Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Two Hundred and Ninety-Seven : Real and honest

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CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and NINETY-SEVEN

Sunday evening — 10:12 p.m.

“You’re sure?” Aden asked in a low voice.

Sandy nodded. He leaned up from their warm bed to watch her pull on a warm sweater and her fleece pants.

“You’ll come to get me if it’s overwhelming?” Aden asked.

Sandy nodded.

“Promise?” Aden asked.

Sandy nodded.

“Say it,” Aden said.

“I promise to come to get you if going through Andy’s box is overwhelming,” Sandy said.

“You’ll stay just right here?” Aden asked what he’d asked before.

“I brought the box up,” Sandy said. She picked up the heavy box from her closet. “I’ll sit in the living room and start going through it.”

Aden gave her a searching look.

“I just feel like … I have to know,” Sandy said. “I have to know.”

“Tonight?” Aden asked.

Sandy nodded.

“You’ll come to get me if it’s overwhelming?” Aden repeated out of worry.

She gave him a sly smile and he nodded. She walked to the door and realized she couldn’t open it. She looked at him. He got out of bed to help her with the door. She smiled and went out into the living room. She set the Andy’s box down on the coffee table in front of the couch and went into their small kitchen. For courage, she made a cup of Tanesha’s special tea blend and carried it out into the living room.

She set her tea cup on the coffee table and plopped down on the couch. She looked at the box. It was a fairly ordinary cardboard box. It once stored reams of white paper, the kind you put in copiers or printers or fax machines. It didn’t say ink jet or laser on the box, so Sandy figured the box must be old. She picked up her tea and leaned back.

Her mind wandered.

Should she have another baby? Rachel was just starting to move around a little bit. Of course, they’d hoped to get married at the Cathedral this summer. With everything going on, she’d lost enough weight to fit into Andy’s dress. Honey and MJ had already finished their classes. She should make a note to call and schedule classes for she and Aden.

It would be fun to have a little boy baby, a little Celt baby. She smiled, remembering those silly gargoyles horror at Aden being Celtic. Jill’s twins would be her son’s best friends. Heather and Blane’s son too. Of course, that would mean they had six mouths to feed, not to mention Teddy who wanted to come back to live with them this summer. She bit her lip and wondered if Teddy and Noelle were getting too old to spend the summers together.

Sandy yawned and thought about going back to bed. She’d almost talked herself into it when she noticed Andy’s box.

Plain old cardboard box. Once held reams of paper. For a copier, no less. Or a fax machine. Her fingers traced the word “fax” on the outside of the box. Valerie hadn’t packed this box. This box arrived just as it was — an old cardboard box with old technology stamped on the outside.

She glanced at her bedroom door.

Maybe she should just go back to bed.

She closed her eyes for a moment. She remembered how hard Tanesha’s life was now. She had medical school, and Jeraine — who no matter how reformed was a pain in the rear — and now a step-son, not to mention her mother and father and Gran and … Sandy shook her head at all of the challenges on Tanesha’s plate right now.

And poor Heather. Sandy and Jill had spent morning to keep Heather from falling apart. Sandy wondered how she’d handle it if Aden was in the hospital like Blane. She wouldn’t handle it very well, that’s for sure. Jill was managing to cope with her magically involved twins. Jacob, Aden, Sam … They were leading Lipson every day and …

All Sandy had to do was look in this box.

She lifted the lid with her bare foot, and the most amazing smell came out.

Sandy picked up the lid and held it to her nose. She took a deep inhale and smelled …

… home and love and being important and sunshine and flowers and being enough and joy and being heard and peace and hope and being, just being, … and … and … and … being happy.

It smelled like Andy.

Sandy opened her eyes and looked into the box. The wire binding to an old photo album was stuck opening down along one side of the box. In the middle of the box was a stack of bound books. There were a few other things tucked around the books. Nothing looked too scary.

She turned her attention to the books. They looked like the kind of books Noelle used sometimes to sketch things or something Jill used in her interior design school. Sandy reached in to pick up a book and saw a small white knitted cap. Her fingers instinctively picked up the soft fabric. This must have been her cap. She held it to her nose.

“Andy,” she whispered.

Inside the rim of the little cap, someone had stitched “My beloved Sandy” in blue thread. Sandy smiled. Setting the cap on her lap, she picked up one of the books and found …

She wasn’t sure.

They looked like journals, but … there were drawings and songs and pressed flowers and photos and … The hand was fragmented and unclear. This wasn’t language. It was … She had no idea.

Sandy looked at the book in her hand. This volume wasn’t dated. She pulled out the next book and the one after that.

No dates.

