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CHAPTER FOUR HUNDRED and FIVE
Thursday night — 9:12 P.M.
Erik Le Monde looked in the direction of Wanda’s laugh. She and her friends were playing with the ugliest dog he’d ever seen. The dog seemed to be in absolute heaven as the girls threw him a ball and then chased after the ball while the dog danced around them.
“That’s what dogs are for,” Erik said, under his breath, “making girls happy.”
He wondered for a moment if Wanda needed her own dog.
“What do you think?” Bambi asked, breaking his thoughts.
He looked up at her as she walked toward him. A tall, powerful woman, she walk with an air he could only describe as “shit kicking.” He smiled and she grinned at him. They were friends. He’d spent more than a couple nights on her basement couch when his wife had kicked him out for being an ass.
“We can add at least two toilets here, maybe three,” Erik pointed to the edge of the carriage house. “Maybe. I don’t think we dare go more than four.”
“You think male and female are okay?” Bambi asked.
“I do,” Erik said. “We’ll put stalls around them.”
“It’s just that …” Bambi shrugged.
“Anyone ever had a complaint when we’ve done it on a job site?” Erik asked.
“No, but they can’t, really,” Bambi said.
“They can’t here either,” Erik said.
“Did you check inside?” Bambi asked.
Erik nodded and looked across the garden, before looking at Bambi.
“And?” Bambi asked.
“They’ve got two big ones in that medical office,” Erik said. “But they are medical toilets. They have the space to add to them, but it’s probably a bad idea.”
“Is there a space to you add some up there?” Bambi asked.
“Mike showed me a big storage closet,” Erik said. “We could fit a couple of stalls and some urinals, two maybe. Sinks.”
Erik looked down at the grass for a minute, before looking up and shaking his head.
“To tell the truth, I don’t think we can have enough of a sewer to add much more,” Erik said.
Bambi nodded to him. She turned and yelled, “Aden!”
Aden looked up from where he was getting a report from one men running the barbecues.
“Sewer?” Bambi asked.
Aden nodded and trotted down the deck steps and jogged over to them.
“Jake and Sam replaced it,” Aden said. “It’s one of the first things they did. They tapped in twice. There’s one beside the garage here and one off the second floor apartments. All specked for maximum capacity if they made condos or apartments out the entire building.”
“To code?” Erik asked.
“What do you think?” Aden asked.
“Then we’re fine,” Erik said to Bambi.
“That it?” Aden asked.
“Gotcha, Boss,” Erik said with a grin.
“Oh God, not you too,” Aden said.
He imitated Noelle’s exaggerated eye roll. Erik laughed. Aden jogged back to the house.
“How many do you want?” Erik asked.
“As many as you can give me,” Bambi said. She jogged away from him. Turning around to run backward, she said, “Sinks, too.”
“Sinks, too?” Erik joked. “She asks for the world.”
“Thanks Erik, you’re really saving our butts,” Bambi said. “Literally.”
Erik gave her an overhead wave and turned away from her to talk to his team. Most people would have rented blue rooms or told people to go inside. Bambi and Aden wanted new bathrooms put together in the next hour to accommodate their guests.
Erik squinted to look up the balcony outside the medical offices. Wanda told him that Jacob was sick and they were doing some kind of Native American thing. Erik bit his lip. He couldn’t imagine his life without Jacob Marlowe. It’s not like he was romantically interested in Jacob. It was just that Jacob was a rock in the middle of Erik’s otherwise weird, and slightly chaotic life. Jacob was the one he’d first told about his son’s “problem.” Jacob’s easy shrug and “Who cares? At least she’s healthy,” attitude affected Erik more than he’d ever admit. It was a year before Erik himself could take on that attitude, but it started with Jacob. When the time came, Jacob told Erik that he was a fool not to move back in with his wife. Erik felt his throat constrict. Where would he be without Jacob Marlowe?
