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Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-nine - Now. What?

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-NINE

Monday morning —11:02 a.m.

After breastfeeding and burping Grace, Valerie set the tiny infant down in the crib. Mike peaked into their bedroom to see if Valerie was free.

“She’s asleep,” Valerie said.

“Breakfast?” Mike asked.

“I’m okay,” Valerie said. “I had something with Jackie and Eddie before they went to school.”

“Pregnancy pounds?” Mike asked.

Valerie snorted a laugh.

“I didn’t gain any weight this time,” Valerie said. “I mean I gained what I’d lost with my insanity after Eddie. I’m lucky that I don’t carry weight.”

“And you workout so much,” Mike said with a sigh.

“What?” Valerie asked, squinting at him.

“I guess I was hoping for a month of bacon and pastries,” Mike said.

Valerie laughed.

“You know, Jake’s still weighing me,” Valerie said.

“Yes!” Mike said. “Bacon and pastries!”

While Valerie laughed, Mike opened the door to their apartment. He was gone only a second before returning with warm chocolate croissants, a plate stacked with bacon, and a thermos of tea. Valerie gave a soft cheer and a fingertip clap. Mike set the tray at their small dining table. He got up and made Valerie a mix of psyllium husk for her bowels. She drank it down while he grabbed plates.

Mike set the plates down. He piled his plate with bacon and some pastries. He made her a plate with less of everything. She reached over to take a piece of bacon from the mound on his plate.

“You can always get more,” Mike said.

Chewing a piece of bacon, Valerie nodded. She swallowed.

“We need to talk about everything,” Valerie said.

“Yes, our children have been in school for two hours,” Mike said. “Time to talk about what’s next.”

Valerie grinned at him, and he smirked. When she didn’t say anything, he said, “So?”

“Oh, sorry,” Valerie said. “I was wondering what you were going to say about what was next for you.”

“Oh,” Mike said. “Nothing, really. Or nothing special. Noelle did a massive clean-up before she went back to school. She got Charlie and Nash to move things so we could clean the floor. I hardly recognize the place.”

Mike shrugged.

“I have a couple of commissions, but mostly I’m just painting,” Mike said. “Playing with the kids. Hanging out with everyone. Helping Delphie.”

“We’re moving toward Harvest Day,” Valerie said, her eyes gleaming. She gave a little clap.

“Delphie said something about doing it in waves,” Mike said. “We have so many gardens this year. The backyard, the gardens by the school, the greenhouses. . . Across the street. She planted LaTonya’s house or Tanesha’s house — whatever — and Tanesha’s grandmother’s house. Oh, Rodney and his guys have gardens too.”

Mike shook his head.

“It’s a lot,” Mike said.

Valerie nodded.

“Rodney’s guys are going to do some of the work,” Mike said. “A couple of them want to make things from the garden — jams, candles, breads, stuff they can sell at farmer’s markets or over the Internet. They have agreed to use this year as practice in exchange for Delphie’s recipes and help.”

“Delphie still wants to give everything away?” Valerie asked.

“Too many hungry people,” Mike said with a nod. “That’s what’s going on here. I mean, there’s no way to know how the kids are going to fit in at school.”

“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” Valerie said. “They love school.”

Mike nodded.

“What’s next for you?” Mike asked.

“Well,” Valerie sighed. “I am under contract for a couple of movies and an animated feature but everything’s still shut down. There are a couple of groups that have pulled off Covid safety, but mostly everything is shut down.”

“There’s no work for you?” Mike asked.

Valerie nodded.

“Jen arranged for me to do the audio work here in town,” Valerie said. “But, again, we have to wait until a recording studio opens up. Jeraine said I could use the equipment downstairs but. . . I don’t know. It seems like a big risk.”

Valerie sighed.

“Jake told me that that guy from the casinos said that. . .” Mike started.

“That’s complicated,” Valerie said.

Mike nodded and continued, “. . . the problem with the movies is funding. No one knows if we’re heading into a depression. People are truly scared. It was just a bit ago that the entire system came down. No one knows if it’s strong enough to hold through the pandemic or if it’s all coming apart.”

“Movies float on a sea of money,” Valerie said.

Mike nodded.

“We have to make our own decisions,” Mike said. “Do what’s best for us and our family. At least until this thing is over.”

Valerie looked down at her plate. Mike silently waited for her to respond.

“I feel. . .” Valerie said. She looked up at Mike. “I’ve been working so much the last few years.”

Mike nodded.

“We’ve been all over the world for movies,” Valerie said. “Some of those will come out in the next year or so. I’m still cast for Marvel so that will happen. And. . .”

Valerie wrinkled her nose.

“I’m not sure I want to work as much,” Valerie said. “It’s been really nice to be home. I, personally, have been involved with everyone’s lives. It’s been great, really great. I was gone such a long time and then we’ve been back and forth and everywhere. This is the first time that I’ve been home, just home, for an extended period of time. It’s been great.”

Valerie nodded.

“I don’t want to give up everything I’ve worked for,” Valerie said. “I’m just not sure what’s next.”

Mike shrugged.

“Sounds like we don’t have to decide right away,” Mike said.

“One thing,” Valerie said. “If we’re going to stay, we should talk to Jake about getting a bigger place. This apartment was perfect for you alone. It was great for you and me. But now? We have three kids! We need more space.”

“I’m sure he has a plan,” Mike said.

“Probably,” Valerie nodded.

Neither one of them said anything for a long moment. Valerie sighed.

“Would you mind if we just stayed here until. . .”Valerie’s voice died out because she wasn’t sure how long they’d be there.

“Until a vaccine or the pandemic ends or the economy picks up or. . .?” Mike asked. “Absolutely. Let’s just hang out. If we get sick of it, we can do something else.”

Valerie gave him one of her beautiful movie star smiled.

“Sounds perfect,” Valerie said.

“It does,” Mike said. “To me too.”

“Do you think. . .?” Valerie started and then shook her head. “My mother used to say, ‘It’s no good giving voice to fears.’ I’m so afraid that everything’s going to come apart completely. I want someone to tell me that it won’t. Even if they lie!”

“I think we all feel that way,” Mike said. “Or everyone I talk to, even the kids. We want to know that things will continue on, that we’ll be okay, but. . .”

“There’s no way to know,” Valerie said.

“Our longing for certainty makes us vulnerable to the people who will lie to us, tell us anything for their own gain,” Mike said. “My mom is beside herself. She says this happened in Russia. People are desperate so they believe anything.”

Valerie sighed.

“We have to hold onto hope,” Mike said. “We need to be hopeful.”

“Even if we fake it,” Valerie nodded. “That should be our new thing.”

“What?” Mike asked.

“Strengthening our hope,” Valerie said. “Building hope in everyone we know.”

Mike nodded.

“Speaking of that,” Valerie said, with a sigh. “We need to either share Grace with the men outside or take the money from the tabloids.”

“For charity?” Mike asked.

“For the food shelters,” Valerie said. “To bring awareness that people are going without right now. I wonder if. . .”

Valerie tapped her finger to her lip.

“What?” Mike asked.

“Oh nothing,” Valerie smiled. “I like it. Hope is our new mission.”

Mike gave her a quizzical look but eventually nodded.

“You’re not. . .” Mike started. “I mean, you remember that we can’t get people together or. . .”

