CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and SEVENTY-TWO
Sunday early morning — 2:41 A.M. MDT
Sandy and Rachel stirred at the same moment. Before Rachel could cry, Sandy lifted her from the bedside bassinette to her breast. They settled into their nightly ritual of love and food. Sandy was drifting when she heard the soft sound of someone weeping. She sat up in bed.
Was someone crying?
She didn’t hear anything. Had someone been crying? She was about to lie back down when she heard the sound again. With Rachel on her breast, she slipped out of bed. She grabbed her robe to cover herself and Rachel. Somewhere deep within the Castle, the boiler kicked on and the radiators began the tap dance of warming.
Sandy went to Charlie’s closet. Face down, he was sound asleep. She pressed her head against Sissy and Noelle’s door. Nothing. She went to Nash and Teddy’s door and peeked in. Nash was sound asleep on the bed near the wall. As if hiding from his own sorrow, Teddy was invisible under his covers .Sandy sat down on his bed.
She didn’t move to touch him. She just sat with him while he cried. Rachel made a sound and Teddy pulled off the covers.
His face was red and wet with tears. Sandy gave him a soft smile. She raised Rachel’s tiny form and he scooted over so his head was on Sandy’s lap. She stroked his hair.
“What’s wrong?” Sandy whispered
“I hate my mom,” Teddy whispered. “Hate her. Hate her. Hate her. Why do I have to go?”
Sandy caressed his head and let him cry. She was no stranger to the desperate pain of not wanting to go to a parent’s house. She had never had a choice. Teddy didn’t either.
Teddy’s tears eased about the time Rachel finished eating. Sandy shifted to burp her and Teddy sat up.
“Can I do it?” Teddy asked.
Sandy set Rachel in Teddy’s hands. In the dim light, Teddy held Rachel in front of his face. Rachel giggled at the sight of him and Teddy smiled.
“She has the best laugh,” Teddy said.
Smiling, Sandy put a cloth diaper over his shoulder and he held her to burp her. Rachel seemed so excited to see Teddy that she just wanted to giggle at him.
“Seems like you’ve charmed her completely,” Sandy said.
“Don’t tell, Noelle,” Teddy said.
Sandy gave a soft chuckle.
“Not that I’d… “Teddy flushed bright red. “I mean…”
“Don’t worry,” Sandy said. “I knew what you meant.”
“How about some hot chocolate?” Sandy asked.
Teddy nodded again. Holding onto Rachel, he followed Sandy out of Nash’s room. He sat a bar stool at the kitchen counter and played with Rachel. Rachel blew bubbles for him. He laughed. Watching him with Rachel, Sandy smiled.
“I used to play with my little brother and sister,” Teddy’s eyes filled with tears. “They were the best days. Mom was… gone doing whatever and we’d play together.”
“I did that with Charlie and Sissy,” Sandy said. “It feels so awesome and so awful at the same time.”
“I used to get so mad at Mom,” Teddy said. “I never really got to be like other kids but… It was also really great.”
Sandy smiled at him.
“Do you want kids?” Sandy asked.
“When I’m older,” Teddy said. “I want to be able to afford them, take care of them. You andAdendo a great job, but man it’s hard.”
“What’s hard?” Sandy asked.
“Working and taking care of everyone,” Teddy said.
“Hmm,” Sandy squinted at him. “Hard?”
Teddy laughed. Sandy smiled.
“Yeah, I guess it’s not,” Teddy said.
“Helping people makes life worth all the trouble,” Sandy said. “I don’t think I take care of everyone as much as I try to help them achieve what they can do. It’s very satisfying to see Noelle paint or Nash do nice little things for Melinda or you get that award at work for coming up with a great solution. Rachel is such a fighter. I just give her a tiny bit and she’s off. Gosh, sometimes I think if I blink too long, she’ll be running the country or something. When Charlie opens his mouth these days and I tear up. He’s really… yeah. And have you seen Sissy dance?”
“She’s incredible,” Teddy said.
“Adenmakes me smile,” Sandy smiled. “If you had met him seven years ago when I did, you’d never believe he’d become the amazing man he is today. We’ve had some hard, hard times, but… It’s been worth it.”
Sandy poured the milk into a mug with chocolate powder in it and gave the mug to Teddy. She poured another mug for herself and came around the counter.
