CHAPTER FIVE HUNDRED AND TWENTY
“Enrique destroyed my life,” Blane said. “Destroyed me. He would have killed me if it weren’t for Jake. Well, Delphie too. As it was, he took away my home, my possessions, my livelihood, all of my friends, and … even my own sense of who I was. Then I finally build my life back, have a real home and children and everything, and he’s there telling everyone that what I want was him.”
“You’re afraid of losing Heather,” Nelson said.
“No,” Blane said, and then shrugged. “I mean, sure. I’m afraid of losing Heather, but I don’t think I’d ever lose her over this.”
“How would you lose her?” Nelson asked. He quickly added, “Just out of curiosity. You know, what’s the lay of the land?”
Blane nodded and fell silent.
“If I betrayed her,” Blane said. “Or betrayed our children or our life. If I was anything but myself and … So no, she wouldn’t end things over being with you, even if you join our family. If I lie to her about it or you or … Anyway, I can’t lie anymore because everyone I’m around just knows anyway.”
“Really?” Nelson asked.
“Really,” Blane said. “You can see that they know.”
“It’s hard to be human around so many super humans,” Blane said, and then nodded. “It forces me to try to be a better person.”
Blane stopped walking to look at Nelson.
“Heather likes you,” Blane said. “Even the girlfriends like you. That’s like a badge of honor or a gold star from the heavens.”
“Good to know,” Nelson said with a grin.
“You mention before, when I was …” Blane said. “I remember that feeling of freedom, that easy safety of ‘How bad could it be?’ But I was naïve. I’d come out of hell in the foster system. I thought nothing could hurt me. I was care-less. I wasn’t care-full with myself, my health, my heart, my life — and I lost it all, every bit of it. I will never do that again.”
“You don’t want to risk being hurt.” Nelson nodded.
“No,” Blane said, shaking his head. “I’m going to get hurt. I could get hurt walking across the street. I could fall down on our walk or fail at my acupuncture practice or … Hurt is a natural part of life. I just …”
Nelson stopped walking to look at Blane.
“I think it matters to me — you and me,” Blane said. “I’m surprised but it matters to me a lot. You matter to me a lot. I don’t want to start because …”
“What if I fuck it up?” Nelson asked.
Blane shook his head.
“That’s what I think,” Nelson said. “After all of this time, I finally have a chance at a real dream, my real dream and I …”
“I’m your dream?” Blane asked. Shocked, he gawked at Nelson.
Nelson looked at Blane. Even in the dark of the night, Blane saw the embarrassment on his face. Nelson had said a lot more than he’d intended to. Nelson gave Blane a quick nod and turned to walk again.
They walked in silence as they made a loop around the park. Back to the entrance, Blane stopped walking.
“I think you’re right,” Blane said. “It’s hard because we care too much, because I really care about you, about this. It’s not fun and games. It’s real. It’s life.”
Looking relieved, Nelson nodded.
They walked out of the park. Nelson said his good-byes and went into his house. Blane let himself into the Castle. When he got to their apartment, Heather was asleep with Wyn on the bed. Blane smiled at them for a moment. He turned to go to the bathroom when Heather sat up in bed.
“Just go,” Heather said. “We’ll be here when you get back.”
“I …” Blane said.
“Have courage, my love,” Heather said. “You are so focused on what you might lose that you forget what you might gain. This is your life — your short human life. Why not make it magnificent? We’ll be here either way. We’d just like you to have all that life can offer.”
Blane turned to look at her. After a moment, he nodded and left the Castle.
Thursday morning — 7:05 a.m.
“What did she say?” Sissy asked.
Mari had appeared out of nowhere just as Sissy’s alarm went off. Sissy was now putting her to use by having Mari brush Sissy’s hair. It was only a struggle because Mari was attempting to do Sissy’s hair without using magic. Every time Mari had put up Sissy’s hair with magic, Sissy wasn’t able to take it down at night. They were sitting on Sissy’s bed looking at each other through the mirror on the wall.
“That’s just it,” Mari said. “She didn’t say anything.”
“Nothing?” Sissy asked.
Mari nodded into the mirror, and Sissy looked surprised.
“And you were sassy and everything?” Sissy asked.
“Very disrespectful,” Mari said, nodding.
“And she didn’t respond?” Sissy asked.
Mari shook her head.
“Wow,” Sissy said. “And you said everything we practiced.”
“Every word,” Mari said.
“Pshew,” Sissy said with a gust of air.
“I know,” Mari said. “I thought she’d be furious …”
“How dare you!” Sissy said in an almost perfect imitation of Mari’s mother, Queen Fand.
“Exactly,” Mari said. “I don’t want to say this because I can’t believe it’s true …”
“What?” Sissy asked.
“I don’t think she knew who I was,” Mari said.
