CHAPTER FOUR HUNDRED AND FORTY-SIX
Wednesday night or possibly Thursday morning
Jacob lay awake watching the late summer stars. Above him, the stars rotated as the moon moved across the sky. Jill’s warm, naked body lay with her arm over him, her shoulder on his, and her head on her pillow. He was warm, deeply satiated and happy.
“Are you awake?” He whispered.
Jill turned her head to look at him. She stroked his cheek. She kissed his lips and shifted from him to her side.
“I wanted to tell you that …” Jacob said in an intimate tone, “ …that you were right.”
“Oh yeah?” Jill asked with a chuckle.
“I am done with Lipson,” Jacob said. “I haven’t been able to see it … until I went back today. Blane is done too.”
Jill made a sound that both agreed and said that she knew what he was talking about.
“I …” Jacob said.
Jill opened her eyes to look at him.
“I guess I miss Blane,” Jacob said. “Aden, too. I really did my best work with them by my side. It was like the energy of the three of us, our different perspectives, brought … brilliance out of each of us.”
“Blane said he misses us not the work, too,” Jacob said. “He loves what he does now, and God knows, he’s good at it, great, really.”
“Did he tell you this at lunch?” Jill asked.
“Jealous of my Tacabe adventure?” Jacob asked.
“Yes,” Jill said.
“We’ll go, take the kids,” Jacob said. “Tomorrow and Friday, you’re in school all day. Saturday, I’m working.”
“We are all free …,” Jill said.
“Sunday, yes,” he said with a smile. “Sounds perfect.”
Jill smiled and closed her eyes.
“I know that Aden’s struggling,” Jacob said. “And …”
Jill opened her eyes again.
“I was lying here wondering …”
She leaned up on an elbow to look at him. He pulled the thick covers over her bare shoulder.
“What are you saying?” Jill asked.
“I’m not sure,” Jacob said, with a shrug. “I can’t really help Blane in his work. I can’t be Aden’s work partner without diminishing the sense that he’s in charge.”
“You could join the board,” Jill said. “He could join the rehab business.”
“Blane? Or Aden?” Jacob asked. “I can’t imagine either of them have time. Me, either, for that matter. Between the kids and the rehab business and whatever it was that Delphie’s been upset about, we barely have time to play hockey and mostly don’t.”
“Maybe you could do all of it together,” Jill said. She rolled onto her back to look at the stars. She was silent for so long, he was sure she’d fallen asleep. He rolled to his side to look at her. She smiled. “They talk in school about groups who meet every week to help encourage and push each other forward. They call it ‘mastermind groups,’ which frankly is kind of dumb. I mean, really, the word ‘mastermind’ implies one master of the mind. How is that a cooperative group?”
He smiled. Her protest was so Jill.
“It’s a…” Jacob started.
“A man thing. Exactly,” Jill said. Altering her voice to sound vaguely Scottish, she said, “There can be only one!”
Jacob laughed at her impression of the Highlander’s accent.
“I was just thinking that my girlfriends are my group, my hive mind,” Jill said. “You know like Delphie describes it. All people using their different skills toward the end of getting through life.”
“That is a better description,” Jacob said.
Jill grunted and snorted at the same time to agree.
“Nothing happens in any of our lives that we don’t talk about, usually before it happens,” Jill said. “My girlfriends, my hive.”
“I miss not having Blane and Aden with me. Every day,” Jacob said. “I didn’t realize it until just now.”
“Make a plan,” she repeated what he always said to her. “Figure it out.”
“Just talk to them,” Jill said. “If the energy is still as good as it was, you’ll come up with what’s the very best thing to do.”
He thought about what she’d said and watched the stars for a while. When he opened his mouth to respond to what she’d said, he realized she was truly sound asleep. He kissed her forehead and did the meditation that slowed his mind. After a few moments, he was asleep.
“Well, hello, naked people!” Mike’s voice boomed at a way-to-early-hour. “It’s time to get up.”
Jacob opened his eyes and squinted at Mike. Jill groaned and rolled away from Mike. She pulled the covers over her head.
“You have an hour, Jill,” Mike said. Jill’s upturned thumb came from out of the covers. “You, sir, need to get up now.”
Jacob groaned. Unaccustomed to the early hour, he drifted toward sleep again.
“Blane’s here with donuts and coffee,” Mike said.
Not awake, Jacob opened his eyes.
“Nope.” Mike said.
Mike grabbed Jacob’s shoulder and dragged him out of bed. Jacob fell onto his hands and knees on the deck. He shot Mike an evil look.
“Ah, sorry, did you get a bruise?” Mike asked in a babyish voice. He stood up straight and ordered, “Get in the shower, princess.”
Mike pushed Jacob until he was in the medical office’s shower.
