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Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-seven - How is everyone? (part one)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-SEVEN

(part one)

Saturday morning — 5:30 a.m.

Tanesha’s alarm went off at five. She awakened Jeraine with a kiss on his cheek. He stroked her face, and she got out of bed. After using the bathroom, her socked feet slid across their beautiful floors to Jabari’s room. Of course, the boy was awake when she entered the room. She helped him through his bathroom routine and then brought the child back to bed with Jeraine where they could snuggle for a bit.

She showered in their plush shower in the master bedroom. Her hair was very short now, so she just let the water wash through her tight curls. As her hands moved to clean her body, her mind wandered.

Cases of that Covid virus were down, overall. They’d had an increase in cases in early August from people spreading the virus to friends and family at their Fourth of July holiday parties. But cases went right back down. Everyone expected the fall to be tough. Most of the hospitals were giving doctors and nurses vacation breaks while they could.

Of course, Tanesha and Fin were lowly medical students, so they were filling shifts until school started again in a week or two.

They’d worked their rears off to pass the courses they’d started in the spring but were sent home before completing. They would start their third year in medical school in a few weeks. This year, they would start their first year of rotating through hospital medical departments. As long as the hospital stayed open, of course. She had been assured that the hospital had figured out how to stay open and managed the increase in cases they expected in a month or so.

She also knew that the authorities and experts were talking about some dangerous variants of the virus that were more — more easily spread and much more deadly. She hoped they didn’t reach Colorado.

Tanesha was excited to get back on track with medical school.

She was also terrified that it would all be too much.

None of this ruminating was going to get her day going. She turned off the shower and got out. Drying off, she went through a fast routine of full body lotion, minimal make-up, check her hair and edges, before grabbing her bathrobe and heading out.

She and Fin had been working in the hospitals so long that they had been assigned departments. Tanesha worked in ICU, and Fin worked in the Emergency Room. Tanesha dressed in scrubs and went to wake Jabari again.

Although Jeraine had had a show last night, he got up when Tanesha woke Jabari. He got Jabari ready for his day while Tanesha checked her email.

They were out in the main area by 6:15 a.m.

Tanesha turned on the coffee pot. She was about to open the refrigerator when Blane and Tres came down the stairs. Blane shooed her out of the kitchen and began making breakfast for everyone.

“Where’s Nelson?” Tanesha asked. “Heather?”

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-six - On the Cherry Creek Trail (part six)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-SIX

(part six)

“It’s okay,” Nelson said. He put his hand on Chris’s arm. “They scare the crap out of me too.”

“Heh,” Chris said with a snort. “I don’t usually meet new people.”

“We aren’t people,” Athena said in mild reproach.

“Oh right,” Chris said. He saw Hecate. “Hey! I know you.”

“You’re a friend of Gandy’s,” Hecate said of her partner. “I am Hecate.”

“The Titan,” Chris said, under his breath. He saw Heather and grinned. “You go to our church. You’re Blane’s wife!”

“I am,” Heather said. “I’m Hedone. My father is Eros. I go by Heather.”

“I knew that,” Chris said with a grin. “Okay, this isn’t so freaky. Who are you?”

“I am Athena, as you well know, Christopher Blanco,” Athena said in mild reproach.

Chris’s eyes welled with tears.

“I. . . wasn’t sure. . . I. . .” Chris’s eyes flicked to Alex and then back at Athena. “Thank you.”

“You are most welcome, young man,” Athena said. “I am excited to see what you’ve brought us.”

“Oh right,” Chris said.

He took a tablet computer out of his bag. He gave it to Alex, who started tapping on it.

“Can we sit close here?” Chris asked. “At the table, I mean.”

“Face mask?” Alex asked.

Chris scrambled to find a facemask in his bag. He put it on.

“Why don’t you sit on the end next to Athena?” Heather asked when he had on his mask. “She’s actually very happy to see you.”

“She is?” Chris asked seeming surprised.

Chris’s eyes flicked over to the goddess. She gave him a strong look.

“This is how I look when I’m happy,” Athena said.

Grinning, Chris sat down next to Athena.

“Alex, why don’t you sit on the end across from me?” Heather said. “Leave your mask on. Nelson?”

Nelson sat down between Heather and Hecate. Josie put back on her face mask and sat next to Hecate.

“Show me,” Nelson said.

Alex set the tablet down on the table. A 3-D world floated over the table. Alex spun the world until she found what she was looking for.

“Okay,” Alex said. “It seems like it’s here.”

“Did you say something about pastries?” Nelson asked.

“Oh, my bad,” Chris said.

He jumped up and ran to his vehicle. He returned with cups of coffee and French pastries. While the humans struggled to eat and wear masks, the goddesses drank their coffees and laughed. For the next hour, they went through maps, directions, and plans. When they finished, they looked at Nelson.

“What do you think?” Heather asked.

“I’m surprised at how excited I am,” Nelson said. “When do we go?”

“As soon as we build a crew,” Alex said. “The French are ready for us to leave as soon as we’re ready. They have a few people to add to our crew but you have a right to refuse a few of them. Some, we’re stuck with.”

Smiling from ear to ear, Nelson nodded.

“Yea!” Chris said, cheering. “We’re going to have so much fun.”

He looked from face to face to see everyone cheering. For the first time in a very long time, he felt confident about something in his future.

Denver Cereal continues on Monday...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-six - On the Cherry Creek Trail

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-SIX

Four months later

Saturday early morning — 5:30 a.m.

Cherry Creek running trail

Nelson had driven Tres’s sedan down University Boulevard to the Cherry Creek Trail. He parked and got out. Grabbing his athletic face mask and his water bottle, he began to run in the direction of the Cherry Creek reservoir.

The beginning of the pandemic had been fun. They’d taken care of children and planted seedlings. They’d moved into their new home. Jeraine had put together his concerts. Jacob, Blane, and Aden had worked to save Lipson Construction. Delphie’s weird raised bed project had gotten off the ground. Blane had started his clinic in the medical offices of the Castle.

But as the summer heat rose, the pandemic lingered on. Mr. Matchel went home. The seedlings, so joyously planted, were slowly growing. Jeraine’s concerts were a big hit. They settled into a routine in their new home.

And the battle lines were drawn between people who didn’t “believe” in the virus and people who wanted to keep themselves and their families safe. Of course, the ERs remained full of patients. People were still dying every single day in Colorado.

