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September 2021

Chapter Six Hundred and Sixty-four - A friend indeed (part two)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-FOUR

(part two)

“Everyone is worn out by all of the Harvest Day activities,” Valerie said. “I need to get my big pots going so that we can make more soup today. Jake’s going to be canning outside today.”

“Sounds fun,” Ava said.

“You can help me,” Valerie said. “Unless you just want to sit there and be mad.”

“Nope,” Ava said. “I’m over it. What do you need?”

“What I really need help with is the jars,” Valerie said. “We have them, and certainly we clean them, but they aren’t always clean enough to can with. It takes a real eye to see the imperfections in the glass or lids or. . .”

“Sounds like something I can do,” Ava said. “Where are they?”

“I’ll show you,” Valerie said, with a grin. “Jake brought them up from the basement but there was no space here so we put them. . .”

Valerie went to the wall behind the kitchen table. She pressed on the wood panel and it opened to show deep shelves.

“Jake said that he used a few apartments to make this space,” Ava said.

“I think that this was an original part of the apartment, but. . .” Valerie shrugged. “It’s all a little hard to track. You’d have to see the plans and even then. . .”

“He’s really good at this stuff,” Ava said.

“Weird, isn’t it?” Valerie nodded. “You know who’s as good or better?”

Ava shook her head.

“Jill,” Valerie said. “She can see things in her head that. . . It’s really amazing. Have you seen the place across the street?”

“They invited me but I’ve been crawling around in the dust,” Ava said.

“Right,” Valerie said. “Who’d want to give up grime?”

“Exactly,” Ava grinned.

Valerie moved away. Ava started hauling box after box of glass canning jars and set them on the kitchen table. Valerie set another cup of coffee on the table for Ava. Feeling better, Ava started to check the jars. Some were dusty. Some had breaks. But most of them were ready to be used.

“Oh great!” Jill said, seeing Ava and the jars lined up on the table. “If I bring you some Italian tomato sauce, could you put it in the jars? You don’t have to do the lids. I just need to get the. . .”

The sound of a weeping baby reached them.

“I’ll send Jake down with it,” Jill said, running up the stairs. “Thanks!”

“We made it from tomatoes on Friday,” Valerie said. “They’ve been cooking it down in their kitchen.”

“What is it?” Ava asked.

“Sauce for pizza, spaghetti, bruschetta,” Valerie said. “Sandy has. . .”

“Oh great,” Sandy said coming into the kitchen. “Would you mind if I brought you some tortilla soup? Val and Maresol made it on Friday. We’ve been cooking it down.”

Ava nodded. Sandy grinned.

“We have to clear the stove top for today’s baking,” Sandy said.

“What’s today?” Ava asked.

“Chicken noodle,” Valerie said. “Stewed tomatoes, vegetable soup, pickles, and. . .”

“Pies,” Sandy said. “We’re making pies in my apartment. If you’d like to come and hang out, you’re welcome.”

“I have to crawl around in the dirt,” Ava said with a sigh.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Sixty-four - A friend indeed (part one)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-FOUR

(part one)

Sunday early morning — 5:15 a.m.

“Ava!” Valerie said as she came around the corner from the stairs and into the kitchen.

Ava O’Malley was sitting with her forehead on the kitchen table. She raised a hand and waved at Valerie.

“Are you okay?” Valerie asked.

Without lifting her head, Ava nodded against the table. Valerie empathetically touched Ava’s back as she passed to the kitchen. Valerie turned on the coffee pot. She checked the electric kettle for water. Finding it full, she turned it one. She went into the deep closet they used as a pantry and returned with a tin. She went around and set the tin in front of Ava.

“What is it?” Ava said, still not lifting her head.

“Breakfast cookies,” Valerie said. “They are my favorite. Sandy makes them for me and Jill — well, any adult who’s not eating Cap’n Crunch.”

When Ava didn’t move, Valerie opened the lit of the tin. She took out a cookie and set it in Ava’s hand. Ava shifted to look at Valerie.

“You’ll feel better,” Valerie said.

Ava grunted, but didn’t put her head down again. She took a bite of the cookie.

“These are really good,” Ava said.

“They are,” Valerie said. “I take them with me when I leave. They make for fast and easy mornings.”

Valerie poured a cup of coffee from the still filling pot.

“I think Maresol is coming here to make heuvos rancheros,” Ava said. “At least that’s what she said last night. I left before she was awake.”

Valerie set the coffee in front of Ava and brought her the cream. Ava ate her cookie and drank her coffee while Valerie made two pots of tea.

“What’s going on?” Valerie asked.

“I love Harvest Day,” Ava said. “It’s so fun to see everyone working and laughing. You make great food. I mean, like this morning, Maresol is making everyone breakfast from beans you grew, eggs the chickens made. . .”

“Corn tortillas she made yesterday from that huge corn crop at Mr. Matchel’s,” Valerie said.

“It’s like magic,” Ava said. She sighed. “I haven’t been able to participate because of this stupid detective.”

“Stone?” Valerie asked.

“She called me at four this morning,” Ava said. “Woke me up. Yelled at me for twenty minutes.”

Ava shook her head.

“You wouldn’t believe what she said,” Ava said. “I’m a spoiled, stupid, corrupt employee of an incompetent lab and. . .”

Ava sighed.

“She said worse things about Seth,” Ava said, nodding.

“How can anyone hate Seth O’Malley?” Valerie asked. She shook her head. “The woman is clearly deranged.”

Ava nodded.

“I rushed over here so that I could start,” Ava said. “Walk her through what we’ve done.”

