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NOTE: Today’s story contains a graphic description of an injury incurred by one of the characters during a rape . It may not be suitable for all audiences.
CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-EIGHT
“Why do you ask, Ivy?” Samantha asked.
“That’s the guy who, you know…” Ivy said.
Even at ten years old, Ivy was a tiny girl. Samantha had to kneel down to see her eye to eye.
“You remember him?” Samantha asked.
“He made the guys let him go first,” Ivy said in a soft voice. “Said he liked young virgins.”
Ivy nodded. Sandy put her arm around the child’s shoulders for support.
“We’ll make sure we tell them that in court,” Samantha said with a nod. She got up. “I love breakfast. I almost never get to go. I’m so glad we’re going.”
“No,” Ivy said. “You don’t understand.”
Samantha knelt down to Ivy again.
“What don’t I understand?” Samantha asked.
“He marked me,” Ivy said. “On the place between, you know.”
“Me too,” the other young girl said. “Burned his initials there.”
“And his ring,” a third girl said. She looked up at her mother and her mother nodded.
“We looked into getting it removed, but…” her mother said with a shake of her head. “At least she doesn’t have to look at it.”
Samantha looked down the line at the three youngest victims. Sandy gave the mother a grim look and the mother nodded.
“He said it was so any guy who came later would know he’d been there first,” Ivy said.
“Did you girls tell the police this?” Samantha asked.
“No one asked,” Ivy said. “It’s in my medical file because it got infected.”
“Mine too,” the girl with her parents said.
The girl’s parents nodded.
“Can you excuse me for a minute?” Samantha asked.
“We’ll see you at breakfast,” Sandy said. “Come on, girls. There are pancakes waiting for us.”
They went out the door. Sandy walked with her arm around Ivy. Bruno was driving so Sandy stayed with Ivy. They slipped into the back of the SUV.
“Where did she go?” Ivy asked when they were in the SUV.
“I think she went to talk to the DA,” Sandy said.
“Am I in trouble?” Ivy asked.
“No,” Sandy said. “If anything, you’ve solved their problem.”
“What do you mean?” Ivy asked.
“We can connect this jerk to you in a real physical way,” Sandy said.
“Oh,” Ivy said. “Am I going to have to show everybody in court?”
“Not a chance,” Sandy said. “But you might have pictures shown. Would that be okay?”
“I guess so,” Ivy said. She thought for a moment before nodding, “Yeah, that’s okay.”
Sandy nodded. They fell silent on the short drive to Sam’s No. 3 on Fifteenth Street. They were getting out when Ivy tugged on Sandy’s shirt. Sandy looked at her.
“Is it okay to wish he was dead?” Ivy asked.
“I do,” Sandy said with a smile. “It’s probably not very healthy for me. But man… I wish he died in some horrible way.”
“Acid bath,” Ivy whispered. “Giant garbage disposal. Whrrrrr.”
Sandy smiled and Ivy laughed.
“You may need to hold onto that anger just to get through this,” Sandy said.
“And then what?” Ivy asked.
“Then we’ll send you to an ashram to learn forgiveness,” Sandy said. “Ommmm…”
Ivy giggled and nodded. The girl ran forward so that she could sit next to Charlie. It was the first time Charlie had been in the restaurant since he was beaten up. The wait staff made sure they were welcome. They had just ordered when Samantha Hargreaves arrived. She tucked into the seat that Sandy had saved for her.
“What happened?” Sandy asked.
“Turns out that everyone missed this,” Samantha said. “Probably because they had to replace the entire crime team, but no one knew what I was talking about when I told them. They did not know that the perp marked his youngest victims. Not with his initials anyway. And they have that ring; took it from him when they booked him. It’s a school ring with his name on the inside. While I was standing there, the detectives matched Ivy’s burn to that ring. They are subpoenaing the other girls’ medical records right now.”
“And?” Sandy asked.
“I think we’ve got him,” Samantha said.
“They’re not going to go down without a fight,” Sandy said.
“Nope,” Samantha said. “We need to buckle up. It’s going to be a wild road.”
“Now, when are you going back to work?” Samantha asked.
“I’m going in today to see what’s what,” Sandy said. “I haven’t been there in a long time.”
“And you’re willing to do your friend Samantha’s hair today?” Samantha asked.
Sandy looked at Samantha. She picked up a plate of Samantha’s lovely auburn hair and looked at the ends.
“I haven’t had a cut since long before the blessed birth was born,” Samantha said.
“Blessed birth?” Sandy asked with a laugh.
“Once a nickname gets started in my family, it sticks,” Samantha said.
“How is she?” Sandy asked.
“Oh, let me tell you,” Samantha said with a smile.
Samantha took out her cellphone to show Sandy the pictures. For the next hour, they ate breakfast, laughed, and looked at the blessed birth. Fortified, Sandy looked around the table.
