CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-FOUR
Sunday early-morning — 2:07 a.m.
Nelson opened his eyes the moment his cellphone rang. His hand patted the bedside table until it landed on the phone. He squinted at the number and then answered.
“Oui allo?” Nelson said in modern French, into the phone. “C’est Nelson Weeks. Je vous ecoute.”
“Oncle Nelson, c’est Sissy,” she said into the phone. “Á Paris.”
“Sissy!” Nelson said in English. Sitting up, he realized that he was naked. As if she could see him, he pulled the sheet to cover himself. “How are you?”
“Good,” Sissy said. “So sorry to wake you. You told me to call you as soon as I heard anything.”
“I did?” Nelson asked.
“About our trip this summer?” Sissy asked.
“Oui,” Nelson said. “With the virus and everything, I forgot all about it.”
“Sandy said you’d moved into your new, old house,” Sissy said. “How is it?”
“It’s amazing,” Nelson said. “Truly. You’ll have to visit when you come to Denver next.”
“I will,” Sissy said. “Shall I tell you about our trip?”
“Please,” Nelson said.
“Your grandparents agreed to sponsor our trip,” Sissy said. “Their lawyers brought in a lawyer who worked on these kinds of trips. He will be in touched with you later today. I was told that his role would be to act as an intermediary between you, our grandparents, and the crew for our trip.”
“Crew?” Nelson asked.
“Apparently there are people who only do this kind of thing,” Sissy said. “You have to book with a quality crew right away. The lawyer said that he will see what you think you need.”
“Hmm,” Nelson said.
“Not sure what you need?” Sissy asked with a laugh.
“Exactly,” Nelson said.
“You’re having breakfast with friends this morning?” Sissy asked.
“I’m going to Ava’s to eat Maresol breakfast,” Nelson said.
“Exactly,” Sissy said. “You’ll know the answers to the questions after breakfast.”
“Very cloak and dagger,” Nelson said.
“Just remember that you are not alone,” Sissy said. “And now that our grandparents are helping?”
“It looks like we’ll have an eventful summer,” Nelson said.
“Exactly,” Sissy said. “I need to get to my next class. You should go back to sleep.”
“Will do,” Nelson said. “And Sissy?”
“Yea?” Sissy asked.
“Thanks,” Nelson said. “You’re a lifesaver.”
“De rien,” Sissy said. “Au revoir.”
“Bye bye,” Nelson said.
He set the phone down on the side table. Lost in thought, he wandered into his bathroom to use the toilet. He knew that he should get up and work on this, but his new perfectly comfortable bed was too enticing. He climbed into bed and fell into a sound sleep.
Sunday morning — 6:07 a.m.
“Miss T said that you were really good in the clinic yesterday,” Jeraine said to his sister, La Tonya.
They were sitting at the cement table in the sunken backyard of the new house. Tanesha had convinced La Tonya to stay for dinner. Exhausted and depressed, La Tonya had fallen asleep on the couch after dinner. They had found a bed for her and her children. Jeraine knew that La Tonya got up early, so he made coffee and went to wake her.
This was the first time they’d spent any real time together as adults.
“You must think. . .” La Tonya started.
“I don’t think anything,” Jeraine said, cutting her off. “I wouldn’t be doing my sobriety if I had judgements of you or anyone, really. My focus is on my own messes.”
“Not on mine?” La Tonya asked.
“Seems like you’re doing okay,” La Tonya said. “You’re back on your feet.”
“I’m alive,” Jeraine said. “As long as I’m alive, I can. . .”
“. . . do something to change my situation,” La Tonya said. “Thanks Dad.”
“I like your white teeth,” La Tonya said.
“At least my personality isn’t the fakest thing about me,” Jeraine said.
La Tonya laughed in spite of herself. Jeraine chuckled.
“No, really, it seems like you’re doing great,” La Tonya said.
“It’s a big mess,” Jeraine said with a sigh. “I feel like every time I get things going, something comes a long and messes it all up.”
“Like the pandemic?” La Tonya asked.
“Exactly,” Jeraine said. “Jake’s the one who came up with the idea to use the ballroom. I. . .”
Jeraine shook his head.
“My agent and the casino guy did the rest,” Jeraine said. “I. . . I never have any idea what I’m doing.”
“It doesn’t stop you,” La Tonya said.
