Brownie contest
Chapter Six Hundred and Twenty-Eight: Ahead. Or maybe A Head?

Chapter Six Hundred and Twenty-Seven: Where is this?


Jill waved for Jeraine to follow her through the new home. They went up a now wood clad stairwell and into what would be a gorgeous entry area for Jeraine’s recording studio. Jeraine pulled up the hood on his jacket. Jill took a knit cap from her jacket pocket. She pulled it down low on her head. They slipped out the side door and walked down the driveway. They made it across the street. They were through the gate and into the house before the photographers caught up with them.

“What was that?” Jill turned on Jeraine. “What bullshit are you involved with? What did you do?”

“Nothing,” Jeraine raised his hands. “I swear, Jill. I swear. No women. No drugs. I’ve been good. Really good.”

Jill sniffed at him in disbelief. They walked into the Castle main living room. For the first time in days, no one was there. They continued through the building to the backyard.

Delphie was teaching the children how to plant seeds. The older kids were filling seedling trays with dirt and giving them to the younger kids to place the seeds. The teenagers were watering the seed trays and labeling them. Everyone was happily working.

“Hey,” Jill said to Valerie, who was looking hugely pregnant.

“I think I grew four inches,” Valerie said.

“The baby’s ready to come,” Jeraine said.

“Yeah,” Valerie said. “Another baby to add to the crowd.”

“I’m sure your baby will be wonderful,” Jeraine said.

Valerie smiled. Jeraine started inside.

“Hey, Jer?” Valerie asked.

“I’m going to find Jacob,” Jill said.

“You’ll do the colors?” Jeraine asked. “Make it nice for Miss T and us?”

“Of course,” Jill said.

“For Miss T?” Jeraine asked.

“Of course,” Jill said with a grin.

Jeraine nodded with all the sincerity he could muster. He knew that he could never make up for all of his misbehavior to Tanesha’s friends. He was just glad that they loved her enough to be decent to him.

“What’s up?” Jeraine asked Valerie.

“They got a photo of you,” Valerie said.

“Just now?” Jeraine asked. “With Jill?”

“Jill? No,” Valerie said. “Why?”

Jeraine explained what had happened.

“Assholes,” Valerie said. She shook her head. “This photo is actually worse than that. They took a photo of you with Quanshay.”

“Who?” Jeraine asked.

“The woman yesterday?” Valerie asked.

Jeraine scowled and then gave Valerie a vague shrug.

“You look naked,” Valerie said. “See for yourself.”

Valerie held out her cell phone, and Jeraine took it from her.

“Oh fuck,” Jeraine said. “Miss T’s going to kill me.”

“She’s seen it,” Valerie said. “On the bus.”

Jeraine groaned.

“They were waiting for her at school,” Valerie said. “But. . . Don’t freak out.”

“Too late,” Jeraine said.

“Here’s what she said,” Valerie said.

Valerie played the full video of Tanesha’s mini-rant. Jeraine watched it twice before handing the phone back to Valerie.

“She’s really great,” Valerie said.

“You don’t think she’s going to say that in public and be pissed at me in private?” Jeraine asked.

“Does she do that?” Valerie asked. “She strikes me as pretty straight forward.”

“No, I guess she doesn’t,” Jeraine said.

“You’d better call her to be sure,” Valerie said.

Nodding, Jeraine took his phone out of the pocket in his pants.

“In the meantime,” Valerie said.

“We avoid the photogs,” Jeraine said.

“Vultures,” Valerie said. “You might also want to keep your shirt on.”

Jeraine scowled and shook his head. He stood there for a moment before heading inside. He walked with purpose until he was in their apartment in the basement.

Then he freaked out.

It was a nightmare that never ended. His past just screwed him over and over again. What was he going to do if Tanesha left him? What was he going to do about all of this?

His head exploded with pain. Rather than deal with everything, he went to the bathroom, took his meds, and got in bed. He called Heather to ask if she would keep an eye on Jabari. That’s the last thing he remembered before the drugs kicked in.


Friday afternoon — 2:13 p.m.


The word was on the lips of her mother, Quanshay, before Quanshay was even awake. Quanshay’s eyes fluttered open.

Where on earth?

Quanshay sat up in bed.

The bed was so comfortable and inviting that she almost lay back down. She looked down at herself. She was wearing a man’s old T-shirt. It was roomy and soft from multiple washings. Her hand went under the covers. She was wearing just her underwear.

She lay back down in the warm bed and fell asleep again.

Sometime later. . . Had it been three minutes? Two hours? She sat straight up in bed. Her daughter was talking? Was she crying or laughing?

Where was she?

Quanshay saw the old soft robe on the end of the bed. She wrapped herself in its warmth and went to the restroom. Her purse was set on the counter. Her phone was charging on a cord hooked into a socket.