He shook his head to clear it, and went to update his team of plumbers. Erik’s guys didn’t hesitate to pick up a shovel and start to dig. Aden’s son Nash and his friend Teddy joined in the dig. By the time Erik had finished confirming that they had all the parts in the Lipson Construction supply, the men had hand dug the trench to put the sewer for the new toilets. Erik panicked because their best sewer tapper hadn’t arrived. Just as he was pulling his phone from his pocket, the woman jogged down the driveway.
“Sorry, I got stuck at a pre-school award show,” she said.
“We’re ready for you,” Erik said.
She grinned at him and jumped into the trench. A team of carpenters from Jacob’s rehabilitation project started framing the bathrooms beside the carriage house.
“Hey, man, you gonna leave this floor like that?” one man asked, pointing to the plywood floor.
“Hadn’t thought about it,” Erik said.
“You could drop laminate tiles here,” another men offered. “Easy, fast, and usable right away.”
“I’ll tell you what I’ll call my cousin,” one of the men said. “He has a team of tilers. They are smoking fast. Compete against other teams and win. They could do this. No problem. I just talked to him, too. He’s home and sober and he owes me big time.”
“You’d use that here?” Erik asked.
“I’d kill my mother if Jake asked me, too,” the man said. “You know where I’d be without him? Nowhere.”
The men and women within earshot nodded in agreement.
“His cousin is good,” the first man said with a nod. “Did our house.”
“Sounds perfect,” Erik said with a grin.
The night continued like that. Every time Erik panicked, someone or something came through. The supplies were delivered at the exact moment they needed them. One of other the plumbing teams were out celebrating a completed job when they saw that something was going on at the Castle. They arrived at the exact moment that Erik needed more hands. The men and women worked together shoulder to shoulder. The carpenters slung hammers. The plumbers sweat copper and laid pipe. No one complained. No one argued. Everyone simply did their job.
Erik had never had a project come together like this. The bathrooms came together as if by magic. In his heart, Erik believed that the Universe simply could not live without Jacob. The bathrooms were for him.
The moment of truth was when he turned on the water. A hush came over them.
“Should I get Aden?” Erik asked. He shuffled insecurely.
“Go for it,” the man next to him said while the other said, “Nah, let’s do it ourselves!”
Erik nodded. He held his breath and turned on the water.
“Wanda?” Erik yelled into the bathroom.
She, Tink, Ivy, and Noelle flushed the toilets.
The men and women on the team cheered. Erik grinned. The team of tilers set to work laying laminate tile. Aden ran over from the house to thank them.
“What’s next, Boss?” One of the plumbers asked.
“Well, since you asked,” Erik said. “We need to convert a closet to a bathroom.”
Without saying a word about the time or their exhaustion, the teams followed him inside.
Thursday night — 9:20 P.M.
They had been instructed to sit together behind the shamans while they worked. Someone, probably Jill or Sandy, had set comfortable cushions and low chairs. There were plenty of blankets, some of which Valerie recognized and a few smelled like they were from the camping gear. Even though Valerie hadn’t been camping in more than ten years, she knew the smell of old smoke and bacon. Wherever they came from, she was very glad these blankets were here.
Valerie was freezing cold. She would have been colder, but she found chemical hand warmers tucked into the cushions. She’d helped her father put the hand warmers in his boots and his pockets. She’d checked on Blane, who had put them in his boots, and pockets while she was helping Sam.
Valerie shivered under layers of thick cotton blankets. Sam moved a little closer to her and put his arm around her. She held Blane’s hand tight in her lap. They sat on the cushions on the deck in the cold of night while the play of ancient ritual happened in front of them.
The grandmother came to them. She smiled.
“This is for you,” the grandmother said.
“What is it?” Sam asked defensively.
“It will bring to you what you need to have healed,” she said. “What lives between you and your son.”
“Nothing lives between me and my son!” Sam said.
The woman gave him a soft smile and said, “Nothing?”
She touched her heart and Sam flushed with emotion.
“Do not worry,” the grandmother said. “There is no peyote, no crazy drug. It is tea that will help you, soothe your worry. It may also bring up what needs to be healed.”
