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December 2020

Chapter Six Hundred and Twenty-Four: Getting ready

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and TWENTY-FOUR

Thursday mid-day — 12:37 p.m.

“Hey,” Jacob said in a soft voice to Jill’s back.

Jill turned to look at him. She was standing in the loft nursery and holding Bidzil, Margaret Peaches’ young son. He was sleepily drinking a bottle of what looked like milk.

“How is he?” Jacob asked.

“A lot better,” Jill said. “Few more days and he’ll be ready to join the others playing.”

“Good,” Jacob said. “What does he have?”

“Parasite,” Jill said. “Particularly nasty one. Dr. Bumpy thought we might have been too late to help him, but he’s responded really well to the treatment.”

“And to your cuddles,” Jacob said.

“It’s nice to have an easy-going child,” Jill said with a grin.

“You mean one that can’t move things with their minds?” Jacob asked with a laugh.

“That, too,” Jill said. She glanced up and grinned at him. “Let me set him down. He’s ready to nap a bit.”

Jill set the child down in a crib and they left the room. Jacob migrated after Jill as she walked toward their small kitchen.

“I saw our boys on the way up,” Jacob said. “Is Katy in her room?”

Jill nodded.

“She doesn’t want to leave Paddie alone,” Jill said. “Have you eaten?”

Jacob shook his head.

“How’s Paddie?” Jacob asked.

“Much better,” Jill said. “I have an appointment to take him and Jabari to see Dr. Bumpy this afternoon.”

“For a test?” Jacob asked.

“I guess so,” Jill said with a shrug. “I don’t really know how that works. Dr. Bumpy was following Jabari, Paddie, and Connor. John was Julie’s doctor. I think John took care of Paddie and Connor because they’re his nephews.”

“He’s a nice guy,” Jacob said.

“Great doctor,” Jill said. “That’s what Dr. Bumpy says too.”

“Any idea what’s going on in the backyard?” Jacob asked.

“Delphie had a meltdown this morning,” Jill said. “Sandwich? Warmed up soup? Fast food on the way back? Delphie casserole?”

“No,” Jacob said. He closed his eyes and put his hand up like he was protecting his head. “No Delphie casserole. No.”

Jill laughed.

“I was checking to see if you were listening,” Jill said.

Jacob grinned and leaned over to kiss her. They kissed. He stroked her face.

“I wish. . .” Jill whispered.

“Me too,” Jacob said, with a sigh.

“Too much work,” Jill said.

“Too many people, everywhere,” Jacob said. “Have the teenagers started to clone? When I left the house this morning, there were half of the kids who are here now.”

“Fey Team kids,” Jill said. “Once we had Joey and Máire, they started arriving. They always knew that Teddy lived here. So they knew where to go. Charlie’s done a great job keeping the teens moving in the same direction. He’s. . .amazing. The teens are reading books and talking, mostly. In the afternoon, they play competitive video games.”

“That’s bound to get them fighting,” Jacob said.

“Charlie won’t tolerate it,” Jill said. “If you fight, you can’t play. If you can’t get along, you go home. His rules. So far, it’s worked out great because no one wants to go home.

Jacob nodded. They fell silent as Jill made him a sandwich. She set out some peeled carrots for him to eat while she finished the sandwich.

“Delphie was due for a meltdown,” Jacob said. “Mom and Dad always grounded her. Kept her on an even keel. Since Dad’s sick, it was only a matter of time. Any idea what sparked it?”

“She wanted to get some things done in the backyard,” Jill said.

“Ah,” Jacob said. “I wonder why she didn’t talk to me.”

“She said that you were too busy with work to deal with an old woman’s issues,” Jill said.

“Really,” Jacob said as a statement. “That’s worse than I thought. She was. . . pretty upset?”

Jill nodded.

“What happened?” Jacob asked.

“Tanesha found her crying in the hallway in the basement. Tanesha called her parents, who came right over,” Jill said. “I mean, like, they were here in fifteen minutes or something. You know how Delphie helped Yvonne when she was trapped. I guess, Rodney told someone that she’d saved his life when he was in prison. They told me that they would show up for Delphie anytime, anywhere.”

“Wow,” Jacob said.

“I know,” Jill said. “Yvonne took Delphie into the dining room. She fed Delphie tea and those breakfast cookies she likes until Delphie was coherent. Delphie had given Charlie this crazy map.”

“I’ve seen those,” Jacob said.

“I bet,” Jill said. “Anyway, Yvonne took Delphie. Rodney got Charlie to tell him what he remembered of what she wanted. Rodney drew it up and they got started with what they could do.”

“I saw some of the Lipson guys out there,” Jacob said. “Jeraine’s out there too.”

“Rodney thinks he’s lazy,” Jill said.

“Compared to Rodney, everyone is lazy,” Jacob said.

Jacob bit into his sandwich. He smiled at her. She’d made the sandwich exactly the way he liked it. She nodded in acknowledgement.

“Are you heading back to Lipson?” Jill asked.

His mouth full, Jacob shook his head. He gestured to the backyard.

“You’re going to help out back?” Jill asked.

“I think so?” Jacob said with a shrug. “I thought maybe I could figure out what’s going on and then look for Delphie.”

“That’s a good idea,” Jill said. “She’s asked me when you’ll be home three times, maybe four. She keeps saying that you and she made this house and. . .”

“She doesn’t want to make me mad,” Jacob said with a smile.

He swallowed down a glass of water that she’d set out for him.

“That’s what she always says,” Jacob said. “Do you know where she is now?”

“With Val,” Jill said. She looked at her watch. “I think they are feeding the little kids.”

Jacob nodded. He moved away and then swept her into his arms. He kissed her hard. She giggled.

“What do I owe this pleasure?” she asked.

“Just love you,” Jacob said. “You’ve given so much in the last few days, flexed with school, and the kids, and the ever growing population of people.”

He kissed her again.

“It’s not easy,” Jacob said. “I appreciate it. Makes me love you even more.”

She smiled and kissed him. He let her go and sped out of the loft to look for Delphie.

