Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Denver Cereal - Chapter One Hundred and Seventy-eight - Plum


Wednesday morning – 9:15 A.M.

“How many houses are we going to see?” Jill asked. Driving her Lexus SUV, she turned downTwentieth Street. Heather was sitting in the back seat.

“Six,” Tanesha said.

“Which house do you like?” Jill asked. “We should start there.”

Tanesha scowled at her question.

“Since we have the codes to get in for all the properties, let’s prioritize,” Heather reached over the front seat and yanked a stack of paper from Tanesha’s hand. “Lowry, Stapleton, ooh this is nice where’s that?”

“Wash park,” Tanesha said.

“Montview,” Heather said.

“By Seth’s?” Jill asked.

“Down the street,” Tanesha said.

“Are you going to live next to the Governor?” Jill asked.

“CranmerPark,” Heather said. “Nice neighborhoods.”

“Hmmm,” Tanesha said.

Jill pulled the SUV over.

“What’s the problem?” Jill asked.

“Every house is lovely, big, but beautiful,” Tanesha said. “Every one is special in it’s own way. Jer keeps telling me I deserve a big, gorgeous home, but…”

“You don’t like them,” Heather said.

“They kind of suck,” Tanesha said. “I love the Castle. You know I do. And it’s way bigger than anything we’ve looked at. But what I love about the Castle is it’s small private spaces. These things are like museums. We’re there touring them with the realtor and Jer’s talking about all the designer furniture he’s going to put here or there. Me? I’m thinking – Who’s going to clean this mausoleum?”

“He’s probably thinking he’ll hire a cleaning person,” Jill said. “We haveRosaand she’s amazing.”

“I don’t know if I want a cleaning person,” Tanesha said. “We were in one place where the kitchen was about as big as my Gran’s entire house. No, it was literally bigger than my Gran’s house. I asked. Gran’s house is two thousand square feet. This kitchen was twenty-five hundred.”

Heather put her hand on Tanesha’s shoulder in support.

“There we are,” Tanesha continued. “Jer’s babbling on about how I deserve the best and what not; and I’m there worrying about who’s going to clean it, not to mention heat it. He says I need to get past my poverty mindset. But seriously, how much space do two people need? That house, the one with the big kitchen? If Jer and I and his two kids and the baby Mommas and all their kids were all in the house at the same time? We wouldn’t run into each other for a month. ‘We’ll get nannies,’ he says. ‘We’ll be at med school, T,’ he says. ‘We’ll get a housekeeper and a cook. I have one in most of my houses.’”

Tanesha snorted.

“A cook in every house,” Tanesha said.

“You seem really freaked out,” Heather said.

“Scared,” Tanesha said. “Maybe I’m blocking myself from wealth or whatever, but all that fancy crap is just not me. How can we ever make it work if what I like is way below his standards?”

Tanesha clammed up. Jill started the car.

“Like it’s ever going to work between me and Jeraine,” Tanesha snorted to keep from crying.

Heather squeezed Tanesha’s shoulder. They drove for a few more minutes.

“What kind of a house is more you?” Jill asked when she pulled over.

“You drove to my Gran’s house to show me where I belong?” Tanesha asked. “Gee thanks. Take the black girl back to the hood and…”

Heather cleared her throat and tapped Tanesha’s shoulder. Tanesha stopped spewing to look at her. Heather pointed to a little house caddy corner and down the block from Tanesha’s Gran’s house. The house was one story with a wide porch and a small front yard enclosed by a broken white picket fence. It had an unloved, abandoned look. Gray paint was peeling off the exterior brick. Black smoke stains seeped around the  boarded up the windows. A tattered blue tarp covered a hole in the roof.

“When we played house as kids, you used to pretend this was your house,” Jill said. “Remember?”

“White picket fence,” Tanesha’s words were soft and filled with memory. “I loved this house.”

“It’s owned by the bank,” Heather pointed to an aging sale sign. “I bet you could get a good deal and still have money to fix it up.”

“No payments,” Jill said. “That’s what my girl Tanesha would like.”

