Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Denver Cereal - Chapter Two Hundred and Two : Get crackin'

CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and TWO

Monday morning — 6:40 a.m.

As the RTD No. 20 bus approached their stop, Jeraine grabbed Tanesha’s sleeve and pulled her to him.

“I love you,” he said. “I wish with all my heart I could be there with you today, but I’ll be here when you get home.”

He gave her a hard kiss and for a moment, she held on tight. When he pushed her back, she nodded.

“Go on,” he said. “Your future’s that way.”

He pointed to the open bus doors. Tanesha picked up her book bag and stepped on the bus.

“That Jeraine?” the bus driver asked.

Tanesha nodded and showed him her bus pass.

“You Miss T?”

“Tanesha,” she nodded. The bus driver’s eyes scanned her face and he gave her a big toothy grin.

“Where we going, Miss Tanesha?” the bus driver asked.

“The medical school,” Tanesha said.

“Well,” the bus driver closed the door to the bus, “let’s get you to your future.”

Tanesha slipped into a forward facing seat near the middle of the bus. She waved to Jeraine as the bus pulled away. Dazed by her own anxiety, Tanesha stared at the scenery passing outside her window.

She was terrified that after all this time and fuss, she couldn’t do it. She might not be smart enough to be a doctor. Rodney had told her last night that smarts didn’t matter; she would work hard and she would achieve. God knows, Tanesha knew how to work hard. She leaned back into the seat and took out her travel cup of tea. Closing her eyes, she let the calm, familiarity of her tea ground her.

She didn’t look up when the bus pulled to a stop and continued forward again. Instead, she let her mind review the already full morning. After cinnamon rolls with the girls, she’d come home to find Jeraine awake and waiting for her. They’d laughed and loved and laughed some more. Caught in her own joy, she felt more than saw two people sit behind her.

“Anyway, I told you I’m going over right after this,” a loud woman’s voice pierced Tanesha’s calm.

“You think he’s going to see you,” a second woman’s voice said.

“Jeraine?” the first woman asked. Tanesha jerked at the sound of his name. “He always wants to see this body. You know how he is, big, black, and always ready to roll.”

“Yeah, but he said he didn’t do any girls last time.”

“Just a lie to keep the little woman happy,” the first woman said. “You know he wants me. You’ve seen him have me.”

Tanesha’s blood began to pound in her ears. She had to bite her lip to keep from vomiting.

“More than once,” the second woman laughed.

“You know what I love?” the first woman said. “I love those little tattoos he has next to his manhood.”

“The Angel and Demon?” the second woman asked. “I like to put my mouth on those.”

“Mmm-hmm,” the first woman said. “That ain’t all I like to put my mouth on.”

Tanesha reached up to pull the bus stop.

“You got that right,” the second woman said.

“Big, black, and always ready to go,” the first woman continued. “That man really knows how to please a girl. He can’t do the freaky stuff with the boring, old, nappy haired wife.”

“Have you seen her? She’s nothing but skin and bone.”

“He likes me plump and juicy. When we’re together, it’s pure magic, black magic.”

“Fireworks. I know, honey, I’ve been there myself.”

The bus pulled to the next stop and Tanesha threw herself off the bus. Overwhelmed with shame and rage, Tanesha ran down the street away from the bus. She ran until the pain in her heart released. Stopping dead in her tracks, she fell to her knees and sobbed.

She should have known. She should have known.

“You should have known what?” a man’s voice came from above her.

“Leave me alone,” Tanesha said.

Tanesha felt the man kneel down to her. Peeking out between her fingers, Tanesha saw Mike, Jill’s brother.

“Come on, Tanesha,” Mike said. “I know it hurts like hell, but you’ll be late to class.”

“I can’t go,” Tanesha said. “I can’t face the bus and those women and what about my classmates and Jeraine fucked everyone on the planet and… I should have known.”

Mike chuckled. Tanesha looked at him. She’d known him almost all of her life. He’d driven them everywhere when they were kids. He bought them milkshakes when they won the city track meet and ice cream sundaes when they lost state. He was Jill’s big brother and the only big brother Tanesha had ever known. She saw only kindness in his face.

“Tell you what,” Mike said. “How about if we drive there together. You and me. If we get there and you still don’t want to go, that’s fine; I’ll buy you breakfast and take you to the Castle. You can hang out with Jill and Val all day. But let’s just take a drive.”

Tanesha had to smile. He’d said almost the same thing when she was too afraid to run her first race in Catholic School. She’d run track all the way through high school then run at Howard all four years. Running was one of the few things that kept her sane in the middle of her crazy life. Mike gave her running. Relief coursed through her veins.

