“Gentlemen,” Jacob said. This was his first meeting with them, so he made sure to look directly into each of their eyes. “We are about to engage in a long held Lipson Construction tradition.”
He scowled a bit and gave a solemn nod.
“Breakfast,” Jacob said. Seeing that he had their attention, he continued, “This is a time when we set aside any conflict or difficulty and focus on eating pancakes and enjoying each other’s company.”
When he looked up, he saw that the person across from him was about to complain.
“No,” Jacob said. He raised a finger. “This is a sacred time. We must dedicate ourselves to the task at hand — eating pancakes, eggs, and quite possibly a pork product. Your questions should be limited to which type of pancake — banana, blueberry, or plain old fashioned — you would like to have, which type of pork product — bacon, sausage links, or quite possibly ham — and, of course, how you would like to have your eggs made — scrambled, sunny side up, poached, or perhaps some other concoction.”
“I see the confusion in your eyes,” Jacob said. “You’re wondering why we would waste our time in this ritual when there is so much to do. Well, frankly, I understand your confusion. I once asked my father this very same question. You know what he said?”
Jacob fell silent as the waitress brought menus and filled their water glasses. He opened his mouth to continue, but the waitress came right back to fill his coffee cup with the hot nectar of the Gods. He waited until everyone had doctored their beverages before continuing.
“I asked my father why we spent our time in this ritual,” Jacob said to remind them what they were talking about. “He told me that to get along with people, you must create stress-free situations in which to build shared experiences. What could be better at doing that than sitting down for breakfast? Especially at a fine dining establishment like Pete’s Kitchen.”
“Truer words were never spoken,” Jacob said.
“Jacob? Son?” Sam asked as he neared the table. “Are you feeling all right?”
“Here is my father right now,” Jacob said. “Will you tell everyone why breakfast is important?”
“Uh,” Sam looked across the table at Jacob’s twins — Bladen and Tanner, “Uh…”
“Go ahead,” Jacob said. “We’re listening.”
Sam leaned over so he was speaking into Jacob’s ears.
“You realized they are babies, right?” Sam asked.
Jacob grinned, and Sam laughed. He pulled out a chair and sat down.
“Your father is right,” Sam said. “Breakfast can be the difference between a happy company and everything falling apart. At Lipson Construction, we get together for breakfast almost every day. We encourage all of the teams to follow suit. Most of them follow our lead. It helps people understand each other, especially with the teams of mixed types of people. Nothing is more important than getting along with others.”
Sam looked up to see the boys watching his face. He glanced at Jacob.
“That’s very…” Sam said.
“Unnerving,” Jacob said. “Yes.”
“They’re really listening,” Sam said.
“I know,” Jacob said.
Sam shuddered and Jacob smiled. The waitress came to get their order. The manager came by to ask about Jill and introduce himself to the twins. One of Jill’s waitress friends picked up Tanner to introduce him to everyone. Bladen watched the interaction with intent interest. She came right back to swap Tanner for Bladen. When Bladen returned, Tanner gave him a wide-eyed look. Jacob and Sam ordered.
Tanner pointed to Jacob and scowled.
“Bah,” Tanner said.
“You’re absolutely right,” Jacob said. “I do want bacon and not sausages.”
“Bah,” Bladen said.
“Good idea,” Jacob said. “I will order you a pancake.”
Bladen looked at Tanner and they looked back at Jacob. They gave him a grin.
“You know what they’re saying?” Sam whispered to Jacob.
“No idea,” Jacob said.
Sam laughed. He put his hand on Jacob’s shoulder.
“Thanks for inviting me to help you with your marriage class homework,” Sam said.
“This is their first Pete’s experience,” Jacob said. “You belong here.”
Sam laughed. When the waitress returned, he placed everyone’s breakfast order.
CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-THREE (part six)
Wednesday night — 9:15 p.m.
