Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Denver Cereal - Chapter One Hundred and Eighty-Five : Slave


Saturday night — 8:45 P.M. MDT

“What do you mean you gave Schmidty permission to sell my song to the movie studio?” Jeraine asked.

Tanesha didn’t like his tone and gave him a sour look. She got up from the dining table of the Penthouse suite at the Burnsley Hotel where they were eating pizza with his parents. Sandy met her at the door to the kitchen and they laughed their way in to the kitchen. Heather looked up from the sofa and went into the kitchen to join them.

“Why are they laughing?” Jeraine asked.

“Because you are a fool,” Bumpy said. “I love you son, but…”

Bumpy shook his head.

“What did I do?” Jeraine asked. “I d’nt do nothing.”

“The problem isn’t what you did.” Ava leaned over to pick up a slice of pizza. “The problem is what you don’t understand.”

“What don’t I understand?” Jeraine asked.

“Your song was leaked to the radio station,” Ava said. “Which renewed your contract with your record company and your agent. Right?”

“Right,” Jeraine said.

“What happens if the song belongs to the movie company?” Ava asked.

Jeraine gave Ava a blank look.

“Tanesha?” Jeraine called. She stuck her head out of the kitchen. “What is this police woman saying?”

Tanesha nodded toward Bumpy.

“I see what you mean,” Bumpy said. “But that’s not brain damage. That’s general moronity. Most people grow out of it when they’re twelve or thirteen.”

Everyone laughed.

“This is getting unfunny,” Jeraine said.

“The song was a present to me, right?” Tanesha asked.

Jeraine nodded.

“I gave your present to me to Schmidty,” Tanesha said.

“You see how popular it is,” Jeraine said. “We could have had a number one…”

“Let me finish. In return for the song, I bought your freedom. To me, that’s worth more than anything in the world.”

Jeraine’s face flushed, his eyes welled with tears, and he hopped to his feet. He wrapped himself around her.

“He does get there,” Dionne smiled at them.

As if to accentuate the moment, Jeraine’s cell phone rang.

“Ok, it’s them again,” Ava gave the phone to Jeraine. “Heather? Sandy? Everyone knows what we’re doing?”

The women nodded. Keeping an arm around Tanesha, Jeraine took the phone from Ava.

“Yeah?” he said into the phone. He nuzzled Tanesha’s neck and made a point of loudly kissing her.

“Jer?” his former agent said. “That you?”

“Mmm,” Jeraine said into Tanesha’s neck.

Heather giggled.

“Kinda busy,” Jeraine said.

“We’ve been worried about you,” his former agent said. “You disappeared at dinner.”

He tickled Sandy and she laughed.

“I found something else to do,” Jeraine said. “You guys are interesting but a little honey is a lot more…”

“Jer…” Ava said.

“How many women do you have there?” his former agent asked.

“He wants to know how many women are here,” Jeraine imitated his former agent’s voice perfectly. The women laughed. Tanesha hung up the phone.

They stared at the phone until it rang again.

“What?” Jeraine’s voice was slurred but angry.

“Where are you?” his former agent asked.

“I don’ know,” Jeraine put the phone against his chest. “Where are we?”

On cue, Heather and Sandy laughed.

“My house,” Ava said.

Jeraine smirked at her and put the phone to his ear.

“Capital Hill someplace,” Jeraine said.

“We’ll come get you,” his former agent said.

“Nah,” Jeraine said. “Dis party’s almost over. The Church’s just a couple blocks from here.”

Jeraine hung up the phone and turned it off.

“What’s next?” he asked.

“Bumpy goes,” Ava said. “Seth’s at the club setting up.”

Bumpy got up from the table, kissed Dionne, and left the suite.

“Now, we wait just long enough to make them nervous,” Ava said.