He helped her up and took her book bag. They walked to his Bronco. He helped her in and went around to the driver’s side. The old Bronco smelled like sun and her favorite tea.

“There’s a cup of tea for you in the cup holder. You left yours on the bus. And…” he reached in his pocket and pulled out something wrapped in a napkin. “I don’t know what this is but it’s from Katy.”

Tanesha opened the napkins to see a crumpled Strawberry frosted Pop Tart. Katy was only allowed to have these once a week; she had given her favorite treat to Tanesha.

“How did you know?” Tanesha sniffed back her emotions.

“Me?” Shaking his head, Mike turned onto Montview Boulevard and drove toward the School of Medicine. “I have a newborn. I can barely tie my shoes for lack of sleep and…”

Tanesha laughed at the idea that a man who never slept was sleep deprived. Mike glanced at her and laughed.

“The first person who told me was Jake,” Mike said. “He asked on Thursday if I would mind being on this street at 6:45 a.m. this morning. He gave me a map but not a reason why. He said I’d know when I got there. I didn’t find out why until Delphie pulled me aside yesterday and asked if I would mind helping you. I told her I already had plans for this morning, but she was quite sincere. Jill asked last night. But the kicker was Katy. She was standing outside our door this morning with your treat. She followed me around to make sure I wasn’t late.”

Tanesha shook her head at the psychics.

“You’re well prognosticated,” Mike laughed.

Tanesha laughed. He threw a handkerchief at her.

“That’s from Jill,” he said. “So what happened?”

“Some girls got on and started talking about…” Tanesha’s shame and sorrow welled. She shook her head and stopped talking.

“Jeraine, huh?” Mike nodded.

“You act like you expected it,” Tanesha said.

“I live it,” Mike said. “I was out of the VA, I don’t know, maybe two weeks when the first guy started bragging about screwing Val. On and on he went. He threw in all kinds of details. I wanted to kill him but Delphie was there and…”

Mike shook himself like a dog.

“I want to kill myself,” Tanesha said.

“That too,” Mike said. “When we were in LA last time, I was fawned over by all these women who wanted to fuck me and ‘enlightened’ by all these men who said they fucked Val. It’s disgusting.”

“Bizarre,” Tanesha said. “These girls knew details about him. I mean he must have…”

“Or they read those stupid magazines,” Mike said. “I’m not saying Jer wasn’t promiscuous…”

“He screwed everybody,” Tanesha said.

“Everybody talks,” Mike said. “Those girls might have had sex with him, or more likely, they’re just mean. They saw you on the bus and wanted to make you feel bad as bad as they feel.”

“How do you know?” Tanesha asked.

“Because that’s what Delphie told me when I was going to kill that guy,” Mike said. “Plus, is it really normal behavior to brag about the intimate details of your sex life in front of strangers? Would you do that?”

“No way,” Tanesha shook her head.

“So why would they?” Mike asked. “Think about it. What are they doing?”

“Bragging,” Tanesha sighed.

“Trying to boost their ego,” Mike said. “Everybody knows you and Jeraine now. Everybody knows you’re going to med school. They had to know what you were doing.”

“You don’t think I just overheard them,” Tanesha gestured out the window. “I could go anywhere and a billion women are going to be ‘he’s so big’ and…”

Mike laughed.

“What?” Tanesha asked.

“At least I don’t have to hear about the size of Val’s… whatever,” Mike said.

Tanesha laughed. Mike crossed Peoria into the University of Colorado campus.

“Where are we going?” Mike asked.

“Over there,” Tanesha pointed. “Jer and I came out here yesterday to make sure I knew where to go.”

“And what did he say this morning? What was he going to do today?”

“We had a great morning,” Tanesha smiled. “So fun and he was great.”

“What’s he doing today?”

“He’s going to therapy, for his brain, and then he has to sleep at least an hour. His mom’s taking him because he’s not supposed to drive after treatment. The movie people show up around noon,” Tanesha said. “He meets a new trainer at six. The trainer was recommended by the brain people – work the body and the mind. Then Jer’s working late with the movie people.”

“So he’s not screwing some random girl on the bus,” Mike said.

“Oh,” Tanesha said. “I see what you mean.”

“I’ve had people tell me they were with Valerie when I knew she was working. I knew she was working because I was there,” Mike said. “These liars don’t realize how much work it is to make a movie or music. They think it’s all what they see in the movies or music videos.”

“Never thought of it,” Tanesha said.

Mike pulled up to let her out.

