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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-SIX
Sunday afternoon — 4:35 p.m.
New York City, New York
The knot in Sandy’s stomach dissolved the moment she saw Seth. He was hopping to his feet to give the piano to world class jazz pianist, Muhal Richard Abrams. Muhal clapped Seth on the back and sat down in his place. They managed the swap without missing a beat. Seth said something to Muhal and they both laughed. When he looked up, he was clear, clean, and happy. Sandy sighed with relief.
“He looks good,” Maresol said in her ear.
The music was loud and the crowd boisterous. Sandy shook her head to indicate that she’d missed what Maresol had said. Maresol pointed to Seth and smiled. Sandy nodded.
“What did you do?” Sandy asked loudly in Maresol’s ear.
Maresol snorted a laugh and gestured to Delphie. Feeling their look, Delphie looked up. She smiled.
“Found him at the bottom of the elevators talking to Jeraine and some rapper,” Maresol said. “She bullied Jeraine and Seth back to their rooms. Scared the cojones off the rapper. Tanesha was furious.”
Maresol and Sandy laughed.
“You should have seen it,” Maresol said. The elder woman’s eyes scanned Sandy’s face. She said in her ear, “I’ve been worried about you.”
“I’ve been worried about me,” Sandy said with a smile.
“It will be good to go home,” Maresol said. “You know, when we get back, I can help. O’Malley’s staying in New York for a while.”
“Thanks,” Sandy said. “I may take you up on it.”
“Please do,” Maresol said. “I love you and my grandchildren — Charlie, Nash, Noelle, Sissy, and my baby, Rachel.”
Smiling, Sandy nodded. On stage, Jeraine’s mother leaned in to harmonize with Alicia Keys. Right now, there were no cameras. Today was about music and friendship. Every single person Seth had asked to play had shown up. The first Tweet that went out from the rooftop drew every other musician in New York area. The crowd below was growing and people lined the windows of the surrounding building. This rooftop was the place to be.
Sandy gestured toward Aden and began to move away. Maresol touched her arm. She nodded to where Nash and Nadia were standing. Maresol’s eyes asked the obvious question.
“Eros,” Sandy said when she leaned in.
Maresol rolled her eyes at information she already knew.
“What do you think?” Maresol asked and pointed to her head.
Sandy lifted a shoulder in a shrug and looked over at Nash and Nadia. Nash wore one of the informal tuxes Valerie, Heather, Jill, and Tanesha had purchased for everyone. While clearly a child, he looked fit and handsome. She’d done his hair in the faux hawk the male models worn. Nadia wore a deep blue tux similar to his. Neither one seemed to dare touch the other, and yet, they were clearly together. Nadia was chatting with Abi and Fin.
The sound dropped as Henry Treadgill began a low flute solo. For the moment, they could talk freely.
“Nash has always had this… maturity about him,” Sandy said.
“An old soul,” Maresol said.
“I was going to say that was because of his mother,” Sandy said.
Maresol pointed to Sandy and she shook her head. She tried again.
“Nash knows what he wants in life,” Sandy said with a nod. “When he was a baby, his father was a drug addict. Aden’s fought his way out of addiction and extreme poverty. I think it’s changed both of the kids. They know that they are in charge of their lives.”
Sandy nodded and Maresol nodded. They both jumped when the horn players blasted a beat. Maresol shook her head in the direction of the stage. The music lowered again.
“I don’t know this Nadia,” Maresol said. “Do you like her?”
“I do,” Sandy said. “She’s super smart. You’ve seen her and Ava.”
“Soul sisters in science,” Maresol said with a nod.
“She was fabulous when Sissy came in,” Sandy said. “When I got there, I thought I’d have to bully the staff around so that Sissy got what she needed. Nadia had already taken care of it. Amazing. I keep thinking I should introduce her to John Drayson.”
Maresol pointed to their right. John Drayson and Alex Hargreaves were laughing at something MJ had said. Sandy smiled.
“They are friends,” Maresol said. “Nadia said Dr. John was one of the best surgeons she’d ever met.”
“I guess it doesn’t surprise me that they know each other,” Sandy said.
“So you think it’s okay?” Maresol asked.
Maresol gave Sandy a probing look. Sandy was good at relationships. She might not be Delphie, but she had an uncanny knowing the good and bad of relationships. Even Seth trusted it.