Yet, around Nelson, only some people wore masks. He wanted to scream but he knew that there was nothing he could do. Every other day, Nelson had headed out to this trail to run with Dr. John Drayson. They’d been friends since they were both young doctors working in the ER. Nelson was one of the few people who could truly understand what John was going through. They commiserated while they ran. On particularly glum days, they ran in companionable silence.

Somehow, Nelson’s father had held on. Jill and her grandfather visited regularly to strengthen his father’s body. Yet, Nelson felt a lot of pressure to get this God damned moronic Templar trip together to find that ridiculous jewel and save his father.

France was willing to foot the bill for the expedition, but wanted to wait until the pandemic was over.

His father was hanging on; Nelson was waiting for the pandemic to be over.

The pandemic lingered on.

In order to avoid the bikes and the idiots, Nelson kept to the grassy creekside of the path. He was just reaching the spot where he picked up John when he saw John’s wife, Alex, waiting for him. He’s heart skipped a beat.

“Where’s John?” Nelson asked in a flurry of words as he coming to a stop. “Is he sick? Is he okay? What’s happened?”

“He’s okay,” Alex said.

“You’re sure?” Nelson asked.

“I’d never lie about something like that,” Alex said. “Shall we?”

Alex started running and Nelson joined her. While Alex wasn’t as fast as John, they kept a good, even pace.

“You’re hip does well,” Nelson said.

“Mostly,” Alex said. “I’m due for another tune up where they scrape the socket. Turns out the flame retardant crap in my pants is in the bone I built.”

“Yuck,” Nelson said.

“It was new technology,” Alex said. “I was damned lucky to get it. So I don’t complain — too much. I have to do it every five years or so. It’ll happen either the end of this year or next. There’s no real rush.”

“You’re moving well,” Nelson said. “I guess it just surprises me.”

“You’ve seen my chart?” Alex asked.

“You came in once when I was working the ER,” Nelson said. “I’ve known Max for a while and. . . Well, it’s amazing that you’re doing so well.”

“I’ve had really great doctors,” Alex said with a soft smile.

Uncomfortable with her words, Nelson fell silent. They ran in silence for a while.

“How’s the new house?” Alex asked.

“It’s really great,” Nelson said. “I was just thinking that the ‘newness’ had dimmed. But I’ll tell you — I always feel happy when I open the door, even if no one is home. It’s just like ‘Ahh.’”

“Kind of ‘This is my life and it’s good,’” Alex said, nodding.

“Exactly,” Nelson said. “I feel lucky, blessed even.”

“I’m glad.” Alex grinned at him.

“Where’s John?” Nelson asked.

“Oh, sorry,” Alex said. “I didn’t say? He went fishing with Max. They’re taking these last warm days before fall sets in to the high country. Wyatt and I will bring the kids up later this week.”

“He didn’t say anything when I saw him last,” Nelson said.

“It came up quickly,” Alex said. “The ICU is down in numbers for a minute. They decided to give people some time off. They did it by hours worked which put John at the head of the list. You know, he was basically there day and night when this thing started. I was gone and the kids were with his siblings. He just worked.”

“Incredible,” Nelson said.

“So many people have made so many sacrifices,” Alex said. “I don’t remember a time like this. I find myself in awe of the grocery clerks and farm workers. I’m embarrassed to say this, but I never really thought about them before.”

“Yeah,” Nelson said. “We’re surrounded by heroes.”

“We just don’t know it,” Alex said.

Nelson nodded.

“Listen, I thought we could run up there and meet with some people,” Alex said. “If that’s okay with you. I tried to call but Blane said you’d already left. He said that you had time today.”

“I have time,” Nelson said.

“Good,” Alex said. “We’ll meet by the lake . . .”

“Lollipop lake?” Nelson asked.

“Really?” Alex asked with a laugh. “It’s called Lollipop lake?”

“In Garland park,” Nelson said with a nod. “We’re nearly there. French pastries?”

“Oui, mon ami,” Alex said.

Nelson grinned. There was a wonderful French patisserie around the corner from this park.

“Why are we meeting?” Nelson asked.

“To talk about our adventure,” Alex said. “I’ve been quietly setting up a team. I realized that many of the members were in town, so I thought we’d meet in the park.”

Nelson nodded.

“You still look so. . .” Alex said.

“Thin?” Nelson asked.

“Muscular,” Alex said. “Blane?”

“We workout as a family,” Nelson nodded. “Manage our diets together. It’s been really great for me.”

“Blane’s a wonderful man,” Alex said.

“It’s all of us, really,” Nelson said. “Tanesha is a powerhouse in the gym. She runs circles around us. Jeraine’s. . . Well, he’s in magazines for his tight abs, so he’s all about our food. It’s incredible to be around Heather and Tres too. It’s like a dream team that I get to call a family.”

“I’m so happy for you,” Alex said.

Nelson smiled but didn’t respond.

“You run kind of heavy,” Alex said.

“Yeah,” Nelson said. “Since running in armor. My feet haven’t adjusted to not wearing it.”

“Does it make your ankles hurt?” Alex asked.

“Now that you mention it,” Nelson said.

Alex grinned.

“Would you be offended if I connected you with a running coach?” Alex asked. “I’ve used him for my hip. We train with him as a team. I think he can help you get off your feet and ankles.”

“Why would you do that?” Nelson asked.

“You’re loud,” Alex said. “Not a big deal while we’re out here, but could be a big deal on our adventure. And anyway. . .”

When she didn’t respond, Nelson turned to look at her.

“It’s a habit of mine,” Alex said.

“What is?” Nelson asked.

“I track physical characteristics in people,” Alex said. “That way I know who I’m dealing with. It’s helped our team. I don’t know. You’re young so it probably won’t bother you.”

“I’m happy for your help,” Nelson said.

“It’s a pretty annoying habit,” Alex said with a grin.

“How does it serve you?” Nelson asked.

Alex chuckled.

“Sorry, that’s a question we ask in forensic science all the time,” Nelson said. “Who was served by this action?”

“We ask it in psychology, well, and in the military,” Alex said. “Just in the military, we’re usually told who an action serves but later figure out who is actually benefiting.”

“Life,” Nelson said.

“Let’s see,” Alex said. “Physical gestures are very hard to fake or cover over. If someone drags their toe, they always drag their toe. Speech patterns are the same. So by tracking these kinds of physical tells, I usually know who someone actually is no matter who they are pretending to be.”

“Makes sense,” Nelson said with a grin.

