CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and SEVENTY-NINE
“My problem? Oh, since you have a problem, I have to have a problem?”
“No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, it’s not good enough,” Jeraine said. “No matter how much I love you, you always find a reason to push me away. I screwed up when we were teenagers and you can’t forgive me.”
“Have you been trustworthy?”
“I have a problem. I’m working on my addiction. And no, I haven’t been trustworthy. But you…”
Frustrated, he stopped talking. They stood inches from each other yet each saw only the depth of their own pain and the deep well of the other person’s problem. Desperate to not lose her again, Jeraine asked:
“Why did you listen to my music this morning?”
“I don’t really know,” Tanesha said. “Something Jill said, I guess.”
“You have an incredible talent. Your music is good.”
“I was wrong for not listening. You’ve been trying to communicate with me this whole time,” she said. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t imagine that you needed me, my help. I just couldn’t fathom it. I still can’t.”
“You’re everything to me, Miss T,” he said.
“I hear what you’re saying,” she said. “I can’t believe that it’s the truth because your actions don’t say ‘Tanesha is my everything.’”
“What do they say?”
“They say: I’m a playa, I’m a gansta, I’m a rich black man who can have anything and anyone I want,” she said. “That’s not ‘I love my girl more than anything.’”
For the first time in all the years they’d had this conversation, and others like it, Jeraine heard what she was saying. His love for her didn’t come across because his actions spoke another language. The truth of her words hit him like fists. His silent understanding encouraged her to say more.
“I remember feeling so loved by you,” Tanesha said. He smiled. “I felt like I was dancing on the petals of a sunflower. Our love was the center. I went out into the world and came back to the warmth of our love. Then you…”
Tanesha’s primal pain welled up so fiercely that she clamped her mouth closed to keep from letting it out into the world.
“I got drunk and fucked a cheerleader,” he said. “And then another girl. And then I did the same thing the next weekend and the one after that. Finally, I did it on the football bus on the way back from a game so that everyone knew.”
“And my center was gone,” she said.
“Do you remember what you told me?”
“I don’t remember much of that time,” Tanesha said. “You got caught. You took a record contract. You left. I know those facts, but memory? Nothing. It’s like a festering sore. I wouldn’t have survived without Jill and Sandy and Heather. Jill filled out my application to Howard. Heather forged my signature and pretended to be me with the admissions people. Sandy paid the fees and worked out my financial aid. I didn’t really wake up until a year or so later. I don’t even remember how I got to college. I’ll have to ask Heather.”
Jeraine watched the memory work its way across her face. When she looked up at him, he gave her a soft smile. Their eyes connected. He could say he was sorry again, but he knew words meant almost nothing to her. Instead, he took her hand and gently lifted it to his lips. She nodded as if she’d heard his regret.
“When everything happened, you told me: ‘You just lost the best thing you will ever have in your life.’ You were right,” he said. “I knew it when you said it and I’ve lived it every single day since then.”
“You were my everything, my center,” she said. “I didn’t have a mother or a father or a sister. I had you and my girls. And then, I didn’t have you; and worse, I found out I never had you. It was all a lie.”
He swallowed hard at her pain.
“It wasn’t a lie,” he said. “You were my center.”
“How can you say I’m your everything and… and… do all of that?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I destroyed the only thing that ever mattered to me,” Jeraine said. “I could tell you I have an addiction, which is true. I could tell you how hard it is to recover from the addiction, which is also true. But what’s more true is that I could have stopped and I didn’t. I don’t care about alcohol or drugs or any of that. I don’t lust for it. And I don’t want the girls without it. I could have stopped. I didn’t.”
Tanesha nodded when he admitted one of her main arguments.
“And I don’t know why I didn’t stop. I can make up stuff about us being so young or whatever, but the truth is that I don’t know,” he said. “Do you?”
In all these years of knowing him, he’d never asked her the question. As if to shake the words out, she shook her head.
“You know me better than anyone in this world,” he said. “You have to have some idea.”
Tanesha closed her eyes to gather her thoughts. She gave a slow nod.
“Your Dad is an amazing musician,” Tanesha said. “Seth is truly incredible, a one of a kind musical genius that people will still be talking about a hundred years from now. I think it’s hard for you to feel like you’re anything when true greatness is the norm.”