Saturday night — 8:45 P.M. MDT 

Sissy got up from the couch in Jill and Jacob’s attic loft. She looked at the boys playing video games. Setting her book down, she walked over to where Valerie and Noelle were painting their fingernails at the kitchen bar. Trying to be nonchalant, she picked up one color and another until she found a sheer pink. She’d never colored her fingernails and felt a little intimidated by the movie star and Noelle’s weekly ritual of fingernails and gossip.

“In your face,” Nash yelled at the video game

Charlie and Teddy cheered.

“If you find a color, I’ll help,” Valerie looked up at Sissy. Sissy blushed.

“She’s never painted her nails,” Noelle said.

“I wondered,” Valerie said. “Would you like to?”

“Seems kinda pricey,” Sissy repeated what her mother had drilled into her.

“Lucky for you, it’s all paid for,” Valerie said.

“Plus, I have a bunch of colors,” Noelle said. “You can use my colors and they won’t cost anything.”

Sissy looked at Noelle and Valerie.

“Why don’t you have a seat?” Valerie nodded toward a chair next to her. “I’ll show you how.”

Sissy sat down and Valerie pulled out a stool next to her. There was a sound in the nursery; they looked up to see Jill coming out. Jill went to Katy’s room, listened at the door, then came over.

“How are the kids?” Valerie asked.

“Asleep,” Jill said. “Mack kept climbing out of his crib. Crazy kid. Blane usually takes him for a run to put him to sleep but he didn’t have time tonight.”

“But he’s asleep now?” Sissy made a movement as if she was going to check on him.

“He’s asleep,” Jill said. “Rachel too. After all their running around today, Katy and Paddie are out.”

Jill picked up a nail polish color and sat down next to Noelle. Sissy sat back down in her chair. Valerie took her hands and looked at them.

“You have nice hands, Sissy,” Valerie said. “Long fingers.”

“The nails never grow,” Sissy said.

“This will help,” Valerie said.

Valerie began filing Sissy’s nails with an emery board. Sissy waited until enough time passed so her next question seemed casual.

“Did you see Sandy when she left?” Sissy asked.

“I thought she was beautiful,” Noelle said.

“Aden looked like he was going to eat her whole,” Charlie walked over to the plate of chocolate chip cookies. He took a bite, and still chewing he said, “She was super hot.”

“Super duper hot,” Noelle nodded.

“Sandy’s always been the sexy one of us,” Jill said. “I thought she looked gorgeous tonight. What did you think, Sissy?”

“I probably won’t look like that,” Sissy said.

“I don’t,” Valerie said. “I’m not curvy at all.”

“I don’t think I’ll be curvy,” Noelle said. “Nuala isn’t. Is your Mom?”

“Kind of,” Sissy said.

Valerie set down the emery board to look at Sissy.

“Why are you asking about Sandy?” Valerie asked.

“Oh…” Sissy looked at the movie star. Blushing, she was going to make a joke but she felt oddly compelled to answer Valerie’s question. “If I keep going like this, I might get curvy too.”

Valerie squeezed Sissy’s hands.

“I think you’ll be very beautiful,” Jill said. “I knew your Mom when she’d just met your Dad. She was lovely. I think living without your Dad really changed her.”

“Hmm,” Sissy said.

“What are you worried about?” Valerie asked.

“I won’t be a ballerina because I’m too… big,” Sissy’s voice dropped. Her face became a mask of shame and sadness. “You know, up here.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Valerie said. “I was really scared that I wouldn’t ever be an actress because I wasn’t very big up here. Everyone I knew had plastic surgery. You can ask Mike. Every single person we knew was sliced and diced into a different body.”

“But you didn’t do it?” Sissy’s voice was filled with wonder.

“Nope,” Valerie said. “I wanted to. Bad. But when I was a kid, my Mom wouldn’t let me. She told me that looking like me would always be my best asset. She was right.”

“I don’t want to look like me,” Sissy said.

“Me too,” Noelle said.

