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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!

Claudia


Chapter Six Hundred and Thirty-six - Enter Wretched

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and THIRTY-SIX

Wednesday morning — 5:05 a.m.

Jill heard a soft knock on their loft door. She pressed the “On” button to their coffee maker and trotted to the door, which she opened just a crack.

“I’m so sorry to wake you,” Tanesha said.

“What are you doing?” Jill asked, stepping back to let her friend into the loft. “You’re supposed to be sleeping.”

“I know,” Tanesha said with a nod.

“But?” Jill asked.

Jill gestured to the kitchen where the coffee was brewing.

“There’s a guy at the door,” Tanesha said.

“A guy?” Jill asked with her head in the freezer.

Jill came up with a bag of lemon-blueberry muffins.

“An old guy,” Tanesha said. “Really, really old. Somehow, he got past the fences and knocked on the door. Honey heard them and sent Jabari to get us. Jer’s with him now.”

Jill stuck a plate of muffins into the microwave. The coffee maker beeped and Jill poured Tanesha an inch of coffee. Tanesha hated coffee but since she’d started medical school, she needed a tiny bit of a boost. Tanesha grinned at Jill. While Jill doctored her own coffee, Tanesha drank the coffee down like bitter medicine.

“Thanks,” Tanesha said.

Jill nodded.

“What’s going on?” Jacob asked.

His hair wet, Jacob came out of his bedroom with his work clothing on. Jill poured him a cup of coffee.

“There’s a guy here,” Tanesha repeated.

“Super old,” Jill said with a nod.

“Why is he here?” Jacob asked.

“He came to see the ballroom,” Tanesha said.

Jacob laughed.

“I know,” Tanesha said. “This guy is someone Jer’s dad knows.”

“Jeraine can take him down there,” Jacob said.

Tanesha smacked her lips and gave him the “You’re an idiot” shake of her head that he often got from Jill’s friends.

“What?” Jacob asked. “What did I do now?”

“Jeraine has a head injury,” Jill said over her cup of coffee. “I doubt that he can remember where it is. Especially after no sleep.”

“Ah,” Jacob said. “Sorry.”

Tanesha raised an eyebrow as if to say, “You should be.” Jacob laughed. His mother had great female friends so he was used to, and rather enjoyed, this kind of treatment from Jill’s friends.

“Do you have time?” Tanesha wrinkled her nose with the request.

“I always have time for you, Tanesha,” Jacob said.

Jacob nodded to Jill — who grinned at his right response. He grabbed a face mask, and followed Tanesha out of the loft. They jogged down the stairs to the Castle kitchen.

Anxious, Jeraine was standing in the kitchen and staring off into space. Jabari was sitting on the table in front of an elderly man. The man wore a lovely blue with white dots face mask and was sitting at the kitchen table. He was thin with age and his skin was the color of almonds. The corners of his eyes showed a web of wrinkles as he grinned at Jabari chatting away.

They all looked up when Jacob and Tanesha arrived. The elderly man stood up.

“Hi,” Jacob said. “I’m Jacob Marlowe. You probably know my father, Sam Lipson.”

“Know him, like him,” the elderly man said. “But not as much as I loved your mother. She was. . .”

The elderly man shook his head.

“She was,” Jacob said.

“This one reminds me so much of his grandfather at this age,” the elderly man laughed.

“Dr. Bumpy?” Tanesha asked with suprise

She picked up Jabari from off of the kitchen table and set him on her hip.

“That boy could talk the paint off the walls,” the elderly man said. “What a delight.”

The elderly man turned to Jacob and sized him up.

“My name is Wretched Jones,” the man said.

“Wretched?” Tanesha asked. “Really?”

“My mother gave me this name,” Wretched said. “And I wear it with pride. Although, honestly, I think it’s the biggest word she’d ever heard.”

He snorted at that.

“You’re Rodney Smith’s daughter,” Wretched said.

“I am,” Tanesha said. “Do you know my mother, Yvonne?”

“Never a finer person than your mother,” Wretched said. “Not ever did I meet one.”

Teary at the compliment, Tanesha could only nod.

“You’re waiting for O’Malley,” Jacob said.

“I’m waiting for O’Malley,” Wretched laughed. “Bumpy said he’d be here too. But I wanted the first look.”

“Oh,” Jeraine said. His mind snapping back to the present. “Dad and Seth are coming here?”

“O’Malley is not going to like you calling him,” the man’s voice changed to tease Jeraine, “‘Seth.’ Especially when music is on the line.”

Jeraine smiled at the man. Jacob turned to Jeraine.

“Can you make us a pot of coffee?” Jacob asked.

“Coffee?” Jeraine asked.

“Maybe some of those muffins?” Tanesha asked.

“Muffins?” Jeraine gave a slow nod. “I can do that.”

Setting Jabari down, Tanesha went into the kitchen to help get Jeraine started. Jabari ran back to Honey’s apartment to be with his friends.

“Where’d the boy go?” Wretched asked.

“His best friend is my sister Honey’s daughter,” Jacob said.

“They were having a sleep over,” Tanesha said. “He doesn’t want to miss out on the wake up part of the sleep over.”

“Makes sense to me,” Wretched said. “All this belong to you, Marlowe?”

“It belongs to. . .” Jacob said.

“Me,” Delphie said, turning the corner from the second floor stairs.

“Oh my Lord,” Wretched said. “Delphinium.”

“Wretched,” Delphie said with a grin.

They went to hug but remembered the pandemic and stopped.

“In the middle of a pandemic, I find the finest blue flower,” Wretched said.

They laughed. Through his mask, he kissed her cheek.

“Are we going to the ballroom?” Delphie asked.

“Why don’t you take them down?” Jacob asked. “I’ll stay here and wait for O’Malley.”

“Hmm,” Delphie said. “I’d bet that Wretched has a few things to show you.”

Jacob gave Delphie a long look. She waved him downstairs. Jacob unlocked the door.

“Can you make the stairs?” Jacob asked.

“I’ve got two new knees and two new hips,” Wretched said. “I can do anything.”

“After you,” Jacob said.

They started down the stairs into the dark. Midway, Jacob turned on the light switch to the ballroom stairs.

“I never been down that stairway before,” Wretched said.

“Oh?” Jacob asked.

“That’s how the whites came in,” Wretched said. “We negroes had to go through the back.”

“As far as I’m concerned, you’re welcome to go in any door in this house,” Jacob said.

“I thought it belonged to Delphie,” Wretched said with a twinkle in his eye.

Grinning, Jacob opened the door to the ballroom.

Wretched took two steps inside and stopped walking. His hand went to his heart.

Jacob turned to look to see if the man was sick, and saw tears stream down his face. Jacob turned away from Wretched and went to turn on the lights. When Jacob returned, Wretched was walking with confidence toward the stage.

“I never thought I’d ever see this place again,” Wretched said. “I dream about it. In fact, I doubt my son thinks it actually exists.”

“Did you spend time here?” Jacob asked.

“Son,” Wretched said. “I cleaned floors and took out the trash here when I was ten; played bass in the band here when I was fifteen; met my wife here when I was twenty; she ran off with a guy she met here when I was 22, and then. . .”

Wretched’s hands opened as if letting something go.

“Prohibition ended,” Wretched said. “The economy was better. We were playing bigger and better places. I had kids to raise. By the time I had a chance to get back here, this place had vanished. Bumpy looked for it.”

Wretched shook his head.

“I left my stuff here,” Wretched said. “You know, how you do when you go somewhere so often. A suit, in case I had to change here; even an old bass I’d bought at a pawn shop. I always thought that I’d be back here. The next thing I knew, no one had heard of the ballroom. Everyone involved was dead or were chased out of town by the racists after that Grand Dragon was convicted.”

“Grand Dragon?” Jacob asked.

“Klan. Man named Dr. Locke,” Wretched said. “Ben Stapleton was mayor, too. Now-a-days you’d call them ‘white supremacists.’ But in my day, they were the law. Deadly to anyone they didn’t like. Met a lot of racists in my life, but none of them as mean and loathsome as that Stapleton. He had all that power too. He hated Jews and blacks and anyone he could get away with. And. . .”

Wretched shook his head.

“I could talk all day,” Wretched said. “I came here to look. This was a golden place where people of all colors could come to dance. Most of the bands were Negroes but so were lots of the dancers. People had fun — laughing and dancing. Outside, racism was the law of the day; but in here, it was nearest to race-free I ever experienced. I couldn’t get enough of it.”

The elderly man sighed.

“And then it was gone,” Wretched said. “Like it never happened. I think those boys of mine don’t think it ever did.”

“Let’s see if we can’t find your stuff,” Jacob said. “That might give you some proof.”

“Good thinking,” Wretched said with a grin.

“I’ll tell you, there wasn’t much here when I found it,” Jacob said.

“Did you go in the back?” Wretched asked.

“I found some casks of rum and gin,” Jacob said.

“No, the employees side,” Wretched said. “Over here.”

Wretched gestured to the other side of the stage. Jacob followed him. They were standing in front of a blank wall.

“There was a door here,” Wretched said, shaking his head.

The elderly man walked back to where they came inside. He went around the other way and ended up back at the blank wall. He backed up and went the other way.

While Wretched tried to figure out where the door might have been, Jacob looked at the wall. He felt around the wall itself.

If there had been a door here, it was one of the best covers that Jacob had ever seen. He felt around the wall until he thought that he’d found a seam. He turned to look for Wretched. The elderly man was talking to himself in another area of the ballroom, Jacob reached out with his senses.

He took a step backward and shook his head. He was taking out his cellphone when his father entered the ballroom. He watched Sam greet Wretched. While the phone dialed, he saw Wretched explain his dilemma.

“O’Malley,” Seth’s voice came from the phone. “We’re in the car. Bumpy needed some coffee. Not my coffee. Not Maresol’s coffee. But special coffee from the special place.”

Bumpy’s laughing voice came from the background.

“We have a body,” Jacob said. “At least one. Likely two.”

“What?” Seth asked. “In the ballroom.”

“Yes,” Jacob said. “Behind a wall.”

“So it is true,” Wretched said.

Jacob jerked with surprise. The elderly man was at his elbow.

“I’ll take care of it,” Seth said.

“Thanks,” Jacob hung up the phone. Turning to Wretched, Jacob asked, “What’s true?”

The elderly man shook his head and walked away from him. Jacob shot a worried look after the man. He glanced at his father.

“Why don’t you head up?” Sam asked. “I know you have a lot on your plate today.”

“You’re still recovering!” Jacob said.

“I’m okay to sit here,” Sam said. “You do have a chair down here, right?”

“In the back,” Jacob said, pointing to the door.

“Perfect,” Sam said. “I’ll pull out a few chairs and a table. We’ll wait for the police and whoever shows up.”

“You’re sure?” Jacob asked.

“Absolutely,” Sam said. “I can do this.”

“You’ll be careful?” Jacob asked.

“I’ll be fine,” Sam said.

Jacob gave him a worried nod. As he was leaving, Wretched was showing Sam where the tables were stored. Jacob jogged up the stairs to the kitchen.

“Where’ve you been?” Blane asked. “We have to go.”

