CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED AND NINETY
Tuesday mid-day — 12:15 P.M.
Standing on the small hill in Brighton, Delphie looked up at the warm late August sky. From where she stood, she could see out over the home construction site to Mountains on the horizon. She was standing on the site where Saint Jude had killed his first victim after hanging her in the horrible barn. Soon it would be a gorgeous gem of a park.
“Excuse me,” A small but beautiful woman touched Delphie’s arm. Her face held the washed out look of extreme grief. She spoke in her native language. “I’m sorry. Were you meditating?”
Delphie smiled at Ava’s best friend’s mother.
“You must speak English,” Beth’s father said in the same language.
“It’s all right,” Delphie smiled. “My mother spoke Slavic when I was a child. Was that Croatian? It’s similar.”
“Yes,” the man said. “You may speak English. She understands much but refuses to speak.”
“I was taking in the day,” Delphie said in English. “Oh look, it’s Amelie.”
Delphie waved to Amelie and Dale getting out of a car near by. They jogged up the slope toward the group of people gathering on the small hill.
“What happened to the…?” The woman gestured toward the fenced off dirt area.
“Jacob took the terrible pole barn down by hand,” Delphie said. “Have you met Jacob?”
“Yes,” Beth’s father said. “He has been very kind. Everyone…”
He gestured to the people gathering around them. The families of Saint Jude’s victims were joining Delphie today to celebrate the lives of their loved ones and the end of Saint Jude.
“But these people?” Beth’s mother gestured to the men and woman standing near where the pole barn had been. Ava hugged Beth’s father and then her mother. Her mother hugged Dale and her father shook his hand.
“They’re from the Museum of Nature and Science,” Delphie said.
“They’re scientists,” Ava said. “They’re going to dig up the barn to see if they can determine what happened here. Seth said they may be here for more than ten years working on everything that’s here.”
“Like they have done in Bosnia,” Beth’s father said. “Find the crimes. Find the criminals. That is very good.”
“Won’t they find the…” Beth’s mother looked at her husband.
“Zmaj,” Beth’s father visibly shook.
“No, he and his mate are gone,” Delphie smiled. “The women and children in my family destroyed them with their light.”
“And her babies,” Ava said.
Beth’s mother began to weep. Dale hugged her.
“He is our son now,” Beth’s father said. “We are glad to have him. Please forgive us. We miss our Beth so very much.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Delphie said. “I wanted everyone to get together here to see that they don’t suffer alone.”
“That Saint Jude was an evil man,” Beth’s father said.
“Without Beth, we never would have caught him,” Ava said.
“Yes,” Beth’s father said. He took a breath at his pain and then changed the topic. “We were told this is going to be a park?”
“Did you see the design?” Delphie took them to a 3-D model of the future park. “One of Jill’s teachers at the Art Institute came up with the design. The construction company is going to create it.”
“How did you get them to…?” Dale asked.
“After he got out of the hospital, he just wanted to do it,” Delphie shrugged.
“Delphie told him about a big blockage,” Ava whispered and gestured to her heart. Her eye’s spoke to the size of the block. “Widow maker.”
“He’s very generous,” Delphie said with a twinkle in her eye.
“What’s going to happen to the house?” Dale asked. “It’s really lovely. Huge.”
“I don’t remember,” Delphie said. “I mean, there’s a sold sign and I think someone told me, but I was making sure the park happened and…”
“She ignored me,” Sam up his arm over Delphie’s shoulder. “Sam Lipson.”
Beth’s parents shook his hand and introduced themselves.
“The house will be moved. I remember that,” Delphie smiled at Sam. “And the land will be the first part of the park. The City is deciding whether to build a rec center on part of it. But Sam bought all that land and this land so it would be a really nice park.”
“Don’t let her fool you,” Sam said. “She made this happen. Did she tell you about the people who lived in the mansion?”
Beth’s father shook his head.
“Why don’t you show them?” Sam said. “I’ll call the kids and see where they are.”
Delphie nodded and led Beth’s parents to the row of old graves.
“The original owners of the house died in the flu epidemic of 1918,” Delphie said. “One child got sick and by morning almost everyone was dead. It was a terrible tragedy. They were buried and forgotten here. I found them when we were here and Sam promised me he would take care of them. He bought those lovely grave markers and Jake set up the metal fence. The heirs even came up with a photo.”
Delphie took them to a plaque with the family’s photo on it and an explanation of their graves.
“So many children,” Beth’s mother put her hand on her heart. “Poor babies.”
“I was glad they weren’t moved,” Delphie said. “It was quite a fight, but in the end it all worked out. There will be baseball fields over there. A big playground for kids where the driveway is now. Soccer fields over in the corner. Even a couple of ponds for fish and birds. And the City is going to maintain the park.”