“Because everyone around me is dragging me forward,” Jeraine said. “I blocked our moving into the new house because. . . I don’t know why. I wanted to control the colors or. . . Honestly, it’s just my madness.”
“I do the same thing,” La Tonya said. “You guys let me live in that house. It’s perfect for us. But. . . I. . .”
“Good,” Jeraine said. “Stay as long as you need it.”
“I don’t want your charity,” La Tonya said.
Jeraine laughed. La Tonya watched his face and then laughed.
“God, we’re so a like,” La Tonya said. “If I were on my own, we’d be living with the unhoused.”
“Stubborn to the end,” Jeraine said.
La Tonya nodded. They sat together in silence before laughing. Jeraine smiled at his sister.
“Nelson said you did a great job yesterday,” Jeraine said.
“He was very nice to me,” La Tonya said.
“Did you enjoy yourself?” Jeraine asked.
“You know what?” La Tonya smiled. “I did. I was there. . . an hour, maybe two. . . when I realized how much I like helping people. It was. . . really great.”
“I’m sure they’ll have that clinic again next Saturday,” Jeraine said.
“Yeah,” La Tonya nodded. “Blane asked if maybe I could help him with his practice. Heather has always been his office support but she has another job?”
“He said that he thought I might be able to help,” La Tonya said.
“What do you think?” Jeraine asked.
“I think. . .” La Tonya nodded. “Before all of this. . . I would never have worked with an acupuncturist.”
La Tonya shook her head.
“Never,” La Tonya said. “It just wouldn’t be legitimate enough for me.”
“And now?” Jeraine asked.
La Tonya sighed. Jeraine waited.
“If you baby-brother can be flexible enough to run his fancy concerts without a crowd,” La Tonya said. “I think I could at least try.”
Jeraine grinned. La Tonya turned to look at her brother.
“I still have my license,” La Tonya said. “With the pandemic, I could go right back into the hospitals. . .”
“That doesn’t sound smart,” Jeraine said.
“Right,” La Tonya said. “It wouldn’t be smart. I need. . .”
La Tonya’s eyes welled with tears and she shook her head.
“I feel like someone died,” La Tonya said. “Like a part of me died. You know. I was so. . . proud of. . . wanted everything to be perfect and. . .”
Jeraine watched his sister’s face.
“Now,” La Tonya shrugged. “If I help Blane, I can help people, make some money, and. . .”
La Tonya nodded.
“Did you know that Blane did this?” La Tonya asked. “He told me that it took him a while to get his feet under him. He worked for Jake and then stayed there until he was done with school. He went back to work at the construction company again last month for the pandemic.”
Jeraine nodded. La Tonya leaned toward Jeraine.
“I might go to Chinese Medicine school,” La Tonya said.
“Ooooh, how radical!” Jeraine said. “You naughty girl!”
La Tonya laughed. Her laugh brought her eldest daughter to the sliding glass window.
“Oh,” La Tonya said, starting to get up.
“Miss T is there,” Jeraine said.
They watched Tanesha herd the girl away from the window.
“I could have help,” La Tonya said, to herself.
“Yes, you could,” Jeraine said. “You’re not alone.”
Surprised that he’d heard her, La Tonya gave him a long look.
“Blane’s going to give me acupuncture today,” La Tonya said. “He said it could help my depression.”
“Blane’s helped me,” Jeraine said. “Miss T sees him every week. Keeps her strong.”
La Tonya nodded. They sat in silence as they finished their coffee. When Jeraine looked at La Tonya, he saw that she was smiling.
“What?” he asked.
“He says that I had acupuncture with him before,” La Tonya said.
“I don’t remember it at all,” La Tonya said. “I must have been out of my mind.”
“There’s the truth,” Jeraine said, nodding.
“I have this feeling. . . this feeling that my life is moving into spring,” La Tonya said. She blushed. “That sounds dumb.”
“It sounds about right to me,” Jeraine said.
La Tonya laughed. Jeraine squeezed her hand.
“Looks like Nelson’s making breakfast,” Jeraine said, looking into the main area. “He makes the best coffee.”
He stood up and held out his hand. She looked up at Jeraine and took his hand. They walked together into the house.
Sunday morning — 10:37 a.m.
“How is it that there is no one here?” Sandy asked as she moved into the large kitchen on the basement level of Heather, Nelson, Blane, and Tres’s new home.
