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January 2021

Brownie contest

The Castle Brownie Contest - 2012

In the summer of 2012, we ran a brownie contest. We had several recipes submitted. The following story and recipes ensued.

A knock on the side door to the Castle brought Valerie to the door.

“Oh hi,” Valerie said to Heather. “You know, you’re family. You could just come in.”

“Seems kind of impolite,” Heather said.

Valerie held an arm out to hug her. Heather shifted the plate she was carrying into her other hand and hugged Valerie. They moved into the main Castle living room.

“You’re the second one today with a big plate of something,” Valerie said. “Tanesha just went upstairs. What are you up to?”

“There’s a bake sale after school at the Marlowe School after school today,” Heather said.

“There is?” Valerie asked. “How come I don’t know about it?”

“I think Jake set it up,” Heather shrugged. “I don’t know. Jill called and said to bring some brownies.”

“Did you make these?” Valerie’s eyebrows pinched together with worry.

“Not a chance,” Heather chuckled. “Blane made them when he came home for lunch.”

Valerie’s smile spoke her relief. Heather chuckled.

“They’re talking about putting together a brownie cookbook,” Heather said. “You should submit your recipe.”

“My super secret brownie recipe?” Valerie asked. “Not a chance.”

“Don’t let Jill hear you,” Heather moved into the Castle kitchen. “She’s on the warpath.”

“Why is the school hosting a bake sale?” Valerie followed her.

“Jill has a friend from Pete’s whose son is getting bullied at his elementary school. She thinks he’d do great at the Marlowe School but they can’t afford to go there,” Heather said. “The scholarship fund is tapped out. Jake told Jill if she raised half the money, he’d put in the rest. We’ll hold these bake sales until we get the money.”

“Why don’t I put in the other half?” Valerie asked. “I mean I’d have to ask Mike but we could do that.”

“Jill thinks it’s important to show people that the community can raise the money to help,” Heather said.

“But…?”

“Listen,” Heather said. “I’m just doing my part. Jill called and said bring brownies. Here I am.”

Valerie smiled. Heather grinned and started up to the loft. She was halfway up the stairwell when she turned.

“Aren’t you coming?” Heather asked.

“I don’t… I mean…”

“Who’s going to judge the brownies?” Heather asked. “We’re not going to do it ourselves. We don’t compete with each other.”

“Oh,” Valerie smiled. “Okay, I’ll get Mike. Delphie’s with Katy and Noelle in the back.”

“Good,” Heather said. “Sandy should be…”

Sandy came into the kitchen. She was carrying a plate of brownies.

“What’s going on?” Sandy asked.

“I thought we could have a little friendly competition,” Heather said.

“I won’t compete with my girls,” Sandy said. “Neither will you.”

“How about the winner gets money for the scholarship fund?” Valerie asked.

“See,” Heather said. “We’re raising money for charity.”

“I don’t like it,” Sandy said.

“Like what?” Tanesha asked from the top of the stairs.

“Heather wants us to compete over who has the best brownie,” Sandy said.

“No,” Heather said. “We don’t judge. They can judge and see who wins. The winner makes more money for the fund.”

“And if someone gets their feelings hurt?” Sandy asked.

“Girl,” Tanesha shook her head. “If one of us get’s our feelings hurt over someone’s opinion about our brownies then we’ve got big, big problems.”

Heather nodded. Valerie gave Sandy a cheerful nod. Sandy didn’t look less worried.

“I’ll go get everyone,” Valerie turned and went out the back door.

“Come on, Mommy,” Tanesha said. “We’ll get through it.”

Tanesha stepped aside to let Heather pass into Jill and Jacob’s loft. Sandy gave a worried glance after Valerie and followed.

“Where’s Jill?” Heather asked when she entered the loft.

Tanesha pointed toward Jill’s office door.

“She’s working,” Sandy gave Heather a ‘You know how she is’ look. She went into the kitchen area to set down her brownies. Tanesha turned on the electric kettle and began taking out mugs for tea.

“Working? I thought she was on bed rest,” Heather said.

“She was a little stir crazy, so Jake gave her a few more projects to do,” Sandy whispered. “She’s actually thrilled.”

Heather gave a rueful shake of her head.

“I’ll get her,” Tanesha walked half way across the loft. “Jill!”

“What?” Jill yelled from her office.

“We’re all waiting your highness,” Tanesha laughed.

“Oh shoot.” There was a scuffling and scrambling sound from Jill’s office. Scooter ran out with Jill right behind. “I thought I had more time.”

For someone as round with babies as Jill was at that moment, she moved very quickly across the loft. While Sandy and Heather watched, she grabbed the ingredients for her brownies from the cupboard.

“You haven’t made yours?” Heather asked.

“It only takes a minute,” Jill turned on the oven. “Plus, I thought I had more time. I’ve been working on…”

Jill wiggled her eyebrows and nodded to Tanesha.

“Jer’s making good money on this movie so he wants Jill and Jake to fix the basement and his new studio,” Tanesha said. “Jill snuck in some posh stuff for our master bath and kitchen. It’s going to be nice.”

As if they were at a tennis match, the women’s heads moved back and forth following Jill as she made her brownies.

“Can you change the plan at this point?” Heather asked.

“If it’s not anything structural,” Tanesha said. “That’s all set.”

“It’s just fun finish stuff,” Jill said over the sound of her ancient handheld mixer. “I have the chore of looking through endless catalogs for exactly what’s right. It’s a terrible burden.”

The girlfriends chuckled and Jill smiled.

“Mommy!” Katy yelled and the door to the loft banged open.

“Here,” Jill said.