“Delphie is being modest,” Ava said. “Seth said she convinced the City to allow these people to rest in peace. She even went to the bank on her own and set up a fund to help maintain the park.”
“We will donate,” Beth’s father said. “Of course.”
Delphie smiled. Beth’s mother touched her arm.
“The statue?” Beth’s mother said in Croatian. “Amelie tells me my Beth’s name will be on a statue?”
“My friend Mike created the image,” Delphie said. “We took it to a sculptor who was able to translate it into… well, I’ll show you the pictures.”
Delphie took a photo album out of the pocket of her floral skirt. The original oil painting showed a running boy engrossed in catching a yellow butterfly just out of his grasp. His hands were above his head and his arms covered most of his face. His mouth was set in a wide grin.
“You can almost hear him giggle,” Ava pointed to his mouth. “Fabulous.”
“And the sculptor created these study models,”
Delphie showed a series of pictures of small wax statues of the child carved out of wax.
“The second one is the best,” Beth’s father said.
“I’m glad you said that,” Delphie said. “That’s the one we picked. The victims names will be carved around the stand. The final bronze statue will be installed behind where the back of the house is now. It will sit on the edge of the smaller pond. It should be truly lovely. We’ll have you back when it’s done.”
“So expensive,” Beth’s mother said.
“We had an anonymous donor pay for the statue,” Delphie smiled.
Ava mouthed “Seth” to Beth’s mother. Looking relieved, Beth’s mother nodded. Looking up, Delphie noticed that the area was filling with the families of the victims. The City of Brighton was having its own ceremony later on today. But right now, they had gathered to celebrate the end of Saint Jude’s rampage against homeless children and the lives of his victims.
There was a noise near the mansion. Delphie looked down to see gravel fly as Jill’s SUV pulled into the driveway. Jeraine’s Cadillac Escalade followed Jill’s with Heather’s Subaru not far behind. The women and children laughing as they piled out of the cars. Jacob pulled up in a Lipson Construction SUV with Aden, Blane, Tres, Honey, and Tanesha’s father Rodney. Mike and Valerie, carrying Mr. Bilfry, got out of the back of Jeraine’s car.
Her family was here!
“Would you excuse me?” Delphie asked.
“Please,” Beth’s mother said. “My Beth… Amelie tells me you…”
“Beth is at peace,” Delphie said. “Such a beautiful, good soul, she’s at peace. You can rest assured that she is celebrated for all she was and she will be there when you are done here.”
Beth’s mother gave Delphie a watery smile and her husband led her toward where the other victim’s families were waiting. Delphie turned just in time to pick up Katy as she ran to her. Katy gave Delphie a Shasta Daisy and kissed her cheek.
“Sorry we’re late,”Sandysaid. “We were waiting for Sissy and…”
“Just got behind,” Jacob hugged Delphie. He offered to take Katy but Delphie shook her head.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Delphie said.
“Are you ready?” Sam asked.
Delphie nodded. Sam nodded to the Mayor’s aid. Delphie and Katy went up to the front where the victims’ families waited. When Delphie nodded, they let loose one hundred biodegradable white balloons in commemoration of the Saint Jude’s victims. The Mayor of Brighton led everyone in a moment of silence as the balloons floated into the sky.
Delphie watched them fly. Saint Jude was gone. The evil presence that had been here for time unknown was gone.
And somehow, she was still standing under the blue Colorado sky. She caught Sam’s eye and he smiled.
“Ms. Delphinium?” the Mayor looked at her.
“Let the celebration begin!” Delphie said.
Tuesday afternoon — 3:15 P.M.
“I still think we need ice cream,” Jeraine said.
“Then get some.” Tanesha raised her eyebrows in a challenge. She pushed the full cart one step forward in the long grocery line. “I’ll be here when you get back.”
Swallowing hard, Jeraine nodded. He kissed her cheek and went down the freezer aisle. They had offered to watch the kids when Valerie went into labor. Because the Castle was surrounded by paparazzi, they figured it was better to move the kids to their Penthouse. Heather was bringing Mack over tonight and Sandy’s kids were sleeping over. Jill would drop off Katy on her way to the hospital. That way, all of the adults were free to help out in whatever way they could. Sandy and Aden would play tag team babysitters with Tanesha and Jeraine.
Tanesha was excited to be able to help out and Jeraine seemed thrilled to be included. The only problem was that they had absolutely no food in the house. They stopped off at Safeway on their way back from Brighton. They had arrived at the same time as a couple of buses of elderly people from the nearby assisted living facilities. The checkout lines were now long and filled with curmudgeons. There was a long line of people to her left and her right.
