Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Denver Cereal - Chapter One Hundred and Ninety One : Shift


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. His heart pounding in his throat, he hammered the wall with his fists.


He heard her laugh. His eyes scanned the room until they fell on the closet door. He put his head against he door.

Her voice was coming from inside. She laughed again.

Mike opened the door and turned on the light.

Nothing. No Val.

He had painted this closet just last week. He knew every nook and cranny. He patted the walls and listened. He could still hear her talking to someone.

At the very back of the closet, he saw a small trap door. He had tried to open the door when he was painting but it had been nailed shut. He dropped to his knees. The nails were gone. He pulled on the door and the hinges creaked as it opened.

He crawled through the trap door to find five wooden stairs and an open area. It had the look of an elegant medical office of some kind. Valerie laughed.


“Mike! Come on up.”

He ran up the stairs to find Valerie covered in dust talking to the air.

“Mom wanted me to see this space,” Valerie said. “Isn’t it gorgeous? She thinks we could move up here or whatever. And look!”

Valerie pointed to a bookshelf.

“The books about the house! Jake’s been looking for these forever.” Valerie smiled as if she’d done something big. “Mom says you’re freaked out. Are you freaked out?”

“Honey, we’re having a baby tonight,” Mike said.

“I know!” Valerie said. “Right here.”

“What?” Mike asked.

“Mom says we won’t get out of the Castle and it’s better to have the baby here,” Valerie said. “Isn’t it neat?”

“What about ‘I want all the meds’ and ‘I like hospitals’?” Mike asked.

“That was before Mom came,” Valerie smiled. “Go get Delphie. She’ll explain everything.”

Mike gawked at her.

“Go on,” Valerie said. “I have a few hours so I thought I’d start making a clean space.”

“Val I really think,” Mike said.

“Mike do as I ask,” Valerie said. “Please.”

“Do not do that to me,” Mike said. “You promised.”

“Ok, sorry,” Valerie smiled.

Mike stalked down the stairs toward the trap door

“Oh, can you bring me some cleaning supplies? And the vacuum?” Valerie asked. “Oh and call the doctor. Mom thinks Delphie and Tanesha will be fine but it’s always good to have one around.”

“Why are we doing this?” Mike asked.

“Because they’re going to experiment on Jackie,” Valerie said. “Our baby.”

“And Blane?”

“It’s already worked out,” Valerie said. “Blane will get a catheter into his hepatic artery. I don’t know what that is, but that’s what will happen. He can get the cord blood here. His doctor is just realizing they want to experiment on our baby. He’s going to suggest it to Blane and Heather in the next hour and do the surgery tomorrow morning.”

“You’re sure?”

“Jill will have the twins here too,” Valerie said. “Mom says it was an expensive doctor’s office once. There were stairs out the back. Other babies have been born here. We’ll be fine. Just go get Delphie. She’ll tell you everything. Oh, and get Jake. He needs to build the stairs.”

He was almost in the closet when she yelled, “Bring the popcorn!”

Shaking his head, he went to find Delphie and Sam.


Wednesday morning — 5:25 A.M.

Jeraine woke with a start.

Tanesha wasn’t there. His heart squeezed with panic. She was gone and he was alone. A sharp pain shot through his head. He rotated to sitting and grabbed his head. How was he going to survive this day?

Hearing a noise, he hopped out of bed. He thought, ‘Maybe she’s in the kitchen.’ He ran out of the bedroom to look for her and saw the kids sprawled on the living room carpet. Relief washed through him.

Tanesha was with her girls last night. They were getting the space ready for Valerie to have her baby. The entire endeavor didn’t make sense to him but that hadn’t stopped him from playing a wild game of Cowboys and Indians with Charlie, Teddy, Sissy, and Nash last night. Aden had arrived midgame and took up the Cowboy call. Noelle documented the action with her sketch pad. He hadn’t had as much fun since… We’ll he wasn’t sure when.

He went into the kitchen to start coffee. Aden met him there.

“You’re sure you’re all right with the kids here?” Aden whispered.

“Sure,” Jeraine said.

“Sandy will be here to do school drop off,” Aden said. “The girlfriends are going to breakfast.”

“How…?” Jeraine asked.

“She called,” Aden said. “She said you need to check your phone. She said to remind you that your phone is in your nightstand drawer.”

“Oh great. Thanks.” Jeraine went into the bedroom to get his phone. He listened to Tanesha laugh at him for losing his phone again. Hearing the coffee maker beep, he went back into the kitchen.

“Don’t worry about breakfast for these guys,” Aden said. “Charlie makes it.”

“He does?”

“It’s one of his chores,” Aden said. “He’s good at it. Do you forget where you put down your phone?”

