CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SEVENTY-SIX
Thursday evening — 7:05 p.m.
“If there’s anything you need, son, I’m here,” Pierre said.
“Papa,” Nelson said.
Nelson and his father hugged. Pierre kissed Nelson on each cheek.
“I’m sorry,” Pierre said.
“Don’t be,” Nelson said. “Of all the things you could have given me, this is really not the worst. I’m going with an international team to find this hoard. There a big name adventure movie company that is imbedding a team to take video and photos. I’ll be famous.”
“Just what you wanted,” Pierre said.
“No, it’s not what I wanted,” Nelson said. “But is what I am able to do. I want to always be the person who is willing to do something to make the world a better place. This is another chance to do that.”
Pierre hugged Nelson again.
“I need to say goodbye to my family,” Nelson said.
“Yes,” Pierre said. “I will be here when you return and available if you need anything.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Nelson said.
Nelson nodded to the nurse, who took Pierre’s arm and led him back to bed. Nelson left his old house where his father was living now.
He went across the sunken garden and stopped for a moment to watch the fish. He knew that when he went inside, he would say good-bye and have to go. He lingered at the pond. They’d installed a heater so the water wouldn’t freeze. The fish came up to look at him. He sighed.
Tanesha and Jeraine had delayed having their new children at the house so that he could have a little time with everyone. And everyone was waiting for him.
He did not want to go. He already missed everyone like an ache in his bones.
“Oh hey, there you are,” Blane said, coming from inside. “I have something for you.”
Nelson turned to look at him. Blane held up a hypodermic needle.
“This is the one shot vaccine,” Blane said. “I got it for you because, you know, you’re leaving.”
“Where did you get it?” Nelson asked.
“Jake,” Blane said. “We have it for employees and spouses. Since Heather doesn’t need one, I got this for you.”
“What about Jeraine and Tanesha?” Nelson asked.
“Tanesha is getting on tomorrow at the hospital,” Blane said. “Jeraine is getting one through the casino. He’s a casino employee which, as you may not know, makes him an essential workers.”
“Of course he is,” Nelson said. “Tres?”
“Had his this morning,” Blane said. “This one is yours. Roll up that sleeve.”
“What if I have a reaction?” Nelson asked.
“You are heading into the unknown with a bunch of magical folks,” Blane said. “They are there only to help and support you. You can come home in a flash. Plus, you have to travel like a regular human. You can rest on the plane.”
Nelson nodded. He pulled off his sweater and pushed up the sleeve to his long sleeved T-shirt. Blane vaccinated him.
“You know all of this,” Blane said. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” Nelson said. “The last time was bad. Horrible. I don’t want to go back there.”
“Neither do the folks from French antiquities,” Blane said. “This time is not the last time. You’re going with a huge group of humans and another group of magicals.”
“Paddie and Katy,” Nelson said.
“Which gives you access to every Titan,” Blane said.
“Do you think any of them were killed in the Titan purge?” Nelson asked.
“No,” Blane said. “But you didn’t hear it from me. I think there are likely ones like Cleo the cat.”
“Asteria,” Nelson said.
“I want . . .” Nelson said. He shook his head. “I love our family. I wasn’t sure that I would love this house and I’ve never felt more at home. Like all of me belongs right here — with you, our kids, our family. I will miss you so much.”
“Then go and come back,” Blane said. “We’ll be here — yelling at the kids, worrying about Covid, dealing with bullshit, wallowing in the imperfect joy of our actual lives.”
Nelson gave a nod.
“We’ll miss you too,” Blane said. “I was sent out here because Heather’s a mess. Tres, too. We don’t want you to go as much as you don’t want to go.”
“That feels nice,” Nelson said.
Blane grinned at him.
“Go,” Blane said. “Take care with yourself so that you can come home to us. We’ll be here.”
“Thanks,” Nelson said. “Wait, isn’t Hedone going with me?”
“Not with the gorgon there,” Blane said. “She needs to watch the things that the gorgon keep an eye on. She’d rather you had them.”
Nelson swallowed hard.
“She will be there if you need her,” Blane said. “She’s pretty confident that you won’t need her.”
“Mari?” Nelson asked.
