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Denver Cereal is taking a break

Dear Denver Cereal reader,

I'm writing to let you know that Saturday will be the last post of Denver Cereal for a while, at least.

There are so many moving parts to my life right now. They all came crashing down last night in enormous overwhelm.

I need to take some time to clear my head and decide what's next. I don't know if Denver Cereal will continue. I always hope so, but I don't know.

It's a pretty good time to take a break. Everyone in Denver Cereal is happy and growing. They've gotten vaccines and are on their way to surviving the pandemic.

I'm going to be off social media for the next couple of weeks. If you'd like to connect with me, feel free to send me an email.

Thank you for the gift of your readership. You can't imagine how grateful I am for you. Thank you for pushing me to be a better writing, supporting me with your comments and jokes, as well as your financial support.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a joyous new year!

Many blessings!


Chapter Six Hundred and Fifty-six - Early morning visit


Friday morning — 7:10 a.m.

Beep! Beep! Beep!

“Someone’s at the gate!” Nash said from the dining room.

“Someone’s ringing the. . .” Noelle said entering the dining room. Seeing Charlie and Nash, she said, “Oh.”

Charlie and Nash lifted a fork and pointed to her. Shaking her head at them, Noelle went to open two windows to give them airflow and moved to sit down.

“You should go get it,” Nash said with his mouth full, which sounded like, “Mu ff-ld mm rr m.”

“Ew,” Noelle said.

Mike poked his head into the dining room. Rolling his eyes at the children, he went to the closet where the gate controls were located.

“Hey! We have school!” Charlie yelled after Mike.

“Oooh school,” Mike said, sarcastically. “What?”

“Denver Police,” a woman yelled.

“So?” Mike asked.

“Can you let us in?” the woman asked.

“What do you want?” Mike asked.

A man’s face appeared on the monitor. He pointed at the monitor.

“Fuck you, Roper,” the man said. “Let us in.”

“Hey asshole,” Mike said. “I’m not letting you in until you put your masks on.”

He watched while the Denver Police detectives put on their facemasks.

“You want some coffee,” Mike said. “I was just making a pot.”

Mike hit the button and the two police detectives came into the Castle compound. Mike put on a facemask. He grabbed a stack of masks, opened the side door, and went to finish the coffee. The police detectives wandered into the building. They looked into the dining room.

Still chewing, Nash and Charlie pointed toward the kitchen.

“He’s in the kitchen,” Noelle said. “We’re just kids. We don’t know anything about anything.”

“Good to know,” the woman said.

The detectives went toward the kitchen.

“There’s some guys here,” Teddy said as he came into the dining room.

Teddy sat down next to Noelle. Jabari, Mack, and Wyn ran into the dining room. Maggie, Jackie, and Eddie ran in. The younger kids started arguing about which seat they were sitting in. Noelle got up from her seat.

“Jabari!” Noelle said. She pointed to a chair. “Here.”

“Mack, Wyn — go there and there,” Noelle said.

“Where should we go?” Maggie asked.

Noelle pointed to three chairs.

“Okay,” Jackie said.

Maggie, Eddie, and Jackie sat down. Noelle grunted. She closed the dining room door before she sat back down in her seat. After a few minutes, the only sound that could be heard was the crunching of healthy cereal.

“Who are you?” the male detective asked with a snort. “The fucking Goddess of Love?”

“Now that you mention it,” Heather said. “Yes.”

She cleared her throat and transformed into her goddess wear.

“Enough of that,” Blane said. He kissed her cheek and took a facemask from Mike. “No goddess wear before coffee.”

Mike turned around from the coffee pot. Mike looked from Blane to Heather and laughed.

“What do you want, Karowski?” Jacob asked as he jogged down the stairs.

Mike gave Jacob a facemask, and he put it on.

Katy, Bladen, and Tanner ran down the stairs behind Jacob. Once the kids hit the floor, they took off toward the dining room.

“Who are you?” Jacob asked the woman.

“Detective Joy Stone,” she said. She held out her hand for Jacob to shake. Jacob held out his elbow and they elbow bumped. “We’re here to talk to a Jacob Marlowe.”

“That’s him,” Detective Karowski said.

“Would you like some breakfast?” Jacob asked. “It’s my turn to make breakfast.”

“I want to know why the kids keep running into the. . .” Detective Stone said. “What’s over there?”

“Dining room,” Jacob said. “They have kid breakfast on Friday morning.”

“No parents allowed,” Mike said.

Valerie came down the second floor stairs wearing her silk pajamas and a silk bathrobe. She was carrying Grace. The detectives openly gawked at her as she walked around them to Mike. He poured her a cup of coffee. She kissed him, gave the detectives a little wave, and went back upstairs.

“Did you come to gawk at my sister?” Jacob punched Detective Karowski.

“Ow!” Detective Karowski said.

“Let me guess,” Detective Stone said. “You play hockey together.”

“How’d you guess?’ Mike asked.

“And you.” Detective Stone pointed to Heather.

Heather raised an eyebrow at Detective Stone.

“You are the goddess of love?” Detective Stone asked.

“What’s it to you?” Blane asked through his facemask.

“You’re Blane Lipson,” Detective Stone said. “Criminal, prostitute,. . .”

“What’s it to you?” Heather transformed into goddess mode and pointed at Detective Stone.

Detective Stone’s hands went to her throat as if she were being choked.

“That’s my husband,” Heather said in her husky and terrifying goddess voice. “Shut the fuck up.”

“Let her go,” Blane said.

Heather’s eyes flicked to Blane. She nodded and transformed back into human form.

“You’re getting good at that,” Jacob said, taking a sip of his coffee.

“Thank you,” Heather said in her normal human voice.

Detective Stone gasped for breath.

“That’s assault,” Detective Stone croaked.

“Sure,” Heather said. “You go ahead and arrest the goddess of love. You’ll never figure out why the love of your life is acting so weird.”

Blane and Jacob laughed

“Wha. . .?” Detective Stone asked in a desperate voice. “I mean, do you know why she’s acting so weird?”

“She’s pregnant,” Heather said. “She doesn’t want to tell you because she’s afraid that she’ll lose it.”

Detective Stone began to cry.

“What’s happened?” Delphie asked.

She came into the kitchen wearing a facemask. Ivy ran past the kitchen to the dining room.

“Why is the detective crying?” Delphie asked.

“Her partner’s pregnant,” Heather said.

“Did you strangle her?” Delphie asked.

Heather gave a slight nod.

“She was talking crap about Blane,” Heather said.

“I deserved it,” Detective Stone said in a croak.

Mike put a cup of coffee in Detective Stone’s hand, and she drank it down.

“Put a facemask on,” Delphie said. “No reason to show off.”

Heather nodded in a kind of bow.

“Thanks,” Detective Stone said. “Good coffee.”

“Why are you here in my home, Detectives?” Delphie asked.

“This is your home?” Detective Stone asked.

“It is,” Delphie said. “Jake’s mom bought it for me. Now, we have a lot going on today, so you should spit out what you want. There are a lot of people will be here shortly.”

“It’s the first day of Harvest Weekend,” Mike said.

Detective Karowski nodded.

“What’s ‘Harvest Weekend’”? Detective Stone asked.

“We get together to harvest gardens,” Alexandra Hargreaves said through her facemask as she came in the door from the backyard. “Go ahead.”

Her children — Joey and Máire — ran off toward the dining room. Alex’s husband, also wearing a facemask, came in behind her. He touched Alex’s shoulder and started toward the dining room.

“Children’s breakfast,” Jacob said.

“No adults allowed,” Heather said.

“Ah.” John stopped short. “Might I have some tea?”

Mike reached over and turned on the electric kettle.

“Breakfast?” Jacob asked from his position at the stove.

“Sounds good,” John said with a nod. “Need help?”

“Nah, I’m just making eggs,” Jacob said. “Bacon. Sandy made muffins.”

“This year, we’re harvesting here, at Alex’s house, and the big garden at the Marlowe School,” Delphie said. She clapped her hands. “Some of us are cooking and canning all next week. Alex, her brother, I, and some of the kids will harvest from our bees and then Alex’s bees while they cook.”

“Oh good, you’re here,” Sandy said as she came in the room.

She set down Rachel, who ran toward the dining room. Mike gave her a facemask which she put on.

“Can you help?” Sandy asked Heather.

“Sure,” Heather said.

Sandy and Heather left to Sandy’s apartment.

“Why are you here?” Mike asked.

Jill came down the stairs. She looked around the room.

“They went to Sandy’s,” Alex said, drinking coffee.

John fixed a pot of tea and went to Alex’s side. He put his arm around her. Jill went off to Sandy’s apartment.

“We’re here on a cold case,” Detective Stone said.

“What cold case?” Jacob asked.

“Lieutenant said that we should work on cold cases while crime is down,” Detective Karowski said.

“Crime is down?” Delphie asked.

“Not really,” Detective Stone said. “Most crime now is between family members so it’s not the challenge the lieutenant wants for our professional growth. At least, that’s what he said.”

Mike ground coffee beans for another pot of coffee and then started a pot.

“Why does this bring you to us?” Jacob asked with his head in the oven.

“What?” Detective Stone asked.

“With the facemask and the oven, she couldn’t hear you,” Mike said.

“Oh.” Jacob stood up and closed the oven door. “Why are you here?”

“There are seven cold cases related to this address,” Detective Stone said. “Karowski said that we should just come here and clear them up.”

“Okay,” Jacob said.

They heard the dining room door open just before Sandy and Heather arrived with plates of muffins. Jill arrived a moment later without anything.

“I dropped some in the dining room,” Jill said.

“How are the eggs?” Sandy asked.

“Almost done,” Jacob said. “But the bacon needs a bit more time.”

“Perfect,” Sandy said.

Sandy set down a large plate of muffins on the kitchen table.

“We should eat outside,” John said. “Covid? I don’t want to see you in the ICU.”

Sandy nodded in agreement. She and Heather picked up the muffins. Alex held the door open and they went out into the backyard. Sandy set a plate of muffins down on one picnic table and Heather put her plate down on another. A few minutes later, Mike arrived with a fresh pot of coffee. Jacob came out with two plates of eggs and went back inside to monitor the bacon. Alex arrived with plates and silverware. John arrived with napkins. The detectives wandered outside.

Making sure that they had six feet between them, they took seats at the tables or in the chairs around the backyard. They started eating. After a few minutes, Jacob went inside and returned with the bacon. He set a plate down on each picnic table.

“I have carpool,” Jacob said.

“We need to walk through these crimes,” Detective Stone said. “See the locations of each event.”

“I’ll take them,” Sandy said.

“You have work,” Heather said. “I’ll take them.”

Heather finished her coffee. She picked up her plates and silverware, stopped to say a word to Blane, and went inside. As if it were a trigger, everyone slowly went back into the Castle and off to school or work.

“Well,” Jacob said. “What would you like to see? What can I do for you?”

“We have cases that range from the 1920s to the 1990s,” Detective Stone said.

“Does this include the eight bodies we’ve already discovered?” Jacob asked. “Three in the ballroom earlier this year.”

“Good question,” Detective Karowski said. “No.”

“Saint Jude?” Jacob asked.

“That’s right.” Detective Karowski pointed at Jacob. “You found some remains here as well.”

Jacob sighed.

“Why so much death on this one property?” Detective Stone asked.

“Old house?” Jacob shrugged. “It was run down for a long, long time. When we moved in, we had to chase people away for months. It took me a long time to get it to even a livable state.”

The detectives looked at each other and didn’t respond.

“Why do you think?” Jacob asked with a sigh.

“We’re not sure,” Detective Stone said. “There’s a lot of people who live here. I mean. . .”

She flipped open her notebook.

“You’ve got prostitutes and drug dealers and. . .” Detective Stone’s hair caught on fire.

Detective Stone squealed and Detective Karowski jumped up to help her. Under the table, Jacob gestured with his hand. The fire went out.

“If I could make a suggestion,” Jacob said and cleared his throat. “Why don’t we look at whatever you’re looking for and you can get out of here?”

“Did you set fire to my hair?” Detective Stone asked.

“I believe that you set your own hair on fire,” Jacob said. “When a goddess gives you instructions, you’d be wise to follow them.”

“You mean that bitch was serious?” Detective Stone sneered.

Shaking his head, Jacob sighed.

“Excuse me for a moment,” Jacob said getting up from the picnic table. “I’m calling my lawyer.”

“Hey, now!” Detective Karowski said. “There’s no need for that.”

“Sure, man,” Jacob said. “I’ll be right back.”

Shaking his head with irritation, Jacob walked into the kitchen only to find Valerie’s best friend and their lawyer, Samantha Hargreaves, sitting at the table eating a muffin and drinking tea with his sister.

“How?” Jacob asked.

“I called her when I got back upstairs,” Valerie said. “That detective seems like a real asshole.”

“She is,” Jacob said. “Thank you for coming, Samantha.”

“Thanks for letting Sasha go to the Marlowe School,” Samantha said. “Heather even dropped her off. And these muffins. . .”

“Sandy’s baking is amazing,” Jacob said.

“Yes,” Samantha said. She stood up from the table. “Let’s see what they want.”

“I should tell you that Detective Stone’s hair just caught on fire,” Jacob said.

“Okay,” Samantha said. “How?”

“Heather warned her not to talk shit about Blane,” Jacob said.

“Well, then, the detective is lucky that it wasn’t worse,” Samantha said. “I mean, that was Athena driving the other SUV right?”

“Probably,” Jacob said. “She’s been here a bunch lately. Some project that she and Heather are working on. But I didn’t see her today.”

“What’s she like?” Samantha asked.

“She doesn’t speak to men,” Jacob said. “You’d have to ask Val.”

Samantha turned to Valerie, who shrugged.

“She’s nice,” Valerie said with a shrug. “Tough, but kind. I like her. I’m sure that she’ll be back. Jill and Honey have classes this morning and then they’re all hanging out this afternoon. When you’re done with whatever the detectives want, you should just stay.”

“I might do it,” Samantha gave Valerie a bright smile. “Come on.”

Jacob followed Samantha out to the backyard.

“Detectives?” Samantha asked. “My client informs me that you have some cold cases from before they took occupancy of this property. Is that correct?”

“Yes, but. . .” Detective Karowski said.

“Yet, you’ve insinuated that my clients had something to do with these events,” Samantha said. “You even included people who weren’t even born prior to taking occupancy of this property.”

“Like who?” Detective Stone asked.

“Charlie Delgado?” Samatha asked. “And what exactly is your issue with Blane Lipson?”

“He has a long sheet,” Detective Stone said.

“I see,” Samantha said. “And when was his last arrest?”

“Uh. . .” Detective Stone said, thumbing through her phone.

“Might it be around the time that the Marlowe-Lipson family taking possession of this property?” Samantha asked.

“Yes,” Detective Karowski said while Detective Stone said, “I’m checking.”

“Let’s be honest with each other,” Samantha said. “Besides eating some of the best muffins I’ve ever had, what exactly are you doing here this morning?”

“The lieutenant set up a contest where the partners. . .” Detective Karowski gestured between himself and Detective Stone, “. . . who solve the most cold cases wins Broncos tickets. We saw that there were eight cases attached to this house. Since I play hockey with Jake and Mike, we came over this morning hoping to clear cases.”

“And the insinuations about my clients?” Samantha asked.

“I. . .” Detective Karowski started.

“You can’t blame us for looking up who lives in a house,” Detective Stone said. “You live with criminals then crimes are bound to wind up on your doorstep.”

“Even though there have been no cold cases attached to this property since prior to their occupancy and ownership?” Samantha asked.

Detective Stone gave Samantha a steely look.

“It’s a simple question,” Samantha said. “You look at any of these people and what you’ll find is an abused child who did the best they could in their situations, who has grown into a functioning member of society. You want to hold their abuse against these children?”

Detective Stone never flinched. Samantha shrugged.

“Good luck with your contest,” Samantha said. “Given that none of this has anything to do with my clients, I’m going to recommend that they not let you inside.”

“We’ve already been inside,” Detective Karowski grinned.

“I’m revoking your access,” Samantha said in a stern voice. “Good day, detectives. You can see yourselves out.”

Samantha threaded her arm through Jacob’s elbow and encouraged him toward the back door.

“We’ll just stay here,” Detective Stone said.

Jacob opened the back door and whistled.

“Shit,” Detective Karowski said.

“What?” Detective Stone asked.

“He called his crazy dogs,” Detective Karowski said.

The detectives ran out of the back yard and down the driveway. The dogs nearly caught them at the fence, but the detectives managed to make it though. Once on the other side, the dogs headed back to the backyard.

“You fucked that up,” Detective Karowski said as they got into their vehicle.

“How did I fuck that up?” Detective Stone asked. “I’m going to call for a warrant. We’ll take that house apart room by room.”

“No,” Detective Karowski said. “You won’t.”

“Why’s that?” Detective Stone asked.

“In the first place, you won’t get a warrant,” Detective Karowski said.

“Why’s that?” Detective Stone asked.

“Because they haven’t done anything,” Detective Karowski said. “And their lawyer is Samantha Hargreaves. There’s no way she’s going to let a warrant slip by her.”

Detective Stone started the vehicle and they drove to the intersection of Race Street and Colfax Boulevard.

“What’s your beef with them?” Detective Karowski asked.

“What do you mean?” Detective Stone asked.

“You wanted to come here,” Detective Karowski said. “You have to know that you were a complete asshole in there.”

“I was stating facts,” Detective Stone said.

“No, You were talking about crimes committed when these adults were children,” Detective Karowski said. “Any jury is going to see them as abused children whose crimes were a long time ago. Why are you so zealous here?”

Detective Stone sniffed.

“Fine, don’t tell me,” Detective Karowski said. “But you’d better be prepared for the lieutenant to ask you.”

“Why’s that?” Detective Stone asked.

“Because if I know Samantha Hargreaves — and I went all the way through Catholic school with her — she’s talking to him right now,” Detective Karowski said. “You ever notice that tattoo on the lieutenant’s wrist?”

“I asked him about it once,” Detective Stone said. “He didn’t answer. Some military thing.”

“It means that he’s owned by the Hargreaves,” Detective Karowski said. “What do you think he’s saying to Samantha Hargreaves?”

“No idea.” Detective Stone shook her head.

“More than all of this,” Detective Karowski said. “Samantha was right. They invited us to breakfast, no questions asked, even after you were an asshole to Blane. You know what Blane’s doing right now?”

He continued when Detective Stone did say anything.

“He’s running an acupuncture clinic,” Detective Karowski said. “On the weekends, Blane and a couple of medical docs see indigent people, mostly elderly, and people with long haul Covid. You think that your petty jealousy, or whatever is going on with you, will stand up to that?”

Detective Stone didn’t respond. Lost in their own thoughts, they drove to the station in silence.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Fifty-five - Good morning


Thursday morning — 5:17 a.m.

“Good morning,” Blane said as he came into the kitchen.

Heather got up from the table and hugged him. She pulled back to look into his face. His hair was wet from the shower. He was dressed and ready for a day in his clinic.

“How are you holding up?” Heather asked.

She put her hand on his forehead to check for fever.

“I’m okay,” Blane said. “A little tired. That dog. . . remind me, where did he come from?”

“Why?” Heather asked. “What did he do?”

“You didn’t notice?” Blane asked with a grin.

“Notice what?” Heather asked.

Blane chuckled. The electric kettle clicked off, and he poured water into the tea pot Heather had set out.

“Food?” Blane asked.

“I put a bagel in for you and one for me,” Heather said.

“Where is everyone?” Blane asked.

“Nelson’s already gone to work. Some video meeting with the FBI lab in Virginia,” Heather said. “Tres is sleeping in. He’s working on a proposal that he’s presenting to the owners meeting tomorrow night. I’m sure that you remember that our boys are at the Castle. I’m going to pick them up in a bit. Tanesha’s off today so they left after the show to spend a night in the mountains.”

“Give Jabari some time to unwind a bit,” Blane said. “That’s a good idea.”

“He’s so stoic,” Heather said. “It’s hard to ever know what’s going on with him. They wanted to give him a chance to talk about how he feels before the time passes.”

Blane nodded. He opened the refrigerator and took out the egg carton. He took out four blue eggs from Delphie’s happy chickens. He whipped them and put them into a pan to cook before turning around.

“What did the dog do?” Heather asked.

“He hogged up my side of the bed,” Blane said.

“He did?” Heather asked. “I thought that he was hogging up my side of the bed. I was attempting to be the goddess of love and let you sleep.”

Blane laughed. She grinned at his laugh.

“I’ll get a crate for him,” Heather said.