“What are you thinking?” Samantha asked.
“I think we’ll get through this,” Sandy said.
“Yes,” Samantha said. “We will.”
Monday mid-morning — 11 am
Heather stood on the hospital elevator for what she hoped was, at the very least, one of the last times. She wore her infant son in tight sling that Valerie had helped her tie. Tink was leaning against the corner of the elevator in a sullen silence. Stunned and amazed by the elevator itself, Mack held tightly to her hand. A stranger looked at her and smiled.
“They are adorable,” he said.
“Thanks,” Heather said. Tink cast her a dark look. Shaking her head, Heather said, “What?”
“English?” Tink asked in a surly way at the same time the stranger said, “Excuse me.”
“Sorry,” Tink said. “My mom makes up code languages for the CIA. When she’s working on one, she randomly speaks it. It’s insane.”
“Thank you for your service to our great country,” the stranger said.
Heather gave him a vague smile. The elevator stopped and he stepped off. The elevator doors closed and the elevator started moving again.
“CIA?” Heather asked.
“What language was that?” Tink asked. “It sounded like gibberish.”
“I spoke another language,” Heather asked. She looked at Tink, who nodded. She glanced at Mack, who also nodded. “Sorry, I had no idea.”
“What language was it?” Tink’s voice rose with irritation and exasperation.
“Probably Olympian,” Heather said. “I’ve been trying to re-learn it. I have to attend a meeting next week.”
“Olympians speak their own languages?” Tink asked.
“Unfortunately,” Heather said. “To make things more exciting, Titans do as well.”
“Elitist snobs,” Tink said.
Heather nodded. The elevator stopped and the doors opened. Tink sneered at the doors but didn’t move.
“Come on,” Heather said.
“He doesn’t want to see me,” Tink said. “He wants to see his baby, then you, then maybe Mack before he gets to the reject.”
“Tiffany!” Blane’s voice came from the landing. “I can hear her voice, but I don’t see her! Is that you?”
Unable to stop herself, Tink ran off the elevator and into Blane’s arms. Over Tink’s shoulder, Blane winked at Heather, as she stood on the elevator landing. While Tink cried, Blane talked in her ear.
“Daddy!” Mack said. “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”
Mack wrenched his hand from Heather’s tight grip and ran to where Tink and Blane were hugging. He put his arms around their legs. Blane kissed Tink’s cheek and picked up Mack in one arm. He kept his other arm firmly around Tink. Heather hung back for a moment to give him time to enjoy his family. When he looked up at her, she stepped forward.
“May I?” Blane asked.
Heather gave a slight nod. He tapped Tink’s waist and she kissed him on the cheek again. Her face wet with tears, Tink let go of Blane and latched onto Heather’s shoulder.
“Mommy!” Mack said and squirmed.
The boy held out his arm to Heather. She took Mack from Blane. He gave her a soft smile before carefully lifting their new son from the sling.
“Hello, son,” Blane said, as he looked upon his son for the first time.
Blane stared down at his son and the baby opened his eyes.
“Oh my God, I think my heart just broke open,” Blane said.
He held his arm out. Moving as a unit, Tink, Mack, and Heather hugged him. He kissed Heather.
“We love you, Daddy!” Mack said the words he and Heather had practiced for days.
Blane started to cry.
“Let’s go home,” Heather said in a soft voice.
“I have to check out and…” Blane said.
He looked up to see his nurse waiting with a wheelchair. Still crying, Blane gave their son back to Heather before doing another round of thanking his nurses. He went from person to person finally ending with his doctor.
“He’s doing very well,” the doctor said. “We’ve started him on a strict vaccine schedule but, just like with your baby, until we’re done, he won’t be fully protected.”
Heather smiled at the information the doctor had already given her when he called this morning. The doctor went over the same information again — watch his diet, we don’t know about allergies, take it very slow, try to avoid crowds, don’t be around sick people, and other good advice for Blane’s brand new immune system. Heather nodded and smiled.
After all the talk and thank you’s and goodbyes, Heather’s little family was finally standing at the back of the elevator. Blane’s nurse wheeled him into the elevator, turned him around, and then pushed the button for the lobby.
“You know that most of Lipson construction is waiting in the lobby,” Heather said.
“They are?” Blane asked. His voice was laced with genuine wonder.
“Of course they are,” Heather said with a smile.
“Mr. Lipson,” the nurse said. “Why don’t you put on this mask? That way you can see your friends and reduce your risk of getting sick.”
“You knew?” Blane turned around to look at her nurse.
“Of course,” the nurse said with a smile. She nodded toward Heather.
Blane leaned back and smiled at her. She winked at him. The elevator opened to the Lobby.
“Is that him?” Sam Lipson’s voice came from the landing. “Blane? Son?”
