CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and FIFTY-THREE
Tuesday night — 11:40 P.M.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” MJ asked Honey again.
She was lying in his arms in their bed. Traumatic brain injury kept him from remembering the one thing he wanted to know most of all – if she and the baby were all right. After returning home, he’d helped her take a bath, made sure she’d eaten enough for a small army then carried her to bed. His horror of losing her had enhanced his usual generous care.
“I’m sure.” Honey smiled at him. “I promise, I would tell you.”
“And the baby?”
“She’s fine,” Honey said.
“She?” MJ said. “You said we were having a boy!”
“You don’t know if the baby’s a boy or a girl?” MJ asked.
“I don’t know,” Honey said. “I was playing with you.”
“Phew,” MJ exaggerated wiping his forehead.
“I was worried you were going to name the baby Roger,” MJ laughed.
Honey turned to giggle into his chest.
“I’m so glad you’re safe,” MJ said. “I heard you really stood up to that thing. What you did is one of the reasons the creature’s dead. Your courage strengthened everyone to fight that thing.”
“You heard that from who?” Honey asked. “We weren’t supposed to talk about it to anyone!”
“Lets say a little Sissy bird,” MJ said. “I asked her and she had to answer a direct question. It’s really my fault”
“Of course it’s your fault!” Honey said.
“We all helped,” Honey said. “It was all of us. Valerie, Nash and Noelle were amazing. You should have seen how brave Valerie was. She attacked that thing with a vengeance. She was a real superhero. And Sandy saved Charlie with Rachel. It was an amazing night.”
“I’m sorry you had to do it,” MJ said.
“I’m not,” Honey said. “I’m honored that I was able to help at all.”
“But you’re okay, right?”
“I’m okay,” Honey said. “So’s the baby.”
“Let’s find out tomorrow.” He pulled her closer to him and kissed her forehead.
“Find out what?” Honey teased.
“I’m taking tomorrow off. I’ll see if they can fit us in for an ultrasound,” Honey said.
“I might have to work,” MJ said. “I don’t really know what we’re doing.”
“But you’ll have time for a doctor’s appointment,” Honey said.
“Of course, I’ll try to stay with you all day. And. I’ll try not to drive you crazy.”
Honey laughed. She stroked his face. “Sleep?”
“Sleep,” MJ said.
Honey lay back and closed her eyes.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” MJ asked.
Tuesday night — 11:40 P.M.
“They’re finally asleep,” Sandy said
Buster scooted into Noelle and Sissy’s room and hopped onto Noelle’s bed. Sandy closed the door. She peeked in on Charlie in his closet. After returning from the salon, Aden went to help Pete’s children get cleaned up and settled. Sandy had fed their children pizza from Enzo’s End then made sure they showered. For good measure, she had Delphie check all the children to make sure they didn’t pick up any thing unsavory at the salon. Aden joined Sandy after Pete and Molly came to get their kids.
“They’re not going to work tomorrow,” Sandy said. “No way.”
“I’ll call in the morning,” Aden said.
“How are you?” Aden held his arms out and Sandy walked into them. She pressed her head against his chest.
“Tired, mostly. Worried about Seth,” Sandy said. “What a night!”
“I thought you were amazing,” he said. He kissed her forehead. “Why did you make that space?”
“I’ve lived a lot of life, Aden,” Sandy moved out of his arms and walked down the hall to their room. “I wanted a place to hide if I needed one.”
“Whoever,” Sandy shrugged. She picked up Rachel from her bassinette.
“Maybe,” Sandy said.
“And now that I know about it, will you create another secret space?” Aden asked.
“Do I have to?” Sandy asked.
“No,” Aden shook his head. “No. I just wish your safe place was with me.”
“I don’t mean to hurt you,” Sandy said.
“You haven’t,” Aden said. “I wish you could understand that I want you to be safe and to feel safe.”
“I think it just takes time,” Sandy said.
