CHAPTER FOUR HUNDRED and THIRTY-SIX
Saturday evening — 5:40 p.m.
“Honey?” MJ asked as he walked into their apartment.
“In here!” Honey called from the guest bathroom.
“In here! In here! In here!” Maggie said in her high pitched voice.
There was a splash of water. MJ grinned. Honey and Maggie were in the bathtub together.
“How was it?” MJ asked as he nudged open the door.
“Fun,” Honey said. “Fine.”
“They had special lunch!” Maggie said with glee. “And I got a bubble bath.”
Not sure what Maggie was saying, MJ shook his head.
“Maggie, Jackie, Jabari, and Mack spent the day with Mike,” Honey said. “Her clothes are right there.”
Honey pointed to a pile of muddy clothing in the corner of the bathroom.
“True test of paternity,” Honey said.
“That means you’re my daddy!” Maggie said. “I asked.”
She flapped her hands onto the water and bubbles went flying. MJ laughed. Maggie grinned her big smile.
“I’ll remind you that it’s Sam who works underground utility,” MJ said.
“No paternity there,” Honey laughed. “All that dirt is on you.”
“How did you …?” MJ asked, gesturing to the tub.
“Auntie ’Nisha,” Maggie said. “Jab-ri and Auntie ’Nisha are in the grown up bafroom.”
“We made mud paddies, but Mack wouldn’t eat them,” Maggie grinned. “Jab-ri made the best ones.”
His daughter loved it when she, Jabari, and Jackie ganged up on Mack. Always on for a joke, Mack adored being the center of their attention. MJ put the cover to the toilet down and sat down.
“How was today?” MJ asked.
“I had a great time!” Maggie said.
“I was asking your mommy,” MJ said.
“Oh,” Maggie said. “Mommy?”
“It was good,” Honey said. “Fun.”
“Fun?” MJ asked.
“Hera and Aphrodite came with us,” Honey said. “So did Abi.”
“I bet that was interesting,” MJ said.
“Mom told Abi that she didn’t think the spa let in colored people,” Honey said. “I almost died.”
“What’s a colored person?” Maggie asked. Maggie looked at her arm. Her skin was so translucent that you could see inside of her. “I’m colored RED.”
Maggie thought that was so funny that she burst into laughter.
“What did you do?” MJ said.
“Heather did something with her fingers,” Honey said. “I don’t know what. Tiffanie settled down.”
“Wow,” MJ said. “Should I go apologize to Tanesha, her mom?”
“I talked to them,” Honey said. “They were surprisingly understanding. Abi too.”
“But, she said that to Abi?” MJ asked.
Honey nodded. MJ groaned.
“Is Mrs. Abi a colored person?” Maggie asked. “She’s pretty colored. Jabari has chocolate skin. I’m red. Mack is very white. Jackie is sort of brownish white. I’m the only red one! That’s neat!”
Honey looked at Maggie. She glanced at MJ.
“Everyone has a color,” Honey said.
“Daddy’s red like me,” Maggie said. “You’re white like Mack. Can I change colors?”
“Nope,” MJ said. “It’s something you have for the rest of your life.”
“I’ll always be red?”
“Yep,” Honey said. “The way you’ll always have blue eyes.”
“And red hair,” MJ said.
“Then it’s just me,” Maggie said.
“Exactly,” Honey said.
“Is it bad?” Maggie asked.
“Some people think there should only be one color of people,” Honey said.
“Or that one color of people is better than the other,” MJ said.
“That’s just dumb,” Maggie said.
She laughed and returned to playing with bubbles.
“Anyway, Tiffanie was on her best behavior after Heather intervened,” Honey said.
“What a relief!” MJ said.
“How was your day?” Honey asked.
“Good,” MJ said. “We went fishing up at the cabin. Jacob is a fiend at fishing. He just went after it. Amazing.”
“How did it work having your team there?” Honey asked.
“Just the men,” MJ said. “It was fun. Trece and White Boy came. They are so funny. They kept us all laughing. Jacob knows everyone from doing their construction work. Aden met them for the first time, but you know how Aden is.”
“Strangers are friends you haven’t met yet,” Honey said.
“Exactly,” MJ said. “We had a good time.”
“Are you ready to get married inside the big church, Daddy?” Maggie asked.
“I can’t wait,” MJ said.
“Me, too!” Maggie said.
She raised her arms and MJ got her out of the tub. He wrapped her in a big, fluffy towel and set her down.
“Help Mommy now!” Maggie ordered.
MJ grinned. He pulled the plug on the water and used the detached sprayer to rinse the bubbles off Honey. He gave her a towel before lifting her out of the tub. She was balancing on the edge of the tub when there was a knock on the door. Tanesha poked her head in.
“I wanted to check to see if you needed help,” Tanesha said. She gave MJ a smile. “Looks like you’ve got the best help possible.”
“I have red colored skin!” Maggie said to Tanesha. “You have dark chocolate skin.”
