CHAPTER FIVE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-FOUR
Blane got back on the US-191 S, returned to listening to the Odyssey, and started on the last piece of the journey toward Kayenta. A half hour later, and every half hour afterwards, Blane stopped on the side of the road to change Nelson’s acupuncture needles. At one stop, about an hour outside of Kayenta, Nelson coughed up a fist full of moisture. Blane caught it in a towel. He forced Nelson to drink another water bottle and take his lung treatment. They continued to Kayenta.
Blane was just pulling into the motel when Nelson awoke.
“We’re here,” Blane said, softly.
“I was hoping we’d …” Nelson gave him a feverish look. “I’ll have to give you a raincheck.”
“I feel like crap,” Nelson said. He shifted to sitting more upright. “Did I sleep the whole way? God, you must be pissed for me not telling you about my mom.”
“You don’t remember?” Blane asked.
“What?” Nelson asked.
“You’re in the middle of an AIDS flare,” Blane said. He pulled the last acupuncture needles out of Nelson’s chest.
“I am?” Nelson asked.
“I thought you were going to die,” Blane said.
Nelson just looked at Blane.
“I feel like death warmed over,” Nelson said, finally.
“You should,” Blane said.
Blane’s phone rang. Blane looked down at it.
“It’s Roger,” Blane said.
“Roger who?” Nelson asked.
“Roger Whitaker,” Blane said. “I called him to find out what was going on with you.”
“Oh,” Nelson said.
Blane held the phone out. Nelson took the call. Blane waited for a moment to see if Nelson needed him. Somewhat fine, Nelson didn’t give Blane even a look. Shaking his head, Blane grabbed his messenger bag and went into check everyone into the hotel.
“How are you?” the desk clerk asked.
“Good,” Blane said.
“You look like you’re thinking deep thoughts,” the desk clerk said.
“Yeah I guess,” Blane said.
“Care to share?” the desk clerk asked.
“Ever notice how fragile life is?” Blane asked. “It’s here one moment and gone. You just never know when that might be. Today? Tomorrow? This moment. It’s just …”
“It’s the big mystery,” the desk clerk nodded.
Blane gave an agreeing nod.
“Anyway, I need to check in,” Blane said.
With a glance to the SUV outside, Blane took out his notebook computer and the clerk worked the computer in front of him. Feeling someone near him, Blane looked up to see Cian Kelly. Cian was Alex Hargreaves’ husband’s brother. Cian grabbed Blane and hugged him tight. He was married to Margaret Peaches, whose grandparents were due to be the first recipients of a new water well.
Like a drowning man, Blane hung on to Cian. No stranger to overwhelm, Cian stayed steady until Blane was ready to let go.
“I’ve taken care of this,” Cian said, in his Northern Irish accent. “Based on your list. Everyone is checked in. We’ve even checked the rooms to make sure that they are right.”
Blane almost collapsed with relief. Cian grabbed his arm.
“Steady on,” Cian said.
“I need help …” Blane gestured to the SUV.
Through the pane of glass, Blane saw Gando Peaches, Margaret Peaches uncle, walking toward the hotel with his arm around Nelson.
“Roger called Alex,” Cian said. “She called me. We tried to get you but you must have been out of service. So we called your misses. The ladies are coming straight here to help.”
Blane nodded. He should have expected the information to spread through the Hargreaves household and into his own. The idea that he hadn’t been alone all of this time made him tear up.
“Now, none of that. Ganny’s taking over for a bit while you rest,” Cian said. “Why don’t I take you to your room? You can rest up. Ganny and I will unpack and greet the bloody hoard as they come in.”
“Bloody hoard?” the clerk behind the counter asked.
“Turn of phrase,” Cian said with a grin. He turned to Blane, “Come on now. You’ve been through hell. Ganny will get Nelson cleaned up and in bed. You can check on him after you’ve rested and eaten something.”
Blane nodded. He followed Cian down a hallway to a room. Opening the door, he saw that there were two Queen sized beds and a crib. It was exactly what they needed. The adjourning door was open where there was another queen sized bed.
“This is what you wanted?” Cian asked.
Gando gave them a nod and closed the adjourning door.
Blane wasn’t sure whether to weep with relief, laugh, or simply fall over. Grinning, Cian pushed Blane backward.
“Rest up,” Cian said. “This week is going to be full of all kinds of drama. We’ll need you at your best.”
Blane nodded. Without saying goodbye, Cian walked out of the room. Blane stared at the door for a moment before going into the bathroom. He felt like he was covered with vomit, shit, sweat, and whatever else. He stripped off his clothing and got into the shower.
