“You are truly the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” the woman said.
“You’re not so bad yourself,” Yvonne said with a smile. “Your daughter is a beautiful girl too.”
The woman beamed.
“She’s friends with Paddie,” Yvonne said. “My friend Delphie has picked her up at the Marlowe School to play at the Castle a few times.”
“Yes, she has,” the woman smiled.
“Leena?” the massage therapist came to the door.
“My turn,” the woman said.
She gave a little wave and left the locker room. Yvonne got dressed in her lounge wear. She was just about to leave when she saw the envelope on the bench. She picked it up and looked at it for a moment. Looking around the locker room, she decided she’d better bring it up to her room. She left the locker room and went to the elevator. The massage area was in the basement of their hotel. She had to wait for a elevator to come all the way down there. When it arrived, there was a tall, thin brown haired man standing in the back.
“Alex?” Yvonne asked.
“Max,” he said. “Would you mind if I hung out with you tonight?”
“Not at all,” Yvonne smiled.
She stepped into the elevator and stood next to him. The elevator doors close and they started to rise. Yvonne leaned in close to him.
“Do you have any superpowers?” Yvonne asked.
“I’m not a fairy,” Max said. “If that’s what you’re asking.”
Yvonne shook her head and Max grinned.
“You’re going to protect me,” Yvonne said.
“I’m going to protect you,” Max said. “And I’m going to finish this thing once and for all. My sister and I have a particular dislike for people who hurt children. But we get really mad when people we love get messed with.”
“You mean my handsome agent?” Yvonne asked.
“Sandy,” Max said. “You. Raz. Colin. The list is long.
“You’re Alex’s brother.”
“What gave it away?” Max asked.
He waved his hand up and down over his body. He grinned at her and she smiled.
“I am a lawyer,” Max said.
“That’s kind of a superpower,” Yvonne said.
The elevator stopped at her floor and the doors slid open.
“Come along,” Yvonne said.
They got out of the elevator together.
“Have you met Dionne?” Yvonne asked.
“I have,” Max said. “Dr. Bumpy was our childhood doctor. My sister Erin still sees him. We would too but we have to see doctors through our work.”
“Dionne does not like strangers. Too much time on the road as a singer. It’s good that you know her,” Yvonne said. She opened the door to the suite. “You sure you don’t have a super power?”
“Pretty sure,” Max said, and stepped into the suite. “Why do you keep asking?”
“I just have the feeling that you’re going to save the day,” Yvonne said.
Wrapped in a towel, Yvonne left the massage room. She wandered down the hallway in spaced out bliss. Dionne had to start later than Yvonne so she wouldn’t be done for a while. Yvonne had time for a bath in the room. She went into the locker room to change back into her lounge wear.
When she pushed open the door, the woman sitting on the bench turned looked up at her. The woman had long blonde hair and was wrapped in a towel. When she smiled, she was truly beautiful, but Yvonne could feel the survivor-vibe radiate off the woman. This woman had been through some bad, bad stuff. Yvonne nodded to herself and gave the woman one of her bright smiles. The woman blushed.
“Did you have a nice massage?” the woman asked. “I don’t get massages very much.”
The woman dropped the back of her towel to show Yvonne scars on her back and arms.
“People freak out,” the woman said. “You think they’ll …”
The woman gave a slight shrug and Yvonne instantly liked her. Yvonne sat down next to her.
“I think they’ll be just fine,” Yvonne said. She patted the woman’s knee. “Don’t you worry about that stuff.”
When the woman nodded, Yvonne realized that the woman looked familiar.
“You know, my memory is not very good,” Yvonne said. “Have we met before?”
“Nope,” the woman said. She leaned forward and took an envelope from the open locker in front of her. “I was asked to give you this.”
She held the envelope out to Yvonne.
“What is it?” Yvonne asked.
“A message from a friend,” the woman said.
Yvonne didn’t take the envelope from the woman.
“It’s what you’ve been looking for,” the woman said.
“A sure fire ticket to hell for the spider?” Yvonne asked.
“Sadly, no,” the woman said. “I wouldn’t mind one of those myself.”
“A way to get back at Annette for hurting Jabari?” Yvonne asked.
“Not that,” the woman said.
“The person who hurt Mr. Chesterfield?” Yvonne asked.
The woman smiled and shook her head.
“A way to eat everything I’d like and not gain weight?” Yvonne asked.
The woman laughed. She nodded toward the envelope and Yvonne took it.
“Smell it,” the woman said.