“Yeah,” Jeraine said. “I never carried one of these things until Tanesha came back.”

“You didn’t have a cell phone?”

“I didn’t say I didn’t have a cell phone. I had two – one for personal and one for business,” Jeraine said. “I said I didn’t carry one. I had people who had the honor of carrying my cell phones.”

Aden smirked.

“I know, it’s pretty ridiculous,” Jeraine said.

“Can I use your shower?” Aden asked. “I’ll wake up Charlie and he can use the one in my room.”

“Sure,” Jeraine said.

Aden went to wake Charlie and Jeraine got dressed. He was pulling on his pants when his phone rang. Thinking it was Tanesha, he answered on speaker phone.

“Hey,” Jeraine said. “I’m just getting dressed.”

“Mr. Wilson?” a man’s voice came over the speaker. “I’m looking for Jeraine Wilson.”

“Oh sorry,” Jeraine picked up the phone. He fumbled with the speaker and held it to his ear. “I thought you were my wife.”

“Not today,” the man laughed.

“How can I help you?” Jeraine asked.

“Mr. Wilson, this is Doctor Vilner,” the man said. “We met a few days ago?”

“Yes sir,” Jeraine said.

“I apologize for calling so early,” Dr. Vilner said. “I know your father and he’s usually up this early. Did I interrupt something?”

“No sir,” Jeraine said.

“We received the results of your brain scans,” the doctor said.

“All of them?” Jeraine asked.

“Yes, that’s why it took so long,” the doctor said. “I had to wait for the reports on the functional scans.”


“I’m sorry to tell you but we’ve found areas of significant injury in your brain,” the doctor said. “I thought you’d want to know as soon as possible.”

Stunned, Jeraine sat down hard on the bed. Tanesha had only agreed to do the interview if he agreed to take all these tests. He did it to humor her. It never occurred to him that something was actually wrong.

“What does that mean?” Jeraine asked.

“I’d like you to come in and we can discuss your options,” the doctor said. “Right now, you need to know that you have an injury, mostly likely due to your drug use. It affects the way you process information and make decisions. This type of brain injury is not uncommon and also not a death sentence. Really, you’re lucky to find this out now when we can do something about it.”

“What do I need to do?”

“There are different treatment options to help regain brain function,” the doctor said. “With clean nutrition, exercise, treatment, and no drugs, a healthy young man such as yourself can recover from this type of damage in a year or maybe two. As long as you don’t take drugs, sleep, get good exercise, good nutrition, oh and keep your stress level low, you’ll be fine.”

“I’m supposed to start medical school next week,” Jeraine said.

“I’m sorry. You won’t be able to attend,” the doctor said. “You’ll have to ask if they can extend your admission. There’s no way your brain can handle the stress of school.”

“What do you mean?” Jeraine asked. “I’m smart enough.”

“Have you recently experienced panic while your brain locks up or repeats one thought over and over again?”

“Sure,” Since it had just happened, he felt like the doctor was watching him. He looked around. “My head hurts.”

“That’s what I mean. Your brain can’t handle school right now,” the doctor said. “Maybe in a year or so, but not right now. Call my office today and we’ll get you set up with treatment.”

“Thank you sir,” Jeraine said.

The doctor hung up the phone. Dazed, Jeraine set the phone on the bed. His entire plan revolved around going to medical school. He and Tanesha would be doctors together. Overcome by hopelessness, Jeraine stared off into space.

“What’s wrong?” Aden said as he came out of the bathroom. “Jeraine?”

With a towel wrapped around his middle, Aden touched Jeraine’s shoulder. Jeraine looked up at him.

“What’s happened?” Aden asked.

“The drugs… they messed up my brain,” Jeraine said. “I can’t go to school and Miss T, she…”

Jeraine shook his head.

“Tanesha what?”

“She…” Jeraine shook his head. “That’s it.”

“What’s it?” Aden asked.

“That’s it. My one chance is over,” Jeraine said. “We were going to go to school together. We were going to… and now? I can’t go and…”

“You need to speak with Tanesha,” Aden said.

“She’s with her girls,” Jeraine said. “She doesn’t want to talk to me.”

“Listen to me,” Aden said. “I’ve been where you are. I know you want to use.”

Jeraine nodded.

“How many days since you were high?”

Jeraine held up three fingers.

“You’re in a vulnerable spot,” Aden said. “Your body aches to be high. Now you’ve got a reason to do it.”

“Not like you needed one,” Charlie said from the doorway. “My Shi-dai is right. You need to talk to Tanesha.”

Jeraine looked from the boy to the man and shook his head.

“It’s over,” Jeraine said.

“If that’s what you want,” Aden said. Turning to Charlie, he asked, “Did you shower?”

“Nah, I just got up,” Charlie said.