A few minutes later, he heard the water turn on next door. Gando was helping Nelson with a bath. Blane was so relieved that his knees buckled. He forced himself through a shower. When he got out, his dirty clothing was gone and his bag was sitting on the table. He changed into a clean pair of boxer briefs and lay down.
He was sound asleep in minutes. The next thing he knew, two hours had passed and Wyn was sitting on his chest.
“Wha …?” Blane asked.
Heather leaned down to kiss his cheek.
“I’ll get up,” Blane said.
“If you feel up to it,” Heather said. “Nelson is asleep. Nadia’s taken a look at him. He seemed to be out of the woods — thanks to you. He just needs sleep now.”
“I …” Blane said. He took her hand and squeezed it.
“What was that?” Heather asked.
“I’m grateful for our life,” Blane said. “That’s all. Thank you.”
She leaned down to kiss him again.
“I want to hear about every detail but for now, I need to go find Mack,” Heather said. “Can you keep an eye on Wyn? He needs some sleep too.”
“Of course,” Blane said.
Blane shifted the child to the center of the queen sized bed. Fully intending to get up, he rolled onto his side. Wyn blinked at Blane and then closed his eyes. They joked about Wyn being a little “Olympian God,” but he was a really mellow baby. Blane watched the baby sleep for longer than he would care to admit, before getting up to unpack their belongings.
Sunday morning — 4:10 a.m.
Nelson woke with a start.
Where was he?
He was lying naked in a queen-sized bed. The sheets were hotel clean. The room smelled like a motel. The light was dim.
He rolled onto his side.
The clock said that it was 4:10 a.m.
That wasn’t a big surprise. He woke up at 4:10 a.m. every morning. Usually, he got up, started coffee, and went for a run. He was home by 5 a.m. He grabbed a cup of coffee and went to his basement where he lifted weights from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. every single day. He was in the shower by 6:10 a.m. Breakfast at 7 a.m. and on the 15 Colfax bus by 7:30 a.m.
His life had structure. His life had order.
This morning, he felt sick. His chest was constricted, and he had a pounding headache. He was also starving.
He sat up on the bed. He reached for the light and noticed a stack of clothing on the bedside table. A note sat on top of the clothing.
“You’re in Kayenta, Arizona,” the note said. “You had an AIDS flare. Take your meds. Drink some water. Come see us. We’re next door. Put something on because the boys are with us. House rule is at least underwear at all times.”
There was a little smiley face.
The handwriting look familiar but at this moment he couldn’t place it.
Who was ‘we’?
Who were the boys?
Why was he in Kayenta, Arizona?
He took a breath. His lungs seized in spasm. He could believe that he was having an AIDS flare. He grabbed his lung treatment and took a deep breath. He did it twice. Turning the device over, he saw that more than twenty of his treatments had been used.
Had someone used his nebulizer? Didn’t he just get this prescription filled?
Why was he in Kayenta, Arizona?
He pulled on the boxer briefs. For good measure, he put on the pajama bottoms. He looked at them.
These were his pajama bottoms.
The whole thing was unsettling. He had no idea what was going on. In spite of himself, he checked to make sure that he had both of his kidneys. After laughing at himself, his worry returned.
How could he have been sick and not remember any of it?
Scowling, he went to use the bathroom of the bathroom. There was a note on the mirror written in fuchsia lipstick
“Don’t freak out.”
That handwriting he knew. He and Nadia Keminoff used to leave messages for each other on the bathroom mirrors of the hotel rooms they shared when they were interviewing for positions at hospitals or fellowships or residencies. They told each other: “Don’t freak out” or “You’ve got this.”
Her color was this fuchsia. His was a classic deep red.
Nadia must be here. Somewhere.
Was she “we”?
Nadia and Ivan.
No. Something about that wasn’t right. Nadia and …?
Nelson was sure that if his head ever stopped pounding he could figure it all out. He took some acetaminophen and drank down a plastic bottle of water sitting next to his medicine kit.
He stumbled back to the bed and sat down. He was about to get in it when he saw the note again.
Who was “we”?
Careful not to make any noise, he got up. He saw that the adjoining door was a jar. Not sure what he’d find, he moved the door and peered inside.
The smell hit him first — baby lotion.
He blinked and saw … Blane. Heather. Mack. Wyn. All in one queen bed. Asleep. Blane’s arm was around Heather and her head was on his shoulder. Wyn was in some kind of bed extender thing next to Heather. Mack was asleep in the space between his parents’ feet.