Sissy didn’t respond. She could feel in her gut the truth of what Mari had said. Her heart didn’t want it to be true. She couldn’t think of anything to say.
“Yeah,” Mari said. “That’s the truth isn’t it?”
“Seems like,” Sissy said. She opened her mouth to say something consoling but Mari was positively beaming. “What?”
“It’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time,” Mari said. “I can live my life, my own life. My life.”
“Aren’t you upset?” Sissy asked.
“I know,” Mari said with a nod. “I should be. I really should be. But right this moment, I just feel relief. Like ‘ahhh’. I can just live for a while. I just have to be courageous enough to do it.”
Frustrated with Sissy’s hair, Mari dropped the brush and snapped her fingers. Sissy’s hair was up in a beautiful knot with a shimmering bow.
“Pretty,” Sissy said, looking side to side at her hair. “What will I do tonight?”
“Pull on the bow,” Mari said. “It just occurred to me that I could give you a way to take your hair out.”
Sissy grinned at her smart friend.
“I think I might get upset,” Mari said. “Someday. Maybe. Don’t you think someday …?”
“You don’t have to be upset about it,” Sissy said.
“It’s okay if you’re not upset,” Sissy said. “But you might be tomorrow. Or maybe next week.”
“For now?” Mari asked. “I’m just going to enjoy it.”
Mari kissed Sissy’s cheek and disappeared. Chuckling at her friend, Sissy quickly put on her leotard. She checked herself in the mirror before heading downstairs for another day.
Thursday early morning — 5:05 a.m.
Aden came down the stairs, turned at the main Castle living room, and went into the kitchen where he saw Blane making breakfast. He stopped short. As if he was shocked, he put his hand on his heart.
“Very funny,” Blane said. “It’s my turn to make breakfast. Jeraine and I are competing for best breakfast. He won last week, but this is muffin week.”
Grinning at himself, Aden took a travel mug down from the cabinet and went to fill it coffee. Blane took a carton of half-and-half from the refrigerator.
“No dairy,” Aden said.
“Sorry, I forgot about your delicate system,” Blane said, while swiping his hand in front of his nose as if something smelled bad.
Aden snorted and got the soy milk out of the refrigerator. He poured some in his travel mug and screwed on the top. He gave Blane a long look.
“So?” Aden asked.
“So?” Blane asked. Intentionally avoiding Aden’s question, Blane gestured to the oven, “I have three kinds of muffins — sweet for the fairy kind.”
“Are the envoys still here?” Aden asked.
“We’re going to have to use a flame thrower to get them out of here,” Blane said.
“Or just stop feeding them,” Aden said.
Blane nodded. The bowl he was stirring with a wooden spoon, he added,
“Blueberry, easily digestible fiber, no sugar, no-gluten — for Honey and the perpetually dieting,” Blane said.
Aden stuck his finger in the batter and then put it in his mouth.
“That’s surprisingly good,” Aden said.
“Surprising?” Blane said.
Aden grinned and gestured to the full, unbaked muffin tins.
“Keto,” Blane said. “High protein. Oat fiber. Charlie and Nash are trying to ‘bulk up,’ whatever that means. Delphie’s eating them for her blood sugar.”
“Bacon, sausage — for cavemen like you,” Blane grinned. He gestured to where a pan of bacon awaited. Aden picked up a piece. “Tofu scramble with marinated portabellas and sweet potato.”
“Tanesha’s favorite,” Aden said. “Slick. Get back at your competition by making his wife’s favorite.”
Blane gave Aden an evil grin.
“Steamed vegetables for my lovely wife, who is still breast feeding,” Blane said. “And yours who is not breast feeding but likes vegetables anyway.”
“Noelle eats them too,” Aden said.
“Tink too,” Blane said.
“Takes all kinds,” Aden chuckled and finished his bacon.
“So,” Aden said. “I saw you leave.” When Blane didn’t respond, he added, “Last night.”
Blane shook his head as he stirred the muffin batter in the bowl in front of him.
“I went for a walk with Nelson,” Blane said. “I dropped him off and came back to the Castle.”
“Nelson was not with you when I saw you leave,” Aden said.
“Stalking much?” Blane asked, with an exaggerated aggression.
“You want to tell me,” Aden said. “You need to tell me.”
“Hey, give the man a break,” Jacob said, coming down the long stairs.
“What are you doing awake, slacker?” Aden asked.
“I’m on toddler duty,” Jacob said. “Or did you not notice that Rachel Ann, you own flesh and blood, was missing?”
“That’s how I witnessed …,” Aden said, with a wave of his hand to Blane. “I brought Rachel Ann to your loft!”
Aden gave Jacob a frustrated look. Jacob laughed.
“You want to tell us,” Jacob said. “You need to tell us.”
