“He says he didn’t miss any school,” Tanesha said with a shrug. “And he was there for all of the tests.”
“But …” Honey started.
“He’s a man of mystery,” Jill said in such a voice that the women laughed.
“Do you think it’s posted yet?” Heather asked.
“I can’t look,” Tanesha said. She winced and looked at Jill. “Will you?”
With a nod, Jill hopped up and went to her office. She returned with her tablet computer. Standing next to Tanesha, she clicked her way into Tanesha’s account. In the way of Jill, she became very, very still as she read the results of Tanesha’s final. When she was done, she looked at Tanesha and then the other women.
“I failed,” Tanesha said.
“Just tell us!” Sandy said. “I’m dying here!”
“Lift your glasses for our dear friend, Tanesha, who has completed her first year of medical school!” Jill said with a cheer.
The women burst into cheers. The women clinked glasses and took a sip. Everyone, but Tanesha, that is.
“I finished last?” Tanesha looked up at Jill.
“You finished second,” Jill said. Together, the women said, “to Fin!”
Tanesha felt like her face was going to break open with a smile. She positively glowed. She shifted Jabari and lifted her glass.
“To the best friends a girl could ever ask for!” Tanesha said.
“Here, here!” They cheered.
Noticing Honey looked uncomfortable, Jill raised her glass and gestured to Honey.
“To our new sister in arms,” Jill said.
The women cheered for Honey. Sandy kissed Tanesha’s cheek and then Honey’s. She beamed at everyone.
“I want to say something profound, but all I can come up with is ‘God, bless us, every one,’” Sandy said.
The women laughed. Sandy sat down, and the women settled in to talking and laughing.
After a while, Jill paused and looked at her friends. Tonight could have been awful. Friday nights were family nights at the Castle. Usually, Jacob and Jill either made dinner or ordered pizza. They spent time with the kids until they were ready for bed, then they spent rare time alone together until he left for midnight hockey.
This Friday night could have been awful. Instead, it was really great. With any luck, next Friday everything would be back to normal.
“What are you thinking?” Sandy interrupted Jill’s thoughts.
“God, bless us, every one,” Jill said with a grin.
“Weren’t you attempting to retrieve your testicles by sleeping with strangers?” Fin said to Jeraine.
Still chewing, Jeraine looked at Fin and blinked.
“Wake up,” Fin said, with a dismissive wave of his hand. “You are human. You only have a tiny bit of time before old age and infirmity take you. And yet, you misuse a power so immense that your father was too terrified to wield even a fraction of the power you are capable of.”
“My father?” Jeraine scowled.
Fin rolled his eyes and ate his chili. They ate in silence. Seeing Mike returning with the pot of chili, Jeraine cleared his throat.
“I hear what you’re saying,” Jeraine said.
“And?” Fin asked.
“You’re right,” Jeraine said. His voice lowered as the other men came near. “I don’t know how …”
“Of course, you don’t,” Fin said with a roll of his eyes and a dismissive shrug.
“I could use your help,” Jeraine said.
Fin turned his full and intimidating attention to Jeraine.
“You’ll never believe it!” Mike said as he approached.
“We will address this later,” Fin said in a voice so soft Jeraine wasn’t sure how he’d heard it.
“Delphie was ready to fight to the death for the chili,” Mike said.
Jeraine grinned at Mike.
“I told you that I could easily get it here,” Fin said with a laugh.
“I should have listened,” Mike said with a nod. He set the pot of chili on the grill over the fire pit. “I was able to get it away from her because Sandy’s pies are ready.”
“Sandy’s pies?” Jeraine pretended to get up.
“Don’t worry,” Mike said. “I left Aden there to make sure we get some.”
“You know how easily manipulated he is by Sandy,” Fin said. “His woman simply bats her eyes and Aden is on his knees.”
“That’s the beauty of it! She’s not there,” Mike said. “She’s with her girls upstairs. They left Delphie to manage the baking of the pies.”
“Delphie?” Jeraine scowled. “Are we sure …”
“Your mom and Maresol and Yvonne are there, too,” Mike said. “They’re hanging out in the living room. Delphie’s supervising the baking and the wine drinking.”
Fin and Jeraine gave an approving nod.
“Are you two done with your lovefest?” MJ asked, with a nod to Jeraine and Fin.
“Lovefest?” Mike asked.
“Prince Fin and Prince Jeraine,” MJ said. “I came out of the bathroom and these two were having a moment.”
“The black man is always put down,” Jeraine said with mock anger.
MJ knocked Jeraine forward as he came into the circle and the men laughed. Jeraine got up to fill his chili bowl from the pot. A few minutes later, Aden arrived with two pies — berry and lemon meringue.
The men fell silent as they ate. The crickets chirped on the warm night. The fire crackled with delight. In the distance, the Native Americans drummed and sang. Delphie and her friends’ laughter came from the main Castle living room. A minute from now or maybe an hour, someone would say something funny and the men would laugh.
