Thursday — 1:05 P.M. Denver County Court Building
Jill moved across the court room to retake her seat in the witness box. She had been on the stand since they showed the horrible videos of Honey’s attack. Jacob and her mom, Anjelika, had been with her all day. She smiled at them after she sat down.
This morning, the Assistant District Attorney had led her through her testimony. Yes, she found the apartment ransacked. Yes, she threw away the dead cat. Yes, that was her police report. Yes, she had a restraining order against Trevor. They had showed the video of Trevor hitting her just before Honey was attacked. She explained that she was coached to behave as if she wanted him. She believed her little act may have saved her life. Without ever mentioning MJ or his team, Jill talked about Trevor and his wife, the defendant, trying to take Katy and Paddie on that horrible night.
She and Jacob had practiced her testimony for days. She’d hoped to be helpful and unemotional. But when she saw the video of Trevor hitting her then taking her Katy, she broke down. The Judge had to ask for a recess so she could get control of her emotions. It had been such a terrible night. To have to relive it here, in a courtroom, for that woman, was torture. She stumbled through the rest of her testimony until the court finally went into lunch recess.
While her mother checked in on Aden’s kids, Jacob took her to the Downtown Aquarium for lunch. After wandering around the fish, tigers, and other exhibits, they had the most amazing meal. Jacob laughed and talked about nothing. With Aden in jail, and Blane on Daddy duty, Sam was covering Lipson Construction today. That meant no interruptions. In Sam’s world, all problems can always wait until tomorrow. Jacob kept her entertained the entire lunch. They had a wonderful break.
Jill swallowed hard. The defense attorney, Miles Blanchard, was going to cross examine her today. He had been brutal to Honey. Jill had never thought that someone could be so mean and so calm at the same time. Honey wasn’t fazed at all.
But Jill was not Honey. When the Defense Attorney opened his mouth, she panicked. Glancing at Jacob, she could feel his hand in hers. His psychic thumb stroked her hand like he did when they were at a movie or a play. She smiled.
“I’m sorry I don’t understand your question,” Jill said to cover the fact that she hadn’t heard his question.
“Let’s face it, Ms. Roper, you had it in for my client,” Mr. Blanchard said.
“How did I have it in for your client? It seems to me like she had it in for me.”
“You ruined her engagement party. You tried to seduce her fiancé. You stole her step-daughter from her. You create legal and emotional havoc every where you go!”
“Objection! Conjecture!” The assistant DA, Ann Campbell, sprang to her feet.
Mr. Blanchard leaned against the table with a calm confident air.
“Tell us about crashing the defendant’s engagement party,” he smirked as if he would be proven right.
“I was invited to the engagement party,” Jill said. “I don’t know why was invited. But I was invited. Trevor’d told everyone that Katy, our daughter, was from a one-night stand. I’ve been told that his future mother-in-law thought it was polite to invite the baby mommy. I don’t know that for a fact. Maybe Tiffanie hoped I would bring Katy. But I had an invitation.”
“And your show?”
Jill flushed. She was sure no one in the courtroom could see the cruel look on the man’s face. She cleared her throat and tried to speak but found her voice gone.
“Mr. Blanchard! You are cautioned!” the Judge said. “I will not tolerate your intimidation of this or any witness.”
“But your honor, I would never…”
“You just did! I saw that look!”
“But your honor you cannot caution over a look…”
“My court room, my rules. You are cautioned. Continue that behavior and you’ll experience the hospitality of the Denver Police!”
Jill was able to collect herself when the defense attorney and judge argued back and forth. She was surprised at how angry the Judge seemed. Clearly, the defense attorney wanted Jill to screw up. No matter. She was going to tell everything.
“You may continue, Ms. Roper.”
“My husband and I had been married nine years. We had a three year old little girl. He divorced me, took all our money, my car, everything of any value, and left me and our daughter with his loans, his credit card debt, and… well… nothing.
“I had three one-hundred dollar bills that I got waitressing. That’s what Katy and I used for food for two months.”
Jill swallowed hard.
“I went to the engagement party to tell my side of the story. He wasn’t very smart in setting it up. He knew that all our friends work those parties. They even hired my brother-in-law’s friend’s band.
“Anyway, that’s what happened. I went and told my side of the story. I wasn’t a one night stand. I’d known Trevor since we were kids. We had a family, a life together before he met…”
Jill couldn’t bring herself to say her name.
“The, um, defendant,” Jill said.
“You’re saying it’s all right that you disrupted a twenty thousand dollar engagement party with your…” the defense lawyer raised his eyebrow in disgust. “Event.”
