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CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and EIGHTY-ONE
“J’raine,” the child said. “He used to be a big star, but now he’s just a broke-ass negro. He married some nappy haired whore, who destroyed his life. That’s what my mommy says.”
Yvonne reeled back with surprise. The brown eyes blinked at her.
“It’s true,” the brown eyes nodded. “My mommy’s on TV. She said as long as he wasn’t gonna pay for me, she was moving on. She told the TV I had to go.The TV people went to the airport with my mommy and me.”
Even though she was really angry, Yvonne gave the child a sweet smile. The elevator dinged and slid open. Surprised, they both turned to look at the elevator. When no one came out, Yvonne decided it must have been one of Abi’s “interventions” in her life.
“Let’s go upstairs and warm up,” Yvonne said.
She picked up the child and he leaned into her. The child was slight and small. She was sure he wasn’t much older than three years, which just made her angrier. She carried the child onto the elevator. She smiled when she noticed that the button to Jeraine’s floor was already pushed. Closing her eyes, she said a silent thank you to Abi, and whomever else had intervened on her behalf. In a few minutes, they were standing in Jeraine’s old empty apartment.
“But … but … where’s my daddy?” the child’s voice raised with hysteria. “He’s not here! What am I going to do now?”
“Your daddy is my friend,” Yvonne said. “He’s a good man, who’s trying to take back his life.”
“He is?” the child’s voice filled with wonder. Then the child scowled. “Are you one of his whores?”
“I’m more like one of his mother’s,” Yvonne said. “Now, let’s turn up the heat and get you warmed up. I stayed here before … Let’s see. The thermostat is over here.”
Smiling at her recovering memory, Yvonne turned the heat up to eighty degrees.
“And the bathroom’s in here,” Yvonne said.
Yvonne carried him to the master bathroom.
“Do you want some help?” Yvonne asked.
“If you’re one of my daddy’s mother’s then that means you’re my grandmother,” the child said.
Yvonne flipped back the hood of the child’s jacket to see a slight boy’s face. His eyes held a kind of depth of soul that came from being very lost and very alone.
“Would you … I mean …” the boy’s eyes filled with tears.
“I’d love to help,” Yvonne said. “I haven’t had a baby in a long, long time. Would you do me the honor of letting me help you clean up a bit?”
“If you want to,” the boy’s voice was vague, clearly imitating something he’d heard. He gave a vigorous nod.
“I do want to,” Yvonne said.
She went to the tub and turned on the water. She noticed a worn scrap of soap sitting in the soap dish. There weren’t any towels, but she figured that would be all right. She helped the boy peel off filthy layers of clothing. When the tub was partially full, she set the grimy child in the water and partially opened the drain. She left the warm water on while she scrubbed him down with a handkerchief from her purse.
This child hadn’t been clean in a long time. He didn’t say a word. His eyes were like tiny soldiers watching over the fort of his body while she worked. When his skin was tinged pink and glowing, she drained the dirty water, rinsed off the tub and the boy, and turned the warm water on to fill the tub. She dropped a few drops of the lavender oil into the tub from the bottle Delphie had given her the previous night.
She sat down on the toilet and called Dionne.
“Can you stop for diapers?” Yvonne asked. “How old are you?”
“Four and a half,” the boy said. “But I don’t need diapers. Just at night.”
“Good to know,” Yvonne said. “Why don’t we get some just in case?”
“Okay,” the boy nodded.
“Diapers for a small four-year-old boy,” Yvonne said. “And bring some bath towels?”
“What’s going on?” Dionne asked. “You okay?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Yvonne said.
“We have pull ups here are the clinic,” Dionne said. Yvonne heard her friend closing cabinets. “I’m on my way.”
“Did you call my daddy?” the boy asked.
“I called your grandmother,” Yvonne said.
“Oh,” the boy said. “Is she the prostitute?”
“No, that was me,” Yvonne said.
“You’re the filthy prostitute?”
“Yep,” Yvonne said. “Just like you were the filthy boy. We both got cleaned up.”
The boy seemed to like that idea. He splashed the water and Yvonne laughed. She ran to the elevator and sent it down to the bottom for Dionne.
“Now hush,” Yvonne said. “I have to make an important call.”
The boy nodded. Yvonne called Tannie’s best-friend’s house.
“Mrs. Smith!” Heather said. “Are you on your way to get Keenan?”
“Are we picking up Keenan too?” Yvonne asked.
“Risa’s here to facilitate his transition to the Castle,” Heather said.
“Risa is your social worker?” Yvonne asked. “The one who works with the state and isn’t too stupid?”