“You don’t think that he needs his own golden palace?” Blane asked.

Blane grabbed a handful of baby spinach and threw it into a pan.

“Golden palace?” Heather asked.

“Come on,” Blane said. “He’s Anubis, isn’t he?”

“He’s a dog,” Heather said with a shrug. “The boys and I went to adopt a dog and the boys picked this dog. No conspiracy. Just a dog.”

“You’re saying that the dog on the dog bed over there isn’t the God Anubis?” Blane asked.

The dark haired dog regally sat on his dog bed with his front ankles crossed.

“I’m not sure what you’re asking,” Heather asked.

Blane pointed at her with the spatula.

“You’re being intentionally vague,” Blane said.

“Am I?” Heather asked with a grin. “I’m just messing with you. As far as I know, he is just a dog. Hecate told me that Nelson thought the same thing.”

“Nelson’s smart,” Blane said.

“He’s a beautiful dog,” Heather said. She shrugged. “What would I know about an Egyptian god?”

“Hmm,” Blane said, scowling as he buttered the bagels.

“I swear to you,” Heather said. “We went to the Dumb Friend’s League. They couldn’t let us in because of Covid. We asked for a young dog for the boys. They brought out a few dogs and the boys liked this dog. He is beautiful, very sweet, kind.”

“Too beautiful to be in the pound,” Blane said.

“So there has to be a catch?” Heather asked.

“There just usually is,” Blane said. “You don’t think that your friend Loki set us up?”

“Loki?” Heather shook her head. “Loki hates dogs.”

“Exactly,” Blane said with a grin.

“You’re not making any sense,” Heather said.

Blane scowled at her, and she smiled back.

“What?” Heather asked. “We talked about it. Everyone said that they trusted me to pick a nice dog. This is a very nice dog. He’s even nice to Jeraine, who is not very comfortable around dogs. He’s less than a year old. He’s fixed. He is potty trained. He’s great.”

“What did they say his background was?” he asked. “Where he came from?”

He gave her a plate with eggs, spinach, and bagel.

“You know who we could ask. . .” Blane said.

“No,” Heather said. “He’s gone away with the others. There’s no need to. . .”

“Did someone call my name?” Ares, the God of War appeared in their kitchen.

Ares wore his “in-the-house” armor with sandals on his feet. His brown curly hair was long and a little wild. There were colorful flecks of paint throughout his hair. He held an oil paint brush in his paint stained hand. He actually smelled like he’d had a bath in the last month, which was a vast improvement over any other time they’d seen him.

“This is our new home,” Heather said to her grandfather. “And no one called you. Go away.”

“Yes, but your lovely partner. . .” Ares said. “Say — where is that hunky Templar?”

“At work,” Heather said. “No one called you.”

“But. . .” Ares said. “Your beloved husband has a question. Since I’m here. . .”

Heather’s eyes shot daggers at Blane, who shrugged.

“He is here now,” Blane said.

Shaking her head, Heather rolled her eyes at him.

“We’re wondering if this dog is the God Anubis,” Blane said.

Ares turned in place until his eyes fell upon the dog. For a moment, the dog and the Greek God seemed to take the measure of each other.

“That is an excellent question,” Ares said. “I heard that your Templar met a gorgon or three.”

Ares gave them a wide grin.

“They are wildly powerful,” Ares said. “Good fun too, if you catch them when they aren’t angry — which I admit is rare since the whole Medusa thing.”

“Dog,” Heather said.

“That is a dog,” Ares said. “I just saw Hynos and Thantos. They would never become dogs.”

“Anubis?” Blane asked.

“You know that we’re all the same, right?” Ares asked. “Different cultures. Different times. Same gods, different names.”

Shaking her head, Heather groaned.

“He doesn’t want a lecture,” Heather said.

“It’s nice to see you, grandfather,” Ares said. “I’m so glad that you are weathering this modern pandemic so well. Are you painting?”

Ares pointed to his cheek. Shaking her head, Heather got up. She kissed her grandfather’s cheek.

“How about you?” Ares asked raising his eyebrows.

“No,” Heather said. “You cannot seduce the men in my life.”

“You have so many human — men and women — in your life,” Ares said with a pout. “I have so very few.”

“I have to get to work,” Blane said, picking up the plates and carrying them to the kitchen.

“Yes, I am very busy too,” Ares said.

“So, Ares,” Blane said, “you confirm that this is a dog.”

“Among other things,” Ares said.

“What does that mean?” Blane asked.

“Nothing, nothing,” Ares said with a smile. “This creature will serve you, well as, be a companion to you when you run, a friend to my great-grandsons, play with the Templar, and even enjoy the company of that singer and his angelic wife.”

“Jeraine and Tanesha,” Heather said.

“Exactly,” Ares said. “Nothing to worry about. Now, I must be off. Feel free to continue to take from my wine cellar. Anything I have is yours for the taking.”

Ares gave Heather a hopeful smile.

“Nothing I have is yours for the taking,” Heather said.

“Sometimes, you can be so like your mother,” Ares said.

“Thank you,” Heather said. “Good luck painting. Don’t start any wars.”

“Only happy times, my dear,” Ares said.

Ares waved to Blane and disappeared.

“I wish I’d never. . .” Blane said.

“I heard that,” Ares voice echoed through the room.

Heather laughed.

“How is LaTonya?” Heather asked.

“Good, I think,” Blane said. “She seems to be enjoying being around clients; helping people. I think she’d rather be working as a psychiatrist, but she’s enjoying it for now. Her kids went to the Marlowe School today. Bumpy’s paying.”

“Good,” Heather said. “I’m glad.”

“I miss you being there,” Blane said wistfully.

“I do, too,” Heather said. “My guess is that LaTonya will move on soon. The boys are at the school every day. I can come back then.”

“Really?” Blane asked with a smile. “I’d like that.”

“Me, too,” Heather said with a smile. “I’ll walk you over.”

Blane grinned at her. She gestured to the dog and he came to her. Blane hooked a leash on the dog’s collar and they went back up the stairs. Heather put on her shoes and jacket. She waited until Blane was ready for work. They walked across the street to the Castle. They kissed at the bottom of the stairs to the medical offices.

“Have a great day,” Heather said.

Blane waved to Heather and went up the stairs. Heather went around to the back door of the kitchen and went inside. Compared to the quiet sanctuary of their house, the Castle was pure chaos. She found her boys eating cereal at the kitchen table with the other kids. Heather pitched in to get everyone off to school and work.

When the last person left, Delphie put her hand on Heather’s arm.

“What did you need?” Delphie asked.

“Would you mind checking our dog?” Heather asked, gesturing to where their new dog was playing with Buster and Sarah.

“I saw him last night,” Delphie said. “He’s a beautiful dog.”

“But just a dog,” Heather said.

“Nothing is ever ‘just’ anything,” Delphie said.

“Why is everyone so vague about this dog?” Heather asked.

Grinning, Delphie shrugged. Heather gave her a hard look.

“Let me be as clear as possible,” Delphie said. “The dog is just a dog until you need it to be something else.”

Heather scowled, and Delphie laughed.

“Come on,” Delphie said. “Let’s have some tea. We can talk about anything.”

Heather followed her into the kitchen. When the tea was ready, they went out to the garden and talked about Harvest this weekend.


Thursday evening — 7:05 p.m.

“Hey!” Aden yelled over the chatting owners of Lipson Construction. “We’re ready to start.”

It took a few minutes, but everyone fell silent. They were seated under a giant tent. Each person was in a chair that was six feet from each other and they were all wearing face masks, which was why the men and women were talking so loud. There were giant fans blowing the air around. They had set up speakers so that everyone to hear what was being said. Bambi, Aden’s assistant, carried two wireless microphones in case people wanted to speak.

“Welcome!” Aden said.

Everyone cheered.

“I wanted to thank everyone for hanging in there,” Aden said. “I know that the masks are itchy and uncomfortable. . .”

“I don’t wanna die!” a young man yelled from somewhere in the middle.

Everyone laughed.

“I just appreciate everyone wearing masks and being careful,” Aden said. “As you know, outside of Sam Lipson, we’ve had zero infections. That’s a big deal as most of the other construction companies are either not open or filled with sick people. You should each be really proud of yourself.”

“Hey, you gonna make them vaccines mandatory?” a woman asked.

“We would never just make that decision,” Aden said. “We’ll make it together.”

“Out of curiosity, if the vaccines were available today, how many of you would get a vaccine?” Jacob asked.

Every hand went up.

“And my family,” Pete yelled.

Everyone cheered.

“I like it,” Jacob said.

“First order of business,” Aden said. “Sam Lipson has submitted his formal retirement.”

“Ahh,” there was a general sound of disappointment.

“His scare with Covid really got to him,” Jacob said. “He wants to retire while he’s healthy enough to enjoy it.”

“He promised that he would still be available if we need him,” Aden said.

“Especially in the next year or so as we work with the state to get our other business up and running,” Jacob said.

“And Jake?” someone yelled from the front.

“You can’t get rid of me,” Jacob said.

“He’s willing to help us out when we need him,” Aden said. “But he won’t be here every day soon. That will happen soon. I promised.”

Everyone laughed.

“As you likely know, the Marlowe School is up and running,” Aden said. “Jake and his team have improved the ventilation. With your help, we’ve developed more of the property so that our students have access to exercise in the air. We’ve been asked to build a swimming pool, but we’re not quite there yet.”

“We poured the basketball court last weekend,” Jerry yelled from the middle of the crowd.

“They will be playing basketball tomorrow,” Jacob said.

Everyone grinned.

“If you haven’t been to the school lately, we’d invited you to come this weekend,” Aden said. “We’re having an open house to show people what’s happening there. Jake?”

“I took over Valerie’s role as the family member head of the Marlowe School,” Jacob said. “As you likely know, Valerie set up a program where non-employees could pay to go to school there. Right now, we’ve allowed fifty children of military families to go to the school. Like us, people in the military are now essential workers. They need help with their child care. Tres is here to talk to you about the Marlowe School fund, but the income from these parents has allowed us to make substantial payments on the redevelopment of the school.”

Everyone seemed to have something to say. Aden let the general rumbling continue for a few minutes before bring their attention back.

“Okay, we asked you here because Tres has a proposition for you,” Aden said. “Tres?”

The owners cheered for Tres. Blushing, he waved them quiet.

“Okay,” Tres said. “First the Marlowe School Fun — as you may know, I took over the fun when Valerie took over as the head of the Marlowe School. I’ve been able to build up the fund so that the recent remodeling was easily affordable. In the last months, we’ve been able to hire more teachers so that we’re able to keep our class size down to help protect against the virus. I don’t need to tell you what a luxury it is for us to have our kids safe and in school.”

He saw a sea of nodding heads.

“We’ve been able to increase our enrollment of people paying for school as well as take on more state funded cases,” Tres said. “The state would like us to take more young children, but for now, we’ve been able to hold the line. Our charter is to care for Lipson Construction children. Everything else is extra. So far, that’s kept the state at bay.”

When no one said anything, he continued.

“Before all of this happened, Jake brought an article to my attention,” Tres said. “It said that research showed that companies do better when employees work four days a week. During this time of job sharing, we found that people worked effectively when they worked only four days a week. Aden asked me to work up the cost of having people work only four days a week. That’s four eight-hour shifts, not four ten hour shifts or whatever.”

Tres looked out into the audience to see that everyone seemed to be thinking about what he was saying. He pressed on.

“There are a lot of employees available right now because of the pandemic,” Tres said. “We can increase our work force so that we can keep the jobs going six days a week. It will cost more, but I believe that it will move us through the jobs more efficiently and in the end, wind up making us more money. I’ve done the math, in case anyone wants to look at it.”

A hand went up in the middle. Bambi rushed back to give them the microphone. A woman stood up.

“Will these new people be given the chance to buy shares?” the woman asked.

“We hadn’t thought of it,” Aden said. “Why?”

“I don’t like the idea of non-Lipson people buying shares,” she said. “Remember those jerks that had shares and ended up leaving?”

“How could I forget?” Aden nodded.

“I worked for them,” she said. “They were miserable to everyone.”

“We should have known about that,” Bambi said.

“I know,” she said. “But things were different then. No one talked about that kind of thing. Plus, they were owners and I was just an employee.”

“That’s awful,” Bambi said. She looked at Aden. “We can’t have that.”

“No one should have to deal with that,” Aden said.

“I didn’t bring it up to complain,” the woman said. “I just. . . you know, think that we should be cautious with new people. Make them work for us for a year before they can buy in. Once they buy in, they are permanent. You know?”

DeShawn stood up in the back.

“I agree with her,” DeShawn said.

Pete hit him lightly with the back of his hand and said, “I second that.”

“I second that,” DeShawn repeated what Pete had said.

“Then we have a motion,” Aden said. “New hires would have to work for the company for a year before they can buy in. All those in favor?”

A sea of hands shot up.

“Against,” Aden said.

No one raised a hand.

“What do you think about keeping the four day a week schedule?” Aden asked.

For a long moment, no one said anything. There was general whispering on one side of the room.

“We should try it before we make it permanent,” a man said from that side of the room. “Hire new people. Keep it in place for a year or so. See how it goes.”

“If it’s affordable and we’re still productive, then we vote to make it permanent,” Aden said.

Someone clapped and everyone joined in.

“We need to vote,” Tres said. “For the minutes. I second Aden’s proposal.”

A sea of hands went up.

“Then we’re in agreement,” Aden said. “If you know people who need work, are willing to wear masks, take Covid tests, and aren’t assholes — let them know that we’re hiring.”

People cheered.

“Okay,” Aden said. “I know everyone has a lot on their plates right now. I don’t want to keep you. Thanks for coming in, voting, and bring your ideas to us.”

“Who owns Lipson Construction?” Jacob asked.

“We own Lipson Construction,” the owner said.

Everyone cheered. For a moment, no one moved.

“See you tomorrow,” Aden said.

Everyone slowly moved out of the space.

“Nicely done,” Jacob said.

Aden nodded.

“Let’s go home,” Tres said.

“So, that dog?” Aden asked Tres as they walked out of the meeting area.

Jacob laughed.

Denver Cereal continues next week...

Chapter Six Hundred and Fifty-four - Goodbye to an old friend; hello to a new friend


Wednesday evening — 6:07 p.m.

Nelson was standing outside his home when he remembered that they were having dinner at the Castle tonight. Jeraine had returned from Atlanta to host another concert. Everyone wanted to get together to support him and Jabari in their loss of Annette. Nelson looked longingly at his quiet wonderful home with his quiet, comfortable bed inside. Looking across the street, he saw that the crowd of paparazzi had doubled due to Jeraine’s concert tonight. Sighing to himself, he pulled on the knot of his tie and started across the street.

As he reached the gate, a limousine pulled up at the curb. Two burly dark skinned men pushed the paparazzi aside.

“Who are you?” one of the body guards asked Nelson.

“Dr. Nelson Weeks,” he said.

“Can you let us in?” the body guard asked.

“Of course,” Nelson said.

The body guy turned around and nodded at the limousine. Nelson used his body to cover the keypad and opened the gate. The sound of camera shutters was nearly deafening as a stream of musicians went through the gate. Nelson sighed when the rapper and his girlfriend stopped to let the paparazzi take photos.

Nelson was really too tired for this. As if the rapper heard Nelson speak, he looked up and nodded to Nelson. He held out his hand.

“Dr. Nelson Weeks?” the rapper asked.

“Nice to meet you,” Nelson said.

When he looked at the rapper and the rapper’s girlfriend, they both had tears in their eyes. The rapper held up his shirt. There were two scars from bullet holes on his stomach. The rapper turned to show his back. There were surgical scars and two other bullet holes.

“Shot four time,” the rapper said.

“Those are nasty,” Nelson said. “How are you feeling?”

“Strong,” the rapper said. “Good.”

“We told the doctor that we were coming here,” the girlfriend said. “That doctor said that if we saw you to thank you.”

“We had to check in with the docs before flying,” the rapper said. “Your technique saved my life.”

“Thank you,” the girlfriend said.

She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. Embarrassed, Nelson nodded and let them into the Castle compound. Jeraine came out of the house. The rapper and Jeraine slapped hands for a while and hugged. The group headed toward the Castle entrance where they were directed to the backyard. Jeraine saw Nelson looking out of place and held an arm out to him. Nelson let Jeraine put his arm around him.

“You okay?” Jeraine asked softly to Nelson.

“Exhausted,” Nelson said. “Crazy dreams about gorgons and Templars brought on by too much whiskey.”

“Damn, that’s awful,” Jeraine said.

“How was the funeral?” Nelson asked.

“Nothing happened,” Jeraine said. “We got there, waited an hour, and left.”

“Did you hear from them?” Nelson asked.

“Jammy did,” Jeraine said. “Some cock and bull story. The usual unorganized bullshit.”

“Do you have to go back?” Nelson asked.

“I don’t plan to,” Jeraine said. “Jabari hates it there. Plus, I went to the cemetery, left our flowers, and said some prayers; Jabari wouldn’t get out of the limo. The studio took film and photos of me there.”

Nelson nodded. They started walking toward the Castle.

“That Tres is something else,” Jeraine said.

Nelson nodded at the memory of Tres Sierra’s fantastic skills at playing pool.

“You think that’s because his love is a goddess?” Jeraine asked.

“He says that he learned to play from his older brothers and sisters,” Nelson said.

“Did you ever meet that Enrique?” Jeraine asked.

Nelson nodded.

“And?” Jeraine asked.

“He’s truly a horrible human being,” Nelson said.

“Seems like,” Jeraine said. “Everyone’s in back.”

“Barbecue?” Nelson asked.

Jeraine nodded.

“You or Blane?” Nelson asked.

“Blane,” Jeraine said. “He roasted an entire pig under the ground. I guess he did it today while he was working. I tried some and it’s. . .”

Jeraine mock swooned. Nelson grinned.

“I was thinking of mentioning Annette tonight at the show,” Jeraine said. He glanced at Nelson. “What do you think?”

“I think that it’s a very kind thing to do,” Nelson said. “But. . .”

“Yeah, yeah, better make sure Miss T is there to keep the rumors down,” Jeraine said with a grin.

“Good luck with that,” Nelson said. “They have to sell those magazines somehow.”

Jeraine snorted a laugh. They walked past the greenhouses to the backyard.

“I never get over this backyard,” Nelson said. “It’s like an oasis.”

“It is an oasis,” Jeraine said.

Nelson scanned the crowd. Everyone, including the rapper and his entourage, were wearing facemasks. The kids were playing.

“Just so you know. . .” Jeraine said.

“New dog?” Nelson asked.

Our new dog,” Jeraine said.

A fit, black dog with sharp upright ears and a long nose ran toward them with Buster the Ugly dog, and Sarah, Jacob’s yellow Labrador right behind him.

“That’s Anubis,” Nelson said under his breath.

“I’ve been told that it’s just a dog,” Jeraine said. “It is a Pharaoh Hound. Heather adopted it from the Denver Dumb Friends League.”

“Then it must be just a dog,” Nelson said.

The men turned to look at each other.

“Nah,” they said in near unison and laughed.

Nelson dropped to his knees to pet the dogs. The Pharaoh Hound licked Nelson’s face causing him to laugh.

“You are beautiful,” Nelson said.

The dog seemed to say “Thank you” with a nod of his head.

“He’s just a puppy,” Hecate said, as she jogged up.

“What’s his name?” Jeraine asked.

“Anubis?” Hecate asked.

Nelson and Jeraine laughed.

“I’ve got to. . .” Jeraine said. He pointed to where the rapper and his friends were sitting.

“Go ahead,” Nelson said.

Jeraine walked toward to his guests. Nelson watched as Jeraine began to introduce them to the other people of the Castle.

“I heard that you met a gorgon,” Hecate said.

“Three,” Nelson said. “They all had their heads.”

Hecate turned to look at him.

“I read up on them today,” Nelson said.

“What did you learn?” Hecate asked.

“Three sisters,” Nelson said. “And a whole bunch of nasty stuff. The one who was closest to me actually spoke to me. She was shockingly honest and clear.”

“They are that,” Hecate said. “You could say that they don’t care a rats ass about anyone except each other. But that’s not true either.”

Nelson turned to look at her.

“I. . .” Hecate started.

“I was driven to work and back home by the one who spoke to me in my dream,” Nelson said.

“That is interesting,” Hecate said.

“Why?” Nelson asked.

“They never go anywhere alone,” Hecate said. “They travel in groups of three.”

Hecate looked at Nelson.

“They are very interested in you,” Hecate said. “Any idea why?”