“Define right,” Jill said. “Is it right that she stole my husband? Is it right that she tried to steal my daughter and her friend? Is it right? Is it right that she tried to kill her own sister? Is it right…?”
“Objection, your honor. Please this witness is hostile and uncooperative.”
“Fine Mr. Blanchard. Objection sustained,” the Judge said. “This is a hostile witness. The jury will disregard Ms. Roper’s last statement. Let’s move on.”
“Tell us about trying to seduce your ex-husband.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Jill said. “I had sex with Trevor then he divorced me. That was… January 3rd… last year. He gave me the papers right after we finished. I signed them. He filed them that day and I threw his stuff out of our apartment.”
“You’re saying that you don’t remember attempting to seduce your ex-husband in July? Last year?”
Jill shook her head.
“Oh come on, Ms. Roper. You swore an oath to tell the truth! You tried to seduce your ex-husband and when he wouldn’t fall for your ploys you sicced your dogs on him. He had a laceration on his forearm.”
“Your honor, the defense would like to enter photos of dog bites on Trevor Mc Guinsey’s arm. You’ll note the dates.”
“He tried to rape me!” Jill exclaimed. “He hit me, scratched up my back, ripped my jeans. He said we’d been tricked by these rich people. We should continue our relationship but he was getting married a few days later.”
“Rape?” Mr. Blanchard sneered.
“Mr. Blanchard I will not warn you again,” the Judge said.
“Your honor, may I address the witness?” the assistant District Attorney stood. “Ms. Roper has her own set of photos.”
The judge nodded to Ann Campbell.
“Did you bring the photos?”
Jill nodded toward Jacob. Jacob held out photos for the assistant District Attorney. She took the photos and brought them to Jill. The photo showed the bruise on Jill’s cheek, hand marks on her arms, scratches along her back. She was wearing the jeans Trevor ripped trying to get them off her.
“My brother, Mike, took these pictures right after Trevor left. The dogs brought all my neighbors out. Mr. Wilson and Ted from across the hall and Marena from the down the hall and Mr. Rodriquez and …”
“Your neighbors witnessed this?”
“My neighbors witnessed a lot. I don’t think they saw him hit me or rip my pants. They saw Trevor do a lot of things to me,” Jill said. “They came out when the dogs barked. Mr. Wilson chased Trevor out of the building with a baseball bat.”
“Why did you take these pictures, Jill?” the assistant District Attorney said.
“Mike made me take them,” Jill said. “I don’t know why. He’s in Prague. That’s why he’s not here. But, if he has to, he’d come back to testify.”
“Thank you,” the Assistant District Attorney said. “Your witness.”
“Plus,” Jill was so upset she couldn’t keep herself from talking. “We just saw the video where he says, ‘You’ll fuck the rich boy, but you’re too good for me.’ If I’d tried to seduce him, why did he say I thought I was too good for him?”
The defense attorney stared at her.
“Watch it! It’s right at the beginning.”
“Your honor,” Mr. Blanchard said. “I don’t see the relevance.”
“You brought it up, Mr. Blanchard,” the Judge said. “Bailiff, play the video tape again.”
The camera came on when Jill whirled around the corner with champagne and chocolate strawberries in her hands. They watched Trevor hit her then repeat what Jill had just said. Jill felt very smug when the Bailiff shut off the tape.
“Why did you keep your daughter from my client?” the defense attorney changed tact.
“I didn’t,” Jill said. “Trevor signed over full custody to me. He never really had anything to do with Katy. She was a girl and he wanted a boy. I didn’t know your… client wanted to see Katy. Trevor didn’t.”
“As a concerned parent, he went to the hospital when your mothering skills put Katherine in grave danger.”
“You mean when Katy got stung by the bee?” Jill asked. “He blew up there. He had to be escorted out. That’s when I got the restraining order.”
“It’s only natural a father would be concerned…”
“Concerned?” Jill cut in. “He went ballistic. If you don’t believe me, look at the record. We brought that too. There’s a tape of his freaking out. They thought he’d kill Katy or me.”
“All right, that’s enough,” the Judge said. “Mr. Blanchard, do you have anything of value to ask Ms. Roper?”
“Ms. Roper’s malicious deeds provoked my client into justifiable action.”
“Yes, I certainly heard that.”
The courtroom tittered with the Judge’s sarcasm.
“Your honor, Ms. Roper harassed my client. She attempted to seduce her fiancé, ruined her engagement party…”
Bang. Bang. Bang.
“I heard all of that before,” the Judge said. “Do you have more questions for Ms. Roper?”
The defense attorney opened his mouth.
“I didn’t think so,” the Judge said.
“I ask the right to recall this witness,” Mr. Blanchard said. “We still haven’t gotten to how she is responsible for my client’s husband’s death.”