Aden gave Jacob an annoyed look. Jacob followed them out of the Castle.

~~~~~~~~~

Wednesday morning — 10:25 a.m.

“Hey Uncle Nelson,” Noelle said as she came into the kitchen.

Nelson looked up from his laptop and smiled at the girl. She grinned back at him.

“How are you feeling?” Noelle asked.

“Good,” Nelson said. “Better than I was when I got home.”

“That’s awesome,” Noelle said. “We were really worried about you. We tried to track you as long as we could but everything went out.”

“I was kind of out of time,” Nelson said. “I guess. I don’t really know.”

“I bet. What are you doing here?” Remembering her manners, Noelle added quickly, “Can I get you anything?”

“What do you have?” Nelson asked.

“Looks like Jeraine made some muffins,” Noelle said. “Coffee? Tea? We have some fruit. I don’t know, you’ve lived here. We always have about the same stuff.”

Nelson grinned at the girl.

“You look. . .” Noelle held her arms out like she had big biceps.

“I gained some weight while I was gone,” Nelson said.

“Killing infidels is a lot of work,” Noelle said.

Nelson sputtered with surprise.

“We’ve been on homeschool since we were all sent home,” Noelle said. “We decided to read about the Templars, you know, because of you. We each took a book to read and then we told each other what they said. You look thin, too.”

“No food,” Nelson said. “Water. Soap. Many infidels.”

“Ew,” Noelle said.

“Exactly,” Nelson said. “To answer your question, I would love a muffin and a cup of black tea.”

“I’ll make a pot,” Noelle said with a nod. “Milk or alternative?”

“Milk,” Nelson said.

Noelle set the plate of muffins on the table and turned on the electric kettle. 

“I’m here because Jacob found a body,” Nelson said.

“In the ballroom,” Noelle nodded. “What does that have to do with you?”

“I work for Ava O’Malley in her forensic lab,” Nelson said. 

“That’s right,” Noelle said. “Sorry, I forgot. I knew that you were working in the ER since you’ve been feeling better.”

“Just to help out at the ER for the pandemic,” Nelson said. “I work for Ava.”

“Really?” Noelle asked. “One of my topics is to see what it would be like to be a forensic artist. Ava’s setting me up with someone to talk with them about it.”

“That’s interesting work,” Nelson said.

“What do you do?” Noelle asked.

“I have a lot of experience in ERs,” Nelson said. “I’ve seen a lot of violent crime, so I know what violence can do to a body. I can tell by looking at someone’s remains what’s happened. Sometimes, not all the time, but that’s what I bring to the table. Also, I handle all of our computer research, forms, stuff like that.”

“Is there a lot of computer stuff?” Noelle asked.

“You’d be surprised,” Nelson said. “I’ve been sitting here trying to see if I can find a missing person’s report from the 1930s. Or a report of a riot or some kind of violence in this area.”

“That’s interesting,” Noelle said. “Did you find anything?”

“It’s tricky,” Nelson said. “The ballroom was an illegal speakeasy, so it’s not like they would have called the police if something happened.”

Noelle nodded. The electric kettle clicked off and Noelle set about making the pot of tea. Nelson followed her with his eyes.

“I haven’t found anything,” Nelson said. “But that doesn’t mean that, when we find someone who will talk to us, I won’t be able to track their story through official channels. At least that’s how it usually works.”

Noelle nodded. She set the full teapot on the kitchen table.

“What are you up to?” Nelson asked.

“It time for me to do art,” Noelle said. “I can just go out there, but Joey’s still here and Mike was working with him. Mike will be mad if Joey and I work, but it’s art time so we have to do something. Have you seen Mike?”

“I haven’t,” Nelson said.

“Hmm,” Noelle said. “They had a baby yesterday.”

“I heard,” Nelson said. “Baby girl?”

Noelle nodded. She squinted her eyes and looked at the second floor stairs.

“I should go check,” Noelle said. “He just might get annoyed, and I don’t want to annoy him.”

Nelson looked up at her.

“You don’t have any special powers do you?” Noelle asked. “You know, like Jacob and Katy do?”

“Other than being a Templar?” Nelson asked with a laugh. “No.”

“Well, here goes nothing,” Noelle said and went up the stairs. “Good luck with your stuff.”

Nelson nodded and went back to his computer. A few minutes later, Ava O’Malley came in with the state archeologist, Dr. Heidi Miller, trailing behind her.

“This is a great place,” Dr. Miller said. “Do you live here, Nelson?”

“I lived here while our house was being finished,” Nelson said. “We live across the street.”

“Can we have the muffins?” Ava asked.

“Sure,” Nelson said, shifting the plate toward here. “We have a fresh pot of tea, too.”

“Where’s O’Malley?” Ava asked.

“He’s not here,” Nelson said. “I mean, he was here. Then he left to drop off Dr. Bumpy.”

“That’ll take a while,” Ava said.

Ava pulled out a seat for Dr. Miller and took one across the table. Nelson got up to get plates and mugs. They had just poured tea when Mike and Noelle came running down the stairs. Mike’s hair was wet and he was pulling on a long sleeved T-shirt. Noelle was talking so fast that none of them could catch a word. Joey Drayson flew down the loft stairs and ran after them. They left the building together.

“Any idea what that was about?” Ava asked.

“Art time?” Nelson shrugged. “Val had her baby yesterday so Mike’s not on the ball. They have this complicated schedule. If they get behind, then everything’s a mess.”

“Wow,” Dr. Miller said. “Can I bring my kids here?”

“Ours are with Heather upstairs,” Nelson said with a grin. “It’s toddler play time.”

They ate muffins and drank tea until Seth came running into the building.

“Come on,” Seth said.

He waved at them and ran down the stairs.

“You guys go ahead,” Ava said. “I’ll clear.”

Nelson picked up his bag and gestured for Dr. Miller to head down the stairs in front of him. Ava picked up the cups. She set them in the dishwasher and followed them down into the ballroom.

Denver Cereal continues next week...

 


Chapter Six Hundred and Thirty-five - In the ballroom

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and THIRTY-FIVE

“Promise?” Jeraine asked.

Nodding, Jacob poured another bowl of Cap’n Crunch. Jeraine shot a scowl at Jacob and jogged out of the building. He drove to Denver Heath and found Tanesha standing outside the Emergency Department.

“Sorry,” Jeraine said, as she got in the vehicle. “I was talking to Jacob.”

Tanesha leaned over to kiss him.

“Eating Cap’n Crunch,” Tanesha said with a grin.

Jeraine smiled.

“I was just waiting a minute or so,” Tanesha said. “Did you. . .?”

Jeraine gestured to the travel mug. She grinned and took a drink of her tea.

“How was tonight?” Jeraine asked.

“Hard,” Tanesha said. “But. . .”

Tanesha sighed.

“I’m doing okay,” Tanesha said with a nod. “Me, Chad, Fin — we’re getting great clinical experience but most of the people in our class are at home sitting on their hands.”

Tanesha paused as she took another drink.

“It’s criminal to me,” Tanesha said. “Doctors and hospitals need help. We show up on time and ask what we can do. We get to work doing what needs to be done. It’s not glamorous but I think we help. It’s good experience too.”

Tanesha shook her head.

“I guess, that’s really because of John Drayson,” Tanesha said, correcting herself. “I shouldn’t be so petty.”

“You’re making a good point,” Jeraine said. “But really — you asked John if you could help and he told you who to contact.”

“I asked John because I know him,” Tanesha said.

“Could you have gone through school?” Jeraine asked.

“I don’t know,” Tanesha said. “Chad said that he talked to someone in our class who said that if he didn’t get course credit, he wasn’t interested. Course credit.”

Tanesha snorted.

“People are dying from a once in a lifetime pandemic,” Tanesha said. “And all he cared about was being the best in his class.”

Jeraine glanced at her sideways. She smiled at him.

“I sound more annoyed than I am,” Tanesha said. “Thanks for coming to get me.”

“It’s my pleasure,” Jeraine said.

“Jabari?” Tanesha asked.

“He’s with Maggie and Mack,” Jeraine said.

“Sleep over at Honey’s ,” Tanesha said.

Jeraine nodded.

“Listen,” Jeraine said. “Jake and I were talking before I left to come get you. You know how I’ve been upset about the Las Vegas thing?”

“You feel cursed,” Tanesha said. “I understand. It’s been really hard. You were so excited when you got the first one and then crushed when that jerk only signed you to a contract to make sure you didn’t perform.”

“Round number one,” Jeraine said. “We were so close this time.”

“You could still do it,” Tanesha said.

“Yeah, and kill everyone,” Jeraine said. “Annoy my wife.”

“There’s that, too,” Tanesha said.

“Jake was saying. . .” Jeraine turned off of Colfax into the new car lot. He pressed the keys to open the gate. “. . . that we should be more flexible.

He waited until the gate closed to move the car.

“Why are you. . .?” Tanesha asked.

Jeraine pointed to the crowd of paparazzi running in their direction.

“Oh,” Tanesha said. “I completely forgot. Did Val have her baby?”

“Yes, it’s a girl,” Jeraine said, perfunctorily. He only had a moment before they were confronted by the paparazzi waiting to catch a glimpse of Valerie and her baby. “Jake said that there’s a ballroom in the Castle.”

“Ballroom?” Tanesha asked. “I think I remember being there at Jill’s wedding but. . .”

Tanesha shrugged.

“Do you want to go?” Jeraine asked.

Tanesha nodded.

“Ready?” Jeraine asked.

Drinking her tea, Tanesha nodded. Jeraine waited a moment and got out of the vehicle. The flashes and screaming was overwhelming. Jeraine waved, and they jogged up the stairs. They were inside the Castle side door in no time.

“Uh, crazy,” Tanesha said. “Should we call the police?”

“They’ll be back as soon as they are cleared,” Jeraine said. “Best not risk someone getting shot.”

“Good point,” Tanesha said.

They went into the Castle living room to find Jacob staring into the fire.

“What are you doing?” Tanesha asked.

“Talking to my mother,” Jacob said.

“Of course you are,” Tanesha said. “Congratulations on a new niece!”

“She’s very beautiful,” Jacob said.

“All of Val’s kids are lovely,” Tanesha said.

“No child is cuter than Jabari,” Jacob said with a grin.

“Maggie,” Jeraine said.

Jacob, Tanesha, and Jeraine nodded in agreement.

“Does she have a name?” Tanesha asked.

“They haven’t announced,” Jacob said. “I think they’re going to name her after my mom or maybe Delphie. But they aren’t talking about it.”

“Sounds like they have some good choices,” Tanesha said. “Jer said that you were going to show him the ballroom?”

“I thought maybe he could run his show from the ballroom,” Jacob said.

“You mean, have the bands here and broadcast over the Internet?” Tanesha asked.

“Something like that,” Jacob said. “I don’t know how we’d sort out keeping people from getting infected by the virus but I’d guess that Jammy could figure it out.”

“Does it have outside access?” Tanesha asked.

“It did,” Jacob said. “It was a speakeasy. I haven’t opened up access because I thought it made us more vulnerable to people entering from there unnoticed.”

“Good thinking.” Tanesha said. She looked at Jeraine, who was oddly quiet. “What’s up with you?”

“Just wondering what Jake’s got to say,” Jeraine said.

“Come on,” Jacob said. “I’ll show you.”

Jacob stood up. They started moving toward the wall next to Abi and Fin’s apartment. As they neared, Abi came out carrying her two toddlers.

“Where are we going?” Abi asked.

“To see the ballroom,” Tanesha said. “Jake thinks that Jer can have his show here.”

“That would be a good thing,” Abi said with a nod. “As long as it didn’t infect the rest of the house.”

“Exactly,” Jeraine said.

“Carry on,” Abi said.

Tanesha took a sleeping child from Abi. Jacob neared the wall. He pressed hard on the corner where the wall met the adjacent wall and a door opened on a spring.

“That’s cool,” Tanesha said.

“It was here when we moved in,” Jacob said. “Now, listen carefully — you can get in this way but you cannot get out. The door swings closed automatically. If it’s blocked there’s a siren that I haven’t figured out how to turn off.”

“Got it,” Jeraine said. “We can get to the ballroom from here but not go out from here.”

“Right,” Jacob said.

They went along a narrow hallway with doors on one side.

“What’s in there?” Tanesha asked.

“I’m not sure,” Jacob said. “I wasn’t ever able to get the doors open. We haven’t needed the space, so I have just left them for another time.”

Jacob patted the wall on his left hand.

“This is Abi and Fin’s apartment,” Jacob said. “It’s pretty large — larger than most of the second floor apartments.”

“We like it,” Abi said.

“I’m glad,” Jacob said.

They continued down the hallway until they reached a cross hallway.

“This is mostly for maintenance,” Jacob said. “It runs under the second floor hallway.”

“And the doors there?” Tanesha asked.

“No idea,” Jacob said.

“I always wondered what was under the second floor wing,” Jeraine said. “Why didn’t you develop this first?”

“We didn’t find it until recently,” Jacob said. “Val loves to find new rooms and clean them out. Now that she’s had her baby, she’ll probably start that project again.”

“I thought she had a film,” Tanesha said.

“Right,” Jacob said with a shrug. “Let’s see how she is.”

Jacob gave a sincere nod. Tanesha stopped on the hallway below the second floor.

“Oh,” Tanesha said.

Jacob came back to where she was standing.

“I get it,” Tanesha said. “This was a two story apartment building. What’s that?”

Tanesha pointed to the end of the hallway.

“The kitchen,” Jacob said. “Before you ask, on the other side of the kitchen is likely one of the original buildings. It’s more like a mansion or a very big house. On the other side is another two story apartment building. That’s Honey’s apartment and what’s our basement. The building was built in a hill.”

“So the basement is actually just at the bottom of the hill,” Jeraine said.

“Right,” Jacob said. “Our basement is at the level of where our cars are parked now.”

“Huh,” Jeraine said with a nod.

“And the living room?” Abi asked. “Where we first came from?”

“It was built to combine the buildings,” Jacob said. “When Mom bought the building, the hallway with Honey and Dad’s rooms was closed off. The only thing open was what was built to combine them. Delphie says that the buildings were combined more than a hundred years ago. There’s at least another building here. We haven’t found them yet.”

Tanesha gave him a long look.

“What?” Jacob asked.

“What is this place?” Tanesha asked.

“Good question,” Jacob said.

“But you have built out much of what we live in now,” Abi said as a statement.

“Right,” Jacob said. “I made the loft out of the top of Dad and Honey’s rooms and the original house. Abi’s apartment was just open space. The second floor apartments were rented out when mom bought the building. We had a heck of a time getting everyone out.”

“I bet,” Tanesha said.

“Let’s take a look at the ballroom,” Jacob said. He sighed, “Tomorrow is going to be a crappy day. I need to get some rest before dealing with everything.”

“Got it,” Jeraine said. “Where do we go?”

“Take the hallway all the way to the end,” Jacob said. “There’s a stairwell.”

Jeraine reached the end of the hallway.

“There’s a light switch on your left,” Jacob said.

Tanesha and Abi reached the end of the hallway.

“I remember this,” Tanesha said. “This is a long stairwell. The door’s under the stairs down from the second floor. There was something here — a table with flowers on it. I didn’t even notice the hallway”

“I don’t think anyone did,” Jacob said. “We could have come this way, but you’ve been asking about the building. I think it’s cool that there’s all of this uncharted space.”

“It is cool,” Abi said with a nod.

“And more than a little creepy,” Tanesha said.

“Right,” Jacob said. “Let’s head down to the ballroom.”

They continued down the stairs until they reached a door. Jeraine tried to turn the door handle.

“Just push,” Jacob said.

Jeraine pushed the door open and went into the space. Tanesha stopped at the door as she passed.

“This wasn’t here,” Tanesha said.

“The door at the top is locked,” Jacob said. “We don’t really need a door here. I just put the door here because I had an extra door and it fits.”

“Makes sense,” Tanesha said.

Tanesha and Abi past Jacob on the stairwell and went into the ballroom. Jacob followed them inside. The room was partially lit by the waning moon shining through the windows high on the wall. Jeraine was standing in the middle of the room. Jacob opened a panel in the wall and turned on the lights.

“Whoa,” Jeraine said. He turned in place. “Whoa.”

The space was cavernously big. The ballroom’s gleaming pale wood floors reflected the light of the brilliant crystal chandelier overhead. The walls were wallpapered a pale pink. The ceiling was split into square panels with gold leaf on the seams. Inside the panels were painted cherubs and angels.

As if intimidated by the space itself, they stood close to each other.

Jacob walked across the floor to the end.

“Can you help me here?” Jacob asked.

Tanesha and Jeraine jogged to his side.

“These are panels,” Jacob said. “They are very old so we have to be super careful.”

“What happens with them?” Tanesha asked.

“They fold on hinges,” Jacob said. He touched what she’d taken for a line in the wall and pointed to the end. “These were made when the room was made. They go into that cabinet. It closes behind them. When they are folded up, you’d never know that they were here. When they’re out like this, you’d never know that there’s a stage behind them. It’s very clever.”

Tanesha gave Jacob a worried nod.

“Stand here,” Jacob said, pointing to where he was standing. “Jeraine? Can you go here? I’ll work the hinges. Ready?”

Jacob pulled on the hinges while Tanesha and Jeraine pushed on the panels.

“They’re heavy,” Tanesha said.

“They are solid mahogany,” Jacob said. “I think that’s why they’ve lasted.”

They pushed and Jacob pulled until the wall stood like a zig zag.

“Okay, push,” Jacob said.

Together, they pushed the panels until they were nestled in their cabinet. Jacob pulled the cover closed.

“Wow,” Jeraine said. “That’s. . .”

Jacob pointed toward Jeraine’s right. Jeraine turned to look. His mouth fell open in shock.

“Oh my goodness,” Tanesha whispered.

They were looking at a gorgeous stage with a white scalloped band shell behind it.

“What is this place?” Jeraine asked.

“Good question,” Jacob said.

“You said that it was a speakeasy?” Jeraine asked.

“It was,” Jacob said. “There are bars along the walls under the windows there and across the hall over there. When we found this hall, there were casks of ancient bourbon in the back and some foul other stuff.”

“Do you still have the bourbon?” Abi asked.

Jacob gave a slight nod. Tanesha and Abi laughed.

“Would you like some?” Jacob asked.

“Yes,” Abi said.

Jacob glanced at Tanesha, who looked at Jeraine.

“Not for me, man,” Jeraine said. “I’m. . . I think I’m in love!”

Everyone laughed.

“Give me a minute,” Jacob said.

He disappeared behind a door in the wall.

“How are you doing?” Tanesha asked Jeraine.

“I’m. . .” Jeraine put his hands to the side of his head and moved them away. “Boom. Mind blown.”

“Do you think it will work?” Abi asked.

“I. . . I don’t know,” Jeraine said. “I’ll take some pictures and send them to Jammy to see what he thinks. We have a contract so we’d have to do it through the Casino, but I’d bet we could. . .”

Jacob came out carrying three glasses with a small layer of brown liquid along the bottom. He gave one to Abi and another to Tanesha. They took a sip.

“This is really good,” Abi said.

“Weird, isn’t it?” Jacob asked.

“How many casks do you have?” Abi asked.

“Six,” Jacob said. “There’s a couple with gin, but I don’t drink it. I wouldn’t know if it had turned or not.”

“It’s likely worth a fortune,” Abi said.

“That’s why I keep it a secret,” Jacob said with a shrug. “If we ever need a booze fortune, we have it.”

“I like that about you,” Abi said.

Jacob grinned at her compliment.

“You think we can get people in here from outside?” Tanesha asked.

“Sure,” Jacob said. “I guess it depends on how many people we’re talking about.”

“We can’t have a crowd,” Tanesha said. “That would be ridiculously irresponsible.”

“No super-spreader events,” Jacob said. “That would just be embarrassingly stupid.”

“But we could get the bands in here?” Jeraine asked.

“We could,” Jacob said. “We get WiFi down here, so you could broadcast from here.”

Jacob shrugged.

“I don’t know what you’ll need,” Jacob said. “But it might work. Maybe.”

“Why is it so clean?” Tanesha asked.

“Rosa and her team come down here every quarter or so,” Jacob said. “Last week was their yearly deep clean. In fact, that’s how it occurred to me that Jeraine might be able to use it. Rosa asked for help moving the screen.”

Shrugging, he sighed.

“I’m sorry to cut this short,” Jacob said. “It’s probably the bourbon, but I’m just wiped out. You can stay down here if you’d like. Just take the stairwell straight up to the kitchen. I’ll unlock the door.”

“One more question,” Abi asked.

Jacob looked at her.

“Where are we?” Abi asked. “By my estimation, we are no longer on the property.”

“Good guess,” Jacob said. “We’re under the land between the Castle and the house to the north.”

“But. . .?” Tanesha asked.

“You own that one as well?” Abi asked.

“Delphie,” Jacob said. “My mom bought it for me, Val, or Blane. She thought if something happened — economic crash or whatever — we could move in there.”

“Who lives there now?” Abi asked.

“We’ve rented it out to the same family since I was in high school,” Jacob said. “They do a great job keeping it up. I doubt Delphie’s raised the rent. I go in every six months or so and fix something that’s broken. Delphie’s been giving them eggs.”

Jacob shrugged.

“I always wondered why they never complained about the paparazzi,” Tanesha said.

“Now you know,” Jacob said. “I’m off to bed.”

“I’ll go with you,” Tanesha said.

“I’ll stay,” Abi said.

“Is it okay if I stay?” Jeraine asked. “Take some video and send it to Jammy?”

“Of course,” Tanesha said. “I just need to shower and get some rest before Jabari wakes up.”

“Good point,” Jeraine said. “I’ll be up by then.”

Tanesha kissed him, and followed Jacob out of the ballroom. They went up the stairwell. At the hallway, Jacob clapped his hands and a wooden screen appeared. He pulled it into place so that it would be unmovable for Jeraine.

“That’s handy,” Tanesha said.

“It’s better than losing Jeraine down here,” Jacob said. “I’m so busy that I’d likely forget about him until the weekend. You’d miss him but figure he was off in his usual bullshit.”

“You know me so well,” Tanesha said. “And Abi?”

“It’s Abi’s world,” Jacob said.

“We just live in it,” Jacob and Tanesha said together as they reached the kitchen.

They laughed. Jacob raised a hand in goodbye to Tanesha. She went to their apartment in the basement. She showered and went to bed. When Jeraine arrived two hours later, she was sound asleep.

Jeraine slipped into bed. Lying on his back, he whispered a quiet prayer that this actually work out for him. The last thought he had before he went to sleep was that he hoped that Hecate wouldn’t show up so he could sleep.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Thirty-four - Tiny sprouts

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and THIRTY-FOUR

“Shall we go find your boys?” Honey asked.

“Please,” Max said.

They went through Honey’s apartment, past the little garden to the driveway.

“John’s sister, Niamh, says that John was tiny as a baby,” Max said. “They were all surprised at how fast he grew. Ciaran said that he shot up around the age Beau is now.”

“Maybe Beau will grow like that too,” Honey said with a smile.

“What’s the deal with Chase?” Max asked.

“Such a sweet boy,” Honey said.

“That’s what everyone says,” Max said.

“I think Chase is more relational,” Honey said. “He wants to connect with people. He sat on everyone’s lap until he discovered Nelson’s lap.”

Nodding, Honey looked at Max.

“That’s Maggie’s favorite lap,” Honey said.

“Good to know,” Max said.

“He would just nestle in,” Honey said. “I could see him listening, really listening, to what people were saying. I don’t think he understood what people were saying, he just wanted to hear their voices. My guess is that all of the noise and chaos was too much for him. I will tell you — the dogs love Chase.”

Max nodded. He looked up to see his twins inside the middle greenhouse. The boys saw Max at the same moment. Beau and Chase started squealing which brought all of the other kids from the lawn. The kids ran toward Max.

“Would you like to ask Delphie?” Honey asked.

Max looked at her.

“I’ve ask her about things all the time,” Honey said. “It’s very reassuring.”

Max gave Honey a vague nod.

“Do you know if Ooljee and her brother are here?” Max asked.

“Cian picked them up earlier,” Honey said. “Ooljee did not want to go.”

“She’s been lonely,” Max said with a nod.

The crowd of toddlers reached them. Honey picked up her daughter, Maggie. Max picked up Beau in his left arm and Chase in his right. The boys leaned into their dad and he held them tight. After a moment, Beau and Chase wiggled, and Max sent them down.

“Com’ on, Da,” Chase said, reaching for Max’s hand.

“We. . .” Beau grabbed Max’s hand and pulled on him. “D-ere.”

Pointing toward the greenhouse, Beau and Chase pulled on Max’s hands. Max looked at Honey.

“Go,” Honey said with a grin.

Max let himself be pulled along to the middle greenhouse where Delphie waited.

“Max,” Delphie said. “I know we’re not supposed to but. . .”

She held out her arm, and they hugged. Through the mask, Max kissed her cheek.

“Thank you for caring for our babies,” Max said.

“They are welcome anytime,” Delphie said. “Absolutely.”

“Do you know if they’re opening the Marlowe School?” Max asked.

“I am not sure,” Delphie said. “There’s a lot of work to do to get it up and running. You should talk to Jake.”

“I heard that Val’s in labor,” Max said.

Delphie sucked in a breath.

“On the radio?” Delphie asked, looking up at him.

Max nodded.

“That’s going to be a mess,” Delphie said, shaking her head.

“Sorry,” Max said, touching her shoulder.

He looked up when his sons called him.

“You have to see,” Delphie said. “It’s very exciting.”

Max followed her through the rows of seedlings to a set of seedlings along the back.

“Beau and Chase wanted to grow some flowers for the bees,” Delphie said. “We planted some lavender.”

“Look!” Beau said. “Look! Look! Look!”

“Look-look-look-look-look!” Chase said.

Max saw that tiny little sprouts.

“Smell!” Beau said and jumped around.

Max leaned down. Even as tiny seedlings, the lavender had its characteristic smell.

“Wow,” Max said.

“Isn’t that neat?” Delphie said.

“Is that normal?” Max asked.

“Yes,” Delphie said. “The Italian Basil, as well. It’s over here.”

Delphie turned around and gestured to a row. Max leaned over to smell.

“That’s incredible,” Max said.

“It’s not so unusual,” Delphie said. “Plants display hints to who they are early on. Like people.”

Delphie gestured to Chase and Beau. The boys’ heads were together as they looked at their flowers.

“I wanted to ask you about them,” Max said. He looked at the boys. “Should we set up another time?”

“We can,” Delphie said with a smile. “If you’re worried about them, they are caught up in their own world right now.”

Max sighed.

“Honey said that. . .”

Max mouthed the word “Chase.” Delphie nodded.

“He’s a sensitive boy,” Delphie said. “He cares deeply about people. Thinks about them. With so many people here, he got overloaded. I spent some time working with him on how to shut it off, but he’ll need to practice.”

“You mean, he’s psychic?” Max asked.

“If I were to say,” Delphie thought for a moment before she nodded, “I’d say that he’s intuitive — like his biological mother. He can sense things that are going on without having to know them intellectually. It’s a real skill.”

A little taken back that Delphie knew who was the boys’ biological mother, Max could only nod.

“Beau is such a lovely child,” Delphie said. “Niamh told me that she thought he’d shoot up.”

“He seems taller than when I saw him last,” Max said.

“I think so too,” Delphie said with a smile. “They are well loved. They’ll be just fine.”

“But Chase. . .” Max said.

“Alex had you to protect her and keep the noise down,” Delphie said. “Chase will need the same help.”

Max gave a nod.

“Maybe a smaller classroom, more quiet time, some meditation,” Delphie said. “If anyone knows how to take care of him, it’s you and Wyatt. They’re both going to live boringly happy lives.”

His eyes welling at the assurance, Max nodded.

“N-t-ee Del-fee,” Chase said.

“Yes, Chase,” Delphie said.

“C-n we take d-eez home?” Beau asked.

“They are pretty little right now,” Delphie said. “Why don’t I bring them to you when they are ready to plant?”

“Okay,” Chase said and Beau nodded.

“You are also welcome to come to see your plants or anyone,” Delphie said. “Any time.”

Chase and Beau grinned. They looked at each other and then nodded to Delphie.

“Come on, lads,” Max said. “Let’s go home.”

“Yea!” Beau and Chase cheered.

The boys followed Max and Delphie out of the tight space of the greenhouse. Max picked up the boys when they were outside and started for the cars. He was immediately surrounded by toddlers, led by Maggie, who want to say “good-bye.” Max set the boys down so that they could say their good-byes.

“Do you know where Máire and Joey are?” Max asked. “Alex will be home tomorrow, and I know she’ll want to spend time with them.”

“They are upstairs with Jackie and Eddie,” Delphie said. “In the loft.”

“If you could possibly keep an eye on the boys, I’ll. . .” Max said.

“I wanted to speak to you about something,” Delphie said.

Max turned to look at her.

“John isn’t doing very well,” Delphie said.

“My John?” Max asked, reeling back in shock.

“John Drayson,” Delphie said. “He dropped the kids here because he hadn’t been sleeping. He’s working crazy hours and. . .”

Delphie leaned in to Max.

“All of the death,” Delphie said with a nod. “It’s very triggering for him. Reminds him of his father and. . . somewhere, in the back of his brain, his mother.”

Max wasn’t sure what to say. He just gawked at Delphie.

“His mother was beaten to death in front of him and Jimmy,” Delphie said. “You know, Jimmy Kelly?”

Max gave a very slow nod. Delphie waited until Max caught his breath.

“I. . . mmm,” Max said. He sighed. “I never once thought of it. John’s so tough — mentally, physically. It’s always me or Alex going nuts. But. . .”

Max looked off in the near distance before turning back to Delphie.

“When you say the words, I know it’s truth,” Max said.

“Your gift,” Delphie said.

“Is it?” Max gave her a searching look before nodding.

“Of course,” Delphie said with a slight smile.

“Is Wyatt okay?” Max asked.

“Oh Wyatt,” Delphie said. “I think Wyatt would be okay in any situation. As long as you love him, he can survive nearly anything. The hardest. . .”

Delphie stopped talking.

“He should really tell you himself,” Delphie said.

“Please, tell me,” Max said. “I’ve just returned for the clown circus in Washington. I will be working like a madman to get supplies into Denver so that they aren’t stolen like the fifty ventilators we paid for and. . .”

Max stopped talking.

“Please,” Max said. “I need to know the lay of the land.”

“The worst thing for Wyatt was when you had a heart attack,” Delphie said. “He thought that you were dead. He didn’t really know about you and Alex — your strength together and how you heal.”

“He insisted that we get married after that,” Max said.

“You are closer than you know,” Delphie said with a smile.

Max gave her a brief smile before scowling.

“I appreciate you telling me about John,” Max said. “Are you telling me because of the kids?”

“Exactly,” Delphie said. “They can stay here. John comes by every afternoon to spend time with them. Alex is always welcome. When things settle down a bit, they can go home.”

“You don’t mind?” Max asked.

“They are welcome here,” Delphie said. “Most of the kids will be back in school soon any way.”

“They are opening the Marlowe School?” Max asked, again.

“Soon,” Delphie said.

“Máire and Joey can’t go to the Marlowe School or any private school,” Max said. “Stipulation by the tribe.”

“Maybe the tribe will change their minds with this pandemic,” Delphie said. “My guess is that it’s a chance for Joey and Máire to be leaders for their people.”

“I’ll call them,” Max said.

He looked to where Beau and Chase where laughing with the other children.

“You really done something incredible here,” Max said.

“We did it together,” Delphie said. “Beau and Chase are welcome any time. I know you want them home with you, but if you need it again, just bring them here.”

“Thank you,” Max said. “I don’t doubt that what you’re saying is true.”

“You need to speak with the kids,” Delphie said. “They want to stay here, but aren’t sure that it’s okay.”

Max nodded.

“Jill’s right there,” Delphie said. “She’s waiting to bring you up.”

“Who’s with the kids?” Max asked.

“Sandy,” Delphie said.

Delphie waved to Jill and she started toward them. Max followed Jill into the Castle. The Castle kitchen had a row of cakes silently lined up on the counter.

“Where are the teens?” Max asked.

“Playing video games,” Jill said. “They are playing until they go swimming. Tink’s upstairs to help with the kids.”

“What kids are up there?” Max asked out of curiosity.

“Well, my three children. My boys are too sad to see Beau and Chase leave. They are hiding upstairs,” Jill said. Max nodded. “Let’s see. . . Paddie, Máire and Joey are in the loft. . . Oh, Heather’s boys are up there. Jabari is outside with Maggie. Wait, no, Mack is outside with Jabari. Just her son, Wyatt. Val’s kids. Mmm. . . I think that’ s it.”

Jill shook her head.

“We have a system to keep track of them all,” Jill said. “There was just some shuffling when Tink came upstairs.”

“How do you keep track?” Max asked.

“We have a spreadsheet,” Jill said. “But the real trick is keeping in touch with each other. When the kids move around, we let each other know. We’re pretty good at that. Oh, Ivy, she came upstairs with Tink. Noelle, too.”

Max nodded and followed Jill up the stairs to the loft.

“Da!” Joey screamed and jumped up and down.

Máire ran to meet Max. He picked up the little girl and hugged her. Joey threw his arms around Max’s legs. The kids were talking at the same time in different languages. Max was simply delighted to see them. Knowing that he had to get back to his sons, he set Máire down. He crouched down to their level.

“I have been told that you would like to stay here,” Max said.

Joey and Máire leaned into each other. They gave a shy nod.

“Papa comes to see us every afternoon,” Máire said softly.

“He’s so tired,” Joey said.

“Sad,” Máire said.

“We thought that we would stay here and Mama can take care of him,” Joey said.

Máire nodded.

“I know your aunts and uncles will want to see you,” Max said.

“We know,” Joey said, very seriously. “But we think that they are safe at home.”

“We’ll be home soon, Da,” Máire said. “After Papa is feeling better.”

“He needs our Mama,” Joey said, with a nod.

Taken back by how sweet the children were, Max kissed Máire’s cheek and then Joey’s. They children hugged him again.

Max felt like he too could stay at the Castle forever. Sighing, he let go of Máire and Joey. He nodded to the adults in the room. Paddie ran over to give him a hug before running back to Katy. Max grinned at Teddy and left the loft.

He jogged down the steps and to the driveway where Delphie was holding onto his children. The hoard of toddlers had moved off to do something else with Nelson and Mike. Max picked up Beau and Chase and they went to his car. The kids were tucked into their car seats and he was behind the wheel when he heard a sound. Looking up, he saw a sea of toddlers waving to them along with Heather.

“Look,” Max said.

Beau and Chase waved back at their friends. Smiling, Max left the Castle parking lot and drove home.

