Chapter Six Hundred and Seventy-two - A friend will cheer for you, grieve, and help. (part five)
Chapter Six Hundred and Seventy-three - And really, when have you ever done anything on your own? (part one)

Chapter Six Hundred and Seventy-two - A friend will cheer for you, grieve, and help.

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SEVENTY-TWO

Tuesday afternoon — 2:45 p.m.

“Jill?” Colin Hargreaves nearly screamed into the telephone.

The sound of a helicopter boomed in the background of the call. Jill was standing in the hallway of the Art Institute. She’d stepped out of a class to return his urgent text.

“I got your 911 text, Colin,” Jill said. “You sound really freaked out. What’s going on?”

“Julie collapsed,” Colin said. “She was running errand and collapsed in the car.”

“Oh no!” Jill said.

“She was at a stoplight,” Colin said. “The guy in the car behind her noticed that she had pass out and called the paramedics. He stayed with her until they arrived.”

“Where is she now?” Jill asked.

“She’s with John,” Colin said. “She must have known that was sick because she was holding John’s card when she passed out. The guy called the number and . . .”

“So, she’s at Denver Health,” Jill said. “That’s good.”

“Yea,” Colin said. “John called me because . . . because . . .”

“What’s going on?” Jill asked.

“She’s in organ failure,” Colin said. “She . . . she . . . Covid . . . and I . . .”

“Breathe,” Alex Hargreaves’ voice came over the phone in the background. “Breathe. She’s in the best hands. You know that. Breathe.”

“Jill?” a man’s voice asked on the phone.

“Yes?” Jill asked.

“This is Art Rasmussen,” he said. “We’ve met a few times.”

“Sasha’s daddy,” Jill said.

“Yes, I am that,” he said. “Listen, we’re in North Dakota today.”

“Okay,” Jill said.

“Colin needs you to pick up his kids from the Marlowe School,” Art said.

“Done,” Jill said. “I’ll bring them home. They can stay with us for as long as they need.”

There were voices in the background, but Jill couldn’t make out what they were saying.

“We understand that Julie was there?” Art asked. “At the Castle?”

“She and Paddie were pretty sick,” Jill said.

“We need to get Paddie checked,” Art said. “Also, would you mind doing me a tremendous favor?”

“Sure,” Jill said. “I’m happy to help if I can.”

“We need Blane,” Art said. “Julie likes him and says that he really helped her when she was sick. She’s asking for him. None of us has a working phone number for him.”

“That’s easy,” Jill said. “I’ll call Blane and pick up the kids. I’ll have Blane check Paddie and we’ll take him to Dr. Bumpy if he seems off. Otherwise, we’ll keep them with us until Julie is better or Colin is home.”

“Perfect,” Art said. “Thank you.”

“Absolutely,” Jill said. “Should I talk to Colin again?”

“I think conversation is more than he can do right now,” Art said.

“I understand,” Jill said. “Don’t worry about a thing. We’ve got this.”

“Thank you,” Art said.