“It’s very late,” Jabari said. He was holding onto Yvonne’s neck as she and Rodney walked toward the Castle from the parking lot. “That’s just the life of a rock star.”
Yvonne pulled back to look at the little boy.
“Are you a rock star?” Yvonne asked.
“No,” he giggled.
He buried his face in her neck.
“What is it?” Yvonne asked.
Rodney glanced at them. She nodded, and he knocked on the front door.
“I don’t really want to go,” Jabari said.
Yvonne held him close.
“Can’t we just go to your house?” Jabari asked. “I can sleep in my big, grown up bed? I can play with Mr. Chesterfield all day? Then I could go home and Mommy would put me to sleep? And I could play with her in the morning and then…”
The Castle door opened. Delphie welcomed Rodney with a hug.
“I thought you wanted to go with your Daddy,” Yvonne said.
“I do,” Jabari said. “I just… um…”
Jabari watched Rodney and Delphie talk. Rodney turned his body sideways and reached out to them.
“Can you come with me?” Jabari asked. “And Mr. Chesterfield? And Mommy, too? And Mr. Rodney? And…”
“What is this?” Yvonne asked in a low voice.
She gestured for Rodney to go in. He shook his head and walked toward them.
“I just…” Jabari’s eyes welled with tears. Imitating Rodney, the child shook his head.
Rodney picked the small child up out of Yvonne’s arms. He hugged him tight.
“This is the best my life has ever been,” Jabari said into Rodney’s neck.
“Me too,” Rodney said.
“Certainly, that’s true for me,” Yvonne said.
“I don’ want anything to change,” Jabari said.
“What if it just keeps getting better?” Rodney asked.
The little boy was so surprised that he leaned back from Rodney. He turned to Yvonne.
“Is it possible?” Jabari asked.
His eyes became so big and so full that they almost filled up his whole face. His mouth fell open in a tiny “o.”
“Of course,” Yvonne said with a smile.
“Really?” Jabari asked. “You wouldn’t just want me to go so…”
“Stop,” Rodney said. “You know none of that is true.”
“I do?” Jabari looked at him.
“You know it here,” Rodney said.
Rodney put his hand over Jabari’s heart. Jabari scowled. He put his own tiny hand over Rodney’s big one. After a moment, Jabari nodded.
“You’re right,” Jabari said. “I do know.”
Jabari smiled and held out his arm. Yvonne walked forward so Jabari could hug her too. Rodney put an arm around Yvonne. The small child sat cocooned by two adults who loved him completely.
“I still don’t want to go,” Jabari said.
“We’ll try it for a day or so,” Yvonne said. “If you don’t like it, we’ll come right home.”
“I forgot!” Jabari brightened. “You’re going with me!”
“We’re going to try it out together,” Yvonne said. “If we don’t like it, even for a moment, we come straight home.”
Jabari nodded. Rodney kissed his cheek.
“Think of me,” Rodney said. “I will miss you horribly.”
“Poor Mr. Rodney,” Jabari said.
He threw his arms around Rodney’s neck in a tight hug.
“Ready to go in?” Rodney asked.
The gate to the Castle parking lot. Aden navigated the large SUV into the parking lot.
CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-THREE (part five)
Wednesday night — 8:40 p.m.
Tanesha pushed open her front door and stopped short. Her breath caught in her throat.
Jeraine’s bags were sitting at the front door.
She swallowed hard. She forced herself to breathe. In. Out. In. Out.
Images of his bags sitting by a variety of front doors flooded past the walls she’d set around them.
“Breathe.” She commanded herself. Focus on in. Focus on out. In. Out.
Her mind flashed. She was her knees begging him not to go.
“Breathe.” She commanded herself. In. Out. In. Out.
Her mind jumped again. Jeraine was standing there laying out his lies! HIS LIES! HIS FUCKING LIES! Rage flooded over her despair.
“Breathe.” She commanded herself. She closed her eyes and felt the breath move in, and then out. In. Out.