Startled, Jill blanched white.
“Fine,” the Judge said. “Ms. Roper, you’re dismissed. This court is adjourned for the day. We will start bright and early tomorrow morning with the testimony from Homeland Security. That means we will have a closed courtroom tomorrow. If you’re not family or government, don’t come.”
Jill got up, wobbled, and then sat down again. She felt as if a gust of wind had pressed her back into her chair. She steadied herself on the railing then was able to stand. When she looked up, she saw the step-sister give her the darkest, most evil look. She staggered but made it into Jacob’s safe arms.
She’d done it! She’d survived a day of reliving Trevor and all this madness! Smiling, she was very relieved. This trial was almost over!
Thursday — 4:30 P.M.
“So how did it go?” Mike had been waiting for her call. It was just after midnight in Prague.
“Ah Jilly, I’m so sorry,” Mike said.
Jacob had set up Skype on all of their computers so Jill could talk to Mike at least once a week. She called Mike the moment she walked in from the trial. As always, she delighted in the Jetson’s like technology that allowed her to see her brother’s face via webcam. Sitting in her safe office in their lovely loft, she couldn’t bring herself to review the horrible day.
“You’re growing your beard out,” Jill said.
“It’s damned cold here, Jilly,” Mike said.
“Are you feeling uncomfortable? Anxious?”
Jill laughed at his excuse for his anxiety, his cover up.
“You don’t want to talk about the trial,” Mike said.
“Must have been bad,” Mike said. “What happened? Just give the highlights.”
“They’re saying the step-whore’s actions were justifiable because I provoked this poor fragile girl.”
“How did you provoke her?” Mike glared into the webcam.
“I tried to seduce Trevor and I ruined her party and…”
“That’s just crap!” Mike said.
“Lucky we had those pictures,” Jill said. “Without them, we had no proof that Trevor tried to rape me. Thanks.”
“It’s the least I can do.”
“The defense seems to be looking for someone to blame.”
“That’s so like her,” Mike said.
“So like Trevor. You should see the witch and her lawyer. I wonder if he’s Trevor’s replacement,” Jill said.
“That’s a disgusting thought.”
“You know they’re going to blame MJ for Honey’s injuries. Next week. Anyway, I’m sick of this trial. How’s Prague?”
“Wonderful,” Mike said. “Val’s having a great time. She’s really happy to be working. The babies are doing well. And I’ve met a bunch of great guys here.”
“You have?” Jill couldn’t keep the surprise from her voice.
“I know, Mike the hermit enters the world,” Mike laughed. “I drop Val off at work every day then go drawing. I met this guy on a bench at the park. He introduced me to a bunch of his friends. We hang out in the mornings and play chess. I have lunch with Val. I come back here to work in the afternoons. Wanna see some of my stuff?”
“I’d love to,” Jill said.
Hearing a noise, Jill turned to pull Katy onto her lap. Following Katy, Anjelika stood in the doorway.
“Mom’s here,” Jill said. “Say hi to Uncle Mike, Katy.”
“Hi Uncle Mike,” Katy said. “Are you coming home soon? ‘Cuz we miss you.”
“I’m coming home for a visit in a couple weeks,” Mike said. “Hi Mama.”
“You look good Mikhail,” Anjelika said. “How is Prague?”
“When are you coming back to live with us?” Katy said. “I like it when you live here.”
Overcome by Katy’s sweet statement, Mike flushed red. He stammered a little. He shifted his attention to his drawings to gain control.
“I’ve been working in pencil,” Mike said.
Anjelika moved closer to Jill’s laptop to see the drawings. Mike held up an intricate drawing of the outside Prague Castle.
“I spent a couple days at this Castle. It’s the seat of their government,” Mike said. “I usually paint people. I thought it was good practice to work on a building. Plus, it inspired Kafka’s story the Castle. I figured I should hang out there.”
He flipped through drawings of a long hallway, intricate drawings of a column, then pictures of a few of the rooms. He was flipping so fast that they leaned forward to get a better view.
“Wait,” Anjelika said. “Who was that?”
Mike flipped back a page to a drawing of a man working to clear a garden at the Castle.
“That’s a gardener,” Mike said.
“No back farther,” Anjelika said.
Mike flipped through drawings.
“One more,” Anjelika said. “That’s it. Who is that?”
“That’s a drawing of the man I was just telling Jill about,” Mike said. “I met him the second day we were here. We play chess every morning. His name is Otets or Otits or something like that. I call him Otis, like Otis Redding. He thinks that’s funny. Why?”
“That’s my father, your grandfather. Otets means father in Russian.”
