Denver Cereal Denver Cereal

Chapter Four Hundred and Fifty-six : Tricky things (part one)


Monday morning — 7:05 a.m.
New York City, New York

Tanesha slipped back into bed after using the bathroom. She pulled the crisp white hotel sheets up over her shoulders and lay down on her back.

“How is it?” Jeraine asked.

“The bathroom?” Tanesha asked with a grin. She rolled onto her side to look at him.

He was lying on his side looking at her.

“Why are you awake at this ungodly hour?” Jeraine asked.

“You are very much like your son,” Tanesha said. “Mornings, with a side of questions.”

Jeraine smiled. The private funeral for Big Daddy had happened after the big concert. They’d only been in bed for a few hours.

“We get up early to get the kids to school,” Tanesha said. “Blane’s been working at Lipson this week, so everything’s shifted to earlier. I get up to help them and help Jabari get ready.”

“Do you go back to bed?” Jeraine asked.

“Sometimes,” Tanesha said. “I usually have things to do — school work, housework, whatever.”

Jeraine grunted and rolled onto his back.

“How is it?” Jeraine asked. His head turned to look at her. “Being on the mobile unit.”

“Are you going to stay awake long enough to hear?” Tanesha asked.

“Hey,” Jeraine leaned up on one elbow. “I am awake.”

He flopped back down on the bed and pretend snored. She laughed. He rolled back onto his side to look at her.

“I only have one day with you,” he said. “I don’t want to waste it sleeping.”

His words made her smile. They had had many arguments about how he could stay up all night with his girlfriends but slept the entire time he was with Tanesha.

“I’m glad you came,” Jeraine said. He reached over and touched her shoulder. “Really glad.”

Tanesha smiled.

“So …” Jeraine said.

“I’d answer you if I could get a word in edgewise!” Tanesha laughed.

Jeraine laughed. She leaned forward to kiss his lips.

“I love you,” he whispered.

“I love you, too,” Tanesha said. “Let’s see … I’m amazed at how much I love the work. I don’t mind the late nights — which you know, in general, I hate. I don’t mind the cramped space — which you know, in general, I hate. I don’t even mind the smelly bodies.”

“Which the whole world knows you hate!” Jeraine laughed.

Tanesha nodded.

“I don’t feel like I’m doing anything, because I’m not, really,” Tanesha said. “Just taking blood pressure, talking to people. And it’s volunteer. But I really love it. I know I told you this on the phone but a lady from my Gran’s church came to see the doctor just because I was there. Amazing.”

Tanesha beamed at him.

“How is it for you to be on the road without us?” Tanesha asked.

“I … I’m embarrassed at how much fun I’m having,” Jeraine said.

“Embarrassed?” Tanesha asked. “Why?”

“Oh … I don’t know,” Jeraine said.

His eyes went vague. Tanesha reached over and stroked his face.

“I have always loved music,” Jeraine said. “Always. I mean, you know.”

“You’ve spent most of your life studying music — piano lessons, singing lessons, learning how to write songs,” Tanesha said. “You were always running from school to some special music thing.”

Jeraine nodded.

“You and music,” Jeraine said. “My only true loves.”

Tanesha smiled and kissed him again.

“I screwed it all up with the drugs and the women,” Jeraine said. “I had every little thing I could have ever wanted — everything I ever wanted, hell, everything I want now! And I …”

Jeraine paused while he gathered his thoughts. Tanesha watched his face.

“I thought that the drugs made music better, but they stole it all away from me,” Jeraine said.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow…

Chapter Four Hundred and Fifty-five : A Golden Canary (part six)


(part six)

“How am I?” Aden asked. He shook his head. “I feel … guilty, I guess. We — Nuala and I — started at the same place, at the same time, and … I mean, look around us? It’s more than I could have ever imagined and … It’s not like I deserve any of this.”

Sandy nodded and looked away. Lost in thought, he looked down at his hands.

“I can’t solve her problems,” Aden said. “I can’t solve my own. I just put one foot in front of the other and …”

Aden looked at Sandy. He held her eyes for a moment before looking down again.