Valerie smiled.

“You’re not going to tell me?” Mike asked.

“I’ll tell you,” Valerie said. “I just have to think it through more.”

She yawned.

“Let’s just leave this stuff and nap for a while,” Mike said.

“Grace will be awake soon,” Valerie said.

Mike stood and held out his hand. They walked to the bed where they both fell into a dreamless sleep.

~~~~~~~~

Monday midday —11:32 a.m.

“Okay, I’m back,” Honey said, scooting into her seat.

Honey and Jill were using the room in the basement that they’d set up for the kids online school. It was equipped with their fastest internet and newest computers. They were able to sit side by side, six feet apart, with the computers in front of each of them. There were two HEPA fans blowing as well. Since the Castle hadn’t had outside guest in months, they had decided to treat each other as if they were in the same “pod.” This meant that they didn’t have to wear masks around each other and could eat together indoors.

“I logged you in,” Jill said.

“Thanks,” Honey said, frantically typing into the computer in front of her.

“Are you okay?” Jill asked.

Jill pulled a Bluetooth earbud out of her ear in order to hear Honey.

“Oh, you know,” Honey said.

“What?” Jill asked.

Honey sighed.

“I need a day off,” Honey whispered. “I was upstairs staring at the wall. I mean, no work? No kids? It’s. . .”

“Weird?” Jill said. “Wonderful?”

Honey nodded. Jill stuck her earbud back in her ear. For a moment, the women focused on listening to the start of their classes. A few minutes later, Honey glanced at Jill.

“Nice hair,” Honey whispered.

“Sandy did it this morning,” Jill said. “Your hair is so beautiful — long, pink cast, and curly!”

“The curly surprises me too,” Honey said. “I just never had it long enough to have any wave.”

“So lovely,” Jill said.

The women fell silent as they listened to their teachers. The hour slipped away.

Jill took off her head set first. Jill’s movement caught Honey’s attention. She took off her headset.

“What do you have next?” Jill asked.

“Another class, you?” Honey asked.

“Same,” Jill said. “Mine are packed together on the same day. I guess that’s what people wanted.”

“Mine’s the same, too,” Honey said.

Honey reached out to grab Jill’s hand.

“I’m so glad to be here with you,” Honey said. “I don’t know what I would have done without you these last months, especially when MJ was gone.”

Honey shook her head.

“I feel the same way,” Jill said. “I don’t know what I would have done without you. You’ve been like bedrock for all of us.”

“We’re so lucky,” Honey said.

Jill nodded and smiled.

“I was going to make some tea and get us some water,” Jill said. “Can I get you anything?”

“I brought these,” Honey said.

She turned in her seat to open her backpack. Inside, there was a metal tin, like the ones used by Sandy for cookies.

“Sandy made these for us,” Honey said. She worked to open the tin. It was hard for Honey, but not impossible like it was.

“Are they. . .?” Jill asked.

“They are,” Honey said.

“Mexican wedding cookies,” Jill and Honey said together.

Jill mock swooned.

“Coffee then?” Jill asked.

“Please,” Honey said. “I need to use the toilet.”

“Do you need help?” Jill asked.

“I can get there,” Honey said.

“Your walking is incredible,” Jill said.

“Let’s see if I make it out of the basement,” Honey said with a snort. “MJ said he’d come to get me.”

Jill grinned. Honey got up. They swiftly went through their break. When they settled in, they had fresh coffee and wonderful cookies.

“Ready?” Jill asked, blowing out a bit of powdered sugar.

Honey pointed to her screen. Her next class had already started. Jill grinned at Honey and logged into her next class.

~~~~~~~~

Monday midday —12:02 p.m.

“We asked everyone to stop today and noon. . .” Jacob started.

He was standing on an enormous excavator in the middle of one of the two sites that had continued working through the pandemic. He’d been wearing a face mask up until the moment he began speaking.

“I wanted to let you know that we’re in negotiations to get the vaccines as soon as they are approved,” Jacob said. “Or, I should say, we’re on the list after doctors. They think it will either be early next year or December. Until then, we wear our masks.”

“And afterward!” someone yelled from the back.

“For a while, at least,” Jacob said.

He turned over his wrist to look at his watch. Seeing the time, he nodded. Bambi climbed on top of the excavator as did Aden.

“We wanted to let you know that, as of 12 noon, our fourth site is up and running!” Jacob said.

The men and women cheered.

“We wanted to take a minute to thank each of you for hanging in there this year,” Bambi said. She spoke loud enough through her mask that everyone heard her.

“Without injury or illness!” Jacob said with a cheer.

Everyone cheered.

“You have shown up, worked hard, been flexible around job sharing, and. . . well. . .” Feeling emotional, Aden stopped talking. He pulled off his mask and covered his eyes.

“You are heroes to us,” Jacob said.

Jacob looked at Aden, but Aden was too overcome.

“There’s a little something in your paycheck this week to say ‘Thanks,’” Jacob said.

“It’s not a lot, so don’t get too excited,” Bambi said with a laugh.

Shaking his head at Bambi, Jacob grinned.

“You are the lifeblood of this company,” Aden said, having gotten himself together. “We bought lunch for you and the other original site.”

Everyone cheered again.

“We wanted to say ‘Thank you,’” Jacob said. “Did you take your kids back at the Marlowe School?”

The crowd cheered.

“We were just there,” Jacob said. “The classrooms are quiet and everything is going well.”

Everyone cheered again.

“We want to let you know that we’ve been told that vaccines are coming and we are one of the first in line,” Jacob said. “We’ve weathered a storm that has killed many, many people. Thank you.”

Jacob waited for the cheering to die down.

“My dad’s at the new sites today,” Jacob said. “He’s doing well, overall. We’re going to be harvesting the gardens in the next week or so, so we’ll have some fresh vegetables for you. If you need help harvesting, just let us know. Aden has some teenagers that need something to do.”

Everyone laughed.

“If you want to shift to a new team or working on the other sites is better for you,” Bambi said. “Give us a week and we’ll work it out. But do — give us a week. They are just getting their feet under them.”

“Okay, we won’t keep you,” Aden said. “Just a thanks. Your team leaders will have your lunches. Take an hour and revel in this truth — we worked our asses off, but we made it.”

Everyone cheered again.

“Team leads, see me!” Bambi said.

After putting back on his face mask, Jacob climbed down off the excavator. Aden climbed down after him. Seeing that Jacob had his face mask on, Aden put on his face mask.

“Shall we?” Jacob asked.

