CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-TWO
“This morning,” Tanesha said. “About a half-hour ago. The paramedics said that she likely had a heart attack brought on by Covid. According to her mom, she had at least three positive Covid tests. Her mother’s very angry with her for not taking care of her Covid. But you know, Annette believed Covid was a hoax.”
“That’s awful,” Jeraine said. “Where’s Jabari?”
“He’s at home,” Tanesha said. “I already told him.”
“How is he?” Jacob asked.
“Philosophical,” Tanesha said with a grin. “That kid. . .”
“You should watch him,” Mike said. “It catches up with kids. It was a while before Meg or I really realized that our parents were dead, or supposed to be dead.”
“Good point,” Tanesha said with a nod.
“Annette’s mother asked if you’d go to the funeral and bring Jabari,” Tanesha said.
“We can figure it out,” Mike said. “No point messing up today.”
Jeraine nodded and closed his eyes. He sighed.
“I guess I can’t believe it,” Jeraine said. “That’s she’s gone. She has been such a pain for such a long time that. . .”
“I doubt the pain is over,” Tanesha said.
Jeraine nodded. Each lost in their own thoughts, they stood together in silence. Jammy rushed through the door from the backyard.
“Jeraine?” Jammy said, concern was apparent on his face. “I just got the word that Annette has died.”
“Miss T just told me,” Jeraine said.
“I’m so sorry,” Jammy said.
Jeraine looked at Tanesha, and she turned to Jammy.
“Jabari had Covid when he got home from her house,” Tanesha said. “When I spoke to her about it, she said that her son wasn’t a ‘sissy’ and that she didn’t care about ‘no virus.’ So, it isn’t a surprise to us that she’s died in this way. It’s just very sad.”
“You want to talk to the press?” Jammy asked.
“I think we need to,” Tanesha said. “I’m in the hospitals five days a week. People are dying. We need to use every opportunity to let people know that this thing is real and deadly.”
“I’ll set it up,” Jammy said. He hugged Jeraine. “You okay?”
“Too bright out there for me out there,” Jeraine said. “Jake brought me to a cooler place. Miss T brought my meds.”
“Let’s wait until you’re set,” Jammy said. “Sam’s ready to open the ballroom. Would you like to come out?”
Jeraine looked at Tanesha. She gave him a soft smile.
“Let’s not give up today,” Mike said.
“Good thinking,” Tanesha said. “Come on.”
Jeraine got up and followed Tanesha into the living room.
“First,” Tanesha said.
She took Jacob’s sunglasses off Jeraine’s face and gave them to Jacob. She took out sunglasses popular in the 1920s.
“Your dad sent these over,” Tanesha said.
She put them on Jeraine.
“Looking good,” Mike said.
They each checked their facemasks before heading out into the yard.
Friday morning — 10:01 a.m.
“What do you see?” Katy whispered to Paddie.
Taller than Katy, Paddie stood on his tiptoes to look out the window of Jill’s office.
“They are still out there,” Paddie said with a nod.
“Don’t worry,” Paddie said. “They won’t notice. They’re doing what they’re doing.”
“My daddy’s out there?” Katy asked.
Paddie stood on his tiptoes again. He nodded.
“He notices everything,” Katy said.
Paddie turned around to look at his best friend. Katy crossed her arms and scowled.
“Are you okay?” Paddie asked.
“No,” Katy said. “We have to get out of here!”
“Why?” Jill asked.
Katy and Paddie gasped in unison. They looked very guilty.
“Katy?” Jill asked. She knelt down to her daughter. “Are you needing an adventure?”
“We’re worried about our horses,” Paddie said, instantly caving to pressure.
Katy gave him a hard look but Paddie shrugged.
“She saved me when I was sick,” Paddie said. “I could have died!”
Katy’s eyes filled with tears, and the children hugged. Moved by the children, Jill picked up Katy and Paddie.
