Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Three Hundred and Twenty-three : Absence

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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-THREE

Monday morning — 8:45 a.m.
Denver, Colorado

Jeraine opened his laptop at the dining room table to read his email. They had gone for a grueling long run, stuffed down breakfast, and Tanesha was finishing getting ready. She had a lab class this afternoon, so she started a little later. But since Fin disappeared, she was going to school for both of them. She had to be there early enough to get the results of Fin’s last exam. Jeraine was turning on his computer when Tanesha’s feet pounded down the wood stairs from their bedroom.

“When’s Jake going to …” Tanesha started.

The rest of her sentence was garbled by the kitchen wall between them. Her voice continued with the addition of her banging around in the kitchen cabinets.

Trying to decide if he should go in there, he stared out the window. If he went into the kitchen, he would know what she was saying, but given the velocity of cabinet opening and closing, she was likely to yell at him. If he stayed here, she’d probably yell at him anyway. He squinted his eyes to try to decide if it was worth the risk.

“What do you see?” Tanesha leaned over to look out the window.

He jumped with surprise. She tipped her head back and laughed. Still laughing, she went back into the kitchen. He heard her root around in the cabinet drawers. For the first time, he realized she was looking for something, and that he might be able to help. He went into the kitchen.

“What are you looking for?” Jeraine asked.

“My tea,” Tanesha said. “You haven’t seen it have you.”

Jeraine shook his head with such determination that she laughed again.

“I value my life,” Jeraine said.

“Oh?” Tanesha said before walking into their pantry.

“I never touch your tea,” Jeraine yelled so she could hear him.

She poked her head out of the pantry.

“Except when you get more, right?” Tanesha asked.

“That’s right,” Jeraine said.

“Did you get more?” Tanesha asked.

“Was I ’sposed to?” Jeraine asked.

Tanesha groaned and he laughed. She gave him a “you’re an ass” roll of her eyes. She grabbed her lunch and stuffed it into her backpack.

“I like to have a cup of tea before lab,” Tanesha said.

She grabbed a water bottle and held it to their water filter.

“There are all these rich white kids,” Tanesha said. “Well I don’t know if they’re rich. They look rich — nice hair and …”

“They freak you out,” Jeraine said.

“They freak me out,” Tanesha said. “I was okay when Fin was there — you know power in numbers — but now …”

“And it doesn’t matter that you’re married to the hottest guy in R&B?” Jeraine asked.

Tanesha glanced at him and shook her head.

“You won?” she asked.

“I won,” Jeraine said.

“Does it come with another phallic statue?” Tanesha asked.

“They’re coming here to take an impression of my penis,” Jeraine said.

Tanesha stopped moving and looked at him.

“Really?” Tanesha asked.

“No,” Jeraine said.

They laughed.

“I figured they needed it for the museum,” Tanesha said. She went to the coat rack and started pulling on a sweater.

“Museum?”

“Tiny dick museum,” she said. Her head poked through the sweater and she fought to get her arms in the holes.

“As opposed to the largest asshole museum?” he laughed.

“Are you in that one too?” she laughed.

“I think so,” he laughed.

“Can you get me more tea?” Tanesha asked. She winced. “I know it’s a lot to ask but could you bring it to school?”

“I’d love to get you more tea, but we get it from your mom,” Jeraine said.

“She’s in Arizona,” Tanesha said. She grabbed her Delphie-made long-as-hell scarf. “No back up?”

“Abi?” Jeraine asked.

“Can you ask Crazy Aunt Phy?” Tanesha asked. “You know she’s a …”

“No, I will not,” Jeraine said. “I mean I know she’s a fairy and all, but the last time we got tea from her, she decided to change the mix. You didn’t like it.”

“Oh yea,” Tanesha nodded. “That was bad.”

“You’re telling me,” Jeraine said. “We’re trying to finish this custody business. If I get tea from Aunt Phy …”

“I’m likely to go crazy,” Tanesha nodded.

“I was going to say ‘grow a horn,’” Jeraine gestured off his forehead. “You know she would.”

Tanesha laughed. He grabbed her jacket and held it for her. When she turned around, he kissed her ear.

“You’re going to have to do without,” he said.

He patted her shoulders when she had the jacket on.

“Shit,” Tanesha said. “What am I going to do in lab?”

“Your best friends are white,” Jeraine said. “Why do you care?”

“I just …” Tanesha started. She shook her head. “You wouldn’t understand.”

“It’s hard,” Jeraine said. “When you stretch out and try new things, it’s hard. You could always quit school and go back to waiting tables.”

“I have to …”

“Exactly,” he said. “I know how you feel. I feel that way a lot, especially when I’m trying new things.”

“Which is all the time now,” Tanesha said.

Tanesha nodded. She gave him a peck on his lips and headed out the back.

