Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Four Hundred and Fifty-five : Golden canary


Sunday morning — 10:25 a.m.
New York City, New York

“What are you talking about?” Jeraine asked to the roadie who’d come up to him.

Rather than respond, the roadie pointed. Jeraine looked down the young man’s arm and long index finger.

“What does that mean?” Jeraine asked.

“Why don’t you go see for your own self?” the roadie asked.

Jeraine sneered at the young man. Unimpressed, the young man simply shrugged.

“What do you have to lose?” the roadie asked.

Jeraine took a step in the direction he’d pointed.

“She’s beautiful,” the roadie said. “Special.”

Jeraine turned to look at the young man.

“I never really got it, you know, the whole ‘Miss T’ thing,” the roadie said. “But meeting her, I totally get it.”

“Get what?” Jeraine asked.

“How you could love her so deeply and treat her so bad?” the roadie asked. Before Jeraine could respond, the roadie pressed on. “I was always like: ‘Be a man, dude. You want her — go be with her. Stop whining. Stop fucking around.’ But she’s …”

The roadie nodded. Jeraine scowled.

“I’m just saying that she’s the dream woman — funny, smart, beautiful, real,” the roadie said. “I don’t think I’d believe I was good enough for her either.”

Jeraine stared at the young man so intensely that the young man shrugged again.

“She’s right over there,” the roadie said. “With her girlfriend and her … I don’t know what he is — he looks like some kinda royalty and this other woman. Honestly, she only looks normal standing next to Miss T. I’m not exactly sure she’s human. She pulses with power, like the earth itself.”

“Who?” Jeraine asked.

“She said her name was Abi,” the roadie said with a shrug. “She had a couple of infants with her. Made me want to have a couple of boys so that they could spend their lives with her children.”

The roadie nodded, turned in place, and walked away. Jeraine watched him go for a moment before shrugging. He turned toward the direction the young man had pointed and went to find Tanesha. He heard her laugh before he saw her. Tanesha was standing between Sandy and Fin. Tanesha was wearing a gorgeous form fitting brown skirt, silk blouse, and black leather jacket. Clearly, Fin had dressed her before they’d arrived. She’d finally gotten rid of those Sister Dreads and was wearing her hear in a small afro. As always, Tanesha took his breath away. Abi spotted Jeraine first. Abi turned and walked toward him.

“Please meet our new charge,” Abi said. “We’ve named her ‘Zaidi.’”

Abi set the child in Jeraine’s arms.

“Zaidi, this is our dear friend Jeraine,” Abi said.

The child reached up to touch Jeraine’s face.

“This is the Queen’s child,” Jeraine said.

“How could you tell?” Abi nodded.

“She has a certain … look,” Jeraine said. “Mari, Edie, even Fin. And that other one — the Blue Fairy? They share a look. Your children — Ne Ne and this one — they look like trees or flowers, like they came from the earth itself. Alluring and terrifying at the same time.”

Abi thought for a moment before nodding.

“We’ll raise Zaidi and Zoe like twins,” Abi said. “Tanesha’s already agreed to help us. Will you?”

Jeraine had the desire to fall to one knee like a knight of old. Instead, he simply nodded.

“Zoe?” Jeraine asked.

“I didn’t realize it, but it turns out that no one could pronounce our daughter’s name,” Abi said.

“I couldn’t,” Jeraine said.

Abi smiled.

“We came to see you perform — Fin and I,” Abi said. “Brought Tanesha with us. I hope that’s okay.”

“I …” Jeraine flushed. “Yes, it’s more than okay. Thank you.”

“Good,” Abi said. “We’ll be here until Monday night. Tanesha has to go back to work on Tuesday.”

“Jer!” Tanesha said.

He looked up from Abi to see his wife. Her bright smile heated the very center of him.

“Excuse me,” Jeraine said.

He touched Abi’s sleeve and went to greet Tanesha. In a whoosh of warm air, he was holding her in his arms. His lips brushed hers, and he held her tight until she giggled.

“Jabari?” Jeraine asked when he remembered himself.

“Mom and Dad have him,” Tanesha said. “I told them that you’d want to see him but they thought we could use some time alone.”

“You mean that I have you all to myself for the next two days?” Jeraine asked.

