CHAPTER FOUR HUNDRED and THIRTEEN
Blane dove deep into the amber fluid. He swam straight down for a long time.
At least he thought he had.
In his suit of love, he felt nothing — not the fluid or the temperature. He just as easily could have still been standing on the raft. In fact, he would have been sure he was still on the raft if everything around him wasn’t this awful shade of amber.
Pumpkin spice colored.
If everything wasn’t ugly …
He stopped swimming to get his bearings. The fluid was clearly messing with his head. He wasn’t the kind of man who cared about color. Tink had painted her room six times in the short time she’d lived in their basement. He didn’t care about that or any color.
He just didn’t like pumpkin freakin’ spice. It was a complete cheat. Was it so hard to put in cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and all spice? No. Of course, Blane always ground his own nutmeg and all spice. What chef didn’t? A lazy chef that’s who!
It was actually called pumpkin pie spice. Blane had lost track of Jacob. He’d completely forgotten what he was doing.
How long had he lost? He looked at his watch. Eight minutes. He’d been floating here for eight minutes. At this rate, he’d run out of oxygen and have to succumb to the sea. He swallowed hard and looked up.
The raft was no longer above him. Through the amber, he saw the weird sky. He felt something in his hand. By some miracle, he was still holding the yarn.
He gave the yarn a tug and felt a tug back.
Thank God. He wasn’t alone in this mess.
Where was Jake?
He looked down. Jacob was not below him. He looked up. Jacob wasn’t above him either.
He spun in a circle. He couldn’t see farther than a few feet in any direction. He started in what he thought was the direction Jacob had been. He’d gone about ten feet when he realized that everything looked the same.
He had no idea if he was moving toward Jacob or away from him.
Blane’s heart pounded in panic. He struggled to calm his breathing. At this rate, he’d burn through his oxygen.
Damn this horrible place!
He was starting to feel … funny.
It was a familiar feeling. One he’d felt for much of his life. He knew this despair inside and out. There wasn’t a cell in his body that hadn’t been steeped in despair. He could easily lean right into the feeling, and all would be lost. It would be such a relief to not to have to try so damned hard any more.
He shook himself head to toe.
He would not fail Jacob. Not today. Not any day. He would show up and do his fucking job. He mouthed the words he’d said as a mantra for more than a year. They were words Delphie had given him — an incantation of sorts.
“Just show up. Do your job. That’s all.”
She’d forced him to repeat the words every morning when she’d shaken him awake and every night when he’d returned from working as Jacob’s assistant. The power of her voice ran through him now. Somehow, someway, he looked up and saw the dragonfly.
“Show up. Do your fucking job. That is all.” Blane pointed to the dragonfly above him.
He was restored.
Now, what was it that had Valerie said? He couldn’t expect this amber crap to have the properties of water, but physics should still apply.
That meant that he existed here, in this weird sea, and so did Jacob. He stopped swimming to think.
Jacob had said that he’d been drawn to Blane. Blane would smile and nod as if he had nothing to do with it. But right before Jacob has arrived in the juniper bush at Cheesman Park, Blane had made an entreaty to whatever God might be listening.
“Please hear me now. I need help. Real help. Help me.” Blane’s lips moved with the memory.
He’d made the same entreaty when he was standing in front of his apartment watching his clothing flutter in the wind. He’d begged for help the morning Jacob found him selling himself in Cheesman.
Blane grinned. The laws of physics still apply here.
That meant that energetic attraction still worked.
“I need you, Jacob Marlowe,” Blane said in his mind. “Please help me now.”
Blane remembered how desperate he’d felt standing on the lawn. He was stuck there. His entire life was crumbling around him. He’d tried to call his friends, but no one would answer his call because Enrique had already called them. In their minds, Blane had possibly infected them with HIV. No one would have anything to do with Blane, now.
Blane was deathly ill and alone.
The memory flooded his mind and body with desperation. He allowed the overwhelming desire to kill himself, to end it all, to fill his mind. Nothing mattered. He had to force himself to stay with the feelings. With each breath, he heard his mantra beating in the background. He thanked whatever God loved him for the capacity to feel hope and desperation at the same time.
He focused on the desperation.
“Hello depression,” he said. “Thank you for coming.”
He bowed his head in honor of the overwhelming power of his depression and desperation.