“Go,” Aden said. “We’ll need you to stay with everyone until Jeraine gets back.”

“I’m not going to interrupt Tanesha’s girl time,” Jeraine said. “I’m just not going to do it.”

“Then you don’t really want to be married,” Aden said. “I need to get dressed.”

“He’s right,” Charlie said to Jeraine. “Can’t shit an addict like him. He’s heard everything.”

“This way,” Aden pushed Charlie from the doorway. “You can shower in the guest bedroom. We’ll leave this addict to either get ready and face his life or keep his excuses and his addiction.”

Jeraine scowled after him and went back to staring straight ahead. He felt a growing sense of overwhelm and futility. His eyes welled with tears.

“They’re right, you know,” Noelle walked across the room and sat with him on the bed. She took his hand in hers and held it. He turned to look at the girl. “If you want your life to be different, you have to do different things. I think it’s harder for us artists. We’re used to creating, making something. We don’t really understand that we make our life too. It’s easier for Daddy or Charlie because they use logic – I do this, I get this. But creative people, we don’t think like that.”

Taken back by the girl’s wisdom, he couldn’t think of anything to say.

“So how do you do something new and scary?” Noelle shrugged. “I’ll tell you what I do. I think of it like a picture. Where would I start? What color would I use? Like being a girlfriend. I don’t know how to do that, so I think – what color would I use? I like pink but Teddy, he likes brown and tan.”

“Burnt orange.” The words surprised him. He hadn’t meant to speak.

“That’s exactly right,” Noelle said. “I like flowers and butterflies and fairies. Teddy like cars and martial arts and…”

“Dragons,” Jeraine smiled at the child.

“So what are you going to make today?” Noelle asked. “Drugs and girls or your real life? How would you write this song? How would you sing it?”

“Hey! Are you macking on my girl?” Teddy asked from the doorway.

“No man, I wouldn’t do that,” Jeraine said. “I’m married.”

“Hasn’t stopped you before,” Teddy sniffed.

“It’s okay,” Noelle stood up. “He knows what to do now.”

“Then he should go do it,” Teddy nodded his sincerity. Jeraine smiled.

“I fell for Miss T when I was your age,” Jeraine said.

“Good reminder,” Teddy said. “I’m not going to fuck up like you did.”

“I bet you won’t,” Jeraine said. “I bet you won’t.”

“Are you ready to go, Jeraine?” Aden asked. “Noelle what are you doing?”

“Going to shower Daddy,” Noelle hugged her father. “Good morning.”

“Teddy?” Aden asked.

“I’m making sure this dick doesn’t take Noelle…” Teddy started.

“Enough,” Aden said. “Go kick Charlie out of the shower.”

Teddy glared at Jeraine and left for the other guest bedroom.

“If you want to come with me, you have to come now,” Aden said. “I need to get to work.”

Jeraine stood from the bed.

“You’ll need a shirt,” Aden said. “It’s cool out.”

“Oh,” Jeraine looked down. “I was sitting on the bed with your daughter and no shirt and you didn’t beat the crap out of me? My jeans aren’t even buttoned.”

“Looks like Teddy had that covered,” Aden smiled. “I know my daughter. She might get behind or come in late but she does everything from a very pure place.”

Jeraine pulled on a long sleeved T-shirt.

“Pants?” Aden pointed to his jeans.

Jeraine buttoned his pants and followed Aden out of the penthouse. They took the elevator to the basement where they went to Aden’s SAAB. They were driving down Seventeenth Avenue when Jeraine looked at Aden.

“You really think Tanesha wants to know this stuff?” Jeraine asked. “She doesn’t want me to deal with it on my own.”

“I think she’s your wife,” Aden said. “That’s more than not screwing other women. It’s sharing your life. I haven’t been married long, and I’m no expert. I can just tell you there’s nothing like sharing my worries with Sandy. She has a way of making everything seem all right.”

Jeraine turned away.

“Better than telling your addiction,” Aden said. “My addiction only has one response.”

“Feed me,” Jeraine said.

“Exactly,” Aden pulled up in the alley behind the Castle.

“Where’s the papz?” Jeraine asked.

“Public thoroughfare,” Aden said. “There’s a video camera on the pole to make sure they don’t come back here.”

Jeraine looked up at the Denver Police video camera on the light pole behind the Castle.

“You can see Jake there?” Aden pointed to the back of the Castle.

Jacob was standing on a thin decking attached to the second floor of the house. There was a gorgeous unfinished spiral wooden stairwell up to the decking. Jacob was drinking a cup of coffee and looking at the project.

“The girlfriends are just inside,” Aden said. “He’ll let you in. You know the code?”

Jeraine nodded and moved to get out of the car.