“Trade you,” Sandy said.
Teddy took her hot chocolate and gave her Rachel. She carried Rachel to the couch and Teddy met her there.
“Do you mind if I breast feed?” Sandy asked. “Rachel’s been growing so much I…”
“Go ahead,” Teddy said. “I’m kind of encroaching on Rachel’s time.”
“I don’t think you’re encroaching on anything,” Sandy said. She pulled the bathrobe over her and let Rachel feed. “Thanks. She needs to eat as much as she can.”
“Can I ask you a question?” Teddy asked.
“Sure,” Sandy said.
“Did you have an affair with my Dad?” Teddy asked. “That’s what Mom says. She says Dad left us because of you. She says that I’m a traitor for staying here. ‘No real son of mine would want to…’”
Teddy began to cry. Sandy held her free arm out and Teddy pressed himself against her shoulder. The boy cried his heart out. Sandy looked up to see Aden looking in on them. She gave him a smile and a nod that she was okay. Using her chin, she gestured for him to go back to bed. He went into their room but left their door open so he could hear if she needed him.
“Do you need an answer to your question?” Sandy asked.
Teddy shook his head.
“I have no secrets, Teddy,” Sandy said. “If you need…”
“I talked to Dad about it already,” Teddy shook his head. “It’s just that…”
“I think it’s really tough,” Sandy said. “I know you like living with us. You love your job and hanging out with Noelle. I think I have a billion videos of you and Nash doing Karaoke and laughing your asses off to… What was that song?”
“This Too Shall Pass,” Teddy started signing in his weird falsetto.
“Oh God,” Sandy laughed. “Please. It’s early and… uh… Rachel’s ears…”
“You don’t like Ok-Go?”
Sandy smiled and Teddy laughed.
“It’s been a really fun summer,” Sandy said. “I think we’re all a little devastated that you’re leaving.”
Teddy looked so crushed that she held him to her.
“If you want, you can come back to live with us next summer,” Sandy said. “We’ll have to see how the school year goes, of course. But you’re always welcome. We’ve even talked about stealing you for a ski trip at fall break.”
“Ski trip?” Teddy looked up. “I’m not a good skier.”
“No one is really,” Sandy said. “We’re going with Jacob and Jill. Jacob’s going to teach us and we’ll take lessons. But it’s a secret. You won’t tell will you?”
Teddy shook his head.
“Can you sleep some?” Sandy asked.
“I can try,” Teddy said.
Teddy got up. He was halfway across the room before he turn and ran back to hug her.
“Thanks,” Teddy said.
Sandy nudged him and nodded toward the hall. Sleepy but very much awake, Noelle stood in the doorway.
“What’s going on?” Noelle asked.
Teddy ran across the room to her. He wrapped himself around her. She hugged him back. Sandy sat watching the children and their sweet feelings for each other. Teddy began to cry and Noelle was really great. Charlie heard Teddy crying and came out. Within a few minutes, everyone was awake and trying to help. Rachel gave a cry andSandybrought her out from under the robe.
“Let’s get some breakfast,”Aden said.
“It’s three in the morning!” Sandy said.
“Pete’s is always open,” Charlie said.
“I could eat,” Nash said.
“When is that not true?” Sissy laughed.
“We’ll nap this afternoon,”Aden said.
“It’s fine with me,” Sandy said. “Get dressed.”
The kids scattered to their rooms to get dressed leaving Noelle and Teddy.Adenput a hand on each of their shoulders and they looked up at him. Letting go of each other, they went to change.
“Ah, young love,” Aden took Rachel from Sandy.
“I don’t know, Aden,” Sandy said. “I’m not sure that’s not honest to goodness real love.”
“It couldn’t make me happier.”
Aden smiled and they went to change.
Sunday morning — 5:41 A.M. MDT
“What is it?” Tanesha asked when she came out of the bedroom.
Jeraine was sitting at the end of his table with his laptop open, his Bluetooth ear piece was in his ear, and a spreadsheet lay in front of him. She put her hand on his chair and looked over his shoulder. Smiling, he looked up at her.
“What is all of this?” Tanesha asked.
“This is me,” Jeraine said. “This is everything I have.”
“Everything?” Tanesha raised her eyebrows and went into his kitchen.
