CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-THREE
“The ramblings of a crazy old man,” Mr. Matchel said with a laugh. “My children think I’ve lost the plot.”
J’Ron ran up with his father, Royce.
“Can you take Mr. Matchel to the back?” Nelson asked. “His son is not feeling well. I know Mr. Matchel would like to see everyone and get some punch.”
“Did Val make that punch?” Mr. Matchel asked with a grin.
“No, Tanesha did,” Nelson said.
“Even better!” Mr. Matchel said, rubbing his hands. “Burt, you’re in good hands. I’m going to get some punch and say ‘hello’ to everyone. Is our group here yet?”
“They’re at a table near the back,” Nelson said of the elderly neighbors in Mr. Matchel’s “group.”
“Good,” Mr. Matchel said with a grin. “Let me know if I can help.”
Mr. Matchel looked at Mike for a long moment.
“Thanks for bringing my son back to me,” Mr. Matchel said.
Mike winced and looked down at the ground. Mr. Matchel patted his shoulder and left with J’Ron to the back.
“I’m Royce Tubman,” he said. “That was my son. Can I help?”
“Could you bring some. . .?” Nelson started.
M.J. appeared with a bottle of cold water.
“Thanks,” Nelson said. “He seems to be having a PTSD episode.”
“We haven’t seen each other since we got off the plane,” Mike said. “He was in the caves with me.”
M.J. and Royce shared a look.
“Does he really have a girlfriend?” Burt asked without looking up.
“Me?” M.J. asked, gesturing to himself. He shook his head.
“He means his dad,” Nelson said. “Yes, he and one of the neighbor’s have started a relationship over the pandemic. I don’t know how serious it is, but they enjoy each other’s company.”
“We thought he was just crazy,” Burt said. “He’s always been such an asshole, racist. . . My little sister won’t speak to him because he hates everyone. I don’t know how you did it. . .”
“Right love at the right time. He was also near death. I think that kind of need creates miracles,” Nelson said. He looked up at Jeraine. “Jer? Why don’t we give Mike and Burt a bit of privacy?”
Nelson stood up. He looked at M.J. and Royce. The men nodded in agreement.
“I’ll be just over there if you need any help,” Nelson said.
Nelson, Jeraine, M.J., and Royce moved away from Mike and Burt.
“You okay, man?” Mike asked.
“No,” Burt said. “I. . . No. . . I haven’t been since we got back. I mean, I went to counseling but it was so stupid and then. . .”
Burt looked up at Mike.
“How’d you do it?” Burt asked. “You were fucked up when you got back. Worse than me.”
“I got used to being fucked up,” Mike said with a snort. “Listen, are you here for a while?”
“I’m supposed to evaluate whether to put dad in a home,” Burt said.
“He’s never going to agree to that,” Mike said.
“You know him, too?” Burt asked. “It’s like my asshole dad has this awesome secret life!”
“He comes to dinner sometimes,” Mike said. “It’s really Blane and Jake that pulled him into our family. Then, they found him outside their house — I don’t remember who. Nelson, probably. Your dad wasn’t getting food. He tried to make it next door but collapsed on the sidewalk. He was brought to their house. They nursed him back to health. He’s been doing great since then. Joined the neighbor group. Helping out everyone. He drops food off.”
Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...
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