“I think it’s going to work,” Sandy said.
“How?” Maresol asked.
“No idea,” Sandy said.
The women laughed. Hearing her name, Sandy looked up to see Seth gesturing her toward the stage.
“Time to meet another old friend,” Maresol said.
“Wanna come?” Sandy asked.
“Claire!” Maresol yelled and waved.
Maresol saw Seth’s apartment caretaker and ran over to her. Sandy gave the woman a wry look and went to meet another world class musician who also happened to be a long lost friend of Seth’s. They went through the “Oh my God, you look just like Andy” and the “Have you found her, Seth?” and the “Good Lord, that’s terrible” in rapid succession. Sandy did her best to be polite. When they were done, she gave Seth a hug and went to find Aden.
On the way, Sandy ran into Jill, Jacob, and Katy. She picked up Katy and they danced for a song. She left them only to find Tink and Charlie sitting on a bench a few feet away. She checked in and got a hug from Teddy’s father, Zack. The handsome pilot let her go and she said hello to Teddy and Noelle. She spotted Aden. He was standing away from the press of the crowd near the back. With Rachel on his hip, he was chatting with Sam. Jill and Jacob’s twins were playing nearby with Bestat’s daughter, Neuth.
“Rachel doesn’t want to play with them?” Sandy asked.
“They keep making things fly,” Aden said. “It makes Rachel mad.”
“Those boys might be babies but they are already rascals,” Sandy said. She took Rachel from Aden and snuggled her close. “Sorry sweetie.”
“Neuth gives what she gets,” Aden said.
“Really?” Sandy asked.
Aden nodded. Sandy held Rachel’s head near hers and smelled her wonderful baby smell. The music played and the crowd grew. Sandy cast a worried eye toward the entrance only to see Schmidty and Lizzie standing next to the fire inspector. She did not have to take care of this.
“Want to dance?” Aden asked.
Sandy nodded. Aden put his arms around her. With Rachel between them, they danced.
Sunday night — 5:35 p.m.
New York City, New York
Standing next to the hospital windows, Tanesha looked up at the clock and realized that it was after five. She jogged down the hospital hallway to where Jeraine was playing with the children on the children’s ward. She slid to a stop on the edge of a small gathering. Jeraine looked up when she came into room.
She gestured to her watch. Still playing, he shook his head.
Tanesha nodded to say, “Yes, now is the time.”
He shook his head. She held her hands palm up and shrugged.
He stopped playing. The children, who had been sitting around quietly listening to him play, now turned to look at her.
“O’Malley forgot, or pretended to forget, the time difference,” Jeraine said. “We go on at five-forty in LA, not five here.”
“Oh,” Tanesha said. Jabari came up to her. She picked him up and nuzzled his neck.
“He figured no one would mind if we just played anyway,” Jeraine said. “Do you kids mind?”
“No.” The children shook their heads.
Tanesha had to smile. Most of the children had oxygen tanks sitting next to them. Their parents faces were etched with a lot of worry while their children’s head’s held very little hair. They watched with rapt attention as Jeraine sang and told stories. Tanesha was sure she’d never seen such a beautiful sight.
“So it’s solved,” Jeraine said. He grinned at Tanesha. “Do you think I should keep playing?”
“Please! Please! Please!” the children said at once.
He nodded to Tanesha and began playing again.
“Are you Miss T?” a woman asked in a low voice. Tanesha turned to look at her. “I just wanted to say ‘thanks.’ My daughter is up there in front. She is a big fan. They don’t think she has much longer. This will be the highlight of her entire life. She’s five.”
Tanesha hugged the child’s mother. Jeraine raised an eyebrow at her in reminder that she’d promised not to hover. She kissed Jabari and then set him down. Her son ran back to sit next to his father. Tanesha raised a hand in surrender and went down the hallway back to the windows.
This was certainly a concert to remember and she wasn’t going to miss any of it.
Sunday night — 6:45 p.m.
New York City, New York
“They’re going on in a bit,” Nadia said. “I’d like to use the restroom before they start.”
Nadia cast a dim look toward the long line of women waiting for the bathroom.
“Come with me,” Abi said. She touched Nadia’s arm and they disappeared.
