CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and FORTY-TWO
Friday evening — 5:05 p.m.
“I know it’s not much,” Jill gestured to the small porch she had set aside for Honey and MJ. “I thought it would offer you guys some privacy from the teen hoard and…”
“We’re happy to be included,” Honey said in a soft tone as to not wake Maggie who was riding in a Mozy carrier on her chest. “It seems like everyone is sharing space. We’re lucky to have even a little privacy.”
“And tomorrow morning?” Jill asked.
“I’ll be okay,” Honey smiled. “MJ can help me.”
“I know how, it’s just better for our relationship if I don’t,” MJ grinned.
“Why?” Jill asked.
“Keeps the mystery alive,” Honey smiled.
“Actually,” MJ said. “Steve checks Honey’s health while he helps her get up. He has a more consistent sense of where she is.”
“And where is she?” Jill scowled.
“I’m doing really well, Jill,” Honey said. “Don’t worry. This is really fun.”
“At least it’s on the main level,” Jill said. “It’s just… small. I…”
“It’s like camping out,” Honey said.
MJ looked puzzled and Honey laughed.
“Without the tent,” they said in unison and laughed.
“I’m glad you were able to come,” Jill said. “I know Val wants you to be there at the premiere and Jake…”
“How is Jake?” MJ asked. “He seems… gloomy.”
“I think all the stuff going on in the world is hard for him,” Jill said.
“People are so angry,” MJ said. “I live in this little bubble of work, rank, duty, assignment… everyone does what they’re supposed to, at least most of the time. When I step off base and see all this… It’s shocking to me. I can’t imagine what it’s like for Jake to live in the middle of it all.”
“Jake’s more open,” Honey said.
“Plus he’s trying create change,” MJ said. “That’s got to be tough.”
Jill smiled. Maggie made a sound, somewhere between a yawn and a cry. She smacked her lips and rooted toward Honey.
“Maggie’s up,” Jill said.
“Did you bring the breast milk?” Honey asked.
Maggie made the little sound again.
“It’s in the cooler,” MJ said. “Frozen. Sorry I…”
“Shit,” Honey said.
Maggie began to scream. Although she was very tiny at birth, she was growing fast. She spent most of her days sleeping or eating. Honey tried to console Maggie, but once the baby was upset, she only got more upset, especially when she was hungry.
“Stupid,” MJ said. “I’m sorry. Delphie usually has it if we don’t.”
Honey and MJ looked so desperate that Jill wanted hug them.
“Listen, it happens to everyone,” Jill said. “MJ, why don’t you grab a bag of milk and we can warm it up fast? Just takes a couple minutes. I’ll show you how.”
MJ looked at Honey and shook his head. Honey nodded. She gave him Maggie and he took the baby out of the porch.
“He wants so badly to be a good dad that any screw up sends him around the bend,” Honey said. “And every time she’s upset, he checks her for Crohn’s symptoms.”
“Nothing so far?” Jill asked.
“She’s perfect,” Honey said. “It doesn’t stop him from getting anxious and…”
“His TBI kicked in?” Jill asked.
Honey nodded and rolled across the little porch. She took a bag of frozen breast milk from the cooler.
“He loves her so fiercely,” Honey said.
“Poor guy,” Jill said.
Jill followed Honey as she rolled into the kitchen. They heard the crying baby move through the house.
“That’s Maggie!” They heard Ivy’s high-pitched voice carry from the front of the house. “Come on, Aunt Grace! You have to meet her and Honey and MJ and…”
“Ivy’s here,” Honey smiled.
“I can stay here,” Jill said. “Why don’t you go?”
“Thanks,” Honey wheeled out of the kitchen.
Jill turned the water to hot. She let it run for a while before she realized there was no more hot water.
“Teenagers,” she said under her breath. She filled the teapot and put it on the gas stove.
“Maggie!” Jill smiled at Ivy’s high-pitched enthusiasm. “This is Maggie and…”
“Michael Junior?” Ivy’s Aunt Grace asked. “MJ?”
Jill could feel the heavy silence.
“What’s going on?” Ivy asked.
“I thought you were dead,” Grace said.
Jill flipped on the burner and hurried to the front. She found Honey midway to the front of the small house. Honey looked like she’d been punched in the gut. Jill kneeled down.
“You have to help him,” Jill whispered to Honey.
“You don’t have anything to say to me?” Grace’s voice rose above Maggie’s screams.
“He… that…” Honey swallowed hard.
“You know he can’t do this,” Jill said.
“But he…” Honey said.
“He’s your husband,” Jill said. “He’s loved you all of his life.”
“And I suppose this is your child?” Grace’s voice was angry and hard.