“It almost burned down a few years ago,” Tanesha said. “Gran saw the fire and called right away. I was working.”

“The plum tree’s still there,” Jill said.

“Plums,” Tanesha said. In her memory, her child self said, ‘I’m going to make plum pie, plum jam, everything plum, from this tree.’ Her mouth silently moved with the words.

A large pickup truck pulled up behind them. Looking in the rearview mirror, Tanesha saw Jacob and her father, Rodney Smith.

“Why are they here?” Tanesha asked.

“I was telling Jacob about the house this morning,” Jill said. “He thought he could slip away to take a look at it. Jacob loves houses like this. He’ll know if it can be salvaged, how much it will cost, and how long it will take. I thought you’d want to know for sure. He called about a half hour ago to tell me he got the keys. Your Dad works with him. He’s probably tagging along out of curiosity.”

“It’s not really what I deserve,” Tanesha’s voice was low and sad.

“Can’t hurt anything to look,” Heather said. “We can go see all the houses you deserve after we finish. I even brought fancy furniture catalogs so we could imagine putting furniture around.”

Tanesha turned to look from one smiling friend to the other.

“What do you have to lose?” Jill asked.

Nodding, Tanesha smiled and got out of the SUV. They met Jacob and her father on the sidewalk. For Tanesha, the next hour went by in a blink of an eye. Jacob and her father went down to the basement while she, Jill and Heather wandered the first floor. There were two small bedrooms toward the back, a modest sized kitchen, dining room and a living room facing the porch. The floors were wide planed birch which ran from the front door to the back.

After almost a year of helping Jacob with this type of remodel, Jill knew this house could be really nice. Everything Tanesha pointed out as a problem, Jill told her they could fix it easily. She encouraged Tanesha up into the attic. The women were standing in the attic when Jacob found them.

“What’s the verdict?” Jill asked.

“The foundation is sound and dry,” Jacob said. “It needs new water, new electricity and some brick work, of course. This would make a lovely master suite. Where’s the water?”

He wandered over to the corner above the downstairs bathroom and began counting off steps.

“Bathtub?” Jacob asked.

“I like taking baths,” Tanesha said.

“We just found another claw foot tub,” Jill said. “It’s at the shop getting re-enameled.”

“Would be perfect here. Good thinking,” Jacob continued counting steps. “There’s enough space here for a two person bathroom. We might want to put in a dormer so you can have some… space.”

Grinning from ear to ear, Jacob put his hands on his hips.

“What?” Tanesha asked.

“This house is begging for you,” Jacob said. “The bank is selling it for seventy-five thousand, but I bet I could get it for less. Should I try?”

“Jer’s paying for it,” Tanesha said.

“You should get the best deal possible,” her father said. “The house is going to take a lot of work.”

Embarrassed by her longing for the house, Tanesha could only nod.

“What color do you want to paint the outside?” Jacob asked.

“Yellow,” Heather said.

“With white trim,” Jill added.

Tanesha smiled. Jill and Heather hugged her.

“I’ll write everything up so you can take a look at it,” Jacob said. “Jeraine is a business man. He’s going to want the details.”

“How soon could you do it?” Tanesha’s face spoke her longing, but she kept her voice cool.

“For family?” Jacob’s eyes scanned Tanesha’s face. “Two months, maybe less. Depends on who we can get to work for us and how much money we want to spend.”

“But you could make it nice?”

“Nice?” Jacob smiled at Tanesha. “Let me give you a tour.”

Wandering through the house, Jacob painted a picture of Tanesha’s perfect home. They’d fill the hole in the roof with skylights and add a dormer for the bathroom. They’d add hardwood floors to the attic and easily fix the floors everywhere else. He’d open up the kitchen and put in the same countertops Jill had in their loft. He had a great alley-find dining table that would fit perfectly in the dining room. And those windows? He’d restore the leaded glass transoms and put in double paned windows. As Tanesha listened, she saw her dream come to life. By the time they reached the front walk, she almost believed she already lived there.

