CHAPTER FIVE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-TWO
Thursday afternoon — 3:44 p.m.
Carrying two mugs and a small thermos of hot chocolate, Noelle went out the Castle back door. She crossed the frost crusted grass to the garage where Mike had left the door open for her. She set the hot chocolate and the mugs down on the bench and got to work.
Noelle took her work as Mike’s apprentice very seriously. She picked up all of his dirty water and paint thinner containers and set them on the counter next to the big, deep utility sink by the door. Mike was really good about cleaning his brushes at the end of the day, but she liked to check them anyway. She went through his brushes picking up a few that could use a good scrub. She made a mental note to take a day to clean the brushes.
“Oh,” Mike said as he came from the back. “You know, you don’t have to do that.”
“I know,” Noelle said. “But it’s my job as your apprentice.”
“I like to help,” Noelle said. “Makes me feel like I’m giving back for all the help you’ve given me. Plus, I looked it up on the Internet. This is the kind of thing an apprentice should do.”
“Well, if it says so on the Internet. It must be fact,” Mike said.
“It is,” Noelle said.
“Hey! What’s wrong with these brushes?” Mike picked up one of the brushes she deemed not clean enough.
“Oh,” Noelle said with a sigh. “I just thought it could use a little attention.”
Mike scowled at her back.
“I can feel you scowl at me,” Noelle said with a laugh. She gestured to the bench. “Your scowl won’t scrape off this residue of paint.”
“It might,” Mike said vaguely.
“It won’t,” Noelle said. “I brought us some hot chocolate.”
“To scrape off the paint?” Mike asked.
“Funny,” Noelle said brightly.
He poured himself some hot chocolate and watched her work. He’d never been really comfortable with having an apprentice. If he didn’t like Noelle so much, he would tell her to stop coming. She was such a nice girl that he enjoyed their time together.
Nothing sexual, that’s for sure.
He simply enjoyed her company.
And more than anything, her work was improving by leaps and bounds.
To his surprise, teaching her had improved his work, as well.
“How was school?” Mike asked the same dumb question that every adult asks a child.
She laughed at his sarcastic tone.
“Heather and her grandmother came to talk to us about the six types of love,” Noelle said. “You know, like the Greeks defined.”
“Oh yeah?” Mike asked breathing over the hot chocolate. “That must have been weird. Was Aphrodite wearing her usual low cut, sexy evening wear?”
“Weird is a word for it,” Noelle said. “Heather must have gotten her grandmother to adjust her look. She looked gorgeous, of course, but in a normal kind of way. Heather told us to call her ‘Agnes.’ She said that ‘Agnes’ had multiple Ph.Ds. Nash looked it up later and she does have a bunch of degrees. She’s kind of famous in Ancient Greek scholarship.”
“I bet,” Mike said. “Nice to know everything before you take the test.”
“She told us this thing about how women make people and men make monuments,” Noelle said. “I’m not saying it right. Our class was blown away.”
“Sounds about right,” Mike said.
“Uh huh,” Noelle said.
She turned and gave him the containers for paint thinner. He took the jars and went to fill them. She put water in the water containers and started setting them out. Mike was screwing the caps on the paint thinner jars.
“I was thinking of you,” Noelle said. “You know, when Heather and her grandmother were talking about the six types of love.”
“Oh?” Mike asked.
If anyone else had said that to him, Mike would assume it was something sexy or flattering. But he knew Noelle well enough by now to know that there was nothing obvious about what she had to say. Better to be open than to assume he knew what she was talking about and get confused.
“They mentioned a type of love that reminded me of you,” Noelle said.
“Me?” Mike said with a snort. “Something about love reminded you of me?”
“Yes,” Noelle said. She looked at him. “There’s a kind of love that’s called ‘Agape.’ That’s love of everyone. Heather said that the Buddhist talk about it as ‘loving-kindness.’ It’s a kind of universal love.”
“And that reminded you of me?” Mike laughed.
Then he remembered who he was talking to. He turned to look at her.
“Sorry,” Mike said. “Did I offend you?”
“No,” Noelle said. “I know that you pretend not to like anyone.”
“I hate everyone. Equally,” Mike said.
“How is that different from loving everyone equally?” Noelle asked.
She nodded and turned back to the sink. He scowled at her back. She turned off the tap and turned around.
“What are we working on today?” Noelle asked.
“Hating everyone?” Mike asked.
She gave him a patient smile. He sighed.
“Come on,” Mike said. “Let’s get to work.”
He went back into the garage studio and Noelle followed him.
Thursday afternoon — 3:44 p.m.
