Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Three Hundred and Seventy-eight: Frog legs

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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-EIGHT

Saturday morning — 8:35 a.m.

“Is this it?” Tanesha asked.

She peered at a rundown apartment complex in Glendale from driver’s side window of Jeraine’s car. She glanced at Heather, who shrugged. There was a blonde brick path separating two sides of a sun-browned lawn. It was a warm day and all of the windows were open. At least one infant was screaming at the top of his lungs.

“That’s what the GPS says,” Tink said.

Tink held out her cell phone from the back seat. Tanesha turned around to look at it.

“This is the place,” Heather said.

“It’s a dump,” Tanesha said.

“Losing your nerve?” Heather asked.

“Oh, hell, no,” Tanesha said. “This prick sells my phone number and address to the highest bidder. He’s going to get a piece of my mind.”

“We’d better get moving, then,” Heather said. “They’re expecting us at the Castle, and you need to study.”

Nodding, Tanesha got out of the driver’s seat. Heather met her on the sidewalk and Tink followed close behind. By the time they were a few feet from the building, they could smell a mixture of grease, cigarette smoke, and food.

“Brings back memories,” Heather said.

Tanesha nodded. She paused at the front door. At one time, there was a security system that kept the front door locked unless someone buzzed you in. Some time ago, someone had unloaded a handgun into the box and pried it from the wall. The metal plate dangled from the wall by electric wire. Heather pushed open the door and they stepped onto a dirty, peeling linoleum floor. Tanesha pointed to the half flight of stairs down.

They went down the threadbare, filthy carpeted stairs to a basement hallway. They continued along the dark hallway past the open doors where scantily clad women watching television were in full view.

“Looking for some fun?” A woman said from the doorway of the first apartment. She tugged on Tink’s forearm to keep them from going anywhere.

“We’re looking for Cody,” Tanesha said.

The woman looked Tanesha up and down before pointing to the last door on the hallway.

“When you finished up, come back and see me,” the woman said. “I’ll give you an early bird discount.”

“Gross,” Tink said and pulled her arm away from the woman.

The woman gave her a creepy smile.

“No offense meant,” the woman said. “Just trying to be friendly.”

Tink gave Heather a disgusted looked.

“Can’t you do something?” Tink asked.

Heather raised an eyebrow. She clapped her hands together. One at a time, as they passed, the women closed their doors. They slowed at the last door on the hallway.

“What did you do?” Tink asked in a whisper.

“Boosted their self-respect,” Heather said.

Tanesha touched Heather’s arm in approval. Tink nodded. Tanesha pounded on Cody’s door.

“Just a sec,” a young man yelled from inside the apartment.

They waited a few minutes before the door opened a little bit. Cody wore baggy shorts over his full leg cast. His chest was bare and his hair wet as if he’d just stepped out of the shower. He took one look at Tanesha and tried to slam the door closed. Tink held it open.

“Who do you think you are?” Tanesha asked.

“I… I…” Cody said.

“You sold my phone number and address to the paparazzi,” Tanesha said.

Cody’s eyes went wide and his mouth hung open. He took a breath to respond.

“Don’t deny it,” Tanesha said. “I know you did it. What I don’t know is why? Why do you hate me so much? What did I ever do to you?”

“I… uh…” Cody said.

“He’s going to pass out,” Heather said in a low tone to Tanesha. She nodded.

“I don’t hate you,” Cody said. “I don’t. No. That’s not it. I know you think that’s it, but it’s not.”

“You call her the n-word!” Tink said.

Cody’s panicked eyes flicked to Tink. Tanesha raised her eyebrows, and Cody swallowed hard.

“Well… I….” Cody started.

“So far, I haven’t told the school that you took my phone number off the confidential class list and sold it to the vultures,” Tanesha said with a sniff. “What do you think they’re going to do?”

Cody shook his head.

“What do you think Fin’s going to do when I tell him?” Tanesha asked.

“I…,” Cody swallowed hard. “You don’t have to…”

“Cody?” asked a male voice with the distinctive accent of someone with a mental challenge. “Who is it?”

“No one,” Cody said.

“It sounds like some body. Did they come to play video games with us?” the young man asked. A teenaged young man with Down’s Syndrome appeared in the hallway. “That’s Miss T. “

Cody glared at Tanesha.

“Hi, Miss T!” the young man said. “Hi Miss T’s friends. Are you famous too?”

Heather glanced at Tink.

“Hey dude,” Tink said. She pushed by Cody. “I’ll play video games with you.”

“Great!” the young man said. “Hi! I’m Brian.”

“Hi Brian,” Tink said with her usual giggle. “I’m Tink.”

Tink followed Brian into the living room area of the apartment. Tanesha watched at Brian give Tink a video game controller. She settled in and they started to play.

