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

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-EIGHT

(part four)

“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.”

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


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

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-EIGHT

(part three)

“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.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


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

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-EIGHT

(part two)

“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.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


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

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-EIGHT

(part one)

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.”

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-seven - How is everyone?

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-SEVEN

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?”

“Nelson has his run with John Drayson this morning,” Tres said, handing her a cup of coffee.

“Heather’s meeting about that Templar adventure,” Blane said. “Alex Hargreaves thinks that she’s found the hoard. Hecate and the rest are in town.”

“I met someone named ‘Hestia’ yesterday?” Jeraine looked up to see if anyone had met her.

“She’s a niece of Jill’s father,” Tanesha said.

“You’ve met her before?” Jeraine asked.

“Know my Greek Gods,” Tanesha said with a laugh. “She’s the goddess of hearth and home, I believe.”

No one said anything for a long moment.

“Did you guys forget Mack and Wyn?” Tanesha asked.

“They are sleeping,” Blane said, holding up the baby monitor. “I thought I’d go up and get them when I’d finished breakfast.”

“I’ll go,” Tres said.

Tres got up and went back upstairs.

“How was the concert?” Blane asked.

“Last night?” Jeraine asked. “Good. Actually, really good. Last night, we had. . .”

Jeraine named a famous female singer.

“She told me that the only reason she left the house was because she wanted to see the ballroom,” Jeraine said. “Her manager wants her to do a holiday concert to go with the new album. He ‘seduced’ — her word — her into coming by talking about Miss. T and her work at the hospital.”

“Really?” Tanesha asked.

“She said that she was not leaving the house,” Jeraine said. “Anyway, it looks like she’ll be filming a special in the ballroom. The casino is willing to do the tickets, let her use their equipment, and even edit the final product for an inflated cut. She wanted to know what we would need for her to use it.”

“What does that mean?” Blane asked.

“I don’t know,” Jeraine said. “I’m meeting with Jammy to talk about it.”

Tres came down stairs holding Wyn and nudging Mack along. Still sleepy, Mack climbed onto a chair next to Jabari. The two boys gave each other a groggy greeting. Tres set Wyn down in the high chair.

Blane set down a bowls of yogurt and fruit in front of Jabari and Mack. Tres took the last bowl and went to help Wyn eat. Wyn could feed himself, but he struggled in the mornings.

A few minutes later, the toaster rang. Tanesha got up to help butter the toast. Blane finished the bacon and eggs. The adults were on a high protein day so they had a high fiber crunchy piece of toast with bacon and eggs.

When breakfast was made, Blane disappeared to finish getting ready. The rest of them ate their breakfasts. Blane appeared a few minutes later. Tres grabbed Wyn, now coated in a thin layer of yogurt, and went back upstairs.

By the time Tres returned with Wyn, everyone was ready to head to the Castle. Jeraine picked up Jabari. Blane picked up Mack and Tres carried Wyn across the street. They passed a small crowd of paparazzi now stationed six feet apart from each other.

Once inside, the children went up to the loft for an early morning story time. Tanesha got Fin and they left for the hospital. Jeraine found Jammy sitting on the back deck, reading email on his cellphone.

After dropping Mack and Wyn in the loft, Tres headed out for a day of checking in with his elderly parents and older siblings. As the youngest child of twelve, Tres’s older siblings were well into their 70s. They and his parents were isolated and at risk for the virus. Tres checked in with them once a week to make sure they had food, masks, and were well.

Blane went to the medical offices. Over the last few months, the offices had gradually transformed into his dream offices. It had taken him a while to accept that this wonderful space belonged to him. One weekend, a month ago, when he had traveled to see patients in the San Luis valley, Jill had transformed the sterile, ugly space into a warm, inviting, even healing place.

Jill had even an easy wipe down system for cleaning the rooms between patients and UV lights overnight. Since he now had two treatment rooms, he could wipe down the room and set the lights between people.

Blane loved going to work.

