Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Four Hundred and one : Just me

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CHAPTER FOUR HUNDRED and ONE

Thursday early morning — 1:35 A.M.

Tanesha rolled over and prayed for even an hour of sleep. She took her first set of final exams tomorrow. Tomorrow morning she’d finally know the truth — did she belong in medical school? Was she going to be a doctor? Or was she the idiot that she, and everyone who knew her, had always known that she was?

Her father had a lot to say about this. She was brilliant. She was beautiful. She was perfect in every way.

As Tanesha stood watching him go on and on, she remembered all the days and dark nights and long years that he hadn’t been there. She knew it wasn’t his fault, but her bitter, scared mind replayed countless moments where she had to face the world alone. Not wanting to offend him, she finally forced her father to leave.

Jill and Sandy come over last night after their last marriage class. They knew what medical school meant to Tanesha. They’d been there when the kid in fifth grade had followed Tanesha around calling her a “gorilla.” They were there when the nun instructed their sixth-grade class that “darkies didn’t go to heaven.” They’d been there in high school when the science teacher had fallen out of his chair laughing when Tanesha said she was going to be a doctor. Jill, Sandy, and Heather had been the only ones who hadn’t jeered and laughed at her.

“Be a nurse,” he’d said. “Lots of your people are nurses. Your people need too much structure to be the boss.”

“Dr. Bumpy is a doctor,” she’d said back to him.

“He has rich and powerful friends,” the science teacher had said referring to Seth O’Malley. “You have friends like that?”

Everyone in the room had known that she was the unnatural cross between a convicted rapist and murderer and a common whore. Everyone had laughed at her.

Except her girls. Heather had said something so snappy that they were all sent to the principal. Of course, the principal reminded them that the Catholic Church was clear about the divinity of “negroes.” Tanesha was so ashamed and overwhelmed that she couldn’t say a word.

“As Plato said himself, every negroes soul is corrupt,” the principal had said. “And corrupt souls do not get into heaven.”

“Plato said that every slave’s soul was corrupt,” Heather had said. “No one classified slaves by color until…”

The principal had sneered and said something about “out of control” girls would not find husbands. Jill had sniffed at the man, and Sandy had said that maybe the Catholic Church should change its mind. They were suspended for four days. Tanesha’s gran just glared at her. Jill’s sister, Megan, had yelled at the principal. Sandy and Heather’s mothers felt put upon that they were out of school.

One thing was clear. Everyone knew that Tanesha should stay in her place.

Under the basement stairs in her perfect little yellow house, her cheeks flushed red remembering “her place.” She punched her pillow and rolled onto her stomach. The taunts in her head were so loud that she put her pillow over her head and pressed it to her ears.

Where was the confident girl that had charmed the admissions panel out of full ride scholarships?

Where was the girl who hadn’t needed powerful friends to make a life for herself?

What happened to her innate love of the human body? Her desire to help “darkies” just like herself?

Unable to stop herself, Tanesha began to cry.

She was so angry with herself. She needed to sleep! She didn’t need this boo hooing! She pounded her fist against the bed.

She felt a cool hand on her shoulder. Shocked, she stopped moving. She hadn’t heard anyone coming down the stairs. The fairies can’t come down here because of some mumbo-jumbo that Jacob and Delphie did before they moved in. She stayed still hoping that she was dreaming.

“Tanesha,” Heather’s voice said. “It’s just me.”

Tanesha jumped up and threw herself at her best friend. Heather held her tight as Tanesha sobbed. When her tears subsided, Tanesha pulled back.

“What are you doing here?” Tanesha said. “I thought you were in Olympia.”

“I was,” Heather said with a grin. “For day after day, hour after hour. Holy crap, some people can talk! Blah, blah, fucking, blah, blah.”

“But you left like five hours ago,” Tanesha said.

“Time bends,” Heather said with a shrug.

“But…” Tanesha said.

“You’re a Goddess now,” Heather said in Perses’ voice. “You can come and go as you wish.”

Tanesha threw herself at Heather again. Heather held her tight.

“Did you get to ‘gorilla’?” Heather asked.

Tanesha nodded against Heather’s chest, and Heather laughed.

“Remember that fucktard science teacher?” Heather asked with a laughed.

Tanesha pulled back from Heather and nodded.

“What if he’s right?” Tanesha asked.

“What if he is?” Heather asked with a shrug. “What if you can’t do it without powerful friends?”

Tanesha stared at her. After a moment, she blinked.

“Your husband’s a freaking star!” Heather said. “Has he called?”

“He’s been amazing,” Tanesha nodded. “The photo is filling audiences so they wanted to wait to address the picture until when I can join him.”