The last volume, tucked all the way at the bottom, was dated the day Sandy had gone to see Andy at the assisted living facility.


“Dear Sandy,

If you’re like me, and I’d bet you are, you probably looked at the other journals and want to read this one first.

Don’t.

This journal won’t make any sense to you unless you look at the others.

Start there and come back.

I’ll wait.

Love you. Love you. Love you. Love you. Love you. Love you. Love you.

Always and forever love you!

Mommy”

“Mommy,” Sandy whispered the word she hadn’t said in twenty years. The word felt good on her lips and in her heart. She repeated, “Mommy.”

She put all the journals back into the box and picked up the first one. She would read them, in order, as her mother asked, and then read the last one. She nodded to herself at the plan.

She closed up the box so the smell wouldn’t get out.

Leaning back into the couch, she started to read.

~~~~~~~~

Monday morning — 9:12 a.m.

Heather stood on the landing upstairs at Blane’s house, her house, their house.

“Shit,” she said out loud. “Just shit.”

Tink was at school. Mack was at the Marlowe school. And Blane …

He’d realized his hair was falling out, so he’d asked the nurse to get him some clippers. She was not prepared to see his bald head this morning.

No, she was not prepared for that. She let out a small peep of surprise when she saw his image on the laptop.

He’d looked like a prisoner, which he was.

His hazel eyes looked huge. His teeth looked extra white. He’d looked damned handsome, like a movie star.

That’s what she’d told him. She’d used “print screen” on her computer to capture his photograph.

“I’m making a scrapbook,” she’d said.

He’d laughed because what she was actually doing was taking pictures so he’d make a scrapbook. He said he’d look into digital scrapbooks.

And … he missed her.

She missed him.

But, they both agreed he was where he needed to be. They’d nodded and told each other what they knew — they loved each other completely.

It was just true.

Anyway, he’d had to go get more total body irradiation again. She looked at his watch on her wrist to see how long she had until they talked again.

Five minutes less than the last time she’d looked.

She groaned at herself.

“Why did I quit my job?” Heather asked the ugly light fixture on the landing.

“Because you need to be available to Blane,” a tiny voice came from … where?

Heather looked around. She spied a little pink dot.

“Abi?” Heather peered at the dot. “Are you spying on me?”

The fairy flew to right in front of Heather’s face.

“No,” Abi said. “I …”

“Will you get regular sized?” Heather asked.

“This is regular size for me,” Abi said.

“No it’s not,” Heather said. “I’ve seen your man. He is very hot. There’s no way you two …”

Abi laughed. It was the oddest sound. Her laughter started as a tiny peel, almost like the clinking of glasses or icy rain on a wet garden, and grew into a regular human laugh.

“You are so right,” Abi said when she was human sized. “He does not like the tiny.”

“Then why do you do it?” Heather asked. “I mean, you’re a princess. You could dress in velvet and have jewels and …”

“I captured the prince’s attention while I was on the fairy corps,” Abi said. Heather gestured to her tiny pink outfit and Abi changed into her usual workout wear. “You think Prince Fin would be interested in the velvet brigade? He wants someone worthy of fighting by his side, not an orchid to wilt in one of his palaces.”

Heather thought through what Abi was saying.

“I guess that makes sense,” Heather said. “What do you want? I’m pretty sure you’re not here to give me marital advice.”

“We’re not married.”

“Why?”

“Remember the whole orchid thing?” Abi asked. Heather nodded. “I’m no orchid. Plus, the prince doesn’t want a wife. He had a few early on. Didn’t work out. I will tell you that Tanesha thinks he’s being disrespectful to me for not marrying me.”

Heather nodded.

“He listens to her,” Abi said. “Likes her. Thinks about what she says. In all our time together, he’s let only a few people into his inner council. She’s special.”

“She is,” Heather said.

Abi nodded.

“I’m kinda biased, I guess,” Heather said. “She’s my best-friend.”

“She’s my great-granddaughter,” Abi smiled. “Takes after me.”

Abi winked. Heather chuckled, and then scowled.

“What do you want?” Heather asked.

“You promised that we could go and talk to your mother together,” Abi said.

“So?”

“I thought today might be a good day,” Abi said. “Blane’s in the hospital. The children are at school. You don’t have to go to work and aren’t ready to have the baby yet.”

Heather scowled.

“Plus, your mother is at work,” Abi said. “She takes her coffee break in …”

Abi made a show of looking at her wrist watch.

“Gosh, we have just enough time to get over there in your car,” Abi said.

Heather scowled again and put her hands on her hips.

“Why?” Heather asked. “Why do you want to talk to my mother? Why do you want to help me?”

“You’re my great-granddaughter’s best friend,” Abi smiled. “Isn’t that enough?”

“No,” Heather said. “Tell me why.”

“You won’t believe me if I tell you,” Abi said.

“Try me,” Heather said.

Abi gave Heather a long assessing look.

“We’re burning time,” Heather said.

“Fine,” Abi said. She exhaled to empty her lungs and then took a deep breath. Speaking in a quick voice, she said, “The world has darkened quite a bit in the last thirty years. One of the jobs of the fairy corps is to keep light in the world. Usually, there are other forces fighting. A couple of those forces are lost to extremists and nomadic customs. We predict that they will return in time, but the pendulum must swing because human only learn through experience. The light is waning and things — bad things, scary things — grow in the dark and the dark grows in every human mind.”

