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Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-two - Covid is a family problem (part five)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-TWO

(part five)

Friday evening — 9:47 p.m.

Tanesha finished her swim and floated back to the seats at the rear of the Swim spa. She was just pulling off her goggles when a towel appeared.

“Thanks,” Tanesha said. “Hang on.”

“I’ll be right here,” Delphie said.

“Good, I wanted to talk to you,” Tanesha said.

Tanesha stood to make her way out of the small pool.

“Oh?” Delphie looked surprised. “I wanted to talk with you.”

Tanesha came down from the edge of the pool and took the towel from Delphie.

“How was your swim?” Delphie asked.

“Good,” Tanesha said. “I want to get one of these, but we can’t afford it after all the house stuff.”

“Valerie doesn’t mind you using this one,” Delphie said.

“She’s lovely,” Tanesha said. “Plus, Jer’s downstairs in that ballroom testing the sound speakers. This gives me something to do. Can you hear them in the house?”

“No,” Delphie said.

“I guess that makes sense,” Tanesha said. She pulled the towel around her and tucked the ends into the wrap. “There’s a whole lot of dirt between the ballroom and the house.”

Delphie nodded.

“You want to go first?” Tanesha asked.

“I was hoping to speak with you about the woman you call ‘Gran,’” Delphie said.

“You mean my non-grandmother?” Tanesha asked. “Brr, can we go inside?”

“Absolutely,” Delphie said.

Tanesha pulled off her swimming cap as they walked through the door to the kitchen.

“I warmed up some dinner for you,” Delphie said.

“Uh oh,” Tanesha said. “Trying to soften the blow.”

Delphie gave Tanesha a soft smile.

“I guess so,” Delphie said.

“How bad is it?” Tanesha asked.

“She only has a day or so left,” Delphie said. “I was hoping to talk to Fin about having her partner return, but I never seem to catch him.”

“They’re having some drama at home,” Tanesha said. “He’s either working in the hospital with me or dealing with bullshit at home. That’s why Abi’s not around.”

Delphie nodded.

“Could you ask him?” Delphie asked.

“I will as soon as we’re done,” Tanesha said.

“Good,” Delphie said. “How is Jabari?”

“You know how Jabari is because he’s here with Maggie and Mack,” Tanesha said.

“Yes, I guess I do,” Delphie said. “It’s a shame about Annette.”

“It really is,” Tanesha said. “I will never understand why people throw their lives away out of stubbornness.”

Delphie nodded. Tanesha poked around on her plate before taking a bite. Realizing she was starving, she started eating in earnest.

“What did you want to talk to me about?” Delphie asked.

“Oh, right,” Tanesha said. “Sorry. This pasta is really good.”

“I’m glad your house is still coming for dinner,” Delphie said. “Nelson made steak and Blane made this pasta. He made the sauce from scratch.”

“I was at the hospital,” Tanesha shrugged. “This is wonderful. I’m so lucky.”

“We all are,” Delphie nodded.

“Did Jer eat?” Tanesha asked.

“That’s why everyone came over,” Delphie said. “His dad and Seth came to. We had dinner and then they went to. . . what do they call it?”

“Jam,” Tanesha said.

“Like apricot,” Delphie said.

Delpie’s eyes danced with laughter. Tanesha grinned. She set her fork down.

“Listen, I wondered if you would like to participate in a vaccine trial,” Tanesha said.

“What’s that?” Delphie asked.

“A vaccine?” Tanesha asked.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-two - Covid is a family problem (part four)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-TWO

(part four)

The elderly man closed his eyes and sighed. A tear rolled down his face.

“I’m going to put this mask on you,” Heather said. She opened her hand and a face mask appeared. “Nelson and Blane can’t get Covid. So I don’t want any argument from you.”

The man gave a vague nod. She put the mask over his face. Heather gestured for Nelson to come out. Blane said something to Jacob, and Jacob went into the kitchen. Blane and Nelson went out together. Blane grabbed the man’s right wrist to take his Chinese medicine pulses, while Nelson used an infrared thermometer to take the man’s temperature.

“99,” Nelson said. “High, but that could be from dehydration. What do you think?”

