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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHT
“I must say,” the judge said with a nod. “This is definitely a unique situation.”
The judge took off his reading glasses.
“Here we have a child, who was stuffed onto an airplane by Ms. Annette, who happens to have no last name,” the judge said. He looked around on the desk and then held up a DVD and a paper report. “This event was well documented both by the national broadcast of the mother’s reality television show and an investigation by the Atlanta Police. It’s also a part of an active investigation led by the Department of Family and Child services with the two siblings of the child in question, in protective care.”
He dropped the reports and the DVD onto the desk.
“And now, the child in question has been allegedly thrown out of the house by his father,” the judge said. “After his father spent considerable time and money working through a detailed transition and custody agreement.”
The judge lifted the thick document and then dropped it onto his desk.
“Your honor,” Ephraim James said.
The judge held his hand up to silence the attorney.
“I hear myself, and I think, ‘This child is a pawn in some sick game of the parents,’” the judge said. “The child should be placed in protective custody as these parents clearly cannot care for the child.”
“You can’t do that!” Yvonne jumped to her feet. “Jabari belongs at home, in Denver, with us.”
The judge waved her down in her seat. Yvonne gave him a strong look, and he nodded. Reluctantly, she sat down.
“But I have this report from the Denver Human Services which says that the minor — whose name happens to be Jabari Wilson — is well loved and happy with his father and his father’s wife. The child even calls his father’s wife, ‘Mommy,’” the judge said. “The report further states that the child has a close, loving relationship with Mr. and Mrs. Smith, who he’s been living with while this custody matter is resolved. In short, this child is no pawn in anyone’s game. He is well loved and well cared for in his new home in Denver, which, in case you weren’t aware, happens to be in the state of Colorado. This is a key issue in this matter as Denver, Colorado, where the child is resides happily, is not in the state of Georgia.”
The judge looked at Annette.
“I don’t know what you’re up to,” the judge said. “I doubt you do either. But this child is returning to the care of the Denver Human Services. It’s my understanding that they are here as well.”
Risa, Jabari’s social worker from Denver Human Services, stood up.
“Did you write this report?” the judge asked.
“Yes, your honor,” she said.
“And it’s your belief that the child is happy with his father and his father’s wife,” the judge said.
“Yes, your honor,” she said.
“The matter of the custody of Jabari Wilson is assigned to the Denver Human Services,” the judge banged his gavel. “As far as I can tell, the rest of this is a matter for law enforcement.”
Without saying another word, the judge stood. Annette started screaming. Shaking his head, the judge left the chamber. Annette lunged at Jeraine and managed to rake her long nails across his cheek before He-man stepped between them. He-man turned Jeraine around and marched him out of the courtroom.
“I’m not done with him,” Annette yelled. She caught Yvonne looking at her. “Wha’chu looking at?”
“Nothing nice,” Yvonne said.
“Why you …?” Annette started for Yvonne, but her boyfriend held her back.
Yvonne shook her head.
“Come on, Yvie,” Dionne said. “We don’t need any of that.”
Yvonne gave Annette a nod and followed Bumpy and Dionne out of the courtroom.
“The good news is that Jabari is coming home,” Risa, the social worker, said.
“And the bad news?” Dionne asked.
“This matter has become very personal to Ms. Annette,” Bumpy said. “She is not going to forget this humiliation.”
“It’s not over,” Yvonne nodded.
“No, sadly, it is not,” Risa said.
“For all our efforts to the contrary, we’ve made ourselves an enemy,” Dionne said.
Yvonne looked at Dionne and then at Bumpy. They looked back at Yvonne.
“We’ll just take it one step at a time,” Bumpy said.
His voice sounded reassuring. In spite of their feelings of dread, Dionne and Yvonne smiled and nodded.
Tuesday afternoon — 3:45 p.m.
“Dad?” Charlie whispered.
The ghost of Mitch Delgado appeared at his bedside. Charlie sat up on the side of the bed.
“They act like I’m dying,” Charlie said.
Mitch turned to look at Nash, who was sitting in a chair next to Charlie. Nash was talking and crying. The boy got up and put his forehead on Charlie’s chest.
“It creeps me out,” Charlie said.
“Understandably,” Mitch said. “You want to walk?”
