Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Five Hundred and Forty-seven : Vacation over


Two days later

Monday morning — 5:15 a.m.

“Are you going to be okay?” Tanesha asked Jeraine as she came from the shower.

They were living in a small apartment in the basement of the Castle. Jeraine had spent last with his sister at the little yellow house. Tanesha had been asleep when he’d come home. Jabari spent the night at Tanesha’s parents home.

“Sure,” Jeraine said from his perch leaning against the backboard of the bed. “You?”

Tanesha blew out a breath. Her towel dropped. She tugged on underwear and snapped on a bra. She felt his hand on her shoulder. She turned to look into his eyes.

“Are you going to be okay?” Jeraine asked.

“Terrified,” Tanesha said.

“Of school?” Jeraine asked.

“Second year,” Tanesha said. “This is the year that the class starts to separate into the best student and the rest. I need to be in the best students.”

“Then you will be,” Jeraine said evenly.

“It’s not that easy,” Tanesha said.

She shook her head and turned to the closet. He got out of bed, pulled on a T-shirt and some boxer shorts before going to the little kitchenette to make her some tea.

“Tell me about you,” Tanesha said, pulling up her jeans. “You’re going with Jammy to Las Vegas today?”

Jeraine had been offered a long term residency at one of the Las Vegas casinos. It was the first time in the history of Las Vegas that an African-American was going to have a yearlong show. His agent, James Schmidt V, was taking him to Las Vegas to sort out some of the last details.

“We’re going to look at the venue and sign some papers,” Jeraine said. “I’ll be here when you get home.”

Tanesha grunted. She pulled on her blue starched button down shirt that made her skin looked coffee brown.

“How did it go with La Tonya?” Tanesha asked.

“Oh,” Jeraine sighed.

He poured hot water into a travel mug and dropped in a teabag. He tucked two more tea bags into her lunch box and zipped the thermal vinyl closed.

She touched his shoulder, and he looked at her.

“How did it go with La Tonya?” Tanesha asked again.

“It went well, I guess,” Jeraine said. “I mean, she let me in. I made dinner for her and the kids. Got the kids bathed and in bed. We tried to talk but … I mean, I’m the fuck-up, right? Not her. It’s too hard for her.”

“I’m glad you were able to help,” Tanesha said. “Did you leave the money?”

Jeraine nodded.

“Three hundred dollars. Cash. Plus the grocery card. On the counter,” Jeraine said. “She told me not to leave the money, but Mom said that it was gone when she got there. Hopefully, La Tonya’ll get some groceries and stuff.”

Tanesha nodded.

“I wondered, I mean, I don’t really have a right to ask,” Jeraine said.

Tanesha gave him a puzzled look.

“I wonder if Jill might go by and see if she could, you know, heal La Tonya,” Jeraine said.

“La Tonya’s coming to see Blane this afternoon,” Tanesha said. “Your mom’s bringing her and the kids. They should be here when you get back tonight.”

“And Jill?” Jeraine asked.

“I’ll text her,” Tanesha said. “She’s taking the kids to the orthodontist this morning, but she should be here tonight. I’m sure she’d want to help.”

Jeraine nodded.

“It’s really hard to watch someone you love suffer so much over something that seems so trivial,” Tanesha said.

“Even the tiniest thing can be too much if you’re really depressed,” Jeraine said.

“Exactly,” Tanesha said.

She leaned forward and kissed his lips.

“Thanks for last week,” Tanesha said. “It was really nice of you to do all the cooking and making things nice for everyone. I know that Heather is grateful that you helped her friend, our new friend.”

“I hope she settles in,” Jeraine said with a nod.

She kissed him again.

“Do you have everything?” Jeraine asked. “Lunch, tea, jacket for the cold classroom …”

Tanesha looked into her bag and ticked off the things in her bag.

“Laptop, audio recorder, phone,” Tanesha said with a nod. “Did you see Fin when you got home?”