Nelson stepped back.
The “we” was Blane and his family.
He retreated to his room and sat down on the bed again. He dropped his head into his hands and tried to figure out what was going on.
He fell asleep, or at least he thought he fell asleep.
Nelson woke when a small hand touched his arm. Still sitting on the side of the bed, he looked up.
Mack was standing in front of him. The boy’s enormous blue eyes blinked at Nelson. The child’s black hair was sleep messy. He wore a grey shirt with a yellow backhoe on the front. His pajama legs had various road equipment printed on them.
Nelson closed his eyes.
When he opened his eyes, Mack held out a green apple to him. The apple glowed with light and love. Before he knew it, Nelson had grabbed the apple from the child.
Nelson ate the apple in four bites.
Mack turned his hand over and another apple appeared. The child held it out to Nelson.
Nelson took the apple at ate it more slowly. Six bites. Nelson’s empty stomach seized. He bent over with pain. When he sat up again, the child was still standing on front of him.
Mack held out his hand to Nelson. Instinctively, Nelson took the child’s hand.
The child led Nelson into the room where Blane and his family were sleeping.
Nelson stopped short.
This was Blane’s family.
It had nothing to do with him.
Mack’s hand tugged at him. Nelson looked down at the child. Mack gave him a broad smile.
Mack nodded to the bed. Nelson stepped into the room.
One step. Another step. The smell of baby lotion and soap filled the air. He took another step.
The child pushed back the covers on the second Queen bed. Mack gestured to the bed. Nelson got into the bed. Mack climbed in on the other side of the bed. The child burrowed down in the covers. Nelson rolled onto his side, his back toward Blane and his family. The child took Nelson’s arm and put if over himself.
“Sleep,” Mack whispered.
Beyond all reason, Nelson fell into a sound sleep cuddling the small child. As Nelson slept, he remembered everything from his night with Hedone, reuniting with his father, his courage to get into the SUV with Blane, every moment of sick, and Blane’s care for him.
He argued with himself in some crazy dream that included Jax. He didn’t want a family. People were dangerous. He would get hurt. His heart would break and he …
Jax’s voice echoed in his ears: “What is this aloneness that you cling to so tightly?”
Nelson roused from his sleep. He opened his eyes and saw the sweet face of Mack. Heather had told him that Mack cared about people. Mack cared about the connections between people, not love, really, but something like love. Connection. This small child had reached into his aloneness and dragged him out.
“Nothing,” Nelson whispered. “It’s nothing at all.”
“Fear and stupidity,” Jax’s voice said in his mind. “Fear and stupidity, that’s what it is.”
Wordlessly agreeing, the dream faded away and Nelson slept. For the first time, likely ever, Nelson felt like he was home.
Nelson felt a hand on his shoulder. He woke up with a start.
“Sorry to wake you.”
He rolled over to see Heather. His hand went to his mouth.
“Oh my God,” Nelson said. “I have pneumocystis!”
“I know,” Heather said.
“It’s contagious,” Nelson said. “And Mack …”
He held out his hand to the place the child had slept, but the child was no longer there. Heather grinned at him. Nelson sat up.
“We’re vaccinated,” Heather said.
“Oh,” Nelson said.
“Blane was sick for a long time,” Heather said with a nod. “He’s vaccinated as well.”
“Right.” Nelson nodded. “What’s going …?”
“Blane, Jake, Sam, Honey, and a bunch of other people are out at the site,” Heather said. “You know, Margaret’s grandparents’ home.”
“Right,” Nelson said. “Water well.”
“They left about five-thirty,” Heather said. “Did you see them?”
Nelson shook his head and rubbed his eyes.
“Just Mack,” Nelson said. “He …”
Nelson blinked at his own memory.
“He gave me apples?” Nelson asked. “Your apples?”
“He made them appear.” Nelson turned over his hand like Mack had. “Just bang.”
“About that,” Heather said.
“Yeah?” Nelson asked.
“Don’t tell Blane,” Heather said. “He doesn’t know about our Mack.”
“He doesn’t?” Nelson asked. “He told me that Mack was magical when it came to connection. He … Mack …”
“I think he knows,” Nelson said.
“Yes, but we’re pretending that he doesn’t.” Heather smiled.
“Fair enough,” Nelson nodded as if she’d given him an order.
“How are you feeling?” Heather asked.
“Better,” Nelson said. “Good.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Heather said. “Nadia’s been looking for you.”
“Oh?” Nelson asked.
“There’s three day old gunshot wound she wants you to consult on,” Heather said.