“His immune system is fighting something,” Blane said. “He is very weak. We should treat him as infected until we can check.”

Nelson nodded. Jacob appeared with a cup of warm broth. Everyone but Heather backed up. Heather placed her hand on the man’s shoulder.

“Let’s see how you do with some broth,” Heather said.

The elderly man nodded. He took off the mask and drank the broth. Heather waited to see his effect. She shook his head.

“He’s too weak,” Heather said. “The broth is running right through him.”

Blane and Jacob shared a look.

“What?” Nelson asked.

“We need to bring him to the Castle medical offices,” Blane said.

“He’s too weak,” Nelson said. “Can’t we put him in your office?”

Blane and Jacob looked at each other again. Jacob nodded.

“Yes,” Jacob said.

“What the fuck is it with you two?” Nelson asked irritably. “I thought I’d have trouble with Tres, but he’s open and honest — clear even — compared to the two of you lovebirds.”

“Sorry,” Blane said. “We’ve worked together for a long time. We’ve had many years of long conversation about me using the medical offices for my practice.”

“I told him this very thing this morning,” Jacob said.

“While we were moving me into my office,” Blane said.

“This morning,” Jacob said.

“Did you finish?” Nelson asked.

“Moving in?” Blane asked.

Jacob vehemently shook his head.

“No,” Blane said. “In the words of Jacob, ‘Damn, you have a lot of crap.’”

“So we can move him to your office?” Nelson asked, trying to hide his exasperation.

“Yes,” Blane said.

“Let’s,” Jacob said.

When they turned back to look at Mr. Matchel, he was gone. Heather was sitting in his place.

“I moved him into Blane’s office,” Heather said, mildly. “He needed a bath and some clean clothing, which has been taken care of by my associates. He is sleeping quietly.”

Heather smiled at the men.

“I am a goddess,” Heather said. “So I’ll tell you — this man is exhausted. He’s been without any form of nutrition for a long time. He hasn’t had company or interaction either. He’s been stuck in his house without any assistance while the entire world closed down. He’s terrified that he will die and no one will know. He is hungry, tired, dirty, distraught, and very alone.”

Heather stood up.

“He is now a part of our family,” Heather said, standing up. “And, we need to think about every single one of our neighbors because it’s very possible that there are more people in Mr. Matchel’s situation.”

She went into the house.

“Covid?” Nelson croaked.

“I don’t know,” Heather said. “Jill’s out with the kids. I sent her a text. She’ll stop here when they get back.”

Heather gave the men a nod and went back into the house. The men watched her go.

“I’m not making dinner,” Heather said.

Jacob laughed. Nelson trotted into the house after Heather. Blane nodded to Jacob and followed them inside.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-two - Covid is a family problem (part three)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-TWO

(part three)

Friday afternoon — 4:35 p.m.

Nelson got off the 15 Colfax bus at Race Street and started toward their new home. When Ava and her team had a case, they worked long hours, sometimes all night. They were between cases due to Covid, so everyone left early. Nelson loved getting home early now that he had such a great home filled with so many people that he loved.

He took a deep breath. The days were getting longer and the weather was moving into summer warm. Tulips and daffodils lined his walk to their new home. He smiled.

He would check in on his father this evening before heading home. It was his turn to make dinner so he imagined himself grilling up some burgers for everyone on his new gas grill in their new gorgeous patio.

For the first time, in a very, very long time, he was truly happy.

Grinning under his N-95 mask, he continued down the sidewalk. His eyes noticed the burgeoning spring while his mind planned out what he’d do when he got home. When he turned back to the sidewalk, he saw what looked like a pile of clothing. He squinted, and then scowled.

“That’s. . .”

Nelson ran toward the pile of clothing while digging in his bag for a phone. He dropped down next to the body of his elderly next door neighbor, Mr. Matchel. Nelson touched the elderly man’s shoulder and Mr. Matchel groaned.

“Oh my God,” Nelson said, blowing out a breath. “You’re alive.”

“Hey!” Blane yelled from the front lawn of the Castle.

The paparazzi turned to take photos. Blane and Jacob ran across the street to where Nelson knelt.

