CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-ONE
Thursday night — 9:11 p.m.
“Fresh from the dryer,” Jill said.
She carried a stack of sheets into Tanesha and Jeraine’s bedroom. Heather grabbed a fitted sheet and a flat and threw them onto the bed. While Jill tucked the sheets into the closet, Heather made the bed. Tanesha came in with a clean comforter. Together, Tanesha and Heather put the comforter into a duvet cover and onto the bed. Jill threw a couple of pillow cases onto the bed. The women grabbed a pillow and began putting them on.
Jill looked around the room. The light bounced off the red oak floors, which had been laid over the heated floor. The walls were a pale green. Mike had spent a couple of days painting a lovely sky with white fluffy clouds on the ceiling. The moldings were a crisp white. The soft rug under the bed matched the green walls in subtle tones of green and blue. The bedding matched the carpet and the walls. They’d added an armoire that was Tanesha’s father Rodney’s along the wall along with a beautiful low cabinet in front of the one way window. The moon peaked through the rectangle windows near the ceiling.
“What do you think?” Jill asked.
“It’s beautiful,” Tanesha said. “Better than we deserve.”
“That’s not true!” Sandy yelled from the couch in the shared space where she was folding laundry. “You deserve at least this.”
“I haven’t asked but. . .” Tanesha started. “I mean, you know, I won’t be in class probably for the rest of the year. And. . .”
Jill gestured for Tanesha to follow her. They walked past Jabari’s room where he was entertaining Mack, Wyn, Eddy, and Maggie. The kids were deep into a game with cars and dolls. Heather picked up Wyn as she walked by.
Jill made a quick left turn and into a room that Tanesha thought was a closet.
“But. . .” Tanesha started.
Jill pushed the door open, and the women went inside a small but gorgeous office. There were high windows for light and privacy. Tanesha’s laptop sat onto of a long table. The cement floors were covered with cork so that Tanesha could have a soft surface while she paced back and forth. There was a comfy couch, big enough for Tanesha to nap on, along the wall. In the corner sat a small floating gas fireplace. On the wall near the door, there was a small counter with a sink. A filtered hot and cold water sat on the counter and there were cabinets above for supplies.
“We haven’t gotten your bookshelves and books in,” Jill said. “I know that you want some here and some in the main room and a few in the bedroom. I thought we could go through them later.”
Her eyes filled with tears, Tanesha nodded to Jill.
“Hey!” Sandy yelled from the couch in the main room. “Pizza’s here!”
Jill hugged Tanesha and left her with Heather.
“What do you think?” Heather asked.
“It’s amazing,” Tanesha said. “Everything is perfect.”
“We’re going to be really happy here,” Heather said.
“We are,” Tanesha said. “You never know what Jer’s going to complain about.”
“Hey!” Jeraine said from the hallway. “For that, I’m going to eat your pizza.”
“You’d better not!” Tanesha said.
She chased him out into the main living area. After the fiasco with the paparazzi, Jill and Jacob had painstakingly put a coating on the wall to ceiling windows and sliding glass door. The coating meant that no one could see inside. The sitting area had large empty book shelves, a wide area for kids to play in, as well as a comfortable sitting area for adults with a couch and chairs. A gas fireplace sat along the wall for when they wanted heat. A screen lowered from the ceiling for when they wanted to watch movies or games from the projected television.
Behind this area was a large gourmet kitchen created to Blane and Jeraine’s specifications. Blane was removing a pie from the oven.
“We’re going to be so happy here,” Heather said almost to herself.
Tres took Wyn from her. Nelson came in carrying the pizzas. He opened the sliding door to give some air flow before anyone took off their face masks to eat. For the next few hours, they celebrated the new home of their best friends.
Friday morning — 7:01 a.m.
“You look swarthy,” Heather said to Mike Roper as she entered her new kitchen.
While the hair on his head was still long, Mike had shaved his heavy beard and his general body armor of hair was trimmed down. Heather was wearing a silken robe that was open over flannel pajamas.
“I do clean up nice,” Mike said with a laugh.
“What’s the occasion?” Heather asked.
“We have to go to some awards thing or another,” Mike said. “Mostly, Alex is in town and the guys got together for some grooming.”
Heather nodded. She filled the electric kettle with water and turned on the coffee maker.