She smiled at his back. When the door closed, she went to check on Katy and get Paddie ready for his doctor’s appointment.

~~~~~~~~~

Thursday mid-day — 1:37 p.m.

After a long heartfelt conversation involving with Delphie, Jacob went out to the backyard. When he was younger, he would have just asserted his authority. After years at Lipson Construction, he’d learned that everything and everyone had its own logic and rhythm.

He found Rodney and spoke to him about what was going on. He then spoke to the heads of the groups of people working.

Delphie had finally decided that she wanted greenhouses and a chicken run. Because no one was quite sure about the greenhouses, they’d focused on building a chicken coop and run. They were nearly finished with a grand castle for a whole flock of chickens.

The only problem was that they’d built it in the middle of the yard.

With a little nudging, they moved the chicken run to the quiet side yard of the medical offices, an optimal location in the quiet side yard.

“It’s almost as if this spot was set up for chickens,” one of the men said with a smile.

“Imagine that,” Jacob said with a grin.

Jacob left Rodney to sort out introducing the arriving chickens to each other and into their new home.

Jacob turned his attention to the new effort to build greenhouses. Delphie had drawn a map to have them run along the edge of the driveway. Believing that Delphie knew best, Rodney had copied her suggestion.

Of course, the sun ran from east to west and the house was east facing. In Delphie’s configuration, only one of her greenhouses would get full sun. The other two would be in shaded by the first greenhouse. It was the kind of thing that Jacob changed without thinking.

One thing the helpers didn’t know was that Jacob had been accumulating old single paned windows for years. He and Delphie had gone back and forth about the greenhouses since the time that he’d poured the cement for this driveway. He’d been waiting for Delphie to decide that she needed them. After the first whisper of the pandemic, Jacob moved the old windows and salvaged wood to the area between the Mike’s studio, aka the garage, and the new restroom.

Before Jacob arrived, a few of the teenagers, led by Jeraine, were diligently working to make Delphie’s plan happen. Luckily, they hadn’t gotten too far because Jacob arrived.

Jacob led them through his plan for the greenhouses. Under his guidance, everyone got to work.

While the early spring day was by no means warm, they were working in the sun. After a while, the young men stripped off their shirts. A few of the young women stripped to their sports bras.

The warm sun and clear vision made for a happy crew. After a while, Jeraine began to singing his own songs to himself. Completely indifferent to Jeraine’s fame, the teens sang along with him in joyful bliss.

“Hey!” Tres yelled over the happy ruckus. “Jake!”

Jacob looked up from where he was installing an old window into the greenhouse.

“There’s a lady over there screaming,” Tres said.

Jacob looked at Tres and then out to the street where a few paparazzi were milling around.

Jacob looked at Tres and shrugged. Tres pointed to a small black sedan.

Inside, a woman seemed to be screaming and crying.

“Jeraine!” Jacob yelled.

Caught up in his song, Jeraine didn’t respond until one of the teens touched his shoulder. He looked at the girl, who pointed at Jacob.

Jeraine looked up at Jacob.

“Someone’s here to see you,” Jacob said, pointing at the vehicle.

“Hey, that’s J’Ron and Kallyn,” Hope, one of the Fey Team teens, said.

The teens looked up to see their friends.

“Why is their mom screaming?” Tink asked.

“She’s a big fan of Jeraine’s,” Joy, the identical twin of Hope, said. “She always plays him in the car.”

“And at home,” Hope added.

Jeraine scowled at the girls. He grabbed his shirt and started walking to the fence.

“You could come.” Jeraine threw the words to where Jacob and Tres were standing and laughing at him.

Still laughing, Jacob and Tres followed Jeraine to the fence. The closer Jeraine got to the fence, the more excited the woman became. Tres and Jacob openly laughed at Jeraine.

“Ma’am?” Jeraine asked through the gate.

The woman fell still. She pointed to herself.

“Is there something I can help with?” Jeraine asked.

The woman began to cry. Jacob opened the gate and went to the vehicle. Realizing the woman was too upset to open the locks, Jacob flicked his hand and the vehicle’s locks opened. The kids fell out of the vehicle like balls out of the back of a truck.

“Masks!” Tres said as the kids started across the driveway to see the other teens.

The children skid to a stop and pulled cloth masks out of their pocket. They put on their masks on and then ran to their friends.

Jeraine gestured with his head for Jacob and Tres to stand with him. They moved to the driver’s seat where the woman was sobbing. Jacob opened the driver’s side door. Tres helped Jeraine pull her out of the vehicle.

The woman threw her arms around Jeraine.

And the paparazzi’s camera’s started whirring.

Tres and Jacob tried to surround Jeraine and the woman but the paparazzo were more aggressive. Hearing running, Jacob looked up.

The teens were running in their direction. They made a circle around Jeraine and the woman as they shuffled beyond the fence. They got the woman inside the fence and toward the back of the house.

“What are those vultures rabid about this time?” Fin asked as he and Tanesha walked toward the Castle from where the bus had let them off on Eighteenth Street.

“A woman is crying over Jeraine,” Tanesha said.

“Why?” Fin asked.

“He’s a huge star,” Tanesha said. “This happens a lot. Women love him.”

“Jeraine?” Fin asked with a snort of a laugh. “Our Jeraine?”

Tanesha grinned. They walked along the fence until they reached the door.

“There is a small child in the back of that vehicle,” Fin said.

“I’ll get him,” Tanesha said.

“Why?” Fin asked.

Tanesha just laughed at Fin. He gave her his “I am a Prince” shake of his head which made her laugh even harder. She reached in the back sleep and took the sleeping boy out of the vehicle. The child was wrapped in a soft wool blanket. She held his face away from the cameras.

“Can you. . .?” Tanesha asked Fin. She gestured to the paparazzi. “But! Don’t break their cameras this time. Just the pictures of me and any of the child.”

“Tsk,” Fin said. “Would I do that to these fine fellows?”

Tanesha grinned at him. They went in the gate and down the driveway.

“Where’s Jeraine?” Tanesha asked.

“They went inside with a fan of his,” Tres said. “She was hysterical. We took her inside to have a glass of water.”

Tanesha nodded to Tres and started toward the side door.

“What is going on here?” Fin asked, gesturing to the greenhouse project.

“Jake’s building greenhouses,” Tres said. “You know, to grow food.”

“Why?” Fin asked.

Tanesha shook her head at Fin’s ridiculousness and went inside.

“Come on, man,” Tres said. “You could help.”

“I am a Prince!” Fin said. “Plus, I am tired.”

“I get it,” Tres said. “It’s too hard for you.”

Fin growled at Tres. Tres gestured for Fin to go work on the greenhouses.

“Where is my descendant, Jacob?” Fin asked, his Isle of Man distinctive and loud.

Grinning, Tres followed Fin toward the greenhouse.