Jeraine snorted a laugh and nodded.

“Why did you laugh?” Tanesha asked.

“The brother was decked out head to toe in some kind of silk and jewels,” Jeraine said. “He looked like …”

Jeraine shook his head.

“You know, he’s usually so buff,” Jeraine said. “Rippling muscles, testosterone everywhere. ‘I am Fin, near God, fairy prince of macho.’”

Jeraine imitated Fin’s Isle of Man accent.

“But I swear he looked so feminine that …” Jeraine said. “He appeared and I laughed out loud. Abi came out from their apartment and laughed at him. He took one look at us and realized how he was dressed.”

“Did he laugh?” Tanesha asked.

“For the first time, ever, I think he was actually embarrassed,” Jeraine said.

Tanesha laughed.

“Wait a minute,” he said. “I’ll walk you up.”

Tanesha waited while he used the bathroom and pulled on some jeans. He took her bag and walked her up the stairs to the main level of the Castle. For all the quiet of the basement, the main level was hopping with people. Sam and Aden were hustling off to Lipson Construction. Sandy was making biscuits for some kind of biscuit sandwich for breakfast. Valerie had all of the kids lunches laid out. Abi was sitting at the kitchen table with the twins.

Relieved of his court finery, Fin stood in next to Abi. His dreadlocks were thick and long. He wore jeans and a shirt similar to Tanesha. He had a backpack full of his gear at his feet.

“Are you ready?” Fin asked.

Tanesha gave him a stiff nod.

Mike came running out of the upstairs. He was pulling on his shoes.

“I’ll take you,” Mike said.

Tanesha felt a dagger in her heart. Summer was over. It was time to get back to the work and worry of school. Her eyes flicked around the room. Sandy gave her a firm, flour filled hug. Jill appeared from upstairs. She hugged Tanesha. Fin kissed Abi’s cheek, and they started toward the door.

Heather met them near the door. She gave Tanesha a hard hug and a golden apple.

“Hey!” Fin said when she didn’t seem to have an apple for him.

“King Finegal,” Heather said while holding out his own golden apple.

Fin shook his head at her mocking. Tanesha gave Jeraine a hug. By agreement, Jeraine only walked them to Mike’s truck. Fin got in the passenger seat and Jeraine opened the door to the back.

“You’re going to do great,” Jeraine said.

He kissed her and she got in the truck.

“See you tonight,” she said.

He raised his hand. They drove out of the Castle parking lot.

“Are you as scared as I am?” Tanesha asked.

“I am King Finegal,” Fin said. “Fearless warrior. King of the Fairies.”

“Yeah, I didn’t ask you that,” Tanesha said with a laugh. “I ask if you, King of the Assholes, were scared about school.”

“Positively terrified,” Fin said. “King of the Assholes? The visual on that is …”

They laughed. Mike stopped at the traffic light at 17th Avenue and York Street.

“Are we picking up our friend, Cody?” Fin asked.

“We are,” Tanesha said.

“Yep,” Mike said with a nod.

The light changed and Mike drove them past the Pinacle Towers, where Tanesha had been living with Jeraine when she’d started her first year. She watched the building pass. Smiling to herself, she felt ready to start her second year of medical school.


Monday morning — 8:35 a.m.

“Noelle! Close the door,” Sandy said from the front seat of the big SUV. “We need to go.”

“But where’s Charlie?” Noelle asked from the middle bench near the door. “Tink.”

“Katy,” Nash said.

“Tink, Charlie, Katy, and Paddie — if you’re keeping track — are at the orthodontist,” Sandy said.

“Where’s Rachel?” Noelle asked.

Sandy gave a frustrated sigh.

“I don’t know, Noelle, what did I tell you a half hour ago?” Sandy asked.

“Rachel and Wyn have to see the doctor today for checkups,” Nash said. “Auntie Heather’s taking them. Mom’s going to meet them after she drops us off.”

“Oh,” Noelle said, sheepishly.

