Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Four Hundred and Seventy-six : Hearts


Monday evening — 8:15 p.m. ET/ 6:15 p.m. MT

“I just feel so stupid,” Nash said. He leaned forward toward the webcam on his laptop. “I just wish…”

“There was nothing you could do,” Nadia said. “Nothing any of us can do.”

Nash squinted. Nadia usually called when she was on dinner break at the hospital where she worked as an Emergency Room doctor. This week, she was working the swing shift, so she called at dinner time. Nash had his room all to himself because everyone at the Castle was downstairs.

“You’ve seen this before?” Nash asked.

“I have,” Nadia said.

Nash’s blue eyes watched her for a moment. She shrugged.

“They’re standard issue hardware at those places,” Nadia said. “We think the hardware was created by the Russians. You know, in Russia, gay and lesbian people are sent to camps where they are tortured, beaten, and abused. Those things in are inserted into their heads. The people who run the camps don’t care if they kill gay people. The government doesn’t care if gay and lesbian people are killed. So the monster do whatever they want to do to these people.”

Nash sneered at the idea.

“Literally,” Nadia said. “I’ve seen…”

Nadia shook her head.

“Here in the states, these Christian groups would rather their children be dead than be homosexual,” Nadia said.

“You’re saying that Chet was lucky,” Nash said.

“He was lucky,” Nadia said. “You rescued him from at the very least a few more weeks of torture, possibly years.”

“We didn’t save him,” Nash said. “He’s dead.”

“He would have died anyway,” Nadia said. “Once they’d cut into his brain, without antiseptic, no less, he was dead.”

“That doesn’t make it better,” Nash said. “It makes me feel more helpless. How can…?”

“Most people don’t ever see the darkest side of humankind,” Nadia said. “That helplessness you feel? You can imagine that the people trapped in camps or labeled because of their race or religion or…”

“Who they love,” Nash said.

Nadia gave him a soft smile and a nod.

“You’re saying they feel a lot more helpless,” Nash said.

“Yes,” Nadia said. “That’s what we have to be on guard against, fight against those who want to steal freedom away from others.”

Nash nodded. Nadia smiled.

“How is Tink?” Nash asked.

“Resting,” Nadia said. “Grieving.”

Nash nodded.

“She’s eating, which is good,” Nadia said.

Nash snorted a laugh.

“Tink always eats,” Nash said. “It’s one of the supposed ‘reasons’ her step-father made her leave.”

“What is?” Nadia asked.

“She ate too much,” Nash said.

Nadia laughed. Nash smiled at her laugh.

“Jeraine and Tanesha are here,” Nash said.

“Oh?” Nadia asked. “How’s Jeraine doing? I didn’t get to see him when he was here for Big Daddy’s funeral.”

“His dad had him working the concert,” Nash nodded. “Uh… Jeraine’s okay. It’s kind of weird because he was such a douchebag when I first met him. Total skeezy guy with women hanging all over him and stuff. I didn’t know Tanesha then; it was before they reconnected.”

“Where’d you meet him?” Nadia asked.

“I had pneumonia,” Nash said with a shrug.

“Dr. Bumpy’s,” Nadia and Nash said in unison.

“He doesn’t remember meeting me, and that’s probably good,” Nash nodded. “Because he was…”

Nash finished his statement with a funny face. Nadia laughed.

“Anyway, they seem happy,” Nash said. “Tanesha’s really changed since she started med school. She’s like a different person.”

“How so?” Nadia asked.

“She’s stronger, more confident,” Nash said. “I don’t think she’d put up with his b.s. again.”

“She shouldn’t have to,” Nadia said.

“He knows it too,” Nash said.

Nadia smiled. Happy to see her smile, Nash changed the subject.

“Since we’re dedicating our lives to fighting those who want to take freedom,” Nash said. “People like the Nazis.”

“Stalin,” Nadia nodded. “What’s happening with Project Poland?”

“Art, uh, Art Rasmussen?” Nash asked. Nadia nodded that she knew who he was talking about. “He went to Poland…”

“I thought Alex was in Denver,” Nadia said.

“He went by himself,” Nash said. “They didn’t want to bring attention to it so Art went. He’s been able to confirm that the old guy owns the land. The problem is that there’s a new extreme right-wing, populist faction of the government in Poland. They aren’t full-blown Nazi’s…”

“Yet,” Nadia said.

“Or that they will openly admit too,” Nash said. Nadia nodded and Nash continued, “The word in the intelligence game is that they are looking for old Nazi stuff to fund their cause.”

“Which is?” Nadia asked.

“Round up the immigrants into camps,” Nash said. “They basically got rid of Jews during World War II now they want to get rid of Muslims.”

“You think they will take the land…” Nadia said.

“And anything that’s inside the mine,” Nash said. “After all, it’s owned by a Jew, right?”