Katy ran inside. She was about a foot from the kitchen when she caught sight of the brownies. She stopped short.

“Wh… um…” She tried to look casual. “What are you doing?”

“We’re having a brownie contest,” Tanesha picked up Katy and set her on a bar stool.

“We are?” Jill asked.

“I don’t like it but…” Sandy started.

“Where’s the brownie contest?” Charlie asked as he came in the loft. Nash and Noelle followed close behind.

“It’s a friendly competition,” Tanesha said. “The winner gets to donate the money to the scholarship fund.”

“Isn’t it horrible?” Jill said as she put her brownies into a greased pan.

“What?” Sandy asked.

“They’re closing Pete’s Kitchen for ‘remodeling,’” Jill made the air quotes with her gooey hands. “But they laid every one off. Everyone.”

“Even Lorraine?” Tanesha asked. “She’s worked there for more than twenty years.”

“Everyone,” Jill said. “Even me!”

“Wow,” Heather said. “What are they going to do?”

“Look for jobs, that’s what they’re doing,” Jill said. “So if we can raise more money for the scholarship fund by having a little contest, I’m all for it.”

She pulled a brownie laden beater from the mixer and held it out to Katy.

“Katherine Anjelika Roper Marlowe!! What are you doing?” Jill’s voice was hard.

Katy’s mouth was full of brownie. Her big dark eyes looked up at her mother. As if her mind was trying to come up with the right answer, her eyes blinked.

“We haven’t started yet,” Jill shoved her brownies into the warmed oven and went to the refrigerator for milk. Heather set out glasses for Jill to pour into. “Do you see anyone else eating brownie?”

Katy pointed to Charlie, whose cheeks were plump with brownie. When Katy mouth was clear, she took a drink of milk.

“But Mommy,” Katy said. “These brownies are Delphie’s brownies. And the competition is between you and Auntie Sandy and Auntie Heather and Auntie Tanesha. Not Delphie!”

“I made those,” Tanesha said.

“No,” Katy shook her head vehemently. “I eat Delphie’s brownies every single day for… for forever. I’d know them anywhere.”

“I don’t know about that, sugar,” Tanesha gave Katy another brownie. “This recipe came from my Momma.”

“It’s Yvonne’s recipe,” Delphie said as she moved into the kitchen area from the door. “She taught me how to make lots of things.”

Mike and Valerie came into the loft from the stairs. They moved into the kitchen area.

“Because I didn’t have a family or kids, I just cooked whatever I could. Microwave popcorn, mostly,” Delphie said. “Yvonne thought the whole thing was kind of sad so she set about teaching me how to cook and shop. She knew so much about food and growing food that when we moved here I started a garden. She couldn’t help me at that time, of course. I had to learn on my own. But there’s no question, most of my recipes came from Yvonne. That one is no exception.”

“So I made Yvonne’s Delphie brownies,” Tanesha smiled. She leaned over Katy and kissed her cheek. “How’s that?”

Her mouth full, Katy made an affirmative noise.

“I don’t care where the recipe came from,” Noelle reached across the bar for a brownie. “I think they are good.”

Tanesha's brownie - recipe created and submitted by Liz, the Moonlit Chef at Cooking by Moonlight

Chocolate Brownies

Ingredients:

6 T. butter

1 c. chocolate chips

3/4 c. sugar

2 eggs

1/2 T. vanilla extract

3 T. unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 c. all-purpose

1/4 t. salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease an 8x8-inch glass baking dish.
  2. In a large microwave safe bowl place 1/2 of the chocolate chips (1/2 cup) and all the butter. Microwave for 30 seconds on high and remove and stir with a whisk. Microwave an additional 30 seconds and whisk together. If the chocolate is still not melted then repeat for an additional 15 seconds.
  3. Add the sugar to the chocolate mixture and mix well to combine. Whisk both eggs and the vanilla into the batter.
  4. Pour in the flour, cocoa, and salt and stir until very few lumps remain. Stir in the remaining 1/2 cup of chocolate chips.
  5. Scrap the batter into the greased baking dish and bake in the 375 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.
  6. If you are a true chocolate lover then sprinkle a few extra chocolate chips on top of the hot brownies and allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving. The brownies may be wrapped in plastic wrap, tightly, and frozen in a zipper sealed bag for up to 2 months. Defrost them in the refrigerator overnight before serving.

Liz from Cooking by Moonlight went through the Denver Cereal to read about Delphie and Katy's brownie ritual. She decoded this recipe from the story then spent a week making sure it was perfect. You can see why she's in our finals. We'll add this recipe to the Denver Cereal so people can try it out at home.

---

“These look good,” Nash said. His hand inched closer to Heather’s plate. “Can I…?”

“I think so,” Sandy said.

“Let’s all try Heather’s,” Jill reached for one of Heather’s brownies. Eager hands reached out from around the counter to take a brownies.

“They’re not really mine,” Heather said. “Blane made them.”

“You brought them,” Tanesha smiled at Heather. “Bought all the ingredients.”

Heather nodded.

“He’s a really good cook,” Valerie said.

After taking a bite, Katy shook her head and set her brownie down.

“Mommy can I have…?” Katy pointed back to Tanesha’s brownies.

“You don’t like these?” Jill asked.

“They’re okay but they aren’t like my brownies,” Katy said. “My brownies are super chocolaty.”

“How did Yvonne’s Delphie recipe get to be your brownies?” Jill asked.

“I’m the one who eats them,” Katy gave her a chocolate laced smiled. Jill laughed.

“I think Heather’s brownies are fabulous!” Noelle said. “Absolutely dee-lish!”