“Dare I ask?” Heather asked.
“You can ask me anything, goddess,” Mike said.
“Was Sandy involved?” Heather asked.
“Not yesterday. She’s going to cut our hair today before I go to LA,” Mike said. “Before you ask, she has a male hair groomer at her salon now. He took care of all of our needs.”
“You look nice,” Heather said.
“Thanks,” Mike said.
Heather puttered around the new kitchen looking in one cabinet after the other. Mike watched her move around.
“What are you doing here?” Heather asked.
“Oh,” Mike said. “Sorry, I’m here for Jeraine.”
“Does he know that?” Heather asked.
“He came out and then said he had to shower,” Mike said.
“Jake’s opening the outside entrance to the ballroom today,” Mike said. “Jammy wants Jeraine there to take pictures. So he has to be dressed up. They’re pretty excited about the whole thing.”
“Why didn’t Jammy come?” Heather asked.
“I’m not good enough?” Mike asked.
“Jammy brings pastries,” Heather said.
“Ah,” Mike said. “No pastries for you!”
“Jammy flew from LA to Vegas to Denver,” Mike said. “No pastries for anyone.”
“That’s a sad fact,” Heather said. “Maybe I should get some.”
“Or wake up Blane and make him make some,” Mike said.
“I heard that,” Blane said. He was tying his robe when he came around the corner. “You look. . .”
Blane kissed Heather’s cheek, and they gave each other a hug.
“Swarthy,” Mike said.
“Shaved,” Blane said, looking over Heather’s shoulder.
The men laughed, and Blane and Heather separated.
“Alex home?” Blane asked.
“We went to the new guy at Sandy’s place,” Mike said. “He did a great job, I thought. Nice too.”
Nodding, Blane went to the refrigerator and poked around. He pulled out some eggs, bread, and bacon. He started cooking while Heather poured coffee into a travel mug. She added cream and a tiny bit of sugar before setting the travel mug on the edge of the counter.
A moment later, a completely dressed, and damp from the shower, Tres Sierra zoomed through kitchen. He grabbed the travel mug, waved to everyone, and jogged out of the house.
“Mask!” Heather yelled after him.
“Got it,” Tres said. They heard him open the drawer where they stored masks and push it closed. “See you tonight!”
The front door closed. Heather set about making a pot of tea. She set it on the counter to steep.
Jeraine slid out of their area. He was dressed in a modern silk suit with a white starched shirt and some expensive shoes. His tie was in his hand.
“Can you help?” Jeraine asked. He held the tie out the room.
Heather came over to tie his tie. She smiled at him and did one last straighten.
“You look nice,” Heather said.
Nervous, Jeraine just nodded.
“Did you make this?” Jeraine asked, gesturing to the tea pot.
“For you,” Heather said.
Jeraine smiled. He poured a cup of tea for himself and for Tanesha, who came out just as her cup was full. Tanesha was dressed in a dressing gown and a silken robe.
“You’ve been running,” Mike said to Tanesha while she was drinking her tea.
“Hey, don’t look at her,” Jeraine said in mock irritation.
“No disrespect meant,” Mike said with a grin. “I’m not hitting on your woman.”
“You’d better not,” Jeraine said.
“Just ignore him. I’ve been running, swimming, lifting,” Tanesha said. “I’m on my feet all day at the hospital, too.”
“I just. . . seeing people gasping for air,” Tanesha said with a shake of her head. “I realized that every breath is precious. So, I feel a need to keep moving.”
“I understand,” Mike said. “You want to go trail running while I’m back? I mean, we have to go to LA today, but we’ll be back tomorrow.”
“Sunday?” Tanesha asked, looking off in the near distance. “I’m not working.”
“Let’s get out of here,” Mike said. “Go to the mountains, some place high.”
“Cooper?” Tanesha asked.
Heather filled Tanesha’s mug with tea and put the rest of the pot in a travel mug with some cream.
“That’s 10, 000 feet,” Mike said. “Talk about gasping for air.”
“My point,” Tanesha said. She swallowed down her tea.
“I’m in,” Mike said.
Tanesha turned to Jeraine, she asked, “Do you want me to come with you?”
“Nah,” Jeraine said. “I’ll be okay.”
“I’m going as your bodyguard,” Mike said.