“Now, let’s catch us a Marlowe,” Blane said.
He let the feeling well up inside him. He focused on all of the ways he’d failed. He saw the dark in every quadrant of his life.
Then, he made his invocation — “Help me. Please dear God. I need help. Bring me someone to spare me.”
Jacob came into view.
Jacob wasn’t swimming toward Blane. In fact, Jacob wasn’t doing anything. Jacob’s head was down and his knees were tucked up against his chest in the fetal position. By the magic of the Universe itself, Jacob Marlowe was magnetically drawn to Blane.
Blane worked to keep his despair feelings strong and Jacob continued to move toward him. When he could, Blane grabbed Jacob around the waist. Jacob was too lost in his own madness to respond. Blane yanked on the yarn as hard as possible.
For a moment, nothing happened.
Then, the yarn began to pull in return. Blane and Jacob moved through the amber sea. They were about a foot from the surface when Blane noticed a serpent moving in their direction. He quickly tied the yarn around Jacob’s waist. For a moment, he watched Jacob rise toward the surface.
When he was sure Jacob was safe, Blane went after the serpent.
He had no weapons. He only had himself. But this was the sea of despair.
Blane had lost many, many years to despair. He’d lost himself in this sea. He’d given himself over to the despair of addiction and self-loathing. He’d hated every cell in his body in hopes it would erase his very existence.
He was still here. Doing his job. Showing up.
Swimming as fast as he could toward the serpent, Blane remembered Heather. He remembered Mack’s improbable birth behind the makeup counter. In his mind, he saw Heather take on her father’s mantle and become a Goddess. He saw her light up with joy at a bite of chocolate cake or when she found out she was pregnant again. He remembered Wyn’s birth and the moment the new, fantastic stem cells moved into his blood. He remembered the moment he’d seen Tink for the first time, and his second favorite moment — when she became his daughter.
Propelled by the power of love, he barreled through the Sea of Amber. The serpent stopped following Jacob. Grinning, the creature turned toward Blane. The serpent blazed toward Blane. Seeing the serpent turn, Blane grinned. He drew his arm back and found the spear he’d never doubted would appear. After all, the Goddess of love had coated him with her love.
Blane threw his spear at the serpent. The spear hit the serpent in the neck. Bubbles of sound and air brought the creatures screams to the surface. This spear was created by love, and so poisoned the creature. The serpent dropped a foot before regaining its rage. The creature raced toward Blane.
Blane pulled his arm back again and was not surprised to find another spear resting in his hand. He drove himself forward. Nearing the serpent, he threw the spear with all of his might.
The spear hit the serpent in its grotesque forehead and killed the creature instantly. Blane turned in place. He had no idea where Jacob and the raft were now. Not willing to risk another moment in the Sea of Amber, Blane propelled himself toward the surface. He broke through the Sea of Amber and saw only flame. Trusting that he had made it so far, Blane held his arms above the Sea of Amber.
“We found him! Dad!” Mack yelled. His son gave a triumphant “Whoo hoo!”
The dragon flew near the surface. Mack slipped his saddle around the enormous surface of Neuth. Mack reached out his arms and grabbed Blane’s wrists.
“Hold on!” Mack yelled.
Blane grabbed his son’s wrists.
“I’m going to flip you!” Mack said. “Trust me!”
Mack let go and Blane found himself flying through the air. Blane landed a foot behind Mack in a separate saddle on top of the dragon. As if it was the most natural thing in the world, they sped through the air. The wind blasted the Sea of Amber from Blane’s body. Within moments, he was free of the toxic sea.
“Uncle Jake’s over here,” Mack said and pointed. “We’ll drop you there.”
In the wind’s stream, Blane could only nod.
“Dad?” Mack asked, turning in his seat. “Uncle Jake really needs you. Neuth says that you’re the only one who can heal his heart.”
“And Dad?” Mack asked. They were slowing over a strip of land. “You won’t tell Mom, right?”
“I won’t tell you either,” Blane said with a laugh.
“Love you, Daddy,” Mack said. Blane saw the boy in the man’s face.
“Now and always,” Blane and Mack said in unison.
Blane touched Neuth’s body.
“Thank you, precious one,” Blane said.
The dragon spun in flight and Blane fell out of his seat toward the earth.
“Remember the umbrella!” Mack yelled.