“Charlie?” Sandy asked.

“They taste like that chocolate Jeffy used to bring back from New Mexico,” Charlie shrugged.

“I like ‘em,” Nash said. “I like the frosting. It makes them a little yummy gooey.”

There was a round of “mmms” as everyone focused their attention on the brownie they were eating.

“They’re missing something,” Mike said.

“Salt,” Valerie laughed. “Mike salts everything twice before he thinks it’s any good.”

“Now that you mention it,” Mike nodded. “Both of these brownies could use some salt.”

Everyone laughed.

“These brownies are very gourmet with the cinnamon and chocolate,” Valerie said. “I could see them in a swank restaurant in LA or Aspen.”

“Santa Fe,” Tanesha said. “Or Taos. I like them.”

“Right,” Valerie said. “Something very expensive. Don’t you think?”

“They’d be good with a strong cup of coffee,” Tanesha said.

“Yeah,” Valerie said. “They have a little bit of that coffee flavor too.”

“Blane was a Chef in a restaurant just like that,” Heather said.

“It definitely shows,” Tanesha said.

“Delphie?” Sandy asked. “What do you think?”

“I like them,” Delphie said. “I see what you mean, Val, about how complex and gourmet they are. Fancy. It’s something we would order at one of those places we sometimes go to in Hollywood. And you’re right Charlie. The cinnamon and coffee give the brownies that Southwest flavor. If Sam’s mother was alive, I’d make them for her. She loved this exact mix of flavors. I like that they are a little different texture too – softer…”

“But?” Jill asked.

“I’m a simple girl,” Delphie shrugged. “I mean I just admitted to eating mostly microwave popcorn for years at a time.”

“And?” Valerie put her arm around Delphie. “You can tell us.”

“They seem a little complicated to me,” Delphie said. “Lots of flavors all at once.”

“Boy, this is contest is going to be hard,” Heather said.

“Everyone likes something different,” Jill said.

“Well, I like these,” Noelle said. “These are the best thing I’ve ever tasted.”

“Sweet and sophisticated,” Sandy said. “That’s my Noelle.”

“I bet I’d be good friends with Mr. Sam’s mom,” Noelle beamed.

“I bet you would, sweetie,” Delphie said.

“Personally, I think I need to try some more,” Nash cast a ravenous eye to Sandy’s plate.

Everyone laughed.

---

Heather's brownie - made by Blane - _created and entered by Barbara Kiebel from Creative Culinary

Mexican Espresso Brownies

Ingredients:

For the Brownies:

1/3 cup cocoa

1 & 1/2 tsp espresso

1/2 cup and 2 Tbsp boiling water

2 oz chopped unsweetened chocolate

4 & 1/2 Tbsp melted butter

1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp vegetable oil

2 eggs and 2 egg yolks

2 tsp vanilla 1

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon 3/4 tsp salt

1 & 3/4 cup flour

6 oz chopped chocolate or chocolate chips

For the Espresso Glaze:

3 Tbsp butter

3 Tbsp buttermilk

1/8 cup cocoa

1 & 1/2 tsp espresso powder

1/4 tsp cinnamon

8 oz powdered sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To Make the Brownies:

  1. Put the cocoa and espresso into a medium size mixing bowl; add the boiling water and blend thoroughly with a whisk.Add the 2 oz of chopped unsweetened chocolate and whisk until melted.
  2. Add the butter and the vegetable oil and whisk until combined.
  3. Add the 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks and whisk until just combined then add the vanilla, sugars, cinnamon and salt and whisk until just combined.
  4. Fold in the flour until just mixed and then mix in the 6 oz of chocolate.
  5. over the inside of a 9X13" pan with aluminum foil leaving an overhang on each side; spray or butter the foil.
  6. Pour the dough into the pan and cook for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

To Make the Glaze:

  1. Combine the butter, buttermilk, cocoa, espresso and cinnamon in a small saucepan and bring to a gentle boil on the stove.
  2. Remove from heat and add the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat with a whisk until smooth. (Note from Claudia: I added a tiny bit of hot water to make this more glazy.)
  3. Remove the brownies from the oven and immediately pour the glaze over the top and spread.
  4. Cool the brownies completely at room temperature then remove them from the pan using the foil edges.
  5. Allow to cool for 90 minutes minimum. Cut. Devour.

---

“Can I have one?” Nash asked.

Sandy nodded and Nash reached for a brownie. Charlie took the one Nash reached for. Nash moved his hand to the next one but Mike took it from him.

“Hey! Wait a minute!” Nash said. “Everyone stop!”

They turned to look at him. Nash selected a brownie off of Sandy’s plate.

“Thank you,” Nash said.

Laughing, everyone tried a brownie from Sandy’s plate.

“Wow,” Heather said. “These are really different.”

“They’re incredibly light,” Valerie said. “Did you use the same chocolate?”

“Ghirardelli,” Sandy looked at Jill and Tanesha.

“That’s what we use,” Heather said.

“Did you agree before hand?” Delphie asked.

“No,” Jill laughed. “Sandy picked it as the chocolate. We’re too intimidated to use anything else.”

“I like it,” Sandy said.

“Any chocolate is good chocolate,” Katy said.

Everyone laughed.

“The recipe calls for Cadbury’s,” Sandy said. “And that’s really good, but it’s not what people expect when they have a brownie.”

“Not as chocolaty,” Heather said. “More like an amazing dessert.”

“Gourmet,” Jill said.

“Is gourmet good?” Sandy blushed.

“Gourmet is fabulous,” Valerie said. “I love these. They’re so light and have a wonderful texture.”