“And when is that?” Heather asked.

“When I’m rested and want to go,” Tanesha said. Her smile felt foreign on her tear wet face.

“And O’Malley?” Heather asked.

“Maresol sent that huge flower bouquet upstairs,” Tanesha said. “I mean, they said they were from O’Malley, Ava, and Dale, too, but you know Maresol takes care of everything.”

Heather smiled at Tanesha.

“Hedone,” Tanesha said.

“What?” Heather asked.

“No, I mean, my best friend is Hedone,” Tanesha said.

“That’s exactly right,” Heather said. “And remind me, who is your lab partner? Isn’t he a fabled Prince of an entire fairy kingdom and your great-grandfather?”

“And a complete asshole,” Tanesha said.

Heather laughed. Tanesha yawned.

“Will you kick this tests ass?” Heather asked.

“I don’t know,” Tanesha said.

“Will you do your best?” Heather asked.

Tanesha nodded. Heather kissed her cheek.

“You are so loved,” Heather said. “By me, Jill, Sandy, your son, Jeraine, Fin, your mother, your father, Tink, my babies — oh gosh, everyone important. Can you feel that?”

Tanesha gave her a sleepy nod.

“Now, go to sleep,” Heather said. “By the weekend, this first year of medical school will be in the bag. Then you’re traveling the world with your R&B star husband and your son.”

Tanesha hugged Heather again. Heather helped her under the covers and sat with her until Tanesha had fallen into a peaceful sleep. Heather crept up the stairs to where Blane was waiting.

“Thank you for letting me know,” Heather said.

Blane hugged her tight.

“Can you stay?” Blane asked.

“The session is over,” Heather said. “I won’t have to go back for a while.”

“You were gone less than a day!” Blane said.

“Time bends,” Heather said with a shrug. “Perses showed me how to do it.”

“I know that look,” Blane said.

“I’m wondering about my other children in other times,” Heather said with a nod. She flicked her eyes to him. “Would you come with me?”

“Anywhere, any day,” Blane said. “But right now, I know you’re exhausted. Let’s get a shower and to bed.”

“You’re bossing a Goddess around?” Heather asked with a laugh.

“Someone’s got to keep you in line,” Blane said.