“Why do you do it?” Tanesha asked. “Why do you stay?”

“Because Val brightens every color, every thought, and every moment of my life,” Mike said. “She’s my world. And I’ll tell you Tanesha, when you’re with Jeraine?”

Tanesha turned to look at him.

“You brighten up,” Mike said. “I know he does the very same thing for you.”

“Then how am I going to deal with this?” Tanesha asked.

“Headphones,” Mike said. “Seriously. I wear them when I’m in public. Delphie tells me, ‘What other people think and say is not your business until they make it your business.’ It works. Jill gave me an iPod for you. Do you want it?”

Tanesha nodded.

“Good girl,” Mike said. “Now get going. Class starts soon.”

Tanesha grabbed her book bag and got out of the car. He gave her the mug of tea and her precious Pop Tart.

“Katy said to tell you that lots of babies need you to come here,” Mike said. “So get crackin’”

Tanesha laughed. Mike raised a hand to wave good-bye and drove off. She looked at the big building in front of her. Nodding to herself, she joined the stream of students into the building.

~~~~~~~~

Monday morning — 8:40 a.m.

“You’ve been fired from Lipson Construction twice,” Rodney Smith said to Pete. “Why should I even give you an interview?”

“Because I know every job in the company,” Pete said. “This job is so far east, you’ll have to transport everything in and out. You need someone who knows the transportation department. I know everyone there. I can facilitate the transportation aspect of the job.”

“You have a bad drug problem.”

“I’ve been sober for almost a year,” Pete said.

“You have an honor problem,” Rodney got up from his desk chair went around the desk to sit on a corner near Pete.

“I’ve had an honor problem, sir,” Pete said. “I’ve hurt everyone I know with my lies. I’m here today with the hope that I can regain the trust I lost.”

“Why Lipson?”

“I like the company,” Pete smiled. “I can take my drug addict self to almost any company in the city and get a job on my skills. I like the no drug policy. I like that you ask me about honor. I like that I might have a chance to own the company I work for.”

“You know there’s a line of men and women who want this very job,” Rodney raised his eyebrows. “No drug problems. No honor problems. No prison time. Why should I hire you over them?”

“You probably shouldn’t hire me over them,” Pete said. “I’m sure ninety-nine out of a hundred experts would tell you not to hire me.”

“So why should I?”

“Because I’ve dedicated my life to facing my demons every single day,” Pete said. “I know the shape and texture of the places I need help and I’m willing to learn. You take a chance on anyone. I’d rather take a chance on a man who knows and faces his demons, than one who seems not to have any.”

“I saw you at Sandy’s place last Friday night,” Rodney said.

“Sandy works late on Fridays,” Pete said. “She’s the first person who gave me a job and a place to stay after I got out. I only work there when she works late.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s not safe for her to be there late.”

“No, I mean, you don’t work for her now, why stay?”

“Sandy took a chance on me,” Pete said. “I won’t ever forget that.”

“Aden said you stood up for him in prison.”

“I don’t remember,” Pete said. “We got a beat down and…”

“So you’re loyal,” Rodney gave Pete a hard look. Intimidated, Pete nodded. “Good. You went to school with my daughter?”

“Tanesha?’ Pete looked surprised. “We went to Machebeuf together. I mean, she graduated early and…”

Rodney gave Pete a long, deep look.

“Here’s what I need,” Rodney said. “I need an assistant who can handle transportation, like you said, but can also interact with all the different types of people here – men, women, black, Hispanic, Asian, and whatever mix comes along. How are you with all kinds of people?”

“I speak Spanish,” Pete said. “I learned it in high school then working and…”

“How do you feel about having a black boss?”

“Are you fair? Will you treat me fairly?” Pete asked. “That’s what I care about.”

Nodding, Rodney got up and went around his desk to his seat.

“There’s word we’re going to have some problems,” Rodney said. “One of your old bosses will…”

“In the past, I made decisions based on a different set of values than I have today,” Pete interrupted. “If I were to get this job, my loyalties would be with you and this project.”

“And what about the men you’ve been loyal to in the past?”

“Where were they when I was just out of the hospital with nowhere to go?” Pete shook his head. “Everyone was happy to hire me when I was a drug addict, but no one wanted to be around me when I decided to get my life together.”

“Except Sandy.”

“Except Sandy,” Pete said. “And Aden, and eventually the most important person in my world, my wife, Molly gave me a chance.”

“And who are you loyal to now?”

“Myself,” Pete said. “My family and anyone who’s willing to take a chance on me.”

“You need to give notice at your other job?”

“No, it’s pick up work. Good money, no commitments,” Pete said. “And I don’t foresee this position affecting my capacity to stay with Sandy when she works late.”

“I don’t either,” Rodney smiled. “I’ll give you two weeks. Prove to me that you should have this job, and it’s yours.”

He tossed a clipboard jammed full of scraps of paper across the desk.

“First task, get this transportation sorted out, because it’s a mess,” Rodney gestured toward a desk along the wall. “You’ll work right there so I can keep an eye on you.”

Pete nodded. Rodney looked at him.

“Get to work.”

“Oh,” Pete said. “Great.”

Pete picked up the clipboard and scowled.

“Too much?”

“No,” Pete smiled. He sat down in the desk along the wall and began sorting paper. He looked up. “Do I have a phone?”

Laughing, Rodney put a phone on his desk. Pete nodded his thanks and set to work.