“My parents died when I was in high school,” Cody said. “Car accident. On the way to watch me play my last football game. The state wanted to put Brian in this home. I was…”

Cody nodded.

“You needed the money,” Tanesha said with an understanding nod.

“I…” Cody swallowed hard. “You always seem like you’ve got it all together. Rich, famous husband, and Fin hanging on your every word.”

Cody’s resentment came forward with an angry glare.

“What do you care if anyone knows stuff about you?” Cody asked. “Just more fodder for the your pathetic ego driven tragedy.”

Locked in the laser beam of his rage, Tanesha took a step back. Heather touched Cody’s arm. Surprised, he looked at her. After a moment, he let out a breath. Tink laughed at something Brian said and they turned to look.

“That’s my daughter,” Heather said in a warm voice. “We call her Tink but her name is Tiffanie. Before I knew her, she lived on the streets. But then, I did too.”

Cody looked up with surprised.

“Tanesha had to put her first year of medical school on hold because she had to work four jobs to save her Gran’s house,” Heather said. “Her Gran raised her.”

“Why?” Cody asked.

“You can look it up online,” Heather said. “I’m just trying to say that we understand your situation, just not your choices.”

Cody nodded. He glanced at Tanesha.

“What’s the deal with that guy Fin?” Cody asked. “Is he your boyfriend? He just reeks of sexuality. And that pseudo-not-quite-English accent. All the girls in our class want to get with him.”

“He’s family,” Tanesha said. “And he can be a real prick.”

“He acts like he’s royalty or something,” Cody said.

“Or something,” Tanesha said with a laugh.

“I’m all Brian has,” Cody said. “The social worker comes every month to see if they can take him away from me. We’re barely scraping by and then I broke my leg in lab that day. Your phone number and address will pay my rent for the next six months.”

Heather glanced at Tanesha.

“So I’d like to say I’m sorry,” Cody said. “But I’m not.”

“You know, Jeraine lost everything,” Heather said.

“IRS,” Cody said. “I heard that. Serves him right.”

Heather and Tanesha scowled at him.

“He’s a lying, cheating, asshole,” Cody said. “He’s treated you like garbage.”

“Jeraine?” Tink yelled from inside the apartment.

“He has,” Tanesha said with a nod. Heather nodded.

“What can you possibly see in that guy?” Cody asked.

“Why do you care?” Tanesha asked. “You going to sell the exclusive to some stupid magazine?”

“Fair enough,” Cody said with a nod.

They stood in uncomfortable silence for a few moments before Cody cleared his throat.

“Listen, if you tell school, they’ll kick me out.”

“They sure will,” Tanesha said.

Cody swallowed hard. For a moment, Tanesha and Cody just looked at each other.

“I have another idea,” Tanesha said. “Why don’t we use you to sell the information we want people to know?”

“The dirt makes more money,” Cody said.

“How would you know?” Tanesha asked.

Cody sucked his teeth for a second before he nodded.

“I’ll give you an exclusive,” Tanesha said. “You and only you will tell the world who Jeraine was kissing.”

“Really?” Cody asked. “Why would you do that?”

“You need the money and have the contacts,” Tanesha said. “It seems like a win-win to me.”

“I’ll think about it,” Cody said.

“Think fast,” Heather said. “We have to be somewhere.”

“I have to go to school,” Cody said.

“We can take Brian for the morning,” Heather said. “You and Tanesha can go study.”

“What would Brian do?” Cody said with a scowl.

“Hang out with Tink and her boyfriend,” Heather said. “We’re working on the garden this weekend. He can help if he wants to or play video games with them. They’re nice kids. He’ll like them.”

“You’d do that?” Cody asked.

“Only if you stop calling me a n…” Tanesha started and then shook her head. “You know.”

“One word vs a whole day of studying,” Heather said. “Plus, Brian will have a blast.”

“And a ride to school,” Tanesha said.

“Done,” Cody said.

He hopped away from the door. Tanesha and Heather waited for a few minutes before Cody arrived back at the door wearing a shirt and his backpack.

“Time to go, Brian,” Cody said.

In what was clearly a daily ritual, Brian took his jacket from a hook by the door and picked up his backpack.

“Did you remember lunch?” Brian asked Cody.

“It’s in your backpack,” Cody said.

“Thank you, Cody,” Brian said.

“They’re going to take us,” Cody said.

“Okay,” Brian said with a smile.

He looked at Tanesha and gave her a bright smile.

“Shotgun,” Brian said.

Tink squealed and laughed. They went down the hall and out of the apartment building.

“Someday, we’re going to have a real house,” Brian said.

Tanesha glanced at the young man. She remembered a time when she’d said those very same words over and over again. She had that house and that life now. She smiled to herself and got in the driver’s seat. She could afford to be generous today.

“First stop, the biggest house you’ve ever seen in your entire life,” Tanesha said.

“Goodie!” Brian said.