~~~~~~~~

Thursday afternoon — 2:12 p.m.

Tanesha carried the small child into the house. Once in the door, she set down her backpack while holding the. . . She leaned back to see if it was a girl or a boy and saw a little boy looking up at her.

“Hello,” Tanesha said.

The child slowly closed and opened his eyes before snuggling against her. Smiling, Tanesha followed the noise to where Jeraine was speaking to someone. Jill had her hand on the woman’s shoulder. She carried the boy into the kitchen.

The woman was so upset that she was nearly incoherent.

Tanesha looked at Jill, and she shook her head. The woman wasn’t infected. Tanesha nodded.

Tanesha put her hand on the woman’s arm. Jill retreated.

“Quanshay?” Tanesha asked.

Hearing her own name, the woman stopped talking and crying. She blinked at Jeraine and then looked at Tanesha.

“Miss T?” Quanshay asked.

“I found your son,” Tanesha said. “He was waiting of you in the car.”

Quanshay took the boy from Tanesha. For a moment, the mother and child snuggled each other.

“Mama, can I go play?” the boy asked.

“Yes, you may,” Quanshay said. “But you need your mask.”

“Okay, Mama,” the boy said.

He kissed his mother and put on his mask. She gave the child an extra squeeze and set him down. He stood next to his mom for a moment before being absorbed into the group of children playing in the living room. They watched the child disappear.

“What’s going on?” Tanesha asked. “We saw you crying and then hug Jeraine. That’s so unlike you.”

“I know,” Quanshay said with a nod.

Tanesha gestured for Jeraine and Jacob to leave. They slipped out the back. Tanesha She turned on the pot and grabbed a tin of cookies. She guided Quanshay to the picnic table on the deck overlooking the Castle backyard. She made sure to sit six feet away from Quanshay.

“You’re wearing scrubs,” Quanshay said.

“Fin and I are working at the hospitals,” Tanesha said. “They just need help getting through this wave.”

“Stupid virus,” Quanshay said, adjusting her mask. “Can you believe these fools?”

“I cannot,” Tanesha said. “If you saw what the hospitals are like now. . . It’s just tomfoolery.”

Quanshay nodded.

“What happened today?” Tanesha asked.

Tanesha looked up to see Valerie bring out a pot of tea. Valerie set the pot and two mugs down before returning to the house.

“That was Valerie Lipson,” Quanshay said, quietly. “She lives here too?”

“She’s here for now,” Tanesha said. “She’s due in a month or so. After she has the baby, she may leave for a film or whatever. I guess it depends on what happens with the virus.”

Quanshay nodded. Tanesha opened the tin of cookies.

“Cookies!” Nash said appearing from nowhere.

“You don’t like these,” Tanesha said. “Ginger molasses.”

Nash stopped for a moment and then shrugged. He grabbed a handful and disappeared.

“Teenage boys like locusts,” Tanesha said in soft tones to Quanshay. “Please. Have a cookie before the teens multiply.”

Quanshay took out a cookie. Tanesha poured the tea. For a moment, they ate cookies and drank their tea. Quanshay sighed.

“The kids wanted to come here,” Quanshay said. “You know, their friends are here. I. . .” Royce has been home a lot this year. When he’s home, everything works. It’s easy. I sleep well. The kids are happy. We have great days. But he’s been gone a long time this time. I. . .”

Quanshay’s husband, Chief Petty Officer Royce Putnam, was a member of the Fey Team.

“It’s exhausting to hold the line by yourself,” Tanesha said.

“With teens?” Quanshay asked.

“Parents,” Tanesha said. “You were talking about parents, right?”

“That, too.” Quanshay said with a rueful laugh.

“What happened today?” Tanesha asked again.

“I talking to them when we drove up,” Quanshay said. “You know how it is — wear your mask, don’t show your ass, follow the house rules, don’t break anything, these are still white people. . . You know.”

“I sure do,” Tanesha nodded.

“Then I look over and I see Jeraine standing there with his shirt off,” Quanshay said. “I. . . I had that poster when I was in high school. You know the one with his thumb in the front of his shorts pulling them down just low enough to see a little hair; looking so fine. I looked over and saw him standing next to that greenhouse. I remembered all the hope and joy of that time in my life and now with everything and. . . I just lost it.”

Quanshay snuck a glance at Tanesha and saw only compassion in her eyes.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Twenty-Three: Delphie meltsdown

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and TWENTY-THREE

Wednesday early morning — 5:30 a.m.

In their new home, Blane turned the corner and stopped short. They had said they would install the large kitchen yesterday and, like magic, he was looking at kitchen cabinets. He blinked and looked down. The floor people must have put this floor in sometime earlier this week.

Where had he been?

He’d come through here three times a day but he never saw a thing.

“Blane.”

His head jerked up at his name. Nelson was sitting in a chair at a small round table set next to the window. Nelson wore pajamas and a thick bathrobe. He was framed in early morning blue light reflected through the windows to the courtyard..

“Nelson?” Blane asked. “Are you. . . I mean. . . Uh. . .”

“I’m okay,” Nelson said. “Or okay-ish.”

“How?” Blane asked.

“Mari stopped by with Otis last night,” Nelson said. “With the acupuncture and Abi and Jill. . . well, everything. . . I’m okay.”

Blane walked across the wide open, now oak floored space, to Nelson. He picked up Nelson’s left wrist and then his right.

“Tongue?” Blane asked.

Nelson stuck out his tongue. Blane read Nelson’s tongue. He shook his head.

“Wow,” Blane said. “You’re so much better. So much. It’s amazing.”

“Otis said that I was nearly there,” Nelson said. Nelson reached up to hold Blane’s hand. “Thank you. Without your help, I would be lingering in a hospital — alone and. . . “

Nelson sighed.

“You’ve saved me,” Nelson said. “Again.”

“It sounds like Otis and Bathsheba saved you,” Blane said.

“Don’t do that,” Nelson said. “If I didn’t have you to come home to, Bathsheba would never have been able to reach me. Otis told me that the acupuncture had detoxified me. That’s mostly what’s been wrong with me. I took in so much toxic shit being at war for years. Your work flushed all of that way, healed me, so that I could use what he gave me. He said that.”

Blane blushed. He started taking breakfast out of the reusable bag he’d brought.

