CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SEVENTY-THREE
Wednesday morning —5:02 a.m.
Aden pulled the door to their apartment closed and slipped down the stairwell. Blane and Jacob were waiting for him at the end of the stairwell. They were out the door and out into the cold morning in a matter of minutes. Aden started the truck and they drove out of Castle parking lot and on to their busy day.
The entire house seemed to sigh. A quiet silence fell over the Castle.
And then the screaming started.
Nash was taking too long in the bathroom, and Bladen threw up on Katy’s favorite shirt, and Jackie was sick of her brother Eddie’s “attitude,” and Charlie could not handle another minute of Teddy’s bullshit, and. . .
All at once, it seemed like every child in the Castle was screaming at the top of their lungs.
“What’s that?” Tanesha asked Jill when she opened the side door.
“Delphie says that it’s ‘eclipse energy,’” Jill said.
“Sounds like a lot of kid rage,” Tanesha said.
“Welcome to our humble abode,” Jill said.
Tanesha laughed. They walked into the main Castle living room where Jill had set up tea with breakfast cookies and scones for their early morning girlfriends’ breakfast. Jill and Tanesha listened to the hubbub for a long moment.
“You think we should do something about it?” Tanesha asked.
“Not a chance,” Sandy said, coming down the long stairway. “We’ll likely lose a limb.”
“As long as they don’t kill each other,” Jill said with a furtive glance upstairs.
Heather appeared with Mack, Wyn, and Jabari in her arms. Upon hearing the noise, the sleepy boys leaned into Heather. Tanesha took Jabari from Heather. She settled on the couch with the boy nestled in her lap.
“Should I. . .?” Heather gestured to the ceiling above.
“You mean, it’s not the 1970s?” Jill asked. “We can’t just let them brawl while we drink cocktails.”
“Where are the servants?” Heather asked.
The girlfriends laughed.
“We agreed to let them work their own stuff out,” Sandy said. “I have to trust them to do that.”
“Katy and Paddie said the same thing to me,” Jill said.
“Can I join you?” Valerie asked.
“Of course,” Jill said.
“Me, too?” Honey asked.
“Absolutely,” Sandy said.
With a cup of tea in their hands, they sat in terse silence.
“Is it just me or are you guys uncomfortable with this. . .?” Honey asked.
“We’re uncomfortable,” Tanesha said.
Honey nodded. The screaming continued.
“They’re making my head hurt,” Valerie said.
“They told us that we were undermining them by interfering,” Heather said with a roll of her eyes.
“Our kids are such assholes sometimes,” Sandy said under her breath.
They noticed immediately when Noelle stopped screaming. Katy fell silent at the same time as Jackie stopped screaming at her brother. Not ones to give up easily, the boys went on making their points for a while. Then, as suddenly as it started, everything was silent.
“Oh thank God,” Jill said. She blew out a breath and dramatically fell onto her lap.
Tanesha laughed, and Heather’s eyes flicked across the ceiling. Honey looked like she was going to cry. Valerie just looked exhausted.
“Scone?” Sandy asked.
For a moment, no one moved.
“I’ll have one of those cookies,” Tanesha said, breaking the spell.
When Valerie laughed, the rest of the women began to laugh. For the next half hour, they laughed, drank tea, and ate scones.
Wednesday morning —7:02 a.m.
Jeraine flipped Tanesha under him and kissed her hard. She laughed.
“You taste like. . .” Jeraine kissed her again. “Tea and those breakfast cookies and. . .”
“You?” Tanesha asked.
Tanesha leaned her head up to kiss him. They kissed and rolled over again. For a while, they were caught up in each other in the way they had been since they were children. Breathless, they fell against the bed.
“You’re off all day?” Jeraine asked.
“All day,” Tanesha said. She fluffed her pillow and leaned back. “Do you have time?”
“I’m all yours,” Jeraine said. “Until. . . four? I think. There’s a show tonight.”
“Should we take Jabari out of school and. . .” Tanesha said and laughed.
“He would never want to be out of school,” they said in unison and laughed.
“We could go shopping,” Jeraine said.
“Ugh,” Tanesha said. “My feet hurt from work.”
“Spa day?” Jeraine asked.
“Eh,” Tanesha said, rolling over.
