Thursday night — 7:35 p.m.
Jacob hung a damp dishtowel on the rack and looked around the large main kitchen, the center of life at the Castle. All the pans were clean and hanging. The dishwasher was chugging away loaded with dinner dishes. The counters gleamed. Everything was done. Glancing at the clock, he smiled. Jill and Katy were waiting for him to say goodnight.
“There you are,” Valerie appeared at the bottom of the stairs. Jackie was strapped on her chest in a baby sling. “I was looking for you.”
“I’ve done Thursday dinner clean up for almost five years,” Jacob said.
“Right.” Valerie gave him a bright smile.
“Congratulations on finding me,” Jacob smiled at her and turned to go up the long stairway to the loft.
“Oh,” Valerie said. “I wanted to talk to you for a moment.”
Turning in place, he squinted at her.
“You see, I bought this building,” Valerie said. “For the Marlowe school. It’s big and beautiful and…”
“Okay,” Jacob said.
“Really it’s perfect for our expansion,” Valerie gave him one of her most dazzling smiles. He responded with a suspicious scowl. “You know, it’s really for Nash and Teddy. I know how much you care about them, and since Park Hill won’t be doing eighth grade next year, they really need a place to go.”
“And I spent my own money,” Valerie said. “I got a steal really. It’s perfect and it was almost free!”
“It has to be moved,” Valerie said. “You see, I made the purchase and then, well, I’ve been a bit distracted.”
Valerie looked down at the adorable Jackie.
“That’s low, even for you,” Jacob said.
“Oh?” Valerie’s voice was light. Seeing his stern face, she wrinkled her nose. “Sorry.”
“You don’t have to manipulate me, Val,” Jacob said. “Just ask me.”
“Okay, I bought this building then forgot about it,” Valerie said. “It needs work, but I knew you would do a fabulous job and we’re not planning on adding junior high until next fall. So you’ll have time.”
“How old is the building?”
“Old,” Valerie said. “And perfect. It has all the details you love. It will be awesome for the Marlowe school.”
“I forgot about it,” Valerie said. “The developer called and said if I didn’t move it by the end of the week, they were going to tear it down.”
“Where are you thinking of moving it?” Jacob asked.
“You have that property on Seventeenth and Franklin,” Valerie said. “I know you’re trying to sell it but you don’t need the money and it’s just right for the school, really perfect.”
“Let me see if I get this right,” Jacob said. “You bought a bargain building, from the sounds of it a house, and want to put it on premium land but it will only work if I spend the next year fixing it up.”
“Right,” Valerie said. “That’s exactly right.”
“Where is the house now?”
“You did not.” Jacob’s face flushed with surprise. He shook his head.
“It was a steal,” Valerie said. “You yourself said it only needed a little clean up and…”
“Who else could do it?” Delphie stepped into the kitchen from the living room.
“You’re in on this too?” Jacob asked.
“No,” Delphie said. “But she’s right. We will clean the house, repair her, and when we’re done, children will love her for decades to come.”
“See!” Valerie said. “It was a good idea.”
Not trusting himself to speak, Jacob shook his head and looked from Valerie to Delphie.
Thursday night — 8:45 p.m.
“You seem blue,” MJ said.
His face was partly obscured under his camouflage helmet. They were talking via Skype. MJ was in the air on his way to somewhere-stan. The baby wasn’t due for another month and he was traveling while he could. Because he would take at least a month’s leave when the baby came, his whole team had been working non-stop to get as much as possible done before he left.
“I’m okay,” Honey smiled to reassure him.
“Valerie had her baby at home,” Honey said.
“You showed me the space,” MJ said. “It’s gorgeous. How is Val doing?”
“Val’s Val – smiling, happy, and, before you ask, Jackie is the same way,” Honey said. “She gets this dark brooding look sometimes…”
“Like Mike,” MJ chuckled.
“Exactly,” Honey said. “But she’s good. They went to the doctor this morning and she’s healthy. Dad’s starting to buzz around me like he did Valerie when she was getting ready to have Jackie.”
“It’s nice,” Honey said. “Bambi’s planning a supposedly secret baby shower.”
“I bet that will be fun,” MJ said.
“When?” a man’s voice came from next to MJ.
