Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Denver Cereal - Chapter One Hundred and Seventy-Four : Straight


Sunday night — 8:21 P.M. MDT

Tanesha let herself into Jeraine’s penthouse. Convinced he was out partying with his friends, she wanted to slip in, get her things, and leave. She was not going to be the thing that stood between him and anything. She slipped off her heels and stepped into the foyer.

“There you are!” Jeraine came down the hall and hugged her. She didn’t hug him back. “I’ve been concerned. I went to the Castle, your Gran’s house, no one seemed to know where you were.”

“I was out with my friend Tres,” Tanesha shrugged him off and went into the penthouse. “I just came to get my things.”

“Your things?” Jeraine asked. “The things we bought? You came to take your tea?”

“I left a few personal things here,” Tanesha said.

“We’re not coming back?” Jeraine asked. “Did you and your friend find a house for us? Where is it? Let’s go!”

Jeraine grabbed his keys and went toward the door.

“Should I get my checkbook?” he asked.

Tanesha scowled at him and walked to the bedroom. She went to his closet and stuffed the few things she’d left there into a reusable bag.

“This is the part where you say I’m missing the point,” Jeraine said. “But I don’t know the point. Tanesha, what’s going on?”

She turned around to look at him. She opened her mouth then shut it. She sneered at him and walked into the bathroom. He followed her.

“Is your friend Tres the man you dated this summer? I haven’t met him,” Jeraine said. “I thought you were friends with the occasional side benefits.”

“We are friends,” Tanesha said from the shower.

“Tanesha,” Jeraine said. “I don’t have any idea what’s going on.”

“What a surprise?” Tanesha asked. “I’m shocked.”

“And sarcastic,” Jeraine said. “One thing I always like about you, about us, is that we were always honest with each other. You’re the most honest person I’ve ever met. Your friends too. It’s always been hard for me, because we both know I’m not the most honest person. But in order to be your friend, I have to be as honest as I can be.”

“And?” Tanesha gave him a tiny shake of her head.

“What’s going on?” Jeraine asked.

She gave him another shake of her head.

“Ok, how about I start. I woke up early this morning to sort out my promises to God,” he started counting his fingers. “The love of my life came out and helped me fix everything. She promised me that she would help me get straight with God. We went to church and I prayed that I would wake up every day to see her face. Then I had a meeting. After my meeting I went to the Castle to look for my love. When she wasn’t there, I went to her grandmother’s house, her father’s house, my father’s house, and finally came here. A couple hours later, she showed up to pack her things.”

She gave an impatient ‘hrfmp.’

“In case you’re confused, you are the love of my life,” he said.

She didn’t respond.

“You’re leaving, aren’t you?”

She nodded.

“If you’re taking your things, you better cut out my heart and take it too,” Jeraine said. “I’m not going to live without you. I’ve done it too long, and I won’t do it again. I just won’t.”

Her eyes filled with tears and she looked away from him.

“What’s so awful that you won’t talk to me?”

“That man you had a meeting with,” Tanesha said. “He’s awful.”

“He is,” Jeraine said.

“But he’s who you chose,” Tanesha said. “All this time. He’s the one you listen to, not me.”

“I didn’t choose him, Tanesha,” Jeraine said. “He was given to me by the record company. Did he say something to you? I mean I knew you were mad, but just being around him pisses me off.”

“He told me that you belonged to him,” Tanesha said. “He said I should get out of the way. That I didn’t have a chance and…”

“I’m sorry,” Jeraine hugged her.

“He told me that my skinny nappy haired self would never be enough for you. You’d break my heart and…”

Angry tears spilled from Tanesha’s eyes.

“Did you know that man set you up for that girl’s suicide?” Tanesha asked.

“That’s what Seth discovered. That Judge? The one I’ve been so mad at? He kept me in prison to keep me safe from my own damned record company. Can you believe it?” Jeraine shook his head. “Pretty incredible. I was too stupid to see it.”

“Why did you go with him today?”

“I have one more event on my contract,” Jeraine said.

“Why would you go?” Tanesha asked.

“Because I get paid a lot of money to show up, wave to people, sing one song, and stay for an hour,” Jeraine said. “We went over the contract today and met with the club owner.”

“Why go?” Tanesha asked.

“I promised the money to some kids charity. For food, I think. I can write them a check but they need the publicity. Why are we talking about this stupid stuff?”

Jeraine sat down on the bed.