“I’m so grateful for you,” Nelson said. “You and this weird and wonderful family you’ve included me and my father in.”

“Breakfast burritos,” Blane said, setting down a burrito for Blane and one for himself.

“Jake’s?” Nelson asked.

“It was kind of a group effort,” Blane said. “Children keep showing up at the Castle. There’s a gang of teenagers and about a billion kids under 10 years old.”

“Really?” Nelson asked, with a laugh. “A billion?”

“I kid you not,” Blane said. “Jake got up and made about a hundred breakfast burritos. You know Troy?”

“Olivas?” Nelson said. “The genius?”

“Him,” Blane said. “His boys are here. With Charlie and Nelson, they eat like locusts. You would notbelieve the number of eggs we use. Yesterday, Delphie raided their chickens for eggs. She’s decided that we need our own flock.”

“Please sit down,” Nelson said.

“Where’s the nurse?” Blane asked.

“The doctor dropped by this morning and sent her home,” Nelson said. “I’ll have a nurse tonight but if I’m better than I don’t need it. Today, I’m to read and rest. Ava and the team are video calling me at noon to talk about cases.”

Smiling, Blane sat down in a chair across from Nelson.

“I feel almost normal,” Nelson said. “This place looks amazing. Everything will be all set very soon. It’s exciting.”

Blane nodded.

“What?” Nelson asked.

“What do you mean ‘What’?” Blane asked.

“You look like you’re not asking me something,” Nelson said.

“When do you leave again?” Blane asked.

“For the treasure?” Nelson asked.

“To save your father’s life,” Blane said, softly.

“I don’t know,” Nelson sighed. “I. . .”

Nelson shook his head.

“I can only do one day at a time,” Nelson said. “Right this moment, it feels great to just be here with you. I’m excited to see my work team. I can’t wait to see the boys, Hedone, even Tres. I. . .”

Blane watched Nelson closely.

“I don’t want to go,” Nelson said. “When I sit here, as the sun rises, I never want to leave. But then I remember my father and I. . .”

Nelson shook his head.

“What if you do it differently this time?” Blane asked.

“I’m listening,” Nelson said.

“Alex’s biological father is hooked into the French government,” Blane said. “I bet she could connect you with someone in antiquities. You could raise this fortune in full view of the public.”

“What?” Nelson asked.

“What do you mean ‘What’?’ Blane asked.

“I never thought of it,” Nelson said.

“Huh,” Blane said.

“It’s so obvious when you say it,” Nelson said. “If I knew where it is.”

“The group of goddesses came up with ten possible sites. Alex and her team used them to figure it out,” Blane said. “Fin said that his father went there to check it out.”

“And?” Nelson asked.

“It’s definitely there,” Blane said.

“Where?” Nelson asked.

“When you’re better, we’ll talk,” Blane said. “Right now, you just have to decide if you want to go public with your situation and ask the French to get involved.”

“I do,” Nelson said. “I definitely do. Public means resources, modern resources. No more creeping around in cold, dark Castles.”

“Okay,” Blane said. “I’ll tell Alex.”

“Isn’t she somewhere secret?” Nelson asked.

“I can always call her,” Blane said. “I leave a message and she calls me back.”

Nelson nodded.

“Shall we?” Blane asked.

Nelson took the top off the insulated traveling mug that Blane had given to him. He groaned.

“Hot chocolate,” Nelson sighed. He took a drink. “Perfect.”

“Help you put back on some weight,” Blane said.

Nelson nodded. They ate in silence for a few minutes.

“If I get well enough, I want to help out at the ERs,” Nelson said. “When summer comes, the virus will likely slow down or that’s what the nurse said.”

“And?” Blane asked.

“I can work this spring, head out in the summer,” Nelson said. “I’ll be back by the time the Fall surge happens.”

“You’re planning your life around a virus,” Blane said. “A new virus, none-the-less.”

“I’m planning my life around what I love to do,” Nelson said. “Be with you, the kids, Hedone. . .”

“Heather,” Blane corrected.

“Right, sorry,” Nelson said. “Heather and Tres. Work with Ava on some mysteries. Get some hours in the ER. Help people. I really want to help people and love. I want to immerse myself in love.”

Blane grinned.

“Don’t you dare laugh at me,” Nelson said.

“I’m not laughing,” Blane said. “I’m anticipating the spring of love, the summer at sea, and the fall fighting the virus.”

Nelson laughed. Blane looked at his watch.

“I have to go,” Blane said. “Today’s my day in the office to help Aden. I’m job sharing with the secretaries to give everyone a break. With the Marlowe School closed, the kids are home so everyone is stretched.”

“Nice of you,” Nelson said.

Blane got up. He pointed at Nelson.

“Your job right now is to heal,” Blane said. “You cannot do any of the things you talked about if you’re one-hundred percent.”

“Will do,” Nelson said.

“You have your phone?” Blane asked.

“Phone, laptop,” Nelson said. “Television, radio. Mostly, I need sleep. That’s what you always tell me.”

“True,” Blane said. He leaned over and kissed Nelson. “Get well. That’s hard enough.”

Nelson grinned at Blane.

“I’ll check on you tonight,” Blane said as he left the downstairs.

