Chapter Six Hundred and Sixty-three - Safe, together (part three)
Chapter Six Hundred and Sixty-three - Safe, together (part five)

Chapter Six Hundred and Sixty-three - Safe, together (part four)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-THREE

(part four)

Saturday evening — 5:15 p.m.

Jeraine started jogging toward the gate when he saw Mr. Matchel, their elderly next door neighbor, at the fence. J’Ron Tubman beat him too it. J’Ron had helped Jeraine pick the vegetables in Mr. Matchel’s yard that  afternoon. J’Ron greeted Mr. Matchel warmly.

Mr. Matchel blushed at the boy’s attention.

“Hey!” Jeraine said. He held his hand out for the man to shake.

Seeing a target, Mr. Matchel grabbed onto Jeraine’s hand.

“But. . .” J’Ron said.

“He needs this,” Jeraine said.

“I sure do,” Mr. Matchel said, good naturedly. “I want to introduce. . .”

Mr. Matchel turned but there was no one there. J’Ron gave Jeraine an “old people are idiots” kind of look. A man yelled from the gate.

“My son,” Mr. Matchel said, gesturing to the gate.

Jeraine went to open the gate for Mr. Matchel’s son.

“You’re Jeraine!” the man said. “I thought my dad was joking when he said that you picked his garden today.”

“Picked it clean,” Mr. Matchel said with a grin. “With this fine young man, as well.”

Mr. Matchel’s son nodded to J’Ron. Embarrassed, the boy looked down.

“Let’s get you a mask,” Jeraine said to Mr. Matchel’s son.

“Oh shit,” Mr. Matchel’s son said. “Dad said that you were sticklers for that. I have one. . .”

J’Ron held out a clean mask for Mr. Matchel’s son.

“We have them over there,” J’Ron said. “We keep one in our pockets and one on our face. It helps if someone needs a mask, but mostly if our mask gets gross, we can change it.”

“Thanks,” Mr. Matchel’s son said.

“Your dad was really sick this year,” Jeraine said.

“Crazy stuff,” Mr. Matchel’s son said. “We — my brother, sister, and I — didn’t realize he wasn’t getting food and. . . We really owe you. None of us live in town, we. . .”

The man stopped talking. Under the face mask, his face flushed red. His eyes welled with tears. He started gasping for air.

“Get Nelson,” Jeraine said. “Or M.J.”

J’Ron took off running.

Jeraine put his hands on the man’s shoulders. For a moment, he just held him up.

“What’s going on?” Mike’s voice came from behind Jeraine. As Mike neared, he gasped. “Burt? Burt Matchel?”

Nelson came running up behind Jeraine.

“Let go,” Nelson said. He glanced at Mike. “Whatever is happening, this man is going into shock. Grab him!”

Nelson and Jeraine took either side of Mr. Matchel’s son, Burt, and dragged him toward Honey and M.J.’s quiet garden off the driveway. They set Burt down on the bench. Nelson put Burt’s head between his knees.

“What happened?” Nelson asked Jeraine.

“I’m not sure,” Jeraine said. “He saw something and then. . .”

“It was me,” Mike said.

Jeraine and Nelson turned to Mike.

“He was in my unit,” Mike said. “You know. . .”

“Afghanistan,” Burt said. “I’m sorry, I just. . . I should have known. Dad’s been talking about Val, the movie star, and Jeraine, the R&B legend, and. . . It just sounded like. . .”

“The ramblings of a crazy old man,” Mr. Matchel said with a laugh. “My children think I’ve lost the plot.”

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...

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