“I was told that the head of their sister. . .” Nelson said.

“Medusa,” Hecate said with a nod.

“Yes, Medusa’s head is in the Templar hoard,” Nelson said. “Or so they said.”

“That makes sense,” Hecate said, seeming relieved.

“Why?” Nelson asked. “What did you think?”

“They can get oddly obsessed with things and people,” Hecate said. “Medusa can grow another head or ask for one from a myriad of goddesses and gods. But they don’t do that. They want her original head back.”

Nelson shrugged. He leaned into the Titan.

“They are terrifying,” Nelson said. “Even when they look human.”

Hecate just nodded.

“What do you know about them?” Nelson asked.

“Let’s see. . .” Hecate sighed. “They were ancient before I was born. There weren’t a lot of them. Ever. But enough to have survived all this time. I have never seen a male but my father says that they breed.”

“How would you know male or female?” Nelson asked.

“True,” Hecate said. “Perseus was sure that Medusa was female.”

“The guy who cut her head off?” Nelson asked.

“You should ask Athena about him,” Hecate said. She looked at Nelson and continued sharing what she knew about the gorgon. “They’ve never been all that interested in me or my parents. I guess that’s because my dad is the God of Destruction. For all their power, they do love being alive.”

“Medusa is still alive without her head?” Nelson asked.

“I believe so, but I’ve never seen her,” Hecate said with a shrug. “Abi gave you a ring?”

“It doesn’t come off,” Nelson said.

Nelson held out his hand for Abi to see the ring. She lifted his hand and looked at the ring.

“Huh,” Hecate said. “What do you think it does?”

“It’s supposed to make me immune to magic,” Nelson said.

“You were already protected,” Hecate said. “I wonder what Abi is thinking.”

Nelson shook his head.

“I wonder. . .” Hecate said. “This word. . .”

She looked at Nelson and smiled.

“I bet it’s the password to your hoard,” Hecate said.

“Password?” Nelson asked. He winced. “I need a password.”

Hecate grinned at him.

“Any idea how to pronounce this word?” Nelson asked.

Hedone grinned at him.

“We’re going to have so much fun,” Hecate said.

Nelson made a sound that was something between a grunt and a growl. Hecate laughed.

The new dog ran toward them.

“That’s the God Anubis, isn’t it?” Nelson asked.

“I’ve been told that he’s just a dog,” Hecate said.

“But?” Nelson asked.

“He’s a beautiful puppy,” Hecate smiled. “The animal doctor. . .”

“Veterinarian,” Nelson said.

“What is that?” Hecate asked.

“Animal doctor?” Nelson grinned.

“Yes, that’s it,” Hecate smiled and continued, “She said that the dog is not quite a year old.”

“Not quite seven hundred years old?” Nelson laughed.

The dog jumped up at the sound.

“Any legends of the Templar and Anubis?” Hecate asked.

“Not that I know of,” Nelson said.

Hecate nodded.

“We’re going to have so much fun,” Hecate repeated.

Shaking his head, Nelson laughed. Blane and Mike came out of the kitchen with a platter of pig parts and the dogs ran to see what was happening. Valerie called everyone to eat. Tanesha came out of the Castle with plates. Soon, everyone fell silent while they enjoyed their dinner.

They were almost done with dinner when Tanesha came out of the Castle. She was wearing black pants, a black jacket and a silk top. She’d even put on makeup. Jill, Heather, and Sandy came behind her wearing similar black outfits. Jeraine got up from where he was sitting and went to her.

“What are you dressed for?” Jeraine asked.

“I thought we could hold a little memorial for Annette during your time of the show,” Tanesha said. “Jill contacted the television show and they’ve lined up thirty people to tell funny anecdotes about Annette. I think they have it all set up. I talked to the casino owner and he said that he would donate the money for this event for Annette’s other kids.”

“Why them?” Jeraine asked.

Dressed in clean black T-shirts and pants, Jabari, Maggie, Mack, Wyn, and Eddie ran past them.

“I guess they are destitute,” Tanesha said. “They can stay with their fathers. . .”

“They don’t have any money,” Jeraine said. “They’re just dudes. I thought Annette was. . .”

Tanesha shook her head.

“Everything’s mortgaged to the hilt,” Jill said. “It was a matter of days before the house was foreclosed.”

“She really needed that child support,” Jeraine said.

Tanesha leaned forward. Pulling back her face mask, she kissed his cheek.

“We’re all nearly ready,” Tanesha said. “Valerie is going to introduce the program. Jammy spoke with the management of your musical guest. I guess he had a relationship with Annette. He was all for celebrating her life.”

“But he’ll go on after we’re done, right?” Jeraine asked.

“Exactly,” Tanesha said. “I’ll be notified when they have everyone on the line. You should go get changed.”

Nodding, Jeraine went into the house. Jacob was standing in the kitchen tying his tie. His boys were sitting on the kitchen counters waiting for their father to tie their tie.

“Your suit’s over there,” Jacob pointed. “Tanesha said to just change your pants and jacket. Your tie is fine.”

“What do you think?” Jeraine asked. “I think I need another tie.”

“I’m just reporting on what she said,” Jacob said.

Bladen started to fall over. Jeraine caught the child. The boy reached up to Jeraine’s face.

“I like you,” Bladen said.

“I like you, too,” Jeraine said to the child.

Jeraine tied the boy’s tie.

“Thanks,” Jacob said. “You can set him down. They want to go find Jabari, anyway.”

Jeraine lifted the boy from the counter. Bladen hugged Jeraine. Surprised, Jeraine wasn’t sure what to do. He set the child down. Bladen waited for his brother. The twins ran out of the house.

“Come on,” Jacob said. “Let’s get you dressed.”

Jeraine nodded to Jacob. He went into the bathroom and changed into a black silk suit. When he came out, his father, Bumpy, was standing in the kitchen. Bumpy held out a black silk tie to Jeraine.

“Oh, that’s perfect,” Jeraine said.

“Miss T said you needed it,” Rodney, Tanesha’s father’s voice came from around the corner.

Rodney came into the room with Yvonne and Jeraine’s mother, Dionne. Jeraine’s mother hugged and kissed Jeraine’s cheek.

“How are you holding up?” Dionne asked.

“I’m okay,” Jeraine said.

She kissed his cheek again.

“You ready?” The technology person leaned out from the stairwell to the ballroom. “We should start.”

“On my way,” Jeraine said. He turned to his mother, “Can you round up Tanesha and everyone?”

“Got it,” Jacob said. “Why don’t you let your parents go with you?”

Jeraine gave him a nod and went down the stairs. His parents and Tanesha’s parents followed behind him. He heard Tanesha and her girls at the top of the stairs. Jabari and his friends ran down the stairs. They brushed past him. He heard the children laugh. Katy and her best friend, Paddie, ran down past him.

Jeraine stood on the edge of the room as it began to fill with people. The doors were open and the fans were on. Everyone in the room was wearing a face mask. The rapper and his crew had set up on the stage while he was getting dressed. The rapper’s girlfriend was introducing herself to Tanesha.

The room became silent and Jeraine turned to look at who had entered.

Valerie. She looked absolutely radiant in her floor length black dress with long sleeves and pockets. The simple dress showed off her big hazel-blue eyes, long dark hair, and curves from baby Grace. While Jeraine had never been attracted to Valerie, he could see why she was a popular actress. Valerie checked in with Jammy and then came over to speak with Jeraine.

“How are you?” Valerie put her hand on his arm. “How’s your head?”

“Good,” Jeraine said with a nod. “I’m okay. Hecate’s here. She does something that makes it okay.”

“I’m glad,” Valerie said. “Jammy says that they’ve announced this would be a fundraiser for Annette’s children on social media. I guess the concert was sold out. They decided to open it up.”

“Lots of people?” Jeraine asked.

Valerie nodded, “Just a heads up.”

“It’s cool,” Jeraine said. “We’ll be okay.”

“Good,” Valerie said. “They want us to be ready to go in five minutes. Can you do that?”

Jeraine looked and saw that his father had set up his standup base. Jeraine saw Seth O’Malley’s father zip down the stairs faster than Jeraine would have thought a 90-something year old could go. Bernie headed to the piano. The rapper’s drummer was ready to go.

“They’re waiting for you,” Tanesha said.

Jeraine hugged her and went to the stage.

“I, 2, 3. . .” Jeraine said.

The band began to play a soft jazz melody. Jeraine nodded to the camera man. They turned the camera onto Valerie.

Their service for Annette started. The band played soft jazz while Valerie began the service.

“Welcome,” Valerie said. “I’m Valerie Lipson. You probably know that Jeraine and Jabari went to the memorial for Annette. We wanted to really celebrate Annette’s life. We have a few people who will be with us online to talk about Annette. Her television show created a wonderful tribute to her. Jeraine, Jabari, and Miss T are here. . .”

Valerie gestured to where Tanesha was holding Jabari. They waved. She gestured to where Jeraine was playing the guitar.

“We’ll take an hour or so and then our musical guest will perform,” Valerie said. “All the proceeds to this event will go to help support Annette’s children. If you can spare even a dollar, we ask that you help out. The link will be on your screen.”

“Thank you for your generosity in time and spirit,” Valerie said.

“Okay,” the cameraman said. “They are rolling the reel. Nicely done.”

Everyone cheered for Valerie. The band continued to play under the direction of Jeraine. The adults danced while the children played. For the next hour, they danced, listened to story, laughed, and even cried. By the time the rapper started his set, they had raised nearly a million dollars for Annette’s children.

They all stayed until the end, even the children. They cheered when Jeraine and the rapper said “goodbye” to the audience. Slowly, they thread their way through the Castle and to bed.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Fifty-three - Compassion


Wednesday morning — 10:05 a.m.

Hospital Intensive Care Unit

“Are you Tanesha?” the attending physician asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Tanesha said.

Intimidated by the woman, Tanesha looked down. She’d just gotten to the ICU floor.

“Doctor,” the attending physician said.

“Yes, ma’am,” Tanesha said.

“Yes, doctor,” the attending physician said.

“Oh.” Tanesha looked up and blushed. She looked up to see the woman grinning at her. “Sorry, I. . .”

“I don’t really care,” the attending physician said. “But the lead doc is a stickler for this kind of crap. Since this is your first day on rotation here, I figure you’d better learn the right way before some asshole. . .”

She grinned at Tanesha.

“You of all people know assholes,” the attending physician said.

Tanesha snorted a laugh.

“You’re ‘Miss T’?” the attending physician asked.

“Tanesha,” she said. “Everyone calls me, Tanesha. Except my husband and my dad. My mother has her own private name for me. I won’t burden you with that.”

“My mom has a nickname for me too.” The attending physician nodded.

Tanesha smiled.

“I wondered,” the attending physician said. “I’m Margaret Vierns. ‘Meg.’”

“Yes, doctor,” Tanesha said.

“You were already warned?” Dr. Vierns asked.

“My first day last spring,” Tanesha said. “‘Doctors will give you their first names, but stick with Dr. until you know that if you want to even know them better.’”

“Who are you quoting?” Dr. Vierns asked.

“Dr. John Drayson,” Tanesha said.

“Vascular surgeon?” Dr. Vierns asked. “English? Handsome?”

“He’s a family friend,” Tanesha said.

Dr. Vierns looked as if she were reassessing Tanesha.

“Anyway, the lead nurse said that you worked Covid ICU since the pandemic started,” Dr. Vierns said.

“My cousin and I got jobs almost immediately,” Tanesha said. “We didn’t want to miss the opportunity to learn as much as we could during this event. Pandemics are a new thing for people, but this won’t be the last pandemic in my lifetime.”

Dr. Vierns nodded.

“Why do you ask?” Tanesha asked.

“I was pregnant,” Dr. Vierns said. “They sent me home in March. Then I was on maternity. Today’s my first day back.”

“So you’re stuck with the newbies and the med students,” Tanesha said with a nod.

“Yeah,” Dr. Vierns said with a sigh. “Anyway, no one on this morning has your experience.”

“How can I help?” Tanesha asked.

“We were hoping that you could walk us through the best way to intubate,” Dr. Vierns said. “I mean, we can all do it in our sleep, but I wondered if there were any tricks or. . . I thought I’d ask.”

“Does someone need it?” Tanesha asked.

“Yes,” Dr. Vierns said. “But. . .”

Tanesha watched the woman work through what she was going to say.

“The patient doesn’t believe they had Covid?” Tanesha asked.

The doctor nodded.

“Whatever,” Tanesha said. “It’s not the first time I’ve seen this.”

The doctor sighed to indicate her agreement.

“Where?” Tanesha asked.

“I’ll lead you there,” Dr. Vierns said.

They were wearing white paper coveralls, double gloves, and these amazing respirators with a clear plastic front and a machine they carried on their backs. Their heads were covered in a hood. Their shoes were covered in booties. Tanesha had had to help her fellow medical student into their outfits.

Even with all the gear on, Tanesha could hear a man gasping for breath. She picked up her pace. But as she neared the bed, the man began to shake his head. His arm was out and he was gasping out the word, “No!”

As she approached, the man continued to say, “No, no, no, no, no, no!” to the ventilation technician.

“Sir,” Tanesha said, reaching the bed. “Your oxygen level is too low. We need to put you on a ventilator to save your life.”

“I don’t have no Covid,” the man croaked. “You can’t pull no hoax on me. I’m too smart for that.”

“Okay, we won’t ‘hoax’ you,” Tanesha said with a shrug. “I still need to put you on a ventilator.”

“I don’t want no monkey doing nothing to me,” the man said quickly switching from venting his anguished rage to his racism.

Dr. Vierns moved to get past Tanesha, but Tanesha stood firm.

“You are injuring your brain,” Tanesha said. “Every moment you go without oxygen, you kill off more of your brain.”

Tanesha crossed her arms.

“Now, you can let me save your life,” Tanesha said. “Or you can continue to make yourself a vegetable. If you’re lucky, you’ll die before you have to live with a severely compromised brain.”

“That don’t happen,” the man said.

“I have seen it before,” Tanesha said. “I’ve worked on these wards since March. There are lot of people who thought just like you. That is, until they couldn’t think anymore.”

The man gawked at her. Tanesha shrugged.

“Can’t she do it?” the man pointed to an ivory skinned medical assistant.

“No,” Tanesha said.

“Tanesha is the most experienced person here right now,” Dr. Vierns said.

“And she’s famous,” the nurse said with a nod.

“How is that famous?” the man asked, gesturing to Tanesha.

“I have put in the most ventilators and had the most patients live,” Tanesha lied. “We have a contest to see who has the most surviving patients.”

“Is that true?” the man asked.

“Absolutely,” Dr. Vierns said with a nod.

The man was silent for a long moment. A set of fat tears rolled down his face.

“Every minute counts,” Tanesha said.

He gave her a soft nod.

“My dad has dementia,” the man said. “I. . .”

Tanesha nodded to the nurse, and she injected pain meds into the man’s IV. The man drifted.

“This is our chance,” Tanesha said.

Tanesha pointed to the ventilation tech. Together with the nurses, Tanesha got the ventilator tube down the man’s inflamed throat with practiced ease. Because he was heavy, it took all of them to roll him onto his stomach where his lungs were free to make the best use the ventilator.

“Rest now,” Tanesha said. She squeezed his hand. “You are loved.”

For the briefest second, Tanesha lit up from the inside. The light disappeared before anyone noticed. Tanesha let go of the man.

“Does he have family?” Tanesha asked. She turned to Dr. Vierns. “That’s your next step.”

“They have been arguing with him all morning,” the nurse said.

“Let’s go talk to them,” Dr. Vierns said.

The nurse left the bedside, and Tanesha began to follow the nurse. But Dr. Vierns grabbed the back of Tanesha’s coverall.

“With me,” Dr. Vierns said.

Tanesha turned and followed Dr. Vierns.

“Did you work in a restaurant?” Tanesha asked, as they walked toward the desk.

It was tricky to talk to anyone through all of the gear, but they both had enough experience to know how to speak and listen.

“Through high school and college,” Dr. Vierns said. “How’d you know?”

“My friend, Jill, says, ‘With me,’” Tanesha said. “She says it’s a restaurant thing.”

Dr. Vierns nodded.

“Best experience in the world,” Dr. Vierns said. “I liked how you didn’t rise to all of his. . . issues. I get so mad that. . .”

Dr. Vierns nodded.

“I couldn’t handle racist jerks in restaurants,” Dr. Vierns said.

“It’s not the first time I’ve been called a monkey,” Tanesha said. “I guess. . . I know what it feels like to be vulnerable and out of control. People don’t want the pandemic to be true because they don’t want to believe that they don’t have total control of their lives. No one wants to go on a ventilator because of the same reason.”

Dr. Vierns nodded.

“Don’t you believe some crazy something?” Tanesha asked.

“Like what?” Dr. Vierns asked.

“I believe in Big Foot,” Tanesha said. “Psychics, ghosts. I believe that goddesses walk among us.”

“I see what you mean,” Dr. Vierns said. She thought for a moment. “I have this crazy belief that people are inherently good.”

Tanesha laughed.

“Crazy stuff, I know,” Dr. Vierns said. They were almost to the desk when the doctor asked, “Have you seen any goddesses walking among us?”

“Of course,” Tanesha said with a grin. “Haven’t you?”

At that moment, the nurse at the desk handed Dr. Vierns the handset to a telephone. Dr. Vierns took the receiver to speak with the family of the man they’d just intubated. The ICU head nurse got Tanesha and directed her toward the section she would be working in that day.


Wednesday morning — 12:05 a.m.

Jeraine took a breath and thought of Tanesha. She had just started her third year of medical school. He grinned. He was so proud of her accomplishments.

He looked down at Jabari.

“I’m okay, Daddy,” Jabari said. “You?”

“I’m good,” Jeraine said. “I was thinking of Mommy.”

Jabari gave his father a bright smile, and Jeraine grinned back at this boy. He held out his hand, and Jabari took it.

“You know what to do?” Jeraine asked.

They were sitting inside a limousine outside the “Celebration of Life” for Jabari’s birth mother, Annette. The event was put on by the reality television show that had been such a big part of Annette’s life.

“I’m wearing my mask,” Jabari said. He reached up to touch the face mask covering Jeraine’s face. “I’m going to. . . What am I going to do?”

“Be yourself,” Jeraine said. “Stay with me. No matter what anyone says, you are coming home with me.”

Jabari leaned into his father. The last time Jabari had been in Annette’s house, he’d returned home with deep bruises and welts not to mention a case of Covid-19 which left him in the hospital for a week. Jeraine and Jabari leaned in to each other for comfort and support. They were dressed in matching designer suits.

“Glasses?” Jeraine asked.

Jabari placed the prescription glasses over his eyes.

“You too, Daddy,” Jabari said. “No headaches.”

“No headaches,” Jeraine said putting his glasses on.

They startled when their door opened. Jabari jumped onto Jeraine’s lap and hid his face. Jeraine looked out into the bright world. His agent and friend James “Jammy” Schmidt V leaned into the limousine.

“Hey little man,” Jammy said.

Jammy held his arms out. Jabari threw himself into Jammy’s arms. Jammy stood up with Jabari in his arms. Jeraine slid out of the limousine seat. Jammy leaned over to speak to the driver.

Looking around, Jeraine straightened his suit and stood up. There were cameras everywhere. Jeraine counted five handheld television cameras as well as two stationary cameras.

“Hey Jeraine!”

Jeraine heard a white man yell his name. He had enough experience with people calling his name that he didn’t turn. He felt an arm over his shoulder and looked to see who would dare to touch him.

The casino owner was standing next to him. The man leaned in.

“We’re your buffer,” the casino owner said in his ear. “My wife’s here. Leslie, too. We’ll run interference.”

Jeraine smiled and hoped that he remembered the man’s name before the day was out.

“What’s our agreement with the television show?” the casino owner asked.

“They can video Jeraine from a distance,” Jammy said.

“Not the boy?” the casino owner asked.

“They weren’t willing to pay for his face or anything he said,” Jammy said.

“How much did you ask for?” the casino owner asked.

“Three million,” Jammy said.

The casino owner laughed.

“Keep an eye on Jabari,” Jeraine said.

“They’ve lost all custody, but we’ve heard that they are going to try to take him,” Jammy said.

“Jabari is coming home with me,” Jeraine said. In a low voice, he added, “He’s terrified of being stuck here.”

“Got it,” the casino owner said.

A beautiful white woman came and tucked herself into the casino owner. She smiled at Jeraine and held out her hand.

“Helen,” she said. “I’m delighted to meet you, Jeraine. Your shows have been real life savers for us. We dance and laugh and. . .”

