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November 2021

Chapter Six Hundred and Seventy-four - The future's so bright... (part two)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SEVENTY-FOUR

(part two)

“You are very beautiful,” Paddie said, pulling on a T-shirt and sweatpants.

“You’re not so bad yourself,” Katy said.

Paddie giggled.

“What do you think is going on?” Paddie asked.

“I don’t know,” Katy said. “The last thing I remember is that you were staying with me because your mom was sick. But you don’t have to worry, there’s a picture of her on the wall outside. She must have gotten better. Connor’s there too.”

“And my dad?” Paddie asked, walking out to look at the photos.

“And your dad,” Katy said.

“I don’t know why, but I feel very relieved,” Paddie said.

“Your dad’s in the military,” Katy said. “You always talk about how worried you are that he’ll be hurt or die while he’s out on mission.”

Paddie nodded and looked at the pictures.

“Do you think we have our own food?” Paddie asked.

“There’s a kitchen,” Katy said.

They walked together into the kitchen. Paddie opened the door. Without thinking, he pulled out eggs, cheese and spinach. There was some vegan sausage so he added that. In a few minutes, he’d made them a breakfast burrito.

“How’d you learn to do that?” Katy asked.

“I don’t know,” Paddie said. “I just knew I could.”

Katy smiled at him. Standing in the kitchen, they wolfed down their breakfast burritos.

“What do you think is going on?” Paddie asked.

“I don’t know,” Katy said. “I woke up here too. Do you still have the Sword of Truth?”

Paddie reached into his pocket and was holding the sword.

“It fits you better now that you’re big,” Katy said.

“I’m really big,” Paddie said. He smiled broadly. “I like being big. Do you think when we go back that I can stay this big?”

Katy shook her head, and Paddie laughed.

“What do we do?” Paddie asked.

“I’ve been thinking,” Katy said.

“Did you call for your mom?” Paddie asked.

“I really wanted to,” Katy said, looking sad. “I really miss her. Do you think she’s okay?”

“She looks okay in this picture,” Paddie said.

Katy nodded.

“Do you think that this is a dream?” Paddie asked.

“I don’t know,” Katy said. “I think. . .”

Katy stopped talking for a moment and looked at Paddie.

“This is about that prophecy,” Paddie said. “The one about you and me.”

Katy nodded.

“Do you think I should call my grandpa or my Auntie Heather?” Katy asked.

“Your grandpa makes everything really intense,” Paddie said.

Katy nodded.

“Let’s call Auntie Heather,” Paddie said. “She’s always nice.”

Katy nodded.

“Is that Jabari on the wall?” Paddie asked.

“It looks like him,” Katy said. “See this red head in the front? That looks like Maggie.”

“Cool. They’re big too!” Paddie said with a grin. “Do you think we have jobs and stuff?”

“We pay for this nice place,” Katy said with a shrug.

“Where are we?” Paddie asked.

“I don’t know,” Katy said.

She went to the windows and opened the blinds. For a moment, they stood there in shock. They were looking out over the city. Central Park was a block or two away but they could see people playing and walking.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Seventy-four - The future's so bright... (part one)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SEVENTY-FOUR

(part one)

Sometime in the future

New York, New York

Katy Roper Marlowe woke up with a start.

She had no idea where she was. The only thing that she knew is that she was naked.

And there was someone else in her bed!

She looked over and saw a tuft of white blond hair sticking out of covers tightly around the person’s head. That was just like how Paddie slept. But this person was big, really big.

“Paddie?” Katy asked.

The person didn’t stir.

Embarrassed by her own nakedness, she got out of bed.

She gasped.

She was big! She might even be taller than her own mother!

Her hands went over her body. She had breasts — not too big, not too small! Nice, strong legs. Her feet seemed really big! And her hands!

She reached out her hand and the Vanquisher appeared. With her gigantic size, the Vanquisher looked more like a knife than a sword. Clearly, the sword still belonged to her still. At least that hadn’t changed! She made the sword disappear.

Spying a silken bathrobe on a chair, Katy grabbed the robe and put it on. She went into the bathroom.

It was a lot nicer than her functional, practical bathroom in the Castle.

For the first time, Katy wondered where she was.

And who was the person in her bed?

Should she feel bad? She didn’t.

Shrugging to herself, she followed her feet out into the living area.

She floated toward the pictures on the wall. There was one of big her in a gorgeous lace white dress and. . .

“That’s got to be Paddie,” Katy said, softly to herself.

Whoever it was, he was wearing a black tuxedo. He was tall and handsome. White hair sticking straight up and sparkling blue eyes. Seeing him, Katy felt her heart warm.

There were pictures of her parents and even her brothers all grown up. Her mother’s friends were there and their husbands. There was a picture of Noelle and Teddy with a little baby and even a picture of a boy who had to be Jabari standing on a stage with a guitar.

Everyone was smiling and laughing. It made Katy so happy to see everyone so happy.

She went back to the bed.

“Paddie?” Katy asked. She was surprised because her voice sounded like her six year old voice.

“Katy?” Paddie moved the covers off his face. “You got big!”

“I know,” Katy said. “So did you!”

Paddie jumped up to look at himself.

“I’m huge!” Paddie said looking down at his naked body. Realizing that Katy could see him he said, “Turn around!”

“It’s okay, Paddie,” Katy said. “We’re married.”

“We are?” Paddie asked. He looked at his hand and saw that he was wearing a ring. “Look Katy!”

Paddie pointed to his wedding ring.

“I have one, too,” Katy said, pointing to hers.

Paddie’s face broke into a big, white toothed smile.

“My dream came true!” Paddie said.

Katy nodded.

“That makes me so happy,” Paddie said.

Katy smiled.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Seventy-three - And really, when have you ever done anything on your own?

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.

Hazel sighed.

“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.”

Tanesha sighed.

“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. . .”

Tanesha sighed.

And really, when have you ever done anything on your own?

Never.

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.

Everyone laughed.

“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...


Chapter Six Hundred and Seventy-three - And really, when have you ever done anything on your own? (part six)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SEVENTY-THREE

(part six)

“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 on Monday...


Chapter Six Hundred and Seventy-three - And really, when have you ever done anything on your own? (part five)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SEVENTY-THREE

(part five)

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.

Everyone laughed.

“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.”

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Seventy-three - And really, when have you ever done anything on your own? (part four)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SEVENTY-THREE

(part four)

“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. . .”

Tanesha sighed.

And really, when have you ever done anything on your own?

Never.

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.”

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Seventy-three - And really, when have you ever done anything on your own? (part three)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SEVENTY-THREE

(part three)

 

“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.”

Tanesha sighed.

“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.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Seventy-three - And really, when have you ever done anything on your own? (part two)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SEVENTY-THREE

(part two)

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.

Hazel sighed.

“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.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Seventy-three - And really, when have you ever done anything on your own? (part one)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SEVENTY-THREE

(part one)

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.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


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...