“Like cake,” Charlie said while he reached for another brownie.

“Mike?” Jill asked.

“They’re okay,” Mike said. “But no…”

“Salt!” Everyone said together.

A little giddy from the chocolate and sugar, they laughed.

“I don’t think this one has enough flavor,” Noelle said. “It’s too soft and…”

“I still like my super chocolaty ones the best,” Katy said.

“How many have you had?” Jill asked.

“Was I ‘sposed to count?” Katy asked. “It’s a brownie contest.”

“Maybe you should take a little break,” Jill said.

Katy scowled at her mother and Jill shook her head.

“I like these,” Delphie said. “They’re not too sweet and not too over the top. I like that they’re a little firmer. I mean, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and I’m certainly not saying that any of them are bad.”

“But?” Valerie asked.

“I’d make these,” Delphie said. “Are they hard?”

“Not really,” Sandy said. “I’ll get you the recipe.”

“Nash?” Tanesha asked. “What do you think?”

“Mmmm,” Nash said while he was chewing.

“These are kind of the opposite of Heather’s brownies,” Jill said. “They’re delicate where the other has lots of flavor.”

“They are definitely bookends of the fancy spectrum,” Tanesha said.

“Can someone eat too much chocolate?” Jill asked Tanesha.

She nodded toward Katy.

“No!” Katy said. “That’s just silly.”

“Sure you can eat too much of anything?” Tanesha scowled at Katy.

Jill’s furrowed brow caused everyone to turn and look at Katy. Heather put her hand on Katy’s forehead as if she had a fever.

“How are you feeling, Katy?” Sandy asked.

Katy looked from her mother to Heather and then at Tanesha.

“I’m fine Auntie Sandy,” Katy laughed. “You can’t trick me into thinking I ate too many brownies right before Mommy’s come out of the oven.”

“What?” Jill acted surprised.

“You can’t trick me,” Katy pointed to her mother. “I know what you’re doing.”

“What am I doing?”

“Trying to trick me into not eating your brownies,” Katy said. “I’m not fooled.”

“Well, I’m happy eating Auntie Heather’s brownies,” Noelle said.

“I like these,” Valerie pointed to Sandy’s plate.

“Me too,” Delphie said.

“Charlie?” Sandy asked.

“I was wondering when the other brownies would be done,” Charlie said.

All eyes turned to Jill. She picked up the timer.

“Four more minutes,” Jill said.

“Great,” Nash said. “Let’s eat more brownies!”

---

Sandy’s brownierecipe created and submitted by Jo Rose

This recipe is nut free (but some chocolate buttons may contain nuts); Makes 24 pieces (or however many you want to cut)

Ingredients:

Canola oil spray

125g (9 T) unsalted butter

200g milk or dark chocolate buttons (Cadbury is the best)

2 x-large eggs (70 grams each) slightly beaten (needs to be mixed with vanilla essence when “slightly beaten”)

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

1 cup castor sugar (superfine sugar)

1 cup plain flour (sift together with baking powder)

1 teaspoon baking powder

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C (350F) and line a 20cm x 30cm (8 x 11 in) baking tray with baking paper, spray with canola oil spray and put in the oven while pre-heating.
  2. In a medium saucepan melt the butter and chocolate buttons over a low heat. Only just melt the butter and buttons. (If the mixture gets too hot it may start to cook the eggs, when you add them.)
  3. Once butter and chocolate is melted add eggs/vanilla essence slowly until combined.
  4. Transfer to mixing bowl. I use a large mixing bowl – wide base but not deep.
  5. Add castor sugar, plain flour and baking powder (flour and baking powder, sifted together), stir with a wooden spoon, but for no more than 1 minute. It can look a bit lumpy, don’t panic.
  6. Pour into the heated lined baking tray.
  7. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
  8. Remove from oven, leave in the baking tray for 5 minutes and then remove brownies still on baking paper to wire rack to cool. Once cooled cut into pieces.

---

“Four more minutes for Jill’s brownies?” Charlie groaned. “How can I possibly wait so…”

He stuffed one of Tanesha’s chocolaty brownies into his mouth and everyone laughed.

“What are you doing?” Nash asked Noelle.

“Well, I…” Noelle had made a sculpture out of the remains of her brownies. “Just because these aren’t my favorite brownies doesn’t mean they aren’t loved. So I…”

“Very sweet,” Sandy leaned over to kiss her cheek.

“Right,” Noelle said. “They are very sweet, but not my favorite.”

Jill’s timer rang and she took her brownies out of the oven. Mike came around the bar with a spoon.

“We have to wait…” Jill started.

Before she could finish her sentence, he dipped into her pan and was blowing on the hot mixture.

“It’s really good…” His mouth was so full of hot brownie he couldn’t finish his sentence. He swallowed and croaked, “Milk.”

Valerie gave him a glass of milk. He drank it down and moved back to the brownie pan. Jill fended him off with a spatula. Laughing, they did a little spoon-spatula fencing before he yelled, “Hey!”

Charlie was dipping into the brownie pan with his own spoon. Mike lunged for the boy but Charlie scooted away with his hot brownie laden spoon. Mike crossed his arms. With the spoon as his weapon, Mike stood ready to defend the pan from invaders.

“Uh Mike?” Valerie asked.

“Yes my beloved,” Mike said.

“You should watch your flank,” Valerie said.

Mike turned quickly to his left where Nash had snuck up to the brownie tray. He and Nash began a battle of the spoons leaving the brownie pan open for Charlie to grab the entire pan. Over Mike’s protests, Charlie carried the warm brownies back to the others.

