Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Four Hundred and Forty-seven : Connected

CHAPTER FOUR HUNDRED AND FORTY-SEVEN

Friday night — 1:15 a.m.

“Yeah,” Bumpy said when he answered the phone.

“You sound wide awake,” Seth said.

“I am,” Bumpy said. “Dionne agreed to help Jill, you know Sandy’s friend, with a school project. Seems like some jerk teacher gave her seventeen hours to finish it. She’s rallied her class so they’re submitting one project. It’s pretty neat but …”

The phone scraped against Bumpie’s stubbed cheek.

“Right there,” Bumpy said to Dionne. “It’s not straight. Right. We’re making curtains for the houses. I am on the cutting and ironing task. I hate to say it, but we’re having a good time. Are you looking for Maresol? She’s here. Your dad, too.”

“All working on this project?” Seth asked.

“I’m a little surprised they didn’t call you for help,” Bumpy said with a snort.

“Too far away,” Seth said.

“Well, they’re using one of your songs for the presentation,” Bumpy said. “Don’t sue them.”

“They probably called Jammy for that,” Seth said.

“I’m sure you’re right,” Bumpy said with a laugh.

Bumpy said something unintelligible to the people in the room and everyone laughed.

“LaTonya and her babes are here too,” Bumpy said. “She’s putting the curtains on tiny rods. So cute. Rodney and Yvonne are working at their house. We’re due at the Castle in an hour and fifteen minutes.”

“At 2:30 in the morning?” Seth asked.

“The teacher’s a really piece of work,” Bumpy said with a laugh.

Maresol said something to Bumpy and he laughed.

“Maresol wants to know why you’re bothering us,” Bumpy said into the phone. To Maresol, he said, “Can’t a man call his friend in the middle of the night?”

“Not that man,” Maresol said.

Everyone laughed.

“She makes a point, Seth,” Bumpy said. “What’s going on?”

“Bernice just called,” Seth said.

Bumpy took a quick intake of breath.

“Big Daddy has died,” Seth said.

Bumpy didn’t say anything for a moment. He was so upset that Dionne got up and went to him.

“What is it?” Dionne asked.

“Bernice wants us to play at his funeral,” Seth said. “They’re holding it this weekend. Shutting the entire area down for a good old fashioned send off. There’ll be food venders and lots of other entertainment. Bernice asked if we would be there all day to help keep the music going and carry the coffin.”

When Bumpy didn’t respond, Seth pressed on.

“Bernice said that we were the thing Big Daddy was most proud of in his life — you becoming a doctor, and me surviving school to play music, being a detective, and everything after that,” Seth said.

“He always said you were his one and only favorite white person,” Bumpy said.

Dionne gasped and Maresol looked up. Uncomfortable with the women’s attention, Bumpy turned his back to them.

“He always felt directly responsible for you,” Seth said. “For me. Because …”

“He was,” Bumpy said.

“Did you ever tell Dionne?” Seth asked.

“No,” Bumpy said.

“I see,” Seth said. “Will you come?”

“Did you know that he called me every single day during that whole rape trial thing?” Bumpy asked. He could feel Dionne’s eyes narrowing with anger. He cleared his throat. “Remember they wanted to prosecute all of the children who’d bought the videos, even though most of them had never looked at them — bought them under pressure. He called me every day to make sure I was taking care of it. He always had another solution or offered to help out a family caught in the bullshit. And poor Frankie and Solomon, he saved their lives. No question. I …”

“Yeah,” Seth said. “Me, too.”

Bumpy didn’t say anything for a moment.

“Would you like me to speak with Dionne?” Seth asked.

“No,” Bumpy said. “I need to do it. It’s long overdue.”

“That’s a fact,” Seth said.

“We’ll be there Saturday,” Bumpy said into the phone.

“Where are we going?” Dionne’s angry voice came from behind him. He glanced over his shoulder. Seeing her angry face, he immediately wished he hadn’t looked. He turned around.

“Should I get you a standup bass or …?” Seth asked.

“I’ll bring the one he gave me,” Bumpy said.

“Oh no, no, no, no, no,” Dionne said. This time, he closed his eyes to keep from looking at her. “That hoodlum is not dragging us back into his life again.”

“Jeraine?” Bumpy asked.

“She hasn’t asked directly, but I’ve heard the whole tour is due at the celebration,” Seth said. “At least during the day. They can easily get to their show that night. Jammy will work it out.”

