While Blane cooked something exquisite, Heather fed Wyn a bottle of breast milk at the kitchen counter.
“What are you making?” Heather asked.
“It smells so good,” Heather said. “I was wondering how much I could eat before we bring it to Yvonne’s.”
“I made extra,” Blane said. He set an empty plate in front of her. “When you’re ready.”
“What is it?” Heather asked.
“What does it smell like?” Blane asked. “You know a cook’s best organ is his …”
“Penis,” Jeraine said as he walked into the kitchen.
“Gross! I can hear you!” Tink yelled from the couch where she was playing with Mack.
Mack let out a gale of laughter. Jeraine looked like he’d been caught. They laughed.
“His nose!” Blane said. “A chef’s best organ is his nose.”
Jeraine went from pan to pan to see if he could determine what Blane was making. Wyn finished his bottle. Blane set a warm towel next to her and she cleaned up the baby and herself.
“Or hers,” Tanesha said. She pulled out a chair and sat next to Heather. “My God, that smells fantastic. Are we celebrating?”
“Don’t you think we should?” Blane asked. “We’ve all made it home and safe. Jake is well. You finished your first year of medical school.”
“You, Val, and Sam destroyed the well of suffering in the world,” Heather said.
“Heather?” Tink whined.
“But not all of it,” Blane said in a low tone, which made them laugh.
Heather got up and went into the living room. She came back a second later.
“Charlie’s at Seth’s because something happened to Dale,” Heather said. “She wants to video call him there.”
“I can set it up. You.” Tanesha pointed to Blane. “Keep cooking.”
Blane grinned. Tanesha picked up Jeraine’s tablet and went into the living room. Blane poured Heather a cup of coffee, doctored it with cream and chocolate and set it on the counter.
“Coffee?” Blane asked Jeraine, who was standing at the cabinets.
“Sure,” Jeraine said. “But I’ll get it.”
He took down a cup for himself and one for Tanesha. Blane turned on the tea kettle for Tanesha and Jeraine poured himself some coffee. Heather watched Jeraine and Blane silently worked chopping vegetables.
“You think Abi will have her baby today?” Blane asked Heather.
Jeraine squeaked and jumped. He’d been so lost in thought that Blane’s question made him jump. They laughed.
“What’s going on with you?” Blane asked.
“Trying to figure out what you’re making,” Jeraine said.
“You could ask me,” Blane said.
“What’s the fun in that?” Jeraine asked.
“Doesn’t look like you’re having much fun,” Heather said as she smoothed the hair on Wyn’s forehead. “I heard that Ne Ne and her partner are coming today.”
Heather’s voice was even, but Jeraine knew she was talking to him. He turned to look at her. She smiled.
“Her partner?” Jeraine guessed at the part he was supposed to learn without Tanesha here.
“Yvonne’s father,” Heather said.
“Yeah, who is that?” Jeraine asked.
“So, did he figure it out?” Tanesha came through into the kitchen from the living room.
Smiling, Blane shook his head.
“It’s a trick,” Tanesha said. She kissed Jeraine’s cheek as she passed.
“Trick?” Jeraine asked.
“He’s preping dinner,” Tanesha said.
“You mean all of that chopping and sautéing isn’t for this?” Jeraine asked. Blane shook his head. “That makes more sense.”
“I try to always have one meal prepped,” Blane said. “Heather and Tanesha have been helping me since we live together now.”
“Keeps us from buying delivery,” Heather said.
“It works,” Tanesha said. “Makes it so that even I can make dinner.”
“So what are you making?” Jeraine asked.
“Eggs, spinach, bacon puff pastry topped with cheese,” Blane opened the oven to show golden brown triangles of pastry, eggs, and bacon. “Hashbrowns with shallots cooked in coconut oil for flavor. Tanesha prepped some bite-sized cheesecakes which I’ll bake at Yvonne’s.”
“Oh,” Jeraine said. “I could have guessed that. What are you prepping?”
“Barbecue vegetables,” Heather said.
“We’re heading to the Castle after brunch,” Blane said. “See if we can help with Abi’s delivery.”
“I’m done!” Tink yelled from the living room.
Jeraine got up and went to get the tablet.
“Did you talk to him?” Heather mouthed to Tanesha. “You know, about the c-a-t?”
“Allergic,” Tanesha said.
“You sure it’s okay to have her when he’s gone?” Heather asked.
“We’ll be just fine,” Tanesha said with a grin.
Heather hugged Tanesha and Jeraine came back into the kitchen.
“Oh, sorry,” Janet grinned at him. “I was waiting for you to sit down or something.”
Seth lifted a shoulder which made Janet laugh.
“I guess I’ve only talked to white people who were behind desks,” Janet said.
“Or in hospital beds,” Seth said with a grin.
“That’s the truth,” Janet said.
“If you have something to say to Seth, you should spit it out, Janet,” Claire said from the door to the kitchen.