Aden took one look at the site and nodded. They got into Aden’s sedan and drove to meet Tres at the other site to tell them the good news.

~~~~~~~~

Monday afternoon —2:00 p.m.

Delphie stood in the middle of the gardens they’d started just a few months ago. The plants were loaded with fresh vegetables and fruit. They’d used windmills to keep the squirrels and other animals off the beds so they’d lost almost nothing. This garden burst with goodness.

Delphie looked up when she heard the door to the Marlowe School slam open. The teenagers fell out of the building a flood of water out of a loch. The boys chased each other across the grass that she and Jacob had planted after they’d put these boxes in.

She sighed.

The Marlowe School stood like the proud old lady she was. From the back, where she was standing, she could see the new playground and the outdoor classroom. The new playground that Jacob had built was complete with its own sand pit and places to put toys to clean. The grass started at the edge of the playground and went to the raised beds. The grassy space was large enough that the kids could learn La Cross or play soccer or even American Football. The gardens began at the edge of the fence.

Delphie waved, and the teenagers ran toward her. Mike pulled up and got out of his Bronco. He took out two round tipped shovels and carried them toward her. Delphie grinned at Mike and turned back to the children. Noelle was running with her friends Hope and Joy. Charlie and Tink were together. Nash and Teddy. Even Wanda was there!

When the children arrived, Delphie cleared her throat.

“Okay, I think you all know who I am,” Delphie said.

“Delphie!” the teenagers yelled.

Ivy went to Delphie’s side to give her a sideway hug. Delphie grinned at the child.

“The State has recommended adding more physical activity to your schedule,” Delphie said. “We’re going to teach you running, walking, lifting weights — exercise you can do as you grow up. You know, Jake’s recruiting people for a La Crosse team.”

“Basketball,” Charlie said with a nod. “We’re putting in a court on the other side of the building.”

“Afternoon shade,” Delphie nodded.

“Football, too?” L’Ron asked.

“If you’d like,” Mike said. “We’re going to do an ice hockey clinic since so many of your parents play.”

The boys grinned. The girls looked nervous.

“Today, we’re going to get you started taking care of these vegetable gardens,” Delphie said. “Most of you were here when we put them in. Now you’ll get to take care of the plants and the harvest. We’re going to make some things from them. And. . . Well, we’re going to have fun.”

Unsure of what to say, the kids jostled each other.

“Okay,” Mike said. “I need you to put yourselves into teams of five. We’ll give each team a bed and help you work through what needs to happen.”

“Will we plant for the winter?” Noelle asked.

“We will,” Mike said.

“Can we work the bees?” Wanda asked.

“Let’s make that a team,” Delphie said.

“Aww,” a few kids said.

“Okay, let’s see how many kids want to be involved,” Delphie said.

“What about those beds?” a young man Delphie recognized but couldn’t place.

“Those are assigned to other people,” Mike said. “We can help if they need help, but we’ll let them take care of their own plots.”

To Delphie’s surprise, the teenagers easily sorted themselves into groups. They were so happy to be together that Delphie had no problem with them listening. In less than a half hour, the kids were working to pull weeds, tie up limbs, and harvest anything that was ready.

Delphie caught Mike’s eye. Mike gave her a thumbs up. Delphie lit her smoker and pulled her hood on. She led a team of mostly girls over to work with the beehives.

Everyone had a good time.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-nine - Now. What? (part six)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-NINE

(part six)

Monday afternoon —2:00 p.m.

Delphie stood in the middle of the gardens they’d started just a few months ago. The plants were loaded with fresh vegetables and fruit. They’d used windmills to keep the squirrels and other animals off the beds so they’d lost almost nothing. This garden burst with goodness.

Delphie looked up when she heard the door to the Marlowe School slam open. The teenagers fell out of the building a flood of water out of a loch. The boys chased each other across the grass that she and Jacob had planted after they’d put these boxes in.

She sighed.

The Marlowe School stood like the proud old lady she was. From the back, where she was standing, she could see the new playground and the outdoor classroom. The new playground that Jacob had built was complete with its own sand pit and places to put toys to clean. The grass started at the edge of the playground and went to the raised beds. The grassy space was large enough that the kids could learn La Cross or play soccer or even American Football. The gardens began at the edge of the fence.

Delphie waved, and the teenagers ran toward her. Mike pulled up and got out of his Bronco. He took out two round tipped shovels and carried them toward her. Delphie grinned at Mike and turned back to the children. Noelle was running with her friends Hope and Joy. Charlie and Tink were together. Nash and Teddy. Even Wanda was there!

When the children arrived, Delphie cleared her throat.

“Okay, I think you all know who I am,” Delphie said.

“Delphie!” the teenagers yelled.

Ivy went to Delphie’s side to give her a sideway hug. Delphie grinned at the child.

“The State has recommended adding more physical activity to your schedule,” Delphie said. “We’re going to teach you running, walking, lifting weights — exercise you can do as you grow up. You know, Jake’s recruiting people for a La Crosse team.”

“Basketball,” Charlie said with a nod. “We’re putting in a court on the other side of the building.”

“Afternoon shade,” Delphie nodded.

“Football, too?” L’Ron asked.

“If you’d like,” Mike said. “We’re going to do an ice hockey clinic since so many of your parents play.”

The boys grinned. The girls looked nervous.

“Today, we’re going to get you started taking care of these vegetable gardens,” Delphie said. “Most of you were here when we put them in. Now you’ll get to take care of the plants and the harvest. We’re going to make some things from them. And. . . Well, we’re going to have fun.”

Unsure of what to say, the kids jostled each other.

“Okay,” Mike said. “I need you to put yourselves into teams of five. We’ll give each team a bed and help you work through what needs to happen.”

“Will we plant for the winter?” Noelle asked.

“We will,” Mike said.

“Can we work the bees?” Wanda asked.

“Let’s make that a team,” Delphie said.

“Aww,” a few kids said.

“Okay, let’s see how many kids want to be involved,” Delphie said.

“What about those beds?” a young man Delphie recognized but couldn’t place.

“Those are assigned to other people,” Mike said. “We can help if they need help, but we’ll let them take care of their own plots.”

To Delphie’s surprise, the teenagers easily sorted themselves into groups. They were so happy to be together that Delphie had no problem with them listening. In less than a half hour, the kids were working to pull weeds, tie up limbs, and harvest anything that was ready.

Delphie caught Mike’s eye. Mike gave her a thumbs up. Delphie lit her smoker and pulled her hood on. She led a team of mostly girls over to work with the beehives.

Everyone had a good time.

Denver Cereal continues on Monday...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-nine - Now. What? (part five)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-NINE

(part five)

Monday midday —12:02 p.m.

“We asked everyone to stop today and noon. . .” Jacob started.

He was standing on an enormous excavator in the middle of one of the two sites that had continued working through the pandemic. He’d been wearing a face mask up until the moment he began speaking.

