Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Two Hundred and Ninety-Six : Step forward

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CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and NINETY-SIX

Saturday — 5:45 p.m.

“So did you hear?” Sissy asked Tink and Wanda.

They were trying to figure out where to get together over video chat. Sandy and Aden were taking some time for themselves and Heather was with Blane in the hospital. Charlie, Nash, and Teddy were staying at Alex’s house. Practically everyone who lived at Alex’s house was going to play paint ball. Noelle was staying with Mike and Valerie so that she and Mike could paint. Rachel was staying with Jill, her twins, Katy, and Mack, Heather’s son. Sissy and Tink were the only ones who didn’t already have plans.

“What?” Wanda asked.

“That detective is dead.” As if she was telling a big secret, Sissy leaned into her webcam. “The police were just here to tell Sandy. They said it was a combination of his head injury and a panic induced stroke. Panic induced.”

“Wow,” Wanda and Tink said at the same time.

“I know,” Sissy said. “I listened in the hall. The police said they’re still looking for whoever hit him with the hockey puck.”

Sissy nodded and the girls’ eyes went wide with worry.

“But …” Sissy looked over her shoulder to make sure no one was listening in, “the policeman said that neither of the agents, you know hot Raz and sexy Colin?”

The girls nodded.

“They said they didn’t see anyone in the alley,” Sissy nodded. “The police mentioned ‘other agents’ in the alley and … well …”

Sissy gave a knowing nod.

“No one appears to have seen anything,” Sissy moved her eyebrows up and down with the words. “That’s what the policeman said. Then he said, ‘I hate to ask you again …’”

“He said again?” Tink asked.

“Again,” Sissy nodded firmly. “So he asked if Sandy knew who hit the hockey puck. Sandy looked all surprised and got all watery. So the policeman looked at Aden.”

Sissy nodded.

“What?” Wanda asked with an outraged exuberance.

“I know, right?” Sissy nodded. “Aden said he didn’t care where the puck came from, just that someone did something. The policeman said, ‘That’s what O’Malley said.’ So, Sandy said …”

Sissy nodded.

“She said, ‘My father’s the most observant person I’ve ever met.’ And the policeman said, ‘Yes ma’am, that’s my experience of him.’ And Aden said, ‘If he didn’t see the person, then no one saw him.’”

“Him?” Tink asked.

“He emphasized the him,” Sissy nodded. “The policeman caught it too. He said, ‘It was a man?’ And Aden said, ‘Who else plays hockey?’ And then he got all blustery. ‘I hate to be sexist but I don’t know any women who play hockey and blah, blah, blah.’ Aden just filled up the whole room with noise and words.”

“Wow,” Tink said.

“But you know what?” Sissy asked.

The girls shook their heads.

“They were lying.” Sissy’s head bobbed up and down so vigorously that the girls’ heads instinctively followed. “I just know it!”

“Why would they lie?” Wanda asked.

“Why do you think?” Sissy asked.

“I don’t know, that’s why I asked,” Wanda said.

“It was Heather,” Tink said. “Had to be. She and Blane play all the time. She’s really good — and Aden knows that because they do it in the Lipson parking lot when no one’s there. We all go. Aden’s played with us. A couple of times.”

“I’ll never tell a soul,” Wanda said.

“Me either,” Sissy said.

Tink zipped her lips. For a few moments, the girls stared off into space.

“Wow,” Tink said.

“How’s Blane?” Wanda asked.

“He seemed normal,” Tink said. “Fine. I saw him this morning. They’re giving him chemo so he won’t be able to have visitors soon. Like probably tonight.”

“Even Heather?” Sissy looked horror struck.

Tink nodded.

“Wow,” Wanda said.

“We should go to a movie,” Sissy said. “That way Tink doesn’t have to think about Blane being sick and we get popcorn.”

“Movie, movie, movie,” Wanda chanted.

“What do you think, Tink?” Sissy asked.

“Ok,” Tink said.

“Let me go ask my Dad if he’ll take me,” Wanda said.

“Your Dad?” Tink and Sissy said in unison.

“Oh, didn’t I tell you?” Wanda blushed. “He moved back in. Trial basis, stuff like that.”

Wanda nodded.

“Wow,” Tink said.

“When did that happen?” Sissy’s voice was indignant. “Why didn’t you tell us? Are you hiding stuff? Are you eating? Are you …”

“I didn’t know!” Wanda’s voice rose. “Gaah! I didn’t know!”

“Sissy!” Tink ordered. “You have to breathe.”

Sissy scowled.

