Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Denver Cereal - Chapter One Hundred and Ninety Five : Fathers

Chapter 195

Thursday morning — 8:15 A.M.

“We’re prisoners in our own house!” Mike’s voice echoed through the Castle from the main living room. Valerie gave him a wry look from her spot on the couch. Jackie was asleep in her car seat next to Valerie. “This is ridiculous!”

“This isn’t new,” Valerie said.

“I can see if they want to take pictures of me or you or the dog or whatever, but she’s not even a day old!” Mike’s face was marked with desperation. “She needs to see the doctor and we can’t even leave the house.”

“We can go by the tunnels,” Valerie said. “You and Jake created the access for this exact problem.”

“I’m not taking my baby into those tunnels!” Mike looked horrified. “They’re… dusty… and spirity… and…”

“Spirity?” Valerie smiled.

“Are we ready to go?” Delphie said, as she came into the room. “Are you coming Mike?”

“He’s thinking of waging war against the paparazzi,” Valerie said.

Delphie went to the front window and peeked out the curtain. A wave of shutter clicks went through the throng pressed against the fence outside.

“They do seem a little wild today,” Delphie smiled at Mike and got received his worried scowl in return. She looked at Valerie. “What’s wrong with Mike?”

“He’s feeling protective,” Valerie smiled.

Delphie laughed.

“Don’t laugh at me,” Mike put his hand over his heart. “I feel…”

“Crazy,” a man’s voice came from the kitchen.

Agitated and on alert for predators, Mike whipped around toward the voice.

“I felt that way when you were born,” Perses, Mike’s father, smiled.

“How…?” Mike asked.

“How did I get here?” Perses smiled. He turned his palms up as of to gesture of, “How do I get anywhere?”

Delphie hugged him in greeting.

“But…” Mike started.

“I think your first child is impossibly hard,” Perses smiled. “Or I should say, it was harder with your sister, Megan. I think of my life in terms of pre-Meg and post-Meg. Your mother too. I’m sure it will be the same for you.”

Unable to come up with words, Mike stared at his father.

“Come on, we’ll do it together,” Perses put his arm around Mike’s shoulder. He looked at Valerie, ”Are we ready?”

“Ready,” Valerie said. She stood from the couch and picked up the car seat.

“But the tunnels…” Mike said.

“We’ll do it together,” Perses said. “Take the baby from your Valerie.”

Perses gave Mike a little shove on the shoulder. Mike took the car seat from Valerie. Perses herded them out of the living room.

“I wouldn’t allow your mother to drive in a car with you when you were a baby,” Perses laughed. “Too dangerous.”

They made it to the tunnel door and Delphie punched in her code. She held the door for everyone and followed them into the tunnels.

“Oh, your mother was mad,” Perses laughed. He imitated her accent, “You t’ink you can control every leettle t’ing!”

“’e steell does,” Mike’s mother, Anjelika, mocked Perses from the bottom of the stairs. She hugged Mike and said hello to Jackie. She hugged Valerie and asked, “How are you feeling?”

“A little tired, but good,” Valerie said. “She’s a really good baby.”

They began walking along the tunnels.

“Do you mind if we join you?” Anjelika smiled.

“I don’t know how you’ll fit in the car,” Valerie said.

“Perses brought one of those big government cars,” Anjelika said. “But we don’t have to go. I just thought…”

She nodded her head to where Mike and Perses were walking ahead of them. Perses had his arm around Mike and the men were talking.

“Mike’s been crazy since Jackie was born,” Valerie said in a low voice.

“I’m not surprised,” Anjelika said. “His father went completely nuts when the kids were born.”

“But why?” Valerie said.

“Because he knows what’s out in the world,” Delphie said, as if it was obvious.

“I think it’s harder for men like my husband and my son,” Anjelika smiled. “They’ve seen the worst the world has to offer.”

“Was Sam like this?” Valerie asked.

“Was? He’s waiting for us at the garage,” Delphie laughed. “Wanted to make sure the doctor didn’t screw anything up.”

Anjelika laughed.

“You should have seen him when you were born,” Delphie chuckled. “It was mayhem.”

“Crazy men,” Valerie said.

“What would you do if you felt someone was going to hurt Jackie?” Anjelika asked.

“No one’s going to hurt Jackie,” Valerie growled.

“That’s the difference,” Delphie said. “We women know what we’re going to do.”

“Yes,” Anjelika laughed. “This is one time that we know we’re powerful and men feel powerless.”

Valerie and Delphie laughed.

“There you are!” Sam said from the stairwell to the garage. “We’re going to be late.”

The women laughed.


Thursday afternoon  — 1:15 P.M.

“I don’t know why we’re here,” Jeraine said. “Miss T did some sleep walking last night and now she won’t have anything to do with me.”

