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November 2020

Chapter Six Hundred and Twenty: Can you help?

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and TWENTY

“How is Olympia?” Delphie asked

Heather took a glass of wine and glanced around at Valerie, Jill, and Delphie. She shook her head so hard that the water in the hot tub splashed a little. The women waited for her to answer.

“Stupid,” Heather said, finally. “Do you know about my grandmother?”

“What about her?” Jill asked.

“She was born of the ocean,” Heather said. “So she’s independent of family and not really connected to everyone else. Of course, Ares has a lot of family connections. You know, my father’s father. But. . .”

“Is there an issue?” Delphie asked.

“Of course there’s an issue,” Heather said. “She doesn’t want to be a part of all of it. She pitched a fit and I’m called in to ‘reason’ with her.”

Heather shook her head.

“It’s just stupid,” Heather added. “Makes me wish there was still a Sea of Amber.”

The women laughed. Tanesha came out on the deck. She spied the women in the hot tub and went back inside.

“How are you?” Delphie asked looking at Jill.

“I’m good,” Jill said. “A little tired.”

“It’s not too much?” Delphie asked.

“Not at all,” Jill said. “The more I use my gifts the more I seem to have to give. It’s weird like that.”

“I feel that way about acting,” Valerie said. “The more I act and the better parts I get, the easier it comes to me.”

The women nodded in agreement and understanding.

“How are Julie and the children?” Delphie asked.

“Healing, I think,” Jill said. “John Drayson was here. He said that Julie really should be in the hospital. Steve came by to assess her situation. He had her moved to the medical suites. Connor is now in with our twins. He seems totally better.”

“That’s a lot,” Heather said.

Jill nodded.

“It’s a little overwhelming,” Jill said. “But, there’s a nurse with Julie now and that’s good. Julie seems to be healing and that’s good. Paddie is still sick so he’s in our guest room in the loft. He’s quarantining there. He’s very serious about it — and so cute. He and Katy communicate via a walky-talky system.

“Adorable,” Valerie said.

“And Paddie has time to heal, as well,” Jill said shrugging. “I know that I will miss having my own thing, you know, my own life. But for now, I am enjoying being able to help.”

“Is there room for me?” Tanesha asked as she came out of the house.

Tanesha was wearing her bathing suit and carrying a towel.

“Always,” Jill said.

“Did you get a glass?” Heather asked.

“I. . .” Tanesha started.

Tanesha held up a glass. Tanesha climbed into the hot tub end of the swimspa.

“This is nice,” Tanesha said. “Swimspa?”

“I need to swim,” Valerie said.

“Do you mind if the rest of us use it?” Tanesha asked.

“Not at all,” Valerie said. “Do you swim?”

“When I can, which is not often,” Tanesha said. “This will really help me while I’m working.”

“Go for it,” Valerie said.

“Thank you,” Tanesha said.

“No, thank you for trying to save lives,” Valerie said.

“Here, here,” Jill said.

The women held up their mostly empty wine glassed in salute of Tanesha. Heather waved her hand and the wine glasses filled.

“What’s this?” Tanesha asked.

“I don’t know,” Heather said. “I stole it from my grandfather’s decanter.”

The women laughed.

“I will tell you that this mask thing sucks,” Delphie said.

“It’s just life now for a while,” Tanesha said. “If you’d seen how sick people are right now, you’d never want to take the thing off.”

“Sit by me,” Jill said.

Jill held out her arm, and Tanesha sat next to her. Jill placed her arm over Tanesha’s shoulder.

“Are you checking me?” Tanesha asked.

“If I were?” Jill asked.

“I’d thank you for it,” Tanesha said.

The women laughed. A few minutes later, Jill squeezed Tanesha’s shoulder and went to move away. Tanesha pulled Jill back.

“I know that I’m usually the one who’s like: ‘Get off me!’” Tanesha said, her eyes welling. “But with everything — work and Sam and Jabari. . . I can use the love.”

Jill scooted closer to Tanesha. Heather sat on Tanesha’s side. Delphie reached over to touch Tanesha’s shoulder. From the pool side, Valerie smiled at Tanesha. For a moment, they all focused their attention on their friend.

“Okay,” Tanesha said. “Now you can. . .”

“Get off me,” the women said in near unison.

They laughed. For the next hour, they laughed, drank wine, and talked about nothing. They could almost believe that Sandy was upstairs doing something, the world wasn’t struggling with a dangerous virus, and that they weren’t each in the middle of their own personal tsunamis.

Being together was exactly what they needed.

~~~~~~~~

Thursday morning — 5:05 a.m.

Jacob was standing in the middle of the kitchen missing his father when he heard a knock on the side door of the Castle. Assuming it was Aden coming to pick him up for the day, Jacob jogged to the door. He opened to find Dr. John Drayson standing on the other side. Standing next to him were his two children and two children Jacob had never met. Their hair messy and eyes half closed, the children looked as if they’d been dragged from their beds. John was carrying a duffle bag over his shoulder. The handsome doctor was wearing a fabric mask over his mouth and nose.

“You are welcome to come in, but we’re on quarantine here,” Jacob said.

“I understand,” John said.

“Then, come in!” Jacob said. “Come in!”

Jacob stepped back and let John and the children inside the house. He quietly snapped his fingers which lit the kindling in the Castle living room fireplace.

“I was just getting a fire going in here,” Jacob said.

He leaned over to put a log on the growing fire. Delphie came from the kitchen to see what was going on.

“I’m so sorry to bother you,” John said. “My siblings have been taking care of my kids. Today is some Irish something or another that I should remember or care about.”

“They just want to get drunk,” John’s son, Joey, said.

Joey’s fraternal twin, Máire, nodded. Delphie put her arms around the two sleepy children and led them to the couch. Used to Delphie, they let her snuggle them close. The other two children were younger by some years. They looked a little stunned.

“Have you met Max and Wyatt’s sons?” John asked.

“I haven’t had the pleasure,” Jacob said, holding out his hand.

“This is Chase,” John said, gesturing to the toddler with brown eyes. Turning to the toddler with blue eyes, he said, “And this is Beau. Their fathers have been taking care of all of the kids. But Wyatt’s working like I am and Max was called in by the governor to help with acquire supplies or something like that. He left for Washington DC this morning.”

“Oh that is weird,” Jacob said with a smile. “I actually know Chase and Beau from the Marlowe School. They are friends of my toddlers.”

“That’s right,” John said, looking relieved. “I’m so glad they will have friends in the house. Our home is filled with old Irish people. They long for boys to play with.”

“Done,” Jacob said with a smile.

“Jill said that I could bring the children here if I needed help,” John said.

“Of course you can,” Jacob said.

“They are welcome as long as you need a place,” Delphie said. “We have lots of kids. I seem to remember that you both are friends with Ivy.”

Máire nodded.

“Did you know that Ivy lives here?” Delphie asked.

Máire noticeably brightened.

“Katy and Paddie too?” Joey asked.

“They are both here, but Paddie is sick,” Delphie said. “I know that Katy will love seeing you. She’s been very lonely.”

The twins looked at each other and grinned.

“There are lots of people able and willing to help,” Jacob said.

“I don’t know this for certain,” John said, “but it wouldn’t surprise me if my siblings no longer want the children in the house. They are older than I and terrified of getting sick.”

“Dying,” Máire said.

“They are sure they will go to hell,” Joey said.

The twins nodded in near unison.

“Did someone say ‘Hell’?” Fin said as he came out of their apartment.

He gave John a long look and then searched the children.

“Have you met Prince Finegal?” Jacob asked.

“Fin, please,” he said, in uncharacteristic humility. “You are John Drayson, husband of the identical twins, Alex and Max?”

“Just Alex,” John said with a grin. “Max is married to Wyatt Klaussen.”

Fin waved his answer away as if what he’d said didn’t matter.

“How you know Alex?” John asked.

“She met my father earlier this year,” Fin said. “He hasn’t stopped talking about her since.”

“Dare I ask who your father is?” John asked.

“Manannàn,” Fin said. “I’m from the Isle of Man. Your mother is a distant relative of mine. Your brother is married to my sister, Edith.”

John’s eyebrows went up. The two men gave each other a long assessing look. Mike came down the stairs and through the kitchen.

“Máire?” Mike asked. “Jackie was just talking about you!”

Máire smiled at Mike and then looked at her brother. She looked back at Mike.

“Can she come down?” Máire asked, shyly.

“I’ll bring her,” Mike said. “Have you two had breakfast? I have it started upstairs. I came down to see how Jacob was doing.”

“My father’s in the hospital,” Jacob said to no one in particular. “Sam’s holding his own. That’s what the nurse said.”

“I’ll find out and call you,” John said, turning to look at Jacob. “You’re sure? Even if they are here a while?”

“Of what?” Mike asked.

“He wants to know if we can keep the kids while he’s out there trying to save humanity,” Jacob said.

Rather than respond, Mike just laughed. John kissed his children goodbye. They whispered back and forth in a language Jacob didn’t know. When John pulled away, the kids had tears in their eyes. John spoke to Chase and Beau in the same language. The boys clung to him for a long moment.

“If you’re sure. . .” John said.

Tink came up the stairs from the basement. She waved at everyone as she walked through to the kitchen.

“Tink?” Jacob asked.

Tink stopped and turned.

“John needs some help with his kids,” Jacob said.

“We can help,” Tink said. “Charlie and me, I mean ‘I,’ we can’t go to school and can’t work. We have lots of time.”

Nodding, Tink gave John a charming braces-filled smile.

“Would you mind keeping them overnight?” John asked.

“Of course,” Tink said. “We have plenty of space. Delphie said it would be warm enough to look in the beehives today.”

Delphie nodded.

“Beehives!” Joey said.

“We know all about them,” Máire said.

“We can help!” Joey said.

“Then it’s settled,” Delphie said. “If we finish in time, we can go to your house and check your hives too!”

Joey and Máire nodded in happy agreement.

“I have an apartment near the hospital,” John said. “If you really don’t mind, I’ll stay there. I’m just exhausted. It will be a big help for me. I will come by when I can, and their mom is due back in a week or so.”

All four children nodded.

“Great,” Delphie said.

Ivy came down the stairs and through the kitchen.

“Máire?” Ivy said. “Joey? Are you here for a visit? My aunt’s away working so I’m here.”

The children nodded. Ivy gave them a wide smile. The kids caught her infectious smile and were grinning themselves.

“They have some calls with the military folks,” John said. “I figured you could handle it because you talk to MJ when he’s gone.”

“Easy,” Jacob said. “It sounds like everything is set. I need to get to work. Why don’t I walk you out?”

John kissed every child again and followed Jacob out the door. Jacob grabbed a cloth mask sitting on a table next to the door. He gestured to John and the doctor picked one up. They left the Castle.

“You can’t imagine what a help this is to me,” John said.

“Don’t think about it,” Jacob said. “There are a lot of people depending on you. At the very least, we can help support you.”

John gave a nod and walked to his sedan.

“Get some rest, Drayson,” Jacob said. “You look exhausted.”

John waved and got into his sedan. Jacob watched him drive away. Jacob got into the SUV and called Aden.

“What’s up?” Jacob asked.

“Just a slow morning,” Aden said. “Lots going on.”

“Why don’t you send the kids here?” Jacob asked. “Drayson brought his kids. They can all entertain each other.”

“Great idea,” Aden said. “Can you pick me up?”

“I’m in the car on my way,” Jacob said.

“I’ll get that worked out,” Aden said. “See you soon.”

Aden clicked off the call. Jacob started the SUV and moved out of the lot. As he waited for the metal gate to open, he thought about how lucky he was to have the help that he had. By the time the vehicle’s wheels hit the pavement, he was already lost in thought about what had to be done that day. He pulled up to Nelson’s house, where Blane was waiting for him. Blane got into the SUV.

“No Aden?” Blane asked.

“We’re picking him up,” Jacob said. “How’s Nelson?”

“As good as can be expected,” Blane said with a nod.

“Sounds good,” Jacob said.

Jacob waited until they reached the light before beginning to talk about what they had to get done today.