Yvonne held the envelope up to her nose. She took a deep breath and smelled sunshine, bees wax, and honey.
“Alex,” Yvonne said.
The woman raised her eyebrows.
“You don’t have a massage?” Yvonne asked.
“Oh, yes, I do,” the woman said. “I told them that if I was coming all this way, I was getting a massage.”
“So there’s no word from Jake?” Blane asked Heather through the glass wall that protected him.
“Nothing,” Heather said.
“How’s Jill holding up?” Blane asked.
“She seems fine, you know,” Heather said. “She’s focused on what has to get done while he’s gone.”
“But she’s okay?”
“Oh, no, she’s not even close to okay,” Heather said. “This is what she did when Trevor disappeared or whatever. She’d focus on what she could control.”
“Trevor,” Blane said. “I haven’t thought about him in …”
“Years,” Heather said. “I know. I haven’t thought about him either.”
“And no one’s heard from Jake,” Blane said.
Heather shook her head.
“It’s so weird,” Blane said. “Even when he lived in Maine, Sam used to hear from him every few days. And Val?”
“Has she heard?” Heather shook her head. “Everyone’s pretty worried.”
“Katy?” Blane asked.
“She’s focused on passing this horse test,” Heather said. “They have to pass some safety test before they can ride in the mountains. Paddie’s already passed because he’s so much …”
“Bigger,” Blane nodded. “Poor Katy.”
“She’s been up crying every night,” Heather said. “You know how she gets.”
“Perfectionistic,” Blane said.
“Like Jake,” Blane said at the same moment Heather said, “Like Jill.”
“How are you?” Heather asked.
“Concerned about Jake,” Blane said. “He’s never gone this long without some kind of contact.”
Heather nodded. They fell into a worried silence.
“And you?” Heather asked again.
“Me?” Blane asked.
“I’m …” Blane sighed. “Sick of this room, lonely, wishing I was better, mad that I’m impatient, grateful, so so grateful for you, for everything. How is Mack?”
“He misses you,” Heather said.
“I miss him desperately, just after I miss you,” Blane said. “The nights are the worst. I miss you guys so much. I can hardly wait to get home.”
Blane coughed. Just a cough. But it so horrified them that they stared at each other in shock.
“I’m sure it’s noth …” Blane started.
“I’ll get the nurse,” Heather said.
The nurse came in to the room Heather was in. She dressed in hygienic scrubs, a hat, and a head mask. She stepped into the negative flow room before going into the room. Heather watched while the nurse took Blane’s temperature, some blood, and listened to his chest. After a few minutes, the nurse came back out of the room.
“I’m sure everything is fine,” the nurse said. “I’ll get this to the lab and we’ll know.”
“I feel …” Blane nodded.
Blane shook his head. He tipped his head to the side.
“Jake?” Blane asked the air.
Heather was so horrified that she could only stare.
Yvonne was so surprised that she screeched into the microphone of her computer. Tanesha waved her hand to encourage Yvonne to lower her voice. Yvonne gave her a dark scowl. They were talking to each other on a video call over the Internet.
“You’re breakin’ my ears,” Tanesha repeated what she always said.
“Jabari’s with Jer in the kitchen,” Tanesha said. “They’re baking a cake.”
“What?” Yvonne asked. “That can’t be! You’ll lose the boy and …”
“Slow down!” Tanesha said. “Let me tell you what happened.”
Yvonne gave Tanesha another dark look but nodded that she would be quiet.
“After all of that, the teacher insisted on calling the police,” Tanesha said.
“And did she …” Yvonne started.
“Let me finish!” Tanesha’s voice was firm, but she laughed. Her mother loved Jabari completely. “The police booked her on assault on a child. Then …”
Tanesha leaned forward.
“Turns out the DA has been working with Atlanta to put together a case,” Tanesha said. “They have a lot of evidence, but they were waiting for it all to come together. When this happened, they couldn’t wait anymore.”
“And?” Yvonne snorted her indignation. “Did they finally do something?”
“They charged her with child endangerment for sending Jabari to Denver,” Tanesha said. “They charged her for assault on a child for giving him the med that she knew made him sick. They charged her for hitting him at the school. And …”
“The judge was still there. You know the one that’s on our custody case?” Tanesha said.
Yvonne nodded. Her eyes were wide while she took in everything Tanesha was saying.
“He and the judge in Atlanta did a final parental rights termination,” Tanesha said.
Dionne cheered in the background. Yvonne looked stunned.