“These are definitely salty,” Valerie said.

“I like the crunchy top and softer middle,” Delphie said.

“I like that they’re easy to make, fast, and have simple ingredients,” Jill said.

“It’s Mom’s recipe,” Mike said.

“Right,” Heather said. “They‘re like what someone’s mom would make.”

“Megan used to make them for us,” Jill said.

“Oh I remember those,” Tanesha said. “We’d have finals or something. It’d be dumping snow out and we’d be studying like crazy.”

“She’d make these hot amazing brownies,” Sandy said. “It chased the cold and worry away.”

“Remember when Candy took over the baking?” Jill said.

“I can still taste her brownies.”

“Me too,” Heather said.

“I’ve only ever loved one brownie,” Knight Mike knelt before the emptying brownie pan. “She is thee.”

“What are you doing?” Jacob asked from the door of the loft.

Mike jerked around to look at him. Not sure what would happen, everyone became very still and silent.

“Are you praying to the brownie pan?” Aden asked.

“Son,” Sam said. “Are you feeling all right?”

“I…” Mike hopped to his feet.

Everyone laughed. Valerie kissed him.

“No really,” Jake said. “What are you guys doing?”

“We’re having a brownie contest,” Jill said. “But I’m afraid we haven’t been able to decide.”

“I like these the best,” Katy pointed to Tanesha’s brownies.

“We’ll have to try them,” Jacob passed the plate to Aden and Sam.

“Oh great, we’ll have an odd number,” Jill said.

“I love these,” Noelle pointed to the brownies Heather brought.

“And the rest of you?” Sam asked.

“We like different ones,” Delphie said. “I like Sandy’s brownies.”

“Me too,” Valerie said.

“I love Jill’s,” Mike said.

“What about you?” Aden ruffled Nash’s hair.

“I’m with Mike,” Nash said. “I like the crunchy crust.”

“Charlie?” Aden asked.

“I’m going to have to go with these,” Charlie pointed to Tanesha’s brownies. “They’re very chocolaty and I really like chocolate.”

“Oh wow,” Aden said after taking a bite of Heather’s brownies. “These are… intense, Southwest.”

“They’re very you,” Sandy said.

“Very me,” Aden said. “Yes, this is my vote.”

“Jake?” Valerie asked.

“I think I’m rooting for the home team,” Jacob said. “Plus, these remind me of Jill. She makes them sometimes when I come in late from Hockey.”

“Sam?” Delphie asked.

“Can I vote for all of them?” Sam asked. “They’re really good.”

“Where is everyone?” Sissy yelled from the kitchen.

“Up here!” Sandy yelled down the stairwell.

Sissy ran up the stairs.

“Honey’s in the kitchen, can you…?” Sissy asked.

Mike and Jacob went down to get Honey. When they returned, Sissy was agreeing with Noelle. She liked Heather’s brownie best.

“Honey will be our tie breaker!” Jill said.

“Oh boy,” Honey said. “I don’t think I can pick. They’re so different. What did everyone pick?”

“We have three for Heather’s brownie – Noelle, Aden, and Sissy. We also have three for Jill’s brownie – Mike, Nash, and Jacob.”

“But two for the others?” Honey asked.

“We were hoping you’d be the tie breaker,” Jill said.

“Oh, okay, well…” Honey looked at Heather and then Jill’s brownies.

“You should tell us the truth,” Sam said. “Don’t lie.”

“Uh… Okay. Well, I actually like Tanesha’s brownie,” Honey said. “It’s really chocolaty and yummy.”

Jill groaned.

“I guess that didn’t help,” Honey said. “Sorry.”

“We need one more person,” Valerie said.

“Hello?” Jeraine said from the kitchen.

“Does he count?” Tanesha raised an eyebrow. They laughed.

“Yes, I count,” Jeraine laughed. “What are we counting?”

“Which brownie you like,” Tanesha said.

“I’m not a huge fan of brownies, so…”

“You cannot chicken out,” Mike said.

“Yes, man up and pick a brownie,” Jacob laughed.

Shaking his head at Mike and Jacob, Jeraine took a tiny piece of every brownie.

“My manly opinion is this one,” Jeraine pointed to Sandy’s brownie. “It’s a little lighter.”

Everyone groaned.

“What did I say?” Jeraine asked.

“We’re hopelessly tied,” Jill said.

“I kind of like that,” Sandy smiled. “We each make great brownies; they’re just different from each other.”

The women smiled at each other.

“I’ll put the money into the scholarship fund,” Valerie said.

“Great!” Jill said. “That’s great. You guys ready to go?”

“Go?” Jacob asked. “Go where.”

“We’re going to have a bake sale at the Marlowe school,” Jill said.

“Didn’t we just eat the bake sale?” Charlie asked.

“Not a chance,” Tanesha said. “My girl told me to bring two plates. I have another plate of brownies in the car.”

“Me too,” Heather said.

“I have ours downstairs,” Sandy said.

“I have some cupcakes downstairs,” Delphie said.

“I made a pie for dinner,” Valerie said. “But I can bring it.”

“Do you mind?” Jill asked Mike.

“Yes, but…”

Jill took another pan of brownies from the oven and plated the rest.

“Let’s go,” Jill said. The men followed the woman out of the loft.

---

Jill’s brownierecipe created and submitted by Tinkerbell

Blend:

1/2 c. oil

1 c. sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

Add to above:

2 eggs

1/2 c. flour

1/3 c. cocoa

1/4 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

Stir until blended. Add 1/2 cup nuts if desired. Pour in 9 inch square pan. Bake at 350 F. For 20 to 23 minutes.