“Breathe,” Tink ordered.

Sissy took a breath.

“But …” Sissy started.

Tink gestured to Wanda.

“I haven’t relapsed,” Wanda said. “I’m not hiding anything. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t know. They had therapy last night, which you know because I was with you last night.”

Tink and Sissy nodded.

“Dad showed up here this morning,” Wanda said. “Mom and I were just getting home. They did the whole, ‘We have to talk about our feelings’ thing.”

“Ew,” Tink said while Sissy made a disgusted sound.

“I know,” Wanda said. “I just sat there. They talked. And … whatever.”

“I hope it works out,” Sissy nodded.

“It’s just got to work out,” Tink said.

Wanda nodded, but didn’t say anything in case she jinxed it. Understanding, the girls nodded.

“Lemme go ask my Dad,” Wanda said.

Wanda ran off.

“Are you okay about Blane?” Sissy asked.

“There isn’t anything I can do,” Tink said. “He’s …”

Her eyes looked so sad that Sissy wished she could hug Tink through the computer.

“And the detective?” Sissy asked.

“Seems like he got off to easy,” Tink said. “I kinda wanted him to … you know, like what happened to me, but then …”

Tink shook her head.

“Blane told me I can’t wish revenge on him because it only made me feel bad,” Tink said.

“And?”

“He was right,” Tink said. “That’s what I’m trying to do. What Blane said. Just let him be him and me be me.”

Tink nodded.

“Blane’s a good guy,” Sissy said.

“I love him,” Tink said, and then blushed. “I mean, not like Charlie or … I mean …”

“He’s your soul Dad,” Sissy said. “Like Aden is for me.”

Tink nodded. Wanda appeared on her webcam.

“Ok, we’re set,” Wanda said. “He said he would take us and pay.”

“And pay?” Sissy asked. “How come?”

“I guess they want the night to themselves,” Wanda wiggled her eyebrows. “You know, so he can get … settled.”

Sissy and Tink broke out into hysterical laughter.

“What?” Wanda asked like she didn’t know why they were laughing. “That’s what he said!”

Wanda chuckled.

“Anyway, wanna go now?” Wanda asked when they’d stopped laughing.

Sissy and Tink nodded.

“Okay, we’ll pick you up,” Wanda said, and clicked off the line.

“I like that,” Tink smiled at Sissy.

“Wanda’s Dad?” Sissy asked.

“No, Soul Dad,” Tink said. “I like that.”

Sissy smiled.

“See you in a bit,” Sissy clicked off the line.

Tink closed the laptop. She turned around to see Charlie standing behind her.

“Nosey?” Tink asked.

“Sure,” Charlie said. “I just wanted you to know that I like that we have soul dads now.”

“Me too,” Tink smiled and Charlie hugged her.

“Tink!” someone yelled from the basement common room. “Wanda’s here!”