They ran in silence until they reached Holly Street. They ran across the bridge over Cherry Creek and into the park. Nelson spotted a group of people sitting at a bench near the lake.

“They are awfully close together,” Nelson said. “It’s not really safe.”

“They’re immortal,” Alex said. “Mostly.”

Nelson winced.

“Now, none of that,” Alex said with a laugh.

Alex ran to the table but Nelson held back until he realized that Heather was sitting at the table. Relief cursed through him. Heather acknowledged his relief with a soft smile He realized that he knew almost everyone at the table except an older woman.

The older woman stood up and reached out a sturdy hand to Nelson.

“Hestia,” she said. “I am not sure that you need my assistance, but I was in town visiting my uncle so thought I’d come.”

“Why?” Nelson blurted out.

“I knew your great-great-grandmother,” Hestia said with a soft smile. “She was a silly creature who thought that if she bore a child, she would be safe for life.”

“What happened to her?” Athena asked from the end of the table.

“She fled with the child,” Hestia said. “She lived out in the country until the child was five or six. The Templars found her and took the child.”

“And killed her,” Nelson said, his voice hard.

“Clearly, you’ve met a few of your kind,” Hestia said. “I was told that you were raised here away from them.”

“I was,” Nelson said. “We went on a quest earlier this year and I got trapped in time.”

Hestia stood and walked to Nelson. She put her hand on his arm. He looked into her eyes. For a moment, they just looked at each other. When she broke off their gaze, Nelson felt oddly better.

“I see her in you,” Hestia said with a smile. “You should know that she was so very brave. Truly heroic, in a time when women were. . .”

“Treated like cattle,” Athena said from her spot at the table.

Hestia nodded.

“I see your mother, your father,” Hestia said. “I don’t know that I will be able to go with you, but I will bless your journey.”

With her index finger pointed, Hestia held a hand up to the heavens. The clouds themselves seemed to bend down to her hand. She reached and touched Nelson’s forehead.

“Whoa,” Nelson said.

He weaved with the power of the blessing. She gave him a nod and disappeared.

“You were given a rare gift,” Heather said.

“Why did she go?” Nelson said.

“She does that,” Hecate said, appearing from thin air. “You have to remember that in her day there weren’t very many humans.”

“We interact with each other like that,” Heather said.

Nelson nodded. He looked up to see a dark skinned human woman wearing a face mask sitting at the table.

“You’re not a god,” Nelson said, mostly to himself.

“I’m not,” the woman said. She stood up and walked to him. “I’m Captain Josie Glover-Carmichael.”

“Leena’s wife,” Alex said. “She’s a Captain in the Coast Guard.”

“I had Covid,” Josie said with a slight nod. “I was on a ventilator, nearly died. When the LC asked Leena about me. . .”

Josie sucked in a breath.

“I want to live,” Josie said with a nod. “Big. I can lead a crew. Sail any craft.”

“I. . .” Nelson started.

“You’re the Grandmaster of the Templars?” Josie asked.

Nelson gave her a curt nod.

“I’m in,” Josie said.

“I work for Ava O’Malley,” Nelson said. “She was at your wedding.”

“Her husband played for us.” Josie’s hand went to her heart. “It was magical.”

“It really was,” Alex said.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Nelson said. He looked at Alex. “Why do we need a Captain?”

“Your hoard is in the sea,” Alex said with a nod.

Nelson’s eyes flicked from Alex to Athena to Hecate and finally looked at Heather.

“Alex believes that she found it,” Heather said.

“I need you to take a look,” Alex said. “According to Athena, you will know the truth of it.”

“Or you should,” Athena said.

“Show me,” Nelson said.

Alex nodded in the general direction of the table. Expecting paper maps or something reasonable, Nelson went to the table to look. There was nothing there.

A truck squealed into the parking lot. A large bodybuilder flew out of the passenger seat. He trotted over with more speed than Nelson could have imagined.

“Did I miss it?” the man asked.

“This is Chris,” Alex said with a gesture to the man.

He stopped short in front of Nelson and held out his hand.

“Captain Chris Blanco,” the man said. “Most people call me ‘White Boy,’ but you can call me ‘Chris.’”

Nelson looked the man up and down. His name fit the man. He was possibly the whitest looking man Nelson had ever seen.

“Are you really a Templar?” Chris asked in French. “Grandmaster and everything?”

“Oui,” Nelson said.

“Cool,” Chris said.

“Did you bring it?” Alex asked.

“Yep,” Chris said.

Chris’s chest and back were so large that Nelson hadn’t noticed a messenger bag over his shoulder. Chris went to the table.

“Ladies,” Chris said. “Oh sorry, you’re probably not ladies. Alex said. . .”

Chris’s pale eyes showed his pupils grow large as he became flustered.

“It’s okay,” Nelson said. He put his hand on Chris’s arm. “They scare the crap out of me too.”

“Heh,” Chris said with a snort. “I don’t usually meet new people.”

“We aren’t people,” Athena said in mild reproach.

“Oh right,” Chris said. He saw Hecate. “Hey! I know you.”

“You’re a friend of Gandy’s,” Hecate said of her partner. “I am Hecate.”

“The Titan,” Chris said, under his breath. He saw Heather and grinned. “You go to our church. You’re Blane’s wife!”

“I am,” Heather said. “I’m Hedone. My father is Eros. I go by Heather.”

“I knew that,” Chris said with a grin. “Okay, this isn’t so freaky. Who are you?”

“I am Athena, as you well know, Christopher Blanco,” Athena said in mild reproach.

Chris’s eyes welled with tears.

“I. . . wasn’t sure. . . I. . .” Chris’s eyes flicked to Alex and then back at Athena. “Thank you.”

“You are most welcome, young man,” Athena said. “I am excited to see what you’ve brought us.”

“Oh right,” Chris said.

He took a tablet computer out of his bag. He gave it to Alex, who started tapping on it.

“Can we sit close here?” Chris asked. “At the table, I mean.”

“Face mask?” Alex asked.

Chris scrambled to find a facemask in his bag. He put it on.

“Why don’t you sit on the end next to Athena?” Heather asked when he had on his mask. “She’s actually very happy to see you.”

“She is?” Chris asked seeming surprised.

Chris’s eyes flicked over to the goddess. She gave him a strong look.

“This is how I look when I’m happy,” Athena said.

Grinning, Chris sat down next to Athena.