Surprised, Tanesha could only grin at him. He kissed her nose and moved apart from him. Taking her hand in his, he greeted Sandy. Sissy and Ivan came over to say hello. Aden walked through the crowd with a dandy of an elderly man. Jeraine shook Aden’s hand and listened to the introduction of the man. Jeraine raised a hand to wave to Nash and his Nadia. Noelle came over to hug him. He shook Teddy’s hand for good form and said hello to Mike and Valerie. He couldn’t help but smile at this odd collection of people who he called “family.”

“You look like you’ve swallowed a golden canary,” Tanesha said in his ear.

“I feel that way,” Jeraine said. He turned to her. “I know that I need to perform and participate in this thing of Seth’s. I’m sure you want to hang out with your friends. I’m just …”

He lifted a shoulder in a shrug.

“Me, too,” Tanesha said.

“Why didn’t you tell me when I talked to you last night?” Jeraine asked.

“I didn’t know,” Tanesha said. “Fin arrived this morning and told me about their plan. I guess they watched Ivan and Sissy dance via webcam last night. I was supposed to watch but I passed out as soon as I got to the Castle.”

“In that meditation room you like?” Jeraine said.

“Delphie put the most comfortable bed there.” Tanesha nodded. “I slept through the party.”

Jeraine nodded.

“Are you mad that I didn’t tell you?” Tanesha asked.

Rather than speak, he scooped her up and kissed her hard. They stood an inch apart and grinned from ear to ear.

“Hey!” a male voice came from the stage.

They didn’t move.

“I think Seth wants you up on the stage,” Sandy said.

She pointed to the stage. It had never occurred to Jeraine that he would be a part of the whole party. He thought he’d just play with the show he was touring with. When he looked up, he saw his father’s best friend gesturing for him to join them. To his surprise, his mother was standing at a microphone in the front and his father was playing his battered standup bass.

“I’d like you to welcome my son to the stage,” Dionne said. “You know him as R and B star, Jeraine. To me, he’s just my baby boy.”

A few women screamed and a wild cheer went through the crowd. Tanesha gestured for him to go. He gave her one last kiss and went up to the stage.

“I wonder if you could sub-in where we need it,” Seth said.

“Of course,” Jeraine said.

“I thought we could play that piano duo,” Seth said. “Do you remember it?”

“I don’t but I bet my fingers do,” Jeraine said.

As if to say “I believe in you,” Seth grabbed his arm. Jeraine went to where two pianos faced each other. Seth sat down at one and he took the other. When Seth started, Jeraine listened through the opening stanzas before joining in the song. Like all of Seth’s work, Jeraine was caught up in the song as soon as he started playing. Sometime later, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to find the world famous swing piano player, Larry Fuller, standing behind him. Jeraine stood up, shook the man’s hand, and helped him get settled. The entire mood shifted and the party began to swing.

Jeraine looked around to see if Tanesha was available to dance with him. He was about to get down from the stage when Bumpy handed him a guitar and pointed to the front. Knowing better than to protest, Jeraine simply nodded and went to fill in on guitar. He rotated from instrument to instrument until his conscious mind slipped away and his musical mind awakened in a way it hadn’t since he’d clouded his brain with drugs. The music inside him matched the music coming from him. He didn’t have to be a leader or a front person or a marketer or a “good product.” He just had to play.

The energy he put out in music, came back to him full circle. He felt charged up, happy, and alive. The more he played, the more energized he felt. It was as if all of the drugs and alcohol had walled off the deep well of the creative flow that lived inside of him. Light, joy, and energy now flooded his senses. He glanced at Tanesha and she smiled. For the first time in a very, very long time, he could feel her light illuminate his love for her.

In the middle of the music, Jeraine found himself.

And that was a very good thing.


Sunday mid-day — 12:10 p.m.
Denver, Colorado

“Is my Mommy home yet?” Maggie asked Jill as she entered the side door of the Castle.

“Not yet,” Jill said.

“My Daddy?” Maggie asked.

Jill shook her head. Maggie took Jill’s hand and they walked into the Castle. When Jill looked down, the little girl was crying.

“Are you okay?” Jill knelt down to the tiny child.

“I’m sad,” Maggie said. “I love my Aunt Bonnie, and she’s fun and stuff, but I miss my Mommy. A lot.”

“I bet,” Jill said.

Jill took a seat on the couch and pulled Maggie onto her lap. Jill did her best to sooth Maggie while she cried.

“What’s wrong?” Jackie, Valerie and Mike’s daughter, asked. Her voice was soft. She put her hand on Maggie’s leg. “Why is my Maggie crying?”

“She misses her Mommy,” Jill said.