She grabbed her phone and started to look at it.

She heard her daughter again.

Without thinking, she walked toward the sound. She opened a glass door that led to a lovely garden patio. There was a small pond with fish and benches around the edge of the patio. The planters were filled with winter dormant plants, but the flowing ivy and box made the patio inviting. Quanshay saw a few shoots of bulbs coming up from the soil. A foot above this beautiful shady oasis was what looked like a brightly lit driveway.

Looking up, she recognized Kallyn’s shoes moving forward and then back. There was an odd slapping sound.

If someone was beating on her daughter, they were going to have Quanshay to deal with. Quanshay trotted up a shady paved path to the driveway. Standing just out of sight in shadow, she saw that her daughter was fighting a boy with some kind of wooden sword.

The boy was much better with the wooden sword than Kallyn.

But Kallyn was good. Really good.

They were speaking. . . something. Quanshay knew she should recognize it but it always took her a moment. It sounded like French sometimes but it wasn’t. It slid across her mind like a river.

Quanshay sighed at her exhausted mind.

Kallyn was studying. . . in school. She had to get special permission and the mean kids had made fun of her but she was almost fluent in. . .

Arabic. The word popped in her mind.

Kallyn started learning Arabic when her father started with the language. Of course, Royce picked it up like he picked up everything — easily with a lot of grace.

Kallyn and the boy were speaking Arabic.

Laughing. They were laughing. Quanshay smiled.

The boy said something to Kallyn and her daughter turned.

“Mama!” Kallyn said.

“Watch it girl!” Quanshay said.

The boy had distracted Kallyn in order to win at whatever game they were playing. But Kallyn was able to block his attack. The boy cheered for her.

Kallyn said something to the boy, and he gave her a solemn nod. He turned to Quanshay and raised a hand in “Hello.”

In that moment, Quanshay recognized him. He was Alexander, son of one of Royce’s bosses, Major Joseph Walter. He had grown into a very handsome teenager. She smiled at him.

Kallyn hugged her mother, and Quanshay wrapped herself around her first born. Kallyn was silently weeping into her mother’s chest.

“I’ll get J’Ron,” Alexander said.

Quanshay nodded. She made soothing sounds to Kallyn.

“What’s wrong, baby?” Quanshay asked.

“I just missed you,” Kallyn said. “I was so worried and. . .”

J’Ron threw himself on them. They weaved for a moment before finding balance. Quanshay held onto her children. After a few moments, Quanshay led them to the sitting area. Kallyn didn’t let go of her arm while J’Ron just wanted to be as close as possible.

“You’re wearing those masks,” Quanshay said, noticing for the first time that she wasn’t.

J’Ron pulled a clean mask from his pocket.

“We pick up two every day,” J’Ron said. “Our rule is one for the pocket, one for the face. I guess they liked it so much they’re using it at the construction company.”

Quanshay smiled broadly, “That’s really good.”

“Where have you been?” Kallyn asked, still crying. “I tried to call.”

“So did I,” J’Ron said.

“I was asleep in this room,” Quanshay said. “Where are we?”

“We’re at the Castle,” J’Ron said.

“You don’t remember?” Kallyn asked.

Quanshay shook her head.

“We came here and you saw Jeraine and. . .” J’Ron said.

Quanshay gasped. She looked embarrassed.

“That wasn’t a dream?” Quanshay asked.

“Oh, no,” J’Ron said. “Look.”

He took out his phone from his pocket and showed her the photo.

“It’s everywhere,” J’Ron said.

“Are they mad?” Quanshay asked. “I don’t want to cause them any trouble.”

“It’s just a part of their life,” Kallyn said. “Or at least that’s what Charlie says. I guess it happens all the time to either Jeraine or Valerie, you know, Valerie Lipson. She’s a movie star.”

“I know,” Quanshay said. “She’s a very beautiful movie star.”

“I thought Dad would call us but. . .” J’Ron said.

“He doesn’t have your numbers,” Quanshay winced. “Remember, he got his new phone after he left the house.”

Her kids nodded.

“He must be really worried,” Quanshay said. “Upset.”

“Why?” Kallyn and J’Ron asked in near unison.

“I had this thing about Jeraine when we were in high school,” Quanshay said. “Your dad was so mad about it. But I. . .?”

Quanshay looked at her kids.

“Jeraine lives here?” Quanshay asked.

Both children nodded.

“Your dad is going to be flipped out,” Quanshay said with a little laugh. “He’s just going to have to deal with it.”

When she laughed, her children laughed with her.

“Where have you been?” Kallyn asked.

“In there, I think,” Quanshay said. “Asleep. I just. . . I remember talking to. . . Oh my God, that’s Miss T. I know people have said that to me before but I never quite. . . Tanesha Smith is Miss T.”

