How could it happen? How could the horrible past reach up and snatch her from the perfect present? She couldn’t make sense of it.
Lying on her bed, Delphie mentally tracked the series of events.
She’d worried about her chocolate chip cheesecake. Valerie loved Delphie’s cheesecake. Valerie could, and would, eat an entire chocolate chip cheesecake herself. But Valerie was ‘slimming down’ and muscling up for her movie role. Standing in the kitchen, Delphie was worrying about Valerie when she heard Heather’s indignant:
“Some guy who says I’m being sued.”
She remembered walking out to the door. Sam slipped his arm around her shoulder as they watched the kids. She glanced from person to person. With practiced ease, she read their mental states.
Jill was being sued by Trevor’s parents. They wanted custody of Katy. Jill wasn’t sure what was more annoying – the custody bullshit or the subpoena for Honey’s sisters trial. The dark cloud of Trevor hung in Jill’s mind.
Heather was being sued by the cretin that impregnated her. Delphie felt a flash of rage from Heather. Blane thought it was funny.
Jacob blocked her from reading his mind. Whatever he received was bad. So bad he didn’t want to disrupt the party. He caught her eyes and shook his head. Nope, she wasn’t getting in.
Valerie was being sued for defamation of character by Heather’s sperm donor. Delphie hated that phrase but Valerie used it. Valerie knew Mike would take care of it. She trusted Mike implicitly and simply put it out of her mind.
Aden’s ex-wife was claiming that she was mentally ill and wanted her parental rights restored. Unwilling to bother with Nuala, Aden stuck the papers in his back pocket. A kiss from Sandy set everything right in Aden’s world.
Honey was subpoenaed to her sister’s trial. Even though they expected the subpoena, MJ felt helpless to protect her. He masked his helplessness with fury. Delphie chuckled. The little process server was terrified by MJ.
Focused on reading the thoughts and emotions around her, Delphie didn’t hear the little man say her birth name. Chastity. Not that she recognized that name. When he said the name she’d lived with for ten years – The Oracle Taber.
The words were like arrows through her soul.
She took the papers, winked at Mike, closed the door. Easy. After all, there was a chocolate chip cheesecake to worry about. When she turned from the process server, she saw everyone’s shocked faces. She laughed.
What? Did they think she was born Delphinium? No last name? Only the name of a purple flower?
No, Celia had given her that name. Sam nodded in affirmation. He was there when it happened. If they didn’t mind, she had a cheesecake to attend to.
She was standing in the kitchen when the past crept up and snatched her.
Blow #1 : Levi Johanson was dead. The demon had been dead for eight months.
Blow #2 : The Chastity Bell was an valuable asset in the Johanson estate. She had two weeks to return the Chastity Bell to the estate.
Blow #3 : Oracle Tabor is the primary heir.
Then it happened. Bang.
One minute she was standing in the Castle kitchen, her kitchen in her home, the home Celia bought for her, willed to her, and Jacob fixed up for her.
The next moment, she was ten years old, lost and very alone.
Someone took the papers.
“You’re not ten and you’re not alone.” Jacob’s voice was kind but firm.
Valerie’s face floated in front of Delphie’s eyes. Her strong arms went around Delphie’s neck.
“We’ll deal with this as a family,” Valerie said.
Delphie felt herself fly through the air. She was resting in Big Sam’s arms. Like a child, she pressed her head into his chest. He carried her toward his bedroom, but she wanted her own room. He kissed her forehead then carried her up the stairs. He laid her on her bed.
Mike came in with a cup of her favorite tea. He kissed her cheek then set the tea on the table.
“Go to your guests,” Delphie had insisted.
“I’ll stay, Dad,” Jacob whispered to Sam.
“No, I’ll stay,” Jill said. “This is your party. Go and enjoy it. I’m fine here.”
Delphie drifted off to sleep with Jill sitting in a rocker at the end of the bed. Delphie wondered if Jill was still there.
How long have I been asleep?
“An hour or so,” Jill said.
“Oh, I didn’t realize I said that out loud.” Delphie moved to sit up.
“Slowly.” With Katy sound asleep in her arms, Jill came to sit on the side of the bed. “You’ve had a terrible shock.”
