CHAPTER FOUR HUNDRED AND SIXTY-ONE
Tuesday morning — 7:35 a.m.
Sandy’s phone rang at the moment she was taking muffins out of the oven. She clicked her headset to answer.
“Hello?” Sandy asked.
“Hi Sandy, it’s your dad,” Seth said.
Sandy was so jarred by his use of “your dad” that she nearly dropped the muffin tin.
“What have you been smoking?” Sandy asked.
“What do you mean?” Seth asked.
She set the muffin tin on the counter and went back to the oven to take out the second tin.
“Are you sure you called the right person?” Sandy asked.
Seth laughed. Sandy rolled her eyes and set the second muffin tin on the counter.
“So …” Sandy said, with a grin. “What did you smoke?”
This only made Seth laugh harder. She started taking the muffins out of the tin.
“Should I call someone?” Sandy asked. “Did yesterday’s drama cause you to lose your freakin’ mind?”
“No,” Seth said. “No. I was making a joke.”
“I see,” Sandy said. “Heather said she put you back in your own bed. She and Tanesha had a whole story about alien species and a space ship.”
“What?” Seth asked. His whole attention shifted to Sandy.
“Ah, now I have your attention,” Sandy said.
“What do you want, Dad?” Sandy asked.
“Can I?” Tanesha pointed to the muffins and Sandy nodded. “If that’s Seth, tell him it’s the alien craft.”
Sandy nodded. Tanesha began to take the muffins out of the tins and put them on a plate. Sandy told him what Tanesha had said.
“More aliens,” Seth said. “What’s this with the aliens?”
“It’s something Heather and Tanesha were doing to work out what’s going on with you,” Sandy said.
“What did they come up with?” Seth asked.
“That you were a vehicle for some other action,” Sandy said.
“You mean that I can take something from here to there, so they stopped me from doing it?” Seth asked.
“Something like that,” Sandy said.
“Huh,” Seth said.
“Why ‘huh’?” Sandy asked.
“I called to ask you about Wilma,” Seth said.
“Wilma?” Sandy asked.
“Bernice said that she saw you talking to her,” Seth said.
“Oh, I see — you’re there with Claire and Bernice,” Sandy said.
“R.J.’s here too,” Seth said.
“I see why you’re spicy today,” Sandy said with a smile.
“Wilma!” Claire said. “Don’t hang up until she tells you about Wilma.”
“Now, there’s a woman who knows you well,” Sandy said.
“Let’s see …” Sandy said. “I met so many people.”
Aden came into the kitchen looking for the muffins. Sandy pointed him to where Tanesha was putting the muffins on a plate. He pointed to her headset.
“Seth,” she mouthed.
He shook his head and gave a little shrug to indicate “What does he want?”
“He says that I met someone named Wilma,” Sandy said to Aden. “I don’t remember her.”
“Who’s that?” Seth asked.
“Aden,” Sandy said. “We’re kind of in a flurry because we rescued Tink’s brother last night. He’s staying here but the re-education group is known to be aggressive at getting kids back.”
“I see,” Seth said.
“We’re bringing muffins to a group breakfast,” Sandy said. “We have to figure out what to do.”
Tanesha and Aden left with the plates of muffins. Sandy grabbed a muffin off the plate as Aden passed. By the sounds outside the kitchen, the children left the apartment with Tanesha and Aden.
“Do you have to go?” Seth asked.
“No,” Sandy said. “In fact, I think I’ll sit down right here and talk to my dad.”
Seth’s breath did a quick intake and Sandy laughed. Sandy sat down at their table.
“Oh, it feels nice to sit down,” Sandy said.
“Long night?” Seth asked.
“This poor boy,” Sandy said. She picked off a piece of muffin. “They tortured him — long form electroshock, sleep deprivation, and God knows what else. Heather’s taking him to the doctor today to get checked out.”
“Those places are horrible,” Seth said. “So dumb.”
Sandy grunted and put the muffin in her mouth. She chewed fast.
“You know?” Sandy nodded to herself. “I don’t think I met anyone named ‘Wilma.’ Can you ask Bernice what she looked like?”
Seth walked toward Bernice.
“Can you tell Sandy what she looked like?” Seth asked.
“Who?” Bernice asked.
“Wilma,” Seth said.
“Oh right,” Bernice said. “Sorry, we were talking.”
“She doesn’t remember meeting a ‘Wilma,’” Seth said. “Can you tell her what Wilma looks like?”
Bernice nodded. She got up and took the phone from Seth.
“Heya, Sandy,” Bernice said into the phone.
“Bernice!” Sandy said. “How are you doing?”
“I’m fine,” Bernice said.
