Friday morning — 5:21 A.M. The Castle
“She’s still really sick,” Jill whispered to Jacob. She reached down to feel her sleeping baby’s face. “Except for the bee stings, she’s never been sick like this. Blane gave her an acupuncture treatment yesterday but she still hasn’t kicked it. She should be in her own room, in her own bed, but Mike’s not done. She’s had to sleep with us.”
Jacob nodded to all the information he already knew. Dressed for work, his hand brushed Jill’s pajama clad back to try to comfort her.
“I can’t help thinking there’s something else going on,” Jill said. “She’s on her meds… had some acupuncture… She’s been home from school for three days! She’s never been home from school for even a day.”
“She’s sick. What else could be going on?”
“What about that crazy guy that’s mad at Delphie? Maybe he’s coming after the girl Marlowes now!”
“Johansen? He’s scary. That’s true.” Jacob smiled at Jill. He brushed a piece of her hair behind her ear. “But this isn’t about him. Katy has a little strep throat. She’s going to kick this. You’ll see.”
Jill nodded her head but her worried eyes clutched at his heart.
“What’s got you so worried?” Jacob asked.
“I can’t stay with her today. She needs me and I can’t be here. I quit working at Pete’s so I could be here when she needs me. And I’m not! I can’t! I have to go to class today. I’ve already missed so much to be with Sandy. After class, I have to go to the trial. I can’t just leave Honey there by herself. And I need to be there to show her sister that I’m going to tell the truth. The DA hopes maybe by seeing us at the jury selection, she’ll decide to skip the trail. Fat chance of that. And Sandy. Oh my God, Jacob. Sandy needs me and…”
Jacob held her close to him.
“You’re exhausted, Jill,” he whispered. “You need to care for yourself or you’ll get sick too.”
“I don’t have time! When do I have time?”
“You’re not alone anymore. Every little thing doesn’t rest on your shoulders. I’m here. I can take Katy to work with me if I need to. Delphie said she’d stay with Katy. Julie said she could easily take Katy since Paddie’s sick too. Your mother’s coming over this afternoon to look after Katy and Aden’s kids. You’ve done a lot for everyone. Why not let people repay your kindness?”
“What have I ever done for Delphie?” Jill asked.
“You helped her with her Celia problem,” Jacob said.
“Yeah, like I said, what have I done for Delphie?”
“Oh Jill.” His lips touched hers. “There has to be some place where you get a break, even if it’s just inside your own head. Why don’t you go back to bed? You don’t have to be up for a few more hours.“
“But I need to get your…”
“I’m fine,” Jacob said. “Dad, Blane, Val and I are meeting to make decisions before breakfast this morning. Aden’s with Sandy and his kids this morning. I can get lunch with Blane.”
“How did Blane get better so fast when Katy’s still sick?”
“He’s had strep before,” Jacob said. “He seems to be turning the corner on the ribaviran too. Listen, will you do me a favor?”
“Anything,” Jill said.
He took her hand and led her to the bed. While he held the covers, she slid into bed next to Katy. Jacob dropped to his knees next to the bed. His face was right next to hers.
“Please rest,” he whispered. “This has been an awful week. You have a couple weeks of nastiness with the trial. Promise me you will rest at least another hour. Nothing, not one thing, is more important than your health.”
“What about all this other stuff? School? Trial? Sandy? Katy? Aren’t they important?”
“To me. Nothing is more important to me than you.”
Jill was so surprised by his words that she stopped talking. Her eyes welled with tears. In that second, she saw, maybe for the first time, that he truly loved her. She pulled him to her.
“You love me,” Jill said in his ear.
“I love you more than I have breath to express. I’ll be in touch about the trial,” he said. “If I can get away, I’ll go with you.”
“Will you sleep?”
She nodded. He pulled the comforter around her and kissed her good-bye. On his way out of the loft, he stuck his head in the room and she was sound asleep. He left with a smile on his face.
Friday morning — 7:00 A.M.
Honey had been up for a few hours. Steve had arrived early today to help her out of bed and through her morning routine. They worked through her morning stretches and body weight exercises. Afterwards, he helped her shower.
She could now manage getting dressed by herself. Dressing herself was a miracle brought about by Steve’s patient help and Blane’s wonder needles. Even though she was slow, she loved the normalcy of being able to dress herself. At least she didn’t have to be at work at five in the morning. Then again, it took so long to get dressed in these fancy clothes, she had to be up extra early.
Wheeling out to the dining room, she saw MJ’s back. Partially in shadow, he was standing in the full length mirror. She felt a flush of irritation. She needed to get ready and he was in the way! As she got closer, she saw that he was tying the tie to his dress uniform.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m tying my tie,” MJ said.
“Your hair is wet,” she said.