She lifted a shoulder in a shrug.
“If something comes, I will be here. I will take care of you, guide you, help you,” she said. “It’s what my family has done for people since the First Woman was formed from the yellow and blue clouds. It is what I have done all of my life.”
Sam gave her a suspicious look. Valerie let go of his and Blane’s hand to reach of the tea. The cup was more like a bowl than a cup. It was painted as well as carved with some Native American looking symbols on the side. In Valerie’s hands, it felt very, very old. She looked up at the elderly woman.
“You must finish the entire cup,” the grandmother said.
The cup suddenly seemed enormous. Valerie smelled the tea. It smelled of herbs and something else. Certainly, it was not nearly as nasty as some of the concoctions Blane had made her drink. She gave him a sideways glance. As if he could hear her thoughts, he smiled. Desperate for warmth, she drank the entire bowl of tea. The grandmother looked at her face for a full minute.
“Feel better?” the grandmother asked.
Unable to think of the right words, Valerie nodded. The woman touched her head.
“You are now a member of my family,” the grandmother said.
The elderly woman disappeared for a moment. She returned with another full cup of tea. Without saying a word, Blane drank down the tea and thanked the woman for it. He shot Valerie a smirk, and she smiled. The grandmother watched him for a minute before saying, “Good; you are now a member of my family.” She disappeared again only to return with a cup for Sam. He opened his mouth to say something, but the grandmother beat him to it.
“This is one of those moments where you must do something you do not want to do, but will do for your child,” the grandmother said. “Will you join my family to save your son, Samuel Lipson?”
Sam took the cup and drank it down.
“That’s not half bad,” Sam said with a smile.
The woman watched him for a minute and then scowled.
“You are very practical, very honest?” the grandmother asked. “No fooling around kind of guy? Like a tree, steadfast, solid.”
“He is,” Valerie said.
“What is it?” Sam said.
“You need another cup,” she said.
Sam nodded. When she returned, he drank the tea. The woman watched him for a minute again before nodding.
“There is one around you,” the grandmother said to Sam. She put a hand on his shoulder, “Follow her. She will take you where you need to go. You are now a member of my family.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Sam said.
Valerie was surprised to see the woman blush when he said, “Thank you”.
“You’ll be fine,” she said.
She looked into each of their faces again, before smiling. Without saying another word, she turned her back on them. Valerie didn’t remember seeing her again until the entire thing was over, and then she only felt tremendous love for the woman.
Right now, Valerie felt oddly warm on the inside and cold on the outside. She wondered if the tea would hurt the son that was growing inside of her. She cursed herself for not asking about that before drinking the tea. She was about to get up to ask when…
…she was looking out her own eyes, but she was shorter and much younger — maybe five-years-old.
“What do you mean I’m going to have a brother?” Five-year-old Valerie said. “I don’t want a brother.”
“You’ll have one none the less,” a younger version of Sam Lipson said.
“Take him back,” Five-year-old Valerie said.
“We can’t take him back,” Sam said. “He’s growing inside your mother.”
“She can have an abortion,” Five-year-old Valerie said.
Sam laughed out loud.
“You’ll get used to it,” Delphie said from her perch at their kitchen table. “You will take one look at him and love him more than you’ll ever be able to explain.”
Five-year-old Valerie screwed up her face and stuck out her tongue.
“You’re wrong,” Five-year-old Valerie said. “I will not love him. I will never love him. Ever. I don’t want a brother.”
Five-year-old Valerie voice rose and she started to cry. Sam Lipson picked her up and held her tight. Valerie was in such a state that she cried and screamed for at least an hour. The last thing she remembered before she passed out with exhaustion was her own rage and her father’s tight grip on her.
Sitting on the deck behind the Castle, tears began to fall from Valerie’s eyes.