An orderly and a nurse came near Charlie’s bed and comforted Nash. The boy kissed Charlie’s forehead and left.
“I’m going into surgery again,” Charlie said.
Charlie jumped off his bed when the orderly started rolling Charlie’s body down the hallway.
“Should we go with …” Charlie gestured to the bed.
When he looked back at his father, Maresol was tucked under Mitch’s arm.
“Do you mind?” Mitch asked.
“No,” Charlie said. “It answers a question for me. But …”
He stepped back so that Maresol’s body, on the way to a different surgical suite, could roll past.
“Why is Maresol here?” Charlie asked.
“That horrible Detective Red Bear hit me on the head,” Maresol said. “They are going to do some brain surgery. They bandaged it, of course, a few hours ago. But they decided I needed this.”
Maresol shrugged. She smiled at Mitch, and he gave her a goofy, puppy-love grin.
“Otch,” Maresol said. “They are waking me up for the surgery.”
Maresol stepped back, but Mitch held onto her hand.
“Why?” Mitch said.
“No se,” Maresol said. She leaned forward to kiss him before she disappeared.
Charlie grinned at his father.
“What?” Mitch looked at Charlie.
“I think I have to ask you, ‘What?’” Charlie asked.
“You mean Maresol?”
“Yes,” Charlie said. “I have a long surgery so you can tell me everything.”
Mitch grinned at Charlie.
“You want to go back to the park?” Mitch asked.
“Let’s walk on the path,” Charlie said.
“Cherry Creek Path?” Mitch asked.
They were walking along the cement path next to Cherry Creek, below Speer Boulevard. The day was mild, not too warm, not too cold. A raft of ducks floated along on the slow moving river.
“So Maresol …” Charlie started.
“What do you know about her?” Mitch asked.
“Seth hired her when he got back from college,” Charlie said. “He was like fourteen or something. She had five kids and a husband, but he died soon after she started working for Seth.”
“Couple of years later,” Mitch said. “Manuel worked for the city. He was killed in an accident at work. Very tragic.”
Charlie fell quiet. He’d seen Sam Lipson use this as a way of encouraging someone to talk. Mitch glanced at Charlie.
“I met Seth when I started at East High,” Mitch said. “He’d just come back from Eastman. He was …”
“Geeky?” Charlie said.
“Very cool,” Mitch said. “He rode in a limo to school …”
“How’d you meet?” Charlie asked.
“I was riding my bike to school and ran him over,” Mitch said. He laughed. “Seth’s what, six feet now? He was small then. Looked like a little kid. He wore these dark sunglasses and a black hat pulled down on his forehead. Very beatnik. I didn’t see him. He also didn’t look when he was getting out of that limo. Knowing Seth, he probably was caught up in his head.”
“We had first period together. I sat next to him.” Mitch smiled. “I don’t know if you’ve ever had it happen, but I’ll tell you — I knew the moment I met him that I knew I wanted to be around him. I always felt that way about Seth. Next time I saw him, he was defending this enormous black kid — we called them ‘negroes’ then — from a crowd of kids who wanted him out of the building. This kid was big and looked dumber than dirt. His clothes were clean but very worn. None of us had any money, except Seth, you know, but that kid looked really poor.”
“There’s little Seth and this giant guy,” Mitch said. “Some punk had told the big kid he shouldn’t be there. Segregation and all. Even though the school wasn’t segregated, the kids were still fighting it out. Can you guess who the big kid was?”
“Dr. Bumpy?” Charlie asked.
“Yes, indeed,” Mitch said. “Seth … Some kid tried to punch him, and I was there. It was just one of those things. I’d gone to junior high with almost everybody that was there. I was really popular, jock, and all of that. I told them to break it up, and that was that. I mean there was a little more hassle, but … It was just like that — what I said went.”
“I went back to Seth’s house that afternoon and met Maresol,” Mitch said. “They were very formal then. Seth was the boss. I thought she was … old. I mean, she had five kids and a house. She was twenty-two. That’s a lot older than fourteen.”
“We kind of lived at Seth’s house,” Mitch said. “Seth took Bumpy to get his eyes checked, and I went with them. Turned out we were both blind as bats. Seth bought us cool glasses. We were smart, good looking, and in Seth’s jazz band. Seth’s mom was like a movie star — so beautiful, smart, and still elegantly delicate. We adored her. Seth’s mom took Bumpy and me along when she went shopping with Seth for clothes. I will tell you, we were all style.”