Today, he had private patients in the morning and a community outdoor clinic in the afternoon. La Tonya, Jeraine’s older sister, had proven to be an invaluable assistant. At some point, she would likely get back to being a medical doctor. In the meantime, he had the flexibility she needed to get her life and her family back on track.

Blane lit the candles in the office and went to open the door. His first patient was waiting for him on a bench on the deck.

“Good morning, Dr. Lipson,” the woman said.

“How are you feeling?” Blane asked.

And his work day began. Jill was his 11 o’clock patient.

“How are you?” Blane asked.

“Oh,” Jill said. “Mostly I’m tired.”

“I can tell,” Blane said, setting her wrists down from taking her Chinese medicine pulses.

While Blane stuck needles in her body, Jill contemplated her life now.

She had been living the same day on repeat for months now. She woke up when Jacob got up. When he left for work at Lipson or to one of their remodel projects, she woke up the boys and Katy.

Then she spent a wonderful, sometimes frustrating, perfect hour or so with her children.

It was something that she never would have dreamed of being able to do when she just had Katy. It was something she couldn’t have dreamed of doing even at the beginning of the year. Yet here she was, day after day, spending this time with her own children.

Time. She had the luxury of time, now.

Since her mother had faked her death in Costa Rica, Jill had never had time. She had rushed from work to school and school to work. For more of Katy’s early life, she’d slept only four hours so that she could work as much as possible. She was even back at work only days after Katy was born.

She’d never spent time at home hanging out with her own children.

She couldn’t have dreamed of this time with them. At the beginning of this year, she was working and going to school. The kids went to daycare. They functioned more like balls that bounced from place to place, thing to thing, only sleeping in the same location.

That’s what boggled her mind. In their pre-Covid life, they’d spent the majority of their time together while they were sleeping.

It was far from perfect now.

Like a lot of women, she’d had to juggle taking care of children, her husband, her home, her friends, her school work, and her work-work. She’d managed the design work she did for their business between nap time and when Jacob came home from work. He spent time with the kids while she worked until dinner. It was just barely enough time to keep their projects moving forward. The Zoom client meetings were great and awful at the same time.

So far, everything was working.

Next week, however, she was supposed to head back for her third year of college.

She’d had long talks with Honey about school. Honey was also starting her third year of college. While Jill went to the Colorado Institute for Art, Honey was going to Metro University. They’d worried about this new change — could they manage work, school, and kids?

Did they want to?

Truth be told, if it were only up to Jill, she would probably have quit school to spend all of her time with her kids. Jacob wouldn’t hear of it. Jill had wanted to go to college all of her adult life. He wasn’t about to let her give up on her dream.

In a week’s time, the kids would head back to the modified, aerated Marlowe School.

And Jill would head back to school.

But was that really what she wanted?

How would she ever find the time to go to school and deal with everything going on?

“Ruminating?” Blane asked.

“How could you tell?” Jill asked.

“Try to rest,” Blane said. “Take in the treatment.”

He stuck a needle into her forehead. She was completely out. Twenty minutes later, Blane touched her shoulder.

“How do you feel?” Blane asked.

“Good,” Jill said. “Better.”

Nodding, Blane pulled out the needles.

“Drink lots of water,” Blane said. “Take your time.”

Blane left the room. Jill lay there for a moment before noticing the time. Her list of things to do next came up in her head. She got up and left the room.

Jill left the room. She stopped to chat with La Tonya for a moment before heading out into the deck and backyard stairs. She jogged down the stairs to the backyard. She reached the backyard just as Delphie came out of the house.

“How was your treatment?” Delphie asked.

“Awesome,” Jill said. “I feel so much better. How are you feeling?”

“Good,” Delphie said. “Well, better.”

“That vaccine packed a punch,” Jill said.

“I’m just glad we made it into the trial,” Delphie said.

“Me, too,” Jill said.

Delphie hugged Jill for a moment and let go. Jill continued into the house, and Delphie continued out to her greenhouses.

They’d used the greenhouses to start seedlings for all of the gardens. Once the seedlings were planted, they had moved tropical plants into the greenhouses. Delphie needed to mist the grapevines and the pineapples. She had no idea what they would do with the space over the winter.