~~~~~~~~

Monday mid-day — 11:55 p.m.

“Hey, where is everyone?” Jeraine asked.

He held the front door of the penthouse open for the movie’s music director.

“They’re downstairs,” the young man said. “I wanted to speak to you. Do you have a second?”

“Sure,” Jeraine said. “I was just getting lunch together. I thought we could eat while we go through what we’ve done so far.”

The man nodded and followed Jeraine into the penthouse.

“What’s going on?” Jeraine asked.

“I want to get a few things straight,” the young man said.

“Okay,” Jeraine smiled. “You’re making me uncomfortable.”

“It’s about…. Well…” the young man blinked a few times, then swallowed hard.

“Listen, man, just lay it out there,” Jeraine said. “Whatever you have to say won’t be the worst thing I’ve heard, even if it’s about me.”

“Seth really laid into us then kicked us out of his house Saturday night,” the young man’s eyes bugged out a bit.

“I’ve seen him on a tear,” Jeraine said. “It’s not pretty.”

“Pretty? No,” the young man swallowed hard. “He sent us to Aspen to sober up and think about what we want to do with our lives.”

Jeraine chuckled.

“This is no joke,” the young man said. “He can block us from ever doing movies again. We already have a couple producers crawling up our asses. Seth is… well, Seth. What he says is gospel and if he tells the producers we’re a bunch of drugged out scum? We’ll never work again.”

“Then why you…”

“Because you called us ‘vestal virgins’ the first time we worked together,” the young man nodded.

“I did?”

“You screwed every woman in the building,” the young man said. “While you were high and you still mixed the music perfectly!”

“Oh,” Jeraine blushed.

“We just wanted to…”

“Be cool?”

“Not be made fun of. I mean, we’re geeks. We don’t have women hanging on us all the time. They only came because we were going to be working with you. And… Anyway, we heard you’d quit but we thought it was a ploy. I mean, we work in Hollywood where most marriages are fake and… well, we didn’t believe it until…”

The young man cleared his throat.

“Until what?”

“We met Tanesha,” the young man shifted uncomfortably. “I’d give everything I had for a woman like that. She’s, I mean, no disrespect, but she’s funny and nice and smart and…”

Jeraine smiled.

“How could you possibly screw that up?” the young man asked.

“I met her when I was two. I didn’t know what I had until… I got out in the world, and then…” Jeraine shrugged. “I knew enough to marry her, but not enough to understand how special she is.”

“You’re going to screw up again?” the young man’s voice raised to indicate he hoped Jeraine might. Jeraine smiled.

“Not if I can help it,” Jeraine said.

“I’m supposed to apologize,” the young man said.

“I think I need to apologize,” Jeraine said. “It sounds like I set all this up.”

The young man nodded.

“Is that why the guys are in the car?”

“We don’t mind getting yelled at but it’s kind of your fault,” the young man said.

“It’s totally my fault,” Jeraine said. “I’m an asshole. I mean I can recover from the addictions and maybe from the brain damage, but the asshole is probably a permanent feature. At least it is in my father. Is that going to work?”

“Can we call you on it like Tanesha does?”

Jeraine squinted at the young man and he swallowed hard.

“Sure,” Jeraine laughed. “But you can’t have her. No one can. Miss T belongs to the sole property of Miss T. And for as long as she’ll have me, she’s my wife. No fake.”

The young man gave Jeraine a sly smile and Jeraine laughed. Taking out his phone, the music director called the guys downstairs. When the men came up, Jeraine repeated his apology.

“Ready to work?” Jeraine asked.

“Did you say something about lunch?”

Smiling, Jeraine went to get lunch ready.

The Denver Cereal will continue next week

~~~~~~~~

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