“She didn’t like it when I said that,” Aden said. “She wants the whole package but she wants it in one step. She thinks I can give it to her, that I owe it to her because … Well, I don’t know why.”

“Let’s get stupid simple,” Sandy said, softly. “What exactly did she ask for?”

“Everything,” Aden said.

“Everything?” Surprised, Sandy raised her eyebrows. Aden nodded.

“She wants to live at the Castle with us,” Aden said. Sandy opened her mouth to protest, but Aden pressed on. “Or she wants me or really you to pay for her to stay in the facility she’s in. She wants us to pay for extended rehab, like six months, because that’s the ‘only way’ she can really get sober. She wants us to pay for her wedding, and trust me, she has big wedding plans. She wants me to remove the restraining order on Nash and Noelle. She wants me to talk to her probation officer so that birth control is no longer a part of her probation. She says that the restraining order blocks her from her true profession of being a school teacher. Because she can’t work in her true calling, she wants me to pay for everything. Oh and, she did see that you made all that money with your mom’s symphony.”

Aden took a deep breath and blew it out his mouth. Sandy waited to see if there was anything else. When he didn’t say anything else, she spoke.

“What did Allister say?” Sandy asked.

“I let him do the talking,” Aden said. “He told Nuala that while life is not necessarily fair, we live in a cause and effect universe. If she proves, through her actions, that she’s able to stay sober longer than a few days, then we will discuss any of her demands.”

“How did she take that?” Sandy asked.

“Not well,” Aden said. “And she didn’t like that I let Allister do all of the talking. She didn’t like that she might have to prove herself. She doesn’t feel like she should prove herself to anyone, especially me.”

“Why especially you?” Sandy asked.

“She feels like I owe her because she’s stayed away from Nash and Noelle,” Aden said. “Because she gave me custody of them.”

Sandy gave an indignant snort which woke Nash. He looked at Sandy and then at Aden.

“What did my mom do now?” Nash asked.

“Nothing,” Aden said. “Don’t worry, Nash.”

“How am I supposed to … when she’s … awful.” Nash’s eyes welled with exhausted tears. “Awful. I’m her son which means I’m awful … I’m never going to be good enough … for …”

Sandy looked at Aden and he nodded. They would table this until they were alone. The video game console froze and Aden went to help Charlie, Dale, and Elijah.

“What did she do?” Nash whispered to Sandy.

“Let’s let the lawyers sort it out,” Sandy said. “For now, she’s in New York. She can’t leave.”

Nash blew out a breath and settled back in. Sandy smoothed his hair until he was breathing deep and asleep again. As they flew through the sky in an aluminum tube, Sandy contemplated the entire mess.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

Chapter Four Hundred and Fifty-five : A Golden Canary (part five)


(part five)

Sunday mid-day — 10:10 p.m.
Between New York City and Denver

“How is he?” Aden asked in a low voice.

Sandy nodded. Nash had fallen apart after leaving Nadia. The late nights and long days had caught up with the young man. He’d started to cry the moment Nadia walked away from him and hadn’t stopped until he’d fallen asleep with his head on Sandy’s lap an hour into their flight home.

“How’s Noelle?” Sandy asked.

Aden gestured to the seats where Noelle and Sissy were playing “Go Fish” and laughing. Mike and Ivan were looking through the pictures from the park with Teddy. Dale and Charlie were playing video games in the back with one of Bernice’s grandsons, Elijah, who was going to take a campus tour University of Colorado at Boulder the next day. Overall, everyone on board was tired but happy. Nash was the only one who’d succumb to overwhelming emotions. So far.

Sandy patted the empty seat next to her and Aden sat down. Knowing she would speak softly, he leaned into her. Her perfume and warmth comforted him after a long few days.

“How did it go with Nuala this morning?” Sandy asked.

“Oh,” Aden said. He seemed to deflate a little bit. “I was glad Allister was there.”

“You’ll have to tell me all about it,” Sandy said.