Taking a step forward, Tanesha was close enough to the magazine rack to see the gossip magazine. Looking to see if Valerie was on any of the covers, her eyes flicked from one magazine to the next until she saw a picture of herself. She blinked. Why would there be a picture of her on those magazines? Her eyes flicked back to the magazine. She was standing on the sidewalk outside the penthouse wearing her running gear. Jeraine was stepping toward her. She remembered that day. It was… Sunday after their interview. In red block print over their heads, it said: “Miss T gives Mr. It a last chance” in smaller print it said: “Can this cheater change?” Tanesha scowled. She walked to the magazine rack and turned over the magazine.
“They’re right you know,” the elderly woman standing in line in front of her said. “That man will break your heart.”
“And what’s that to you?” Tanesha shook her head and went back to her basket.
“I’m just saying,” the woman in front of her continued. “He’s bad news. Now I know you don’t have a Mama and maybe you don’t know better…”
“Delores is right, Miss T,” the woman standing in line behind her said. “Once a cheater always a cheater. As far as you know, he off screwing some young thing right now.”
“In the grocery store?” Tanesha asked. “What? And using the bananas as a sex toy?”
“You don’t have to be foul, young lady.” An elderly man a few people behind in the line said. “You should listen to these ladies. Not all men are good. And you done found yourself a bad seed.”
“You mean to tell me that Dr. Bumpy’s boy is bad?” the woman behind him asked. “You better watch your mouth Malcolm or I’ll tell Nurse Dionne what you said about her son.”
“Well I think you’re a damned fool for taking him back,” a younger woman from the line to the right said. “I would’ve divorced him and taken everything I could get my hands on. Who’s crying now?”
“Mmmm-hmmm,” a knowing agreement came from the elderly woman standing around her.
“She’s right,” the woman in front of her said. “And you deserve every penny for your years of heartbreak.”
“And then some,” the woman behind her touched her shoulder. “It’s only a matter of time before that man breaks your heart again.”
“You know, they’re right,” a grey-haired woman from the line next to hers spoke up.
“So remind me…” Tanesha said in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear. “How is my life any of your business? I don’t remember even a one of you stepping forward when Jer was in trouble in high school. Boys will be boys; that’s what everyone said. So you can shut your traps now.”
“I’m just saying…” the woman in front of her gave her a sour look and turned around.
“There he is,” a woman from a silent line of grocery shoppers two people over said. “Look at the grin on his face.”
“Mmm-hmm, I told you so,” the woman in line behind her said. “Screwing some young thing, right here.”
The shoppers heads nodded like bobble-head dolls. Tanesha groaned. Jeraine took in her face and the awkward silence. He set three containers of ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate syrup in the cart.
“What’s going on?” he leaned in to say in her ear.
“The good folks of this Safeway would like to know if you were screwing some sweet young thing,” Tanesha said.
“Just now,” she said.
“In the ice cream aisle?” Jeraine looked from face to face. No one would meet his eye. “Just now?”
He laughed and they stepped closer to the check out. A few minutes passed.
“Well?” the elderly man in her line asked. “Were you, son?”
“Hello Mr. Stone,” Jeraine said. “I didn’t see you there. How are you?”
“He’s fine,” the woman behind him said. “Answer the question.”
The people around them stared at Jeraine. Tanesha gave them each an evil look.
“What’s the question?” Jeraine asked.
“Were you screwing some young thing just now?” the young woman from the line next to them sneered.
“No,” Jeraine said. “I was getting ice cream.”
“Uh huh,” the woman in front of them looked him up and down before turning around in a huff.
“Why were you grinning?” Tanesha asked.
“Because I don’t know anything. I had to ask Mrs. Jennings…” He pointed to the ancient woman three lines over. She waved. “She helped me pick out something for the kids and showed me where to get chocolate syrup and whipped cream. I haven’t been in a grocery store since I was a kid. Miss T’s teased me about just that the whole time we’ve been here. She thinks it’s funny.”
“Satisfied?” Tanesha glared at the people around them.
“I’m not,” a woman from the line to her left spoke up for the first time. “I used to babysit Miss T for Yvonne and Rodney. Tanesha, you probably don’t remember me but I’m Tawnie Johnson.”
“Vaguely,” Tanesha nodded.
“And she’s right,” Mrs. Johnson said. “I didn’t help when Miss T needed it, and I knew she needed it, so I have no right to say anything. But…”
“That’s not going to stop you,” Tanesha said.
“No it is not,” Mrs. Johnson said. “I want to know if you’re going to cheat and break her heart again.”
Jeraine looked at the old woman. He took in Tanesha’s sour look and the staring people around him. Putting his hands on his hips, he looked down at the floor. Tanesha slipped her hand onto his elbow.
