CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY
Saturday morning — 5:30 a.m.
“Who are you?” Rachel Ann whispered to the person sitting on her bed. “If you’re a scary monster, then you’re going to have to deal with my big brother!”
The woman leaned forward.
“No scary monster here,” Sissy said.
“Sissy!” Rachel Ann said, throwing herself onto her sister.
“Shh,” Sissy said, in a whisper. “You don’t want to wake everyone up!”
“Did someone say Sissy?” Charlie asked as he opened the door to the room.
“Heya Charlie,” Sissy said.
She stood and hugged her brother.
“Should we be hugging?” Charlie asked. “We don’t know if you have Covid. Do they have Covid there?”
“Who’s talking?” Noelle asked. “Why are you talking in the dark?”
She reached over and turned on her bedside light.
“Sissy!” Noelle squealed.
Noelle jumped up to hug Sissy.
“Jill picked me and Ivan up at the airport,” Sissy said. “She wanted to surprise Sandy, so she came to get us.”
“How did she know?” Sandy asked, leaning against the door frame.
“I’m not sure,” Sissy said. “Was Helene here?”
“The pretty French lady?” Rachel Ann asked. “I told her that you were there and she said that she knew you well!”
“That must be it,” Sissy said. “Jill said something about Helene but I couldn’t put it together.”
Sandy held out her arms, and Sissy hugged her tight. Sandy kissed Sissy’s cheek.
“How are you?” Sandy asked when she pulled away.
Embarrassed, Sissy just nodded.
“Sissy!” Nash squealed from the adjoining bathroom door.
Nash and Teddy rushed into Noelle and Rachel’s room. Everyone was talking and laughing at once. Aden stomped down the hallway holding a towel around his waist.
“What’s everyone doing out of bed?” Aden said in the hallway. “You know that we have a long day today. If you don’t. . . Sissy?”
“I’d hug you but. . .” Aden gestured to his wet body. “It’s wonderful to see you. Really wonderful. Is Ivan here too?”
“He’s staying at Seth’s,” Sissy said.
“Why?” Sandy asked.
“It’s all a long story,” Sissy said. “We can talk about it when everyone’s awake.”
“Go,” Sandy said. She patted Aden’s chest. “Finish your shower.”
“Pancakes?” Charlie said in a yawn.
“Sounds magnifique,” Sissy said
Charlie kissed Sissy’s cheek and hugged her again before heading to the kitchen.
“Why don’t you guys get ready?” Sandy asked. “It’s cool out. I’m sure Val’s already cooking and Delphie’s got people picking.”
The kids jumped up and started getting dressed.
“Sissy?” Sandy asked.
Sandy held out an elbow. Sissy took her elbow and they walked to Sandy’s bedroom.
“We probably just have a few minutes,” Sandy said. “I wanted just to look at you.”
“I talk to you every week!” Sissy asked.
“It’s different to see you in person,” Sandy said. “How are you?”
“Good,” Sissy said with a nod. “Really good.”
“What are you doing here?” Sandy asked.
“I didn’t tell you because I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but school’s done,” Sissy said.
“What do you mean ‘school’s done’?” Sandy asked.
“The term ended in the spring,” Sissy said. “Because of Covid, they brought us back for the summer. That session’s over. All of my friends were leaving for jobs in ballet companies. I. . .”
Sissy smiled at Sandy.
“You didn’t get the job you wanted?” Sandy asked.
“I wanted to come home before making a decision,” Sissy said.
Sandy hugged Sissy.
“You always make the right choice,” Sandy said.
“You’ve helped me with every decision I’ve ever made,” Sissy said. “Or every good decision I’ve made. I. . .”
Sissy looked at Sandy for a moment.
“Going to Paris was the best possible thing I could have ever done,” Sissy said. “I loved school — my teachers, friends, the younger students. If I had stayed here? I mean, it’s Harvest Day. Again. The routine is wonderful but I would have. . . wilted here.”
“You are exceptional,” Sandy said. “You needed an exceptional education. The question is what do you want to do next?”
“That’s the question,” Sissy said.
“Did you get a lot of offers?” Sandy asked.
“Jammy vetted everything,” Sissy said.
“He’s still taking care of you?” Sandy asked with a smile. “That’s really good.”
“I’m really lucky,” Sissy said. “He helped my friends too. He didn’t charge anything either. He told them that if they wanted to hire him when they were primary dancers they could, but for now, they were just friends. They all got a lot better offers with his help.”