“I was just trying to sort that out.” Delphie shook her head. “I’m not sure what happened.”
“Past and the present converged on the same moment,” Jill said. “That’s what Jacob said. He said it happens to psychics.”
“It’s never happened to me before,” Delphie said.
Jill took Delphie’s hand.
“Would you like to return to the party?” Jill asked.
Delphie shook her head.
“Is Katy all right?” Delphie asked.
Jill looked at her little girl.
“She had a dream. After you settled here. Jacob was able to help her through it but…. She’s so exhausted afterwards. Jacob brought her to me. We’ve been rocking here in your lovely room. So peaceful here.”
Katy made a sound.
“Shhh, Katy-baby, it’s all right,” Jill said.
“You can lay her on the bed,” Delphie said.
“She likes to be right next to my heart. She’s been like that since we spent the time with Trevor’s parents. That’s what her dream was about.”
“Boy, everyone says they want to be a psychic. I think it’s a lot of… work.”
“It’s not all fun and lotto numbers,” Delphie said.
“What was it like for you when you were little?” Jill said.
“I don’t remember a lot.” Delphie took a drink of her cold tea.
“Can I get you some….”
“No, I’m all right,” Delphie said. “What happened to my cheesecake?”
“Valerie ate the whole thing,” Jill laughed.
“She did not,” Delphie said.
“She said she owed it to you,” Jill laughed.
Laughing, Delphie drained her cup of tea.
“My mother thought I was possessed by the devil,” Delphie said. “She… wasn’t very nice… to me. My father realized I could help him make money… gambling. I remember being about Katy’s age… helping him play poker. He did well. Really well.”
“That’s horrible. I would never do that to Katy.”
“You’re a different person,” Delphie said. “I was really angry with my mother. But Celia used to say that she didn’t know any better. I saw my mother here, in Denver about ten years ago…. She didn’t recognize me. She was a simple woman, uneducated, not unkind, just frightened by God and his Devil.”
“What happened? With your parents. With… you.”
“My father gained quite a reputation as a great poker player. He was a decent player to begin with. With my help, he won every hand. One day he played a guy who was a psychic and a poker player. He lost all his money. Then he lost me.”
“My father was furious when the man wouldn’t give him a chance to win me back,” Delphie said. “I was five or six.”
“I would kill someone who thought they could take Katy from me.”
“Oh, it wasn’t like that, Jill. My father saw me as income.” Delphie shrugged. “I don’t know what happened to him. I lived with that other guy until Celia saved me.”
“Good for Celia! How did she do that?”
“She and Sam stole me,” Delphie said. “Celia hid me at her father’s house. No one would ever go against Delbert Marlowe. Not a chance. He was a big deal in Leadville. That’s where we’re from. Leadville.”
“She’s discounting something,” Sam came in the room. He leaned over to kiss Delphie’s cheek. “She was incredibly brave. Heroic even.”
“It was Celia,” Delphie said. “Celia could be so wild. She’d get an idea in her head and we’d go along.”
“Did Valerie eat the entire cheesecake?” Delphie asked.
“Every bite,” Sam said. “Will you come down for a while?”
“Of course,” Delphie moved to get up.
“Slowly,” Jill said. “You’ve had a terrible shock.”
“Where are the papers?” Delphie asked.
“Jacob has them,” Jill said. “Whatever happens, we’ll deal with it together.”
Delphie smiled at Jill. Delphie’s eyes welled with tears when she saw that Celia had been there all along.
“No one can own another person.” Celia repeated what she had said all those years ago. “You belong to you and only you.”
“Celia?” Sam asked.
“Here to tell me that I belong to myself,” Delphie nodded.
“You belong to us too,” Sam said. “Celia and me. We belong together.”
“And all of us,” Jill said. “Jacob, Katy, me, Val and Mike.”
Sam held his hand out to Delphie. He helped her up from the bed. She went into her bathroom. Wanting to give them a little privacy, Jill carried Katy to the door. She nodded to Sam then left.
“Are you all right?” Sam asked.
“No, I’m not,” Delphie said. “I guess I thought…. Well, that it had all gone away.”
Sam held her.
“We got through it once,” Sam said. “We’ll get through it again.”