Blane leaned his head back to implore the heavens.
“Hey.” Jacob tapped Blane’s chest. “We’re right here.”
Aden and Blane laughed.
“So …,” Jacob said.
“I came home to check on Heather,” Blane said. “She said that she was okay so I went for a friendly visit with our neighbor.”
Blane nodded. The timer rang and he took a pair of muffin tins out of the oven. After setting them down in front of Jacob, he stuck the next pair of muffin tins into the oven. Jacob started taking the muffins out of the tins and placing them on a cooling rack.
“And?” Aden asked.
“It was nice,” Blane said.
“Nice?” Aden asked.
Blane shot him another falsely aggressive look. Aden grinned.
“All of the equipment worked,” Blane said, evenly. He paused for a moment before adding, “Well. All parties were satisfied. I think … Pretty sure.”
“After all this time, we wondered if the equipment worked,” Jacob said.
“No you didn’t,” Blane said.
“We might have,” Aden said.
“Did you stay?” Jacob asked.
Blane shook his head.
“I felt weird,” Blane said. “You know, he hasn’t had anyone over — ever — and I just kind of showed up. Plus, I wanted to be back for Wyn’s feeding. Heather’s been in Olympia for this fairy war crap. Sometimes, Wyn takes it out on her when she gets back.”
“Was it a problem that you left?” Aden asked.
“He has court this morning,” Blane said with a shake of his head.
They fell silent while Blane checked the cooling muffins temperature. Jacob grabbed a large serving plate from the cabinet, and Blane started setting them on the plate. When the plate was full, Jacob took it to the Castle kitchen table.
“Are you and Nelson … ‘on’?” Aden asked.
Blane nodded. Aden and Jacob didn’t respond, so Blane looked up. Jacob was wiping tears from the corner of his eyes, and Aden was looking at the ground.
“What’s this?” Blane asked.
“Just happy for you,” Aden said.
Aden patted Blane’s shoulder. Aden grabbed another piece of bacon and picked up a muffin from the plate on the table. Liking the idea that he was depriving the fairies, he picked up another muffin and left for work. Jacob hugged Blane tight, kissed his cheek, and went to get Maggie. When Jacob came back through the kitchen with a very sleepy Maggie, Blane was standing next to another tray of cooling muffins.
“Thanks,” Blane said.
“For what?” Jacob asked.
He stopped walking to look at Blane.
“For caring,” Blane said. “For having courage for me even when I didn’t have any for myself.”
“I love you, bro,” Jacob said. “I want you to have a full, happy life.”
Blane nodded. Jacob opened his mouth to say something else.
“Get the fuck out of here before they start shooting the ‘Day of our Pathetic Life’ in our kitchen,” Blane said.
“Don’t say bad words.” Maggie admonished in a sleep filled voice.
“Sorry,” Blane mouthed.
Jacob shrugged. He blew Blane a kiss and headed up stairs with Maggie.
Thursday early morning — 6:05 a.m.
“What does that mean?” Nash asked.
He was speaking with Nadia via an Internet Video Chat. He hadn’t realized how his question sounded until he saw her wince.
“Sorry,” Nash said. “There’s just so much build up with this thing. I thought we’d were leaving in a few days.”
“I guess that’s the question,” Nadia said.
“What’s the question?” Nash asked.
“Is it safe for you to go?” Nadia asked.
Nash opened his mouth to protest, but Nadia pressed on.
“Before you say it, I know that you are not a child,” Nadia said. She gave a heavy, resigned sigh. “You must understand that you are precious to me.”
“I am?” Nash asked.
Nadia rolled her eyes at him and continued.
“By being precious to me, your life is no longer anonymous,” Nadia said. “You are connected to me and the money my parents made. You are vulnerable because I care about you.”
“It’s never seemed to stop Ivan,” Nash said.
“Ivan was in a gulag,” Nadia said. “There’s very little that freaks him out. Until he and Sissy sorted their lives out, I’m not sure he really wanted to live.”
She gave Nash a “Is that what you want?” look. Nash acquiesced.
“I am sorry, Nash,” Nadia said. “You, me, your family — we may need to all sit this one out.”
“But …” Nash said.
Nadia shook her head.
“That doesn’t mean we cannot go into the mine,” Nadia said.
“How?” Nash asked.
“We hire people to do it,” Nadia said. “They are not at risk because they are overpriced employees. They have the experience to get in and out without being noticed.”
“But who would do that?” Nash asked.
“Military contractors,” Nadia said with a nod. “Ten years ago, the Fey Team was for hire for this kind of thing.”
“Alex and Raz?” Nash asked.
“Alex and her team, before Raz,” Nadia said. “That’s how Seth was able to free Ivan. You know them, and they know this project. Maybe you should ask.”
“They are in Africa,” Nash said.
