CHAPTER FOUR HUNDRED AND SIXTY-FOUR
Thursday morning — 9:25 a.m.
“Hey, Delgado,” the teacher said.
Charlie looked up from his book, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and yanked off his reading glasses. He’d been so focused on his reading that he hadn’t noticed that someone had come to the door. The teacher was standing talking to one of the Vice-Principals. He should know the teacher’s name. In fact, he’d promised himself that he would remember it. But, learning new people’s names was hard after his injuries.
“Charlie, you’re wanted at the office,” the teacher said.
Charlie’s head jerked to his right. Tink was sitting right next to him reading, The Fault of Our Stars. Nash and Teddy were reading some adventure book just to the right and in front of her. Chet, Tink’s brother, was sitting to Teddy’s right reading Catcher in the Rye with a kid whose name was … Bruce? Brad? Buffort? Brad. Charlie was pretty sure the kid’s name was “Brad.” There were about thirty “older” kids who were the first high school students of the Marlowe School. For now, they spent most of the day together.
“Ivy?” Charlie asked. His mouth instantly ashy. “Katy? Paddie? Noelle?”
The mention of Noelle’s name got Nash and Teddy’s attention. They both looked up at the teacher.
“Sissy?” Charlie asked. “Something’s happened to Sandy?”
“No, nothing like that,” the teacher said. He smiled at Charlie. “Don’t worry.”
Charlie grabbed his bag and started to get up. Tink looked up from her book when Charlie moved.
“You can leave your stuff,” the teacher said. He looked at the Vice-Principal, and the woman nodded.
Charlie swallowed hard and went to the door. He sent a worried look to Tink. She gave him an assured smile that she would be here when he got back.
“Charlie,” the teacher said. “This is Ms. Rogers.”
The Vice-Principal nodded to Charlie.
“She’s going to take you to the office,” the teacher said. “Ms. Rogers, Charlie is recovering from a severe injury. Names are hard for him. He won’t remember your name by the time you get to the office. Don’t take it personally.”
“I don’t remember yours.” Charlie pointed at the teacher and nodded.
The teacher grinned at Charlie. The teacher nodded his head toward the hallway and Charlie left with the Vice-Principal.
The hallway was wide and well lit. The wood floors gleamed. Along the wall there was a scorch mark that Charlie knew they’d been unable to cover with paint or even wall paper. He couldn’t remember the reason why. He just knew they couldn’t cover it. His fingers touched the mark as they walked by.
“It’s supposed to bring luck,” the Vice-Principal said.
“What is?” Charlie asked.
He squinted at the woman. He knew the nameless teacher had told him this woman’s name but now she was just another nameless adult.
“The mark,” the Vice-Principal said. “I’ve heard it was placed there by one of the ghosts.”
“Jacob was fighting a winged demon,” Charlie said in all sincerity. “A serpent, really. The serpent was trying to kill Jacob. He left this mark. They tried to paint over it but they couldn’t.”
“Hey, that’s good,” the Vice-Principal smiled at Charlie. “I haven’t heard that one before.”
Charlie gave the woman a vague smile. The Vice-Principal clearly lived in a world without serpents and evil. Charlie squinted at the woman and she grinned assuredly. They continued toward the office. Since Chet was now at the school, no students were allowed in the hallways on their own. Everyone had someone with them at all times.
“Any idea why …?” Charlie started as the Vice-Principal pushed open the office door.
“You’ll see,” the Vice-Principal said, with a smile.
Charlie stopped walking. This was similar to one of his nightmares. He’d start down a hallway with someone he knew only to “see what happened.”
Certainly that had been his plan when he was walking home from work. Before then, Charlie lived in a bubble where he could defend himself against almost anything. After all, he’d already defended himself against so much — and really what could happen? Nothing like five adult men with baseball bats and a grudge to shake up your day.
He looked through the glass door to the office and saw a dark skinned boy about his age sitting uncomfortably in a seat in the office waiting room. The boy was tall, gangly, and had big hands. He was carrying a basketball. Charlie’s draw to the basketball was greater than his irrational fear. He went into the office waiting room where the Vice-Principal was talking to another adult. The adults hadn’t noticed that Charlie was in there yet.
“Hey,” the boy said. “You Charlie? Charlie Delgado?”
Charlie nodded. The older man nodded to the boy, glanced at Charlie, and went back to talking with the Vice-Principal.
“I’m Warren,” the boy said.
“Charlie,” he said.
Charlie held his hand out to shake the boy’s hand. The boy looked at Charlie’s hand and then at Charlie. Warren blinked a few times before standing up to shake Charlie’s hand.