Aden launched into meeting Allister. He laughed when he told her that he’d thought Allister wanted to purchase Nash. He told Sandy about how Allister’s parents hadn’t named him Bertram or Bertie. Sandy smiled. It was rare for Aden to make new friends, but it had been clear at the party that Allister and his partner were now a part of their pack. She waited for Aden to finish telling her about how they met.

Smiling, he fell silent.

“And Nuala?” Sandy asked, gently.

Aden’s eyes flicked to her face. His head went up and down for a moment and then he looked away.

“That bad?” Sandy asked.

Aden’s head went up and down.

“She’s getting married again,” Aden said. “Wants more kids.”

“Good Lord,” Sandy said. “How many has she had taken away from her?”

“Six,” Aden said. “Not counting Nash and Noelle.”

“How old is she?” Sandy asked.

“My age,” Aden said. “Forty, this year. She’s pretty excited about this guy. Seems he has a good job with chances for advancement. She met him at an AA meeting before she went to prison and he’s hung in there with her. He knows about everything and has been sober a while. She wants …”

Sandy nodded. When Aden didn’t say anything, she nudged him.

“Sorry,” he said. “I guess I just don’t know where to start, what to say, how to …”

He looked so sad that Sandy reached over. She turned his head toward her face. She scanned his face while she stroked his face.

“What is it?” Sandy asked.

“We’ve … I mean I …” Aden started again. “Well … Allister said that Nuala wants what I have — children, wife, home, money — the whole nine. He said, Allister I mean, that she can’t see the struggle, the risk, the lack of sleep, and hard work. From the outside, you know. She can’t see the cost of all …”

Sandy nodded. Her eyes watched his face. She put her hand on his heart.

“How am I?” Aden asked. He shook his head. “I feel … guilty, I guess. We — Nuala and I — started at the same place, at the same time, and … I mean, look around us? It’s more than I could have ever imagined and … It’s not like I deserve any of this.”

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow…

Chapter Four Hundred and Fifty-five : A Golden Canary (part four)


(part four)

Sunday mid-day — 12:10 p.m.
Denver, Colorado

“Is my Mommy home yet?” Maggie asked Jill as she entered the side door of the Castle.

“Not yet,” Jill said.

“My Daddy?” Maggie asked.

Jill shook her head. Maggie took Jill’s hand and they walked into the Castle. When Jill looked down, the little girl was crying.

“Are you okay?” Jill knelt down to the tiny child.

“I’m sad,” Maggie said. “I love my Aunt Bonnie, and she’s fun and stuff, but I miss my Mommy. A lot.”

“I bet,” Jill said.

Jill took a seat on the couch and pulled Maggie onto her lap. Jill did her best to sooth Maggie while she cried.

“What’s wrong?” Jackie, Valerie and Mike’s daughter, asked. Her voice was soft. She put her hand on Maggie’s leg. “Why is my Maggie crying?”

“She misses her Mommy,” Jill said.

“Me too,” Jackie said.

Her lip protruded and tears welled in her eyes. Jill held out her arm and Jackie took a spot on Jill’s lap. Maggie put her arm around Jackie and Jackie leaned her head on Maggie’s shoulder. The two girls sat close together in silent sorrowful communion.

“I had a good week,” Maggie said through her tears. “ … with my Aunt Bonnie and playing my uncle Kenny — they are my daddy’s sister and brother — and with everybody at school and I liked the sleeping party with all of the other kids and Katy and Jackie and Mack and …”

Maggie nodded.

“Me too,” Jackie said.

Jill smiled. Valerie and Mike had been here all week. They’d only left on Friday to help out with the funeral and get some alone time before the new baby. But as far as Jackie was concerned, if Maggie was sad, she was sad too.

“Why’s sad?” Mack bound up to them.

“Jackie and Maggie are missing their Mommies,” Jill said.

Mack stood there for a while. His shocking blue eyes went vague while he thought about what he could do to help his friends. He nodded his head.

“Mommy’s here,” Mack said. He patted his chest. “She c’n help.”

Mack took off running. He returned in a few minutes with Heather in tow. Mack dropped his mother’s hand and ran to Jill. Heather picked up Jackie.

“How would you like to help Katy and Paddie with their top secret project?” Heather asked.