“Stone said she’d be here?” Valerie asked.

Ava nodded.

“What a cow,” Valerie said.

“I’ve been sitting here for more than an hour,” Ava said. “Who’s stupider? Stone? Or me, for doing what she told me to do?”

“Well, I’m glad for your company,” Valerie said. “Mike’s in the shower. The kids are mostly sleeping. Even Grace.”

“The newest baby?” Ava asked.

Valerie nodded.

“Everyone is worn out by all of the Harvest Day activities,” Valerie said. “I need to get my big pots going so that we can make more soup today. Jake’s going to be canning outside today.”

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


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

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-THREE

(part six)

Mike looked off into the distance and then back at Burt.

“I remember your stories about him,” Mike said. “I don’t know what’s happened, but he’s decided to try to be a nicer person. He has friends now and doesn’t spend so much time alone.”

“Does he watch those stupid programs?” Burt asked.

“I don’t think he has time,” Mike said. “He’s pretty busy, now. He’s either making food for people or dropping it off. That’s three times a day. Delphie and my sister, Jill, organize it. It’s a little crazy but people were starving before we stepped in to help.”

Burt looked up at Mike.

“What do you need?” Mike asked.

“I. . . I don’t know,” Burt said. “To know that it’s over, I guess.”

“It’s over,” Mike said. “Listen, we’re going to be working in the gardens for another day.”

“Dad wants me to help out at some school?” Burt asked.

“We’ll tell you all about it,” Mike said. “I’m due someplace. Do you mind if I leave you with Mike and Royce? Royce was a SEAL and M.J.’s a Marine. They know all about what we went through.”

Burt shook his head.

“Your dad stays here sometimes,” Mike said. “Why don’t you plan to stay? We can talk more when I’m done.”

Burt nodded. Mike put his hands on Burt’s shoulders.

“I know that you’re suffering,” Mike said. “But I also know that all that we went through is really and truly over.”

Burt looked up at him.

“Yes,” Mike answered Burt’s unasked question. “I still have nightmares and wake up thinking I’m there. But, I have three kids now. They’ve taught me that I have a bigger life than a few months in a cave in Afghanistan.”

Burt started to cry.

“Come on,” Mike said. “Let’s get you a beer and some food. You can hang out with a few nice people.”

Wiping his face, Burt got to his feet. M.J. and Royce were right with Burt as soon as Mike moved away.

“Oh, I should tell you,” Mike said. “Your dad’s working on his memoir.”

“Really?” Burt mouthed.

Mike nodded.

“It’s pretty good,” M.J. said. “He’s read some of it to us.”

“Who knew?” Burt said.

Mike started toward the back. He was just about to turn when he saw M.J. and Royce walking Burt toward the back.

Mike saw that Blane was getting Ivan to his feet. They were shuffling toward the stairway to the medical offices. Mike jogged across the backyard and carried Ivan up the stairs. At the top, he looked out over the party.

Mike remembered getting home from Afghanistan as clear as day. He remembered the mess he’d made of his life and the wreckage his trauma caused for him and Valerie. He looked out across the Castle backyard.

These were the people who helped him put his pieces back together again. They would help Burt, too.

Nodding to himself, he went inside to join his family to help heal Ivan.

Denver Cereal continues on Monday...


Chapter Six Hundred and Sixty-three - Safe, together

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-THREE

Saturday evening — 5:15 p.m.

“So you’re in?” Teddy asked Sissy. “If you say ‘yes,’ I’m going to announce it.”

“Masks required,” Sissy said.

“Of course. We’re not idiots,” Teddy said. “But, you’re in, right?”

Sissy gave him a slight nod. She and Ivan were sitting at a table in the backyard. After a successful Harvest Day, people were milling around. Jacob and Mike were working the bar-be-cues on the back deck. Food was laid out on the tables on the deck. If people weren’t eating, they were wearing masks. The tables were set apart with only a few seats. Everyone was doing their best to keep each other safe.

Yes!” Teddy said, with a fish pump.

Teddy grabbed his phone and jogged to where Nash was standing. The boys cheered and rushed inside the Castle.

“Would you mind if I joined you?” a woman with long dark hair asked. “Seems like the tables are either full or filled with kids. I could use a quiet meal with adults. Do you mind?”

“Please,” Sissy said, gesturing to a chair at their table. “I’m Sissy Delgado. This is my fiancé, Ivan.”

“Jennifer Kearney,” the woman said with a smile. “I’m one of the Fey Wives.”

“Like Honey?” Sissy asked.

The woman nodded. She took a bite of potato salad.

“I love this stuff,” Jennifer said, gesturing to the potato salad. “Honey’s husband is on the current team. My husband, Dean, was on the original team.”

“He was a wonderful man,” Ivan said, softly. “So kind.”

Jennifer gave him a long look.

“Did you know my husband?” Jennifer asked.

Ivan nodded.

“They rescued me from the gulag,” Ivan said. “Charlie carried me out on his shoulder. Your husband kept me alive until we were out of Russia. He said to me, ‘The worst is over now. Nothing is going to be as bad as where you’ve been.’ I think of that often. He was accurate.”

Jennifer’s eyes welled with tears. She gave Ivan a quick nod and looked away to gather her emotions.

“He would have loved this,” Jennifer said with her face away from them. She turned back to assess Ivan. “Are you ill now?”

“Cancer. Blood,” Ivan said. “From gulag.”

Jennifer nodded. She sighed and pointed to where a teenaged boy and girl were standing.