“Alex, why don’t you sit on the end across from me?” Heather said. “Leave your mask on. Nelson?”

Nelson sat down between Heather and Hecate. Josie put back on her face mask and sat next to Hecate.

“Show me,” Nelson said.

Alex set the tablet down on the table. A 3-D world floated over the table. Alex spun the world until she found what she was looking for.

“Okay,” Alex said. “It seems like it’s here.”

“Did you say something about pastries?” Nelson asked.

“Oh, my bad,” Chris said.

He jumped up and ran to his vehicle. He returned with cups of coffee and French pastries. While the humans struggled to eat and wear masks, the goddesses drank their coffees and laughed. For the next hour, they went through maps, directions, and plans. When they finished, they looked at Nelson.

“What do you think?” Heather asked.

“I’m surprised at how excited I am,” Nelson said. “When do we go?”

“As soon as we build a crew,” Alex said. “The French are ready for us to leave as soon as we’re ready. They have a few people to add to our crew but you have a right to refuse a few of them. Some, we’re stuck with.”

Smiling from ear to ear, Nelson nodded.

“Yea!” Chris said, cheering. “We’re going to have so much fun.”

He looked from face to face to see everyone cheering. For the first time in a very long time, he felt confident about something in his future.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-six - On the Cherry Creek Trail (part five)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-SIX

(part five)

“I don’t know that I will be able to go with you, but I will bless your journey,” Hestia said.

With her index finger pointed, Hestia held a hand up to the heavens. The clouds themselves seemed to bend down to her hand. She reached and touched Nelson’s forehead.

“Whoa,” Nelson said.

He weaved with the power of the blessing. She gave him a nod and disappeared.

“You were given a rare gift,” Heather said.

“Why did she go?” Nelson said.

“She does that,” Hecate said, appearing from thin air. “You have to remember that in her day there weren’t very many humans.”

“We interact with each other like that,” Heather said.

Nelson nodded. He looked up to see a dark skinned human woman wearing a face mask sitting at the table.

“You’re not a god,” Nelson said, mostly to himself.

“I’m not,” the woman said. She stood up and walked to him. “I’m Captain Josie Glover-Carmichael.”

“Leena’s wife,” Alex said. “She’s a Captain in the Coast Guard.”

“I had Covid,” Josie said with a slight nod. “I was on a ventilator, nearly died. When the LC asked Leena about me. . .”

Josie sucked in a breath.

“I want to live,” Josie said with a nod. “Big. I can lead a crew. Sail any craft.”

“I. . .” Nelson started.

“You’re the Grandmaster of the Templars?” Josie asked.

Nelson gave her a curt nod.

“I’m in,” Josie said.

“I work for Ava O’Malley,” Nelson said. “She was at your wedding.”

“Her husband played for us.” Josie’s hand went to her heart. “It was magical.”

“It really was,” Alex said.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Nelson said. He looked at Alex. “Why do we need a Captain?”

“Your hoard is in the sea,” Alex said with a nod.

Nelson’s eyes flicked from Alex to Athena to Hecate and finally looked at Heather.

“Alex believes that she found it,” Heather said.

“I need you to take a look,” Alex said. “According to Athena, you will know the truth of it.”

“Or you should,” Athena said.

“Show me,” Nelson said.

Alex nodded in the general direction of the table. Expecting paper maps or something reasonable, Nelson went to the table to look. There was nothing there.

A truck squealed into the parking lot. A large bodybuilder flew out of the passenger seat. He trotted over with more speed than Nelson could have imagined.

“Did I miss it?” the man asked.

“This is Chris,” Alex said with a gesture to the man.

He stopped short in front of Nelson and held out his hand.

“Captain Chris Blanco,” the man said. “Most people call me ‘White Boy,’ but you can call me ‘Chris.’”

Nelson looked the man up and down. His name fit the man. He was possibly the whitest looking man Nelson had ever seen.

“Are you really a Templar?” Chris asked in French. “Grandmaster and everything?”

“Oui,” Nelson said.

“Cool,” Chris said.

“Did you bring it?” Alex asked.

“Yep,” Chris said.

Chris’s chest and back were so large that Nelson hadn’t noticed a messenger bag over his shoulder. Chris went to the table.

“Ladies,” Chris said. “Oh sorry, you’re probably not ladies. Alex said. . .”

Chris’s pale eyes showed his pupils grow large as he became flustered.

“It’s okay,” Nelson said. He put his hand on Chris’s arm. “They scare the crap out of me too.”

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-six - On the Cherry Creek Trail (part four)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-SIX

(part four)

“What is?” Nelson asked.

“I track physical characteristics in people,” Alex said. “That way I know who I’m dealing with. It’s helped our team. I don’t know. You’re young so it probably won’t bother you.”

“I’m happy for your help,” Nelson said.

“It’s a pretty annoying habit,” Alex said with a grin.

“How does it serve you?” Nelson asked.

Alex chuckled.

“Sorry, that’s a question we ask in forensic science all the time,” Nelson said. “Who was served by this action?”

“We ask it in psychology, well, and in the military,” Alex said. “Just in the military, we’re usually told who an action serves but later figure out who is actually benefiting.”

“Life,” Nelson said.

“Let’s see,” Alex said. “Physical gestures are very hard to fake or cover over. If someone drags their toe, they always drag their toe. Speech patterns are the same. So by tracking these kinds of physical tells, I usually know who someone actually is no matter who they are pretending to be.”

“Makes sense,” Nelson said with a grin.

They ran in silence until they reached Holly Street. They ran across the bridge over Cherry Creek and into the park. Nelson spotted a group of people sitting at a bench near the lake.

“They are awfully close together,” Nelson said. “It’s not really safe.”

“They’re immortal,” Alex said. “Mostly.”

Nelson winced.

“Now, none of that,” Alex said with a laugh.

Alex ran to the table but Nelson held back until he realized that Heather was sitting at the table. Relief cursed through him. Heather acknowledged his relief with a soft smile He realized that he knew almost everyone at the table except an older woman.

The older woman stood up and reached out a sturdy hand to Nelson.

“Hestia,” she said. “I am not sure that you need my assistance, but I was in town visiting my uncle so thought I’d come.”

“Why?” Nelson blurted out.

“I knew your great-great-grandmother,” Hestia said with a soft smile. “She was a silly creature who thought that if she bore a child, she would be safe for life.”

“What happened to her?” Athena asked from the end of the table.

“She fled with the child,” Hestia said. “She lived out in the country until the child was five or six. The Templars found her and took the child.”