“Make a lot of money,” the casino owner said.

Helen rolled her eyes at her husband. Jeraine remembered that the casino owner’s name was Matt. Proud of himself for remembering, he smiled.

“That’s more like it,” Helen said.

Jeraine closed his eyes for the briefest of moments. When he opened them, Gando Peaches and Hecate had appeared. Gando was wearing ceremonial Navajo wear — a simple velvet maroon top and pants with turquoise and silver conch belt, earrings and a long turquoise necklace. Hecate wore a fawn leather dress with extensive turquois blue and green beading on the front. They looked like Native American royalty.

“Hey, that’s pretty obvious,” Jammy said to Hecate. He smiled to temper his criticism. “There are cameras everywhere.”

“Huh,” Hecate said.

A moment later three cameras began to smoke. Shaking his head, Jammy grinned at her.

“You must be Hecate,” Leslie, Seth’s daughter and Jammy’s wife, said as she approached. “My father has told me so much about you.”

“Leslie! Nice to meet you,” Hecate said. “May I introduce my beloved, Gando Peaches?”

Gando nodded to Leslie and gave her a big smile. He wasn’t sure if it was some Hecate magic or just time, but Jeraine’s brain shifted into gear. Jeraine took Jabari from Jammy. He hugged the boy tight and set him down.

“We should head inside,” Jammy said.

Jeraine held out his hand, and Jabari clung onto it. Gando Peaches took the child’s other hand.

“How are you feeling?” Jeraine asked Gando.

“Good,” Gando said with a grin. “So much better than I was. I’m so grateful for everyone’s help with me and with our people. They are suffering so much.”

“Sorry, man,” Jeraine said.

“That fundraiser you did for us really helped,” Gando said. He looked at Matt, the casino owner. “I appreciate all you did for us.”

“Happy to do it,” Matt said.

Gando nodded in answer.

Just then, two women wearing absurdly tight dresses that were so short that they barely covered their crotch came up to them. The men around Jeraine shifted.

“Hi Jeraine,” the women said in near unison. “You’re looking hot today.”

They made kiss lips and leaned against each other.

“Ladies,” Jeraine said with a nod.

He walked around the women and toward the chairs for the celebration. Folding chairs were set up six feet away from each other on the wide open lawn behind Annette’s mansion. They were in the aisle when Jeraine’s old “possy” including his ex-agent came up.

“Jer!” the agent said.

The agent reached out his hand to shake Jeraine’s hand in their usual, familiar way. The agent’s hair was slicked back in a kind of smooth wave. His clothing was immaculate. The entire group reeked of weed and overpriced designer cologne. Jeraine just looked at the man’s hand.

“Hey, don’t be like that,” the agent said.

“We’re here to celebrate someone very important to my son,” Jeraine said what he’d practiced with Tanesha that morning. “And a woman I loved. I don’t have space for anything else. Have some compassion for the grieving.”

With Jeraine and Jabari in the lead, Leslie, Helen, and Gando followed leaving Jammy and Hecate to deal with the group.

“Is there something I might help you with?” Jammy asked.

“I don’ need no Jew-white-boy,” the agent said with a sniff.

Hecate hissed at the man. The man’s hair sprung up from its slicked down position to become an inch long afro.

“Have some self-respect,” Hecate said and turned in place.

Jammy raised his eyebrows at the man and followed Hecate to their seats at the front. By agreement with the television show, Jeraine was sitting on the aisle with Jabari on his lap. Hecate shooed everyone over seat so that she could sit next to him. Jammy sat down beside her.

The seats began to slowly fill until nearly half of the seats were filled with relatives of Annette’s

They waited.

After a half hour of waiting, Jabari started getting antsy. Hecate started using her magic to play little games with him.

And waited.

And waited some more.

An hour passed.

Jeraine’s knee started to go.

“I’m getting to a place where I can’t do this,” Jeraine said, in a soft voice to Jammy.

“Got it,” Jammy said.

Jammy got up and went down the aisle to find out what was going on.

“What did you do?” Jeraine whispered to Hecate.

“Me?” Hecate’s face was a mask of innocence. “You know that I have been on the Navajo reservation dealing with a pandemic, right?’

Jeraine gave her a disbelieving look. She gave him a wide smile.

“How do you know it was me and not that half-angel of yours?” Hecate asked.

“Miss T?” Jeraine asked. “It’s much less like her than like you.”

Hecate gave him a big smile.

“We can go now,” Hecate said.

“But. . .” Jeraine said.

“There won’t be a service today,” Hecate said. “I don’t know what they had planned, but it’s all come apart. I guess they thought that you’d be enticed by all of these half naked women and get high with your old friends.”

“That’s horrible,” Jeraine said.

“Let’s go,” Jammy said to Jeraine.

“Wait,” Jeraine said. “We don’t live here in Atlanta. I want Jabari to see where Annette was buried. We have flowers for her grave and everything.”

“We’ll go there,” Jammy said.

They got up, went down the row of chairs, and left the sparsely crowded area.

“Annette deserved a lot better than this,” Jeraine said as they left the celebration.

“It’s so sad,” Helen said. “Her poor parents.”

“And other children,” Jeraine said.

He and Jabari slipped into the limousine. Jammy and Leslie got in back and sat beside them. Jeraine put Jabari between his legs so that there was room for Matt and Helen.

“What about your. . .” Helen started. “Where did they go?”

“Hecate is a Titan,” Jammy said.

“What?” Helen asked.

“It’s complicated,” Leslie said to Helen with a smile. “Basically, they have their own method of travel.”

Helen gave Leslie a thoughtful glance and looked at her husband. He grinned at her.

“You won’t believe it,” Matt said.

“Where am I going?” the driver asked.

Jammy leaned forward and gave him the name of the cemetery where Annette was buried. By the time they arrived at the cemetery, Jabari was asleep. Alone, Jeraine carried his son to his ex-girlfriend’s grave. He left the flowers and said a soft prayer.

“I want to thank you, Annette,” Jeraine said. “Jabari is a delightful child. Thank you for having him. May you find peace.”

He walked back to the limousine. Everyone wanted to visit the ballroom, so they drove to the airport. They were in the air less than an hour later. When the wheels of the plane hit the tarmac, Jeraine gave a sigh of relief.

They were finally home.

Denver Cereal continues next week...

Chapter Six Hundred and Fifty-two - Turned to stone


Tuesday night — 11:02 p.m.

The truth was that Nelson was drunk when he got in bed.

Jeraine had the night off and Nelson, Blane, and Tres had started playing pool on their new-to-them pool table. Right out of the gate, Tres had beaten all of them. After a few games, Jeraine wandered over to the piano and began to play honky-tonk. Tres, Nelson, and Blane became just Tres and Nelson when Blane got sick of losing and went to bed. Jeraine headed off soon after. With the addicts in bed, Tres brought out the whiskey, and they started playing pool for shots.

Even drunk, Tres Sierra could play pool.

Swearing to avenge his loss, Nelson made his way to bed. He stripped off his clothing at the door and fell in bed.

Since his return from Templar-hell, every time he fell asleep drunk, he had a horrible nightmares. Tonight, Nelson had nightmares about the Templars, war, and the horrors he’d experienced in the seven long years of being trapped in the world of Jacque de Molay.

He knew better.

He still fell asleep drunk.

His mind fell into a world of war.

In this dream, he was walking through what had been a wheat field. The trampled wheat was now littered with the broken and bleeding bodies of men. Nelson held his sword — the one his father had made for him — in his hand. The knife of de Molay was tucked in his waist band. He wore the heavy metal armor of the period. The blood of the dead and dying was so thick that it oozed through the gaps in his leather sandals. The day was warm, not too hot, with the promise of afternoon showers.

With his nose full of the metallic smell of blood, his ears began to pick up the sound of people screaming and the clang of metal.

Ahead of him, the battle continued.

Exhausted and depressed, Nelson dropped to his knees in the muck. He prayed to any god that would listen to him.

Thank you for the gift of my life. Please use your power to end this death and destruction.

Still on his knees, he picked up the smell of freshly lit fire. A woman screeched with rage.

“Burning witches,” he said to the open eyed corpse lying next to where he knelt.

He dragged himself to his feet and fell forward. His feet shuffled up a natural rise near the bottom of the field. Just below the rise, there was a quiet, flowing river with impossibly clear water. In the wheat field beyond, the Templars had tied three women to stakes and were in the process of lighting the wood surrounding them. The fire was beginning to catch.

He felt so impotent. Out of his own time, he was unable to do anything to stop this madness. He couldn’t fight or kill. He could only defend himself.

He wished that he were dead.

Like the fire surrounding the screaming women, his rage lit with fierce power. He ran down the small hill and forded the stream in no time. Ignoring the Templars that were fighting with villagers, he ran to the women. He hopped over the fire. The women were unconscious now from the heat and fumes of the fire.

One at a time, he freed the women. He dug a trench and laid their abused bodies into it. As he’d done many times before, he covered the women with cool soil leaving only their heads exposed. He cut the wheat and lay it over the area. The women were effectively hidden from the soldiers. By the time they revived, he and the other Templars would be long gone.

He was dribbling water from his personal water skin into the mouth of the final victim when the world around him became eerily silent.

“Now what?” Nelson asked out loud.

Hearing his voice, the woman shifted, moaned, but did not awaken. He finished dribbling water into her mouth. Standing, he dropped the water skin next to her body.

The wind blew smoke from the fires into his face, blinding him from anything other than the grey smoke and the heat of the fire. Unafraid, he walked forward through the smoke. Ahead of him, he saw the back of. . .

“What the hell?” Nelson whispered.

He was looked at the back of what he took to be a human head. Rather than hair, the head was filled with. . . live snakes?

“Live snakes?”

Nelson knew he should remember something about this creature. He did not.

Across the field, he saw another head covered in live snakes.

“Live snakes?” he repeated to no one at all.

He turned to survey the field.

Everyone was. . .

“Dead?” Nelson wasn’t sure why he needed to hear his own voice. He only knew that somehow the sound of his own voice was comforting. “Stone.”

The human beings across this field had been turned to stone. Just then, the fires crackled and a fog of smoke obscured his view again.

“You saved them?” a sour woman’s voice came from behind him. “Did you rape them too?”

“Not my type,” Nelson said.

Something deep inside him forced him not to turn to the voice.

He heard the. . . Was it a woman? . . . Creature. It sounded more like some kind of mythological creature than a human or an animal. This was something from history before myth became fairy tale.


His heart ached for his friend and his beloved’s wife. The word hung on his lips like a prayer.

“Yeesss,” the creature said. “She said that you belonged to her.”

The creature was so close to him that it could easily touch him. For the first time in years of numbness, Nelson was terrified. He stood absolutely still.

“Tell me now, and I will spare your life,” the creature standing behind him said.

The creature moved closer and sniffed at him. Nelson shook with fear.

“What do you need to know?” Nelson asked.

The creature was silent for a long moment. Nelson could almost hear it think.

“Why are you here? In this place? Out of time?” the creature asked.

“I am trapped here,” Nelson said. “I am to be the last Grandmaster of the Templars; to end all of this madness in the modern world. I am hopelessly lost. Out of time, as you said. I am trapped, stuck in this horror, repeating day after day, and . . .”

Nelson felt tears roll down his face. Embarrassed, he shook his head.

“Yes,” said the creature, its voice shifted to soothing, nearly kind. “Yes. I know this as well.”

“Why are you here?” Nelson asked.

“My sister needs something,” the creature said.

“Something?” Nelson asked. “What kind of thing?”

“Something stolen. . .” The creature’s words were filled with rage and malice. The snakes on the creature’s head hissed. “. . . by these very men.”

“How could men steal from you?” Nelson asked.

“Yes,” the creature said. “That is the question. And yet, they steal. They rape. They murder.”

Nelson nodded. He bent over and threw up. As if to purge himself of this place, his stomach heaved all of its contents in successive rounds until he was dry heaving.

When he looked up, the creature was kneeling in the mud. Her head was bowed. Even the snakes seemed to have their heads lowered in submission. The two other creatures held the same posture.

The figure of a tall, thin, dark skinned woman walked toward him.

“Abi!” Nelson said. His heart soared with hope.

“Bow, boy,” the creature near him whispered. “This is not your friend. The woman you know is merely a projection — an image — of her true self. You cannot look upon her true self. None of us can. She is too powerful.

Avoiding his own vomit, Nelson dropped to his knees and bowed his head. The dark skinned woman’s feet appeared before his eyes.

“Do you remember our conversation about the Templar hoard?” the powerful goddess said in Abi’s voice.

“I do,” Nelson said. “Thank you for helping Alex and I find it.”

The goddess made a noise that sounded like a laugh.

“Within the hoard is the head of a gorgon,” the goddess said. “Look upon it and you will turn to stone.”

“Okay,” Nelson said.

“You must find the head and return it to these three sisters,” the goddess said.

“How?” Nelson asked.

“When you find the hoard, the sisters will return to you and only you,” the goddess said. “They will not kill you. They cannot kill you. But do not tempt your fate by looking upon them. They are not the most patient or trustworthy of creatures.”

“It’s true,” the creature near him said. “I like this one. He’s. . . brave and true. As you said he would be.”

“Yes, he is,” the goddess said.

“I will do my best not to let you down,” Nelson said.

“I know this to be true,” the goddess said.

“Why would someone take her head?” Nelson asked.

“It was taken by another and used in battle,” the goddess said. “He traded with Athena for her shield. Have you seen Athena with her shield?”

“I have,” Nelson said.

“Athena’s shield was returned to her at the same time the head was stolen,” the goddess said. “Those who stole the head had no idea what they were stealing. They died for their efforts and the head was placed into the hoard.”

Nelson shivered.

“What is it?” the creature behind him and the goddess said in near unison.

“I’m not sure,” Nelson said. “Bad people, I guess. Evil. Untouchable.”

“Yesss,” the creature said.

For a moment, neither the creature nor the goddess said anything. The wind picked up. With it, the smoke returned.

“Take this,” the goddess said.

A ring appeared on a hand that looked so much like Abi’s that he had the desire to kiss it.

“Wear it,” the goddess said. “Nothing can injure or kill you with it on. Not the gorgon. Not any one of the evil objects in that hoard.”

“There are more?” Nelson asked.

“Yeeesss,” the creature behind him said. “We are just the first to ask for our treasure back.”

“So I’ll have more nights like this?” Nelson asked.

“No.” As the goddess spoke the word, the world shook a tiny bit. “When your quest is complete, the gorgon will return what was lost to others.”

“Can they be trusted?” Nelson asked.

“We will return what was lost,” the creature near him said. “We will never betray the earth mother.”

“Of course you won’t,” the goddess said.

Before Nelson could respond, he awoke in his own bed in his own house in his own room in Denver. Unsure if he was home, he went into his bathroom. He flushed the toilet a few times just to assure himself that he was in modern times. He washed his hands and wet his face before drinking an entire glass of crystal clear water.

It was only then that he noticed a thin band encircling the middle finger of his left hand. He held his hand to his face to inspect the band. It was hand tooled and made from some metal he didn’t recognize. There were marks on the band in a language that was oddly familiar but he did not recognize. Seeing the ring, he felt oddly comforted.

He climbed into his own wonderful, soft bed and pulled the covers up over his head.

He awoke with a pounding headache when his very modern alarm clock went off. The first thing he checked was whether the ring was still on his hand.

He was still wearing the ring given to him by the earth mother herself.

Getting out of bed, he went through his morning routine. He was dressed and ready to head out when he saw something leaning against his door. He went to the door to find. . .

“What the hell?” Nelson asked.

He was looking at a stone sword. He tried to pick up the sword but it was too heavy for him. He dropped to a crouch to look at the hilt of the stone sword. As if the sword had been made from steel, there were tooling marks from a forge.

Then he noticed.

This was his sword — the one his father had made for him, the very one he’d held in his hand in his dream.

A wave of panic went through him. He pushed, pulled, and dragged the sword away from the door.

Finally able to open his door, he went to find Heather. She was standing in the hallway outside his room. He nodded to her and gestured for her to enter his room. She followed him inside.

“What’s this?” Nelson asked, gesturing to the sword.

“You’ve met a gorgon,” Heather said with a nod.

Not knowing where to start, Nelson just looked at Heather. She picked up his hand to look at the ring. She raised her eyebrows and let his hand drop.

“We have much to discuss,” Heather said. “Do you have time this morning?”

“No,” Nelson said. “I have to be at work and. . .”

Heather nodded.

“Why don’t you tell me what you need to know?” Heather asked, softly and kindly.

“What are those things?” Nelson asked. He waved his hand over his head. “Snakes. Live snakes.”

He shivered with the terror he’d been too numb to feel when he was in the dream.

“It’s a species of humanoid,” Heather said. “Ancient. Powerful. There are only a few left. The stories talk of three sisters. Gorgons. But there are more than just those three.”

“Are they snakes?” Nelson asked.

“Sort of,” Heather said. “Not actual snakes like we know of now. But snake-like. They have terrible magic, the gorgons. They can turn everything to. . .”

“Stone,” Nelson whispered. “You, too?”

“No, not me,” Heather said. “I know of them, but they’re much older than my kin. If we want to know more about them, we should ask Perses or Hecate.”

Nelson nodded.

“Abi was there,” Nelson said. “The gorgon near me said it wasn’t Abi. That the person we knew was a projection of the actual earth mother. Is that true?”

“It’s a good way of putting it,” Heather said with a smile. “You were lucky to have Abi intervene with the gorgons. They are not. . . reliable.”

“So they said,” Nelson said. “What is this?”

Nelson gestured to the ring.

“I don’t actually know,” Heather said. “Where did you get it?”

“I was standing in a field of muck and blood from dead and dying men,” Nelson said. “Those fighting were turned to stone by the gorgon. That’s after I rescued three women from the flames.”

“Who gave this to you?” Heather asked.

“Abi,” Nelson said. “Or the not Abi.”

Heather nodded.

“I’d ask you to leave it with me, but I doubt that it will come off,” Heather said.

“I’ve tried,” Nelson said. “It won’t budge.”

Heather nodded.

“What is it?” Nelson asked.

“I’m not sure,” Heather said. “Nothing bad. Abi loves you.”

“And I belong to you,” Nelson said.

“That too,” Heather said with a grin. “I will tell you that it’s made out of rhodium, the most precious metal on earth. This band alone is likely worth more than our entire home, including Jeraine’s recording studio.”

“This little band?” Nelson asked.

“It doesn’t look like much,” Heather said with a nod. “This is from a mine in South Africa. Ancient. This piece was likely Egyptian or maybe Mesopotamian. This writing here? It’s in a language that has only just been translated. Ancient.”

Heather smiled at him.

“You know the person who cracked the language,” Heather said.

“Who?” Nelson asked.

“Alex Hargreaves and her brother, Max,” Heather said. “But mostly Alex. If there’s language on this, it’s a message for Alex. But I’ll tell you. . .”

Heather looked at the lettering again.

“It looks to me like a password,” Heather said.

“To get the hoard?” Nelson asked.

Heather nodded.

“That’s a real gift,” Nelson said.

“You should treat it as such,” Heather said. “More than anything else, it will likely keep you safe on your journey. It may protect the entire journey. We’ll see.”

“The gorgon said that they were just the first to ask for their item back,” Nelson said.

“Head of Medusa,” Heather said with a nod.

“Does that mean there will be more?” Nelson asked. “They said that they would return everything to those who it was stolen from.”

“They’ve done it before,” Heather said with a nod.

“Will that wreck our deal with the French government?” Nelson asked. “I really need their help and. . .”

Heather put her hand on his shoulder.

“No,” Heather said. “There is more in this hoard than you can imagine. Than the Nazis could have imagined. The French will be satisfied with plenty to show off in their museums.”

Nelson scanned her face. She nodded to encourage him.

“Now, why don’t we grab your coffee and you can. . .” Heather said.

Nelson jerked awake. He was sitting in a vehicle that had stopped in front of the Denver Crime Lab.

“Thanks,” Nelson said.

He paid the tab on his phone and got out of the vehicle. He was near the building when he looked back at the driver. He gasped.

The gorgon.

He was looking into the face of what looked like the face of the gorgon. Her skin was dark as if she were from Africa. She had thick, long dreadlocks. She gave him a white toothed grin and a wave. He waved back and went inside.

It always surprised him how many magical creatures went about their business pretending to be humans. Getting on the elevator to his office, he nodded to himself.

“Including me,” Nelson said.

The elevator doors closed and his work day began.

Denver Cereal continues next week...