“Me too,” Jackie said.

Her lip protruded and tears welled in her eyes. Jill held out her arm and Jackie took a spot on Jill’s lap. Maggie put her arm around Jackie and Jackie leaned her head on Maggie’s shoulder. The two girls sat close together in silent sorrowful communion.

“I had a good week,” Maggie said through her tears. “ … with my Aunt Bonnie and playing my uncle Kenny — they are my daddy’s sister and brother — and with everybody at school and I liked the sleeping party with all of the other kids and Katy and Jackie and Mack and …”

Maggie nodded.

“Me too,” Jackie said.

Jill smiled. Valerie and Mike had been here all week. They’d only left on Friday to help out with the funeral and get some alone time before the new baby. But as far as Jackie was concerned, if Maggie was sad, she was sad too.

“Why’s sad?” Mack bound up to them.

“Jackie and Maggie are missing their Mommies,” Jill said.

Mack stood there for a while. His shocking blue eyes went vague while he thought about what he could do to help his friends. He nodded his head.

“Mommy’s here,” Mack said. He patted his chest. “She c’n help.”

Mack took off running. He returned in a few minutes with Heather in tow. Mack dropped his mother’s hand and ran to Jill. Heather picked up Jackie.

“How would you like to help Katy and Paddie with their top secret project?” Heather asked.

Maggie and Jackie brightened.

“Me too?” Mack asked.

“Of course,” Heather said.

Heather held out her hand and Mack grabbed on. Jill stood up with Maggie in her arms. They walked to the kitchen where Delphie was making jam from her first harvest from the blackberry vines that grew along the back fence. The room was moist with steam. Katy and Paddie’s faces and hands stained with blackberry juice, but their own aprons were clean. They held matching wooden spoons.

“Welcome! Welcome!” Delphie said. “Sam?”

Sam appeared from the pantry. Seeing the younger children, he raised a finger and disappeared into the pantry. He returned with three tiny aprons just like Katy and Paddie’s and three matching wooden spoons.

“We’re stirring,” Paddie said.

“You have to be very careful,” Katy told her younger friends.

“You can burn yourself,” Paddie nodded. “Bad.”

Mack held up a finger with a Band-Aid wrapped around it where he’d been burned. Everyone nodded. Maggie wiggled to be let down. She let Sam help her put on her apron and went to Paddie’s side. Shyer, Jackie appeared a moment later next to Katy. Jackie slipped her hand into Katy’s left hand for comfort. Katy smiled at Jackie and squeezed her hand. Sam led Mack away from the danger to help him clean and dry the jars.

“I think we’ve got this,” Delphie said.

Edie appeared out of nowhere with two heavy bags of sugar.

“Why don’t you head upstairs?” Delphie asked. “Make some lunch.”

Jill looked at Heather and she shrugged. The two friends went upstairs to make lunch.


Sunday mid-day — 10:10 p.m.
Between New York City and Denver

“How is he?” Aden asked in a low voice.

Sandy nodded. Nash had fallen apart after leaving Nadia. The late nights and long days had caught up with the young man. He’d started to cry the moment Nadia walked away from him and hadn’t stopped until he’d fallen asleep with his head on Sandy’s lap an hour into their flight home.

“How’s Noelle?” Sandy asked.

Aden gestured to the seats where Noelle and Sissy were playing “Go Fish” and laughing. Mike and Ivan were looking through the pictures from the park with Teddy. Dale and Charlie were playing video games in the back with one of Bernice’s grandsons, Elijah, who was going to take a campus tour University of Colorado at Boulder the next day. Overall, everyone on board was tired but happy. Nash was the only one who’d succumb to overwhelming emotions. So far.

Sandy patted the empty seat next to her and Aden sat down. Knowing she would speak softly, he leaned into her. Her perfume and warmth comforted him after a long few days.

“How did it go with Nuala this morning?” Sandy asked.

“Oh,” Aden said. He seemed to deflate a little bit. “I was glad Allister was there.”

“You’ll have to tell me all about it,” Sandy said.

Aden launched into meeting Allister. He laughed when he told her that he’d thought Allister wanted to purchase Nash. He told Sandy about how Allister’s parents hadn’t named him Bertram or Bertie. Sandy smiled. It was rare for Aden to make new friends, but it had been clear at the party that Allister and his partner were now a part of their pack. She waited for Aden to finish telling her about how they met.

Smiling, he fell silent.