“Valerie made something for you,” Sam said. “Your favorite.”
“She did not.”
“She did,” Sam said. “Kind of a ‘thank you’ for the cheesecake.”
“How does it look?”
“She’s had to fight people to keep them from eating it.”
“I do love Crème Brûlée.” Delphie beamed at Valerie’s generosity.
“Oh, Crème Brûlée? Is that your favorite?”
Laughing, Delphie slapped at him. He squeezed her hand. And they returned to the boisterous pre-Thanksgiving dessert party.
Friday afternoon – 12:58 P.M. Denver, CO
“Vayamos adentro,” Tres Sierra said to his brother Enrique.
Enrique was sitting on the patio of Limón, Denver’s Peruvian restaurant.
“Yo no puedo fumar adentro,” Enrique said.
“And smoking is the most important thing in the entire universe,” Tres continued in Spanish.
“Yes, little brother,” Enrique replied in Spanish.
“Fine.” Tres tucked his hands into his pockets. “It’s freezing out here.”
“You’re such a baby,” Enrique said. “We’ll go inside.”
Enrique puffed down the last of his cigarette then followed Tres inside the restaurant. They always met the day after Thanksgiving. Ever since their mother told Enrique he would burn in hell for an eternity, that is. Tres went to family Thanksgiving then spent Friday with Enrique.
The attendant sat them near the middle of the restaurant. They didn’t bother even looking at each other until the wine and appetizers were ordered.
“How was Thanksgiving?” Enrique asked in Spanish.
“The same as always,” Tres replied in Spanish. “A lot of people in a tiny house. Hot. Too much food and too many questions. When are you going to find a nice girl, Tres? What’s this I hear about that girl in your office? When will you give me grandchildren?”
“Glad I missed it,” Enrique said.
“What did you do?”
“Went to orphan’s Thanksgiving,” Enrique said. “It was nice. Funny people. I brought my chocolate pecan pie, which was a big hit.”
“You mean Blane’s chocolate pecan pie.”
“His recipe,” Enrique said. “My skills.”
Tres raised an eyebrow at his brother. The waiter poured their wine and took their dinner order. Biding their time, they were silent through the appetizers. Neither brother wanted to ask the question they were dying to know.
“What did you find out?” Enrique asked.
“Very funny,” Enrique said.
“Blane’s viral count is half. The doctors think he’ll kick the Hepatitis C in a couple months. He’s back to working out and playing hockey.”
“And his liver?” Enrique asked.
“He doesn’t drink.”
“I’m not exactly sure how his liver is doing,” Tres said. “But overall he seems fine. Really good. Happy. He’ll finish acupuncture school next term. He already has private clients. I heard Jake talk about the treatment room they are putting in his basement. He’ll see clients there.”
“And the child?”
“From what I can tell, it’s not his,” Tres said. “But he’s every bit the father. He keeps the ultrasounds in a frame on his desk. And… they are cute together.”
“Has he gone straight?” Enrique’s face pinched.
“I haven’t asked that directly,” Tres said. “But… I don’t think so. They seem more like brother and sister or good friends. But that’s what I want so….”
“Me too, brother.”
“What did you find out?” Tres asked.
“I talked to a guy who went out with Heather in high school,” Enrique said. “He said she was very sweet, pretty, but a part of this group of girls. He said she was more interested in them than anything else.”
“Jake’s wife, Jill, is one of them.”
“Yeah, Jill, Tanesha, Sandy and your Heather. The guy’s girlfriend said she always wanted a billion kids. She wasn’t surprised Heather was pregnant. She was only surprised Heather waited so long to start.”
“Where did you find these people?”
“Church. You should try it sometime,” Enrique said. “I went out to lunch after mass with a group from Machebeuf. They knew Heather and her friends.”
“Did they say anything else?”
“Just that she was a ‘good girl’, ‘nice person’ that kind of thing,” Enrique smiled at Tres. “Not your type at all.”
“Is Blane… I mean, do you think he’s….”
“He hasn’t dated since you screwed him over,” Tres said. “Burned by love, that’s what I heard.”
“By me,” Enrique said. “I suck.”