“But what if… he loved her more and… just forgot,” Honey said. “I hadn’t seen him in… years and…”
“Tough,” Jill said. “He’s married to you now. You have to fight for him.”
Honey shook her head and started to turn away.
“Come on sweet Honeybee,” Jill said using MJ’s nickname for her when they were in high school.
Honey’s sad eyes looked up at her.
“You do it or I will,” Jill said. “And you know that’s not going to go well.”
“What’s going on?” Sandy’s voice came from the front. “Who are you and why is Maggie crying? Ivy, the kids are downstairs. Why don’t you go…?”
“But…” Ivy started.
“Or Sandy will,” Jill raised her eyebrows to challenge Honey.
“Go,” Sandy said.
They heard Ivy stomp off and Gracie’s low and angry voice.
“I don’t care,” Sandy said. “This baby is hungry. That kind of takes precedence over your little drama. You’re adults. Get over yourselves.”
“Go. Fight for your man,” Jill said. “Would you put up with this at work?”
Jill gave Honey’s wheelchair a push and she rolled toward the front. Jill followed close behind.
“There’s Honey,” Sandy said. “Why is Maggie out here with MJ?”
“Honey!?” Gracie’s voice rose a notch. “You’ve got to be shitting me. You had a baby with the Honeybee? What the…”
“Enough,” Honey said. “That’s enough. I know you’re upset. This man can make anyone crazy. But this is not the time or the place.”
MJ turned to look at her. His eyes reflected his panic and despair. Hearing her mother’s voice, Maggie’s screams increased. She flailed against MJ.
“Sandy, can you get Maggie?” Honey asked. “We forgot to defrost some milk.”
“But he…” Grace pointed to MJ.
Sandy pressed past Grace and took the baby from MJ. Sandy carried Maggie to the kitchen.
“He has a traumatic brain injury,” Honey said. “It affects his speech.”
“But…” Grace said.
“He can’t talk to you or me or anyone,” Honey said. “Look at him.”
MJ’s panicked blue eyes looked from Grace to Honey and back at Grace.
“Go for a run,” Honey said. “We’ll be here when you get back.”
MJ shook his head and pointed to the ground. Honey shook her head.
“Go,” Honey pointed at the door. “Do you have your phone?”
“Call me when you can,” Honey said. “Go.”
“I was just heading out with the boys,” Jacob pushed Charlie out from the basement. Nash and Teddy came up behind him. “The boys are feeling a little… wound up. Want to come with us, MJ?”
Jacob gestured to the boys, who were punching each other.
“We have to go now or miss Val’s big moment,” Jacob said.
MJ nodded and followed Jacob out of the house. Grace went to follow them.
“Where are you going?” Honey asked.
Grace turned in place.
“There’s nothing out there that’s going to answer your questions,” Honey said. “You want to know? You’ve got to stay.”
Grace stared at Honey for a moment.
“But I… you,” Grace pointed at Honey.
“I’m staying here,” Honey said. “My baby is hungry and I need to feed her.”
Honey turned in place and wheeled back to the kitchen. She winked at Jill as she pasted. Grace stared after Honey. She glanced at the door and then squared her shoulders. She stomped past Jill to the kitchen. Jill raised her eyebrows and followed Grace to the battleground.
Friday evening – 6:45 p.m.
“There she is!” Jill pointed to the big white screen in the front of the room where Valerie stepped out of the limousine. The cameraman moved closer to get a picture of her, Sandy and Heather.
“Look at Jackie!” Sandy said.
Jackie turned her head so her blue-hazel eyes could take in all of the activity and people on the red carpet.
“Go Jackie!” Heather yelled.
“Ready to take over,” Honey laughed.
“That’s my girl,” Tanesha said.
The women laughed. On the screen, Mike stepped out of the limousine. He took Valerie’s hand and they started the red carpet walk.
Everyone was sitting in the living room watching the screen. The cameraman and sound crew had arrived at the same time as Jeraine and Tanesha. Because Jeraine had more experience with video production, he helped everyone get ready. Because Jeraine was Charlie’s pal, he stuck Charlie and Tink in the back.
Charlie put his arm around Tink. She looked up at him and gave him a nice, warm kiss.
“Ahhh,” the adults said when the son of another star ran up to give Valerie a yellow daisy for Jackie.
“Can you believe that whole Gracie and MJ thing?” Tink whispered. “MJ totally dumped Gracie when he got injured. She thought he died! Now he’s married to Honey and… He came back from the run and called his work. His boss is pissed. He told Gracie that they would talk about tomorrow with his boss, but… It’s a big mess!”
Tink shook her head.
“How’s Ivy?” Charlie whispered.