“And Nuala?” Sandy asked, gently.

Aden’s eyes flicked to her face. His head went up and down for a moment and then he looked away.

“That bad?” Sandy asked.

Aden’s head went up and down.

“She’s getting married again,” Aden said. “Wants more kids.”

“Good Lord,” Sandy said. “How many has she had taken away from her?”

“Six,” Aden said. “Not counting Nash and Noelle.”

“How old is she?” Sandy asked.

“My age,” Aden said. “Forty, this year. She’s pretty excited about this guy. Seems he has a good job with chances for advancement. She met him at an AA meeting before she went to prison and he’s hung in there with her. He knows about everything and has been sober a while. She wants …”

Sandy nodded. When Aden didn’t say anything, she nudged him.

“Sorry,” he said. “I guess I just don’t know where to start, what to say, how to …”

He looked so sad that Sandy reached over. She turned his head toward her face. She scanned his face while she stroked his face.

“What is it?” Sandy asked.

“We’ve … I mean I …” Aden started again. “Well … Allister said that Nuala wants what I have — children, wife, home, money — the whole nine. He said, Allister I mean, that she can’t see the struggle, the risk, the lack of sleep, and hard work. From the outside, you know. She can’t see the cost of all …”

Sandy nodded. Her eyes watched his face. She put her hand on his heart.

“How am I?” Aden asked. He shook his head. “I feel … guilty, I guess. We — Nuala and I — started at the same place, at the same time, and … I mean, look around us? It’s more than I could have ever imagined and … It’s not like I deserve any of this.”

Sandy nodded and looked away. Lost in thought, he looked down at his hands.

“I can’t solve her problems,” Aden said. “I can’t solve my own. I just put one foot in front of the other and …”

Aden looked at Sandy. He held her eyes for a moment before looking down again.

“She didn’t like it when I said that,” Aden said. “She wants the whole package but she wants it in one step. She thinks I can give it to her, that I owe it to her because … Well, I don’t know why.”

“Let’s get stupid simple,” Sandy said, softly. “What exactly did she ask for?”

“Everything,” Aden said.

“Everything?” Surprised, Sandy raised her eyebrows. Aden nodded.

“She wants to live at the Castle with us,” Aden said. Sandy opened her mouth to protest, but Aden pressed on. “Or she wants me or really you to pay for her to stay in the facility she’s in. She wants us to pay for extended rehab, like six months, because that’s the ‘only way’ she can really get sober. She wants us to pay for her wedding, and trust me, she has big wedding plans. She wants me to remove the restraining order on Nash and Noelle. She wants me to talk to her probation officer so that birth control is no longer a part of her probation. She says that the restraining order blocks her from her true profession of being a school teacher. Because she can’t work in her true calling, she wants me to pay for everything. Oh and, she did see that you made all that money with your mom’s symphony.”

Aden took a deep breath and blew it out his mouth. Sandy waited to see if there was anything else. When he didn’t say anything else, she spoke.

“What did Allister say?” Sandy asked.

“I let him do the talking,” Aden said. “He told Nuala that while life is not necessarily fair, we live in a cause and effect universe. If she proves, through her actions, that she’s able to stay sober longer than a few days, then we will discuss any of her demands.”

“How did she take that?” Sandy asked.

“Not well,” Aden said. “And she didn’t like that I let Allister do all of the talking. She didn’t like that she might have to prove herself. She doesn’t feel like she should prove herself to anyone, especially me.”

“Why especially you?” Sandy asked.

“She feels like I owe her because she’s stayed away from Nash and Noelle,” Aden said. “Because she gave me custody of them.”

Sandy gave an indignant snort which woke Nash. He looked at Sandy and then at Aden.

“What did my mom do now?” Nash asked.

“Nothing,” Aden said. “Don’t worry, Nash.”

“How am I supposed to … when she’s … awful.” Nash’s eyes welled with exhausted tears. “Awful. I’m her son which means I’m awful … I’m never going to be good enough … for …”

Sandy looked at Aden and he nodded. They would table this until they were alone. The video game console froze and Aden went to help Charlie, Dale, and Elijah.

“What did she do?” Nash whispered to Sandy.

“Let’s let the lawyers sort it out,” Sandy said. “For now, she’s in New York. She can’t leave.”

Nash blew out a breath and settled back in. Sandy smoothed his hair until he was breathing deep and asleep again. As they flew through the sky in an aluminum tube, Sandy contemplated the entire mess.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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