~~~~~~~~

Tuesday early morning — 3:05 p.m.

Jeraine came up the dark basement stairs. In his life, he’d spent so much time in the night. In the height of his fame, he only woke up at dusk and was up all night. The night was his friend, if not the compatriot to all of his “crimes.”

He smiled at that idea.

He was on his way to the kitchen to make a travel mug of tea to give to Tanesha when he picked her up from the hospital. Tonight, she was helping out the night crew at Denver Health. Fin stayed home so Jabari went to sleep in Maggie’s room in Honey’s apartment. Jeraine was tasked with picking her up.

He saw golden light coming from the main Castle living room. Everyone knew that Valerie and Mike were often up all hours of the night. He coughed so that, if they were up to something, they’d know that he was there.

“Hey,” Jeraine heard Jacob’s voice coming from the couch.

He went through the living room to turn on the electric kettle, and then circled back to Jacob.

“How’s it going?” Jeraine asked.

“Good,” Jacob said.

There was a roaring fire in the fireplace.

“What are you doing here?” Jeraine asked when Jacob didn’t say anything else.

“Oh,” Jacob said with a grin. “I figured you were on your way somewhere.”

“I have to go pick up Miss T but you know, I always have time for you,” Jeraine said.

Jacob grinned.

“Let’s see, what am I doing here?” Jacob asked. “I’m not sure. I just got back from the hospital.”

“Oh?” Jeraine asked.

“Valerie had a girl,” Jacob said, raising his eyebrows.

Jeraine smacked his head with the palm of his hand.

“I knew that,” Jeraine said. “What’s her name?”

“They aren’t telling anyone,” Jacob said.

“That’s so Hollywood,” Jeraine said.

“Actually, I don’t think they know,” Jacob said with a chuckle. “Mother and baby are doing well. Mike’s eating cereal.”

“All is well,” Jeraine said with a grin. “How come you’re not eating cereal?”

“I was going to, but I just. . .” Jacob looked at Jeraine. “I’m wiped out.”

“Let me,” Jeraine said. “I have to make Miss T’s tea anyway.”

Jeraine went into the kitchen. He made Tanesha’s tea and set it out so the water would cool off before he closed the lid of the travel mug. He grabbed a couple of bowls, spoons, milk, and a box of cereal.

When he got back to the couch, Jacob was asleep.

“Jake,” Jeraine said.

Jacob looked up at Jeraine and smiled.

“Perfect,” Jacob said.

Jeraine grinned. Jacob stood up to take the bowls and milk. Jeraine set the cereal down and went to the kitchen to get Tanesha’s tea. While he was gone, Jacob poured cereal into the bowls. Jeraine sat down and the men started eating. They ate in silence.

“How are you doing?” Jacob asked.

“I don’t know, man,” Jeraine said. “I’m just living day to day. It’s kind of weird.”

“I understand,” Jacob said.

“If I were honest,” Jeraine crunched at his cereal and swallowed. “I feel kind of cursed.”

“Cursed?” Jacob asked, setting his empty bowl on the table. “How so?”

“When I was a kid, everything I did was additive,” Jeraine said. “I sold a song and then an album and then I had a live concert in a small venue which grew to stadiums and. . . I know it had to end. It just seems like when I get things going, something happens and it doesn’t pan out.”

“You mean like Las Vegas?” Jacob asked.

Jeraine nodded.

“I understand,” Jacob said. “I was ‘done’ with Lipson, taking time to sort out what was next for me, and wham — I’m back dealing with the same old assholes and all of their ridiculous paperwork.”

Raising an eyebrow, Jeraine gave a nodd.

“I’ve been thinking,” Jacob said.

Jeraine lifted an eyebrow. Leaning forward, he put the top on Tanesha’s tea.

“Maybe we’re just not flexible enough,” Jacob said. “I mean, I can do this stuff. Not everyone can. Maybe I should not take myself so seriously and just get people to work.”

Jeraine bit the inside of his lip. Jacob raised an eyebrow.

“You’re talking about me,” Jeraine said.

“And me,” Jacob said.

“I only have a minute before I have to go,” Jeraine said. “Lay it out for me.”

“Did you know that we have a ballroom?” Jacob asked.

“A. . .” Jeraine leaned forward toward Jacob. “What?”

“Go pick up Tanesha,” Jacob said. “I can show you when you get back.”

Denver Cereal continues next week...

 


Chapter Six Hundred and Thirty-three - It's a matter of air flow (entire)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and THIRTY-THREE

“Sleep?” Helen asked. “What’s that?”

Sam and Tres both nodded.

“Do we know if there’s a way to do this safely?” Sam asked.

Helen gave him a long look.

“I don’t,” Helen said. “I feel ridiculous saying this. I mean, I’ve never. . .”

“Delphie says that it’s all about airflow,” Sam said. “She doesn’t know how to do it but she says that’s what we need to work on.”

“Air flow?” Helen asked. “You mean like air filters?”

Sam and Tres shrugged.

“All of our systems are new,” Helen said. “Do you think they’ll work?”

“No idea,” Tres said.

“Do we have any air people on staff?” Helen asked.

“We have a building maintenance crew,” Sam said. “They take care of all of our buildings.”

“Uh. . .” Tres said. “Give me a sec.”

Tres shook his head.

“We need someone who can design airflow through the classrooms,” Tres said. “We have people who can maintain them.”

“Shit,” Helen said.

“Now, now,” Sam said. “I’ve hired a lot of people in my time. Let me make some calls.”

“Jill’s an interior designer,” Tres said. “Or she’s in school.”

“Great point,” Sam said. “She’ll know someone.”

“Give us an hour,” Tres said. “We’ll find someone to do it.”

Helen nodded.

“What’s next?” Sam asked.

“There’s something that I hesitate to bring up,” Helen said. “I mean, it’s not such an issue for our people, but really needs to be. . .”

“We’re here to help,” Sam said. “What do you need?”

“Food,” Helen said. “The school is near a few lower income places. People aren’t working because of the pandemic. And. . .”

“You want to put together a food bank?” Tres asked.

“We can do that,” Sam said. “Easy. In a month or so, we could probably fill one from the greenhouses Delphie built.”

“She’s amazing,” Helen said.

“What’s next?” Sam asked.

“I think that’s it,” Helen said.

“You don’t look like that’s it,” Sam said.

“We can’t know what you need if you don’t tell us,” Tres said.

“I. . .” Helen said. “I hate to ask because we have this new building and it’s so much bigger than the last one and we have extra space still and . . .”

“And?” Sam asked.

“We need more space,” Helen said. “I was going to ask Jake if he could buy the lot next to the school and. . .”

“Jake and I own it,” Sam said with a nod. “It was something Celia bought along with the land the school’s on. You think we should look at doing an expansion?”

“I do,” Helen said. “What’s happening with the old building?”

“It’s empty,” Tres said. “We still own it as part of the foundation. Jake doesn’t want to sell it. So we’re looking for alternative uses. Why?”

“We may need it for day care,” Helen said. “Little kids. I mean, babies. Maybe for low income families.”

“Okay,” Sam said.

“I don’t know how this fits with our mission because it’s not Lipson people,” Helen said. “But we are a state registered school and a day care and. . .”

“Why don’t we take a look at it?” Sam asked. “If there’s a charter, it was likely written by me or Celia. Not the greatest minds in the world. We have lawyers and friends who are lawyers and lawyer friends.”

Sam nodded mostly to assure Helen that they were there to help.

“I’ll talk to Jake,” Tres said.

“What’s next?” Sam asked.

“That’s the top of the list,” Helen said.

“We’ll get to work,” Sam said and clicked off the call.

Tres raised a hand in goodbye and disappeared. A little shell shocked by the speed of the meeting, Helen waited a beat before ending the meeting and getting on with her day.

~~~~~~~~

Monday mid-day — 12:20 p.m.

“We put this system in a year. . .” Orin Olathe said.

“Two,” Jacob said.

“That’s right,” Orin said.

Orin stopped walked and looked up at the Marlowe School building. They were standing in the parking lot. Jacob wore a face mask when Orin had arrived. They’d had a long talk about face masks as Orin hadn’t ever seen one before. He reluctantly took one from Jacob and put it one.

“This thing,” Orin pointed to his face mask, “it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.”

“We’re going to be wearing them for a while,” Jacob said.

“Jeez,” Orin said. “Really?”

“Really,” Jacob said.

Orin didn’t say respond. They walked all the way to the entrance where Helen Siegle was standing.

“You know, the TV says this virus thing is a hoax,” Orin said to Jacob.

“The TV says that my sister, Val, isn’t married to Mike,” Jacob said with a shrug.

Orin didn’t respond. They were standing in the hallway waiting for Helen to get her keys before Orin said, “Jeez, I know Val and Mike. They’re definitely married.”

“Yep,” Jacob said.

With that, Orin turned his attention to the building. Helen returned with the keys to all of the mechanics of the school.

“So Jake ’n me were saying that we put in this system two years ago,” Orin said to Helen.

Helen nodded.

“Brand new,” Orin said. “Everything. New from scratch.”

Helen nodded.

“Wha-r-we-thinkin’ we need to do now?” Orin asked.

“We need to create more airflow in the classrooms,” Jacob said.

“You got airflow in classrooms,” Orin said.

“We need to test the airflow in the classrooms,” Helen said. “We also need to upgrade the filtration system so that we catch anything that might be an issue.”

Orin nodded. Helen and Jacob waited while Orin looked around at the airflow in the hallway. They followed him into the first classroom off the office. He looked at the ceiling and then at the floor.

“Babies?” Orin pointed.

Helen nodded as he walked past. They followed him in to the infant and toddler child care area. He stared at the ceiling and looked at the walls. After a minute, he looked down at his feet. After a moment, he looked at Jacob.

“You’re saying that this virus is real,” Orin said to Jacob.

“My father had it,” Jacob said.

“Sam?” Orin asked.

“It nearly killed him,” Jacob said.

“Big Sam Lipson?” Orin asked. “Why. . . He’s no weakling.”

“No, he’s not,” Jacob said.

Helen just tried to stay out of it.

“You think this virus is in the air?” Orin asked.

“It’s airbourne,” Helen said, forgetting that she was staying out of it. “That’s what the scientists tell us.”

Orin gave her a long look before glancing at Jacob.

“My crews not working,” Orin said. “We definitely could use the work. And, if what you’re saying is true, and I’ve never known you to lie, then this could be a big deal for our company because there’s got to be lots of buildings that’s going to need this.”

“It’s why I called you,” Jacob said. “I thought you could become the expert.”

Orin’s face flushed and he nodded.

“I’m not gonna say that we don’t need the help,” Orin said. “My guys are at home; some of them are desperate for work.”

“I know,” Jacob said. “We’re job sharing at Lipson and it’s a mess.”

Orin looked down for a long moment before he nodded again.

“Can you help us?” Helen asked.

“I don’t know nothing about no virus,” Orin said. “But I know filtration. If this thing’s in the air, then what you need is airflow. Even something like a fan will get you there, but since these are kids, we should figure out something good. We don’t want our kids getting sick.”

“We don’t want that,” Helen said.

“But I’m no good at the science,” Orin said.

“I can handle the science,” Helen said.

“What ’r you going to do, Jake?” Orin asked as a joke.

“I’m going to keep track of the results so that when we’re done, you can share them with the school districts,” Jacob said.

Orin’s pale face flushed again. This time his eyes welled with tears.

“You’d do that for me?” Orin asked.

“Absolutely,” Jacob said. “I’ll also pay you.”

Orin nodded. Without any warning, he was on the move. Helen and Jacob hurried after him.

“We’ve got two choices — well, three,” Orin said. “The cheapest is to just turn on the building fans. Between the attic fan and the system, there would be ample air movement. Most of the classrooms have double hung windows. You fixed all those windows?”

Orin looked at Jacob, who nodded.

“There’s your airflow,” Orin said with a nod. “’Cept in winter, of course.”

“As you know, there are dead spots in the system,” Helen said.

“I remember that we put those in the filing area and the offices,” Orin said.

“So papers didn’t fly around,” Helen said.

“Good point,” Orin said. “The fans and windows are your cheapest option.”

“What else?” Helen asked.

“You can create airflow by having a temperature difference,” Orin said. “Hot air is always going to want to move to colder air. You could heat the hallways and leave the rooms fairly cool. With the room doors open just a crack, the air would move from the hallway into the room. As long as you create the temperature difference, the air keeps moving.”

“That’s interesting,” Helen said.

“They do this in Japan during the flu season,” Orin said. “I bet they’re doing this right now.”

“What’s the third?” Jacob asked.

“The third is what we have in the infant and toddler area,” Orin said. “More air intakes and out takes. Better air exchange. We can change to higher grade filters, if you want. But we’re pretty close there in the baby area.”

“We’re going to have to reduce our class size,” Helen said. “So we’ll have to get those unused areas of the school up and running.”

“We just have to turn on that area,” Jacob said with a nod. “Everything is already set up.”

“Why don’t we run some tests?” Orin nodded. “We’ll go through the building, room by room, and let you know what we have in each room. We can decide what you want to do then.”

“That’s possible?” Helen asked.

“Of course it is,” Orin said. “I just have to make a few calls. We’ll be underway in an hour or so.”

“Sounds like we know where to start,” Jacob said with a nod.

Nodding, Orin adjusted his face mask.

“Where do I get some more of these masks?” Orin asked.

“I have them in my truck,” Jacob said. “We have a team at Lipson that is making them by the hundreds. I have about twenty-five for your team.”

“Delphie?” Orin asked.

“As always,” Jacob said.

Orin nodded to Jacob and took out his phone. Helen and Jacob gave each other a long look and got out of the way.

~~~~~~~~

Monday afternoon — 2:35 p.m.

“Hello?” a man’s voice came from the side door of the Castle.

“Can someone go see who. . .” Jeraine looked up from where he was making frosting to see Max Hargreaves. “Hey Max.”

Jeraine was teaching how to make a cake to the group of teens who lived in the Castle. Charlie, Tink, Nash, Teddy, Noelle, and Ivy were leaning on the counter watching Jeraine.

“Sorry,” Max said. “I just came in. Was that rude?”

Max wore a face mask that matched his brown suit which matched his brown eyes. He was very handsome.

“Not at all,” Noelle said from her position across the kitchen counter. “We’re busy all day doing things.”

“Learning things,” Charlie corrected.

“Right,” Noelle said with a grin. “We’re learning how to make a cake.”

Noelle leaned back to show her small cakes. Max noticed that every child had a cake in front of them.

“We’re learning life things,” Teddy said. “We’re going to O’Malley’s this afternoon to practice our swimming.”

“Five,” Jeraine said.

“This is really organized,” Max said, almost to himself.

“Jill and Sandy,” Jeraine said. “Everyone has something that they know really well. I’m teaching guitar and cake making.”

“Jake’s been teaching me carpentry,” Nash said.

“I’ve been learning Spanish,” Noelle said.

“Me too,” Tink said.

“I’ve been working on divination with Delphie,” Ivy said, shyly. “And I’m learning how to knit.”

“Oh, we’re all learning to knit too,” Tink said.

All of the teens nodded.

“When the Fey kids were here, they learned to knit too,” Ivy said.

“Why?” Max asked.

“They get to spend time with Dephie,” Jeraine said at the same time Noelle said, “They made something for their parents.”

“Sounds good to me,” Max said.

“Your teacher, Steve, comes every other day to help with martial arts,” Charlie said.

“Nice of him,” Max said.

“If you hang around any longer, you’ll be teaching soon too,” Jeraine said with a laugh.

“What does Fin teach?” Max asked with a knowing grin.

“History,” Charlie said. “He has a remarkable knowledge of world history.”

“Going back before the European glaciers melted,” Noelle said.