---

We were hopelessly tied. These finalist recipes were so very different from each other that we were simply unable to come up with a clear winner. The more people we asked, the more tied we became. This year, we’ll have four winners:

Liz, the Moonlit Chef, of Cooking by Moonlight, won the Katy’s Super Chocolaty Brownie award.

Jo Rose won the Light as a Feather Brownie award.

Barbara Keibel of Creative Culinary won the Dreamin’ brownie award because we tasted Southwestern dreams in her brownies.

Tinkerbell won the Mom’s Best Brownie award for her easy to make, simple ingredient brownie.

What can we say? They are all winners.


Chapter Six Hundred and Twenty-Six: The picture of the pandemic

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?”

~~~~~~~~

Location redacted

“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.”

Royce scowled.

“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.”

Jeraine nodded.

“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...

 


Chapter Six Hundred and Twenty-Five: Every living thing has friends

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and TWENTY-FIVE

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

“I haven’t been sleeping,” Quanshay said. “That’s the truth of it. We had to close our nail business and I owe all this money to John Drayson and Royce is gone and we’re going to have to close the nail salon for good and then what? I mean, how we going to pay rent if we can’t work? And this virus is going to kill us all. And the kids are either screaming at each other or screaming at me. . .”

Quanshay began to cry. Tanesha reached out to Quanshay so that her hand touched the upset young woman’s shoulder. They sat like that for a long moment.

“Quanshay?” Honey asked from the kitchen door.

“Oh, Honey,” Quanshay said. She glanced at Tanesha. “Honey’s a Fey wife.”

Tanesha nodded. Quanshay looked at Honey

“I forgot that you lived here,” Quanshay said.

“My father’s partner owns this home,” Honey said. “MJ and I moved in right after we were married.”

Honey gave Tanesha a concerned look.

“She needs rest,” Tanesha said. “Quiet.”

“Why don’t you come with me?” Honey asked. “We have an extra bedroom. You can get some rest and quiet.”

“Isn’t Hermes in there?” Tanesha asked.

“Charlie moved him somewhere else,” Honey said. “Maggie and I would love to have you stay with us, Quanshay. From one Fey family to another, you are most welcome.”

Quanshay looked at Tanesha.

“Will you tell my children where I am?” Quanshay asked Tanesha. “If they decide they want to see me.”

“Of course,” Tanesha said.

She nodded to encourage Quanshay. Tanesha hugged her.

“You’re walking pretty good now,” Quanshay said to Honey as they walked away.

Honey’s response was lost as the women walked away. Tanesha sat at the table for a long moment.

“Did you figure out what was going on?” Jeraine asked.

“She’s tired,” Tanesha said. “Overwrought. She just needs some sleep.”

Jeraine took a cookie and ate it.

“Did you have a poster of you without your top and pulling your pants down with your thumb?” Tanesha asked.

Jeraine thought for a moment and then shrugged.

“I am very sexy,” Jeraine said without a hint of self-modesty.

Tanesha laughed. He held out his arms. She got up and hugged him.

“Why did you ask about the poster?” Jeraine asked.

“She had one,” Tanesha said.

“Ah,” Jeraine said. “When you have all of this. . .” He waved his hands across his body. “The women go crazy.”

He looked at Tanesha, and they both laughed.

“I’m going for a swim,” Tanesha said. “You?”

“I’m still helping Jake,” Jeraine said. “Your dad’s here. Still.”

“Mom?” Tanesha asked.

“She and Delphie went off with Maresol,” Jeraine said.

Nodding, Tanesha sighed.

“You’d better get swimming before your time is gone,” Jeraine said.

She pulled down her mask to kiss him.

“How did Jabari do at the doctor?” Tanesha asked, pulling up her mask.

“Dr. Bumpy wants him to isolate for another week, but he thought the virus had passed,” Jeraine said. “No fever. He seems fine.”

Tanesha gave Jeraine a distracted nod.

“Where is he now?” Tanesha asked.

“He’s outside with Maggie and Mack,” Jeraine said. “They are playing isolation. It’s really cute. You go swim. I’ll watch him. We’re okay.”

Tanesha nodded. He pushed her on her way. She went into the downstairs bathroom and changed.

This virus was exhausting and disheartening. Everyone seemed at a breaking point. But Tanesha knew in her heart that they were just getting started with it. She felt lucky that she had so much support from people who loved her.

She wondered how long it would last. Shaking her head at her own gloom, she left the bathroom to go for a swim.

~~~~~~~~

Friday morning — 5:12 a.m.

Jacob was standing on the deck drinking a cup of warm tea when he felt more than saw a shadow by the chicken coop. Curious, Jacob went down the deck steps to the grass. He walked across the frost crisp grass to where someone in a hospital gown was standing.

“Gandy?” Jacob asked to the naked backside of Gando Peaches.

Gando jerked around in place. His eyebrows dropped in a scowl as he looked at Jacob.

“Wha. . .?” Gando asked. “I. . .”

Remembering his mask, Jacob reached into his pocket and put the cloth mask on. Gando’s eyes watched Jacob’s movements. Gando blinked.

“I don’t have one of those,” Gando said.

Jacob took another mask out of his pocket and held it out to Gando. The man looked at Jacob’s hand for a long moment before taking the mask. They waited a few seconds while Gando put on the mask. Jacob waited for Gando to say something. A few curious chickens peered out of the coop to see what was going on.

“Where am I?” Gando asked.

“You’re standing in the backyard of my mother’s old place,” Jacob said. “You remember. We call it the ‘Castle’?”

“That burned out shack you lived in when you were in high school?” Gando asked, looking around at the back of the building.