“What about my pneumocystis?” Nelson asked.
“She’s knows that you’ve been ill,” Heather said with a roll of her eyes. Without waiting, she continued her report, “We’ve used both showers. Jill’s in yours right now. Edie took Mack and the other kids to the pool. Wyn’s … With Jabari, I think. Valerie took the toddlers. She hasn’t spent a lot of time with Wyn so she wanted to have him this morning.”
“I was sent to ask you this question,” Heather said.
“What’s that?” Nelson asked.
He suddenly realized that he wasn’t wearing a T-shirt. He checked and was relieved to see that he was wearing his pajama bottoms and boxer briefs. He looked up at Heather.
“You’re immune to magic?” Heather asked.
“Right,” Nelson said. “My family line takes on the properties of the weapons it creates. Except the nuclear ones, that is.”
Heather nodded and opened her mouth to speak.
“Well, and the rockets my father makes,” Nelson said. “Just the magical ones. I think. I am not really sure. I was supposed to read some chronicles or get some kind of arduous training, but I was in hiding.”
Nelson lifted a shoulder in a shrug.
“Good. I mean about being immune to magic,” Heather said. “Jill is wondering if you might be able to help with her twins.”
“Pneumocystis?” Nelson asked.
“Vaccination?” Heather asked. “We’re not morons. You cannot imagine how many children I’ve seen killed by diseases that are now preventable. Millions.”
“I bet that’s true,” Nelson said. “What help does Jill need with her twins?”
“They are feeling … rebellious, I guess, is the right word,” Heather said. “They are mad that they aren’t at home. Edie was gone for a while, and they are mad at her. They are babies. Twins.”
Heather opened her mouth, took a breath, and then closed it.
“They’re not jerks, really,” Heather said. “They are sweet, smart boys, twins, with psychokinetic powers.”
“But boys none the less?” Nelson asked.
“How can I help?” Nelson asked.
“She can’t get their diapers changed. Katy’s threatened to burn them, so she’s with Jake,” Heather said. “There’s been some difficulty this morning.”
“I can see why Jill’s showering off by herself,” Nelson said.
“Exactly,” Heather said.
“You can’t do it?” Nelson asked.
“This is a human body,” Heather said. “Not immune to magic. And anyway, Hedone is a Goddess. Goddesses are not immune to magic.”
“Good to know,” Nelson said. “Where are these twins?”
“On the other bed,” Heather said. She pointed to the queen sized bed next to them.
Nelson looked to see two adorable boys with black curly hair and hazel blue eyes. They were wearing matching blue jumpsuits which made them look like they were ready for business. The boys gave him a disarming smile and started jumping on the bed.
“They look like Blane,” Nelson said.
“Yes, well …” Heather said.
“Adorable monsters?” Nelson asked.
“I created a bubble around them so they can’t get out or hear us,” Heather said. “They don’t like it but they know they are out powered by …”
Heather cleared her throat.
“Hedone?” Nelson offered.
“Sure,” Heather said. “Listen. I’d understand if you don’t want to do it. They can be a bit …”
“I’ve got it,” Nelson said.
“You know how to change diapers?” Heather asked.
“I’ve changed quite a few in my life,” Nelson said. “Where’s Tink?”
“With Charlie,” Heather said with a shrug. “He’s eighteen now and … Well, they’ve been together for years and years. This trip, we decided to give them their own room. We figured it was better than fighting to keep them apart. Of course, all of the teenagers are in their room now, so it’s not like a romantic hideaway.”
“I think it’s the battle with street kids,” Nelson said. “In some ways, they have experienced so much that they are not children.”
“But in other ways, they are infants,” Heather said. “Exactly. We’ll see how it goes. My guess is that she’ll go back and forth.”
Nodding, Nelson jumped up out of bed. He went into the bathroom to scrub his hands and forearms. He went to the other room and grabbed a bandana from his backpack. He tied the bandana over his mouth and nose. The children might be immunized but it was still best to reduce the amount of pneumocystis he transmitted. When he returned, he stripped off his pajama bottoms.
“Why?” Heather asked.
“I am immune,” Nelson said. “My pajamas are not. I only brought the one set. It’s my understanding that we’re a clothed family.”
Smiling and nodding, Heather said, “Ready?”
Nelson nodded and moved to the bed.
“I’ll be here if you need me,” Heather said, pointing to the other room.
He watched her leave.
“All right, lads,” Nelson said. “I’m Uncle Nelson, and we’re going to get these diapers changed.”
Once near the bed, he added, “Maybe a bath too.”
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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