Nelson watched him go before getting up and returning to bed. He fell into a sound sleep.

~~~~~~~~

Wednesday early morning — 5:30 a.m.

“So it is,” Delphie whispered.

She was kneeling at the altar in her chapel. She felt a longing to stay there all day. The world certainly needed her prayers right now.

But today was not a day to be spent in worship. There was simply too much to do. With Sam in the hospital, she needed to recruit new help. She went up the stairs to the hallway where Sam’s Birch room and Honey’s apartment was located. She then went down the padded stairs to the basement.

Hearing the washers going, she glanced in to see Valerie washing a load of children’s clothing. There were so many little kids that they had to keep up with all of the laundry. Valerie waved to Delphie as she passed. Delphie turned down the hallway.

She knew the meditation room was now where some of the teenagers were sleeping — two more arrived last night. Delphie had been too tired to meet them. She thought that they were in the mediation room.

The study room was in the middle of a remodel for online school. She peered in to see boxes of computers that hadn’t been unpacked. Sam had been working on this room before. . .

Delphie sighed.

How had Sam gotten sick and she hadn’t?

She felt a well of sorrow but refused to give in. She stopped walking in the middle of the hallway.

Which one was Charlie and Tink’s apartment?

She went to a door and started to knock but hesitated.

This wasn’t it.

There were so many new people, new souls, that it was hard for Delphie to keep them all straight.

“No Delphie,” she said, softly to herself. “You can keep them straight. There’s nothing wrong with you. You just have a lot on your mind.”

A door opened to her left.

“Tanesha!” Delphie exclaimed. “How are you?”

“A little tired but okay,” Tanesha said. “Are you okay?”

“I’m looking for Charlie,” Delphie said. “I thought he and Tink were living down here but I can’t. . .” I can’t. . .”

Tanesha’s heart tore in two to see Delphie cry. Delphie was so generous with her home and her life. It was no wonder she was confused.

“How about this?” Tanesha said.

Delphie gave Tanesha a watery look.

“Why don’t you head down to your chapel?” Tanesha asked. “I’ll get Charlie and Tink. Do you need anyone else?”

“Jeraine?” Delphie asked.

Tanesha opened the door to the apartment.

“Jer?” Tanesha called into the apartment.

Jeraine was there in a moment.

“We were just finishing breakfast,” Tanesha said. “Can you help Delphie?”

“Absolutely,” Jeraine said. “I need to get Jabari ready for the day. Can he come?”

“We’ll be outside,” Delphie said. “I think that’s safe.”

Jeraine turned back and then came to the door.

“You know, your dad’s not working the rest of this week,” Jeraine said to Tanesha.

Tanesha nodded.

“Can my dad help?” Tanesha asked. “He’s driving my mom crazy at home.”

“Would you?” Delphie looked on the verge of weeping.

“We’ll get this together,” Tanesha said. “Don’t you worry. Would it be okay if my mom came over?”

Looking relieved, Delphie nodded. Yvonne was one of Delphie’s best friends. If she came over, Maresol and Dionne wouldn’t be far behind. Looking at Jeraine, Tanesha gestured with her head toward Delphie. He pushed past her to Delphie’s side.

“Why don’t I help you down to your chapel?” Jeraine said. “I heard Tanesha say that she’ll get Charlie and Tink. We’ll get her dad here and I’ll help with whatever you need.”

“I would really like that,” Delphie said.

Still wearing pajama bottoms and a tank top, Jeraine helped Delphie down to her chapel. She returned to praying. He jogged back up the stairs and down the stairs.

“What’s going on?” Valerie asked Jeraine.

“I’m not sure,” Jeraine said. “Seems like Delphie needs some physical labor in the back.”

“I’ll tell Mike,” Valerie said as she pulled a load of laundry out of the dryer. “These are almost done.”

Jeraine nodded and jogged back to his apartment.

~~~~~~~~

Wednesday morning — 6:35 a.m.

Tanesha’s parents, Yvonne and Rodney Smith, arrived less than fifteen minutes after Tanesha has called. Even at the crack of dawn, they looked like models and had gorgeous African print masks over their mouths and noses. Of course, Yvonne was such a beautiful woman that people stepped back when she walked through. They found Delphie sitting in the kitchen.

“Delphie?” Yvonne asked.

“I have to figure this out!” Delphie exclaimed.

Yvonne looked over at Valerie, who was standing behind the counter. Valerie gave a slow shake of her head. Clearly other’s had tried to help.

Yvonne knelt down to her dear friend, Delphie. She covered Delphie’s hands.

“Why don’t you tell my Rodney what you want?” Yvonne’s voice was soothing and low. “You know how good he is at that kind of thing.”

Yvonne’s eyes gestured to a chair. Rodney pulled a chair from under the table and moved it closed to Delphie.

“Usually Sam helps her with this,” Yvonne said to Rodney.

He nodded.

“That looks like a good picture of your backyard,” Rodney said. “What’s this?”

“That’s the new grass we planted last fall,” Delphie said. “It’s a grain and it had long roots.”

“We had some of that nice bread you made,” Rodney said.

“Better days,” Yvonne said.

“What’s box?” Rodney asked.

“That’s the big bathroom Erik and those boys made for us,” Delphie said.

“Now I remember,” Rodney said. “This is Mike’s studio.”

Delphie nodded. In the company of her dear friends, and grounded in talking about her own backyard, Delphie began to calm down. She took a breath and sighed.

“I. . .” Delphie said, her emotions rising again.

Yvonne took Delphie’s hands again.

“Why don’t you just tell me what you want?” Rodney asked.

“We need chickens,” Delphie said. “But if we get chicks now, they won’t be able to lay until next year! We can’t wait that long. We have so many people in the house that we need to be able to feed them and ourselves and. . .”

She looked up and saw only interest and concern on Rodney’s face.

“There’s a guy who works for me that has some chickens to sell,” Rodney said. “He raised them from chicks last fall. He thought people would want them when they’re ready to lay rather than get chicks now.”

“Don’t those boys at your facility have chickens?” Valerie asked. “I forgot what it was called.”

“You’re right,” Rodney said. “They did the same thing. They’ve got thirty or forty extra chickens to sell.”

“We can get you chickens,” Yvonne said, nodding. “Both Rodney and I have taken care of chickens. It’ll be easy for us to set this up for you. Get everything you need.”

“Maresol raised chickens for the State Fair,” Delphie said with a nod.

“That’s right, she did,” Yvonne said. She put her arm around Delphie. “You have the best friends.”

“I do,” Delphie said

She looked at Yvonne and then at Rodney before giving them a watery smile.

“Come on, Delphie,” Yvonne said. “Let’s get some coffee and talk.”

She guided her friend out of the room. Seeing the kids in the living room and the side room, Yvonne guided Delphie into the dining room and closed the doors.

“Just left you here?” Valerie asked with a smile.

“Gives me a chance to fix this,” Rodney said. “I love Delphie. You know, she used to visit me in prison? When I first got there, I had a pretty hard time. Delphie started coming. She used her gift to charm to guards and grant them free readings, helped them with their lives, you know how she is. The guards started protecting me and. . . “

Rodney sighed and nodded.

“She’s a great woman,” Valerie said.

“She is,” Rodney said. “But she can’t draw for shit.”

Valerie laughed.

“You have any idea what she wants?” Rodney asked.

“I do,” Charlie said appearing at the door to the kitchen. “She told me and I went to get dressed and wake the other guys.”

“Just guys?” Valerie asked.

“And girls,” Charlie said, shooting Valerie and annoyed look.

She gave him her beautiful smile. He laughed.

