Sunday evening — 6:15 P.M. Denver Art Museum
“When we get home, will you talk to me about what happened between you and Johansen?” Jill whispered into Jacob’s ear. “And how you are about it? And everything?”
They were standing in the middle of the nearly empty art gallery. Most of their close friends and family were looking at one or the other of Mike’s gorgeous paintings. No one had seen his entire collection. When Katy ran off to play with Noelle, Jill took Jacob’s hand and led him to the middle of the room. He held her in his arms.
“I don’t have anything to say,” he whispered in her ear.
“You’ve been avoiding the subject since it happened.”
“I’ve been a little busy with Lipson and trying to keep the Castle from falling down,” he whispered.
She let the conversation lag on his lie. She kissed his neck.
“Please let this drop.” Jacob stepped back to look in her eyes. “I can’t talk about it. I just can’t. Not now. Please.”
She kissed his lips.
“I love you,” he said. “I keep hoping my buddy Mike will paint you naked. Then I remember that my buddy Mike is your big brother. Kinda spoils the whole thing.”
Jill laughed. For a moment, they fell into their usual ease and levity. Jill’s eyebrows pinched together.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
“Just in your man cave?”
He burst out laughing. He pulled her to him to hide from people’s looks.
“I need time to… sort out my own mess. You know how I love to sort out messes,” he whispered in her ear. “It just takes a while. Delphie has helped me, but I’m on my own now. I…”
He shook his head.
“I’m here. Maybe I can help,” she said.
“I’d rather just love you. If that’s okay,” he said. “I’ll get through this.”
Unsure of what to say to her complicated husband, she held him close.
“Wanna try the bathroom for a quickie?”
“Mike and Val are moving,” he said. “Must be time to start.”
“Jacob…” Jill’s serious voice brought his full attention to her. “You will tell me… when you can?”
“I will. Don’t worry. When I have something to say, you’ll hear all of it. You’ll hear so much you’ll be sick of hearing me talk. Then you’ll say.” He shifted his voice to imitate her voice. “Shut up, Jake. You go on and on and on.”
She smiled and kissed his lips.
“I love you,” he whispered. “What do you think it would take to get Mike to paint you naked?”
“A sudden frost in hell?” Jill whispered.
Laughing at the idea, Jacob took her hand and they joined their families.
Sunday evening — 6:25 P.M.
“Are you ready?” Valerie asked.
Mike nodded but the panic in his eyes tore at her. She straightened the collar of his new Frederec Martins tuxedo.
“You look beautiful.” He touched the flowing silk of her Martins gown. “Wow.”
She hugged him.
“All you have to do is walk around,” Valerie said. “That’s it. Let your amazing paintings speak for themselves. They have a lot to say. You don’t have to say a thing.”
“You like people,” Valerie said. “Everyone loves you. If you get stuck Jake or I or any of us will rescue you. All of your friends and our family are already in the gallery. Jill brought Katy. She’s always a good distraction.”
“I wish Delphie was here,” Mike said. “This is really her show. She and Jake made me start painting and… I miss her. I thought she’d be here.”
Valerie kissed his lips then wiped the lipstick from them. He held her to him.
“When we get home…” he started.
“Yes,” she said.
He took the hand she held out to him. Together they walked to the front of the museum. Through the glass doors, they saw a line that wrapped around the building and the block. Mike nodded to the security guard.
The doors opened.
Sunday evening — 7:15 P.M.
“Glad we came?” Blane asked.
He looked across the room. There were so many people that they hadn’t found their friends.
”You were right. I’m glad to be here for Mike,” Heather said. “Plus, it’s fun to get dressed up.”
Looking down into the sling, she saw that Mack had awoken. She smiled at her son. Blane put his arm around her to look at the baby.
“Hey buddy, did you wake up?” Blane said. “With making dinner, I didn’t get his run in.”
“He’s all right,” Heather said. “Sleepy. We’ll be all right.”
Blane and Heather looked up to see a tall brown haired man with blue eyes coming toward them. Blane blushed. The handsome man held his arms out and Blane hugged him.
“This is my wife, Heather,” Blane said. “Heather, this is Michael Moore.”
“Oh, hi!” Heather blushed. She shook Michael Moore’s extended hand. “You’re Mike’s makeup artist.”