The nurse wheeled him out of the elevator. Tink was about to follow when Heather put her hand on the girl’s arm.
“Let’s give him a minute,” Heather said. “They haven’t seen him this entire time.”
Tink looked into Heather’s eyes for a moment before nodding.
“Isn’t this hard for you?” Tink asked. “Don’t you want him for yourself?”
“I’m okay,” Heather said. “We’ll have time later.”
“If it was Charlie, I’d be mad that he didn’t say hello to me first,” Tink said.
She glanced at Heather, who shrugged.
“I’ve learned a lot about love in the last month,” Heather said. She smiled at Tink. “Okay, go ahead.”
Tink got off the elevator and Heather followed. They stood outside the elevator watching Blane’s friends, family, and coworkers welcome him back.
“Wow,” Tink said.
Heather smiled and nodded.
“Let’s find a quiet place to wait,” Heather said.
She didn’t get far before Lipson Construction’s head of estimating grabbed Mack. Jacob got Tink to introduce her to some of office staff she would work with this summer. Heather and the baby went to the bench in the corner. She hadn’t been there more than a minute before Jill joined her.
“This is amazing,” Jill said.
“Yes, it is,” Heather said.
The baby squirmed and gave a squawk.
“Ahh,” Jill said.
“He’s hungry,” Heather reached into her baby bag. “Would you like to feed him?”
“Can I?” Jill asked.
“Sure,” Heather said.
“I can…” Jill said. She gestured to her swollen breasts.
“If you’d like,” Heather said. “I brought bottles, too.”
“You don’t mind?” Jill asked. “My boys barely have time for this before they want to cause mischief.”
“I am grateful for all you do for us,” Heather said. “This is such a loving gift.”
Jill greedily took the baby. She unhooked her nursing bra. Heather dropped a blanket over Jill’s shoulder and the baby began to nurse.
“You’ve changed a lot,” Jill said.
“I have?” Heather asked. Jill nodded. “I hope it’s for the better.”
“You’re less insecure, less fragile, more loving,” Jill said. “Between almost dying and becoming the living embodiment of love — it makes sense that you might be a little different.”
Heather smiled. They settled in to watch the party while the baby nursed.
Monday afternoon — 3:17 p.m.
“Hey!” Tanesha yelled as she ran into the house. “I forgot my lab shoes again!”
She jogged through the house and took the stairs two at a time. Grabbing her Dansko clogs, she stopped. Jeraine’s car was outside. He was supposed to be here.
“Jer?” Tanesha asked. She listened for his response. Hearing nothing, she scowled. “Jeraine?”
She checked the upstairs bathroom. He wasn’t there. Holding her lab shoes, she jogged downstairs and set the shoes on the bottom step.
“Jeraine?” she asked and listened.
Nothing. It had been months since Jeraine had zoned out. The last time was… She thought for a moment. The day they’d received the DNA analysis on Jabari. She’d found him… in his office. She trotted down the basement steps. The basement studio was dark and empty. The lights were on in Jeraine’s office. Jeraine’s chair was pushed back as if he’d left his office in a hurry. She shook her head.
Where was he?
She slowly went back up the stairs. It was not that big of a house, she reasoned.
“Jeraine?” she asked at the top of the stairs.
Still nothing. She went through the living room and dining room in front of her. He wasn’t there. He wasn’t in the kitchen either or the downstairs half-bathroom.
“Jeraine?” she asked as she opened the small bedroom downstairs.
He wasn’t there either. She called his phone. It ran from the hall table where it was hooked up to the charger. The backdoor was open to the storm door. She went out to the backyard. Jeraine was standing on their back deck. His eyes were vague. His right hand was rubbing his reading glasses with a cloth.
“Jer?” Tanesha touched his arm.
He looked up at her. His eyebrows dropped with concern.
“Miss T? What are you…” Jeraine looked around. His head tipped to the side. “Where am I?”
“On the back deck,” Tanesha said.
“Of our house?” Jeraine asked.
“In Denver?” Jeraine asked.
“When did we get grass and trees and…” He waved his hand toward their backyard. “Stuff?”
“Jake and his team put everything in last Saturday,” Tanesha said. “You told me about it when we were in New York.”
“I did?” Jeraine asked. “Truly?”
He shook his head. Tanesha guided him into the house.
“Oh yes, this is our house,” Jeraine said. “I love it here. It’s so beautiful. So safe. And it…”
He took a deep breath through his nose.
“It smells like you.” He gave her a broad smile. “This is the best place in the whole world.”
“Do you have a headache?” Tanesha asked.
“My head? Why yes, it’s killing me,” Jeraine smiled at her. “Why is that?”
Tanesha shook her head. She picked up her cellphone and called Fin to tell him that she wouldn’t make it back to school. When she turned back, Jeraine’s eyes were vague again.