Chapter Six Hundred and Fifty-one - Enter a little chaos


Tuesday afternoon — 3:15 p.m.

“Don’t move,” Tres said.

He leaned over to kiss Heather and was caught up in kissing her. After a moment, he pulled himself away. He kissed her nose.

“I’ll be right back,” Tres said.

He slipped out of the warm bed, pulled the covers up around Heather, and went into the bathroom. Sighing, Heather rolled onto her back. Tres was up early this week. This meant that he was home in the early afternoon. With the kids out of the house, they were able to take their time. Tres grabbed his bathrobe and left the room to get some snacks. Heather drifted off.

She felt a weight on the bed. She rolled onto her side. Expecting Tres, she opened her eyes.

What are you doing here?” Heather gasped.

She was staring into the eyes of her ex-boyfriend, Loki.

“They are making a show about me!” Loki said.

“It’s not about you,” Heather said.

“Why are they using my name?” Loki asked.

She shot him a dark look.

“Why are you here?” Heather asked.

“Well. . .” Loki said. “I. . .”

“Abi’s not here,” Heather said.

“Yes,” Loki said. “And that granddaughter of the archangel is at work.”

“Tanesha?” Heather asked.

“She’s terrifying,” Loki said. “How can you live with her?”

Tres came into the room with a small bottle of champagne, raspberries, and chocolate. He set the supplies on the dresser near the door. Without hesitation, he reached under the covers and pulled Loki out of the bed by his foot. The God of Mischief thumped onto the floor.

“Hey!” Loki said.

“This is my bed!” Tres said.

Loki crossed his arms and looked at Heather. She gave a slight nod. Tres kicked off his slippers and climbed back into bed. The moment Tres was settled, Loki launched himself into the bed. He landed in between Heather and Tres.

“Asshole,” Tres said.

“He’s upset that there’s going to be a show about him,” Heather said.

“He’s been in movies,” Tres said, with a shrug.

“They get it all wrong,” Loki said. “I’m not an asshole. I’m mischievous! Fun! Joyous!”

“And an asshole,” Tres said.

Loki looked at him for a moment and then laughed. He leaned over and kissed Tres’s forehead.

“Yuck, Asgard germs,” Tres said.

This caused Loki to laugh hysterically.

“Why is that funny?” Tres asked.

“Asgard blew up,” Heather said. “That’s why this one is. . . here.”

“She knows me well,” Loki nodded. “Loves me best.”

“Get,” Heather said. She paused between every word. “Out. Of. My. Bed.”

Loki zipped out of the bed by his feet again. He landed on his rear just past the end of the bed.

“Ow,” Loki said.

“What does he want?” Tres asked.

“No idea,” Heather said.

“I want you to fix it,” Loki said.

“Fix what?” Tres asked.

“This television show,” Loki said. “Just wreck it.”

Heather crossed her arms and leaned against the backboard of the bed.

“You’re a God!” Loki said. “You can fix this!”

Heather snapped her fingers, and Loki disappeared.

“Where’d he go?” Tres asked.

“Roof,” Heather said.

“Very funny,” Loki said, appearing at the end of the bed. “Very funny.”  

“Think of it this way,” Heather said. “They’re making a show about you. It will bring you to a new audience.”

“But that’s not me!” Loki said. “I’m not that jerk.”

“Does it matter?” Heather asked. “Exactly like you, not like you, just your fame, mythical you — it’s all the same. More people will know your name again. They’ll look up who you are and what you do. Some will love you, and some will hate you. It’s been like that since time began.”

“Huh,” Loki said. “That makes sense to me.”

“Imagine that,” Tres said with a roll of his eyes.

Loki pointed to Tres and laughed.

“I like him,” Loki said. “We should keep him.”

“We?” Heather asked.

“And?” Tres asked.

“When do I get my share?” Loki asked.

Tres picked up a book on his bed stand and threw it at Loki. The God of Mischief disappeared before the book hit him. The book hit the wall with a thud.

“Sorry,” Heather said.

“Don’t be,” Tres said. “I told Nelson that we should expect Loki any day now.”

“Why?” Heather asked.

“He’s naturally curious,” Tres said with a shrug. “He does care about you.”

“Define ‘care’?” Heather said.

Tres grinned at her. He got up to get the champagne and snacks. He poured two small glasses of champagne and set the chocolate and raspberries between them. He fed her ripe raspberries, and she fed him chocolate.

In a half-hour, the kids were due home, dinner needed starting, and a million other worries descended. For now, they simply enjoyed their time together.

It was wonderful.


Tuesday afternoon — 4:05 p.m.

Delphie stood absolutely still in the middle of the backyard.

“You okay?” Sam asked, coming out of the house.

“Me?” Delphie turned to look at him. “I’m fine.”

Sam held out his arm, and they hugged.

“What are you doing?” Sam asked.

Delphie laughed. She patted his chest and moved away.

“It’s hot,” Delphie said.

“It is hot,” Sam said. “Why don’t you come inside and cool down?”

“I was thinking about the kids,” Delphie said. “They’ve been cooped up all day. Usually we’d go to the pool but. . .”

Delphie shrugged.

“The pools are closed,” Sam said.

“That little pool of Val’s is too small for everyone,” Delphie said.

“And now in the direct sun,” Sam said with a nod.

“Too much sun,” Delphie said with a nod. She raised her hand toward Sam, “I know, I know. I wanted maximum sun in our yard, but now. . .”

“The chickens are in the shaded part,” Sam said with shake of his head. “I don’t know, Delphie.”

Delphie nodded.

“This year is just. . .” Sam said.

“This year?” Delphie asked. “This pandemic is going to be around for a long time. We have to figure out what we can do for these kids.”

“I understand why you’re concerned,” Sam said. “But they are back in school. They seem to be pretty happy there. The school is adding more physical exercise, which everyone’s enjoying.”

Sam shrugged.

“Everything’s okay,” Sam said.

“Then why doesn’t if feel okay?” Delphie asked.  

“Millions of people are sick,” Sam said. “We’ve been lucky to not have any deaths in the house. . .”

“But people are dying,” Delphie said, softly.

Sam nodded.

“I’ve been so lucky to have survived,” Sam said with a nod. “If it weren’t for Jill, her mother, Otis — I don’t know if I would have survived.”

Delphie looked away from him to hide the tears that come to her eyes whenever he talked about being ill.

“Hey,” Sam said.

Delphie turned back to look at him.

“I’m okay,” Sam said.

“I know, I just. . .” Delphie said with a shake of her head. “I know how close you were to. . . and. . .”

Sam put his arm around her, and they hugged again.

“It’s something I wanted to speak with you about,” Sam said.

Delphie wiped her eyes and looked up at him.

“I. . .” Sam started. “Well, there’s no easy way to say this but. . .”

“Just spit it out,” Delphie said.

“I think it’s time to really retire from Lipson Construction,” Sam said. “I mean, if that’s okay with you.”

“Why would it have to be okay with me?” Delphie asked. “Jake and Aden probably need. . .”

“No,” Sam said. “It’s you that I’ll drive crazy.”

“How so?” Delphie asked.

“I’ll be around more,” Sam said with a shrug.

Delphie grinned at him and didn’t respond.

“What?” Sam asked.

“Oh, you,” Delphie said. “I’m sure that in your mind you’ll hang out at home, read books, watch some television, practice golf. . .”

Sam winced at the word “golf.”

“Fishing, then,” Delphie said.

“Sounds great to me,” Sam said.

Delphie laughed.

“Why is that funny?” Sam asked.

“You are,” Delphie said.

“Why?” Sam asked.

“I’ve known you since you were ten years old, Sam Lipson,” Delphie said. “You’ve never been able to tolerate inactivity. You’ll go fishing one day and the next start remodeling some place or training dogs or. . .”

Delphie shrugged.

“Is that a bad thing?” Sam asked.

“It’s a you thing,” Delphie said. “I’m sure that Jill and Jake could use help in their rehab business. Rodney’s pretty excited about the men he works with. Honey and MJ could use help starting another apartment building for folks in wheelchairs.”

Sam gave her a thoughtful look.

“That’s off the top of my head,” Delphie said.

Sam smiled.

“Maybe I’ve changed,” Sam said.

Delphie laughed out loud so hard that Sam began to laugh. After a moment, she turned to him.

“I think you should have more fun,” Delphie said. “I agree that it’s time to let the employees own the company. It’s time for you to move on.”

“Let go and let God,” Sam said. “Aden said at breakfast this morning. I. . . I’m not sure I know how to do that.”

“I think it’s something that must be done,” Delphie said. “Not eased into or thought about.”

Sam nodded. He stared off into space.

“When the kids were little, we used to lay out plastic sheeting and spray them with water,” Sam said. “The kids would slide along the sheeting. They cooled off.”

Delphie nodded.

“If we put it on the driveway, the photographers will take photos of Val and Grace,” Delphie said.

“We have to put it here,” Sam said. He gestured to the area of ten-foot-wide grass between the back deck and the garden. “It’s still in the sun though.”

Shaking her head, Delphie shrugged.

“We’ll figure it out,” she said.

“And me retiring?” Sam asked.

“It seems like you’ve helped the company through this last crisis,” Delphie said. “You can always step in if they need it or if something happens.”

“So it’s okay with you if I retire?” Sam asked. “It will give me time to get up to some mischief and adventure.”

“Of course it will,” Delphie said with a grin. “Chaos, too!”

Sam smiled. He hugged her again.

“Did you get some watermelon?” Sam asked.

Delphie let go of him and looked up.

“Watermelon?” Delphie asked. “What are we talking about?”

“We’d better get inside before those boys eat all of that watermelon!” Sam said.

Laughing, Sam ran into the house. Delphie ran in after him.


Tuesday night — 9:15 p.m.

“I don’t know,” Jacob said. “I just don’t know.”

He shook his head. Moving around their couch in the loft, he sat down next to Jill.

“What concerns you?” Jill asked.

“I. . .” Jacob said. “I don’t know if it’s change or if I. . . Oh hell, I don’t know. I’ve spent the last months working non-stop, 24/7 to keep Lipson Construction open and everyone working. I spent the entire day going from meeting to meeting about either the company or with the union or with the state or with the residents of Honey and MJs building or. . . I don’t know.”

“It does seem weird to now say ‘Let’s sell the rest of the company,’ when you’ve been working so hard,” Jill said.

“We don’t know when or if this pandemic will be over,” Jacob said. “The state believes that we’ll have vaccine ‘soon’ but what the hell is ‘soon?’ And even then. I heard from some guys that they don’t think that they want to get vaccinated.”

Jill shook her head.

“The misinformation machine is working overtime,” Jacob said.

“For the election,” Jill said.

“I doubt it will stop at the election,” Jacob said. “It’s here to stay.”

Jill groaned.

“How was school?” Jacob asked.

“I didn’t have school today,” Jill said.

“I’m sorry,” Jacob said. “Of course, I knew that.”

Jill put her hand on his leg. He turned to look at her.

“You seem kind of. . .” Jill started.

“Freaked out?” Jacob asked.

Jill nodded.

“I am freaked out,” Jacob said. “I mean, there was a time when I dreamed of being free of this company. I wanted to. . .”

He blew out a breath.

“I’ve said this so many times that even I am bored hearing it,” Jacob said.

Jill grinned at him.

“I thought my life would go this way, but it went that way and upside down and now we have three kids and it’s so fucking hot,” Jacob said. “Why is it so hot up here?”

“We didn’t turn the air conditioning on out here,” Jill said. “It’s in the bedrooms, but not out here. I can turn it on, if you’d like.”

Jacob scowled.

“What’s really going on?” Jill asked.

“I. . .” Jacob sighed. “I don’t want my dad to die.”

“Die?” Jill asked, confused.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Jacob said. “If he retires, he’s that much closer to death. I guess, I don’t know. I. . .”

Jacob shook his head.

“I feel a little crazy,” Jacob said with a grin.

“You sound a little crazy,” Jill said.

Jacob nodded.

“You know what I think?” Jill asked.

Jacob looked at her. He got up and went to the refrigerator. He took out the pitcher of water and poured two glasses. He dropped a couple of ice cubes into the glasses and carried them back to the couch.

“Thanks,” Jill said.

“Yes, I would like to know what you think,” Jacob said. “Always. What do you think?”

“I think you’re traumatized by everything that’s happened this year,” Jill said. “The pandemic is terrifying. Your father got sick before we even realized there was a virus, let alone a global pandemic and it was before we were sent home.”

“He was so sick,” Jacob said softly.

“He nearly died,” Jill said.

Jacob nodded.

“Then this company stuff,” Jill said. “You very nearly lost the entire company. You, your parents, Val — you’ve worked so hard for so many decades to build this company and then wham!

“We were told to shut down,” Jacob said, softly.

“No Marlowe School,” Jill said. “The kids were home all the time. I was home. Everyone was standing around staring at you, expecting you to find a way to make it all work.”

Nodding, Jacob drank his water.

“It’s a lot,” Jill said. “I know you hate this word, but it’s traumatizing!”

“And now, we’re supposed to just go back to normal,” Jacob said. “Or as normal as possible. It’s insane, really. We’re lucky that no one’s fighting wearing masks or social distancing. Otherwise, that would be that. Seriously.”

“It’s just because people trust you,” Jill said. “Trust Sam. Everyone knows that they are the lucky ones, because we all know people who are out of work. Businesses are closing left and right. None of the servers at Pete’s are working. They are all at home praying to get unemployment. . .”

“That system is a mess,” Jacob said.

“Right,” Jill said. “You’re traumatized by everything. It makes sense that you’re a little stunned at the idea of being done with all of it.”

“People are still job sharing,” Jacob said. “Val’s still got money on the line for people insurance.”

“We’re not done with this,” Jill said.

“According to Delphie, we won’t be done with this for a long while,” Jacob said.

“Why?” Jill asked.

“I don’t really understand it, but I guess the virus mutates,” Jacob said with a shrug. “She said to expect it to get worse before we’re out of the woods.”

Jill sighed.

“It’s terrifying,” Jill said, under her breath. “We’re so lucky that none of us has been sick.”

“We cheat,” Jacob said. “Without your help, Dad would be dead.”

“Luck,” Jill said. “And, we’ve tried to share that luck. Blane and Nelson are running those clinics for neighbors on the weekends. We’ve been passing out dinners to people stuck at home.”

“We took in all of those Fey kids,” Jacob said.

“Right,” Jill said. “Grew all that food.”

“Speaking of food,” Jacob said. “Delphie wondered if you could help with the canning.”

“I’ve never done it before, but I’m game,” Jill said with a shrug.

“I guess, Delphie has gotten her friends to do the cooking,” Jacob said. “Sandy, too. She needs help sealing all the jars of jam and soup and stuff. Val helps. There’s just going to be a lot more.”

“There’s always more to do,” Jill said.

Jacob turned in his seat to look at her. She nodded. He looked away and shook his head.

“You’re right,” Jacob said. “Of course. There’s always more to do. There’s more to do here at the Castle. There’s more to do at the Marlowe School.”

“Lipson hasn’t restarted their private contracts,” Jill said.

Jacob pointed at her. They fell silent for a long moment. Jill finished her glass of cold water.

“It’s going to be okay,” Jill said.

“God, I hope so,” Jacob said. “It all just seems like chaos now.”

“You love chaos,” Jill said.

Jacob got up and held a hand out to her.

“Let’s go make some order,” Jacob said.

Jill laughed out loud. He grinned. She took his hand. Leaving their water glasses on the counter, they went to bed.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Fifty - Is it only Tuesday?


Tuesday morning —7:00 a.m.

“What do you mean?” Nash whined. “We have to go back?”

Grabbing a handful of his covers, he rolled over in bed. Teddy looked at Sandy and groaned from his bed. Sandy chuckled at them. Sandy held a sleepy Rachel in her arms.

“I told you that you shouldn’t have stayed up so late,” Sandy said.

Very quietly, the bathroom door closed.

“Crap,” Nash moaned. “Now I can’t get up. Noelle’s in the bathroom.”

“She’ll be out soon enough,” Sandy said. “You can always use mine.”

“Where’s Dad?” Nash asked.

“He’s at work,” Sandy said. “Lipson is up and running with four job sites.”

“What about job sharing?” Teddy asked.

“They are still job sharing,” Sandy said. “That’s why he’s in the office. They have a meeting with the board and a whole bunch of stuff.”

The room was absolutely still. The only sound Sandy heard was the boys breathing deeply.

Get up!” Sandy yelled. “Now!

His eyes half open, Charlie came down the hallway. He tucked into Sandy’s room to use the bathroom. When Sandy looked back into the boys’ room, Teddy and Nash were sitting on the side of the bed. The water turned on for Noelle’s shower. Sensing movement, Charlie came out of Sandy’s room and stumbled back to his closet to get dressed.

When she looked back into the boys’ room, they were back in bed with the covers over their heads. The water turned off in the shower.

“Noelle’s done showering,” Sandy said. “I will not tell you again! Get up!”

Teddy sat up in bed. A moment later, the lock clicked and Nash fell out of bed and into the bathroom.

“How was yesterday, Teddy?” Sandy asked.

“Good,” Teddy said, his voice in a lower octave than it had been when he’d left. “I really missed everyone when we were in Egypt.”

“It must have been fun,” Sandy said.

“Lockdown is lockdown,” Teddy said. “If I were here, I’d have seen my friends, Noelle, everyone. But there? It was just our family. Don’t get me wrong, I like my sister and brother and even the new babies. I just. . .”

“Is it too hard to move back and forth between families now?” Sandy asked.

“Oh,” Teddy sighed. “I don’t know. If I stay here all the time, I won’t be a part of the little ones lives. That would be really hard. But then, I’d get to spend more time with you and everyone I love. Not that I don’t love them. It’s just. . .”

Teddy shook his head. Nash came out of the bathroom with his hair wet. He started getting dressed. The boys had played in the SwimSpa until nearly midnight. They’d showered before bed, so Sandy was willing to let them slide on showering this morning.

“Go ahead,” Sandy said.

Teddy got up and went into the bathroom. She turned to see Charlie heading into the kitchen to start their breakfast.

“Where’s Rachel?” Noelle asked from her room.

“Here,” Rachel said against Sandy’s chest.

“She bathed with me,” Sandy said.

“Okay, I’ll get her dressed,” Noelle said. “Can you do my hair again?”

“Can you dry it?” Sandy asked.

“Sure,” Noelle said. “With the one that straightens my hair like we practiced?”

“Yes,” Sandy said.

“Got it,” Noelle said.

Sandy set Rachel down and the child stumbled sleepily into the room she now shared with Noelle. Sandy continued down the hallway and into the living room. Charlie handed her a cup of coffee from the pot that had just finished brewing. Sandy was taking her first sip when there was a knock on their apartment door.

Jill stuck her head in the apartment.

“Would you mind putting Katy’s hair up again?” Jill asked. “She said that it’s too hot to have it down.”

“Not a problem,” Sandy said.

“Do you think it’s time to c-u-t it?” Jill asked.

“No!” Katy said, stubbornly.

“For this morning?” Sandy snorted. “I think we just muddle through.”

Sandy held out the cup of coffee to Jill, who swallowed it down.

“Thanks,” Jill said. “I need to get back.”

Sandy nodded.

“Come on, Katy,” Sandy said. “Let’s see about your hair.”

“Can I have some animal pancakes, too?” Katy asked.

“Of course,” Sandy said. As they past the kitchen, Sandy leaned into say, “Katy’s here too.”

“Got it,” Charlie said from his position at the grill.

The deafening sound of a hair dryer came from Noelle’s room. Sandy ushered Katy into her bedroom.

“Mommy and I washed my hair last night,” Katy said. “I like how soft it is after the conditioner.”

Katy petted her hair while Sandy grinned at the adorable child.

“I’m glad you didn’t brush it today,” Sandy said.

“Don’t tell Mommy, but me too,” Katy said with a grin.

“Are the boys less crazy today?” Sandy asked.

“They are excited to play with their friends,” Katy said. “They are being good.”

Sandy’s attention was on Katy’s hair so she didn’t respond.

“Who knew they had friends?” Katy sniggered.

Sandy smiled at Katy’s back.

“I’m glad it’s going better,” Sandy said. “We’re all pretty grumpy here this morning.”

“How come?” Katy asked.

“Stayed up too late,” Sandy said. “First day of school is fun, but the second day is a chore.”

Katy nodded.

“Mommy made us go to bed extra early,” Katy said. “I was really tired so I made the boys tired.”

“Your mommy is a smart cookie,” Sandy said.

Katy giggled.

