CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and TWENTY-SIX
Friday morning — 8:02 a.m.
In the middle of Denver’s night, Reuters paid a near fortune for the picture.
It reached social media networks around eight in the morning. The entertainment news media began doing what only they could do.
“We begin this morning with a photo from right here in Denver,” the male morning newscaster said. “Denver’s own R and B sensation Jeraine hugs a woman in the middle of the street.”
“Is he naked there?” the female morning newscaster asked. “He looks naked to me.”
“I believe he’s just not wearing a top,” the man said.
“He looks naked to me,” the woman said. “Why would he be naked on the street?”
“At least he’s wearing a mask,” the man said.
“That’s what’s so confusing,” the woman said. “He’s naked but wearing a mask over his mouth and his nose.”
“I think we’re all wondering,” the man paused for dramatic flair, “what does Miss T think about Jeraine hugging another woman?”
“Naked,” the woman said, repeating her point. “You know, she’s helping out at the hospitals as part of her medical schooling.”
“She’s out saving lives while he’s doing who knows what with who knows who,” the man said.
“Poor Miss T,” the woman said.
“Poor Miss T,” the man said. “Next up, your morning weather. When will this cold snap end?”
“That’s my wife!” Chief Petty Officer Royce Tubman roiled. “What is that bastard doing with my wife?”
Clearly on a rant, no one bothered to interrupt him.
“She had his poster,” Royce said, “you know, on her wall when we were in high school. She probably saw him and. . . He. . . Is he naked here? The papers are saying he’s naked and she’s just standing there and. . .”
“He has his top off,” Senior Homeland Security Agent Arthur “Raz” Rasmussen said. “Here’s the original. Look!”
Royce turned toward Raz and leaned over to look into the photo. They were flying in a Fey Team C-130 Hercules plane.
“He has his shirt in his hand,” Raz pointed to the clump of fabric in Jeraine’s hand. “You can see that he’s sweating. You can also see that she’s crying.”
“He’s wearing a mask,” Marine Sergeant Margaret Peaches said. She pointed to the edge of the picture. “That’s outside the Castle. Look at the fence. Street. Sidewalk. Have you been there?”
Royce shook his head.
“Hey Scully!” Margaret yelled for her partner Marine Sergeant MJ Scully. She held up the lap top. “Isn’t this the Castle?”
“Looks like it,” MJ said from his seat a few rows behind them. He gestured to his lap where he was counting medical supplies. “I can’t get up. Is that Jeraine?”
“Bastard,” Royce said. “That guy’s had more women than everyone on this plane combined. Even Trece and Rasmussen. My Quanshay is a poor little lamb, and he’s. . .”
“Jeraine lives there now,” MJ said, cutting Royce off. “He, Tanesha, and Jabari live just below us. They’re waiting for the house across the street to be finished. He was supposed to be in Las Vegas half time but because of the virus his show is on hold for a while.”
“My kids are there,” Margaret said.
“Mine too,” Major Joseph Walter said.
“Your kids probably bullied Quanshay into taking them there,” Colin Hargreaves said. “Julie’s there. Our kids.”
Royce blew out an angry breath.
“Fey?” Royce asked.
“Uh-huh,” Lieutenant Colonel Alexandra “The Fey” Hargreaves said, not looking up from her lap top.
“I want Tanesha’s phone number,” Royce said.
Alex rattled off a telephone number.
“That’s it?” Royce asked.
Alex nodded but never looked at him.
“But. . .” she said. Turning to him, she gestured to her lap top screen. “You should look at the whole photo.”
Royce took two long steps toward her. The entire team gathered around to look.
“That’s Marlowe,” Alex said, pointing to Jacob who was caught mid-step walking toward Quanshay and Jeraine. “He did your remodel? That’s Tres Sierra. You probably don’t know him but he’s the CFO at Lipson Construction. Great guy.”
Alex pointed to a group of teenagers running in the direction of Jeraine and Quanshay.
“I believe you know them,” Alex said. She lifted her eyebrows to Royce. “Aren’t these two your kids?”
Royce squinted at the blurry image.
“Where’d you get this?” Royce asked. “Did you make it?”
“I don’t have those skills,” Alex said. “I pulled it from the satellite feed last night when Reuters bought it. You’ll notice something. . .”
“What?” Royce asked crossing his arms.
“You can see her face. Clear as day,” Margaret said. “You can’t see her face in the photo on the Internet.”
“They did it in response to my flag,” Alex said. “You’re welcome.”
“Your wife and kids are at the Castle,” Alex said. “According to John, everyone is having a great time. They’ve spent the last few days making a chicken coop and building greenhouses with Jake. My guess is that they’ll start seedlings today.”
“Ooljee told me that there are a lot of kids there,” Margaret said. “Babies, toddlers, and kids Máire and Joey’s age. Lots of teens.”
“Why are they there?” Royce asked.
“Bored at home,” Margaret said. “At least that’s what my kids say.”
“Mine, too,” Alex said. “Máire and Joey are having a great time. They go to City Park with the dogs, play games, chase each other around the backyard. . .”
