**Sorry for the delay in posting. We’ve been working on Stories By Claudia so didn’t want to muddy things with new posts. We might be done now *fingers crossed* **
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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND NINETY-SEVEN
Wednesday night — 9:57 P.M.
“How is Jake?” Heather asked when Tanesha left for bed.
Heather had just returned from the trial. Between getting Tink settled, checking on her sons, and catching up with Tanesha, she hadn’t had time to check in with Blane. He was drinking a cup of tea on a bar stool at the island in the kitchen.
“Can you set it up so I can talk to Charlie?” Tink asked as she came into the kitchen.
“I thought you were in bed,” Heather said.
She gestured to the day bed in the living room where Tink was supposed to be sleeping.
“I …” Tink shrugged. “Can I talk to Charlie?”
“Of course,” Blane said.
Blane squeezed Heather’s shoulder as he passed. He got Jeraine’s expensive tablet computer from the charging station. There was no way they could afford to replace it if it broke, so Blane controlled the use of the tablet. When Tink and Charlie were connected, Blane returned to the kitchen. Closing the swinging door, he saw Heather with a fork full of chocolate cake halfway from the cake to her mouth. He laughed. She grinned and took a bite.
“Would you like a plate?” Blane asked.
“I have one,” Heather said.
She picked up the plate the cake was on and brought it to the island.
“You are the most gluttonous goddess in Olympia,” Blane said with a laugh.
“You say that as if it’s a bad thing,” Heather grinned.
He laughed and got a fork. For a few minutes, they ate cake in silence. She set her fork down first.
“The pleading was … intense,” Heather said. “I thought Tink was going to lose it but she was very poised. I think she felt like she needed to be strong for the younger girls.”
“She and Charlie really led that group,” Blane said.
“Exactly,” Heather said. “She only cried in the car when Ivy started crying.”
“She didn’t get upset when he plead guilty to her assault?” Blane asked.
Heather shook her head.
“Wow,” Blane said.
“I think we’ll have to keep an eye on her,” Heather said. “The victim’s statements are going to be tough.”
Blane nodded as he put a bite of cake in his mouth.
“I do make a good cake,” Blane said.
“A great cake,” Heather said with a smile and a bite of cake.
Grinning, he followed her lead and took another bite of cake.
“We’re writing the victim’s statement tomorrow?” Blane asked.
Heather nodded. He shook his head at the next hurdle.
“It seems like one thing after another,” Blane said.
“We were lucky he pled,” Heather said.
“It doesn’t sound like luck had much to do with it,” Blane said.
Heather nodded. She took another bite of cake and gestured to him with her fork.
“You’ve got to keep up,” Heather said. “You’re behind in your cake eating.”
Laughing, Blane took another bite of cake.
“How are you feeling?” Heather asked.
“Good, mostly; tired sometimes,” Blane said. “We played rollerblade hockey this afternoon. A couple of times, I thought I was going to pass out.”
Heather’s brow furrowed with concern.
“Every time I felt bad, Jake made these big jokes about how he needed to slow down now that he’s ‘retired’,” Blane said.
“So you could rest?” Heather asked.
“How is he doing?” Heather repeated her question.
“I don’t really know,” Blane said. “We finally got him to talk about the Sea of Amber.”
“Oh?” Heather asked. “What did he say?”
“He said that he lost all self-boundary and became at one with the dark,” Blane said.
“At one with the dark?” Heather asked.
“Those are my words,” Blane said. “But, yeah, basically that’s what he said.”
“Wow,” Heather said.
“Yes, wow,” Blane said. “Mike had already talked to Perses about it.”
“Perses has wanted Mike to help Jake,” Heather said with a nod.
“And you know that how?” Blane asked with a smile.
“Olympia grapevine,” Heather said.
“Really?” Blane asked.
“No,” Heather said with a smile. “Perses has asked me a few times if Mike has talked to Jake about the Sea of Amber. He says he can smell the amber on Jake.”
“Smells the amber?” Blane asked.
“That’s what he says,” Heather said with a shrug.
“Do you?” Blane asked.
“I’m not sure I’d recognize the smell of amber,” Heather said. “Perses has been in the Sea of Amber more than once. He knows what it can do.”
“He told Mike that stories about the Sea of Amber were intentionally excluded from record to keep curious people from looking for it,” Blane said. When Heather nodded, he continued, “He said that Jake is holding onto the amber as much as the amber is stuck inside of him.”
“You know all of this?” Blane asked.