Aden gave her a soft smile. He climbed into bed. Sandy got in on the other side. She lay Rachel between them.
“I guess I won’t be working in the salon for a while,” Sandy said.
“I think we all need a vacation,” Aden said. “Mexico? Aspen? What’s your pleasure?”
When Sandy didn’t respond, he rolled over on his side. She was sound asleep.
“Maybe we’ll just stay home,” he said to himself.
He was almost out when there was a tap at their door. Not wanting to wake Sandy, he got up to open it. Charlie stood on the other side.
“We were hoping that maybe…” Charlie started then looked down the hall. Aden followed his glance. Noelle and Sissy peered out of their room. Further down the hall, Nash and Teddy’s head’s poked out of their room. “We just want to feel… safe.”
“I don’t know,” Aden said. “Sandy’s sound asleep and…”
“What is it?” Sandy sat up in bed.
“The kids want to sleep with us,” Aden said.
“I’d like that,” Sandy said. “Is it all right with you, Aden?”
Aden gave Charlie a curt nod.
“I’ll sleep between Noelle and Teddy,” Charlie said.
“Good thinking,” Aden said. As the kids filed in the room, he added, “You know Rachel wakes up around two.”
“We hear her anyway.” Nash said as he laid out his blankets and pillow.
“She’s not too fussy,” Sissy said. She pointed to a spot on the floor and Noelle set their blankets down. Sissy gave Noelle a pillow.
“It doesn’t bother us,” Noelle said.
“Teddy?” Sandy noticed Teddy lingering in the doorway. “Are you coming in?”
“Ma’am,” Teddy said. “I’m not really family. Should I…?”
“We’re not fancy on definitions,” Sandy said. “We love you Teddy. You belong with us.”
“Just sleep here,” Charlie pointed to a spot next to him.
Noelle hopped up to hug Sandy goodnight and the rest of the children followed suit. Buster sniffed from one bundle of blankets to the next.
“Good night,” Sandy said. She lay back to sleep.
Aden went from child to child to make sure they were settled. He slipped into bed and touched Rachel. Every child was safe. Every child was secure. He sighed. Buster hopped on the bed. Aden groaned but didn’t make the ugly dog get down.
For the first time in decades, the children of Denver were safe tonight. He touched the Saint Jude medallion at his neck and remembered his friend, Daf. Killed as a result of Saint Jude, Aden had worn the medallion more than half his life. Now, finally, Daf could rest in peace. Aden felt an enormous weight lifted from his shoulders. Smiling at the thought of his good friend, and his good fortune, he slept.
Tuesday night — 11:40 P.M.
“Anything you want to tell me?” Jacob asked Jill.
Lying in the bathtub, Katy was sound asleep with her head tucked just under Jill’s chin. The tub was full of strawberry scented bubbles. Katy had been so wound up it took an hour in the bathtub before she got sleepy. Jacob had been in charge of bringing snacks. When Katy finally settled, he sat down next to the tub.
“I have lots to tell you,” Jill said.
“How’s Scooter?” Jacob asked.
“Injured,” Jill said. “He’s an old guy and that winged thing went after him. I worked on him. So did Mike. Delphie wanted to spend tonight with him. She took him and Sarah wanted to be with him. I don’t know if that means tonight’s his last night or…”
“I think we’ll see in the morning,” he said.
“I don’t know how Katy will handle it if he dies. He’s been her best friend since she moved in here. And… I… I don’t think I can handle it either.”
She gave a long sad sigh.
“He’s a good guy,” Jacob said.
“He’s been my friend, Delphie’s friend, for a long time,” Jill said. “I don’t want him to suffer. That wouldn’t be right. I just want him to… live.”
“I know,” Jacob said.
“Are you working tomorrow?” Jill changed the subject to avoid thinking about what would happen to Scooter.
“No,” Jacob said. “I caught Dad before I came up. He’s going to cover for me and Aden tomorrow.”