“Among other things,” Michael said. “I heard you had a baby, Blane. May I?”
Heather tipped the sling so that Michael could say hello to Mack.
“Oh my God, he’s adorable,” Michael said. “This is Mack?”
Cooing, Mack grabbed Michael’s finger.
“Wow,” Michael said. “How old is he?”
“Eighteen days,” Blane said.
“So tiny. Congratulations,” Michael said. “Say, you wouldn’t happen to be the Heather that does Valerie’s makeup.”
“I’ve done Valerie’s make up. I did it tonight,” Heather blushed again. “I’m not a pro or anything. Valerie just lets me do it because one of my best friends is married to her brother. I don’t really…”
“I doubt a movie star would let just anyone do her makeup,” Michael said. “She looks great.”
“If you’re ever looking for a job, let me know,” Michael said. “I’m always looking for good people. Nice to see you again, Blane. It’s been…four years?”
“Five,” Blane said.
“Are you cooking at all now?” Michael asked.
“Just for family,” Blane said. “I’m an acupuncturist now. I’ll finish my Doctor of Chinese Medicine in a couple weeks.”
“You look happy.”
“You certainly have a lot in your life now.” Michael took another peek at Mack. “I’m glad.”
“Thanks,” Blane said. “I feel really lucky.”
“Nice to see you again. Nice to meet you Heather.”
With a wave, Michael Moore wandered over to another group of patrons.
“What was that?” Heather whispered to Blane.
“I had a mad crush on him,” Blane said. “Used to drive Enrique crazy.”
“He’s very crushable,” Heather said.
“I haven’t really been out in the world since everything with Enrique,” Blane said. “I just walked away from that life. It didn’t occur to me that people would…”
“Or even notice that I was gone,” Blane said. “This life is so good, but it’s so different from the way I used to live. It’s hard to believe I’m the same person who’s lived in both worlds.”
“I feel like that too. Just a year ago I lived with Mom and wondered what I was going to do with my life. Now I have you and Mack…”
“And maybe a new job with a make up pro,” Blane said.
“If I can fit it in with managing your practice,” she said.
Blane beamed at her.
“It’s a good life,” he said.
Sunday evening — 7:30 P.M.
“She looks at me like I’m ‘sposed to do something,” Nash whispered to Jacob.
“Yeah, that sucks,” Jacob said.
“When I suggest something, like going to get cookies or introducing her to Mike, she just shrugs like she’s not interested.”
“Yeah,” Jacob said.
“Dating skill?” Nash said.
“Dating skill,” Jacob repeated.
“What do I do?”
“Just enjoy being around her,” Jacob said. “Go along with the crowd. She hasn’t seen you in a while so she’s not sure about you. You have to kind of prove yourself.”
“Prove myself? How do I do that?”
“I want her to be my girlfriend.”
“Yeah,” Jacob said. “It doesn’t get a lot easier. I think that’s why Sandy wants you to know what to do.”
“Sandy’s really great.”
“Sandy’s amazing,” Jacob said. “I wish I’d had this kind of help when I was your age.”
“I need to get back to school,” Nash said. “If she’s unsure of me ‘cuz she hasn’t seen me, then I need to be in school. Will you be mad if I quit my job?”
Sunday evening — 8:15 P.M.
Panicked, Mike looked around to see if he could get some help. He was standing in front of a painting talking to a man - a random man, a stranger! - when the man asked to buy the painting. When Mike mumbled something vague, the man became more insistent. This stranger was willing to pay whatever Mike asked. He even pulled out his checkbook to accentuate his capacity to pay anything.
The man’s checkbook waving drew other people like a magnet. Two new strangers joined the conversation. While Mike panicked, the men began arguing over his painting.
Where was Adam Lerner? Even though Adam was now head curator at the Denver Art museum, this exhibit had been his personal pet project. Mike saw Adam backed into a corner by a checkbook waving woman.
Where was Jake? Jake would know what to do. Mike caught Jake’s eye. Jake nodded and moved in Mike’s direction. But there were so many people that Jake very slow progress across the gallery.
Mike took a clean handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his forehead. He was about to bolt when he felt someone touch his elbow. He saw an elderly man move between him and the growing group of men.
“May I help you gentlemen?” a heavily accented Russian voice asked.
