CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and TWENTY-TWO
Thursday afternoon — 3:01 p.m.
Lying in the middle of all of her friends, Maggie Scully opened her eyes. All of the kids had played hard all day, eaten lunch, and then played again. Everyone had been so lonely in their homes that they played a little too hard. When the crying and bickering started, they were put in the big Castle living room for a nap. When the door to the kitchen slid closed and closed off the dining room — something Maggie, in all three years of her life, had never seen done — the living room was became dark. Mr. Mike built a big fire in the fireplace and soon all of the kids were asleep.
The older kids had taken over the side sitting room off the living room. They were talking quietly or reading. Some kids that Maggie recognized from school had showed up about mid-day. They lived with Joey and Máire.
That’s what Maggie knew.
The boys were given rooms in people’s apartments. The one named “Hermes” was staying with Maggie and her parents in their apartment. Maggie didn’t know where his brother was staying.
Maggie thought about all of these things while she lay awake in a pool of sleeping kids. After a few more minutes, Maggie got up and looked around. It took her a moment to remember that her good friend and adventure partner, Jabari, wasn’t there. For a moment, Maggie felt sad that her friend was so sick. She touched the piece of cloth over her mouth and hoped that she didn’t get sick.
“Don’t go,” her good friend, Mack, said, from his position sleeping next to her.
He was wearing a Superman mask that glowed in the dark.
“I want to see my mommy,” Maggie whispered. “She probably needs me since daddy’s gone.”
Mack got up from where he was sleeping.
“I’ll go with you,” Mack said.
Maggie held up a finger to her covered lips and gestured to the couch where Ms. Valerie and Mr. Mike were sitting. Mack nodded.
The children started creeping across the living room. When they got to Chase and Beau, Maggie stopped.
Beau was crying.
Mack dropped down to a squat and touched the boy’s shoulder. The boy opened his blue eyes to look at them. His mask matched his eyes.
“Don’t be sad,” Mack said.
The worst thing imaginable to Maggie was to be friendless. She said something that she was sure would fix the boy’s sorrow.
“We’re your friends!” Maggie said.
The boy just shook his head and closed his eyes. Clearly, Maggie and Mack being his friend didn’t make the boy feel instantly better. Maggie looked at Mack. Mack touched the boy’s shoulder again.
Beau opened his eyes.
Mack gestured for Beau to come with them. The boy looked away for a moment but then he nodded. The boy was a little younger than Maggie, probably the age of those twin boys who lived upstairs. Mack took the boy’s hand and Maggie took the other.
Being so much older, and much more mature, Maggie and Mack felt responsible for this child. They got to the edge of the room.
“Where are we going?” Beau asked, looking horrified.
“My Mommy’s over there,” Maggie said with a nod. “She needs me to take care of her.”
“I don’t want to go into the basement,” Beau said with a shake of his head. He leaned forward. “I’ve heard it’s haunted.”
Maggie shrugged. To Maggie, ghosts were just more friends. The eldest, Mack gave the boy a more serious look.
“That sounds scary,” Mack said. “But you’re our friend now. We never let anything happen to our friends.”
Maggie nodded sincerely in support of Mack, not because she was the least bit afraid of ghosts.
The young children walked past the side door. Maggie pointed down a hallway. They turned and went to a wooden panel. Maggie pushed on the door in a special way and it opened. Maggie went inside, but Beau hesitated.
“Maggie lives here,” Mack said.
“Behind the secret entrance?” Beau asked, brightening. “My auntie has a secret entrance to her office.”
Not sure what that meant, Mack nodded to support his new friend,. The boys followed Maggie inside the apartment. They heard a woman speaking. Maggie ran down the hallway and the boys followed. Maggie stopped at the edge of the office.
“Mommy?” Maggie whispered.
Mommy’s mother, Honey Lipson-Scully, was sitting in front of a computer screen talking to someone. Honey’s head jerked to look at her daughter and the two bedraggled boys standing behind her.
“Hey, I have to go,” Honey said.
The other person said something and waved to Maggie. Honey turned to see Maggie waving to her assistant, who grinned at the happy, friendly girl.
“I thought you were napping,” Honey said.
“Naps are boring,” Maggie said.
“Maggie,” Honey said, firmly.
“I tried Mommy,” Maggie said. “I really, really tried.”
The little girl shrugged.
“They don’t make Katy take naps,” Maggie said.