Colin Hargreaves touched Nash’s shoulder and nodded toward the basement stairs.
“When you’re ready,” Colin said.
Nash nodded. He watched Colin open the basement door.
“Coming?” Teddy asked.
Nash nodded. Teddy followed Colin down the stairs.
Colin Hargreaves was Nash’s martial arts teacher, his Sensei. One thing Colin hated was people who showed up for practice and weren’t ready to be there. Colin would rather Nash didn’t attend class than show up distracted and unable to be present.
“That’s how people get hurt,” Colin said at least a thousand times.
Nash looked at the door where Colin had disappeared. He would rather be in class than staring face to face with his own problems. Nash opened the back door to the house and went out into garden. They had turned this entire yard into a small farm. He and Teddy had helped turn compost into this soul to get it ready for winter. The yard next door — where the lawyer Samantha Hargreaves lived in the bottom and basement, while Colin and his family lived on the top floors — was filled with a forest of winter dormant fruit trees and three evergreen trees.
Nash instinctive wandered toward the trees. A set of three evergreen trees sat nearest the back of the house. Christmas lights were still strung among the boughs. He just wanted …
He wasn’t sure what he wanted.
He just knew that he had to get his head right before he could attend practice.
Today, the Goddess Aphrodite and her granddaughter Hedone had come to their classroom to talk about the six types of love. When they’d finished the six types of love, Heather had talked about two others – Mania and Storge. Heather had looked right at him and talked about “Mania ” — a type of obsessive love.
Nash took out his blackened, smelly phone.
“Nash?” a woman’s voice came from the house.
Nash turned to see Samantha Hargreaves holding her infant Sasha.
“Oh hey,” Nash said. “Sorry, I was just …”
“You okay?” Samantha asked.
Nash just looked at Samantha.
“Sasha saw you out here,” Samantha looked down at the infant girl. “She wants to know if you’re okay.”
Nash looked at the infant. She was grinning at him and holding her arms out for Nash. Unable to ever resist a baby, Nash went to the baby. He took her out of Samantha’s arms and held the child tight. Sasha laughed one of her spectacular laughs. Her laugh always made him feel better.
“Come in,” Samantha said. “We were just having our tea. Would you like something?”
Nash looked through the door. He’d never been in Samantha’s part of the house. The door went to a small kitchen. The back wall was mostly double paned glass windows. Samantha waved him into the house, and Nash looked at her.
“I’m supposed to be at class,” Nash said.
“You can’t go when your head isn’t there,” Samantha said mildly.
Nash grinned at Samantha.
“How …?” Nash asked.
“The twins’ martial arts teacher said it about a million times,” Samantha said. “They were so wild. I think it was a way of getting them to pay attention. But …”
Samantha looked at him, and gave him a slight smile.
“I’ve found it to be a really helpful life lesson,” Samantha said.
“Did you take classes from Sensei Steve?” Nash asked.
“Mmm,” Samantha said. She nodded and looked at him. “It’s cold. Come in. Have some tea.”
Nash nodded. Still holding Sasha, he passed her and went into the kitchen. The room was a sea of white marble with grey and gold shooting through it. There were marble countertops and even marble on the floor. Everything matched in expensive precision. He sucked in a breath.
“Very nice,” Nash said.
Samantha looked at him for a moment. The electric kettle clicked off. She took two mugs from the cabinet. They made a “tink” sound when she set them on the hard marble. She set the cinnamon spice teabags he liked into them. She poured water over the teabags and turned around with the mugs.
“I don’t think I had cooked even one full meal before I had this kitchen made,” Samantha said. “Jacob warned me that it wouldn’t be very comfortable or functional. ‘The floor is too hard to stand on.’ ‘The counters are hard to clean.’ ‘You’ll need a lot of cutting boards.’ I didn’t care, so I didn’t listen.”
Samantha gave Nash a lovely smile.
“I just wanted the very best,” Samantha said.
She looked at the countertops and sighed.
“It’s a cold room,” Samantha said. “And not very functional. I mean, when someone gets a wild hair and wants to make croissant or other pastries, they come here. It’s great for that.”
“Do you cook much?” Nash asked.
“Not much,” Samantha said.
Nash nodded to the drawers.
“Crockpot?” Nash asked.
“Yes, like all Jacob created kitchens, there’s a bread maker on the bottom and a crockpot here,” Samantha said. “I use those a lot. Instant Pot.”
“I mostly eat next door,” Samantha said.
“I would,” Nash nodded.
Samantha grinned at him.
“Come on,” Samantha said.