“I’d rather talk about what’s going on right here,” Jeraine gestured to Tanesha and back to himself. “Let’s get this straight; get us straight. Then figure out whatever else. Because if we’re not… I…”

He gave a desperate shake of his head.

“He said…”

“He’s a fool,” Jeraine said. “Whatever he said is wrong.”

“But he…”

“He doesn’t know that every single thing I’ve done since I was ten years old, I did for you.”

“And all those women?”

“I was trying to replace you,” Jeraine said. “Not one of those women came even close. He thinks I’ve lost my mind, I’ll wake up and go back. He doesn’t know is that I thought of you every moment of every day. From the moment I opened my eyes in the morning until I went to sleep at night, I’d think: I wonder if T would like this. I wonder if T would like that. I wonder what she’s doing right now.”

“Why do you want to be a doctor?” Tanesha stood her ground. “Are you doing that for me?”

“For you?” Jeraine seemed genuinely surprised. “I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I saw my Dad help old Mrs. Watkins. She had nothing, but Dad would go to her house to make sure she was all right. He’d bring her leftovers from dinner the night before and some music he had lying around. He helped her by just being there. I always wanted to help people like that.”


“No, buts,” Jeraine said. “That man doesn’t know me. He only knows the person he wants me to be so he can make money. And he’s made a lot of money.”

“So he is an overseer.”

“Yeah,” Jeraine said. “Did you call him that?”

Tanesha nodded. Jeraine laughed.

“I knew it,” Jeraine said. “I just knew it. The moment he told me you’d said it, I knew were right. I’ve been a slave. I’m not his slave. I’m not anyone’s slave anymore.”

Tanesha smiled.

“I’d be your slave,” he said. She felt his eyes almost kiss his face. “You don’t want a slave.”

She shook her head.

“Ah well,” he shrugged. “I tried.”

She smiled at him.

“I guess I’m just going to have to be Jeraine,” he said. “How does that sound?”

“Really great,” she said.

“I thought you’d like it.” He leaned over. She closed her eyes thinking he was going to kiss her. His mouth was right next to hers when he whispered, “T, they’re not going to give up easily. They feel like they did a lot for me and I walked away. They say I owe them. I took everything to Seth’s lawyers. It’s all square, but not to them.  I…”

She stretched her lips forward to kiss him.

“We’ll get through it,” she said.

“I can’t do anything without you,” he said. “You have to believe me. I…”

“Just kiss me,” she said.

“Yes ma’am.”


Monday afternoon  — 2:21 P.M. MDT

Charlie stood next to Tink’s hospital bed. She lay at the end of a four bed room. Every bed was filled with an unconscious, destitute person who’d seen the wrong end of the weekend. He touched her hand then pulled back.

“She’s cold,” he said to Anjelika.

“She’s very ill,” Anjelika said.

“She’s dying,” Charlie said.

“We don’t know that,” Anjelika said. “The doctor says…”

Shaking his head, Charlie walked out of the room. Anjelika kissed the girl’s cheek and followed Charlie outside.

“I want to use so bad,” Charlie said. “I want to use so bad, so bad.”

He punched a ‘Doctor’s parking only’ sign and started walking. Anjelika kept pace as they walked along the sidewalk, dodged traffic onEighth Avenue, and made it toSunkenGarden’s Park. Charlie stomped across the park until he got to a picnic table near the playground. He plopped down on a bench and began looking under the table.

“What are you doing?” Anjelika was so surprised by his actions her accent was thick.

“Vat am I doink?” Charlie laughed.

“Don’t be rude,” Anjelika smiled because he was laughing.

“I’m looking for drugs,” Charlie said. “Some folks tape their stash to the under side of these park benches so they don’t get caught with it at work.”

“We came here for drugs?” Anjelika’s eyebrows shot up.

“No,” Charlie said. “The drugs are a side benefit.”

He held up a small plastic baggie of white powder. Angry, Anjelika crossed her arms.

“What are you going to do, Charlie?”

“I’m going to put them in my pocket, Mrs. Anjelika,” Charlie said. “When I get home, I’m going to flush them.”

“Why not just put them back?” Anjelika asked. “Why take on the temptation?”

“They’re tempting me right now.”

“There are drugs nearby. So what?” Anjelika shook her head at him. “That’s not a new thing. You could reach out your hand almost everywhere in the city and get drugs.”

Charlie looked at her for a moment.  She could almost see the thought process through Charlie’s brain. Very slowly, his head moved up and down in a nod. He put the drugs back.

“Do you want to talk about Tink?” Anjelika asked.

Charlie shrugged.