“How does that have anything to do with me or my mother?” Heather interrupted the fairies flow of words.

“Because your mother has wandered, your father spends all his time looking for her, and you,” Abi said.

Heather gave an angry snort.

“My father doesn’t give a fuck about me or my mother,” Heather said.

“You may never know how untrue that is,” Abi said. “I’m not saying he’s not flawed. He’s flawed and he screwed up big time. He allowed a great cruelty to happen and did nothing to prevent it. He …”

“He sucks.”

“Yes,” Abi said. “But we have to get through all of this, because the world needs him, and your mother, and even you. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but there will be a day when his light could be the only one burning, and the only light in human minds. We fairies …”

Abi shivered.

“You’re frightened,” Heather said.

“I’ve never seen the world this dark,” Abi leaned forward to whisper. “Scares me.”

“And you think my woe-is-me pathetic mother is going to fix this?” Heather scowled at Abi.

“Your mother is not pathetic,” Abi said. “She suffered a great injustice, one that would kill most human women and should have killed her. But instead, she took you and came to this place and time. We fairies lost her. We thought she was gone for good but …”

Abi nodded.

“But?” Heather asked.

“Perses recognized you,” Abi said. “That’s the easiest way to say it.”

“Jill’s dad recognized me?” Heather asked.

“When Jillian was in danger,” Abi said. “He saw you … uh … help her.”

“Me?” Heather asked. “Tanesha has fairy powers. She …”

“She does?” Abi asked. “The tea doesn’t work on her?”

“The tea?” Heather raised her eyebrows. “Their special tea keeps their powers at bay?”

“Uh …” Abi gave her a bright smile.

Heather pointed her index finger at Abi and ordered, “You will tell me.”

“The tea keeps their powers from manifesting,” Abi said. “Or it’s supposed to. It works on Yvonne. It was the only way we could keep the monster she calls ‘the spider’ at bay. He would have killed her outright if he’d known the truth about her. This way, he got what he needed and …”

“And Tanesha?”

“She’s half Rodney kick-ass-and-take-names Smith,” Abi shrugged. “Who knows?”

Heather scowled.

“Hey, you wanna go?” Abi asked.

“No,” Heather shook her head. “I don’t trust you. At all. I don’t trust you at all.”

“You listen to me, Hedone,” Abi said. “You need to get over yourself and get this done. You were not born to waste your life as a housewife in Denver. Grow up.”

Heather scowled at Abi.

“That didn’t work,” Abi said.

“Not at all,” Heather said. “Plus, my name is Heather.”

“Bribes?” Abi asked.

Heather shook her head.

“Chocolate cake?” Abi asked.

Heather shook her head.

“Shit,” Abi said. “I blew this.”

Heather nodded.

“What would get you to go with me to talk to your mother?” Abi asked.

Heather looked up at the ceiling while she thought about it.

“Nothing?” Abi winced.

“You could ask me,” Heather nodded. “Not a fake, ‘Let’s go see your mother’, but a real honest ask.”

Abi was so surprised that her mouth dropped open.

“And you can tell the fucking fairy corps that I will light them on fire with my hairspray if they don’t get out of my house,” Heather said.

At least a thousand blue and pink lights appeared on the landing. Heather pointed down the stairs and they began to file out of the house.

“You knew they were there?” Abi asked.

“Just figured.”

Abi nodded. They waited until the last fairy left the landing.

“All right,” Abi said. “Here’s my ask: Will you, Hedone …”

“Heather.”

“Fine,” Abi said. “Will you, Heather, come with me to speak to your mother and remind her of who she is?”

“Sure,” Heather said.

“Sure?”

“Sure,” Heather shrugged. “But not today.”

“Why?” Abi asked.

“Because I’m pissed off at you for lying to me and …” Heather gestured to where the fairy corps had been hiding. “And drugging my best friend so she can’t be all she can be.”

Abi nodded. Heather wondered how long the fairy would wait until she asked again. Heather had counted to fifteen when Abi opened her mouth.

“How ’bout tomorrow?” Abi asked.

“How ’bout tonight?” Heather asked.

“Tonight?” Abi beamed.

“We’re supposed to have dinner at my mother’s house,” Heather said. “She’s trying to be supportive. Plus, she loves Blane. Why don’t you and Fin come? Tanesha and Jer are coming – hopefully with Jabari, but it depends on how he’s feeling. It could be quite the party.”

“Okay,” Abi said.

“Meet us here,” Heather said. “Be normal sized and wear jeans or something. Mom doesn’t like people who are too fit.”

“Your mother is a beautiful woman,” Abi said.

“Yeah, whatever,” Heather pointed down the stairs. “Go.”

“But …”

“I’m exhausted,” Heather said. “All of this … and Blane and …”

Heather’s eyes welled with tears.

“I’m sorry,” Abi said. “I wasn’t thinking. I forgot … anyway …”

“You forgot what?” Heather wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

“Nothing,” Abi said. “Please forgive me.”

Abi nodded. She waved her hand and she was holding an enormous bouquet of spring flowers. Abi held it out to Heather. When Heather took it, the fairy disappeared. Sighing, Heather went downstairs to put the flowers in water. She brought the flowers upstairs and set them on her bedside stand. She was going to shower, but lay down instead.

If magic was making her so tired, she didn’t care. She’d been too worried for too long. For the first time in months, she fell into a dreamless sleep.