“It’s cool,” Nash said.

“Sounds like I should come to that class,” Max said.

The children nodded.

“Most of us manage to make his class,” Jeraine said. “It’s fascinating. Since he’s a. . .”

“Fairy,” Noelle whispered.

Max grinned.

“He can show us what it looked like,” Jeraine said. “I have a much better understanding of. . . really everything.”

“We’ve been working on pandemics,” Tink said.

“Now that I should listen in on,” Max said.

“I’m sure you’re welcome,” Jeraine said. “His dad loves Alex.”

“So I’ve heard,” Max said with a grin.

“We moved it to dinner time so everyone could learn,” Noelle said.

“Dinner time?” Max asked.

“Six,” Charlie said. “Tonight, he’s going to show us the black plague.”

Max nodded but didn’t say anything.

“This is almost done,” Jeraine said. To the kids, he asked, “How do we know it’s done?”

“Oh, sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt, but I came to get my kids? Alex’s twins?” Max asked. “I think they were with Val and Mike.”

“Val and Mike are at the hospital,” Noelle said.

“She’s having her baby today,” Ivy said.

“Oh,” Max looked a little worried. “Any idea where my kids are?”

“Beau and Chase are out in the greenhouses with Delphie,” Jeraine said. “Máire and Joey are upstairs in the loft.”

Max started toward the back door.

“But the toddlers. . .” Jeraine said.

“The Wild Bunch are playing on the grass,” Charlie said.

“This is their loud and messy time,” Noelle said with a nod.

“If you want to protect your suit, you might want to go out the side door and follow the driveway to the greenhouses,” Jeraine said.

“Why aren’t my kids with the Wild Bunch?” Max asked.

“Chase doesn’t like how loud it gets,” Noelle said. “He gets overwhelmed with the kids get crazy.”

“Val’s been reading him books during the loud time,” Ivy said. “Such a sweet boy.”

Max gave Ivy a worried nod.

“Beau loves to play with the kids, but he’s helping Chase today,” Teddy said.

“Do you think there’s something wrong with Chase?” Max asked looking at Jeraine.

“Not a chance,” Noelle said.

“We had a lot of kids,” Jeraine said. “I think he wasn’t used to it. He doesn’t go to day care?”

Max shook his head.

“John’s siblings take care of the kids,” Max said.

“Then that’s it,” Jeraine said.

“Have they been okay here?” Max asked.

“Hey, Max,” Honey said, coming from her apartment.

“Honey!” Max said.

He held out his arms to hug her. She offered him an elbow which he touched her elbow in return.

“Why don’t I show you the way to where your boys are?” Honey asked. “We can talk on the way.”

“Sounds good,” Max said. “Nice to see all of you. Teddy, do you want to come home with me?”

“Dad’s in Egypt,” Teddy said. “My brother and sister are at my grandparents.”

Teddy shrugged.

“He lives here,” Noelle said with a nod.

“Yes, I see that,” Max said. He turned to Honey. “Lead on.”

“Okay, how do we know that the frosting is done?” Jeraine asked.

Grinning, Max and Honey moved into the Castle living room.

“I wanted to talk to you about Beau,” Honey said.

“Yeah?” Max asked.

“He had a few problems early on here,” Honey said.

“What happened?” Max’s anxiety rose.

“He had some spills from his diapers,” Honey said. “He was so embarrassed that my daughter found him crying.”

“Poor Beau,” Max said. “He’s such a little guy.”

Honey nodded.

“My daughter, Maggie, and Heather’s son, Mack, brought Beau to me,” Honey said. “I was able to get him cleaned up. The three of them played. They’ve become fast friends.”

Max looked relieved.

“I wanted to show you some tricks that I use for Maggie,” Honey said. “I mean, she doesn’t use a diaper much anymore, but when she was Beau’s age, she was tiny. Would you like me to show you?”

“Please,” Max said.

Honey gave him a thumbs up. They went into her apartment where she showed him what she did for Beau.

“You should also know,” Honey said.

With his suit jacket off, his sleeves rolled up, and his tie tucked into his shirt, Max was in the middle of practicing the diaper tricks Honey had showed him.

“Yeah?” Max asked.

“Beau’s grown a bit while he’s been here,” Honey said.

“Huh,” Max said. “How’s that?”

He held up the diaper for Honey to see.

“Nice!” Honey said. “It makes a lot more sense when you’re working with a kid.”

“A wiggly, giggly kid?” Max asked.

“There’s that, too,” Honey said with a smile. “Shall we go find your boys?”

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Thirty-two: Can you call those assholes?

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and THIRTY-TWO

Monday early-morning — 3:21 a.m.

“Hey,” Jacob said in a soft voice.

Jill was sitting in their reclining love seat near the windows. He could just see the top of her head over the cushion. When he came around the loveseat, he saw that Jill an arm over Katy and another over Paddie. The children’s faces were tucked up between the couch and her body.

Jill opened her eyes when Jacob touched her knee. She gave him a lovely smile which his body responded to immediately. Grinning at his lust, she glanced from side to side. He gave a nod to acknowledge the children.

“What’s happened?” Jill whispered.

“I’ve been waiting for a call from the governor,” Jacob said.

Jill nodded as if that was obvious. He looked a little embarrassed but continued.

“He just called,” Jacob said. “We have funding for ‘at least’ one of the projects, possibly all of them.”

“But he’s not sure?” Jill asked.

“He’s only sure about the one,” Jacob said. “We should know more by the end of today.”

“What does that mean?” Jill asked.

“He wants us to get the first project up and running,” Jacob said. “He said that it will show people that we can do the project ‘safely and efficiently even in a pandemic.’ He wants to tour the site by no later than this afternoon.”

“Yikes,” Jill said. “What will you do?”

“I’ll call Aden,” Jacob said. “But. . .”

“His hands are full with all of this job share stuff,” Jill said.

“Exactly,” Jacob said. “Do you know if Blane and Heather are in the new house?”

“They finished moving in last night,” Jill said. “After dinner with the Templars.”

Jacob gave a worried nod. His eyes drifted across the street. He wondered if he should interrupt Blane now that his dreams had come true.

“You were working on this,” Jill said.

Jacob’s eyes flicked back to her. She nodded.

“You should call him,” Jill said.

“Who?” Jacob asked.

“Blane,” Jill said. “He’s waiting for your call.”

“But. . .” Jacob said.

“He’s your friend and cousin,” Jill said. “He’d want you to call.”

Jacob gave her a worried nod. He and Blane had gotten close after Enrique was out of Blane’s life. In all of their years together, Blane hadn’t had a love relationship. As happy as he was for Blane, he worried about what that meant for him.

“You’re being silly,” Jill said.

He scowled rather than admit that she was right.

“What happened here?” Jacob nodded toward Paddie and Katy.

“Their friends went home,” Jill said. “Paddie has been so sick that he and Katy haven’t been able to play with their friends. He’s ready to play now, and they’ve gone home.”

“And Katy?” Jacob asked, reaching out to smooth his precious daughter’s hair.

“Our daughter will never miss a chance to participate in a meltdown,” Jill said.

Jacob grinned.

“How is Julie?” Jacob asked.

“She went home today with Connor,” Jill said. “We thought that it was a good chance for her to see if how she does at home. She called around dinner time and said that she is okay. Cian sent that boy Hermes over with dinner. You remember him?”

Jacob nodded.

“Hermes is staying with her,” Jill said. “Samantha home back last night; Erin, too. Julie thinks that she’ll be okay.”

“Paddie?” Jacob asked.

“He’s going to stay here until she has a chance to get settled,” Jill said. “Colin will be home in next day or so. When they’re settled, Paddie will go home.”

“Or not,” Jacob said.

“Does it matter?” Jill asked.

“Not to me,” Jacob said.

Jill nodded.

“All of the kids are gone?” Jacob asked.

“The visitors,” Jill said. “Most of them. Beau and Chase are asleep with our boys.”

“I saw Max,” Jacob said. “He returned from Washington this afternoon. He said that he would be home mid-day and pick them up. I guess, Wyatt’s been working like a madman.”

“John, too,” Jill said. “Alex and John’s kids are staying with Val and Mike.”

“Cian came to pick up his own kids?” Jacob asked, allowing his judgement to seep into his voice.

“Hey, Ooljee said that she wanted to be here,” Jill said responding to his judgement. “She said that she bugged him mercilessly so that they could come here. He didn’t know that his son was sick because he’d been with his grandparents.”

“You’re right,” Jacob said. “I shouldn’t judge.”

He nodded and looked away from her.

“They did have fun, didn’t they?” Jacob asked.

“They did,” Jill said. “It’s been really fun.”

Jacob grinned.

“You’ll have to open the Marlowe School,” Jill said, almost to herself.

Jacob nodded. He looked away and then back at Jill.

“I have so much to do,” he said. “All I want to do is crawl onto the couch with you and the kids.”

Jill gave him a soft smile.

“I’d like that too,” Jill said.

Jacob looked away again.

“This pandemic is going to ask a lot of us,” Jacob said. “We’ve already been stretched in ways we never would have expected. There’s no way to know what’s going to happen next.”

“That always seems to be the case,” Jill said. “Just a few years ago, I could have never in my wildest dreams imagined the life we have now.”

Jacob smiled.

“We’ll be okay,” Jill said.

Jacob gave her a worried nod.

“I should go,” Jacob said.

“Call Blane,” Jill said.

“Go to bed,” Jacob said.

Jill grinned at him.

“Good plan,” Jill said. “Can you. . .?”

Jacob picked up Katy. Sound asleep, Katy nestled into him. Jill held out Paddie and Jacob took the child from her. Jill got up.

“Actually. . .” Jill pointed to the small restroom out here.

Jacob nodded. Jill slipped into the restroom. Jacob carried Paddie and Katy to Katy’s room. Jill returned in time to slipped Katy into her bed while Jacob was changing Paddie. Jill put Paddie into his bed. The children settled in to the warm quiet of their familiar beds.

Jill kissed Jacob as he pulled the door to Katy’s room closed.

“Good luck today,” Jill said. “Remember, you’ll be called to do things that you cannot imagine doing.”

“Delphie?” Jacob asked.

“You,” Jill said. She kissed him again. “We’ll be fine.”

“Thanks for taking care of everything that matters,” Jacob said.

She gave him a soft smile. He stroked her cheek and turned to leave. He looked back when he reached the door. She was just moving into their bedroom.

Smiling to himself, he left the loft and dialed Blane. He was halfway down the stairs when Blane picked up.

“Where are you?” Jacob asked.

“Waiting for you in the kitchen,” Blane said with a laugh.

“What?” Jacob asked.

Jacob made it down the stairs. He saw Blane standing in the kitchen making coffee. Jacob hugged him.

“How did you know?” Jacob asked.

“I know the man,” Blane said with a grin.

“Delphie?” Jacob asked.

“No, actually,” Blane said. “I just. . . I don’t know, I knew you’d get something going.”

Jacob laughed.

“We need to go,” Jacob said. “The governor thinks that we can get the funding for the other two sites, but only if we get this one up and running today. He wants to tour it with the press so he can show how Colorado gets things done safely.”

“Then let’s get it up and running,” Blane said.

“I have to call. . .” Jacob started.

Aden came into the kitchen. Jacob’s mouth fell open. Laughing, Blane held out an arm and the men hugged.

“How. . .?” Jacob asked.

“We moved back last night,” Aden said. “I thought it was foolish, but Sandy wanted to be with her friends and the kids. Plus, that Quanshay did her toes. Sandy’s been very upset about her ‘ugly toes.’”

The men gave each other baffled shakes of the head. Aden shrugged.

“What can I say?” Aden said with a shrug. “I’d do anything for her.”

Aden smiled and put his hand on Jacob’s, “And you.”

Aden looked at Blane.

“What’s next?” Aden asked.

“The governor wants us to get a site up and running. He wants to show it off today,” Blane said. “If we can get the site up and running, then he thinks that he can get the money flowing.”

“Let’s get a site up,” Aden said.

“Aren’t you too busy with. . .?” Jacob started.

“Bambi and Honey have that,” Aden said. “Let’s call Rodney and see if he can get his people going.”

“Between his team and DeShawn, Jason, and Pete, we’ll have people on site in an hour or so,” Blane said. “We should call Mark.”

“He and his team are subbing in with Honey,” Jacob said.

“At his insistence,” Aden said.

“At least we don’t have to listen to him complain,” Blane said.

“Speak for yourself,” Jacob said. “Okay, I’ll call Rodney. Blane, can you contact the equipment guys? We need to move everything to the new site.”

“They’ll complain,” Blane said.

“Everyone has a complaint,” Jacob said. “It’s tough, stressful times.”

Blane nodded and started dialing.

“Me?” Aden asked.

“We need the entire executive team,” Jacob said. “Contracting, evaluation, those guys in. . . what do you call it? Your new group?”

“Carbon neutral,” Aden said.

“Can I help son?” Sam’s scratched and breathy voice came from behind them.

Shocked, the men turned to look at Jacob’s dad. Jacob’s eyes welled with tears.

“Dad,” Jacob said.

“I’m not at my full strength son, but I can certainly make phone calls,” Sam said.

“Great,” Aden said. He put a cell phone into Sam’s hand. “Can you call those assholes in. . .”

“Scheduling?” Sam said with a cough-like laugh. “Of course.”

“We need a schedule for this project,” Jacob said, over Blane talking into his cell phone. “We weren’t supposed to start it for three months.”

“Got it,” Sam croaked.

Jacob guided his father into a chair at the kitchen table. The men set to work. By the time the sun was rising, equipment was moving toward the new site and the building crew were on site, ready to build out the buildings needed to get the project going. Rodney and the other site managers had set up a rotation of their people. With luck, by mid-day, they would the site would be ready for review.

“You know what the governor said?” Jacob asked in a quiet moment. Aden, Blane, and Sam turned to look at him. “He said that he could give us this work because of our mask policy. Crazy. These masks are putting people to work.”

“People wearing the mask,” Aden said.

“Delphie was right,” Blane said.

“As usual,” Aden said.

“You boys have done a great job,” Sam said.

The men stopped what they were doing to look at Sam. Sam nodded in agreement to his statement. They all grinned.

“We’re not there yet,” Jacob said.