~~~~~~~~

Thursday morning — 5:35 a.m.

Princess Marigold, also known as Mari, landed in the middle of the IUC. Her arms were wrapped around her boyfriend, Jill’s grandfather who went by the name “Otis” now. For a moment, she held him while he tried to breath. This type of flight always made him feel nauseous. Mari snapped her fingers and she was wearing scrubs like a nurse and personal protective gear. Otis was wearing the outfit of a doctor.

“Which one is he?” Otis asked, gesturing to a row of people lying on their stomached on ventilators.

“Where have you been?” A woman marched up to Mari. “You’re late!”

“I am?” Mari asked. She glanced at Otis. Using a bit of magic in her words, Mari added, “I thought this was my starting time.”

“Oh probably,” the woman sighed. “We’re just running like chickens with our heads cut off. Sorry I snapped.”

“No problem,” Mari said. “What can I do?”

The nurse rattled off a list of things and then told her that she probably should talk to the nurse in charge Mari raised her eyebrows to Otis, and he gave a slight shrug.

“Doctor?” the nurse asked Otis.

“I am looking for Samuel Lipson?” Otis said.

As an ex-oligarch and Russian mafia don, Otis was used to bluffing his way through tight situations.

“Are you his doctor?” the nurse asked.

“One of many,” Otis said. “I had a little bit of time this morning, so I thought I’d drop by and check on him.”

Mari used a little fairy magic to convince the nurse. Harried, the woman gestured to the bed in the middle.

“He’s right there,” the nurse said. “Come on. Let’s get you to the nurse in charge.”

Mari glanced at Otis. They gave each other a quick look, and Mari followed the nurse. Otis looked down the row of bodies. Shaking his head, he wondered if there was a way to help them all.

“Who are you?” a nurse asked.

She was covered in PPE — a paper coat, a mask, glasses, and a hat. He could only see her eyes. They were large with ridiculously long lashes. She was the same size as Mari but possibly a little smaller. He scowled.

“Who are you?” Otis asked, in an authoritative voice.

“Bloody hell,” the nurse said. The woman opened her hand and there was a ball of bright light. “You tell me who you are or I’ll. . .”

“I wouldn’t do that.” Mari’s voice was clear and strong.

Mari held her sword against the neck of the woman. Everything around them stopped moving. The woman whipped around. Prepared for battle, the woman raised her hands. But Mari was an experienced fighter. She stopped the woman in her tracks and looked at Otis.

“Where’d you pick up this one?” Mari asked.

“She was just here,” Otis said.

“I leave you alone for one moment and you pick up some half-wit fairy,” Mari said.

“I could never replace you, my love,” Otis said. “I am simply irresistible to the females.”

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Nineeen: Changing times

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and NINETEEN

Wednesday mid-day — 3:35 p.m.

Denver, Colorado

“Katy, honey,” Jill said opening the door to Katy’s room.

Katy was standing in the middle of the room. She held the hilt of the Vanquisher sword with both hands while the sharp point was pointed down. There was a black char mark in the wood floor around the point of the sword. Katy was in the middle of saying the word “Paddie” when Jill opened the door.

Not sure how to respond, Jill simply looked at her daughter for a long moment. Katy gave her mother her “seriously frustrated” look.

Jill raised her eyebrows.

Katy blushed.

“Why doesn’t it work?” Katy asked. She pointed the sword at her mother. “What did you do?”

“Don’t point that thing at me or anyone else!” Jill said. “I am the daughter of a Titan. Do not tempt me.”

“But. . .” Katy sighed. Her irritation slipped away and she dropped the sword. She looked very small and very sad. “I want Paddie to come here.”

“That’s understandable,” Jill said.

“Why doesn’t it work?” Katy asked. “The sword is supposed to bring me anything I want.”

“Anything?” Jill asked.

“Watch,” Katy said. She set the tip of the sword on the floor. “Ice cream.”

A pint of Tanner and Bladen’s favorite ice cream appeared on the floor.

“See!” Katy asked.

“This is how you get the boys to do what you say,” Jill said fighting to keep the laughter out of her voice.

“Of course,” Katy said.

Jill fought to keep her face neutral.

“Why doesn’t it work for Paddie?” Katy asked.

“Well. . .” Jill said. She shook her head. “Actually, I’m not sure. I think it’s because you promised not to go on any more adventures. But it could be my Dad or Abi. But more likely it’s that a promise is sacred, especially to objects of power.”

Jill shrugged.

“Could you really have taken the sword away from me?” Katy asked.

Jill nodded.

“But don’t tell anyone,” Jill said.