“I bet,” Charlie said.
“Maresol fed us, laughed with us, flirted, but …”
“I had girlfriends, lots, but I never … you know, sex,” Mitch said. “Seth … Well, you’ve seen Sandy? Imagine a sexier and more confident Sandy. Andy Mendy was everyone’s dream girl. She’d show up at school with her band and … Man, the boys would hang out the windows and drool. She was Seth’s and only Seth’s.”
“So Seth’s getting some and you’re not?”
“Didn’t matter, ’cept when we were leaving for ’Nam,” Mitch said. “I didn’t want to die a virgin. I convinced Maresol to help me out and …”
Mitch shrugged and fell silent.
“And what?” Charlie asked.
“I fell in love with her,” Mitch said. “Plain and simple. We left the next day. Man, I spent years trying to fuck her out of my system — lots women, a few men, you name it I tried it. Nothing replaced her. We came home from ’Nam and went to college.”
“Why did Seth go to college twice?” Charlie asked.
“Why does Seth do anything?” Mitch asked. “The great O’Malley wanted to go to college again, so he did. Plus, we needed a degree to get into the Denver Police. There were a lot of guys back from ’Nam. It was hard to get in, and we wanted to be cops.”
“And Maresol?” Charlie asked.
“We were together then, sort of,” Mitch said. “I mean, she had those kids and I was really just a kid. We’d get together, and I’d screw it up.”
“Oh sure, a few times,” Mitch said. “But it was mostly me. I couldn’t handle the fact that everything was so easy, so perfect. I wanted my own kids. That was the real thing. She couldn’t have any more kids.”
“That’s how I wound up with your mom,” Mitch said. “It was stupid. I knew it. Seth told me so to my face, but I really wanted you and Sissy. Once you were born, Patty … She didn’t really care what happened to me, so I started sneaking around with Maresol. Then I got sick and … You probably know the rest.”
“Mom kicked you out when she found out the VA wouldn’t pay for all your medical bills,” Charlie said.
“It was stupid,” Mitch said. “Seth has always had piles of money. Even after most of it went up our noses, he still had piles of money. He’d already paid the all the bills when she kicked me and you guys out.”
They walked along in silence for a while.
“It’s a great story of how to be a complete idiot,” Mitch said. “I could have been really happy in my life, but I made it hard for no reason.”
“When Seth talks about it, it sounds like you guys had a great time,” Charlie said.
“Oh yeah?” Mitch grinned. “We probably did.”
Mitch fell silent as if he was thinking. Charlie didn’t dare say anything in case he missed something good.
“I guess from this perspective,” Mitch said. “The only thing that matters is who you love and how well you do it. I loved Maresol, from that first night. She loved me too. Seth and Andy, they had love in spades. And we all fucked it up. It seems like a waste to me now.”
Charlie watched his father. Mitch seemed lost in thought.
“Seems like your love for Maresol didn’t really go away,” Charlie said. “You loved Seth and that’s still here.”
Mitch looked at Charlie, and he shrugged.
“Maybe it’s not a waste,” Charlie said. “Maresol and Seth are still here. You’re here with them. I’m sure Andy’s looking after Sandy, and you’re here with me. Maybe everything is how it should be.”
“Easy,” Mitch said.
Charlie nodded. They kept walking, even though neither of them had anything to say. They just enjoyed the day and the company. They’d walked father than Charlie had ever walked when he heard his name.
“Charlie,” a woman’s voice seemed to echo along the beautiful river. “It’s Honey.”
Charlie was standing next to his body. The doctors had finished his surgery while he’d been walking with his father. He looked over and saw Maresol’s bed. His father was sitting on her bed.
“I know you can hear me,” Honey said. “I’ve been where you are. I know it seems really great, safe, beautiful and so peaceful. But it’s easy to get lost.”
Honey picked up his hand in hers.
“Don’t get lost, Charlie,” Honey said. “It’s time for you to come home.”
Charlie felt as if he was thrown into his body. Suddenly, he was looking out his eyes. Honey smiled at him.
“Welcome back,” Honey said.
“Hurrrtt,” Charlie said.