“Jeraine as your slave day?” Jeraine asked.
“That’s my every day,” Tanesha said.
They laughed. Jeraine kissed her ear.
“I’d love to spend the day with you,” Tanesha said. “Hang out here. Talk. Just see how you. . .”
Tanesha groaned when her phone rang. A second later, Jeraine’s phone rang. Tanesha reached her phone first.
“Hello?” Tanesha asked at nearly the same time that Jeraine said, “Hello.”
“Tanesha Smith?” a woman’s voice asked. “I need to speak with you and Jeraine Wilson.”
“Who is this?” Tanesha asked.
“It’s Atlanta Child Protection Services,” the woman said. “We haven’t met. My name is Hazel Johnson. I’m a child support service manager. I am responsible for the care and well-being of children in Atlanta.”
“Uh, okay, Jeraine’s right here,” Tanesha said. She nodded to Jeraine. “He’s hanging up. I’m going to put you on speaker.”
“Oh, good,” she said. “Thanks.”
Jeraine got out of bed and pulled on a T-shirt and sweatpants. Tanesha reached for her bathrobe.
“I’m here,” Jeraine said, pulling on his socks.
“Mr. Wilson, I’m not sure how to say this to you,” Hazel said.
“Ms. Johnson, you can tell us anything,” Tanesha said.
“How can we help?” Jeraine asked.
“You can call me ‘Hazel,’” she said. “And, I’m glad you want to help, but let me tell you what’s going on first.”
“What’s going on?” Tanesha asked.
“You’re aware, well, of course you are,” Hazel said.
Hazel didn’t say anything for a long moment.
“Ma’am?” Jeraine asked.
“Sorry, I just realized that I was talking to Miss T and Jeraine,” Hazel said.
“It’s freaky,” Jeraine said. “For us, too.”
“We understand,” Tanesha said. “Take your time.”
“No, I. . . Well, I’m just going to tell you,” Hazel said. “You remember, Annette?”
“Jabari’s birth mother?” Jeraine asked. “Yes, I remember my son’s birth mother.”
“Yes, sorry — of course, you do,” Hazel said.
“Jer, why don’t you make us some tea?” Tanesha asked.
Looking relieved, Jeraine nodded and left the room.
“He’s gone,” Tanesha said. “You can talk to me. I’m just a regular person. I work a job like you. I’m no star.”
“Okay. Um,” Hazel said. “Thanks.”
“No problem,” Tanesha said. “What’s going on?”
“Jabari is Annette’s eldest child,” Hazel said.
“She has two or three others,” Tanesha said. “I’m not really sure how many because we’ve never seen them.”
“She has three other children,” Hazel said. “Two of them were removed from the home and placed with Annette’s mother. The youngest one was a baby.”
“Okay,” Tanesha said, slowly.
“Annette’s mother has died,” Hazel said. “As well as her sisters, Annette’s Aunts. They. . . well, um. . . Covid. The whole family has died.”
“The whole family,” Tanesha repeated still unsure of what was being said. “Their fathers?”
“One is in the hospital,” Hazel said. “Covid. It doesn’t look like he’ll make it. His parents have already succumbed to the virus. The baby’s father, well, he died.”
“Wow,” Tanesha said.
“Oh, sorry, he was a rapper,” Hazel said. “He was killed before the child was born last year. Drive-by shooting.”
“Okay,” Tanesha said. “I apologize but I’m not sure how I can help.”
“You’re right. I need to be more clear,” Hazel said. She gasped a breath and started talking, “I need to place the children. Annette’s chlidren are in foster care now. I went to visit with them last night, and they kept asking about Jabari. They don’t want to be placed in Atlanta where they’d be away from Jabari. They’ve asked me to move them to Denver, so that they can see their brother.”
“My friend, Heather, has a social worker who has helped them with their adoption,” Tanesha said. “If you hang on a minute. . .”
“I’ve spoken with social services there,” Hazel said. “They are as overrun as we are.”
“Overrun?” Tanesha slowly asked the question.
Tanesha felt like Hazel was saying something but she was too slow to hear or understand.
Her mind slipped to standing in the Castle kitchen this morning. She was putting away the tea pot when Delphie came up to her. Delphie hugged her. Pulling back, the oracle gave Tanesha was Valerie called an “Oracle Bomb,” a prophetic sentence that makes no sense at the time but will at some point in the near future.