Nodding her head, Katy giggled. The sword disappeared.

“You came in to tell me something?” Katy asked. She crossed her hands in front of her and gave her mother her sweetest look. “Maybe like Paddie’s coming to visit?”

Katy’s eyebrows went up and her eyes got very big.

“Paddie is here,” Jill said. “But. . .”

Katy started jumping around with delight.

“Katy, the boys are sleeping,” Jill said.

“That’s why I’m not yelling and screaming,” Katy said. “I’m not a complete jerk, Mommy!”

Jill grinned at Katy saying a phrase often repeated by Noelle.

“But what?” Katy asked.

“Paddie is sick,” Jill said.

Katy looked immediately crestfallen.

“So is his Mommy and his brother,” Jill said. “Your grandmother, Anjelika, and my brothers and sisters helped to make them all strong, but right now they are very sick.”

“Even with cuddles?” Katy asked.

Jill nodded.

“Why aren’t they in the hospital, like Grampa Sam?” Katy asked.

“Turns out that while they are very sick, they aren’t as sick as some other people,” Jill said.

“Grampa Sam must be really sick,” Katy said.

Jill nodded.

“Is Jabari coming home?” Katy asked.

“How do you know about Jabari?” Jill asked.

“He’s my girlfriend-brother,” Katy said. “I’ve checked on him with my head.”

Jill gave Katy a long look and then shook her head.

“He’s with his dad,” Jill said. “They are in the basement isolating for a while until they are sure Jabari doesn’t get sicker.”

“Did he get cuddles?” Katy asked.

Jill nodded.

“Can I have cuddles?” Katy asked.

“Only if your promise not to go see Paddie for a while,” Jill said.

“I promise,” Katy said. Her eyes welled with tears. “Is Paddie going to die?”

“Not if I can help it,” Jill said. “You know what you could do to help Paddie?”

“Not see him,” Katy said miserably.

“Exactly,” Jill said.

Katy looked down for a moment. She gave a deep sigh.

“I promise,” Katy said.

Jill held out her arms and Katy ran into them. Jill carried her baby-girl to the bed. With Katy on her lap, they sat together for a long time.

“Want some ice cream?” Katy asked after more than twenty minutes.

“You know, I would,” Jill said. “But not that ice cream.”

Jill gestured to the melted mess of the twins’ favorite ice cream.

“I can get more,” Katy said.

“We have some of your favorites in the freezer,” Jill said. “That’s where the ice cream is coming from, you know.”

“Our freezer?” Katy asked.

“The Vanquisher won’t steal anything,” Jill said. “It’s something Dad told me because you know I how worry about that.”

“Can we have ice cream?” Katy asked.

Jill stood up with Katy in her arms. They went out to the little kitchen to have some bubble gum ice cream and worry about Paddie and his family.

~~~~~~~~

Wednesday evening — 6:19 p.m.

Denver, Colorado

“I’m so sorry that I’m late,” Dr. John Drayson said. He got out of his sedan. “I know that you’ve been waiting for me. Everything is. . . crazy. And Alex is still gone.”

“Which just makes things crazier,” Jill said, speaking loudly to be heard through her mask.

He nodded at her understanding. Jill smiled at the handsome doctor. With the cloth mask on, his blue eyes looked even bigger and bluer.

“They’ve been resting,” Jill said. “You’re absolutely fine.”

“Do you happen to know how Nelson is doing?” John asked as they walked

“I spent an hour or so with him midday,” Jill said. “He wanted some sun, so I sat with him while the nurse had some lunch.”

“That was nice of you,” John said.

“Necessary,” Jill said. “She works really hard. Honey was able to help with the kids so it was really easy. I’m so lucky to have so much help here. Can you tell me how Sam is doing?”

“I was going to update Delphie after I check in with my sister-in-law,” John said. “I have no idea why they sent Julie away from the hospital. I can tell you that we would have admitted her.”

“She probably left,” Jill said. “She feels like she has no one to help with Paddie and Connor when the team’s gone. Less so now that Erin and Sami have left the city.”

“It’s a very difficult time,” John said. “She usually goes to one of her sisters.”

“She thinks that’s how she got infected,” Jill said.

“She’s not wrong,” John said.

John put his hand on Jill’s upper arm.

“How is Jacob?” John asked.

“No sign of illness or infection,” Jill said with a nod. “He and Aden have been working like crazy to help carry the company through this thing.”

“They’re being careful?” John asked.

“Masks, distance, reduced crews,” Jill said, nodding. “They are pretty serious about it since Sam got sick. We’ve have deliveries of cloth masks all day today. We’re going to drown!”

“Good,” John said. “We’re likely to be wearing them for a while.”

Jill grinned.

“I’ll take you to them,” Jill said.

Jill went in front of John showing him through the hallway and into the apartment at the end. He nodded to Jill. Jill opened the door.

Connor was awake and crying in the mewing cry of a baby. Paddie was asleep in the crock of Julie’s arm. Julie seemed asleep.

John went immediately to the sink in the kitchen and washed his hands and forearms. He dried them on a paper towel, put on a pair of protective glasses, and turned around to look at Jill.

“I’ll get Connor,” Jill said.

“Let me check him first,” John said, pulling a pair of latex gloves from his pocket and putting them on.

Jill held the toddler while John checked his lungs and heart.

“Thermometer?” John asked.

Jill gave him a forehead thermometer. John took off the cap and ran it over the toddler’s forehead. He looked at the number and gave it back to Jill. She wiped it off with a disinfectant cloth.

“He’s fever free,” John said.

Jill nodded. She carried him to the apartment’s small kitchen. She washed the toddler in the sink while John checked Paddie and Julie. She wrapped Connor in a diaper and some clean hand-me-downs from Valerie’s son. She grabbed some breast milk from the refrigerator and warmed it in a glass bottle I in the microwave. Connor gladly took the bottle from her. Jill carried him to the bed.

“Would you mind cleaning up Paddie?” John asked. “It looks like he’s been sick.”

Jill nodded. She put Connor into the crib they’d moved into the apartment before Julie and the children had arrived.

“Paddie still has a fever,” John said. “But it’s down from last night.”

“Come on, Paddie,” Jill said, picking up the little boy.

“Don’ tell Katy that I’m here,” Paddie said.

Jill grinned at the sincerity in his voice.

“I won’ get her sick,” Paddie said.

The little boy coughed and put his hand on the outside of his mask.

“I need a shower,” Paddie whispered. “I had an accident.”

“That’s okay,” Jill said. “We have a shower right here. I brought your favorite soap and a fluffy towel.”

Paddie nodded.

Jill carried him into the little bathroom. She helped him out of his soiled clothing and stayed with him while he showered. Halfway through, he was bent over with a hacking cough. The child couldn’t seem to catch his breath. Jill rubbed her hands together and placed her right hand between his shoulders. It took a minute or so but his coughing eased. He stopped coughing.

She got the boy out of the shower and helped dry him. Even though Paddie was a child, he was tall. Jill put him into some of Nash’s old sweats and a T-shirt. He didn’t resist her putting a child mask over his face and nose. Surprised, she leaned back when the wooden sword appeared at his waist. He ran to his mother on the bed.

“Mommy look!” Paddie said.

Julie’s eyes flicked to her son.

“It says ‘Life is Good’,” Paddie said with a grin.

“Feeling better?” Julie croaked.

“Cuddles always work,” Paddie said with a nod.

“Connor?” Jill asked.

John nodded toward the crib. Connor was sound asleep. Jill took the empty bottle from the toddler.

“He’s so much better than he was,” John said. “You’ll have to tell me about those cuddles.”

“Love always wins,” Jill said vaguely. “How is Julie?”

“She’s very ill,” John said. “For now, I’d like to keep this little family together. Paddie and Connor need their mother as much as she needs them right now. Their bond can be the difference between life and death for them.”

“We can take care of them,” Jill said and nodded.

“Does Nelson have a nurse?” John asked.

“He does,” Jill said. “We can get a nurse for Julie.”

“You may need one,” John said. “Her blood oxygen is low but not critical. At least, right now. I left a pulse ox to test her oxygen. If it falls to 80 or lower, then she needs to be in the hospital. I’d like to set up an IV but. . .”

John looked around the room, and then at Jill.

“Do you have IV saline here?” John asked.

“Not when MJ’s gone,” Jill said. “I will call the service when you leave and get a nurse here. If you leave the order, I can get it filled.”

“That’s a lot to ask for you to do,” John said. “You have a young family of your own to care for.”

“I do,” Jill said with a nod. “But we’ve asked Charlie and Tink to help with the kids. In fact, if you need help with the kids at your house, we can certainly take them. Plus, we have an empty apartment or two.”

“That’s very kind of you,” John said. “So far, we’re covered. My sister and brothers are doing the heavy lifting at home. I’ll tell you. . .”

John looked down at Jill and smiled.

“They are happy to have something new to complain about,” John said with a grin.

Jill laughed.

“I’ll write a detailed order,” John said. Pulling off his gloves. “Tell the nurse to call me if she or he has questions. Doesn’t your brother run a service now?”

“Steve?” Jill asked. “He does.”

“Brilliant,” John said. “Steve’s a good egg. I’m delighted that he’ll be able to help.”

Jill opened the door to the apartment.

“Would you mind if I shower here?” John asked. “I need to get home.”

“We have clean scrubs here,” Jill looked him up and down. “I think we have some in your size or close.”

“That would be very nice,” John said.

“I’ll show you the way,” Jill said.

She led John back into the medical offices. While he showered, Jill called Delphie and asked her to bring up some soup for Julie and food for the boys. She also called her brother, Steve, who said he’d come by the Castle to take a look at what Julie needed. John finished showering and changing. He said goodbye by reminding her to call him is she needed anything. He left through the medical offices.

Jill watched him go before heading downstairs to see what was next. She was just in the hallway when Delphie passed with a tray of soup for the little family. The smiled at each other as they rushed past toward their other duties.