“Oh Mommy,” Katy said, as she cried into her mother’s shoulder.
Jill let Katy cry for a while before kissing Katy’s forehead and set her on the couch. She kissed Paddie and set him on the couch.
“Now,” Jill said. “Why are you worried about the horses?”
“We don’t know if they got sick!” Katy said. “They can’t wear masks!”
“And a lot of people aren’t as careful as us,” Paddie said.
“They don’t know about bones and crypts and plagues and. . .” The air crackled with Katy’s anxiety. “They’ll get our horses sick.”
“They’re horses!” Paddie said. “I don’t want my horse to be as sick as I was!”
“Well, you bring up a valid point,” Jill said.
“We’re really careful with Sarah and Buster,” Paddie said. “We wash our hands and make sure to wear our masks and. . .”
“We don’t want the dogs to get sick!” Katy said.
They looked so worried that Jill gave them a soft smile.
“I’ll tell you what,” Jill said. “Why don’t we go see our horses? Your daddy is working on the house, so he can’t go. But I know that Paddie’s Auntie Alex and her team are here. She can probably spare someone to help us. Should I call?”
Nodding, Paddie jumped up and down. Katy thought for a minute.
“Do we have to bring the other kids?” Katy asked.
“I was thinking that we would,” Jill said. “Would that be a big deal?”
Adorably, Katy tapped her lip while she thought about it.
“I think everyone wants to break out of here,” Jill said.
“Just the middle-big kids?” Katy asked.
“If you’d like,” Jill said. “Máire and Joey have horses, or they share horses like we do. I’m not sure. I don’t know if Jackie and Eddy have been riding, but I bet they’d want to go.”
“We’ll help!” Katy said brightly.
“Sounds good,” Jill said. “Maybe we can stop for some fancy food on our way home? We can get it to-go.”
“Like we used to?” Katy asked.
Jill nodded. Katy cheered so Paddie joined her. Katy and Paddie ran out of Jill’s office to tell everyone.
Jill remembered that Athena had been working with Heather on something Olympian. She bet that Athena could teach their kids a thing or two about horses. Smiling to herself, Jill began to make calls.
Friday afternoon — 4:35 p.m.
Nelson got off the 15 Colfax bus at Race Street and started toward their new home. When Ava and her team had a case, they worked long hours, sometimes all night. They were between cases due to Covid, so everyone left early. Nelson loved getting home early now that he had such a great home filled with so many people that he loved.
He took a deep breath. The days were getting longer and the weather was moving into summer warm. Tulips and daffodils lined his walk to their new home. He smiled.
He would check in on his father this evening before heading home. It was his turn to make dinner so he imagined himself grilling up some burgers for everyone on his new gas grill in their new gorgeous patio.
For the first time, in a very, very long time, he was truly happy.
Grinning under his N-95 mask, he continued down the sidewalk. His eyes noticed the burgeoning spring while his mind planned out what he’d do when he got home. When he turned back to the sidewalk, he saw what looked like a pile of clothing. He squinted, and then scowled.
“That’s. . .”
Nelson ran toward the pile of clothing while digging in his bag for a phone. He dropped down next to the body of his elderly next door neighbor, Mr. Matchel. Nelson touched the elderly man’s shoulder and Mr. Matchel groaned.
“Oh my God,” Nelson said, blowing out a breath. “You’re alive.”
“Hey!” Blane yelled from the front lawn of the Castle.
The paparazzi turned to take photos. Blane and Jacob ran across the street to where Nelson knelt.
“It’s Mr. Matchel,” Nelson said. “Our next door neighbor.”
“Let’s get him inside,” Blane said.
Before Nelson could move, Jacob picked up the elderly man and jogged down the path to the patio behind the house. Jacob set the elderly man on a bench and helped him sit up.
“What. . .?” Heather asked after sliding open the glass door to the patio.
“Go back inside,” Nelson said. “This is Covid.”
