Chapter ONE-HUNDRED and NINETY-FOUR
Thursday early morning — 2:15 A.M.
When Jackie cried, Valerie lifted her from the bed and slipped out of their bedroom. She was about to sit down on their couch when she remembered that Sandy was usually up at this time too. She held Jackie close and crept out of the apartment. She paused in the kitchen to listen. The house was absolutely still.
“This is stupid,” she said in a low voice.
She was turning to go back to the apartment when Jill came down the stairwell from the loft.
“There you are,” Jill said. “I was just going to look for you.”
“For me?” Valerie asked.
Jill smiled. She gave Valerie a light hug.
“Sandy and Rachel are waiting for us,” Jill said.
“Sandy?” Valerie tried to appear uninterested.
Jill smiled at Valerie’s pretense.
“Come on,” Jill said. “We’ll help.”
Jill turned away from Valerie to walk into the living room. Valerie stared in her direction.
“Help? What help do I need?” Valerie asked.
Sandy stood from the living room couch and smiled at Valerie. The warmth of Sandy’s smile was enough to draw Valerie into the room. Jill sat in an armchair and Sandy sat on the couch. A wood fire snapped and flickered in the fire place. Valerie came to the edge of the furniture grouping.
“We thought you might feel a little lonely,”Sandy said.
“Lonely?” Valerie blushed. She kept her voice breezy and added, “How can I be lonely? There’ve been people around all day and…”
Sandy smiled at her.
“Rachel will show Jackie how it’s done,”Sandy said. “Won’t you?”
Rachel grabbed Sandy’s right breast with her tiny hand and began to nurse. Valerie stood watching.
“Why don’t you sit next to Sandy?” Jill asked. “She’s right. Jackie will have an easier time if Rachel’s there.”
Valerie sat down. She fumbled with her night shirt. She held her precious Jackie near her breast. And nothing happened.
“She’s not doing it,” Valerie said. “She only does it whenRosa’s around. It’s likeRosa’s her Mom and I’m…”
“Lonely,”Sandy said. “We all felt it. Jill?”
Jill crouched next to Valerie.
“You have to coax her a little bit,” Jill took a drop of milk from Valerie’s breast and put it on Jackie’s lips. Jackie smacked her lips. “See she’s ready.”
“But…?” Valerie’s eyes filled with tears. “I can’t… and…”
Jill moved Valerie’s hands to support Jackie. She adjusted Valerie’s breast then helped her hold Jackie in place. The baby began to suckle. Valerie smiled.
“Relax,”Sandy said. “You’ll be an old pro by the time Honey has her baby. We might be done by then so you and Jackie will have to help her.”
The women sat together while their babies nursed. After a few minutes, Valerie looked at Sandy and then at Jill.
“How did you know?” Valerie asked.
“About being lonely?”Sandy asked. “Because we’ve felt it.”
“It’s just hormones right?” Valerie asked.
“I think hormones just enhance our emotions,”Sandy said. “But they don’t create the feelings.”
“But why would I feel lonely? There are people around all the time and…”
“Because you had Jackie inside you, inside your world, and all to yourself,” Jill said. “And now she’s gone.”
“I don’t think it’s as bad for most women,”Sandy said. “And maybe it’s not for you. But Jill and me…”
“That’s right, Heather felt this way too,” Sandy said. “We were crushed by loneliness. Even with all that Saint Jude junk going on and being sick, I missed Rachel, my baby, my secret friend.”
Valerie looked at Jackie.
“But I feel so… much for.. for her,” Valerie said.
“Sure,” Jill said. “But she’s not…here.”
Jill touched the round mass that was her belly now. Valerie nodded.
“I think people don’t talk about it because we feel like maybe it’s wrong to feel lonely,”Sandy said.
“So we just get depressed,” Jill said.
“I feel kind of depressed,” Valerie said.
“Everyone says that’s because you give so much and the baby doesn’t give back a lot now,” Valerie said.
“I know people say that,”Sandy said. “And it’s true that it takes a while get the connection but… I can’t imagine getting more from anyone than Rachel gives me right now.”
“But…” Valerie looked at Sandy and then at Jill.
“You have to open your heart,” Jill said. “I think sometimes our babies live with us for nine months to get our hearts ready for them.”
“Some babies,”Sandy smiled. “I believe Noelle and Nash lived in my heart until I found them. But Rachel…”
Sandy looked down at her baby.
“She was new.”
“Try it,” Jill said. “Imagine Jackie in your heart.”
Valerie looked at Jill and Jill nodded. She closed her eyes for a moment.
“She’s there!” Valerie’s eyes popped open. “She’s already there! How did you know?”
“Been there,” Jill smiled.
“Done that,”Sandy said.
Valerie laughed. Her movement dislodged Jackie and the baby gave a hearty shout.
“Sorry,” Valerie tried to get her to latch on. “Will you guys help me?”
Jill got up to help.
“Now imagine your love going to Jackie and her love coming back to you,” Jill said.
“Like a giant circle,”Sandy said. “In and out.”
“I think it’s hard because we’re not great at receiving love,” Jill said. “Or at least I’m not.”
“Me neither,”Sandy said.
Valerie smiled. She closed her eyes and did what she was told. Out to Jackie. In from Jackie. Feeling movement, she looked up. Sandy and Jill were watching her. Rachel was done. She looked down at Jackie and she’d fallen asleep. Valerie smiled.
“Tomorrow night?”Sandy asked.
“It’s a date,” Valerie said.
Thursday early morning — 4:15 A.M.
Tanesha woke with a start. Jeraine wasn’t in bed. She mentally ran through the evening. All of the fuss and trouble of the afternoon had slipped away after seeing the work progress at their wonderful new home. They’d had a good time at the party. They’d laughed and danced. They’d come home and made love. She’d fallen asleep happy.