“Not everything,” Jeraine said. “Why you have to be like that?”
“Why do you have to talk like a gangster?” Shaking her head, she went to make some of the tea she’d bought when she’d dragged him to the grocery store. She came out with a cup of tea in her hands.
“Have a seat,” he pulled out a chair.
“What fool thing are you up to now?” she asked.
“Why do you stay here then give me shit?” Jeraine asked.
“I don’t know why I stay here,” Tanesha said. “Would you like me to leave?”
“No,” Jeraine said. “No, I want you here. I bought this place for us.”
“Look,” Jeraine said. “The title is in your name.”
He pointed to his laptop screen. An electronic copy of a document came up.
“Looks like a tax dodge,” Tanesha said.
“Even when I try, you give me shit,” Jeraine said.
“Give you shit?” Tanesha asked. “I didn’t ask for this penthouse. In fact, I didn’t ask for anything from you. I know you want me to thank you, and maybe I will, but Jer, what are you doing? You’ve been up for hours.”
“I was making the list of my promises to God,” Jeraine said.
“The one’s you made in prison?”
Jeraine nodded. Tanesha didn’t say anything.
“Don’t you have something snappy to say?” he asked.
“You’re actually talking about something,” Tanesha smiled. “You’re not just talking about your money, your women, your properties. Hell, you’re not even talking about your penis.”
“Unusual, I know,” Jeraine laughed.
“You have a beautiful smile,” Jeraine said.
“Hmm,” Tanesha said. “Promises to God?”
“Here they are,” Jeraine pushed the laptop over to her. “Mostly I’m going to give everything away. I want to have a relationship with my kids. I’m going to be a doctor and work in a clinic with real folks like my Dad. But…”
“Wait, you know I have kids?” Jeraine asked.
“It’s on your Wikipedia page,” Tanesha said. “I can read.”
“Oh. Right.” Jeraine gave her a bright smile.
“You looked me up on Wikipedia?”
Tanesha laughed. He smiled.
“Now what were you going to say?” Tanesha said. “It had the feel of something real, sincere.”
“Yeah, that’s unusual too,” Jeraine said.
“Lay it on me,” Tanesha said.
“I can’t do it by myself,” Jeraine said. “I want to be a man and all, but I can’t do it by myself. Will you help me?”
“Sure,” Tanesha said. “But you’ll have to deal with my opinion. You’ll have to listen to me. I’m not going to sit by like some stupid woman nodding at her brilliant husband.”
“Fair enough,” Jeraine said. “What do you think so far?”
“I don’t think you should give it all away,” Tanesha said.
“Because I want to have a free clinic to help poor folks,” Tanesha said. “I’m going to be an OB/GYN. We could create a great clinic with all this money. If you and your friends had a yearly concert? Then sell the recordings? We could really help people right where they need it. You could even be a pediatrician.”
“I was thinking of being an OB too,” Jeraine raised and lowered his eyebrows suggestively. “I have plenty of hands on experience.”
“Now you’re being gross,” Tanesha said. “What kind of doctor do you want to be?”
“I hadn’t thought on it,” Jeraine said. “But I like kids. We could ask my Dad. I bet he could do general service until he retires.”
“He told me he wants to work another fifteen or twenty years,” Tanesha said. “We could really do something good with all of this money.”
“I like that,” Jeraine smiled at her.
“I’m glad you like it,” Tanesha said. “But Jer…”
She put her hand over his.
“We have to put the money in a trust or something,” Tanesha said. “Otherwise…”
He read the concern in her eyes.
“I don’t need that, Tanesha,” Jeraine said. “I am really and truly done with that life.”
“I know you say that now,” Tanesha said. “But what about a year from now when you’re back recording and…”
“Seth has all his money,” Jeraine said. “He’s been sober for a long time.”
“Sandy controls all of Seth’s money,” Tanesha said. “He gets a monthly stipend and his police salary. He has to account for every penny he spends. If he wants to spend big money, she has to sign off on it. It’s part of his sobriety plan.”
“Oh, well, okay. I’ll do what Seth does,” Jeraine said. “I’ll make some calls on Monday. Anything else?”
“I’m not living here,” Tanesha said. “You want to buy me a place, let’s look together for a small, easy to clean house, preferably by my Gran so I can keep an eye on her.”