“My teens,” Jennifer said. “I have a baby too, but he’s off with the younger kids. They are wild. He’s absolutely in love with every one of them.”

“Everyone calls them the ‘Wild Bunch,’” Sissy said with a smile. “That’s accurate.”

Jennifer gave her a brief smile. To regain her composure, she focused on her meal.

“It’s lovely to see so many careful people,” Jennifer said. “I love that they are keeping everyone so safe.”

“From the very beginning,” Sissy said with a nod. “Jake, Aden, and Sam run a big underground construction company. They've been able to keep their entire crew from getting sick by using distance, masks, and hand washing. I think that it’s been a lot of work, but no one here minds doing the work.”

“You don’t live here?” Jennifer asked.

“I’ve been in Paris for school,” Sissy said.

“Oh,” Jennifer said. “You’re the ballerina? My daughter’s been talking about a ballerina who is going to dance tonight in City Park.”

“Nash and Teddy run an Instagram account for me,” Sissy said. “We’ve danced all over Denver, Paris, and a few places in Europe. Before Ivan got sick.”

Jennifer nodded.

“She’s very excited,” Jennifer said. “Do you mind dancing with younger students?”

“I think we’re all students,” Sissy said. “Plus, she’s not that much younger than I am. I’m just eighteen.”

“Oh, you’re a year older than my son,” Jennifer said. “I guess it’s your poise that makes you seem older.”

“Since I have been ill,” Ivan said.

“I think it’s just living in France,” Sissy said with a shrug. Sissy pointed to Charlie and Tink. “That’s my older brother and his girlfriend.”

“My eldest loves Charlie,” Jennifer said. “He read so many books when he was here earlier in the year. I was surprised because he’s not much of a reader, but Charlie got him interested in all kinds of books and stories. He still does the book club.”

“I do, too,” Sissy said with a grin. “Charlie’s a great teacher.”

Wanda came running out of the Castle. She went to speak to Tink. The girls looked up at Sissy and waved her over.

“Excuse me,” Sissy said. “I better go over before they get wild.”

Jennifer smiled. Sissy got up from her seat. She kissed Ivan’s cheek and went to see what Tink and Wanda were up to.

Ivan sighed.

“You are probably wondering about the difference in our ages,” Ivan said.

“Not really,” Jennifer said. “I learned how precious love is when Dean died. I always thought that I knew about love, but losing Dean and the rest of the guys. . . I don’t think any of us wives have really moved on. It’s been a long time, but. . .”

Jennifer shrugged.

“Now, I guess I think if you have love, you should cherish it for as long as it’s with you,” Jennifer said.

Ivan gave her a slight nod.

“Are you a dancer too?” Jennifer asked. “You look like one.”

Ivan gave a nod.

“Why did the boys go to get you?” Jennifer asked.

“Do you know Seth O’Malley?” Ivan asked.

“By name,” Jennifer said. “I mean, like everyone in Denver, I could recognize him in a crowd, but I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to him.”

“He traded a big favor for the team to go get me,” Ivan said. “Paid for the trip, too. They used his help to find someone who would likely had died without his help. Did you know that he finds remains and brings them home?”

Jennifer nodded and looked away.

“What do you do?” Ivan asked.  

“I work with traumatized people. I’m a psychologist,” Jennifer said. She gave him a long look. “Delphie told me. . .”

“She told me that I would meet someone who could help me today,” Ivan said.

“I don’t usually find clients at parties,” Jennifer said. “I’m not sure that it’s ethical.”

“I understand.” Ivan nodded.

“That said,” Jennifer said, “it would be a great honor for me to help someone who was helped by Dean.”

Jennifer smiled at Ivan.

“Do you need help?” Jennifer asked.

“Delphie told me that my internal rage and trauma are making my illness worse,” Ivan said. His eyes flicked to Sissy. “I want to survive this thing. I want. . .”

Ivan sighed.

“I understand,” Jennifer said. She dug around in her purse and came up with a business card. “Let me give you my card. If you decided to get help, just call me. If I don’t work for you, then I can refer you. I can always come here or meet you over the Internet.”

“I am very tired,” Ivan said.

“I understand,” Jennifer said. “I’ve known other people with cancer. No matter how fit or strong you are, fighting cancer takes everything out of you.”

Ivan gave her a quick nod. His eyes drifted to where Sissy was talking to Wanda and Tink.

“She is very beautiful,” Jennifer said. “I’m excited to see her dance tonight.”

Ivan nodded.

Jennifer opened her mouth to say something else, but Blane came up behind them.

“Excuse us,” Blane said.

Ivan looked up at him.

“Time for another treatment,” Blane said.

“Excuse me,” Ivan said. “Very nice to meet you.”

“You, too,” Jennifer said.

Blane helped Ivan to his feet.

“And thanks for telling me about Dean,” Jennifer said. Her hand went to her heart. “You cannot imagine how much that means to me.”

They got to the end of the medical office stairs. Mike jogged over. Without saying a word, Mike lifted Ivan off his feet and carried him upstairs.

“Mike and his family are here, too,” Blane said when they reached the top.

“Thank you,” Ivan said.