“Joseph’s planning our schedule,” MJ said. “Turns out the LC and some of the others are supposed to do a month-long training. We’re trying to coordinate the whole thing to match with my maternity leave.”
“Paternity,” Honey said.
“Right,” MJ said. “If we do that, I can stay home for longer.”
“That’s great news,” Honey said.
“I know,” MJ smiled. “I can’t wait.”
“I’ll find out when the shower is and I’ll send it to Joseph,” Honey said.
“Good thinking,” MJ’s eyes traced her face. “So why are you blue? You haven’t said.”
“I hate this,” Honey’s eyes filled with moisture. “I hate it.”
“Wait,” MJ looked up. “Where’s the headset?”
An object bounced off MJ’s helmet. Some hands came into view. A shadow went across the screen as people moved away from him. Because the team spent so much time together, privacy was a premium. When a team member needed privacy, they asked for the headset and the other teammates moved away. While she was sure they knew every detail of her life, this was one of the tiny gestures that made their life work.
“Ok,” MJ said when he was alone and hooked up. “What do you hate?”
“If I wasn’t paralyzed I’d be able to have the baby at home like Val and I wouldn’t have to go and get cut open and everyone could be here and I wouldn’t be alone and…”
Honey’s words were lost in her tears. At this moment, all she wanted to do was be normal.
“What am I going to do when the baby comes?” Honey asked. “I’m here by myself and I can’t even shower myself and…”
Honey began to sob. She’d never spoken the words out loud to anyone before. When she looked up, she saw only love and concern in MJ’s eyes. He gave her a soft smile.
“We have solutions to every single situation,” MJ said. “You know that.”
Honey bit her lip and nodded.
“And it’s still very, very hard,” MJ said. “Very hard. I’m sorry. I think it would be almost harder if I was there.”
“I don’t see why we can’t have the baby at home,” MJ said. “I’ll call the doctor and see if we can set it up.”
“No buts,” MJ said. “Jake told me the office is equipped with all kinds of things and… Honey, if push comes to shove, I can do it myself.”
“You?” Honey shook her head.
There was a knock on Honey’s apartment door. With the laptop on her lap, she rolled toward to the door.
“You wouldn’t be my first,” MJ smiled. “I’ll call the doctor and talk to Sam. If you want to have the baby at home, we’ll do it.”
Trying to be strong, Honey wiped her eyes and nodded.
“What can I do?”
“I’m just being a baby,” Honey said.
“You’re alone during some really big and important days,” MJ said. “I know what I’ll do. I’ll call your Mom!”
Honey scowled at the thought of her mother, Tiffanie, and opened the door. Delphie stood on the threshold.
“Oh sorry, I didn’t realize you’re on the Skype,” Delphie said. “I was just making some brownies and thought you’d…”
“I’ll be right there,” Honey smiled.
“Duty calls?” MJ asked.
“Sorry I got so upset,” Honey said.
“You’re going to be all right?” MJ asked.
“I’ll call in the morning and check in. ‘K?” MJ asked.
Honey nodded. She knew he depended on her to be strong and his entire team depended on him to be their medic. She gave him a soft smile. She could do this.
“Love you,” MJ said.
“I love you too,” Honey said and clicked off the call.
“Sorry,” Delphie repeated. “I just thought…”
“I really appreciate it,” Honey sighed. “I’ve been a little…crazy.”
“I know,” Delphie leaned down to hug Honey.
“Brownies are just the thing I needed,” Honey said.
“Come on then,” Delphie said.
They found Valerie and Jackie in the living area of the Castle. Valerie did her best to look nonchalant.
“Oh, is Honey joining us?” Valerie asked.
Friday, early morning — 3:13 a.m.
After her third day of back to back shifts, Ava was bone-tired. She pulled her car into the driveway and stumbled toward the house. Wondering if she should take a swim, her eyes glanced at the carriage house. She was too tired for swimming tonight.
She went through the sliding glass door and into the back of the house. She was almost to the kitchen when she heard piano music. Her heart pounded with excitement.
And then a woman laughed.
Her heart squeezed with jealousy. Before her mind could catch up to her heart, she stormed to the formal living room Seth used as a public piano room and pulled open the antique sliding doors. Her eyes took in the room.