“My mommy is no kind of cookie,” Katy said brightly.

Sandy kissed the top of Katy’s hair.

“You’re all set,” Sandy said.

Katy spun in place to give Sandy a big hug. The little girl ran out of the room and went to the kitchen.

“Do you still have time for me?” Noelle asked, her voice teary.

“Always,” Sandy said.

“Good,” Noelle said.

Noelle went to stand with her back to Sandy.

“Katy said that it’s hot at the school,” Sandy said. “Do you want curls? It’s long enough now that I can put it up in a cute way.”

“Yes, put it up,” Noelle said. “But we have PE today. We’re going to learn a game called ‘La Crosse.’”

“I’ll make sure it stays up,” Sandy said.

“Good,” Noelle said.

Quickly and efficiently, Sandy put Noelle’s hair in a chignon.

“Stay there,” Sandy said.

Sandy went into her bathroom for hairspray. When she returned, Noelle was putting on some colored lip gloss in the full length mirror.

“How is it to have Teddy home?” Sandy asked.

Noelle responded with a wide smile.

“Good,” Sandy said. “Close your eyes.”

Sandy sprayed the hairspray until she was sure that Noelle’s hair wasn’t going to move today.

“You look very beautiful,” Sandy said. “Come on, we just have time for some pancakes.”

Noelle gave Sandy a beautiful straight toothed smile. Together, they went out to the table where the boys and Katy were already eating. Finally awake, everyone laughed their way through breakfast.

Sandy stood at the door and said good-bye to each of them. Sighing to herself, she got on with her busy day.


Tuesday morning —8:27 a.m.

“Jake had drop off this morning,” Honey said to MJ. She was sitting in her wheelchair. “He’ll be here.”

Shaking his head, MJ blew out a breath.

“Why are you so nervous?” Honey asked.

“Global pandemic?” MJ shook his head again. “Responsibility for everyone in our building?”

“Everything’s been fine,” Honey said. “So far, everyone’s taken the whole thing in stride.”

“Then why did they call this meeting with us today?” MJ asked.

“There’s Jake,” Honey said. She waved to Jacob as he pulled up. “I think we’ll find out in a minute.”

“Steve’s inside?” Jacob asked as he approached.

“He’s checking in with the nurses,” Honey said with a nod.

Honey and MJ turned with Jacob and started inside the building they owned together with Steve Roper. Originally the apartment building Jill had lived in, Jacob, Honey, and MJ had converted it for wheelchair bound people. They had a full time nursing staff which was managed by Steve Roper. Jacob took care of repairs and Honey helped run the building along with some amazing residents and staff. The building had been at full occupancy since a few weeks after it opened and had remained full since then. Overall, the residents seemed to love living there.

During the pandemic, they had increased security, passed out masks, and taught virus safety. They’d put stickers on the floor of the elevator and installed spit guards for the stations where the attendants worked. They’d even created a testing station so that anyone who needed a Covid-19 test could get one. So far, no one in the building had been sick. The people who lived here were some of the most vulnerable people in Denver.

“Nice wheels,” Jacob said about the wheelchair Honey was in.

“Yesterday wore me out,” Honey said. “Maggie was so excited from school that it took forever to get her to settle down.”

“Not enough sleep,” MJ said.

Jacob nodded.

“Do we have an agenda?” Jacob asked.

MJ and Honey shook their heads.

“Should be interesting,” Jacob said as he opened the glass door.

Honey wheeled inside the building with MJ right behind her. Jacob followed up. The lobby was absolutely silent and still. They continued past the pool and weight room, both empty and silent. Honey stopped at the desk.

“Where is everyone?” Honey asked.

“The state closed everything,” the wheelchair bound attendant said. “It’s one of the things on the agenda to talk to you about.”

She smiled at them.

“I need to take your temperature,” she said, holding out an infrared thermometer.

Since she was in a wheelchair, she did Honey’s first. Jacob crouched down so that his forehead was at her level. Unable to crouch do to the amputation of his lower calf, MJ bent over. They were all within the normal range of temperatures.

“You can head on back,” she said. “I need to lock up.”

“Everyone’s at the meeting?” MJ asked.

“We can let only let a few residents go. You know, for safety,” the wheelchair bound attendant said as she came out from behind the counter. “But the meeting is broadcast on the inner-building network and recorded for later. If people want to watch, they can.”

“Do they want to watch?” Honey asked.

“You’d be surprised,” the attendant said.

“We can wait for you,” Jacob said.

“Nah,” she said. “Go ahead.”

They continued into the auditorium. The auditorium doors were wide open with two large industrial fans in the door. Because the building catered to people in wheelchairs, this space did not have seats. Face mask clad residents were situated six feet from each other. At the front of the auditorium, there was a long table where Steve Roper was waiting for them. Separated by six feet, the floor captains sat around the table. Chairs sat on the other side of the table. Seeing that Honey was in her wheelchair, Steve got up to move a chair. There was a board covered with cork behind the table.

MJ helped Honey to the table and sat down next to her. Jacob took the last empty chair.

“Thanks for having us,” Jacob said.

“I’m the first floor captain,” the man on the end said. “I was elected by the first floor residents.”

“What’s your name?” Honey asked.

“Oh, sorry,” the man grinned. “I’m nervous. I’m Jerry Jason Jones. People call me ‘Triple J’ but you can call me ‘Jerry.’”

“I’m Jake,” Jacob said. “This is my sister, Honey, and her husband, MJ.”

Jacob nodded to the woman sitting next to Jerry.

“I’m Cassidy Calum,” she said. Her face flushed red. “I’m the second floor captain.”

“Nice to meet you,” Jacob said.

“I’m Aaron Zelig,” said the man sitting next to her. He was small with the characteristic high voice of someone with Osteogenesis Imperfecta or “brittle bone disease.” “Third floor captain. I was elected to lead this meeting.”

“Hi Aaron,” Jacob said. “What can we do for you?”

“We have a list of requests,” Aaron said.

Aaron cleared his throat and looked at Cassidy and Jerry. They nodded to him.

“Lay it on us,” MJ said.

“Oh, oh, okay,” Aaron said. “We wrote them on the board. You just have to turn it over.”

MJ jumped up and turned the board over showing a white board. He stood in front of the board reading the list.

“MJ,” Honey said.

“Uh-huh,” MJ said.

“MJ,” Honey repeated. “Move your ass.”

MJ jerked around to look at her.

“We can’t see through you,” Jacob said.

“Oh, oh, right,” MJ said.

He slunk away from the board and sat down. The board said:

  1. Ventilation
  2. Vaccine
  3. Exercise
  4. Internet

“So you probably know what each of these means,” Aaron said. “But let me go through it quickly. We want to know if we can increase the ventilation. At least on the third floor, we’re worried that if one person gets sick, we’ll all get sick.”

Cassidy and Jerry nodded indicating that this was the issue on their floor.

“Do you want to talk about them as we go?” Jacob asked.

“Sure,” Aaron said.

“We’ve been researching and studying ventilation for the school that my sister and I run,” Jacob said. “The biggest advantage that you have is that you can open your apartment to the outside air. Everyone has a patio.”

“Right, but some of us can’t open them ourselves,” Cassidy said.

“Or when we’re out on the patio, our neighbor is right there,” Aaron said.

“Good point,” Jacob said.

“We wondered about the filters?” As if she were asking a question, Cassidy’s voice rose at the end of her sentence.

“You mean will they keep the virus out?” Jacob asked. “No. Nothing we know of will do that so far. We know that the HEPA filters help. We have that on the air system for the building, but. . .”

Jacob got his cellphone out and set it on the table.

“Let me make a note that we should get an HEPA for every apartment,” Jacob said. “That just makes sense.”

“Some people are making them off a YouTube video,” Cassidy said.

“I’ve seen that,” Jacob said. “Heard good things about it, too.”

“There’s a guy on my floor. . .” Cassidy gestured to the audience. Someone in the back raised his hands in the air. “. . . who’s willing to make them for everyone. We just need help with supplies.”

“Done,” Jacob said.

“Oh, okay,” Aaron said. “The nurses said that there might be vaccines available soon. Since we’re not a nursing home, she wasn’t sure if we’d get the vaccine first.”

“We don’t want to be selfish. . .” Cassidy said.

“I don’t mind,” Jerry said.

Cassidy rolled her eyes at him and continued, “. . . but we’re a vulnerable population. We believe we should have the vaccine as soon as it’s available.”

“I agree,” Steve said. “I believe our entire nursing staff agrees, as well. I have put our staff on a list with the state so that the staff will be vaccinated as soon as possible.”

“I have a call into the state today,” Jacob said. “I’ll ask what we can do.”

“Good,” Aaron said. “We need to exercise. It’s one of the things that helps with our pain and depression. Right now, we’re trapped in our apartments, working our asses off, without any break. We need a break.”

“I didn’t realize you weren’t able to use the gym or the pool,” MJ said.

“Let’s figure something out,” Jacob said.

“It seems like a scheduling issue,” Honey said. “Why don’t I see what I can work out?”

“I’ll add it to my list to check with the state,” Jacob said.

The three floor captains nodded.

“We also don’t have any of our alternative health support,” Cassidy said. “No acupuncture clinics. No massage. It sounds silly but for some of us, these treatments are a key to living without pain.”

“They are lifesaving,” Aaron said.

“Good point,” Jacob said. “I’ll talk to Blane and see if he can come over or if he knows of someone. It also occurs to me that what we really need is some private outdoor space, for massage and acupuncture treatments, that doesn’t put people at risk. But I’ll talk to Blane and see what he says.”

“Good, that’s really good,” Cassidy said with a smile.

“Is the Internet still struggling?” Jacob asked. “We’ve upgraded twice since the pandemic started.”

“We think people are stealing our WiFi,” Aaron said.

A few people in the audience cheered as if to agree.

“It’s secured,” Jacob said.

“Not enough,” Aaron said. “Jerry came up with a plan to put separate internet on every floor with two WiFi boxes on each level. We think it will work better.”

“I’m a network engineer,” Jerry said.

“Sounds good to me,” Jacob said. “Just give me the details and we’ll work it out.”

“You don’t mind spending the money?” Aaron asked.

“Not at all,” Honey said. “You all have done the hard work of keeping yourselves and each other safe. If we can support that, then we’re going to do it.”

The residents in the audience cheered.

“Is there anything else?” Jacob asked.

“There’s a list of small things,” Aaron said. He gave a sheet of paper to Jacob.

“I’ll go through it,” Jacob said.

“We want you to know that we’re proud of you,” Honey said. “We’re getting through this terrible time. Together.”

“It’s been okay,” Cassidy said with a shrug. “I feel lucky to be here with some many people like me. And get the help I need from the nurses. I don’t know what I would have done if I was out in the world or stuck at my mom’s house.”

A few people in the audience cheered again.

“Well, let us know,” Jacob said. “I’m sorry to rush. But I have to head off for another meeting. This week is nutty for me. I think Honey and MJ can stay if you need something else.”

“We should have asked for more,” Cassidy said in a loud voice.

Everyone laughed.

“You have our numbers?” Jacob asked.

Everyone nodded. The residents cheered as Jacob, Steve, Honey, and MJ left the auditorium. Honey felt like she should stay longer, chat more, but the pandemic made it too dangerous to hang out with anyone. They went through the lobby and to their vehicles.

“What do you think?” Jacob asked.

“It’s good,” Honey said.

“I like that they feel comfortable enough to ask us,” Steve said. “We should take that as a compliment.”

“Job well done,” Honey said with a nod.

“I agree,” Jacob said. He waved with the sheet of paper and got in his Lipson Construction truck.

“Would you like to do some thing or do you have to get to work?” Honey asked.

“I have to go,” MJ said. “I’m still doing physicals.”

“I have to get ready for the board meeting anyway,” Honey said with a nod.

MJ helped her into her van and waited until she was out of the parking lot. Honey continued on toward Lipson Construction and the board meeting. MJ got into his sedan and drove to the Factory, where he worked.

MJ was nearing the Factory when Honey called.

“Can you believe it’s only Tuesday?” Honey asked.

“No,” MJ said. “I cannot.”

Laughing, Honey rang off. MJ pulled into his parking spot with a grin on his face.

Denver Cereal continues next week...

Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-nine - Now. What?


Monday morning —11:02 a.m.

After breastfeeding and burping Grace, Valerie set the tiny infant down in the crib. Mike peaked into their bedroom to see if Valerie was free.

“She’s asleep,” Valerie said.

“Breakfast?” Mike asked.

“I’m okay,” Valerie said. “I had something with Jackie and Eddie before they went to school.”

“Pregnancy pounds?” Mike asked.

Valerie snorted a laugh.

“I didn’t gain any weight this time,” Valerie said. “I mean I gained what I’d lost with my insanity after Eddie. I’m lucky that I don’t carry weight.”

“And you workout so much,” Mike said with a sigh.

“What?” Valerie asked, squinting at him.

“I guess I was hoping for a month of bacon and pastries,” Mike said.

Valerie laughed.

“You know, Jake’s still weighing me,” Valerie said.

“Yes!” Mike said. “Bacon and pastries!”

While Valerie laughed, Mike opened the door to their apartment. He was gone only a second before returning with warm chocolate croissants, a plate stacked with bacon, and a thermos of tea. Valerie gave a soft cheer and a fingertip clap. Mike set the tray at their small dining table. He got up and made Valerie a mix of psyllium husk for her bowels. She drank it down while he grabbed plates.

Mike set the plates down. He piled his plate with bacon and some pastries. He made her a plate with less of everything. She reached over to take a piece of bacon from the mound on his plate.

“You can always get more,” Mike said.

Chewing a piece of bacon, Valerie nodded. She swallowed.

“We need to talk about everything,” Valerie said.

“Yes, our children have been in school for two hours,” Mike said. “Time to talk about what’s next.”

Valerie grinned at him, and he smirked. When she didn’t say anything, he said, “So?”

“Oh, sorry,” Valerie said. “I was wondering what you were going to say about what was next for you.”

“Oh,” Mike said. “Nothing, really. Or nothing special. Noelle did a massive clean-up before she went back to school. She got Charlie and Nash to move things so we could clean the floor. I hardly recognize the place.”

Mike shrugged.

“I have a couple of commissions, but mostly I’m just painting,” Mike said. “Playing with the kids. Hanging out with everyone. Helping Delphie.”

“We’re moving toward Harvest Day,” Valerie said, her eyes gleaming. She gave a little clap.

“Delphie said something about doing it in waves,” Mike said. “We have so many gardens this year. The backyard, the gardens by the school, the greenhouses. . . Across the street. She planted LaTonya’s house or Tanesha’s house — whatever — and Tanesha’s grandmother’s house. Oh, Rodney and his guys have gardens too.”

Mike shook his head.

“It’s a lot,” Mike said.

Valerie nodded.

“Rodney’s guys are going to do some of the work,” Mike said. “A couple of them want to make things from the garden — jams, candles, breads, stuff they can sell at farmer’s markets or over the Internet. They have agreed to use this year as practice in exchange for Delphie’s recipes and help.”

“Delphie still wants to give everything away?” Valerie asked.

“Too many hungry people,” Mike said with a nod. “That’s what’s going on here. I mean, there’s no way to know how the kids are going to fit in at school.”

“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” Valerie said. “They love school.”

Mike nodded.

“What’s next for you?” Mike asked.

“Well,” Valerie sighed. “I am under contract for a couple of movies and an animated feature but everything’s still shut down. There are a couple of groups that have pulled off Covid safety, but mostly everything is shut down.”

“There’s no work for you?” Mike asked.

Valerie nodded.

“Jen arranged for me to do the audio work here in town,” Valerie said. “But, again, we have to wait until a recording studio opens up. Jeraine said I could use the equipment downstairs but. . . I don’t know. It seems like a big risk.”

Valerie sighed.

“Jake told me that that guy from the casinos said that. . .” Mike started.

“That’s complicated,” Valerie said.

Mike nodded and continued, “. . . the problem with the movies is funding. No one knows if we’re heading into a depression. People are truly scared. It was just a bit ago that the entire system came down. No one knows if it’s strong enough to hold through the pandemic or if it’s all coming apart.”

“Movies float on a sea of money,” Valerie said.

Mike nodded.

“We have to make our own decisions,” Mike said. “Do what’s best for us and our family. At least until this thing is over.”

Valerie looked down at her plate. Mike silently waited for her to respond.

“I feel. . .” Valerie said. She looked up at Mike. “I’ve been working so much the last few years.”

Mike nodded.

“We’ve been all over the world for movies,” Valerie said. “Some of those will come out in the next year or so. I’m still cast for Marvel so that will happen. And. . .”

Valerie wrinkled her nose.

“I’m not sure I want to work as much,” Valerie said. “It’s been really nice to be home. I, personally, have been involved with everyone’s lives. It’s been great, really great. I was gone such a long time and then we’ve been back and forth and everywhere. This is the first time that I’ve been home, just home, for an extended period of time. It’s been great.”

Valerie nodded.

“I don’t want to give up everything I’ve worked for,” Valerie said. “I’m just not sure what’s next.”

Mike shrugged.

“Sounds like we don’t have to decide right away,” Mike said.

“One thing,” Valerie said. “If we’re going to stay, we should talk to Jake about getting a bigger place. This apartment was perfect for you alone. It was great for you and me. But now? We have three kids! We need more space.”

“I’m sure he has a plan,” Mike said.

“Probably,” Valerie nodded.

Neither one of them said anything for a long moment. Valerie sighed.

“Would you mind if we just stayed here until. . .”Valerie’s voice died out because she wasn’t sure how long they’d be there.

“Until a vaccine or the pandemic ends or the economy picks up or. . .?” Mike asked. “Absolutely. Let’s just hang out. If we get sick of it, we can do something else.”

Valerie gave him one of her beautiful movie star smiled.

“Sounds perfect,” Valerie said.

“It does,” Mike said. “To me too.”

“Do you think. . .?” Valerie started and then shook her head. “My mother used to say, ‘It’s no good giving voice to fears.’ I’m so afraid that everything’s going to come apart completely. I want someone to tell me that it won’t. Even if they lie!”

“I think we all feel that way,” Mike said. “Or everyone I talk to, even the kids. We want to know that things will continue on, that we’ll be okay, but. . .”

“There’s no way to know,” Valerie said.

“Our longing for certainty makes us vulnerable to the people who will lie to us, tell us anything for their own gain,” Mike said. “My mom is beside herself. She says this happened in Russia. People are desperate so they believe anything.”

Valerie sighed.

“We have to hold onto hope,” Mike said. “We need to be hopeful.”

“Even if we fake it,” Valerie nodded. “That should be our new thing.”

“What?” Mike asked.

“Strengthening our hope,” Valerie said. “Building hope in everyone we know.”

Mike nodded.

“Speaking of that,” Valerie said, with a sigh. “We need to either share Grace with the men outside or take the money from the tabloids.”

“For charity?” Mike asked.

“For the food shelters,” Valerie said. “To bring awareness that people are going without right now. I wonder if. . .”

Valerie tapped her finger to her lip.

“What?” Mike asked.

“Oh nothing,” Valerie smiled. “I like it. Hope is our new mission.”

Mike gave her a quizzical look but eventually nodded.

“You’re not. . .” Mike started. “I mean, you remember that we can’t get people together or. . .”

Valerie smiled.

“You’re not going to tell me?” Mike asked.

“I’ll tell you,” Valerie said. “I just have to think it through more.”

She yawned.

“Let’s just leave this stuff and nap for a while,” Mike said.

“Grace will be awake soon,” Valerie said.

Mike stood and held out his hand. They walked to the bed where they both fell into a dreamless sleep.


Monday midday —11:32 a.m.

“Okay, I’m back,” Honey said, scooting into her seat.

Honey and Jill were using the room in the basement that they’d set up for the kids online school. It was equipped with their fastest internet and newest computers. They were able to sit side by side, six feet apart, with the computers in front of each of them. There were two HEPA fans blowing as well. Since the Castle hadn’t had outside guest in months, they had decided to treat each other as if they were in the same “pod.” This meant that they didn’t have to wear masks around each other and could eat together indoors.

“I logged you in,” Jill said.

“Thanks,” Honey said, frantically typing into the computer in front of her.

“Are you okay?” Jill asked.

Jill pulled a Bluetooth earbud out of her ear in order to hear Honey.

“Oh, you know,” Honey said.

“What?” Jill asked.

Honey sighed.

“I need a day off,” Honey whispered. “I was upstairs staring at the wall. I mean, no work? No kids? It’s. . .”

“Weird?” Jill said. “Wonderful?”