~~~~~~~~

Monday morning — 1:12 p.m.

“All rise!” the bailiff said.

The judge came in from the room behind the bench. He sat down at the desk and looked at Jeraine, Tanesha, and their lawyer. Yvonne and Rodney were sitting in the seats behind them. He looked at the table where Annette’s lawyers stood. He gestured to Annette’s lawyers.

“I was under the impression that the mother would be here,” the judge said.

“Yes, sir,” Annette’s lawyer started.

“I continued this case from this morning because you assured me that the mother was on her way here,” the judge said.

“Yes, sir,” Annette’s lawyer said. “The weather delayed her plane and …”

The judge nodded.

“I award custody of the minor Jabari Wilson to his father, Jeraine Wilson,” the judge said.

Annette’s lawyers started to scream.

“After reviewing the emergency room reports and statements from the doctors, I’m terminating the mother’s parental rights over the minor Jabari Wilson.”

Annette’s lawyers continued to scream.

“Bailiff?” the judge asked. “Remove them from my court.”

The judge looked at Jeraine and Tanesha over his reading glasses.

“You’ll work out a plan for him to transition to living in your house,” the judge said. “Slowly. He’s happy and safe at the Smith home. Take advantage of that. The social workers will help you. It’s what they do. Bring the plan to me by the end of the day. I’ll review it and order on it tomorrow morning.”

The judge pointed at Jeraine.

“Don’t fuck this up,” the judge said. “You’ve got this one chance. Period.”

“Yes, sir,” Jeraine said. “Thank you, sir. And the restrictions on my parents?”

“Lifted,” the judge signed something on his desk. “Your parents are now allowed to spend time with the boy. But slowly, don’t overwhelm the boy. He’s been very ill and …”

The judge nodded, banged his gavel, and left the court room. Jeraine turned to Tanesha.

“Well?” Jeraine looked panicked.

“Let’s go tell him!” Yvonne leaned forward. “He’ll be so excited.”

Tanesha smiled at Jeraine. In the warmth of her smile, he grinned. She hugged him. When she let him go, Rodney and Yvonne hugged him. Their lawyer shook his hand.

“Ready for the press?” Tanesha asked in his ear.

Jeraine nodded. They left the court room and went down the hall where the press waited for them.

“There are no winners here,” Jeraine said what they had practiced. “I’m just grateful my son is healthy.”

The reporters screamed questions about his sobriety and his songs and Annette and … They were loud and the lights flashed.

“Thank you for your questions and interest in our problems,” Jeraine said. “But Miss T and I are going to see our son. I’m sure you understand.”

He raised his hand to wave and they walked away. The big guys helped them to the elevator.

“How was that?” Jeraine asked.

“I’m proud of you,” Tanesha said.

Rodney grunted and Yvonne put her hand on Jeraine’s back. Jeraine smiled. They made it to the garage where another crowd of reporters. Jeraine waved and the big guys helped them to their SUV. They drove out of the garage and onto Fourteenth Avenue.

Jeraine started to laugh.

“What?” Tanesha asked.

“Just getting what I want,” Jeraine said.

Tanesha grinned at him, and they drove to see Jabari.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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