“Sandy’s going to buy it?” Nadia asked.

“Well, we were kind of hoping…” Nash said.

“Consider it done,” Nadia said. “I’ll speak with Ian. It makes sense, really. We can have someone from our companies in Poland act as an agent for the purchase.”

“Is that okay?” Nash asked.

“Of course,” Nadia said. “I don’t see why we wouldn’t have it all settled by the end of the week.”

“Do you want some portion of whatever’s in there?” Nash asked.

He voice caught with emotion. He knew that rich people seemed to always be willing to sell out anyone for more money.

“I hadn’t thought about it,” Nadia said. “Probably. Why?”

“Because the stuff inside belongs to…” Nash started.

“Gotcha.” Nadia pointed at him and laughed.

Nash was so relieved that he laughed too.

“If it makes you feel better, we’ll buy it by-proxy,” Nadia said. “I’ll put your name on the land. We’ll complete the transaction in your name.”

Nash’s brain was so flooded with emotions that he could only wave his hands in acquiescence to whatever she’d said.

“We’ll find whatever’s in the mine,” Nadia said. “Give back what was stolen or ferreted away. What does Sandy do with the sale of these items?”

“It depends,” Nash said, cagily.

“What does she mostly do?” Nadia asked.

“Buy American kids out of slavery,” Nash said. “But don’t say anything because we’re not sure it’s legal.”

“My lips are sealed,” Nadia said.

“So you think…” Nash started.

“I think that we’ll set some slaves free with whatever we find,” Nadia said with a nod. She looked away for a moment. “God, Ian will love this. I can hear the lecture now.”

“Lecture?” Nash asked.

“He’s lost people to human trafficking,” Nadia said. “Do you mind if I tell him?”

Nash shook his head. For a moment, he just looked at her.

“I like you, Nadia Kerminoff,” Nash said.

“You’re not so bad yourself, Nash Norsen,” Nadia said.

Someone came into the room to fetch Nadia for an emergency.

“Got to go,” Nadia said. “I’ll call Ian on my way back to the ER. I should know something when we talk tomorrow.”

Nash raised his hand and they waved good bye.

That’s how it worked. No fond good byes. No “I love you’s.” Just a wave and “See you tomorrow,” like they were great friends. Yet, every morning and every night, they talked to each other. Nash didn’t know how long it would continue. He couldn’t really remember a time that he didn’t have Nadia in his life. Closing his laptop, he wasn’t sure why but he hoped he never had to find out what life was like without Nadia.


Tuesday early morning — 4:44 a.m. MT

Denver, Colorado

Yvonne Smith opened her eyes and saw the glowing white numbers on the clock shining “4:44” in the dark room. She was lying on her side with her knees tucked up. The warm covers were over her shoulder. The shining light from the numbers on the digital clock seemed to bathe her in their glow. Expecting to fall back asleep again, she closed her eyes again.

But, she was oddly awake. She flipped off the covers and got out of bed. She looked at her husband, Rodney, lying next to her.

“Rodney has to get up soon,” Yvonne said to herself. “I’ll just let him sleep.”

Humming to herself, she put on her warm robe. She ruffled Mr. Chesterfield’s head and started out of the room. Without thinking, she passed the chalkboard wall that she’d read every single morning she’d lived in this house. Because of her brain disorder, this wall had been her lifeline to the life she was living now. This morning, she didn’t give a single look.

Yvonne was closing the bathroom door when she heard Mr. Chesterfield jump onto the bed. Yvonne grinned at the dog and used the restroom. When she’d washed her hands, she went downstairs to start the coffee. She looked around for a few minutes before finding the bean grinder. She ground the beans, and then looked around for what to do with them next. She gave a little cheer when she found the filters and the coffee machine.

She’d forgotten something. She stood in front of the coffeemaker for a moment before she remembered that she needed to add water. Shaking her head at herself, she went filled the pot with fresh water. It took a moment before she poured it into the back of the machine. She pressed the button with her thumb and noticed that her manicure was lacking.

She went to where Rodney stored their cellphones for the night and sent a text to her daughter, Tanesha.

“Tannie, want to get a manicure today?”

For good measure, she sent the same text to her best friends Dionne, Maresol, and Delphie. She went to the calendar to look to see when she and her friends were scheduled for lunch. Seeing nothing, she added that to the text.

Nodding to herself, Yvonne started breakfast. She thought that her hardworking, handsome husband could use some bacon and eggs for breakfast. She paused for a moment.

“When was the last time Rodney had his cholesterol checked?” Yvonne said out loud.

She chuckled to herself and went to his phone. Rodney had to get a physical every six months. It was part of the Lipson construction insurance. Every employee had a wellness check every six months. It helped to keep the healthy insurance costs low. Yvonne called Dr. Bumpy and left a message at his office about Rodney’s cholesterol.