“I’ll get your clothes,” Mike said.
Mike pushed Jacob into the shower and turned on the water. The blast of cold water hit Jacob’s head and reality struck. He shifted into auto drive. Five minutes later, he was washed and dressed. He grabbed his work boots and jogged through the castle. Blane was sitting in a Lipson Construction truck with the passenger door open.
“How was last night?” Blane asked when Jacob was in.
“Great,” Jacob said. He pointed to a cup of hot coffee. “Is this mine?”
“It is,” Blane said.
“Donuts?” Jacob asked.
Blane dropped the bag into Jacob’s lap.
“I’m making dinner for you tonight,” Blane said.
“Oh?” Jacob asked.
Jacob leaned back into the seat and fell asleep. What felt like a second later, Blane shook his shoulder. They’d arrived at their first site of the day. Blane shoved the coffee into Jacob’s hands.
And the day began.
Thursday mid-morning — 11:15 a.m.
Jill dropped her face down to look at her page and stifled a yawn, which she hid under her hand. They had stayed up way too late celebrating. She blinked at the professor and nodded that she’d understood what he was saying.
Last night was so worth it.
“Ms. Roper?” the professor asked.
“Sir?” Jill asked.
She was irrationally angry that he called her by “Roper” when she’d finally changed her name to “Marlowe” after the wedding. She, Sandy, and Honey went and changed their names on Monday as a small thank you to their men who had gone through the big wedding.
“You’ve been unusually quiet,” the professor said with a raised eyebrow. “How is your project coming along?”
“Good sir,” Jill said with a smile and an affirming nod.
“You realize it’s due this Friday, don’t you?” the professor asked.
“This Friday?” Jill asked with a gasp.
The students in the room turned to look at her.
“My mother is having hip surgery next week,” the professor said. “I need to be with her. I moved the deadline on Monday. Don’t you remember? No, that’s right. You weren’t here.”
“I’m sure you remember that I was getting married,” Jill said. “You agreed to let me have the time off before we started the term.”
“It says here that you were already married,” the professor said.
Rather than respond, Jill smiled. Jill glanced at the girl who was giving her the notes. The girl mouthed “sorry.”
“Are you going to have a problem with the deadline?” the professor asked.
Jill had been at the top of every class she’d taken here. The professor told her the first day that he always hated the few chosen “special” students. He had tried to knock her off what he felt was her “pedestal.”
She smiled. At this moment, she realized that it was Jacob who had suggested that they stay home. She’d been secretly disappointed not to go on some great vacation. But if she’d gone with Honey or Sandy or to a special private adventure with her beloved, she’d surely have flunked this class.
She couldn’t graduate without passing this class.
She had to get past this man.
“I can make the deadline,” Jill said confidently. She smiled. “What time would you like it on Friday?”
When the professor blinked, Jill knew she was going to pass this class. This professor often “forgot” to tell them what time their projects were due. A few of the best students had failed projects by turning a project in at class instead of whatever arbitrary time he’d picked.
“4:30 am,” the professor said, evenly. “That’s…”
He looked at his watch and then at Jill.
“Seventeen hours from now,” the professor said.
The students gasped. The professor squinted at Jill, who smiled. The students turned to look at Jill.
“Is there a problem?” the professor asked.
“No, professor,” the students repeated what he’d instructed them to say.
“See you the morning,” the professor said.
He nodded at Jill and walked out of the room. They waited a few minutes before they all spoke at once. Jill dramatically dropped her head on the desk.
If they left the classroom before the class was over, they would lose points for the class. The professor often waited at the door to see who might be sneaking out. He said it was to teach them professionalism, but most students felt like he was simply a jerk. He reminded Jill of a petulant child who always needed to be right. When the time came, the students got up and left. Jill sat in the classroom alone.
“How am I going to do this?” Jill whispered to herself.
For no reason at all, she felt a well of confidence. She packed up her books. On her way to her next class, she called her “hive.” They would figure it out together.
Thursday afternoon — 3:15 p.m.
“Hey you guys,” Alex Hargreaves said, as she opened the door. “Colin went to his house to get Moose. You guys want a snack? I know where there are cookies.”
Noelle, Nash, and Teddy stood in the doorway as if they were being tricked. Colin wouldn’t let them eat before practice. Alex wore her digital fatigue pants, a brown tank top, and boots.
“Come on,” Alex said. “Meany Colin won’t ever know.”
Lagging behind, Katy and Paddie followed the others into the house. Katy hugged Alex’s legs in front and Paddie in back. Laughing, Alex hugged them back before shooing them from her.
“Where are the twins?” Noelle asked about Alex’s children.
“With their dad on vacation,” Alex said with a sigh. “Do we have time for cookies? They are peanut butter chocolate chip. Very decadent.”