“I know,” Honey said. “Sandy asked them to reduce your pain meds so that you would wake up.”
“Whyyy?” Charlie whispered.
“You were getting lost,” Honey said.
“Noo,” Charlie said. “With Dad.”
Honey leaned forward and kissed his cheek. Her face was next to his.
“Your dad told Delphie to bring you back,” Honey whispered. “He thought you were getting lost.”
“Wasss with him,” Charlie said.
“And you were getting lost,” Honey said. “I know. I’ve been there. It’s easy to get lost and just stay there. You belong here.”
Charlie shook his head and groaned in pain.
“I know how hard it is,” Honey said. “You know me. You know that I know how hard it is. But you’re just starting this life. You have lots to live, lots to love. Your dad said he promised you that he would make sure you came back, that you wanted to come back. But you were getting lost. Your dad said that you needed to be loved and give love. I think he’s right.”
Charlie felt tears fall down his face.
“I’ll be here,” Honey said. “I’m not leaving your side. Together, we’ll get through this.”
“Why you?” Charlie asked.
“Because I know how,” Honey smiled at him. “Because I wanted to stay there — no pain, no hardship, only peace and love. I came back for love; I came back for MJ, and now Maggie. I can help. Even your dad said so.”
“Hurrrt,” Charlie whispered. “Bad.”
“Ok then,” Honey said. “Do what I say. Take as deep of a breath as you can and …”
Charlie’s focus slipped. He saw his father at the end of his bed.
“I’d rather spare you all of this,” Mitch said. “But it’s what you wanted.”
Charlie blinked at his tears.
“Love you, Charlie,” Mitch said.
“Now pretend you’re blowing on the pain — wherever it is in your body,” Honey said.
Charlie smiled at his father. He puckered his lips and blew.
“Good job,” Honey said. “Let’s do it again.”
Tuesday afternoon — 5:55 p.m.
“I’m sorry, Heather,” the nurse said.
Heather looked up as the nurse came to her side of the room. She was sitting across the glass wall from Blane. When she’d arrived an hour ago, he’d been too sick to move from the bed. He’d just managed to make it to the chair.
“I can only give you another five minutes,” the nurse said.
“I understand,” Heather said.
The nurse nodded and pulled the door closed.
“I don’t want you to go,” Blane said.
“I don’t want to go,” Heather said. “I … It’s hard.”
“I don’t know if I don’t want to be alone,” Blane said. “Or I just feel that much better with you here.”
“You are my health tonic,” Blane said.
“I miss you,” Heather said. “Us. Our life.”
“It’s only for a short while and …”
“I know, I know,” Heather said. Blane nodded. “I know. I want you to take your time. Get well. Get really well. Because seeing you so sick today …”
“I can’t believe how sick I am,” Blane said. “I forgot how it is … I was like this …every day before you came to love me.”
Heather blushed. She put her hand up to the glass. He struggled for a moment and put his over hers on the other side. Her phone pinged, and she looked down.
“What’s the word?” Blane asked.
“Charlie’s out of surgery,” Heather said. “The operation went well, and his vitals are strong. Honey’s in with him. I told you what his dad told Delphie?”
“That he was getting lost,” Blane nodded and sighed.
She smiled. For a moment, they just looked at each other. The nurse peeked in the door.
“You can stay while I get him back in bed,” the nurse said.
“Thank you,” Heather said.
The nurse pulled on a sterile gown, gloves, face mask, and a hat before going into Blane’s room.
“I love you,” Heather said.
Blane smiled. The nurse helped Blane up from the chair. He grunted with exhaustion and pain. They shuffled across the small room to the bed. The nurse got Blane into bed and helped him pull up the covers. Blane waved to Heather. The nurse nodded, and Heather left the room.
Biting her lip to keep from crying, she made it past the nurses’ station and ran down the stairs. She opened the stair door and saw Tres in the lobby. He gave her a smile.
“I thought you might need some help,” Tres said.
“I do,” Heather nodded.
“Hold your hand?” Tres asked.
Heather nodded. He took her hand, and they stood facing each other for a moment. He gave her a slight smile before turning toward the door. They walked to her car together. He helped her in the car, kissed her cheek, and went to his own car.
Unable to face the Castle, Heather drove home. Alone.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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