Bumpy grunted that he understood. Neither man said anything for a few moments.

“I should go,” Bumpy said. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Bumpy hung up the phone before Seth could say anything else. He stood still for a moment. Gathering his courage, he turned around. Dionne was standing right behind him. Bumpy put his arm around her, but she shook him off. He looked up to find that everyone in the room was staring at him.

“I’m sorry,” Bumpy said. “I need to speak with my wife in private.”

Maresol nodded and Bernie gave him a searching look.

“If you have something to say about that man, I’d rather they were here so that I don’t beat you to death,” Dionne said.

Bumpy chuckled at the fire that still lived inside his beautiful wife.

“What is it, son?” Bernie asked.

Maresol looked up from her task at him. Bumpy swallowed hard.

“Seth, I mean …” Bumpy said. “Well …”

Bumpy nodded.

“This is about Big Daddy,” Maresol said.

Bumpy looked at Maresol.

“Has he died?” Maresol asked.

Bumpy could feel Dionne’s eyes burning into his face.

“Yes,” Bumpy said. “His wife, Bernice, has asked if Seth and I would play all day at the celebration and carry the casket.”

“Why you?” Dionne asked. “Why does it always come back to you and that … man?”

“Uh …” Bumpy said.

His eyes flicked to Maresol, who raised and dropped her eyebrows in sympathy.

“Well …” Bumpy said.

“Dionne,” Maresol said. “Big Daddy paid for Bumpy’s education — college and medical school. He bought this house.”

“No, no, no,” Dionne said. “Seth paid for that. We asked to pay him off, but Seth told us to put the money into the community instead. So we did and …”

Dione fell more than dropped into a nearby chair. LaTonya shot her father a scathing look and went to her mother.

“Seth was out of the country,” Maresol said. “Bumpy and I tried to get a hold of him for months, but the Army wouldn’t let us contact him in Vietnam and … He’d left us money, but there wasn’t enough to keep O’Malley Sr. placated and pay for Bumpy’s school. You remember how Schmidty I-V kept a tight hold on Seth’s money. When Seth left …”

“Bumpy was touring,” Dionne said with a nod.

“There was no way to know that Bumpy would decide to settle down,” Maresol said. “I mean, Delphie predicted it but …”

“We never listened to Delphie then,” Dionne said with a nod.

“Bumpy was doing so well,” Maresol said. “There was no way to know that he would lose all his money to those record company sharks.”

“Big Daddy had paid the bill — all four years — at the school, including a large credit at the bookstore, before I could even ask,” Bumpy said with a nod. “He loved the idea that some old ‘ignorant n …’”

“Don’t say that word.” Dionne scolded before he got the word out.

“Well, he loved the idea that I couldn’t read until I was fourteen years old and I was going to college,” Bumpy said. “Stupid big black mule like me. He did the same thing with medical school.”

In repeating the words Big Daddy had said so long ago, Bumpy’s face flushed and his eye welled.

“Seth tried to pay him back, but Big Daddy wouldn’t hear of it,” Maresol said. “Seth did other things for Big Daddy, when he could. I’m sure he’s there now helping Bernice with all of the logistics and financials. Lawyers. Did he say something about Jammy?”

Bumpy nodded. Maresol went to her friend and dropped down to her knees.

“Big Daddy loved Bumpy and Seth,” Maresol said. “Every time we visited Big Daddy, he’d say that Seth and Bumpy were the best things he’d done in his life.”

“Bernice has asked us …” Bumpy started to say again.

His face fell. He started to weep. Unable to stop himself, he fell to his knees. If Bernie hadn’t caught him, he would have fallen face first on the ground. Almost by instinct, Dionne got up and went to him.

“I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you,” Bumpy whispered. “He was … better to me than my own father. I knew what he was but I …”

“Shh,” Dionne said. “Shh.”

“We’ll all go,” Bernie said.

Bernie glanced at Maresol and she nodded. Bumpy looked at Bernie.

“I knew Big Daddy,” Bernie said with a nod. “He saved Seth’s life more than once.”

Surprised, everyone looked at Bernie. He nodded to affirm what he’d said.

“It would be my pleasure to be at his celebration and help him move to the next world,” Bernie said. Looking at Dionne, he added, “I’m sorry the truth hurts so much. I know what that’s like.”

Dionne nodded in agreement.