~~~~~~~

Wednesday evening — 9 p.m.

Denver, Colorado

Jill had just reached the kitchen when Jacob and Tres returned from Lipson Construcation. Jeraine came up from downstairs around the same time. Because everyone wanted to be together to share their day, Jill and Heather set up the clay chimineas six feet apart. Jacob and Tres barbecued lamb chops with potatoes and a salad from the indoor garden.

It was cold and perfect. Jill hadn’t realized how much she missed talking to people. Everyone talked and laughed. The children played together in the thawing garden. Blane came in late and revealed a cake he’d worked on during the day.

With the instruction to enjoy her evening, Jacob grabbed the boys and took Katy off to bed. Tres took Wyn and Mack inside. Jeraine carried Jabari inside. Mike pulled the cover off the hot tub and brought Eddie and Jackie inside. Blane brought out a bottle of wine and glasses before heading inside.

“Hot tub?” Valerie asked after the men were gone.

“Can you go in?” Heather asked.

“Oh,” Valerie said.

Valerie gestured to the hot tub. The women looked in.

“Whhaaa??” Jill asked at the same time as Heather said, “What is this?”

“It’s a swimspa,” Delphie said as she came out of the house with another bottle of wine. “There’s a hot tub on the end and a swimming place on the other end. I went for a swim today.”

Delphie smiled.

“I bought it,” Valerie said. “I need to get some exercise but I’ve swelled up so much. My doctor in LA suggested this the last time, but I was able to swim at the rec center then.”

“The rec centers aren’t opening this year,” Delphie said.

“Because of the virus?” Jill asked.

Delphie nodded.

“So I needed a place to swim,” Valerie said. “Jake paid the delivery guys extra to move the hot tub to the other deck.”

“When?” Jill said. “I was just up there with him.”

“Yesterday,” Valerie said. “Anyway, I can hang out in the cool if I get too hot. Go get dressed.”

Delphie took off her housecoat to show a flowery bathing suit. She got into the hot tub end of the spa. Jill looked at Heather and shrugged. They went inside and changed into the suits they had hanging in the downstairs bathroom. They grabbed towels from the stack.

When they came out again, Valerie and Delphie were in the hot tub. Delphie had a glass of wine in her hand. Heather got into the hot tub and Jill gave her a glass of wine. Jill poured herself a glass and set it on the edge. Jill climbed in.

They sat together for a long moment without saying anything.

“How are you, Delphie?” Heather asked.

“Sad,” Delphie said. “Scared. It’s the worst at night because he’s always here. Always. Sam Lipson has been in this house every night since. . . we moved here, basically. It’s. . .”

Delphie stared off into space for a long moment. Shaking her head, she took a drink of wine.

“I miss him,” Delphie said.

“Me, too,” Valerie said.

Heather and Jill both nodded in agreement.

“He’s there,” Delphie said. “Fighting it out. On his own. I don’t think he’s ever been on his own. Not really. He and Celia met when he was ten when he lived with his family. I met then a few years later. Since then, it’s always been the three of us. Now, he’s in the hospital and I. . .”

Delphie sighed.

“You have us,” Valerie said.

Heather reached out to hold Delphie’s hand. Jill put her arm around Delphie.

“I just can’t believe it,” Valerie said. “I mean, I know that I’ve been gone and then even when I’m here I’m back and forth. But, Dad’s always been here. He’s so hearty. So tough. I mean, I knew that he wouldn’t live forever, but this? It feels a lot worse.”

Jill and Heather nodded.

“I hope he’s home before the baby’s born,” Valerie said.

Valerie looked at Delphie.

“I’m sorry,” Delphie said. “I don’t know.”

Lost in their own thoughts, the women fell silent for a while. Delphie took a breath and looked at Heather.

“How is Olympia?” Delphie asked.

Denver Cereal continues next week...

 


Chapter Six Hundred and Eighteen: Funnies

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and EIGHTEEN

Wednesday morning — 10:00 am

Denver, Colorado

“And Cathy said. . . Um. . .” Celia said. “Uh. . . she said. . .”

Celia laughed.

“What are you doing?” Sam asked. “You always ruin reading the comics by laughing at the joke instead of reading it!”

Celia grinned at her husband. For the first time in a very long time, they hugged. He kissed her lips and they clasped again.

“I have missed you,” Sam said. “Am I dead?”

“No,” Celia said. “You are in between. They put you in a coma. You’re on a ventilator.”

“Why?” Sam asked.

“You have that new virus,” Celia said. “The coronavirus, I think that they are calling it.”

“Oh,” Sam said. “I do?”

“You don’t remember?” Celia asked.

“I remember going fishing with Jake. Aden. Tres,” Sam said. “Even Blane went. We had a great time and then. . .”

“Jake saved your life,” Celia said.

“I’ll have to thank him,” Sam said with a nod. He paused for a minute. “How do I thank him?”

“You survive,” Celia said with a nod.

“Oh,” Sam said. “You think I can do that?”

“Sam Lipson,” Celia said with a chuckle. “You are the most stubborn of men. I’ve never met a man more stubborn than you. You are a breed of your own. If anyone is going to survive this, it’s going to be you, my love.”

“Hmmm. . ..” Sam said, clearly thinking it through.

After a moment, he turned to her.

“I could always stay here with you,” Sam said.

“No, you could not,” Celia said, angrily. “You promised me, Sam! You promised me that you’d take care of our children. If you just give up to hang out here with me, you’re breaking that promise.”

Sam made a sour face but nodded in agreement. He sighed.

“It is very nice to see you,” Sam said. “I’ve missed you so much.”

Tears streamed from his eyes. They hugged again.

“Do you hear that?” Celia asked.

“What is it?” Sam asked.

“it’s Val,” Celia said softly.

“Sound like her,” Sam said.

They separated from their hug to listen.

“And Delphie,” Sam said.

“I love Delphie,” Celia said.

“I do too,” Sam said. “What are they doing?”

“They are reading the funnies,” Celia said.

Sam chuckled. He held out his hand.

“Shall we?” Sam asked. “I don’t know the way.”

“I do,” Celia said. “Come with me, my love.”

They floated for a brief moment following the sound of Val and Delphie. They were hovering over Celia’s burial site. Their daughter, Valerie, and Delphie, their beloved friend, were sitting on the bench next to Celia’s grave. Valerie read a comic and gave a tablet computer to Delphie. Delphie read the next comic and passed the tablet back.

“God, Val’s as bad as you are!” Sam said.

“Shh,” Celia said. “I’m listening.”