Smiling, Tanesha started toward the Castle.

~~~~~~~~

Saturday morning — 11:35 a.m.

Warm and sleepy, Blane opened his eyes and stared at the sky. He’d been napping on a chaise lounge on the back deck of the Castle. Just one week ago, he’d been in his private hospital room. Today, he was napping in the warm sun while the turn-the-beds-weekend unfolded in the garden below him.

He leaned up to see what was going on. Nadia, ER doctor, friend of Ivan’s, Nash’s love, was hanging from one of the fruit trees. She held a pair of loppers and was attacking the dry and dead limbs left by last year’s early frost. At the base of the tree, Valerie and Delphie caught the limbs and offered encouragement.

In the garden bed nearest to him, Noelle and Sissy leaning on garden rakes while Nash and Dale shoveled compost from the heavily laden wheelbarrow. Noelle and Sissy sprang into action once Nash and Dale had finished. While the girls spread the compost onto the bed, Dale raced the wheelbarrow back to the driveway where Jacob was standing in the bed of a Lipson Construction truck filled with compost. Like every year, they had used the compost they’d made from kitchen clippings and garden extras. They were now using the commercial compost.

If he were feeling better, he’d have been standing in the bed of the truck with Jacob as he’d done the last four or five years. But all of this week’s activities had caught up with him. When he’d felt worn out, Delphie had pushed him to rest in right here in this lounger.

He glanced to his right. A fairy was sound asleep in a chaise lounge next to him. The fairy wore a sweatshirt and sweatpants wore a hoodie over her head. She was wrapped in a thick blanket so that all of her skin was covered. Blane knew it was a female fairy because Delphie had said, “She was not feeling well.” Otherwise, he knew nothing about her. He made a mental not to ask Edie if some acupuncture would help.

He looked at the garden bed near the driveway when Ivan laughed. He was currently managing a bed full of little children. Katy and Paddie were planting what Blane knew was lettuce. Katy poured the seed down a small trough in the row. Paddie followed close behind with a stick to spread the seed. They skipped back to cover the row. Honey sat on the grass helping her daughter, Maggie, use her tiny fingers to make holes next to the pea trellis. One at a time, Mack stuffed the holes with peas. Mack put a pea in the hole, then return to Ivan for another. Ivan was laughing at Mack’s insistence on planting one at a time. Blane grinned. Through no effort of his or Heather’s, his son was meticulous.

“How are you feeling?” Heather asked.

Blane looked to see her coming from the Castle kitchen. As if his look had caused it, there was a great cheer from Tink, Charlie, Ivy, and their new friend Brian. He glanced at Heather, and she rolled her eyes.

“Wanda’s coming over as soon as she can get away,” Heather said. “She thinks Frankie can come, too.”

“Wow,” Blane said. “Is he out?”

“He only goes for half-days now,” Heather said. “He’s worked his butt off and is doing really well. His brother’s testifying next week. They wanted to give Frankie some fun friend time in case next week is hard.”

Heather nodded to where Sissy, Noelle, Nash, and Dale were working.

“They’re wrapping it up for the morning,” she said.

“The kids are amazing,” Blane said with a yawn. “I wish we had them a few years ago.”

Heather smiled.

“It’s getting warm, so everyone’s about to head inside,” Heather said. “We’ll finish up this evening when it cools off again.”

“Aden will be home then,” Blane said.

“Mike too,” Heather said. “Tanesha said that her dad was coming over after work.”

“What’s happening with our house and Jeraine’s?” Blane asked.

“Dale, Mike, and Jake turned them over once,” Heather said. “Delphie said the gardens are tiny compared to this one.”

“You mean that Jake is heading there with the rest of the compost,” Blane said.

“If you’re feeling better, I know he’d love the company,” Heather said with a smile.

Blane sent Jacob a wistful look. Jacob waved.

“Come on in!” Jacob yelled. “The compost’s fine!”

Blane sat up. He paused for a moment, before standing up.

“How do you feel?” Heather asked.

“Good,” Blane said.

“Tired,” Heather said.

“Tired,” Blane said.

“You can always…” Heather started.

“I can sleep in the truck,” Blane said. “I’ve done that often enough.”

Heather smiled. She didn’t want to discourage him from going with Jacob, but her eyes spoke her worry. Blane smiled and kissed her cheek. Blane gestured to the fairy sleeping in the chaise.

“No idea.” Heather shook her head. “I made lunch — just sandwiches and stuff. Nothing fancy.”

“Nice,” Blane said. “Where is our second son?”

“With the babies upstairs,” Heather said. “Jill and Edie are with them. They should be awake in a bit. Sandy’s still at her salon.”

“Sounds like I woke up at just the right time,” Blane said.

Heather smiled. Blane looked out onto the garden again. Nash, Noelle, Sissy, and Dale were walking toward the shed with their tools. Valerie was helping Nadia down from the tree. Katy and Paddie were spinning in circles toward the deck. Ivan had Mack tucked under one arm and Maggie under the other. The children were squealing with laughter. Honey was rolling toward Delphie to return the extra seed. Blane glanced at Jacob. He had stowed the shovel and wheelbarrow and was closing the back of the bed.

“I’d better…” Blane gestured to Jacob.

Heather hugged him, and he kissed her cheek again.

“Try not to overdo it,” she said.

He smiled and jogged toward the truck. Ivan was passing with Mack and Maggie. His eldest son held his hand out and Blane slapped it.

“High five!” Mack said in more of a giggle than words.

“High five!” Blane slapped Jacob’s hand.

He jogged around to the passenger side of the truck. Jacob slowed to let Samantha Hargreaves’ Mercedes pass before they sped out of the driveway.

“Nice to see you,” Jacob said.

“You have no idea how nice it is to see you,” Blane said.

Laughing, they drove to Jeraine’s house.