“Come on, Bumpy,” Dionne said. “I’m not going to let that man hurt that wonderful girl, Jill.”

Bumpy squinted at her.

“Let’s finish what we’re doing,” Dionne said. “Don’t you worry. I’ll kick your ass when we’re done.”

Bumpy chuckled at the idea that his smaller, but beautiful wife, would kick his ass. She stood on her tip toes and kissed his lips.

“I love you,” Dionne said, and stroked his face. She turned around quickly. As she walked away, she said, “I loathe that man.”

He watched her rear as she walked away.

“Stop looking at my ass,” she said in a sing song voice. “Come on, we’ve got work to do.”

Grinning, he followed her into the living room.

~~~~~~~~

Friday morning — 4:10 a.m.

“Delphie was right,” Tanesha said into her cell phone. “He’s pulling in now.”

Tanesha was sitting with just her nose visible, in the driver’s seat of Jeraine’s car, in the parking lot of the Art Institute of Colorado. Jill’s professor had just pulled into the lot. As Delphie has predicted, the professor came extra early so that he could “catch” the few good students.

“He’s here,” Jill said to the class.

She set her phone onto her desk and put it on speaker so that Tanesha could hear what happened. A golden glow in the corner of the room meant that Heather in the form of Hedone was watching from a corner of the room. Sandy was listening in on the phone from her hotel room in British Columbia, where she and Aden were watching whales for their honeymoon.

Best at planning, Sandy had made the plan they were executing right now. Heather had “encouraged” everyone in their class to work together. And they’d all worked — all of Jill’s girlfriends, all of the Tanesha’s mother’s girlfriends, every classmate, their spouses, and even some of the older children.

“He’s on your hall,” the husband of a man in the class said in a whisper. “Get ready.”

“Shh!” an African American woman who’s name Jill didn’t know said.

The woman flicked off the lights and the entire class sat in silence.

“He’s near the door!” a mother of a man in the class whispered.

“Shh!” another man said.

The door knob rattled and Jill held her breath. She counted: 1 …2 …3 …4 …5 … She was about to quit counting when the door opened. The professor clicked on the lights.

Their project sat on long tables in the center of the room. They’d designed a suburban neighborhood including trees, grass, and even lights. There was a corner grocery store and a diner. There were even working solar panels on every roof and windmills to power the neighborhood. One of Jill’s classmate’s daughter sat under the project. A nod from her mother and she flipped on the lights to the project.

The professor gasped at the sight of their little houses — one designed by each student, and yet fit the theme of the project — lighting up at once. Drawn to the project, he moved toward the center of the room. He went from one house to the next. One of the husband’s had made little wooden signs to indicate which house belonged to which student. The buildings with long walls had beautiful murals painted mostly by Noelle and Mike with the help of a few of the other children. Not realizing the students where there, the professor got all the way around to the other side before he noticed that there was a child under the project.

He stood up and noticed the class for the first time.

He blinked at them.

“Each of you …” he said, pointing to the houses. “Who helped you?”

“The instructions you passed out the first day said that we could only get help from our immediate family and some friends,” their project spokeswoman said. She stood up and walked toward the professor. “Our parents and children and friends have worked all night. You will find a list of their names and signatures on the statue in the center of the park.”

The professor’s eyes went back to the project. He moved around until he found the statue. He read the names before nodding.

“This is …” the professor started.

He looked at Jill and nodded to her.

“You planned this,” the professor said.

“A friend of one classmate came up with the plan,” their spokeswoman said. “We executed most of it between the end of class and the time the project was due. A few of us already had already completed their houses. They helped with the additionals — parks, stores, and the like.”

“You did this together,” the professor said.

“We did,” their spokeswoman said. “As unusual as it may be, every student pulled their weight.”

The professor stood up straight and clapped.

“Very well done,” the professor said. “I can tell you that in all of the years of teaching this class, no class has ever done anything like this. I’m impressed.”

The little girl scooted out from under the project and ran to her mother. The mother grabbed her daughter and pulled her onto her lap.

“Do we pass?” their spokeswoman said.

“Of course,” the professor said. “I’ll go through each house with notes, but I will tell you that each of you will receive at least a B. First time for me, but there’s a first time for everything.”

The students cheered.

“Now, tell me, how you got Bumpy and Dionne Smith and even Miss T to work on your project?” the professor asked. “And the murals. At least one of these is painted by Mike Roper.”

Everyone talked at once. Jill sat back in her seat and smiled. She was exhausted and this was certainly going to be a very long day. But for the first time in her life, she could really see that she was good at something. No, not good, great.

The professor looked at her and gave her a quick nod. He knew exactly what she’d done. Smiling, she leaned back and let the class talk.