There was a pause in which Bernice expressed her sorrow over losing the love of her life. As if she heard Bernice’s words, Sandy nodded.
“You having a busy morning?” Bernice asked.
“Stupid,” Sandy said. “I’m using Seth’s call to play hooky from the chaos.”
“Good for you,” Bernice said with a grin. “Seth’s good for that.”
“That’s the truth,” Sandy said. “I wonder if you could tell me what this ‘Wilma’ looks like.”
“Hmm,” Bernice said. “Well, she doesn’t look like me, of course. I say that because our kids all look more like me than Big Daddy. Did you see the pictures of Bud?”
“Uh …” Sandy thought for a moment. “Yes. In fact, Seth has a photo of the two of them, wet with sweat, hanging in his house.”
“She looks some like him,” Bernice said. “If you add a high yellow Creole Voodoo Queen.”
“Voodoo Queen?” Sandy asked.
Sandy swallowed hard. She had been friends with Tanesha for most of her life, but sometimes when she talked to older African-American women, she had no idea what they were talking about.
“High yellow?” Sandy asked.
“Bud was in the Great War,” Bernice said. “He couldn’t have children when he returned. The gas. It happened to a lot of people, especially African-American men.”
“But …” Sandy started.
“Big Daddy’s biological father was a friend of Bud’s,” Bernice said. “Bud was there. It was all very risqué. But they were like that. You know that Di was a madam, right?”
“Sure,” Sandy said.
“Di wanted a child. Bud couldn’t have one,” Bernice said. “It was more common than you’d think.”
“Big Daddy knew?” Sandy asked.
“Everybody knew,” Bernice said. “It wasn’t a secret. Bud loved Big Daddy more than anybody and to my husband — Bud was his dad. If Big Daddy could have had one wish, it would be that his father returned from the dead. He missed him until the day he died. Di, too. For all of their flaws, Bud and Di were great parents. But it is why Big Daddy had zero musical talent. Our children, too.”
“Oh, I see,” Sandy said.
“And high yellow means light skinned,” Bernice said. Sandy could hear the smile in her voice. “You don’t have any black friends?”
“Tanesha,” Sandy said.
“The dark one,” Bernice said. “Yes. She’ll tell you all about it.”
“I think Tanesha is beautiful,” Sandy said, defensively.
“She sure is and she’s captured the heart of that rascal Jeraine,” Bernice said. “And, anyway, I’m not talking about what I think, just what the world thinks.”
“So you’re saying that this ‘Wilma’ is light skinned,” Sandy said. “African-American.”
“Yes,” Bernice said. “Tall. She was wearing a red sweater and black leather pants, heels. Very expensive clothing.”
“Thin nose, yellow-brown eyes?” Sandy asked. “Cream colored silk shirt? About your age?”
“That’s her,” Bernice said.
“She didn’t introduce herself,” Sandy said. “She just stood in front of me and mumbled.”
“Mumbled?” Bernice’s voice rose with concern.
“You know, it was strange,” Sandy said. “I was just about to ask her if I could help her with something when Fin came out of nowhere.”
“Fin’s that big man,” Bernice said. “Long dreads, muscular, speaks like royalty. Friend of your friend, Tanesha.”
“Handsome, dark,” Sandy said. “Dreadlocks.”
“That man is gorgeous,” Bernice said. “Princely.”
“He is a prince that is true,” Sandy said wryly.
“Aren’t they all?” Bernice said, with a laugh. “Now I don’t want to miss this. What did he do?”
“He chased her off,” Sandy said. “It was weird because she saw him and kind of squealed. She ran off. Aden saw her too. He couldn’t believe a woman could move that fast on those heels.”
“Good for Fin,” Bernice said.
“What’s a Voodoo Queen?” Sandy asked.
“Someone you do not want to know,” Bernice said. “Now, hang on, Sandy. I have to update everybody.”
Sandy waited while Bernice told them that Wilma didn’t actually speak to Sandy. Sandy was surprised when Bernice said that this woman was attempting to put a spell over Sandy. Everyone in the room gasped. Bernice soothed them by saying her friend Fin chased Wilma off.
“Wilma’s a voodoo priestess?” Seth asked.
“Her mother was,” Bernice said. “Or that’s what Bud used to say. He couldn’t have children but somehow this woman got a child out of him.”
“Are you sure Wilma is his child?” Seth asked.
“Good question,” Bernice said to the room. “Who knows? I can only tell you that Bud thought she was. He didn’t like it either. If he could have had a child, he would have had it with Di. She was his everything.”
“Did you hear that?” Bernice asked Sandy.
“I did,” Sandy said.
“Honey, can you see this Fin and make sure that woman didn’t put any spells on you?” Bernice asked.