Otis. Grandfather. Friend. Mike saw his mother standing next to her father. Anjelika gave Mike a beautiful smile.
“I certainly understand your interest. They are beautiful,” Otis said. “I flew all the way from Russia just to have a chance to gaze on their beauty.”
Otis turned to wink at Mike then led the men away. Mike felt like he might vomit with relief. Jacob arrived a moment later.
“What happened?” Jacob asked.
“They want to purchase the paintings,” Anjelika said.
“Of course they do,” Jacob laughed. “I thought you wanted to sell them.”
“I wouldn’t mind them sold, but selling…” Mike shook his head. “This is an art museum! They should have some respect.”
“Is that your grandfather?” Jacob asked.
“My father,” Anjelika said. “He didn’t want to miss the opening. Mike’s father is also here… somewhere… with the Hargreaves, of course.”
Anjelika pointed to a group of laughing people near the middle of the room.
“It’s really crowded,” Mike said.
“Let’s get some air.”
Mike followed Jacob through the crowd to the wide patio outside the front door. Standing near the door, they couldn’t help but hear people’s comments as they trickled out of the exhibit. The early spring air was filled with praise after knowledgeable commentary after glowing review of Mike and his paintings.
“Sounds like you have a hit,” Jacob said.
“When are we playing hockey?” Mike asked.
“Wednesday,” Jacob said.
“Let’s play tonight.”
“Midnight pickup? I’m in if you are,” Jacob said.
“The police have my stick. But you don’t really need one do you. You can move the puck around with your mind.”
Jacob gave Mike a sideways look. Mike shrugged his shoulders.
“I have a couple sticks,” Jacob said. “You can have one of my extra.”
“You don’t want to talk about your powers?”
“Mike Roper is a God,” a woman said as she left the exhibit.
“Yeah, I saw that Valerie Lipson. She’s tiny. I bet I could take her,” the woman’s friend said.
Laughing, the women walked to the parking garage.
“Yeah, I’ll borrow a stick,” Mike said.
Sunday night — 8:30 P.M.
Sandy and Jill were inseparable in the large crowd. After a while, Heather migrated over to them. The women found a little sitting area near the end of the room. Around eight, Katy came to rest on Jill’s lap. Noelle and Nash came by every half hour but otherwise, the women were on their own. When Mack began to fuss, Blane insisted on taking him home.
Tanesha had just appeared when a woman came up to them.
“Hi Jill,” Helen Siegle said. “I’m wondering if you would tell me where Aden is.”
“Hi Helen,” Jill said to the head of the Marlowe School. “Aden’s not here tonight.”
“Do you know how I can get a hold of him?” Helen asked. “I just learned that Nash hasn’t been in school for almost a month.”
“Aden’s not available right now,” Sandy said. “I’m Nash’s guardian. Is there something I can help with?”
“Who are you?” Helen asked.
“I’m Nash’s guardian.” Sandy stood to meet the woman.
“Aden isn’t here,” Sandy said. “If you’d like to talk about Nash, you need to speak with me.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know who you are…”
“I don’t know who you are either,” Sandy said.
Shifting Katy to her hip, Jill stood next to Sandy.
“Sandy, this is Helen Siegle. She runs the Marlowe school. Nash went there until this year.”
Sandy nodded. Helen turned to Jill.
“Where is Aden?” Helen asked Jill again.
“Aden is in prison, Ms. Siegle. Currently he’s in a medically induced coma,” Sandy said. “If there’s a problem with Nash…”
“No,” Helen said. “No. No problem.”
Tapping her lip, Helen looked as if a light bulb went off over her head.
“Aden beat up the pedophile. Jerry told me it was someone at Lipson but didn’t tell me it was Aden. That means that Noelle… Nash… Oh my God. I had no idea. Jerry didn’t tell me and…”
Sandy watched sorrow dissolve the woman’s indignation.
“You’re the girlfriend,” Helen said.
“Right now, I’m Nash’s guardian. That’s all that matters. Is there something wrong?”
“I just can’t believe he’s not in school,” Helen said. “I was talking to a woman who was his teacher. She said he was kicked out. Nash went to our school from the day we opened. One of the original kids. I can’t imagine him kicked out of school. I wondered if there was something I could do. I would offer to take him back into the Marlowe school but we couldn’t do that until next year… at the earliest.”