Laughing, they went upstairs to the loft. Lying on the couch in the living room, Tink grinned at them. She turned over and went back to sleep.

~~~~~~~~

Thursday morning — 5:35 A.M.

“Hummp hhm hrrm,” MJ said as he slipped into his calf prosthesis. “Hun-mmf hhh eommm.”

“Are you actually speaking words?” Honey asked as she came into their bedroom.

Steve Roper had already been there to help Honey get up and get dressed. Since then, she’d checked on Maggie, done a load of laundry, and started the biscuits for the house breakfast.

“Huh?” MJ asked.

He looked up at her from his bent over position. He finished strapping on his prosthesis and checked that his boots were tied.

“You were making noise from your mouth,” Honey said.

“Mm-hm,” MJ said.

Honey laughed. She spun her small indoor wheelchair in place and went to get Maggie. MJ stopped her short. She looked back and up at him.

“I was p-p-p-practic-c-c-ing m-m-my v-v-v…” MJ said. “We only h-h-h-have a few m-m-m-more w-w-weeks.”

Honey gave him a sweet smile.

“Wh-wh-wh-at ifff…” MJ said.

“It won’t happen,” Honey said. “Think it through. Alex with be there. Raz. Margaret is walking you down the aisle. They’ll be right there, and so will you. All you have to do is meet me at the front. If your head is bad, you’ll just let Aden and Jacob carry the load.”

“I…” MJ closed his mouth and shook his head. His intense effort showed on his face, “I won’t embarrass you by being just me.”

“How could you possibly embarrass me?” Honey laughed. “Seriously? ‘Just you’ is amazing.”

MJ gestured to his mouth to indicate TBI-induced stuttering. MJ had been injured when he was a Green Beret in Iraq. He shook his head in disgust at himself. She smiled.

“You’re my hunky warrior,” Honey said. “Anyway, everyone who knows us knows that you married down.”

As he had the first time he’d heard it, he laughed at her old joke.

“You are tiny,” he said his line with a cocky grin.

Maggie wailed and Honey took off toward her daughter’s bedroom. MJ stood in the doorway of Maggie’s nursery and watched Honey take Maggie out of her crib, change her diaper, and get her dressed for her day.

“Maggie loves the Marlowe School,” Honey said.

“I forgot to tell you,” MJ said.

“What?” Honey asked. “Can you get me her blue shirt?”

“Button down?” MJ asked.

“Just the pullover,” Honey said. “It’s painting day!”

“Paint!” Maggie said with a giggle.

“What didn’t you tell me?” Honey pulled the shirt over Maggie’s head.

“Mack and Maggie have been playing a lot together,” MJ said.

“Mack!” Maggie said with a wide grin.

“That boy is very handsome, Maggie my dear,” Honey said.

As if to agree, Maggie gave her mother another big smile.

“Their teacher said they kind of ran into each other at school,” MJ said. “They’ve been fast friends ever since. Maggie’s small and Mack’s bigger than she is. Maggie’s better at words than Mack. When Maggie has any trouble, Mack comes to help. Maggie does the same for Mack.”

Honey smiled at him and held Maggie out to MJ. He took his daughter and lifted her onto the tall chest of drawers. He deftly pulled Maggie’s red curly hair into ponytails which stuck up on either side of her head. The small redheaded girl was truly adorable.

“Jackie’s the movie star of the group,” MJ said of Valerie and Mike’s daughter. “She has many friends, but she always finds our Maggie and Rachel to play with, so it’s kind of a big deal that Mack wants to play with Maggie.”

“He doesn’t want to play with Jackie, too?” Honey asked. “Mack loves Rachel.”

Maggie gave her mother a big smile and Honey’s heart swelled.

“That’s what I understood,” MJ said. “But you know how people are. They assume that the three of them, well, four including Rachel, can’t be friends. After all, the girls will fight over the strapping boy.”

“Oh God,” Honey said.

“I know,” MJ said. “The misogyny of kindergarten.”

“They play really well together when we play on Thursday mornings,” Honey said with a shrug. “I’ve never seen any of them pick favorites or get jealous. They are friends, family. I really don’t think this is a problem.”

MJ nodded.

“You know what I think?”

MJ raised his eyebrows in a “sure” gesture.

“I think that people see the beautiful Mack and the beautiful Jackie and assume that they should be together,” Honey said. “Two such beauties are destined to get together.”

“And our Maggie is gumming up destiny?” MJ said with a laugh and a nod.

“Exactly,” Honey said.

“It’s not Mack’s fault that he’s so beautiful,” MJ said.

“Jackie’s either,” Honey said. “And our Maggie is not exactly ugly, and Rachel’s a lovely child.”

MJ smiled and nodded.

“And, anyway, they’ll work it out,” Honey said.

“You don’t think our girl will break Jackie’s heart?” MJ asked.

“I think Jackie is going to need all the true friends she can find,” Honey said with a nod. “She has a tough row to hoe with such a famous mother and father. Of course, we’ll be there for our all of them, always. That’s what family does.”

MJ set Maggie into Honey’s lap.

“Can you grab the biscuits?” Honey asked. “There on a pan in our kitchen.”

“Got it,” MJ said.

Honey started toward the main Castle living room. MJ caught up and followed close behind. At the door, she spun around to face MJ.

“I will never be embarrassed of you,” Honey said. “Not today. Not three weeks from now when we stand up in front of everyone at the Cathedral. Not when we are old and more decrepit.”

MJ’s breath caught with the force of her words. He put his hand to his chest.

“Of course, if we stand up in front of our friends and family naked,” Honey said referring to their inability to decide on what to wear.

MJ laughed. She nodded and spun around. Behind her back, MJ wiped a tear and followed her out to main Castle living room. Once they were in the Castle living room, Honey set Maggie down and she ran off to find Jackie and the other kids. He put his hand on Honey’s shoulder. She looked up at him.

“What is it?” Honey asked. Her brow furrowed with concern.

“Love you,” MJ said. “Even if we naked in front of everyone in three weeks.”

“I know,” Honey said with a laugh.

Laughing, he followed her into the kitchen.

~~~~~~~~

Thursday morning — 5:55 A.M.

Sandy shuffled her travel mug of coffee and Honey’s warm biscuit into her left hand as she worked the lock to the front door to her salon. She’d been able to work full, long days ever since the trial was over. All day Saturday. All day Monday. All day Tuesday. Even though she’d left a little early for marriage class, she was able to see clients all day yesterday.

It was such a relief just to work.

Sandy locked the door behind her and turned on the lights to her studio. For a moment, she smelled the still, safe air. The moment of bliss was interrupted by the pressure of a client coming. She trotted to the back turning on the lights as she went. She set her biscuit and coffee down while she pulled on an apron and locked her purse in a locker. Standing in the back, she took a moment to look over everything.