“Now, close the door.” Sandy nearly yelled. Everyone in the car jumped with surprise.

“Fine,” Noelle said. “Try to care about my siblings and …”

Sandy groaned which caused Nash to laugh. With Nash’s laugh, the little kids —Maggie, Jackie, and Mack howled with laughter. Ivy patted Noelle’s leg in empathy.

“Just be glad it’s not your turn,” Sandy said. “You and Nash are due to get your braces on soon.”

“Charlie’s had them forever,” Noelle said.

“He should get them off either this visit or the next,” Sandy said. “Then …”

“It’s our turn,” Noelle said in a sulking voice.

“Why did Tink go?” Ivy asked.

“She’s starting her braces today,” Sandy said.

“She gets braces too?” Ivy asked. “Wow.”

“Why ‘wow’?” Noelle asked.

“Rich kids get braces,” Ivy said with a shrug. “When we were out, we used to talk about what we’d do if we were rich kids.”

Noelle’s attitude shifted with Ivy’s simple reminder of how lucky she was.

“Is Ivy getting them too?” Noelle asked.

“I don’t know,” Sandy said looking at Ivy in the rearview mirror. “Ivy?”

“My teeth are all messed because I was out for such a long time when I was pretty little,” Ivy said. “They pulled a bunch of my teeth after … well, you know.”

Sandy nodded.

“When I get all of my permanent teeth, Sam said that I can get implants or maybe porcelain crowns,” Ivy said. “Then I’ll probably get braces, maybe. I don’t really know.”

Everyone fell silent. Nash put his arm around Ivy and gave her a slight hug.

“What did I say?” Ivy asked. “Why is everybody quiet?”

“We’re sad that you had to suffer so much,” Noelle said. “I’m just here being a jerk.”

“You could never be a jerk, Noelle,” Ivy said.

“I just …” Noelle blew out a breath. “Why does vacation have to go by so fast?”

“Good question,” Sandy said.

She gave an exaggerated yawn, and the kids laughed.


Monday mid-morning — 11:35 a.m.

Las Vegas, NV

“What am I missing here?” Jeraine asked in a low voice.

Jammy turned to look at Jeraine. Jammy’s eyes blinked as he thought. He held up his index finger to Jeraine and turned back to the man behind the desk.

“This is not what we agreed to,” Jammy said. “Not even close.”

The man behind the desk started talking. Jeraine felt his anxiety start to rise. The words flew fast and furious. Jammy shifted in his seat.

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Jammy said. “I need to speak with my client for a moment.”

“Of course,” the man said. “There’s a lot of language here. I can imagine its confusing for him.”

Jeraine gave the man a hard look. He started to say something but Jammy shuffled him out of the room. Jammy pressed, pulled, and pushing Jeraine into the bathroom. Jammy walked down the stalls to make sure that they were alone.

“What the fuck!” Jeraine said. “Did that man just say that I was stupid?”

“He did,” Jammy said. “He thinks you’re stupid.”

“Why are we here?” Jeraine asked. “You said that …”

“I know what I said,” Jammy said. “I know what I said. Hell, I know what I have in writing.”

Jammy walked down the length of the bathroom and back to Jeraine. He shook his head at Jeraine and walked back to the end of the bathroom.

“Makes my head hurt,” Jeraine said.

“I’m furious,” Jammy said.

Jeraine watched Jammy walk back and forth in the bathroom.

“I wish Miss T were here,” Jeraine said. “She would understand all of this. I wish …”

His head was pounding. He wet a paper towel and pressed it against his head. Jeraine’s head lowered and his hands pressed against the marble sink counter. Jeraine was trying to calm down when Jammy yelped in surprise.

Jeraine looked up through blurry eyes to see Hecate. She was wearing a white pencil skirt and a white silk shirt. There was a little red scarf died at her neck. She had on a pair of white pumps. Her curly hair was up in a French knot. The streak of blue and turquoise looked like a racing stripe.