“I showered in the office bathroom which Jacob insisted on making for me,” MJ said. Turning back to the mirror, he added, ”Smart man that Jacob. I never get a shot in the big bathroom.”
“I made your tea,” MJ said. He pointed to the travel cup on the table. “Delphie stopped by to say she had a light breakfast ready for you, if you have time.”
MJ lifted the hanger holding his jacket from off the high back of a dining room chair. He slipped the jacket off the hanger and began buttoning the buttons.
“Where are you going?” Honey said.
“I’m going with you,” MJ said. “I called the LC last night and asked. Turns out she has some emergency cartography pop up out of the blue. The team is going to help or do some training or whatever until the trials done.”
“And the map work?”
“Surprising how it coincides with your sister’s trial,” MJ smiled at her.
“Sorry, I don’t really get it.”
“There’s always a ton of map work for the LC to do. The intelligence center makes a bundle on them, so they want her to work on them. It’s an easy excuse to tell brass. Plus brass has put priority on a couple areas of the world. Can’t really go to war if you don’t know how to get there.”
“What if people need you? You can’t stay here just because of me!”
“If the team needs to go, they have to go,” MJ said. “Family is the most important factor to the well-being of any military team. That’s what the LC says, but I think it’s something her Dad used to say.”
“I’ll be by your side the entire trial,” MJ said. “We’ll also have a team member - Margaret will be there when she’s not doing translations - to help us with getting food and stuff like that.”
“You don’t sound happy.”
“I’m… I… “ Her eyes welled with tears. “Thanks. I don’t know how to thank Alex. What should I do?”
“Get through this stupid thing,” MJ said. “That’s what she said. Ready for a light breakfast? A car’s coming for us around at 0740.”
“A car? You’ve taken care of everything.”
“That’s what husbands are for,” MJ said. “Speaking of which, are you going to wear your diamond?”
“Oh, I forgot,” Honey said. “I usually just wear my band to work.”
“I know.” MJ slipped the ring on her finger. Their eyes caught and he smiled. “I think Jill and Katy are eating with us. Shall we?”
Honey smiled. She wheeled behind him as he opened the door. They found Sam waiting for them in the hall. Sam followed Honey through the house. At the dining room, they found the family assembled. Valerie and Jacob were deep in conversation at the far end of the table. Sandy, Aden and his kids took one side of the table. With Katy wrapped in a pink cotton blanket on her lap, Jill sat across from Sandy and Aden and next to Jacob.
“What? Why is everyone here?” Honey asked.
“We couldn’t send you off by yourself!” Delphie said. “Val? Sandy? Can you help me carry?”
MJ helped Honey to the table then sat next to her. Leaning over, he kissed her cheek.
“You’re not alone anymore,” MJ whispered. “You have all of these people who love you.”
Honey sniffled back her tears. Valerie came in carrying a plate of eggs and sausage. Sandy carried in a plate of her special blueberry muffins. Sam came in with a pot of coffee and a pitcher of water. Delphie came in with a bowl of yogurt, fresh fruit, and a smaller plate of banana muffins.
“Sandy made these for you, Honey,” Delphie said. “They shouldn’t make you sick.”
Without ceremony, everyone began filling their plates. Valerie laughed as a groggy Mike wandered in from upstairs. Jill leaned over to promise Honey she would be at the trail as soon as school was out. As Honey looked from face to face, she saw the laughter and love in their eyes. They weren’t going to do this hard thing for her. But they would be there every step of the way.
And that was all that mattered.
Friday morning — 9 A.M. Locust Street
“What are we doing here?” Sandy asked as Valerie turned onto her father’s street.
“You’ll see,” Valerie said.
Driving her ancient Mustang, Valerie stopped across the street from Sandy’s childhood home. There was a group of twenty or so men and women wearing Lipson Construction shirts and hardhats standing around the house. A large truck pulled up with a bulldozer and excavator on its bed. A man ran up to Valerie when she got out of the car. Sandy didn’t hear what they said, but the man ran back to the house. The man whistled and a woman and man ran to him. Together, they jogged up to the house and went inside.
“What’s going on, Val?” Sandy asked.
Heather and Tanesha pulled up in Aden’s SAAB sedan.
“Why is she driving Aden’s car?” Sandy asked.
“She’s trying out all the cars. Aden let her use his today because he’s home with the kids,” Valerie shrugged. “Blane wants her to have the perfect car. They’re so sweet.”
“They are…” Sandy puzzled at Valerie. “Do I need to ask again?”
“Ask what?” Valerie smiled at Sandy. “Jill wanted to be here but she has school. So did her Mom.”
“Did they know what was going on?”
“Oh, I think so.”
Valerie jogged over to direct the men who were unloading the bulldozer and the excavator. Heather and Tanesha came over to give Sandy a hug.
“Do you know what’s going on?” Sandy asked.