He followed her into the living area. The warmth of this room made the kitchen feel like winter. Near the kitchen door, there was a sturdy antique farmhouse table in the dining area. Samantha’s laptop was open. A fire burned in the fireplace. An overstuff couch invited Nash to come to sit on it. There was another sitting area against the front wall creating a third room.
Nash looked at Samantha. She closed her laptop as she passed and went to the couch.
“Raz bought this for me,” Samantha said.
She sat down and nodded to Nash.
“I had this ridiculous couch,” Samantha said with a grin. “He bought this couch and had it delivered while I was traveling.”
She grinned at the memory.
“He completely changed this room,” Samantha said. “New rugs. New table.”
Samantha nodded to the farm table. Nash pointed to the table.
“That was in the attic of Mike’s studio for years,” Nash said. “Chairs too. Jacob got it from those houses he owned by DIA.”
“I knew he had help!” Samantha said with a grin.
“Did he say he did it himself?” Nash asked.
“No. Never,” Samantha said. She squinted. “I haven’t I asked. I was just so blown away at how much this seemed like home. Suddenly. I left this cold house and returned to all of this warmth. A real home.”
She looked at Nash.
“You can set her on the couch or put her on her blanket,” Samantha said.
“I like holding her,” Nash said.
Samantha gave him an agreeing nod.
“What’s wrong, Nash?” Samantha asked. “I’ve known you a long time and I’ve never seen this darkness on you.”
Nash looked down.
“It’s unnatural for you,” Samantha said. “You don’t wear it well.”
“I found out …” Nash said. To his surprise, his eyes welled with tears. “I …”
Samantha reached over and took Sasha. She set her in an antique mission style crib along the wall and returned to the couch.
“Noelle and I were in that crib,” Nash said in spite of his sorrow. “I think Jake and Val were, too.”
Samantha shook his head.
“Jacob must have a warehouse of furniture,” Samantha said.
“Yes,” Nash said. “He does.”
“Well, at least we know it raises great kids,” Samantha said with a sigh. “Delphie knitted the baby blanket. She loves it.”
Nash nodded. Samantha picked up her tea.
“You were saying something,” Samantha said.
“Oh,” Nash sighed. “You know what happened to Sandy?”
“I’ve been to see her,” Samantha said. “She seems to be on the mend.”
“She fell because I wouldn’t give up my phone,” Nash said.
“Delphie and I talked,” Nash said. “I’m addicted to this stupid phone.”
Nash pulled the charred phone from his pocket.
“I was going to class and I realized that I usually tape our classes,” Nash said. “I’ve never even looked at them, but I have them. I … I … liked having them.”
“Today, Heather and her grandmother came to our class to talk about the types of love,” Nash said.
Samantha snorted a laugh.
“You had a lecture on love from Aphrodite and Hedone?” Samantha asked incredulously.
“Yeah,” Nash said.
“That’s an incredible honor,” Samantha said.
“And must have been so weird,” Samantha said. “Aphrodite always looks at me like I’m some kind of beetle. I never know if she’s going to step on me or …”
“How do you know them?” Nash asked.
“Oh,” Samantha said. “I don’t really know, and anyway, we’re talking about you.”
“You’ll tell me?” Nash asked.
“Later,” Samantha said. “So the Goddesses of Love taught you about … Agape?”
“Well, yeah,” Nash said. “But I was more … well … at the end, Heather talked about ‘Mania’.”
“Obsessive love,” Samantha said.
“She looked right at me,” Nash said. “I felt like she could see into my soul. How I almost killed Sandy and …”
“Nadia,” Samantha said softly.
“My mother was obsessed with everything,” Nash said. “Right now, she’s obsessed with getting money from my dad. Says that he owes her for all that he put her through. All he put her through! What a joke!”
Nash shook his head incredulously. He looked at Samantha.
“I’m sorry,” Nash said. “I don’t know why I’m telling you all of this stuff.”
“Sometimes, it’s nice to unburden yourself to a familiar stranger,” Samantha said. She smiled. “Plus, I know all of the players.”
“Well,” Samantha said, after a moment. “You know the paths you need to take.”
“So why are you so upset?” Samantha asked.
“I …” Nash said.
Tears started down his face. Unable to speak, he shook his head. Samantha sat with him until he was calmer. When he was still, he looked up at the clock.
“I have to go,” Nash said.
He jumped up and started out of the house.
“Would you mind if I come to see you later?” Samantha asked.
Nash stopped in his tracks. He turned to her. After a moment, he gave her a brief nod and ran out of the house. Teddy was waiting with their bikes in front of the house.
“You okay?” Teddy asked. “You missed practice.”
Nash grunted. They got on their bikes and rode to O’Malley’s house.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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