“Nice to see you, Charlie,” Rodney said. “Let’s head out and see what we can do.”

Rodney got up. Charlie started toward the back door.

“Mike’s here?” Rodney said.

“I’ll get him,” Valerie said.

Rodney nodded to her and headed out into the garden. With Charlie’s help, Rodney walked through the practicality of what Delphie wanted. Mike and Charlie conferred and they talked to Rodney. It took over an hour, but the men put together a plan for the backyard.

“Let’s have breakfast,” Rodney said.

“Delphie’s pretty anxious about this,” Charlie said. “She woke me up at five-thirty!”

“She and Yvonne will be talking for hours,” Rodney said. “Maresol will show up any moment. They’ll cheer Delphie up.”

“Oh,” Charlie said. “When do we need to work?”

“Ten?” Rodney looked up at the sky to judge the sky. “Eleven?”

“I’m going back to bed,” Charlie said. “If you need us, we’re in our old apartment. We moved back when Noelle and Nash, Rachel, came home.”

“Thank you, Charlie,” Rodney said.

Mike pointed to his studio and wandered away. Rodney headed up the outside stairs to the deck. He settled in on a bench. The mountains were on full display from this spot. He took the fancy phone that Tanesha forced him to buy out of his back pocket and settled in to read. His mind relaxed and he began to enjoy his morning.

Around 10:30 a.m., Yvonne came out the back door. He whistled to her and she waved him down. He put his phone away and went to greet her. She rewarded him with a kiss, which made him grin like a 10 year old.

“How’s Delphie?” Rodney asked.

“Better,” Yvonne said. “This thing with Sam is really messing her up. She doesn’t know why she didn’t get it. She thinks that she should be sick and he should be here.”

Yvonne shook her head.

“You know what that’s like,” Yvonne said.

“I sure do,” Rodney said.

“Maresol’s here,” Yvonne said. “She’s already had those kids cleaning up the living room. She made a game out of it and it’s all done. Everyone’s laughing.”

“That’s really good,” Rodney said.

Yvonne nodded.

“You ready to get to work?” Yvonne asked.

“Yes ma’am,” Rodney said.

“You have a bunch of little helpers,” Yvonne said.

“Sounds fun,” Rodney said.

“They’re so cute in their little masks,” Yvonne said.

Rodney smiled and kissed her forehead.

“Where’s yours?” Yvonne asked.

“Uh.” Rodney patted his pockets and came up with one from his back pocket.

“Where’s yours?” Rodney asked.

“I just took mine off to kiss you,” Yvonne said. “if you’d rather. . .”

Rodney kissed her one more time. They hugged.

“Are you ready, Mr. Smith?” Tink asked. “Delphie said that she wanted to see what you came up with. Mike won’t show it if you’re not here.”

“Of course,” Rodney said.

He put on his mask and Yvonne put hers on. They went inside to lay out the plan for the changes to the backyard.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Twenty-Two: Maggie and her friends

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.

Beau nodded.

“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?”

Beau nodded.

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.

Beau nodded.

“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.”

Honey shrugged.

“My broder is big,” Beau said.

“Yes, I imagine that this never happens to him,” Honey said.

Beau nodded.

“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.

Mack nodded.

“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.

~~~~~~~~

Thursday afternoon

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.

Alex laughed.

“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...


Chapter Six Hundred and Twenty-One: Hysterics

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and TWENTY-ONE

“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.”

Mari laughed, and the fairy shook herself head to toe.

“You’re stronger than you look,” Mari said.

“Who are you?” the woman asked, angrily through her clenched teeth.

“Princess Marigold,” Mari said. She gave a slight bow, touching the Princess Blade to her forehead. “Queen Fand’s realm. And you?”

“That’s the Princess Blade,” the woman said, her voice laced with awe. “I’ve only seen it in books.”

“What books?” Mari asked with a sniff.

“It was a long, long time ago,” the woman said. “I was a young girl.”

“Hmm,” Mari said. “Who are you?”

“I am Nixie,” the woman said. “I’m from no realm.”

“You’re one of the lost fairies,” Mari said, under her breath. “Edie.”

Princess Edith appeared wearing her full fairy armor and carrying her heavy blade, the “Head Remover.” She looked around and then gave Mari an irritated look.

“What?” Edie asked.

“A lost fairy,” Mari said.

Edie turned to look at the nurse.

“She says that she’s ‘Nixie,’” Mari said.

“Where were you born?” Edie asked.

“Who are you?” Nixie asked.

“Princess Edith,” Edie said. “I am the head of all of the fairy realms.”

“Big whoop,” Nixie said. “Why should I care. . .?

“We have joined the three fairy realms,” Edie said. “We’ve returned the fourth fairy queen to her throne.”

“We’ve been searching for fairies like you,” Mari said.

“Like me?” Nixie asked.

“Exactly like you,” Edie said. “It’s a very long story. If you’d like to come with me. . .”

“No,” Nixie said, irritably. “Look around you, princess.”

Nixie said the last word with a bit of a sneer.

“People are dying,” Nixie said. “I use my gifts to help. What do you do?”

Edie opened her mouth to say: “I just saved the entire world, little fairy,” but decided against it. Nixie turned to see Otis sitting on Sam’s bed.

“What is he doing?” Nixie asked irritably. “If he dies, it’s on me!”

Edie raised her eyebrows at Mari.

“He’s a healer,” Mari said. “He comes from a long line of healers going back to the beginning of time. That man in the bed is our friend.”

“Why not heal everyone?” Nixie asked. “You heal only this man because he’s your friend? That’s morally irresponsible.”

Mari raised her eyebrows and glanced at Edie. The sisters nodded together.

“Otis?” Mari asked.

He looked up at her.

“Come to me,” Mari said.

He walked toward her.

“Come, Nixie,” Edie said. “Take my hand.”

With Otis in front of her, Mari held out a hand to Edie and to Nixie. The nurse took Edie and Mari’s hands. They formed a circle around Otis.

“Now what?” Nixie asked.

Mari nodded at Edi. A pulse went out from the fairies through Otis and through the hospital. Everyone in the entire building was affected by the burst. Edie nodded to Mari and stepped away. She and Nixie disappeared. Mari wrapped her arms around Otis and disappeared.

“What just happened?” the ICU nurse asked.

A doctor jogged into the area. He looked went from patient to patient.

“They are getting better,” the doctor said.

The nurse and the doctor stood back for a moment.

“Let’s hope it continues,” the doctor said and jogged out.