She’d been able to hire Rosa’s cleaning company with the money from her mother’s symphony. They came in every night and left stacks of clean towels and gleaming floors in their wake. She’d also hired another hair assistant. She’d even been able to pay off Jacob for the building and the remodel. She, Jill, and Jacob had sat down as partners to discuss buying the shops and either side of her. They’d had a bunch of other fun ideas, but those ideas were for another day.

Today, Sandy was doing what she loved. There was a tap on the door and Sandy went to open the glass door.

Her first client arrived along with one of her assistants. The second assistant got the coffee started and Sandy helped her client into a chair. Bright colored hair was popular now. Everyone wanted a streak of color. This client was no different. She wanted a hidden streak of color that showed only when she put her hair up to do surgery. She was the last person on the surgical team to give into the trend. Sandy gave the detailed specifications to her assistants. It was complicated but her client was delighted when she was done.

The next time Sandy looked up again, it was almost noon.

There was no drama today. Nothing mysterious was going on in the basement. There wasn’t a child molester or two working to dominate her life. Her children were safe at school. Sissy and Charlie were happy in New York City. She hadn’t spent the night in the emergency room of a hospital in almost a month.

Today, she could just be Sandy.

The calm, boring nature of this day felt like a vacation.

Smiling to herself, she picked up her clippers and started to work on the next client.

~~~~~~~~

Thursday mid-day — 12:35 P.M.

Jill watched Jacob walk across the loft floor. Having just gotten out of bed, he was wearing his boxer briefs and a white T-shirt. A beard was beginning to sprout under his nose and on his chin and cheeks. His hair stuck up in a variety of directions. He yawned and pulled out a chair from the bar in the kitchen.

Jill had never seen him like this. He hadn’t gone running in over a week. He’d stopped working out. In fact, he’d stopped doing much of anything. He spent most of his days shuffling around the Castle in numb silence.

When she’d asked him about the three rehabilitation projects they had underway and the seventeen projects that were waiting for his attention, he’d listen patiently to what she had to say before saying, “I don’t know.” He would smile at her with the dead smile he’d picked up in the Sea of Amber.

She wanted to throttle him. She wanted to yell and scream at him. She wanted to hurt him just to get him to react in some way, any way. She wanted to wake him up.

But he was inaccessible, at least to her.

She was terrified for him and for herself. How could she have been so stupid as to have two more children with this man? The thought sent waves of terror through her.

How could he be dead and alive at the same time? When she touched him, she smelled decay — like something dying or possibly already dead. He’d gone to the doctor to appease her. According to modern medical science, her beloved Jacob was healthy.

She dared not say a word to anyone for fear of having to do something. But what would she do? Move out? Take the kids? Find a hole to hide in until this period in his life was over? Could she just carry on, pretending everything was normal, until he somehow snapped out of it? What if he never snapped out of it?

She had vowed to be by his side for the rest of her life. They’d just gone through marriage classes to remind them that divorce wasn’t an option, especially since they had kids.

And, Jill was no quitter.

“Hi,” Jill said to Jacob, finally.

“We were meeting?” Jacob asked.

“We were going to go over the rehab projects,” Jill said. “You said you wanted to get a handle on what we were committed to.”

“Oh,” Jacob gave her an impish smile. “I forgot.”

They fell into an uncomfortable silence.

“Would you mind if we did it some other time?” Jacob asked. He gave her a searching look before adding, “I don’t feel very well today.”

“We…” Jill started.

“Thanks for understanding,” Jacob said.

He got up from the chair and walked back into their bedroom. The sickening smell of decaying flesh wafted behind him. She was so overwhelmed by the scent and his bizarre actions that she didn’t think to stop him. Gathering herself, she decided to go into their bedroom and make her stand.

He was sound asleep when she entered the room. Jill stood in the doorway for a moment before bullying herself to sit down on his side of the bed. In the entire time she’d known him, the simple act of sitting next to him on the bed would awaken him. He used to grab her and they would make love. This time, he didn’t even open his eyes.

She touched his face and found his skin clammy and warm to the touch. Shaking her head, she got up. She was almost to the door when he spoke.

“Don’t give up on me, Jill.”

Jacob’s voice sounded like he was under water. She spun in place. He hadn’t moved. His eyes were shut and his forehead beaded with sweat.

“I’m fighting as hard as I can.” His voice was as clear as a bell.

She closed her eyes for a moment before saying the only thing she could think of.

“I love you, Jacob Marlowe,” Jill said in a soft voice. “I will fight for you.”

Jacob in the bed stirred but didn’t open his eyes. She touched his blanket covered feet and went out into the loft.

Jill needed help.

She just had to figure out where to get it from. One thing was sure, it was time to talk to her girlfriends. Jill balled her fists.

Together, they would find a solution to this.

She hoped.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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