Maggie and Jackie brightened.

“Me too?” Mack asked.

“Of course,” Heather said.

Heather held out her hand and Mack grabbed on. Jill stood up with Maggie in her arms. They walked to the kitchen where Delphie was making jam from her first harvest from the blackberry vines that grew along the back fence. The room was moist with steam. Katy and Paddie’s faces and hands stained with blackberry juice, but their own aprons were clean. They held matching wooden spoons.

“Welcome! Welcome!” Delphie said. “Sam?”

Sam appeared from the pantry. Seeing the younger children, he raised a finger and disappeared into the pantry. He returned with three tiny aprons just like Katy and Paddie’s and three matching wooden spoons.

“We’re stirring,” Paddie said.

“You have to be very careful,” Katy told her younger friends.

“You can burn yourself,” Paddie nodded. “Bad.”

Mack held up a finger with a Band-Aid wrapped around it where he’d been burned. Everyone nodded. Maggie wiggled to be let down. She let Sam help her put on her apron and went to Paddie’s side. Shyer, Jackie appeared a moment later next to Katy. Jackie slipped her hand into Katy’s left hand for comfort. Katy smiled at Jackie and squeezed her hand. Sam led Mack away from the danger to help him clean and dry the jars.

“I think we’ve got this,” Delphie said.

Edie appeared out of nowhere with two heavy bags of sugar.

“Why don’t you head upstairs?” Delphie asked. “Make some lunch.”

Jill looked at Heather and she shrugged. The two friends went upstairs to make lunch.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow…

Chapter Four Hundred and Fifty-five : A Golden Canary (part three)


(part three)

“Are you mad that I didn’t tell you?” Tanesha asked.

Rather than speak, he scooped her up and kissed her hard. They stood an inch apart and grinned from ear to ear.

“Hey!” a male voice came from the stage.

They didn’t move.

“I think Seth wants you up on the stage,” Sandy said.

She pointed to the stage. It had never occurred to Jeraine that he would be a part of the whole party. He thought he’d just play with the show he was touring with. When he looked up, he saw his father’s best friend gesturing for him to join them. To his surprise, his mother was standing at a microphone in the front and his father was playing his battered standup bass.

“I’d like you to welcome my son to the stage,” Dionne said. “You know him as R and B star, Jeraine. To me, he’s just my baby boy.”

A few women screamed and a wild cheer went through the crowd. Tanesha gestured for him to go. He gave her one last kiss and went up to the stage.

“I wonder if you could sub-in where we need it,” Seth said.

“Of course,” Jeraine said.

“I thought we could play that piano duo,” Seth said. “Do you remember it?”

“I don’t but I bet my fingers do,” Jeraine said.

As if to say “I believe in you,” Seth grabbed his arm. Jeraine went to where two pianos faced each other. Seth sat down at one and he took the other. When Seth started, Jeraine listened through the opening stanzas before joining in the song. Like all of Seth’s work, Jeraine was caught up in the song as soon as he started playing. Sometime later, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to find the world famous swing piano player, Larry Fuller, standing behind him. Jeraine stood up, shook the man’s hand, and helped him get settled. The entire mood shifted and the party began to swing.

Jeraine looked around to see if Tanesha was available to dance with him. He was about to get down from the stage when Bumpy handed him a guitar and pointed to the front. Knowing better than to protest, Jeraine simply nodded and went to fill in on guitar. He rotated from instrument to instrument until his conscious mind slipped away and his musical mind awakened in a way it hadn’t since he’d clouded his brain with drugs. The music inside him matched the music coming from him. He didn’t have to be a leader or a front person or a marketer or a “good product.” He just had to play.

The energy he put out in music, came back to him full circle. He felt charged up, happy, and alive. The more he played, the more energized he felt. It was as if all of the drugs and alcohol had walled off the deep well of the creative flow that lived inside of him. Light, joy, and energy now flooded his senses. He glanced at Tanesha and she smiled. For the first time in a very, very long time, he could feel her light illuminate his love for her.

In the middle of the music, Jeraine found himself.

And that was a very good thing.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow…

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