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Denver Cereal Volume 1
CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-SIX
Friday morning — 7:35 a.m.
“What do you mean?” Nash asked.
Everyone stopped talking at the sound of Nash’s panicked voice.
“What’s going on?” Sandy asked.
“He said…” Nash started and then stopped. “He said… and I…”
Nash jumped up from his seat and started toward the door. Sam caught the boy before he left the main dining room. He turned Nash around and gave him a slight push back to his set. Since Sissy and Ivan were there, they were eating breakfast all together. Honey wheeled in with a platter of bacon.
“Come on, son,” Sam said.
Sam herded Nash to his seat next to Ivan. Jill brought the twins to their matching high chairs. Katy skipped in the room beside Jacob.
“What did we miss?” Jill asked.
“Nash freaked out,” Noelle said. “We don’t know why?”
“Why in the world would Nash freak out?” Valerie asked as she came in the dining room.
“Can’t everyone mind their own business!” Nash yelled.
“No.” Laughing, Noelle shook her head.
“That’s just not possible,” Sissy said.
“Your business is our business, son,” Aden said.
Aden set a platter of eggs down and went to sit next to Sandy. Nash sneered at them. Mike came in carrying Jackie. He set Jackie next to Tanner and sat down beside her highchair. Valerie hugged her father, and sat down next to Mike.
“Hey!” Sandy said to Valerie. “I didn’t know you were back.”
“We came in last night late for turn-the-garden-beds weekend,” Valerie said.
“It’s on our calendar,” Sandy said. “We wouldn’t miss it for the world. Charlie doesn’t have to testify today or early next week, so he’s moving home for a bit. He’s not much use digging, but Dale said he was coming. Dale’s pretty handy.”
“And so cute,” Valerie said.
Sandy smiled. Jill looked up and nodded.
“Why did you freak out?” Noelle asked Nash in her most annoying little sister voice.
“Nothing,” Nash said in his best teenager sullen.
“I told him that Nadia was coming tonight,” Ivan said. “She called one hour ago. She has the weekend off and wants to visit. She said something about a new exhibit at the museum.”
“There’s an impressionist exhibit,” Mike said. Gesturing to Noelle and himself, he added, “We’re going tomorrow early before the crowds get there. You’re welcome to join us.”
“They are very slow,” Valerie said.
“We go over every piece,” Mike said. “We look at the lighting, the structure of the painting…”
“The subject,” Noelle said. “How it was made.”
“From brush strokes to vision,” Mike nodded.
“It will take them most of the day,” Valerie said with a nod.
“Jake and I are working on the first turn of the beds today,” Mike said. “You could help us after school, Nash, or even go to the museum with Noelle and me. Either way.”
Nash shook his head. He made an effort to stuff his breakfast into his mouth so that he could leave. The enormous bite left him choking. Sam pounded the boy’s back until he sputtered. When Nash caught his breath, he looked up. Everyone at the table was staring at him. Maggie slipped off Honey’s lap and toddled over to Nash. He pulled her up on his lap. Not quite speaking, Maggie leaned into Nash to show him that she loved him. Nash hugged the child to him. When no one said anything, Nash looked up again.
“What?” Nash asked.
“Do not worry about this,” Ivan said to Nash. “Nadia, she does what she does. She has always been this way. There’s very little one can do about it.”
“Plus, she wants to see you,” Ivan said. “That’s a good thing, no?”
“Maybe,” Nash said. “I just wanted to be…”
“If you were, she might not like you as much,” Mike said.
Nash looked across the table at him and Mike nodded his head. Nash glanced toward where Delphie was sitting at the head of the table. She had been suspiciously silent through this entire event. Ivy said something to Delphie and Delphie looked up at him. The Oracle read his face for a moment before giving him a sweet smile.
“You don’t have anything to say?” Nash asked Delphie.
“We’re going to have a great weekend,” Delphie said.
Shaking his head, Nash had to smile. Maggie tugged on his thumb and he gave her a piece of his bacon. When he looked up, everyone was talking and laughing. He glanced at Ivan and Sissy. They seemed genuinely happy. Sissy gave him an understanding smile, and he nodded. She knew exactly what he was going through. He let out a breath.
Maybe he could be happy like Sissy was now. He smiled and finished his breakfast.
Friday afternoon — 2:45 p.m.
“Hi,” Dale said.
Heather looked up from where she and Mack were coloring on the steps of Castle’s deck off the main kitchen. She smiled at Dale and scooted Mack over so that Dale could get by.
“Uh,” Dale said.
Heather looked up again. She put her hand on her brow to shade her eyes from the bright sun. Dale moved over so that his head blocked the sun and Heather got a good look at the young man. He was five or six years younger than she. A thin layer of dirt clung to his sheen of sweat from working on the garden beds. With her look, Dale turned to glance over to where Charlie was sitting. Charlie gave him a “go on” gesture.
