Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Five Hundred and Forty-eight : Meet you at the Castle

CHAPTER FIVE HUNDRED AND FORTY-EIGHT

Monday evening — 5:35 p.m.

Sandy touched Charlie’s arm before walking toward the back of the shop. Charlie and Tink were Sandy’s last clients before heading home. She usually didn’t work on Mondays, but they’d been gone all last week. Plus, she’d wanted to get Charlie cleaned up to celebrate his new, braces free life. She left the teenagers alone while Tink’s deep conditioner worked and Charlie’s highlights were processing.

“What do you think?” Charlie asked Tink, who was sitting in the chair next to him.

“About?” Tink asked, looking up from The Great Gatsby, a book she was reading for their literature class.

“How is that?” Charlie asked, gesturing to the book.

“Oh, the book?” Tink asked. “It’s okay. I don’t like him very much. He’s kind of … I don’t know, a jerk, I guess. They live this addict life. They make it seem so glamorous, but then they suffer the downfall of their addiction.”

“Like everybody,” Charlie said.

“Everyone,” Tink said.

“Everyone,” Charlie said with a nod. “Thanks.”

Tink grinned, and Charlie smiled.

“I don’t like the way he treats his girlfriend or wife or whatever she was,” Tink said.

“Well, I get it after you,” Charlie said.

Tink nodded.

“We can talk about it when you’re done,” Tink said.

Charlie grinned at her, and she laughed. They both remembered all too well, how, not so long ago, Charlie couldn’t read and Tink was too overwhelmed to bother. Tink went back to her book and Charlie fell silent.

“No,” Charlie said after a moment.

Tink looked up at him.

“I meant, what do you think about my braces?” Charlie asked.

He gave her a broad smile. The teeth that hadn’t been broken were straightened and what was broken had been capped. Now, he had a straight, gleaming smile.

“I think you are very handsome,” Tink said. “Too good for the likes of me.”

She looked back down to read.

“Don’t say that,” Charlie said.

“Say what?” Tink asked, looking up from the book.

“That I’m too good for you,” Charlie said. “You’re amazing. I want to spend my entire life trying to be good enough for you.”

Tink blushed.

“I don’t know what we’re going to be, you and me, when we get older, but I know that I will always love you,” Charlie said. “I will always be your friend, even when you’re a rich and famous whatever you end up being. I will still be working to be good enough for you.”

Tink’s eyes filled with tears.

“Thanks,” Tink said, mildly. “You’re amazing too.”

Charlie smiled at her.

“And very handsome?” Charlie asked.

“And very handsome,” Tink said with a grin. “Even with all that foil in your head.”

Charlie laughed.

“Come on, Charlie,” Sandy said, coming out from the back. “I’ll wash you out now.”

Charlie got up, kissed Tink’s cheek, and went to the back where Sandy’s washing bowls were located. Tink looked at herself in the mirror for a moment.

