The next morning Thursday — 2:30 A.M
Trying to be absolutely silent, Jill tiptoed into the Castle. The side Castle door made a click then a solid thunk when she turned the deadbolt. She slipped off her Dansko clogs and picked them up. Turning into the living room, she saw Honey and MJ snuggling on the couch. The blazing fire cast a dance of light and shadow on the lovers. MJ smiled at Jill when she waved a clog at him. She moved through the room to the main kitchen then up the stairwell to her loft home.
The loft door closed with a satisfying click. Relieved to finally be home, Jill leaned against the door. She set her clogs down then noticed that all the bedroom doors were closed or partially closed. Only Katy’s bedroom door had a light underneath it. Mike must be working on Katy’s room.
After using the bathroom, Jill stuck her head in her office. Cleo, Sandy’s much beleaguered cat, was tucked into a tight ball on the couch. Cleo lifted her head to Jill and meowed. Welcoming her warm comfort, Jill picked up Cleo. The black and white cat’s loud purr warmed Jill’s sorrow filled heart. She nestled Cleo in her arms while she made her way around the loft.
Jill stuck her head into the guest bedroom. Nash, Noelle and Buster shared the Queen sized bed. A cot was set up in a corner where one of the children began the night. They must have migrated together on the bed for comfort. She knew they were heart broken that Aden was in jail. Buster raised his head to sniff at her when she lay a soft cotton blanket over them. Jill nodded to Buster and he laid down his head. Closing the door, she was glad they had each other tonight.
Jacob had left their bedroom door open a crack for her. She smiled at his subtle welcome home. She almost tripped over Sarah, the Labrador, stretched out near the door. Scooter’s nails clicked on the hardwood as he came over to greet her. Jacob and Katy were sound asleep in their King sized bed. After all the drama of yesterday, she zoomed to the bed to check that Katy was in her pajamas and Jacob was dressed.
They were. Nothing awful going on here. Just a small sick girl and her Daddy. She shook her head at her own paranoia. Jacob would be so offended if he heard her fear driven thoughts.
Going around to Katy’s side, she touched her child’s face. Katy was still warm. She was making a mental note to insist that Katy go to the doctor when she saw a prescription bottle on the table with Katy’s name on it. Jill smiled.
Jacob must have taken Katy to urgent care.
Of course. Jacob was a good father. He wasn’t Sandy’s evil father nor her own violent father. Jacob, the good father, had cared for their baby while she was preoccupied. Of course.
Scooter hopped back onto the bed next to Katy. Jill ruffled his ears then crept from the room. She leaned against her closed bedroom door and took three breaths. She hadn’t realized how much this week had gotten under her skin. From her mother’s horrible story to all of this bullshit with Sandy’s terrible father and horrid mother…. Jill shook her head at her own dark thoughts.
She heard soft jazz wafting from under Katy’s door. Sticking her head in the room, she saw Val asleep on Katy’s bed. Mike’s head jerked toward her. He smiled then returned to his drawing. He’d filled the walls with a lush flower garden. He was now drawing in fairies. Jill smiled at his progress then left the room.
The last room was empty. Jacob wanted it to be a new bedroom for new children. They hadn’t gotten to new children yet. Heather’s baby was due in a month or so. Sandy was due in June and Val was due in September. It seemed like every woman she knew was pregnant.
Jill wasn’t pregnant.
Sighing, she wandered across the open loft to their sitting area. She turned on the gas fireplace and settled in on the couch. Cleo settled on her lap. In quiet solace, Cleo and Jill watched the night. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been there when she heard a sound. Looking up, she saw Mike extend a mug of hot chocolate in her direction.
“Thanks,” she said. Using her index finger, she took some whipped cream from the top. “This is exactly what I wanted.”
Nodding, Mike sat down next to her with his own mug of hot chocolate.
“You okay?” Mike asked.
“Not really. You?”
“I’ve been worse,” Mike shrugged.