But for now, they had everything they yearned for — great food, trusted company, silence, and a peaceful night.
Jeraine returned from the kitchen with a bowl of chili in each hand. He went to the fire pit nearest the fence where the other men had congregated. He gave the bowl in his right hand to Fin before taking a seat nearby.
“Hey! What about mine?” Mike asked with a laugh.
“Your bowl was full when I left,” Jeraine said.
“We should bring the pot out here,” Aden said.
“I can have it here with a snap of my fingers,” Fin said.
“No,” MJ said. “If you use some cockamamie fairy crap to get it out here, we’ll turn into circus animals for your amusement. I’m enlisted military. I don’t need any one else telling me what to do.”
The men laughed. Mike got up to get the chili. Aden followed close behind. MJ grunted at Fin one last time before heading into the new bathroom off the garage. Fin snapped his fingers and a metal grill appeared over the fireplace.
“Have you decided to get over your anger with me?” Fin asked in an exaggerated princely voice.
Mouthful of chili, Jeraine snorted at Fin.
“This is delicious,” Fin said about the chili. “What is it?”
“It’s called ‘chili’,” Jeraine said. “I made it with buffalo …”
“Bison meat,” Jeraine said.
He grinned at Fin’s need to be superior. Catching Jeraine’s grin, Fin gave a slight shake of his head.
“I was merely making sure your mind was working correctly,” Fin said. “I was … helping.”
“You were being a dick,” Jeraine said.
Fin grinned and looked away from Jeraine.
“There are few who speak to me in this way,” Fin said.
“In the last couple months, I realized that by doing what I do, being as popular as I am, I’m kind of a prince myself,” Jeraine said. “You might be a fairy prince, but you’ve got nothing on me.”
“If you say so,” Fin said.
“You really are a dick,” Jeraine said.
“And you are an insecure, egotistical child,” Fin said. “My Tanesha loves you, and you waste your time and talent on all of this worry about who might be better than you. It’s ridiculous.”
Fin’s words caught Jeraine’s full attention.
“What?” Jeraine asked. He leaned forward and squinted.
“I know that you heard me,” Fin said. “What are you asking?”
“You said something about wasting my talent,” Jeraine said.
“You are extremely talented,” Fin said. “You have power of music — the very sound of our universe itself — and you waste it on worry, jealousy, addiction, women, and all of this ridiculousness. If my granddaughter hadn’t grabbed you by the testicles, you would have wasted a real chance to ease the suffering on this planet.”
“She didn’t …” Jeraine started.
He looked down at the chili and took a bite. He glared at Fin while he chewed. Fin glared back.
“I was blamed for a murder …” Jeraine started.
“And why were you with this disturbed woman in the first place?” Fin asked. “Did I miss something? Modern culture can be so confusing. I was under the impression that you felt that Tanesha had stolen your manhood. Weren’t you attempting to retrieve your testicles by sleeping with strangers?”
“Did you finish the floor?” a small dark-haired man said in a heavy Northern Ireland accent. “We could lose everything if the even a piece of the floor isn’t clean and perfect.”
“God, Cian, really?” Colin Hargreaves said to the small man.
“That Health Department is no joke,” Cian said. “If we lose our license, we’ll have to close. Then we’ll go broke and Johnny will go broke and Eoin’s family will be on the streets and …”
“We scrubbed the floor,” Nash said.
“It’s ready for tomorrow,” Teddy said.
“Thank you, boys,” Colin said.
He glared at Cian. Over the boys heads, Colin and Cian had a silent pantomime of glares and shaking of heads.
“We’ll see,” Cian said.
“You have to forgive him,” Colin said. “He’s seen the worst of what people can dish out, particularly the government.”
“They don’t call her ‘Bloody Maggie’ for nothin’” Cian said.
“No one calls her ‘Bloody Maggie’ but you and your mates,” Colin said with a roll of his eyes.
“Bloody Maggie?” Nash asked.
“Something from a long time ago,” Colin said. “Our friend here is worried about his daughter, Ooljee, because she’s not here right now. She has a special gift which can make things hard for her. She and Cian are very close. He helps her stay even and she helps him stay sane.”
“How do we know she’s safe?” Cian asked.
“And safe,” Colin said. Turning to Cian, he said, “You could go see her. You were specifically invited.”
“I don’t want to interrupt the magic,” Cian said with a shake of his head.
“He is also suspicious of shamanic power,” Colin said. He put his hand on Cian’s shoulder. “You’re bat-shit crazy, man.”
“And proud of it,” Cian said with a laugh. “Now that our work is done, shall we head home for dinner? Or go upstairs and bother Eoin?”
Cian’s face lit up at the last suggestion.
“Upstairs!” Teddy and Nash said on cue.
“You boys,” Cian said. “So demanding.”
Cian winked at Colin and headed toward the back stairway.