“Nash has been working at Lipson. We’re looking at options for the fall but he can’t get in…”
“Wait,” Helen said. “The woman I was talking to? Nash’s teacher? She said something. Let me get her.”
Helen darted off. Shaking her head, Sandy sat down with Jill. They had all but forgotten about the crazy woman when she appeared with another woman at her side.
“This is Nash’s guardian,” Helen said. “Tell her what you said to me.”
The young woman looked embarrassed. She looked at Helen then back at Sandy.
“Go ahead,” Helen said. “Consider it your first interview for the Marlowe school.”
“What’s going on?” Helen’s husband, and Nash’s supervisor, Jerry asked. He put his arm around Helen.
“Nash needs to be in school,” Helen said. “Why didn’t you tell me that he was the boy you took onto your team?”
“Now Helen, I…”
“Didn’t want to upset me,” Helen said at the same moment Jerry completed, “didn’t want to upset you.”
“Well, I’m upset,” Helen said. “Tell Sandy what you told me.”
“I’m Nash’s Spanish teacher? Over at Smiley? And…”
“Tell her,” Helen said.
“That Assistant Principal? This isn’t the first time there’s been trouble with him,” the woman said. “He’s been written up a couple of times. And…”
“The boy who attacked Nash is in jail right now,” Helen said. “He attacked a girl and it’s on tape. Her parents are suing the school. And…”
“I have email memos going back a couple of years about that Assistant Principal. I don’t think the Superintendent knows about all this trouble, including the boy who attacked Nash. I was there on duty guard when that fight happened. Nash was attacked. And the principal? She just thought that if she got rid of Nash and Teddy, she wouldn’t lose her job. But…”
“You should take this to the Superintendent, Sandy,” Helen said. “I’ll go with you. Nash needs to be in school. And this Teddy too.”
“They are really good boys,” Jerry said.
Helen, Jerry and the teacher began talking all at once.
“Stop!” Sandy said. Jill, Heather and Tanesha moved to stand next to Sandy in a united front.
Helen, Jerry and the teacher stopped talking to stare at Sandy.
“You’re saying that you’re willing to say before the Superintendent that the boy attacked Nash,” Sandy pointed to the teacher. “And you’re willing to provide documents that the Assistant Principal was a problem for years.”
“I also have a petition from two years ago where we teachers tried to get him removed,” the teacher said. “I mean, none of us were surprised that he was arrested for child pornography.”
“Ok,” Sandy said. Pointing to Helen, she said, “You’re saying that Nash can go to the Marlowe school next fall. Can Teddy go too?”
“I don’t know this Teddy but…”
“Yes or no,” Sandy said. “Nash isn’t going if Teddy can’t go.”
“I will personally review him and if…”
“Teddy’s a great boy,” Jerry said. “Tough and smart.”
Turning to Jerry, Sandy said, “You. Teddy and Nash love working. Would you take them after school? And this summer? I’m not going to make this happen if they don’t get to keep working. They love having money and they feel really proud of what they do there.”
“I’d have to talk to Jake,” Jerry said.
“About what?” Jacob asked. “Hi Helen.”
“Nash and Teddy working after school. If we start that we may have a lot of kids working after school,” Jerry said. “Some of our families could use the money and…”
“We can make it work,” Jacob said. “Most of our employees are owners now. By law, their kids can work at businesses they own.”
“Gentlemen, you work this out on your own time,” Sandy said. Turning to the teacher, she said, “When can you get me the documents?”
“I can email them to you from my iPhone,” the woman said. “I got them ready last night. I knew that Nash knew Mike Roper. I came here tonight hoping to find someone to help. It’s not just Nash and Teddy that suffer. It’s a lot of kids.”
The teacher sat down in a chair and began working on her phone. Helen, Jerry and Jacob began talking about Nash and Teddy.
“Are you okay?” Jill whispered into Sandy’s ear.
“Pissed off,” Sandy whispered back.
“What are you going to do?”
“Make this right,” Sandy said.
“We’ve got your back,” Tanesha said.
“Damn straight,” Heather said.
“Ok, they’re in your email box,” the teacher said.
“Time to kick ass and take names,” Tanesha said.
“Say something,” Jill said.
“From now on, I’m doing things my way.”
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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