“I wanted to let you know that we’re in negotiations to get the vaccines as soon as they are approved,” Jacob said. “Or, I should say, we’re on the list after doctors. They think it will either be early next year or December. Until then, we wear our masks.”

“And afterward!” someone yelled from the back.

“For a while, at least,” Jacob said.

He turned over his wrist to look at his watch. Seeing the time, he nodded. Bambi climbed on top of the excavator as did Aden.

“We wanted to let you know that, as of 12 noon, our fourth site is up and running!” Jacob said.

The men and women cheered.

“We wanted to take a minute to thank each of you for hanging in there this year,” Bambi said. She spoke loud enough through her mask that everyone heard her.

“Without injury or illness!” Jacob said with a cheer.

Everyone cheered.

“You have shown up, worked hard, been flexible around job sharing, and. . . well. . .” Feeling emotional, Aden stopped talking. He pulled off his mask and covered his eyes.

“You are heroes to us,” Jacob said.

Jacob looked at Aden, but Aden was too overcome.

“There’s a little something in your paycheck this week to say ‘Thanks,’” Jacob said.

“It’s not a lot, so don’t get too excited,” Bambi said with a laugh.

Shaking his head at Bambi, Jacob grinned.

“You are the lifeblood of this company,” Aden said, having gotten himself together. “We bought lunch for you and the other original site.”

Everyone cheered again.

“We wanted to say ‘Thank you,’” Jacob said. “Did you take your kids back at the Marlowe School?”

The crowd cheered.

“We were just there,” Jacob said. “The classrooms are quiet and everything is going well.”

Everyone cheered again.

“We want to let you know that we’ve been told that vaccines are coming and we are one of the first in line,” Jacob said. “We’ve weathered a storm that has killed many, many people. Thank you.”

Jacob waited for the cheering to die down.

“My dad’s at the new sites today,” Jacob said. “He’s doing well, overall. We’re going to be harvesting the gardens in the next week or so, so we’ll have some fresh vegetables for you. If you need help harvesting, just let us know. Aden has some teenagers that need something to do.”

Everyone laughed.

“If you want to shift to a new team or working on the other sites is better for you,” Bambi said. “Give us a week and we’ll work it out. But do — give us a week. They are just getting their feet under them.”

“Okay, we won’t keep you,” Aden said. “Just a thanks. Your team leaders will have your lunches. Take an hour and revel in this truth — we worked our asses off, but we made it.”

Everyone cheered again.

“Team leads, see me!” Bambi said.

After putting back on his face mask, Jacob climbed down off the excavator. Aden climbed down after him. Seeing that Jacob had his face mask on, Aden put on his face mask.

“Shall we?” Jacob asked.

Aden took one look at the site and nodded. They got into Aden’s sedan and drove to meet Tres at the other site to tell them the good news.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-nine - Now. What? (part four)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-NINE

(part four)

Monday midday —11:32 a.m.

“Okay, I’m back,” Honey said, scooting into her seat.

Honey and Jill were using the room in the basement that they’d set up for the kids online school. It was equipped with their fastest internet and newest computers. They were able to sit side by side, six feet apart, with the computers in front of each of them. There were two HEPA fans blowing as well. Since the Castle hadn’t had outside guest in months, they had decided to treat each other as if they were in the same “pod.” This meant that they didn’t have to wear masks around each other and could eat together indoors.

“I logged you in,” Jill said.

“Thanks,” Honey said, frantically typing into the computer in front of her.

“Are you okay?” Jill asked.

Jill pulled a Bluetooth earbud out of her ear in order to hear Honey.

“Oh, you know,” Honey said.

“What?” Jill asked.

Honey sighed.

“I need a day off,” Honey whispered. “I was upstairs staring at the wall. I mean, no work? No kids? It’s. . .”

“Weird?” Jill said. “Wonderful?”

Honey nodded. Jill stuck her earbud back in her ear. For a moment, the women focused on listening to the start of their classes. A few minutes later, Honey glanced at Jill.

“Nice hair,” Honey whispered.

“Sandy did it this morning,” Jill said. “Your hair is so beautiful — long, pink cast, and curly!”

“The curly surprises me too,” Honey said. “I just never had it long enough to have any wave.”

“So lovely,” Jill said.

The women fell silent as they listened to their teachers. The hour slipped away.

Jill took off her head set first. Jill’s movement caught Honey’s attention. She took off her headset.

“What do you have next?” Jill asked.

“Another class, you?” Honey asked.

“Same,” Jill said. “Mine are packed together on the same day. I guess that’s what people wanted.”

“Mine’s the same, too,” Honey said.

Honey reached out to grab Jill’s hand.

“I’m so glad to be here with you,” Honey said. “I don’t know what I would have done without you these last months, especially when MJ was gone.”

Honey shook her head.

“I feel the same way,” Jill said. “I don’t know what I would have done without you. You’ve been like bedrock for all of us.”

“We’re so lucky,” Honey said.

Jill nodded and smiled.

“I was going to make some tea and get us some water,” Jill said. “Can I get you anything?”

“I brought these,” Honey said.

She turned in her seat to open her backpack. Inside, there was a metal tin, like the ones used by Sandy for cookies.

“Sandy made these for us,” Honey said. She worked to open the tin. It was hard for Honey, but not impossible like it was.

“Are they. . .?” Jill asked.

“They are,” Honey said.

“Mexican wedding cookies,” Jill and Honey said together.

Jill mock swooned.

“Coffee then?” Jill asked.

“Please,” Honey said. “I need to use the toilet.”

“Do you need help?” Jill asked.

“I can get there,” Honey said.

“Your walking is incredible,” Jill said.

“Let’s see if I make it out of the basement,” Honey said with a snort. “MJ said he’d come to get me.”

Jill grinned. Honey got up. They swiftly went through their break. When they settled in, they had fresh coffee and wonderful cookies.

“Ready?” Jill asked, blowing out a bit of powdered sugar.

Honey pointed to her screen. Her next class had already started. Jill grinned at Honey and logged into her next class.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-nine - Now. What? (part three)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-NINE

(part three)

“I don’t want to give up everything I’ve worked for,” Valerie said. “I’m just not sure what’s next.”

Mike shrugged.

“Sounds like we don’t have to decide right away,” Mike said.

“One thing,” Valerie said. “If we’re going to stay, we should talk to Jake about getting a bigger place. This apartment was perfect for you alone. It was great for you and me. But now? We have three kids! We need more space.”

“I’m sure he has a plan,” Mike said.

“Probably,” Valerie nodded.

Neither one of them said anything for a long moment. Valerie sighed.

“Would you mind if we just stayed here until. . .”Valerie’s voice died out because she wasn’t sure how long they’d be there.

“Until a vaccine or the pandemic ends or the economy picks up or. . .?” Mike asked. “Absolutely. Let’s just hang out. If we get sick of it, we can do something else.”

Valerie gave him one of her beautiful movie star smiled.

“Sounds perfect,” Valerie said.

“It does,” Mike said. “To me too.”

“Do you think. . .?” Valerie started and then shook her head. “My mother used to say, ‘It’s no good giving voice to fears.’ I’m so afraid that everything’s going to come apart completely. I want someone to tell me that it won’t. Even if they lie!”