They got back to work.

~~~~~~~~~~

Monday morning — 8:07 a.m.

“You have to press. . .” Tres Sierra pointed to a button on the computer.

“This one?” Sam Lipson asked.

Sam’s pointer finger was out and hovering. Tres nodded. Sam pressed the button and suddenly a woman’s face appeared on the screen. She looked surprised. Her face broke into a wide smile, but she shook her head.

“You have to turn on the. . .” Tres said.

Sam hit the button to turn off the mute.

“Sam!” Helen Seigle, chief executive of the Marlowe School, said. “You are a sight for sore eyes!”

“Helen!” Sam replied.

“It’s great to see you,” Helen said. “How are you feeling?”

“Better,” Sam said. “I still get waves of exhaustion. The fatigue is. . .”

Sam shook his head. Helen nodded in empathy.

“But the docs say that the virus is gone,” Sam said. “I still wear a mask when people are around or they wear them around me.”

Sam gestured to Tres, who was out of the picture.

“I’m here with Tres,” Sam said. “We’re at their new house. It’s gorgeous. You should see it.”

Helen’s smile faded.

“Listen, as nice as it is to see you, I was waiting for Val,” Helen said. “We have to figure out what to do with the kids. Jacob said that they are going to open three more sites which means that. . .”

“A lot of kids will be at home by themselves,” Sam said with a nod.

“Exactly,” Helen said. “Is Val around?”

“She and Mike went to the hospital,” Sam said.

“Is she in labor?” Helen asked.

“Her doctor wants to induce labor,” Sam said. “Something, something. I’m sorry I never can keep it all straight.”

Sam looked at Tres, who was setting up his laptop.

“Do you know?” Sam asked.

Tres shook his head.

“Tres doesn’t know either,” Sam said.

“I hate to wait,” Helen said, “but if Val’s in labor, I totally understand.”

“Oh, sorry,” Sam said. “You have me and Tres. We’re taking over for Val until she can come back. She wanted me to assure you that she was still in charge.”

Helen laughed.

“Jake’s up to his eyeballs in worksites and the state funding and all the insanity that goes with that,” Sam took a wheezing breath. “So you have me.”

“And me!” Tres’s voice came from the room.

Helen looked at little worried but she nodded.

“So you have us,” Sam said.

Tres face appeared in the computer video call.

“Helen,” Tres said. “I’m here to talk about financing. We clearly need to make changes.”

“We do,” Helen said.

“That costs money,” Tres said. “Even if we do it ourselves.”

“Got it,” Helen said.

“Why don’t you tell us what you’re thinking?” Sam asked.

“I know it’s a pain, but since it’s our first meeting in our new positions, I wonder if you could give us an overview of what’s going on,” Tres added.

“I know that I should know this but what do you do, Tres?” Helen asked.

“I’m the CFO of Lipson,” Tres said. “Jake asked me to manage the Marlowe School fund a few years ago. You know, when he was hit with the pipe wrench and all of that?”

Looking worried, Helen nodded.

“I have all of your figures,” Tres said. “I can also give you a report on how the larger fund is doing.”

“Okay,” Helen said, drawing out the word.

“And I’m Sam Lipson,” Sam said, with a snort of a laugh which turned into a brief cough.

Helen grinned at Sam.

“Okay,” Helen said. “Here’s our an overview of our problem — we have kids who have needs, educationally or emotionally, and we have parents who need childcare.”

“And hope,” Sam said. “You probably heard but the Castle here was full of kids from that military team that MJ’s on. It was crazy. But we were happy to do it because their parents were so stressed.”

“I saw that picture of the woman and Jeraine,” Helen said.

“Jeraine taught the kids guitar to the kids who wanted to learn every afternoon,” Sam said.

“They weren’t any good but they had fun,” Tres added.

Helen smiled.

“We have a lot of our own kids,” Helen said. “Plus as a state childcare provider, I wouldn’t be surprised if people want to bring their kids to us.”

“The daycares are closed,” Tres said in agreement.

“Jake asked me to ask you,” Sam said. He put on his reading glasses and lifted up a piece of paper. “The state has mandated that schools and daycares are closed. But since we’re private, we have a little wiggle room. Do you know what that is?”

Sam looked up.

“The district said that if a school figure out a way to do it safely, then it’s okay to be open,” Helen said. “We have to protect our teachers and our students.”

“Oh,” Sam said. “I didn’t realize that was the level of what we’re dealing with.”

“It’s a lot to deal with,” Helen said. “We have people who want to work but they need a place to help with their kids. We can’t be open as a school because it’s not safe.”

“We shouldn’t be open if the kids or the teachers aren’t safe,” Sam said.

“Of course,” Helen said. “I’m told that I need to take care of kids so that all these workers can work at the same time I’m told to stay closed. It makes me crazy.”

“I bet,” Tres said.

“Jerry said that you weren’t sleeping,” Sam nodded.

“Sleep?” Helen asked. “What’s that?”

Denver Cereal continues on Monday...


Chapter Six Hundred and Thirty-one: Lives inside of you

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and THIRTY-ONE

Sunday morning — 7:35 a.m.

Paris, France

“You have everything you need?” Benjamin, her host, asked.

Sissy nodded. Her host mother, Claire Martins, gave her a mask to cover her face. Claire was a very exclusive dress designer. When the pandemic threatened, she’d made a line of face masks for their off-the-rack line and pushed it through to stores around the world. Here in Paris, Claire had made beautiful masks for everyday use.

Sissy put on one of these masks.

“My brother is. . .” Benjamin said.

“Late, as usual,” Benjamin’s brother, Dominic Doucet, came into the room.

Surprised, Sissy took a step back. Unaware of Sissy’s discomfort, Dom kissed Claire on the cheek and said hello to his nieces and nephews. He turned to take in Sissy.

“What is it?” Dom asked.

“You look so much like. . .” Sissy whispered.

“Max,” Dom said with a grin. “I look like my mother and so do Max and Alex.”

Sissy gave a nervous nod.

“Are you a. . .” Sissy leaned in to him, “. . . a spy too?”

“A spy?” Dom laughed. “Absolutely. But I have retired. Now, I am a retired civil servant.”

“Really?” Sissy whispered.

Rather than respond, Dom just laughed. Behind him, Claire shook her head. Sissy smiled at Dom’s laugh.

“Do you have it?” Dom asked.

Sissy nodded.

“May I see it?” Dom asked.

Sissy gave him a worried look. Her eyes flicked to Benjamin and then to Claire. It was Claire who understood the nature of Sissy’s concern. Claire nodded. Sissy set her backpack onto the dining table that took up much of this floor of the house. She opened a compartment and took out a package.

While the adults leaned in, Sissy unrolled yards of bubble wrap and then an ancient cotton cloth to reveal a long-knife. Each of the adults made a noise of surprise — a gasp, a suck in of breath, or Claire’s distinctive “Mon dieu.” Used for generations, the grip of the knife was worn by the hands that held it. There was a red square cross made from rubies and highlighted by other precious gems sat on the top of the blade. The edges of the blade where honed to a gleaming edge.

The long-knife was beautiful, and deadly.

Dom put his finger where the blade and hilt met. There was a slight, nearly unnoticeable crust of deep red.

“Blood,” Benjamin said in soft reverence.

“Cool,” Claire’s son, Eugene, said. He lifted his eyebrows in excitement. “Can I use it?”

Claire said a fast flurry of words in French. Sissy was too anxious to follow it. Telling them to get ready for church, Claire shooed the children from the dining table and sitting area.

“Where did you get this?” Dom asked.

Sissy looked at Benjamin.

“You may tell him the truth,” Benjamin said.

“It was sent to me by my sister, Sandy,” Sissy said. “She was given it by the current Grandmaster of the Templars. He said that he discovered it in the Castle Ponferrada.”

“He has the sword?” Dom asked, softly.

“He has the sword of Jacques Molay, if that’s what you’re asking. This is a gift of good faith.” Sissy thought for a moment before remembering what she was supposed to say. “We feel like it’s a rare enough gift to show our sincerity and the genuine nature of our request.”

“Good,” Dom said with a smile. “This is very good. Pack it up!”

Sissy did as requested. A moment later, she and Dom swept out of the house. Claire followed them out with a mask for Dom, which he graciously put it on. They would have taken a metro but Dom was in the “dying from the pandemic” age range. Sissy hailed a taxi, and they took a wild ride to the Louvre.

Sissy was glad to have her feet on the ground. Dom gave her a crazy look, and she laughed.

“Taxi’s in Paris are crazy,” Sissy said in French.

Dom nodded. She could see by the crinkled wrinkles around his eyes that he was smiling. He held out his arm and she let him guide her through the Louvre complex. They were let into the building with his pass. They went down in the elevator until they reached the end of the elevators. Dom found the stairs. They went down, down, down until the air was crowded with the smell of history.

“This way,” Dom said, gesturing to their left.

They went down a cramped hallway. There were stacks of boxes and crates. At one point, they had to move sideways around a white stone sarcophagus carved in the shape of a man.

“Allo?” Dom called.

A man of indeterminate age (50? 100? Likely somewhere in between? Maybe?) came out from the back. He gave Sissy a cautious look but greeted Dom warmly. They went through the litany of concerns — the health of their parents (long dead), their wives (beautiful), their adult children (annoying lack of grandchildren) — before the man turned to Sissy.

Dom introduced her by name, but gave no details about her. The man’s eyes swept over her. He wore smudged glasses held off his intelligent eyes by ridiculously long eyebrows. His clothing was rumpled but of good quality. He looked like he might smell. Sissy’s martial arts teacher in Denver used to tell her that smell was the best indicator of who a person actually was. Dirty clothing has a distinctive smell. Dirty bodies have another smell. This man did not smell. It meant that this rumpled “old man” look was cultivated in order to make him seem uninteresting.

“Ballerina?” the man asked Dom.

“How did you. . .?” Sissy started.

“I have heard of a young woman, an American, who stayed for an extra year at the Opera de Paris,” the man said. “And now this pandemic.”

In near unison, Dom and the man gave a characteristic French-old-man shake of their heads.

“I know Ivan from. . .” the man waved his hand as if it was a long time ago.

Sissy nodded.

“I have seen you dance together. On the computer,” the man said. He looked at Dom, and Dom gave a nod. “Beautiful.”

“He is very talented,” Sissy said.

“As are you,” the man said. “So. . .”

The man raised his long, grey eyebrows and looked at Sissy.

“Dom says you have something for me,” the man said. “Supposed to be Templar.”

“I have a gift from the current Grandmaster of the Templars,” Sissy said.

“Oh, the grand master,” the man said with a mocking emphasis. “And why does such an important man give this gift to me?”

“The Grandmaster is looking to forge an alliance with the Louvre,” Sissy said. “The Templars have a number of historic weapons and art work that they would like to donate to France through the museum. He believes that items made in France and should belong to France. The Templars are a part of France’s complicated history and so should be documented by her historians. The Templars are also going to head out this summer to find the Templar hoard and would like support from the museum.”

“Oh, Templar hoard?” the man’s eyebrows worked for a moment. His eyes flicked to Dom. “This is a joke.”

Dom shook his head.

“This is truth?” the man asked.

“What is truth, sir?” Sissy asked. “I can tell you that I am relaying facts. The Grandmaster of the Templars did give me this knife. He did ask me to speak these words to you. He told me that he is heading out to find the hoard. And, given my knowledge of the man, he will likely find the hoard this summer. Those are facts. Truths.”

“Good answer,” the man said. “What is it that you wish for? Legitimacy?”

“You have heard of the salt mine find?” Sissy asked. “In Poland?”

The man’s head went slowly up and down.

“You have work from the mine here,” Sissy said. “You are looking to authenticate a few paintings, tapestry, and statuary.”

“Not here,” the man said. “But in the Louvre. Yes.”

“The salt mine belongs to my sister, Sandy Delgado,” Sissy said.

The man’s eyebrows shot up again.

“I am Sissy Delgado,” Sissy said. “I can show you my identifications, in case you wish to confirm this fact.”

For the first time, the man gave Sissy true consideration.

“I heard that they found the head of a girl. . .” the man dangled the fact as it was a worm to a fish.

“My sister and her friend found the remains of a head just a few hours ago,” Sissy said. “There are documents with the remains. The entire find is currently with our state archeologist. She and a forensic team will review the remains. We have a process in Colorado that naturally includes the native populations. Everyone is anxious for the results of their investigation. For now, we have no information.”

The man’s head went up and down slowly.

“Show me,” the man said.

Sissy set her backpack on the floor. This man was so intimidating. Her heart racing a million miles a minute, she unzipped the bag. She tried to remember what Seth O’Malley always told her about scary old men. Whatever wisdom there was lost to her panic.

“Do you know Seth O’Malley?” the man asked.

“He is my Godfather,” Sissy said.

She heard the man and Dom speak quickly back and forth. The man was saying something like, “You can’t fault me for being suspicious.” Dom chided the man, and Sissy sighed. The sooner she showed the man the knife, the sooner she would be eating warm croissant back at home with Claire, Benjamin, and their glorious children.

Sissy stood up with the knife.

The man stopped talking. He gaped at Sissy.

“May I?” the man asked.

Sissy set the sword down on a broken chair sitting in the hallway. The man’s hands moved toward the knife, hovered above it, before retreating. His lips separated in a kind of a pant.

“Where. . .” the man started but seemed unable to finish his statement.

“The Castle Ponferrada in a chamber that is hidden to all but the Templars,” Sissy said. “There is a sword which matches this knife. The sword of Jacques de Molay is not a part of this donation.”

The man nodded.

“May I pick it up?” the man asked.

The man’s hands had retracted until they were covering his heart.

“It belongs to the Louvre, now,” Sissy said.

The man swallowed hard. He began to speak. Sissy did her best to keep up. Even though her French was fluent, the man was using a lot of words she didn’t understand. He was speaking excitedly. After a moment, he stopped talking. He looked at Sissy.

“I have looked my entire life for this knife,” the man said. The man pointed with his trimmed thumbnail. “Is this blood?”

“We did not clean the knife,” Sissy said. “We left it as it was because we knew that you would like to authenticate it.”

“And you got this from Templars?” the man asked.

“Yes,” Sissy said. “From the current Grandmaster of the Templars.”

The man mouthed the words Sissy had just said.

“They still exist?” the man asked.

“A number of them were killed recently,” Sissy said. “It’s my understanding that a group families have existed in secret since the 1300s. They wish to move into the light of day.”

The man began to laugh. Dom and Sissy looked at each other.

“It’s like a dream,” the man said. “Come, come, let’s get out of this hallway. I will make you coffee and you can tell me everything.”

“I will tell you what I know,” Sissy said.

“Fair enough,” the man said.

They followed him into a richly appointed comfortable office with a sign that read “Senior curator of French Antiquities” on the door.

~~~~~~~~

Sunday early morning — 1:35 a.m.

Quanshay woke up. She listened.

This house was full of people. Sometimes, she could hear them walking around. Every once in a while, she heard a couple enjoying each other. The kids were always so noisy — laughing, talking, playing. She knew that she would miss the noise when she went home.

Right now, the house was silent.

Royce would be home soon and she would have to drag her children away from their friends and this haven.

She worried that they wouldn’t want to come home. She worried that they would sneak back here. She worried that. . .

Sighing to herself, she got up. She used the bathroom and then grabbed the bathrobe on the end of her bed. She made herself a cup of calming tea and jammed her toes in to some slippers. She made her way out to her calm and quiet garden.

She would miss this too.

She opened the door and saw that someone was sitting on the bench. She’d learned that these friendly people didn’t mind interruption. She cleared her throat.

“May I join you?” she asked.

“I was waiting for you,” Abi said.

“You were?” Quanshay asked.

“You’ve been asking about me,” Abi said. “I thought we could talk. Is now a good time?”

“I. . . uh. . . yes,” Quanshay said. “I’m a little anxious and I. . . Would you like some tea?”

Abi held up a mug of steaming fluid.

“I like tea,” Quanshay said.

“I do, as well,” Abi said.

They sat in an uncomfortable silence. Abi cleared her throat.

“I like this garden,” Abi said at the same time Quanshay spit out, “What are you?”

Abi grinned at Quanshay, and she chuckled.

“I like this garden, too,” Quanshay said. “It’s so private, quiet, and yet the world is just right there.”

“Jake and Delphie made it for Honey so that she’d feel like she was home,” Abi said.

“I haven’t seen her out here,” Quanshay said.

“She’s here a lot,” Abi said.

Quanshay nodded. They fell silent again.

“You asked what I am,” Abi said. “That’s unusual.”

“How so?” Quanshay asked.

“Most humans ask what my name is or where I’m from,” Abi said.

“Your accent is somewhere between colonial Africa and. . .” Quanshay shrugged.

“Why do you wish to have this information?” Abi asked.

Quanshay turned to look at Abi. For a moment, they just looked at each other.

“I don’t know,” Quanshay said. “You look like a black person, but your skin is dark and. . . I don’t know brown or maybe white. Your color changes with the light. I’ve been around a lot of black folks and they don’t do that. I’d guess that these white people don’t know enough black people to notice.”

“That’s likely,” Abi said with a grin.

“Are you a fairy?” Quanshay asked. “Delphie told me that your partner, Fin, was a fairy.”

“He is a fairy prince,” Abi said. “I say this so that you won’t make the mistake of asking him if he’s a fairy. He will puff up and babble about being a prince and how you should respect him and a whole bunch of annoying stuff.”

Quanshay felt a giggle coming up. No matter how she tried to stifle it, the giggle returned. She covered her mouth and giggled. Abi grinned.

“I have met your Royce,” Abi said.

“You have?” Quanshay asked.

Abi gave a nod.

“When you were in Africa on safari,” Abi said. “Honeymoon?”

“We went to Africa to see where our people came from and to go on safari,” Quanshay said. “It was all of the money we had but we had a good time.”

Abi nodded.

“He’ll remember meeting a dark skinned woman on the side of the road,” Abi said. “I gave him something.”

Quanshay took a shell shaped into a moon from under her blouse. She reached behind her neck to take off the necklace the shell was attached to.

“Is it this?” Quanshay asked, holding the necklace out to her.

Abi smiled. She reached out to touch the shell.

“What is this?” Quanshay asked. “I thought it was ivory so I took it a place to have it evaluated, but they said they’d never seen anything like it.”

“It’s the shell of a creature that used to be on earth,” Abi said. “I told him to say. . .”

“‘This creature was alive and now is long forgotten,’” Quanshay said. “‘Let’s live our lives so well that being alive is the point.’”

Quanshay shook her head.

“It’s the message I keep getting,” Quanshay said. She sighed. “I. . . It’s been very hard.”

“Yes,” Abi said. “These pandemics are awful for humans.”

Quanshay turned to look at Abi.

“You’re not human,” Quanshay said. “You’re not fairy. Is there another kind of being? Mermaid?”

Abi grinned.

“I love your mind,” Abi said. “So curious. Your son is like this.”

“Which one,” Quanshay said.

“J’Ron,” Abi said. “Smart, curious, funny. They are wonderful children.”

“Thanks,” Quanshay said softly.

“You’ve asked me what I am,” Abi said. “I will tell you if you tell me what you are.”

“Me,” Quanshay said. “I’m a mom, a wife. I. . . do nails. I. . . human. . . Honestly, I haven’t been living my life so that living is the point. I think Royce does that but me? I’m all about homework and cleaning the house and getting dinner on the table and. . .”

Quanshay sighed.

“It’s exhausting,” Quanshay said.

“And so boring for a curious mind,” Abi said.

Quanshay gave a guilty nod. She opened her mouth to justify her words and express her undying love for her children but when she looked at Abi, she knew that Abi didn’t care about all of that.

“I am everything,” Abi said. “I am this planet and every living thing that is on this planet. A tiny part of me lives inside of you. Do you know what that means?”

“I am everything,” Quanshay said. “I am this planet and every living thing that is on this planet. And the kids?”

“Every human has a piece of me,” Abi said. “Every creature, plant, blade of grass, bird in the sky, even the smallest of insects — I am life and in that, I am this living, breathing planet.”

The next thing Quanshay knew, she was lying in bed. Surprised, she sat up in bed. There was a tap at the door.

Honey stuck her head into Quanshay’s room.

“They’re coming home,” Honey said.

“Really?” Quanshay said.

“They’re landing in a few minutes,” Honey said. “They’ll be home by Monday.”

Quanshay got out of bed and started jumping around the room. Honey joined Quanshay in the joy. They laughed and cheered until Quanshay stopped jumping around.

“We have to go home,” Quanshay said.

“Why don’t you get dressed first?” Honey asked. “Take your time. We’ll talk about what’s next.”

Grinning from ear to ear, Quanshay nodded. Honey pulled the door closed.

Royce was coming home and her life was going to start a new.

Smiling to herself, Quanshay went to shower and get ready.


Chapter Six Hundred and Thirty: Wisdom from the past

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and THIRTY

Saturday afternoon—2:35 p.m.

Delphie wandered through the Castle.

Their afternoon video game tournament gearing up, the teenagers were arguing and laughing over video games in the small office off the main Castle living room. Delphie looked in the room and was surprised to see Honey getting ready to play with them. Unafraid to express herself, Honey voiced her preference which caused the kids to express that they were glad that Honey wasn’t hogging “their” WiFi bandwidth with her work.

Delphie’s niece, Ivy, came over to give Delphie a hug. Ivy was a little young to be hanging out with the teens, but she was where she wanted to be. She, Charlie, and Tink had been through so much together that Delphie couldn’t imagine Ivy anywhere else. Not wanting to disrupt the fun, Delphie kissed Ivy’s forehead and left.

Delphie continued through the Castle.

There was a satisfying “pat, pat, pat” coming from the kitchen where the tweens and older kids were learning how to make tortillas with Noelle, and Maresol. Maresol was speaking in Spanish so that Noelle could practice her translation skills. When Delphie wandered by, Noelle got flustered.

“Slow down,” Maresol said in English. “Back it up. What do you remember the last thing said?”

“Esta textura proviene del uso de este tipo de maíz,” Joey Hargreaves-Drayson said.

“This texture comes from using this type of corn,” Máire Hargreaves-Drayson said.

“That’s exactly right,” Maresol said in English. “Joey and Máire have been studying Spanish this year. You should practice with them.”

Noelle nodded and looked at the twins. They both gave her beautiful smiles. Noella blushed.

Smiling, Delphie left them to their cooking.

There was a loud “Ha! Ha! Ha!” in high pitched baby voices coming from the sunny backyard lawn where Nash and Teddy were teaching martial arts to the smaller kids. Not ten minutes ago, this diapered crowd was sound asleep, sprawled out on the Castle living room floor. Every adult changed at least one diaper before these toddlers ran outside. Now, they were exuberantly playing this new game. A few more exuberant ran squealing around the group until they fell over.

The kids looked so cute in their masks that Delphie had to smile.

In a shady corner of the lawn, Valerie was reading a chapter book to the kids that needed a little quieter entertainment. Because Valerie was so near to her due date, her own kids — Jackie and Eddie — stuck to her like glue. Little Chase Hargreaves-Klaussen was leaned up against Valerie. There were a couple of kids that she didn’t recognize. But Alexander Walters and Kallyn Tubman were helping with the kids and listening to Valerie.

Delphie grinned at the budding love that was growing between the two teens and the serenity of the scene. She turned to go and nearly ran into a woman. The woman was shorter than Delphie and thicker.

“I’m so sorry,” Delphie said. “I was lost in my own thoughts.”

“I think it was me,” Quanshay Tubman said. “I saw you looking at my girl.”

Delphie turned back to the teens.

“Do you think they. . .?” Quanshay asked.

“I don’t think that they know,” Delphie said. “They look like childhood friends who are exploring something else.”

Delphie nodded.

“But aren’t you the Oracle?” Quanshay asked.

“Uh. . .” Delphie scowled. “Hmm. . .”

“What?” Quanshay asked.

“Do you know someone named ‘Phillis’?” Delphie asked.

Gasping, Quanshay put her hand on her heart and took a step back.

“I’ve been looking for someone who knows her, but. . .” Delphie continued.

Quanshay’s daughter noticed that something was going on with her mom.

“Mom?” Kallyn called.

“It’s okay, honey,” Quanshay said to her daughter. “You enjoy yourself. I’m going to talk to Delphie a little bit.”

“Should I get J’Ron?” Kallyn asked.

“I just checked on him,” Quanshay said with a laugh. “Wild horses couldn’t drag that child away from his video games. Your little brother’s playing martial arts over there.”

“I’ll watch him,” Kallyn said.

“You’re a very nice girl,” Quanshay said.

Blushing, Kallyn nodded.

“My kids are a protective over me when my husband is gone,” Quanshay said. She added softly, “Is there somewhere we can talk?”

“We can sit on the steps over there,” Delphie said.

“By the chickens?” Quanshay asked.

“No one will disturb us there,” Delphie said.

“I’ve wanted to see those chickens,” Quanshay said as they walked to the wooden stairs up to the medical offices. “Honey told me that they are already laying?”

“We had six eggs this morning,” Delphie said.

“So soon!” Quanshay said.

“We were very lucky,” Delphie said.

“Or something,” Quanshay said. “I also wanted to ask about the black woman with the two little kids.”

“Abi?” Delphie asked.

“Is that her name?” Quanshay asked. “I see her at night, but not during the day. Her partner is. . .”

“Finegal.” Delphie nodded.

“The Prince,” Quanshay said.

“He goes by Fin,” Delphie nodded.

“Is he related to Tanesha?” Quanshay asked. “They look like kin.”

Delphie nodded.

“The kids say that he’s a fairy,” Quanshay said.

“He’s a fairy prince,” Delphie said.

“And she?” Quanshay asked.

“Would you like the truth?” Delphie asked.

Quanshay fell silent as they walked to the steps. Delphie sat down on the edge of bottom step and Quanshay sat down on the other edge of the steps.

“We could go up but the people with the coronavirus sit out there,” Delphie said. “I figure we should just give them some space.”

“Your partner, Sam, is up there,” Quanshay said.

“He is,” Delphie said. She turned to assess her new friend. “You seem to have the measure of everyone.”

“Old habit,” Quanshay said. “I grew up in a tiny little town. I’m always in everyone’s business.”

Delphie nodded. Quanshay felt no judgement from the older woman. She relaxed a little bit.

“You asked if I wanted the truth,” Quanshay said. “I feel like truth is my only true religion. My people have fought against untruths all of our lives. I can always tell when there’s a lie or a half-truth.”

Quanshay snorted.

“It’s hell on my second child,” Quanshay said. “He’s always wanting to slink around.”

“He’s not yet sure of himself,” Delphie said. “He will be. You don’t have to worry about him. There’s something very solid, strong about him.”

“I worry, though,” Quanshay said. “I do. Oh, wait, are you saying I should worry about Kalleyn? That boy she likes?”