She and Valerie were supposed to sit down and sort it out.

Tanesha had said that the doctors expected a lot of Covid cases this fall — and a lot of death due to this horrible virus. She knew that meant that the economy was going to drop and a lot of people were going to suffer. They needed to dig deep and share the wealth that they had.

She sighed.

This pandemic has asked her to stretch in every direction. It was wonderful, and it was really hard. Some days, it seemed like every single person she knew wanted something from her. She fell into bed completely exhausted.

She loved it, and, sometimes, she longed for the days when she spent all day in her quiet chapel or simply sitting in her backyard watching the birds.

Truth be told, she’d never felt so alive.

She shook her head at herself. How could one person feel so many contradictory things at once?

“Are you okay?” Valerie’s voice came from behind Delphie.

“Of course,” Delphie said, turning around.

Valerie was carrying her infant daughter. They’d continued their pirate names by naming her “Grace” for the historic pirate Grace O’Malley, who had once begged Queen Elizabeth I for the return of her ships only to return to pirating until her death in 1603.

“Gracie was looking for you,” Valerie said of the four month old.

Delphie held out her arms, and Valerie set the baby in them.

“Where shall we go?” Delphie asked.

“I set up a quiet spot by the chickens,” Valerie said.

“Nice,” Delphie said. “How are you feeling?”

“Good,” Valerie said. “Before you ask — I don’t feel any of that depression or sadness. I feel happy.”

“Good,” Delphie said.

Valerie hooked her arm with Delphie’s and they walked across the backyard to the quiet chicken yard. The teenagers kept the chicken coop clean enough so that Jacob had put a small metal table with two metal chairs over here. Valerie had set a pot of tea and some iced lemon cookies. Delphie sat down nearest the garden and Valerie sat on the other side of the table. Since they were outside and not too close, they both took off their facemasks.

“How do you feel about the kids going back to school?” Delphie asked.

“I’m excited,” Valerie said. “I mean, it would be harder if they weren’t begging to go back.”

Delphie grinned.

“It’s a little insulting, really,” Valerie said. “We’ve had so fun being together. Now they are like: ‘Don’t you have a movie?’”

Valerie laughed, and Delphie smiled.

“You know that they don’t mean anything by it,” Delphie said.

“I do,” Valerie said. She started pouring the tea into china cups that matched the teapot. “I guess. . .”

Valerie shrugged.

“It was hard to adjust to the pandemic,” Valerie said. “Now, after all of these months, it feels like ‘real life.’ You know?”

“I do,” Delphie said. “I was just thinking that I have felt more alive during this time than almost any other.”

“Me, too,” Valerie said.

“You’ve worked so hard to get the Marlowe School ready for the students to return,” Delphie said.

“Well, Jake and his guys did the work,” Valerie said.

“You did all of those video meetings with the board,” Delphie said.

“You’re right,” Valerie chuckled. “That’s a lot more work. Assholes.”

Delphie grinned at her.

“I do I miss my other life,” Valerie said. “But, everything is on hold until they figure out what to do next.”

Delphie nodded.

“At least I still have offers,” Valerie said. “Did I tell you that I’m in line for one of those Marvel characters?”

“No!” Delphie said. “That sounds fun.”

Valerie nodded and then shrugged.

“You know how this goes,” Valerie said. “I could get it or not get it; get it and then not get it; or. . .”

Valerie shrugged.

“It’s fun to be in the running,” Delphie said.

Smiling, Valerie nodded. A chicken began to squawk and Grace began to laugh. Valerie and Delphie joined in her laugh. They sat out in the grace, eating cookies, and drinking tea until they finally go around to talking about the garden. They chatted so long that the sun started to go down.

“Hey,” Charlie said, coming out into the chicken yard. “We’re having dinner across the street.”

He picked up Grace from Delphie’s lap. Holding the baby in one hand, he grabbed the last cookie off the plate and stuffed it into his mouth in one bite.