“You were the only good thing I ever did,” he said.
“You didn’t ‘do’ me. I…, um, care about you because of something that’s right here.” Tanesha put her hand on his chest. Gaining her courage, she added, “I love you for you. I think you wanted me to see how awful you were so that I wouldn’t care about you.”
They stood staring at each other for a few moments until he nodded.
“And now?” Tanesha asked. “Are you going to destroy everything again?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “Are you going to let me?”
Tanesha’s rage pulsed through her veins. His main point of contention was that she could have stopped the train wreck and she didn’t. Her fists balled and she felt fire shoot from her eyes. They stared at each other for a moment. Then, out of no where, Tanesha heard Jeraine’s mother, Mrs. Wilson say: ‘Are you ready to fight for his soul?’ Her rage slipped away.
“What can I do to stop you?” Tanesha asked. “It’s your addiction.”
“You can know that I love you,” Jeraine said. “You can know that if something happens, I didn’t want it to happen; I didn’t make it happen. You can fight this thing with me, on my side, instead of against me.”
“What would have happened if I’d fought on your side when we were in high school?”
“Nothing. I wouldn’t have listened to you,” he said. “You had lost so much, experienced so much, you were so much more mature than me. I had to grow up, a lot, experience things, like prison, before I could even come close to experiencing the things you’d experienced by the time we met. I wouldn’t have gotten it then, but I will now.”
“Why would things be different?”
“Because I’m different,” he said. “Because I’ve been in treatment; hell, I’m still in treatment. Because I know in my mind, heart, body and soul what I want and that’s you.”
Tanesha didn’t say anything.
“It’s a long road, Miss T, but it’s our road,” he said. “When I was putting together the last greatest hits album, I listened to all the songs I’ve written for you and about you. I don’t think I was ready for us when we were kids.”
“What did you hear?”
Tanesha looked away from him.
“What did you hear?” he repeated. He moved her chin with his hand so she was looking at him.
“You get what happened,” she said. “What you did to me, to us, and you… want to make it better.”
Regaining herself, she leaned back.
“But are you going to do the work?”
“Yes ma’am,” he said. “Are you?”
Tanesha nodded. He pulled her into his arms.
“I love you, Miss T,” he said in her ear. “I always have.”
Tanesha began to cry.
“None of that,” he said. “We have to go see some junker of a house.”
Tanesha socked him in the ribs and he laughed.
Thursday morning – 10:15 A.M.
“I don’t need to hear anymore,” Valerie said.
Sitting in a quiet booth in the back of Annie’s Café, Valerie leaned back so the waitress could set down her apple pie. The waitress gave Honey her gingerbread and set down two slices of berry pies down for Jill and Heather.
“Do you?” Valerie asked Honey.
“No,” Honey said. “There’s no way I’m going to let them experiment on our baby or your daughter or your boys, Jill. No way.”
“So we agree,” Jill said.
“Are you sure?” Heather asked. “I mean, it would mean the world to us, but I…”
“Blane is my friend,” Honey said. “And a really decent guy. If our baby’s cord blood can save him? I’m in.”
“I’m in,” Valerie said. “Absolutely.”
“Here’s what’s going to happen,” Jill said. “Blane will be prepped for surgery when you’re in labor Valerie. When Jackie is born…”
“Jackie?” Valerie asked.
“Isn’t that the name you picked out?” Jill asked.
“Jacquotte,” Valerie said. “Like the pirate. How did you know?”
“Like I said when Jackie is born,” Jill winked at Valerie. “Mike and I will do our stuff with the cord and send it to Blane’s operating room with Heather. Same with you Honey.”
“MJ’s working but I get to Skype him tonight,” Honey said.
“Good,” Jill said.
“What are you going to do?” Valerie asked Jill.
“Have the babies at the Castle so no one can take them away for experiments,” Jill said. “My brother Steve is looking into preserving the cord blood.”
“By that time, we’ll know if Blane’s getting better,” Heather said.
“The boys’ cord blood should do the trick,” Jill said. “Or that’s what Blane’s doctor believes.”
Valerie beamed at Jill.
“What?” Heather asked.
“It’s like giving birth to twins,” Valerie flushed with passion.