“Yes, you do,” Tres said. “Apologies work. I mean, I screwed up with Heather. I apologized to Blane and he was great. She’s not been warm but…. Have you tried saying you’re sorry?”
“He won’t see me,” Enrique said. “Changes his number every time I get it. Won’t look at me if he sees me in public. It’s like I don’t exist.”
“Are you sorry?”
Enrique leaned back to allow the waiter to set their meals down. The waiter returned with more water and poured the rest of their bottle of wine. The men were silent through their interaction with the waiter.
“Sorry?” Tres asked.
“Sorry isn’t exactly it,” Enrique said. “Ashamed, mean, foolish, stupid, cruel, evil, idiot. Pick one. On any given day, I feel all of those things. I destroyed the best person I’ve ever known, for no reason at all. I’ve regretted it every single day, every moment of every single day since then.”
Tres nodded to his brother.
“Jake said that Blane’s working the smoking cessation clinic all next month,” Tres said.
“Jake said…. Why did he tell you that?”
“Why do you think?”
Friday afternoon – 12:58 P.M. Denver, CO
“I didn’t believe you,” Heather said.
“PB&J chicken,” Blane said. “Isn’t it amazing?”
They were eating on a card table in the living room. The kitchen was in the throes of the remodel. Blane had set up a little kitchen in the living room to tide them over. He’d been so ill that Heather had mostly microwaved their frozen dinners. This was the first time he’d felt well enough to cook.
“God, I could eat the whole chicken. And I’m still full from yesterday.”
“The baby’s growing a lot,” Blane said.
“And I’m a pig!” Heather laughed. “This has been the best Thanksgiving I’ve ever had. Spent the morning with Mom, then the afternoon at the Castle. Mom likes you.”
“Yes. And I’m glad we don’t see her much.”
“Me too,” Heather said. “She’s so angry. You know?”
Blane smiled at Heather.
“What did you find out?” He asked.
Blane gave her a curt nod.
“He’s really cute,” Heather said. “I talked to a friend of Tanesha’s that works with him. She said he’s kind of a workaholic web guy. Programs for one of the big web companies. He’s got a reputation for being very intense but a nice guy.”
Blane nodded at the information he already knew.
“Dating? Married?” Blane asked.
“Not that anyone knows,” Heather said. “He plays things very close to his chest. My friend said she thinks he just works. He has a fixer upper house somewhere on the hill. I guess he talks about the house. A lot. Says he spends his weekends trying to find the exact matching brick to his house, stuff like that. Intense. Perfectionistic. Was he like that when you knew him?”
“Yeah,” Blane said. “It’s intimidating at first, but you always know where you stand.”
Heather’s eyes searched Blane’s face. She squeezed his hand.
“You don’t have to ever see him again.”
“Why do I want to so badly?” Blane asked.
“Glutton for punishment,” Heather said. “What did you find out?”
“Let’s see…. Tres is the youngest child. Never married. Last girlfriend was at his old job. He moved jobs to keep the relationship but it didn’t last. He owns a condo out on Stapleton, runs… a lot, like marathons and stuff. Has a dog. Climbs, backpacks, fishes.”
“He’s going to have to be really special to make up for everything,” Heather shrugged.
“He thinks he is,” Blane laughed.
“Every man thinks he is special,” Heather said. “Even our baby.”
“Our baby is special,” Blane said.
“His name is Antonio Gutierrez Sierra, III. He’s named after his father’s brother. Gay brother, by the way. Everyone but his father agrees that the uncle is gay,” Blane said. “He goes by Tres because he can’t stand being called Tony. He seems like a decent guy, very steady, good with numbers. He’s helped Jake sort out a lot of financial stuff. I don’t know, Heather, maybe we were too hasty.”
“By deciding they were freeway gardens?”
“I’ve thought the same thing,” she said. “I’m not really in the position to date right now. And you still have at least three more months of the riboviron.”
“Let’s wait until the baby’s born,” Blane said.
“Until the baby’s born,” Heather nodded. “Did you make the chocolate cake?”
“You’re too good for Enrique.”
“You’re too good for Tres.”
“That’s right. Let’s keep telling ourselves that.”
“Maybe it will work.”
Denver Cereal continues next week….
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