“I think we all feel that way,” Mike said. “Or everyone I talk to, even the kids. We want to know that things will continue on, that we’ll be okay, but. . .”

“There’s no way to know,” Valerie said.

“Our longing for certainty makes us vulnerable to the people who will lie to us, tell us anything for their own gain,” Mike said. “My mom is beside herself. She says this happened in Russia. People are desperate so they believe anything.”

Valerie sighed.

“We have to hold onto hope,” Mike said. “We need to be hopeful.”

“Even if we fake it,” Valerie nodded. “That should be our new thing.”

“What?” Mike asked.

“Strengthening our hope,” Valerie said. “Building hope in everyone we know.”

Mike nodded.

“Speaking of that,” Valerie said, with a sigh. “We need to either share Grace with the men outside or take the money from the tabloids.”

“For charity?” Mike asked.

“For the food shelters,” Valerie said. “To bring awareness that people are going without right now. I wonder if. . .”

Valerie tapped her finger to her lip.

“What?” Mike asked.

“Oh nothing,” Valerie smiled. “I like it. Hope is our new mission.”

Mike gave her a quizzical look but eventually nodded.

“You’re not. . .” Mike started. “I mean, you remember that we can’t get people together or. . .”

Valerie smiled.

“You’re not going to tell me?” Mike asked.

“I’ll tell you,” Valerie said. “I just have to think it through more.”

She yawned.

“Let’s just leave this stuff and nap for a while,” Mike said.

“Grace will be awake soon,” Valerie said.

Mike stood and held out his hand. They walked to the bed where they both fell into a dreamless sleep.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-nine - Now. What? (part two)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-NINE

(part two)

“It’s a lot,” Mike said.

Valerie nodded.

“Rodney’s guys are going to do some of the work,” Mike said. “A couple of them want to make things from the garden — jams, candles, breads, stuff they can sell at farmer’s markets or over the Internet. They have agreed to use this year as practice in exchange for Delphie’s recipes and help.”

“Delphie still wants to give everything away?” Valerie asked.

“Too many hungry people,” Mike said with a nod. “That’s what’s going on here. I mean, there’s no way to know how the kids are going to fit in at school.”

“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” Valerie said. “They love school.”

Mike nodded.

“What’s next for you?” Mike asked.

“Well,” Valerie sighed. “I am under contract for a couple of movies and an animated feature but everything’s still shut down. There are a couple of groups that have pulled off Covid safety, but mostly everything is shut down.”

“There’s no work for you?” Mike asked.

Valerie nodded.

“Jen arranged for me to do the audio work here in town,” Valerie said. “But, again, we have to wait until a recording studio opens up. Jeraine said I could use the equipment downstairs but. . . I don’t know. It seems like a big risk.”

Valerie sighed.

“Jake told me that that guy from the casinos said that. . .” Mike started.

“That’s complicated,” Valerie said.

Mike nodded and continued, “. . . the problem with the movies is funding. No one knows if we’re heading into a depression. People are truly scared. It was just a bit ago that the entire system came down. No one knows if it’s strong enough to hold through the pandemic or if it’s all coming apart.”

“Movies float on a sea of money,” Valerie said.

Mike nodded.

“We have to make our own decisions,” Mike said. “Do what’s best for us and our family. At least until this thing is over.”

Valerie looked down at her plate. Mike silently waited for her to respond.

“I feel. . .” Valerie said. She looked up at Mike. “I’ve been working so much the last few years.”

Mike nodded.

“We’ve been all over the world for movies,” Valerie said. “Some of those will come out in the next year or so. I’m still cast for Marvel so that will happen. And. . .”

Valerie wrinkled her nose.

“I’m not sure I want to work as much,” Valerie said. “It’s been really nice to be home. I, personally, have been involved with everyone’s lives. It’s been great, really great. I was gone such a long time and then we’ve been back and forth and everywhere. This is the first time that I’ve been home, just home, for an extended period of time. It’s been great.”

Valerie nodded.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-nine - Now. What? (part one)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-NINE

(part one)

Monday morning —11:02 a.m.

After breastfeeding and burping Grace, Valerie set the tiny infant down in the crib. Mike peaked into their bedroom to see if Valerie was free.

“She’s asleep,” Valerie said.

“Breakfast?” Mike asked.

“I’m okay,” Valerie said. “I had something with Jackie and Eddie before they went to school.”

“Pregnancy pounds?” Mike asked.

Valerie snorted a laugh.

“I didn’t gain any weight this time,” Valerie said. “I mean I gained what I’d lost with my insanity after Eddie. I’m lucky that I don’t carry weight.”

“And you workout so much,” Mike said with a sigh.

“What?” Valerie asked, squinting at him.

“I guess I was hoping for a month of bacon and pastries,” Mike said.

Valerie laughed.

“You know, Jake’s still weighing me,” Valerie said.

“Yes!” Mike said. “Bacon and pastries!”

While Valerie laughed, Mike opened the door to their apartment. He was gone only a second before returning with warm chocolate croissants, a plate stacked with bacon, and a thermos of tea. Valerie gave a soft cheer and a fingertip clap. Mike set the tray at their small dining table. He got up and made Valerie a mix of psyllium husk for her bowels. She drank it down while he grabbed plates.

Mike set the plates down. He piled his plate with bacon and some pastries. He made her a plate with less of everything. She reached over to take a piece of bacon from the mound on his plate.

“You can always get more,” Mike said.

Chewing a piece of bacon, Valerie nodded. She swallowed.

“We need to talk about everything,” Valerie said.

“Yes, our children have been in school for two hours,” Mike said. “Time to talk about what’s next.”

Valerie grinned at him, and he smirked. When she didn’t say anything, he said, “So?”

“Oh, sorry,” Valerie said. “I was wondering what you were going to say about what was next for you.”

“Oh,” Mike said. “Nothing, really. Or nothing special. Noelle did a massive clean-up before she went back to school. She got Charlie and Nash to move things so we could clean the floor. I hardly recognize the place.”

Mike shrugged.

“I have a couple of commissions, but mostly I’m just painting,” Mike said. “Playing with the kids. Hanging out with everyone. Helping Delphie.”

“We’re moving toward Harvest Day,” Valerie said, her eyes gleaming. She gave a little clap.

“Delphie said something about doing it in waves,” Mike said. “We have so many gardens this year. The backyard, the gardens by the school, the greenhouses. . . Across the street. She planted LaTonya’s house or Tanesha’s house — whatever — and Tanesha’s grandmother’s house. Oh, Rodney and his guys have gardens too.”

Mike shook his head.

“It’s a lot,” Mike said.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-eight - Back to school

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-EIGHT

Monday morning — 7:02 a.m.

“I need the bathroom.” Noelle yelled and pounded on the bathroom door in her room.

“I’m using it!” Nash yelled from the bathroom.

“Why don’t you use mine?” Sandy asked from the doorway to Noelle’s room.

“Because my stuff is in there!” Noelle said.

“What stuff?” Sandy asked.

“My makeup and stuff,” Noelle said. “I’m not a child anymore and. . .”

Noelle turned to face Sandy and growled.

Sandy grinned.