Jacob and Rodney hugged the women good-bye and sent them off to breakfast. They were on their way back to the job site before Rodney made a noise.

“You’re not going to tell her?” Jacob asked.

“Tell her that we lived there before I went to prison?” Rodney asked. “Tell her that her Momma and I planted that plum tree? Or maybe tell her that her Momma sold the house to pay for my pointless defense attorneys?”

Rodney shook his head.

“No,” he said. “I’m not going to tell her. This is her fresh start.”

“Are you all right with her living there?” Jacob asked.

“Yellow with white trim,” Rodney smiled. “I was very happy there. I’m sure she will be too.”

“If you don’t want her there, this is the time to say something,” Jacob said. “I can lose the paperwork, over price the bid, or…”

“I want my baby to be happy,” Rodney said. “I love what you said, ‘This house is begging for you.’ I felt that too. It’s like coming home. She and that house belong together.”

“You’re a good man,” Jacob said.

“A good man who is not going to tell his daughter she was conceived in the house she now wants to live in,” Rodney said.

“So I’ll make it happen?”

“Do your magic,” Rodney said.

Smiling, Jacob dropped him off at his job site. This was just the kind of mess that Jacob loved cleaning up. On the way back to the office, he bought the little house and arranged for the initial work to begin. Jeraine would fuss some, but in the end, he would love living there. Sam met him at the door of Lipson Construction.

“You look happy,” Sam said .

“Making magic,” Jacob said. “Say, you want to see a cool house?”

Laughing, Sam followed him into the meeting.


Wednesday afternoon – 1:15 P.M.

“Delphie?” Charlie called.

“We’re out here,” Delphie met him at the back door. “Anjelika went to pick up her father.”

“I wondered if you needed some help in the garden,” Charlie said.

“Sure,” Delphie shifted so Charlie could see. “I have Katy and Paddie. They’re helping me dig up the potatoes.”

Katy and Paddie were sitting in the middle of a garden bed. Covered in dirt, they were digging, laughing and playing with garden spades. Charlie smiled at the kids.

“Why don’t you join them?” Delphie asked. “Your friend can help when she gets here.”

“My friend?”

“Hey Pan,” Charlie turned toward the girl’s voice. Tink was standing in the alley outside the gate.

“Tink!” Charlie waved.

“She can stay with us for a while,” Delphie said. “But I think she’s better off at a shelter where she can get therapy and go back to school.”

“Aden said she couldn’t stay with us,” Charlie said.

“This is my house, not his,” Delphie said. “It’s up to me who stays here or doesn’t.”

Charlie’s eyes flicked to Delphie and she laughed at herself.

“She’s better off at a shelter,” Charlie said.

“She is,” Delphie said. “But this afternoon, Tink can harvest with us.”

Charlie ran passed the gardens and the bee yard to the alley. He let Tink in the back and gave her a brief, self conscious hug.

“You’re all better,” Charlie said.

“Except for the fact that I’m sober,” Tink said.


“I’m kinda weak. The seizure is a big deal. I’ll probably have them now. So no drugs for me, but I feel better than I have in a really long time,” Tink said. “Thanks for visiting me, Pan and, well, saving my life. I guess I started to get better right after you were there.”

Not sure what she was saying, Charlie nodded. Tink hugged him.

“Come in,” Charlie said. “We’re harvesting some stuff – vegetables, fruit and whatever - this afternoon.”

“Sounds really good.”

Katy laughed and the teenagers turned to look at her.

“Come on,” Charlie said. “I’ll introduce you.”

“Cool,” Tink nodded.

She followed Charlie into the garden. They were almost to the garden bed when she stopped.

“I can’t stay with you,” Tink said. “I’m going into theUrbanPeakshelter. They made that plan for me at the hospital. With my seizures, I need treatment and stuff. The doc said I could even go to school.”

“That’s probably best,” Charlie said.

“I put you down as my family,” Tink said. “My only family.”

“Of course,” Charlie hugged her. “I’m really glad you came by.”

Blushing, Tink followed him over to meet Delphie.