“She has to lie down for an hour,” Honey said.
“But, Mack woke up and then we became friends with Beau and I knew you’d want to meet him,” Maggie said with a nod. “Plus, you might need my help.”
Honey grinned at her daughter. When her husband, M.J. Scully, was deployed out of the country, Maggie always felt like she had to help her mother. Honey held out her arms and Maggie ran into them. Mack followed but Beau stood in the hallway. Beau began to cry again.
“Looks like you could use a hug,” Honey said.
“Come on,” Maggie said. “My Mommy gives the best hugs.”
Maggie held out an arm and Beau ran to them. For a few long moments, Honey just hugged the children.
“Why don’t you — Maggie and Mack — go pick out some ice cream from our freezer,” Honey said.
“Yea!” Maggie and Mack ran off.
When they were gone, Honey sent a text message to Valerie telling her that Maggie, Mack, and Beau were with her. Then she turned her attention to Beau.
“Did you have an accident?” Honey asked.
Beau gave a nod and tears streamed down his face.
“’Sposed to be growd up,” Beau said through his tears. The mask garbled his message even more. “Da tol’ me to be bes-s behav’r.”
Beau began crying in earnest. Honey hugged him again.
“You have plenty of time to grow up,” Honey said. “Why don’t we go clean up?”
“Wha ’bout dem?” Beau asked.
“They’ll be arguing over ice cream for a while,” Honey said with a smile. “Can you walk?”
Honey smiled. She gestured to the bathroom off her office and grabbed her forearm crutches. She started filling the bathtub and put in some lovely smells. Then she turned to the boy. His face was dirty from playing, as well as tear and snot stained. His clothing was finely made but dirty. She helped him out of his shirt and then took off his pants. The diaper had leaked.
“Ah, I see,” Honey said with a nod. “This is a really common problem for kids about your size.”
“It is?” Beau asked.
“You bet,” Honey said with a nod.
“You can see how small I am,” Honey said.
“My little sisters are the same size as me,” Honey said, as she wet some washcloths with warm water. “This happened all the time. Gaps in these kind of diapers. Just happens.”
“My broder is big,” Beau said.
“Yes, I imagine that this never happens to him,” Honey said.
“May I clean you up with these cloths?” Honey asked, holding up the wash cloths.
Beau nodded. Honey wiped off all of the pee and excrement that had somehow gone all over the boy. She put the diaper in the trash bag and knotted the trash bag. When most of the filth was off him, she stuck him in the bath. She scrubbed the boy so that his white skin glistened.
She leaned back from the tub just in time for Maggie and Mack to appear at the door.
“I want a bath,” Maggie said in her unsure voice.
“Me too,” Mack said what he always said when Maggie had a want.
“You have to ask your new friend,” Honey said.
“Can I come in?” Maggie asked.
“Me too?” Mack asked.
Beau looked surprised. After a moment, he nodded.
“But!” Maggie said. She turned to her mother, “Can we have magic bubbles?”
“Magic bubbles!” Mack said.
“Of course,” Honey said with a smile.
Honey drained the original water from the tub and started the tub again. Beau seemed so happy to have friends that he didn’t mind the drained bathtub. Honey refilled the tub with warm water and bubbles that smelled like bubble gum.
Honey helped Maggie and Mack undress and get in the tub.
“Mommy?” Maggie asked.
“Yes?” Honey asked.
“Do we still get ice cream?” Maggie asked.
Honey turned from where she was working to clean up Beau’s shorts.
“Of course,” Honey said with a nod.
Honey checked the tags and saw that Beau’s clothing, like the other kids, was machine washable. She knew that Alex Hargreaves did the laundry in their house so it made sense that everything was easy to care for.
“I’m going to take these to the washer,” Honey said.
Honey grabbed the children’s clothing to take them to her small washer and dryer.
“Mommy?” Maggie asked when Honey got to the door.
“Yes?” Honey asked.
“Where are my toys?” Maggie asked.
“You’re right,” Honey said. “We put your toys away. Give me one second to find them.”
Honey looked around the bathroom. Their entire apartment had been set up for Honey when she was in a wheelchair. Everything was a little low now.
“It’s been a while since you played in the bath,” Honey said, finding the bag of bathtub toys on a low shelf.
She grabbed the toys from the low shelf and gave them to Maggie.
“I’ll be right back,” Honey said. She looked at Beau. “The washer is just next to this bathroom.”