Valerie glanced at Noelle then looked at Jill. The women’s eyes held in silent confirmation. Valerie gave Jill a little nod and she nodded in agreement.

“I think every woman feels some of that, Sis,” Jill said. “We’re sold this image of what a woman looks like but we come in all of these different sizes.”

“And go through all of these phases,” Valerie said. “I know you read the article in that magazine about how ‘fat’ I’ve become. Fat? Seriously? I’m pregnant. The doctor still thinks I’m too thin.”

Valerie shook her head.

“I worried that Jacob wouldn’t like my body because I had Katy and I have some loose skin,” Jill said. “He didn’t even notice.”

“Oh,” Sissy said.

“We should talk to Sandy about it. She’s felt a lot of pressure ever since she was little about her looks,” Jill said. “I mean, even Katy feels it and she’s four. This kind of pressure is a kind of slavery where we shackle ourselves.”

“With the help of the media,” Valerie said. “And, to be honest, people like me. I look amazing in the new film but that’s because I was thirty pounds underweight, wore these push up bras, make up, wigs, special clothing, perfect lighting and a billion takes.  I mean, it took almost two hours to just get dressed! If there was a hair out of place, four people ran to fix it.”

“That’s not real life,” Jill said.

“And who would do all of that every day?” Valerie shook her head. “I wouldn’t.”

“You don’t,” Noelle said.

“No I don’t,” Valerie said. “I hope to God I have better things to do with my time than worry about my hair!”

Valerie gave a little chuckle.

“Of course, I don’t worry about my hair because…”

“You have Sandy!” Noelle laughed.

“Right,” Valerie said. “Does this help at all?”

“I don’t want to be a slave,” Sissy nodded. “I want to be a prima ballerina. But that does mean I have to look a certain way.”

“But you, Sissy, you have to look a certain way,” Valerie’s hand cupped Sissy’s chin and gave it a little shake. “Not robo-Sissy.”

Noelle squealed with laughter at ‘robo-Sissy.’ The boys looked up from their game to see what was going on.

“Sissy wants to be a robot!” Noelle laughed.

“I want to be a ballerina!” Sissy said.

“Ballerina-robot!” Noelle laughed.

The girls collapsed into giggles. Shaking their heads, Valerie and Jill shared a look and laughed.


Saturday night — 8:45 P.M. MDT


“Hey, I’m Blane Lipson.” He nodded to the young man behind the bar at the Church nightclub. “I think I’m supposed to join you?”

“Nelson,” Ava’s bodybuilding colleague held out his hand for Blane to shake. He lifted the bar pass-through. “Come on back. Have you tended bar before?”

“Sure,” Blane said. “You?”

“Never.” Nelson smiled at Blane.

“I guess that’s why I’m here,” Blane chuckled. “Why don’t you take the taps and bottles and I’ll take the mixed drinks.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” Nelson said. “We need to create a chain of evidence. Seth wanted us to handle this so it didn’t get too big, but…”

“How did you get through college?” Blane looked around the small bar for supplies. “I thought everyone tended bar.”

“My parents,” Nelson said. “You?”

“Fresh out of parents.” Blane took a knife and started to make quick work of the limes. He made quick work of the limes. “I tended bar and cooked.”

“You have amazing knife skills,” Nelson said.

“Chef,” Blane said.

“I thought you were some construction guy,” Nelson said. “That’s what Ava said.”

“I was a Chef,” Blane said. “Won a couple awards. Now I work at Lipson Construction with Sam and Jake.”

“Why did you stop?” Nelson stood near Blane watching him set up the bar. “Cooking, I mean.”

Blane squinted at Nelson.

“Sorry, I’m nosey,” Nelson said.

“Why don’t you get the glasses down?” Blane said. “Can you pour beer?”

“Um…” Nelson said.

“Here,” Blane set the knife and fruit on the cutting board. He took down a glass and showed Nelson how to pour beer. “Now try a few.”