“Giving life to two people?” Honey asked. “I thought that too.”
“Very cool,” Jill said.
“Now I have to convince Blane,” Heather said.
“Convince me of what?” Blane asked. He set their son, Mack, in the waiting booster seat. He kissed Heather’s cheek and scooted in next to her. “What are we talking about?”
“I went to see the doctors yesterday,” Jill said.
“But…” Blane said.
“Give her a chance to finish,” Valerie said. Sitting across from him, she put her hand over his. “Give her a chance.”
Jill had heard Valerie had a ‘gift’, but she’d never seen it. Watching her manage Blane, there was no mistaking that Valerie was Celia’s powerful daughter. Blane nodded as if he agreed completely. Surprised, Heather raised an eyebrow. She looked at Blane and Valerie then back at Blane.
“I have a rare blood type,” Jill said. “They’re pretty excited to get a chance to explore my genome.”
“Sounds awful,” Blane said.
“I thought so too,” Jill said. “I was about to leave when your doctor took me aside and told me about some cord blood studies.”
“Cord blood is the blood in the umbilical cord,” Heather said. “It contains stem cells and other fabulous things.”
“I remember we donated Mack’s,” Blane said.
“This is your gift returned to you,” Jill said. “There’s a number of studies, I don’t know how many, that show that putting cord blood into the artery that feeds the liver helps the liver recover.”
“Really?” Blane asked.
“Your doctor thinks you’re a good candidate because you don’t drink and you lead a healthy lifestyle,” Jill said.
“The studies show that people heal from liver disease with help from the cord blood,” Heather said.
“And the risks?” Blane asked. “I’ve been in this game long enough to know there’s always some horrible risk.”
“For you? The risk of the surgery,” Jill said. “There’s no risk to us or our babies.”
“What if your babies need their cord blood?” Blane asked.
“We have to trust that some other couple will be willing to donate their baby’s cord blood,” Jill said. “We’re willing to take that risk.”
“We don’t store our own blood; we trust people to donate,” Valerie said. “We’ll do the same for Jackie.”
“I need to confirm with MJ, but I’m sure we are too,” Honey said.
“Valerie is due first,” Jill said. “Then Honey. MJ’s traveling so she doesn’t want to commit before talking to him. But she’s going to talk to him tonight. We’ll know then. The boys and I are last.”
“I’d get all four?” Blane asked.
“We’d have to see how you do,” Heather said. “I looked up the studies after Jill got back from the doctors. Some people got better after one treatment. So we’ll see.”
“If you don’t need it, you won’t get it,” Jill blushed. “But your doctor is likely to want you to have ours.”
“Because I have a mutation against AIDS,” Jill said.
“Jake told me this morning. They want to experiment on you,” Blane said.
“And the babies,” Jill said.
“Of course, we’re not going to let them,” Valerie said.
“I’ll do everything in my power, that’s for sure,” Blane said. “Do you know what the long term prognosis is?”
“No one knows,” Heather said. “They’re tracking the patients but it hasn’t been that long.”
“We’re willing to do what we can,” Valerie’s voice was smooth and cool. “But you have to agree to get the treatment.”
“Doesn’t sound like I have anything to lose,” Blane said. “What do I have to do?”
“I’ll set it up with the doctors,” Heather said.
“There’s an app so we know when each other is in labor,” Jill said. “You’ll get prepped for surgery when Val’s close.”
“Then we’ll do it for me,” Honey said. “And Jill’s last.”
Blane’s eyes welled with tears. He looked away from them to keep his emotions in check. Valerie touched his hand and he turned to look at her.
“Thank you,” he said. “For the first time in a long time, I feel like I have hope; like I might even see Mack graduate high school.”
The mothers welled up with tears.
“Can I bring you anything?” the waitress asked.
“Let’s celebrate,” Blane said. “I’m buying. What do you think ladies? Milkshakes to go with you pie?”
Valerie and Honey cheered. Not willing to be left out, Mack joined the cheer.
“Milkshakes all around for my mothers,” Blane said. “And my baby Mack.”
Heather hugged him.
Thursday afternoon – 2:15 P.M.
“Ok, I just have to change,” Sissy said to Sandy. “Then you’ll take me, right?”