“No,” Heather said. “it just makes sense to me. You ever look at the history of the Christian Church? Much of it is about people, usually men, deciding what stories to pass along. It makes sense to me that the Sea of Amber would be left out. Serpents and Dragons, too.”
“Except the whole Eve and Serpent thing,” Blane said.
“Right,” Heather said. “The story implies that the serpent is evil. If there were more than one serpent …”
“Mike said the Sea of Amber is the literal embodiment of the story about hell,” Blane said.
“Huh,” Heather said. “Makes sense.”
Blane nodded and then sighed. Heather touched his forearm.
“I’m really worried about Jake,” Blane said. “He’s not himself. I mean, he’s still an incredible human being, my soul brother, but this …”
Blane shook his head with anger.
“This stupid amber is … clogging him,” Blane said. “I fear he will suffocate under this oppressive … “
Blane got up. He gestured to the cake and she nodded. He picked up the plate. Turning his back to her, he put the cake into the crystal cake dome Celia had given him. He set the dome over the cake and sighed. Shaking his head, he turned around. Seeing Heather’s concerned eyes, he smiled.
“I never quite get used to you actually listening to me,” Blane said with a smile.
Heather blushed. He looked down and shrugged.
“I don’t want to lose him,” Blane said. “I feel like … this dark will consume him. God. What would I say to Celia? ‘I know you risked life and limb to save my life, but Jake fell into the Sea of Amber. Sorry. Jake was tricked by what we think might have been a serpent because Jill and her friends killed the last breeding pair of serpents and then my wife had to go and help a dying species transition in peace while she was in labor with my second son. Even with all of that, we couldn’t figure out how to bring Jake back though. Too bad.’”
Blane gave an angry snort and shook his head.
“It’s a legendary trap,” Heather said. “Most don’t return and those who return are usually not sane.”
“Perses did,” Blane said.
“Why is Perses clear and Jake is infused with the stuff?” Blane asked.
“That’s a good question,” Heather said. “Are you sure Perses is clear?”
Blane nodded and looked away from her for a moment.
“Anjelika,” Blane said.
“What about her?” Heather asked.
“Remember Jill saying that her mom and dad … did it in the entry way when he returned,” Blane said. “I’d bet that’s why he’s so clear.”
“You can be sure that Jake and Jill have done it many times since he got back,” Heather said.
Blane looked disappointed.
“It’s possible that Anjelika did something special to unclog him,” Heather said. “I promise to ask her when I see her next.”
“Tomorrow,” Heather said. “She’s coming to see Noelle’s artwork. We saw Mike when I dropped off Valerie. He was on his way to the school to put the finishing touches to it. There’s a kind of ceremony tomorrow.”
Blane looked relieved. He smiled at Heather.
“It’s also possible that Perses doesn’t have anything for the amber to stick to,” Heather said.
“How did you …?” Blane asked.
“It’s true with everything,” Heather said. “Our issues bind the negative or dark to us. If we have a need for dark love, dark love will find us.”
Blane’s mouth dropped open slightly and he gawked at her.
“What did I say?” she asked.
“I just … It explains a lot of my life,” Blane said. “Just before meeting you, I’d decided that I didn’t need that kind of intensity anymore. Mike … Jake … We talked about it in Maine. Then wham, there you are.”
“Me too,” Heather nodded.
For a moment, they just smiled at each other.
“Gross,” Tink said as she entered the kitchen. “You guys are so … gross!”
Blane winked at Heather and she grinned at him.
“Can I have some cake?” Tink asked as she lifted the dome over the cake.
Before they could answer, she’d carefully set the dome on the counter. Blane took down a plate while she cut a piece for herself. He left to get the tablet from the living rom.
“How was Charlie?” Heather asked.
“Good, sort of,” Tink said. “He was pretty freaked about today, you know, like I was, you know. Sissy, too. She told me.”
She stood next to the sink and ate her cake. Blane returned with the tablet and returned it to the charging station.
“Thanks,” Tink said looking up at them.
“Thanks?” Heather asked.
“For letting me talk to Charlie,” Tink said. “For going with me. For adopting me. For believing me. For … everything.”
She looked down at the plate in her hand. Nodding, she finished her piece of cake.
“Do you think the guy will go to hell?” Tink asked.
Blane gave Heather a quick glance. Heather smiled and nodded that he could take care of this question.
“We certainly would hope so,” Blane said.
“Yeah, but if we really wanted to hurt him, we’d be like him,” Tink said with a nod. “That’s what Charlie always says.”
“He’s right,” Blane said.