Life was sure different than it was just a few years ago. She smiled at her reflection and saw her new braces. Her fingers touched the metal with near religious reverence. Shaking her head at herself, she went back to her book.

~~~~~~~~

Monday evening — 5:45 p.m.

“You can understand why I am concerned,” Jacob said to Nelson’s neighbor Mr. Matchel. “I was out of town. My wife and daughter said that you were very angry in their direction regarding my cousin and your next door neighbor.”

Mr. Matchel shifted back and forth.

“Just a bad night,” Mr. Matchel said.

“That’s what I want to understand,” Jacob said. “Because Blane’s been over here — every single Thursday this summer — making sure that your grass is moved and edged. If you think that you’d rather not have ‘his kind’ around then he can spend his time doing something else.”

Mr. Matchel swallowed hard. His head went up and down.

“Now, Blane, Nelson, and I planned to get after these leaves in your yard this weekend,” Jacob said.

“Because you can use them for your own compost,” Mr. Matchel said. “For that farm, you’re running in the backyard.”

“Actually, this is too much for us,” Jacob said with a nod. “We’ve never put your leaves in our compost. We do get them to the city so they can use them.”

Mr. Matchel scowled with mistrust.

“So what’s it going to be?” Jacob asked. “Are you going to get over this petty issue you’ve developed with my cousin and your next door neighbor? Let us help you. Or would you rather sit in your judgments on their lives?”

“Petty?” Mr. Matchel sniffed. “It’s in the bible as an offense against God!”

“It’s also in the bible that you should love your neighbor,” Jacob said. “There’s an entire New Testament about that. Are you loving your neighbor when you vented your rage on my wife and child? When you say awful things about my cousin and your neighbor?”

Mr. Matchel shifted back and forth. Before Jacob and Blane started mowing his yard, he was always in trouble with the city for his unkempt yard. The elderly man was simply incapable of keeping up with his yard and house.

“Is hate so important to you?” Jacob asked.

“It’s not like I hate Blane,” Mr. Matchel said.

“Then what is it?” Jacob asked.

Mr. Matchel blinked at Jacob for such a long time that Jacob nearly gave up. After a moment, Mr. Matchel took a breath and then another. Jacob glanced behind him and saw Heather standing at the fence of the Castle.

“I just get so angry these days,” Mr. Matchel said finally. “I didn’t mean to scare your little girl. It just came out of me.”

Jacob nodded in understanding.

“Seems like maybe you haven’t had a chance to meet Nelson,” Jacob said.

Mr. Matchel shook his head.

“He’s coming to dinner tonight,” Jacob said. “Why don’t you come over? Do you have dinner plans?”

“Me?” Mr. Matchel asked. “Just what they bring from the service.”

“Why don’t I ask Nelson to come get you?” Jacob asked. “You can come over together. Share a meal. We can get to know each other better.”

Mr. Matchel gave him a distrusting look but nodded.

“Good, then it’s settled,” Jacob said. “You’ll like Nelson. His family is one of France’s oldest families.”

“I was in France in the service,” Mr. Matchel said.

“See, something in common already,” Jacob said.

Mr. Matchel nodded. Not sure of what to say next, Mr. Matchel closed the door. Jacob walked next door to tell Nelson the news. Nelson simply nodded. Smiling, Jacob went back to the Castle.

Passing Heather, he said, “Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me yet,” Heather said.

Jacob laughed.

~~~~~~~~

Monday evening — 5:45 p.m.

Between Las Vegas and Denver

“They’re going to have AA meetings during the day in the space,” Jeraine said, on his cell phone. “He said it was something he’d always wanted to do. ‘Can’t service one side of addiction and not the other.’ That’s what he said, anyway.”

“What did Jammy say?” Tanesha asked. “I’d hate it if we got excited again and …”

“Nope,” Jeraine said. “I mean, Jammy stayed to work out all the details and get the signatures. He’s not sure that the other guy will let me out of my contract.”

“But he won’t put on a show either!” Tanesha said.

“Yeah,” Jeraine said. “You know how they are.”

Tanesha snorted.

“Now don’t get all mad,” Jeraine said. “This is a really good thing. If all the details line up …”

“That’s right,” Tanesha said.

“I’ll be heading a show here until you’re done with medical school,” Jeraine said. “This guy, man, he wanted something like this for a long time. His wife came by with his kids. She told me that he’d talked about it for years. He wanted a mix of styles and people, you know, like we talked about.”

“I …” Tanesha started.

“Oh, and he’s going to give me an apartment in the hotel,” Jeraine said. “We get childcare when Jabari is there, if we need it. But it’s available to me. I can even take the hotel jet back and forth.”

“And the pay?” Tanesha asked.

“I did like we’d talked about,” Jeraine said. “Same flat salary with a percentage of the door. Hecate said we should sell out every night.”

“Wow,” Tanesha said.

“We get medical insurance too,” Jeraine said. “Because I’ll be an employee of the hotel. He said the insurance isn’t perfect, but it’s okay. I could cover you and Jabari.”

“Great,” Tanesha said. “It sounds just great!”

“Right,” Jeraine said. “We need to talk to Nelson because I’m going to be there more. We don’t just need a spot for you and Jabari.”

“I think he’s coming to dinner tonight,” Tanesha said.

“Great,” Jeraine said. “We should land in about twenty minutes. I’ll be home for dinner. You?”

“I’ll be there,” Tanesha said. “Listen, I’m really excited for you, for us. I hope this works out.”

“Me, too,” Jeraine said. “But you know, whatever happens it’s going to be okay. If the last year taught me anything, as long as you’re by my side, everything is going to be okay.”

“Tsk,” Tanesha gave an embarrassed sound.

“Just the truth,” Jeraine said. “So I’ll see you soon?”

“I’ll be there,” Tanesha said.

“You didn’t tell me how school was?” Jeraine asked.

“It was okay,” Tanesha said. She gave a heavy sigh. “I have a lot of work ahead of me.”