“You can shower in our bathroom,” Sandy said soothingly. “I’ll help you with your hair.”

“And makeup,” Noelle said.

“Sure,” Sandy said.

Noelle stomped out of her room and started down the hallway. Sandy followed her close behind.

“Why is he like this?” Noelle asked.

“Who?” Sandy asked.

“Nash,” Noelle said. “It’s not like he has to care what he looks like. He’s a boy!”

Sandy smiled at Noelle’s back. Teddy had spent the last few months in Egypt with his family. While Noelle and Teddy had talked on the phone and Zoomed regularly, this would be the first day Noelle would see him since he’d left.

“Are you trying to look nice for someone in particular?” Sandy asked.

“Shut up!” Noelle said. “Just shut up!”

“Hey! You can’t. . .” Aden started.

Noelle slammed their bathroom door on them. Aden gave Sandy a curious look. Sandy shrugged.

“Teddy?” Aden mouthed.

“I guess so,” Sandy said with a shrug.

“What else could it be?” Aden whispered.

“Remember how anxious she used to get about going to school?” Sandy asked in a soft whisper. “She’s been home all this time. They’ve had a great time and learned a lot. She’s been completely accepted by everyone here. Now, she’s going back to school where she’ll have to deal with people who may not love her.”

“Huh,” Aden snorted.

“That’s what I think,” Sandy said.

“Did you tell her that all of the Fey kids are going to be there?” Aden asked.

“We’d decided that it would be a surprise, remember?” Sandy asked.

“Maybe you should tell her,” Aden said.

“You don’t think that it will put more pressure on her?” Sandy asked. “Girls this age — it’s all about competing with other girls for guys.”

“Gross,” Aden said.

“She has no idea how beautiful she is,” Charlie said, having joined the conversation without invitation.

Aden and Sandy squinted at him. Noelle had always been tall, with an athletic build, and more than a little gangly. Over the course of the last year, she’d worked out with the other teens. A little bit of physical exercise and she’d blossomed into a ravishing young woman. Her hair was now a deep auburn and, with Sandy’s help, not frizzy. Her eyes were clear blue-hazel. The only person who didn’t seem to know what she looked like was Noelle.

“She sees herself as she’s always been,” Sandy said.

“Whatever,” Charlie said with a shrug.

“The problem is that she’s so beautiful,” Sandy said. “The girls treat her like garbage. The boys pant over her. Teddy has been the love of her life as long as she’s known him. He’s been gone.”

Charlie shrugged.

“She’s got nothing to worry about,” Charlie said. “She’s too good for any of those losers.”

Sandy gave him a worried nod.

“I’m going to go in,” Sandy said.

“Good luck,” Aden said.

Sandy tapped on the door and called Noelle’s name.

“Can I come in?” Sandy asked.

Noelle said something that was garbled by the door. Sandy opened the door a crack.

“I wanted to check to see if you were okay,” Sandy said.

When Noelle didn’t say anything, Sandy moved the shower curtain a bit to see her. Noelle was sobbing under the stream from the shower.

“I. . .I. . .” Noelle wept.

Sandy reached under the water to stroke Noelle’s back.

“I can’t do it,” Noelle said. “I mean. . .”

“We weren’t going to tell you but the Fey kids are coming to school this term,” Sandy said.

“Oh,” Noelle said.

She stopped crying but looked even more worried.

“I thought you’d be excited to see your friends,” Sandy said. “You love Grace and Hope. The three of you were inseparable this summer.”

Noelle’s head turned to look at Sandy.

“Everything I have to wear is wrong!” Noelle said. “I have to hurry and pick something else. The girls always look great and. . .”

“Remember, this is a new school for them,” Sandy said.

Noelle nodded.

“And you have to wear your uniform,” Sandy said.

“What do you mean?” Noelle whined. “Valerie picked out some great clothes for me. We went together. And we had them tailored and. . . I look really cute!”

Knowing Noelle, Sandy didn’t respond for a moment. She waited for reason to seep into the girl’s panicked brain.

“Oh, thank God,” Noelle said. “Okay. I’m okay. Can you check my uniform? We got a new one because I’m taller, but. . .”

“I’ll go check,” Sandy said. “Just breathe, honey. Everyone’s pretty freaked out about going back to life now.”

“Did you get the matching masks?” Noelle asked.

“The school has masks for everyone,” Sandy said. “Valerie had them designed by one of her famous designers. You’ll see. They are pretty great.”

“Okay,” Noelle said. “GO!”

Chuckling to herself, Sandy left the bedroom to go check on Noelle’s uniform. When she got to the living room, she found Nash ironing Noelle’s shirt.

“I had to do mine,” Nash said with a shrug. “Why is she so freaked out?”

“I think everyone’s a little freaked out,” Sandy said, repeating herself. “You’re not?”

“Not really,” Nash said. “It’s just school. The more I go the faster I’m done and on to having a real life.”

“Global pandemic? Ironing? That seems pretty real life to me,” Sandy said. “But I know what you mean.”

Nash nodded and continued ironing Noelle’s white shirt. This year, they wore white button down shirts and, either, blue pants or a blue skirt. The girls could wear the skirt as long or short as they wanted. Noelle preferred hers right around her knees.

“I need to. . .” Sandy gestured back toward their bedroom.

When Sandy arrived, Noelle was standing in the middle of Sandy and Aden’s bedroom, wrapped in a towel.

“Where were you?” Noelle screamed, hysteria near.

“You asked me to check on your uniform,” Sandy said, mildly.

And?” Noelle asked.

“Nash is ironing your shirt,” Sandy said. “It’s ready and waiting for you.”

Noelle scowled. The girl was so much taller than Sandy now that Sandy led Noelle to the bed. Sandy took off the towel around Noelle’s head and made quick work of drying and curling Noelle’s head.

Midway through, Rachel came into sit with Noelle. Rachel always seemed to know when Noelle needed comforting. Rachel put her head on Noelle’s lap, and Noelle stroked the child’s hair. By the time Sandy had applied some mascara and discrete lip color, Noelle was calmer and ready to start her day.

“Breakfast,” Aden said from the living room. “Go!”

Charlie and Nash left the apartment. Noelle looked at herself in the mirror. Nodding to herself, she held out a hand for Rachel.

“Thanks Mom,” Noelle said.

Noelle kissed Sandy’s cheek.

“I’ll see you down there,” Sandy said.

Noelle nodded. Sandy went into the bathroom. She sped through her morning routine. She grabbed her coat and purse and started down the stairs. Aden met her at the top of the stairs. He started down the stairs with her holding onto his shoulder for balance. When they reached the bottom, he kissed her and they moved toward the dining room.

“No one’s here yet!” Nash said, chewing on a muffin.

“More food for you,” Sandy said with a grin.

Nash grinned and went into the dining room. Sandy stuck her head into the dining room. Seeing that Jill wasn’t there, she went to see if she could help. Taking the loft steps one at a time, Sandy was breathing hard by the time she reached the top.

She knocked and stuck her head in.

“Can I help?” Sandy asked between gasps of breath.

“Ohmygod!” Jill screamed from somewhere in the loft. “Sandy?

Sandy scooted across the loft until she found Jill sitting in Katy’s room. Katy’s long hair was a poof of knots and tangles. Jill shot Sandy a fierce look.

“She did her own hair,” Jill said.

“I can do my own hair!” Katy said. “I’m not a stupid baby!”

“This is not doing your hair!” Jill said with a growl.

Katy started talking in fast, nearly unintelligible words. Grinning, Sandy waved her hand for Jill to move away. Jill got up and stormed out of the room.

“What did you do?” Sandy asked as she picked through the mess.

Katy started crying and babbling. Sandy couldn’t tell what Katy had done to her hair.