“But that’s wasting it,” Nelson said.

“I think they’d rather you waste it than give yourself away,” Blane said.

“Good point.”

Happy that he had something to do, Nelson practiced his pouring technique while Blane set up the bar. When he looked up, Blane had the bar ready to go.

“How did you get roped into this?” Nelson asked.

“My wife, Heather, is with Jeraine tonight,” Blane said. “One of her friends is with our baby, so I thought it might be fun.”

“Your wife?” Nelson asked. “But you’re…”

“You know, this conversation never ends very well,” Blane said. “Here are the facts, nosey man, I’m married to a woman and we have a child. I’m also gay. She’s straight. She knows I’m gay. I don’t date. She doesn’t date. Not because we can’t, but because we’re both looking for the right thing. As you can imagine, that’s hard to find. In the meantime, we’re very happy.”

Nelson nodded. Blane pointed to a man standing at the counter. Nelson poured him a beer and took his money. He walked Blane through the register. He gave the man the beer and even received a tip. Nelson smiled.

“I can do this,” Nelson said.

“Yes, you can,” Blane said. “Good job.”

Blane made a few drinks and Nelson continued to pour beer. They had worked steadily for a half hour when Nelson’s cell phone vibrated.

“Ok, his people are here,” Nelson said. “Do you see them?”

“Got it.”

Blane filled a large order for Jeraine’s former agent. Nodding, he stepped back when the agent left the bar and bumped into Nelson.

“For what it’s worth, I think what you have is kind of neat. I mean, it’s not normal, but it suits you,” Nelson said. “When you were talking I remembered that we’ve met before. Ava and I, our team, we were tested to see if we could help you out with a liver.”

“Thanks,” Blane said.

“Do you still need one?” Nelson asked.

Blane nodded.

“Sucks,” Nelson said.

“Just life,” Blane said.

“HIV too?”

Blane nodded.

“Me too,” Nelson said.

For the first time, Blane actually looked at Nelson. He was about Blane’s age, muscular, with an air of being nerdy smart. He looked familiar but something was missing.


“Lasik,” Nelson smiled.

“You’re a friend of Enrique’s.”

“Enrique doesn’t have friends,” Nelson said. “You know that better than anyone.”

Blane nodded.

“I always liked you,” Nelson said. “What he did was horrible. I didn’t know what to do and…”

“It’s over and for the best,” Blane said. “I’ve never been happier than I am right now.”

Nelson nodded. A woman came to the small bar and asked for a beer. Nelson went to help her. He could feel Blane watching him. Suddenly, the bar was crowed with people calling drinks. When Blane stepped forward to help the customers, the tension between them eased. When Nelson looked up, Blane smiled at him. They heard a cheer in the club at the same time Nelson’s phone vibrated.

“They’re here,” Nelson said.


Saturday night — 9:25 P.M. MDT


“I don’t know, Rodney,” Tanesha said. “I think you should take me home.”

Nodding, Rodney Smith watched the entrance of the Church. Tanesha knew him well enough to know that he was slow to respond. She waited. He sighed.

“I think you have to take a chance,” Rodney said. “You’re not fragile or weak. You’re the strongest and smartest person I’ve ever met.”

“Besides you?” Tanesha smiled.

“You’re tougher than me,” Rodney said.

They watched the people go in and out of the night club in silence.

“You should take me home,” Tanesha said.

“I will,” Rodney said. “If you answer me one question.”


“Are you going to be a slave to the past? Or take a chance today?”

Tanesha watched all of the people milling around the night club. There were black people and white people, fat people and skinny, young people and old people. Certainly, the line around the block wasn’t any shorter. Tanesha looked down at her hands. Minutes passed into a half hour of silence. Tanesha sighed. Leaning over, she kissed Rodney’s cheek.

“Thanks Dad,” Tanesha said and stepped out of the car.

The Denver Cereal will continue next week…


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