“You?” Jeraine asked.
The men laughed.
“Are you ready, princess?” Mike asked.
Swallowing hard, Jeraine gave a nod. He and Mike headed out toward the door.
“We have masks,” Mike yelled back to them.
The door opened and closed.
“Did you drug the kids?” Blane asked.
“Absolutely not!” Tanesha said.
“Where are they?” Blane asked.
“They are playing quietly in Jabari’s room,” Heather said. “They fell asleep while they were playing and woke up to play some more.”
“Should we change diapers?” Blane asked.
“I already checked,” Tanesha said. “They’re okay.”
“Even our littlest baby is growing up,” Heather said.
“Yea!” Blane said.
The women gave him an unreadable look.
“Not yea?” Blane asked.
Nelson slid into the kitchen. He took a breakfast sandwich wrapped in a napkin from Blane. Heather gave him a travel mug of tea, and Nelson started out the door.
“Mask!” Heather yelled
“Got it,” Nelson said.
The door opened and closed again. Blane set a plate of food for Heather and another for Tanesha on the new kitchen table. They ate in silence, listening for the children to erupt with a need. Tink came into the kitchen, and Blane got up. She sat at the table while he made her a plate. After a moment, he set it in front of her.
“Where’d the table come from?” Tink asked.
“The box that’s now in the recycling,” Heather said. “I put it together after everyone went to sleep.”
“Really?” Tink asked.
“Pretty handy, wouldn’t you say?” Heather asked. “I even put together the chairs.”
“With help from minions?” Tink asked.
Heather held up her hands. Tink mock clapped for her and they all grinned.
“Not sleeping?” Blane asked, his eyebrows dropped in concern for Heather.
“Just excited,” Heather said. “This is really the first place I’ve ever lived that was made for me. You know? And it’s so nice! I want to get everything unpacked and perfect.”
Everyone smiled in agreement.
“Well,” Tink said after wolfing down her food. “I’m off to for school. I have babysitting this afternoon, but we’re reporting on our books this morning and picking a new topic.”
“Have fun,” Heather said.
“I’m in the office today,” Blane said.
“I’m here unpacking,” Heather said.
“I’m here until 2 p.m.,” Tanesha said. “Then off to the hospital.”
“The kids are. . .?” Blane asked.
“Going to the Castle,” Heather said. “I’ll give them some time and we’ll get them ready.”
“Would you like me to?” Blane asked. “I have a couple of hours.”
“We’ve got it,” Heather said. “Take some time for yourself. You’ve been going hard for months. We’re here now.”
Blane gave her a soft smile.
“Thanks,” Blane said. “I think I’ll head back to bed.”
“Are you sick?” Tanesha got up to check his temperature.
“I have a novel I want to read,” Blane said. “My own comfy bed. It calls my soul.”
“Enjoy!” Heather said.
Blane smiled and headed back upstairs to where his room was. Tanesha and Heather sat for only a few minutes before the kids erupted from Jabari’s room. Tanesha took Jabari and Mack while Heather took care of Wyn, Eddy, and Maggie. The children were bathed and changed and back to playing in a short time. Tanesha went to shower while Heather watched the kids. When Tanesha was done, Heather went to shower.
It was just a regular busy morning in their new home.
It was perfect.
Friday morning — 9:11 a.m.
Jeraine was standing in the mud in a quiet area behind the Castle. The sun was warm on his back and bright against the white siding of this edge of the building. They were protected from the paparazzi by the building itself. His agent, James “Jammy” Schmidt V, was standing next to that casino guy named. . .
They were waiting for Jacob and a group of his men to unload a backhoe from a truck. Usually, Jeraine loved this kind of thing. But today. . .
He looked over at the casino guy again.
Jeraine had no idea what that guy’s name was. He’d been nice, really nice. Jeraine couldn’t help but like him. The casino guy had embraced the idea of streaming concerts in “Denver’s most exclusive concert venue.” His team of programmers had already set up a blog page, run by his marketing team, to build interest in the concerts that would start. . .
Jeraine squinted. He couldn’t remember when the concerts were starting.
Soon. They were starting soon. He worried that if he asked, he’d look foolish.
He felt foolish. He should have asked Miss T to come with him. He was too out of it by then to realize how much he’d need her help.