“Come on, Katy-baby,” Sandy said, leaning forward to kiss Katy’s cheek. “It would be faster to start over.”

“But I don’ wanna!” Katy screamed.

Sandy gave the child a long look.

“You can’t make me,” Katy said.

“Well, in fact, I can,” Sandy said. “I’m immune to your magic or whatever it is because Auntie Heather made me immune to all magic.”

Katy squinted her eyes at Sandy, and Sandy shrugged.

“I don’t know what you just did but I’m guessing it wasn’t very nice,” Sandy said.

The child stared at Sandy for a long minute. Sandy got up and closed the door.

“What’s this about?” Sandy said. “I’ve known you since before you were born. This is so unlike you.”

Katy began to sob. She told Sandy something about how busy and worried Jill was and how she was trying to help and she thought that she could do it and she hated being a baby and. . . On and on the child went. As Katy talked, Sandy gently nudged her in the direction of her bathroom. Katy was weeping and talking when Sandy took off her uniform and panties.

Katy stopped talking when the water from the shower hit her face.

“It’s the fastest way,” Sandy said. “Plus, you won’t look like you’ve been crying.”

“Everything okay in there?” Jacob said as he stuck his head into the bathroom.

“We’re fine,” Sandy said. “Could you get Katy’s other uniform out? This one is a little rumpled.”

“Got it,” Jacob said, disappearing.

“You have to let me,” Sandy said.

Katy let Sandy wash her hair. Sandy put in some of the thick, fancy conditioner that she’d given Katy for monthly treatments. Of course, the bottle had never been used. Sandy slathered the conditioner on Katy’s hair and got the wide toothed comb out from the cabinet. While Katy sat on the edge of the tub, Sandy worked a comb through all of the knots. The conditioner combined with the heat and moisture from the shower and Sandy’s skill help to loosen up the mess.

“I’m going to rinse this out,” Sandy said. “You wash up. Give yourself a good scrub. I can tell you’ve been slacking over the time at home.”

Sandy put a washcloth in Katy’s hands. While Sandy rinsed out Katy’s hair, Katy soaped and scrubbed herself. After rinsing her off, Sandy pulled Katy out of the shower and started drying Katy’s hair.

Jacob came in with the clean and pressed uniform as well as some underwear.

“Get dressed while I dry your hair,” Sandy said.

Katy pulled on her underwear and Sandy worked to get the child’s hair dry.

“I’m going to put it up,” Sandy said. “It’s a little greasy.”

When Sandy finished Katy’s bun, they went out into the room so that Sandy could help Katy get dressed. Something bounced off the door to Katy’s room.

“What was that?” Sandy asked.

“The boys don’t want to go to school,” Katy said with a sigh. “That’s why I was trying to help.”

“You are a sweet girl,” Sandy said. “Let’s finish up here and go help with those crazy boys.”

Katy turned in place and hugged Sandy.

“I’m sorry,” Katy said.

“You should apologize to your mom,” Sandy said in a mild rebuke. “Not me.”

“I will,” Katy said. “I just. . . I really needed your help and you were here.”

“Always.” Sandy smiled and kissed Katy’s cheek.

“Thanks,” Katy said. “Are you really immune to magic?”

Sandy nodded.

“Why?” Katy asked.

“Heather worried that, with all of these goddesses around, I would be vulnerable to them,” Sandy said. “I’m human so not that interesting. Your mom is a healer and is highly respected. Tanesha is the granddaughter of an archangel.”

“Kinda scary,” Katy said.

Sandy nodded.

Something else pounded on the door.

“We’d better go help,” Sandy said.

“Don’t worry,” Katy winked at Sandy.

Katy hopped up off the bed and went out into the open space of the lobby.

“Enough!” Katy said.

The boys stopped in place. Everything the boys had put into the air hung there for a moment before quietly dropping to the floor.

Katy pointed to the twins.

“Go get dressed,” Katy said.

The boys went into their room. Jacob slipped into the room after the twins. Jill came over to Katy.

“I’m sorry, Mommy,” Katy said.

Tears welling in her eyes, Jill hugged her daughter and looked up to Sandy.

“Thank you,” Jill mouthed to Sandy.

Sandy nodded and pointed to the door.

“Why don’t we go to breakfast?” Jill asked. “Daddy can take the boys.”

“Okay, Mommy,” Katy said.

Katy held out her hand to Jill and another to Sandy. They went down the stairs, through the kitchen and toward the dining room. Tanesha and Jabari came in from across the street.

“Why don’t you go ahead?” Jill asked.

“Okay,” Katy said.

Katy hugged Tanesha.

“Good luck today,” Tanesha said.

“You, too,” Katy said.

Katy skipped into the dining room.

Tanesha hugged Sandy and then Jill.

“How are you?” Sandy asked Tanesha.

“Okay,” Tanesha said. “A little overwhelmed. You two look like you’ve been through the wars.”

Jacob came past with the twins. He nodded to the women and continued on.

“Katy did her own hair this morning,” Jill said, softly.

Tanesha gave a rueful shake of her head.

“Noelle’s anxious about school,” Sandy said in the same soft voice.

“Crazy day,” Tanesha said. “Crazy day.”

Sandy and Jill nodded.

“Where’s Heather?” Jill asked.

“She’s in the dining room,” Tanesha said. “Keeping everything and everyone moving.”

“Are you ready for school?” Tanesha asked Jill.

Jill shook her head and then shrugged.

“You’ve got this,” Sandy said.

“I hope so,” Jill said. “We’re starting online. They want to move to in person, but not for now. So, we’ll see.”

Jill sighed.

“I’m not ready,” Honey said in a whine as she rolled toward them in her wheelchair.

Sandy, Jill, and Tanesha nodded.

“Are you online?” Jill asked.

Honey nodded.

“Well, at least we’ll be here,” Honey said.

Looking worried, Jill nodded. Tanesha put her arm around Sandy and Jill and they went into the dining room to join Heather in moving things along. For the briefest moment, when the kids were getting their backpacks, the women sat together in silence.

“Here we go,” Sandy said, pushing herself to standing.

She turned to look at Tanesha, Jill, and Honey.

“Good luck today,” Sandy said. “Heather and I are doing pick up. Do your school. Don’t worry about the kids.”

Heather got up and left the room with Sandy. Tanesha sighed. Standing, she looked at the ceiling.

“Fin,” Tanesha said.

Prince Finegal of Queen Fand’s realm, her grandfather, appeared out of nowhere.

“We need to get to school,” Tanesha said.

Fin gave her a nod and they left the room. Sandy sat with Jill while she slowly sipped her coffee.

“Come on,” Sandy said.

“I just. . .” Jill started.

“I know,” Sandy said. “It’s really hard. There are so many transitions right now. We start by getting the kids back to school.”

“But. . .” Jill said.

Sandy cut her off by shaking her head.

“They are safe,” Sandy said. “They wear their masks and are really good about it. They want to be in school.”

“I know,” Jill said with a sigh.

“School starts at 10?” Sandy asked.

Jill nodded.

“Come on,” Sandy said. “Why don’t we head to the salon? Trim that pandemic hair. Give you a shine boost.”

“I. . .” Jill said.

“You have time,” Sandy said. “Jake is taking the kids to school. You’ve had breakfast.”

“I have time,” Jill said as if to convince herself.

“You have time,” Sandy said.

Jill gave Sandy a long look before nodding. Grinning at Jill, Sandy grabbed her purse and jacket from where she’d left them. They drove to Sandy’s studio.

Sandy was cutting Jill’s hair when Jill remembered that she loved school.

Her kids loved school too.

She’d been so caught up in getting everything done and making sure no one got sick, that she had forgotten how much she loved her life.

“Do you ever think that maybe we have a, like, happiness limit?” Jill asked.

“What do you mean?” Sandy asked.

“I just realized that I’d fallen back into feel horrible,” Jill said. “You know, like I did forever when I was married to Trevor and everything. It wasn’t even hard and I didn’t even notice.”