“No,” Delphie said. “If I thought you needed to worry, I’d tell you. Kallyn will live a long and happy life.”

“What will they end up doing in their lives?” Quanshay asked.

“Your youngest will work in national politics. I’m not sure where or what, but that’s where he’ll land,” Delphie said. “Kallyn will follow her partner but maintain her own life and profession. And your youngest son will become an artist. I’m not sure whether he will be a painter or writer or something else. You will see it begin to take root in the next year or so.”

Delphie nodded.

“Nothing to worry about,” Delphie said.

Quanshay nodded.

“Why did you ask me about Phillis?” Quanshay asked.

“She’s been hanging around the house,” Delphie said. “I was looking for the person she was connected with.”

Not sure what to say, Quanshay stared out across the grass to the chickens.

“I really hate it when there are random ghosts in the house,” Delphie said. “But I didn’t want to send her away without connecting her with whomever she needed to speak with.”

Quanshay turned to look at Delphie.

“No,” Delphie said. “It doesn’t happen often.”

“Huh,” Quanshay said. She leaned in toward Delphie. “What does she want?”

“Oh,” Delphie chuckled. “I’m sorry. I’m so used to ghosts and other entities that I always forget that everyone isn’t as comfortable as I am.”

“I am not. That’s for sure,” Quanshay nodded. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ghost.”

“Ever?” Delphie asked. She laughed. “I’m sorry. I’m not laughing at you. I just can’t imagine it.”

Quanshay laughed along with Delphie. She was surprised that she was starting to feel better overall.

“How does it work?” Quanshay asked.

“Who was Phillis to you?” Delphie asked.

“To me?” Quanshay asked.

Delphie nodded.

“She was. . .” Quanshay was surprised at her emotions. “I. . . I mean. . .”

Delphie waited for Quanshay to find her words.

“She lived in our house when I was a child,” Quanshay said. “She was in our house when my husband, Royce, came to live with us. He was just a little boy. 5 or 6? He’s not sure. I was five.”

“Oh,” Delphie said with a smile. “That’s who ‘Royce’ is.”

“She liked Royce,” Quanshay said.

“She does,” Delphie said with a grin.

“I lived with my grandparents and she lived with us,” Quanshay said. “She was so old. So old. She could be hard. She said she did it so that I would be a great person, but sometimes she was just hard. I don’t know. She was very old — we thought that she was over 100 years old or maybe a lot older — and she’d gone through hell and. . .”

Quanshay gave a little shrug.

“I loved her from the deepest part of myself,” Quanshay said. “I think she loved me. But. . . I. . . I’m kind of babbling.”

“She’s listening,” Delphie said.

“Why is she here?” Quanshay dared to ask.

“She wants to encourage you to do more,” Delphie said.

“Do more?” Quanshay snorted. “I’m exhausted from everything I’m doing right now!”

“She thinks that you should be more than a nail technician,” Delphie said. “She talked to you about being a lawyer?”

Quanshay squinted at Delphie and then scowled.

“I’m trying to remember,” Quanshay said. “She always said that she ‘had the gift.’”

“Of second sight?” Delphie asked.

Quanshay nodded.

“She saw something in you,” Delphie said. “And Royce. She is saying something. I’m not quite sure what it means. Would you mind if I just repeat what she is saying? It might mean something to you.”

Quanshay gave Delphie a nervous nod.

“She says. . . uh. . .” Delphie fell silent as if she was listening. “You been spending too much time on them kids and not enough time. . .”

“With your books,” Quanshay whispered along with Delphie. Quanshay added, “She used to say that I was too caring. I needed to be more selfish. I just. . . I don’t know where I would. . . I mean, I know that she’s right I just. . . I mean, Royce is deployed and I. . .”

“She’s just shaking her head and making this sound. . .” Delphie sucked in a breath between her teeth.

Quanshay gave a rueful laugh.

“I know that sound,” Quanshay said. “The truth is that I found all that law stuff to be boring. I want to help people, I mean. . .”

“Like medicine?” Delphie asked.

“Sometime, when I’m doing someone’s nails and they get talking? I feel so useless,” Quanshay said. “They have real problems. Real life problems. And all I can do is listen. It’s not enough.”

Quanshay shook her head and looked down at the grass.

“She’s right,” Quanshay said. “I know I should be doing more but I’m just not sure what would really help.”

“I understand that,” Delphie said with a smile. “You also can’t get between someone and their decisions. We live in a cause and effect world. Their lives reflect their choices and their experience. If they don’t like their lives, it means they need to make different choices or work on their experiences in counseling.”

Quanshay looked away from Delphie for a long moment. She watched the chickens peck at the ground and stared at the blue sky. Delphie waited.

“Do you give yourself a chance to explore what you might want to do?” Delphie asked.

“Heh,” Quanshay said. “I was just thinking that. I. . .”

Quanshay shook her head.

“What does she say?” Delphie asked.

“She says that your sister is a nail technician,” Delphie said. “But if you do it for much more, you’re going to hate it. You could help your sister with the business end and. . .”

“Go to school,” Quanshay whispered. “The kids are old enough. They are great help with the little one. I could start at community college and. . .”

Quanshay looked at Delphie.

“What if I go through it all and I end up doing nails?” Quanshay asked.

“It’s good honest work,” Delphie shrugged. “Helps a lot of women look wonderful but. . .”

“It’ll never be enough,” Quanshay said.

“Phillis just said, ‘That’s it,’” Delphie said.

Quanshay nodded. Delphie touched Quanshay’s arm.

“Just something to think about,” Delphie said. “Most schools are going to be online this year. You could start online and move to in the classroom when all of this pandemic is over.”

“What about the kids?” Quanshay asked. “Royce is deployed. I never know when he’s out of town and. . .”

“You can bring them here,” Delphie said.

Delphie shrugged.

“They’ll hang out or whatever,” Delphie said. “We get homework done every single night. Jill goes to college. . .”

“So does Honey,” Quanshay said.

Delphie nodded.

“Do you see anyone suffering? Ignored?” Delphie asked.

Quanshay looked out across the yard.

“J’Ron is loving the gardening,” Quanshay said. “He wants to take home some tomatoes.”

“He would be very welcome to do that,” Delphie said.

Quanshay nodded.

“Do you have any questions for Phillis before she leaves?” Delphie asked.

“Just. . . is she happy now?” Quanshay asked.

Delphie was quiet for a moment.

“She had a lot of physical issues from her assault,” Delphie said.

“I didn’t know that,” Quanshay said.

“No one did,” Delphie said. “She didn’t want anyone to know how much she suffered. She kept it to herself.”

“And now?”

“She is out of pain,” Delphie said. “She gets to see you grow up. She loves your family and your sisters. It’s a great joy for her to see you thrive.”

Quanshay smiled.

“You need to tell her to go,” Delphie said. “That’s what she’s waiting for.”

“Love you, Phillis,” Quanshay said, tears forming in her eyes. “I miss you. A lot. And. . . fly free.”

Delphie was almost too silent for a moment and then she looked at Quanshay.

“She’s gone,” Delphie said.

Quanshay broke into tears. Delphie rubbed Quanshay’s back while she cried. After a few minutes, the women hugged.