The line went dead. Jill looked at her phone and then tucked it into the back pocket of her jeans. She wondered if she should call Jacob, and then remembered that he was in the middle of what he called Lipson Construction “stuff.” She checked her watch to see when the kids would get out of school. Nodding to herself, she had enough time to finish this class. So, she called and left a message for Blane before she returned to her classroom.

~~~~~~~~

Tuesday afternoon — 2:45 p.m.

Charlie, Nash, Noelle, Tink, and Ivy fell out of the Marlowe School at the same time. The older kids had an early day on Tuesdays so that they could work on their individual study project. As a group, they rotated through study projects depending on their individual interests. This week, they were focusing on art due to Noelle’s interest in the topic.

Tink had gotten her driver’s license and was prepared to drive them in Heather’s car to the Denver Art Museum where they were studying a series of Western Painters. Noelle wanted to learn about painting what she called “Big Sky.” Mike was meeting them there.

When they reached the parking lot, Aden was there waiting.

“Daddy!” Noelle said. She ran to him for a hug. “What are you doing here?”

Nash gave his father a one armed hug and then got into Heather’s car. He didn’t want to give his father a reason for him not to miss the museum. He was learning a lot about fine art from Mike for his “become a better man” project and didn’t want to miss this.

“I’m here for Charlie,” Aden said.

“Me?” Charlie looked up at him and shrugged. “What did I do?”

“We need to hit a meeting,” Aden said.

“I’ve been going to the teen meeting online,” Charlie said.

“We’re going in person today,” Aden said.

Charlie looked at Tink. She gave him a soft smile and a nod.

“You hate the art part anyway,” Tink said softly.

“You’re sure?” Charlie asked.

Tink nodded.

“I’ll see you at home,” Charlie said and went with Aden.

Charlie got into the passenger seat of Aden’s new hybrid sedan. He slumped down on his spine so that his face was at the same level as his jacket.

“Do you have a clean mask?” Aden asked.

Charlie shook his head.

“I have some in the glove box,” Aden said.

Charlie didn’t move. Aden started the sedan and drove out of the Marlowe School parking lot. They drove for a few minutes in silence.

“What’s wrong?” Aden asked.

“Why do I have to go?” Charlie whined. “I haven’t done anything wrong. I’ve been working the steps with my online group. I go to meetings at least once a day, sometimes twice. I’m doing everything my sponsor says — eating right, getting good sleep. I even gave up the apartment with Tink because he thought that it was a distraction from my sobriety.”

In the realm of teenager sighs, Charlie let out a legendary teenager sigh.

Aden glanced at him and chuckled.

“That was whiney even for you,” Aden said.

“I noticed half way through but figured I’d finish strong,” Charlie said with a laugh.

Aden smiled.

“Are you struggling?” Charlie asked.

“With my sobriety?” Aden asked. “No more than usual. I was having a tough time around the time that Sandy fell down the stairs. Her injuries and surgeries and recovery and all of that — it really put everything in perspective for me.”

“How so?” Charlie asked.

“We all suffer, I guess,” Aden said. “I want to use because that’s what I want to do. It’s not my right to blow up my life, my family, the company. It’s just willfulness. Life is hard enough without adding my stubborn selfishness to it.”

“That’s not exactly surrender,” Charlie said.

“I’ve told you before,” Aden said. “For me, sobriety is one part surrender to life and another part a battle of my petty wants.”

“Some days, it’s both,” Charlie said with a nod.

They drove a long in silence.

“Did Jake get the vaccines?” Charlie asked.

“Next week,” Aden said.

“And everyone’s going to take them?” Charlie asked.

“Or stay home,” Aden said. “I know that there’s a lot in the press about how people don’t want the vaccines. I haven’t seen it. We all know someone who has died of this disease. In Colorado, the number one group of people who’ve died have been construction workers.”

“Really?” Charlie asked.

“The largest category is underground workers,” Aden said.

“Damn,” Charlie said. “How many people have been sick at Lipson?”

“None,” Aden said. “I mean, except Sam and others before we know what we were dealing with. We’re the only crew in Denver that hasn’t lost a large number of people. It’s. . .”

“Freaky?” Charlie asked.

“To say the least,” Aden said. “Jake prefers us to say that we’ve been ‘lucky,’ but the truth is that everyone from top to bottom has worked hard to make it happen. From masks to handwashing, we’ve all done our part.”

“That’s great leadership,” Charlie said.

“We’ve been very lucky,” Aden said.

Charlie laughed. They drove in silence until they pulled up to the York Street House. Aden parked on the street.

“Why am I here?” Charlie asked. “You never said.”

Aden turned off the vehicle and turned to look at Charlie.

“What’s today’s date?” Aden asked.

“I don’t know,” Charlie said. “I’m not any good at that. You know that I. . .”

“Happy two clears clean, Charlie,” Aden said.

“What?” Charlie asked. His mouth dropped open and he gawked at Aden.

“It’s been two years since you were high last,” Aden said.

Charlie mouthed the words.

“Really?” Charlie asked.

“Unless you got high or drunk and I don’t know about it,” Aden said.

Charlie thought for a moment before shaking his head.

“I can’t believe it,” Charlie said, softly. “When people ask me, I just say that I’m new to the program because I still feel new to the program.”

Aden nodded.

“Come on,” Aden said. “Sandy made your favorite cake. You can pick up your chip. Your sisters asked me to take lots of pictures and a video for Sissy. Nash and Teddy would be here but I made them go to the art museum.”

“Nash has his 'self improvement project,'" Charlie said. "He's not going to miss the art museum.”

“I had to pay him to not come,” Aden said. “Real. Money.”

Charlie nodded and moved to get out of the sedan. Aden got out of the passenger side. He went to the back to get the cake and a mask for Charlie. As he walked around, he noticed that Charlie was crying. Aden put the cake on the roof of the car and opened the door. Leaning down, he hugged Charlie.

“I just. . . I just. . .” Charlie said.

“I know,” Aden said. “And, you’ve worked really hard for this. No one can ever take it away from you. . .”

“Unless you give it away,” Aden and Charlie said in unison.

Charlie swiped at his eyes and got out of the car.

“I don’t know what your future holds,” Aden said. “Next year, you might be in college somewhere else. But for as long as you’re here with us, we’re never going to miss an opportunity to tell you how incredibly proud we are of you. We have a special dinner tonight with everyone to celebrate, too.”

Nodding, Charlie jammed his hands into his pockets. Aden retrieved the cake, closed the passenger door, and walked with Charlie into the Alcoholics Anonymous house where Charlie had first utter the words : “I’m Charlie. I’m an addict” and meant it.