He walked into their couples therapist’s office and dropped down on the couch. The woman smiled at Tanesha and closed the door after them.

“Thank you for making time for us,” Tanesha smiled and sat down on the opposite end of the couch.

“What’s going on?” Their therapist looked at Jeraine and then at Tanesha. “The last time we met, you were doing really well.”

“We were last night. We were yesterday. We were doing well the day before that and the one before that and…” Jeraine made a frustrated gesture. “Now she won’t talk to me. Just says we need to come here. So here we are.”

“What happened?” the therapist asked.

“She did some sleep walking and…” Anxious, Jeraine responded quickly.

“Tanesha?” their therapist asked.

“I can’t do this,” Tanesha said.

“What?!” Jeraine jumped out off his seat.

“Jeraine, please,” the therapist indicated that he should sit down. “What is it that you can’t do, Tanesha?”

“I can’t do this relationship,” Tanesha said. “I feel like I’m sitting around waiting for him to kill himself. Why pretend to build a life with someone when he’s just going to betray me, destroy our life and himself? Again.”

“How the hell…” Jeraine started.

“Jeraine,” The therapist’s stern manner and powerful presence were reasons she’d been so helpful for them. “Remember what we do here?”

“We listen until the person’s done talking,” Jeraine mumbled. “But she…?”

The therapist gave him a hard look and he shrugged.

“Please Tanesha,” the therapist said. “We’re trying to understand what you’re saying.”

“Yeah,” Jeraine said. “Trying to understand your insanity.”

“It’s not like it hasn’t happened before,” Tanesha crossed her arms and gave him an angry look. “How many times have I seen you destroy yourself? Me? Our life? A million.”

“I guess what’s confusing, Tanesha, is that all of this was true when we started working together,” the therapist said. “You were living with your grandmother and seeing that doctor. Jeraine was just out of rehab and living in New York. What did you say then?”

“I said I would wait to see where it would go but I didn’t promise anything,” Tanesha said. “Now I know where it’s going to go. He’s going to kill himself and leave me with all the responsibility for our screwed up life. One way or another, these addicted folks end up dead and everyone else has to pick up the pieces.”

The therapist gave Tanesha a long probing look.

“I feel like I’m repeating myself, but I really want to understand,” the therapist said.

“See! She doesn’t make any sense,” Jeraine said.

The therapist gave him a hard look.

“Fine,” he said. “I’ll shut up.”

“This is what I know,” the therapist said. “I get weekly reports on Jeraine’s progress. His therapist called me last night to tell me about the brain scans. It sounds like the tests confirm what you’ve suspected all along, Tanesha. He has some brain damage. Is the confirmation of the brain damage what happened?”

“I don’t have any money any more,” Jeraine said.

“But we knew that,” the therapist said. “Or suspected it. Tanesha, you were talking about it the last time you were here alone.”

“You knew about the money?” Jeraine shook his head at her. She nodded. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I did,” Tanesha said. “Remember when we sent the files to Schmidty? What did I say?”

“I don’t know.”

“I said, ‘I’m glad we’re getting this looked at, but don’t be disappointed if you have less than you think,’” Tanesha said.

“I have a lot less than I thought,” Jeraine said.

“So if it’s not the money, and it’s not the brain scans, what is it?” the therapist asked. “What is causing this sudden change of heart?”

“I just woke up to reality,” Tanesha shrugged.

“What reality?” Jeraine gawked at Tanesha. “What’s different?”

“Let me,” the therapist smiled at Jeraine. He shook his head and looked out the window. “What woke you up to reality?”

Tanesha opened her mouth then closed it. She glanced at Jeraine and then at the therapist.

“Why don’t you tell us about the sleep walking?” the therapist asked. “If this is a reality, and you know what’s going to happen, what do you have to lose?”

Tanesha shot the therapist an icy glare.

“I mean, you’re leaving, right?” the therapist asked. “That’s what I hear. Rather than wait for him to kill himself, you’re leaving, right?”

“That’s exactly right,” Tanesha nodded.

“So what do you care?” the therapist asked. “Tell us your story and you can leave.”

As she and the therapist stared at each other, Tanesha felt Jeraine look at the therapist and then at her.

“Fine,” Tanesha said.

“Have you ever sleep walked before?” the therapist asked.

“When I was a child,” Tanesha said.

“She did it our first whole night together,” Jeraine said.

“That’s the last time I sleep walked,” Tanesha said.

“So you were seventeen?” the therapist said.

“Sixteen,” Tanesha said. “Remember, I was emancipated at fifteen so I could get those scholarships. That was the night after we got married… a week before he left. His parents were at the Aspen Jazz festival.”

“Okay,” the therapist said. “So it’s been a while.”