She lifted her arm for Tanesha to see. Tanesha’s eyes flicked to Honey and then to MJ.
“I mentioned what my mom said,” Honey said. “Sorry.”
“What do you think about that?” Tanesha asked Maggie.
“It’s great!” Maggie said. “Lots of colors, lots of friends. Mack and Mommy are white, but Daddy and me are red. Jabari is chocolate, like you. I like chocolate.”
She gave Tanesha such a big grin that Tanesha picked up the little girl and kissed her cheek. Wrapped in a big towel, Jabari peeked into the bathroom. Honey waved.
“We were going to head home, but we ran out of time,” Tanesha said. “Jeraine’s bringing our dress clothes, but I wondered if you could share a blanket. Jabari is worn out. He could use a short nap.”
“Me, too!” Maggie said. She wiggled out of Tanesha’s grip. “I’m tired to. Jabari can sleep with me.”
Tanesha glanced at Honey, who nodded.
“We don’t have clothes for boys, but we have T-shirts that are unisex,” Honey said.
“I’ll show you,” MJ said.
MJ rolled Honey’s wheelchair into the bathroom before picking up Maggie. He left with Tanesha and Jabari to show them to Maggie’s room. MJ and Tanesha quickly dressed the children. Maggie got into her big girl bed first. Jabari got in next. The children were asleep before their heads hit the pillow. Tanesha and MJ crept away to their living room.
“I’m sorry about the colored thing,” MJ said.
“Don’t be,” Tanesha said with a smile. “Maggie is a gem. She’s curious about the world. Jabari just loves her.”
“Maggie loves Jabari,” MJ said.
MJ gave Tanesha an embarrassed grin.
“I know,” Tanesha said. “They are so young and there’s no way to know what will happen next.”
“Katy and Paddie are already set,” MJ said. “Maggie and Jabari?”
“I agree whole heartedly,” Tanesha said. “Did you know it was Maggie who suggested they make mud pies?”
“Maggie? Really?” MJ asked.
“Mike just didn’t say no,” Tanesha said. “But who can say no to Maggie?”
“We’ll keep an eye on Jabari if you want to go get dressed,” Honey said on her way into the hallway.
“That would be a big help,” Tanesha said.
Tanesha leaned down to hug Honey.
“Today was fun,” Tanesha said.
“It was fun,” Honey said.
Tanesha left with a nod. MJ followed her as she rolled back to their bedroom to change. Honey sighed.
“What is it?” MJ said.
“I hope we did that well,” Honey said. “I wish we didn’t have to talk about skin color.”
“Me, too,” MJ said.
“Mostly, I wish things were fairer for everyone,” Honey said with a sigh.
MJ nodded in agreement.
“I think we have to keep trying until we get it right,” MJ said.
Honey nodded and finished getting dressed.
Saturday night — 7:05 p.m.
“What do you think about . . ?” Teddy Jakkman waved his hand around the dinner table.
Noelle looked up from her plate. They were seated at the grownups table to help Nash feel comfortable. Neither Teddy nor Noelle had ever sat at the grown-ups table at one of these fancy events. Intimidated, they watched with big eyes and spoke in whispers.
“You mean …?” Noelle shrugged.
“Everything,” Teddy said. His brow furrowed. “You know, these guys getting married.”
Noelle nodded. She looked around the big, formal dining room. Tonight’s dinner was just for the people in the wedding party. One look around the table told her that she was sitting in the middle of a big change. She felt like she’d just awakened from her cocoon to find …
Sissy looked like a grown up. Ivan was talking to Aden and Sissy was talking to Tink. Every once and a while, Ivan would look up, glance at Sissy, and return back to his conversation. Feeling her eyes, Ivan looked at Noelle and winked. Noelle immediately looked somewhere else.
Honey and MJ looked happier than Noelle had ever seen them. For one thing, MJ was home. It’s not like he traveled every week. Between both of their work and Honey’s school, they seemed more like passing ships. They were clearly taking this as an opportunity to celebrate being together.
Jill and Jacob were sitting on near Sam at the head of the table. Jill had small white roses tucked into her hair. Noelle knew that Katy had the very same thing because she’d helped Sandy buy the flowers. Noelle loved the way Jacob looked at Jill. Not that things had been easy for them. They just seemed happy tonight. No, really happy.
Because Sandy was Noelle’s mom, she never really noticed how beautiful Sandy was. Tonight, Sandy positively radiated. She was sitting next to Seth’s wife, Ava, and the two of them were laughing. In all of her life, Noelle had never seen a more beautiful woman than Sandy was at this moment. Noelle could tell by the look on her father, Aden’s, face that he was positively dumbstruck by her beauty. Noelle grinned.
Nash was sitting next to Teddy. Noelle could only see his back because he was turned away from them to talk to Nadia. Nash seemed happier than he’d ever been in his whole life. Noelle smiled. She was really happy for him.
Everyone seemed really happy, almost joyous. Noelle looked back at Teddy to find him looking at her face.
