Sandy and then translated, “the life. Ballet is life here not just something I do for school.”
Sissy nodded to herself.
“Ivan says that being a part of a company is like being in school but more intense because everyone has their level and is competing to move up. I don’t know if I’d like all that competition, you know?”
“I’m going to see my mom,” Noelle said in a whisper. “Dad said I could see her today. It’s today.”
“What time is it?” Teddy asked.
“Early,” Noelle said. “But it’s still today! And Dad said I could see her today.”
She was standing on the den floor in her pajamas.
“Shh,” Noelle said. “Don’t wake Nash.”
She gestured to the figure on the other couch. Teddy nodded.
“I don’t know if I should …” Teddy started.
“Come on!” Noelle said. “You’ll wake Nash.”
Noelle made a dramatic show of tiptoeing toward the door where Sandy was staying. Teddy rolled his eyes at her efforts. She had to stop and hold her mouth to keep from laughing. He shook his head and pointed to Noelle’s socked feet. He slipped his feet across the hardwood. She nodded.
They slipped over to the door.
“What about your Dad?” Teddy whispered.
“He sleeps through anything,” Noelle said with a nod. “He won’t wake up.”
“You’re sure?” Teddy whispered.
“I don’t know,” Teddy said. He looked worried. “I might have to see dead people who were startled to death.”
Noelle hugged him tight. He sighed out his intense emotions.
“Where’s the dog?” Teddy whispered.
“She went up with Ava and Seth,” Noelle said. “Come on. Dad said we could see her today.”
Teddy nodded. Noelle cracked the door open just an inch. She stuck her nose in the room. Turning back to Teddy, she nodded.
She pushed the door open a crack wider and slid into the room. Teddy slid in behind her. Sandy was lying in the bed near the middle of the room. She was still hooked up to machines and there was an IV dripping, but her cheeks held a little color.
Noelle noticed that Cleo the cat was asleep above Sandy’s head on the edge of her pillow.
They continued their slide into the room. Noelle pointed to her father, who was sound asleep on a smaller daybed. A tall man, his feet dangled off the end of the bed.
Teddy held his finger to his lips to remind her not to talk.
They slid silently toward the bed.
“Oh,” Noelle said out loud when she got there.
Nash was asleep on his side with his arm over Sandy’s stomach. His face was puffy and red as if he’d been crying. Nash didn’t wake up but Sandy did. She tried to reach of Noelle and Teddy but wasn’t able to with her broken fingers.As tears streamed down her face, Noelle fell over onto Sandy. Teddy was so overcome with emotion that he stood there.
“She can’t speak,” Aden said from the daybed behind where Teddy was standing. Teddy looked at him. “I know she wants you to hug her.”
Teddy began to cry. He leaned over her legs.
“Good thing we didn’t wake up the kids,” Seth said with a laugh.
Everyone turned to look at him. Maresol came in behind him.
“You okay Sandy?” Maresol asked.
Sandy’s eyes flicked to Marsol. Her head went up and down very slightly in a nod.
“I’ll get breakfast,” Maresol said. She pushed Seth into the room. “Your dad would like to see you.”
Sandy’s eyes flicked to Seth. He took three steps and joined the kids in hugging her.
Honey awoke when M.J. came into the bedroom. He went into their bathroom before taking off his clothing. He crawled into bed.
“How did it go?” Honey asked.
“Good,” M.J. said. “Everyone seems in good spirits. I think it will be an interesting trip.”
“Are you mad that you aren’t going?” Honey asked.
“Mad?” M.J. asked. He leaned up on one elbow. “Not at all. I mean, it’s always hard to see them go. I hate missing out. You know? My team is off to Poland to look into an old mine and I want to be there.”
“Because that’s more fun?” Honey asked.
“Because they are my team,” M.J. said. “I also want to be here for you. You’re just getting strong enough to actually spend more time out of your chair. We need to keep working on your strength and coordination. I wouldn’t miss that for the world. Especially for an extra trip. I’m gone enough as it is.”
“You’re sure?” Honey asked.
“I’m a complicated guy,” M.J. said. “I can want to be with my team and want to be with you at the same time.”
“Sure but …” Honey said.
“No buts,” M.J. said. “Plus, I’m sure they’ll need my help from here. It’s only me and the White Boy. We need to keep things running at home and deal with all of the technical stuff.”
“You’ll be able to monitor from here,” Honey said.
“Right,” M.J. said. “They are ahead of us, so it will be some late nights and early mornings.”
“Is Chris coming here?” Honey asked using the White Boy’s given name.
“Probably,” M.J. said. “Or we’ll go to the Factory.”
“When’s his surgery?” Honey asked.
“Tomorrow,” M.J. said. “I’ll go with him but really he should be fine.”
“And you’re sure he told Yvonne that he was getting a vasectomy?” Honey asked.
“She’s been pushing him to do it,” M.J. said. “Alex said that she’s the tiniest bossiest person she’s ever met.”
“Every time she says that I wonder how much time she’s spent with you,” M.J. said.
“Hey!” Honey laughed.
“You’re mostly running that job site. Another month and it will be all yours,” M.J. said. “You’re going to college and raising Maggie while I’m off playing soldier.”
“I have a lot of help,” Honey said.
M.J. looked at Honey for a long moment.
“People ask me what it’s like to live with my wife’s family,” M.J. said.
“And?” Honey asked. “What do you say?”
“It’s really great,” M.J. said. “Sometimes, I think I’d like to have my own home. But …”
“There’s no way we’d have all of this on our salaries,” Honey said. “Fresh organic food from the gardens. Free daycare almost anytime we need it. Someone to help me. People who clean the house once a week without fail.”
M.J. nodded and leaned back.
“It’s just that idea of ‘making it,’ you know?” M.J. asked.
“Oh,” Honey sighed. “I honestly think we have it made. No need to make it.”
“Why are you unhappy here?” Honey asked, her heart racing with anxiety.
M.J. was asleep. Honey scowled at him.
She wondered how many times a man had awoken his woman with some issue that only left her awake and worried about whatever bullshit he’d brought up. She pushed him on the shoulder, and he awoke.
“Wha …?” M.J. asked.
“Are you seriously thinking of moving?” Honey asked. “Getting our own house?”
“Moving?” M.J. asked. “Why? Are you saying you want to move? Really, Honey, this is a great place for us. We have everything we need.”
Honey groaned and lay back. When she looked at him, he was grinning.