“She needs a diaper change,” Charlie said, spitting cookie crumbs.

“We need to go inside anyway,” Delphie said.

“Seems to me that you’re enjoying yourself,” Charlie said.

“We are,” Valerie said.

“We’re plotting the fall and spring,” Delphie said.

“I want to get a Christmas tree again,” Charlie said. “Is that on the list?”

“Of course,” Valerie said.

“Good,” Charlie said. “You mind if I feed the chickens?”

“Not at all,” Valerie said.

Valerie held out her arms, and Charlie put Grace into them. Charlie went through the fast motions of feeding and checking the chickens. He came back with two eggs.

“I thought we got eggs in the mornings,” Valerie said.

“One of the girls likes to lay in the afternoon,” Charlie said.

“Good to know,” Delphie said.

“Hey, I wanted to run something by you,” Charlie said.

Delphie and Valerie looked up at him.

“I’m thinking about maybe becoming a teacher,” Charlie said. He continued in a rush of words, “I know I haven’t been the best student, but I’ve really enjoyed this year where we picked a book and worked through it. I did most of that. I also helped with the math and stuff. I know that I’m behind, but I think I could really do this. Sandy wants me to go to college and I think Aden is thinking that I’ll be a med tech or something like that. But. . .”

Charlie nodded. Embarrassed, he turned in place and went inside.

“You do need a diaper change,” Valerie said to tiny Grace.

“Let’s head in,” Delphie said. “I can change her while you get changed.”

“Oh, I have it,” Valerie said. “I’m sure there will be a million demands on your time. I appreciate you spending so much time with me today.”

“I’m glad to have it,” Delphie said.

After putting back on her facemask, Delphie picked up the plate and the tea pot. She followed Valerie inside.

This had been the strangest, most terrifying and wonderful time in any of their lives. Whatever happened next was likely to be some mix of everything that had happened before.

Delphie felt a wave of foreboding. Shaking her head at herself, she followed Valerie inside the Castle.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


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

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-SEVEN

(part six)

“You’ve worked so hard to get the Marlowe School ready for the students to return,” Delphie said.

“Well, Jake and his guys did the work,” Valerie said.

“You did all of those video meetings with the board,” Delphie said.

“You’re right,” Valerie chuckled. “That’s a lot more work. Assholes.”

Delphie grinned at her.

“I do I miss my other life,” Valerie said. “But, everything is on hold until they figure out what to do next.”

Delphie nodded.

“At least I still have offers,” Valerie said. “Did I tell you that I’m in line for one of those Marvel characters?”

“No!” Delphie said. “That sounds fun.”

Valerie nodded and then shrugged.

“You know how this goes,” Valerie said. “I could get it or not get it; get it and then not get it; or. . .”

Valerie shrugged.

“It’s fun to be in the running,” Delphie said.

Smiling, Valerie nodded. A chicken began to squawk and Grace began to laugh. Valerie and Delphie joined in her laugh. They sat out in the grace, eating cookies, and drinking tea until they finally go around to talking about the garden. They chatted so long that the sun started to go down.

“Hey,” Charlie said, coming out into the chicken yard. “We’re having dinner across the street.”

He picked up Grace from Delphie’s lap. Holding the baby in one hand, he grabbed the last cookie off the plate and stuffed it into his mouth in one bite.

“She needs a diaper change,” Charlie said, spitting cookie crumbs.

“We need to go inside anyway,” Delphie said.

“Seems to me that you’re enjoying yourself,” Charlie said.

“We are,” Valerie said.

“We’re plotting the fall and spring,” Delphie said.

“I want to get a Christmas tree again,” Charlie said. “Is that on the list?”

“Of course,” Valerie said.

“Good,” Charlie said. “You mind if I feed the chickens?”

“Not at all,” Valerie said.

Valerie held out her arms, and Charlie put Grace into them. Charlie went through the fast motions of feeding and checking the chickens. He came back with two eggs.

“I thought we got eggs in the mornings,” Valerie said.

“One of the girls likes to lay in the afternoon,” Charlie said.