Beau gave her a relieved nod. Honey started a short wash to clean all of the clothing. She was gone a total of four minutes but when she returned the kids were deep into playing with the plastic dinosaurs. Honey sat down on the top of the toilet and watched the children play.
Honey had a vague worry about her work. Lipson had started job sharing. Her team wasn’t working today or tomorrow. They had done a great job yesterday. It was a lot of work for Honey and her assistant to keep everything going.
Honey couldn’t work from this bathroom that was for sure. So she decided just to enjoy herself.
When the water was cold, the kids wanted to play in the bath more. So Honey refilled the tub and they played until the water was cold. Around the time the wash was done, the kids were ready to get out. She put their clothing into the dryer and went to dry them off.
Wrapped in small towels, the kids went to get warm at Honey’s gas fireplace.
While she could have dressed Maggie, she knew that her daughter would want do what her friends were doing. So, she dug around until she found some of her old T-shirts. She was small, but the kids were smaller. Her old T-shirt fell almost at the kids’ ankles. She dressed the boys in blue “Lipson Construction” T-shirts from when she was in high school and worked as a “sign girl.” She dressed Maggie in one of Jill’s old T-shirts from her work at Pete’s Kitchen.
Honey scooped out small bowls of ice cream for the kids. When they were done, they talked about going back into the tub. Honey had to smile at how happy the children were in each other’s company. When they’d finished their ice cream, she re-dressed Maggie and Mack.
“I bet the other kids are awake by now,” Honey said. “Why don’t you go find Jackie and Eddie?”
Maggie and Mack looked at each other.
“Can we go?” Maggie asked.
“Of course,” Honey said. “But you have to wear your masks. We don’t want to get sick like Jabari.”
Maggie gave a sincere nod.
“They’re by the door,” Honey said. “I’m going to keep Beau here to get dressed.”
“Can he come out to play with us when you’re done?” Maggie asked.
“He’ll be there,” Honey said.
“Bye, bye, Beau,” Maggie said.
Maggie ran to the door. Mack waved to the boy before running after Maggie. She grabbed a mask and put it on Mack. Then she put one on herself. The kids ran out the door.
Honey turned her attention to Beau.
“Let’s see if we can make you more comfortable,” Honey said.
Maggie had been such a tiny baby that Honey knew all of the tricks. She modified a diaper to fit Beau perfectly. She redressed him.
Without saying a word, the small child hopped up and ran to the door.
“Mask!” Honey said.
The boy grabbed a mask, put it on, and ran out the door. Honey grinned after him.
She felt like she needed a nap after all of that wild interaction. Shaking her head at herself, she grabbed her forearm crutches and went out into the main living room in time to hear Valerie and Maggie talking. Beau was hugging his brother. Joey an Máire were walking toward the toddlers.
“I was worried about you, Maggie,” Valerie said.
“My mommy really needed me!” Maggie said.
Valerie looked from Maggie to Mack. The boy nodded in agreement with Maggie. Valerie glanced at Honey. She shrugged. Valerie smiled.
“Can you try to remember to tell me next time?” Valerie asked.
Maggie and Mack both nodded.
“Beau! Nice to see you too,” Valerie said. “We’re headed outside to visit with Delphie’s bees.”
Both Maggie and Mack cheered. Valerie winked at Honey, which was the signal that she was doing okay.
Honey went back into her office and sent a note for her assistant to call her when she could. Ten minutes later, Honey was back on her call with her assistant.
Time and location classified
“So what happened?” Lientenant Colonel Alexandra “The Fey” Hargreaves said.
“The first time I called, they were ‘too busy’ to come to the phone,” John Drayson, MD said. “I was exhausted so Jill told me to sleep. She said they would call if the kids missed me.”
“If?” Alex laughed.
“I know,” John said, laughing.
“Did they call?” Alex asked.
“No!” John said in his voice artificially indignant.
She laughed. He loved the sound of her laugh. For a long moment, he simply listened to her laugh.
“So what did you do?” she asked, with laughter still in her voice. “Did you go there?”
“Of course I went there,” John said. “These are our children! I had to be sure they were safe!”
“Uh-huh,” Alex said.
He laughed at her comment. He could hear her smiling at him over the satellite link.
“I knew they have specific meal times,” John said.
“Like ours?” Alex asked.
“Less specific on breakfast,” John said.