“Jake and Mike took the older kids fishing,” Jill said following Sandy into the large open room. “Sam went, too. They’ve never been before so they’re teaching them how to fish. I’d guess that they’ll be gone all day.”
“Aden and Tres took some of the younger kids and the dogs to the Cherry Creek Dog Park,” Tanesha said. “Jer’s in the ballroom playing around with music. He’s got Jabari and La Tonya’s kids, as well as the Hargreaves twins.”
“Nelson and MJ are out with the Wild Bunch are out at the park learning how to roller skate,” Heather said, appearing in the kitchen. “All children are accounted for!”
“I’m right here,” Blane said, moving through the kitchen. He leaned over to kiss Heather’s cheek. “I’m back in the medical offices today.”
“Let me know if you need help,” Heather said.
“Not a chance,” Blane said with a grin. “You four — enjoy your time. You’ve given so much during this Covid nightmare. Take a bit for yourselves.”
The women smiled at Blane. They waited in silence until he’d left the house.
“It’s really nice,” Tanesha said.
“You know what’s really nice?” Sandy asked.
“He left lunch,” Heather said.
Sandy nodded. The other women went to see what was for lunch. Blane had left a quiche, salad, and fresh baked bread.
“Do we want it now?” Sandy asked.
“I can wait,” Jill said, picking a strawberry out of the salad.
“There’s wine,” Heather said, getting up. “I brought it back with me.”
“Your grandfather?” Tanesha asked, clapping her hands in expectation.
“No need for it to languish in his wine cellar,” Heather said.
Heather opened a bottle of champagne. She waited a moment before pouring four glasses.
“I feel like I should be in church,” Jill said.
“No church,” Tanesha said. “It would likely kill us all.”
“So true,” Sandy said. “I can’t believe. . .”
Sandy stopped talking. She shook her head.
“You know what?” Sandy asked. “I’m not going to talk about those jerks.”
While the women watched, Sandy started opening all of the cabinets.
“Who set up this kitchen?” Sandy asked.
“Jake,” the women said in unison.
“It’s a lot nicer than what we have at the Castle,” Sandy said.
“Deep pockets,” Heather said. “Blane and Jeraine wanted a gourmet kitchen. No skimping. They gave him a list of appliances including brands.”
“Nice,” Sandy beamed. “Would you mind if I. . .”
“Be my guest,” Heather said.
“What are you making?” Jill said.
“How are you making anything?” Tanesha asked. “I feel like falling over.”
Jill went to the couch that was facing toward the windows. She pushed and end of the couch so that the couch turned around.
“Lie down,” Jill said. “You’re understandably exhausted.”
“You sure?” Tanesha asked.
“Absolutely,” Heather said.
Tanesha climbed onto the new, comfortable couch and lay down. Jill took a seat at the bar and Heather sat at the kitchen table.
“How is it?” Jill asked.
“This place?” Heather asked.
Jill, Sandy, and Tanesha nodded.
“I like it,” Heather said. “I mean, we’re all still getting used to it. The kids are in heaven.”
“Jabari is,” Tanesha said. “He loves having Mack and Wyn here as allies.”
“And Tres?” Sandy winked at Heather as she continued pulling ingredients out of the refrigerator and cabinets.
“He’s good,” Heather said a hint of red forming at her hairline. “He’s jumped in with both feet. He wants to take care of the kids and make meals and. . . Nelson’s the same way.”
“Sounds like they really wanted a family,” Jill said.
“I guess so,” Heather said with a nod. “I feel. . . lucky to have all of this. Really lucky.”
“And in bed?” Tanesha asked from the couch.
“Tres?” Heather asked. “He’s. . . I. . .”
The women laughed. Before Tanesha got back together with Jeraine, Tanesha and Tres had a “friends with privileges” relationship. Tanesha was teasing Heather.
“We’re having fun,” Heather said. “All of us. And in some ways, things haven’t changed that much. We take care of the kids and work and. . .”
“This is a beautiful house,” Jill said, going to the sliding glass window. “I love the courtyard.”
Jill slid the door open and then closed it quickly.
“It’s way too cold for that,” Jill said.
She went back to the counter.
“What are you making?” Jill asked.
“Cake,” Sandy said. “Something simple.”
“You seem agitated,” Sandy said.
“Oh,” Jill said. “I don’t know.”
“Since this Covid thing, I’ve been running as fast as I can,” Tanesha said.