Schmidty was sitting on a couch with his arm around Lizzie. Dale was talking to that tall Russian man who trained Sissy. Seth’s back was to her while he played the grand piano. And the most beautiful woman she’d ever seen was spinning on toe nearby.
Unfamiliar with storms of jealousy, Ava stood in the doorway trying to catch her breath.
“Oh shoot,” the woman said when she saw Ava. “She’s here.”
Furious, Ava gaped at the woman. The beautiful woman smiled an even more beautiful smile and Ava shook her head. She turned to leave when she felt Seth moving toward her. She paused for a moment. He touched her arm.
“Please don’t go,” Seth said.
“Why is it bad that I’m here?” Ava asked.
“Because this was my surprise for you,” Seth said. “A trip to New York to see the ballet and a wedding present from me.”
Ava shook her head.
“Are you all right?”
“I feel weird,” Ava said. “My heart’s all constricted and I’m mad.”
“Sounds like jealousy,” Seth pulled her to him. “I’d feel the same way if I came home to all of this.”
“I don’t like this feeling,” Ava said.
He nodded. In her ear, he said, “Don’t be jealous my love. Everything I do, I do with you in my heart.”
“I miss you so much,” Ava’s voice was low. “When is your movie done?”
“We’re close,” Seth said. “I’m home for the weekend. I’m working here for the first few days of next week. The movie’s music crew is coming here on Sunday. The house will be full of people.”
“Did you tell Maresol?” Ava asked.
“No, should I?” Seth asked. He pulled back to look at her. Seeing her stern face, he laughed.
“Yes, my love, Maresol has been informed that a crowd of people are going to invade her house,” he said. “Dale already has a list of things to do to get the bedrooms ready.”
“Why do you get to be here?” Ava asked.
“Jeraine is helping with the sound mixing,” Seth said. “He doesn’t feel comfortable leaving Tanesha right now. And I wanted to be here with you.”
“Giving your friend’s son a job?” Ava asked.
“He’s very talented,” Seth said. “Plus your father wishes to speak with me, so I’m home for a while. Want to get married while I’m here?”
“I guess that’s a no,” Seth said. “Ah well, can’t blame a guy for trying.”
Ava kissed him and he laughed.
“Come on,” Seth said. “Let me show you what you might expect.”
He looked into Ava’s face and she nodded. With his arm around her, she went with him into the room.
Friday morning — 9:11 a.m.
Sitting in a tight armchair, Tanesha pulled her legs up into her chest and rested her chin on her knees. Jeraine was waiting in the lobby while Tanesha took some time alone with their therapist.
“Were you surprised by their story?” their couple’s therapist asked.
“No,” Tanesha said. “I always figured something like that. I know my Gran feels like she failed Mom; and let’s face it, she did.”
“But she didn’t fail you,” the therapist said.
Tanesha shook her head.
“Jer has been… incredible. We stayed up all night talking.”
“Talking,” Tanesha said. “Crying, laughing, talking about me, talking about him, planning our future. Our future.”
Tanesha gave a little snort.
“Seth called, yesterday, while I was… sick, told Jer that he needed to come to LA next week,” Tanesha said. “And you know what he said? He said he wasn’t going to leave me. Could Seth come here? And they are. The whole team is coming to Denver to do some thing or another just because Jer wouldn’t leave me. He wouldn’t leave me! I…”
Tanesha shook her head as if she couldn’t believe the words she was saying.
“So to answer your question,” Tanesha started.
“Which one?” The therapist gave her a wry smile.
“Why is this happening now?”
The therapist nodded.
“I think this is happening now,” Tanesha swallowed hard. “It’s happening now because I’m getting everything I always wanted. My husband is home and clearly in love with me, and only me. My Dad finally told me about Mom. I lived to see the day that Gran admitted she screwed up – anything, let alone screwed up with my Mom. And I get to go to med school on Monday.”
The therapist intently watched Tanesha’s face. Tanesha shook her head and pressed her mouth against her knees.
“What I really want, more than anything…” Fat tears slid down Tanesha’s face. “I really want my mom to come home.”
With nothing to add, the therapist could only nod.
“Why can’t my mom come home?” Tanesha broke down and sobbed.
The Denver Cereal will continue next week
This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.