“How’d you …?” Jeraine asked.

“Hedone told me to listen in,” Hecate said. “If you needed me …”

She put one hand on Jeraine’s forehead and another on the back of his head. After a few minutes, his head stopped pounding. The end of pain was such a relief that he was weak in the knees.

“None of that,” Hecate said. “Stand strong, Jeraine. We’ll get through this.”

She turned to see Jammy watching them closely. Jeraine splashed water on his face and stood up.

“Hecate,” she said, holding out her hand.

“As in the Titan responsible for witchcraft?” Jammy asked.

“As in a good friend of Heather’s,” Hecate said.

“Mine,” Jeraine said.

“How’d you …?” Jammy pointed to where she’d just appeared.

“Some things are without explanation, my dear James Schmidt V,” Hecate said. “Including why this job has fallen through. Any ideas?”

“Politics,” Jammy said. He leaned forward and whispered, “This guy got pressured from people with radical policies that include anti-black policies.”

“Anti-black?” Hecate asked. “What is black?”

“My skin,” Jeraine said.

“This is an issue?” Hecate asked. “The color of your skin?”

“Last three hundred years or so,” Jeraine said.

Scowling, Hecate shook her head.

“Where have you been?” Jammy asked.

“Far from here,” Hecate said. “Why are we still here?”

“We?” Jammy asked. He pointed to himself and Jeraine. “We are trying to salvage this deal.”

Hecate shrugged.

“Why don’t we find something better?” Hecate asked.

“How …?” Jammy asked.

“She’s … Hecate,” Jeraine mumbled.

“What is this place?” Hecate asked.

“The men’s restroom,” Jammy asked.

“The toilet?” Hecate asked. “Why are we in the toilet?”

She shook her head at the men.

“Come,” she said.

Jammy and Jeraine followed her out of the restroom. She walked down the hallway to the elevator.

“I don’t know how this works, but the Oracle said …” Hecate whispered to Jeraine.

Jeraine hit the down button. They stood alone at the elevators. When the doors opened, they stepped inside. The elevator started going down.

“Whoa,” Hecate said. “What in the world?”

Jammy looked at her and laughed.

“It’s taking us to the ground floor,” Jeraine said. He looked at Jammy. “She hasn’t been in the modern world.”

“Tell me something obvious,” Jammy said.

The elevator stopped at the lobby. Hecate stumbled but Jammy caught her elbow.

“Thank you, James,” Hecate said.

“Everyone calls me, ‘Jammy,’” he said. “I’m not introducing you as Hecate.”

“What would you call me?” Hecate asked.

“You need a modern name,” Jammy said.

“Like Heather,” Jeraine said.

“Huh,” Hecate said.

She stepped out of the lobby. She started out across Las Vegas. She walked down one street and then turned on another. She walked with such purpose that the men followed her.

“What are you doing?” Jammy asked.

“I am following the scent,” Hecate said.

“The scent?” Jammy asked.

“Of he who wants to us to improve his life,” Hecate said.

She stopped in front of the largest, most prestigious casino in Las Vegas.

“Here,” Hecate said with a smile.

“They don’t have any residencies,” Jammy said. “They never have.”

“Well, it’s time they started,” Hecate said. “Come. This will be fun.”

She started into the casino. The lights and smells were so overwhelming that she nearly left. Jammy put his hand on her elbow again and gently encouraged her toward the business offices. Once there, Jammy stepped out in front. He told the person at the desk that he would like to speak with the owner.

To Jammy’s surprise, the casino owner’s son walked out of the inner office at that same moment. He looked at Jammy and then at Jeraine.

“Schmidty?” the casino owner asked.

He held his hand out. Surprised, Jammy just looked at his hand. The men shook hands and then hugged.

“Matt?” Jammy sputtered. “You … wait, that’s right this is yours now.”

“Well, my dad built it,” the casino owner said. “How is Leslie?”