Quanshay shook her head.

“Mercy,” Quanshay said. “Well. . . Can’t change the past.”

She looked at her children.

“Any idea why I’m here?” Quanshay gestured to the room she’d come out of.

“You’re staying in Fey Team Honey’s guest room,” Kallyn said. “I never would have guessed that it was here.”

“It’s really nice,” J’Ron said.

“Come on,” Quanshay said. “I’ll show you.”

Quanshay got up. The kids followed her inside to where she’d been sleeping. She was going to get dressed but when she saw the bed, her fatigue returned.

“Are you sick, Mama?” Kallyn asked.

“I doubt it,” Quanshay said. “I’m just tired. All of this stuff — virus, business, your dad being gone, you kids being home. . . I. . .”

There was a tap on the door. Quanshay saw the stack of masks next to her door. She put one on before letting Honey inside.

“I heard voices and wanted to check on you,” Honey said.

Uncomfortable with another adult they didn’t know, the kids moved away from the door.

“I can’t get over how well you’re walking,” Quanshay said.

“It’s still early in the day,” Honey said with a smile. She gave Quanshay a critical look. “How are you feeling?”

“Tired,” Quanshay said. “Hungry.”

“Should we get you a Covid test?” Honey asked.

“I don’t think so,” Quanshay said.

“Mom, you really. . .” Kallyn started at the same time J’Ron said, “Dad would want you to. . .”

“I guess I’d better,” Quanshay said.

“Best to be safe,” Honey said. “I’ll make an appointment with Dr. Bumpy.”

“Oh,” Quanshay said. “You know him?”

“He’s Jeraine’s father,” Honey said with a shrug. “We all see him.”

“Jeraine’s father?” Quanshay asked blushing. “I forgot that.”

“Is it okay?” Honey asked. “Should I call someone else?”

“No,” Quanshay said. “I really like him. We’ve come into to town to see him. He’s taking care of our kids and me through my pregnancy.”

Quanshay looked at her children.

“Where’s your brother?” Quanshay asked.

“He’s playing with the ‘Wild bunch,’” Honey said with a smile.

“Wild bunch?” Quanshay asked.

“We have a lot of kids who are about the same age,” Honey said. “Your son fit right in. They have so much fun that we call them the ‘Wild Bunch.’”

Quanshay looked at her kids. They both nodded at Honey’s words. Honey grinned at the silent communication between mother and children.

“You have been asleep for a long time,” Honey said. “You need to drink some fluids and eat. I made a sandwich if you would like it. . .”

“Thank you,” Quanshay said, embarrassed.

“We Fey wives have to stick together,” Honey said. “I’m sure the kids will tell you. We have a few sick people in the house, so we’re all wearing masks and trying to stay well.”

“Mama, Julie Hargreaves is here,” Kallyn said softly.

“Paddie’s mom?” J’Ron asked.

“Oh,” Quanshay said. “She’s such a sweet woman. I’d heard that she was sick.”

“She’s getting better,” Honey said. “I just wanted to make sure that you knew to be careful. Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Keep your distance from people even if you’re outside.”

Quanshay nodded.

“Call Royce,” Honey said.

“I will,” Quanshay said.

“Kids?” Honey asked. “Let’s let your mom get some rest.”

“They’re okay for now,” Quanshay said.

“You’re sure?” Honey asked.

“I am,” Quanshay said with a nod.

“I’ll let you know about the doctor,” Honey said.

Honey brought in a tray with a sandwich and a glass. She pointed that there was filtered water in the corner.

“It’s like a hotel,” Quanshay said.

Honey grinned, “We aim to please. Dinner starts at six. We have so many people now that it goes for a while. You don’t have to worry about being on time.”

Quanshay nodded.

“I washed the clothing you were wearing,” Honey said. “It’s hanging there. You didn’t bring other clothes so I thought you’d like something clean.”

“Thank you,” Quanshay said.

“It’s my pleasure,” Honey said. “Absolutely. I’ve had so many people help me over the years. It’s wonderful to have a chance to give back a little.”

Quanshay smiled, and Honey left them.

“Well, how is it here?” Quanshay asked the kids.

“Perfect,” Kallyn said. “We’re having a great time.”

“A blast,” J’Ron said. “We play video games from three to dinner. It’s. . . Amazing. I’m learning a lot and. . .”

Quanshay grinned. She was sure that they would go home when her husband returned. For now, this was a great place to land.

“I’m going to eat my sandwich and rest some more,” Quanshay said. “If you want to hang out with your friends you can.”

The kids gave each other guilty looks.

“I’m serious,” Quanshay said. “Go have fun.”