“Me too,” Jeraine said. “But what else are we going to do?”

“True,” Tanesha said. “Love you, weirdo. See you tonight.”

“Love you, Miss T,” Jeraine said. “See you tonight.”

Smiling to himself, Jeraine looked over at Hecate. Her face had been pressed to the window as soon as they’d taken to the air.

“We’re going to land in a bit,” Jeraine said.

Her face marked with awe, she turned to look at him.

“What happens then?” Hecate asked.

“There’s a big bump and we roll to a place where we can head home,” Jeraine said. “I called for a car so they should be there waiting for us.”

Hecate gave him a distracted nod and turned her face back to the window. Smiling at her, Jeraine closed his eyes to meditate until the plane landed.

~~~~~~~~

Monday evening — 6:15 p.m.

“How was it?” Ares asked Hecate.

Much to Jeraine’s surprise, the God Ares was waiting for them when the plane landed. Ares had grunted at Jeraine and turned his attention to Hecate.

“Jeraine?” Hecate asked. “Have you met my nephew, Ares?”

Jeraine nodded.

“So, how was it?” Ares asked in an impatient and excited voice.

Jeraine grinned. The great God of War seemed exactly the excited nephew that Hecate had introduced him as.

“A-maz-ing,” Hecate said.

Ares tucked Hecate’s arm into his elbow, and they walked off down the terminal. Jeraine scowled at their retreating forms. The Titan and Greek God stopped to wait for Jeraine. He put his bag on his shoulder and walked toward them.

“You could see everything,” Hecate said. “Clouds, birds, air, blue, so very blue sky. And the land. Acres and acres of gorgeous hills and rivers. And … this really is the best planet, you know?

Ares nodded rather than respond.

“Was it like flying?” Ares asked. “Hedone says it’s like flying but also not like flying because you’re up so high up.”

“Right,” Hecate said, “it’s like flying at many thousands of feet.”

“Wow,” Ares said. “All while you were safe and warm.”

Hecate nodded.

“I could see the land and the animals and the clouds and …” Hecate gave a happy sigh. “Have been?”

Ares shook his head and gave Jeraine a hard look.

“How is that my problem?” Jeraine asked. Heather had told him to give Ares what he got. “If you want to go, you could ask.”

Ares gasped.

“Really?” Ares asked.

The Greek God’s face lit up so brightly that Jeraine had to hold back a laugh. If Ares, God of War, had ever been a child, he must have looked just like this.

“I have been in something called an ‘S-U-V’ and, let me tell you, Hecate, it was incredible,” Ares said. “We went over the land at such a speed. The ‘S-U-V’ is on rubber tires. No horses. All mechanical.”

“I took a ‘taxi’,” Hecate said. “We went from one place to another — across the land, not through time.”

“Yes, this ‘S-U-V’ did the same,” Ares said. “We were up in the mountains on some kind of black track. Just incredible. Not with ten horses could you go as fast or as far.”

“We were in the city,” Hecate said. “Then we came to something called an ‘air-port.’”

“Yes, that’s what this is,” Ares said.

“Oh,” Hecate said on an out breath looking around. “We are not in the air?”

Ares shook his head and looked at Jeraine again.

Air-plane.” Jeraine pointed to the monstrous tubes of aluminum out the windows of the terminal. “Air-port. Where you port airplanes?”

“Ah,” Ares said at the same time Hecate said, “Very smart. Makes perfect sense now.”

Groaning to himself, Jeraine continued down the terminal. The Titan and her Greek God “nephew” chatted back and forth. Jeraine put his ear buds in to listen to music from his phone. After a moment, Ares put his hand on Jeraine’s arm.

Jeraine took an ear bud out.

“What is the difference between an ‘S-U-V’ and a ‘tax-ee’?” Ares asked.

“They are the same kind of vehicle but different types,” Jeraine said. “A taxi, or at least the one we took in Las Vegas, was a car.”

Jeraine nodded.

“A car,” Hecate said with a nod.

“Technically, a sedan,” Jeraine said. “It’s a kind of automobile.”

“Ah,” Ares said. “It moves automatically?”

“Instead of horses,” Jeraine said. “That’s the ‘auto.’ There is a big engine which moves the car. Ask Mike when we get to the Castle. He’ll show you.”

“I will do just that,” Ares said. “And an S.U.V?”

“It’s a type of automobile called a ‘Utility Vehicle,’” Jeraine said. “It’s set up to be more rugged for difficult roads, thicker tires, bigger. Jake has a couple to get around town in bad weather and carry the children.”

“I see,” Ares said with a nod. “It always was such a big deal carting everyone around.”