“You used to come through here when you were on leave,” Jacob said.

Gando nodded.

“How do I know you?” Gando asked.

“I was in the state meet that your little sister ran in. You sat next to my mom and Delphie in the bleachers? Remember? Delphie’s an oracle,” Jacob said. “They told you to stop by when you were in town. I met you when you came to the house. I do remodeling and contracting for Max and John? I am married to Jill Roper?”

“That fast chick from East High,” Gando nodded. “She blew my sister out of the water at that meet. Roper’s little sister.”

Jacob nodded.

“How did I get here?” Gando asked.

“Your partner, Hecate, brought you,” Jacob said.

Gando gave Jacob a vague nod.

“I hear the truth in your words,” Gando said with a shake of his head. “I have no memory of anyone named ‘Hecate.’”

“She’s a Titan,” Jacob said. “Very beautiful. Powerful.”

“I’m partnered with a Titan?” Gando asked with a laugh. “You mean, like ancestors to the Greek Gods?”

Jacob gave him a slight nod.

“Aren’t they dead?” Gando asked. Answering his own question, he said, “No, I know they aren’t dead.”

Gando put his hand on his chest.

“What’s the last thing you remember?” Jacob asked.

“I woke up and heard the chickens,” Gando said. “New flock?”

“They combined five chickens from two separate flocks yesterday,” Jacob said. “This is a new flock of ten.”

“They are unsure,” Gando said. “Calling for their friends.”

“Chickens have friends?” Jacob asked.

“Every living thing has friends,” Gando said. He was silent for a moment. “These chickens. . . They were prepared to be separated. They don’t mind being here. Listen. . .”

For a moment, the men listened to the sounds of the chickens in their new roost. Gando looked at Jacob.

“Whoever combined the birds. . .” Gando said.

“Rodney Smith,” Jacob said.

“. . .did a good job of it,” Gando said. “Do I know Rodney Smith?”

“You’ve met him,” Jacob said. “His wife is a child of. . .”

“Urial,” Gando said. “I remember her. Yvonne. She has a daughter. Tanesha?”

“Married to the R and B star, Jeraine?” Jacob asked.

“We used to listen to him in Iraq,” Gando said with a slight nod. “Basic. You built that office of Alex’s?”

“Twice.” Jacob nodded.

“I’ve spent nights on that floor,” Gando said. “Warm, safe, secure, talking about nothing.”

Jacob nodded.

“What do you remember before waking up this morning?” Jacob asked.

“Oh memory,” Gando said. He smiled at Jacob. “As a shaman, I see time, experience, memory like a river. I remember everything and nothing.”

“You don’t remember anything before waking up this morning?” Jacob asked.

Gando grinned.

“You’ve spent a lot of time with Delphie, the true oracle,” Gando said.

“I have,” Jacob said.

“I know what you’re asking,” Gando said. “I remember Roper. Mike. Mike Roper. I remember coming here on the wings of an enormous bird. I remember. . . what am I sick with?”

“Coronavirus,” Jacob said. “New one.”

“The people are suffering,” Gando nodded. “I sense that Ooljee is here. Her brother, too.”

Gando looked at Jacob.

“Why am I here?” Gando asked.

“My wife and her family. . .” Jacob started.

“Roper,” Gando said. He nodded and then looked at Jacob again. “I have always knows this about Roper.”

Gando nodded and turned his attention back to the chickens. Jacob waited a long moment for Gando to say something else. When he didn’t, Jacob put his hand on Gando’s shoulder. Gando turned and looked at Jacob as if he were seeing Jacob for the first time.

“Gandy?” Jacob asked.

Gando shook himself head to toe and then weaved. Jacob stabilized him with a hand.

“Could you lead me back to my bed?” Gando asked. “You are. . .?”

“Marlowe,” Jacob said.

“Jake, I know him. Jake Marlowe,” Gando said, almost to himself. “I feel a fatigue that. . . Where is my beloved? I miss her desperately.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know,” Jacob said. “She’s gone somewhere beyond this world for fear of being charged with causing this pandemic.”

“Pandemic,” Gando nodded. “Yes, that’s what this is.”

“Let’s get you back in bed,” Jacob said.

Gando’s knees gave out. Jacob put his arm around Gando and helped him across the grass and up the wooden stairs. They passed the hot tub and went into the medical offices. The nurse was sound asleep in a chair between Julie Hargreaves bed and an empty bed.

Jacob loudly cleared his throat. She jumped up and took the other side of Gando. Jacob left her to get him settled in his bed.

“Hey Marlowe,” Gando croaked as Jacob walked away.

Jacob turned around to look at him.

“Thanks,” Gando said.

Jacob lifted a hand in waving but saw that Gando’s eyes had closed. He nodded to the nurse and left the medical offices. He hustled back to the loft where he changed his clothing and went in to see Jill. She was asleep.

“Sorry to wake you,” Jacob said. “Would you mind checking me?”

“Of course,” Jill said, sitting up.

“I saw Gando,” Jacob said, his voice fast and anxious. “He was standing outside the chickens. He said they called to him and then he needed help back to the medical offices and. . .”

“You’re okay,” Jill said. “He must be a lot better.”

“I guess so,” Jacob said. “He seemed really out of it.”

“Understandable,” Jill said.

She kissed him, and he smiled.

“Why are you up so early?” Jill asked.

“I wanted to make a dent into the greenhouses before the helpers arrived,” Jacob said.

“Good thinking,” Jill said.

“I have to be at Lipson this afternoon,” Jacob said.

“Sounds like a busy day,” Jill said.