“It’s Mr. Matchel,” Nelson said. “Our next door neighbor.”

“Let’s get him inside,” Blane said.

Before Nelson could move, Jacob picked up the elderly man and jogged down the path to the patio behind the house. Jacob set the elderly man on a bench and helped him sit up.

“What. . .?” Heather asked after sliding open the glass door to the patio.

“Go back inside,” Nelson said. “This is Covid.”

“I’m immortal?” Heather shrugged.

The men stared at her for a moment. She nodded.

“Maybe you should go inside while I figure this out,” Heather said.

Because she’d promised to always wear one, Heather grabbed a mask and went outside. The men went inside and stood next to the sliding glass window.

“Mr. Matchel?” Heather asked. She put her hand on his shoulder. “Mr. Matchel.”

The man’s eyes fluttered open. He looked up at her.

“We found you on the sidewalk,” Heather said.

“Need. . .” the elderly man said, “. . . help.”

“Are you ill?” Heather asked.

“Ask him to take a full breath!” Nelson yelled from inside the house.

“Can you take a full breath?” Heather asked.

The elderly man took a shaky breath. Heather looked at Nelson. Blane was starting outside. But Heather shook her head at him.

“When was the last time you ate?” Heather asked.

“They stopped my meals,” Mr. Matchel said. “I ran out of food a couple weeks ago. You kids told me that if I ever needed help. . . Took me a time to. . .”

“Do you think you need a hospital?” Heather asked.

“I don’t know,” Mr. Matchel said. “I was surprised at how weak I’ve become. I never would have thought that I. . .”

The elderly man closed his eyes and sighed. A tear rolled down his face.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-two - Covid is a family problem (part two)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-TWO

(part two)

Friday morning — 10:01 a.m.

“What do you see?” Katy whispered to Paddie.

Taller than Katy, Paddie stood on his tiptoes to look out the window of Jill’s office.

“They are still out there,” Paddie said with a nod.

Katy scowled.

“Don’t worry,” Paddie said. “They won’t notice. They’re doing what they’re doing.”

“My daddy’s out there?” Katy asked.

Paddie stood on his tiptoes again. He nodded.

“He notices everything,” Katy said.

Paddie turned around to look at his best friend. Katy crossed her arms and scowled.

“Are you okay?” Paddie asked.

“No,” Katy said. “We have to get out of here!”

“Why?” Jill asked.

Katy and Paddie gasped in unison. They looked very guilty.

“Katy?” Jill asked. She knelt down to her daughter. “Are you needing an adventure?”

“We’re worried about our horses,” Paddie said, instantly caving to pressure.

Katy gave him a hard look but Paddie shrugged.

“She saved me when I was sick,” Paddie said. “I could have died!”

Katy’s eyes filled with tears, and the children hugged. Moved by the children, Jill picked up Katy and Paddie.

“Oh Mommy,” Katy said, as she cried into her mother’s shoulder.

Jill let Katy cry for a while before kissing Katy’s forehead and set her on the couch. She kissed Paddie and set him on the couch.

“Now,” Jill said. “Why are you worried about the horses?”

“We don’t know if they got sick!” Katy said. “They can’t wear masks!”

“And a lot of people aren’t as careful as us,” Paddie said.

“They don’t know about bones and crypts and plagues and. . .” The air crackled with Katy’s anxiety. “They’ll get our horses sick.”

“They’re horses!” Paddie said. “I don’t want my horse to be as sick as I was!”

“Well, you bring up a valid point,” Jill said.

“We’re really careful with Sarah and Buster,” Paddie said. “We wash our hands and make sure to wear our masks and. . .”

“We don’t want the dogs to get sick!” Katy said.

They looked so worried that Jill gave them a soft smile.

“I’ll tell you what,” Jill said. “Why don’t we go see our horses? Your daddy is working on the house, so he can’t go. But I know that Paddie’s Aunt Alex and her team are here. She can probably spare someone to help us. Should I call?”

Nodding, Paddie jumped up and down. Katy thought for a minute.

“Do we have to bring the other kids?” Katy asked.

“I was thinking that we would,” Jill said. “Would that be a big deal?”