“Good to know,” Delphie said.

“Hey, I wanted to run something by you,” Charlie said.

Delphie and Valerie looked up at him.

“I’m thinking about maybe becoming a teacher,” Charlie said. He continued in a rush of words, “I know I haven’t been the best student, but I’ve really enjoyed this year where we picked a book and worked through it. I did most of that. I also helped with the math and stuff. I know that I’m behind, but I think I could really do this. Sandy wants me to go to college and I think Aden is thinking that I’ll be a med tech or something like that. But. . .”

Charlie nodded. Embarrassed, he turned in place and went inside.

“You do need a diaper change,” Valerie said to tiny Grace.

“Let’s head in,” Delphie said. “I can change her while you get changed.”

“Oh, I have it,” Valerie said. “I’m sure there will be a million demands on your time. I appreciate you spending so much time with me today.”

“I’m glad to have it,” Delphie said.

After putting back on her facemask, Delphie picked up the plate and the tea pot. She followed Valerie inside.

This had been the strangest, most terrifying and wonderful time in any of their lives. Whatever happened next was likely to be some mix of everything that had happened before.

Delphie felt a wave of foreboding. Shaking her head at herself, she followed Valerie inside the Castle.

Denver Cereal continues on Monday...


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

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-SEVEN

(part five)

Delphie hugged Jill for a moment and let go. Jill continued into the house, and Delphie continued out to her greenhouses.

They’d used the greenhouses to start seedlings for all of the gardens. Once the seedlings were planted, they had moved tropical plants into the greenhouses. Delphie needed to mist the grapevines and the pineapples. She had no idea what they would do with the space over the winter.

She and Valerie were supposed to sit down and sort it out.

Tanesha had said that the doctors expected a lot of Covid cases this fall — and a lot of death due to this horrible virus. She knew that meant that the economy was going to drop and a lot of people were going to suffer. They needed to dig deep and share the wealth that they had.

She sighed.

This pandemic has asked her to stretch in every direction. It was wonderful, and it was really hard. Some days, it seemed like every single person she knew wanted something from her. She fell into bed completely exhausted.

She loved it, and, sometimes, she longed for the days when she spent all day in her quiet chapel or simply sitting in her backyard watching the birds.

Truth be told, she’d never felt so alive.

She shook her head at herself. How could one person feel so many contradictory things at once?

“Are you okay?” Valerie’s voice came from behind Delphie.

“Of course,” Delphie said, turning around.

Valerie was carrying her infant daughter. They’d continued their pirate names by naming her “Grace” for the historic pirate Grace O’Malley, who had once begged Queen Elizabeth I for the return of her ships only to return to pirating until her death in 1603.

“Gracie was looking for you,” Valerie said of the four month old.

Delphie held out her arms, and Valerie set the baby in them.

“Where shall we go?” Delphie asked.

“I set up a quiet spot by the chickens,” Valerie said.

“Nice,” Delphie said. “How are you feeling?”

“Good,” Valerie said. “Before you ask — I don’t feel any of that depression or sadness. I feel happy.”

“Good,” Delphie said.

Valerie hooked her arm with Delphie’s and they walked across the backyard to the quiet chicken yard. The teenagers kept the chicken coop clean enough so that Jacob had put a small metal table with two metal chairs over here. Valerie had set a pot of tea and some iced lemon cookies. Delphie sat down nearest the garden and Valerie sat on the other side of the table. Since they were outside and not too close, they both took off their facemasks.

“How do you feel about the kids going back to school?” Delphie asked.

“I’m excited,” Valerie said. “I mean, it would be harder if they weren’t begging to go back.”

Delphie grinned.

“It’s a little insulting, really,” Valerie said. “We’ve had so fun being together. Now they are like: ‘Don’t you have a movie?’”

Valerie laughed, and Delphie smiled.

“You know that they don’t mean anything by it,” Delphie said.

“I do,” Valerie said. She started pouring the tea into china cups that matched the teapot. “I guess. . .”

Valerie shrugged.