“Sounds like tomorrow’s going to be a long day,” Jill said.
“Can we talk tomorrow?” Jacob asked.
“Sure,” Jill said.
“Promise,” Jill said. “Are you coming in? She’s completely out.”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
Tuesday night — 11:40 P.M.
“All done,” Mike said.
Valerie was sitting on the kitchen counter watching him clean up after her brownie making. They’d eaten pizza with everyone. When Alex called, Valerie was happy to make brownies for Ava. Alex and a couple of her men picked up the brownies and left information in their wake. Saint Jude had been declared dead. The Crime Scene Unit would probably work through the night. The Denver Police were coming in the morning to take everyone’s statements. When Alex left, Mike began cleaning the kitchen.
“Are you hungry?” Mike asked.
“And mess up your clean kitchen?” Valerie asked. “That would just be cruel.”
“No, I had enough pizza,” Valerie said.
“How’s our girl?”
Mike put his hands on Valerie’s rounded belly.
“Getting ready to join the world,” Valerie said. “Just a few more months or now.”
Overwhelmed with emotion, Mike hugged her to him.
“We start birthing classes next week,” Valerie said.
“Are you sure you want me to go?” Mike asked. “Samantha might be a better choice.”
“Sami is my best friend, not my husband,” Valerie said.
He nuzzled her neck.
“You are going to be there when she’s born, aren’t you?” Valerie asked.
“Promise?” Valerie asked.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Mike said. “I’ll be there for this one and all the others.”
He helped her off the kitchen counter and they made their way up to their second floor apartment. Once inside, he made a beeline to the bathroom where he began filling the tub.
“Jill and Jacob are in the bath,” Valerie said.
Shaking her head, Valerie smiled at his indifference.
“Do you care?” Mike asked.
Valerie shook her head.
“We’ve been taking baths together a lot longer than they have,” Mike said. “Years and years and years…”
He stripped off his clothing and stepped in the tub.
“Come on,” Mike said.
To tease him, Valerie slowly took off her clothing and stepped into the tub. The water splashed with her pregnant girth. He grabbed a towel and threw it on the water. She tucked herself between his knees in the tub.
“How was tonight?” Mike asked to her hair.
“I’m not supposed to talk about it,” Valerie said.
“You can talk about you,” Mike said. “Just not events.”
“Oh,” Valerie said. “Tonight was weird, Mike. All the training I did for the movie, and all those endless action scenes… It was like I did all of that just to be ready for tonight. And tonight was scary, hard, and fun.”
“Fun to feel so competent,” Valerie said. “I knew that I needed to do something. I knew it was up to me. And for the first time…”
Valerie fell silent. She leaned against his chest and closed her eyes.
“For the first time?” he asked.
“I felt like Mom was with me,” Valerie said. “All of my life, she told me that I was important. She used to say that I was the brightest light in the world. I never took it seriously because, I mean compared to being able to move things with your mind or knowing the future, being a bright light doesn’t seem like much.”
Mike kissed her head. She turned to look at him and they kissed.
“Tonight, I realized that being a bright light is a big deal,” Valerie said. “A really big deal. I need to be the bright light more often.”
“What would that mean?” Mike asked.
“I don’t really know,” Valerie said. “There’s a lot of dark in the world right now. Maybe it’s just being me or being an activist like Angelina or… I don’t know.”
“Sounds like a topic for Delphie,” Mike said.
“Delphie would tell me to meditate on the idea,” Valerie said.
“Maybe,” Valerie laughed.
Mike chuckled at her.
“I’m stronger than I realized,” Valerie said.
“You’re amazing,” Mike said.
Valerie leaned back against him. They lay in the warm water for a while. Mike laughed and hugged her tight.
“It’s been less than a year,” Mike said. “And everything I ever wanted is here. My paintings are selling well. I have more commissions than I can do. We have a baby on the way! We have a baby on the way! Your career is totally popping. And you’re here! You’re here being the bright light in my life. I…”
“I’ve never been happier.”