“Jer?” Tanesha asked. “You’re really scaring me.”
“Oh?” Jeraine asked. He scowled. “Aren’t you supposed to be in lab?”
“Yes, I am,” Tanesha said.
“Well, off you go!” Jeraine gave her a broad smile. She scowled at him. He looked confused and said, “What?”
“You’re acting very strange,” Tanesha said. “Are you high?”
“High?” Jeraine asked. He looked very surprised. For the first time, he seemed more himself. “I don’t think so.”
“I’m worried that you had a stroke,” Tanesha said.
“A stroke?” Jeraine asked.
She scowled at him. She checked his balance and eyesight. His speech seemed fine. She led him upstairs. He let her help him out of his clothing without even one comment about having sex. Clearly, his head was killing him. She gave him his pain pills and his migraine inhaler. She laid a wet washcloth on his head. He was asleep in a moment.
Shaking her head, she picked up his shirt, checked for stains, and dumped it into the laundry bag. She pulled his wallet out of the back pocket of his pants. His front pockets held his keys and a few Post-its. She set the contents of his pants on the desk. Turning to hang up his pants, she realized what the Post-it read. She scowled and hung up his pants. She went back to the desk and picked up the Post-it.
“10 gigs US. 3 nights LA. 3 nights Chicago. 3 nights NYC. 3 nights London. Leave next week.”
Tanesha dropped down on the bed. Jeraine had been asked to go on tour with… She turned the Post-it over. The gorgeous woman who’s album he’d just finished. The same gorgeous woman who was the last girlfriend he’d splashed all over the tabloids. She turned to look at him.
Shaking her head, she went back to the desk to put the Post-it back and picked up the second one. It was another offer to go on tour. The third Post-it held another offer. She looked at him.
No wonder he’d had a headache. He had three competing offers to go on tour. She crept downstairs to the kitchen and made herself a cup of tea.
What should she do? She hadn’t thought of him going on tour again. But he’d just won another Grammy. It made sense that he’d go on tour again. She sat down on a bar stool at the kitchen counter and thought it through.
He must have taken down these offers without thinking about her or Jabari. He’d just tucked them into his pocket. He’d probably heard the sprinklers for the new grass turn on and had gone to see what was happening. Standing there, he’d probably remembered her and Jabari. Hence the debilitating headache.
She needed to decide what she wanted to do. She drank her tea and made another cup. She’d finished her third cup of tea when she made up her mind. She went upstairs to retrieve the Post-its. Downstairs, she took her cell phone out of her bag.
“Schmidty?” Tanesha asked.
“Hey! Tanesha!” Schmidty said. It sounded like he was having dinner. “I’m having lunch in New York with Lizzie. We’re heading to Denver tonight.”
“I wanted to talk to you about Jeraine,” Tanesha asked.
“What can I do for you?” Schmidty asked.
“I’m wondering if you knew anything about offers for Jeraine to go on the road?” Tanesha asked.
“On vacation?” Schmidty asked. “I can recommend a great place to…”
“Tour,” Tanesha said.
“First I’m hearing of it,” Schmidty said. “Give me a minute.”
She heard him get up from where he was sitting. The noise in the background dropped.
“I’m sure he forgot that you were…” Tanesha said.
“I’m sure of it,” Schmidty said. “Don’t worry. I’m not offended. He’s used having to take care of this crap himself. Do you think he agreed to anything?”
“No way,” Tanesha said. “I think he wanted to talk to me about it but freaked out. He was checked out when I got home. I thought he’d had a stroke.”
“A stroke?” Schmidty asked. “Is he all right?”
“He’s okay,” Tanesha said. “He had a bad headache. I’m sure it’s this stuff He’s asleep now.”
“Good,” Schmidty said. “Okay, give me the details. I’ll call around and make sure everyone goes through me in the future. They know they are supposed to. They just don’t do it.”
“Why?” Tanesha asked.
“Because I’m a hard ass,” Schmidty said. “I get the best deals for my clients and everyone knows it.”
“Good,” Tanesha said. She gave him the details she’d found on the Post-its.
“I’ll take care of it, but…” Schmidty paused for a moment. “Are you certain you want him to go on the road?”
“I’m certain that I’m willing to look at his options,” Tanesha said. “The man is a sensation. That’s his life. He loves performing. I won’t stand in the way of that. I want him to be the best person he can be and live the biggest life he possibly can live. But I will not stand by and let him be a pawn in someone else’s game. We’ve come too far for him to be injured on the road again.”
“Good to know,” Schmidty said. “Don’t worry, Tanesha. I’ve got this.”
“Thanks,” Tanesha said.
“Tell Jer when he wakes up that I’ve got this,” Schmidty said.
“I will,” Tanesha said. “Thanks.”
He was gone. She looked at her phone again and set it down. She only hoped that she’d done the right thing.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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