Mike carried Ivan through the medical offices, past his apartment, and into Delphie’s apartment. He lay Ivan down on the bed. Ivan was asleep before Blane returned.

~~~~~~~~

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.”

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.”

Mike looked off into the distance and then back at Burt.

“I remember your stories about him,” Mike said. “I don’t know what’s happened, but he’s decided to try to be a nicer person. He has friends now and doesn’t spend so much time alone.”

“Does he watch those stupid programs?” Burt asked.

“I don’t think he has time,” Mike said. “He’s pretty busy, now. He’s either making food for people or dropping it off. That’s three times a day. Delphie and my sister, Jill, organize it. It’s a little crazy but people were starving before we stepped in to help.”

Burt looked up at Mike.

“What do you need?” Mike asked.

“I. . . I don’t know,” Burt said. “To know that it’s over, I guess.”

“It’s over,” Mike said. “Listen, we’re going to be working in the gardens for another day.”

“Dad wants me to help out at some school?” Burt asked.

“We’ll tell you all about it,” Mike said. “I’m due someplace. Do you mind if I leave you with Mike and Royce? Royce was a SEAL and M.J.’s a Marine. They know all about what we went through.”

Burt shook his head.

“Your dad stays here sometimes,” Mike said. “Why don’t you plan to stay? We can talk more when I’m done.”

Burt nodded. Mike put his hands on Burt’s shoulders.

“I know that you’re suffering,” Mike said. “But I also know that all that we went through is really and truly over.”

Burt looked up at him.

“Yes,” Mike answered Burt’s unasked question. “I still have nightmares and wake up thinking I’m there. But, I have three kids now. They’ve taught me that I have a bigger life than a few months in a cave in Afghanistan.”

Burt started to cry.

“Come on,” Mike said. “Let’s get you a beer and some food. You can hang out with a few nice people.”

Wiping his face, Burt got to his feet. M.J. and Royce were right with Burt as soon as Mike moved away.

“Oh, I should tell you,” Mike said. “Your dad’s working on his memoir.”

“Really?” Burt mouthed.

Mike nodded.

“It’s pretty good,” M.J. said. “He’s read some of it to us.”

“Who knew?” Burt said.

Mike started toward the back. He was just about to turn when he saw M.J. and Royce walking Burt toward the back.

Mike saw that Blane was getting Ivan to his feet. They were shuffling toward the stairway to the medical offices. Mike jogged across the backyard and carried Ivan up the stairs. At the top, he looked out over the party.

Mike remembered getting home from Afghanistan as clear as day. He remembered the mess he’d made of his life and the wreckage his trauma caused for him and Valerie. He looked out across the Castle backyard.

These were the people who helped him put his pieces back together again. They would help Burt, too.

Nodding to himself, he went inside to join his family to help heal Ivan.

Denver Cereal continues next week...

 


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

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-THREE

(part five)

“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...


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...


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

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-THREE

(part three)

“He traded a big favor for the team to go get me,” Ivan said. “Paid for the trip, too. They used his help to find someone who would likely had died without his help. Did you know that he finds remains and brings them home?”

Jennifer nodded and looked away.

“What do you do?” Ivan asked.  

“I work with traumatized people. I’m a psychologist,” Jennifer said. She gave him a long look. “Delphie told me. . .”

“She told me that I would meet someone who could help me today,” Ivan said.

“I don’t usually find clients at parties,” Jennifer said. “I’m not sure that it’s ethical.”

“I understand.” Ivan nodded.

“That said,” Jennifer said, “it would be a great honor for me to help someone who was helped by Dean.”

Jennifer smiled at Ivan.

“Do you need help?” Jennifer asked.

“Delphie told me that my internal rage and trauma are making my illness worse,” Ivan said. His eyes flicked to Sissy. “I want to survive this thing. I want. . .”

Ivan sighed.

“I understand,” Jennifer said. She dug around in her purse and came up with a business card. “Let me give you my card. If you decided to get help, just call me. If I don’t work for you, then I can refer you. I can always come here or meet you over the Internet.”

“I am very tired,” Ivan said.

“I understand,” Jennifer said. “I’ve known other people with cancer. No matter how fit or strong you are, fighting cancer takes everything out of you.”

Ivan gave her a quick nod. His eyes drifted to where Sissy was talking to Wanda and Tink.

“She is very beautiful,” Jennifer said. “I’m excited to see her dance tonight.”

Ivan nodded.

Jennifer opened her mouth to say something else, but Blane came up behind them.

“Excuse us,” Blane said.

Ivan looked up at him.

“Time for another treatment,” Blane said.

“Excuse me,” Ivan said. “Very nice to meet you.”

“You, too,” Jennifer said.

Blane helped Ivan to his feet.

“And thanks for telling me about Dean,” Jennifer said. Her hand went to her heart. “You cannot imagine how much that means to me.”

They got to the end of the medical office stairs. Mike jogged over. Without saying a word, Mike lifted Ivan off his feet and carried him upstairs.

“Mike and his family are here, too,” Blane said when they reached the top.

“Thank you,” Ivan said.

Mike carried Ivan through the medical offices, past his apartment, and into Delphie’s apartment. He lay Ivan down on the bed. Ivan was asleep before Blane returned.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


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

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-THREE

(part two)

“From the very beginning,” Sissy said with a nod. “Jake, Aden, and Sam run a big underground construction company. They've been able to keep their entire crew from getting sick by using distance, masks, and hand washing. I think that it’s been a lot of work, but no one here minds doing the work.”

“You don’t live here?” Jennifer asked.

“I’ve been in Paris for school,” Sissy said.

“Oh,” Jennifer said. “You’re the ballerina? My daughter’s been talking about a ballerina who is going to dance tonight in City Park.”

“Nash and Teddy run an Instagram account for me,” Sissy said. “We’ve danced all over Denver, Paris, and a few places in Europe. Before Ivan got sick.”

Jennifer nodded.

“She’s very excited,” Jennifer said. “Do you mind dancing with younger students?”

“I think we’re all students,” Sissy said. “Plus, she’s not that much younger than I am. I’m just eighteen.”

“Oh, you’re a year older than my son,” Jennifer said. “I guess it’s your poise that makes you seem older.”

“Since I have been ill,” Ivan said.