Grinning at Celia, Sam stopped talking to listen.

~~~~~~~~

Wednesday afternoon — 1:15 p.m.

New York City, New York

“Seth?” the second engineer asked.

Irritated, Seth groaned and looked up at the ceiling. He banged his hands down on the piano and whipped around. He raised an eyebrow at her.

“There’s a guy here to see you,” the second engineer said.

“You’d better check with the music editor because he’s pretty pissed,” Seth said.

“I sent him in here,” the music editor said. “He speaks English. He’s some kind of chef.”

The music editor turned to a man with brownish-skin. The man was wearing jeans and a T-shirt with a heavy sheepskin jacket over it.

“I speak fluent Spanish,” Seth said. “Among other things.”

“Sir,” the man said, in Spanish. “I was told that you own the historic corner building in Hell’s Kitchen.”

“Okay,” Seth said.

It sounded to Seth as if the man was from Spain.

“How can I help you?” Seth asked, in Spanish.

“You are Seth O’Malley,” the man said.

“The last time I checked,” Seth said. “Why?”

“I didn’t expect you to be so. . .” the man stopped talking.

“Sweaty?” Seth asked. “Annoyed?”

“Accessible,” the man said with a smile.

“Reminds me that my asshole is slipping,” Seth said. “I don’t mean to rush but those young people will kill me if I don’t get playing again.”

“Si,” the man said. “You have a restaurant space in your building?”

“I do,” Seth said. “Before you ask, it’s up to code, ready to go. The last restaurant needed a bigger space and we just never got around to replacing them. Why do you ask?”

“I am wondering if you would do me the honor of letting me use the space?” the man asked.

“For what?” Seth asked.

“I run food kitchens for hungry people,” the man said. “People here are out of work. They are being evicted by. . .”

Sneering, the chef said the person’s name.

“I’ve heard,” Seth said with a scowl.

“People need food,” the man said.

“What are you asking?” Seth asked. “Specifically? I’m sorry. I’m tired and in pain.”

The man gave a curt nod.

“I’d like to use your kitchen to make meals that we will pass out all over the city,” the man said.

“But not at the building?” Seth asked.

“Not if you don’t want them to be passed out there,” the man said.

“It’s fine with me,” Seth said. “Don’t you have those trucks?”

“I do,” he said.

“We have parking,” Seth said. “Most of our residents don’t have vehicles. We have plenty of space for your trucks. Did you talk with Claire?”

“I spoke with Bernice,” the man said. Switching to English, he added, “She said that you were sick of ‘jive talking turkeys.’”

“Ah,” Seth said, with a grin. “I take it you knew Big Daddy?”

Seth asked of Bernice’s legendary deceased mobster husband. The man gave a quick nod with his chin.

“You?” the man asked.

“I met him around the time I bought that building,” Seth said. “His father-in-law, Bernice’s father, taught me jazz piano. Whatever Big Daddy was, he was very good to me. Bernice is a dear friend.”

The man nodded in agreement.

“What do you say about the space?” the man asked.

“Take a look at the space,” Seth said. “The kitchen is good sized but the restaurant is small. Just a few tables and five booths. We have a permit for outside space, but have never built it out. You’re welcome to see what you can do with it.”

“It’s okay with you,” the man said, looking relieved.

“Of course,” Seth said. “You should ask these kids to donate.”

Seth raised his eyebrows at the music editor. Looking embarrassed, the engineers and the music editor nodded.

“We’ll donate,” the lead engineer said.

“I will, as well,” Seth said. “Claire has the checkbook. Just tell her what you need.”

The man nodded and turned to go.

“How much?” the man asked.

“Why don’t you see what you need?” Seth asked. “The restaurant moved out a couple of years ago. The space will likely need some work. At the very least, we can take on whatever you need to get up and going. Let us know what you need. I know a lot of people from all walks of life. My housekeeper in Denver and her family even own farms. Let me know what you need and I can find it.”

Nodding, the man left.

“You’re okay to do that?” the second engineer asked. “That’s a lot of money!”

“The building was paid off about nearly thirty years ago,” Seth said. “Outside of updates to the building, the roof, and rehabbing the apartments, the rents go into a fund. We’ve used it before for emergencies and national disasters in the city.”

Seth shrugged.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my life,” Seth said. “I try to share that with people in need. That’s all. Now, either we get back to work or I’m going home to sleep.”

He yawned.

“My hip’s killing me,” Seth said.

“I say we call it,” the lead engineer said.

The second engineer and the music editor turned to look at him.

“What?” the lead engineer asked. “I want to see the building!”

The young people nodded. Seth stood up, pulled on his sweatshirt hoodie, and hobbled to the door of the recording area. They took a cab to the building and got there in time to see Claire unlocking the restaurant space for the man who’d just visited Seth. Claire came to help Seth up the stairs leaving the young people with the man. When Claire returned, the man nodded to her.

“This will work,” the man said.

“When will you start?” Claire asked.

“Right now, if that’s okay with you,” the man said.

“Absolutely,” Claire said with a smile. “O’Malley will be thrilled.”

The man nodded and took out his cellphone to make calls.

~~~~~~~~

Wednesday mid-day — 12:05 p.m.

Denver, Colorado

“Julie!” Jill said into her cellphone.

She was bent over pulling toddler clothing out of the small dryer in the loft. While there were large washers in the basement, Jill found that her boys were whirlwinds of filth. She and Jacob needed to do smaller, more frequent loads of laundry. Paddie’s mother had called her nearly every day since they were sent home for “Safe at Home.”

“What’s up?” Jill asked.

She heard coughing.

“Julie?” Jill asked.

“Jill,” Julie croaked. “Listen, I’ll be fast, if that’s okay.”

“Sure,” Jill responded.

Jill set the dry clothing down on top of the washer so that she could to focus her attention on her friend.

“I have it,” Julie said, speaking fast. “Covid, I mean. I took the boys up skiing for Presidents’ day because Colin was deployed. He’s been gone a long time this time, so we were all mopey. My sister called and said that she and her kids were there. We joined them in one of those ski condos on the ski runs. We had a great time, but I think wel got it either from the resort or from my sister or I don’t know. They are saying that the virus was all over those resorts by then. But I don’t know. I didn’t know that when we went up there.”

“Oh Julie,” Jill said.

“My sister and her husband are both in the hospital,” Julie said. “We’ve all tested positive for this evil plague. Paddie says that he has to come here for ‘cuddles.’ That’s what he says, ‘cuddles.’ He’s very angry that he and Katy can’t be together. I think it's just a ploy but he’s very insistent. If you can imagine a really sick little boy who is furious at me for not doing what he says.”

“Sounds familiar,” Jill said.

“I know that things are kind of different in your house,” Julie said. “I. . . I . . . really need help. I really do. I don’t know where to turn. The entire team is gone. Samantha took her daughter and went to her parents’ cabin. Erin and her daughters are somewhere else. Wyoming, I think. I’m not sure. Somewhere Matthew’s family has historic land there or someone does. I can’t remember anything anymore. The Irish next door won’t open the door because everyone’s over 70. Wyatt and Max are working. Wyatt’s at the hospital and Max is taking care of the kids. I don’t. . .”

Jill listened as Julie coughed and cried.

“Come here,” Jill said. “We have space for you to quarantine. I can give Paddie some cuddles and take care of Connor.”

“I’m so glad you said that,” Julie said. “Paddie’s been screaming at me. I drove here just to see if I could shut him up and I. . .”

“You should know that Jacob’s father, Sam, has it,” Jill said. ”We’re all on quarantine too.”

“Misery loves company?” Julie asked, hacking.

“Have you seen a doctor?” Jill asked.

“I caught John last night,” Julie said. “He told me that the hospitals are booked up. I would just be sent home again. He said if I can’t smell or catch my breath then to come in. He told me to take some aspirin to think my blood and get some rest. But I have two little boys and no help and. . .”

“I’m going to open the gate,” Jill said. “Drive in all the way to the back near the garage. I’ll meet you out there. I’ll take you to one of the free apartments where you’ll be away from everyone to quarantine but still can get help.”

Jill jogged down the stairs to the loft to the closet where the security equipment was located.

“Oh, Jill, that’s just what I need,” Julie said, sobbing.

“Just get inside,” Jill said. “I’ll get my brother to help.”

Jill pointed to Mike, who was sitting in the kitchen. He pointed to himself, and Jill nodded.

“I’ll get him sick,” Julie said.

Mike stood up and went out the door to the backyard.