Blane looked up after his son. Mack and Neuth were mere dots on the horizon.
“Umbrella?” Blane shook his head. “What the …”
Blane laughed aloud. He gave a wild hoot and screamed a quote from his favorite James Joyce book: “Love me! Love my umbrella!”
A sturdy umbrella appeared in his hand. Blane managed to get it open. Acting like a parachute, the umbrella slowed his fall. He drifted toward the strip of land. As he neared, he saw that Sam and Valerie were holding Jacob. Their menagerie of animals, birds, and insects hovered nearby.
Blane made a loud whistle, and Sam and Valerie looked up. Valerie hooted with delight. As he fell, Blane saw a battered mountain lion appear on a ridge nearby. The mountain lion looked at him. Blane pointed to where the others were. Blane swore he saw the mountain lion nod. Blane fell past where he could see the mountain lion.
Sam jumped up. Valerie and Sam grabbed Blane to keep him from falling back into the Sea of Amber.
“What happened?” Blane asked.
“What happened to you?” Valerie asked.
“We thought we’d lost you, son,” Sam said. He grabbed Blane’s shoulder before he hugged Blane tight. “I’m so glad to see you.”
When Sam let Blane go, Valerie hugged him tight. Blane shifted away from her.
“I will tell you what happened to me,” Blane said. “I promise. But Jake needs us now.”
Blane took two fast steps to where Jacob lay.
“Has he said anything?” Blane asked.
“No,” Sam said at the same time Valerie said, “Not a word.”
“He hasn’t moved or even open his eyes,” Valerie said in a low frightened voice.
“It’s like he doesn’t know he’s not in that horrible sea anymore,” Sam said.
“Where is Hedone?” Blane asked.
“She disappeared as soon as Jacob was out of the sea,” Sam said with a shrug.
“He seems caught in something,” Valerie said. “Some dream or …”
“Nightmare,” Blane said under his breath. To Valerie, he said, “Let me work with Jake. Why don’t you figure how to this amber crap off Jacob?”
Valerie nodded. Sam’s eyes looked at Blane in question. Blane smiled.
“Watch for serpents,” Blane said. “I had to kill one so that Jake and I could get out.”
“How are you?” Sam’s eyes moved over Blane.
“Like I know who I am and what I’m doing,” Blane said with a nod. Sam grinned in response “For the first time in my entire life.”
“Will you lose it by helping Jake?” Sam asked. His brow furrowed with genuine concern.
“I’m still coated,” Blane said.
He stroked his right hand over his left arm. His left arm lit up with a golden glow. Sam gave Blane a curt nod and went to look for serpents.
“The dragon is gone,” Sam said from his perch on the edge of the water.
“I promised Mack that I wouldn’t tell Neuth,” Blane said as he walked to where Jacob lay.
“Or Mack,” Sam said.
“I promised the same thing,” Blane said.
Laughing, Blane crouched down. Jacob lay in the fetal position Blane had found him in. Not one for half measures, Blane pulled Jacob between his legs. He wrapped his arms around Jacob’s body and his legs over Jacob’s legs. Jacob’s head lay against Blane’s shoulder. After a few minutes, Blane felt warmth move back into Jacob’s body.
“Help,” Jacob whispered. “Me.”
“I’m here, brother,” Blane said.
Jacob’s body began to seize against the Sea of Amber on his skin.
“Valerie?” Blane asked.
Carrying a golden blanket, Valerie ran to Blane. They wrapped Jacob in the blanket and the seizures stopped. As if he were a child, Blane used the blanket to wipe the amber from Jacob’s face and hair.
“Where did you get this?” Blane asked as he worked.
“I called Hedone,” Valerie said with a smug smile.
“Where did she go?” Blane asked.
“Some drama at home,” Valerie said.
“Wha …?” Blane mouthed.
“Her words, not mine,” Valerie said with a shrug. “She’s over there with dad.”
“Thanks,” Blane said.
He returned to holding Jacob. Valerie stood over him for a moment before she dropped to her knees.
“Let me help,” Valerie said.
Blane gave her a long look before he nodded. She gave Blane a soft smile and helped him untangle his legs from Jacob’s. Valerie held his bent legs.
“What can I do?” Sam asked.
“Keep us safe, Dad,” Valerie said. “Please.”