She looked at the clock. The white letters read 4:17. She’d gotten up around two to use the toilet. He’d been sound asleep. She reached to touch his side of the bed. It was still warm.
She threw off the covers and went to look for him.
He wasn’t in the bathroom. She went through the record hallway to the guest bedroom. He wasn’t in there or in the den.
He wasn’t in the kitchen. She wondered what nonsense he was up to now. She went past the front door. The elevator was up on this floor, so it was unlikely that he’d left the loft. Hearing a noise, she turned in place.
She saw the back side of the sliding glass door move into her view.
She ran down the hall, through the open sliding glass door, and out on to the balcony. Jeraine was standing next to the three foot high safety wall on the edge.
He looked at her for a moment and climbed onto the wall.
“Jeraine Wilson,” Tanesha said. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Can’t do it, Miss T,” he said. “Everything I’ve worked for, every God damned thing, is gone. I worked all of my life and it’s gone. Singing lessons from the time I was three. Song writing practice after school and all summer, every summer.”
“But…” Her heart pounded against her ribs. Her stomach jumped into her throat. She gasped for breath.
“I’ve worked all of my life and it’s all gone,” he looked down at the street twenty floors below.
“Why are you like this?” Tanesha asked.
“Because this is who I am,” Jeraine said. “I’m a rich guy who wears four carat diamonds in my ears. I’m a guy who has any woman I want. I’m the guy who has money, lots of money. That’s who I am. Why can’t you accept me as I am?”
“No,” Tanesha shook her head. “That’s not you. You’re not that guy.”
“You’re wrong,” he said. “I am that guy! But now? Now, I’m the guy with brain damage. If you hadn’t made me quit the record company, everything would be fine. You ruined my life.”
“Please,” Tanesha took a step forward. “Come down from there. We can talk about all of this…”
“There’s nothing to talk about,” he said. “It’s all gone. Everything I worked for is gone. Everything I cared about is gone.”
“What about me? What about us?”
The words tumbled out of her mouth. Nothing she said penetrated his rage.
“Did you really think I’d give it all up?” he asked. “All the things I worked so hard for? I worked every day of my life for the money, the fame, the women, the party! And I’m going to give it up? For what? For you?”
“You weren’t happy!”
“I’m not happy now,” he said.
He nodded to her, looked straight ahead at the setting moon, and jumped.
She ran to the wall and looked over. His body seemed to hang in the air. She told herself she was having a dream. This was a nightmare. In a moment she’d wake up and he’d be sound asleep next to her. They’d continue their life together.
She opened her eyes and he was still falling. She closed her eyes and made a wish.
“Please God, I’ve never asked you for anything. Please save him. Please God, he’s all I ever wanted. I will work my whole life for you. I will never ask for another thing. Ever. Please God. Please.”
She opened her eyes to look. His broken body lay on the street below. Blood began to stream from the back of his head. Frozen in rage, his face looked up at her. A woman screamed and a police siren started somewhere in the distance. Unable to tear her eyes away, she stared at the body she loved so much. His shirt had blow up on his trip to the street to show the tattoo around his belly button. As if he was mocking her, the tattoo read “Forever Miss T.” There was a tiny red heart in the middle of his round belly button but from this height she could only see the words and the rage permanently etched on his face.
She crumpled to the balcony floor. She was too sick to cry and too distraught to be sick. She felt an overwhelming numbness that she knew would live with her the rest of her life. She covered her ears with her hands against his cruel words that repeated in her head.
This was her fault.
She’d ruined his life.
He was happy before and she’d messed it up.
He was that guy and she couldn’t accept it.
It was her fault. It was her fault. It was her fault. It was her fault.
She killed him. The only man she’d ever loved. She killed him.
And finally the tears came.
Her sorrow ripped through the very core of her being and came out her mouth in a low moan. Clutching her knees, she rocked herself for comfort but nothing seemed to soothe her pain.
From where she sat, she heard the sounds of the street. An ambulance came and scraped her lover’s body off the street. A television helicopter flew overhead. The police cordoned off the neighborhood. And Tanesha cried until there was not one drop of moisture left in her body.
She tried to open her eyes, but they were swollen nearly shut. She could only see small slits of daylight. She felt more than saw someone come toward her.
She saw a man’s feet standing in front of her. The man kneeled down. Not sure they were real, she reached a hand out to touch the feet.
“What are you doing out here?”
Jeraine’s face appeared in the slit of light. She closed her eyes and opened them again. He was still there.
“What are you doing out here?” he repeated. “What happened?”
“You jumped,” she tried to say but all that came out was a vague croak.
“Did you sleep walk?” he asked. “God, T, you haven’t done that since we were kids.”
She shook her head.
“Should I call Heather? Jill? Maybe Sandy?”
Not wanting him to leave her sight, she shook her head. He grabbed her arms and pulled her to standing. Her knees were too weak to stand. She weaved. He held her up.
“Maybe I should call your Gran?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“Do you need a hospital?”
She shook her head.
“How about some tea?”
“I knew it,” he smiled. “Girl, your tea addiction is off the chain.”
Expecting her to laugh, he leaned back from her.
“Ah well, it’s not that funny,” he said.
He put an arm around her and another on her arm. Holding her up, he led her off the balcony. They had just reached the sliding glass door when she broke free. She ran to the safety wall and looked over. She saw…
A police cruiser blared past with its siren on. A woman jogged by on the sidewalk below. Tanesha looked at the mountains. It was daylight. Jeraine joined her at the wall.
“Are we jumping?” he asked.
“No,” she began to sob. “No. No. No.”
He pulled her to him and she collapsed.
The Denver Cereal will continue next week
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