“My brother’s kind of immune to everything,” Jill said. She pressed a button. “I’m opening the gate now.”

Julie drove her car through the gate and all the way back to where Jill and Mike were standing.

“Should I take her to the apartment next to the medical offices?” Mike asked.

“Jake finished the one on the end,” Jill said, nodding.

“Furniture?” Mike asked.

“We furnished both apartments,” Jill said. “Jake thought that our friends or people from Lipson would need our help. I finished painting them last weekend.”

Julie came to a stop in front of them. Mike opened her door while Jill opened the door to the back. The toddler, Connor, was screaming at the top of his lungs. Paddie was unconscious — asleep or passed out. Jill wasn’t sure. Both boys looked desperately sick.

“She’s out cold,” Mike said.

“Can you. . .?” Jill asked.

Mike was undoing Julie’s seatbelt. He lifted her out of the vehicle and carried her through the backyard.

“Paddie,” Jill said, shaking the boy. “I need to wake up now.”

Paddie didn’t move. Jill unhooked him from the booster seat.

“Connor,” Jill said. “Can you wait here?”

The child nodded. Jill pulled Paddie out of the car seat. She jogged across the yard and set Paddie on the deck. She turned back to Julie’s car and grabbed Connor.

“What’s going on?” Honey asked. “Is that Paddie? He looks really sick.”

“Julie’s here,” Jill said. “She says that they all have Covid, so don’t touch him.”

“Got it,” Honey said. “Where are you taking the kids?”

“The apartments by the medical offices,” Jill said.

“Okay,” Honey said. “I’ll open the doors.”

“Thanks,” Jill said.

Jill watched Honey struggle her way up the stairs to the medical offices. She was just opening the door when Mike came out. He jogged down the steps and took Paddie. Jill grabbed Connor from his baby seat and carried him up the stairs and into the medical offices.

“Where are the boys?” Honey asked.

“It’s nap time,” Jill said.

“Maggie’s asleep too,” Honey said. “Why don’t I get her and we can head to your loft?”

“Can you get up there on your own?” Jill asked.

“I need to try,” Honey said with a grin.

Honey was learning to walk again after Abi intervened to end her paralysis.

“Do you know if Ivy’s here?” Jill asked.

“I think she’s with her Aunt, but don’t quote me,” Honey said.

Jill nodded.

“I’ve got this,” Honey said. “Just take care of them and we’ll figure out what’s next.”

“Thanks,” Jill said.

“Masks!” Honey said.

She held out small masks for the children and one for Julie.

“Connor?” Jill asked.

She looked down to see that the child was sound asleep. She put the mask on.

“I should get him inside,” Jill said. “Thanks Honey.”

“Any time,” Honey said. “She’s a Fey wife. I would be in her situation if it weren’t for you and our Castle family. I am very lucky.”

Smiling, Jill nodded. Honey raised her hand to wave good-bye. Jill carried Connor inside. She went inside the medical offices and to the apartment. When she got to the apartment, she saw that her mother, Anjelika, and sister, Candy, were standing around the bed where Julie and Paddie were lying.

Anjelika waved Jill toward the bed. Jill set Connor onto the bed.

“We need. . .” Jill started.