~~~~~~~~

Friday morning — 6:11 a.m.

British Columbia

“Yes,” Sandy said to Seth on the phone. “We’ll be there.”

“I’m so sorry,” Seth said. “I know you need your time and it’s your honeymoon, I just …”

“We’ll be there,” Sandy said.

“Jammy and Lizzie are coming,” Seth said. “Julie Ann doesn’t have leave.”

“It’s always nice to see Jammy and Lizzie,” Sandy said. “Should we bring the kids?”

“Um …” Seth said. “I know that Bernice wanted to meet them.”

“You mean just Rachel,” Sandy said evenly.

“No,” Seth said. “Bernice and Big Daddy knew that they were all my grandkids. They also knew Mitch. Plus, Charlie and Dale met Big Daddy and Bernice when they were here. Sissy did. Nash too, I think. So she hasn’t met Noelle or Rachel.”

“Okay,” Sandy said. “I just wanted to be clear.”

“You’re good that way,” Seth said.

The conversation lagged. In all of the years Sandy had known Seth, she’d never heard him sound so desperately sad and exhausted.

“Okay, I’ll call Charlie,” Sandy said. “I’m sure he and Nash wouldn’t mind a trip to New York. Noelle with love the … in fact, I’d bet everyone who can go from the Castle will want to be there.”

“Dale, Maresol, and Bernie are coming,” Seth said. “Bumpy and Dionne, too.

“I don’t think Tanesha can come,” Sandy said. “She’s just started her time on the medical unit, but I’ll ask her. And you know about Honey?”

“Honey and MJ are in Majorca,” Seth said.

“I don’t think they can make it,” Sandy said.

“Right,” Seth said. “And you’re sure …”

Sandy held the phone out to Aden. He took the phone.

“Seth,” Aden said.

“I wanted to let you know how sorry I am that this is disrupting your much needed time way,” Seth said. “I’ve booked a room for the two of you at the Ty Warner Penthouse as a way of saying ‘thank you.’ The kids can stay with me or Sissy.”

“That’s kind of you, Seth,” Aden said. “But totally unnecessary. Sandy and I both believe in putting family first. You’ve done so much for us. We’re happy to be by your side during this time of loss. It’s an honor, really.”

“I … Well,” Seth said and sighed. “I’d like to be a bigger man and say I didn’t need you here, but …”

“I don’t think it’s about bigness, sir,” Aden said. “It’s about loss. Certainly both Sandy and I know what it’s like to lose someone you care about.”

Seth sighed.

“Are you getting to meetings?” Aden asked. “Shall I call your sponsor?”

Seth didn’t respond.

“You’re saying Big Daddy is your sponsor?” Aden asked, his voice laced with shock.

“Not really a sponsor, just someone who kept me on the straight and narrow,” Seth said.

“I don’t want to work your program but …” Aden said.

“I’ll go as soon as I get out of here,” Seth said.

“Good thinking,” Aden said.

“Thanks,” Seth said.

“We’ll see you tomorrow,” Aden said.

“Tell Sandy I said …” Seth started. He sighed, and added, “See you tomorrow.”

Aden hung up Sandy’s cell phone. He held the phone out to her.

“I’m so sorry,” Sandy said.

“Don’t be,” Aden said. “This is important.”

“Thank you for understanding,” Sandy said with a nod.

Aden held out his hand. When she took it, he pulled her into a hug.

“I wish we were going to see the whales again today,” Sandy said.

“It’s been fun,” Aden said. “We just have to do this more often.”

“Now that Rachel’s older, it’s a little easier,” Sandy said.

Aden kissed her.

“While it’s just the two of us,” Aden started and then stopped. He looked at her for a moment, and said, “What do you know about this Big Daddy person?”

Sandy gave a quick up and down nod. She let go of him and walked across the room. Sitting down in a chair by the window, she sighed.

“It’s kind of a long story,” Sandy said.

“We have three hours before we have to leave for the airport,” Aden said.

Sandy nodded. She closed her eyes for a moment and then opened them.

“It all started when Seth went to college at Eastman,” Sandy said.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow…

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