“It was hard to adjust to the pandemic,” Valerie said. “Now, after all of these months, it feels like ‘real life.’ You know?”

“I do,” Delphie said. “I was just thinking that I have felt more alive during this time than almost any other.”

“Me, too,” Valerie said.

“You’ve worked so hard to get the Marlowe School ready for the students to return,” Delphie said.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


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

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-SEVEN

(part four)

She’d never spent time at home hanging out with her own children.

She couldn’t have dreamed of this time with them. At the beginning of this year, she was working and going to school. The kids went to daycare. They functioned more like balls that bounced from place to place, thing to thing, only sleeping in the same location.

That’s what boggled her mind. In their pre-Covid life, they’d spent the majority of their time together while they were sleeping.

It was far from perfect now.

Like a lot of women, she’d had to juggle taking care of children, her husband, her home, her friends, her school work, and her work-work. She’d managed the design work she did for their business between nap time and when Jacob came home from work. He spent time with the kids while she worked until dinner. It was just barely enough time to keep their projects moving forward. The Zoom client meetings were great and awful at the same time.

So far, everything was working.

Next week, however, she was supposed to head back for her third year of college.

She’d had long talks with Honey about school. Honey was also starting her third year of college. While Jill went to the Colorado Institute for Art, Honey was going to Metro University. They’d worried about this new change — could they manage work, school, and kids?

Did they want to?

Truth be told, if it were only up to Jill, she would probably have quit school to spend all of her time with her kids. Jacob wouldn’t hear of it. Jill had wanted to go to college all of her adult life. He wasn’t about to let her give up on her dream.

In a week’s time, the kids would head back to the modified, aerated Marlowe School.

And Jill would head back to school.

But was that really what she wanted?

How would she ever find the time to go to school and deal with everything going on?

“Ruminating?” Blane asked.

“How could you tell?” Jill asked.

“Try to rest,” Blane said. “Take in the treatment.”

He stuck a needle into her forehead. She was completely out. Twenty minutes later, Blane touched her shoulder.

“How do you feel?” Blane asked.

“Good,” Jill said. “Better.”

Nodding, Blane pulled out the needles.

“Drink lots of water,” Blane said. “Take your time.”

Blane left the room. Jill lay there for a moment before noticing the time. Her list of things to do next came up in her head. She got up and left the room.

Jill left the room. She stopped to chat with La Tonya for a moment before heading out into the deck and backyard stairs. She jogged down the stairs to the backyard. She reached the backyard just as Delphie came out of the house.

“How was your treatment?” Delphie asked.

“Awesome,” Jill said. “I feel so much better. How are you feeling?”

“Good,” Delphie said. “Well, better.”

“That vaccine packed a punch,” Jill said.

“I’m just glad we made it into the trial,” Delphie said.

“Me, too,” Jill said.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


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

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-SEVEN

(part three)

After dropping Mack and Wyn in the loft, Tres headed out for a day of checking in with his elderly parents and older siblings. As the youngest child of twelve, Tres’s older siblings were well into their 70s. They and his parents were isolated and at risk for the virus. Tres checked in with them once a week to make sure they had food, masks, and were well.

Blane went to the medical offices. Over the last few months, the offices had gradually transformed into his dream offices. It had taken him a while to accept that this wonderful space belonged to him. One weekend, a month ago, when he had traveled to see patients in the San Luis valley, Jill had transformed the sterile, ugly space into a warm, inviting, even healing place.

Jill had even an easy wipe down system for cleaning the rooms between patients and UV lights overnight. Since he now had two treatment rooms, he could wipe down the room and set the lights between people.

Blane loved going to work.

Today, he had private patients in the morning and a community outdoor clinic in the afternoon. La Tonya, Jeraine’s older sister, had proven to be an invaluable assistant. At some point, she would likely get back to being a medical doctor. In the meantime, he had the flexibility she needed to get her life and her family back on track.

Blane lit the candles in the office and went to open the door. His first patient was waiting for him on a bench on the deck.

“Good morning, Dr. Lipson,” the woman said.