They sat in silence drinking their hot chocolate.
“Worried about you,” Mike said.
“It’s just too much for one person. Our family crap. Mama’s stuff. Steve and Candy. Now Sandy…” Mike shook his head. “Did her mother really disown her?”
“Sandy betrayed her mother because her father raped her when she was two years old,” Jill spit out the venomous words. “I…”
Jill broke down. In Mike’s strong silent presence, Jill cried for her friend. She cried for the state of the world where a good man would be in jail and an evil one tucked away in a motel somewhere.
After a while, she cried for herself.
p align=”center”>Thursday morning — 3:45 A.M. Rose Hospital
Awake or asleep, Sandy’s eyes seeped tears. Her mother’s words tore her soul to pieces. She felt a vibrating desperate pain through her whole body. Nothing stemmed the flow of her tears. Nothing comforted her. Sandy’s entire being long for relief from her intolerable pain.
Her physical injuries were not minor. Her kidneys, spleen and liver were bruised. She had stress fractures on three of ribs and one vertebrae. When she had collapsed, she’d hit her head causing a slight fracture where the kid had hit her with his backpack. They were watching her brain for signs of swelling. They would decide in the morning if she needed brain surgery, organ surgery or whatever the hell else.
The only good news was that the baby’s heart beat was strong and healthy. When she looked to her right, she could see the blue light blip with his heart beat. She was sure the baby was a strong and wonderful boy. Her baby was a tiny bright light in this nightmare.
Heather and Tanesha kept her entertained through the move to a private room. But eventually, they had to leave. Tanesha had to go to her new job at Denver Heath and Heather needed to get home to Blane. When they left, and Sandy could be more honest, the pain returned in waves. Jill’s kind words and warm companionship couldn’t soothe her. Jill thought Aden would do the trick. She and Jill had waited for Aden, but Seth arrived with the news that Aden was being held over night.
She’d lost her father; she’s lost her mother; and Aden was out of reach.
Even with Jill and Seth there, she felt very alone. When Seth had insisted Jill go home, Sandy agreed to try to sleep. She fell asleep and the tears flowed from unguarded eyes. After an hour or so, she woke up with a gasp.
“Aden?” Sandy whispered.
“Just me, Sandy,” Seth said. He leaned forward from the chair by her bed. “Aden’s downtown.”
“Oh. Right.” Sandy looked right to see that the baby’s heart was still beating. “He’s still alive.”
“I think he’s a boy,” Sandy said.
“I think she’s a girl,” Seth laughed.
He came to sit beside her bed. Reaching over her, he held a tissue box for Sandy. She wiped her tears and blew her nose. The tears continued to seep.
“You don’t seem okay,” Seth said. “Want me to get the nurse?”
Sandy shook her head. She groaned at the pain caused by the simple action.
“Your mother came to visit you?”
“In the ER,” Sandy said. “She said horrible things. Disowned me.”
“I was afraid of that,” Seth said.
“How did you know?”
“Your Dad… He… Well, I loved your Dad, but there were a few things we disagreed on,” Seth said. “One was your mother.”
“What do you mean?”
“He believed that your mother was… well, like you, but not as strong. She let things happen to you because they were done to her. He felt like she was broken in some way. He forgave her for the way she allowed you to be treated.”
Sandy watched both thought and emotion move across Seth’s face. He sighed.
“We argued about it,” Seth said. “I felt your mother should know, must know, from the beginning. We should confront her, make her aware of what she’d done. But your Dad… He felt she would fall apart or worse, abandon you. I guess he was right.”
“She never loved me,” Sandy said.
“I think she loves you. I guess I have to believe that she loves you… in her own way,” Seth said. “You know that she’s not my favorite person.”
“She disowned me. She…”
Sandy’s body flooded with pain and emotion. Tears streamed down from her swollen red eyes. Seth took her hand.