“I know,” Tink said. “It’s just that sometimes, I really want him to go to suffer for eternity.”
“Seems like he is in a kind of in hell,” Heather said. “His skin burns if he doesn’t admit to what he’s done.”
“Don’t you think that’s in his mind?” Blane asked.
“You saw his skin this afternoon,” Heather said. “He’s gruesome to look at. All of that will leave scars.”
“It is a very … mythic punishment,” Tink said.
“His evil insides are now visible on the outside,” Blane said with a nod. “You’re right.”
“Did you do it?” Tink asked.
“Me?” Heather asked. “No. I don’t have that capacity.”
Tink gave her a searching look. Heather gave her an impish shrug.
“I’m glad, I guess,” Tink said. “I don’t think I would like it if you could curse someone like that.”
“I don’t think I would like it either!” Heather said. “Plus, knowing me, I’d probably screw it up completely.”
Grinning, Tink acknowledged Heather’s clumsiness with a nod. Blane took a breath.
“Time for bed,” Tink said in imitation of Blane.
“You have a big day tomorrow and Friday,” Blane said.
Tink nodded. She rushed Blane and threw her arms around him. She gave him a hard kiss on the cheek and threw herself at Heather.
“We love you,” Heather said.
Tink was crying when she pressed back. Heather stroked her cheek. Tink hugged Heather again.
“Come on,” Blane said. “I’ll tuck you in.”
Blane put his arm around Tink and they left the kitchen. Heather tidied up the kitchen. Blane came back into the kitchen while Heather was finishing loading the dishwasher.
“So,” he started and then stopped.
“So?” Heather asked as she squirted the detergent into the dishwasher detergent holder. She clicked it closed and stood up. “Yes?”
“It is a punishment of mythic proportions,” Blane said. “Did you arrange to have it done?”
“Let’s just say I didn’t get in the way of the person who did it,” Heather said.
“Who …?” Almost at the same moment he asked, Blane held up his hands and lowered his head. “I don’t want to know.”
Heather nodded. She closed and started the dishwasher.
“I just …” Blane started again.
“Yes?” Heather asked.
“Why you?” Blane asked.
“Why me?” Heather asked.
“Why would the Goddess of Love be consulted on this kind of epic punishment?” Blane asked.
Heather raised her eyebrows and waited a moment.
“Yes,” he said. “I do want to know.”
“Remember that whole ‘saved a species from an eternity of torture’ thing?” Heather asked.
“Turns out that gave me some …” Heather shrugged.
“Some?” Blane asked.
“Status, I guess,” Heather said. “Power. Respect. That’s probably the best word. I gained respect.”
“You’ve be amazed at what I can do now,” Heather said.
“Oh yeah?” Blane asked. “Can you make the baby sleep through the night?”
“I’m not that powerful!” Heather said with a laugh.
Laughing, they made their way upstairs to bed.
Wednesday night — 9:57 P.M.
“So Jake asked me if we’re going trying to have another baby,” Valerie said.
She was sitting cross legged against the wall in the small utility space at the Marlowe School. Their toddler, Jackie, was sleeping on her lap. Mike had climbed all the way up to the ceiling of the space. He and Jacob had set up a simple scaffolding so that he could paint the upper levels without risk of falling. He was sitting with one leg on either side of a board and painting the ceiling baby blue with a small roller on a long stick.
“Yeah?” Mike asked.
“Did you tell him we were having another baby?” Valerie asked.
“I told him you’d called me to tell me it was time to do it,” Mike said with a laugh.
“I don’t think he believed me,” Mike said.
“Why?” Valerie said.
“When would you ever have to call me to do it?” Mike asked. “You just have to wander by and I’m ready. I can’t even watch you on the television without feeling intense pressure in the nether region. He knows that’s true.”
Valerie laughed. Her laughter brought the female ghost that inhabits the Marlowe School. The woman leaned over to take a look at Jackie. She smiled at Valerie and flew up to see what Mike was doing. Unable to communicate with the ghost, Valerie watched the specter’s kind concern with what they were doing.
“The ghost is right behind you,” Valerie said.
Grunting, Mike shrugged.
“Jake took the paranormal block off the inside wall of this area and put it on the outside instead,” Valerie said.
“Sounds smart,” Mike said.
“Yeah, this space was a pretty big oversight,” Valerie said.
“Who would have every guessed that a trainload of kids would have derailed right here?” Mike asked. “And that whole train thing. So awful, naïve …”
“Delphie says that the Orphan Train is a part of the fabric of the US,” Valerie said.