“Hysterical,” Tink said. “Heather stayed with her, but Ivy says she can’t deal. She’s heading out tonight.”
Charlie shook his head.
“We won’t let her go,” Charlie said.
Tink nodded. She looked up at him and he grinned. He was about to kiss her again when Noelle hit his shoulder.
“We’re on,” Noelle said in a terse voice.
“Go,” the video director said.
“Hi Val!” Everyone yelled.
Valerie beamed at them and waved. Jackie giggled. An announcer asked Jacob a question and they had to be super quiet. Jacob was handsome, charming and funny. Charlie felt a wave of jealousy toward Jacob. Then he remembered how goofy Jacob had been when they were out running. He had made these girlie voices about how MJ was so hot. Charlie had joined in and got Teddy and Nash to do it too. When Jake kneeled down and begged the hotness of MJ for some loving, MJ finally laughed and was able to talk. Charlie chuckled at the memory. Aden turned around and shushed him.
“When the movie starts, you wanna…” Charlie gestured to out of the room.
Tink gave an emphatic nod and Charlie smiled. They waited through more interviews and more pictures. The movie stars were so perfect they looked weird. Even Valerie looked strange in her get up.
“That’s it folks,” the video crew chief said and they were able to move around. “We need you back here in a half hour for the movie.”
Charlie bided his time. He knew that as soon as the movie started he would have Tink to himself. He and Tink went to Ivy to find out if she was all right. Ivy was very upset by everything. Mostly he thought she wanted Honey to be her Mom and not Gracie, but Ivy was like that. She always wanted impossible things. If it was impossible, Ivy was sure to want it. Anyway, Ivy promised Tink she wouldn’t leave. Heather showed up mid-promise so they stopped talking like it was a secret.
There was a loud noise and they went back to the room. When he went to sit down, he noticed Nash was trying to sit next to Ivy. Since Jeraine had helped Charlie out, he thought he’d extend the favor. He called Ivy over and had her sit next to Nash. Completely oblivious to anything but her own inner turmoil, Ivy acted like she was just meeting Nash. By the time the show started, their heads were pressed together. Charlie smiled because he’d helped Nash out.
After all the titles, Tink pulled on his hand and he followed her out of the room. They slipped downstairs to the corner they’d staked out in the basement. She kissed him.
“You want to…” Tink’s eyes held a glazed look he didn’t recognize.
“We could if we want to,” Charlie said. “But I thought we could also talk and stuff first.”
“Oh,” Tink said. “Talking is okay?”
“Sure,” Charlie said. “A lot has changed and I…”
He scowled and tried to remember what Aden had told him to say. He shrugged. She kissed him and they kissed for a while. Tink was a really good kisser.
“I got something for you,” Charlie said.
“You did?” Tink looked really surprised, which made him happy.
“Aden said we could go on a date tonight,” Charlie said. “Since we’re here, I asked him if we could get something for you instead.”
“Oh,” Tink beamed. “That was really nice.”
Charlie nodded. He reached into his jeans pocket. The kissing had made his pants super tight so he had to squirm to take the small jewelry box out of his pocket.
“It’s not rich but…”
Charlie held the box out to her. She set the box on her hand and looked down at it. She was looking at the box when Charlie remembered what he wanted to say.
“I wanted you to know that I care about you,” Charlie said. “Whatever happens, wherever you go, I care. There’s a lot of hard stuff we have to do, but this way, you’ll have something to remember that at least one person really cares just about you.”
Tink opened the box to find a small gold heart on a chain. Tink flushed bright red and her eyes filled with tears.
“Plus you can take off your Saint Jude,” Charlie said. “He didn’t really care about you.”
Tink hugged him tight. He lost focus and felt some wetness in his underwear. He cleared his throat and she smiled. He could never pull anything over on Tink. He grinned.
“Will you help?” Tink asked.
“Sure,” he said.
He helped her take off the old Saint Jude pendant and put on the new shiny gold heart.
“How does it look?” Tink asked.
The heart sat at the base of her neck. Between the smile on her face and the heart, Tink looked really pretty. When Charlie told her, she got teary again. She hugged him.
“There you are!” Sissy said. “You have to come up.”
Charlie sneered at her.
“Ivy’s in trouble,” Sissy said. “She got super upset and argued with her aunt and… You just have to come.”
Charlie looked at Tink and she nodded. He let Tink go first so he could fix himself.
“Did you see what I got?” He heard Tink ask Sissy as they went up the stairs.
Sissy squealed and clapped in the way she did when she was happy.
Charlie smiled. He hadn’t remembered the right thing to say, but Tink was happy anyway.
That felt really good.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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