“I think it’s just living in France,” Sissy said with a shrug. Sissy pointed to Charlie and Tink. “That’s my older brother and his girlfriend.”

“My eldest loves Charlie,” Jennifer said. “He read so many books when he was here earlier in the year. I was surprised because he’s not much of a reader, but Charlie got him interested in all kinds of books and stories. He still does the book club.”

“I do, too,” Sissy said with a grin. “Charlie’s a great teacher.”

Wanda came running out of the Castle. She went to speak to Tink. The girls looked up at Sissy and waved her over.

“Excuse me,” Sissy said. “I better go over before they get wild.”

Jennifer smiled. Sissy got up from her seat. She kissed Ivan’s cheek and went to see what Tink and Wanda were up to.

Ivan sighed.

“You are probably wondering about the difference in our ages,” Ivan said.

“Not really,” Jennifer said. “I learned how precious love is when Dean died. I always thought that I knew about love, but losing Dean and the rest of the guys. . . I don’t think any of us wives have really moved on. It’s been a long time, but. . .”

Jennifer shrugged.

“Now, I guess I think if you have love, you should cherish it for as long as it’s with you,” Jennifer said.

Ivan gave her a slight nod.

“Are you a dancer too?” Jennifer asked. “You look like one.”

Ivan gave a nod.

“Why did the boys go to get you?” Jennifer asked.

“Do you know Seth O’Malley?” Ivan asked.

“By name,” Jennifer said. “I mean, like everyone in Denver, I could recognize him in a crowd, but I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to him.”

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


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

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-THREE

(part one)

Saturday evening — 5:15 p.m.

“So you’re in?” Teddy asked Sissy. “If you say ‘yes,’ I’m going to announce it.”

“Masks required,” Sissy said.

“Of course. We’re not idiots,” Teddy said. “But, you’re in, right?”

Sissy gave him a slight nod. She and Ivan were sitting at a table in the backyard. After a successful Harvest Day, people were milling around. Jacob and Mike were working the bar-be-cues on the back deck. Food was laid out on the tables on the deck. If people weren’t eating, they were wearing masks. The tables were set apart with only a few seats. Everyone was doing their best to keep each other safe.

Yes!” Teddy said, with a fish pump.

Teddy grabbed his phone and jogged to where Nash was standing. The boys cheered and rushed inside the Castle.

“Would you mind if I joined you?” a woman with long dark hair asked. “Seems like the tables are either full or filled with kids. I could use a quiet meal with adults. Do you mind?”

“Please,” Sissy said, gesturing to a chair at their table. “I’m Sissy Delgado. This is my fiancé, Ivan.”

“Jennifer Kearney,” the woman said with a smile. “I’m one of the Fey Wives.”

“Like Honey?” Sissy asked.

The woman nodded. She took a bite of potato salad.

“I love this stuff,” Jennifer said, gesturing to the potato salad. “Honey’s husband is on the current team. My husband, Dean, was on the original team.”

“He was a wonderful man,” Ivan said, softly. “So kind.”

Jennifer gave him a long look.

“Did you know my husband?” Jennifer asked.

Ivan nodded.

“They rescued me from the gulag,” Ivan said. “Charlie carried me out on his shoulder. Your husband kept me alive until we were out of Russia. He said to me, ‘The worst is over now. Nothing is going to be as bad as where you’ve been.’ I think of that often. He was accurate.”

Jennifer’s eyes welled with tears. She gave Ivan a quick nod and looked away to gather her emotions.

“He would have loved this,” Jennifer said with her face away from them. She turned back to assess Ivan. “Are you ill now?”

“Cancer. Blood,” Ivan said. “From gulag.”

Jennifer nodded. She sighed and pointed to where a teenaged boy and girl were standing.

“My teens,” Jennifer said. “I have a baby too, but he’s off with the younger kids. They are wild. He’s absolutely in love with every one of them.”

“Everyone calls them the ‘Wild Bunch,’” Sissy said with a smile. “That’s accurate.”

Jennifer gave her a brief smile. To regain her composure, she focused on her meal.

“It’s lovely to see so many careful people,” Jennifer said. “I love that they are keeping everyone so safe.”

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Sixty-two - You can talk to me

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-TWO

Saturday midday— 12:31 p.m.

“Hey,” Tanesha said. She leaned over the bed to shake Jeraine’s shoulder. “You said that you wanted to get up at 12:30.”

Jeraine groaned.

“None of that,” Tanesha said. “You know that you’ve had enough sleep. You have to stay on schedule or your head gets off.”

“Feel tired.” Jeraine flopped over onto his back. He stared at the ceiling for a moment. “Actually, I’m okay.”

“How’s your head?” Tanesha asked. “Last night was a late one.”

Jeraine had a concert last night in the ballroom of the Castle. The musical guest was a jazz band that met over the Internet during Covid-19 lockdown. They were big on the social media platforms where they’d met and very popular with the public, in general. The band insisted on piping the music outside of the Castle. The Casino’s team set up speakers on the greenhouses in the Castle driveway. Wearing masks and socially distancing, the bands fans danced and sang along in the parking lot of the 7-11 on Colfax Boulevard.

Jeraine was up with the band long after his designated sleep time so he’d slept in late.

“Actually, I’m okay,” Jeraine said. He sat up and got out of bed. “Excited for Harvest Day. How’s it going?”

He walked across their bedroom to use the restroom.

“It’s fun,” Tanesha said. “I’m having fun, at least.”

“And Sissy?” Jeraine asked from the bathroom.

“Ivan’s got a kind of blood cancer,” Tanesha said. “He doesn’t want to marry Sissy. Just wants to just fade away.”

“Damn,” Jeraine said from the bathroom. “That’s drama.”

“Hmm,” Tanesha said.

Jeraine flushed the toilet.

“I’m going to make your smoothie,” Tanesha said. “I’ll meet you in the kitchen.”

“See you there,” Jeraine said and turned on the shower water.

Tanesha went out to the big house kitchen. She put together Jeraine’s morning smoothie with a little bit of frozen fruit, some spinach, a cup of nut milk, protein powder, and some of his medications for his head.

Dressed in jeans and a long sleeved T-shirt, Jeraine came out with a towel on his head. She set the smoothie in front of him and he drank it down without question.

She gave him a glass of room temperature water. He drank it down.

“I wanted to say something,” Jeraine said.

“What’s up?” Tanesha asked.

“I know that when I came in last night, you were talking to Heather about something more important than your hair,” Jeraine said.

“Oh yea?” Tanesha shrugged. “What do you think you know?”

He grinned at her surly response, and she smiled in return.

“I wanted to remind you that you can talk to me,” Jeraine said. “I can handle more than conversations about your hair.”