“Is she your girlfriend?” Anjelika asked.

“Just a friend,” Charlie said. “She used to call me Pan, Peter Pan. I was the Pan to a lot of street kids.”

“Peter Pan?”

“Like the story,” Charlie said. “I tried to take care of them. It’s a hard life, you know? Especially for girls. Tiffanie, that’s her name, she’s been on her own since her parents kicked her out last week. She’s been raped, beaten and… who knows what she didn’t tell me. Girls like Tink, they’re free game for drunk frat boys who like taking turns using them. It’s…”

“Not fair?” Anjelika asked.

“I was going to say ‘a tough life’ but, yeah, it’s not fair,” Charlie said.

“How is your fairness assignment going?” Anjelika asked.

“I asked all the adults except Delphie,” Charlie said. “I didn’t get to Noelle. She’s been upset about Teddy leaving and… It’s started to seem kind of dumb.”

“Have you heard anything that helps?” Anjelika asked.

“It all helps,” Charlie said.

“Why does it seem dumb?”

“Because everyone has a different answer,” Charlie said. “It’s almost like in order to be an adult, you have to have an answer to why life isn’t fair. Adults who still struggle with life not being fair? They’re drug addicts, alcoholics, or just feel shit on.”

“Who impressed you the most?”

“Honey,” Charlie said. “And… have you met Tanesha’s dad, Rod? Tanesha’s boyfriend calls him Rodney-Smith. It’s a total crack up.”

“I met him at the post-sewer barbeque Saturday at Tanesha’s house,” Anjelika said. “Remember Sandy and Aden stayed home with Rachel, so I brought you and the other kids.”

“That’s right,” Charlie said. “What did you think?”

“I liked him,” Anjelika said. “We have a lot in common.”

“Yeah, I guess you do,” Charlie said. “I asked him about life being fair, you know.”

“Good thinking,” Anjelika said. “Someone who has experienced extreme injustice would know a lot about why life is or isn’t fair. What did he say?”

“He said that he couldn’t control life,” Charlie said. “He can only control his decisions and actions toward life, not life itself. He said was hard and bitter his first years in prison. One day, he realized that his own rage blocked him from preparing for the day when he’d get out. Before he went in, he’d been working to get his Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy. He wrote a letter to Metro and they let him finish through his Ph.D. while he was still inside. He started writing letters to Tanesha and her Gran. He got off drugs, worked out and kept out of trouble. When he heard he might get out, he started applying for jobs. Sam, Jake’s Dad, visited him in prison to do the interview. He went to work the day after they let him out. Now he runs a site for Jake’s construction company.”

“And what do you get from all of that?”

“I think he’s right,” Charlie said. “I didn’t have anything to do with my Dad dying. I didn’t pick my psycho Mom. But I didn’t pick Sandy or Sissy either. And they’re really great. I have to figure out where I’m going, that’s what Honey says. Then get to the work of going there.”

“Good thinking,” Anjelika said. “I’d still like you to ask Delphie and Noelle.”

“I thought so,” Charlie said.

“If Tink dies?” Anjelika asked.

“In some ways, it’s better,” Charlie said. “If she stays on the streets, she’s going to die soon anyway. At least now, she’s clean and peaceful.”

“That’s kind of nihilistic,” Anjelika said.


“We’ll read some nihilism,” Anjelika said. “What if she goes to a shelter?”

“I guess that would be okay,” Charlie shrugged. “You know what’s not fair?”


“I get to live with Sandy and Aden and Nash and Sissy and Noelle and Tink is in the hospital,” Charlie said.


Charlie nodded. Expecting him to say something else, Anjelika waited. When he didn’t say anything, she got up.

“Time to work?” Charlie asked.

“Time to work,” Anjelika smiled.

Charlie got up and they walked to her car.


Monday afternoon  — 3:21 P.M. MDT

“They said three-thirty right?” Sandy asked. She pulled into the parking lot of Andy Mendy’s building.

“Three-thirty,” Ava said. “Nervous?”

“Terrified,” Sandy said. “No offense, but I wish Seth was here.”

“None taken,” Ava gave her a smile. “I wish he was here too.”

Sandy smiled.

“Sandy,” Ava said.


“I really love Seth,” Ava said. “Sometimes when I get away from him, I think about all the problems.”


“He’s a lot older than me. He’s an addict. His children are almost as old as me. Well, I guess you’re older than me. He’s a detective. He’s obsessed with the piano. He’s gone a lot. My boss doesn’t love that I’m dating him.”