She felt so good this morning that she decided to make the bacon and eggs anyway. Delphie had dropped off a store of carrots just yesterday. Yvonne could make some of her famous carrot muffins.

Humming to herself, Yvonne set to work making breakfast. She was just washing her hands when Tanesha flew in the backdoor.

“Hi Tannie,” Yvonne said in a clear voice. “Are you staying for breakfast?”

Tanesha gaped at her mother. Wearing his running gear, Akeem came in the back. His mouth dropped open at the sight of Yvonne cooking bacon.

“Good morning, Akeem,” Yvonne said. “I hope you can stay for breakfast. I’m making my famous carrot muffins.”

Tanesha and Akeem were too stunned to respond. They heard Rodney’s alarm go off.

“Yvie?” Rodney asked. After a moment, Rodney yelled. “Yvonne.” There was a thud as his feet hit the floor. His voice filled with panic and despair, he screamed, “Yvonne! Oh God. Yvonne!”

“I’m down here!” Yvonne said.

Rodney’s feet thud down the stairs. He slid across the hardwood floors and stopped at the door of the kitchen.

“Yvie?” Rodney asked in a wary voice.

“Look, Tanesha and Akeem are here,” Yvonne said, with a chuckle. “They’re just staring at me.”

Rodney looked at Tanesha and she pointed to Yvonne. Her mother shrugged and bent down to open the oven.

“I hope everyone’s hungry,” Yvonne said.

Yvonne was putting the muffin pan into the oven as Dionne came through the kitchen door with Delphie right behind her. The oracle was just closing the door when Maresol pushed the door. Maresol took in the staring people and started forward toward Yvonne. Dionne stopped her. Silently, the friends decided that Dionne would go forward.

“Yvie?” Dionne asked in a tentative voice. “How are you?”

“Good,” Yvonne said. “Awake. Any idea why these people are staring at me? They act like I’m some kind of creature in the zoo.”

Yvonne’s words shook Rodney awake. He came to her side.

“Yvie?” Rodney asked.

He put his arm on her shoulder and she turned to him. A tall, muscular man, she had to look up to see his face. He kissed her lips.

“What’s going on?” Rodney asked.

“I’m making breakfast?” Yvonne asked. “Like I do every morning?”

“You don’t make breakfast every morning,” Akeem said. “I do.”

Surprised, Yvonne turned to Akeem.

“You do?” Yvonne asked with a laugh. “No. That can’t be true.”

Yvonne shook her head. Her eyes went to her daughter and Tanesha nodded.

“Did something happen, Mom?” Tanesha asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” Yvonne said. “What do you mean that Akeem makes breakfast?”

“Akeem usually makes breakfast,” Tanesha said with a nod.

“Mornings have been a real challenge, uh, for you,” Rodney said. “You have a hard wake up and …”

Yvonne shrugged.

“I feel great this morning,” Yvonne said. “Does everyone want to stay for breakfast?”

Through gestures and mouthing words, Rodney and Tanesha agreed that she would stay and figure out what was going on.

“Why don’t you get dressed?” Tanesha asked Rodney.

“The muffins have about 20 more minutes,” Yvonne said.

She gave Rodney a hug and a kiss. He smiled at her and she grinned at his back.

“That sexy man,” Yvonne said with a shake of her head.

Tanesha caught the looks of surprise on her mother’s friends’ faces.

“How can I help?” Tanesha asked.

“You know what you could do?” Yvonne asked. “You could call your friends and see if they need my help again today. I’ve had such a lovely time taking care of those babies the last couple of days.”

Tanesha stared at her mother for a moment.

“You took care of …” Tanesha started.

“Zoe and Zaidy,” Yvonne said. “I know they say they are twins and they do look a lot alike. They’re very different. Zaidy is very needy but Zoe is… powerful. And…”

“Uh,” Tanesha said. “What?”

“If they don’t need my help, I thought we could get a manicure.” Yvonne held out her thumb. “Can you imagine I let mine get this bad?”

Tanesha’s mouth opened and closed.

Just yesterday — was it really only yesterday? — Tanesha had told Yvonne that she needed a manicure. It was one of the reminders that Tanesha had to give her mother. Yvonne never remembered how her nails got manicured or where to get them done. Yvonne would cry, scream, and completely melt down when her nails broke. This was something that had been true about Yvonne since her brain injury.

Tanesha noticed that her mother’s friends’ were now nodding in agreement to something. Tanesha filled a water pitcher and brought it to the table.

“What is this?” Tanesha asked under her breath.

“Zoe fixed your mother’s brain injury,” Delphie said. “She certainly is capable of it.”

“She what?” Tanesha asked.

“That’s what we think,” Dionne said.