“Are you coming, Colin?” Cian asked. “You’ll miss the fun!”
Colin scowled after Cian.
“Fun?” Teddy asked. “What fun?”
“You’ll find out,” Cian sang as he went up the stairs, “soooon.”
The boys grinned at each other before following him up. Teddy’s dad, Zack Jakkman, was standing at the top of the stairs.
“Dad!” Teddy stepped into his tight embrace. “What are you …?”
Zack was an active duty US Air Force pilot. He was usually on assignment this time of year.
“Happy birthday, Teddy,” Zack said. He kissed Teddy’s cheek and hugged him again. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Love you, Dad.” Teddy’s muffled voice came from Zack’s chest.
Teddy backed up and looked at Nash.
“Can you believe …?” Teddy started. He read Nash’s smile. “You mean you set this up?”
“I just did the reminding,” Nash said. “Noelle was really sad that she couldn’t come. I told her it was boys only. And you know like how they’re on a girls’ only trip.”
“She said to tell you ‘Happy Birthday’ and that there’s a Sandy cake waiting for you on Sunday.”
“A Sandy cake?” Teddy asked with a nod and a grin.
“Lucky boy!” Zack said.
“I know,” Nash said. “I can’t wait.”
Teddy and Zack laughed.
“Come on, boys,” Zack said. “The party’s in there.”
Zack put his arm around his eldest son and they went into Eoin’s apartment for Teddy’s birthday celebration.
“Just the snacks and some ice cream,” Wanda said. “You’re getting the pizza, Dad?”
“Pizza and salad coming up!” Erik said and got out of the SUV.
Wanda’s mother gave the girls another long look before getting out of the SUV. She leaned back in.
“No funny business, girls,” Edith said.
The girls didn’t say a word until Wanda’s parents had walked away from the SUV.
“I’m so excited!” Wanda said. She turned to look at Ivy, and asked, “What are you getting?”
“Getting?” Ivy asked.
“I’m sure Ms. Delphie would let you have a dog or a cat or a bunny or …?” Noelle asked.
“Really?” Ivy looked flabbergasted at the idea. “Who would pay for it?”
“Wanda’s dad will pay for now,” Noelle said with a nod. Knowing Sissy, Noelle knew how important it was to figure out these details beforehand. “But he’ll be reimbursed by, Ms. Delphie or my mom or my dad or Ms. Valerie or Mr. Sam — he’s a big animal lover — or Mr. Mike, or …” Noelle started.
“Really?” Ivy asked again.
“I’ve known Delphie a long, long time — most of my life really — and I can say that she would love any animal,” Noelle said. Tink gave a cheer into the phone. “Especially if you feel connected to it. You should call her.”
“Call her?” Ivy asked. “How?”
“With your cell phone,” Noelle said.
“Oh, I always forget about that,” Ivy blushed. “It’s just all new and I …”
Noelle hugged Ivy. They listened to Tink saying her good-byes to Heather.
“I took care of it,” Tink said.
“You’re getting a dog?” Ivy tried to be excited for her friend but her own mixture of anticipation and assumed disappointment was too great. She sounded disappointed.
“No silly,” Tink said. “Heather was standing next to Delphie. She asked Delphie for you.”
“What did she say?” Ivy asked, her voice laced with hope.
“She said listen to your heart,” Tink said. “If there’s an animal, any animal, for you, you will know it. But be sure it’s your animal. It’s a place with lots of animals who would all like to come home with you.”
“How will I know?” Ivy asked.
“She said that you’ve been working on it,” Tink said. Ivy looked off for a moment before nodding. “But for the rest of us, she said that we should listen to our hearts. I thought that was good advice for all of us.”
Tink turned around to look at Ivy.
“Before you ask how you’re going to pay for it,” Tink said.
“She already did,” Noelle said with a nod.
Tink grabbed Ivy’s hand and gave it a squeeze.
“Delphie said to remember that you have a credit card,” Tink said.
“I do?” Ivy asked.
“I’ve seen it,” Noelle said. “I have one too. It’s prepaid in case we need money but won’t mess everything up if we lose it.”
Ivy looked in her tiny Mexican hand weaved purse from Valerie for the card. Finding it, she looked up at Tink and nodded.
“One good thing,” Wanda said with a giant grin on her face. “If we get them together, they’ll all get along!”
Noelle clapped her hands. Tink beamed, and Wanda gave a little cheer. Overwhelmed, Ivy didn’t say anything. Noelle touched her leg.
“If I get an animal then …” Ivy said and stopped. “I mean that’s me adding to …”
“You’re family,” Noelle said. “That’s how it should be.”
Ivy began to cry. The other girls comforted her. By the time Wanda’s parents had returned, Ivy’s storm had passed. The girls were excitedly looking on the Dumb Friend’s League website on their phones to see what was available for adoption.
“Ready girls?” Edith asked.
The girls cheered. Laughing, Erik started the car.