“But when I see him and all my worries vanish,” Ava said. ”I feel lucky to be with him.”

“Sounds like love to me,” Sandy said.

“Yeah,” Ava said. “Do you think it’s weird that I’m here? I mean, Andy’s really the love of Seth’s life.”

“I think it’s a very loving thing to be here to help me and him,” Sandy said. “I don’t think we can really know what happened between Seth and Andy. They both seemed to have strong feelings for each other and then…”

Sandy shook her head.

“I wonder sometimes what my life would have been like if I grew up with Andy and Seth,” Sandy said so softly Ava had to strain to hear her.

“Pretty different,” Ava said.

“Do you know why I’m here?” Sandy asked.

Ava shook her head.

“We’d better go in,” Sandy said.

“You don’t want to wait for your friends?”

“Jill’s getting an ultrasound with Valerie,” Sandy said. “Heather’s with Blane at the doctors. Tanesha’s looking at houses with Jeraine. I didn’t tell them about this stupid stuff.”

“Oh,” Ava said. “I hope you don’t mind if I did.”

Sandy looked at Ava. She pointed to Jill’s Lexus SUV as it pulled up next to them. Heather waved from the passenger’s seat and Tanesha sat in back.

“The FBI said I should come alone,” Sandy said. “They weren’t very nice. I don’t think Agent Angie is on the case any more. I’m pretty sure I’ll be in trouble for just bringing you.”

“They said that?” Ava smiled. “Huh, they didn’t say that to Seth.”

Sandy smiled.

“In fact, they were very ‘yes, Detective O’Malley’ and ‘of course, Detective O’Malley’ with him,” Ava said. “Why do you think?”

Sandy shrugged.

“I heard him mention something about… hmm… let me see… a serial killer they were supposed to catch but didn’t? Someone named Jude?”

Sandy laughed.

“Come on,” Ava said. “Let’s get your girlfriends and go see what the Feds have to say.”

Smiling, Sandy followed Ava out of the car.


Monday afternoon  — 3:41 P.M. MDT

“Everything looks great, Val,” her obstetrician said. “I have to tell you…”

The doctor fell silent. She moved the ultrasound probe over Valerie’s belly.

“What is it?” Mike’s voice rose. “What’s wrong?”

“Wrong?” the doctor turned to look at him.

“Sorry this is our first baby,” Valerie said. “We’re a little on edge.”

“Don’t be,” the doctor smiled. “The baby is healthy. Val’s healthy. This has been an easy pregnancy. Hasn’t it?”

Valerie and Mike shared a look of remembrance for the murder of their boy by the horrible Levi Johansen. They nodded to the doctor. After losing Jack, everything had been easy.

“I don’t know why you couldn’t have ten children if you wanted them,” the doctor continued to ramble. “Here. Look here.”

Mike and Valerie peered at the computer screen image.

“In all my years of delivering babies, I’ve rarely seen a baby as happy as your little girl,” the doctor said.

“Happy?” Mike leaned forward to get a better look at the grainy image.

“She’s smiling,” the doctor said.

Valerie smiled at the doctor’s interpretation of the grainy image.

“If you wanted to schedule a Cesarean section, we could do it as early as the next week or so,” the doctor said. “But we recommend you wait as long as possible. The longer she’s in the longer she’s…”

The doctor’s voice faded away as Valerie’s eyes locked on the image of her baby. The baby seemed to know Valerie was looking at her. She stretched her hand out to Valerie.

“Look,” Mike pointed to a bulge in her belly. Entwining their fingers, he put her hand on her belly with his hand over it.

“Wow,” Valerie said.

They touched their babies hand until the baby turned away to suck her thumb.

“She’ll be here soon!” the doctor said. “So you’d like me to sell these photos to People magazine?”

Valerie laughed.

“We’ll see you next week,” the doctor said and left the room.

Mike helped Valerie up.

“Did you feel it?” Valerie whispered.

He looked at her for a moment, then grabbed some paper towels to wipe off the gel. Unsure of what to make of his silence, she dressed quickly and they met her security detail to get out of the doctor’s office. The security guys got them passed the paparazzi and into a waiting car. They rode in silence to the Detroit Street garage. When the garage door closed, Mike looked at her and smiled.

“Did I feel her?” Mike asked. “Oh my God, Valerie. She’s amazing!”

Nodding, Valerie began to cry. Mike’s long arms wrapped around her. They sat in the warm garage crying and hugging each other and their baby. The Denver Cereal will continue next week…

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