They’d already taken a bunch of pictures. They really didn’t need him anymore. He stayed because. . .
He wasn’t sure.
It was so bright. He squinted at the wall, and then again at Jammy and Matt.
The backhoe started up with a plume of black smoke.
Jeraine stepped back. Instinctively, he shaded his eyes with his hand.
The backhoe delicately backed off the truck. To his surprise, he saw Sam Lipson sitting in the seat of the backhoe.
He felt a hand on his arm. He turned to see Jacob standing next to him.
“Jeraine?” Jacob asked.
Jacob’s eyes were filled with so much caring and compassion that Jeraine nearly cried.
“You look like your head’s bothering you,” Jacob said.
“Tanesha’s on her way over,” Jacob said. “She said that you forgot to take your medication this morning. She wanted me to see how you were doing.”
Jeraine gave him a slight nod.
“That’s what I thought,” Jacob said. He pulled off his own sunglasses. “Put these on.”
Doing what he was told, Jeraine put the glasses on. The world turned a shade of amber darkness. Jeraine took a breath and then another.
“Panic,” Jeraine mumbled to himself.
“I get it,” Jacob said, putting his hand back on Jeraine’s shoulder.
The men stood together for. . . Jeraine wasn’t sure how long. The next thing he knew, Jacob was tugging Jeraine out of the way.
“We’re heading in for a cup of coffee,” Jacob said.
“I could use one,” Mike Roper’s voice came from Jeraine’s side.
Jeraine had forgotten all about Mike. He looked over at Mike.
“Right beside you, buddy,” Mike said.
Not sure if Mike had read his mind, Jeraine just nodded. He followed Jacob around the back of the Castle until they reached the shaded calm and quiet of the chicken yard. Jeraine took what felt like his first breath of the day.
“Feeling better?” Mike asked.
Jeraine nodded. He looked up to see Tanesha walking toward them. She was dressed up in something she’d gotten from Valerie. She was so much taller and more muscular than Valerie, it was hard to believe that they were almost the same size. This dress was burgundy and little short which showed off her muscular legs.
Jeraine smiled at her, and she smiled back. He heard a camera going in the background, but he didn’t care. He was just so glad to see her.
Tanesha kissed Jeraine on the cheek, and they embraced.
“Love you,” Tanesha whispered before moving away from him.
Jeraine watched as Tanesha spoke to everyone and came back to him. At her insistence, they went inside the Castle.
“Phew,” Tanesha said. “I thought we’d never shake that photographer.”
“He did seem oddly obsessed,” Jacob said.
“Well. . .” Tanesha turned to look at Jeraine. “I need to tell you something.”
“Do you want your meds first?” Tanesha asked.
Jeraine shook his head. Tanesha winced but continued.
“After you left, I got a call from Annette’s mother,” Tanesha said.
“Who’s Annette?” Jacob asked.
Jacob pressed a cool glass of water in Jeraine’s hand. Jeraine drank it down and Jacob went to get more.
“She’s Jabari’s mother,” Tanesha said.
“The one who gave him Covid?” Mike asked.
“What about her?” Jeraine asked.
They were so surprised that he spoke that they turned to look at him.
“That’s my Jer,” Tanesha said and kissed his cheek.
Jacob gave Jeraine another glass of water, and Tanesha gave him his medications. She waited to continue until he’d swallowed his medications. He nodded.
“What’s going on with Annette?” Jeraine asked.
“I guess that she got Covid,” Tanesha said. “Her mother said that it happened very quickly.”
“What happened?” Jeraine asked.
“She’s dead,” Tanesha said.
Jeraine sucked in a breath.
“Her mother said that she was fine the last time her mother saw Annette,” Tanesha said. “She. . . Her mother went to pick her up for an appointment and found in her bed. She had been dead some time.”
“When?” Mike asked.
“This morning,” Tanesha said. “About a half-hour ago. The paramedics said that she likely had a heart attack brought on by Covid. According to her mom, she had at least three positive Covid tests. Her mother’s very angry with her for not taking care of her Covid. But you know, Annette believed Covid was a hoax.”
“That’s awful,” Jeraine said. “Where’s Jabari?”
“He’s at home,” Tanesha said. “I already told him.”
“How is he?” Jacob asked.
Denver Cereal continues next week...