“Not a chance,” Heather said. “Jill said that Jacob said that Valerie has been acting weird since yesterday. She won’t tell him or Mike about what she has planned. She just asked for a Lipson team and the equipment.”
“Oh, and she made Jacob buy your Dad’s house yesterday,” Tanesha said. “They took possession about three yesterday afternoon and the FBI finished last night.”
The women turned to watch the delicate dance of people and machines. Valerie and two men unloaded the equipment. The men scrambled up on to the machines to start them. Valerie jogged over conferred with the people inside the house. A woman ran over to give them hard hats, dust masks and Lipson Construction jackets.
“Do you know what’s going on?” Sandy asked the woman.
She smiled and ran back to the rest of the employees. A truck pulled up to roll off a construction dumpster. Valerie came over to where Heather, Tanesha, and Sandy were standing.
“Are you ready?” Valerie asked.
“You know, I’m not feeling really great,” Sandy said. “I don’t really know…”
“You can do this! It won’t be hard. That’s what we have the machines for! Come on!”
Unable to resist Valerie’s infectious cheer, the women followed her to the machines. Valerie climbed up on the excavator then helped Sandy into the cab with her. The man warming up the machine hopped off the excavator.
“You can come with me on the bulldozer or watch here. We’re taking a video for Aden. I think the FBI is here too.”
The man pointed to a non-descript woman holding a video camera.
“If this is what I think it is? I want to participate!” Tanesha said. “Yes I do.”
“Me too,” Heather waddled after Tanesha.
The man helped the women up onto the bulldozer then took over in the driver’s seat.
“Ready?” Valerie said into her walkie-talkie.
The people on the ground moved away from the house.
“Are you ready, Sandy?” Valerie giggled.
“I guess so.”
Valerie drove the excavator up onto the lawn. She moved the arm near the exterior of the house.
“Go ahead, Sandy,” Valerie said.
“What am I doing?”
“You’re demolishing your father’s house, the place you were so awfully hurt.” Valerie’s eyes were huge. For all of her actress ways, at this moment, Valerie was one-hundred percent heart. “Just move the lever and the walls will fall. When you’re done, the bulldozer will scrape the mess. These folks will get all the destruction into the dumpster. In a couple hours, you won’t know there was a house here.”
“Really?” Sandy bit her lip. “Why would you do this?”
“I think every woman knows what can happen to children. I’ve always been very lucky. But I’ve known a lot of women who weren’t so lucky. My college roommate killed herself because her abuse. I wanted you to… be able to have some real peace, start some healing. I know you’ve had therapy, but I gave Aden a list of some good people. We’re going to get you on our insurance plan and you can get some professional support while you go through this.”
“Why would you do this? For me?”
“Because you matter. Because you deserve to have some justice for yourself. Because some things are just too awful to standby and do nothing,” Valerie said. “Plus, this is going to be fun. Put on your mask!”
Sandy and Valerie put on their dust masks. Valerie swung the bucket of the excavator forward.
SMASH. The bucket created a hole in the wall of the house. Sandy screamed, hooted, laughed and cheered. Heather, Tanesha and the crowd of employees cheered. Valerie maneuvered the bucket near another piece of the wall.
Sandy smashed the wall with the bucket, then smashed it again. Within minutes they had demolished the exterior wall. The roof fell in. Valerie demolished the roof debris and the flooring. She backed up the excavator so that the bulldozer could clear off the mess. The workers began clearing bricks, old furniture and everything the bulldozer didn’t carry into the dumpster.
“Ready for the next set of walls?”
Valerie drove the excavator close to the interior walls. She reached the arm over wood floor interior next to the wall. Thinking this non-load bearing wall would fall over with one solid thump, Valerie lined the excavator bucket near the middle of the wall.
“Go ahead!” Valerie said.
Sandy thumped the wall. Unlike the exterior wall, this wall didn’t come apart.
Sandy moved the bucket more quickly. The wall shimmied then seemed to sigh. A chunk of plaster slipped down to reveal metal sheeting underneath.
“That’s just weird, but try again!” Valerie said.
The excavator bucket made it’s third contact. The wall seemed to bend forward, collapsing from the inside. A moment later, stream of green paper flew up in the air. The paper caught a warm draft from the excavator exhaust and began flying all over the yard.
“Is that what I think it is?” Valerie asked into her walkie-talkie.
The workers ran forward to check
“Hundred dollar bills!” came over the walkie-talkie. “There’s a million dollars here – minimum.”
“Did you know?” Valerie asked Sandy.
“He always said it was safer to keep his money at home,” Sandy said. “I didn’t know about the walls. Why would he sell the house?”
“He told his attorneys he had to get money out of the house to pay their fees,” Valerie said. “Guess they misinterpreted what he meant.”
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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