Quanshay nodded to Delphie and got up. Delphie watched her go. After a moment or so, she went up the stairs to check on Sam.

~~~~~~~~

Saturday afternoon—5:35 p.m.

Standing on the edge of the meadow at City Park, Nelson looked at Blane. When Blane nodded, Nelson swallowed hard.

This was the moment he would truly step into the role of being the Grandmaster of the Templars.

He was very nervous. Terrified, if he was perfectly honest.

“Do you think they’ll come?” Nelson whispered to Blane.

“Who?” Tres asked.

Nelson turned to see Tres.

“Oh my God,” Nelson hugged Tres. “I am so glad to see you.”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world, brother,” Tres said in French.

“Are we hugging now?” Perses’s distinctive voice came from near them. “Don’t hug. Makes you look weak."

Tres and Nelson separated to see Perses point at them.

“Never hug,” Perses said.

“You’re such an asshole,” Hecate said, appearing out of nowhere.

“Hecate!” Nelson said, excitedly. “You’re here.”

“I am,” Hecate said. “I’m trying to ‘learn something.’”

Nelson grinned at her.

“You may hug me,” Hecate said.

Nelson took her up on the offer. Mari and Otis appeared next to them.

“Why are you hugging?” Otis asked. “Don’t hug. Makes you look weak.”

“That’s what I said,” Perses laughed.

Blane touched Nelson and pointed.

“They are waiting for you,” Blane said.

“I. . .” Nelson said.

“Let’s just get this done,” Perses said.

“Want to do some killing?” Hecate asked her father.

“Desperately,” Perses said.

Laughing, they walked toward the group of surviving Templars. The visitors from France were sitting in a circle in chairs set six feet apart. They had nearly reached the circle where there was a “whooshing” sound.

“Sorry,” Hedone said. She wore her golden shimmering outfit that she usually wore to court. “Wyn didn’t want me to leave.”

Tres kissed her cheek, and she smiled at him. She hugged Nelson and kissed his cheek. With her kiss, Nelson felt like he could actually do this thing.

“I wondered where you were,” Hecate said.

“He’s a little Greek God,” Blane said with a smile.

“No,” Nelson said. “He’s our boy — human and God.”

“I like that,” Hedone said.

Nelson grinned at her. Hedone linked her arm through his elbow. Blane put his arm around Nelson.

Together, they continued into meadows to deal with the last of the Templars.

 

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Twenty-Nine: As if there wasn't enough going on...

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and TWENTY-NINE

Saturday afternoon— 12:15 p.m.

Nelson Weeks awoke with a start.

He took a breath.

He knew this feeling — a low grumbling in his belly, a sense of tension across his shoulders, a feeling light a bright light had been shone in his eyes but was suddenly gone.

Something — some thing? —was happening.

He needed to get ready. His feet hit the floor with purpose. He pushed himself across the room to the closet. He let out a breath. A broad sword in its scabbard was leaning against the closet.

He reached for the sword and stood up.

By magic, he was clothed in the garb he wore as a Templar. He jerked open the door.

“Is it the 14th Century in that room?” Mari, the fairy, asked.

“Wha. . .” Flooded with words in a variety of languages, this was all Nelson managed to say.

Mari nodded to what he was wearing.

“Out here,” Mari said, “it’s already the 21st century.”

“And?” Nelson asked, irritably.

“Humans have developed this incredible stuff they call ‘body armor,’” Mari said.

“Then tell the magic on the sword to dress me in this,” Nelson said.

“You could actually use your eyes. . .” Mari started. “Oh, never mind.”

She snapped her fingers. One item at a time, Nelson’s 14th Century gear was replaced with modern military body armor.

“But. . .” Nelson started.

“The sword is tuned to whatever you’re wearing,” Mari said. “When you touch the sword next, you will be dressed in this.”

“Fine,” Nelson said. “Why are you here?”

“I came to get you,” Mari said.

“For what?” Nelson asked.

“What do you feel?” Mari asked.

“I’m not sure I can put it into words,” Nelson said. He fell silent thinking for a long moment. “Time for battle, I guess. But. . .”

“Yes?” Mari asked.

“Who?” Nelson asked. He looked at the fairy. “Am I well enough to do this?”

“Do what?” Mari asked. “I’m not sure who’s ass we’re about to kick.”

Nelson grinned at her. He looked down at himself in this armor. He had become heavier, with denser, bigger muscles across his chest and his arms. His thighs and calves bulged through the fabric of this new body armor. He was surprised at how thin he’d become as well. He looked down at himself for a long moment.

“You look good,” Mari said with a nod.

“Do you know what’s happening? What triggered my. . .” He waved his hand in front of his face. “Spidey sense?”

“I don’t know about spidey senses,” Mari said, “but your father is in trouble.”

“Why?” Nelson asked.

“Templars,” Nelson and Mari said in unison.

“Assholes,” Nelson said. “Let’s go get them.”

“You sure you don’t want to call the cops?” Mari asked. “They are trespassing.”

Mari nodded to her left. She was standing in front of the window in what was now an nearly completed small kitchen. Because Jeraine and Tanesha needed the privacy, the window was set up so that while you could look out it, no one could see inside. A group of seven men and women were creeping in front of the window.

“Why?” Nelson asked.

“You’re asking that as Nelson the brilliant doctor and forensic scientist,” Mari said. “We need Nelson the Grand Master of the Templars.”

Nelson heaved a heavy sigh.

“Look at your sword,” Mari said.

Nelson looked at the sword for the first time. This was not his sword. He held it up to his eyes.

“This is. . .” Nelson whispered.

“Come on,” Mari said.

She snapped her fingers, and they were standing next to Nelson’s father Pierre’s bed. Nelson slipped the sword back into its scabbard.

A nurse wearing a face mask looked up at their sudden arrival. She stood and walked toward them.

“I don’t know how you got in here, but this man is very ill,” she said. “He. . .”

She looked at Nelson for a long moment.

“Guy?” the nurse asked. “Guy Semaines? You probably can’t tell with this mask but I’m Mary Joy. Mary Joy Baldwin.”

“Mary Joy?” Nelson asked. “Wow, I haven’t seen you since. . .”

“Junior high,” Mary Joy, the nurse, said. “Yeah. We moved. I came back for nursing school. I saw that this position was for Pierre Semaines and thought that I. . . You probably aren’t here to chat. You look. . . Wow.”

“I’ve been working out,” Nelson said with a smile. “Nice to see you. I apologize, but we’re expecting family that. . .”

“Yes, I was warned,” Mary said. “I was assigned here because I was a medic in the Army. Afghanistan. Let me get dressed.”

Nelson gave her a kind of nod and a bow. Mary Joy stopped at the door.

“Please put on your face mask,” Mary Joy said in a soft chide. “Your father is very ill. He doesn’t need the coronavirus as well.”

“Sorry,” Nelson said. “I should know better.”

“Yes, you should,” Mary Joy said before she disappeared out the door.

Mari snapped her fingers, and they were both wearing face masks.

“Fin said that we should wear them too,” Mari said. “He said that humans are part fairy so there’s no way to know if we’ll be affected. I’ll tell you that Edie shut down the fairy queendoms. No one in or out. Since we went to help Sam Lipson. “

“You went to help Sam?” Nelson asked with a raised eyebrow.

“I took Otis there,” Mari said. “I found a lost fairy working in the ER there so I called Edie. She thought. . . well, let’s just say that she’s annoyed with me.”

“Is that new?” Nelson asked.

“No,” Mari said. “Sisters. They are always annoyed with you for something. Just be glad you don’t have any.”

Nelson grinned at her but then realized that she couldn’t see him smiling. He winked, and she nodded in understanding.

“Here they come.”

He heard Mari whisper through the mask. Sighing to himself, he turned toward the door.

They heard scratching and saw the door knob giggle. Mari raised her hand to block them out but Nelson pushed her hand down.

“We need to deal with this,” Nelson said.

“Why?” Mari asked.

“They’ll keep coming until they know,” Nelson sighed. Taking a breath, he said, “They have to know that I am the Grand Master and that everything that happens from here on out is up to me by the blessing of. . .”

He waved his hand in the air.

“Blah, blah, blah,” Nelson said.

“I’m here,” Mary Joy said.

They turned to look at her. She had changed into modern military grade body armor. Her face was covered in a black mask and she was holding a machine gun.

“I don’t think we’ll need that,” Nelson said.

“Better to be safe than sorry,” Mary Joy said.

“I like her,” Mari said.

“Who are you?” Mary Joy asked.

“This is my friend, Princess Marigold,” Nelson said.

“Oh, a princess,” Mary Joy said with a roll of her eyes.

“She’s of the fairy realm,” Nelson said. “Don’t antagonize her. Fairies are fierce warriors, not little fluffy, giggly things like in the movies. They are long lived and have spent much of that time battling for their realms. In fact, they are the only realm that held back the Viking hoards. We are no match for them.”

Unoffended by Mary Joy, Mari just lifted an eyebrow and nodded.

“Just don’t get in front of her,” Nelson said with a sigh.

“Are you getting tired?” Mari asked. She put her hand on his elbow.

“I’m tired of having to protect myself and my father from people who are supposed to be family,” Nelson said.

“I understand,” Mari said.

“I know you do,” Nelson said.

The door moved a tiny bit.

“Here they come,” Mari said.

Mary Joy turned off the lights.

The door opened with a dramatic bang. Two men and a woman slipped inside the door. The back door of Nelson’s little house banged open. A man and two women moved in their direction. When they were set, Nelson pulled the sword from its scabbard.

Sparks of light burst from the sword as it was pulled from the scabbard. Nelson held the sword above him. The light from the sword was so bright that the invaders had to cover their eyes from the sight.

“I am Guy Semaines, the Grand Master of the Templars,” Nelson said in old Frank. “Who dares to disturb my father’s sick bed?”

“What did he say?” A woman whispered.

Nelson sighed and shook his head.

“You are Templars,” Nelson said in modern French. “You should, at the very least, be able to speak old Frank.”

There was some mumbling between these invaders. Nelson pointed the sword at Mary Joy and she flicked on the light. Nelson, Mari, and Mary Joy shaded their eyes. The invaders groaned and covered their eyes.

“And you should be wearing eye coverings,” Nelson said, continuing in French. “You say that you are Templars, are will to kill for the cause, and yet you are. . .”

“Pathetic,” Mari said.

“Pathetic is too mild of a word,” Mary Joy said.

Nelson sighed and shook his head.

“Go home,” Nelson said. “That is my order.”

“You can’t order us,” a middle aged man with a significant paunch said. “You are not Grand Master.”

“I am the surviving heir of Bernard of Clairvaux,” Nelson said. “My father passed the Grand Master to me when he inherited it.”

“Show them the sword,” Mari whispered.

“Jacque de Molay gave me his sword,” Nelson said. “It’s a direct pass of the Grand Master position from him to me.”

He held up the sword and the invaders took a step back.

“Where did you. . .?” the woman who’d come to kill him previously.

“I went back in time,” Nelson said. “I fought side-by-side with our ancestors for more than seven years. I was returned to this time by some ancient ancestral magic. The sword came with me. I have been recovering. But, I promise you — I am well enough to kill all of you.”

“You wouldn’t kill us!” the elderly woman who came in the back door said.

“I’ve killed plenty,” Nelson said. “You are here to kill my father?”

The invaders gave him a variety of guilty looks.

“Prepare to die,” Nelson said, feeling a bit like the movie character Indigo Montoya.

“Yay!” Mari said. “Let’s kill them all!”

The invaders turned in place and ran out of the building. Nelson grabbed Mari by the shoulders to keep her from running after them. She let him hold her back.

“Consider your life forfeit should you ever return,” Nelson yelled after he got a hold of Mari.

“Your life forfeit?” Mari asked. “Who talks like that?”

Nelson laughed. He swung the sword around and stuck it back into the scabbard.

“How did you get that?” Mary Joy asked. “The sword I mean. It’s beautiful and so powerful. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“I went on a quest for it,” Nelson said. “Right after my father got sick. It was my effort to help him get well. But I have only completed half of it.”

“Count me in on the next one,” Mary Joy said.

They heard rustling behind them and turned quickly. An elderly man stepped out from behind them. He gave Nelson a kind of bow.

“What do you want?” Mary Joy asked irritably.

“We have met,” the man said in modern French. “We have decided to accept you as the Grand Master.”

“Whoop-di-doo,” Nelson said. “Why would I give even one care about that?”

“We are having issues in France,” the man said.

“Okay,” Nelson said mildly.

He had a vague memory of his father speaking about the government taking land from the Templars and something else. He glanced at Mari. She gave him a curt nod. She had blocked him from any stress that might impede his healing.

“If you are to be Grand Master, then our problems are your problems,” the elderly man said.

“Who are you?” Mary Joy asked. “Where do you get off telling someone else what to do?”

“I am his great uncle,” the elderly man said. “His mother was my niece.”

“The mother you killed?” Mari asked.

“I don’t know anything about that,” the elderly man said.

“One of the women you travel with told us that she paid for the bombing,” Nelson said.

“I will look into it,” the elderly man said. “My name is ‘Guy.’ I am also a Semaines. You were named after me.”

“I go by Nelson now,” he said.

“Yes, I am aware,” Guy said.

“How are you a Semaines?” Mari asked.

“Pierre took our name,” Guy said. “It was your mother’s father’s requirement.”

“He still tried to kill us anyway,” Nelson said.

“Yes, I know about that,” Guy said. “And you killed him?”

“I wasn’t there,” Nelson said.

“They were killed by an ancient and angry God,” Mari said.

The man snorted and shook his head in disbelief.

“Who could believe this kind of tripe?” Guy asked. “There are no Gods. No. . .”

He sucked in a breath when Perses appeared out of nowhere.

“May I introduce you to Perses?” Nelson asked, mildly. “You may remember that he’s a Titan. He was also there.”

“Want me to kill him?” Perses said in a loud excited whisper.

The man fell back. After a moment, he gained his bearings.

“You are connected with the Titans?” Guy asked.

“Beings of power seek each other,” Perses said. “I am married to the mother of his partner’s cousin. His partner is married to a Greek Goddess.”

“I’m a fairy,” Mari said.

“She’s a fairy,” Perses said.

Guy looked at Mary Joy. She shrugged.

“I’m human,” Mary Joy said. “As far as I know.”

“You’re super-human,” Nelson said. “You’re a nurse.”

“And a soldier,” Mari said.

Mary Joy blushed and nodded.

“Why don’t you head back to wherever you are staying?” Perses asked. “Discuss what you need from your grandmaster. He and I and possibly one of those. . . what are they called?”

“Lawyers,” Mari said.

“Lawyers,” Perses said. “And this little fairy. Is your partner around?”

“Otis?” Mari asked.

Perses nodded.

“I’ll bring him,” Mari said. “Good thinking.”

“Why so many?” Guy asked.

“We need to support our friend,” Mari said.

“Teach him how to lead,” Perses said. “Her partner, a man named Otis, has led large groups of humans. He will be able to help.”

“If you have a partner, I’d like to meet her,” Guy said.

“Him,” Nelson said. “We are not ashamed.”

“Of course,” Guy said. “Good for you.”

With that, the man turned in place and walked out of the building. They waited to see if anyone else would show up. When no one appeared, everyone took a breath.

“How is he?” Perses asked.

“Stable,” Mary Joy said. “He has been sick for a long time.”

“He touched a powerful object,” Perses said.

“Yes,” Mary Joy said. “Let’s hope that someone awakens him soon.”

“Why soon?” Nelson’s voice was tight with concern.

“No human can stay in this state forever,” Mary Joy said.

Nelson gave a stiff nod.

“If we are meeting them later, I need to rest,” Nelson said.

Mari touched his arm and he was back in the little room that he’d been staying in. Oddly, the room was bare of all furniture and equipment.

“Where is the bed?” Mari asked.

She tipped her head backward.

“Upstairs,” Mari said.

She touched his sleeve, and they moved through the house. They landed outside the door to what would be his bedroom.

“I’ll be back,” Mari said. She turned to go and pushed him forward, “Go on.”

Nelson opened the door. He sucked in a breath.

The room was beautiful. It was everything he could have ever wanted and then some. The back wall had a large window that opened out onto a tiny patio. He floated through the room touching this and that. There was the antique armoire he’d used when he was a child. The mirror that had been his mother’s hung on the wall next to a closet filled with his suits, workout clothing, and even a chest of drawers with everything else.

The walls were painted a color that he couldn’t begin to describe. The floors were made from his favorite wood — beetle-kill pine that meant that they were light yellow with streaks of blue. The bed was. . . perfect. He recognized the bedframe as one he’d used where. . . This was from his father’s home as well!

Nelson wandered into the bathroom to find all of his favorite products lined up waiting for him.

Waiting for him.

It was like this entire life — his entire life — was waiting patiently for him.

He came out of the bathroom and went out to the open windows. Blane was sitting at a small table reading a book. There was a bottle of champagne and two empty glasses. Blane looked up when Nelson appeared at the door.

“What do you think?” Blane asked.

“Wow,” Nelson said. “I don’t think that I’ve stayed at a hotel that was this nice. It’s perfect.”

Blane grinned.

“Did you do this?” Nelson asked.

“No,” Blane said. “This was Jill and Jacob. I found a few things for them, but mostly it was them.”

“The only thing that I notice is that this patio is too small for my telescopes and. . .” Nelson started.

Blane pointed to something behind Nelson. He turned to look. There was a spiral staircase that went up.

“Shall we?” Blane asked.

“I don’t want to miss our time together.” Nelson gestured to the champagne.

“We can take a look and come back down,” Blane said with a grin.

Nelson gave a nod to Blane and started up the stairs. Very soon they were at the top of the building. A wide patio was cut into the roofline. There was a gas barbeque and a comfortable outdoor seating arrangement

“This was attic space,” Blane said. “We thought it would be perfect for a little observation platform. All of your gear is. . .”

Blane pointed to a closet sized space with a microwave, a small refrigerator and a closet.

“We took the liberty of putting all of your star watching stuff in there,” Blane said. “Even all of the stuff from your attic.”

Blane opened a door in the little space which opened a long storage space where his books, charts, and telescopes were arranged. Nelson giggled like a school boy. He went through the space and touched everything.

“This is. . .” Nelson said. “Is yours ready too?”

“All of our space,” Blane said. “Tanesha and Jeraine’s is the last space to finish because Jeraine has been a little slow to let go of control.”

“Ah,” Nelson said. “I never would have given over this much control.”

Blane nodded.

“Lucky, I’ve been so sick,” Nelson said.

Blane grinned in agreement.

“I need to rest,” Nelson said. “I have to meet with the Templars this afternoon.”

“Yuck,” Blane said.

“I know,” Nelson said. “But I have time for champagne and you.”

Blane turned in place and jogged down the stairs. Laughing, Nelson followed him.

Denver Cereal continues next week...

 


Chapter Six Hundred and Twenty-Eight: Ahead. Or maybe A Head?

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and TWENTY-EIGHT

Saturday morning — 9:02 a.m.

“Oh, no way,” Sandy said. “Jeraine had a poster of himself with his thumb in the front of his pants?”

“Kinda pulling them down,” Tanesha said as she slowly walked by Sandy’s side.

“How did we miss that for our dart board?” Sandy asked.

Tanesha laughed. Sandy had greeted Tanesha at the door of Seth O’Malley’s house. They were moving into the house.

“You know what he told me?” Tanesha asked.

“I’m not sure if I do,” Sandy said with a laugh.

“‘I am very sexy,’” Tanesha said.

They broke down laughing. Sandy stopped rolling and Tanesha bent over with laughter.

“What are you girls laughing about?” Bernie asked, poking his head out of the front room.

“Tanesha’s husband,” Maresol coming from the kitchen. She patted Bernie’s chest. “You remember that Tanesha’s married to Dionne’s son.”

“R and B star,” Bernie said, with a nod. “Jeraine.”

“That child never knew any shame,” Maresol said. “Remember when he decided that ripped shirts were his style? He’d tear them so that you could see just his little boy belly.”

“‘Shows off my hotness,’” Sandy said in an imitation of Jeraine.

“He was ten!” Tanesha said.

The woman laughed again.

“He is very handsome,” Bernie said.

“Don’t defend him,” Maresol said. “He’s done many, many, many cruel things to our Tanesha. He would be in prison if Seth hadn’t saved him. That was enough of an effort from your male kindship.”

Bernie scowled and looked at Maresol. Catching Sandy’s expression, he nodded.

“I acquiesce to your greater wisdom,” Bernie said.

“Smart man,” Maresol said.

Bernie chuckled and went back into the front room. In a few minutes, they heard him playing the grand piano that lived in that room.

“Where’s O’Malley?” Tanesha asked.

“He’s in New York,” Maresol said. “He has to finish that fourth movie. Plus. . .”

Maresol raised an eyebrow.

“What?” Tanesha asked.

“That jackass wants to own all of Hell’s Kitchen,” Maresol said.

“And remake it in his image,” Sandy said. “He owns the building around O’Malley’s and is trying to pressure O’Malley to sell his. If O’Malley caves, he thinks the rest of Hell’s Kitchen will cave.”

“It’s a real stand-off,” Maresol said. “They’re harassing the tenants of O’Malley’s building. They tried to steal the food trucks in O’Malley’s parking lot last night.”

“How did they stop that?” Tanesha asked.

“O’Malley and Claire told the tenants that this was coming,” Maresol said. “They were ready for the assault. One of those music guys was coming back from a gig and found them trying to break into the trucks.”

“What happened?” Tanesha asked.

“He called the police,” Maresol said. “The men said straight out that they were paid by that asshole.”

“Awful,” Sandy said.

“What about the other buildings?” Tanesha asked. “Will they cave?”

“Probably not,” Maresol said. “They are owned by Tafoya Industries.”

“Isn’t that your name?” Tanesha asked.

Sandy and Maresol laughed.

“O’Malley bought it about a year ago when it was clear what was coming,” Sandy said. “It’s this weird deal where he owns the property but the original owner manages the buildings and collects rent. After ten years, we can get control if we want it. Those idiots haven’t figured it out yet. They keep calling Maresol.”

Sandy nodded to Maresol.

“I answer: ‘Que?’ and just keep repeating it until they hang up,” Maresol said.

The women laughed.

“Frankly, it would be a bigger deal if O’Malley wasn’t wealthier than they are,” Maresol said. “They owe on everything. If O’Malley holds out for even just another month, they’ll likely default.”

“How did O’Malley get wealthier than them?” Tanesha asked.

“Look around you,” Maresol said. “This is his father’s home. The man doesn’t spend money.”

Maresol set a cup of coffee in front of Tanesha, who took a long drink. Maresol filled the cup again.

“Suits, planes,” Sandy said.

“He rents planes. But he does spend on people,” Maresol said. “But all of it is a lot less than spending money on failing business projects, lawyers, and federal penalties on your crimes.”

“Should he invest more?” Sandy asked with a scowl.

“That’s your department. I just answer the phone,” Maresol said with a smile. “Now, what are we doing today?”

“I was hoping to get back to organizing the crap from Poland,” Tanesha said. “I’ve been working at the hospital so much that I’ve fallen behind my schedule.”

“As long as you realize the schedule exists only in your head,” Maresol said. “That junk sat in a tunnel in Poland for decades. It can sit here a while longer.”

“I know,” Tanesha said. “I just like to finish what I start.”

Maresol nodded in understanding.

“What are you up to?” Maresol asked Sandy.

“I was going to hang out with Tanesha,” Sandy said. “She found a crate that she thought we could start with.”

“Don’t overdo it,” Maresol said.

“I’ll be careful,” Sandy said. “I should be out of the wheelchair by Monday.”

Maresol gave Sandy a worried nod.

“What are you up to?” Tanesha asked Maresol.

“I was going to help Delphie,” Maresol said. “You know their cleaner, Rosa?”

Sandy and Tanesha nodded.

“She said that Delphie has too much on her plate,” Maresol said. “You know — with the kids and the new greenhouses. . .”

“And Sam,” Tanesha said. “I found her with Sam when I got home yesterday. She’d clearly been there since he got home. She was exhausted. Overwrought.”

“She needs her friends around her,” Maresol said. “Just like we all do sometimes.”

“What will you do there?” Tanesha asked.

“I was going to teach a little cooking class,” Maresol said. “Get that Charlie and his teens working in the kitchen. I can’t believe they aren’t cooking!”

“Quanshay’s there,” Tanesha said.

“She’s the woman you were talking to your mom about?” Maresol asked.

“She’ll be a big help,” Tanesha said with a nod.

“Blane’s around too,” Maresol nodded. “Sounds like we’ll have a fun day. You girls will be all right here?”

“Of course,” Sandy said.

“We’ll avoid any creepy objects,” Tanesha said. “Dark energy and all of that. I’m pretty good at picking up on that stuff. I have lots of practice.”

“I bet you are good at it,” Maresol said. She nodded. “Well, I’ll get ready to go.”

In turn, Tanesha and Sandy hugged Maresol and the older woman headed back to her rooms.

“What did you see?” Sandy asked.

“When?” Tanesha asked.

Sandy gestured toward the stack of crates, boxes, and other precious antiquity junk.

“Oh, I have to show you,” Tanesha said.

They went over to where the crates were stacked. Tanesha pointed to one near the bottom.

“Do you see this stamp?” Tanesha asked.

“Looks like a rose,” Sandy said.

Tanesha dropped to a crouch and Sandy bent over. Tanesha brushed dust off the imprint.

“I think so too,” Tanesha said.

“What is it?” Sandy asked.

“Have you ever heard of the ‘White Rose’?” Tanesha asked. She continued when Sandy shook her head. “It’s kind of complicated but this woman, girl really, called ‘Sophie Scholl’ and her brother ‘Hans’ were involved in Hitler Youth, but became disgusted with it. Hans fought for the Nazi’s in Poland and saw the atrocities for himself. They started printing and distributing leaflets around 1942. It was kind of a college group.”

Sandy reached out to touch the rose.

“Should I continue?” Tanesha asked.

“Please do,” Sandy said. “There was a core group of students and professors. They only published six pamphlets. And remember there wasn’t printing like there now.”

“Typewriters and mimeographs?” Sandy asked.

“And the mail,” Tanesha said with a nod.

Tanesha stopped talking. Sandy nodded.

“Killed by the Nazis?” Sandy asked.

“Beheaded by guillotine,” Tanesha said. “At least Sophie and her brother were. Hans. There was a gruesome mock trial and long interrogations. They never gave up their friends. But they were arrested anyway. The last question asked her was if she thought that she’d committed a crime against her community.”

Tanesha sighed. She glanced at Sandy and saw Sandy’s rapt attention.

“I memorized it when I was in college,” Tanesha said.

“What did she say?” Sandy asked with a nod.

“‘I am, now as before, of the opinion that I did the best that I could do for my nation. I therefore do not regret my conduct and will bear the consequences that result from my conduct.’”

Tanesha gave Sandy a soft smile.

“She was so brave,” Tanesha said. “I wished for her surety and courage so I could. . . You know, because my mom was trapped and my dad in prison and gran. . . Jeraine. . . I mean, things have turned out really great, just then. . .”

“You needed courage and surety,” Sandy said.

Nodding, Tanesha sighed. She nodded to the box.

“The sixth leaflet was smuggled into the UK,” Tanesha said. “It was reprinted and dropped from planes just months after she and her brother were killed.”

“Wow,” Sandy said.

“Yeah,” Tanesha said. “Anyway, this crate could have leaflets or. . .”

“Let’s find out,” Sandy said. “Whatever is here — we will celebrate a life well lived. Depending on what it is, we’ll send it on to a museum or start one ourselves.”

Tanesha took the top crate off the stack. Setting it to the side, she took the next crate and stacked it on top of the other. She took the crate that was stamped with the rose. Using the small crowbar for leverage, she broke the seal on the top of the crate. The lid opened just an inch.

A musty smell filled the area.

“No,” Ava O’Malley, Seth’s wife, said running in their direction. “Leave it. Back up.”

“What is it?” Tanesha asked as she and Sandy backed away.

“That’s the smell of death,” Ava said. “Decay.”

Ava was a forensic scientist who ran a lab at the Denver Crime Labs. She pressed her way passed Tanesha and Sandy, effectively blocking them from the crate.

“Do you mind if I take a look?” Ava asked. “Sorry. I heard you talking about Sophie Scholl. She’s a hero of mine. I. . .”

Ava looked at the crate and saw the Rose stamp.

“Oh,” Ava said.

She turned her back to Tanesha and Sandy in such a way that she covered what she was doing with the crate. They saw only her back and rear end. After a long moment, they heard the top of the crate close. There was a pounding sound as Ava resealed the crate. Ava stood up holding the small crowbar.

“I’m sorry,” Ava said. “I have to report this.”

“Wha. . .” Sandy asked but didn’t finish.

“What is it?” Tanesha asked.

“A decaying head,” Ava said.

Sandy and Tanesha gasped.

“I’m telling you this because you’re strong,” Ava said. “You can handle this. There’s no way to know why this is here. It could be the Nazis. It could also be her friends and family keeping these remains away from being shown off by the Nazis.”

Sandy gave Ava a vague nod. Tanesha stood gawking at Ava.

“What will you do?” Tanesha asked.

“I have to call this in to the Denver Police,” Ava said. “So they don’t think we’re killing people and saving the heads. They will call my friend at Colorado History. She’ll come out to check to see if it’s a criminal matter or archeological. We also have to check with the Council on Indian Affairs so that they know these remains aren’t theirs. In all likelihood, it will go to Dr. Quincy. You’ve met her, Sandy.”

“Joan,” Sandy said.

Ava nodded.

“She’s a bone specialist,” Ava said. “Why don’t I call her so that she can have a look before all the chaos starts? I’ll call my friend from Colorado History as well.”

“That sounds great,” Sandy said. “Thanks.”

“Of course,” Ava said, as she moved toward the landline phone.

“It’s Sophie,” Tanesha said softly.

“Probably,” Ava said. “I’m sorry.”

Ava touched Tanesha’s shoulder as she passed. Sandy and Tanesha watched her go. Tanesha sighed.

“What do you want to do now?” Tanesha asked.

Sandy chuckled.

“Why don’t we work over on the end here?” Sandy asked. “I think maybe, just maybe, there’s one of those missing art works in these big crates. We’ll be out of the way of whatever chaos comes, but we’ll also be right here to watch.”

“Do there are more bodies?” Tanesha asked.

“Since we’ve only found one, I bet we’re safe,” Sandy said.

“We live on hope,” Tanesha said.

Grinning, Sandy rolled over to the stack of crates against the wall.

~~~~~~~~

Saturday morning — 10:35 a.m.

Quanshay was laughing at something Maresol had said when she realized that the pocket of that cozy robe was buzzing. She was sitting in the beautiful garden drinking tea when Maresol had stopped by to ask for her help in the kitchen.

“Your phone?” Maresol asked.

“I lost my phone,” Quanshay said. “Turns out it was here in this pocket. Ugh!”

“He’ll understand,” Maresol said.

“It’s really the worst sin a military spouse can do,” Quanshay said.

“He’ll understand.” Maresol nodded.

“I’ll see you there,” Quanshay said as Maresol left her to her call.

“Hello?” Quanshay asked.

“Where have you been?” her husband Chief Petty Officer Royce Tubman asked.

“Don’t take that tone with me,” Quanshay said. “I am not someone you get to boss around.”

Royce was silent for a long moment.

“And, no, I wasn’t messing around with Jeraine,” Quanshay said. “But today is a new day.”

When she heard Royce’s low chuckle, she laughed.

“How are you holding up?” Quanshay asked.

“I’m okay,” Royce said. “I’m sorry for barking at you.”

“I understand,” Quanshay said. “It’s the longest we’ve gone without talking since you were a SEAL.”

“Hard days,” Royce said.

“It was hard on us,” Quanshay said. “I’ve missed you. I just lost my phone.”

“How are you?” Royce asked. “Honey said that you’ve been sleeping a lot. Are you sick?”

“We called Dr. Bumpy,” Quanshay said. “Did you remember that he was Jeraine’s father?”

“I did not,” Royce said.

“I didn’t either,” Quanshay said with a snort of a laugh.

“What did he say?” Royce asked.

“He said that they don’t have a lot of tests,” Quanshay said. “If I don’t have fever or a cough, then they can’t really give me a test.”

Royce sighed.

“I think that I’m just tired,” Quanshay said. “That son of ours has been creeping around with some girl. This virus. The business. Everything. I haven’t been sleeping very much. Then I got here and. . . It’s like everything just slipped away.”

“That sounds good,” Royce said.

“I talked to John Drayson,” Quanshay said. “He came by here to check on Julie Hargreaves and Margaret’s uncle, Gando. They both have had Covid. Bad. So does Jake and Val’s father, Sam.”

“That’s a shame,” Royce said.

“They’re getting better, slowly,” Quanshay said. “You remember that kid Paddie? White hair?”

“Colin’s eldest,” Royce said.

“That’s right,” Quanshay said. “He was really sick but he’s better. He was at dinner last night. I guess he’s been quarantining by himself. He was kind of shy at first. After a bit, he was playing with the other kids.”

“And Katie?” Royce asked. “Isn’t that his best friend in the world?”

“She was there,” Quanshay said. “They are really cute. Our youngest played with all of the kids they call the ‘Wild Bunch.’ He’s there now. I think.”

“You haven’t seen him?” Royce asked.

“Not today,” Quanshay said with a little laugh. “They are giving me a break since I kind of freaked out.”

“I saw,” Royce said.

“I bet you did,” Quanshay said with a laugh. “Do you remember Rodney Smith?”

“The name is familiar,” Royce said.

“He was wrongly charged with murdering someone and got out?” Quanshay asked. “We went to see him speak when we first got here.”

“Uh-huh,” Royce said doubtfully.

“He’s Tanesha’s father,” Quanshay said. “And you know who Tanesha is?”