“Good,” Jammy said. “Spending the week with her dad. Helen?”

“Running for mayor next year,” he said.

“Mayor?” Jammy asked. “Wow. Make sure she hits me up for a donation.”

“Of course,” the casino owner said. Turning to Jeraine and Hecate, he added, “My father retired recently. I took over last year. I haven’t seen anyone since then.”

Jammy looked at Jeraine and Hecate and saw that they were both a little stunned.

“We were in the same fraternity,” Jammy said.

“Forced to by our fathers,” the casino owner said. “Say, you would happen to be Jeraine Wilson, would you?”

“Sir,” Jeraine said.

Jeraine held out his hand, and the casino owner shook his hand. He looked at Hecate and shook his head.

“Surely, you’re not Miss T,” the casino owner said.

“Miss T started her second year in medical school today,” Jeraine said. “This is my friend Hecate.”

“Like the witch?” the casino owner asked holding out his hand for her to shake.

“My mother had a great sense of irony,” Hecate said.

The casino owner grinned at her. He turned to Jammy.

“I was just heading to lunch,” the casino owner said. “Would you like to join me? Or is there something you need?”

“We’ve run into a snag with Jeraine’s residency at …” Jammy stopped talking when the casino owner grinned. “What?”

“I told Helen,” he looked at Jeraine and Hecate, “my wife. I was telling her last night that I wished we had a chance to book the residency with Jeraine.”

Grinning, he looked at Jeraine.

“I may have jinxed your deal,” the casino owner said.

“You did not,” Hecate said. “Racism did that.”

“Of course it did,” the casino owner said. “Bastard.”

For his hard word, the casino owner looked positively thrilled. He turned to the receptionist.

“Can you call my secretary?” the casino owner asked. “Cancel the rest of my day.”

“Yes, sir,” the receptionist said.

“Come on,” the casino owner asked. “Let’s look go through the casino. Figure out where you’ll set up shop.”

“We haven’t worked out the details,” Jammy said.

“Schmidty!” The casino owner patted Jammy’s back. “Details, details. It’s always about the details.”

“It is always about the details,” Jammy said.

“We’ll work it out,” the casino owner said. “I really want this, so I’m willing to do what it takes to make it happen.”

Hecate grinned. Jeraine shook his head.

“I’m not agreeing to anything,” Jeraine stumbled. “Miss T would kill me if I agreed before we talked it through.”

“Fair enough,” the casino owner said. “Let’s find a spot in this casino for your show. We’ll take pictures and you can talk to her about it. How long can you commit? A year? Let’s see. If Miss T is starting her second year, she’s got 3 more years of medical school. Would you commit that?”

“I’d have to talk to Miss T,” Jeraine said. “I know how it sounds, but I have fucked up my relationship a thousand times. I won’t do it again. Not for you or any opportunity. She is my world. I won’t live without her. And she wants to be involved in these decisions.”

“Good man,” the casino owner said. “That answers the question I had.”

The casino owner looked at Jeraine and then at Jammy. They were so surprised that they didn’t know what to do.

“I would love to see this casino,” Hecate said. “Find the best spot for Jeraine’s show.”

The casino owner held out his elbow and Hecate hooked hers with his. The casino owner turned to Jeraine.

“Any chance we could get your dad to play?” the casino owner asked.

“O’Malley has already agreed to showcase the music he’s been working on for the movies,” Jammy said. “We’ve received verbal agreements from most of the African-American pop, R&B, and rock stars. Everyone wants to come and play with Jeraine, but only if we can make it worth our time. Bumpy will play with O’Malley.”

The casino owner laughed.

“Why do you laugh?” Hecate asked.

“My dad’s going to be so happy,” the casino owner said. “We’re going to sell out every day.”

“Every ticket. Every day,” Hecate said. She glanced at Jeraine. “Of course.”

“Lead on,” Jammy said.

The casino owner started showing them through the casino.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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