“Good luck,” Aden said.

“Noelle, she’s…?” Jeraine started.

“No one knows,” Aden said. “At least I don’t. She seems to be hooked into a greater knowledge of the world. Did she help?”

Jeraine nodded.

“That will make her happy,” Aden said.

Jeraine got out of the car. Standing in the alley, he wavered. He could easily slip away. Tanesha would never know he was here. He looked down the alley where Aden had gone.

“Jer?” Tanesha opened the gate. She was out of breath as if she’d been running. She was wearing her pajamas and her hair was still wrapped in the straws that she slept in. “Jake said…”

She hugged him close.

“Did you come to tell me something?” Tanesha asked.

Jeraine nodded.

“Were you going to use instead?” Tanesha asked.

Jeraine nodded. Tanesha hugged him tight. When she pulled back, he saw tears in her eyes.

“Thanks for coming,” she smiled. “Come on. Sandy made some muffins.”

She took his hand and led him from the asphalt alley into the plush, blooming garden. The lush, green garden infused him with a sense of joy.

And he knew. This was one of those crystalline moments he’d never forget. Just one thing leading to the next leading to the next and on the other side was the life he wanted. He stopped walking near the vegetable gardens, pulled her to him, and kissed her hard.

“I love you,” he whispered.

“I missed you last night,” she said.

“Really?” he stroked her face.

“Really,” Tanesha said. “Jake said sometimes you have to invite a person over the threshold of their new life. Are you in your new life?”

“Yeah, I am,” he smiled. “How’s Val?”

“It’s going to be hours,” Tanesha said.

“We’ll have time to talk?”

“Lots of time.”

Tanesha took his hand and they went inside.


Wednesday morning — 8:25 A.M.

“Any word?” Sandy asked.

She gave Heather a cup of vending machine coffee. Heather looked up and shook her head. Sandy sat down next to her in the surgery waiting room at Saint Joseph’s hospital.

“We spend a lot of time here,” Heather said.

“I was just thinking that,” Sandy smiled. “Maybe this is the start of something new. Val and Jill are going to have the babies at home. Blane will get well and…”

Sandy looked up to see Enrique, Blane’s ex-boyfriend, walk into the waiting room. He gave Heather a look of disgust and sat down with his back to her.

“What’s his problem?’ Sandy whispered.

“He’s been like that all morning,” Heather said. “He and that guy from Blane’s doctor’s office.”

“Rubén?” Sandy asked.

“Mmm,” Heather said. “I hear them whispering about me.”

Sandy hugged Heather.

“Is it taking long?” Sandy asked.

“He said it would be a long time in set up,” Heather shook her head. “They have to x-ray him while they do the surgery. I guess it takes a while to get everything going. They’ll be done soon.”

“Hi,” Ava came into the waiting room.

Heather and Sandy looked up at her.

“Seth told me you’d be here,” Ava said. “We…”

She pointed to her colleague, Nelson. He smiled at Heather.

“We wanted to see if there was anything we could do. We’re off today,” Ava sat down next to Heather. She leaned over. “I thought maybe you’d need someone to translate the doctor-speak. Plus…”

She tugged Nelson to sit down next to her.

“We brought pastries,” Ava nodded to Nelson.

“I heard they were going to be here,” Nelson said in a low voice. “Have they been dicks?”

Heather nodded.

“Sorry, we hoped we’d get here before the real dickery happened,” Ava said in a low voice.

“Why are they here?” Sandy whispered.

“Enrique thinks Blane is going to ask for him when he wakes up,” Nelson rolled his eyes. “He told everyone he’s going to put an end to Blane’s farce of a marriage today.”

“Rubén has a crush on Blane,” Ava said. “He thinks this will be his chance.”

“How do you know all of this?” Sandy whispered.

“My roommate,” Nelson said. “He’s one of Enrique’s current… friends. He gets home from the bars when I get home from work. He said it was all the talk last night.”

The women turned to give Enrique and Rubén the stink eye and ate their pastries.

“Mrs. Lipson?” A nurse came out of the back.

“I think you’re looking for us,” Enrique said. Enrique and Rubén stood up.

“I don’t know who you are,” the nurse said. “Mr. Lipson asked me to get his wife.”

“Ma’am,” Heather said.

“There you are,” the nurse walked around Enrique to Heather. “The procedure went really well. The doctor said he’s healthy which made it easy.”

“It seemed like it took a long time,” Heather said.

“We waited until he was out of the worst of the anesthesia to get you,” the nurse said. “The doctor likes to do that so you don’t see him drooling. He’s in recovery but you can go home after that.”

Heather glanced at Sandy. Sandy nudged her forward. Heather followed the nurse to see her husband.

The Denver Cereal will continue next week


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