“One of the team will call your house tonight,” Nadia said. “Right?”
“There’s your chance,” Nadia said. “Anyone paying any attention will think that a father is checking in with his child. It’s a good cover.”
Seeing Nash’s miserable look, Nadia softened.
“You will just have to be satisfied by setting this thing up,” Nadia said.
“It doesn’t seem like enough,” Nash said.
“There are adults, making a lot of money — right now — who couldn’t have done what you and Teddy have done,” Nadia said. “It’s an entire career.”
“Don’t be so quick to rush out ahead,” Nash said, almost under his breath. His eyes flicked to Nadia, “It’s something Colin always says. ‘Don’t be so quick to rush out ahead. There are people who thrive on being there first. There’s no award for dying first.’ That’s what he says.”
“He’s right,” Nadia said. “The people we remember from history weren’t the ones who rushed in.”
“Fools,” Nash said.
“Yes, ‘Fools rush in,’” Nadia said. “Listen, I know that you need to get to school and I should get to the hospital for rounds. Just think about what we talked about.”
“We’ll talk tonight?” Nash asked.
“Of course,” Nadia said with a smile.
“I’ll talk to Honey,” Nash said.
Nash raised his hand in a wave and Nadia clicked off.
“Well, that sucks,” Teddy said from behind Nash.
“I wonder if we can go to Paris instead,” Teddy said. “You know, see Sissy.”
“Good thinking,” Nash said with a smile.
“Let’s wait for it all to pan out, and we’ll see,” Teddy said.
Their alarm went off. Sandy banged on the door to their room.
“School!” Sandy said at the door before moving on the Noelle’s room.
Having already showered, Nash nodded to Teddy and started getting dressed.
Thursday morning — 8:05 a.m.
Ava O’Malley stood behind Nelson Weeks in the security line to get into the Alfred A. Arraj United States Courthouse. The team had met at eight outside the building. They were now working their way into the Courthouse. They were giving testimony in a criminal case this morning and were due in court at nine.
“So …” Ava said. She touched Nelson’s wet hair. “Late night?”
“I noticed that too!” Leslie McClintock, a fellow lab member, said.
“Leave him alone,” Fran Dekay said from the back of the line.
Nelson made it through the scanner and was picking up his laptop and backpack. As if he was trying to get away, Nelson rushed off down the hall. Ava caught up with him quickly. She grabbed his arm.
“Stop!” Leslie yelled to them.
Laughing, he stopped and waited for Leslie and Fran.
“I may as well tell you,” Nelson said. “Last night, I …”
Having their attention, Nelson blushed and stopped talking.
“Oh Nelson,” Leslie said. She hugged Nelson tight. “I’m so glad.”
“I want details!” Ava said with a laugh.
“Sexual harassment?” Fran asked Ava.
Ava laughed. They turned to Nelson.
“He’s everything,” Nelson said. “The whole package —smart and kind and he really listens. I mean… I got home late. I saw that they were up so I went over. Heather always says that if the lights are on, I should just come over. So I did. They were starting a second dinner because Sam just arrived with some kids that are his siblings or something like that. He just met them. I ate this amazing food — some competition between Blane and that singer, Jeraine? I got cuddled a tiny little red haired girl who was missing her ‘Daddy.’ I changed a bunch of diapers. I went for a walk with Blane around City Park in the dark where we really talked about our feelings and history of knowing each other. He found out that he was my dream person and I …”
“And?” Fran asked.
“He came over afterwards,” Nelson said.
“And?” Fran asked.
“It was nice. Good. Great. Fun,” Nelson said. “He is so hot … so hot.”
“Yes he is,” Ava said.
“Prosecutor,” Leslie said in a terse whisper. She gestured to the Prosecutor and her team.
The Prosecutor saw Ava and her team and stopped short. Ava’s team had spent the last week working with this prosecutor to make sure the case was ready for trial.
“So …” the Prosecutor said.
Expecting her to ask about the case, they turned to look at her.
“Blane?” the Prosecutor asked.
Nelson nodded his head.
“Yes!” the Prosecutor said, with a pump of her fist.
The Prosecutor wiggled her eyebrows and walked down the hall toward the court room. She got to the door when she turned.
“Are you coming?” the Prosecutor asked.
Aware of her language, she laughed and went inside. Leslie and Fran started down the hall. Ava put her arm over Nelson’s shoulders.
“I feel like I’m vibrating,” Nelson said in a low tone. “Was it like this for you?”
“With Seth?” Ava asked. She kissed Nelson on the cheek. “It still is. The man makes me weak in the knees.”
They walked toward the courtroom. Ava opened the door and Nelson started through.
“Blane is the whole package,” Ava said, under her breath. “Very hot.”
Nodding, he followed her into the courtroom.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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