“She’s going,” Blane said. “Alex. Hecate. The gorgon. Paddie and Katy. Athena. I think Artemis is going too. The French antiquities folks. The media company.”
Nelson nodded. Nelson and Blane hugged.
“Just come home,” Blane said.
“I will,” Nelson said. “I promise.”
Nelson let go. He looked through the wall of glass to see Heather, Mack, and Wyn waving at him. Tanesha, Jeraine, and Jabari waved. Tres waved. Nelson waved back.
“Time to go,” Nelson said, and disappeared.
Blane sighed. The plan had been to blip Nelson, Paddie, and Katy to Alex’s house where they’d drive to the airport. Blane had thought it would be easier if Nelson went that way. It certainly wasn’t easier for him. Blane walked into the house.
“He’s gone,” Blane said.
They hugged each other.
“When do the kids get here?” Blane asked.
“An hour,” Tanesha said. “I haven’t had a chance to check. Did Jake finish the rooms?”
“They’re all set,” Blane said. “Let’s take a look.”
They went upstairs. Wyn had moved in with Mack in his room, leaving three free rooms. Jacob had taken a wall out so that Jabari and his brothers could be in the same room. There were new bunk beds for the new kids.
“It’s really nice,” Tanesha said. “What about the baby?”
“I was told that the baby was staying with your parents,” Blane said.
“He’ll be here most of the time,” Tanesha said.
“We can move a crib in here,” Blane said. “Or he can take Jabari’s room downstairs. Is Jabari okay with giving up his downstairs room?”
“He’s excited to be ‘saving’ his brothers,” Tanesha said. “We’ll see how it goes. He loves being an only child. If he needs his own room, we can move him back. There’s also my office and the extra guest room.”
“Tink has that whole area to herself and she’s almost never there,” Blane said.
“She’s talked to us,” Tanesha said with a nod. “I’d rather see how it goes. For now, I think it’s important for the boys to be together as they transition to Denver. When they’ve been here a while they may need to be separated.”
“Do we know about their Covid status?” Blane asked.
Tanesha shook her head.
“The Atlanta Child Protection said that they had it when Annette died. Dr. Bumpy gave them tests when he saw them, but it still takes days for the results to return,” Tanesha said. “I’ll tell you, they were filthy. Sandy had to shave their heads. They had . . . everything in their hair. Clearly, Annette was sick for a long while and the boys were on their own. They are all underweight. Honestly, we won’t know anything about these kids until they’ve settled in. Do you think that’s okay?”
“I understand why you’re asking,” Blane said. “But for me? Tink? Even Heather? We know exactly what’s going on with these kids.”
“I had a ‘family,’” Tanesha said. “But really, I know what it’s like to not be in your family home. It’s confusing and terrifying.”
“Exactly,” Blane said. “And you’re right, we won’t know for at least a year, maybe longer, what’s going on with these kids. We have to expect everything and anything. But that’s okay.”
“Is it?” Tanesha asked, her voice laced with worry.
“Of course,” Blane said. “I’m glad that they’ll be here. They will have us and all of the people at the Castle. Your parents and Jeraine’s parents have agreed to help care for them. The boys have so much support.”
“Just overwhelming,” Tanesha said.
“It’s overwhelming,” Blane said. “And they’re kids. They’ll adjust. It will be a great treat to watch them come out of their shells. You’ll see. We’re going to be fine.”
Nodding, Tanesha smiled at Blane. The doorbell rang and Tanesha stiffened.
“They’re here!” Jeraine yelled from the top of the stairs.
“Here we go,” Tanesha said under her breath.
She and Blane climbed the stairs to greet their new family members.
Thursday evening — 7:45 p.m.
“Sorry I’m late,” Jill said after entering the main area of Tanesha and Heather’s house. “I had to get Katy and Paddie off and then the twins had a melt down.”
Tanesha hugged Jill.
“What’s up with the twins?” Tanesha asked.
“They wanted to go with Katy,” Jill said. “At least that’s what I think they were saying. When they get upset, it’s hard to tell. It always surprises me how close they are with Katy, even though they fight all the time.”
Tanesha gestured to the play area where Jabari was playing with two other boys.