“When do you have to decide?” Sandy asked.
“Soon,” Sissy said.
“This weekend?” Sandy asked. “I can get O’Malley and we’ll. . .”
“No,” Sissy said. “Not until next Friday. We have time to figure everything out.”
“But?” Sandy asked. “You can’t fool me, Sissy. Something else is going on.”
Sissy gave Sandy a long look.
“What are you obsessing on?” Sandy asked.
“Oh,” Sissy snorted. “You know me so well.”
“I do,” Sandy said with a smile. “So what is it?”
Sissy shook her head and looked off in the near distance.
“Come on, before Aden finishes showering,” Sandy said.
“You know how I turned 18 this year?” Sissy asked.
“Ivan wants to get married,” Sissy said. “No, that’s not right. It’s not like he’s pressuring me or anything. That’s not happening. Not even a little.”
“But?” Sandy asked.
“I guess, I always thought that I would marry Ivan when I turned 18 years old,” Sissy said.
“And now?” Sandy asked. She gave Sissy a worried look.
“Oh, I still want to marry Ivan,” Sissy said with a smile. “I just. . .”
“People say that their wedding day was the best day of their lives,” Sissy said. “I. . . I’ve had so many great days — that day Charlie and everybody took me out, meeting Wanda at the eating disorder place, getting back into dance, those funny days in the hospital with Mari and you, getting Paris, living with Claire and Ben, meeting the Prince and Princess, starting school, and. . . so many. I feel like having a wedding will be. . .”
“Small potatoes compared to that,” Sandy said with a nod.
“No,” Sissy sighed. “Maybe I’m not sure what the problem is. I just knew that I wanted to come home. Spend time with you, Charlie, Nash, Noelle, and my Rachel Ann. I. . . Delphie, the girlfriends. . .”
“Just the boring old stuff?” Sandy asked with a grin.
“I guess so,” Sissy said. “Home. I mean, I love Claire and Ben and everything about Paris, but this is home.”
They heard the water turn off in the shower.
“It doesn’t sound like anything has to be decided today,” Sandy said. “Why don’t we head out for pancakes? Are you up for some Harvest Day adventures?”
“I love Harvest Day,” Sissy said. “I mean, I know I just said that about Harvest Day, but I really love it. I have been thinking about how Val always makes it back for Harvest Day. I think I’ll do that too, you know, when everything’s settled.”
“You’re welcome any time,” Sandy said.
“Jill said something about greenhouses and there are gardens all over town?” Sissy asked.
“They’re trying to do their part during the pandemic,” Sandy said.
“Wonderful,” Sissy said. “Just wonderful. Did Heather and Tanesha’s house ever get made?”
“You should see it!” Sandy said. “It’s gorgeous. They have guest bedrooms, if you’d rather stay over there.”
They heard the sound of Aden shaving with his electric razor through the door.
“Let’s head out,” Sandy said.
Sissy got up and followed Sandy out of the room.
“What about Tres and Heather?” Sissy asked in a soft voice.
“They are very on,” Sandy said.
“And Blane?” Sissy asked.
“He and Nelson are also on,” Sandy said. “Before you ask — Heather and Blane are still married and still together like they were.”
“Wow,” Sissy said. “I mean, I grew up with them, so it’s not such a huge deal, but it’s not normal.”
“They are happy,” Sandy said with a shrug.
“Charlie!” Sissy said going into the kitchen.
“I made coffee,” Charlie said. “It’s not French coffee but it’s pretty good.”
“Thank you,” Sissy said. “I could use some.”
Charlie grinned at her. She hugged him from behind before heading to the machine. She poured herself a cup of coffee.
“How are you?” Sissy asked.
“Good,” Charlie said. “You should have seen it when everyone was on ‘stay at home’ in the spring. We had a bunch of visiting kids. I was their teacher, mostly. It was. . . I think that’s what I want to do — teach.”
“Awesome,” Sissy said. She scooted up so that she could sit on the counter. “I figured you’d either be something like a teacher or social worker or head of a cult.”
“Head of a cult?” Charlie asked. “Aren’t I already your messiah?”
“Absolutely,” Sissy said with a laugh. “How’s. . .”
Tink rushed into the kitchen.
“Why are you making pancakes?” Tink asked angrily. She hadn’t seen Sissy yet. “Did you forget that we’re having a big breakfast. . .”
Charlie gestured behind him.
Tink turned in place. Her jaw dropped and her eyes went wide.