Before she could wake up from this trance or dream, she was whisked to the hospital where her mother had barely survived Jake’s delivery. Valerie had promised her father that she would be a brave “big” girl. When Valerie saw how sick her beloved mother was, she could not keep her promise. If no one was going to take care of this little parasite, she would have to be the brave one.
She slipped out of her mother’s room and went to the nursery. She lied to the nurse and said that her parents were inside and she had just gone to the bathroom. Valerie was such a beautiful child that everyone always gave her whatever she wanted. With murder in her heart, she made her way to the parasite’s cradle. Standing on her tip toes, she looked over the crib at the horrible thing that had hurt her precious and perfect mother.
There aren’t words to describe what happened in that moment. Even re-living it now, Valerie had no words for the experience. She had looked over the edge of the crib and …
There was Jacob.
He opened his eyes and smiled at Valerie. Her heart felt so many feelings that she felt like it was going to break. He reached for her hand. Valerie had to drop her tip toes to give him her hand. When she disappeared from view, the baby squawked.
“He hadn’t opened his eyes yet,” the nurse said. “Clearly, he was waiting for you.”
Her heart full of indescribable feelings, Valerie went back up on her tip toes. The baby — her baby brother — stopped crying the moment she came into view. He smiled at her and reached for her hand.
“I see the problem,” the nurse said.
The nurse brought a box for Valerie to stand on. Valerie climbed up on the box and her Jacob reached for her again. They held hands in the nursery for a long time before her father found her. The nurse explained the situation and Big Sam Lipson had laughed. He tried to take Valerie home, but she refused. She belonged with her brother.
For the next three days, Valerie got up early and went to the hospital with her father. She spent every day by her brother’s side until finally he was able to come home. Only when he was installed in their tiny home, did Valerie let down her guard.
Valerie had cried on the way to school the next day and raced home to see Jacob the moment school was over. Jacob took his first step to greet Valerie when she came home from school. He said his first words in response to her voice as she read him a book. He mimicked her every move and even her voice. When it became apparent that he could move things with his mind, the first big object he moved was the cookie jar because Valerie wanted another cookie.
Sitting under the cotton blankets while listening to the drumming, Valerie relived every moment as if it was happening in the present. She remembered her overwhelming love for her precious brother, and his tremendous love for her.
How did they grow so far apart that she would spend years without seeing him?
Jacob had known that Mike had joined the Army, and he hadn’t stopped Mike from leaving her. Valerie never forgave Jacob. Never. As if the entire thing was Jacob’s fault, she held her resentment in her heart until it felt like a part of her very flesh. She’d brought out her rage and indignation so many times that she’d rubbed the edges from it. Her resentment shone like a diamond.
“But it was Jake’s fault,” Valerie whispered out loud what she’d told herself so many times.
An enormous crow appeared at her side. Valerie turned to look at the foot tall black bird. The bird’s feathers were so dark that the glistened in the light of the fire. The crow cawed at Valerie. She shook her head and tried to shoo it away.
What could a stupid bird know? Valerie should be angry. She deserved better from her brother and everyone knew it. What he’d done was inexcusable, and there was no way to fix it. Mike had left her and it was Jacob’s fault.
The crow screamed at Valerie. She snarled at the bird and held tight to her precious righteous indignation at her baby brother.
The crow pecked at Valerie’s hands, but Valerie held on tight. Her hands and wrists bled from the crows efforts. No matter what this bird did, she would not let go of her rage and indignation at Jacob. She would never, ever let it go.
“NO!” She screamed at the bird. “You cannot take this from me.”
The collector of all things shiny returned her call with a loud caw. The sound was so loud and startling that Valerie put her hands over her ears. Not wasting a second, the bird plucked the beautifully polished resentment from Valerie’s heart. She tried to grab it but was too slow. She could only watch the bird fly away.
For a moment, Valerie felt immense relief. This irrational rage had blocked her for so many years. Now, it was simply gone. It was over. She no longer had to give this irrational rage any more of her present. She was free.
She let out a breath and broke down. Valerie began to sob.
Denver Cereal continues tomorrow…
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