Honey nodded. Jill stuck her earbud back in her ear. For a moment, the women focused on listening to the start of their classes. A few minutes later, Honey glanced at Jill.

“Nice hair,” Honey whispered.

“Sandy did it this morning,” Jill said. “Your hair is so beautiful — long, pink cast, and curly!”

“The curly surprises me too,” Honey said. “I just never had it long enough to have any wave.”

“So lovely,” Jill said.

The women fell silent as they listened to their teachers. The hour slipped away.

Jill took off her head set first. Jill’s movement caught Honey’s attention. She took off her headset.

“What do you have next?” Jill asked.

“Another class, you?” Honey asked.

“Same,” Jill said. “Mine are packed together on the same day. I guess that’s what people wanted.”

“Mine’s the same, too,” Honey said.

Honey reached out to grab Jill’s hand.

“I’m so glad to be here with you,” Honey said. “I don’t know what I would have done without you these last months, especially when MJ was gone.”

Honey shook her head.

“I feel the same way,” Jill said. “I don’t know what I would have done without you. You’ve been like bedrock for all of us.”

“We’re so lucky,” Honey said.

Jill nodded and smiled.

“I was going to make some tea and get us some water,” Jill said. “Can I get you anything?”

“I brought these,” Honey said.

She turned in her seat to open her backpack. Inside, there was a metal tin, like the ones used by Sandy for cookies.

“Sandy made these for us,” Honey said. She worked to open the tin. It was hard for Honey, but not impossible like it was.

“Are they. . .?” Jill asked.

“They are,” Honey said.

“Mexican wedding cookies,” Jill and Honey said together.

Jill mock swooned.

“Coffee then?” Jill asked.

“Please,” Honey said. “I need to use the toilet.”

“Do you need help?” Jill asked.

“I can get there,” Honey said.

“Your walking is incredible,” Jill said.

“Let’s see if I make it out of the basement,” Honey said with a snort. “MJ said he’d come to get me.”

Jill grinned. Honey got up. They swiftly went through their break. When they settled in, they had fresh coffee and wonderful cookies.

“Ready?” Jill asked, blowing out a bit of powdered sugar.

Honey pointed to her screen. Her next class had already started. Jill grinned at Honey and logged into her next class.


Monday midday —12:02 p.m.

“We asked everyone to stop today and noon. . .” Jacob started.

He was standing on an enormous excavator in the middle of one of the two sites that had continued working through the pandemic. He’d been wearing a face mask up until the moment he began speaking.

“I wanted to let you know that we’re in negotiations to get the vaccines as soon as they are approved,” Jacob said. “Or, I should say, we’re on the list after doctors. They think it will either be early next year or December. Until then, we wear our masks.”

“And afterward!” someone yelled from the back.

“For a while, at least,” Jacob said.

He turned over his wrist to look at his watch. Seeing the time, he nodded. Bambi climbed on top of the excavator as did Aden.

“We wanted to let you know that, as of 12 noon, our fourth site is up and running!” Jacob said.

The men and women cheered.

“We wanted to take a minute to thank each of you for hanging in there this year,” Bambi said. She spoke loud enough through her mask that everyone heard her.

“Without injury or illness!” Jacob said with a cheer.

Everyone cheered.

“You have shown up, worked hard, been flexible around job sharing, and. . . well. . .” Feeling emotional, Aden stopped talking. He pulled off his mask and covered his eyes.

“You are heroes to us,” Jacob said.

Jacob looked at Aden, but Aden was too overcome.

“There’s a little something in your paycheck this week to say ‘Thanks,’” Jacob said.

“It’s not a lot, so don’t get too excited,” Bambi said with a laugh.

Shaking his head at Bambi, Jacob grinned.

“You are the lifeblood of this company,” Aden said, having gotten himself together. “We bought lunch for you and the other original site.”

Everyone cheered again.

“We wanted to say ‘Thank you,’” Jacob said. “Did you take your kids back at the Marlowe School?”

The crowd cheered.

“We were just there,” Jacob said. “The classrooms are quiet and everything is going well.”

Everyone cheered again.

“We want to let you know that we’ve been told that vaccines are coming and we are one of the first in line,” Jacob said. “We’ve weathered a storm that has killed many, many people. Thank you.”

Jacob waited for the cheering to die down.

“My dad’s at the new sites today,” Jacob said. “He’s doing well, overall. We’re going to be harvesting the gardens in the next week or so, so we’ll have some fresh vegetables for you. If you need help harvesting, just let us know. Aden has some teenagers that need something to do.”

Everyone laughed.

“If you want to shift to a new team or working on the other sites is better for you,” Bambi said. “Give us a week and we’ll work it out. But do — give us a week. They are just getting their feet under them.”

“Okay, we won’t keep you,” Aden said. “Just a thanks. Your team leaders will have your lunches. Take an hour and revel in this truth — we worked our asses off, but we made it.”

Everyone cheered again.

“Team leads, see me!” Bambi said.

After putting back on his face mask, Jacob climbed down off the excavator. Aden climbed down after him. Seeing that Jacob had his face mask on, Aden put on his face mask.

“Shall we?” Jacob asked.

Aden took one look at the site and nodded. They got into Aden’s sedan and drove to meet Tres at the other site to tell them the good news.


Monday afternoon —2:00 p.m.

Delphie stood in the middle of the gardens they’d started just a few months ago. The plants were loaded with fresh vegetables and fruit. They’d used windmills to keep the squirrels and other animals off the beds so they’d lost almost nothing. This garden burst with goodness.

Delphie looked up when she heard the door to the Marlowe School slam open. The teenagers fell out of the building a flood of water out of a loch. The boys chased each other across the grass that she and Jacob had planted after they’d put these boxes in.

She sighed.

The Marlowe School stood like the proud old lady she was. From the back, where she was standing, she could see the new playground and the outdoor classroom. The new playground that Jacob had built was complete with its own sand pit and places to put toys to clean. The grass started at the edge of the playground and went to the raised beds. The grassy space was large enough that the kids could learn La Cross or play soccer or even American Football. The gardens began at the edge of the fence.

Delphie waved, and the teenagers ran toward her. Mike pulled up and got out of his Bronco. He took out two round tipped shovels and carried them toward her. Delphie grinned at Mike and turned back to the children. Noelle was running with her friends Hope and Joy. Charlie and Tink were together. Nash and Teddy. Even Wanda was there!

When the children arrived, Delphie cleared her throat.

“Okay, I think you all know who I am,” Delphie said.

“Delphie!” the teenagers yelled.

Ivy went to Delphie’s side to give her a sideway hug. Delphie grinned at the child.

“The State has recommended adding more physical activity to your schedule,” Delphie said. “We’re going to teach you running, walking, lifting weights — exercise you can do as you grow up. You know, Jake’s recruiting people for a La Crosse team.”

“Basketball,” Charlie said with a nod. “We’re putting in a court on the other side of the building.”

“Afternoon shade,” Delphie nodded.

“Football, too?” L’Ron asked.

“If you’d like,” Mike said. “We’re going to do an ice hockey clinic since so many of your parents play.”

The boys grinned. The girls looked nervous.

“Today, we’re going to get you started taking care of these vegetable gardens,” Delphie said. “Most of you were here when we put them in. Now you’ll get to take care of the plants and the harvest. We’re going to make some things from them. And. . . Well, we’re going to have fun.”

Unsure of what to say, the kids jostled each other.

“Okay,” Mike said. “I need you to put yourselves into teams of five. We’ll give each team a bed and help you work through what needs to happen.”

“Will we plant for the winter?” Noelle asked.

“We will,” Mike said.

“Can we work the bees?” Wanda asked.

“Let’s make that a team,” Delphie said.

“Aww,” a few kids said.

“Okay, let’s see how many kids want to be involved,” Delphie said.

“What about those beds?” a young man Delphie recognized but couldn’t place.

“Those are assigned to other people,” Mike said. “We can help if they need help, but we’ll let them take care of their own plots.”

To Delphie’s surprise, the teenagers easily sorted themselves into groups. They were so happy to be together that Delphie had no problem with them listening. In less than a half hour, the kids were working to pull weeds, tie up limbs, and harvest anything that was ready.

Delphie caught Mike’s eye. Mike gave her a thumbs up. Delphie lit her smoker and pulled her hood on. She led a team of mostly girls over to work with the beehives.

Everyone had a good time.

Denver Cereal continues next week...

Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-eight - Back to school


Monday morning — 7:02 a.m.

“I need the bathroom.” Noelle yelled and pounded on the bathroom door in her room.

“I’m using it!” Nash yelled from the bathroom.

“Why don’t you use mine?” Sandy asked from the doorway to Noelle’s room.

“Because my stuff is in there!” Noelle said.

“What stuff?” Sandy asked.

“My makeup and stuff,” Noelle said. “I’m not a child anymore and. . .”

Noelle turned to face Sandy and growled.

Sandy grinned.

“You can shower in our bathroom,” Sandy said soothingly. “I’ll help you with your hair.”

“And makeup,” Noelle said.

“Sure,” Sandy said.

Noelle stomped out of her room and started down the hallway. Sandy followed her close behind.

“Why is he like this?” Noelle asked.

“Who?” Sandy asked.

“Nash,” Noelle said. “It’s not like he has to care what he looks like. He’s a boy!”

Sandy smiled at Noelle’s back. Teddy had spent the last few months in Egypt with his family. While Noelle and Teddy had talked on the phone and Zoomed regularly, this would be the first day Noelle would see him since he’d left.

“Are you trying to look nice for someone in particular?” Sandy asked.

“Shut up!” Noelle said. “Just shut up!”

“Hey! You can’t. . .” Aden started.

Noelle slammed their bathroom door on them. Aden gave Sandy a curious look. Sandy shrugged.

“Teddy?” Aden mouthed.

“I guess so,” Sandy said with a shrug.

“What else could it be?” Aden whispered.

“Remember how anxious she used to get about going to school?” Sandy asked in a soft whisper. “She’s been home all this time. They’ve had a great time and learned a lot. She’s been completely accepted by everyone here. Now, she’s going back to school where she’ll have to deal with people who may not love her.”

“Huh,” Aden snorted.

“That’s what I think,” Sandy said.

“Did you tell her that all of the Fey kids are going to be there?” Aden asked.

“We’d decided that it would be a surprise, remember?” Sandy asked.

“Maybe you should tell her,” Aden said.

“You don’t think that it will put more pressure on her?” Sandy asked. “Girls this age — it’s all about competing with other girls for guys.”

“Gross,” Aden said.

“She has no idea how beautiful she is,” Charlie said, having joined the conversation without invitation.

Aden and Sandy squinted at him. Noelle had always been tall, with an athletic build, and more than a little gangly. Over the course of the last year, she’d worked out with the other teens. A little bit of physical exercise and she’d blossomed into a ravishing young woman. Her hair was now a deep auburn and, with Sandy’s help, not frizzy. Her eyes were clear blue-hazel. The only person who didn’t seem to know what she looked like was Noelle.

“She sees herself as she’s always been,” Sandy said.

“Whatever,” Charlie said with a shrug.

“The problem is that she’s so beautiful,” Sandy said. “The girls treat her like garbage. The boys pant over her. Teddy has been the love of her life as long as she’s known him. He’s been gone.”

Charlie shrugged.

“She’s got nothing to worry about,” Charlie said. “She’s too good for any of those losers.”

Sandy gave him a worried nod.

“I’m going to go in,” Sandy said.

“Good luck,” Aden said.

Sandy tapped on the door and called Noelle’s name.

“Can I come in?” Sandy asked.

Noelle said something that was garbled by the door. Sandy opened the door a crack.

“I wanted to check to see if you were okay,” Sandy said.

When Noelle didn’t say anything, Sandy moved the shower curtain a bit to see her. Noelle was sobbing under the stream from the shower.

“I. . .I. . .” Noelle wept.

Sandy reached under the water to stroke Noelle’s back.

“I can’t do it,” Noelle said. “I mean. . .”

“We weren’t going to tell you but the Fey kids are coming to school this term,” Sandy said.

“Oh,” Noelle said.

She stopped crying but looked even more worried.

“I thought you’d be excited to see your friends,” Sandy said. “You love Grace and Hope. The three of you were inseparable this summer.”

Noelle’s head turned to look at Sandy.

“Everything I have to wear is wrong!” Noelle said. “I have to hurry and pick something else. The girls always look great and. . .”

“Remember, this is a new school for them,” Sandy said.

Noelle nodded.

“And you have to wear your uniform,” Sandy said.

“What do you mean?” Noelle whined. “Valerie picked out some great clothes for me. We went together. And we had them tailored and. . . I look really cute!”

Knowing Noelle, Sandy didn’t respond for a moment. She waited for reason to seep into the girl’s panicked brain.

“Oh, thank God,” Noelle said. “Okay. I’m okay. Can you check my uniform? We got a new one because I’m taller, but. . .”

“I’ll go check,” Sandy said. “Just breathe, honey. Everyone’s pretty freaked out about going back to life now.”

“Did you get the matching masks?” Noelle asked.

“The school has masks for everyone,” Sandy said. “Valerie had them designed by one of her famous designers. You’ll see. They are pretty great.”

“Okay,” Noelle said. “GO!”

Chuckling to herself, Sandy left the bedroom to go check on Noelle’s uniform. When she got to the living room, she found Nash ironing Noelle’s shirt.

“I had to do mine,” Nash said with a shrug. “Why is she so freaked out?”

“I think everyone’s a little freaked out,” Sandy said, repeating herself. “You’re not?”

“Not really,” Nash said. “It’s just school. The more I go the faster I’m done and on to having a real life.”

“Global pandemic? Ironing? That seems pretty real life to me,” Sandy said. “But I know what you mean.”

Nash nodded and continued ironing Noelle’s white shirt. This year, they wore white button down shirts and, either, blue pants or a blue skirt. The girls could wear the skirt as long or short as they wanted. Noelle preferred hers right around her knees.

“I need to. . .” Sandy gestured back toward their bedroom.

When Sandy arrived, Noelle was standing in the middle of Sandy and Aden’s bedroom, wrapped in a towel.

“Where were you?” Noelle screamed, hysteria near.

“You asked me to check on your uniform,” Sandy said, mildly.

And?” Noelle asked.

“Nash is ironing your shirt,” Sandy said. “It’s ready and waiting for you.”

Noelle scowled. The girl was so much taller than Sandy now that Sandy led Noelle to the bed. Sandy took off the towel around Noelle’s head and made quick work of drying and curling Noelle’s head.

Midway through, Rachel came into sit with Noelle. Rachel always seemed to know when Noelle needed comforting. Rachel put her head on Noelle’s lap, and Noelle stroked the child’s hair. By the time Sandy had applied some mascara and discrete lip color, Noelle was calmer and ready to start her day.

“Breakfast,” Aden said from the living room. “Go!”

Charlie and Nash left the apartment. Noelle looked at herself in the mirror. Nodding to herself, she held out a hand for Rachel.

“Thanks Mom,” Noelle said.

Noelle kissed Sandy’s cheek.

“I’ll see you down there,” Sandy said.

Noelle nodded. Sandy went into the bathroom. She sped through her morning routine. She grabbed her coat and purse and started down the stairs. Aden met her at the top of the stairs. He started down the stairs with her holding onto his shoulder for balance. When they reached the bottom, he kissed her and they moved toward the dining room.

“No one’s here yet!” Nash said, chewing on a muffin.

“More food for you,” Sandy said with a grin.

Nash grinned and went into the dining room. Sandy stuck her head into the dining room. Seeing that Jill wasn’t there, she went to see if she could help. Taking the loft steps one at a time, Sandy was breathing hard by the time she reached the top.

She knocked and stuck her head in.

“Can I help?” Sandy asked between gasps of breath.

“Ohmygod!” Jill screamed from somewhere in the loft. “Sandy?

Sandy scooted across the loft until she found Jill sitting in Katy’s room. Katy’s long hair was a poof of knots and tangles. Jill shot Sandy a fierce look.

“She did her own hair,” Jill said.

“I can do my own hair!” Katy said. “I’m not a stupid baby!”

“This is not doing your hair!” Jill said with a growl.

Katy started talking in fast, nearly unintelligible words. Grinning, Sandy waved her hand for Jill to move away. Jill got up and stormed out of the room.

“What did you do?” Sandy asked as she picked through the mess.

Katy started crying and babbling. Sandy couldn’t tell what Katy had done to her hair.

“Come on, Katy-baby,” Sandy said, leaning forward to kiss Katy’s cheek. “It would be faster to start over.”

“But I don’ wanna!” Katy screamed.

Sandy gave the child a long look.

“You can’t make me,” Katy said.

“Well, in fact, I can,” Sandy said. “I’m immune to your magic or whatever it is because Auntie Heather made me immune to all magic.”

Katy squinted her eyes at Sandy, and Sandy shrugged.

“I don’t know what you just did but I’m guessing it wasn’t very nice,” Sandy said.

The child stared at Sandy for a long minute. Sandy got up and closed the door.

“What’s this about?” Sandy said. “I’ve known you since before you were born. This is so unlike you.”

Katy began to sob. She told Sandy something about how busy and worried Jill was and how she was trying to help and she thought that she could do it and she hated being a baby and. . . On and on the child went. As Katy talked, Sandy gently nudged her in the direction of her bathroom. Katy was weeping and talking when Sandy took off her uniform and panties.

Katy stopped talking when the water from the shower hit her face.

“It’s the fastest way,” Sandy said. “Plus, you won’t look like you’ve been crying.”

“Everything okay in there?” Jacob said as he stuck his head into the bathroom.

“We’re fine,” Sandy said. “Could you get Katy’s other uniform out? This one is a little rumpled.”

“Got it,” Jacob said, disappearing.

“You have to let me,” Sandy said.

Katy let Sandy wash her hair. Sandy put in some of the thick, fancy conditioner that she’d given Katy for monthly treatments. Of course, the bottle had never been used. Sandy slathered the conditioner on Katy’s hair and got the wide toothed comb out from the cabinet. While Katy sat on the edge of the tub, Sandy worked a comb through all of the knots. The conditioner combined with the heat and moisture from the shower and Sandy’s skill help to loosen up the mess.

“I’m going to rinse this out,” Sandy said. “You wash up. Give yourself a good scrub. I can tell you’ve been slacking over the time at home.”

Sandy put a washcloth in Katy’s hands. While Sandy rinsed out Katy’s hair, Katy soaped and scrubbed herself. After rinsing her off, Sandy pulled Katy out of the shower and started drying Katy’s hair.

Jacob came in with the clean and pressed uniform as well as some underwear.

“Get dressed while I dry your hair,” Sandy said.

Katy pulled on her underwear and Sandy worked to get the child’s hair dry.

“I’m going to put it up,” Sandy said. “It’s a little greasy.”

When Sandy finished Katy’s bun, they went out into the room so that Sandy could help Katy get dressed. Something bounced off the door to Katy’s room.

“What was that?” Sandy asked.

“The boys don’t want to go to school,” Katy said with a sigh. “That’s why I was trying to help.”

“You are a sweet girl,” Sandy said. “Let’s finish up here and go help with those crazy boys.”

Katy turned in place and hugged Sandy.

“I’m sorry,” Katy said.

“You should apologize to your mom,” Sandy said in a mild rebuke. “Not me.”

“I will,” Katy said. “I just. . . I really needed your help and you were here.”

“Always.” Sandy smiled and kissed Katy’s cheek.

“Thanks,” Katy said. “Are you really immune to magic?”

Sandy nodded.

“Why?” Katy asked.

“Heather worried that, with all of these goddesses around, I would be vulnerable to them,” Sandy said. “I’m human so not that interesting. Your mom is a healer and is highly respected. Tanesha is the granddaughter of an archangel.”

“Kinda scary,” Katy said.

Sandy nodded.

Something else pounded on the door.

“We’d better go help,” Sandy said.

“Don’t worry,” Katy winked at Sandy.

Katy hopped up off the bed and went out into the open space of the lobby.

“Enough!” Katy said.

The boys stopped in place. Everything the boys had put into the air hung there for a moment before quietly dropping to the floor.

Katy pointed to the twins.

“Go get dressed,” Katy said.

The boys went into their room. Jacob slipped into the room after the twins. Jill came over to Katy.

“I’m sorry, Mommy,” Katy said.

Tears welling in her eyes, Jill hugged her daughter and looked up to Sandy.

“Thank you,” Jill mouthed to Sandy.

Sandy nodded and pointed to the door.

“Why don’t we go to breakfast?” Jill asked. “Daddy can take the boys.”

“Okay, Mommy,” Katy said.