Alex looked at Katy. The girl squinted for a moment and nodded.
“See, she agrees,” Alex said.
“Katy’s never wrong,” Paddie said.
The kids followed Alex into the kitchen. Alex stood on a stool and took down two bottles of vinegar. She gave the bottles to Teddy and two more vinegar bottles to Nash. She reached in to pull out a large round tin.
“These are the ones I made,” Alex said. “No one ever goes up here.”
She gave the tin to Noelle, and put the vinegar back. She opened the tin and laughed. She showed the kids the empty tin. Noelle reached into take out a post it.
“These were good,” the note said.
Alex laughed. She showed the note to the kids.
“Who’s handwriting is that?” Katy asked.
“Any ideas?” Alex asked.
Alex gave the note to Katy. Paddie and Katy shook their heads in big eyed, adorable unison. Katy gave the note to Noelle and the older kids shook their heads.
“Oh, are there more cookies?” Sensei Steve asked as he came into the room.
A blind man, Steve Pershing moved into the kitchen with absolute ease. Alex laughed and pointed to him.
“It’s his handwriting,” Alex said.
The kids’ mouths dropped open with surprise that this blind man was able to get the cookies.
“How?” Paddie asked.
“Always expect the unexpected,” Alex said.
“What is right in front of your face often disguises the whole story,” Sensei Steve and Alex said together. They laughed and hugged in greeting.
“Where’s Col?” Steve asked. “Did he come back with you?”
“Colin and I were in Majorca celebrating Honey and MJ’s wedding,” Alex said to the children in the audience. “That’s where John and the babies are right now. Max and I had to come back for a fairly boring meeting. We’re all heading back to Majorca on Friday.”
“Tomorrow?” Steve asked.
“Yes,” Alex said. “If I can get away. You’re supposed to come too.”
Steve nodded that he’d be there.
“I thought you were giving up the meeting life,” Steve said with a smile.
“The…” Alex started.
“Factory,” she said with Steve.
“Yes, I’m here for that as well,” Steve said.
Alex turned to her child audience.
“We usually have ice cream,” Alex said.
“No eating before class!” Steve said.
Alex shook her head at him.
“I’m trying to put on weight,” Alex said. She went to the freezer and peered in. “Only Coffee ice cream.”
Paddie made a barfing sound and Katy laughed.
“I love it,” Alex said.
“See, fate prefers you not to eat crap before practice,” Steve said.
Alex pulled off the top of the ice cream carton and grabbed a spoon. She gave the carton to Noelle, who took a bite.
The children perked up. One at a time, they tried the new flavor. The door slammed to the rooming house and Alex grabbed it back. She put a spoon into the carton and dug a bit of ice cream from the bottom.
“Why is everyone standing in the kitchen?” Colin asked, in an authoritative voice. An emormous brown Labrador followed behind him. “Are you warmed up?”
The children looked at him in horrified silence.
“Moose!” Paddie said, and threw his arms around the large dog while the dog licked Katy’s face.
“The dogs are in the back with Fionn,” Alex said.
Colin nodded and let Moose out the back.
“I asked them to come with me,” Alex said in Colin’s direction. “They were helping me gain weight. I’m still ten pounds under from all the weight I lost at training. They were helping.”
Steve smiled at Alex’s lie, and Colin shook his head. He grabbed the ice cream carton from her and started power eating. Two swift moves, and Alex had Colin on his knees. She was also holding the carton of ice cream again. She took a bite of ice cream. Colin grunted and got up.
“But how?” Noelle asked. “He’s so much bigger than she is! She’s skin and bones, and he’s all buff and stuff.”
“No offense,” Noelle said to Alex.
“None taken,” Alex said. “I like the phrase ‘buff and stuff.’ Sounds like Puff and Stuff. So fitting.”
Colin laughed and tried to take the carton again. Once again, she dropped him to his knees. Tossing the empty carton in the trash, Alex waved the kids to follow her.
“We’re working up here today,” Colin said. “Since Max, Alex and Sensei Steve are here, we thought we’d teach you about unpredictability. This is an unpredictable environment. You have to negotiate the chairs and rubs and this wood floor. It’s more like what you might encounter in the world.”
“You mean you faked going down?” Nash asked.
“I…” Colin looked at Alex and stopped talking.
“Yes, Colin, why don’t you show us how you faked falling to your knees in pain?” Alex asked in a clear threat.
“I…” Colin said. “Uh.”
Alex dropped him again.
“I have both hands now,” Alex said. “Want to rumble?”
Colin hopped to his feet ready to fight. Sensei Steve loudly whistled.
“Stop!” Steve yelled. Colin and Alex looked at him. Turning to the children, Steve said, “They will do this all day if you let them.”