Tink ran out of the room to go meet Wanda.

~~~~~~~~

Saturday — 7:23 p.m.

Heather hadn’t expected it to be so hard.

After all, she spent most of her days and some of her nights away from Blane. She’d even gone to the Isle of Man while he was working at the site!

And it wasn’t like they were real husband and wife.

Heather flicked herself on the forehead for thinking that bad thought. She could hear Blane say, “We’re as real a husband and wife as anybody. And we’re one better — we’re parents, we’re family, we love each other completely.”

Heather nodded to herself at his oft repeated words. She pressed the button to the elevator six or seven times. One elevator car was in the lobby and the other car was on the tenth floor. Both seemed stuck.

Heather sucked in a quick breath.

The nurse had come in at seven and said, “This will probably be it, but we’ll see.”

The nurse was nice enough, really. Heather didn’t think about having to leave his room. She’d focused on Blane.

He was responding well to the chemo. She’d cheered and changed into one of those blue paper covers for her clothing. An hour ago, she’d put a face mask on and a blue paper hat on her hair. He’d joked that she looked like he would when they had the baby.

No having this child in a store. No way. Not this time.

They’d talked about all the crazy names they would name their baby. They’d laughed and laughed until that moment.

The nurse stuck her head in and said the words.

“I’m sorry, Heather,” the nurse said. “It’s time to go.”

Blane’s face flashed with terror. Heather smiled.

“I’ll call you when I get home,” Heather said.

She started to lean over to kiss him, but the nurse said, “Don’t do that.” He grabbed her gloved hand and she’s squeezed it. She stayed until the nurse almost pushed her out of the room.

At the door, she turned and waved. He’d smiled one of his confident smiles.

“Call me when you get home,” he’d said.

Heather swallowed hard. Of course, this elevator would have to move for her to get home. The one on the first floor started to move. When it stopped on the second floor, she eyed the door to the stairs.

If Blane was here, he’d have insisted that they take the stairs. Good exercise for her and the baby.

But right now, Heather was barely standing up. She couldn’t deal with the stairs.

Not right now.

By the end of the month, she’d probably be an old pro. She’d run up and down the stairs just for fun. She smiled at the image of her pregnant self easily jogging up stairs. The elevator made it to the third floor.

She glanced at a woman who walked up and stood next to her. The woman looked as freaked out as Heather did. The woman gave her a kind of warrior smile — not happy or sad. Her smile said I see you on the battle field of this cancer ward.

Heather nodded in return.

This was not a place that both woman wanted to be, and, there was nowhere in the world they’d rather be.

The elevator dinged and Heather stepped in front of the doors. The elevator opened.

Tanesha and Jill were standing in the back. Heather waited for the other woman to get on the elevator car, and then went to the back of the elevator. Not wanting to make a fuss, she didn’t hug them. She merely turned around at the back of the car and stood between her best friends.

Tanesha put her arm around Heather’s waist. Jill slipped her arm around the other side.

With her friends as support, Heather made it to the first floor.

When the elevator door opened, the woman Heather had met got off the elevator. Heather didn’t move.

“Going up?” a man asked and leaned into the elevator.

Heather sighed.

Tanesha took a step forward. Her arm around Heather’s waist pressed her forward. Heather looked at Tanesha.

“You can do this,” Jill said in Heather’s ear.

Heather looked at Jill and then back at Tanesha. With a nod, she took a step forward.

And then another one.

One more step and she was off the elevator. She stood in place while the elevator filled with people. She watched the doors close. She looked at Tanesha and then at Jill.

Together, they walked through the lobby.

One step after another, Heather walked away from Blane.

She remembered the moment she’d really looked at him for the first time. She was just barely pregnant with Mack and living on people’s couches. Her mother had thrown her out. She felt so ashamed and very, very alone.

“She can stay with me,” Blane had blurted out. “I mean, you haven’t known me since I was ten or whatever, so I would understand if it seemed weird…. But I thought we got along great this week.”

They had gotten along great since the moment she’d met him. She turned back to look at the elevator across the lobby.

“He’s exactly where he needs to be right now,” Jill said.

“Safe and sound,” Tanesha said. “They’ll take good care of him, and when he’s done, he’ll come home.”

“This is what you want,” Jill said.

Heather nodded her head and went through the hospital doors. Mike was waiting for them in the driveway of the hospital. They got in back together. Mike didn’t say anything. He just drove them to the Castle. Tanesha and Jill helped Heather up to Jill’s loft. They looked in on Mack and then helped Heather call Blane.

Their conversation was short. Yes, he had enough to read. No, he wasn’t uncomfortable. Yes, they’d come to hook up the WIFI on his computer, finally. He still didn’t know if he could stream movies. Yes, they missed each other. No, there wasn’t anything they could do about it.

Heather nodded.

“I’ll call you in the morning!” Heather said. She gave him a big smile and he returned hers. She was hanging up when he said something. “What?”

“I’ve spent a lot of time alone — years and years, most of my childhood, really,” Blane said. His eyes welled with tears. “But for the first time in my entire life, I know that I may be by myself …”

Blane nodded.

“But, I’m not alone,” Blane said.

For a moment, they just looked at each other. He smiled.

“I’ll see you in a month and we’ll get on with our life,” Blane said.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Heather laughed and clicked off.

She stared at the computer for a long time before turning to Tanesha.

“Ice cream, chocolate, or brownies?” Tanesha said.

“Do I have to choose?” Heather’s words were watery with her tears.

“Not a chance,” Jill said.

Heather went with Jill and Tanesha to get something to ease this horrible lost feeling.

~~~~~~~~

Sunday — 1:23 p.m.

Tanesha had waited through the long church service. At Gran’s house, she’d laughed when Gran gave Jeraine a bad time. He’d left as if he was in a huff, but returned a few minutes later with the cinnamon rolls she’d asked for. Gran had grumbled, but seemed happy that her husband was “learning his place.”

Tanesha had waited until she was sitting next to Jeraine’s mother at Gran’s table. She had waited through her Gran’s long grace which included special prayers for each individual at the table.

When the food started passing around the table, Tanesha couldn’t wait any longer.