Thursday evening — 7:00 P.M.
This phone just rang. Until it stopped.
It wasn’t until the phone rang again that she realized it was ringing. She ran to the phone.
“Will you accept the charges from Aden Norsen?” a tinny electronic voice said.
“Yes,” Sandy said. “ADEN!”
“Hi honey,” he said.
His voice was strong and confident, but she could hear the sorrow as well.
“You must really want to talk to us,” she said.
“I really wanted to talk to you,” he said. “God, I miss you so much. I feel like such an idiot for bringing all of this down on you and the kids.”
“I miss you too,” Sandy said. “But sometimes people spend time apart so they know how much they mean to each other.”
“You’ve been talking to Sam,” Aden said.
“He’s been really great,” she said. “He stopped by this morning and made us get going today. I think it was good for everyone. How are you?
“I’m all right,” Aden said. “Pete’s my cellmate.”
“Pete? Molly’s Pete? He went in a couple months ago,” Sandy said. “Missed Christmas and everything.”
“Yeah, he’s been here for a while. They put us together because we knew each other. I guess I have a reputation.”
“Beating up a pedophile is a big deal in prison,” Aden said.
“But you’re okay? No harassment or getting beaten up or…”
“I’m okay. I miss you and the kids so I’m miserable company. But I’m okay,” Aden said. “How are the kids?”
“Noelle is frantically working on her semester assignment. She’s way behind because she was off for so long. And Nash is asleep.”
“Nash is asleep?”
“He went to work with Sam today,” Sandy said. “They really worked him and his friend, Teddy. Made them shovel and clean up all day. When they were done, Sam dropped them at my salon. Sam made them clean up the place. He ate dinner then went to bed.”
“Your salon?” Aden asked.
“It’s a long story,” Sandy said.
“I want to hear all about it. Every detail. But I…”
“You want to talk to the kids.”
“I understand. Here’s Noelle.”
As Sandy left the room to get Nash, she heard Noelle talk about her project and how far behind she was. When she returned with a sleepy Nash, the little girl was weeping on the phone.
“I miss you so much, Daddy,” Noelle said. “Sandy and me didn’t sleep one wink because we were so lonely.”
Sandy put her arm around Noelle. The little girl leaned into Sandy while she listened to something Aden said.
“Nash is here,” Noelle said. “Love you too Daddy.”
She gave the phone to her brother and pressed herself into Sandy. Sandy held onto the heartbroken little girl. They listened to Nash’s excited and proud talk about working.
“We met this guy named Jorge,” Nash said. “He showed us how to use a shovel and how to write our names in our gloves so no one steals them. He helped us get lunch from the roach coach. Did you know they call them that? So funny. But there aren’t real roaches there. And you know what, Dad?”
They could almost hear Aden say ‘what?’
“It’s not horrible. Even with my broken arm, you know,” Nash said. “But I’m going to college. No way I’m spending my life with a shovel in my hand. Sam says we’re working for him until he and Sandy figure out what to do about school. And that’s all right. After I get back in school, I think I’d like to work a little bit.”
“Ok, bye Dad. Love you too.” Nash gave the phone to Sandy.
“I only have thirty seconds.” Aden spoke in a rush. “There’s nothing I can say that would express how much I love you, how sorry I am, how grateful I am, and how much I miss you. I can’t believe you already transferred money and the kids seem so happy. And…”
The phone went dead. Sandy looked at the phone then set it down. Using her hands, she herded the children to her. They held onto each other for comfort against awful hole Aden’s voice had left in the now silent apartment. After a moment, Noelle stepped back.
“Let’s put some music on,” Noelle said. “Miley?”
“Slayer,” Nash said. “Let’s make cookies.”
Sandy smiled at the kids.
“Cookies and Miley.”
“Ah, man…” Nash said.
“She called it first,” Sandy said. “We’ll listen to Slayer next. Then Bare Naked Ladies to dance too.”
“Let’s dance!” Noelle said.
For a moment, they stood together as each person was lost in their own sad thoughts. Sandy touched Noelle and she ran to put the music on. Nash followed Sandy into the kitchen to make cookies.
At first, they moved like ice skaters, in practiced ways that created predictable responses. No one wanted to scratch the surface of their sorrow. Within minutes, they were dancing their way through the cookie recipe. Sandy and Nash cheered to Noelle’s impressive solo on a wooden spoon microphone. Nash tried to teach “the girls” some of his break dancing moves.
By the time the first batch of cookies was out of the oven, they were in the rhythm of life without Aden again. Noelle settled down to her project and Nash napped on the couch. Sandy sat back down at her computer to work on the business plan for her new salon.
The three survivors were becoming a family.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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