“We’re finishing our first week of job sharing,” Jacob said. “There’s a site manager meeting and I need to check in with quotes and. . .”

He sighed.

“Go back to sleep,” he said. “I’ll be outside when you get up.”

She nodded and lay back down. He pulled on clean clothing and went outside to start working on the greenhouses.

~~~~~~~~

Friday morning — 8:15 a.m.

“Jake?” Delphie called.

Jacob looked up from where he was building the wooden structure for the third greenhouse.

“Here!” Jacob waved.

Delphie came over to where he was working. Having worked alone all morning, Jacob took a clean mask from his pocket and put it on as Delphie approached.

“I. . . um. . . well. . .” Delphie said.

Jacob stood up and hugged Delphie tight.

“You do not owe an apology,” Jacob said, softly. “We’re all at our wits end without dad.”

Delphie cried into Jacob’s shoulder for a moment before she mastered herself. He pulled back to a safe six feet away.

“I am your servant,” Jacob said. He gestured to the garden and the house. “You should know that by now.”

“But you’re married now and have kids and. . .” Delphie sighed. “I’m out of my mind.”

“Yes, I know,” Jacob said. “Me too.”

They would have hugged again, but they nodded instead.

“Don’t suffer,” Jacob said.

Delphie looked shocked and hurt.

“Please,” Jacob said. “You are so good at suffering that you don’t even notice when you’re doing it. I see it. Val, Mike, Jill, Yvonne, Rodney — we all see you suffering.”

Delphie’s hand went to her heart.

“Just tell me what you need and I’ll make it happen,” Jacob said. “You have to know by now that I will move heaven and earth for you.”

Delphie gave him a slight nod. Her eyes welled with tears and her mouth opened and closed. Jacob gave her a nod in silent communication. To give her some emotional space, he turned his attention to the greenhouses.

“What do you think?” Jacob asked.

“You’ve finished two?” Delphie asked.

“I’ve been saving windows for years,” Jacob said. “The first was mostly done last night, and I put the other one together this morning. I’m just working on the third.”

“Where will everyone park?” Delphie asked, her voice rising with anxiety. “They’ll be so angry with me for taking up all this space and. . .”

Jacob shook his head so violently that she stopped talking.

“I bought the lot next us,” Jacob said.

“Last year,” Delphie said.

“Nearly three years ago,” Jacob said. “Everyone’s parked there now.”

The land that the Castle sat on was about three feet above the lot just to the south. Long before Delphie and Celia had moved here, someone had laid a thick layer of concrete on the slope between the properties. Delphie looked down to see everyone’s cars.

“When I finish here, I’ll build some stairs down,” Jacob said. “The fence guys will be here today to add onto this one. There’s a couple of ways they can do it. It will be interesting to see what they do.”

Delphie nodded.

“I talked to the store and they said that it wouldn’t affect them to have the fence there,” Jacob said.

“We just have to move their trash and recycling,” Delphie said as if she were waking up from a dream.

“Exactly,” Jacob said. “Val asked for stairs so she doesn’t have to go out to the street with the kids.”

Delphie nodded. She looked up at Jacob.

“You have it all worked out,” Delphie said.

“I do my best, ma’am,” Jacob said.

Delphie grinned at the sarcastic come back he used to say in high school. He grinned.

“You’re my. . .” he started.

“I’m your Delphie,” she said at the same time.

He smiled.

“The one question we have is whether we want to replace this wood shingles with brick,” Jacob said.

Delphie nodded.

“Oh, Jacob, what do you think I should do?” Jacob said in a ridiculous imitation of Delphie.

“When are the brickies coming?” Delphie asked with a grin.

“Brickies!” Jacob said with glee.

“That’s what they are called, right?” Delphie asked. “I thought that’s what you called them.”

“I do,” Jacob said. “And yes, your boyfriend Ramon will be here this morning.”

“Finally,” Delphie said flippantly. “What’s the point of having a boyfriend if he’s never around?”

Jacob burst out laughing. Her eyes sparkled with glee.

“I expect you to be finished with this by breakfast,” she said with a pretend sniff.

Jacob stopped moving. He looked up and then tipped his head to the side.

“What is it?” Delphie asked.

Valerie came running out of the house screaming: “Dad’s coming home!”

Jacob and Delphie hugged again. Valerie threw herself onto them. The three hugged each other for a long time.

“I’ll go get him,” Jacob said.

“I’ll go,” Delphie said.

“I’ll go,” Valerie said.

“I’m leaving,” Mike said.

They turned to look at Mike, who was walking toward them. It made a lot of sense for Mike to pick up Sam because Mike couldn’t get sick.

“You don’t mind?” Delphie asked.

“You’re my Delphie too,” Mike said.

He walked passed them, slid down the cement edge from the Castle to where the cars were parked, and drove away.

“Come on, Delphie,” Valerie said. “Let’s have some tea and get ready for Dad.”

“What did John tell you?” Delphie asked.

“Dr. Drayson said that Dad was being discharged,” Valerie said. “He was still sick and would need to be monitored but he didn’t need a hospital anymore.”

Valerie smiled bright and big.

“He said that we were doing such a great job with Julie and Gandy that he was sure we could care for Dad,” Valerie said.

Delphie started to laugh and Jacob followed. Valerie couldn’t help to join in. They laughed insanely for a few minutes and then hugged each other again.

“I’ll go tell the nurse,” Valerie said running across the yard.

“I’d better get Sam’s things ready,” Delphie said.

In a few minutes, Jacob was alone with the greenhouse again. Shrugging, he went back to work.

Denver Cereal continues next week...