Surprised, Janet and Seth’s heads jerked in her direction. The microwave bell rang and Seth retrieved his hot burrito.
“I wanted to say ‘thanks,’” Janet said. “We’ll head out as soon as my daughter’s awake.”
“To sit in your hot apartment?” Seth asked.
“Listen, I’m going to be gone all day,” Seth said. “Ava and Charlie are taking Dale to the doctor to get checked out. You’re welcome to stay here. Think of it as payment for helping us out last night.”
“But you paid me and … ” Janet said.
“I’ll be here by myself all day,” Claire said. “We can change those beds lickety-split and you can get some real rest.”
“I couldn’t,” Janet said.
“You couldn’t what?” Malik asked as came into the kitchen.
He nodded hello to Claire and put his hand on Janet’s shoulder before looking at Seth. Seth nodded and drank down a cup of coffee. He poured second cup into a travel mug. He balanced a breakfast cookie on top of the second cup.
“Stay here,” Janet said. She blushed at Malik’s attention. “They’ve offered to let us stay here today.”
“I have to get going,” Malik said. “I smelled coffee.”
“Help yourself,” Seth said. Pointing to a cabinet, he added, “Cups in there.”
“Going?” Janet asked.
Malik’s back was turned as he made his coffee. Janet looked genuinely surprised and sad. Seth grinned over her head at Claire.
“I teach high school English and lead drum corps during the year,” Malik said, while still facing the cabinet. “The drum corps did so well this year that we were invited to a couple of competitions this summer. We practice all day Sunday.”
Malik looked at Janet and shook his head.
“Did you think I was only a drummer in a band?” Malik asked with a grin.
“I … well …” Janet said.
“I like to eat,” Malik said with a laugh.
“Stay here and rest,” Claire said. “Seth doesn’t work late. He’ll be home around five and Ava’s going to be at the doctors with Dale and Charlie. So it’s just me most of the day. I’d enjoy the company. When the kids wake up they can play games and at least stay out of the heat.”
“We can’t do this every day!” Janet said.
Seth shrugged. Taking his burrito, the cookies, and coffee, he gave Claire a peck on the cheek and left the kitchen. In the hallway, he heard Claire say, “I don’t know why not?” to Janet.
Grinning, he left the apartment. On the bottom step, he put on his shoes and headed into the warm morning.
Carrying his shoes, Seth carefully pulled closed the door to his and Ava’s bedroom and stood on the edge of the living room. Three of Janet’s four grandchildren were sound asleep scattered around the living room floor. Malik slept with his arm not quite around Janet. Janet’s daughter sat with the baby on lap and her back against the couch. Melissa, Claire’s daughter, was asleep in the armchair. He glanced at the door to their bedroom. Ava was asleep in the bed and they’d settled Dale in the other bedroom where Charlie, Seth’s best friend Mitch’s son, kept watch.
Everyone safe. Everyone accounted for.
He slipped silently across the wood floors to the kitchen. Once there, he soundlessly made coffee. When he was in Denver, Maresol and Ava insisted on grinding their own whole bean coffee. When Seth was alone, he drank coffee in the way God had intended it — from the can. He opened the plastic lid of the generic coffee tin and measured out a full pot of coffee. As quietly as possible, he filled the pot and started it.
He knew that Claire had made his breakfast before she’d gone home to pass out. He stuck his head deep into the large refrigerator and came out with a plate of paper towel wrapped egg and bacon burritos and a bag of Claire’s amazing breakfast cookies. He turned and ran right into Janet. Soundlessly, she grabbed the plate of burritos before it fell. Seth grinned his thanks.
“Are you off?” Janet whispered.
“I have to work,” Seth said.
“Work?” Janet asked. “I thought you were just rich.”
Seth shook his head and grinned. He pointed to the counter and she set down the plate of burritos. Her confused look compelled him to answer.
“I write music,” Seth said. “The mother of my eldest daughter died recently …”
“I’m so sorry,” Janet said.
Seth nodded and continued.
“She wrote a series of truly amazing long concertos that are just short of being symphonies,” Seth said. “They were sold to a movie company who wants to use them as the theme for a series of movies. I’m working with a group of musicians who are attempting to make this a reality.”
“Sounds hard,” Janet said.
“It’s just work,” Seth said. “Don’t get me wrong. I love my work, but some of it is simply work.”
“My work is like that,” Janet said with a nod.
“Are you working today?” Seth asked.
“At three,” Janet said. “Listen, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
Seth glanced at Janet and took a plate out of the cabinet.
“Would you like one?” Seth asked.
“Sure,” she said.
Seth took another plate out and put a burrito on each of them. He glanced at Janet again and she still didn’t say anything. He put the burritos into the microwave.
“It was,” Jacob nodded. “I wanted to be anywhere else, but I had to be there. And then when I was back in the Sea of Amber. Thank God for Blane. I was ready to give up.”