“And really, when have you ever done anything on your own?” Delphie asked.
She kissed Tanesha’s cheek and drifted away. Tanesha realized that Hazel had been talking this entire time.
“I’m sorry,” Tanesha said. “I got off work at 3 this morning and have been running since then. I’m a little bleary. Would you mind repeating what you were saying?”
“Sure, no problem,” Hazel said. “How is medical school going?”
“Weird,” Tanesha said. “The pandemic has made the school part pretty weird and the rounds deadly.”
“I’m tired,” Tanesha said. “I’m sure you are too.”
“I bet,” Hazel said. “And yes, yes, I’m exhausted.”
“Please, humor me and repeat what you were saying,” Tanesha said.
“I’ll cut to the chase,” Hazel said. “These Covid deaths have created a lot of orphans. Like Annette’s family, it’s not uncommon for every member of the family to either be sick with that Long Haul or dead. Every child program in the country is jammed with orphans. No one’s seen anything like this. Ever. We’ve been running Facebook ads for Foster Parents here.”
“Crazy,” Tanesha said.
“The boys want to live with their brother, Jabari,” Hazel said. “That’s the truth of it. I was asked to call you to see if you might consider taking these boys into your home and raising them. All of Annette’s assets are being converted into trusts for her children. They also have money from their fathers. While you’re a foster parent, you’d get a monthly stipend and. . .”
And really, when have you ever done anything on your own?
Even when she was at college, her girlfriends sent food and clothing; talked to her in the middle of the night; Heather had even come to see her when she needed her most and held her hand through her worst moments from Jeraine’s bullshit to the horror of her parents situation.
“I need to speak with Jeraine and Jabari,” Tanesha said. “We. . . I mean, I’m in school and he’s. . . I will have to get back with you.”
“Denver Child Services has agreed to take temporary custody of the boys. We are coming to Denver this afternoon,” Hazel said. “If you only see the boys in visits, that’s fine. If you feel like you can help more, that’s better. You don’t have to kill yourself here. And there really isn’t anyone else.”
“The boys are Jabari’s brothers,” Tanesha said. “They will be in his life for the rest of his life. That matters. We also know a lot about Foster Care and have an agent we’ve worked with previously.”
“Good,” Hazel said. “Can we meet you for dinner tonight?”
“Tonight?” Tanesha asked. “Jeraine has a show and I. . .”
And really, when have you ever done anything on your own?
“What I need to do first is speak to Jeraine,” Tanesha said.
“I really hope that you’ll take the boys,” Hazel said.
“I hear what you’re saying,” Tanesha said. “It doesn’t change the fact that I need to speak to Jeraine.”
“Okay,” Hazel said. “I will call you at this number when we land this afternoon.”
“Thank you,” Tanesha said.
The woman was talking when Tanesha clicked off the phone call. Staring into space, she sat on the end of the bed for what felt like an age.
“You okay?” Jeraine asked as he poked his head in the doorway. “What did she want?”
“You should sit down,” Tanesha said.
Jeraine came into the room and closed the door. He sat down next to her on the bed. He grabbed her hand and intertwined their fingers.
“Lay it on me.”
Wednesday morning —11:12 a.m.
“I love this house,” Dionne Wilson, Jeraine’s mother, said as she came down the stairs. “How long have you been here?”
“Not long,” Tanesha said. “Would you like to see the adult bedrooms?”
“We want to see everything,” Yvonne Smith, Tanesha’s mother, said. “Why haven’t we done this before?”
“Covid,” Tanesha said. “You old folks are at risk.”
“Who are you calling old?” Dr. Bumpy Wilson, Jeraine’s father, asked.
“Jacob came over to help us get the air flow right,” Tanesha said.
“He’s the one who set it up for the school?” Yvonne asked.
“She’s talking about Marlowe,” Rodney Smith, Tanesha’s father, said.
“Oh, right,” Yvonne said. “I forget that his name isn’t Jakey.”
The older folks laughed. Shaking her head, Tanesha led them down the hallway.
“Every adult has his or her own room on this level,” Tanesha said. “Each room has a bathroom and outdoor space.”
“So nice,” Yvonne said.