“Because some of them work construction, right?” Alex asked. “That must be a real mess right now.”
“Yeah,” John said. “Jacob said it’s crazy, but they are still working.”
“That’s good,” Alex said. “They have a lot of employees.”
“Job sharing,” John said.
“Wow, what a pain!” Alex said.
John nodded. Alex waited for him to get back to the point. But he was so tired that he seemed to just fade out.
“Did you visit the kids?” Alex asked.
“Sorry, I was miles away,” John said. “This fucking virus, I swear.”
“It’s horrible,” Alex said.
“Anyway, I went at dinner,” John said. “They were all outside with Jacob on the barbecue. Everyone had masks on.”
“Even the kids?” Alex asked.
“Even the kids,” John said. “Have you seen kids in face masks?”
“Some,” Alex said.
“They are so cute,” John said. “Anyway, Holmes and Hermes are there now.”
“And our kids?” Alex asked.
“Oh, right, I’m updating you,” John said. “Just so tired.”
“I know,” Alex said.
“The kids are so happy,” John said. “They spent the morning playing and the afternoon learning about bees from Delphie. They made bee food for her hives and for ours. They took a field trip to our hives to feed them too.”
“Delphie’s the best,” Alex said.
“It was really all of them,” John said. “Beau had an accident and Honey helped him. Beau told me that Honey told him that it was normal for someone his size.”
“She would know,” Alex said. “Maggie was tiny.”
“It was just such a gift,” John said. “He’s not as ashamed. It’s like. . . magic. Máire told me that she was able to spend time with the older kids in the morning. Valerie was learning how to knit from Delphie so they tried it. Of course, Noelle picked it up right away. Máire showed me the scarf she’d started.”
“Very impressive,” Alex said.
“Actually, it was,” John said. “Joey said he was with Mike in his art studio. Mike set him up with paint and he even made something that’s. . . Well, I’m his father.”
“A masterpiece?” Alex asked.
“Indeed,” John said.
“And Chase?” Alex asked.
“Chase and Beau played with Connor and the twins — Bladen and Tanner,” John said.
“They are in heaven,” Alex said. “We’re never going to get them to come home.”
“I tell myself that they miss us,” John said with a laugh.
“Did you eat?” Alex asked.
“After visiting Julie,” John said. “They were barbecuing buffalo. They had tables six feet apart and each table had a fire or a chiminea to keep the air flowing. It was safe enough for Jabari and Jeraine to come out. I. . . It was really nice. Normal. Even with the masks, it felt normal.”
“Wonderful,” Alex said. “How is Julie?”
“Healing slowly,” John said.
“Poor Julie,” Alex said. “Colin says that she sounds horrible.”
“She’s a lot better than she was,” John said. “Paddie too.”
“And Connor?” Alex asked.
“Completely well,” John said. “His little immune system kicked the virus right away.”
“Amazing,” Alex said. “Are you glad you took the kids to the Castle?”
“Yes and no,” John said. “I miss them, probably more than they miss me or you.”
“That’s a fact,” Alex said with a laugh.
“I’m glad that they are safe,” John said. “They’re very serious about the virus there. Masks, hand sanitizer. . . Jake even set up an outside hand washing station. I saw the kids reminding each other to wash their hands.”
“Wow,” Alex said. “It’s hard to get adults to do that.”
“Well, Jabari’s sick,” John said. “So it’s really clear that kids can get sick. But the adults remind them too.”
“Makes sense,” Alex said. She paused for a moment trying to figure out how to phrase her next question. “Your siblings actually kicked the kids out?”
“Well,” John sighed. “They do have an Irish thing today, no, yesterday. Whatever. I just thought the kids would be happier around other kids. I feel guilty about it but. . .”
“Sometimes we have to hand off our loved ones to focus on our work,” Alex said.
“That’s what we say about your work,” John said.
“Exactly,” Alex said. “You’re a soldier in the war of Covid-19.”
She could hear him nodded.
“Rest, my love,” Alex said. “Thank you for taking care of everyone so perfectly.”
“You think?” John asked.
“I know,” Alex said. “I can’t wait to get home and let you take care of me.”
He laughed at her innuendo.
“Sleep,” Alex said. “Be extra safe. I’ll be home soon.”
He said something but she was pretty sure he was asleep.
“I love you, John,” she said.
“Love you too,” he said.
And the line was dead. She looked at the phone and then got back to work.
Denver Cereal continues next week...
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