“We should avail ourselves,” Fin said.
“I don’t want to go anywhere,” Nash said. “Sandy told me that I have to stay on the roof. If I leave, I’ll lose my privilege to stay with Nadia.”
“I’m glad you say that,” Fin said. He leaned into Nash to say, “I love the men’s bathroom. They are so seedy, so human. I’d never been in one until I started medical school.”
“Shall we make use of the pleasure?” Nash asked with a laugh. He gestured toward the public bathroom.
“As you wish,” Fin said.
Fin patted Nash on his back and they started toward the public bathroom near the back of the building. They stopped to say hello to Aden and Sandy, before heading into the bathroom. The room held three stalls and a line of urinals. The bathroom attendant gave them the once over before gesturing for them to come inside.
Fin stood in the middle of the room with a goofy look on his face. Nash tapped him on the arm and pointed to the urinal.
“I haven’t used these,” Fin said with a grin.
Nash nodded. He went to a porcelain bowl and unzipped his pants. Fin started to laugh.
“What?” Nash mouthed.
“I had no idea what to do with that,” Fin said brightly. Nash laughed. “Oh brilliant.”
They were standing at the urinal when a man’s voice came from the stalls.
“Did you see that kid she was with?” the man asked.
“Nadia?” the other man asked. “Yeah, I saw him. Nice looking kid. You think, he’s her kid?”
“I hope not,” the first man said.
“Why?” the second man said. “You know what one kid means?”
“She likes to fuck,” the first man said with a laugh.
The stranger came out of the stall. Nash slumped his shoulders to hide his face and Fin snapped his fingers. The man walked to the sink.
“He can’t see us,” Fin said to Nash.
“I don’t want anyone to get in the way of my access to her fortune,” the first man said from the sink.
“I’m planning to ask her to marry me,” the second man said.
The first man laughed.
“She has everything I want,” the second man said. “She’s hot as hell. She has a job to keep her out of my hair. She’ll only be home for me to fuck her.”
“Plus, she’s rich,” the first man said with a laugh.
“Plus, she’s Bratva connected,” the second man said. “Perfect for my little enterprise.”
“And she’s loaded,” the first man said.
“Indeed,” the second man said.
“If you are done here, you should move along,” the bathroom attendant said in a distinctive Egyptian accent.
The men sneered to the bathroom attendant.
“Your conquest is not here,” the bathroom attendant said. “Perhaps she is just outside.”
Nash could have sworn that he heard Nadia’s voice outside the entrance to the restroom. The men looked out the door toward the sound. They gave the bathroom attendant one last sneer and left the room. Nash let out a breath and Fin snapped his fingers again.
“Prince Finegal?” the bathroom attendant asked.
“Sir,” Fin said.
“I have shut the entrance,” the bathroom attendant said. “You may take your time, sir.”
“Bless you,” Fin said.
“Why thank you, sir!” the bathroom attendant brightened.
Fin gave the man a regal nod. He moved to the sinks. Nash followed him.
“What did you do?” Nash asked. His eyes flicked to the bathroom attendant.
“He gave me a general blessing, Mr. Norsen,” the bathroom attendant said. “I will use it to keep my wife and daughters healthy and happy throughout their whole life.”
“Good choice,” Fin said.
“Can you think of anything better, Mr. Norsen?” the bathroom attendant asked.
“No, sir,” Nash said. “I cannot.”
As his father and Sandy had instructed, Nash tucked a five dollar bill into the bathroom attendant’s tip jar.
“Why thank you, sir,” the bathroom attendant said.
Nash nodded to the man and followed Fin from the restroom. Seeing that there was no one around, Nash touched Fin’s arm and he turned to look at Nash.
“What was that?” Nash asked.
“Ms. Behur provided the attendants,” Fin said.
“But…” Nash said.
“They are from a family that has served her through many eras,” Fin said. “In exchange, their children have every advantage and they live long lives. Most of the children prefer to join Ms. Behur’s service after they complete college.”
“For the long lives?” Nash asked.
“That man is more than a thousand years old,” Fin said. “His wife, as well.”
Nash glanced back at the bathroom.
“He’s in perfect health,” Fin said. “His family, as well.”
“What if they don’t want to do it?” Nash asked.
“They would be released,” Fin said. “Another family would gladly take their place. It’s not slavery.”