“You have to hurry,” Sandy said. “Ivan’s already waiting for you. He wanted us there ten minutes ago.”
“I know! I know!” Sissy said. “I was late getting off work and…”
She ran past Noelle, Teddy, and Nash. Everyone in her family was there to see her dance. Except Rachel, of course. Rachel was a daycare. But everyone else would be there to see her shine. Today was her big day.
“Just go,” Sandy said.
Sissy hopped in the shower. Today was Sissy’s big break. Mike’s grandfather had come all this way fromRussiaand wanted to see her dance. While she knew he hadn’t come just for her, his visit was all Ivan had talked about for the last month. They had practiced and practiced and practiced. Every little thing had to be perfect because, as Ivan said, one good word in the right ear from this man and her future as a prima ballerina was set. Seth had toldSandyto wait until he was home, but Mike’s grandfather wanted to see her today.
She toweled off quickly. Standing in the mirror, she smiled at herself.
Today was her day!
She was going to shine!
And her future would be…
Out of the corner of her eyes she saw something on her chest. Sissy screeched at the top of her lungs.
What were those?!?
Overnight, two blobs had grown on her chest. They weren’t there last night. But today, her big day, these bulbous growths had appeared.
Her eyes cast around the bathroom until they landed on her Dad’s old straight razor. Sandy was teaching Charlie to shave. The razor would work perfectly to get rid of these globs. With swift motions, she slashed at the dream wreckers.
“Sissy no!” Sandy yelled. Small but strong, Sandy grabbed for Sissy’s forearms. Sissy fought with her.
“Nothing’s going to stop me on my big day,” Sissy waved the razor around trying to cut off her breasts. She caught the edge ofSandy’s forearm before Sandy caught hold of Sissy’s flailing hand.
“Help! Someone help!” Sandy screamed.
“Oh my God,” Noelle said from the doorway. “Daddy! Nash! Charlie! Help!”
Charlie reached Sissy first. He wrenched the razor from her tight grasp and threw it into a corner. While Sandy struggled to keep hold of Sissy’s wrists, he grabbed her from behind. The force of his movements combined with his weight and they hit the floor. They slid across the tile until his back hit the wall next to the toilet. He wrapped his legs over hers and held her arms back in a physical restraint. Sissy howled like a caged animal. Sandy pressed her hands over Sissy’s largest wound.
“Oh my God,” Aden stood in the doorway. “Noelle call 911. Nash get the first aid kit gauze and bandages. Teddy help Sandy with the bleeding.”
Teddy gave him a panicked look.
“I know she’s naked,” Aden said. “Just don’t look.”
Aden shoved a towel into Teddy’s hand and nudged him toward Sissy. Teddy put the towel over one of Sissy’s wounds and his hand over the other.
“But it’s my big day!” Sissy screamed. “I can’t miss my big day!”
“Shh, Sissy, shh,” Sandy smoothed her long wet hair. “We never get just one day. Everything is going to be all right.”
“Come on Sis,” Charlie said. “Breathe with me. Like we learned in treatment.”
Nash ran in with bandages. Seeing there was no way to intervene, he stood in the doorway with Noelle. As she was cold, Noelle moved closer to him. He put his arm around her.
“I don’t want to breathe! I want to get these things off me so I can be a ballerina!” Sissy said. “I want to be a ballerina. I can’t be a ballerina like this. All I ever wanted to be in my whole life was to dance. Now, I can’t.”
“I’ve got you. I’ve got you,” Charlie said. “You can be a ballerina.”
“You’re safe, Sissy,” Sandy said. “Everything is fine. Let’s breathe with Charlie.”
“This is your eating disorder talking, Sissy,” Aden kneeled down in front of her. “You’re at that crazy place. You have to fight it.”
“She didn’t eat this morning,” Sandy said.
“I haven’t seen her eat in a couple days,” Noelle said.
Aden held Sissy’s head between his large hands. Sissy’s eyes flicked back and forth like a trapped animal.
“Look at me, Sissy,” Aden said. “This is your eating disorder talking. You’re a beautiful young woman who will be a gorgeous prima ballerina one day. You know that in your heart. Listen to your heart.”
“You know that Sissy,” Charlie said.