“And killed her,” Nelson said, his voice hard.

“Clearly, you’ve met a few of your kind,” Hestia said. “I was told that you were raised here away from them.”

“I was,” Nelson said. “We went on a quest earlier this year and I got trapped in time.”

Hestia stood and walked to Nelson. She put her hand on his arm. He looked into her eyes. For a moment, they just looked at each other. When she broke off their gaze, Nelson felt oddly better.

“I see her in you,” Hestia said with a smile. “You should know that she was so very brave. Truly heroic, in a time when women were. . .”

“Treated like cattle,” Athena said from her spot at the table.

Hestia nodded.

“I see your mother, your father,” Hestia said. “I don’t know that I will be able to go with you, but I will bless your journey.”

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-six - On the Cherry Creek Trail (part three)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-SIX

(part three)

“So many people have made so many sacrifices,” Alex said. “I don’t remember a time like this. I find myself in awe of the grocery clerks and farm workers. I’m embarrassed to say this, but I never really thought about them before.”

“Yeah,” Nelson said. “We’re surrounded by heroes.”

“We just don’t know it,” Alex said.

Nelson nodded.

“Listen, I thought we could run up there and meet with some people,” Alex said. “If that’s okay with you. I tried to call but Blane said you’d already left. He said that you had time today.”

“I have time,” Nelson said.

“Good,” Alex said. “We’ll meet by the lake . . .”

“Lollipop lake?” Nelson asked.

“Really?” Alex asked with a laugh. “It’s called Lollipop lake?”

“In Garland park,” Nelson said with a nod. “We’re nearly there. French pastries?”

“Oui, mon ami,” Alex said.

Nelson grinned. There was a wonderful French patisserie around the corner from this park.

“Why are we meeting?” Nelson asked.

“To talk about our adventure,” Alex said. “I’ve been quietly setting up a team. I realized that many of the members were in town, so I thought we’d meet in the park.”

Nelson nodded.

“You still look so. . .” Alex said.

“Thin?” Nelson asked.

“Muscular,” Alex said. “Blane?”

“We workout as a family,” Nelson nodded. “Manage our diets together. It’s been really great for me.”

“Blane’s a wonderful man,” Alex said.

“It’s all of us, really,” Nelson said. “Tanesha is a powerhouse in the gym. She runs circles around us. Jeraine’s. . . Well, he’s in magazines for his tight abs, so he’s all about our food. It’s incredible to be around Heather and Tres too. It’s like a dream team that I get to call a family.”

“I’m so happy for you,” Alex said.

Nelson smiled but didn’t respond.

“You run kind of heavy,” Alex said.

“Yeah,” Nelson said. “Since running in armor. My feet haven’t adjusted to not wearing it.”

“Does it make your ankles hurt?” Alex asked.

“Now that you mention it,” Nelson said.

Alex grinned.

“Would you be offended if I connected you with a running coach?” Alex asked. “I’ve used him for my hip. We train with him as a team. I think he can help you get off your feet and ankles.”

“Why would you do that?” Nelson asked.

“You’re loud,” Alex said. “Not a big deal while we’re out here, but could be a big deal on our adventure. And anyway. . .”

When she didn’t respond, Nelson turned to look at her.

“It’s a habit of mine,” Alex said.

“What is?” Nelson asked.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-six - On the Cherry Creek Trail (part two)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-SIX

(part two)

“Where’s John?” Nelson asked in a flurry of words as he coming to a stop. “Is he sick? Is he okay? What’s happened?”

“He’s okay,” Alex said.

“You’re sure?” Nelson asked.

“I’d never lie about something like that,” Alex said. “Shall we?”

Alex started running and Nelson joined her. While Alex wasn’t as fast as John, they kept a good, even pace.

“You’re hip does well,” Nelson said.

“Mostly,” Alex said. “I’m due for another tune up where they scrape the socket. Turns out the flame retardant crap in my pants is in the bone I built.”

“Yuck,” Nelson said.

“It was new technology,” Alex said. “I was damned lucky to get it. So I don’t complain — too much. I have to do it every five years or so. It’ll happen either the end of this year or next. There’s no real rush.”

“You’re moving well,” Nelson said. “I guess it just surprises me.”

“You’ve seen my chart?” Alex asked.

“You came in once when I was working the ER,” Nelson said. “I’ve known Max for a while and. . . Well, it’s amazing that you’re doing so well.”

“I’ve had really great doctors,” Alex said with a soft smile.

Uncomfortable with her words, Nelson fell silent. They ran in silence for a while.

“How’s the new house?” Alex asked.

“It’s really great,” Nelson said. “I was just thinking that the ‘newness’ had dimmed. But I’ll tell you — I always feel happy when I open the door, even if no one is home. It’s just like ‘Ahh.’”

“Kind of ‘This is my life and it’s good,’” Alex said, nodding.

“Exactly,” Nelson said. “I feel lucky, blessed even.”

“I’m glad.” Alex grinned at him.

“Where’s John?” Nelson asked.

“Oh, sorry,” Alex said. “I didn’t say? He went fishing with Max. They’re taking these last warm days before fall sets in to the high country. Wyatt and I will bring the kids up later this week.”

“He didn’t say anything when I saw him last,” Nelson said.

“It came up quickly,” Alex said. “The ICU is down in numbers for a minute. They decided to give people some time off. They did it by hours worked which put John at the head of the list. You know, he was basically there day and night when this thing started. I was gone and the kids were with his siblings. He just worked.”

“Incredible,” Nelson said.

“So many people have made so many sacrifices,” Alex said.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-six - On the Cherry Creek Trail (part one)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-SIX

(part one)

Four months later

Saturday early morning — 5:30 a.m.

Cherry Creek running trail

Nelson had driven Tres’s sedan down University Boulevard to the Cherry Creek Trail. He parked and got out. Grabbing his athletic face mask and his water bottle, he began to run in the direction of the Cherry Creek reservoir.

The beginning of the pandemic had been fun. They’d taken care of children and planted seedlings. They’d moved into their new home. Jeraine had put together his concerts. Jacob, Blane, and Aden had worked to save Lipson Construction. Delphie’s weird raised bed project had gotten off the ground. Blane had started his clinic in the medical offices of the Castle.

But as the summer heat rose, the pandemic lingered on. Mr. Matchel went home. The seedlings, so joyously planted, were slowly growing. Jeraine’s concerts were a big hit. They settled into a routine in their new home.