“That’s a big hand,” Warren said.
“So?” Charlie asked.
“What is this place?” Warren asked.
“It’s a school,” Charlie said. “And a daycare for little kids.”
“Private school for rich white kids,” Warren said, with a sneer.
“School for kids whose parent work at Lipson Construction,” Charlie said. “Some other kids come here but they have to have approval and they pay. Most of the private pay are military kids. The military picks up some of the tab because there’s no base school here. Plus, kids here are mostly Hispanic or Latino. We speak Spanish for at least an hour every day. Everybody, even the little kids.”
“Not rich kids?” Warren asked.
Charlie shook his head.
“It’s paid for by the company,” Charlie said. “There’s a foundation and the private pay kids help, too.”
“How come you’re here?” Warren asked.
“My sister’s husband works here,” Charlie said. “I live with them.”
“You just have to work there?” Warren asked.
“Parents, adults,” Charlie said.
“For the kids to come here?”
“My dad needs a job,” Warren said. “But he’s just out. Nobody wants to hire an ex-con.”
“Maybe he should talk to Lipson,” Charlie said. He lifted a shoulder. “They hire people out of prison. But the company has a zero drug or alcohol tolerance. Even for us, when we work there in the summers. They test everyone once a week, hair once a month. If you drive the big machines, you’re tested every single day. It’s just how it works.”
“He’s got to stay clean or go back,” Warren said.
Warren looked away. Charlie felt waves of despair coming off the boy.
“You know Rodney Smith?” Charlie asked. Warren’s eyes flicked to look at Charlie. “His daughter Tanesha is one of my sister Sandy’s best friend.”
Warren grunted that he knew who Tanesha was.
“He works there,” Charlie said. “Rodney, I mean.”
“Charlie!” The man turned around to look at Charlie. He had one of those booming voices that seemed to fill up the room. “Did Warren tell you why we’re here?”
Charlie shook his head.
“We’re from George Washington,” the man said.
He held out his hand for Charlie to shake. Charlie shook the man’s hand.
“What’s George Washington?” Charlie asked.
“It’s a high school,” the man said.
“Okay,” Charlie said. “You know, I just learned to read a couple years ago and I kinda need to stay here and …”
“I’m the basketball coach,” the man said. “Warren’s the team captain.”
Charlie turned to look at Warren. The boy didn’t look at Charlie.
“We came to see if you’d like to play ball with us,” the basketball coach said.
“Basketball?” Charlie asked.
His mouth felt dry with desire. He and Dale had played basketball at Seth’s house and gone to a couple of pick up matches at the 20th Street Gym. Outside of that, Charlie hadn’t really played since he was injured.
“We wanted to see if you’d like to play with us,” the basketball coach said. “Warren here remembers playing against you at East. He thought maybe you might be available, so we thought we’d drop by this morning.”
Charlie swallowed hard.
“We know all about the rape case and your injuries,” the basketball coach said. “Warren and I watched you play last week at the 20th Street gym. You’re a little rusty, and clearly still favor that left leg, but you’re good.”
“Really good,” Warren said.
“We thought we might scoop you up before the other schools realize you could play with them,” basketball coach said.
“Other schools?” Charlie looked at the Vice-Principal.
“We have an agreement with the schools here in Denver,” the Vice-Principal said. “You can play at any school in Denver or Colorado, really.”
“I can?” Charlie asked. He was so surprised that he could barely think straight. “Really?”
The Vice-Principal nodded.
“We’d love to have you come to practice this afternoon to play with the whole team,” the basketball coach said.
“You would?” Charlie asked.
The coach nodded. Charlie looked at Warren and he nodded.
“Wow,” Charlie said. “I guess I’d need a ride.”
The basketball coach turned to look at the Vice-Principal.
“We spoke with your friend, Dale,” the Vice-Principal said. “He said he can take you and bring you home.”
“My sister’s in town too,” Charlie said. “Sissy, I mean. Sandy’s working today.”
Charlie’s head went up and down in a nod but his mind was miles away. Charlie stared at the ground while the others stood there stared at each other for a moment.
“You mean, I get to play basketball this afternoon?” Charlie asked, finally.
He looked up at the coach.
“I already talk to the guys,” Warren said. “I told them about what happened to you. They want to play with you.”
Charlie looked at Warren.
“So do I,” Warren said.
“What do you say, Charlie?” the basketball coach asked in his big booming voice.
All Charlie could do was nod.