“You already are a ballerina,” Noelle said from the doorway. “You’re an amazing dancer.”
Sissy’s eyes blinked then blinked again. The screaming panic her head began to ease. She heard Charlie and Sandy counting breaths. She sawAden’s face. His brow was furrowed with worry but his eyes were kind. She tried to look away but he held her head in place.
“I can’t do it,” Sissy whispered.
“Yes, you can and we’ll help,” Aden took up the breathing exercise. “Deep breath. Sissy, do it.”
Sissy took a deep breath.
“Count with me,” Charlie said. “One, two, three, four. Let it out – one, two, three, four.”
At the last out breath, Sissy began to sob.
“I love you, Sissy,” Sandy said. “Just as you are.”
“They’re here,” Nash said.
Aden kissed her forehead.
“We’re going to get out of the way,” Aden said. “But we’re right here with you every step of the way.”
The paramedic’s hand covered Teddy’s hand. He nodded and Teddy moved out of the room. Noelle hugged Teddy with one arm while still holding onto Nash with the other.
“Is she going to die?” Noelle whispered.
“Of course not,” Delphie said from the hallway. “Come on. Let’s make some cookies for everyone while this is settled.”
“But…?” Noelle looked back at the bathroom.
“Let them handle this,” Delphie said.
The paramedic bandaged the wound on Sandy’s forearm and went to work on Sissy.
“How is she?” Aden asked.
“She’ll be just fine,” the paramedic said. “When her emotion wears off, she’ll be in a lot of pain. Did she do this to herself?”
“She has an eating disorder,” Aden said. “We keep track of what she eats but it sounds like she slipped this week.”
The paramedic nodded and quickly set up an IV.
“Suicide?” the second Paramedic asked.
“No,” Sandy said. “She has an eating disorder.”
“She’s done this before?” the first paramedic asked.
“No, never,”Sandy said at the same time Charlie said, “Yes.”
Surprised, Sandy’s head jerked to look at Charlie.
“You can let go,” The paramedic put his hand over Sandy’s.
“She used to cut herself,” Charlie said. “About five years ago.”
“We can stop the bleeding,” the second paramedic said to Aden. “But if it was my daughter, I’d call a Plastic Surgeon and have him do the stitches. That way, you’ll minimize the scars.”
“You can let go,” the first paramedic said to Charlie. “She’s sedated.”
“Charlie?” Sissy slurred. “Don’t go. ‘K?”
“I won’t leave you,” Charlie said.
“Oh my God! Sandy look at your arm,” Sissy said. “I’m so sorry!”
“Don’t worry,” Sandy said. “We’ll go with you. Tomorrow morning all of this will just be a memory.”
“We have everything bandaged,” the second paramedic said to Sandy. “Why don’t you find her something to wear?”
Nodding, Sandy went into Sissy’s room to find some sweats.
“Sir, we can take her out on a stretcher,” the paramedic said. “But with the stairs…”
“I’ll carry her,” Aden said.
Sandy came in with underwear and sweats. They got Sissy dressed then Aden carried her down the stairs to the ground floor. Charlie and Sandy trailed behind him. The paramedics loaded Sissy into the ambulance, Charlie and Sandy got in.
“We’ll meet you there,” Aden said. “I’ll pick up Rachel.”
Sandygave him a sad wave and the paramedic closed the ambulance door. Aden turned to go back in when he ran into Sam.
“How did you…?” Aden asked.
“Delphie found her cell phone. She called me,” Sam said. “You can go. Delphie says she’ll only be there a few hours. There’s an excellent plastic surgeon available.”
Sam gave Aden keys to the Lipson Construction extended cab truck he’d just stepped from.
“The plastic surgeon is dating an ER doc,” Sam said. “Very hush, hush. But Delphie says Sissy needs to meet her. The kids are making cookies with Delphie. She called Jill and Jill’s picking up Rachel when she gets Katy.”
Sam patted Aden’s shoulder.
“It’s hard to believe we’re all so interconnected,” Sam said. “But there’s no doubt that we are. Go ahead, son. We’ll be here when you get back.”
Sam walked Aden to the truck. He waved to Aden as the truck left. Humming a tune, Sam went into the Castle to help make cookies.
The Denver Cereal will continue next week
This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.