~~~~~~~~

Thursday morning — 6:01 a.m.

Blane knocked on the loft door. When no one came to the door, he opened the door and went inside.

“Hello?” Blane asked from the door, but the cloth face mask he was wearing kept the sound from moving.

Feeling uncomfortable, he quietly walked across the floor. Jacob and Jill’s door was opened. He peeked inside.

Jill was fast asleep.

Blane cleared his throat and Jill sat up. She grabbed the cloth mask off her bedside table and put it on.

“Sorry,” Blane said.

“What’s happened?” Jill jumped out of bed. She picked up his phone and look at it. “Did you hear about Sam?”

“No, this is something else,” Blane said.

He stepped into the doorway. He held the hand of a six or seven year old Native American girl and an infant in his arms.

“You remember Ooljee?” Blane asked. He gestured with the infant in his arms. “This is her brother. I don’t know his name. . .”

“Bidzil,” Ooljee said.

“But they call him ‘Ben,’” Blane said.

“They just told you that because you’re white,” Ooljee said.

Blane grinned at her.

“What’s going on?” Jill asked.

“I wondered if you could check them,” Blane said.

Jill got out of bed. She came over to Blane and knelt down to Ooljee.

“Hi, Ooljee,” Jill said. “Would you mind if I touch you?”

Ooljee gave Jill a long look before giving her a slight nod. Jill touched Ooljee’s face, throat, and torso.

“You seem hungry,” Jill said.

Ooljee nodded.

“My Mom is on a trip and my grandparents are sick,” Ooljee said. “We ran out of food.”

“How awful,” Jill said. Her eyes flicked to Blane, who looked as horrified as she felt. “Why don’t we get you something to eat?”

“And my brother too?” Ooljee asked. “He’s sick. Is Katy here? My cousin?”

Jill reached out to Blane and he set the child in her arms. Jill instinctively cooed to the young boy.

“Your cousin?” Blane asked.

“Paddie?” Ooljee said. “He’s about this big. . .”

She held out her hand above her head.

“Has white hair?” Ooljee asked. “White skin?”

“He’s here, but he’s sick,” Jacob said.

“Katy?” Ooljee asked. “She’s probably not sick because of her mother’s gift.”

“Her what?” Blane asked trying to play it cool.

Ooljee pointed to herself, “I’m on the spirit way. I can see what people are by looking at them. Like you, Uncle Blane, have new skills from your new blood.”

“Okay,” Blane said with a nod. “I believe you.”

Ooljee gave him a beautiful smile. She was a small girl, but her mother, Margaret Peaches, was small in size. The girl’s skin was the color of milk and coffee. Her long hair was perfectly brushed into braids, and she wore clean clothing.

“Where’s your mom’s husband?” Blane asked.

“He’s on some kind of lockdown,” Ooljee said and shrugged. “Something Irish. Plus he said all of the kids were here so I asked to come here.”

“Joey and Maire are here,” Jill said, still focused on the child in her arms.

“And Paddie,” Ooljee said with a nod. “The older kids are still at home, but they mostly take care of themselves.”

Ooljee nodded.

“You don’t mind that we’re here, do you?” Ooljee asked.

“Not at all,” Jill said. “Happy to have you. Everyone’s been having a lot of fun.”

Blane just nodded in agreement.

“Your brother’s quite ill,” Jill said. “He needs to see the doctor.”

“I thought so too, but Uncle Blane wanted to see you first,” Ooljee said. “Am I sick?”

“Not that I can tell,” Jill said.

“Okay,” Ooljee said, with a nod.

The door to the loft opened, and Delphie came in. She noted that Jill was still in her pajamas.

“I came up to see if Ooljee wanted some pancakes and eggs,” Delphie said. “I’m making them. Do you eat wheat, Ooljee? Any food issues we should know about?”

“No,” Ooljee said.

She skipped away from Blane, Jill, and her brother. Delphie looked at Jill, and Jill nodded.

“Do you have a mask?” Delphie asked the girl. “We have virus here.”

Ooljee shook her head.

“We’ll get you one downstairs,” Delphie said.

Delphie held out her hand to Ooljee and they left.

Jill heard Ooljee asking if Ivy was there. They heard the low mumble of Delphie’s voice.

“Good that she came,” Jill said.

“Does he need the hospital or just the doctor?” Blane asked.

“I was just trying to figure that out,” Jill said. “I don’t think it’s Covid. It’s something else. I think.”

“Fin and Tanesha are downstairs,” Blane said. “They are getting ready to go in to work the ER.”

“Bidzel needs a doctor,” Jill said. “Do you know when Dr. Bumpy opens?”

“Soon,” Blane said. “By the time we’re dressed we can be there.”

“I can take him,” Jill said. “You have to get to Lipson.”

“I need to see Heather,” Blane said. “Hecate brought the children and Gando. He’s sick but Mike’s with him. Hecate and Heather are having a raging argument.”

“About what?” Jill asked.

“No idea,” Blane said. “They are speaking in a language that. . .”

Blane lifted his shoulders and shook his head.

“No idea,” Blane said. “Mostly, it seems like Hecate is freaking out and Heather’s trying to calm her, but that’s just what I see. I brought the kids upstairs just to get away from them.”

“Good plan,” Jill said.

“I am not stupid,” Blane said. “So, get dressed. I’ll check in. We can head to the clinic.”

“Good,” Jill said. “Thanks.”

Blane held out his hands for the boy. She set him into his arms.

“I’ll send Tink up to take care of the kids,” Blane said.

“Thanks,” Jill said.

Blane left the loft. Jill changed out of her pajamas and into jeans and a long sleeved T-shirt. She grabbed a sweater that Delphie had knit for her. She checked on her boys before checking in with Katy. She found Katy, standing in the middle of her room, whispering into a walkie talkie.

“Ooljee’s here,” Jill said.

“Is she sick?” Katy asked.

“She’s not,” Jill said. “She’s downstairs helping Delphie make pancakes. I have to go to see Dr. Bumpy for Ooljee’s little brother.”

“He’s sick?” Katy asked.

Jill nodded.

“Tink is coming up,” Jill said.

The loft door opened and Tink rushed in.

“She’s here,” Jill said. “Try not to be crazy while she’s here.”

Katy laughed. She waved to her mother. Jill heard Katy update Paddie over the walkie talkie. Jill grinned at her daughter’s response and turned to Tink.