“Can I help you with something?” Heather asked.
“Ma-Ma.” Mack tugged on her sleeve. He pointed to her mouth.
“Oh, sorry,” Heather said in English. “Mack tells me I’m not speaking English. I apologize. I have to travel soon. I’m trying to learn a new language. Edie and I have been speaking it all day.”
Heather gestured toward the kitchen. As if she’d heard Heather, Edie appeared carrying a tray with pitchers of lemonade and iced tea. Dale jogged up the steps to take the tray from her. He set the tray where Edie instructed him to, on the picnic table, and went back to where Heather was sitting. Heather was looking at Charlie. When Dale returned to the deck stairs, she glanced at him.
“How can I help?” Heather asked in English.
“Would you like me to pick up Tink?” Though clearly not his question, Dale asked it anyway.
“No,” Heather said. “Wanda’s dad is taking Tink, Wanda, and Sissy to the movies. They should be back for dinner.”
Dale nodded. He looked like he was going to run off to the garden.
“Was that really your question?” Heather asked.
When Dale looked down, Mack and Heather were both looking up at him. Their open, honest faces reflected only their desire to help. His sorrow welled inside him and he cleared his throat.
“Um,” Dale said.
Dale tucked his dirty hands into his jeans pockets and looked down. He looked impossibly young and vulnerable. Mack reached up and tugged on his hand. Dale looked at the young boy.
“Mama helps,” Mack said with a nod.
Dale glanced at Heather and then back at the child. Mack gave Dale one of his beautiful smiles. Dale couldn’t help but grin the child.
“How can I help?” Heather asked.
“Um,” Dale said.
Mack tugged on his arm and Dale sat down on the step next to them. Edie stepped by as she went to offer tea or lemonade to Jacob and Mike. They watched the interaction — Charlie making jokes which made Jacob and Mike laugh; Edie asking about lemonade before turning around and headed back toward them.
“Charlie told me about your mom and dad,” Dale said.
“What about them?” Heather asked.
“Psyche and Eros,” Dale said.
“Oh?” Heather’s voice was mild, but Dale blushed.
“Charlie and me, man, we’re really tight,” Dale said in a flurry of words. “I can’t really explain it, but we just hit it off. He’s like my best friend, even though he’s not eighteen yet. But I’m only twenty-three so it’s not that big of a difference.”
Heather smiled at the young man.
“It’s not a secret,” Edie said as she passed. “Hedone has nothing to hide.”
Dale looked at the fairy.
“She’s not defensive,” Edie said. “She is not her father. She actually wants to know how she can help.”
“Really?” Dale asked.
Edie nodded and went to the deck. Dale looked at Heather, who nodded.
“I have to learn this language,” Heather said. “My youngest son will be awake soon. Mack will go down for his nap in a half hour. Blane’s treating Ivan inside. He will need my help soon. I’m available now. Ask away. If I don’t want to answer, I won’t. If it’s something you shouldn’t know, I’ll get Edie to alter your memory.”
“That’s pretty straightforward,” Dale said.
“Why complicate things?” Heather asked. She smiled at Dale. “You want to know about Beth.”
Dale sucked in a breath. His green eyes locked on Heather’s before he nodded.
“Were she and I… I mean…” Dale started.
Heather squinted at him for a moment. She reached over Mack and touched Dale’s hand. Her smile dropped and her face shifted to sorrow.
“Yes, I’m sorry,” Heather said. “My father shot you and Beth with what are called ‘Dark Arrows.’ You could have love, experience it, but you were destined to tragically lose it.”
Dale looked away from her and gave a sad nod.
“This kind of thing is an aberration, uh, a misuse of his gift,” Heather said.
“Why would he do that?” Dale asked in words laced with strong emotion.
“He told me it was my fault,” Heather said. “Aphrodite thinks it was some kind of mental illness caused by losing my mother. Hera thinks he’s just a dick.”
“And you?” Dale asked.
“I personally think that being male and a God was too much power for a fairly broken being,” Heather said. “But that’s when I’m in a forgiving mood.”
“And when you’re not?” Dale asked.
“I spent a long, long time believing that all of this cruelty was my fault,” Heather said. “I believed my father when he told me that I was the cause of all of this human pain. He was my father. He was a God. He had to know the truth. When I see my children and see how innocent they are, I think…”
Heather gave a quick shake of her head. Mack looked up at his mother. Seeing her pain, he put his head on her knee. She stroked Mack’s curly black hair.
“He’s not a very good being,” Heather said.
“Charlie told me,” Dale said.
“There’s more, isn’t there?” Heather asked.