“Me too,” Valerie said.
Wednesday early morning — 2:40 A.M.
“Hey,” Ava said as she entered her office. “I thought everyone went home.”
“We didn’t want to leave you here by yourself,” Lieutenant Colonel Alex Hargreaves said from the couch. She raised her hand to indicate to her identical twin Max. He was laying with his head in her lap. “Max has to sleep from two to five.”
“I can go a little more than ninety-six hours without sleep and not slow down,” Alex said. “Max can do it if he has to but he’s better if he sleeps a little. You should sleep.”
“I have too much to do,” Ava said. “The team from Geneva is going to be here in the morning. Did you see the way the CDC investigator looked at me? They think I’m totally incompetent. I…”
“I don’t want to rain on your panic attack, but the CDC investigator was more concerned with dinner than you,” Alex laughed. “They are amazing, the CDC, very talented, but they’re foodies. You know we got them reservations at Vesta Dipping Grill. Have you eaten?”
Ava shook her head. Holding up the travel mug with warm water and lemon juice in it, she added, “This lemon juice sours my stomach.”
“Maresol stopped by with some food for you,” Alex pointed to the mini-refrigerator next to Ava’s desk. “There’s some enchiladas and more lemons in there for you. She also said you love toast, peanut butter and bananas.”
Ava’s eyes went big. She nodded.
“She brought supplies,” Alex said. “You should eat then sleep.”
“I can’t,” Ava said. “These men’s lives depend on me.”
“I could order you to sleep,” Alex said. “As Denver’s senior Homeland Security agent, I have control over this lab. Do I need to order you to sleep?”
Ava’s eyes filled with tears.
“Feel helpless?” Alex asked.
“I’ve been there,” Alex said. “I think as women, we’re indoctrinated that working harder will make things happen. I’ve learned the hard way that nothing trumps self care. We have to take care of ourselves. Will you eat then sleep?”
“If I take the time, I won’t…”
“You’d be surprised what some sleep can do,” Alex said. “Max will wake up at five. We’ll work out, then he’ll be ready to go. Chances are, he’ll have solved whatever puzzle he was working on when he fell asleep. Are you stuck on a puzzle?”
“Then sleep is your answer,” Alex said. “I promise. I have a lot more experience in these kinds of situations. Sleep is your answer.”
“You’re not sleeping,” Ava said.
“I’m not. And that’s good for you,” Alex said. “I’ll handle the phones. I can talk to people when they come in and get everything set up. Think of me as your assistant.”
Ava went to her refrigerator and took out Maresol’s homemade bread. She grabbed her toaster from under the cabinet and made a couple pieces of toast. She slathered peanut butter on the toast and added slices of banana.
“Well assistant,” Ava said. “Eat.”
“I never thought you’d ask!” Alex said. “Can I have the phones first?”
Shrugging, Ava gave her the Bluetooth ear bud to the lab phones. Alex stuck it in her ear then held her hand out. Ava gave her a piece of toast. Ava sunk into her arm chair and they ate their banana peanut butter toast in companionable silence.
“Will you sleep now?” Alex asked.
“I’m not tired,” Ava said. “I’m too wound up. Plus…”
“You haven’t slept without Seth since it happened,” Alex said.
Ava nodded. Being careful not to disturb Max, Alex took a handgun out from her sacrum holster. She ratcheted a round in to the chamber.
“I’ll keep watch,” Alex said. “At five-thirty, men from my team will arrive. They’ll bring breakfast and we’ll get going.”
“Humor me,” Alex said. “Close your eyes.”
Ava closed her eyes and dropped into sleep. Alex smiled and clicked off the light on the table. In the silence, Alex kept guard over the only two people who could solve this puzzle and save Seth’s life.
Denver Cereal will continue next week…
This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.