“I know the drill,” Tink said. “Paddie’s still sick.”

“He’s getting better,” Jill said. “Connor’s in with the boys. If I were you, I’d wake them up rather than have them discover that you’re here.”

“Good thinking,” Tink said with a grin. “Katy?”

“She’s dressed,” Jill said. “You can send her down to have pancakes if you want.

“She’s not going to want to leave Paddie,” Tink said.

“True,” Jill said. “I won’t be gone long. I just need to take the baby to see Dr. Bumpy. I’ll stay in touch.”

Jill was at the door when she turned.

“Keep track of your hours,” Jill said. “We’re happy to pay for your help.”

Tink gave Jill a braces filled smile, and Jill left. Jill worried her way down the long stairwell to the kitchen. Once in the kitchen, she was distracted by the smell and the people. Everyone was wearing masks. The back door was open for ventilation. Delphie was laughing at something Valerie had said. Joey, Maire, Chase, and Beau were milling around Ooljee.

Jill grinned at the chaos and went to find Blane. He was standing near the door with the child in his arms.

“Any progress?” Jill asked.

“If you mean, ‘Did Abi come down and it got worse?’ Then yes,” Blane said. “Let’s get out of here before they decide to end the world or whatever.”

“You don’t think we should stay and help?” Jill asked. Grinning, she added, “With the world in the balance?”

“No,” Blane said, severely.

They got to Jill’s sedan and got inside.

“I was kidding,” Blane said.

“I know,” Jill said.

They laughed.

~~~~~~~~

Thursday morning — 5:45 a.m.

Blane and Heather were sound asleep in the pullout bed in their little basement apartment in the Castle. Blane had morning appointments and would catch up with Jacob in the afternoon. They were hoping to sleep in a bit before the chaos of the day started.

Hecate appeared in their apartment with Gando Peaches, his grandniece, Ooljee, and a toddler. She stood at the end of the bed and sighed.

“Well, get up,” Hecate said, in some language.

Blane shot out of bed, but Heather gave her friend a dark look.

“We’re sleeping in,” Heather said, in the same language.

She turned over away from Hecate. Confused, Blane looked from Heather to Hecate.

“These children and my beloved are sick,” Hecate said. “There’s a pandemic on, Hedone. You know what that means.”

“That I sleep more,” Heather said.

Sensing the tension in the room, Blane went in to wake his sons.

“How about this,” Blane said, pulling on his pajama pants. “Why don’t I take the children to see Jill and get Mike for Gando?”

Hecate and Heather glared at each other. Neither goddess responded to him.

“Good that we agree,” Blane said. “Come on, boys.”

He picked up Wyn and shuffled and arm to carry the child in Hecate’s arms. He looked at Ooljee.

“I can walk,” Ooljee said.

“Me too!” Mack said. “Bye-bye Mommy.”

When Heather didn’t respond, Mack just shrugged. Blane opened the door. Mack ran out of the room, and Ooljee followed. Blane gave the goddesses one last look before heading into the hallway.

“What is wrong with you?” Heather asked, in the same strange language.

“I am. . .” Hecate started.

Her lips opened and closed like a fish out of water. She dropped Gando onto the bed.

“You know what’s wrong!” Hecate screamed with such rage that magic flew out of her in a rainbow.

She held her hands out sideways. Between them there was scene after scene of Hecate being burned at the stake, drowned, her head cut off, and other forms of torture. There were images of her followers being brutalized by “Christian” men. The images flowed out of Hecate like water from a spring. When Heather looked up at her friend, Hecate’s face was covered with tears.

There was a knock on the door. Mike came into the room. He looked at Hecate and then caught what she was showing Heather. Without saying anything, Mike picked up the still unconscious Gando Peaches and left the room without comment.

The women looked at the door when it closed.

“What about this?” Heather asked.

“Most of the dragons have gone into hiding already,” Hecate said.

“Bestat?” Heather asked.

“She’s waiting for her rider to return from his trip,” Hecate said. “Every one of her family, all of her offspring, and their children have already gone into hiding.”

“You’re saying that we need to return to Olympia?” Heather asked.

“No, we won’t be safe in Olympia,” Hecate said. Her eyes were wild with fear and anger. “You remember the time that Zeus turned me over to. . . over to. . .”

Heather reached out to touch her friend’s hands rather than see the more than hundred years where Hecate was tortured. It was only stopped by Perses arriving to save his daughter. The ensuing blood bath was so traumatic for Hecate that it took Heather years to bring her back.

“We have to find somewhere safe where no one will find us,” Hecate said.

“Like Mars?” Heather asked.

“Mars won’t work!” Hecate said. “There are something they call a ‘probe’ and little computer things up there.”

“You’ve checked Mars?” Heather asked. Her face reflected her doubt.

“Of course I did,” Hecate said. “They. . . they. . ..”

Hecate began to sob. Waves of energy and magic flowed out of the basement. Abi arrived moments later.

Suddenly, Hecate and Abi were in a raging argument while Heather continued to sit on the pull out bed, in her pajamas, wondering what to do. Blane arrived in the middle of that chaos. He gave Heather a compassionate look, and she shrugged. He changed quickly, grabbed his jacket, and left. Neither Hecate or Abi was aware that he had been there.

As the door was closing behind Blane, Perses, Hecate’s father, arrived. He took one look at his daughter and scooped her up. In a split second, he reached for his first wife, Cleo the cat, but Cleo hissed at him. He and Hecate disappeared.

Heather sat on her bed for a long moment. Cleo walked gingerly across the bed until she sat in Heather’s lap. Heather looked at the cat.

“Sandy’s okay?” Heather asked.

The cat rubbed up against Heather.

“You should risk traveling like that,” Heather said. “You’ll wear yourself out.”

Cleo settled on Heather’s lap.

“You did it for your daughter,” Heather said. “I understand. You probably called Perses, too.”

Cleo meowed.

“Is that Cleo?” a child’s voice asked outside the door.

Heather got up and opened the door. Rachel Ann, Sandy and Aden’s daughter, came into the small apartment. Before Heather could say anything, the child grabbed Cleo off the bed and left the apartment. Heather swung the door closed.

Heather used the bathroom. She was in the process of crawling into bed when she heard, through her mind, Hecate call her name. Sighing, Heather set her human body down on the bed and went to see what her rightfully hysterical friend needed.

Denver Cereal continues next week...