“If I die, and I meet Beth in a next life, will we have to go through this again?”
“No,” Heather said. “Hera, Aphrodite, and I are working to eliminate these dark arrows. We didn’t get to you because…”
She turned her head to look at him and he instinctively looked at her.
“Seth saved you,” Heather said.
“Delphie, you mean,” Dale said. “She told him to keep me at the house. She didn’t tell him why.”
“I doubt she knew why,” Heather said. “It’s a testament to you that you’ve survived this.”
“I wasn’t meant to?” Dale asked.
“I see Ivan or Nash,” Dale said. He swallowed hard. “You know, I had Beth. The moment I met her, she was mine and I was hers. We were one. But she was my age, Amelie’s age. She wasn’t a child or almost thirty years older than I am. I mean, we didn’t… you know… nothing unsavory, but one look and…”
He fell silent. Heather let him think.
“I was very lucky,” Dale said finally.
“Would you like to love like that again?” Heather asked.
“No,” Dale said. “I’d rather wait for Beth.”
“Will I…?” Dale asked. When he stopped talking, Heather looked at him. She read his face.
“You are capable of loving,” Heather said. “That’s all that matters. It will start in the most miniscule way — your love for Clara, the dog, or even your friendship with Charlie. Your heart will open a tiny bit. Then, over time, it will open a little bit more.”
“Seth says not to rush it,” Dale said.
“I see it,” Dale said. “In him.”
“See what?” Heather asked.
“He loves Amelie, you know, Ava?” Dale asked. “But he still loves Sandy’s mom with all of his soul. Ava knows it. She doesn’t mind. She’s just like that. She thinks it’s good that he can love because so many people can’t.”
“What?” Dale asked.
Heather didn’t say anything.
“Oh, Ava and Seth,” Dale said. “Your doing?”
“Not me,” Heather said. “Aphrodite.”
Dale turned to look at Heather. He blinked a few times before nodding his head.
“You mean, some day, I could have what they have,” Dale said.
“They really love each other,” Dale said.
“They do,” Heather said.
Dale fell quiet. They watched Jacob and Mike dig in the fertile earth for a while.
“I’m gonna…” Mack pointed to the Jacob and Mike.
“When you get big,” Heather said.
“‘morrow, I get to help Katy,” Mack nodded.
“With the planting?” Heather smiled at her kind little boy. “You sure do.”
Mack beamed at the idea he would get to work in this garden tomorrow. Turn-the-beds-weekend started at the Castle, moved to Blane and Heather’s house, and this year would finish at Tanesha and Jeraine’s home. It was a full weekend of turning the earth, adding compost, and planting the early crops. By the end of the weekend, her little boy would be much less excited to help.
“Thanks,” Dale said. He stood up. “I should get back to work.”
Heather smiled at him. He turned to stand in front of her.
“It’s going to take some time,” Heather said.
“I can wait,” Dale said. “I’m not really in any hurry.”
“One thing about having Beth was that I missed out on a lot of stuff,” Dale said.
“Stuff?” Heather asked.
“Having a guy for a best friend,” Dale said. “Learning how to garden and fix things. There’s a lot in my life now that I would never have had.”
He tried to smile, but it came out as a grimace.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Dale said. “I would give it up in a heartbeat.”
“Of course,” Heather said.
Dale nodded. His heart felt a tiny little bit more at ease and he walked away whistling.
“It’s about time!” Jacob said. He picked up a long handled round digging shovel and walked it to Dale. “There’s more work to do, son!”
“Son?” Dale laughed. “How did I get to be your son?”
“You talk about as little as his sons!” Mike said.
The men laughed. Heather smirked at the joke. Looking down, she saw that Mack was fading. She picked up her son and went inside to settle him down for a nap.
Friday evening — 5:50 p.m.
Nash looked down at his feet. He was wearing the new shoes he and Sandy had just purchased. In fact, everything he was wearing was new. Mrs. Anjelika had spent an entire afternoon going over men’s clothing with Teddy and him. They’d chosen boxer briefs, like their fathers. They’d picked similar shoes although Teddy liked boots over actual dress shoes. Teddy liked a traditional western wear look while Nash had picked something more European.
Nash shifted. The boxer briefs were a little more constrictive than what he boxers he wore as a child. That’s how he thought of everything now.
At one time, he was a child.
And now he was not.
He swallowed hard. No one had laughed when he told them he was an adult now. Not a single adult had made fun of him. Not any of the girlfriends or his parents or anyone. Not even Noelle. They had just tried helped him and Teddy get what they wanted.
Noelle had said that Teddy looked “smashing” in his new clothes. Nash felt a pang of excitement race through him. He hoped that Nadia would think the same thing.
Nash knew he was hardly an adult. He didn’t even have a driver’s license yet.