“Right,” Heather said. “Good remembering.”
“I was wondering if Risa could come over,” Yvonne said.
“What happened?” Heather asked.
“Just another lost boy coming home,” Yvonne said. The little boy watched her with intent interest.
“Where are you?” Heather asked.
“At Jer’s old house,” Yvonne said.
“The condo?” Heather asked. Yvonne heard Heather say something in the background. “We’ll be right over. Risa has to call the police.”
“You’re coming too?” Yvonne asked.
“I’m an emergency placement,” Heather said with pride in her voice. Yvonne smiled. “If you’ve found a lost boy, then I will probably get to have him here until everything is settled. You’re about five minutes away. Do you need Blane? Otherwise, he can stay here with the kids.”
“The child seems healthy,” Yvonne said. “Just hungry.”
“I’ll bring something,” Heather said. “We’ll be right there. Send the elevator down.”
Yvonne smiled and hung up the phone. She nodded to the little boy.
“What?” the boy asked.
“Everything’s working out perfectly,” Yvonne said.
“For who?” the boy’s sour tone made Yvonne give him a long look.
“You,” Yvonne said.
“I am,” Yvonne said.
The boy gave her his first real smile.
“Now settle back and rest,” Yvonne said.
The boy nodded and lay down in the tub. He sat up again.
“What?” Yvonne asked.
“I just want to see you,” the boy said. “You’re the angel who saved me.”
“Angel?” Yvonne smiled.
“I was praying and praying, like they say in church, for a nice person to help me,” the boy nodded. “And you showed up. You’re my angel.”
“Well, thank you,” Yvonne smiled. “There’s going to be a lot of people here soon. Probably the police too.”
“The police?” the boy asked. “Do I have to go to jail?”
“No,” Yvonne laughed. “But I’ll tell you what.”
“I’ll be right here with you the whole time,” Yvonne said.
“Like an angel?”
“Sure,” Yvonne said. “Now rest.”
The boy nodded. After a few minutes, he started to play in the water. He gave each of his hands voices and they swam through the water. They were so caught up in his play that they didn’t hear the elevator come to the condo. They were so surprised when the door opened that they both gave a yelp.
Dionne and Bumpy stood in the doorway. The moment the boy laid eyes on Bumpy, his entire demeanor changed. He squealed with laughter. Bumpy walked passed a stunned Yvonne to the boy. He lifted the wet boy from the bath and held him tight.
“You found me,” the boy said over and over again. “I prayed and prayed and you found me.”
Dionne put her hand on Bumpy’s arm and he looked at her. Bumpy smiled, but did not let go of the boy.
“Is that …?” Dionne asked in a low voice.
“He says he’s Jeraine’s baby,” Yvonne said. “Says he’s from Atlanta. He was waiting at the elevator. His mother put him on a plane to Denver.”
Dionne looked so angry Yvonne thought she could see steam coming from her ears.
“We’ve been fighting to get a chance to spend time with this child for …,” Dionne’s eyes sparked, “years. His mother’s on Real Housewives or First Wives of Hip-Hop or some stupid reality show. There was no way she was going to let us … Bumpy writes him a letter every week to tell him that we love him. Jer’s other son too.”
“She’s not going to have much to say very soon,” Yvonne said. “I called Tannie’s friend Heather. She’s coming over with her social worker and the police.”
Dionne looked at Yvonne, and she nodded. Dionne grinned.
“Let’s get him dried off,” Dionne said. “There’s going to be a mess of people here soon. We need to check him to see if he’s physically all right.”
Bumpy took the towel from Dionne and dried the boy. The police arrived just after Bumpy finished and they let Bumpy examine the boy. Bumpy help the child get dressed in the tattered clothing from his plastic grocery bag before the police talked to him. Heather and Risa arrived with food. Yvonne took the boy to the kitchen to eat so the police and social worker could talk with Dionne and Bumpy.
The IRS chose that time to come to take the apartment and keys. They were nice enough, but the entire affair was more family drama than the IRS inspector wanted to deal with. They had just reached the street when Jeraine ran down the sidewalk from where he’d parked his car. Seeing Jeraine, the boy took off running.
“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”
Yvonne trailed close behind. She almost caught the boy when Jeraine picked him up and twirled him around. Yvonne heard the boy talking a mile a minute and saw the tears on Jeraine’s face. Smiling, she turned around to delay the police, social workers, and even Dionne and Bumpy. Her little friend had come all this way to see his father. He deserved a minute
When she turned back, she saw Jeraine was ready to fight for his son. She gave him a nod and moved aside so the police could do their work.