“I could just make a naked calendar and we’d be …” Jeraine yelled after her.

Laughing, Tanesha waved at him. She went out the door. He listed for her to start his Dodge Dart. He locked the door and returned to the table. He was an hour into dealing with his email before he remembered that Tanesha needed her tea for some specific.

He couldn’t remember what.

Shrugging, he wrote himself a note to ask her why she needed her tea. Whatever it was, it would have to wait until her mother came back.

~~~~~~~~

Monday morning — 10:25 a.m.

“Who are you?” Charlie said to the young man sitting by his bed.

“Me?” the young man pointed to himself with a bony finger. He had a mess of brown hair, big green eyes, and long gangly limbs.

“Is someone else here?” Charlie asked.

“No, why?” the young man asked.

Charlie grinned and the young man scowled.

“Did I say something funny?” The young man blew into the palm of his hand. “My breath’s okay. I brushed my teeth this morning.”

“Who are you?” Charlie asked again.

“Oh, sorry,” the young man said. “I’m Dale. I live here.”

“You do?” Charlie asked.

“We’ve met before,” Dale said.

“We have?”

“Sure,” Dale said. “I used to live with Ava. I moved in here when … You know.”

“Saint Jude,” Charlie said almost in a whisper.

Dale nodded. Charlie mimicked his nod.

“Ow,” Charlie said.

“I bet that hurt,” Dale said.

Charlie grinned.

“What?” Dale asked.

“No, ‘are you okay?’ or ‘sorry about that’?” Charlie said with a grin.

“Do you need that crap?” Dale asked.

“No,” Charlie said.

“That’s what I thought,” Dale said. “I’m supposed to help you stand.”

“Stand?” Charlie’s voice cracked with anxiety. “But …?”

“Just to see how you do,” Dale said. “You’re supposed to put weight on the breaks to help them heal. Plus, don’t you want to pee on your own?”

“Where’s Maresol?” Charlie’s voice betrayed his unease. Dale laughed. “No really, where is she?”

“She goes to the market on Mondays,” Dale said. “She asked me to see if I could get you to stand.”

“Oh,” Charlie said. “And yeah, I do.”

“You do what?”

“I want to pee on my own,” Charlie said.

“Good,” Dale said. “Then, we play.”

“Play what?” Charlie asked.

“Halo 4,” Dale said.

“In 3-D?” Charlie’s voice caught with excitement. “But …?”

He held up his broken hands.

“I knew you’d have some weak excuse,” Dale sneered at him.

The sneer was so foreign to the handsome young man’s face that Charlie smiled.

“How old are you?” Charlie asked.

“How old are you?” Dale asked.

“Sixteen,” Charlie said. “Almost seventeen.”

“Twenty-three,” Dale said. “No, twenty-two. Ava’s twenty-three.”

Charlie smiled.

“Where’s Honey?” Charlie asked to cover his smile.

“Turns out you’re not the center of her life,” Dale said.

“Maggie?” Charlie asked.

“MJ went to New York to guard Noelle,” Dale said. “Maggie needs her shots.”

“Poor Maggie.”

“Well poor you in a minute,” Dale said. “You ready?”

“Give me a sec.” Charlie took a few deep breaths to get ready.

“Why’d you smile a minute ago?” Dale asked. “I’m about to cause you terrific pain and then kick your ass at Halo.”

“Just a feeling,” Charlie shrugged.

“Like you met your best friend?” Dale asked.

“How’d you know?” Charlie asked.

“I thought the same thing when I came in here,” Dale said. “Maresol said that Delphie told her to put us together. I guess we’ve been friends before.”

“Oh yeah, I remember,” Charlie said. “You cleaned out my chamber pot.”

Dale laughed.

“Now,” Dale stood next to the bed. “Get out of bed.”

Charlie screamed.

~~~~~~~~

Monday midday — 12:15 p.m.

“I mean really, what are you doing?” Jill asked.

Heather shrugged her shoulders.

“I’m helping Blane and taking care of the girls and Mack and …” Heather said.

“Worrying,” Jill said.

“So?” Heather said.

Heather’s voice was so peevish that she even noticed. Jill grinned and Heather shrugged.

“There’s Sandy,” Jill said when their friend came in the coffee shop.

Jill waved and Sandy came over to their table at Starbucks. They got up to hug each other in greeting. Sandy set her tea down and went off to get some water.

“Well?” Jill asked.

“Well what?” Sandy asked when she returned. She took off her outer coat and sat down.

“I offered Heather a job,” Jill said.

“You did?” Heather asked.

“Didn’t I?” Jill asked.

“No, you asked if I would help you with the Marlowe school remodel,” Heather said. “You didn’t say it was a job.”

“What else would it be?” Jill asked.

“Oh,” Heather looked down at her cocoa and tried to think it through. Finally, she shrugged.