“I think it’s really …” Noelle sighed. “Perfect.”
“Me, too,” Teddy nodded.
The catering waiter set a plate of salad in front of Noelle and then Teddy. Someone else filled their water glasses.
“Which fork?” Noelle whispered to Teddy.
“Remember, eat from the outside in,” Teddy’s step-mother Bestat whispered from her position next to Noelle.
Bestat picked up the outer most fork. Both Noelle and Teddy shot her a look of relief. Nervous, Noelle stuff a big bite of salad into her mouth.
“I mean,” Teddy whispered. “Would you ever want to …? I mean … with me?”
Surprised, Noelle looked at Teddy. He nodded. But, Noelle’s mouth was so completely full of salad that she couldn’t respond. Because she didn’t say anything Teddy started babbling. Noelle frantically chewed.
“I know we’re young and stuff,” Teddy said. “But look at MJ and Honey. They’ve been going out since Honey was ten years old. I guess they had a break for a while but … And look at Sissy. I mean, if you want, we could be doing this soon.”
Noelle nodded but still couldn’t respond. Teddy blushed.
“I guess it’s stupid …” Teddy said.
He looked down at his plate and then away. He moved to get up.
“YES!” Noelle said when she was finally able to speak.
She said it so loud that the entire table turned to look at her. Noticing everyone’s attention, both Noelle and Teddy blushed. It wasn’t hard for them to figure out what Noelle was agreeing to. Grinning at the two, Bestat started to clap.
Under the table, Teddy held out his hand to Noelle and she took it. They clung onto each other until the clapping stopped. Everyone clapped for Noelle and Teddy. Sandy shot Noelle an “Are you okay?” look and Noelle nodded. When everyone turned back to what they were doing, Teddy let go of Noelle’s hand.
“I’m glad,” Teddy said. “I got you …”
He put a ring in the palm of Noelle’s hand.
“It’s called a promise ring,” Teddy said. “You wear it on your left hand. Bestat helped me pick it out. I mean, it’s not fancy or expensive or anything. It’s probably very plain, but …”
Noelle looked down. The ring was a lovely gold band made out two entwined strands of gold. Noelle slipped it on her finger.
“It’s not legally binding or anything,” Teddy whispered. “It just means that we both agree that this is where we’re going.”
“But I don’t have one for you!” Noelle said.
“That’s okay.” Teddy shrugged. “Mostly it’s girls who wear the ring.”
“Thank you.” Noelle smiled at him and started to plan when she could get something for him.
“So, you agree?” Teddy’s whisper interrupted her scheming.
Not risking her voice, Noelle nodded.
“Good,” Teddy said.
He sighed and started to eating. Noelle tried to eat, but her mouth had too much of a smile to get the fork in. They took away her salad and brought her some macaroni and cheese, her favorite food. Smiling to herself, she settled into eat.
Sunday early-morning — 2:10 a.m.
Delphie sat up in bed. She listened for a moment, but didn’t lie down.
“What is it?” Sam asked.
He put his hand on her back. When she didn’t respond, he sat up with her. Her eyes were closed as if she was asleep.
“What is it?” Sam asked again.
“I don’t know,” Delphie said. “It’s as if …”
Sam waited for her to respond. After a few minutes, he rubbed her back to let her know that he was still there. She turned toward him.
“It’s like there are three less souls under my roof,” Delphie said.
When she turned to look at him, she was clearly in trance.
“Three less soul?” Sam asked. “What does that mean?”
“The Gods of War have awoken from their slumber,” Delphie said. “The Olympian and the Titan are arming themselves. The War has begun.”
Delphie fell back against the bed. Sam touched her shoulder, and she opened her eyes.
“Awaken the mortals, Samuel Lipson,” Delphie said. “Tell the fairies that The War has begun.”
Her eyelids snapped closed. Sam was so unnerved that he got out of bed. He grabbed his robe and went out into the hallway to listen. Everyone was asleep.
“Crazy,” Sam whispered.
He turned to go back inside the apartment when Abi appeared next to him in the hallway.
“What did she say?” Abi demanded.
Surprised, Sam answered her question.
“Three souls have been taken,” Sam said.
“Shit,” Abi said. “I knew it. Did she say anything else?”
“The Gods of War have awoken from their slumber,” Sam repeated.
“That’s it?” Abi asked.
“The Olympians and Titans are preparing for war,” Sam said. “She said to tell the fairies that The War has begun.”
“What?” Abi asked. Her voice rose with panic.
“The War has begun,” Sam said.
Abi swallowed hard. She nodded and turned to return to her apartment.
“Abi?” Sam asked.
Abi spun around to look at him.
“Awaken the mortals,” Abi said. “We must determine who was taken.”
She nodded to Sam and disappeared. He went inside the apartment. Not one for fear, he almost got back in bed again. He glanced at Delphie and then went to his closet. If he was going to war, he may as well get dressed.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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