Katy skipped up the walkway to the Castle’s side door with Paddie right behind her.
“Hey, wait for us!” Colin called from the car where Julie was getting Conner from the car seat.
Paddie and Katy pretended not to hear him.
“Paddie! Katy!” Colin caught up with them at the door. He held the door closed until Julie and Conner were there. “We’d like to go in together so you don’t …”
Colin opened the door. Paddie took off inside the Castle. Katy ran after him.
“ … get lost,” Colin finished his statement. He scowled.
“They only get lost to us grown-ups,” MJ said. He hugged Colin.
“We promised Jill we’d care for Katy,” Julie said. “She took care of Paddie …”
Their attention went to Katy and Paddie laughing and spinning in circles.
“Don’t worry about that kind of thing,” MJ said.
“It’s hard not to,” Julie said.
“I know,” MJ laughed. “I’m just telling you what they tell me.”
Julie smiled. They went into the Castle living room and joined the hustle and bustle of pre-dinner.
“Katy!” Jill said as she came into the living room from the kitchen.
Katy ran to her mother and threw her arms around her. They held each other for a few moments before Paddie joined their hug.
“My two favorite people,” Jill knelt down and kissed each of their cheeks. “Do you know why you’re here tonight?”
“I live here,” Katy nodded.
“I live here too,” Paddie nodded. “Sometimes.”
“That’s true,” Jill said. “Tonight, we’re welcoming Ivy and Keenan to live with us. You remember Ivy don’t you?”
Jill gestured to the kitchen where Ivy and Nash were helping Delphie finish dinner preparations.
“Uh huh,” Katy said.
“And you remember …” Jill gestured to where Keenan was talking to Sam. His skin was now milk chocolate brown, his eyes were amber-brown like Fin’s, and his hair was in small brother-dreads. He wore a standard kid uniform of new jeans and a T-shirt. Feeling their eyes, Keenan turned to look.
“But that’s …” Katy leaned forward to whisper to her mother.
“He’s going to live with us,” Jill said.
“Why?” Katy asked.
“Because he needs a nice place to grow up,” Jill said. “Not like before when …”
Jill gave Katy a knowing nod, and Katy wrinkled her nose.
“I know you,” Keenan said to Katy. His voice had a slight almost-British accent which made him sound formal. “I had a dream about you.”
“You were my princess,” Keenan said.
“She wasn’t your princess,” Paddie moved between Keenan and Katy. He stood up to his full height. Even at four years old, he was almost as tall as the thin, small Keenan. “Katy’s nobody’s princess.”
“I belong to me,” Katy said.
“And me,” Paddie said.
“And Paddie,” Katy said. “He’s my best, best forever friend.”
“Oh,” Keenan looked confused and embarrassed. “Um …”
“You could be our friend too,” Paddie said. He gave Keenan a big smile.
“I could?” Keenan looked relieved.
“How come you aren’t a princess?” Keenan face fell in sadness. “I thought you were a princess.”
“We don’t have princesses here in America,” Jill said. “We belong to ourselves and each other.”
Jill gestured to the adults and children standing around talking. Keenan turned to look at Jill. She smiled at him. As if he was taking her in, he looked at her for a while.
“Katy’s is your little girl,” Keenan said. “And Paddie is her knight.”
“That’s right,” Jill said.
“And you are our friend,” Katy said.
“I am?” Keenan looked down at the ground. “Are you sure? I feel …”
“Of course, you’re our friend,” Paddie said.
Keenan looked at Katy and then at Paddie. He scowled.
“I feel like I did something really bad and hurt you or …”
“You didn’t hurt me,” Paddie said.
“You didn’t hurt me,” Katy said.
Jill gave him an assuring smile. He smiled at her.
“Maybe you haven’t had friends before,” Katy said.
“I think that’s right,” Keenan nodded.
“We have lots of friends,” Paddie said. “My daddy has lots of friends and my mommy has lots of friend and Katy’s daddy has lots of friends and Katy’s mommy has lots of friends. Now you have lots and lots of friends!”
Paddie beamed at his logic. Keenan grinned. Jill reached out her arms and scooped all three children up in a hug. She kissed each of their cheeks. Keenan put his hand over where she kissed and smiled.
“Come on,” Paddie said. He held out his hand to Katy and to Keenan. “Let’s go get a good seat.”
The kids ran to the dining room.
“They worked it out,” Delphie said. She held out her hand and helped Jill up.
“Paddie,” Jill said. “He’s a charmer.”