Katy held out her hand to Jill and another to Sandy. They went down the stairs, through the kitchen and toward the dining room. Tanesha and Jabari came in from across the street.

“Why don’t you go ahead?” Jill asked.

“Okay,” Katy said.

Katy hugged Tanesha.

“Good luck today,” Tanesha said.

“You, too,” Katy said.

Katy skipped into the dining room.

Tanesha hugged Sandy and then Jill.

“How are you?” Sandy asked Tanesha.

“Okay,” Tanesha said. “A little overwhelmed. You two look like you’ve been through the wars.”

Jacob came past with the twins. He nodded to the women and continued on.

“Katy did her own hair this morning,” Jill said, softly.

Tanesha gave a rueful shake of her head.

“Noelle’s anxious about school,” Sandy said in the same soft voice.

“Crazy day,” Tanesha said. “Crazy day.”

Sandy and Jill nodded.

“Where’s Heather?” Jill asked.

“She’s in the dining room,” Tanesha said. “Keeping everything and everyone moving.”

“Are you ready for school?” Tanesha asked Jill.

Jill shook her head and then shrugged.

“You’ve got this,” Sandy said.

“I hope so,” Jill said. “We’re starting online. They want to move to in person, but not for now. So, we’ll see.”

Jill sighed.

“I’m not ready,” Honey said in a whine as she rolled toward them in her wheelchair.

Sandy, Jill, and Tanesha nodded.

“Are you online?” Jill asked.

Honey nodded.

“Well, at least we’ll be here,” Honey said.

Looking worried, Jill nodded. Tanesha put her arm around Sandy and Jill and they went into the dining room to join Heather in moving things along. For the briefest moment, when the kids were getting their backpacks, the women sat together in silence.

“Here we go,” Sandy said, pushing herself to standing.

She turned to look at Tanesha, Jill, and Honey.

“Good luck today,” Sandy said. “Heather and I are doing pick up. Do your school. Don’t worry about the kids.”

Heather got up and left the room with Sandy. Tanesha sighed. Standing, she looked at the ceiling.

“Fin,” Tanesha said.

Prince Finegal of Queen Fand’s realm, her grandfather, appeared out of nowhere.

“We need to get to school,” Tanesha said.

Fin gave her a nod and they left the room. Sandy sat with Jill while she slowly sipped her coffee.

“Come on,” Sandy said.

“I just. . .” Jill started.

“I know,” Sandy said. “It’s really hard. There are so many transitions right now. We start by getting the kids back to school.”

“But. . .” Jill said.

Sandy cut her off by shaking her head.

“They are safe,” Sandy said. “They wear their masks and are really good about it. They want to be in school.”

“I know,” Jill said with a sigh.

“School starts at 10?” Sandy asked.

Jill nodded.

“Come on,” Sandy said. “Why don’t we head to the salon? Trim that pandemic hair. Give you a shine boost.”

“I. . .” Jill said.

“You have time,” Sandy said. “Jake is taking the kids to school. You’ve had breakfast.”

“I have time,” Jill said as if to convince herself.

“You have time,” Sandy said.

Jill gave Sandy a long look before nodding. Grinning at Jill, Sandy grabbed her purse and jacket from where she’d left them. They drove to Sandy’s studio.

Sandy was cutting Jill’s hair when Jill remembered that she loved school.

Her kids loved school too.

She’d been so caught up in getting everything done and making sure no one got sick, that she had forgotten how much she loved her life.

“Do you ever think that maybe we have a, like, happiness limit?” Jill asked.

“What do you mean?” Sandy asked.

“I just realized that I’d fallen back into feel horrible,” Jill said. “You know, like I did forever when I was married to Trevor and everything. It wasn’t even hard and I didn’t even notice.”

Sandy squeezed Jill’s shoulder and went to get the highlight color.

“I think the stress of everything has frayed everyone,” Sandy said. “It’s a lot. It’s been a lot and now, instead of a vacation, we have to navigate getting the kids back in school, going back to school for you, and getting my small business up and running again. It’s. . .”

“A lot,” Jill said.

“So go easy on yourself,” Sandy said. “It’s okay to feel miserable when things are miserable. It’s not okay to get stuck there.”

Jill nodded. Sandy finished Jill’s highlights and disappeared. She returned with mugs of hot chocolate. Sandy sat in a chair near Jill while they drank their cocoa. By the time her mug was near empty, Jill was feeling a lot better.

“How are you able to handle all of this?” Jill asked.

“Well,” Sandy said with a shrug. “I nearly died a few months ago. I’ve had all these surgeries and been in and out of the hospital.”

“Awful,” Jill said.

“It’s changed my perspective,” Sandy said with a nod. “At least for now.”

Sandy got up to check Jill’s highlights.

“For now, I feel like this is life,” Sandy said. “Messy, ugly, full of drama and joy. I had so much pain. I had so much help and love and support. More than anything, I’m glad to be here in the mess of everything.”

“I’m glad you’re here, too,” Jill said, sniffing at her tears.

“We do not have time for that,” Sandy said with a smile. “Let’s get you washed up and out of here.”

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-seven - How is everyone?


Saturday morning — 5:30 a.m.

Tanesha’s alarm went off at five. She awakened Jeraine with a kiss on his cheek. He stroked her face, and she got out of bed. After using the bathroom, her socked feet slid across their beautiful floors to Jabari’s room. Of course, the boy was awake when she entered the room. She helped him through his bathroom routine and then brought the child back to bed with Jeraine where they could snuggle for a bit.

She showered in their plush shower in the master bedroom. Her hair was very short now, so she just let the water wash through her tight curls. As her hands moved to clean her body, her mind wandered.

Cases of that Covid virus were down, overall. They’d had an increase in cases in early August from people spreading the virus to friends and family at their Fourth of July holiday parties. But cases went right back down. Everyone expected the fall to be tough. Most of the hospitals were giving doctors and nurses vacation breaks while they could.

Of course, Tanesha and Fin were lowly medical students, so they were filling shifts until school started again in a week or two.

They’d worked their rears off to pass the courses they’d started in the spring but were sent home before completing. They would start their third year in medical school in a few weeks. This year, they would start their first year of rotating through hospital medical departments. As long as the hospital stayed open, of course. She had been assured that the hospital had figured out how to stay open and managed the increase in cases they expected in a month or so.

She also knew that the authorities and experts were talking about some dangerous variants of the virus that were more — more easily spread and much more deadly. She hoped they didn’t reach Colorado.

Tanesha was excited to get back on track with medical school.

She was also terrified that it would all be too much.

None of this ruminating was going to get her day going. She turned off the shower and got out. Drying off, she went through a fast routine of full body lotion, minimal make-up, check her hair and edges, before grabbing her bathrobe and heading out.

She and Fin had been working in the hospitals so long that they had been assigned departments. Tanesha worked in ICU, and Fin worked in the Emergency Room. Tanesha dressed in scrubs and went to wake Jabari again.

Although Jeraine had had a show last night, he got up when Tanesha woke Jabari. He got Jabari ready for his day while Tanesha checked her email.

They were out in the main area by 6:15 a.m.

Tanesha turned on the coffee pot. She was about to open the refrigerator when Blane and Tres came down the stairs. Blane shooed her out of the kitchen and began making breakfast for everyone.

“Where’s Nelson?” Tanesha asked. “Heather?”

“Nelson has his run with John Drayson this morning,” Tres said, handing her a cup of coffee.

“Heather’s meeting about that Templar adventure,” Blane said. “Alex Hargreaves thinks that she’s found the hoard. Hecate and the rest are in town.”

“I met someone named ‘Hestia’ yesterday?” Jeraine looked up to see if anyone had met her.

“She’s a niece of Jill’s father,” Tanesha said.

“You’ve met her before?” Jeraine asked.

“Know my Greek Gods,” Tanesha said with a laugh. “She’s the goddess of hearth and home, I believe.”

No one said anything for a long moment.

“Did you guys forget Mack and Wyn?” Tanesha asked.

“They are sleeping,” Blane said, holding up the baby monitor. “I thought I’d go up and get them when I’d finished breakfast.”

“I’ll go,” Tres said.

Tres got up and went back upstairs.

“How was the concert?” Blane asked.

“Last night?” Jeraine asked. “Good. Actually, really good. Last night, we had. . .”

Jeraine named a famous female singer.

“She told me that the only reason she left the house was because she wanted to see the ballroom,” Jeraine said. “Her manager wants her to do a holiday concert to go with the new album. He ‘seduced’ — her word — her into coming by talking about Miss. T and her work at the hospital.”

“Really?” Tanesha asked.

“She said that she was not leaving the house,” Jeraine said. “Anyway, it looks like she’ll be filming a special in the ballroom. The casino is willing to do the tickets, let her use their equipment, and even edit the final product for an inflated cut. She wanted to know what we would need for her to use it.”

“What does that mean?” Blane asked.

“I don’t know,” Jeraine said. “I’m meeting with Jammy to talk about it.”

Tres came down stairs holding Wyn and nudging Mack along. Still sleepy, Mack climbed onto a chair next to Jabari. The two boys gave each other a groggy greeting. Tres set Wyn down in the high chair.

Blane set down a bowls of yogurt and fruit in front of Jabari and Mack. Tres took the last bowl and went to help Wyn eat. Wyn could feed himself, but he struggled in the mornings.

A few minutes later, the toaster rang. Tanesha got up to help butter the toast. Blane finished the bacon and eggs. The adults were on a high protein day so they had a high fiber crunchy piece of toast with bacon and eggs.

When breakfast was made, Blane disappeared to finish getting ready. The rest of them ate their breakfasts. Blane appeared a few minutes later. Tres grabbed Wyn, now coated in a thin layer of yogurt, and went back upstairs.

By the time Tres returned with Wyn, everyone was ready to head to the Castle. Jeraine picked up Jabari. Blane picked up Mack and Tres carried Wyn across the street. They passed a small crowd of paparazzi now stationed six feet apart from each other.

Once inside, the children went up to the loft for an early morning story time. Tanesha got Fin and they left for the hospital. Jeraine found Jammy sitting on the back deck, reading email on his cellphone.

After dropping Mack and Wyn in the loft, Tres headed out for a day of checking in with his elderly parents and older siblings. As the youngest child of twelve, Tres’s older siblings were well into their 70s. They and his parents were isolated and at risk for the virus. Tres checked in with them once a week to make sure they had food, masks, and were well.

Blane went to the medical offices. Over the last few months, the offices had gradually transformed into his dream offices. It had taken him a while to accept that this wonderful space belonged to him. One weekend, a month ago, when he had traveled to see patients in the San Luis valley, Jill had transformed the sterile, ugly space into a warm, inviting, even healing place.

Jill had even an easy wipe down system for cleaning the rooms between patients and UV lights overnight. Since he now had two treatment rooms, he could wipe down the room and set the lights between people.

Blane loved going to work.

Today, he had private patients in the morning and a community outdoor clinic in the afternoon. La Tonya, Jeraine’s older sister, had proven to be an invaluable assistant. At some point, she would likely get back to being a medical doctor. In the meantime, he had the flexibility she needed to get her life and her family back on track.

Blane lit the candles in the office and went to open the door. His first patient was waiting for him on a bench on the deck.

“Good morning, Dr. Lipson,” the woman said.

“How are you feeling?” Blane asked.

And his work day began. Jill was his 11 o’clock patient.

“How are you?” Blane asked.

“Oh,” Jill said. “Mostly I’m tired.”

“I can tell,” Blane said, setting her wrists down from taking her Chinese medicine pulses.

While Blane stuck needles in her body, Jill contemplated her life now.

She had been living the same day on repeat for months now. She woke up when Jacob got up. When he left for work at Lipson or to one of their remodel projects, she woke up the boys and Katy.

Then she spent a wonderful, sometimes frustrating, perfect hour or so with her children.

It was something that she never would have dreamed of being able to do when she just had Katy. It was something she couldn’t have dreamed of doing even at the beginning of the year. Yet here she was, day after day, spending this time with her own children.

Time. She had the luxury of time, now.

Since her mother had faked her death in Costa Rica, Jill had never had time. She had rushed from work to school and school to work. For more of Katy’s early life, she’d slept only four hours so that she could work as much as possible. She was even back at work only days after Katy was born.

She’d never spent time at home hanging out with her own children.

She couldn’t have dreamed of this time with them. At the beginning of this year, she was working and going to school. The kids went to daycare. They functioned more like balls that bounced from place to place, thing to thing, only sleeping in the same location.

That’s what boggled her mind. In their pre-Covid life, they’d spent the majority of their time together while they were sleeping.

It was far from perfect now.

Like a lot of women, she’d had to juggle taking care of children, her husband, her home, her friends, her school work, and her work-work. She’d managed the design work she did for their business between nap time and when Jacob came home from work. He spent time with the kids while she worked until dinner. It was just barely enough time to keep their projects moving forward. The Zoom client meetings were great and awful at the same time.

So far, everything was working.

Next week, however, she was supposed to head back for her third year of college.

She’d had long talks with Honey about school. Honey was also starting her third year of college. While Jill went to the Colorado Institute for Art, Honey was going to Metro University. They’d worried about this new change — could they manage work, school, and kids?

Did they want to?

Truth be told, if it were only up to Jill, she would probably have quit school to spend all of her time with her kids. Jacob wouldn’t hear of it. Jill had wanted to go to college all of her adult life. He wasn’t about to let her give up on her dream.

In a week’s time, the kids would head back to the modified, aerated Marlowe School.

And Jill would head back to school.

But was that really what she wanted?

How would she ever find the time to go to school and deal with everything going on?

“Ruminating?” Blane asked.

“How could you tell?” Jill asked.

“Try to rest,” Blane said. “Take in the treatment.”

He stuck a needle into her forehead. She was completely out. Twenty minutes later, Blane touched her shoulder.

“How do you feel?” Blane asked.

“Good,” Jill said. “Better.”

Nodding, Blane pulled out the needles.

“Drink lots of water,” Blane said. “Take your time.”

Blane left the room. Jill lay there for a moment before noticing the time. Her list of things to do next came up in her head. She got up and left the room.

Jill left the room. She stopped to chat with La Tonya for a moment before heading out into the deck and backyard stairs. She jogged down the stairs to the backyard. She reached the backyard just as Delphie came out of the house.

“How was your treatment?” Delphie asked.

“Awesome,” Jill said. “I feel so much better. How are you feeling?”

“Good,” Delphie said. “Well, better.”

“That vaccine packed a punch,” Jill said.

“I’m just glad we made it into the trial,” Delphie said.

“Me, too,” Jill said.

Delphie hugged Jill for a moment and let go. Jill continued into the house, and Delphie continued out to her greenhouses.

They’d used the greenhouses to start seedlings for all of the gardens. Once the seedlings were planted, they had moved tropical plants into the greenhouses. Delphie needed to mist the grapevines and the pineapples. She had no idea what they would do with the space over the winter.

She and Valerie were supposed to sit down and sort it out.

Tanesha had said that the doctors expected a lot of Covid cases this fall — and a lot of death due to this horrible virus. She knew that meant that the economy was going to drop and a lot of people were going to suffer. They needed to dig deep and share the wealth that they had.

She sighed.

This pandemic has asked her to stretch in every direction. It was wonderful, and it was really hard. Some days, it seemed like every single person she knew wanted something from her. She fell into bed completely exhausted.

She loved it, and, sometimes, she longed for the days when she spent all day in her quiet chapel or simply sitting in her backyard watching the birds.

Truth be told, she’d never felt so alive.

She shook her head at herself. How could one person feel so many contradictory things at once?

“Are you okay?” Valerie’s voice came from behind Delphie.

“Of course,” Delphie said, turning around.

Valerie was carrying her infant daughter. They’d continued their pirate names by naming her “Grace” for the historic pirate Grace O’Malley, who had once begged Queen Elizabeth I for the return of her ships only to return to pirating until her death in 1603.

“Gracie was looking for you,” Valerie said of the four month old.

Delphie held out her arms, and Valerie set the baby in them.

“Where shall we go?” Delphie asked.

“I set up a quiet spot by the chickens,” Valerie said.

“Nice,” Delphie said. “How are you feeling?”

“Good,” Valerie said. “Before you ask — I don’t feel any of that depression or sadness. I feel happy.”

“Good,” Delphie said.

Valerie hooked her arm with Delphie’s and they walked across the backyard to the quiet chicken yard. The teenagers kept the chicken coop clean enough so that Jacob had put a small metal table with two metal chairs over here. Valerie had set a pot of tea and some iced lemon cookies. Delphie sat down nearest the garden and Valerie sat on the other side of the table. Since they were outside and not too close, they both took off their facemasks.

“How do you feel about the kids going back to school?” Delphie asked.

“I’m excited,” Valerie said. “I mean, it would be harder if they weren’t begging to go back.”

Delphie grinned.

“It’s a little insulting, really,” Valerie said. “We’ve had so fun being together. Now they are like: ‘Don’t you have a movie?’”

Valerie laughed, and Delphie smiled.

“You know that they don’t mean anything by it,” Delphie said.

“I do,” Valerie said. She started pouring the tea into china cups that matched the teapot. “I guess. . .”

Valerie shrugged.

“It was hard to adjust to the pandemic,” Valerie said. “Now, after all of these months, it feels like ‘real life.’ You know?”

“I do,” Delphie said. “I was just thinking that I have felt more alive during this time than almost any other.”

“Me, too,” Valerie said.

“You’ve worked so hard to get the Marlowe School ready for the students to return,” Delphie said.

“Well, Jake and his guys did the work,” Valerie said.

“You did all of those video meetings with the board,” Delphie said.

“You’re right,” Valerie chuckled. “That’s a lot more work. Assholes.”

Delphie grinned at her.

“I do I miss my other life,” Valerie said. “But, everything is on hold until they figure out what to do next.”

Delphie nodded.

“At least I still have offers,” Valerie said. “Did I tell you that I’m in line for one of those Marvel characters?”

“No!” Delphie said. “That sounds fun.”

Valerie nodded and then shrugged.

“You know how this goes,” Valerie said. “I could get it or not get it; get it and then not get it; or. . .”

Valerie shrugged.

“It’s fun to be in the running,” Delphie said.

Smiling, Valerie nodded. A chicken began to squawk and Grace began to laugh. Valerie and Delphie joined in her laugh. They sat out in the grace, eating cookies, and drinking tea until they finally go around to talking about the garden. They chatted so long that the sun started to go down.

“Hey,” Charlie said, coming out into the chicken yard. “We’re having dinner across the street.”

He picked up Grace from Delphie’s lap. Holding the baby in one hand, he grabbed the last cookie off the plate and stuffed it into his mouth in one bite.

“She needs a diaper change,” Charlie said, spitting cookie crumbs.

“We need to go inside anyway,” Delphie said.

“Seems to me that you’re enjoying yourself,” Charlie said.

“We are,” Valerie said.

“We’re plotting the fall and spring,” Delphie said.

“I want to get a Christmas tree again,” Charlie said. “Is that on the list?”

“Of course,” Valerie said.

“Good,” Charlie said. “You mind if I feed the chickens?”

“Not at all,” Valerie said.

Valerie held out her arms, and Charlie put Grace into them. Charlie went through the fast motions of feeding and checking the chickens. He came back with two eggs.

“I thought we got eggs in the mornings,” Valerie said.

“One of the girls likes to lay in the afternoon,” Charlie said.

“Good to know,” Delphie said.

“Hey, I wanted to run something by you,” Charlie said.

Delphie and Valerie looked up at him.

“I’m thinking about maybe becoming a teacher,” Charlie said. He continued in a rush of words, “I know I haven’t been the best student, but I’ve really enjoyed this year where we picked a book and worked through it. I did most of that. I also helped with the math and stuff. I know that I’m behind, but I think I could really do this. Sandy wants me to go to college and I think Aden is thinking that I’ll be a med tech or something like that. But. . .”

Charlie nodded. Embarrassed, he turned in place and went inside.

“You do need a diaper change,” Valerie said to tiny Grace.

“Let’s head in,” Delphie said. “I can change her while you get changed.”

“Oh, I have it,” Valerie said. “I’m sure there will be a million demands on your time. I appreciate you spending so much time with me today.”

“I’m glad to have it,” Delphie said.

After putting back on her facemask, Delphie picked up the plate and the tea pot. She followed Valerie inside.

This had been the strangest, most terrifying and wonderful time in any of their lives. Whatever happened next was likely to be some mix of everything that had happened before.

Delphie felt a wave of foreboding. Shaking her head at herself, she followed Valerie inside the Castle.

Denver Cereal continues next week...