Thursday morning – 1:15 A.M.

Tanesha slipped out of bed. She crept through the early morning quiet of the penthouse to the kitchen. Before she had left this morning, Jill had asked her if she’d ever listened to Jeraine’s music. It was a simple question, but with Jill’s new found ‘abilities’ nothing was simple. She shook her head. Outside of the two seconds it took her to change the radio station, she’d never listened to his music. Jill had pressed an iPod full of his songs into her hand. The last thing Jill said was maybe Jeraine could better serve people by making music. Excited about the house, Tanesha hadn’t thought much about what Jill had said. A half hour ago, Jill’s words woke her from a sound sleep.

“Maybe Jeraine could better serve people by making music.”

“How would I know Jill?” Tanesha whispered and flicked on the electric kettle.

“Listen to his music,” the Jill in her mind said.


Tanesha scowled but went to her purse. Her hand found the iPod while her heart and mind waged a battle. When he’d left the first time, she’d promised herself she’d never listen to his music. The more famous he became, the more determined she became. She was not going to fall prey to some stupid idolization of the person who ripped her heart out of her chest.

It wasn’t easy, especially when he sold out and they used his songs in Coca Cola ads. But her friends had helped by not listening to him either. They were probably the only people in the world who didn’t know at least one of his songs. Hearing the kettle click off, she went into the kitchen.

She made her tea and went to sit in her favorite chair next to the fireplace. She had a view of the entire city and the mountains. Setting her tea down, she couldn’t have been more surprised to find the iPod in her hand.

“Jill,” Tanesha said softly as if her friend had in some way made the iPod appear.

Giving up her struggle, Tanesha put in the ear buds. She picked up her tea and turned on the iPod.

And time passed.

Tanesha cried, smiled, and boogied in her comfy chair. His music was good, really good. She could see why he was so popular.

And the love songs? She felt what she was sure every girl felt while listening to these songs: handsome Mr. It was singing directly to her. She’d listened, and re-listened, to a few love songs before she realized why Jennifer, Valerie’s publicist, was so excited to meet her. In every love song, Jeraine whispered something to Miss T.

Jennifer had asked her if she was Misty. Tanesha had no idea what she was talking about. After the third or fourth love song, Tanesha looked up ‘Mr. It and Misty’ on the Internet. Unbeknownst to Tanesha, there was a big controversy about ‘Misty.’ The gossip columnists speculated that Misty was short for Melissa or Millicent or Marissa. Every gossip magazine had a favorite girl who they believed was Misty. A bunch of girls had come forward saying they were Jeraine’s beloved Misty. You could even buy tight skank T-shirts with a picture of Jeraine on one side and ‘I am Misty’ on the back.

Yet, every time and in every language someone asked him who was Misty, Jeraine said there is no Misty.

Because there wasn’t a Misty.

There was a Miss T.

All of his love songs were for her.

Just as he’d always said, he’d done all of this for her. She’d always thought he was just talking his usual bull. His music whispered something else.

He loved her, all of her. He’d truly done all of this for her. Still listening, she watched dawn’s light creep into the city and wondered what she was going to do.

She was startled when he touched her shoulder. She pulled the iPod ear buds out of her ears and hid the device under her.

“Hey,” Jeraine said. He turned on a floor lamp. “What are you doing out here?”


His finger touched her cheek where a renegade tear lingered. His eyes took in her face.

“What are you doing out here?”

“Listening to your music,” Tanesha said.

“I thought you were never, ever going to listen to that crap ever,” he said.

“I figured if you were willing to look at my house, I should be willing to listen to your music.”


“You wrote all of this for me?”

“I’ve told you over and over again,” he said. “You never believed me.”

“You screwed a billion women!”

“I’m an addict!” Jeraine said. “One drop of booze or blow or pot or any mind altering substance and I want all ‘dem bitches. I have a problem! I’m working on my problem! Are you going to work on your problem?”

“My problem? Oh, since you have a problem, I have to have a problem?”

The Denver Cereal will continue next week


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