“Like a fancy hotel,” Dionne said. “I like it. Jakey came up with this?”
“Jacob and Jill did,” Tanesha said with a nod. “Heather has the large bathroom because she does the most childcare. The kids rooms are at the end of the hallway.”
Tanesha opened a door to the room that Jacob had built out of thin air.
“Gorgeous playroom,” Dionne said.
“Why so many bedrooms?” Yvonne gestures to the four bedrooms along the back.
“We weren’t sure if Jabari would want to sleep up here,” Tanesha said. “We don’t know if Heather will have more children.”
“Is she planning on having more?” Dr. Bumpy asked with a scowl.
“Not that I know of,” Tanesha said.
They backed their way out of the room. Tanesha opened Nelson’s room.
“This room has a private stairwell to the rooftop,” Tanesha said. “Nelson is a big star watcher so Jacob made a patio out of some of the attic. Nelson has his own stairwell so that he can do star stuff when it’s happening.”
“Do you have access to this patio?” Rodney asked. “Didn’t you send me a photo from here?”
“It’s shared space,” Tanesha said with a nod.
They walked back down the hallway and went further into the house. Tanesha took them to her and Jeraine’s private area, Jabari’s bedroom, her study, and their little kitchen. Her parents lingered at the window that could be seen out of but not inside.
“Why are those photographers so amped up today?” Yvonne asked.
“We’ll get to that,” Tanesha said.
She led them out to the main kitchen area. They went through to the sitting area near the sliding door. Tanesha opened it a crack to get the air moving.
“Let me know if you get cold,” Tanesha said. “This is the best way we know of to stay safe. We put blankets around so feel free to grab one.”
“Plus our masks,” Dionne said, touching the cloth mask over her face.
“Is it true that the governor is giving Jacob vaccines?” Dr. Bumpy asked.
“The company has agreed, as a whole, to take them or stay home,” Rodney said. “Of course, we’ll see what happens.”
“Good stuff,” Dr. Bumpy said. “Dionne and I are getting them next week, as well. Yvie?”
“She’s covered at work,” Rodney said. “Jake told the governor that it was stupid to not vaccinate all of the adults in a home. Somehow, he got the governor to agree.”
“Valerie probably talked to him,” Yvonne said.
Dionne and Yvonne gave each other knowing nods.
“No idea,” Tanesha said.
“Listen,” Jeraine said, coming into the sitting area. “We’re not here for vaccines.”
“Okay, son,” Dionne said. “We’re just chatting.”
“Lovely home,” Yvonne said.
“I’ll show you the recording studio when we’re done here,” Jeraine said.
“Can’t wait,” Dr. Bumpy said. He rubbed his hands together. “Why are we here? Baby?”
His face lit up and he looked at Tanesha, who shook her head, and then to Jeraine. His son looked overwhelmed.
“What’s happened?” Rodney asked.
“We need some help,” Tanesha said.
For the next hour, they talked through Annette’s children moving to Denver. When they were done, their parents went to look at the recording studio.
Tanesha’s phone rang.
“What did they say?” Jill asked.
“They’ll help,” Tanesha said. “Mom said that she and dad had been talking about adopting some of these orphans. So, they knew all about what’s going on and said that they would help.”
“How do you feel about it now?” Heather asked.
“Are you guys at the salon?” Tanesha asked.
“We’ve been waiting to hear how it went,” Sandy said. “How do you feel?”
“Terrified,” Tanesha said. “I never wanted kids, I mean. . .”
“We can do this,” Jill said.
“Don’t overthink it,” Sandy said. “Kids mostly need food, safety, and acceptance. We’ve got that in spades.”
“What if I screw it up?” Tanesha asked. “What about school and being a doctor?”
“We’ve got this,” Jill said.
“Don’t even worry,” Heather said. “We’ve got this.”
“And Jer?” Tanesha asked. “I mean, he’s just getting on his feet and his head and. . .”
“Everything is going to be fine,” Heather said.
“Promise?” Tanesha asked.
“Promise,” Sandy said. “We’ve got this.”
“Okay,” Tanesha said. “Thanks.”
Tanesha hung up the phone. For a long moment, she stared at the wall. Shrugging, she went to go find Jeraine and their parents.
Denver Cereal continues next week...
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.