“Thank God for Blane,” Jill said. “It’s amazing what they did — Sam, Valerie, and Blane.”
“They are amazing,” Jacob said. “The world is in their debt.”
“If the world ever knew,” Jill said with a grin.
“There’s that,” Jacob said.
“And now?” Jill asked. “How do you feel?”
“I feel like I can breathe, for the first time in a long time,” Jacob said. “No more Lipson. No more state of Colorado bullshit. No lying inspectors and pencil pushing permit pukes. No more anything. Just you, Katy, Bladen, Tanner, and carpentry, work I truly love.”
Jacob beamed and the room lit up.
“Um,” Jill said.
He turned his head to look at you.
“Honey was hoping you could help them,” Jill said.
“Sure,” Jacob said. “What does Honey need?”
“Well …” Jill started. “She was hoping you might help them with the pencil pushing permit pukes.”
Jacob laughed out loud.
“They’re stuck,” Jill said. “They keep going back and forth between the hospital permitting and the residential permit department. It’s crazy.”
“Sounds like something I can do,” Jacob said. “But not today, right? Today is Sunday.”
“What about fishing? Mountain bike riding?” Jill asked with a grin. “Or …”
“Hockey,” they said together and laughed.
“If it’s all right with you, I think I’d rather spend the day with you and the kids,” Jacob said.
Jill grinned in response.
“How about you?” Jacob asked. “What can I do for you?”
“I wouldn’t mind some more of what you did for me last night?” Jill gave him a lecherous grin.
Without hesitation, Jacob shooed Sarah off the bed and moved over to her. He’d just leaned in to kiss Jill when Katy said, “Mommy?” Hearing Katy’s voice, the twins began to scream. Jill and Jacob started moving at the same time.
“I’ll take the boys,” he said. Hopping up, he pulled on a pair of light pajama bottoms.
“They need to be breast fed,” Jill said. “Everything’s been so crazy that I haven’t pumped.”
“Good point,” Jacob said. “You take the boys and I’ll get Katy.”
He touched her nose, brushed his lips with hers, and ran to get Katy. She smiled after him and went to the twins room.
Feeling hot breath on her face, Jill opened her eyes to see Sarah’s eyes watching her. Jill rubbed Sarah’s soft face and Sarah’s long pink tongue licked Jill’s face.
“I know,” Jill said softly to the dog.
“You know?” Jacob’s voice came from the other side of the dog. He leaned up to look at her.
“I know that you wouldn’t have been gone if it wasn’t necessary, mandatory even,” Jill said.
“If you know that, can you explain it to me?” Jacob asked.
Jill’s eyebrows furrowed with concern.
“What is it?” Jill asked.
“I feel awful for leaving you, alone, here, in the middle of our chaotic, overwhelming life,” Jacob said. Jill took a breath to speak, but Jacob cut her off. “I know what you’re going to say : ‘It was only a few days,’”
“It was!” Jill said.
“You and I both know that I left a long time before that,” Jacob said.
Jill silently watched him. When he didn’t say anything else, she took a breath to speak.
“What was it like?” Jill asked. “Not in the cabin. We’ve talked about that. It sounds fabulous. I mean while you were here and gone at the same time.”
“Good question,” Jacob said. He rolled onto his back. “It was like …”
“When I was a kid, I caught this horny toad,” Jacob said. His eyes flicked to her. “They’re actually horned toads or more accurately short-horned lizards and … Dad was with me, when I caught it, I mean. We set up this awesome aquarium — everything a horny toad needed, warm light, great rocks, a cool piece of wood. I fed him live crickets. I even gave him ants that came from the big ant hill out back. He seemed really happy for a while. Then, Delphie came over.”
“Uh-oh, I don’t know if I like the sound of that!” Jill said suppressing a chuckle.
“Exactly,” Jacob said. “She told me that my horny toad was lonely. Lonely! Can you imagine such a thing?”
“How did you take that?” Jill asked with a grin.
“Not well, I’ll tell you,” Jacob said.
“The toad had you!” Jill said. “What more could he want?”
“That’s exactly right,” Jacob said. Smiling, he continued, “But Delphie was insistent. ‘The small-horned lizard is lonely,’ she said no less than a million times.”
“I was being cruel to make him live alone,” Jacob said. “Even though, I’ll tell you, I wouldn’t have minded living alone around about then.”
Jill laughed out loud.
“She’s always right so after I pouted for a while, I caught another horny toad,” Jacob said. “You know the first thing Melville did? Melville, that was the name of the original horny toad.”
“What else could it be?” Jill asked.
“Exactly,” Jacob said. “I knew there was a reason I married you.”
He leaned over Sarah and kissed Jill.
“And the new horny toad?” Jill asked.
“Josephine,” Jacob said.
“Did you know she was a girl?” Jill asked.
“Of course not,” Jacob said. “I just thought that there was me and Valerie, mom and dad.”