~~~~~~~~

Saturday evening — 5:35 p.m.

“So…” Fin said to Tanesha as they walked to Jeraine’s car.

“So?” Tanesha asked.

“Cody?” Fin asked.

“He’s the guy who sold my phone number and address to the scumbag paparazzi,” Tanesha said.

“Yeah,” he said. He glanced at her out of the corner of his eyes. “I thought you were going to kill him or at least maim him a little bit.”

“I wanted to,” Tanesha said with a grin.

“And?”

“I felt bad for the guy,” Tanesha said. “He’s taking care of his younger brother and… I don’t know. I guess I felt like I had enough in my life that I could be generous.”

Fin sniffed, and Tanesha looked at him.

“I expect you to behave yourself,” Tanesha said.

“I assumed you expected me to give him frog legs,” Fin said. The malice in his voice was palpable.

“No,” Tanesha said. “That would be bad.”

“Hmm,” Fin said.

Tanesha hit the unlock button on the car, and Fin got in the passenger side.

“What will you do when he sells your secrets again?” Fin asked.

“Having frog legs isn’t going to stop him from doing that,” Tanesha said with a laugh.

Fin grinned at her. She started the car, and they drove back toward the library where they were picking up Cody. He’d wanted to call Brian so they’d left him there to get the car.

“I was thinking about using him,” Tanesha said.

“For sex?” Fin asked.

“You’re so predictable,” Tanesha said with a laugh.

“I just can’t imagine what you would need this creature for,” Fin said.

“To pass information to the paparazzi,” Tanesha said.

When Fin didn’t respond, she turned to look at him.

“That’s a good idea,” Fin said.

“I know,” Tanesha said.

She pulled over to the curb and Cody got in the back. Tanesha waited for him to buckle his safety belt before starting toward the Castle.

“How’s Brian?” Tanesha asked.

“Great,” Cody said. “It sounds like he’s had a really fun day. He said that he met a lady there who can tell fortunes?”

“Delphie,” Tanesha said.

“She’s an Oracle,” Fin said.

“Wow, that’s wild,” Cody said. “He said to tell you Fin that your sister is sick.”

“Edie?” Fin asked.

“A… something,” Cody said.

“Aife,” Fin said. He glanced at Tanesha before slipping into his own thoughts.

“That’s probably it,” Cody said. “I couldn’t really figure out what he was saying.”

“Fin has three younger sisters,” Tanesha said. Fin looked at Tanesha. “You don’t seem surprised that she’s sick.”

“She works a lot, so she gets sick when she stops,” Fin said. “Know anyone like that?”

“Hey, that’s why I never stop working,” Tanesha said.

Fin smiled, and Cody laughed.

“I’m mostly surprised that she’s here,” Fin said. He glanced at Cody.

“What does it mean?” Tanesha asked.

“It could mean a lot of things,” Fin said. “But my guess is that I’m going to be a dad soon.”

“Is your wife pregnant?” Cody asked.

“Very,” Tanesha said.

“That’s exciting,” Cody said. “I spent last summer in the maternity ward of Pres. St. Luke’s. Where’s she having the baby?”

“Since we are here, in Denver, we only have one option,” Fin said.

“Where’s that?” Cody asked.

“The house we’re going to,” Tanesha said. “Where Brian spent the day.”

“I’d hoped we’d have the child at home,” Fin said.

“Home?” Cody asked.

“Fin is from the Isle of Man,” Tanesha said. “Hence the accent.”

“Like the Bee Gees?” Cody asked.

Fin glanced at him in the rearview mirror before nodding. Cody smiled. They drove in silence for a while. Tanesha slowed at the light at Colfax Boulevard and Race Street. Cody saw the crowd of photographers surrounding the Castle.

“What is this place?” Cody asked.

“Home away from home,” Fin said.

Tanesha turned right and pulled up to the gate.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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