“I’m immortal?” Heather shrugged.
The men stared at her for a moment. She nodded.
“Maybe you should go inside while I figure this out,” Heather said.
Because she’d promised to always wear one, Heather grabbed a mask and went outside. The men went inside and stood next to the sliding glass window.
“Mr. Matchel?” Heather asked. She put her hand on his shoulder. “Mr. Matchel.”
The man’s eyes fluttered open. He looked up at her.
“We found you on the sidewalk,” Heather said.
“Need. . .” the elderly man said, “. . . help.”
“Are you ill?” Heather asked.
“Ask him to take a full breath!” Nelson yelled from inside the house.
“Can you take a full breath?” Heather asked.
The elderly man took a shaky breath. Heather looked at Nelson. Blane was starting outside. But Heather shook her head at him.
“When was the last time you ate?” Heather asked.
“They stopped my meals,” Mr. Matchel said. “I ran out of food a couple weeks ago. You kids told me that if I ever needed help. . . Took me a time to. . .”
“Do you think you need a hospital?” Heather asked.
“I don’t know,” Mr. Matchel said. “I was surprised at how weak I’ve become. I never would have thought that I. . .”
The elderly man closed his eyes and sighed. A tear rolled down his face.
“I’m going to put this mask on you,” Heather said. She opened her hand and a face mask appeared. “Nelson and Blane can’t get Covid. So I don’t want any argument from you.”
The man gave a vague nod. She put the mask over his face. Heather gestured for Nelson to come out. Blane said something to Jacob, and Jacob went into the kitchen. Blane and Nelson went out together. Blane grabbed the man’s right wrist to take his Chinese medicine pulses, while Nelson used an infrared thermometer to take the man’s temperature.
“99,” Nelson said. “High, but that could be from dehydration. What do you think?”
“His immune system is fighting something,” Blane said. “He is very weak. We should treat him as infected until we can check.”
Nelson nodded. Jacob appeared with a cup of warm broth. Everyone but Heather backed up. Heather placed her hand on the man’s shoulder.
“Let’s see how you do with some broth,” Heather said.
The elderly man nodded. He took off the mask and drank the broth. Heather waited to see his effect. She shook his head.
“He’s too weak,” Heather said. “The broth is running right through him.”
Blane and Jacob shared a look.
“What?” Nelson asked.
“We need to bring him to the Castle medical offices,” Blane said.
“He’s too weak,” Nelson said. “Can’t we put him in your office?”
Blane and Jacob looked at each other again. Jacob nodded.
“Yes,” Jacob said.
“What the fuck is it with you two?” Nelson asked irritably. “I thought I’d have trouble with Tres, but he’s open and honest — clear even — compared to the two of you lovebirds.”
“Sorry,” Blane said. “We’ve worked together for a long time. We’ve had many years of long conversation about me using the medical offices for my practice.”
“I told him this very thing this morning,” Jacob said.
“While we were moving me into my office,” Blane said.
“This morning,” Jacob said.
“Did you finish?” Nelson asked.
“Moving in?” Blane asked.
Jacob vehemently shook his head.
“No,” Blane said. “In the words of Jacob, ‘Damn, you have a lot of crap.’”
“So we can move him to your office?” Nelson asked, trying to hide his exasperation.
“Yes,” Blane said.
“Let’s,” Jacob said.
When they turned back to look at Mr. Matchel, he was gone. Heather was sitting in his place.
“I moved him into Blane’s office,” Heather said, mildly. “He needed a bath and some clean clothing, which has been taken care of by my associates. He is sleeping quietly.”
Heather smiled at the men.
“I am a goddess,” Heather said. “So I’ll tell you — this man is exhausted. He’s been without any form of nutrition for a long time. He hasn’t had company or interaction either. He’s been stuck in his house without any assistance while the entire world closed down. He’s terrified that he will die and no one will know. He is hungry, tired, dirty, distraught, and very alone.”