Nash nodded. Fin gave Nash a broad grin and turned to go.
“Can I ask you…?” Nash started.
Fin turned back to him. The fairy scanned Nash’s face.
“What is on your mind?” Fin asked.
“Nadia,” Nash said. He looked down at the ground. “I didn’t know… I mean, I knew she was beautiful and smart and speaks, like, seven languages and…”
“You didn’t know about the money,” Fin said.
Nash shook his head.
“Does that change anything?” Fin asked.
“I feel… I mean, how can I…” Nash touched his chest. “I mean, me?”
Nash’s eyes held his confusion and his head drooped with sorrow.
“Ah,” Fin said.
“Ah?” Nash asked.
Fin put his hand on Nash’s shoulder and leaned forward to make a kind of huddle. Nash looked up at the fairy.
“You’ve met Abi?” Fin asked.
“Do you know anything about her?” Fin asked.
Nash shook his head.
“She is my mother’s equal,” Fin said. “Gilfand tells a story of how mother became queen. He said they had to choose between Abi, my mother, and her sister. Abi denies this as true, but she’s just being polite.”
Nash was pretty sure Fin was telling him something, he just wasn’t sure what.
“What are you saying?” Nash asked. His eyes filled with tears.
“She is much bigger, more power, smarter, more experienced than I,” Fin said with a nod. “She’s led the Fairy Corps since it was invented. I have no idea how she gets all those stubborn fairies to do what they’re told. My sister, Mari, was supposed to take over from her, but there’s no way Mari could replace Abi. She doesn’t even bother to try.”
Fin nodded. Nash gave a confused shake of his head.
“I met her when I came home from the first war,” Fin said. “I was young, opinionated, and unformed. Not unlike you. More arrogant, of course. After all, I was a prince. That was enough for me to get any fairy to fall for me. Not Abi. She didn’t want anything to do with me. She was not impressed with me at all.”
“Really?” Nash asked.
“Really,” Fin said. “She told me that if she couldn’t hold a conversation with me, she had no use for me. Me! Prince Finegal!”
Looking incredulous, Fin’s hand went to his chest.
“I am first in line for the entire land,” Fin said. “I am handsome, strong, a legendary lover, and…”
Laughing, Fin shook his head.
“What did you do?” Nash asked.
“I became very angry,” Fin said. “I left for the outer edges of the Queendom. There, I ruled my own province. I married and had children.”
“And Abi?” Nash asked.
“I didn’t see her again until my wife and children were killed,” Fin said. “She is the one who beheaded the men who raped and murdered my wife. Personally. By herself. She brought me their heads.”
“Wow,” Nash said.
“Wow, is right, ” Fin said. “I was heartbroken, angry, and intimidated.”
“What did you do?” Nash asked again.
Fin looked at Nash for a moment before grinning at him.
“I became better,” Fin said. “I grew to match her.”
“If I were you, I’d start learning languages,” Fin said. “Communicating to people seems a priority to your beloved.”
“I can do that,” Nash said.
“I’d ask Anjelika to help you,” Fin said. “She is older than Nadia, but has the same depth and interests. She grew up in a similar household so she’ll know what you need to learn. In fact, she’s standing right there. Ask her today.”
“Today?” Nash asked.
“Abi came around when she saw that I was making an effort to grow,” Fin said. “She helped me learn. She continues to push me, even now. She wants our Queendom to be a modern society. We can only do that if I keep up with modern life. In fact, this medical school thing was her idea. I am enjoying myself immensely.”
Nash smiled at Fin.
“You can do this, Nash Norsen,” Fin said. “You can become the man you beloved deserves. I just know it.”
“Is that a blessing?” Nash asked.
“You don’t need one,” Fin said.
Fin looked back to where they had been standing.
“Those cretins from the bathroom are courting our loves,” Fin said. “We must get back.”
“I’m going to talk to Anjelika, first,” Nash said.
“You do that,” Fin said. “I will fight them off.”
“Thanks,” Nash said. “And…”
“Don’t mention it,” Fin said with a grin. “Just make it happen.”
“I will,” Nash said.
Fin nodded and walked away. Nash watched him shoo away the men they’d met in the bathroom. Nodding to himself, he went to talk to Anjelika.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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