Blane looked up and nodded. Sam shrugged. He went back to watching for serpents and chatting with Hedone.
“He seems really cold,” Valerie said.
Blane nodded. His head still on Blane’s shoulder, Jacob’s mouth chattered and his entire body shivered. Valerie shoed away Blane’s arms. She used the blanket to swaddle Jacob. Blane wrapped his arms around Jacob’s body and Valerie held onto his bent legs. Jacob shivered and the golden blanket radiated love into his body. They held on for what felt like a very long time.
A battered mountain lion walked onto the small area where they were standing.
Without ceremony, Jacob opened his eyes. He blinked a few times before opening his mouth. Amber fluid poured out of his mouth. Blane moved Jacob onto his side so that the fluid would hit the ground. When the fluid was gone, Jacob took one breath, and then another.
Jacob began throwing up. Amber fluid out of his stomach until he was dry heaving. Valerie and Blane held on through the stomach churning eruptions.
Jacob took a full breath. His eyebrows moved up and down as he looked at Valerie.
“Valerie,” she said putting a hand on her chest. “Your older sister.”
“I know who you are dork-face,” Jacob said with a grin.
She leaned forward and kissed his forehead.
“If you’re …,” Jacob said. “And Dad … Who is …?”
Blane kissed Jacob’s cheek and Jacob burst into tears.
“You called me,” Jacob said through his tears. “You called me.”
“And you came,” Blane said.
“I … I …” Jacob scowled at Valerie and then glanced at Sam. He shook his head.
“What is it?” Blane asked in a low tone. “After everything we’ve been through, brother, you can tell me. What’s kept you here?”
Unintentionally, Blane’s words held the power of the barrier Hedone had created. The words hit Jacob like arrows. Jacob blinked as each one found its mark. As if to say he’d never say a thing, Jacob closed his mouth. Blane jostled Jacob.
“What is it?” Blane asked in a soft, kind voice.
“I couldn’t save her,” Jacob said.
Jacob started throwing up amber sea again. The blanket began to smoke as the amber sea began to stream from Jacob’s pores.
“Let go!” Blane yelled to Valerie.
“What is it?” Valerie asked. “What did he say?”
Seeing the smoke, Valerie jumped up. Blane let go of Jacob as well. Writhing, Jacob cried and threw up. When the blanket stopped smoking and Jacob stopped vomiting, the mountain lion leaned over Jacob’s face. The lion’s big red tongue licked the remaining amber from Jacob’s eyes. When the mountain lion moved away, Blane and Valerie dropped down to Jacob again.
Jacob’s hazel eyes were clear. He looked at Blane, and then Valerie.
“Tell us, son,” Sam said. He crouched down and touched Jacob’s shoulder. “You couldn’t save who?”
“Mom,” Jacob said. “I was born to save her and I wasn’t able to save her. I wasn’t able to save her. I … wasn’t …”
Jacob began to sob. Tears streamed down Valerie’s face. Sam cleared his throat in the way he did when he might have cried.
Only Blane was dry eyed. He sat down in puddle of Jacob’s vomit. Blane pulled Jacob to him and wrapped himself around Jacob again. He put Jacob’s head on his shoulder and held on.
“You don’t need me to tell you that you weren’t destined to save Celia,” Blane said. “You know that.”
“But …” Jacob started.
“I don’t have answers, brother,” Blane said. “I just know truth. And what you said in untrue. Somewhere, deep inside where truth lives, you know it’s a lie. You weren’t born to save Celia. No one could save her. She never expected you to save her. She only expected you to love her. That was enough.”
“Why does it feel so true?” Jacob asked.
“Why does heroin feel like health when it’s really death? Why did I believe that Enrique loved me when all evidence was that he didn’t?” Blane asked. He shrugged. “Some whys don’t have answers. Some things feel true, but are actually lies. You taught me that.”
“I did?” Jacob asked.
“You did,” Blane said. “I don’t have answers — to your questions or mine. I just know that I’m here and I love you.”
Blane nodded to Valerie, and she returned to holding Jacob’s legs.
“I’m here,” Valerie said. “I love you, Jake.”
Unable to speak, Sam crouched down and put his hands on Jacob’s shoulders.
“We love you,” Blane said. “We’re here.”
Jacob’s heart broke open. He sobbed and they held on.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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