“You’ll get through this,” Seth said. “Norsen will get out of jail. You’ll get well and have your daughter…”
They smiled at each other.
“There’s no way for you to understand a woman like your mother. God knows I don’t understand her,” Seth said. “But you can love her, if you want.”
“Maybe tomorrow. Today, I hurt too much,” Sandy said.
“I understand.” Seth touched her face. “And I’m sorry.”
“What’s going to happen to Aden?” Sandy changed the subject hoping to wipe the overwhelm from Seth’s face.
“He’ll get out in the morning,” Seth said. “Then there’ll be a hearing or maybe a trial. He and his lawyer have already talked to the DA. The DA wants to get rid of him without a lot of fuss. They’re dealing with a press nightmare over your father. The only reason they kept Aden overnight was to avoid the crowd waiting for him. The DA’s hoping to quietly release him in the morning. They want to focus on your father, not Aden.”
“What’s that mean?”
“I’m not sure, Sandy,” Seth said. “We’ll have to wait and see.”
“Aden broke the law, Sandy. He knows that. He’s going to have to pay for what he did. The only question now is how much will he have to pay for it.”
“And my father?”
“He’s with the Feds,” Seth said. “The Feds will be done clearing out his house tomorrow or the next day, then we’ll get him back.”
“What’s going to happen to him?” Sandy asked.
“Nothing nice,” Seth said.
“Good.” Sandy moved her head in a slight nod.
They sat in silence for a while.
“Listen, I know you’re…” Seth said at the same time Sandy said, “You want to watch…”
“I’d rather talk to you,” Seth said. “I know it’s weird, feels weird to say, but I have something to say.”
“No one deserves a mother or a father like yours. No one. And you…” Seth’s face flushed red with emotion. He shook his head. “I hope they rot in hell for what they’ve done.”
“Dad used to say that about my father.”
“Yeah, he did,” Seth said. “Now let me finish.”
“You’re loved by so many people, Sandy. You’re the only family I have besides my ex-wives. Jill loves you. Aden’s not perfect but I think he really cares for you. I’ve seen you with his kids and they adore you. Your funny friends… the girls? What are their names?”
“Tanesha and Heather?”
“Right, I think of them as the clowns.”
“They’re funny,” Seth said. “They would do anything for you. All of your clients, your old high school friends, everyone loves Sandy.”
“They don’t really know me. They don’t know about all of this…”
“I do! Jill and the clowns do! And we love you anyway.”
“These people? They are your family now. You didn’t have a choice to have these horrible parents, but you have a choice now. You won’t raise your daughter…”
“Daughter like you were raised. And you’ll have more kids, more friends, and the big happy life you deserve. I know it’s been tough, but you’re surrounded by so much love, so many people adore you. They’re your family of choice.”
“Family of choice?”
“Like me,” Seth said. “You’re not my biological daughter, but I wouldn’t love you any more if you were.”
Sandy’s eyes welled up.
“You’re crying again! What did I say?” Seth exclaimed.
“You’re just very sweet,” Sandy said. “I’ll remember that – family of choice.”
“Family of choice.”
“I’m honored that you’d chose me.”
Seth’s eyes welled. Before he could swat it away, a single tear ran down his weathered face. He gave Sandy a light hug.
“Go to sleep now,” Seth said.
With Seth by her side, Sandy fell into a deep sleep.
p align=”center”>~~~~~~~~ Thursday morning — 8:30 A.M. Rose Hospital
“Who are you?” Sandy asked the woman sitting next to her bed.
She’d returned from a CAT scan to find a woman in her room.
“My name is Anjelika Katherine,” the woman smiled. “I’ve had a number of surnames. My last one was Roper. You may call me Anjelika.”
“Jill’s mom? But…”
“I had my face rearranged so that I could hide for all those years,” Anjelika smiled. “I used to look very much like Jillian.”
“You have the same eyes,” Sandy said. “It’s weird to see Jill’s eyes on your face. Your face is beautiful…”
“Just different from Jillian’s,” Anjelika laughed.