“Hi Tink,” Sissy said with a wave.
“OhmyGodSissy!” Tink said. “OhmyGod! OhmyGod! OhmyGod!”
Charlie threw the spatula down and grabbed Tink in a hug.
“Is she okay?” Sissy asked, coming to their side.
“Her brain kind of stops working when she’s overstimulated,” Charlie said. “She’s been doing really great. This is still here from. . . well, you know. She was probably focused on me screwing up — again — and then she saw you and. . .”
Sissy rubbed Tink’s arm. After a moment, Tink seemed to breathe. Charlie kissed her lips and stepped away. Sissy hugged Tink. The young women hugged each other tight. Sissy kissed Tink’s cheek and stepped back.
“I talked to you yesterday!” Tink said. “You sneaker! You didn’t say a word!”
“I wasn’t sure that we’d be able to come,” Sissy said. “You know the flights are banned from other countries and. . .”
“How did you do it?” Tink asked.
“Oh you know,” Sissy shrugged. “Ben, Alex, the usual.”
Tink grinned at her friend.
“I’m so glad that you’re here,” Tink said.
Tink grabbed Sissy’s hand and pulled her out of the kitchen. Before Sissy left, she turned to Charlie.
“You and me?” Sissy gestured with her hand.
Charlie nodded. Sissy blew him a kiss, and he grinned. Tink dragged Sissy out of the apartment. In the hallway, Tink hugged Sissy.
“Do you have Covid?” Tink asked. “I don’t care. I would hug you either way but. . .”
“I don’t. Jill picked me up at the airport,” Sissy said. “We were able to dance and keep each other safe.”
Tink hugged her even tighter.
“The house is full of people!” Tink said.
“I saw that,” Sissy said. “Lots of kids!”
“They were here at the beginning of the summer,” Tink said. “That military team that Alex is on?”
“All of their kids were here as soon as they found out that Teddy was here,” Tink said. “It was really fun. You should have seen Charlie. He took on getting everyone to read books and then talk about what they read. It was really great. They go to the Marlowe School now too!”
Tink pulled back to look into Sissy’s face.
“You look so grown up,” Tink said. “I feel like a little kid.”
“You look gorgeous,” Sissy said. “Happy. Smart. Your hair is amazing. Did you put your applications in for school? You didn’t say when I asked before.”
Nodding, Tink blushed.
The door to the apartment jerked open.
“If you want pancakes,” Noelle said, “you should come in now before Nash and Teddy start eating up everything.”
“They eat a lot,” Tink said with a nod.
Tink led Sissy back inside. At the doorway, Sissy stopped walking. Her family — Noelle, Nash, Charlie, Tink, Sandy, Aden, and Rachel Ann — were sitting around the table. She had missed them so very much. And there they were — ready to love her, ready to welcome her, and. . .
“Can I have your pancakes?” Nash asked, shaking Sissy out of her fog.
“Nash!” everyone at the table said.
“Not a chance,” Sissy said.
She jogged over to take her seat. For the next hour, they ate, laughed, and talked about everything and nothing.
It was everything Sissy needed and much, much more than she could have hoped for.
She was loved.
Saturday morning — 6:00 a.m.
“Papa,” Nelson said as he came to his father’s bedside.
It was the change of nurse. Nelson came to check on his father every time the nurse changed. Nelson checked his father’s pulse and blood pressure. He made a note on the clipboard.
“When was the last blood draw?” Nelson asked.
“Midnight,” the nurse said. “They picked it up about an hour ago.”
She touched Nelson’s shoulder and left the room. Unless something came up, Nelson spent every morning right here by his father’s side.
Nelson dropped into the chair by his father’s bed. He took his father’s hand. He went through the treatments they’d tried. His father had acupuncture three times a week. Mari brought Otis to work on his father at least twice a week. Jill and Mike came as much as they could. He was receiving the best medical care known to humankind as well as all of the crazy shit that his friends could provide.
His father was still on the edge of death.
“But not dead,” Nelson said, clinging to the positive thought that he and Heather had come up to. “My father’s not dead.”
Nelson sighed. He dropped his forehead onto the bed in a kind of suppliant posture to whatever was going on with his father.
He felt so helpless. The only way to heal his father was to find this “Adam’s Apple” ruby. He should have already found it within the Templar hoard, but the pandemic kept pushing their expedition off. He had no idea if his father would survive much longer and there was nothing he could do about it.
Feeling movement, he looked up.
“Mari!” Nelson said. “I haven’t seen you in a long time.”