“Okay,” Jeraine said. “Anything else?”
“You’re going to have to talk to a lawyer about your kids,” Tanesha said.
“I’ll call on Monday,” Jeraine said. “Anything else?”
“Sell all the houses,” Tanesha said. “Set aside money for school and living expenses. And if you give all the money away, what are you gong to do about child support?”
Jeraine smiled at her.
“What?” Tanesha asked.
“I love you,” Jeraine said.
“That’s all,” Jeraine said. “I’ve been sitting here for hours trying to figure this out. You take one look and know exactly the right thing to do. I love you. I need you in my life. Will you help me?”
Tanesha nodded. He smiled.
“I’m going to have to talk to Sandy about it though,” Tanesha said. “She set up Seth’s stuff. She’ll know how to do it. Seth uses a guy called Schmidty for his agent. I think Schmidty helped too.”
“I know Schmidty,” Jeraine said. “Senior or Junior?”
“Junior,” Tanesha said. “He’s dating Seth’s daughter.”
“Huh,” Jeraine said.
“Who knew Seth had a daughter?”
“I’d like to see them, your friends,” Jeraine said. “Except for Jill, it’s been a while and…”
“I love you,” Jeraine smiled at her.
Shaking her head at him, Tanesha laughed.
Sunday morning — 6:41 A.M. MDT
“MOMMY!” Katy screamed. Jill catapulted out of bed and ran across the bedroom. Before she was awake, she had a sobbing Katy in her arms. She held Katy’s warm body against her. The more she rocked Katy, the more the little girl wept. Jacob came into the doorway.
“What is it?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Jill said. “She’s burning up. Maybe she’s sick.”
“Not sick. Not sick. Not sick. Not sick. Not sick. Not sick. Not sick.” Katy chanted and cried.
Jill held her.
“Are you in hurting?” Jacob asked.
Jacob kneeled down to them. He put his hand on her back to see if he could feel what was going on. Katy shook her head and he was showered with tears and sweat.
“Let’s get her in the bath,” Jill said. “I think she’s having a growing spurt. They hurt like hell.”
Jacob plucked the weeping Katy from Jill’s arms and they rushed into their bathroom. While Jacob held Katy, Jill fixed the water cool but not cold and added Katy’s favorite bubblegum bubble bath. Jill took off Katy’s damp nightgown and panties and plopped her in tub. Katy shivered for a moment then slid down in the water. Jill undressed and got in the tub with her daughter. Using Jill’s expanding belly as a pillow, Katy lay against her.
“What is it?” Jacob asked when Katy was calmer.
“’member when I was barfy?” Katy said without moving.
“I do,” Jill said.
“I do,” Jacob said.
“Mommy and me had cuddle time before she went to school,” Katy said. “She cuddled me and Paddie for a long time because we were barfy. We weren’t barfy after that.”
Jacob looked at Jill. They had agreed that Katy would get over her own illnesses. He raised an eyebrow at Jill. She scrunched her face to acknowledge that she helped her daughters healing along. Shaking his head, he looked away. When he looked back he was smiling. Jill shrugged to say she was sorry. He nodded.
“Why are you telling us about being barfy?” Jill asked.
“Because that’s what those men want!”
Katy screamed and began crying hysterically again. Jill rocked her daughter until her tears subsided.
“What do the men want?” Jacob asked.
“They want my cuddle,” Katy said. “Mommy gives me cuddle every morning. And I was barfy and I had some cuddle and I took that test and now those men want Mommy’s cuddle!”
“What men?” Jill asked.
“Katy, honey, we can’t help if we don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jacob said.
“The men we saw yesterday,” Katy made a frustrated gesture and bubbles flew around the room. “I fell asleep! And… They want to hack up Mommy.”
“Honey…” Jill started. Jacob raised a hand and Jill stopped talking.
“Why do the men want to hack up Mommy?” Jacob asked.
“I told you!”
“I’m sorry sweetie,” Jacob said. “I missed it. What did you tell me?”
“Mommy gave me cuddles,” Katy said.
“Right,” Jacob said.
“And I took the test,” Katy said.
“Okay,” Jill said.
“And the men want my cuddles,” Katy said.
Jacob and Jill looked at her for a minute.
“The cuddles I got from Mommy.”
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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