Sandy squeezed Jill’s shoulder and went to get the highlight color.

“I think the stress of everything has frayed everyone,” Sandy said. “It’s a lot. It’s been a lot and now, instead of a vacation, we have to navigate getting the kids back in school, going back to school for you, and getting my small business up and running again. It’s. . .”

“A lot,” Jill said.

“So go easy on yourself,” Sandy said. “It’s okay to feel miserable when things are miserable. It’s not okay to get stuck there.”

Jill nodded. Sandy finished Jill’s highlights and disappeared. She returned with mugs of hot chocolate. Sandy sat in a chair near Jill while they drank their cocoa. By the time her mug was near empty, Jill was feeling a lot better.

“How are you able to handle all of this?” Jill asked.

“Well,” Sandy said with a shrug. “I nearly died a few months ago. I’ve had all these surgeries and been in and out of the hospital.”

“Awful,” Jill said.

“It’s changed my perspective,” Sandy said with a nod. “At least for now.”

Sandy got up to check Jill’s highlights.

“For now, I feel like this is life,” Sandy said. “Messy, ugly, full of drama and joy. I had so much pain. I had so much help and love and support. More than anything, I’m glad to be here in the mess of everything.”

“I’m glad you’re here, too,” Jill said, sniffing at her tears.

“We do not have time for that,” Sandy said with a smile. “Let’s get you washed up and out of here.”

Denver Cereal continues next week...

 


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-eight - Back to school (part six)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-EIGHT

(part six)

“Come on,” Sandy said.

“I just. . .” Jill started.

“I know,” Sandy said. “It’s really hard. There are so many transitions right now. We start by getting the kids back to school.”

“But. . .” Jill said.

Sandy cut her off by shaking her head.

“They are safe,” Sandy said. “They wear their masks and are really good about it. They want to be in school.”

“I know,” Jill said with a sigh.

“School starts at 10?” Sandy asked.

Jill nodded.

“Come on,” Sandy said. “Why don’t we head to the salon? Trim that pandemic hair. Give you a shine boost.”

“I. . .” Jill said.

“You have time,” Sandy said. “Jake is taking the kids to school. You’ve had breakfast.”

“I have time,” Jill said as if to convince herself.

“You have time,” Sandy said.

Jill gave Sandy a long look before nodding. Grinning at Jill, Sandy grabbed her purse and jacket from where she’d left them. They drove to Sandy’s studio.

Sandy was cutting Jill’s hair when Jill remembered that she loved school.

Her kids loved school too.

She’d been so caught up in getting everything done and making sure no one got sick, that she had forgotten how much she loved her life.

“Do you ever think that maybe we have a, like, happiness limit?” Jill asked.

“What do you mean?” Sandy asked.

“I just realized that I’d fallen back into feel horrible,” Jill said. “You know, like I did forever when I was married to Trevor and everything. It wasn’t even hard and I didn’t even notice.”

Sandy squeezed Jill’s shoulder and went to get the highlight color.

“I think the stress of everything has frayed everyone,” Sandy said. “It’s a lot. It’s been a lot and now, instead of a vacation, we have to navigate getting the kids back in school, going back to school for you, and getting my small business up and running again. It’s. . .”

“A lot,” Jill said.

“So go easy on yourself,” Sandy said. “It’s okay to feel miserable when things are miserable. It’s not okay to get stuck there.”

Jill nodded. Sandy finished Jill’s highlights and disappeared. She returned with mugs of hot chocolate. Sandy sat in a chair near Jill while they drank their cocoa. By the time her mug was near empty, Jill was feeling a lot better.

“How are you able to handle all of this?” Jill asked.

“Well,” Sandy said with a shrug. “I nearly died a few months ago. I’ve had all these surgeries and been in and out of the hospital.”

“Awful,” Jill said.

“It’s changed my perspective,” Sandy said with a nod. “At least for now.”

Sandy got up to check Jill’s highlights.

“For now, I feel like this is life,” Sandy said. “Messy, ugly, full of drama and joy. I had so much pain. I had so much help and love and support. More than anything, I’m glad to be here in the mess of everything.”

“I’m glad you’re here, too,” Jill said, sniffing at her tears.

“We do not have time for that,” Sandy said with a smile. “Let’s get you washed up and out of here.”

Denver Cereal continues on Monday...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-eight - Back to school (part five)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-EIGHT

(part five)

“Kinda scary,” Katy said.

Sandy nodded.

Something else pounded on the door.

“We’d better go help,” Sandy said.

“Don’t worry,” Katy winked at Sandy.

Katy hopped up off the bed and went out into the open space of the lobby.

“Enough!” Katy said.

The boys stopped in place. Everything the boys had put into the air hung there for a moment before quietly dropping to the floor.

Katy pointed to the twins.

“Go get dressed,” Katy said.

The boys went into their room. Jacob slipped into the room after the twins. Jill came over to Katy.

“I’m sorry, Mommy,” Katy said.

Tears welling in her eyes, Jill hugged her daughter and looked up to Sandy.

“Thank you,” Jill mouthed to Sandy.

Sandy nodded and pointed to the door.

“Why don’t we go to breakfast?” Jill asked. “Daddy can take the boys.”

“Okay, Mommy,” Katy said.

Katy held out her hand to Jill and another to Sandy. They went down the stairs, through the kitchen and toward the dining room. Tanesha and Jabari came in from across the street.

“Why don’t you go ahead?” Jill asked.

“Okay,” Katy said.

Katy hugged Tanesha.

“Good luck today,” Tanesha said.

“You, too,” Katy said.

Katy skipped into the dining room.

Tanesha hugged Sandy and then Jill.

“How are you?” Sandy asked Tanesha.

“Okay,” Tanesha said. “A little overwhelmed. You two look like you’ve been through the wars.”

Jacob came past with the twins. He nodded to the women and continued on.

“Katy did her own hair this morning,” Jill said, softly.

Tanesha gave a rueful shake of her head.

“Noelle’s anxious about school,” Sandy said in the same soft voice.

“Crazy day,” Tanesha said. “Crazy day.”

Sandy and Jill nodded.

“Where’s Heather?” Jill asked.

“She’s in the dining room,” Tanesha said. “Keeping everything and everyone moving.”

“Are you ready for school?” Tanesha asked Jill.

Jill shook her head and then shrugged.

“You’ve got this,” Sandy said.

“I hope so,” Jill said. “We’re starting online. They want to move to in person, but not for now. So, we’ll see.”

Jill sighed.

“I’m not ready,” Honey said in a whine as she rolled toward them in her wheelchair.

Sandy, Jill, and Tanesha nodded.

“Are you online?” Jill asked.

Honey nodded.

“Well, at least we’ll be here,” Honey said.

Looking worried, Jill nodded. Tanesha put her arm around Sandy and Jill and they went into the dining room to join Heather in moving things along. For the briefest moment, when the kids were getting their backpacks, the women sat together in silence.

“Here we go,” Sandy said, pushing herself to standing.

She turned to look at Tanesha, Jill, and Honey.

“Good luck today,” Sandy said. “Heather and I are doing pick up. Do your school. Don’t worry about the kids.”

Heather got up and left the room with Sandy. Tanesha sighed. Standing, she looked at the ceiling.

“Fin,” Tanesha said.

Prince Finegal of Queen Fand’s realm, her grandfather, appeared out of nowhere.

“We need to get to school,” Tanesha said.

Fin gave her a nod and they left the room. Sandy sat with Jill while she slowly sipped her coffee.

“Come on,” Sandy said.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...