Steve jogged into the room with a liter of water in his hands. The family took each other’s hands and focused on sending healing energy to Julie and her precious children.

~~~~~~~~

Wednesday mid-day — 12:35 p.m.

Denver, Colorado

Nelson whispered something.

His nurse wasn’t even certain that Nelson was awake. She bent near him.

“Sun,” Nelson said. “Need sun.”

The nurse left the room and called Blane.

“He’s asking for sunlight,” the nurse said.

“Gretchen?” Blane asked. “Nelson wants the sun?”

“He’s saying that he needs sunlight,” Gretchen said. “The building is not built out.”

“Give me ten minutes and I’ll be over,” Blane said.

Shaking his head, Blane looked over Julie Hargreaves.

“I need to run across the street,” Blane said. “Can you stay right here?”

Julie nodded.

“Try to rest,” Blane said.

He pulled off the paper gown. He took off his face shield, goggles, and mask. He gestured to the hallway. Jill got up from where she was cuddling with Connor and Paddie.

“Nelson says that he needs sunlight,” Blane said. He shrugged.

“The windows are done,” Jill said. “The wood floor’s not in but he can sit in the windows.”

“That’s right,” Blane said. “Sorry. I’m just. . .”

“It’s so stressful to have all of this virus and all the crap with Lipson,” Jill said with a nod. “Not to mention, doing acupuncture with a novel virus and everything else.”

“Nelson,” Blane said, with a nod.

“Why don’t I go? The boys are really out,” Jill said. “The nurse can help me get him seated. We can wheel him out to the windows. Maybe I can give him a boost to help him heal.”

“Won’t you wear yourself out?” Blane asked.

“I don’t think so,” Jill said. “I mean, it’s happened before but I’ve been really careful since then. I’ll be careful.”

“That would be great,” Blane said. “I need to get pulses on the boys and see if they need a treatment.”

“I’ll shower and change really fast in the medical offices,” Jill said.

“Good thinking,” Blane said.

Jill waved at Nelson and moved to the medical offices. She showered quickly and pulled on the medical scrubs. She walked across the street to Nelson’s old home. Coming in the front door, she heard someone running a saw on the third floor. She grinned at the progress that had been made and then jogged down the stairs to the basement.

Nelson and all of his medical equipment were housed in a room that one day would be Jabari’s. Jill wondered how Jabari was doing. She sighed, pulled on a paper cover, a hat, and another mask before going inside the room. The nurse Gretchen was holding Nelson down.

“Nelson,” Jill commanded. “Stop. Lie down.”

“Need sun,” Nelson said.

“I hear that,” Jill said. “We have to figure out how to do that and keep you safe.”

Nelson collapsed back to the bed.

“Thank you,” Gretchen, the nurse, mouthed.

“I have toddlers,” Jill said. “Boys.”

“So you’re practiced,” Gretchen smiled.

“Okay, what do we need to do?” Jill asked.

“We need to get him into the wheelchair,” Gretchen said.

“Easy,” Jill said.

With much grunting and groaning, the women managed to get Nelson into a sitting position. From there, they carried and helped him into a wheelchair. With Jill behind the wheelchair, Gretchen cleared the way. They moved Nelson into the sunny patch near the Eastern windows.

The sunlight was waning for the day, but there was a sliver of bright sun on the cement floor. Jill moved him into the sunlight. Nelson groaned with pleasure. Gretchen fussed over his IV and other medical gear.

“I’ll stay with him,” Jill said. “You can take a break.”

“Thanks so much,” Gretchen said. “Do you mind if I go get something to eat from Pete’s?”

“Not at all,” Jill said with a smile. “Enjoy your break.”

Gretchen grabbed her purse and left. Nelson had moved his face into the sunbeam. He was now fast asleep.

For the first time in a very long time, Jill was alone in the silence. She fell into such deep thoughts that she was startled when Gretchen returned. They got Nelson back into his room and Jill returned to the Castle. She sighed slightly at the door of the Castle.

“Let the chaos begin,” Jill said to herself and walked back into the Castle.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Seventeen: Bigwig friends

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SEVENTEEN

Tuesday night — 9:15 p.m.

“Where have you been?” Jill demanded the moment Jacob came through the side door to the Castle. “Blane’s been back for hours. Aden’s still gone. Tres. . . I’ve been. . .”

Jill sighed.

“You suck,” she said.

“You’re absolutely right,” Jacob said. “I’m so sorry. Are the kids asleep?”

Jill nodded.

“I was. . . terrified,” Jill said. “What happened?”

“I will tell you everything,” Jacob said. “But first. . .”

“Jake?” Delphie asked, looking behind him. “Where’s Sam?”

She looked around and back at Jake.

“Where’s Sam, Jake?” Delphie asked.

“I’ll tell you everything,” Jacob said. “I need to pee and wash my hands and. . .”

Tres came in behind Jake. He raised his eyebrows at the women and headed down to the basement.

“Let Jake through,” Valerie said.

Delphie and Jill moved out of his way. Jacob jogged to the nearest bathroom. Jill, Dephie, and Valerie went into the kitchen. Delphie turned on the electric kettle and Jill got out a box of Cap’n Crunch, some milk, and a bowl. She set them at the table and returned to the kitchen for a spoon. Delphie made tea for herself and Valerie. Jill got two glasses of water. The women were seated when Jacob returned.

Mike came down the stairs. He looked at the women and then at Jacob. He grabbed a bowl from the cupboard and a spoon from the drawer. Jacob took an empty chair at the table and Mike took the chair opposite him.

Jill slid the glass of water to Jacob and he drank it down. Mike took Jill’s other glass of water. She groaned and Mike gave her a goofy grin.

“Thanks,” Jacob said for the water and the cereal.

He poured a bowl of cereal. For a few minutes, the only sound was the crunching of cereal.

“What. . .?” Jill started at the same time Delphie said, “Where’s. . .?”

Jacob held up a finger. No one said anything until he swallowed.

“What. . .? Jill started again as Delphie said, “Where’s. . .?”

“Give the man some room to talk,” Mike commanded.

The women turned to glare at him. He shrugged as if what he was saying was obvious.

“What’s going on?” Mike asked.

“We sent the lists, you know for job share, to the site managers,” Jacob said. “We talked them through it for more than an hour. When everyone agreed to our conditions, Tres told them that if they didn’t turn in their lists, they and their teams wouldn’t work. They agreed. I mean, everyone agreed. Even laughed.”

Jacob swallowed down the rest of the water. Jill got up to fill his glass and get another for herself.

“So Dad says, ‘Let’s go fishing,’” Jacob said when Jill sat down again. “After all of the late nights and pressure, we all thought that it was a great idea. Even Tres came. Blane had to leave early so he drove in a separate car. I took our new car. . .”

“The one we don’t have phone chargers for,” Jill said, mildly. “I bought them today.”

“I didn’t even think about it,” Jacob said. “It was going to be a quick trip up, fish for a while, then head home. The cabin is vacant so we went to Deckers. The plan was for Blane to head home around noon so that he could be there when Nelson got out. We’d stay until three or so and head home. Barbecue outside.”

Jacob swallowed hard.

“We all wore our masks because we want to see what it would be like for our employees and owners,” Jacob said.

“Lipson has a mask requirement,” Valerie said to no one in particular.

“But Sam. . .” Delphie said.

“I’m getting there,” Jacob said. “We were in the river fishing — six feet from each other. Dad was in his favorite spot. I was next. Aden behind me. Tres was on the bank because Heather had texted him about getting Nelson home.”

Jacob nodded.

“I. . .” Jacob stopped talking for a long moment. He cleared his throat. “Dad was laughing one minute and the next he just fell over. I was able to keep him out of the water with. . . well you know how. If I hadn’t seen him or been there, he would have drowned!”

Jacob’s eyes welled with tears.

“I ran to his side and he. . . He couldn’t catch his breath,” Jacob said. “I thought he’d had a heart attack but he. . . So I carried him to the car. Tres was on the bank, as I said. He was able to get the car doors open. Aden ran after us.”

“I told them. . .” Jacob stopped at if to catch his breath. “I told them that I would come back for them. I threw Tres the keys to the cabin and told them to go there if I was long. They wanted to come with me but if it was the virus they would be at a greater risk. So, they finally agreed because we didn’t know what was going on with Dad.”

“I thought he’d had a heart attack,” Jacob said, “but I could feel his heart beating fast and strong. No blockages or issues. But his lungs. . . So I raced to the nearest Urgent Care. They told me it was altitude sickness, but I knew it wasn’t that. When they saw him, they realized that it was. . . that it looked like. . .”

Jacob shook his head rather than finish the sentence.

“So I drove like a madman down to the hospital in Castle Rock,” Jacob said. “By the time he was there, he couldn’t move on his own. I didn’t want to risk getting him inside with my. . . talents. So, I ran inside and. . . My phone ran out of juice at the Urgent Care and. . .”

Jacob looked at Delphie.

“Dad’s in the hospital in Castle Rock,” Jacob said. “Their ventilators were full from all those people infected at the ski resorts. They think they’ll have to airlift him to Denver. For now, he’s in a drugged sleep and on oxygen. I told them about John Drayson, you know. . .”

Jacob did all of the remodeling work for Dr. John Drayon and his wife, Alexandra Hargreaves. Max, Alex’s twin, was also a good friend and client of Jacob’s. Now that Jill knew them through going to school with them.

“He’s been working like crazy since this thing has happened,” Jill said.

“They said they’d call him to see if he can help,” Jacob said. “They told me not to tell anyone that dad was there because they can’t handle the people. The waiting rooms are full of people who are sick. It took. . . forever. I was tested. I had to get Aden and Tres and get them back to the hospital in Castle Rock for them to be tested.”

“Then we came home,” Jacob said.

“So we’re all on quarantine?” Valerie asked.

“Exactly — fourteen days. Masks all the time, even in the house,” Jacob said. “They want everyone to be tested. Right now, you need a doctor’s note to get tested.”

“That’s not a big deal,” Jill said. “I’ll call our doctor’s office.”

Jacob nodded.

“Can we visit?” Delphie asked.

“No,” Jacob said.

“You mean he’s on his own to deal with this. . . thing?” Delphie asked as she began to cry.

Jacob nodded.

“I’m down as his contact,” Jacob said. “I told them to call — day or night. But my phone. . .”

Jacob reached in his pocket but his phone wasn’t there. He groaned. His shoulders rolled forward and he looked up at the heavens in defeat.

“I took it,” Heather said, as she and Tres entered the kitchen. “It’s on the charger over there.”

Heather nodded to the counter where Jacob’s phone was plugged in. As if on cue, the phone rang.

“Jacob,” Heather said. “Before you answer it.”

“What?” Jacob asked, holding the phone in his hand.

“You need to know that your new body is very vulnerable,” Heather said. “More vulnerable than any human you know.”

Jacob gave her a look of pure misery and answered the phone. They watched in anxious impatience until he set the phone down.

“Dad’s on a helicopter to Denver Health,” Jacob said. “Drayson guaranteed a ventilator either in the hospital or in the overflow at the Colorado Convention Center, you know, on Arapahoe. He should be here in Denver in a half hour or so.”

The women swallowed hard and nodded.

“But we still cannot visit him,” Jacob said. “We have to trust that Drayson will keep us updated.”

“Jill?” Heather asked.

Jill looked up at her dear friend.

“Can you check everyone?” Heather asked. “Especially the kids.”

“They say kids can’t get it,” Jill said.

“They are wrong,” Heather said.

“Are you sure?” Jill asked.

“I’ve seen this before,” Heather said. “Before you check people, you need to ask Abi for the virus signature.”

“She has it?” Jill asked.

“She has everything,” Heather said. “You can get the signature from Jill, Mike.”

Shrugging, Mike nodded.

“Abi’s standing behind you,” Mike said, pointing behind Jacob.

Everyone turned to look at her.

“Is it Sam?” Abi asked in her strong Isle of Man accent.

Jacob nodded.

“I will help,” Abi said with a nod. “I cannot stop a virus. I can take them away. Sometimes, only sometimes. That’s all. Viruses are a part of you as much as they are ‘invaders.’”

“Can you take this virus away?” Delphie asked.

“I don’t believe so,” Abi said. “It’s too young. Too new.”

Although they didn’t understand what she was saying, they nodded at her care and sincerity.

“Do you need a sample of the virus?” Jacob asked.

“No,” Abi said. “Jill, give me your hands.”

Jill walked to Abi and held out her hands.

“Palms down,” Abi said.

Jill turned over her hands. Abi took Jill’s hands. Their eyes locked. As everyone watched, something undefinable seemed to move from Abi to Jill. After a few long minutes, Abi nodded and moved her hands away.

Jill stood in place for a moment before nodding.

“We have work to do,” Jill said.

“No,” Abi said. “Your best defense is to get good sleep. A full eight hours or more. Every single night. This will keep you healthier than anything else.”

“I don’t think I can sleep,” Jacob said. “I’m too wound up and heartbroken. I mean my dad is. . .”

The next thing Jacob knew, he was lying in his own bed with Jill sound asleep beside him. The sun peaked in through the front windows of the loft. He looked at the clock. Ten hours had passed.

He was wearing his pajamas and his pillow was wet from a shower. He had no memory of any of this. He used the toilet and called the hospital from the bathroom.

His father was in an induced coma with a ventilator keeping him alive.

“He is still alive,” the nurse said. “Strong. Fit. Very healthy. Don’t give up hope.”

“Thank you,” Jacob said.

He ended the call so that the nurse wouldn’t hear him crying. When he came out of the bathroom, Jill was holding out a mask to him.

“How is he?” Jill asked.

“Alive,” Jacob said. “The nurse said to not give up hope.”

“Then we won’t,” Jill said.

They put on cloth masks and went to wake their children.