“Since he’s lived here, Jabari has only seen his brothers a few times,” Tanesha said. “But there they are.”
“Like best friends,” Jill said.
“I’m sure they’ll be best enemies soon enough,” Heather said with a laugh.
Heather and Jill hugged. Heather had Wyn on her hip. Jill ruffled his hair and he giggled.
“You okay?” Heather asked Jill.
“Not in the slightest,” Jill said. “I won’t be until Katy’s home again.”
“Understood,” Heather said, and hugged Jill again.
“I don’t know anything about the whole ‘friendly enemy’ thing,” Tanesha said. Pointing to herself, she added, “Only child. Jeraine and his sister were so different that they are basically only children. So we’re kind of out of our depth.”
“Well,” Jill said with a shrug. “You’ve had us for a long time. We’re like family.”
“But never my enemy,” Tanesha said.
“Fair enough,” Heather said.
“Where’s Sandy?” Jill asked.
Heather pointed to the kitchen. Jill turned to see Sandy with a tray of cookies. Heather’s son, Mack, was helping her put them on the cooling rack.
“Would you like to meet them?” Tanesha asked.
“Of course,” Jill said.
“But remember, this is really new and. . .” Tanesha leaned in and whispered. “. . . they don’t like me very much. I’m the evil other woman.”
Jill rolled her eyes.
“Of course you are,” Jill said. “They will make up their own minds.”
“Remember Sissy and Charlie?” Sandy asked. “No matter what our mother said, they knew that I was there for them.”
Tanesha shot Sandy a worried look but nodded. Jill and Tanesha walked over to the area where Jabari was playing. The boys were all wearing facemasks and pretending to be pirates.
“Jabari?” Tanesha asked.
“Mama?” Jabari looked up at her.
Tanesha smiled at his precious face.
“Auntie Jill just came from showing Katy and Paddie off,” Tanesha said.
Jabari jumped up and hugged Jill.
“We had to say ‘bye-bye’ to Uncle Nelson,” Jabari said. “I cried.”
“I cried too,” Jill said.
Jabari hugged her again.
“Do you want to meet my brothers?” Jabari asked. “They are coming to live with us and Granma Dionne and Grampa Bumpy and Nana Yvonne and Papa Rodney. Our littlest brother is with Nana Yvonne so he can get strong again.”
“They’re at Children’s with him,” Tanesha said in a low voice.
“I absolutely want to meet your brothers,” Jill said.
She dropped to her knees so that she would be at the children’s level.
“Okay,” Jabari said. “This is Trey. He’s called that because he’s the third person to have his name. He doesn’t like being called ‘Trey’ so Mama said we could change it to his real name.”
“Which is?” Jill asked.
“I’m William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, the third,” Trey said.
Jill thought that he looked like he was about four or possibly a mature three years old. His words were slurred in a kind of accented baby talk. He blushed when talking to Jill.
“Nice to meet you,” Jill said. “I’ve ready your. . .”
“Great-grandfather,” Jabari said, helpfully.
“I like his work,” Jill said. “What would you like to be called other than Trey?”
“Will,” the boy said.
“Good to know,” Jill said. “I will call you ‘Will’ until you change your mind or we make it official. Would you like that?”
The boy nodded and moved away from her. Jill glanced at Tanesha who nodded.
“He doesn’t like to be touched,” Tanesha said. “Has a lot of scars.”
Jill gave Tanesha a sad look and turned when Jabari tugged on her arm.
“This is our little brother,” Jabari said. “His dad was a football player. He died last week. He and Trey were living with his daddy’s parents but they died too.”
“What is his name?” Jill asked.
“Bubba,” Jabari said. “He doesn’t like that name either because our mom used to call him ‘Blubber.’ He wants a new name too. But he wants to keep his dad’s name.”
“Okay,” Jill said. “What does Bubba like to be called?”
The boy looked up at her. He was probably just a smidge older than two years old. His eyes were big and deep brown. His face was round and his body thick with little baby muscles.
“I am fat,” the boy said in a soft but clear voice.
“You look like a little boy to me,” Jill said. “You’re probably the age of my boys. They’re about like you.”