“Miss T?” Royce asked.

“Miss T!” Quanshay said. “This place is like a resort. I sleep in late. The food is good. My kids are taken care of. I don’t know if I’m ever coming home.”

Royce chuckled.

“What did John Drayson say?” Royce asked.

“He said that we should worry about the loan or the business,” Quanshay said. “I told him that I didn’t want to put them out. You know what he said?”

“He told me they save for rainy days,” Royce said.

“And it’s pouring!” Quanshay said with a chuckle. Royce laughed. “When did you talk to him?”

“He’s married to the LC,” Royce said.

“Oh, that’s right,” Quanshay said. “You probably talk to all these people more than I do.”

“You’ve been asleep,” Royce said.

She could hear the smile in his voice. He never resented the time she spent caring for himself. When he was home, he would insist on it. She smiled.

“Today, I’m going to help teach the teenagers how to cook,” Quanshay said. “Maybe I’ll figure out who J’Ron’s dating.”

“Or see our youngest?” Royce asked.

“Maybe even that,” Quanshay said.

Royce chuckled.

“I’m glad that they are taking such good care of you,” Royce said.

“They are caring for everyone,” Quanshay said. “It’s amazing. The kids are having a great time. The teens aren’t as sneering or surly. It’s like a miracle.”

“Someone else’s house,” Royce said.

“Exactly,” Quanshay said. “Kallyn told me that no one wants to go home to their boring house so they are on their best behavior.”

“I bet,” Royce said.

“I think she has a crush on Alexander,” Quanshay said. “They’ve been practicing fighting with those sticks.”

“Bokkens?” Royce asked.

“That,” Quanshay said. “He’s become so handsome.”

“He has,” Royce said. “I saw a picture of his parents once. They were gorgeous. So it’s not much of a surprise.”

They were quiet for a long moment.

“You’all ’re going ta be home when I get there?” Royce asked.

“We’ll be there waiting,” Quanshay said. “I just needed a break.”

“I understand completely,” Royce said. “I’ll be home soon.”

“You’d better,” Quanshay said.

Chuckling, Royce hung up. Quanshay looked at the clock. Maresol said that they would work with the kids at 11:30 am. She just had time for a bath.

Smiling to herself, Quanshay started the water for a bath.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Twenty-Seven: Where is this?

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and TWENTY-SEVEN

Jill waved for Jeraine to follow her through the new home. They went up a now wood clad stairwell and into what would be a gorgeous entry area for Jeraine’s recording studio. Jeraine pulled up the hood on his jacket. Jill took a knit cap from her jacket pocket. She pulled it down low on her head. They slipped out the side door and walked down the driveway. They made it across the street. They were through the gate and into the house before the photographers caught up with them.

“What was that?” Jill turned on Jeraine. “What bullshit are you involved with? What did you do?”

“Nothing,” Jeraine raised his hands. “I swear, Jill. I swear. No women. No drugs. I’ve been good. Really good.”

Jill sniffed at him in disbelief. They walked into the Castle main living room. For the first time in days, no one was there. They continued through the building to the backyard.

Delphie was teaching the children how to plant seeds. The older kids were filling seedling trays with dirt and giving them to the younger kids to place the seeds. The teenagers were watering the seed trays and labeling them. Everyone was happily working.

“Hey,” Jill said to Valerie, who was looking hugely pregnant.

“I think I grew four inches,” Valerie said.

“The baby’s ready to come,” Jeraine said.

“Yeah,” Valerie said. “Another baby to add to the crowd.”

“I’m sure your baby will be wonderful,” Jeraine said.

Valerie smiled. Jeraine started inside.

“Hey, Jer?” Valerie asked.

“I’m going to find Jacob,” Jill said.

“You’ll do the colors?” Jeraine asked. “Make it nice for Miss T and us?”

“Of course,” Jill said.

“For Miss T?” Jeraine asked.

“Of course,” Jill said with a grin.

Jeraine nodded with all the sincerity he could muster. He knew that he could never make up for all of his misbehavior to Tanesha’s friends. He was just glad that they loved her enough to be decent to him.

“What’s up?” Jeraine asked Valerie.

“They got a photo of you,” Valerie said.

“Just now?” Jeraine asked. “With Jill?”

“Jill? No,” Valerie said. “Why?”

Jeraine explained what had happened.

“Assholes,” Valerie said. She shook her head. “This photo is actually worse than that. They took a photo of you with Quanshay.”

“Who?” Jeraine asked.

“The woman yesterday?” Valerie asked.

Jeraine scowled and then gave Valerie a vague shrug.

“You look naked,” Valerie said. “See for yourself.”

Valerie held out her cell phone, and Jeraine took it from her.

“Oh fuck,” Jeraine said. “Miss T’s going to kill me.”

“She’s seen it,” Valerie said. “On the bus.”

Jeraine groaned.

“They were waiting for her at school,” Valerie said. “But. . . Don’t freak out.”

“Too late,” Jeraine said.

“Here’s what she said,” Valerie said.

Valerie played the full video of Tanesha’s mini-rant. Jeraine watched it twice before handing the phone back to Valerie.

“She’s really great,” Valerie said.

“You don’t think she’s going to say that in public and be pissed at me in private?” Jeraine asked.

“Does she do that?” Valerie asked. “She strikes me as pretty straight forward.”

“No, I guess she doesn’t,” Jeraine said.

“You’d better call her to be sure,” Valerie said.

Nodding, Jeraine took his phone out of the pocket in his pants.

“In the meantime,” Valerie said.

“We avoid the photogs,” Jeraine said.

“Vultures,” Valerie said. “You might also want to keep your shirt on.”

Jeraine scowled and shook his head. He stood there for a moment before heading inside. He walked with purpose until he was in their apartment in the basement.

Then he freaked out.

It was a nightmare that never ended. His past just screwed him over and over again. What was he going to do if Tanesha left him? What was he going to do about all of this?

His head exploded with pain. Rather than deal with everything, he went to the bathroom, took his meds, and got in bed. He called Heather to ask if she would keep an eye on Jabari. That’s the last thing he remembered before the drugs kicked in.

~~~~~~~~

Friday afternoon — 2:13 p.m.

“Kallyn?”

The word was on the lips of her mother, Quanshay, before Quanshay was even awake. Quanshay’s eyes fluttered open.

Where on earth?

Quanshay sat up in bed.

The bed was so comfortable and inviting that she almost lay back down. She looked down at herself. She was wearing a man’s old T-shirt. It was roomy and soft from multiple washings. Her hand went under the covers. She was wearing just her underwear.

She lay back down in the warm bed and fell asleep again.

Sometime later. . . Had it been three minutes? Two hours? She sat straight up in bed. Her daughter was talking? Was she crying or laughing?

Where was she?

Quanshay saw the old soft robe on the end of the bed. She wrapped herself in its warmth and went to the restroom. Her purse was set on the counter. Her phone was charging on a cord hooked into a socket.

She grabbed her phone and started to look at it.

She heard her daughter again.

Without thinking, she walked toward the sound. She opened a glass door that led to a lovely garden patio. There was a small pond with fish and benches around the edge of the patio. The planters were filled with winter dormant plants, but the flowing ivy and box made the patio inviting. Quanshay saw a few shoots of bulbs coming up from the soil. A foot above this beautiful shady oasis was what looked like a brightly lit driveway.

Looking up, she recognized Kallyn’s shoes moving forward and then back. There was an odd slapping sound.

If someone was beating on her daughter, they were going to have Quanshay to deal with. Quanshay trotted up a shady paved path to the driveway. Standing just out of sight in shadow, she saw that her daughter was fighting a boy with some kind of wooden sword.

The boy was much better with the wooden sword than Kallyn.

But Kallyn was good. Really good.

They were speaking. . . something. Quanshay knew she should recognize it but it always took her a moment. It sounded like French sometimes but it wasn’t. It slid across her mind like a river.

Quanshay sighed at her exhausted mind.

Kallyn was studying. . . in school. She had to get special permission and the mean kids had made fun of her but she was almost fluent in. . .

Arabic. The word popped in her mind.

Kallyn started learning Arabic when her father started with the language. Of course, Royce picked it up like he picked up everything — easily with a lot of grace.

Kallyn and the boy were speaking Arabic.

Laughing. They were laughing. Quanshay smiled.

The boy said something to Kallyn and her daughter turned.

“Mama!” Kallyn said.

“Watch it girl!” Quanshay said.

The boy had distracted Kallyn in order to win at whatever game they were playing. But Kallyn was able to block his attack. The boy cheered for her.

Kallyn said something to the boy, and he gave her a solemn nod. He turned to Quanshay and raised a hand in “Hello.”

In that moment, Quanshay recognized him. He was Alexander, son of one of Royce’s bosses, Major Joseph Walter. He had grown into a very handsome teenager. She smiled at him.

Kallyn hugged her mother, and Quanshay wrapped herself around her first born. Kallyn was silently weeping into her mother’s chest.

“I’ll get J’Ron,” Alexander said.

Quanshay nodded. She made soothing sounds to Kallyn.

“What’s wrong, baby?” Quanshay asked.

“I just missed you,” Kallyn said. “I was so worried and. . .”

J’Ron threw himself on them. They weaved for a moment before finding balance. Quanshay held onto her children. After a few moments, Quanshay led them to the sitting area. Kallyn didn’t let go of her arm while J’Ron just wanted to be as close as possible.

“You’re wearing those masks,” Quanshay said, noticing for the first time that she wasn’t.

J’Ron pulled a clean mask from his pocket.

“We pick up two every day,” J’Ron said. “Our rule is one for the pocket, one for the face. I guess they liked it so much they’re using it at the construction company.”

Quanshay smiled broadly, “That’s really good.”

“Where have you been?” Kallyn asked, still crying. “I tried to call.”

“So did I,” J’Ron said.

“I was asleep in this room,” Quanshay said. “Where are we?”

“We’re at the Castle,” J’Ron said.

“You don’t remember?” Kallyn asked.

Quanshay shook her head.

“We came here and you saw Jeraine and. . .” J’Ron said.

Quanshay gasped. She looked embarrassed.

“That wasn’t a dream?” Quanshay asked.

“Oh, no,” J’Ron said. “Look.”

He took out his phone from his pocket and showed her the photo.

“It’s everywhere,” J’Ron said.

“Are they mad?” Quanshay asked. “I don’t want to cause them any trouble.”

“It’s just a part of their life,” Kallyn said. “Or at least that’s what Charlie says. I guess it happens all the time to either Jeraine or Valerie, you know, Valerie Lipson. She’s a movie star.”

“I know,” Quanshay said. “She’s a very beautiful movie star.”

“I thought Dad would call us but. . .” J’Ron said.

“He doesn’t have your numbers,” Quanshay winced. “Remember, he got his new phone after he left the house.”

Her kids nodded.

“He must be really worried,” Quanshay said. “Upset.”

“Why?” Kallyn and J’Ron asked in near unison.

“I had this thing about Jeraine when we were in high school,” Quanshay said. “Your dad was so mad about it. But I. . .?”

Quanshay looked at her kids.

“Jeraine lives here?” Quanshay asked.

Both children nodded.

“Your dad is going to be flipped out,” Quanshay said with a little laugh. “He’s just going to have to deal with it.”

When she laughed, her children laughed with her.

“Where have you been?” Kallyn asked.

“In there, I think,” Quanshay said. “Asleep. I just. . . I remember talking to. . . Oh my God, that’s Miss T. I know people have said that to me before but I never quite. . . Tanesha Smith is Miss T.”

Quanshay shook her head.

“Mercy,” Quanshay said. “Well. . . Can’t change the past.”

She looked at her children.

“Any idea why I’m here?” Quanshay gestured to the room she’d come out of.

“You’re staying in Fey Team Honey’s guest room,” Kallyn said. “I never would have guessed that it was here.”

“It’s really nice,” J’Ron said.

“Come on,” Quanshay said. “I’ll show you.”

Quanshay got up. The kids followed her inside to where she’d been sleeping. She was going to get dressed but when she saw the bed, her fatigue returned.

“Are you sick, Mama?” Kallyn asked.

“I doubt it,” Quanshay said. “I’m just tired. All of this stuff — virus, business, your dad being gone, you kids being home. . . I. . .”

There was a tap on the door. Quanshay saw the stack of masks next to her door. She put one on before letting Honey inside.

“I heard voices and wanted to check on you,” Honey said.

Uncomfortable with another adult they didn’t know, the kids moved away from the door.

“I can’t get over how well you’re walking,” Quanshay said.

“It’s still early in the day,” Honey said with a smile. She gave Quanshay a critical look. “How are you feeling?”

“Tired,” Quanshay said. “Hungry.”

“Should we get you a Covid test?” Honey asked.

“I don’t think so,” Quanshay said.

“Mom, you really. . .” Kallyn started at the same time J’Ron said, “Dad would want you to. . .”

“I guess I’d better,” Quanshay said.

“Best to be safe,” Honey said. “I’ll make an appointment with Dr. Bumpy.”

“Oh,” Quanshay said. “You know him?”

“He’s Jeraine’s father,” Honey said with a shrug. “We all see him.”

“Jeraine’s father?” Quanshay asked blushing. “I forgot that.”

“Is it okay?” Honey asked. “Should I call someone else?”

“No,” Quanshay said. “I really like him. We’ve come into to town to see him. He’s taking care of our kids and me through my pregnancy.”

Quanshay looked at her children.

“Where’s your brother?” Quanshay asked.

“He’s playing with the ‘Wild bunch,’” Honey said with a smile.

“Wild bunch?” Quanshay asked.

“We have a lot of kids who are about the same age,” Honey said. “Your son fit right in. They have so much fun that we call them the ‘Wild Bunch.’”

Quanshay looked at her kids. They both nodded at Honey’s words. Honey grinned at the silent communication between mother and children.

“You have been asleep for a long time,” Honey said. “You need to drink some fluids and eat. I made a sandwich if you would like it. . .”

“Thank you,” Quanshay said, embarrassed.

“We Fey wives have to stick together,” Honey said. “I’m sure the kids will tell you. We have a few sick people in the house, so we’re all wearing masks and trying to stay well.”

“Mama, Julie Hargreaves is here,” Kallyn said softly.

“Paddie’s mom?” J’Ron asked.

“Oh,” Quanshay said. “She’s such a sweet woman. I’d heard that she was sick.”

“She’s getting better,” Honey said. “I just wanted to make sure that you knew to be careful. Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Keep your distance from people even if you’re outside.”

Quanshay nodded.

“Call Royce,” Honey said.

“I will,” Quanshay said.

“Kids?” Honey asked. “Let’s let your mom get some rest.”

“They’re okay for now,” Quanshay said.

“You’re sure?” Honey asked.

“I am,” Quanshay said with a nod.

“I’ll let you know about the doctor,” Honey said.

Honey brought in a tray with a sandwich and a glass. She pointed that there was filtered water in the corner.

“It’s like a hotel,” Quanshay said.

Honey grinned, “We aim to please. Dinner starts at six. We have so many people now that it goes for a while. You don’t have to worry about being on time.”

Quanshay nodded.

“I washed the clothing you were wearing,” Honey said. “It’s hanging there. You didn’t bring other clothes so I thought you’d like something clean.”

“Thank you,” Quanshay said.

“It’s my pleasure,” Honey said. “Absolutely. I’ve had so many people help me over the years. It’s wonderful to have a chance to give back a little.”

Quanshay smiled, and Honey left them.

“Well, how is it here?” Quanshay asked the kids.

“Perfect,” Kallyn said. “We’re having a great time.”

“A blast,” J’Ron said. “We play video games from three to dinner. It’s. . . Amazing. I’m learning a lot and. . .”

Quanshay grinned. She was sure that they would go home when her husband returned. For now, this was a great place to land.

“I’m going to eat my sandwich and rest some more,” Quanshay said. “If you want to hang out with your friends you can.”

The kids gave each other guilty looks.

“I’m serious,” Quanshay said. “Go have fun.”

The kids nodded to each other. They hugged their mother one more time and then left her. Quanshay ate her sandwich, drank a lot of water, and went back to bed. For the first time since she knew about this stupid virus, she fell asleep quickly and slept well.

~~~~~~~~

Friday afternoon — 4:43 p.m.

“How is he?” Tanesha whispered to Delphie.

Tanesha and Fin were sent home early because of the chaos of reporters. She went to check on their patients in the medical office. Even thought they were still on oxygen, Julie Hargreaves and Gando Peaches were sitting in chairs on the deck off the medical offices. They nodded to Tanesha as she’d passed through the doors to check on Sam Lipson.

“The nurse said he’s doing well,” Delphie said.

“But?” Tanesha asked.

“I just have never known him to sleep so much,” Delphie said with a sigh. “I keep thinking that he must be really sick because he’s sleeping.”

Tanesha picked up the chart and started going through it.

“Do you mind if I take a little break?” the nurse asked.

“Of course,” Tanesha said, looking up at him. “I’ll stay until you’re back.”

“Thanks,” the nurse said. “I have to pee.”

Tanesha grinned at the young man before turning back to Delphie.

“He’s on some heavy meds,” Tanesha said. Looking up at Delphie, she added, “That’s why he’s sleeping.”

“But why does he have to sleep?” Delphie asked.

The women looked at each other for a long moment before Tanesha nodded.

“I see what you mean,” Tanesha said. “He wouldn’t be on the meds and wouldn’t be sleeping if he wasn’t so sick.”

“Exactly,” Delphie said with a nod.

“This is just a really awful disease,” Tanesha said. “We know that he’s getting great treatment, right?”

Never taking her eyes off Sam, Delphie nodded.

“Then we have to trust that he will get well on his own terms,” Tanesha said. “Julie and Gando seem much better.”

Delphie nodded. After a moment, Delphie looked at Tanesha.

“You think Sam will get better too?” Dephie asked.

“His chart is good,” Tanesha said. “It looks like he was very, very sick. But he doesn’t seem to have much lung scarring.”

She looked at Delphie and nodded.

“My guess is that he’ll be back to his old self sooner than you think,” Tanesha said.

“I hope so,” Delphie said.

Tanesha turned an assessing look at Delphie.

“How are you?” Tanesha asked. “Have you been taking care of yourself? Sleeping?”

Delphie shook her head.

“I can’t sleep,” Delphie said. “You probably know that I’ve been a little crazy.”

“You need to rest!” Tanesha said. “What would any of us do without you?”

Delphie gave a slight nod.

“When the nurse returns, why don’t we get some tea?” Tanesha asked.

“You’re going to put me to sleep,” Delphie said.

“I am,” Tanesha said with a grin.

“You’re mom told me that you can do that,” Delphie said.

“I practiced on Gran,” Tanesha said. “She could be a real bear when she wasn’t sleeping.”

Delphie gave a slight nod. The nurse slipped into the room and gave Tanesha a nod.

“Come on,” Tanesha said to Delphie.

Delphie looked at Tanesha for a long moment before following her out of the room. They went down the hallway. Valerie was waiting for them at the head of the stairs.

“Delphie needs rest,” Tanesha said.

“Delphie?” Valerie put her arm around Delphie. Using her gift of commanding voice, she said, “You need to sleep.”

That was enough of a nudge for Delphie to go with Tanesha toward her apartment. Valerie followed close behind. Together, Tanesha and Valerie got Delphie into bed. They left her when she was sound asleep.

“How are you?” Tanesha asked Valerie.

“I feel huge,” Valerie said.

“Any day now,” Tanesha said.

Valerie gave her a worried look.

“What’s going on?” Tanesha asked.

“The hospitals are full of sick people,” Valerie said. “Jake made those medical offices so I could have Jackie. Now, they are full of people.”

Valerie stopped walking and looked at Tanesha.

“What am I going to do?” Valerie asked.

“Well,” Tanesha said and then thought for a moment. “Your pregnancy is normal?”

Valerie nodded.

“Nothing for the doctor to worry about?” Tanesha asked.

Valerie nodded.

“You could have her anywhere,” Tanesha said. “My gran used to say that my ancestors had their babies in the fields and went back to work.”

“I don’t want to do that,” Valerie said.

Tanesha grinned.

“You always get a little weird when you’re going into labor,” Tanesha said. “Give it time. Whatever happens will be perfect. I’ll certainly help in any way that I can.”

“Promise?” Valerie asked.

“Promise,” Tanesha said. “I’d better go find Jeraine.”

Valerie nodded. The women walked together down the stairs until the reached the kitchen. Valerie was immediately caught up in making dinner. Tanesha smiled at the happy chaos and went to find Jeraine.

Denver Cereal continues next week...