Heather stood up.
“He is now a part of our family,” Heather said, standing up. “And, we need to think about every single one of our neighbors because it’s very possible that there are more people in Mr. Matchel’s situation.”
She went into the house.
“Covid?” Nelson croaked.
“I don’t know,” Heather said. “Jill’s out with the kids. I sent her a text. She’ll stop here when they get back.”
Heather gave the men a nod and went back into the house. The men watched her go.
“I’m not making dinner,” Heather said.
Jacob laughed. Nelson trotted into the house after Heather. Blane nodded to Jacob and followed them inside.
Friday evening — 9:47 p.m.
Tanesha finished her swim and floated back to the seats at the rear of the Swim spa. She was just pulling off her goggles when a towel appeared.
“Thanks,” Tanesha said. “Hang on.”
“I’ll be right here,” Delphie said.
“Good, I wanted to talk to you,” Tanesha said.
Tanesha stood to make her way out of the small pool.
“Oh?” Delphie looked surprised. “I wanted to talk with you.”
Tanesha came down from the edge of the pool and took the towel from Delphie.
“How was your swim?” Delphie asked.
“Good,” Tanesha said. “I want to get one of these, but we can’t afford it after all the house stuff.”
“Valerie doesn’t mind you using this one,” Delphie said.
“She’s lovely,” Tanesha said. “Plus, Jer’s downstairs in that ballroom testing the sound speakers. This gives me something to do. Can you hear them in the house?”
“No,” Delphie said.
“I guess that makes sense,” Tanesha said. She pulled the towel around her and tucked the ends into the wrap. “There’s a whole lot of dirt between the ballroom and the house.”
“You want to go first?” Tanesha asked.
“I was hoping to speak with you about the woman you call ‘Gran,’” Delphie said.
“You mean my non-grandmother?” Tanesha asked. “Brr, can we go inside?”
“Absolutely,” Delphie said.
Tanesha pulled off her swimming cap as they walked through the door to the kitchen.
“I warmed up some dinner for you,” Delphie said.
“Uh oh,” Tanesha said. “Trying to soften the blow.”
Delphie gave Tanesha a soft smile.
“I guess so,” Delphie said.
“How bad is it?” Tanesha asked.
“She only has a day or so left,” Delphie said. “I was hoping to talk to Fin about having her partner return, but I never seem to catch him.”
“They’re having some drama at home,” Tanesha said. “He’s either working in the hospital with me or dealing with bullshit at home. That’s why Abi’s not around.”
“Could you ask him?” Delphie asked.
“I will as soon as we’re done,” Tanesha said.
“Good,” Delphie said. “How is Jabari?”
“You know how Jabari is because he’s here with Maggie and Mack,” Tanesha said.
“Yes, I guess I do,” Delphie said. “It’s a shame about Annette.”
“It really is,” Tanesha said. “I will never understand why people throw their lives away out of stubbornness.”
Delphie nodded. Tanesha poked around on her plate before taking a bite. Realizing she was starving, she started eating in earnest.
“What did you want to talk to me about?” Delphie asked.
“Oh, right,” Tanesha said. “Sorry. This pasta is really good.”
“I’m glad your house is still coming for dinner,” Delphie said. “Nelson made steak and Blane made this pasta. He made the sauce from scratch.”
“I was at the hospital,” Tanesha shrugged. “This is wonderful. I’m so lucky.”
“We all are,” Delphie nodded.
“Did Jer eat?” Tanesha asked.
“That’s why everyone came over,” Delphie said. “His dad and Seth came to. We had dinner and then they went to. . . what do they call it?”
“Jam,” Tanesha said.
“Like apricot,” Delphie said.
Delpie’s eyes danced with laughter. Tanesha grinned. She set her fork down.
“Listen, I wondered if you would like to participate in a vaccine trial,” Tanesha said.
“What’s that?” Delphie asked.