~~~~~~~~

Tuesday evening — 9:35 p.m.

“You missed dinner,” Heather said, when Blane came down the stairs to the main kitchen area.

Blane puffed his cheeks out in a breath and shook his head. He didn’t move to take off his mask. Instead, he opened the sliding door and went back to sit at the table.

“I feel contagious,” Blane said.

“Immortal,” Heather said pointing to herself.

Blane gave a tired nod.

“It was my winning point in the ‘Who will wait up for him?’ battle between Nelson and I,” Heather said.

Blane looked up. After a long moment, he laughed.

“Really?” Blane asked.

“No,” Heather said. “Nelson is sequestered with his father and a bunch of ‘the Greeks’ as Nash calls them. They are talking about the prophecy and the Templar hoard. If you head up there, you might ‘get’ to meet a gorgon.”

“I feel really thick,” Blane looked up at her, “but what’s a gorgon?”

“Good question,” Heather said. “Let’s get you some food.”

“Did you . . .?” Blane asked.

“Jeraine,” Heather said. “It was Charlie’s two year sobriety party tonight. Jeraine made a real feast. Sandy made a cake. Jacob set up a projector so that when Sissy called everyone could see her. It was really nice.”

“Wow, two years,” Blane said. “That’s huge.”

“Charlie asked after you,” Heather said. “He feels like you are an integral part in his recovery. Especially the early days. He told everyone about a time that you strapped him to the table to keep him there.”

“I’ll never admit to it,” Blane said with a grin.

Nodding, Heather smiled at him.

“You have the best way to make me feel better,” Blane said. “I . . .”

He sighed.

“I’m grateful,” Blane said, after a few minutes.

“How many years have you been sober?” Heather asked.

“Uh,” Blane looked off into the near distance.

“Very funny,” Heather said. “I know that you know by the hour.”

Blane laughed. Heather went into their new kitchen to put together his dinner.

“Fourteen years, twenty-four days, and . . .” Blane looked at his watch. “Twelve hours. That’s completely clean. I started trying to get clean a couple years earlier.”

“Do you still want to use?” Heather asked.

“Sometimes,” Blane said. “Actually, a lot of that faded when we had Mack.”

“He’s an amazing child,” Heather said.

“I think that it’s you,” Blane said. “One thing about drugs and alcohol is that they love you and are with you, no matter where you are or what you’re doing or what time it is. Drugs were my best-friend in the middle of the night and eased any embarrassment or anxiety mid-day. That’s faded since I’ve known you. Especially since you’ve been a goddess.”

Watching her warm up his food, Blane was quiet for a long minute.

“I can’t believe you’re up trying to help me,” Blane said. “You were up early with the boys. You must be exhausted.”

“I’m tired,” Heather said. “I love spending time with you. It’s a real treat for me.”

“We have a lot less time together than we used to,” Blane said, nodding.

“We have two kids and all of this,” Heather said.

“Not to mention all of the drama of a quest and Olympia and my work and a pandemic,” Blane said.

He dramatically fell forward until his forehead rested on the table.

“I don’t know if I’m going to survive this pandemic,” Blane said into the table.

“It’s a lot to deal with,” Heather said. “So many people are relying on you.”

“I’m happy to be relied upon but . . .” Blane said.

“No talking,” Heather said. “Just eat. I’ll tell you what Holmes Olivas said.”

She set down a plate of comfort food — mashed potatoes, meatloaf, a pile of warmed vegetables, and a salad.

“I have cake when you’re done,” Heather said.

“Happy two years, Charlie,” Blane said, looking up to the ceiling as if Charlie was there.

He pointed to the ceiling. The fluffy white clouds had disrupted the previous blue ceiling. There were cherubs and birds and . . .

“Mike finished the ceiling,” Blane said.

“He says he has more to do,” Heather said with a shrug. “I think it’s very beautiful.”

Blane nodded. He took off his facemask and ate in earnest.

“Oh my God,” Blane said. “This is perfect. Are there more potatoes?”

Nodding, Heather got up to get him some.

“Don’t tell him that I told you, but Jeraine made this for you,” Heather said. “He knew that this was your favorite comfort food.”

“He knew I’d be in rough shape?” Blane asked.

“I don’t think you have to be an oracle to know that this pandemic is wearing at you,” Heather said.

“I love my new treatment rooms,” Blane said.

“In the Castle?” Heather asked.

Blane nodded.