“Good to know,” Tanesha said.

“Seems like something big is going on with you,” Jeraine said.

Tanesha sighed.

“I don’t know if I can go into it with everything going on today,” Tanesha said.

“Did something bad happen?” Jeraine asked.

“No, no, I mean, yes,” Tanesha said with a nod. “Working in the ER is awful. Totally awful. I cry every single day when I leave. I gotten to a point where I dread going in. I don’t think I can handle it anymore.”

As they had practiced in couples therapy, Jeraine didn’t offer suggestions. He simply listened. When he was sure she’d finished talking, he nodded.

“I understand,” Jeraine said, evenly to encourage her to talk.

“Hedone took me back in history to show me other plagues,” Tanesha said. “We went to London in modern times and then back in history to a plague pit. Same place. That was creepy. The area we had been standing on was the same place men were stacking human bodies — of all ages! — into the pit. Then she took me to Paris when they were moving bones into the limestone tunnels to make room in the cemeteries. But it was the last one that really hit home to me.”

“Where was that?” Jeraine said.

“Mexico City,” Tanesha said. “1500s. There was a plague of small pox. I mean, who gets small pox now? But then it killed 8 million people almost overnight. I looked it up. That was 40% of the population of Mexico City at the time!”

“What do you think that means?” Jeraine asked.

“You know how Hedone is,” Tanesha said. “She doesn’t say anything or fill in the blanks. She just shows you stuff that she thinks you need to see and lets you figure it out.”

Jeraine nodded, but didn’t say anything. He filled his water glass and drank another glass of water.

“Coffee?” Tanesha asked.

“Tea,” Jeraine said. “I’ve been drinking Nelson’s fancy French tea.”

“Good?” Tanesha asked.

Tanesha looked in the electric kettle. Finding it full of water, she turned it on.

“Really good,” Jeraine said. “He says that the Templars own a tea plantation that makes it. He has a lot of it. So he’s happy to share. Why don’t you try some?”

“Sounds good,” Tanesha said.

She got out a couple of mugs and gave them to him. Jeraine took down a tea pot. He filled it with warm water to warm the pot and waited for the kettle.

“What do you think Hedone wanted to you to get?” Jeraine asked when he couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Oh,” Tanesha said. “Sorry, I left you hanging. I think some of it is that these things come and go. There’s no evidence in Mexico City that so many people died all at once. In London, they built over the pits they put plague victims in. They just found them when they cleared the area for a rebuild. In Mexico City, we saw this solemn parade of people going to the cemetery. Weeping women and men followed tiny children’s caskets. But in London, it was all business. Men stacked bodies on cart.”

“And Paris?” Jeraine asked.

“It was like a party,” Tanesha said with a shake of her head. “They danced in the streets as their ancestors’ bones were moved. It felt festive, fun even. But when I say it, it’s so creepy.”

Jeraine nodded. The electric kettle clicked off. Jeraine poured the warm water from the tea pot and made a pot of tea for them. He set it on the counter next to the mugs. She got some cream from the refrigerator and held it up.

“Please,” he said, starting a timer on the tea.

She set the cream on the counter and went around to the other side. When the timer went off, he poured tea, put in the cream, and gave her a mug.

“What was Hedone trying to tell me?” Tanesha asked into her mug. “I can never be too sure, but I think it’s that plagues come and go. We’re so lucky not to have had one in a long time. But our ancestors experienced them for generations. Children died. Grandparents. Even healthy adults. There wasn’t anything they could do to avoid getting sick. It was just something that happened.”

“Some people were mad, of course. And, I’m sure that there were people who thought it was demons or wasn’t happening or whatever. Certainly, mistrust of authority is nothing new.”

Tanesha fell silent for a moment.

“I guess. . . well, I don’t really know, but I felt like I wasn’t so important in all of it, you know?” Tanesha asked. “I mean, when I’m in the ER, it’s all about me. What am I doing to help? Patients blame me for their illness or worse. Their families want me to do something that I will not do — like those crazy meds they talk about on the Internet.”

Jeraine nodded.

“But this is just life,” Tanesha said. “Death and life and death. It is how we came to be, you know.”

Tanesha fell silent again. Jeraine poured their cups of tea and doctored them with a bit of cream and sugar.

“I do what I know to do,” Tanesha said. “In the 1500s or whenever, people did what they could do. It’s really about doing what you can and leaving the rest. This pandemic isn’t about me. It’s about life.”

“Everything living has a virus,” Jeraine said.

“Exactly what Hedone says,” Tanesha said.

Jeraine nodded.

“I’m sorry that it’s so hard,” Jeraine said.

“I just. . .” Tanesha shook her head and shrugged. “I mean, Hedone said that I never wanted to be an ER doctor. And, she’s right. I never wanted to be an ER doctor. I’m good at it.”

Tanesha sighed.

“I don’t really know, honestly, what I want to do with my career and my life,” Tanesha said. “After being so certain for such a long time, it’s pretty scary.”

“I bet,” Jeraine said.

Tanesha shrugged.

“At least I know what I have to do today,” Tanesha said with a grin.

“What’s our assignment?” Jeraine asked.

“You are supposed to go over to Mr. Matchel’s and see what his garden needs,” Tanesha said. “Just check it out. If you can take care of it, that’s great. He likes you.”

Tanesha shrugged.

“If I need more help?” Jeraine asked.

“As usual, Jake and Mike are competing,” Tanesha said.

“Of course they are,” Jeraine said.

“They’d love to help, you know, get more points,” Tanesha said.

Jeraine laughed.

“If you don’t want to deal with them, all those teenagers are back,” Tanesha said. “They’re roving around looking for ways to help. Mr. Matchel’s garden was grown from their seedlings.”

“What are you assigned to?” Jeraine asked.

“I need to change into scrubs,” Tanesha said. “Help out with the clinic. There are more people today, plus Ivan. They don’t want to bring him to the clinic so I’m going to help Nelson and LaTanya until Blane’s done evaluating and treating Ivan.”

Jeraine held out his arms and they held each other for a moment.

“Go change,” Jeraine said. “I need to finish getting ready and brush my teeth. We can at least walk out together.”

“Meet tonight for the barbecue?” Tanesha asked.

“Of course,” Jeraine said.

Tanesha changed into a clean pair of scrubs. They walked out of the house together. Across the street, the paparazzi screamed at them and Jeraine swooped Tanesha into his arms. He bent her backwards and kissed her. She laughed, and they went their separate ways.