“A little more than ten years,” Tanesha said.

“What triggers the sleep walking?” the therapist asked.

“I don’t know,” Tanesha said. “Probably him.”

“Okay,” the therapist said. “What do you remember about last night?”

“I woke up and Jer wasn’t in bed,” Tanesha said. “I went looking for him and found him on the balcony. He said a bunch of foul things about how everything was my fault and jumped off. He said he was going to the day before… and then he did.”

“He jumped off the building,” the therapist’s eyebrows shot up.

“Fell all twenty floors,” Tanesha said. She glanced at Jeraine. He was staring at her like he’d seen a ghost.

“Did you look? Was it him?”

“It was definitely him,” Tanesha said. “His head was all caved in, blood and brains everywhere, a woman was screaming, and… “

“How horrible.”

“Yeah,” Tanesha said. “His shirt blew up and I could see his tattoo, you know the one around his belly button that says, ‘Forever Miss T.’ When I close my eyes, I see that stupid tattoo and the blood and…”

Tanesha’s eyes filled with moisture and her lip trembled. She grit her teeth to keep from crying.

“Can I say something?” Jeraine asked.

“Just a second,” the therapist said. “What do you think it means?”

“It’s a sign,” Tanesha said. “He’s going to kill himself and make me watch and blame me for everything and…”

“But…” Jeraine interjected.

The therapist shook her head at him. Tanesha shrugged. The therapist let the silence drag in case Tanesha wanted to add something.

When she didn’t say anything, the therapist looked at Jeraine.

“What did you want to add?” the therapist asked.

“I don’t have a tattoo around my belly button,” Jeraine said.

“Yes you do,” Tanesha said. “You have a little red heart inside your belly button.”

Surprised, Jeraine put a protective his hand to his stomach.

“No, I don’t,” he said. “I’d never.. in my belly button? Inside the…? No, not me.”

Tanesha gave him a look of disgust for his lies and looked away.

“Look,” he said. He pulled up his T-shirt to show his abdomen. There was no tattoo in sight. “No tattoos.”

“You had it taken off,” she said.

“No,” he shook his head. “I never tattooed my belly because I’m in all those ads, my calendar, magazines… People want to see my build, my abs, not some tattoo. And my belly button?”

His voice raised and his hand went to his belly.

“That’s private,” he said.

Sure he was lying, Tanesha shook her head at him.

“Think about it, T,” he said. “Have I ever let you touch my belly button?”

Tanesha glared at him.

“No, but I will get one if you want,” he said. “If I get one will you stay?”

Tanesha scowled at him. The silence lagged for a few moments while the therapist thought through everything.

“I’m sorry,” the therapist said “I’m not sure what to say…”

“You know who does have a tattoo like that on his belly,” Jeraine nodded.

“Who?” the therapist asked.

“Rodney Smith,” Jeraine said. “Her father. You know, the one she didn’t tell me about?”

“I remember your anger with Tanesha for her not sharing her father with you,” the therapist said.

“He has a forever tattoo,” Jeraine said. “I saw it when we worked on her Gran’s sewer last summer. It says ‘Forever’ in an arch over his belly button.”

A small sob escaped Tanesha’s mouth. Jeraine’s head jerked to look at her. Her eyes were vague and her face ashen.

“Tanesha?” the therapist asked. “What’s going on?”

Reaching and scooting at the same time, Jeraine pulled Tanesha onto his lap. He rocked her back and forth like a child.

“Shh, shh, it’s okay; it’s okay,” he whispered over and over again.

Dumbfounded, the therapist stared at them. One of Jeraine’s biggest relationship issues was that he wasn’t nurturing. Tanesha almost always used anger to cover her grief and sadness. But to look at the couple now, you’d never know. Tanesha was sobbing and mumbling to Jeraine. His head was down, ear next to her mouth, and he rocked her ever so slightly.

“I’m sorry,” Jeraine looked up at the therapist. “We have to go.”

“But…” the therapist said.

“Miss T had some remembrances come back and they are acting like a filter on a camera,” Jeraine said. “She can’t see anything but them. She needs to go home. She needs to rest and grieve.”

The therapist stood from her chair. With Tanesha’s face pressed against his shoulder, Jeraine guided his wife from the room. She heard the door to her waiting room close behind them. Stunned, the therapist shook her head and closed her office door. She was almost to her desk when she recalled where she’d heard the phrase : “remembrances come back.”

That psychic who worked on Colfax. What was her name? She’d used the same phrase when talking about the therapist’s life. The therapist flushed and opened Jeraine and Tanesha’s file. She made a note to ask Jeraine when they came back and put it out of her mind. But her embarrassment lingered.

What was that psychic’s name?

The Denver Cereal will continue next week


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