“But first …” Jill looked at Sandy, who gave her an encouraging nod. “We want to know … I mean …”

“What?” Heather asked.

“Were you laughing at me when I was reading you that stuff from Wikipedia about Hedone and …” Jill leaned forward. Her voice dropped to a whisper, “ … everything.”

“I wasn’t laughing at you,” Heather said. “I’d never laugh at you.”

“But you knew what I was saying,” Jill said.

Heather nodded and looked away.

“Why didn’t you just tell me?” Jill asked.

“Embarrassed, mostly,” Heather said.

“Why?” Sandy asked.

“Because it seems so crazy,” Heather said. “Stupid, and …”

“But we knew your mom might take you …” Sandy said.

“We just thought it was some place like Alaska,” Jill said.

Heather nodded.

“Why would it matter if you were a Goddess?” Sandy whispered

“Half,” Heather said automatically.

“Like that matters,” Jill said.

Heather sighed.

“Yes?” Sandy asked.

“I’ve never really had friends,” Heather said. “Lovers, children, husbands, that kind of thing.”

“What about the Charities?” Jill asked.

“They’re sisters,” Heather said. “I usually just hang out around them. They are a unit.”

“Like the statues,” Sandy said.

“Exactly,” Heather said. “I’m just a satellite around them. It’s not like they’ve missed me while I’ve been here.”

“I would miss you,” Jill said.

Sandy nodded.

“You guys … You’re my first ever real friends.” Heather nodded. “And Blane is … He really is my soul mate.”

“You didn’t want to screw it up,” Jill said.

“Like I always do,” Heather said. “You sure you want me to help you with anything?”

“I’m sure,” Jill said. “With Jake gone, I need the help.”

“What can I do?” Heather asked.

“You can help me manage the schedule,” Jill said. “Keep the contractors on track. You’re really good at that.”

“And talk the old guys, artisans really,” Sandy said. “They’re used to Jake.”

“I know what you mean,” Heather said.

“You’re good at that,” Jill nodded.

“What’s Sandy going to do?” Heather asked.

“Help me with colors,” Jill said. “I had the whole place designed and signed off on . But since we moved the house, the light is different. I need to go through an check each color or it will look crappy. And, with Jake gone, I can’t just focus on colors.”

Heather nodded.

“Before you make up your mind, why don’t we go over and take a look?” Jill asked.

“Where is it?” Heather asked.

“It’s right around the corner,” Jill said.

“That’s why we’re meeting here.” Heather nodded. “I wondered.”

Jill nodded. Sandy stood up.

“We should go,” Sandy said.

Heather looked up at her.

“I’m freaked out because of the kids,” Sandy said.

Jill leaned over as she got up and said, “Leave it.” Heather smiled.

“I heard that,” Sandy said.

She started out the door. Heather and Jill jogged to catch up with her. They crossed the street and went a block and a half. The new Marlowe School and ex-demon haunted house loomed over the property. Heather was surprised she hadn’t seen it when she went into the coffee shop.

“Wow,” Heather said under her breath.

Jill nodded. They went up the steps to the front door. Jill produced a key and they went in.

“Go, take a look,” Jill said. “See if you don’t think I need your help.”

Leaving Sandy and Jill at the door, Heather wandered from room to room. She was down the hallway when she yelled out, “You know there’s a ghost.”

“We know,” Jill yelled back.

When Heather didn’t return right away, Jill opened her laptop. Sandy and Jill started working on the colors for each room. Hearing Heather’s footsteps, they looked up.

“You’re never going to get this done without my help,” Heather said.

“That’s what I said!” Jill smiled.

“You’ll pay me?” Heather asked.

“I will.”

“Really money?” Heather asked.

“Do you want to be a partner in the business?” Jill asked.

“I don’t know,” Heather said. “I’ve never lived a life this long, so I’ve never thought about stuff like that. Now that I know I’m going to be here a while, I need to be a little more serious.”

“I couldn’t give you part of the business until Jake comes back,” Jill said.

“Fair enough,” Heather said. “I need to talk to Blane anyway.”

“Talk to Blane,” Jill said.

“But you’ll pay me?” Heather asked.

“Real money,” Jill said.

“I’ll do it!” Heather smiled. “What’s our first step?”

“I can walk you through the design,” Jill said. “Or what I have so far.”

“Great,” Heather said. “Can we go fast so I can get back to the girls?”

“Sure,” Jill said.