“Yeah,” Jill said. “Me, too. It’s either something the kids need or talking through this Lipson Construction stuff or house stuff or. . .”
“It’s a lot,” Sandy said. “For me, too, and I only have one little one.”
“How are we going to get through this?” Tanesha asked.
For a long moment, no one said anything. Sandy started the blender to mix up a cake.
“I think we do it like we’ve done everything,” Jill said.
“Together,” Tanesha said.
“A tiny bit at a time,” Heather said.
“With great food,” Sandy said.
The women laughed.
“What would make it all better?” Heather asked.
“An end to this plague?” Tanesha asked.
“End of police violence?” Jill asked.
“End of the politics of cruelty,” Sandy added.
“End of the economic mess,” Heather said with a shake of herhead.
“Tell me about it,” Tanesha said.
“What do you need to end?” Heather asked Jill.
“I don’t know, really,” Jill said. “For the most part, I’ve been happy. It’s been fun to spend more time with Katy and the boys. Paddie is at a great age. Máire and Joey are a joy to be around.”
“They are so aware of other people,” Sandy said with a nod. “Noelle loves taking care of them because they teach her about so many interesting things.”
“But?” Heather asked, intentionally pushing Jill.
“I guess, I’m just tired,” Jill said. “Tired of the drama of all of it. Everyone has something to say and most of it is nonsense.”
“Drama,” Heather said, nodding.
“I think we’re lucky that everyone around us is on the same page,” Heather said. “Blane told me about a patient of his that just got out of the hospital. The patient’s family doesn’t believe in Covid. She hasn’t seen anyone for weeks because she won’t let them in her house to infect her again.”
“Can you. . .?” Sandy pushed two cake pans in Jill’s direction.
Jill started buttering and flouring the pans.
“What’s going on in Olympia?” Tanesha asked.
“Everyone is in retreat,” Heather said. “No one wants to get blamed for this disease so they are heading for the hills. That leaves a lot of work to do. I’m lucky because I have so much help, but. . .”
“What do we think is going on with Mr. Matchel?” Heather asked, changing the topic. She looked at Jill and then Tanesha.
“I think he’s just exhausted,” Jill said.
“He’s been mostly sleeping,” Tanesha said.
“Blane gave him acupuncture this morning,” Heather said. “He said the same thing. I worry that we’re missing a cognitive deficit here.”
“You mean like dementia?” Sandy asked, pouring cake batter into the freshly buttered and floured pans.
“Alzheimer’s,” Heather said.
“Maybe,” Jill said.
“We don’t spend enough time with him to tell,” Heather said. “And it’s way outside of anything I know anything about.”
“Did I hear you say that the French government is going to support the search for the Templar hoard?” Sandy asked.
“What does that mean?” Tanesha asked.
“I don’t think we know,” Heather said. “No one’s sure that Nelson will be able to go this year because of the pandemic.”
“Another year would be really hard on Nelson’s father,” Sandy said.
“I know,” Heather said. “It’s just finding the right crew.”
“This thing is touching every aspect of our lives,” Jill said. “Nothing is untouched.”
The women fell silent. Sandy patted the pans on the counter before tucking them into a preheated oven.
“We are gloomy,” Sandy said.
“Let’s not be,” Jill said.
Jill took another bottle of champagne out of the refrigerator.
“I’m tired of the drama and gloom,” Jill said. “Let’s celebrate that we’re still alive, still have each other — a lot of people don’t.”
“We have help with the kids,” Heather said.
“We actually enjoy our marriages and relationships,” Sandy said.
“Maybe it’s good that everything changed,” Tanesha said, sitting up.
The other women groaned.
“No, hear me out,” Tanesha said. “This whole world has been going along so fast. This is a chance to get off the rat race and really experience our lives. Breathe. Figure out what matters to us.”
The women were silent for a long moment.
“I think you’re right,” Sandy said. “I’ve worked so much — building a client base, cutting hair, learning new techniques of dying hair, paying the bills and. . . Now I can’t book clients. I can’t work.”
“I have time to think about what I’m doing,” Sandy said.
“Me too,” Tanesha said.
“I know, I know,” Jill said. “But don’t ask me how I need my life to change.”
“We’re too in the middle of it to figure that out,” Heather said with a laugh.
Jill filled up everyone’s champagne glass.
“To us,” Jill said.
“To us!” Heather, Sandy, and Tanesha said in unison.
Denver Cereal continues next week...