“Good,” the basketball coach said. He clapped Charlie on the back. “We’ll see you today after school.”
Warren nodded at Charlie as he and the coach walked out of the office. Charlie stood in the office lobby for a moment before the Vice-Principal said, “You can go back to your class.”
“You know the way?” the Vice-Principal asked.
“Sure,” Charlie said.
Elated by the idea that he might be able to play basketball on a team, Charlie left the office and started off into the school. He’d been walking for ten minutes before he realized had no idea where he was. He turned back to get to the office, but he had no idea where that was either. He was standing in front of Celia’s painting, praying for guidance, when a security guard found him. The security guard tried not to laugh too hard when he realized that Charlie was lost. On the way to class, Charlie couldn’t help but tell the man what had happened.
“That’s great, man,” the security guard said. “How ’bout this? I’ll come get you when it’s time to go to practice. That way you won’t get lost.”
“Sounds great,” Charlie said. “Thanks!”
“My pleasure,” the security guard said. He opened the door and Charlie went through. For a moment, Charlie just stood in the doorway.
“Well?” the teacher asked.
“I’m going to play basketball!” Charlie all but yelled.
His classroom cheered for him. Grinning, Charlie went back to his seat. Tink gave him a kiss on his cheek and went back to her book. Charlie was sure he’d never be able to settle down to read. They have twenty more minutes in reading period, so he figured he’d try. He put on his reading glasses and was lost in the book again.
Thursday mid-day — 12:30 p.m.
“I was thinking …” Jacob said at the same moment a manager said, in Spanish, “I can take you over here.”
Blane, Aden, and Jacob had been waiting in line at El Taco de Mexico on Santa Fe Boulevard. The cash registers appeared to be down so they had waited in line for a long time. After ordering tacos and burritos, they made their way to one of the tables outside.
“What were you doing thinking?” Blane asked Jacob.
“What?” Jacob asked as he sat down.
Blane grinned at Jacob. Shaking his head at the idea of Jacob’s “thinking”, Aden sat down.
“Oh yea, sorry,” Jacob said. “I’m serious about my tacos.”
“This I know,” Blane said, as he sat down.
Jacob gave them a moment to settle into their seats.
“When we were off, I had some time to think about what might be good for me,” Jacob said. He took a drink of his iced tea. “I think it would be good for you as well.”
Aden and Blane looked up at him.
“I feel like I did my best work with the two of you at my side,” Jacob said.
“Of course, you did,” Aden said in the tenor of their arrogance. “You got to spend time with me.”
“No, it was me,” Blane laughed.
“I’m serious,” Jacob said.
Their number was called on the overhead speaker. To give them time to think, Jacob got up to get their food. He returned with his tacos, Blane’s burrito, and Aden’s enchiladas. He dropped the food in front of Aden and Blane.
“What do you think?” Jacob asked.
“I think you’re right,” Aden said. “That’s true for me.”
In the middle of a bite, Blane nodded.
“I’m not sure how to fix that,” Jacob said. “We can’t all work together anymore. Blane, you have your Chinese medicine practice. Now that you’re well, it’s time for that to take off. If I go back to Lipson, it will be my company again, and that’s not what I want. It’s certainly not good for Aden.”
Chewing, Aden nodded. Blane took a drink of his iced tea.
“We could meet,” Blane said. “For lunch or whatever.”
Aden nodded. Jacob was just taking a bite when Aden added.
“Once a week?” Aden asked. When Blane and Jacob didn’t respond, he added, “Maybe that’s too much.”
Jacob and Blane shook their heads. Blane swallowed first.
“Once a week is great,” Blane said.
“Good place to start,” Jacob managed. “We could talk about one business a week. Blane’s business one week, mine …”
“We’re always going to be more comfortable talking about Lipson,” Aden said.
“That’s what we’ve done the most of,” Jacob said.
“Sure,” Blane said.
“We’d just have to make sure we didn’t always talk about Lipson,” Jacob said.
“Maybe if we need more Lipson time, we can do it outside of our lunches,” Blane said.
“That would be true for your businesses, too,” Aden said.
“So stick with the one business a week schedule,” Jacob said with a nod. “Unless we need more time, which we can schedule.”
“I think the biggest thing, at least for me, is knowing that I could call if I need help,” Aden said. “You know, if something comes up. If I was able to talk with you about Lipson once a month, you’d be mostly up to date with whatever is going on with me and the company. It wouldn’t be such a pain to update.”
Blane and Jacob nodded.
“I haven’t wanted to call because …” Aden gave a slight shrug. “I should really have this, you know.”