And the battle lines were drawn between people who didn’t “believe” in the virus and people who wanted to keep themselves and their families safe. Of course, the ERs remained full of patients. People were still dying every single day in Colorado.

Yet, around Nelson, only some people wore masks. He wanted to scream but he knew that there was nothing he could do. Every other day, Nelson had headed out to this trail to run with Dr. John Drayson. They’d been friends since they were both young doctors working in the ER. Nelson was one of the few people who could truly understand what John was going through. They commiserated while they ran. On particularly glum days, they ran in companionable silence.

Somehow, Nelson’s father had held on. Jill and her grandfather visited regularly to strengthen his father’s body. Yet, Nelson felt a lot of pressure to get this God damned moronic Templar trip together to find that ridiculous jewel and save his father.

France was willing to foot the bill for the expedition, but wanted to wait until the pandemic was over.

His father was hanging on; Nelson was waiting for the pandemic to be over.

The pandemic lingered on.

In order to avoid the bikes and the idiots, Nelson kept to the grassy creekside of the path. He was just reaching the spot where he picked up John when he saw John’s wife, Alex, waiting for him. He’s heart skipped a beat.

“Where’s John?” Nelson asked in a flurry of words as he coming to a stop. “Is he sick? Is he okay? What’s happened?”

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-five - Planting

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-FIVE

Monday morning — 8:37 a.m.

“Is that everything?” Sam asked.

Delphie went from one greenhouse to another. She looked at him and shook her head. There were three large flatbed trucks full of small plants.

“I can’t find the. . .” Delphie said.

“I put them in the cab of my truck and Jake,” Sam said with a smile. “You told me that the sweet peas were too sensitive to the cold to be in the bed of the truck.”

“Oh, that’s right,” Delphie said, looking relieved. “You said that. Sorry, I just get it stuck in my head that we’re missing something and. . .”

Delphie shook her head. Sam grinned.

“Are we ready?” Jacob asked.

He came out of the Castle with three thick tarps. He helped Sam put on over the plants in the back of Sam’s truck and then went to put them in the back of the two other trucks.

“We’re bringing the kids, right?” Delphie asked. “Isn’t that what we said?”

“They are just inside the door,” Jacob said. “Jill’s got masks on all of them. Honey’s working on outdoor clothing. Heather’s got shoes. And. . .”

“Sandy’s taking care of potty breaks,” Delphie nodded. “Good.”

“What’s got you today?” Sam asked. Putting his arms around Delphie, he added, “You don’t seem like yourself.”

“Oh,” Delphie sighed. “Just a plan coming together, you know? I see it so perfectly in my head and then the execution is. . . When I was younger, it was all a part of the adventure. Now, it’s more like. . . I don’t know, I guess it’s just not as fun.”

“You’ve gotten perfectionistic in your old age,” Sam said, kissing her nose.

“Gotten?” Jacob laughed as he walked toward them.

“Are you going to be warm enough?” Sandy asked.

Sandy brought Delphie her wool jacket. Sam helped Delphie put it on.

“Are the kids ready?” Delphie asked, her eyebrows pinched together with worry.

“They are so excited,” Sandy said. “You should see them. Did you hear what Máire and Joey’s mom is bringing?”

Delphie shook her head.

“We’re going to have fun,” Sandy said.

Using a cane, Sandy went to where the children were being loaded into SUVs.

“Every vehicle has at least one crying child,” Sandy yelled back to Sam and Delphie. “Mission accomplished!”

Sandy gave them two thumbs up and got into the driver’s seat of a vehicle. Tanesha’s father, Rodney, came out of the Castle to Sam and Delphie.

“I have extra masks,” Rodney said. “Here’s your tea.”

Rodney gave Delphie a travel mug. Delphie smelled it.

“Is Yvonne here?” Delphie asked, brightening at the idea that her friend was here.

“Maresol, too,” Rodney said.

He nodded his head toward where his wife, Yvonne, and their friend, Maresol Trafoya, were coming out of the Castle.

“Is there room for us in your truck?” Yvonne asked.

“Nelson’s here with Ava’s new SUV.” Maresol gestured to where Nelson was sitting in an SUV on the street.

“You go ahead,” Sam said.

“You don’t think I should go with you?” Delphie asked.

“I sure don’t,” Sam said. “This is just a fun thing to do. We’re doing it because. . .”

“. . . we grew all of those seedlings,” Delphie said. “Taking care of all of those kids. It was a good thing to do as this is a good thing to do.”

Delphie gasped.

“I forgot to tell the other kids,” Delphie said.

“No, you didn’t,” Sam said. “They are meeting us there. All of the kids who grew all of these seedlings will be there to help plant them into the garden boxes. We’ve saved back what we like to grow here in our garden and the Hargreaves. When we’re done at the lot, we’ll come back here for a barbecue and planting the rest. Everything’s perfect.”

“Everything’s perfect,” Delphie repeated as if by rote.

“Go,” Sam said. “Have fun with your friends.”

A car pulled up and La Tonya’s kids poured out of her sedan. They rolled like water into one of the waiting SUVs. La Tonya got out of the driver’s seat and went to the passenger’s seat where Nelson was waiting.

“What are they doing?” Delphie asked.

“They thought that they’d go, take some temperatures, pass out some masks,” Sam said. “It seemed like a good chance to engage people who might not have had any services. Nelson’s co-worker Leslie is also a doctor. John Drayson got a doc and a couple of nurses to join them.”

“Help them stay well,” Delphie said with a nod.

“Isn’t that what this project is all about?” Sam asked.

Nodding, Delphie grinned.

“Come on!” Yvonne called to Delphie.

Delphie gave Sam one last look and trotted over to her friend. Yvonne took Delphie’s elbow and they went to where Nelson waited for them. When Delphie and Yvonne got into the vehicle, Delphie squealed. Her friend, Dionne, was waiting there for her.

Sam watched as the women talked all at the same time. Nelson pulled out.

“Ready?” Jacob asked.

Sam nodded.

“Charlie’s going with you,” Jacob said.

“I can drive myself!” Sam said. “I’m not sick anymore.”

“Okay,” Jacob said. “Should we just leave Charlie here?”

Sam gave Jacob a frustrated look and stormed over to the driver’s seat of the truck. He opened the door to find Charlie sitting there.

“Can I drive? I want to get my driver’s license this year and. . .” Charlie’s voice came from inside the cab of the truck.