“Oh, people can’t put spells on me,” Sandy said. “Seth either.”
“Really?” Bernice asked.
“My friend Heather has already guarded us from all of that,” Sandy said. “If someone tries, it will rebound onto them.”
“Now how did she do that?” Bernice asked.
“Oh, Heather,” Sandy said. “She has her ways. I’m sure she’d do it for you
“Well, promise me you’ll ask Fin,” Bernice said.
“I will do it,” Sandy said. “I’ll also ask him about this Wilma.”
“Good idea,” Bernice said.
Aden opened the door to the apartment and leaned in.
“Okay, I have to go,” Sandy said.
“Okay, honey,” Bernice said. “You want to speak with your dad?”
“Tell my dad that I love him,” Sandy said with a grin. “Nice to talk to you, Bernice. You’re in our thoughts.”
“Thank you, dear,” Bernice said and hung up the phone.
Sandy hung up. She gave Aden a tired look.
“You don’t have to go,” Aden said.
“Oh, I know,” Sandy said.
She went to him and kissed his lips.
“Good morning,” Sandy said.
To entice him, she passed a little too close to him. Grinning, he followed her down the stairs.
Tuesday morning — 8:15 a.m.
“You look good, brother,” Tink said.
Chet was standing in the full length mirror in the living room of Sandy and Aden’s apartment. He was straightening the Marlowe School blue shirt that he’d borrowed from Nash. Chet used his index finger and thumb to pluck the shirt away from him.
“Uniforms?” Chet asked with his eyebrows raised.
“It’s not that bad,” Tink said. “There aren’t that many of us older kids.”
“I like it,” Noelle said as she passed through the room. “I don’t have to worry about what I have to wear any day. We all wear the same thing.”
Sissy came into the living room from the hallway.
“Wanda’s just gone into surgery,” Sissy said.
Tink and Noelle stopped moving. Charlie came in from the kitchen.
“That’s all I know,” Sissy said. “Do you want to talk to her mom?”
Sissy held out the phone and Tink took it from her.
“You think she’s going to be okay?” Charlie asked.
Sissy gave a strong nod and then paused. After a moment, she shrugged.
“I don’t think there’s any way to know,” Sissy said.
“Who’s Wanda?” Chet asked.
“She’s a friend of ours,” Nash said as he moved into the room.
Teddy followed close behind Nash. He and Nash seemed to be in a race to see who would become the tallest. But Teddy’s voice had already changed.
“She’s changing her gender today,” Teddy said, in his serious voice.
Chet looked from person to person. After a moment, he shook his head.
“Really?” Chet asked.
“Really,” Teddy said. “I know you’ve been in one of those places that encourages you to judge other people, but here we don’t put other people down.”
“I wasn’t going to put her down,” Chet said.
Everyone turned to look at him. Under their scrutiny, he raised his hands.
“Okay, okay,” Chet said. “I am unaccustomed to … well …”
“Listen,” Nash said. “We get it. You’ve had a hard time and you’re in the middle of chaos of the brain. But if you want to live here you have to get ahold of yourself.”
Chet’s eyes went to Tink. She was speaking into the phone. She wasn’t going to rescue him.
“What’s that mean?” Chet asked with a sneer.
“No drugs or alcohol,” Noelle said. “Nash and me — both of our parents are addicts, so we can’t be around it.”
“Try not to be a dick,” Teddy said. “Spend your energy making something of yourself. All of the support and resources are here — unless you just want to be a dick. Then you have to go.”
“Like what?” Chet asked.
“Join us for martial arts,” Nash said. “Get involved in school. If you want to learn something or try out … anything really, you can do it. If you need help, we’ll help you or find someone who will. ”
“No bullying,” Sissy said. “Or making fun of people. We have fun of each other.”
“Ever,” Nash said.
“We don’t mock other people, too,” Teddy said. “We just don’t do it.”
“I know you’ve had a tough time,” Charlie said. “But you can’t begin to imagine what each of us has been through.”
Chet looked from person to person. He opened his mouth just as Sandy came into the room with Rachel in her arms.
“Why aren’t we heading out to the cars?” Sandy asked. “We agreed that if we stayed up last night, we would still get to school on time today. Remember?”
She looked at the kids.
“Who are you talking to?” Sandy asked.
“Wanda’s mom,” Sissy said.
“Sis, can you get these guys to school?” Sandy asked. “Charlie? Nash?”
Sissy nodded. Sandy set Rachel into Sissy’s arms, and Rachel giggled. Charlie and Nash pushed everyone out of the room. Sandy retrieved the cell phone from Tink as she pushed her toward the door.
“Edith?” Sandy asked. “How are you?”