“No family we know gets along,” Hecate said.

Ares laughed out loud.

“So true,” Ares said. “So true. But everyone loves Hecate.”

Hecate blushed.

“You might need one of these ‘S-U-V’s,” Ares said with a nod.

“She would have to know how to drive it,” Jeraine said.

“Watch yourself young man,” Ares said in a low threatening voice. “You are speaking to your betters.”

Jeraine gave him a mildly irritated look. He put his other ear bud in and started toward the bridge to the main terminal. He was mildly surprised to see Ares and Hecate had followed him all the way to his car.

“What’s this?” Ares asked, his boyish glee apparent.

“This is a kind of sedan,” Jeraine said.

“A sedan is a kind of automobile,” Hecate nodded.

“A sedan is the kind of automobile where the nephew sits in back,” Jeraine said. “And the lady sits in front.”

Ares howled with laughter. Jeraine clicked the automatic locks and opened the passenger door for Hecate. When he turned to look, Ares was bent over looking at the door handle.

Jeraine flicked it and the door opened. Ares took a quick in breath.

“Very clever,” Ares said. “Very clever.”

“Get in,” Jeraine said.

Ares got into the back seat next to one of Jabari’s car seats. Ares pointed to it.

“This is to lock children in so that they don’t bother you while you operate the auto-mobile,” Ares told Hecate with a nod.

“That is a safety device,” Jeraine said from the door of the driver’s side, “for small children so they are safe while you drive.”

“Oh yes, small human children are so fragile,” Hecate said. “Makes sense.”

“Now, I have to operate this machine,” Jeraine said. “Please watch but don’t interrupt. It can be very dangerous.”

“As you wish,” Hecate said.

Jeraine looked at Ares in the rearview mirror.

“Of course,” Ares said.

By some miracle, they managed to get out of the airport and onto the highway. Hecate and Ares’s faces were pressed against their windows watching the world go by. Jeraine took the Colorado Boulevard exit from the I-70. In a few minutes, he was at the driveway to the Castle. He clicked the gate opener and looked to see his passengers were completely fascinated.

He pulled into his parking spot and let the Gods out of his sedan.

“That was fantastic!” Ares said. Seeing Heather waiting for them, he rushed out of the vehicle and to her side. “We rode in a sedan.”

Heather shot Jeraine a mildly amused look and escorted her grandfather into the Castle. Hecate waited for Jeraine.

“Thank you for sharing all of this with me,” Hecate said. “It is a rare gift for us to be able to see all the wonders of the modern world, let alone experience them. We are the envy of all of Olympus.”

Jeraine grinned and nodded. They walked to the door of the Castle.

“Dinner can be a crazy here, so …” Jeraine said.

He pressed open the door for her. She went in the side door, through the entryway, and stopped short.

Sandy’s cat Cleo was curled up in a ball in an armchair.

“Mother?” Hecate whispered.

The cat opened its eyes slowly, sleepily, and looked at her.

“She was injured when I finally found her,” Heather said. “I searched high and low for a long, long time. When I found her she was more dead, than alive. Clinging to life. She had transformed into this form because it is so resilient. But …”

Hecate looked at Heather’s face.

“She’s stuck in this form,” Hecate said.

“She’s regained great health in the years she’s been here,” Heather said. “It may take millennia to return to her former self. If she ever can. She is only whole in Olympia but can only go there for short periods of time, ceremonies and the like, when Perses is there.”

“She has always drawn strength from father,” Hecate said.

“Even then, she is really more illusion than anything else,” Heather said.

Rachel Ann walked into the living room and picked up Cleo.

“She has been my friend Sandy’s cat,” Heather said. “Even in her weakened state, she’s given much love.”

“The more she can give, the stronger she will become,” Hecate said.

“That is Sandy’s daughter,” Heather said. “She is Rachel Ann’s champion.”

Hecate nodded. She looked down to see Rachel Ann holding Cleo out for Hecate to see.

“This is Cleo, my cat,” Rachel Ann said. “You can hold her. I think she’d like that.”

Hecate took the cat from Rachel Ann and the little girl ran off. Hecate kissed the cat’s head and hugged her close.

“Oh mother, I’m so very glad that you are alive,” Hecate said.

Cleo the cat purred.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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