~~~~~~~~

Wednesday morning — 9:15 a.m.

“Tanesha!” Jill said as Tanesha entered the Castle. “I’m sorry but. . .”

“Jabari’s in Children’s,” Tanesha said. She took a clean mask out of her pocket and put it on. “They think he has it, too. Who has it here?”

“Sam,” Jill said. “Did you get a test?”

Tanesha nodded. Jill was sitting on the floor in front of the couch with her toddlers. They were playing with blocks and running around the room.

“Shit,” Tanesha said. “I just came here to change and shower. They’re asking for everyone to show up at the ED, even students.”

“Shit,” Jill said.

“Right,” Tanesha said. “I wish I could join you. Where’s Maggie and the rest? I have to tell them that they need to be tested.”

“Everyone is at the doctor to be tested,” Jill said. “M.J. is hoping to get some of their military tests, but for now it’s through the doc.”

“Did you go?” Tanesha asked.

“We went this morning, first thing,” Jill said. “Jake was up because their state sites opened this morning. He also has to tell every employee owner that Sam is in the hospital. They all need to be tested because of that big meeting.”

“I bet that’s tough,” Tanesha said.

“He checked in after the first site,” Jill said with a nod. “The employees were crying — men and women. It’s made this whole thing very real for everyone.”

Tanesha nodded.

“You heard about Jabari?” Tanesha asked.

“How his mother abused him?” Jill asked. “Yes. Any news from the producers?”

“That’s where Jeraine is,” Tanesha said with a sigh. “He and his lawyers are talking to the producers. Everyone on their own computer.”

“We’re going to need more Internet service,” Jill said.

“Jeraine’s working something out with one of the suppliers,” Tanesha said. “They approached him as a sponsor for some concerts with him. It’s a good opportunity and it will mean better Internet for us. Maybe.”

Tanesha shook her head.

“It’s a lot,” Jill said.

Tanesha nodded.

“Are they keeping Jabari?” Jill asked.

“Just until they know what’s going on with him,” Tanesha said. “They won’t let us visit him or even wait in the waiting room.”

“That’s really hard,” Jill said.

“That’s Covid,” Tanesha said. “You know that kid? He was watering plants and planting seeds with Dale before we took him to Children’s. We had no idea that he was sick along with beaten! Now O’Malley’s house is on quarantine because of us.”

“Or us,” Jill said. “Sandy’s been here. We helped pick her up from the hospital. It could have come from her.”

Tanesha gave an irritated shake of her head.

“Should you be working?” Jill asked.

“I asked that,” Tanesha said. “My mentor just laughed. He said that they’d all been exposed. ‘As long as we don’t have a fever and wear our PPE, we work.’ So. . .”

Tanesha shrugged.

“I should go shower,” Tanesha said.

Jill nodded. Tanesha turned to head downstairs. There was a flower floating in front of her. She took the flower and turned back to the boys.

“Thank you, Tanner and Bladen,” Tanesha said. “I’ll keep it with me.”

The toddlers giggled.

“Hey, do you mind if I take a couple cloth masks with me?” Tanesha asked, gesturing to the stack on the hall table.

“Take what you need,” Jill said. “We’re making more masks at nap time. Jake and Aden have asked the Lipson crews that are off cycle to make masks. Since the word went out about Sam, our pattern has been downloaded more than a thousand times. We should have lots.”

“Good,” Tanesha said.

She raised her hand to wave and jogged down to their apartment.

~~~~~~~~

Wednesday morning — 11:15 a.m.

New York City, New York

Seth O’Malley was seated at a Grand Piano in a recording studio. The lights were low. He was playing through the last of five concertos for the last movie. Like the other four movies, he had created an entire orchestral score for the movie. The orchestra, which had won awards for the first four movies, had worked tirelessly to help create this score.

The movie executives didn’t like it. They wanted the last film to have a simpler, bare bones piano score.

He had less than a week to finish this piece. The movie’s music editor was working in the room next door to match what he was playing with the movie. They had been working long hours to get this done.

He had been playing for more than an hour. He was hot and sweaty. A drop of sweat rolled down his back. The piece he was playing was not only technically challenging but also physically difficult. At this point in the piece, he always felt the sharp pain of his recent gunshot wound.

“Seth?” the movie studios lead engineer asked over the speaker.

Seth stopped playing. Irritated, he turned in his chair to look at the man. Standing next to the lead engineer, the second engineer shrugged.

“I told him not to interrupt you,” she said.

Seth grinned at her moxie. He never really got over this young generations dedication to speaking the truth no matter what.

“What’s up?” Seth asked, grabbing the towel from on top of the piano.

He used the towel to mop the sweat from his head and neck.

“Your friend, Claire, called,” the man said. “She said, ‘He’s kicked them all out. She said to emphasize ‘All of them.’”

“Wow,” Seth said.

He shook his head in disbelief.

“You want me to tell you the rest?” the lead engineer asked.

“Please,” Seth said.

“She said, and this is a quote, ‘We’ve made fifty spots, but there are hundreds in the streets.’ She said that you’d know what that means.”

Seth grimaced. His hip ached where the bullet had wedged itself in the bone. He shifted uncomfortably.

“What should I tell her?” the engineer asked.

“Tell her that he’s a fucking asshole,” Seth said.

“She seems aware of that, O’Malley,” the second engineer said,

Seth laughed.

“She said that he’s asking again to buy the building,” the lead engineer said. “I don’t really get it, but she said something about you stealing the building out from under his grandfather? I don’t know what that means.”

“Do you know who?” Seth said the name of someone.

“He’s married to the daughter of . . .” the lead engineer said the name of a famous New Yorker.

“His grandfather sold me the building at twice the asking price,” Seth said. He grinned. “Of course, I was ten years old then. He laughed at me and told me that I was a fool. I told him that I was ten and I would keep the building long enough for him to beg me to sell it back to him.”

Seth wiped his face with the towel.

“They’ve been begging for the last five years,” Seth said.

“Why?” the lead engineer asked.

“Junior’s decided that he wants to own all of Hell’s Kitchen,” Seth said. “My little building is on a corner. It has a permit for a restaurant on the bottom and apartments on top. Very hard to get that kind of permit in those new buildings. We registered the building as historic, which really pissed him off. But now, he thinks it’s a great selling point. You know, ‘Live in historic Hell’s Kitchen.’ The building’s up to code which nothing he owns really is.”

Seth shook his head.

“What is happening?” the second engineer asked.

“He’s evicting people from the buildings that surround my building,” Seth said. “We expected it and asked the people who rent from us if they could spare a room. That’s what Claire was talking about. I had the engineers in last summer to check the roof. We can set up twenty small tents on the roof. It’s just. . .”

Seth shook his head.

“What kind of an asshole evicts people in the middle of a pandemic?” Seth asked, his disgust apparent.

“Claire said that you should call the governor,” the second engineer said.

“We’ve stopped,” the music editor said as he flung the door open. “Have we stopped? Why have we stopped?”

“O’Malley has to call the governor,” the second engineer said.

“Oh well, if it’s something important,” the music editor said, sarcastically. “What the fuck, O’Malley? I have a life too, you know. You want to socialize with your bigwig friends, do it on your own time. Not on mine!”

“Some jerk is evicting hundreds of people in Hell’s Kitchen,” the lead engineer said.

“You mean. . .” the music editor said the name of the person.

Seth and the two engineers nodded.

“He’s using the press focus on the pandemic to stay under the radar,” the second engineer said. “Doesn’t your wife work at the New York Times?”

“She does,” the music editor said. “I’ll call her.”

“I am calling a break,” the lead engineer said officiously.

Everyone looked at him. There was a long moment before they laughed.

“I need my phone, another towel, and some water,” Seth said. “Food. Asprin.”

“Got it,” the second engineer said.

She came into the recording studio. She gave him the towel, a plastic cup of fruit at the bottom yogurt, and his phone while taking the empty pitcher of water to be refilled.

Seth started making calls.

Denver Cereal continues next week...