“Why are you here?” Sandy asked.
“I understand that the role of mother is currently open in your life,” Anjelika said. “I thought I might apply.”
“What?” Anjelika asked.
“You’re Jill’s mother all right,” Sandy said. “I don’t know that I need a mother.”
“More than ever before, Sandra, you need a mother,” Anjelika said. “People want to get a look at the girl who caused all this ruckus. Everyone wants a peek at the girl who was so horribly abused. It’s a sick fascination that sends the insects out to get photographs.”
“Oh,” Sandy said. “Wow.”
“Wow is right,” Anjelika said. “I have some experience with this kind of thing. I’m here to help. Jillian is setting up a place for you to stay.”
“I really want to go home,” Sandy said.
“You won’t be able to go home for a while,” Anjelika said. “I’m sorry. Your apartment already has press waiting for you. Even at your work… You’re hot news, international news.”
“How do you know all of this?” Sandy felt like she might vomit.
“My husband has connections with the international group that is pursuing this case,” Anjelika said. “They need your help and need you to be safe. I’d like you to be well, happy even, so I volunteered to come.”
“You don’t even know me!” Sandy’s face reflected her distaste for handouts.
“But I do,” Anjelika gave Sandy a sweet smile. “I’ve read Jillian’s journals for… sixteen years? You are important to Jillian. She wrote about you, your life, and everything that’s happened to you. I know all about it.”
“Oh,” Sandy blushed. “I guess you know I’m a whore too.”
“I know many things, Sandra. You are not a whore. As women, we do what we can to survive. You were forced to be a woman even as a child. That’s not a choice. That’s cruelty of the worst form.” Anjelika’s eyes reflected her kindness. “And that’s life. You are not the only child who has been in this situation. Thousands, hundreds of thousands of children are in your situation every day. You only know you.”
“You’re smart, articulate and beautiful,” Anjelika said. “You have a chance to speak for all of these children, to be their voice.”
“I don’t know that I can do that.”
“Do you want to?” Anjelika asked.
Sandy turned her head to the right. She watched the bright blue blip of her baby’s heart. When she turned back to look at her best friend’s mother, her uncertainty was gone.
“I want to stop this crap. If only for one child, my child, I want to stop these fuckers from hurting another child.”
“Yes. That’s the girl my Jillian loves.”
“Where will I stay?”
“You will stay in that crazy house Jillian lives in,” Anjelika said. “You will stay there until you can go home. There’s a place for you and the children.”
“Jillian said Nash and Noelle were your kids,” Anjelika smiled.
“I love them but… I mean no one really wants to be with me.”
“I understand how you feel,” Anjelika said. “We have a lot to accomplish today.”
“First, we must meet with the doctors. We’re going to request that you be allowed to go home. My son, Stephen, will look after you if you need more care. We have to get you out of the hospital without damage from the press.”
“Can’t I just sneak out with a bag over my head?”
“I ask you, Sandra, would you really like to sneak out? As if you did something wrong? Some pathetic victim? Embarrassed whore?” Anjelika gave Sandy a bright smile. “I’d rather hold my head high and walk out of here like Greta Garbo. Illegitimi non carborundum kind of thing.”
“Don’t let the bastards grind me down?” Sandy asked.
“Your father was a bastard in my book. Your mother… “ Anjelika shook her head. “Your role as spokesperson begins the moment the public sees you.
“When I leave here?”
“I can do it,” Sandy said
Hearing a noise, Anjelika looked toward the door. “Ah… finally.”
Aden stood in Sandy’s doorway. His hair was wet and his skin shiny from a fast shower.
“Aden!” Sandy beamed at him.
“I’ll leave you for a moment. Then we must speak with the doctors.”
Anjelika kissed Sandy’s cheek and touched Aden’s arm before leaving the room.
Denver Cereal continues next week….
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