~~~~~~~~

Saturday afternoon — 1:11 p.m.

Shuffling her tarot cards, Delphie looked up at Ivan and Sissy. The windows of her apartment were wide open. They were sitting six feet apart and each of them were wearing face masks.

“What are your questions?” Delphie asked.

“We decided on three,” Sissy said.

Sissy looked at Ivan. He gave her a soft smile.

“I am only here so that she will accept,” Ivan said.

“Accept what?” Delphie asked.

“I am dying,” Ivan said. “My life is over. There is nothing left for us.”

Sissy’s face flushed with anger and emotion. Delphie scowled at him.

“Why is this important to you, Ivan?” Delphie asked.

“It is the truth,” Ivan said. He gave an exhausted lift of this shoulder.

Moving quickly, Delphie laid out the cards and then scooped them up again. She shuffled.

“And?” Ivan asked, his voice laced with exhauster.

“I was just checking something,” Delphie said. “What are your three questions?”

“I want to know what you checked,” Ivan said.

Delphie smiled at him.

“I had a sense that your desire to just fade away was. . .” Delphie sighed.

“Be clear!” Ivan said, emphatically.

“Okay,” Delphie said. “Your sense that ‘there is nothing left’ for you, for Sissy, for the both of you, has more to do with the fact that you believe that you don’t deserve to be happy than any intuitive knowing about your health.”

Ivan scowled but Sissy nodded.

“You have suffered enough, Ivan,” Delphie said. “Your sister, your mother, and your father believe that you had suffered enough. It’s time for you to live a joyous life.”

“I am Russian,” Ivan said. “Joy does not come naturally to me.”

Delphie smiled at Ivan.

“And now this sickness,” Ivan said. He shrugged.

“Hmm,” Delphie said. She smiled at Sissy. “What are your questions?”

“Is there hope?” Sissy asked.

“For?” Delphie asked.

“Us,” Sissy said. “For Ivan’s health. For our future. For my future?”

“Yes. Yes. And yes,” Delphie said with a grin. “There is a lot of hope.”

“For?” Ivan asked.

“You have options with your health,” Delphie said. “I see two children. I see Sissy dancing for at least another decade.”

Delphie shrugged. Ivan shook his head with disbelief.

“Okay,” Sissy said. She glanced at Ivan and continued, “Otis believes that our own option is a bone marrow transplant. Are there other options? Better options? Will any of these things work?”

“What are the options?” Delphie asked and stopped shuffling the cards.

“Continue chemotherapy,” Sissy said.

Delphie placed a card on her table.

“Immunotherapy,” Sissy said.

“Okay,” Delphie said, placing another card.

“Bone marrow transplant,” Sissy said.

Delphie put down another card.

“Um, Blane talked about something, but we weren’t sure what he was talking about,” Sissy said.

Nodding, Delphie set down another card.

“Anything else?” Delphie asked.

Sissy looked at Ivan.

“Give up,” Ivan said. “Not waste the money and time. Let go, let God.”

“Of course,” Delphie said and set another card onto the table.

For a long moment, they were silent.

“What I see is here and what I know,” Delphie waved her hand in a circle around her forehead, “is that each of these treatments have merit.”