She blinked. Her eyelids were like shutters on dramatic scenes of desperate love. She’d thrown her wedding ring at him. She’d screamed and cried. She’d been indifferent. She’d been angry. She’d begged. She’d thrown things at him. She’d been loving.
And he’d lied.
“Aw, baby, ‘s all gonna be okay.” “You know I always come home.” “You is my one and only, baby.” “Ah honey, I’d never lie to you.”
“Just breathe.” She commanded herself. In. Out. In. Out. “You just have to breathe.”
Feeling him approach, she looked up. His eyes on her face, he crept toward her as if he were a lion tamer approaching an unpredictable lion.
“Hi?” he asked.
“I thought you weren’t leaving until Friday,” Tanesha managed. In her head, she demanded herself to focus, “Breathe.”
“No,” Jeraine said. “I have to leave in the morning.”
“So that was just a lie?!” Tanesha’s voice rose with a mixture of panic and rage.
“No,” Jeraine said.
He looked like he wanted to say something else. Thinking better of it, he shook his head.
“No, what?” Tanesha asked.
“Uh,” he started but stopped talking.
He looked at her. Her mind went completely blank. She felt like a bubble had formed where her thoughts should be.
She raised an index finger. She set her book bag next to the table. She picked up her running shoes from the pile of shoes next to the door and left the house. Sitting in a rocking chair on their porch, she forced her mind to focus on changing her shoes. She didn’t bother to put her boots away. Once her running shoes were on, she took off running.
She ran as fast and hard as she was capable of running. After a few minutes, she settled into a steady and rapid pace. She’d just completed a mile when she realized someone was running behind her. She stopped running and turned around.
Jeraine ran up to her. She raised her hands in a “What?” gesture.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
For a long moment, they stared at each other.
“Nowhere.” Tanesha’s grief-stricken voice came out. “We’re going nowhere.”
“Nah,” Jeraine said with a grin. “We’re going somewhere.”
They stared at each other again.
“Come on,” Jeraine said. “Let’s run City Park. If you’re going to yell at me, and I certainly deserve it, you can yell while we run.”
“Why City Park?” Tanesha asked. “It’s a long way.”
“We’re supposed to get cake and ice cream with Sissy and Ivan. Charlie started testifying today,” Jeraine said. He gave her a cocky grin. Imitating her voice, he said, “Remember? Our life? You can remember our life, for once, can’t you?”
Tanesha gasped a sob. He caught her before she collapsed. Hot and sweaty from running, she sobbed into his shoulder. After a few moments, she spun in place and took off running.
CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-THREE (part four)
Wednesday night — 8:40 p.m.
“So how was it?” Sandy asked from behind Sissy’s wheelchair as they left the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.
They left the Opera House and started down the glass covered open walkway toward 14th Street where Jill was going to pick them up with her big SUV. Aden pushed Ivan’s wheelchair behind them. Sandy whizzed far enough ahead so that Sissy could speak without the men hearing.
“Did you see all of those girls?” Sissy said in a sad voice.
“I did,” Sandy said.
“His ex-girlfriends,” Sissy said.
“Glad they didn’t have knives,” Sandy said.
“Right,” Sissy said. “What did Janine say to you?”
“She said that it was hard to believe that Ivan wasn’t using the wheelchair as a joke,” Sandy said.
“Oh,” Sissy said. “Yeah, it is weird.”
“Does it bother you?” Sandy asked. “The girls.”
“Um…” Sissy said.
Sandy put her hand on Sissy’s shoulder for support.
“They are so beautiful,” Sissy said. “And… they can…”
“Dance,” Sandy said.
“Yeah,” Sissy said. “I felt…”
Sandy leaned over so she could see Sissy’s face. She kissed her sister’s cheek.
“You’ll be dancing soon enough,” Sandy said.
“It was so beautiful,” Sissy said. “Have you ever seen anything more beautiful than ballet?”