“Honey says that Quanshay is with her,” MJ held up a satellite phone. “She says that Quanshay was just exhausted, over-worried. She and the kids got there midday, and Quanshay’s been resting since then.”
“Can I talk to my wife?” Royce asked MJ.
“You can talk to Honey,” MJ said, passing him the phone. “She thinks Quanshay’s asleep. Tanesha’s at the hospital. She and Fin are second year medical students so they’re helping out in the ER.”
Royce gave MJ a distracted nod and took the phone.
“Honey?” Royce asked.
He listened to the phone for a few moments.
“Thank you for taking care of her,” Royce said. “Can you ask her to send me an email or. . .?”
He fell silent and then nodded.
“Okay, thanks,” Royce said.
He handed the phone back to MJ who said his good-byes.
“I still want to talk to Tanesha,” Royce said.
MJ held up the phone to Royce. He dialed the number and walked away to get some privacy. He came back a moment later.
“I left a message,” Royce said.
The team nodded.
“Time to head back to your seats,” Cliff said. “We’re getting ready to land.”
“On Jeraine,” Zack said. “He’s so sexy.”
The team laughed while they moved back to their seats to lock in for landing.
Friday morning — 8:35 a.m.
Sitting on the RTD 20 bus, Tanesha noticed that there was a message on her cellphone. She couldn’t figure out who would call her. Now that she was working at the hospital, her mother sent her long, wordy texts with weird emojis. Jeraine sent texts. Her girlfriends sent texts. In fact, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d received anything other than a spam call.
“What is it?” Fin asked.
“Someone telephoned me,” Tanesha said. “But the phone didn’t ring.”
Fin made a disinterested noise. For a long moment, Tanesha wondered if she should bother to listen to it. Shrugging to herself, she dialed into her voicemail and put in the code.
She listened to an African American man introduce himself. She scowled and played the message again.
“What is it?” Fin asked.
“Some dude,” Tanesha said. “Talking about. . . something. I don’t know.”
She looked up and noticed that some of the passengers were giving her furtive looks. She noticed a woman holding up her cellphone with the camera toward Tanesha.
“Shit,” Tanesha said under her breath.
“What causes you distress?” Fin asked.
“People are looking at me,” Tanesha said. “That woman just took my photo.”
Fin stood up. Tanesha tried to pull him back to sitting down.
“Why are you looking at this woman?” Fin asked.
The magic bounced around the inside of the aluminum bus.
“Fin!” Tanesha whispered. “You’re making it worse!”
Fin lifted an eyebrow at Tanesha and spoke again.
“Speak one at a time,” Fin said. He pointed to the bus driver. “Driver. You start.”
“That’s Miss T. Tanesha,” the bus driver spoke first. “She’s on my bus every morning with you. She’s so sweet and nice. I don’t know how she puts up with that rascal Jeraine.”
“You,” Fin pointed to the person sitting behind the driver.
“Hay una nuevo foto de su hombre y alguna otra mujer,” the woman said that there was a photo of Jeraine and another woman.
Tanesha groaned and dug out her phone from her purse again.
“They’s a photo of her man and some chick,” said the woman next to the Spanish speaking woman. “He don’ have a lick of clothes on.”
Fin started to laugh.
“This is what we saw yesterday,” Fin said.
“It’s not funny,” Tanesha said looking at her phone.
“It’s very funny,” Fin said.
“You should dump that asshole,” the woman who’d taken Tanesha’s photo said. “I just said that on my Twitter and I got lots of ‘likes.’”
Three other women nodded. Fin laughed as if he’d never heard anything funnier.
“Hey, Miss T,” the bus driver said. “They’re saying over the radio that a lot of photographers and news people are waiting for you at the hospital.”
“Shit,” Tanesha said. She punched Fin. “Stop laughing!”
“It’s very funny,” Fin said.
“My Twitter friends say that you should have left him the last time,” a young woman said from the back of the bus. Reading her phone, she said, “A leopard doesn’t change his stripes.”
“Zebra,” Fin said using “zed” for the “z” instead of “zee.”
“What?” the young woman asked. “What’s that?”
“A zebra doesn’t change his stripes,” Fin said.
“Yeah, but what’s a zebra?” the young woman said.
“He means ‘zeebra,’” a man seated nearby said. “He’s from England.”
“I am most certainly not from En-gland,” Fin said with disdain. “I am from the Isle of Man. I am Manx.”
“Like the Bee Gees?” another woman asked. “They were Manx too.”
Tanesha bit her lip to keep from laughing. Fin looked at her. Shaking his head at her glee, he snapped his fingers and everyone went back to their own thoughts.
They settled in for a few minutes.
“What am I going to do?” Tanesha whispered to Fin.
“About what?” Fin asked.
“The reporters,” Tanesha said.
“You will do what you always do,” Fin said. “Grace and power. That’s my granddaughter.”
He put his arm around her shoulder. The bus pulled up at the medical complex in Aurora. Reporters, photographers, and videographers surrounded the bus.