“You think there will be friction between Keenan and Katy?” Delphie’s eyebrows furrowed with worry.
“I doubt it,” Jill said. “Katy’s pretty involved in her own life. Keenan has so much on his plate—learning to read, getting settled here and at school, eating and growing. He won’t have time for much trouble. I mean, I’m no psychic. Thanks God.”
“Were you speaking of us?” Anjelika came toward Jill with the boys. Jill smiled, and Anjelika laughed. Jill took her sons from her mother.
“Let’s eat!” Delphie said.
Everyone moved toward the dining room. Jill stood next to Delphie.
“Do you think there’ll be trouble between Katy and Keenan?” Jill asked.
“No,” Delphie said. “I think everything is going to work out just fine.”
“Me too,” Jill said.
“Hi,” Sandy said when Aden came in their bedroom.
He gave her a partial smile before going into their bathroom. He came out a few minutes later and went to Rachel’s crib.
“You can get her,” Sandy said.
He looked at her.
“She’s been taking sleeping lessons from Katy,” Sandy smiled. “She’ll stay asleep.”
“Nice of Katy,” Aden said. He leaned over the railing to pick up Rachel.
“How are you?” Sandy asked.
“Sore. Tired. Disgusted.” Aden held Rachel near his face to smell her baby scent. She was sound asleep.
“How did it go today?” Sandy asked.
He looked at her for a moment.
“You can tell me,” Sandy patted the bed next to her.
He gave a kind of nod and went around the bed to his side. Still carrying Rachel, he got in the bed.
“She’s getting big,” Aden said. “She looks like a real … kid, you know?”
“She’s not a newborn preemie anymore,” Sandy said.
Aden nodded. They heard footsteps upstairs, and Aden looked up.
“Jake’s home too?” Sandy asked.
“He came home with me,” Aden said. “I don’t know how he’s still standing. He says he’s been awake for two days, but … this … and …”
Sandy watched him for a moment.
“How can people be so selfish?” Aden asked. “We risked life and limb to save people. We … and they …”
“What’s happening?” Sandy asked. “I thought the state cleared Lipson Construction.”
“The state and county,” Aden said. “We had zero to do with the site when all this crap happened, but of course, those bastards …”
Rachel opened her eyes when Aden’s voice became terse. She gave her father a little yawn before falling asleep again.
“She’s really beautiful,” Aden said.
Sandy smiled and waited. Aden sighed.
“The oil company is going to investigate, and those bastards that took over from us are paying for an ‘independent investigation’, which only implies that Jake and Sam paid the state and county.”
“What does Jake say?” Sandy asked.
“He says not to worry about it,” Aden said. “We’ll sort it out. We have enough on our plate with the financial cut back and …”
“The states still not giving you back the road contracts,” Sandy said.
“Of course not,” Aden said. “Everything that was true Thursday is true today. We’re all broke and these guys say it’s our fault the earthquake happened. Makes me crazy.”
Sandy gave him a soft smile.
“I don’t know, Sandy,” Aden said. “Seems like doing the right thing only gets you in trouble.”
“Look around us,” Sandy said. “We live here in Delphie’s house. We moved in when we were desperate—you were in prison, I was here with the kids alone, pregnant. She’s never asked us for anything. I mean, we help out with dinner or whatever, but they don’t charge us rent and they help with the kids and everything. That’s what we get for trying to do the right thing.”
Aden gave her a long look.
“You’re just tired,” Sandy said.
Aden paused for a moment, and looked at Rachel.
“I want to use,” Aden said. “I was going to … today at lunch. But …”
“I know,” Sandy said. Aden’s head jerked to look at her.
“I don’t know what to do,” Aden said. “It’s been eating at me. I sat outside of a liquor store last night for an hour. I had a plan to drink to day at lunch, but … I guess I got too busy.”
Sandy touched his arm and he looked at her.
“It really scared me,” Aden said. “I love our life. Using, drinking, would ruin everything. I was right there, and somehow …”
“You need rest,” Sandy said. “Did you eat?”
Aden shook his head.
“Don’t get too hungry, angry, lonely, tired,” Sandy said.
“How ‘bout we go in the kitchen?” Sandy got out of bed. “I’ll make you a roast beef sandwich. You can tell me all about the site. We’ll make love and you’ll sleep like a baby.”
“That should do it.” Aden grinned at her logic.
“Yep,” Sandy said. “And a meeting tomorrow.”
“And a meeting tomorrow first thing,” Aden said.
She held her hand out to him. He got out of bed with Rachel. He put Rachel on his hip and took Sandy’s hand. She led him to the kitchen.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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