“Busy, busy,” Mari said. “You do know that there’s a pandemic going on, right?”
“Funny,” Nelson said.
“What can I do for you, my dear?” Mari asked.
“For me?” Nelson asked.
“You’re close to giving up,” Mari said. “You told me to stop you if you decide to give up. Here I am!”
In the low light, Mari’s ridiculously long eyelashes looked like strange appendages hovering over her huge eyes.
“Wait,” Nelson said, sitting up straight. “Your father is Manannàn?”
“Yeeessss,” Mari said.
Mari raised her eyebrows to encourage Nelson to speak.
“And Manannàn is a God of the sea?” Nelson asked.
“Yeeessss,” Mari said.
“Why are you being so weird?” Nelson asked.
“I’m hoping that you will ask me for something,” Mari said.
“What about Poseidon?” Nelson asked.
“He’s a God of the Seas, as well,” Mari said.
“Do they get along?” Nelson asked.
“You know Poseidon’s niece, why not ask her?” Mari asked.
Nelson pointed at Mari.
“You’re up to something,” Nelson said.
“I can only help where you ask me for,” Mari said.
Nelson scowled and thought for a moment.
“Can you get this ruby?” Nelson asked. “The ‘Adam’s Apple’ from the hoard?”
Mari blinked at him.
“I mean, your father has been there and. . .” Nelson said. He blinked. “Mari?”
He reached out to touch Mari. Her body was there but she seemed completely gone.
“Fucking shit,” Nelson said turning away from Mari. “God damn it! This thing is so. . .”
“What’s wrong?” Mari asked.
Nelson turned in place. Mari was standing there with a basketball sized ruby in her hands.
“You disappeared!” Nelson said. “I thought that this thing. . . What’s that?”
“Your ruby,” Mari said. “I had to go get it. Well, I had to mess with time I assume that. . .”
“Nelson?” Heather asked, appearing an inch from here. “There’s a time disturbance here and I. . .”
Nelson pointed to Mari. Heather turned to Mari. Her mouth dropped open.
“Sorry,” Mari said. “He finally asked for the ruby. I had to ask dad — well, I had to find him and then I had to ask and then he had to get the ruby and deal with your uncle. Thank you, by the way, for asking him already.”
“Of course,” Heather said. “My uncle Poseidon said that he would be happy to help.”
“He did,” Mari said. “And then Dad had to get the stone to me and here I am!”
Mari looked down at the glowing red stone.
“It’s big,” Mari said. “No wonder the Templars wanted it.”
“What do we do with it?” Nelson asked.
“Oh,” Mari said. “I thought you read the documents.”
“There are documents?” Nelson and Heather said in near unison.
“Everything has a document,” Mari said. “Lucky for you, I read them.”
“What do we do?” Nelson asked. “Hurry! Hurry! He’s near death.”
Nelson sucked in a breath and began to cry. Heather hugged him tight. Over Nelson’s shoulder, Heather nodded to Mari. The fairy went to Nelson’s father, Pierre, and set the ruby on his stomach.
“Look,” Heather said, pushing away from Nelson.
Nelson turned toward the bed. Thin streams of black were surged from his father and flew into the ruby. Mari, Heather, and Nelson stared in shock while it seemed black had no end.
“Look,” Heather said, pointing to the oxygen mask over Pierre’s mouth.
The mask filled with a black fog. Nelson carefully removed the bands that held the mask on and pulled the mask off. A grapefruit sized ball of black moved into the ruby, which continued to glow bright red.
They waited and waited and waited.
Nelson had almost given up when. . .
“Oú suis-je?” Pierre croaked. “Oú est mon fils?”
“Je suis là,” Nelson said, rushing to the bed.
Pierre’s eyes scanned Nelson’s face. Seeing his father’s face, Nelson began to weep.
“Papa,” Nelson said.
Nelson held onto his father for the rest of the time the smoky black treads came off his father’s body. It took a while, but suddenly nothing came off of Pierre. Nelson looked up to see Heather and Mari were still there.
“I think that you should keep this,” Mari said. “At least for a while. I’ll come back for it.”
Nelson nodded. Mari blew him a kiss and disappeared.
“I’ll. . .” Heather said, gesturing to the door. “Should I come get you for clinic?”
Nelson nodded, and Heather left. Nelson glanced at the door and turned back to his father.
“What’s happened?” Pierre whispered.
Nelson looked at his father and then laughed.
Denver Cereal continues next week...