Tanesha looked up at her beautiful mother. Yvonne was humming to herself and setting out plates. She turned to finish cooking the bacon and was checking on the eggs. Feeling Tanesha’s eyes, Yvonne looked up at her daughter.

Tanesha blinked.

Tanesha’s deepest dream had come true. This morning, her mother was moving around the kitchen as if nothing had happened. Her mother could remember a recipe or something that happened yesterday. This morning, her mother was whole, healed, and safe.

Unable to handle her own emotions, Tanesha turned in place and ran out of the kitchen. She got as far as the bench in Yvonne’s garden before she dropped to the ground. Tanesha cried for the person her mother had been. She cried for the injured woman who lived as a sex slave. She cried for her own loss of a mother. She cried for all the things that could have been, should have been.

A brown pair of slippers appeared before her water blind eyes. Tanesha looked up and saw only the bright sun. Her mother’s face shaded hers.

“I was trying to play it off,” Yvonne said. She gave Tanesha a soft smile. “You know, pretend that I didn’t remember yesterday or all of the yesterdays. The wall in our bedroom. Your face when you’d walk down the cement path at the Spider’s.”

Yvonne held her hand out. Tanesha took her hand and let Yvonne help her up.

“I don’t know what’s happened,” Yvonne said. “I don’t even know how long it’ll last. But right now, I feel remember it all — everything good and all of the horrible. Mostly, I remember you, my precious girl. I remember you as a baby, such a beautiful child, and then later, when you had to care for me. I remember how much you loved me — day in and day out. No matter what happened, you were there. My precious girl.”

Tanesha hugged her mother tight.

“Now,” Yvonne said and patted Tanesha’s shoulder. “How does that juicer work? I remember that your father loves his fresh juice, has it every day, but I don’t know how to make it work or even where it is!”

Tanesha laughed. Yvonne dried Tanesha’s tears with the edge of her robe sleeve. They hooked elbows and went inside.


Tuesday early morning — 6:23 a.m. MT

Denver, Colorado

“What are you doing?” Mike asked Valerie.

She was standing in the closet that held the Castle security equipment. Valerie was chewing on a piece of dry toast and watching the video monitor for the metal gate.

“Planning your escape?” Mike asked.

He put his arms around her waist and kissed her neck.

“There’s a woman,” Valerie said.

She gestured to the video camera. Mike leaned in. A woman was standing near the walking entrance to the security gate. She pressed the buzzer to the house.

“That’s the third time she’s rang,” Valerie said.

“Are you going to answer?” Mike asked.

“I don’t know,” Valerie said. “I mean, who is she?”

“How will you know if you don’t answer?” Mike asked.

Valerie scowled at him. She was about to take a bite of her toast before she shrugged.

“I hate this toast,” Valerie said.

“Of course you do,” Mike laughed. “Why don’t you get something else and I’ll talk to the mystery lady.”

Valerie thought about it for a moment before leaving the security closet. Mike watched the woman for a moment before pressing a button.

“What’s up?” Mike asked.

“Oh,” the woman said. She looked up in the camera. “Is someone there?”

The paparazzi drifted in the woman’s direction.

“What can I help you with?” Mike asked.

“I wanted to come inside,” the woman said.

“Why?” Mike asked.

The woman looked at the paparazzi and then back at the camera.

“You go into the closet?” Jacob asked Mike.

“That joke wasn’t funny when you first told it,” Mike said.

Jacob laughed. Mike grinned.

“There’s a woman here who wants to come inside,” Mike said.

“We all want something,” Jacob said. “Listen, Val’s threatening to feed us those gross protein pancakes. You’ve got to get in there.”

Nodding, Mike scooted by Jacob and Jacob went into the closet. He looked at the woman before pressing the button to talk to her.

“Are you here by yourself?” Jacob asked.

The woman nodded.

“I’m going to come out and let you inside,” Jacob said.

The woman nodded. Jacob grabbed a jacket and left the house. He went to the gate and let the woman inside. They walked to the door in silence.

“We’re just about to have breakfast,” Jacob said, and opened the door.

“I wanted to see Tiffney,” the woman said.

“I know,” Jacob said. “ She’s not here.”

“When will she be back?” the woman asked.

“I’m not sure,” Jacob said.

“Can I talk to those …” the woman said and then stopped talking.

“Blane and Heather would love to talk to you,” Jacob said.

The woman nodded. Blane came up the stairs from the basement. Seeing the woman, he stopped short.

“She just wants to talk,” Jacob said.

Nodding, Blane said, “We’d like that. Why don’t you come with me?”

Blane led the woman into the side room off the main Castle living room. Coming in from the kitchen, Heather followed him inside. She slid the door closed.

“Who is that?” Mike asked.

“Tink’s mother,” Jacob said.

The men stared at the closed door. Not wanting to give voice to their thoughts, they glanced at each other and continued on with their morning.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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