He just knew that he felt really different. He felt serious and focused for the first time in his life. He knew where he was going and wanted to get there. He didn’t have time for goofing around. Luckily, Teddy felt the same way. He nodded to himself.
There was a sound up the breezeway and Nash looked up. His heart pounded in his chest. He stared down the passage for a few moments. Nadia did not appear. He let out a breath.
Scowling he looked down at the flowers in his hand. His sweaty hands had mangled paper around them. If she didn’t come soon, he was going to have to put them down.
“Are those for me?”
He gasped. Nash’s head jerked up and Nadia was standing in front of him. When he looked up, her entire face transformed with radiant joy. He blushed, looked down, and pushed the flowers out to her. She took them from him.
“I wanted to…” Nash started.
He stopped talking when he saw her face. Like him, she didn’t know what to do. They stood less than a foot apart with the bouquet of flowers between them.
“Ms. Kerminoff?” A man asked from behind Nadia.
They both looked up to see who it was. A man wearing dark suit and dark glasses came up behind Nadia. He had an inch of stubble growing perfectly on his face and thick dark hair. He wasn’t quite as tall as Nash, but his body was thick with well-groomed muscles. Everything about him whispered “Alpha Male.”
“I’ve been informed that your friend has arranged adequate transportation,” the man said. He set Nadia’s luggage next to her. The man gave Nash a once over. Raising an eyebrow, the man said, “Would you like me to escort you to the vehicle? Carry the bag?”
His tone indicated just what he thought. Nash was a little kid. Nash wasn’t a big hairy man with perfect facial hair. Nash couldn’t carry Nadia’s bag or keep her safe in the airport. Nash’s eyes flicked to Nadia. She’d heard the man loud and clear. Her face was bright red, too.
“That won’t be necessary.” Mike’s voice came from behind Nash.
The man looked passed Nash to see Mike. This man might think he was something, but you just had to get near Mike to know that Mike was the real deal. Mike radiated power and control. Nash felt like crying with relief. Mike got close to the man to pick up Nadia’s bag. For a moment, the man was unwilling to give Mike an inch. Not one for subtle, Mike nudged the man out of the way. The man had to take a couple of steps back.
Mike gave the man an irritated smile and turned in place.
“Give her your elbow,” Mike said to Nash under his breath.
Nash held out his elbow. Nadia latched on like a drowning victim. Mike made them go ahead of him.
“I…” Nash started to say.
Mike shook his head. Nash shut his mouth. They walked to where Mike had parked the small limousine. Mike helped Nadia and Nash into the back. He set Nadia’s bag into the trunk before getting into the driver’s seat.
“Who was that dick?” Mike asked.
“No one I know,” Nadia said.
“You’ve never met him?” Mike asked.
“He’s just someone from the charter company,” Nadia said. “He was an attendant on my flight. Brought me sparkling water. Why?”
“Bruno called,” Mike said. “Said I should get in there fast.”
“Is Nadia in danger?” Nash asked.
Mike didn’t respond. He looked at Nash through the rearview mirror for a moment before his eyes flicked to Nadia.
“Did you take yourself off a dating list?” Mike asked.
“Matchmaker,” Nadia said. “It was something my mom set up with her kooky Russian friends. I’m supposed to get married this year.”
“You are?” Nash’s voice cracked with panic.
Nadia grabbed his hand and held it to her chest.
“It’s something my mother wanted,” Nadia said. “She wanted to make sure I didn’t invest in my career so much that I missed having kids. With the stuff with Sissy being in the newspapers, everyone knows that Ivan and I aren’t a couple. But before, we let everyone think… plus, Ivan is Bratva. No one would dare bother me. But now everyone knows I’m single. This Matchmaker has been calling non-stop.”
“You need to get married?” Nash asked. “Now?”
“No,” Nadia said. “I don’t have to do anything. The Matchmaker had a couple of men she wants me to meet. She sent me their information and they’re…”
“After I met Nash, I called her,” Nadia said. She turned in the seat to look at Nash. “I called at the Nurse’s station outside Sissy’s room. Remember? I was on the phone when you left?”
“I called her immediately,” Nadia said. “She tried to talk me out of it, but…”
Nadia shook her head.
“She keeps calling,” Nadia said. “But I don’t have time for phone calls with services I’ve already cancelled.”
“Bruno said that there are more than a few young men who wanted…” Mike said.
“My money,” Nadia interrupted. “Of course they do.”
She slapped her free hand against the bench. Mike gave a curt nod and moved the car into traffic. After a moment, Mike put up the barrier between him and them. They both gave the barrier a panicked look.
Nash turned his body to look at her.
“I’m glad you came,” Nash said. Nadia beamed at him. He put his arm around her and they rode to Denver.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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