“I feel like I should need help because I should know what I’m doing, even though I don’t,” Jacob said.
“What does that mean?” Blane asked.
“I don’t know,” Jacob said. “I was in college the last time I had an open slate. Now, there’s no company to save. My father’s happy and well, so’s Val. I’m happily married and, knock on wood, we have as many children as we want.”
“There isn’t even a mess for you to clean up at the Castle,” Aden said with a nod.
Jacob nodded and finished his iced tea.
“Makes sense,” Blane said. “I just never thought about it.”
Blane nodded to Jacob.
“I could really use your help figuring out what’s next — if anything is,” Jacob said. “Maybe I’ll just sit around the house all day.”
Aden and Blane laughed. Seeing that Jacob was serious, they both looked uncomfortable.
“That’d never last,” Blane said.
“You sure?” Jacob asked.
“Positive,” Aden said. “You’ll be knee deep in the next thing soon enough.”
Jacob felt oddly comforted by their confidence. He nodded. The men fell silent while they finished their meal.
“I understand what you were saying, Aden,” Jacob said.
“Okay?” Aden asked.
“I wouldn’t want to call for help,” Jacob said. “I made up everything as I went along. Blane didn’t start right away. You came later. It probably seemed like we knew what we were doing.”
“When?” Blane laughed. “We never knew what we were doing.”
“Ever,” Jacob said.
Aden covered his surprise by picking up everyone’s trash and throwing it in the can.
“Yes,” Aden said. “I’m in. I really could use help. Just your confidence in me, in … figuring things out.”
Aden nodded. Blane and Jacob’s heads went up and down matching nods.
“We still have a half hour,” Blane said. “You want to walk a bit?”
Jacob nodded. Aden got up. Jacob followed them to the parking lot.
“Anyone have anything to work on first?” Aden asked.
“If you don’t,” Blane said. “I do.”
“I’m still catching up from a week off,” Aden said.
Jacob gestured for Blane to go ahead.
“I have to figure out what to do about my office,” Blane said. “Now that Chet’s living with us, the house is really full. Our house is almost done, and there’s plenty of space there. But truthfully, it’s really great to live with Tanesha and Jabari. We’re able to support Tanesha as she goes to school and work. Honestly, she need the help. She didn’t really eat or sleep when she didn’t live with us. This way, we can at least feed her. And, she’s done so much for Heather and the girlfriends that it’s nice to do something for her.”
“Jabari’s just fun to be around,” Blane said. “We have to steal him away from his grandparents. Our boys love him. Tanesha and Jabari are family. Even Jeraine. He said he really likes having all of us together. He knows Tanesha’s taken care of while he’s gone and he says he enjoys coming home to everyone. A week ago, before this whole funeral thing, he spent the entire weekend helping Tink with her piano lessons. We’ve talked about staying in the little yellow house and renting out our house for the extra cash. But with Chet, it’s kind of impossible.”
“You need the bedroom for a bedroom, not an office,” Jacob said with a nod.
“Exactly,” Blane said. “We need the money, too. Being a Goddess is a ton of work, but the pay is crap. I need to be able to support the family.”
Aden and Jacob nodded.
“Any ideas?” Blane asked. “I mean, Jake, you know the space. We can’t really add on to Tanesha’s house.”
“The lot is too small,” Jacob said with a nod.
“The house next door went up for sale last week,” Blane said. “We looked at it but there’s no way we can afford it.”
“That house is a mess inside,” Jacob said. “The foundation is bad. I looked at it the last time it was up for sale. The current owners haven’t done anything to it either. That house is a money pit.”
“Right,” Blane said. “Now it’s three times what it was before.”
“The city is likely to condemn it,” Jacob said.
“So they’ll scrap it and building some huge thing,” Blane said.
“That sucks,” Aden said.
“Exactly,” Blane said. “I’ve looked at office space, but it’s so expensive now that I can’t really afford it. Plus, I’m supposed to be making money, not spending it on an office!”
The men walked in thoughtful silence.
“Well?” Blane asked.
“Why don’t we go over to the house and take a look around?” Jacob asked. “Maybe there’s something we’re not thinking of.”
Looking at Aden, Jacob asked, “Do you have time?”
“I’m headed in that direction,” Aden said. “I can go.”
“Great,” Jacob said with a smile. “We’ll follow you Blane.”
The men walked to their vehicles. At the wheel of his Jeep, Jacob smiled. He had a good feeling about these weekly meetings. Smiling, he started the Jeep and started toward the little yellow house.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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