“A vaccine?” Tanesha asked.
“No, I have had all of my vaccines,” Delphie said. “I’m on the Lipson Construction insurance. They send out a nurse to all of the sites. Sam has them stop here so that we all get our vaccines. The spouses who don’t work at Lipson come by here too. It’s kind of a party.”
Tanesha nodded. She’d been to one of these vaccine parties.
“Is this ‘trial’ like that?” Delphie asked. “Does it have a judge? They don’t like me too much.”
“Judges?” Tanesha asked.
“I know too much about them,” Delphie said.
“I bet,” Tanesha said. “This would be a chance to try out the Covid-19 vaccines.”
“Oh,” Delphie said.
“I was asked by my supervisor,” Tanesha said. “He asked if I knew anyone who’d had a stroke.”
“You haven’t had a stroke,” Delphie said.
“Yes, but I am brown,” Tanesha said.
Scowling, Delphie nodded.
“I’m not brown,” Delphie said. She raised her forearm. Seeing Tanesha’s scowl, Delphie asked, “What are you saying? You have to be really plain because I don’t know anything about science.”
“I’m saying this — people who’ve had strokes are getting really sick with this stupid virus,” Tanesha said. “If you can try out the vaccine, they will be able to see if it helps people like you.”
“Oh,” Delphie said. “I want to help.”
“I knew you did,” Tanesha said.
“We should ask Jake too,” Delphie said.
Jacob appeared in the kitchen.
“What are we asking me?” Jacob asked.
“If you’d be a part of a vaccine trial,” Tanesha said.
“You don’t have any immunity because of your new body,” Delphie said.
“You don’t have to convince me,” Jacob said. “Sign me up. In fact, sign Blane up too.”
“What are you signing me up for?” Blane asked as he turned into the kitchen.
“Vaccine trial,” Jacob said.
“I’m in,” Blane said.
“Where do we go?” Jacob asked.
“What?” Blane asked.
“We’ve been having a tough time finding people,” Tanesha said. “It’s great that you guys want to help.”
“If you need people, I bet everyone here would sign up,” Delphie said. “Maybe Val can do one of those public service things.”
“Or Jer,” Tanesha said.
“What am I doing?” Jeraine asked as he came out of the stairwell to the ballroom. Seth O’Malley and Bumpy Wilson followed behind him.
“Vaccine trial,” Tanesha said.
“I’m in,” Bumpy said. “You need more bodies?”
“It’s not my study, but sure,” Tanesha said.
“You can count on Dionne and your parents.” Bumpy nodded. “Those boys out on your dad’s ranch.”
“I’m in,” Seth said. “Ava and her team will join too.”
“This is really great,” Tanesha said. “I’ll have them call you.”
Bumpy and Seth said their goodbyes and went home. Blane left, and Jacob went upstairs. Jeraine went to check on Jabari. Soon, it was Delphie and Tanesha again.
“You were going to call Fin?” Delphie asked.
“Fin,” Tanesha said to the air. “My gran’s dying. . . Can you send her partner to see her to say goodbye?”
The elderly fairy appeared in the kitchen.
“Hello, Ladies,” the fairy said.
She held out her arms and hugged Tanesha tight.
“Gran’s in the hospice wing of the assisted living facility,” Tanesha said.
The fairy nodded and disappeared.
“I guess that’s that,” Delphie said.
Tanesha grinned at the woman. Impulsively, Tanesha leaned over to kiss Delphie’s cheek.
“What’s that for?” Delphie asked.
“You’re the heart of this family,” Tanesha said.
“I like that,” Delphie said.
“Come on, Jer,” Tanesha said.
Jeraine coming back from check in on Jabari.
“Let’s go home,” Tanesha said.
Jeraine and Tanesha walked hand-in-hand out of the Castle. Delphie sat at the table for another moment before turning off the lights and going to bed.
Denver Cereal continues next week...