“It’s a great space,” Blane said. “That’s not to mention that it’s nice to be at the Castle. When I’m not working, I can either read or hang out with Delphie or just sit on the bench and watch the garden grow.”

Blane nodded.

“I guess it’s kind of cold now,” Blane said.

“You have warm clothing,” Heather said.

“That I do,” Blane said. “I’ll tell you — after a night surrounded by people on ventilators, it feels like a luxury just to breathe. And, then breathe again.”

Blane shrugged and took the warmed mashed potatoes from Heather. He took a few bites and set it down.

“What happened tonight?” Heather asked.

“Oh,” Blane shrugged. “It’s not like tonight was any different than any day in the last year.”

Heather waited while Blane collected his thoughts. When Blane finished his mashed potatoes, Heather got up to bring him a slice of cake.

“There was a protest outside the hospital,” Blane said. “I had to push my way past the angry protest. People punched me. Spit on me. If I still had AIDS, they easily could have killed me. As it is . . . Well, I said that already. The horrible outside the hospital are not match for the horrors inside.”

“I . . .” Blane dropped his head as a tear fell from his eyes.

Heather went around the table to sit next to Blane. She stroked his back for a few minutes until he felt stronger.

“I’m sure you want to know about Julie,” Blane said.

“Sure,” Heather said. “But mostly, I want to know how you are.”

Blane nodded.

“Julie is really sick,” Blane said. “She’s in the ICU with organ failure. I don’t know how she got so sick so fast. This virus just sucks. Just sucks. I mean, she’s been fine. John told me that this is how the disease progresses in some people. They are fine for weeks or months after being sick. Then something happens.”

Blane sighed.

“And, she’s definitely getting the best help possible,” Blane said. “But it’s going to be quite a journey back.”

“Did you treat her?” Heather asked.

Blane nodded.

“I spent the rest of the night working on the doctors and nurses,” Blane said. “Drayson set it up. I will tell you — it was an honor to treat these people who’ve been working so hard to save people.”

“But?” Heather asked.

“They . . .” Blane shook his head. “This is such a fucked up time. Who assaults a doctor trying to save you or your family member’s life? It’s unimaginable to me, but every single person has some story of how they were punched or screamed at or threatened or their children threatened or . . . It’s like the worst thing. I have these kind, smart people sobbing on my table. I’m working in three rooms to treat them all and . . .”

“Sounds exhausting,” Heather said.

Rather than respond, Blane ate his piece of three layer coconut cake. When he finished, he drank down his water glass and turned to Heather.

“So sad,” Blane said. “So very sad and infuriating. I mean why? Really, why is assaulting doctors and nurses a thing?”

Heather nodded. Blane looked at her.

“Can I sleep with you tonight?” Blane asked. “I don’t think I’ll sleep otherwise. I’m too upset.”

“You’re always welcome to sleep with me,” Heather said.

“You’re not due in Olympia or deal with something important?” Blane asked. “Take care of the kids?”

Nothing in this world is more important to me than you,” Heather said. “Tres agreed to monitor the kids tonight. If they need anything, he’ll take care of them. We all want to care for you.”

Rather than cry hysterically, Blane bit his lip and nodded.

“Come on,” Heather said. “Let’s get you in the bath. You’ll feel more sane when you’re warm and clean.”

Blane nodded. She got up and held out her hand.

“What about the dishes?” Blane asked.

“What dishes?” Heather asked.

Blane looked and his dirty dishes were gone.

“It kind of freaks me out that you can do that, but right now?” Blane shook his head. “I’m so glad that you can.”

He got up and took her hand. They walked up the steps. Speaking softly not to wake the children, he asked, “Why ‘Holmes’? Why did he pick that name?”

“His father’s name is ‘Homer,’” Heather said. “He just goes by Troy. It’s not a huge stretch. Plus, it kind of fits him. The boy is a brainaic, a true genius.”

Shrugging, Blane nodded. Heather led him to her large bathroom. She had the largest bathroom because she usually took care of the children. Blane went into the room with the toilet and she prepared in the big bathtub. He got out, stripped, and stepped into the tub. She let him soak for a half hour before getting him out, drying him off, and bringing him to bed.

He slept as he used to when he was sick with AIDS and Hepatitis C — with his head in her lap while she sat up against the headboard. She held him close.

Around two in the morning, Nelson poked his head in to see how Blane was. Heather gestured for him to take the comfortable chair she nursed the boys in. Nelson took off his shoes. He fell asleep the moment his head hit the back rest of the bed.

When their boys awoke at five, Tres brought them through the adjoining door and climbed into bed. Tres lay across the bottom of the bed and Nelson dropped down next to Heather.

When Blane awoke, he felt strangely refreshed, surrounded by those he loved the most.

There was nothing better.

Denver Cereal continues next week...

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