The kids nodded to each other. They hugged their mother one more time and then left her. Quanshay ate her sandwich, drank a lot of water, and went back to bed. For the first time since she knew about this stupid virus, she fell asleep quickly and slept well.


Friday afternoon — 4:43 p.m.

“How is he?” Tanesha whispered to Delphie.

Tanesha and Fin were sent home early because of the chaos of reporters. She went to check on their patients in the medical office. Even thought they were still on oxygen, Julie Hargreaves and Gando Peaches were sitting in chairs on the deck off the medical offices. They nodded to Tanesha as she’d passed through the doors to check on Sam Lipson.

“The nurse said he’s doing well,” Delphie said.

“But?” Tanesha asked.

“I just have never known him to sleep so much,” Delphie said with a sigh. “I keep thinking that he must be really sick because he’s sleeping.”

Tanesha picked up the chart and started going through it.

“Do you mind if I take a little break?” the nurse asked.

“Of course,” Tanesha said, looking up at him. “I’ll stay until you’re back.”

“Thanks,” the nurse said. “I have to pee.”

Tanesha grinned at the young man before turning back to Delphie.

“He’s on some heavy meds,” Tanesha said. Looking up at Delphie, she added, “That’s why he’s sleeping.”

“But why does he have to sleep?” Delphie asked.

The women looked at each other for a long moment before Tanesha nodded.

“I see what you mean,” Tanesha said. “He wouldn’t be on the meds and wouldn’t be sleeping if he wasn’t so sick.”

“Exactly,” Delphie said with a nod.

“This is just a really awful disease,” Tanesha said. “We know that he’s getting great treatment, right?”

Never taking her eyes off Sam, Delphie nodded.

“Then we have to trust that he will get well on his own terms,” Tanesha said. “Julie and Gando seem much better.”

Delphie nodded. After a moment, Delphie looked at Tanesha.

“You think Sam will get better too?” Dephie asked.

“His chart is good,” Tanesha said. “It looks like he was very, very sick. But he doesn’t seem to have much lung scarring.”

She looked at Delphie and nodded.

“My guess is that he’ll be back to his old self sooner than you think,” Tanesha said.

“I hope so,” Delphie said.

Tanesha turned an assessing look at Delphie.

“How are you?” Tanesha asked. “Have you been taking care of yourself? Sleeping?”

Delphie shook her head.

“I can’t sleep,” Delphie said. “You probably know that I’ve been a little crazy.”

“You need to rest!” Tanesha said. “What would any of us do without you?”

Delphie gave a slight nod.

“When the nurse returns, why don’t we get some tea?” Tanesha asked.

“You’re going to put me to sleep,” Delphie said.

“I am,” Tanesha said with a grin.

“You’re mom told me that you can do that,” Delphie said.

“I practiced on Gran,” Tanesha said. “She could be a real bear when she wasn’t sleeping.”

Delphie gave a slight nod. The nurse slipped into the room and gave Tanesha a nod.

“Come on,” Tanesha said to Delphie.

Delphie looked at Tanesha for a long moment before following her out of the room. They went down the hallway. Valerie was waiting for them at the head of the stairs.

“Delphie needs rest,” Tanesha said.

“Delphie?” Valerie put her arm around Delphie. Using her gift of commanding voice, she said, “You need to sleep.”

That was enough of a nudge for Delphie to go with Tanesha toward her apartment. Valerie followed close behind. Together, Tanesha and Valerie got Delphie into bed. They left her when she was sound asleep.

“How are you?” Tanesha asked Valerie.

“I feel huge,” Valerie said.

“Any day now,” Tanesha said.

Valerie gave her a worried look.

“What’s going on?” Tanesha asked.

“The hospitals are full of sick people,” Valerie said. “Jake made those medical offices so I could have Jackie. Now, they are full of people.”

Valerie stopped walking and looked at Tanesha.

“What am I going to do?” Valerie asked.

“Well,” Tanesha said and then thought for a moment. “Your pregnancy is normal?”

Valerie nodded.

“Nothing for the doctor to worry about?” Tanesha asked.

Valerie nodded.

“You could have her anywhere,” Tanesha said. “My gran used to say that my ancestors had their babies in the fields and went back to work.”

“I don’t want to do that,” Valerie said.

Tanesha grinned.

“You always get a little weird when you’re going into labor,” Tanesha said. “Give it time. Whatever happens will be perfect. I’ll certainly help in any way that I can.”

“Promise?” Valerie asked.

“Promise,” Tanesha said. “I’d better go find Jeraine.”

Valerie nodded. The women walked together down the stairs until the reached the kitchen. Valerie was immediately caught up in making dinner. Tanesha smiled at the happy chaos and went to find Jeraine.

Denver Cereal continues next week...



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