“She still has a chance to get him back,” Tanesha said. “She has six months to clean up her act, but she’s already said she’s not going to take the parenting classes or anything.”
“And my baby Jabari?” Yvonne asked.
“He’s here,” Tanesha said. “At the house. We get him while you’re in Arizona; then we’ll share him after that. Dionne too.”
Dionne cheered in the background.
“The judge said that he’d never seen a child who had so many people who wanted to love him,” Tanesha smiled. “That’s our boy.”
Yvonne bit her lip and looked worried.
“You don’t seem happy?” Tanesha asked.
“What if she steals him?” Yvonne asked.
“She’s not going to be doing anything for a while,” Tanesha said. “She’ll be in jail here until she makes bail …”
“Schmidty filed the papers saying that she defrauded Jer,” Tanesha said.
“What?” Yvonne asked.
“We found his birth certificate, or Schmidty did,” Tanesha said. “She’d paid someone to ‘lose it,’ but Schmidty paid someone more to find it.”
“Jabari is two and a half, just like you thought.”
“I knew it!” Yvonne said. “Jeraine was chatty like that, even when he was a little thing.”
“What did she say?” Dionne’s face came into view. “He’s not three?”
“Not yet,” Tanesha said.
Dionne’s face clouded over with rage.
“I know,” Tanesha said. “But we have to focus on going forward. Being angry isn’t going to make it better.”
Yvonne reached up and grabbed her friend’s hand. They exchanged a look, and Dionne nodded.
“She must be famous ‘cuz there’s a movie camera,” Miranda said.
Jabari’s finger painting was going to be really nice. He was carefully moving the blue paint jar over his clean, bare sheet when an adult’s hand went around his arm. The hand jerked his arm. The top flew off the paint jar and the blue paint went everywhere. Miranda screamed at the top of her lungs at the same moment Stephen laughed.
Jabari watched in horror as the blue paint flew up in the air. While the hand tugged him out of his seat, the blue paint dropped onto the table and the kids around him. A stream of paint landed on Miranda’s hair and ran down her face. Stephen had turned toward the person yanking on Jabari so the paint had sprayed over his glasses. Melvin looked up just as a drop of paint fell on his red nose.
His bare, clean sheet of paper was now coated with a spray of blue paint.
Jabari screamed and a hand slapped him across the face. He looked up to see who had slapped him.
“No! No! No!” Jabari screamed.
Her hand slapped him again.
“Ma’am, I need to ask you …” a man’s voice said.
Jabari saw the security guard grab onto the arm Annette wasn’t holding Jabari with. When the security guard yanked on Annette’s arm, Jabari flew into the air. Blue paint flew out of the jar and sprayed kids at other tables.
“You have no right,” Annette yelled at the security guard.
Jabari was falling toward the ground. He came down in the teacher’s arms. Annette yanked on his arm and the security guard pulled on her, all the while the teacher was holding tight onto his body.
“ENOUGH!” the teacher said in a scary loud voice. “I did not survive the blasting sand and scorching heat of Iraq to watch spoiled adults hurt babies here in Denver.”
Annette was so surprised by the teacher’s loud voice that she let go of Jabari’s arm. The security guard grabbed hold of Annette’s upper arms. The teacher wrapped herself around Jabari.
“Get her out of here,” the teacher said.
“Yes, ma’am,” the security guard said.
“And call the police,” the teacher said. “I want to charge her with assault on a child and disrupting our peace.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the security guard said.
Never letting go of Annette, the security guard leaned close to the teacher.
“Cassie?” the security guard asked in a low voice. “You’ve got blue …”
His hands full with Annette, the security guard used his nose to gesture to the teacher’s face. Her hand went to her face and she felt the wet paint.
Miranda stopped screaming and Stephen stopped laughing and Annette stopped screeching and the security guard stopped talking. The room was suddenly very still.
Jabari pulled his shirt down over his hand. He reached up and wiped the blue paint from his teacher’s ivory cheek. The teacher looked down at him and started to laugh.
When the teacher laughed, the kids started to laugh. Melvin tossed the orange paint out of the jar. The paint flew into the air and showered down. Miranda started screaming again. Stephen picked up the green and followed Melvin’s lead. Kids at every table began to throw paint in the air. The paint flew through the air while the security guard dragged Annette out of the room.
The principal arrived. Rather than get mad, she organized the kids to help clean up. By the time parents came to get their kids, they were coated head to toe in paint. Even Miranda.
All the while, the teacher held onto Jabari for comfort, and he let her.