Sandy grinned as Sissy sighed. Sandy waited for Sissy to say what she always said.
“Someday, I’m going to…” Sissy started.
She stopped talking. Sandy pushed Sissy to the side of the building. She went around to the front of the wheelchair. Sissy’s eyes were vague. When she saw Sandy, her eyebrows furrowed.
“I…” Sissy said. Sandy watched Sissy’s face. “I think that Defense Attorney was right. I was never good enough to do ballet. I mean, what was I thinking? Those women are so… and I’m… I mean look at me!”
Sissy gestured to her injured body. Sandy hugged Sissy. As she had when Sissy was a child, Sandy said, “Shh, shh, it’s going to be okay. Shh.”
“Everything okay?” Aden asked as they approached.
Sandy let go of Sissy. She gave Sissy a hard look.
“Everything’s good,” Sissy said after catching Sandy’s look. She made an effort to smile. “I just feel… emotional, you know?”
“Was someone cruel?” Ivan asked.
“Who do we need to beat up?” Aden asked.
“Men,” Sandy said.
She gave them an exaggerated roll of her eyes. Sissy giggled at Sandy’s pretense.
“Huuh, huuh, huh,” Aden said as if he were a caveman.
Ivan turned his head to look up at Aden. Grinning, Ivan joined in. Sissy began to laugh. Sandy kept her hand on Sissy’s shoulder so Sissy wouldn’t laugh so much that she lost her breath.
“Let’s return to our mythical Castle,” Ivan said. “I feel the desperate need to have ice cream.”
“And cake!” Sissy said with a grin.
“But who would create such a delicacy for us?” Ivan asked.
“Sandy made another one for us!” Sissy said.
“Sandra,” Ivan said. “Our heroine again.”
Ivan’s mouth smiled at Sissy while his eyes took in her wet cheeks and red eyes. He held out his hand for Sissy and Aden rolled him nearer to her. Sissy took his hand. Reading his kind smile, Sissy nodded.
“Oh look, there’s Jill!” Sandy said as Jill pulled up in her huge SUV.
Sandy rolled Sissy to the sidewalk and left to get the SUV ready for them. Aden rolled Ivan next to Sissy and went to help Sandy.
At great cost to himself, Ivan leaned toward Sissy. She turned to look at him. He kissed her lips.
“I love you,” Ivan said. Even though he was in pain, he held his face inches from hers. “Always.”
Sissy kissed him. Ivan leaned back into his chair. He closed his eyes to absorb the pain which shot through him. Sissy squeezed his hand in support.
“Shall we?” Jill asked.
She touched Ivan’s shoulders and then went to Sissy. Aden helped Ivan into the SUV. Jill helped Sissy to her feet, and Sandy got the wheelchairs.
“Did you help him?” Sissy whispered to Jill.
“Guy shouldn’t have to suffer for kissing his beloved,” Jill said.
She winked at Sissy and helped her into the SUV. Aden got in the driver’s seat.
“What are you doing?” Jill asked in a pretend huffy voice.
“Huuh, huuh, huuh,” Aden grunted like a caveman.
While Jill looked confused, Sandy, Sissy, and Ivan laughed. He kept it up until Jill laughed too. She got in next to Sissy and Sandy sat next to Ivan.
“Driver?” Jill said in an exaggerated “rich” voice. “Take us home.”
CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-THREE (part three)
“And that’s okay for you?” the District Attorney asked.
“Sure,” Charlie said. “Jeez, I’ve made mistakes and done stupid stuff before. They were really revved up on the idea that I was going to hurt their little brothers. If someone was going to destroy Nash’s life, um, my step-brother, I don’t know what I’d do. Of course, if I’d died, I probably wouldn’t feel that way, you know.”
The District Attorney shot Charlie a grin.
“Do you have any idea who might have told these men that you were going after the boys because they were African-Americans?” the District Attorney asked.