“How are you feeling?” Blane asked.

And his work day began. Jill was his 11 o’clock patient.

“How are you?” Blane asked.

“Oh,” Jill said. “Mostly I’m tired.”

“I can tell,” Blane said, setting her wrists down from taking her Chinese medicine pulses.

While Blane stuck needles in her body, Jill contemplated her life now.

She had been living the same day on repeat for months now. She woke up when Jacob got up. When he left for work at Lipson or to one of their remodel projects, she woke up the boys and Katy.

Then she spent a wonderful, sometimes frustrating, perfect hour or so with her children.

It was something that she never would have dreamed of being able to do when she just had Katy. It was something she couldn’t have dreamed of doing even at the beginning of the year. Yet here she was, day after day, spending this time with her own children.

Time. She had the luxury of time, now.

Since her mother had faked her death in Costa Rica, Jill had never had time. She had rushed from work to school and school to work. For more of Katy’s early life, she’d slept only four hours so that she could work as much as possible. She was even back at work only days after Katy was born.

She’d never spent time at home hanging out with her own children.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


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

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-SEVEN

(part two)

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

“Nelson has his run with John Drayson this morning,” Tres said, handing her a cup of coffee.

“Heather’s meeting about that Templar adventure,” Blane said. “Alex Hargreaves thinks that she’s found the hoard. Hecate and the rest are in town.”

“I met someone named ‘Hestia’ yesterday?” Jeraine looked up to see if anyone had met her.

“She’s a niece of Jill’s father,” Tanesha said.

“You’ve met her before?” Jeraine asked.

“Know my Greek Gods,” Tanesha said with a laugh. “She’s the goddess of hearth and home, I believe.”

No one said anything for a long moment.

“Did you guys forget Mack and Wyn?” Tanesha asked.

“They are sleeping,” Blane said, holding up the baby monitor. “I thought I’d go up and get them when I’d finished breakfast.”

“I’ll go,” Tres said.

Tres got up and went back upstairs.

“How was the concert?” Blane asked.

“Last night?” Jeraine asked. “Good. Actually, really good. Last night, we had. . .”

Jeraine named a famous female singer.

“She told me that the only reason she left the house was because she wanted to see the ballroom,” Jeraine said. “Her manager wants her to do a holiday concert to go with the new album. He ‘seduced’ — her word — her into coming by talking about Miss. T and her work at the hospital.”

“Really?” Tanesha asked.

“She said that she was not leaving the house,” Jeraine said. “Anyway, it looks like she’ll be filming a special in the ballroom. The casino is willing to do the tickets, let her use their equipment, and even edit the final product for an inflated cut. She wanted to know what we would need for her to use it.”

“What does that mean?” Blane asked.

“I don’t know,” Jeraine said. “I’m meeting with Jammy to talk about it.”

Tres came down stairs holding Wyn and nudging Mack along. Still sleepy, Mack climbed onto a chair next to Jabari. The two boys gave each other a groggy greeting. Tres set Wyn down in the high chair.

Blane set down a bowls of yogurt and fruit in front of Jabari and Mack. Tres took the last bowl and went to help Wyn eat. Wyn could feed himself, but he struggled in the mornings.

A few minutes later, the toaster rang. Tanesha got up to help butter the toast. Blane finished the bacon and eggs. The adults were on a high protein day so they had a high fiber crunchy piece of toast with bacon and eggs.

When breakfast was made, Blane disappeared to finish getting ready. The rest of them ate their breakfasts. Blane appeared a few minutes later. Tres grabbed Wyn, now coated in a thin layer of yogurt, and went back upstairs.

By the time Tres returned with Wyn, everyone was ready to head to the Castle. Jeraine picked up Jabari. Blane picked up Mack and Tres carried Wyn across the street. They passed a small crowd of paparazzi now stationed six feet apart from each other.

Once inside, the children went up to the loft for an early morning story time. Tanesha got Fin and they left for the hospital. Jeraine found Jammy sitting on the back deck, reading email on his cellphone.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...