“She also says that most children were actually better off,” Valerie said.
“On the train?” Mike asked.
“She says that most were treated with indifference,” Valerie said. “Not malice or cruelty or even sexual perversion. ‘Simple indifference is better than starvation on the streets of New York.’ At least that’s what she says.”
Mike didn’t respond. The sound of the wet paint roller stroking the walls filled the space.
“Some were loved,” Valerie said.
“I’m sure that’s true,” Mike said. “I’m sure some were abused, molested, and murdered.”
“They probably would have living on the streets,” Valerie said.
“I guess that’s true,” Mike said. “I just …”
He rolled covered the last empty spot with paint and moved to work on the walls. Noelle had drawn big, fluffy white clouds. He needed to paint much of the wall by hand. He tucked the roller into a small plastic lock back and tucked the rolling pan into a large trash bag. Valerie climbed up to get the rolling pan from him.
“I’m going to keep the roller in case I need it,” Mike said. “Can I have the contrast paint for the clouds?”
Valerie climbed down to set the pan on the ground, and climbed back up.
“I need the small black and the white container I set aside,” Mike said.
She pulled it out of the pocket of her fleece. He grinned sheepishly.
“Medium sized brush?” Mike asked.
She pulled it out of the other pocket.
“You are good,” Mike said.
“It’s been a while since we’ve painted all night, but I still have some moves,” Valerie said.
He laughed. She made kissing lips at him and climbed back down. He set to work on painting the baby blue around the clouds. At the bottom, she checked on Jackie before sitting down again. She settled in to watch. Before her eyes, Mike took two dimensional cartoon clouds and made them into full, fluffy clouds. His skill was breathtaking.
“How does it look from down there?” Mike asked.
“Gorgeous,” Valerie said.
Mike grunted and kept working.
“It’s just that,” Valerie said and sighed. “Jake’s always known what’s going on with me.”
“He said something about warm testicles and sons,” Mike said. “He probably knows.”
“No, he would have said something more specific,” Valerie said.
“More specific than warm testicles are needed to have sons?” Mike asked.
“It feels weird that he doesn’t know,” Valerie said.
“You could always talk to him,” Mike said. “That’s how most people share information.”
“That’s not how we work,” Valerie said. “He just knows about me and I …”
She winced at her selfishness. She looked up at him.
“Is Jake all right?” Valerie asked.
Mike didn’t respond. Instead. He picked up what he’d been working with and carried it to the lower level. She waited for him to move the scaffolding and formulate an answer. He was sitting at the next level before he cleared his throat.
“Is Jake okay?” Mike asked. “I guess the best I can say is that I don’t really know.”
Tears came to Valerie’s eyes as a shard of pain ran through her.
“What happened to Jake?” Valerie asked. “What happened to my brother?”
“He was in the Sea of Amber,” Mike said. “It’s stuck with him in some way. My dad says it sticks to places he is confused.”
Unsure of what to say, Valerie looked up at Mike’s swinging feet. She hoped that her look would inspire him to say something else. But this was Mike. He barely spoke on a good day. Tonight, his sole focus was making sure Noelle’s first large project was perfect in every way.
“Mike?” Valerie asked.
“Valerie,” Mike said.
“Is Jake going to be okay?” Valerie asked.
She sniffed giving away her fear and sorrow. Mike leaned over to look at her. He gave her a soft smile.
“Jake’s got to work some shit out,” Mike said. “Lipson is at a place where he doesn’t have to be there every day. He has three children and a wife he loves. The Castle is mostly repaired. Even without the Sea of Amber, the boy’s going to have some shit to think about.”
“Like what?” Valerie asked.
“How about his purpose in life?” Mike asked. “Whether or not he actually wants to be a carpenter. If he wants to start a new business or focus on the properties he owns or be a house husband. No matter what, he’s got a lot to think about.”
“But is he going to be okay?” Valerie asked.
Mike smiled at the wall in front of him. For all of her sophistication and capacities, Valerie was still a simple older sister from the town of Denver.
“I think so,” Mike said. “Don’t you?”
Valerie was silent for so long that he looked over at her again. She was staring straight ahead.
“Val?” Mike asked.
“You know,” Valerie said with a nod. “I actually do think Jake is going to be okay. Yes. I do.”
“I think he’s not going to like figuring it out,” Valerie said. “Good thing we’ll be here to help him.
Nodding, Mike returned to work. When he looked down again, she was asleep.
“Good thing we’ll be here,” Mike said in a low voice and continued working.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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