The children laughed.
“Focus,” Steve said. “The key here is to learn a few moves that will help you keep any opponent off guard, at least long enough to run away, regardless of their size or ability.”
“And to make sure that you don’t discount someone just because you think you know something about them,” Alex said.
“Did you really eat all of that ice cream?” Colin asked in an accusing tone. “You didn’t save any for me? I bought it!”
“What ice cream?” Alex asked.
She poked him hard in the ribs with her thumb. He squealed.
“That’s one of them,” Steve said.
“How did you know what she did?” Noelle asked.
“I’ve heard him squeal like a little baby for most of his life,” Steve said with a laugh. “Okay, let’s get warmed up.”
Alex grinned at Colin and he ruffled her short hair. When Max arrived, they dropped to the floor to work with the children.
Thursday night — 11:15 p.m.
“There you are!” Heather said, when Tanesha crept in the back of the house. “I was about to send someone to look for you.”
“Someone?” Tanesha asked.
“I am a Goddess now,” Heather said with a laugh.
“The position comes with minions?” Tanesha asked.
“You’d be surprised,” Heather said.
Heather hugged Tanesha.
“How was tonight?” Heather asked.
“I love it,” Tanesha said. “I really feel like I was made for this work. It was… amazing. Really. We saw a lady from Gran’s church who hadn’t been to the doctor in forty years. She only came because she wanted to see me.”
Tanesha sniffed back a tear.
“You know, first black woman doctor she’d ever heard of,” Tanesha said.
Heather hugged Tanesha and led her into the kitchen. Tanesha settled on a chair in the kitchen while Heather took Tanesha’s dinner from the oven. Tanesha nodded to the plate.
“Meatloaf,” Heather said. “Blane’s from the freezer.”
Tanesha nodded her relief that Heather had not made a meal. Heather smiled.
“I did make the veg,” Heather said.
Tanesha would have responded but she was eating Blane’s meatloaf. She pointed to the meatloaf with her fork, rolled her eyes to heaven, and kept chewing. Heather kept out of the way until she was done.
“How was tonight on the mobile medical unit?” Heather asked.
“Great,” Tanesha said. “My dad came by again.”
Heather nodded sympathetically because she knew Tanesha hated being fawned over.
“It’s really sweet,” Tanesha said. She fell silent eating again. “In a crazy stalker kind of pissing around the edges way.”
“He loves you,” Heather said. “Is proud of you.”
Tanesha nodded and pointed to the electric kettle. Heather turned on the kettle and sat down next to her.
“What are you doing?” Tanesha picked up the cardboard.
“I am making grass,” Heather said.
“Grass?” Tanesha raised her eyebrows.
“For Jill’s project,” Heather said. “I was allowed make these little bits of grass around the model.”
“Mom was typing Jill’s report when I called to check on Jabari,” Tanesha said.
“We’re all working,” Heather said. “You have an assignment too.”
“Oh, yeah?” Tanesha asked.
“Solar lights,” Heather said.
“For the walkway?” Tanesha asked.
Heather nodded. Tanesha finished her meal before nodding.
“Sounds fun,” Tanesha said.
“Well, get to work,” Heather said. “This baby is due at 4:30 a.m.”
“What? I thought the project wasn’t due until mid-next week,” Tanesha said.
“That’s why we’re all working,” Heather said.
Tanesha watched Heather attempt to take the little pieces of straw and glue them to the bottom board of the model. Wyatt squawked.
“Why don’t I make the grass and the lights?” Tanesha asked.
Heather brightened with relief.
“That’s great because…” Heather gestured behind her to the stack of boards.
“What?” Tanesha asked.
“We’re doing the whole classes grass and lights,” Heather said. She set a diagram in front of Tanesha. “Jill’s brilliance.”
Tanesha shrugged and nodded. She waved her hand at Heather and Heather got up to get Wyatt from the crib upstairs. When she returned Tanesha had finished the grass on two boards.
“How did you do that?” Heather asked.
Tanesha gave Heather an amused look and shook her head.
“I’ve been working on this for hours!” Heather said.
“Yeah,” Tanesha said with a laugh.
“You used magic, didn’t you?” Heather asked.
“Not a chance,” Tanesha said. “Jill would get caught. I’d never risk it.”
“Fin was at dinner,” Heather said. “He said he could make the entire thing in two minutes.”
“Not for our Jill,” Tanesha said.
Heather nodded. She leaned over and kissed Tanesha’s cheek.
“Thanks,” Heather said.
“You bet,” Tanesha said. “Did you get the supplies for the lights?”
Heather nodded to the plastic bag on the counter.
“Keep me company?” Tanesha asked.
“It’s the least I can do,” Heather said.
Tanesha set to work.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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