Jill closed up her laptop, stuffed it in her backpack, and started the tour.

~~~~~~~~

Monday afternoon — 2:30 p.m.

Jabari bounced up and down. After an hour of hard begging, his teacher had finally agreed to let them finger paint. There was just enough time to make a finger painting for Ms. Yvonne before Mr. Rodney came to pick him up. Jabari missed Ms. Yvonne terribly and wanted her to know that he loved her. He and the children at his table followed the teacher to where the supplies were kept. She gave the boy who sat on the right of Jabari the paper. The boy took it and ran back to their seats.

“What do you think, Jabari?” the teacher asked. “What colors should we use today?”

“Blue!” Jabari jumped up and down.

“Here you go,” the teacher gave him a jar of blue poster paint.

Jabari grabbed the paint and ran back to the table.

“Miranda? What color do you think?” the teacher asked.

The teacher continued to pass out paint until they had each picked one color.

“Remember kids, we share here at the Marlowe School,” the teacher said.

Jabari set his color in the middle of the table. The other kids set theirs in the middle of the table. Miranda, the girl who sat on Jabari’s left side, was a small, slight creature who struggled with allergies and talked almost non-stop. Jabari let her reach over him to get what she needed. The boy on Jabari’s right, Stephen, gave him a big piece of paper.

Jabari set the paper in front of him. While Jabari gazed off into the distance to contemplate what he should put on his page, Stephen dove right in. Miranda sneezed and reached over Jabari’s page to get some paint.

“Who’s that?” Miranda asked as she moved back over Jabari’s clean page.

Jabari continued to gaze away.

“Somebody,” Stephen said.

Jabari didn’t bother to look. After all, his picture was for Ms. Yvonne and should be something very special.

“Jabari,” Miranda said. “She’s looking at you.”

Jabari furrowed his brow as an image came into his mind. Nodding to himself, he reached over his clean page for the blue paint. His hands were around the blue paint jar when he realized that the top wasn’t screwed on. He glanced at the round faced, red haired boy across the table from him. Melvin always forgot to screw on the top. Melvin caught his look and shrugged. Jabari shrugged too. He was just happy he’d realized the top was loose so the paint wouldn’t ruin his picture.

“She must be famous ’cuz there’s a movie camera,” Miranda said.

Jabari’s finger painting was going to be really nice. He was carefully moving the blue paint jar over his clean, bare sheet when an adult’s hand went around his arm. The hand jerked his arm. The top flew off the paint jar and the blue paint went everywhere. Miranda screamed at the top of her lungs at the same moment Stephen laughed.

Jabari watched in horror as the blue paint flew up in the air. While the hand tugged him out of his seat, the blue paint dropped onto the table and the kids around him. A stream of paint landed on Miranda’s hair and ran down her face. Stephen had turned toward the person yanking on Jabari so the paint had sprayed over his glasses. Melvin looked up just as a drop of paint fell on his red nose.

His bare, clean sheet of paper was now coated with a spray of blue paint.

Jabari screamed and a hand slapped him across the face. He looked up to see who had slapped him.

Annette.

“No! No! No!” Jabari screamed.

Her hand slapped him again.

“Ma’am, I need to ask you …” a man’s voice said.

Jabari saw the security guard grab onto the arm Annette wasn’t holding Jabari with. When the security guard yanked on Annette’s arm, Jabari flew into the air. Blue paint flew out of the jar and sprayed kids at other tables.

“You have no right,” Annette yelled at the security guard.

Jabari was falling toward the ground. He came down in the teacher’s arms. Annette yanked on his arm and the security guard pulled on her, all the while the teacher was holding tight onto his body.

“ENOUGH!” the teacher said in a scary loud voice. “I did not survive the blasting sand and scorching heat of Iraq to watch spoiled adults hurt babies here in Denver.”

Annette was so surprised by the teacher’s loud voice that she let go of Jabari’s arm. The security guard grabbed hold of Annette’s upper arms. The teacher wrapped herself around Jabari.

“Get her out of here,” the teacher said.

“Yes, ma’am,” the security guard said.

“And call the police,” the teacher said. “I want to report her assault on a child and disrupting our peace.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the security guard said.

Never letting go of Annette, the security guard leaned close to the teacher.

“Cassie?” the security guard asked in a low voice. “You’ve got blue …”

His hands full with Annette, the security guard used his nose to gesture to the teacher’s face. Her hand went to her face and she felt the wet paint.

Miranda stopped screaming and Stephen stopped laughing and Annette stopped screeching and the security guard stopped talking. The room was suddenly very still.

Jabari pulled his shirt down over his hand. He reached up and wiped the blue paint from his teacher’s ivory cheek. The teacher looked down at him and started to laugh.

When the teacher laughed, the kids started to laugh. Melvin tossed the orange paint out of the jar. The paint flew into the air and showered down. Miranda started screaming again. Stephen picked up the green and followed Melvin’s lead. Kids at every table began to throw paint in the air. The paint flew through the air while the security guard dragged Annette out of the room.

The principal came in . Rather than get mad, she organized the kids to help clean up. By the time parents came to get their kids, they were coated head to toe in paint. Even Miranda.

All the while, the teacher held onto Jabari for comfort, and he let her.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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