Sam shot Jacob a look, and Jacob grinned at his father. Shaking his head, Sam went around the truck and got into the passenger seat of the truck. Rodney started his truck. Jacob ran to the third truck and got in the driver’s seat. Sam and Charlie left the parking lot first. Rodney followed them, and Jacob came third.

The day of planting had begun!

In a mini-parade, they drove through the Denver and out on Colorado Boulevard until they reached the Marlowe School near I-70.

“Look,” Charlie pointed to the SUV that Nelson was driving.

“Getting coffee,” Sam said.

Charlie grinned.

“I hope that I still have my same friends when I’m their age,” Charlie said. “What you and Delphie do, the way you live, is wonderful.”

“Keep your eyes on the road,” Sam said gruffly.

Charlie flicked his eyes to Sam, and they both started laughing.

“Uh oh,” Sam said.

Up ahead, they saw an angry man wearing a mask and wagging his finger at Valerie. Never one to back down, Valerie was arguing back with him. The man kept shaking his head and wagging his finger at her.

“Who’s that?” Charlie asked.

“Inspector,” Sam said. “Radow. He’s an underground inspector so I’m not sure why he’s here. Can you drop me?”

“And park by myself?” Charlie’s voice rose in panic.

“No,” Sam said. “You’re right. Let’s park and go see what’s up his rear.”

“Poop?” Charlie asked.

Sam laughed. With Sam’s coaching, Charlie managed to park the truck on the edge of the payment within the confines of an actual parking spot. Charlie cheered, and Sam clapped. Together, they got out of the truck and went to where Valerie and the inspector were drawing a crowd.

“Finally,” Inspector Barry Radow said, gesturing to Sam. “What the fuck is this?”

“Garden plots?” Sam asked. “You grow things in them?”

“He’s upset about the fence,” Valerie said to Sam.

I’m not upset about the fence,” Barry Radow said. “I’m not upset about anything! My boss however is very upset. And I have to come out here, in the middle of this deadly plague no less, and deal with one more Lipson Construction cock up. And that makes me really upset!

He gestured to Valerie.

“She only has plans for the new facility,” Barry Radow said. “Where are the plans for this? And why isn’t the fence on the God damned property line?”

“Because we own the entire lot to the street,” Jacob said.

“Then put your little boxes on everything or nothing at all,” Barry Radow yelled.

“You heard the man,” Rodney said. “Jake? Seems like we need more garden beds.”

“Call your guys,” Jacob said. “We’ll pay ’em. And get the drivers here.”

“Wait, what?” Barry Radow asked.

“You said that it has to be all or nothing,” Rodney’s deep voice carried over the distance. “Look around you, man. Where are these people buying groceries? We have the land. We can grow some food for the people. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?”

“We are going to grow as much food as we can,” Valerie said. “Plus, we’re giving people something positive to focus on in order to get through this season.”

Barry Radow scowled at Valerie and then looked at Sam.

“You’all have lost your damn minds,” Barry Radow said.

“When is that news?” Sam laughed.

“Barry!” Delphie said coming across the dirt field. “So nice to see you.”

“Ma’am,” Barry said.

“Is there a problem here?” Delphie asked.

“All or nothing,” Barry said. “The rules are clear. This is either a growing space or a store front or a living space. It can’t be everything to everyone.”

“Will this affect our plans to expand the school or the new infant center?” Valerie asked.

“No,” Barry said irritably. “I told you that.”

“I was just making sure,” Valerie said with a grin.

“Perfect,” Jacob said. “You want to grab a shovel, Radow?”

The inspector looked at Jacob for a long moment.

“You’re not doing anything right now,” Jacob said.

The inspector shook his head at Jacob.

“I’ll give you tickets to see Jeraine play tonight,” Sam said.

Barry Radow’s eyes flicked to Sam.

“Bring your wife,” Valerie said.

“Is it safe?” Barry Radow asked.

“We think so,” Sam said. “There’s always a risk, but wear your mask. We’ll have airflow and there’ll only be a few people. Can you come tonight?”

Barry Radow nodded.

“Not one toe out of line,” Barry Radow said. “My boss drives by this lot every damned day. If you screw up. . .”

“Tell him to stop by,” Jacob said. “He can have a fresh cucumber or two.”

There was a noise and the sound of trucks pulling up.

“Oh look!” Valerie said.

They saw Alex Hargreaves get out of the back seat of a two door truck. She went around to help her twins out of the truck. Her husband, John Drayson, slid out of the driver’s seat. The children ran forward to greet their friends. The group of children drew children from the surrounding housing. Heather passed out masks while Jill and Sandy helped Delphie with the plants in the back of the truck.

A loud squeal of tires brought some of Alex Hargreaves military team. They brought their families and shovels. They also brought a barbecue and coolers filled with food.

Jacob took charge of creating new garden beds. Some of the military team went to work with him. When the heavy vehicles arrived, Lipson Construction employees got to work again.

Delphie was the garden designer so she worked with Valerie to set up the beds with the right amount of sun. An hour into being there, a truck with trees arrived.

“You need a wind break,” Alex Hargreaves said to Delphie. “Along the north edge of the property there. The wind blows up off the light rail tracks. We have a lot of trouble with that in Afghanistan so it’s something I noticed right off the bat.”

“What did you get?” Delphie asked, her excitement and curiosity peaked.

“Pomegranates,” Alex said. “They are bushes in our climate. So we got a few Arborvitae. They should disrupt the wind and not interfere with the light. Will they work?”

“Absolutely,” Delphie said with a grin. “Thank you.”

“We have pomegranate fields on our tribal land in Afghanistan,” Joey, Alex’s son, said.

“We have a supplier,” Alex said.

Máire nodded.

“Wonderful,” Delphie said. “That’s really wonderful.”

“How would you two like to help Beau and Chase plant their lavender?” Valerie said. “They are planting it all along the edge of the fence there. You can see Max there.”

Joey and Máire ran off to be with their cousins. Alex leaned over to speak quietly to John. He kissed her forehead and went to see what Nelson and the medical crew were up to. Alex gave a loud whistle and members of her team including her twin brother, Max, came in her direction. She pointed to the trees. The team got to work planting six Arborvitaes along the edge of the property with six pomegranates inside.

“Are you ready?” asked Valerie as she turned to look at Delphie.

Delphie gave her a slight nod.

“I’ve set up your friends with a set of beds and plants,” Valerie said.