But. . .!” Sissy’s voice rose with frustration.

“The question is one of order,” Delphie said, nodding to herself. “Which one are you doing now?”

“Ivan stopped chemotherapy last week,” Sissy said her voice laced with sorrow and anger.

“Ah,” Delphie said. Looking up at them, she smiled. “That makes sense. May I speak plainly?”

“Please,” Ivan said.

“You are exhausted,” Delphie said, gesturing to the cards. “Your exhaustion is from your illness and from your mental torture. You cannot heal until you are less exhausted.”

Ivan grunted in irritation.

“So here’s the best order,” Delphie said. “First, you work with Blane. Every herb, every treatment. You do everything he asks you to do. This will help raise your energy. It will give you the strength to end your mental torture. So in combination with your work with Blane, you must enter into psychological treatment — and work your ass off, if only because you are loved by Sissy and you wish to give her peace.”

“I do,” Ivan croaked.

“This will not take long,” Delphie said. “A couple of weeks. Maybe a month. Then you will return to chemotherapy, but much stronger than before. This will lead you to. . .”

“Bone marrow transplant?” Sissy asked.

“Not yet,” Delphie said. “You will stay with Blane — drinking his herbs, doing his treatment — and stay in psychotherapy. After the chemotherapy, you will take the immunotherapy for whatever you need. This treatment will be effective for you, but also be very hard.”

“If — and it’s an if — the immunotherapy doesn’t work, you will need the bone marrow transplant,” Delphie said.

“Otis wants us to skip everything and go to the bone marrow transplant,” Sissy said.

“Otis knows that Ivan is exhausted,” Delphie said. “He doesn’t realize that some of this exhaustion is from mental suffering. He can’t differentiate.”

“Are you saying that my mental issues are the cause of my sickness?” Ivan asked.

“No, of course not,” Delphie said. “I’m saying that your mental issues are abetting your illness. You should be able to heal your illness if you heal your mental torment. Nothing will work — not even a bone marrow transplant — unless you learn to forgive yourself.”

“Forgive myself,” Ivan said. He looked at Delphie. “Is it even possible?”

“Absolutely,” Delphie said.

“So there is hope,” Sissy said.

“There is lots of hope,” Delphie said. “Do you have a third question?”

Sissy and Ivan looked at each other. Ivan nodded.

“Ivan wants to know if we should marry,” Sissy said.

Delphie chuckled.

“Why is that funny?” Ivan asked, irritably.

“Of course you should marry,” Delphie said. “You don’t need me to tell you this. You were born for each other. You belong together — and you know this!”

Ivan let out a kind of sigh. The breath seemed to deflate him.

“But first, you need rest,” Delphie said. “I will speak with Jake to see where we can move you.”

“Blane invited us to stay with them,” Sissy said.

“We can keep you safer from Covid here,” Delphie said. “Jake is thinking about this right now. He will come up in the next five minutes to tell you where to stay.”

Sissy smiled at Ivan, and to Sissy’s surprised, Ivan actually smiled back.

“Thank you,” Ivan said. “I haven’t known how to. . .”

“I understand,” Delphie said. “We have a lot of people here today. There is someone who can help you with your head. She’s the mother of one of the teenagers. You will meet her at dinner.”

Ivan nodded.

Delphie got up and walked to her front door. There was a knock on the door and Delphie opened the door. Blane and Jacob came inside.

“Blane told me that he would like to treat Ivan,” Jacob said to Delphie. “He said that Ivan should stay close so that he can get the treatment he needs. I. . .”

Jacob looked across the apartment. Seeing Ivan and Sissy, he smiled.

“Oh great, you’re here,” Jacob said. “Val and Mike are moving out of their apartment. With three kids, it’s too small for them now. They’re moving into a couple of apartments near Honey and MJ. Now that the Denver Police are done, I should have it finished in a day or so. You two are welcome to Val and Mike’s apartment when the new apartment is completed.”

“I can stay with Sam for a couple of days,” Delphie said. “Ivy is leaving Sunday night to spend a week with her Aunt Gracie. Gracie goes on leave today and will be here for dinner tonight.”

“I don’t want to push you out of your apartment,” Sissy said.

Delphie chuckled.

“What is it?” Ivan asked.

“It’s all set up for you,” Delphie said with a grin. “Did you think that I would not be ready? I’ve changed the bedding. The refrigerator is filled for you. It’s all ready for you.”

Sissy smiled. Ivan grabbed Sissy’s hand.

“Why don’t we help you into bed?” Blane asked. “If you’re willing, we can start treatment right now.”

“Yes,” Ivan said. “I would like that. But. . .”

Ivan looked at Sissy.

“What about Sissy and her dance?” Ivan asked.

“It will work out,” Delphie said. “You will spend some time here together and some apart. Ivan, you need days of long rest that you can really only get alone. It will work out so beautifully that you will think it was planned.”

Ivan looked at Sissy, who was smiling broadly. Ivan nodded.

Blane and Jacob helped Ivan into Delphie’s bed.

“I’ll get your bag,” Jacob said.

Blane nodded. Jacob and Delphie left the small apartment.

“What do you think?” Sissy asked.

“I think that I am so lucky to have you in my life,” Ivan said.

“I agree,” Sissy said. “I’m going to shower. You rest for a while. I’m sure they’ll bring up lunch and we’ll plan to head down for dinner.”

Ivan nodded. Jacob returned with Blane’s bag, and then rushed off to do something else. Blane started to work. Sissy went to shower.

There was hope, and that was enough.

Denver Cereal continues next week...