Adorably, Katy tapped her lip while she thought about it.

“I think everyone wants to break out of here,” Jill said.

“Just the middle-big kids?” Katy asked.

“If you’d like,” Jill said. “Máire and Joey have horses, or they share horses like we do. I’m not sure. I don’t know if Jackie and Eddy have been riding, but I bet they’d want to go.”

“We’ll help!” Katy said brightly.

“Sounds good,” Jill said. “Maybe we can stop for some fancy food on our way home? We can get it to-go.”

“Like we used to?” Katy asked.

Jill nodded. Katy cheered so Paddie joined her. Katy and Paddie ran out of Jill’s office to tell everyone.

Jill remembered that Athena had been working with Heather on something Olympian. She bet that Athena could teach their kids a thing or two about horses. Smiling to herself, Jill began to make calls.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-two - Covid is a family problem (part one)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-TWO

(part one)

“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.”

Jeraine nodded.

“How is he?” Jacob asked.

“Philosophical,” Tanesha said with a grin. “That kid. . .”

“You should watch him,” Mike said. “It catches up with kids. It was a while before Meg or I really realized that our parents were dead, or supposed to be dead.”

“Good point,” Tanesha said with a nod.

“Annette’s mother asked if you’d go to the funeral and bring Jabari,” Tanesha said.

“We can figure it out,” Mike said. “No point messing up today.”

Jeraine nodded and closed his eyes. He sighed.

“I guess I can’t believe it,” Jeraine said. “That’s she’s gone. She has been such a pain for such a long time that. . .”

“I doubt the pain is over,” Tanesha said.

Jeraine nodded. Each lost in their own thoughts, they stood together in silence. Jammy rushed through the door from the backyard.

“Jeraine?” Jammy said, concern was apparent on his face. “I just got the word that Annette has died.”

“Miss T just told me,” Jeraine said.

“I’m so sorry,” Jammy said.

Jeraine looked at Tanesha, and she turned to Jammy.

“Jabari had Covid when he got home from her house,” Tanesha said. “When I spoke to her about it, she said that her son wasn’t a ‘sissy’ and that she didn’t care about ‘no virus.’ So, it isn’t a surprise to us that she’s died in this way. It’s just very sad.”

“You want to talk to the press?” Jammy asked.

“I think we need to,” Tanesha said. “I’m in the hospitals five days a week. People are dying. We need to use every opportunity to let people know that this thing is real and deadly.”

“I’ll set it up,” Jammy said. He hugged Jeraine. “You okay?”

“Too bright out there for me out there,” Jeraine said. “Jake brought me to a cooler place. Miss T brought my meds.”

“Let’s wait until you’re set,” Jammy said. “Sam’s ready to open the ballroom. Would you like to come out?”

Jeraine looked at Tanesha. She gave him a soft smile.

“Let’s not give up today,” Mike said.

“Good thinking,” Tanesha said. “Come on.”

Jeraine got up and followed Tanesha into the living room.

“First,” Tanesha said.

She took Jacob’s sunglasses off Jeraine’s face and gave them to Jacob. She took out sunglasses popular in the 1920s.

“Your dad sent these over,” Tanesha said.

She put them on Jeraine.

“Looking good,” Mike said.

They each checked their facemasks before heading out into the yard.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-one - Settling in

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.

Heather nodded.

“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!”

They laughed.

“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.

Mike nodded.

“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.”

Mike nodded.

“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. . .

Matt?

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.

Jeraine nodded.

“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.”

Jeraine nodded.

“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.

Tanesha nodded.

“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.”

Jeraine nodded.

“How is he?” Jacob asked.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-one - Settling in (part six)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-ONE

(part six)

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 a 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.”

Jeraine nodded.

“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.

Tanesha nodded.

“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.”

Jeraine nodded.

“How is he?” Jacob asked.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-one - Settling in (part five)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-ONE

(part five)

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. . .

Matt?

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.

Jeraine nodded.

“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.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-one - Settling in (part four)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-ONE

(part four)

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.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-one - Settling in (part three)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-ONE

(part three)

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.”

Mike nodded.

“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.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...