“Mrs. Wilson?” Tanesha asked Dionne.

Her mother-in-law turned to look at her.

“Did you ever actually see Annette’s child?” Tanesha asked.

“Jabari?” Dionne asked. “Not until he arrived here. Why?”

“Mom thinks he’s younger than four,” Tanesha said.

“She does?” Dionne looked surprised. She glanced at Bumpy.

“I guess I’m wondering if you’ve seen any pictures of Annette when she was pregnant or even a picture of the baby when it was born or …?”

Tanesha realized that conversation at the table had stopped. Her crazy Aunt Phy was giving her the stink eye from across the table. Tanesha smiled at her aunt and she grinned back.

“No,” Yvonne said. “We filed for grandparents’ rights the moment we learned she was pregnant. I guess I figured …”

“What if she lost the baby?” Tanesha asked. “Or wasn’t ever pregnant?”

“What about Jabari?” Bumpy asked.

“Yvonne thinks he’s younger than four,” Yvonne said to her husband.

“So what?” Gran asked. “The dog probably impregnated her again. Big deal.”

Jeraine shook his head at Gran.

“He says he didn’t,” Tanesha said.

“Once a dog, always a dog,” Gran said.

“I’m sitting right here!” Jeraine said.

“A dog at my table,” Gran said. Her words were accompanied by a bitter shake of her head. “I never thought I’d live to see the day.”

“Woof, woof,” crazy Aunt Phy started to bark.

Jeraine joined her barking. Everyone laughed while Gran scowled. When the laughter died down, everyone focused on their meal. Ten minutes passed before Dionne touched Tanesha’s hand.

“What are you thinking?” Dionne asked.

“I’m thinking that she told Jer she was pregnant to get back at him,” Tanesha said. “Stick it to him for dumping her and take his money. Then when the reality show started, she realized she needed a baby.”

“But they tested his DNA,” Bumpy said.

“Against Jeraine’s,” Tanesha said.

“Not Annette’s,” Dionne said.

They fell silent again. The conversation turned to the upcoming football game and the mood around the table lightened. It wasn’t until they were leaving that Dionne took Tanesha aside.

“So Jer paid her for a child that didn’t exist,” Dionne said.

“It seems possible,” Tanesha said. “He was high and what have you for a long time.”

“He wouldn’t know or miss the money,” Dionne nodded and looked away for a moment. When she looked back, she asked, “Do you think she purchased this child?”

“I wouldn’t put it past her,” Tanesha said.

“Well,” Dionne nodded. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“You’ve answered a question we’ve had for a long, long time,” Dionne said. “Why would that witch care if we were in contact with our grandchild?”

“He doesn’t exist, that’s why,” Tanesha said.

“Then he shows up on the television show …” Dionne said. “I’ve watched it just to see him.”

“Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do about it,” Tanesha said. “We’re sure to get custody tomorrow. Then it’s kind of over.”

“Not for us,” Dionne said. “We can do something about this.”

“What would you do?”

“We’ll ask for her DNA,” Dionne said.

“How …?”

“We set up a fund for our grandchildren,” Dionne said. “I put all my recording profits into the fund for Jeraine Junior and Jabari. It’s not a small amount. She’s used most of her half. When she was here she asked when I’d get my next royalty check.”

Tanesha nodded.

“I have a right to know that she’s the mother of my grandchild,” Dionne said.

“I bet she’s not,” Tanesha said.

Dionne nodded. There was a noise in the kitchen and Jeraine trotted out of the back of the house.

“We should go,” he said.

Laughing and cursing, Gran came running after him. Tanesha watched them leave the house.

“Well I should …” Tanesha pointed.

Dionne gave her a hug and Tanesha went across the street. When she got there Jeraine and Gran were hugging, like they did every Sunday. Gran gave him the stink eye and went across the street.

“Are they going to do something?” Jeraine asked.

Tanesha nodded.

“Good,” he said. “Let’s go see the boy.”

“I need to study,” Tanesha said.

“Ok,” Jeraine said. “I’ll go, and we’ll see you tonight at your mom’s house.”

Tanesha kissed him goodbye and went into the house. Intent on studying, she brought her books to their kitchen table and turned on her laptop. Unable to stop herself, she searched the Internet for a photo, any photo, of Annette pregnant with Jabari. She found many images of her pregnant with her second and third son. She found images of Annette’s mansion and her closet, but nothing about Jabari until she joined the reality television show.

Tanesha looked at the clock and realized that she’d lost an hour of precious study time. Nodding to herself, she closed her laptop and got to work.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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