Valerie and Delphie were momentarily distracted by a truck full of young men pulled up to the site. Jacob and the men spoke in fast Spanish before the men jumped out of the truck. The men grabbed shovels and went to where Rodney was mapping out the new beds.

“Look around,” Valerie said softly.

Garden beds were popping up on the side of the field closest to the street. The Fey Team kids and the children from the Castle were ready to plant in the beds that were already made. Adults and children from nearby apartment buildings were either checking in with the medical team or milling around Noelle to wait for the lottery for beds.

Delphie grinned.

“Everything is coming together nicely,” Delphie said. “Are you ready to do the lottery?”

“Absolutely,” Valerie said.

Valerie and Delphie went to Noelle.

“I wrote everyone’s names down on the paper,” Noelle said, gesturing to her clipboard.

“This is your last chance,” Valerie yelled. “If you’d like a garden bed, then you need to be on this list!”

“Why’re you making those beds by the road?” someone in the back yelled.

“We were informed by the inspector that the lot couldn’t be multiple use,” Valerie said. “If we wanted garden beds here, then the whole lot had to be filled with them. So we’re finishing the job.”

“Are they worse? Dirty?” a woman near the front asked.

“No,” Delphie said. “They are the same.”

“Will there be water?” an elderly man asked. “I can’t bring it from my apartment.”

“Yes,” Valerie said. “I just. . .”

“I’ll go remind Jake,” Delphie said. “You get these people some land to plant on.”

“Can you put numbers by everyone’s names?” Valerie asked.

“Sure,” Noelle said and got to work.

While Noelle worked, Valerie told everyone that they needed to follow the rules, help each other out, and the usual mix of “Everyone’s success depends on everyone’s actions.” Noelle gave her the clipboard.

“Okay,” Valerie said. “I’m going to get a random number from this site. . .”

Valerie poked around on her phone before Noelle took the phone from her. Together, they found the random number site and began giving people garden beds. There were people cheering for their win. When they were done, there were only a few disappointed people left.

“We are building a community bed,” Valerie said. “We’ll supply the plants and we can all share it. Would you like that?”

Everyone cheered.

“Now, if you’d like to get seeds, we’ll have them here,” Valerie said. “Right now, just hang out until we finish the rest of the beds.”

“Make sure to see our medical crew if you haven’t yet,” Noelle said.

The flood of people moved away from Valerie and Noelle.

“That was fun,” Noelle said.

“We were hoping that you would paint a mural on the shed,” Valerie said.

“Did they build the shed yet?” Noelle asked.

Valerie turned around to look.

“They’re just starting,” Valerie said.

“Great,” Noelle said. “I’ll get my paints.”

Noelle gave a little clap.

Mooooommmm!” Noelle screamed and ran to find Sandy. “I need my paints!

Valerie chuckled to herself. Feeling movement near her, she looked up to see Troy Olivas, one of Alex Hargreaves’ team, standing near her.

“You okay?” Troy asked.

“A little tired,” Valerie said.

“We’re setting up over there,” Troy said. “Why don’t you go sit down? Everything is happening. It’s. . .”

“Amazing,” Valerie said.

“It’s hope in action,” Troy said.

Valerie smiled. They walked over to where they’d laid grass mats over the dirt and set up folding chairs. Valerie took a seat under a shade umbrella. A few minutes later, Delphie sat down in a chair next to Valerie. Valerie reached over to hold Delphie’s hands.

“This is really beautiful,” Valerie said.

“You know what?” Delphie asked. “It really is.”

Dionne came over to sit next to Delphie and Yvonne followed. As the day warmed, they sat under the umbrella, talked, laughed, and watched it all happen.

By the end of the day, all of the plants were in. Seeds were planted.

They went home exhausted and deeply satisfied to have added a tiny bit of green hope into everyone’s lives.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-five - Planting (part six)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-FIVE

(part six)

“Will there be water?” an elderly man asked. “I can’t bring it from my apartment.”

“Yes,” Valerie said. “I just. . .”

“I’ll go remind Jake,” Delphie said. “You get these people some land to plant on.”

“Can you put numbers by everyone’s names?” Valerie asked.

“Sure,” Noelle said and got to work.

While Noelle worked, Valerie told everyone that they needed to follow the rules, help each other out, and the usual mix of “Everyone’s success depends on everyone’s actions.” Noelle gave her the clipboard.

“Okay,” Valerie said. “I’m going to get a random number from this site. . .”

Valerie poked around on her phone before Noelle took the phone from her. Together, they found the random number site and began giving people garden beds. There were people cheering for their win. When they were done, there were only a few disappointed people left.

“We are building a community bed,” Valerie said. “We’ll supply the plants and we can all share it. Would you like that?”

Everyone cheered.

“Now, if you’d like to get seeds, we’ll have them here,” Valerie said. “Right now, just hang out until we finish the rest of the beds.”

“Make sure to see our medical crew if you haven’t yet,” Noelle said.

The flood of people moved away from Valerie and Noelle.

“That was fun,” Noelle said.

“We were hoping that you would paint a mural on the shed,” Valerie said.

“Did they build the shed yet?” Noelle asked.

Valerie turned around to look.

“They’re just starting,” Valerie said.

“Great,” Noelle said. “I’ll get my paints.”

Noelle gave a little clap.

Mooooommmm!” Noelle screamed and ran to find Sandy. “I need my paints!

Valerie chuckled to herself. Feeling movement near her, she looked up to see Troy Olivas, one of Alex Hargreaves’ team, standing near her.

“You okay?” Troy asked.

“A little tired,” Valerie said.

“We’re setting up over there,” Troy said. “Why don’t you go sit down? Everything is happening. It’s. . .”

“Amazing,” Valerie said.

“It’s hope in action,” Troy said.

Valerie smiled. They walked over to where they’d laid grass mats over the dirt and set up folding chairs. Valerie took a seat under a shade umbrella. A few minutes later, Delphie sat down in a chair next to Valerie. Valerie reached over to hold Delphie’s hands.

“This is really beautiful,” Valerie said.

“You know what?” Delphie asked. “It really is.”

Dionne came over to sit next to Delphie and Yvonne followed. As the day warmed, they sat under the umbrella, talked, laughed, and watched it all happen.

By the end of the day, all of the plants were in. Seeds were planted.

They went home exhausted and deeply satisfied to have added a tiny bit of green hope into everyone’s lives.

Denver Cereal continues on Monday...