“Everything is really good,” Wanda’s mother said. “The nurse just came out to tell us that the surgery has started.”
“We move forward,” Sandy said.
“Always,” Edith said.
“You’ll call if you need something?” Sandy asked.
“Sam’s here and one of those Lipson ladies,” Edith said. “We just have to wait now.”
“You’re in our thoughts and prayers,” Sandy said.
“Thanks,” Edith said. “You know, she’s …”
Edith took a breath that sounded more like a sob.
“A very special girl,” Sandy said. “Strong.”
“Strong,” Edith said. “Yes. You’re right. She’s strong. Her father loves to tell the story of her stabbing the murderer in the eye with her special pen.”
“Crazy kid,” Edith said with a laugh. “I’ll call when I know anything.”
“Please do,” Sandy said.
The cell phone went dead. Sandy looked at the phone and wondered who’s phone it was. She stuck it in her pocket and started out of the room toward their bedroom.
“Voodoo Queen?” Delphie asked.
Gasping, Sandy spun in place.
“Oh I’m sorry,” Delphie said. She actually blushed. “I thought you’d heard me.”
“I’m just a little jumpy,” Sandy said. “Tea?”
“Please,” Delphie said. “When do you have to be at work?”
“I have a couple of hours,” Sandy said.
Sandy waved Delphie into the kitchen. Delphie leaned against the counter. Sandy filled the kettle and put it on the stove.
“Hey!” Jill called from the door to the apartment.
“We’re in here!” Sandy said. She turned to Delphie. “I need to pee. Can you?”
“Of course!” Delphie said.
Sandy nodded. Jill came in the kitchen as Sandy was leaving. Sandy pointed and Jill nodded.
“Cups?” Delphie asked. “Pot?”
Jill went to get cups for tea and the tea pot. Delphie warmed the pot. She made the pot of tea when the water was boiling. Jill carried the cups out to the table.
“Oh,” Delphie said when she left the kitchen with the tea pot.
Heather and Tanesha were sitting at the table. There was a plate of scones in the middle of the table. Jill came in with the cream.
“Am I interrupting?” Delphie asked.
“Not at all,” Heather said. “We’re just checking in after the wedding and honeymoon and trip to New York.”
“Honey?” Sandy asked as came into the living area.
“Jacob took her this morning,” Jill said with a nod.
“The apartment building is open?” Tanesha asked.
“Just this morning,” Jill said. “Jake and Blane busted it last week to finish the last details. Of course, Honey and MJ don’t know. They are heading there right now to ‘go over a few things.’”
Jill beamed at them.
“Everyone is moved in,” Delphie said with a nod.
“The building is full,” Jill said. “The nursing staff is trained and in place. The doctors signed off on everything last week.”
“That’s amazing,” Heather said.
“The demand is huge,” Jill said. “Jake already has another in the middle of a remodel, near Craig Hospital. They are looking for two more buildings. Can you imagine that this kind of thing has never existed?”
“Weird,” Tanesha said with a nod.
“The whole project is wonderful,” Delphie said with a nod. She looked at Sandy. “Tea cozy?”
Sandy got up and got the knitted tea cozy from a drawer. Delphie smiled and put it over the pot.
“Now,” Delphie said with a smile. She looked from face to face, “What do we think about the voodoo queen?”
“I’m angry that she tried to put a spell on Sandy,” Heather said.
“She didn’t, did she?” Delphie asked.
“I don’t think so,” Sandy said with a nod.
“What did Fin say?” Delphie asked.
“He said I should worry about stupid little girls,” Sandy said. “Still …”
“Still?” Delphie asked.
“She’s sworn to kill Seth,” Sandy said.
“Or so someone told RJ,” Delphie said.
“Do you know something?” Jill asked.
Delphie nodded to Heather. The women turned to look at Heather.
“Seth’s going to be fine,” Heather said.
“Going to be?” Sandy asked. Her hand instinctively went to her throat.
“Sometimes, we have to live out our karma,” Delphie said.
“What karma?” Sandy asked.
“What kind of karma could Seth possibly have?” Delphie asked.
Sandy shook her head and shrugged.
“Everyone likes Seth,” Tanesha said. “Even my mean old Gran.”
“Okay, what if someone is doing this because they actually like him?” Heather asked.
The women were silent for a moment.
“What if they were?” Sandy broke the silence with her question.
“Wouldn’t be so dangerous, would it?” Delphie asked.
“Do you know something or not?” Tanesha asked.
“I know that Seth is going to be okay,” Delphie said. “I know that he’s going to have to go through this.”
“There’s no way around it,” Heather said.
“So I should worry?” Sandy asked.
“Not at all,” Delphie said. “Why should we care about voodoo queens?”
The women laughed.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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