“We knew this would happen,” Tanesha said in a low voice.
He looked at her then back around at the other people.
“The truth…” he started.
“Yeah, that would be nice for a change,” the woman in front of them said.
“I don’t know if I’ll cheat again and break Miss T’s heart,” Jeraine said. “I’m an addict. I have a problem. I can tell you that today, I woke up and wanted only to stand next to this woman, right here, for as long as I could. So I got up, went for a run, and, except for my excursion to the ice cream aisle, spent the entire day at her side. Now, I can tell you that for the last few months, I have wanted this very thing and only this very thing. But I can’t tell you about tomorrow.”
“Are you going to therapy, son?” an elderly woman from two lines over yelled.
“Yes, ma’am,” Jeraine said. “I have a personal therapist who I see at least once a week. Miss T and I go to therapy as well so we can work on things.”
“We’re on a break because we’re doing so well,” Tanesha said.
“But we can always go back,” Jeraine said.
“And why should we believe you?” The woman in front of them stepped forward to set her groceries on the black conveyer belt.
“You can believe what you’d like,” Jeraine said. “But that’s my truth today.”
“Cheaters never change,” a voice yelled from somewhere in the back. The heads around them began their bobble-head impersonations.
“I can’t speak for cheaters,” Jeraine said. “I can only speak for myself and this moment. I’ve been a cheater and I’ve changed. Look at my life. A year ago, my father wasn’t speaking to me, my wife didn’t realize we were still married, my mother… I…”
Tanesha squeezed his arm to steady him. He smiled at her.
“Today, Miss T and I are back together and building a life together. I’m spending time with my parents. La Tonya had lunch with me yesterday. And I like it this way. I’m not saying I’m fixed; but I’m saying I want to change and so I am changing.”
“I believe in you, son,” Mr. Stone said. The woman behind him groaned.
“I believe in him too,” Tanesha smiled at Jeraine and he blushed.
She pointed the woman in front of her to the grocery clerk ready to check her groceries. The rush of putting their groceries on the belt and getting ready to pay took their attention. Jeraine was standing in front of the grocery clerk while Tanesha bagged their groceries in reusable bags. The clerk was passing Jeraine their receipt when she smiled.
“I saw your interview,” the clerk said. “I just wanted to say…”
Tanesha held her breath.
“Good luck,” the clerk nodded. “It takes a lot of courage to change your life. I’ve got ten years sober. My husband stayed with me. Talk about stubborn. It was hard, but we fought it together and… it was worth it.”
“Thanks,” Jeraine said.
“I think you’ll be fine,” the clerk said.
“Me too,” Jeraine smiled, picked up the last bag of groceries, and followed Tanesha out of the store. They pushed the cart to his Expedition, loaded the groceries, and got in before he asked, “Anything you need to say?”
“When are you getting rid of this pimp mobile?” Tanesha asked.
“I meant about…”
“You made your money off those very people,” Tanesha said. “They feel like they know you through your music. After that interview, they feel like they have a stake in our lives. We’re going to have to either avoid contact with them all together or get used to it.Denver is a small town with a lot of mouthy nosey people. If we want to live here, we’re going to deal with that.”
“And you? Are you all right dealing with it?”
“I’ve been dealing with those nosey so and so’s all my life,” Tanesha said. “My Daddy was in prison for murdering some white girl. My Momma is a hooker. My Gran, well…. Let’s just say that I don’t care what anyone says.”
“Except Jill, Sandy, and Heather,” Jeraine said.
“My Gran, Dad, and maybe even you,” she smiled. “Sometimes.”
He smiled and started the car.
“I’m just happy to be here with you,” he said.
Tuesday evening — 7:25 P.M.
Mike was in their small kitchen making popcorn when he heard Valerie say something. Knowing they were alone, he assumed she was on the phone. Her contractions were coming strong and fast. Bumpy had already stopped by to check on her. Valerie would do most of her labor at home and zip to the hospital to have the baby. They’d even worked out a way for her to get up the coal tunnel if she couldn’t walk. Delphie and Sam were downstairs waiting for his signal. She’d wanted to hang out on the couch and watch a movie.
He finished putting the last drops of butter on the popcorn and went out into their living area. Valerie wasn’t there.
Nothing. He could still hear her talking. He checked the bathroom, their bedroom, and the nursery he and Jill had decorated. Nothing.
He could still hear her talking.
“Val? I don’t know where you are,” Mike set the bowl of popcorn down on the changing table to listen.
He could still hear her talking. It was as if her voice was coming through the walls. He pressed his head against the nursery wall. Her voice was on the other side of this wall. His heart pounding in his throat, he hammered the wall with his fists.
The Denver Cereal will continue next week
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