Tanesha stepped out into the mess.
“I would like to say something,” Tanesha said.
It took a moment before everyone settled down. Fin stood so that her back pressed into his chest.
“I was on the bus today — getting myself mentally prepared to assist doctors and nurses in their fight to save lives — when I was informed of some photographic nonsense,” Tanesha said. “I was on the street when that picture was taken. A dear friend of ours came to the house for our help. Her husband is deployed. She’s raising two children alone while her husband fights for our country.”
“But the photo shows. . .” a reporter yelled.
“Jeraine hugged our friend because she was upset and overwhelmed,” Tanesha said. “This shit is real. People are dying. It’s likely that each of us, including you, will have a moment when we are stretched beyond what we can handle. Hopefully, someone will care enough to reach out.”
“He was naked, Miss T,” the reporter in front of her said.
“I was there,” Tanesha said. “My cousin and I were walking back from the bus. I can assure you that he only had his top off. He was hot because he was helping to build greenhouses. They are growing food for people out of work and hungry. That’s all.”
Tanesha took a breath and continued.
“This photo, that looks so provocative to some, is really where we all should be,” Tanesha said. Swallowing hard, she continued. “We should all be exhausted from our work in the service of our neighbors, holding onto each other in comfort and love. This photo is a photo of the pandemic.”
“It’s not romantic or sexy or anything other than human kindness,” Tanesha said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, my cousin and I are due for our shift at the hospital.”
Tanesha pushed her way through the reporters and entered the hospital. Fin put his arm around her.
“Cousin?” Fin asked.
Laughing, they walked to the ward together.
Friday morning — 9:05 a.m.
“I don’t know,” Jeraine said. “I just. . .”
“I can always ask Tanesha,” Jill threatened.
Jill and Jeraine were looking at the space that he, Tanesha, and Jabari would live in. He was also going to run a recording studio another area of this home. Jill was talking to Jeraine about the interior design. Today, the painting contractor was there to work on the main space and a few of Jeraine and Tanesha’s rooms.
Nelson was still using Jabari’s room. After a brief chat, they left him alone to rest.
“Tanesha will pick white,” Jeraine said. “You know who’s really great at color?”
“Me?” Jill asked.
Having grown up with Jeraine, she knew how much he appreciated an honest brag. He grinned at her.
“Tanesha’s mom,” Jill said. “That’s who you were going to say.”
“She’s going to paint a mural out in the big room,” Jill said. “Would you like me to pick the colors?”
“I feel like I should know what to put on the walls but. . .” Jeraine mumbled.
Jill looked around the room that Jeraine and Tanesha would share.
“It’s kind of a box,” Jill said.
“Right,” Jeraine said.
“So white on the ceilings,” Jill said.
“Why?” Jeraine asked.
“it makes the room look taller, more open,” Jill said.
“Oh,” Jeraine said. “Is it always white?”
“Usually white or off-white,” Jill said with a nod. “I’d use white on these interior rooms.”
“Ones without a window,” Jeraine said what he’d learned.
Jill nodded. They stood in the room looking around.
“Are they going to be nice to live in?” Jeraine asked.
“The interior rooms?” Jill asked, nodding. “They will be quiet and private — which is what both you and Tanesha asked for. We can move your room to the one on the end with the big windows. They haven’t put in the small kitchen or the wall to make Tanesha’s office. . .”
“No, no,” Jeraine said. “I’m not changing a thing. I’ll just mess it up. You and Miss T worked hard on all of this.”
“Why don’t you talk to her when she gets home?” Jill asked.
Jeraine gave Jill a vague nod. He wandered a little further into the room and stared at the wall.
“This house has a great feel to it,” Jeraine said. “I think we’re going to be really happy here.”
“I’m sure you will be,” Jill said with a grin.
Jeraine looked at Jill and smiled at her.
“I still don’t have any idea about the. . .” Jeraine said.
There was a flash and then another.
“What the hell?” Jill asked. The photographer continued taking photos of them. “How did you get in here?”
“The door was open,” the photographer said with a smirk. “This another one of your girlfriend’s Jeraine?”
“What are you talking about?” Jeraine asked.
“The door was most certainly not open,” Jill said. “You’re not even wearing a mask.”
Jill glanced at Jeraine. He looked overwhelmed. Jill pushed the man backwards.
“Get out of here,” she said. “Out!”
She pushed him backward again.
“Go!” Jill said.
She saw that the door in the big window was open and she pointed to the door.
“Out!” Jill said.
“I’m calling the Denver Police,” Jeraine said. He held his cell phone to his ear and spoke into the phone.
“You know what that means,” Jill said.
The photographer turned and ran out of the building. Jill closed and locked the door. As she looked out, she saw that there were at least a hundred of photographers standing around the backyard.
“That’s why you wanted a bedroom without windows,” Jill said.
“Bastards,” Jeraine said. “They have us pinned down.”
“No, they don’t,” Jill said. “Come on.”
Denver Cereal continues next week...
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