“Sure,” Charlie pointed to the third attorney at the far end of the defense table. “That guy. David Wodes.”
The Defense Attorney was on his feet. Before he could say anything, the District Attorney asked a fast question.
“And you know this because…” the District Attorney asked.
“Oh, the guys who beat me up told me,” Charlie said. “It’s kind of a big deal. Something called the ‘Bar’ — but not like an drinking bar, you know, something else — is holding a trial and there’s a criminal case against that guy. I have to testify in both of those.”
The court was silent for a moment.
“I was surprised when I saw him just sitting there,” Charlie said.
“We’d like to submit into evidence the record of the restorative justice session between Charlie and his attackers,” the District Attorney said.
The judge looked at the document before looking up.
“We need time to look through this document,” the judge said. “I’m going to dismiss us for the day. Charlie, you know what you have to do, right?”
“I can’t talk to anyone,” Charlie said. “That’s okay because this is a big deal for all of my friends. We take it really serious, I mean, seriously.”
“Good,” the judge said. “Court is adjourned. We’ll reconvene tomorrow morning.”
CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-THREE (part two)
“Go ahead, Charlie,” the judge said.
“Well, I don’t remember very good,” Charlie said. “I mean, well. I don’t remember very well. Because… I just don’t. I… um… remember walking up Fifteenth Street. Um…”
“What happened Charlie?” the District Attorney asked.
“Oh, I got beaten up,” Charlie said. “Some guys with baseball bats and stuff jumped me. I thought they were going to kill me. They almost did.”
Charlie glanced at the judge.
“I saw my dad,” Charlie said. “When I was in the hospital, you know.”
The District Attorney didn’t move and the court was silent for a moment.
“They were trying to make sure I didn’t testify,” Charlie said. “They got the idea that I was lying about all the stuff I saw, with the rapes, I mean. They were told that I was lying to get their brothers in trouble because they were black, I mean, African-American.”
“Objection,” the Defense Attorney said. “Assumption.”
“How do you know what they thought, Charlie?” the judge asked.
“Oh, they told me,” Charlie said with a nod. “Dr. Bumpy set up this thing called ‘Restorative Justice.’”
“Overruled,” the judge said to the Defense Attorney.
“Can you explain that to the court, Charlie?” the District Attorney asked in an attempt to regain control.
“Oh, I don’t know a lot about it,” Charlie said.
“What did you do?” the District Attorney asked.
“Um, Dr. Bumpy…” Charlie started.
“Let the record show that Dr. Bumpy is Dr. Bumpy Wilson,” the District Attorney said.
“So noted,” the judge said. “Go ahead, Charlie.”
“Dr. Bumpy set up a meeting for me and the guys who beat me up,” Charlie said. “It was pretty cool. We sat at a table and talked. They told me what they knew. I told them what I knew. My friend, Dale, and my Godfather, Seth O’Malley, were with me. Sandy came too, but having a woman there made it different. So she left. Um, Sandy’s kind of my sister and my mother.”
Charlie looked at the jury and swallowed hard.
“We were there for like three days. But… Uh. It was nice, felt really good,” he added.
“And did you go to trial?” the District Attorney asked.
“No,” Charlie said. “We agreed to a sentence and then presented it to you. You agreed to what we decided if I agreed, which I already had.”
“And what was their sentence?” the District Attorney asked.
“The guys have to help me pay for the medical bills and something called ‘restitution.’ I don’t know what that is. They have to pay a bunch of fines and stuff. I don’t know how much. They also agreed to volunteer to help homeless kids and other disadvantaged boys. They have to do a whole bunch of hours, but they’ve already started. They’re not bad guys. They just got mad. And if they don’t beat anyone up for… I don’t remember how long…”
“Five years,” the District Attorney said.
“Then it all goes away,” Charlie said.
“And that’s okay for you?” the District Attorney asked.