“Can I meet them?” the boy asked.
“Absolutely,” Jill said. “We hope you’ll be good friends.”
“Are they white like you?” the boy asked.
“They are,” Jill said.
“They probably won’t like me,” the boy said.
The boy seemed so lost and sad that it was all Jill could do to not pick the boy up and cuddle him.
“My dad just died,” the boy said. “And my grandparents. They’s all dead.”
The boy nodded and went back to playing with his brothers.
“He’s really sad,” Jabari said.
“I bet,” Jill said. Knowing that the little boy was monitoring their conversation, she added, “I thought my parents died when I was little. I was sad for a long time. So I understand.”
“Me too,” Jabari said.
“What does he want to be called?” Jill asked Jabari, who shrugged.
She looked at Tanesha, who shook her head. Since introductions were over, Jabari returned to playing with his brothers. Used to the vagaries of interacting with young children, Jill got up. She touched Tanesha’s shoulder and they walked over to where Heather and Sandy were working on cookies.
“The boy was really close with his father,” Tanesha said softly. “His grandparents are the ones who took him and Trey into their home when Annette lost custody. It’s a big shock for them.”
“Poor babies,” Jill said, nodding. “How do they like their room?”
“We’re meeting with a child therapist tomorrow,” Tanesha said. “We signed up for a home service to come in and help. Play therapy that kind of thing.”
Tanesha sighed and shook her head.
“Do you want me to check to see what they need?” Jill asked.
Tanesha’s head jerked to look at Jill.
“Can you?” Tanesha asked.
“I can try,” Jill said. Jill nodded to Heather. “Can you. . .?”
Heather held up her hands and rubbed her fingers together. The air filled with a wonderful smell and everyone seemed to relax a little bit. Jill nodded to Heather and went over to the boys again. After a few minutes, she returned. The girlfriends moved away so that they could speak privately.
“Okay,” Jill said. “The older boy, Trey?”
Looking worried, Tanesha nodded.
“He’s the reason the boys are here,” Jill said. “He wants to be your son — you and Jeraine. He’s been jealous of Jabari living here and pushed to come live here. Now that he’s here, he’s not sure he’s deserving of being here. So he has this conflict — wanting to be here and feeling like he shouldn’t be here.”
“Loyalty,” Sandy said.
“What?” Tanesha asked.
“He feels caught between his loyalty to his mother and his desire to survive,” Sandy said. “I felt that way when I moved in with my dad. I felt loyal to the other guy, who’d said he was my dad. It’s hard.”
“That’s helpful,” Tanesha said. “Thanks. And Bubba?”
“He’s very sad,” Jill said. “He doesn’t know why his dad is gone. He’s afraid that he’ll lose the love he got from them. He doesn’t want to be here or really anywhere right now.”
“He’s suffered an enormous loss,” Heather said.
“Do they have Covid?” Sandy asked.
“They are just a day away from showing symptoms,” Jill said.
“Can you help?” Tanesha asked.
“I have,” Jill said. “We should get Blane to treat them. Bubba needs Blane and Jeraine, well, and you, of course. I guess, you know, it’s like that song.”
“Song?” Tanesha asked.
“Hold on loosely but don’t let go,” Jill said. “You’re going to be fine. Truly. They’ve been waiting and wanting, their entire lives, to live with you and Jeraine. It’s their dream.”
“And their nightmare,” Sandy said.
Tanesha nodded. Tanesha held her arms out and her best friends hugged her tight.
“We’ve got this,” Heather whispered.
“Oh you guys,” Tanesha said and started to cry.
They held each other for a long moment and then separated.
“Where is Blane?” Sandy asked.
“Vaccination clinic at the Castle,” Heather said. “They are vaccinating everyone at Lipson. They got some vaccine today so they’re using it. Did you get yours?”
Sandy nodded, as did Tanesha and Jill.
“Good,” Heather said. “Remember, you’
“Mama?” Jabari asked. “Can we have a cookie?”
Jabari’s voice broke up their private conversation. The women moved into action. For a moment, the boys’ sickness and loss was behind them, and they were just little boys eating cookies and playing.
Denver Cereal continues next week...
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