Friday evening – 6:00 P.M.
“What gorgeous flowers,” Valerie said when Aden walked into the Castle kitchen.
Wearing a Claire Martins gown, Valerie was checking on Honey and MJ when she saw Aden. Aden kissed her cheek in greeting.
“Shall I put them in water?” Valerie asked.
“Oh, sure,” Aden said.
Pulling a vase from the top shelf, she began snipping the ends of the flowers and putting them in water.
“What’s wrong?” Mike asked.
Mike came into the kitchen wearing a tux. Valerie looked up at Aden with the same question on her face.
“Oh….” Aden leaned against the counter. “I thought I had a date with Sandy and it turns out she wants to ‘talk’ to me.”
“The old talk thing,” Mike said. “Sorry man, that sucks.”
Valerie looked from Mike to Aden.
“Do you know what she wants to talk to you about?” Valerie asked. She began tying Mike’s bow tie.
“Afraid to ask.” Aden shook his head. “I keep hearing your Mom in my head.”
“What does Mom say?” Valerie kissed Mike’s lips when she was done with the tie.
“She says that some moments are….”
“More important than others,” Valerie said with Aden. “Why do you think you’re hearing that today?”
“I thought it was because I was going to ask Sandy to marry me,” Aden said. “Again. I’ve got the ring this time.”
“Maybe you have to do something more important than that,” Valerie said.
“It’s hard for guys, but women like to be understood,” Valerie said.
“…need to be understood,” Mike added.
“Right,” Valerie said.
“I’m an active guy,” Mike stated the obvious. “I like doing things, creating things, making things happen. But some times you’ve got to sit back and listen. It’s hard.”
Valerie smiled at him. Mike kissed her nose.
“But very worth it,” Mike said.
“I think you’re over thinking this,” Valerie said. “I saw Sandy when she came in. She’s not mad or upset. If anything she’s anxious, nervous. I bet you’ll have your talk and your date.”
“I hope so,” Aden said. “Wow, don’t you look nice.”
Honey wheeled into the kitchen wearing a gorgeous green gown. MJ followed her wearing his full dress uniform. His Green Beret was folded under the shoulder mark of his jacket. They were going with Valerie and Mike to a Christmas Ball. Sam and Delphie were planning to meet them at the party.
“Do you think I’ll be all right in my motorized chair or should I get the lighter one?” Honey asked.
“Whatever you feel most comfortable using,” Valerie said. “Did Heather do your make up?”
“She does an amazing job,” Valerie said.
Valerie gave Aden the flowers and vase. She kissed his cheek again then said:
“Off you go.”
“Good luck, man.”
Mike shook Aden’s hand. MJ patted Aden’s back as he went up the stairs. He heard Valerie laugh and Honey say that they were off. By the time he reached Jill and Jacob’s loft, the Castle was silent. Everyone was out for the night. Except Aden, Sandy and Jill.
Jill opened the door before he knocked.
Friday evening – 6:10 P.M. Denver Zoo
“Holy crap, that man is fine.” Tanesha whispered to Heather.
Heather had pointed out Tres to Tanesha. Tres and his brother, Enrique, were deep in a conversation with Jacob.
“You think he’s here for you?”
“I doubt it,” Heather said. “He looks like he and Jacob have business.”
“Can we go ahead?” Nash asked Heather.
“Yes, but stay together,” Heather said.
Nash and Noelle ran forward to look at the light spectacle. Every year, the Denver Zoo created animals and sculptures out of tiny colored lights. In the misting snow, the Zoo was a fairyland of beautiful color in the dark winter night.
“Heather, do you know Tres? His brother, Enrique?” Jacob’s smile told her that he knew exactly how well Heather knew Tres. “This is Blane’s wife, Heather Lipson and her friend Tanesha.”
“Nice to meet you,” Tanesha said. “I’ve heard so much about you.”
Enrique raised an eyebrow to Tanesha. She confirmed his eyebrow with a nod. Heather took Enrique’s hand to shake it. He kissed her hand. Heather giggled.
“It’s nice to finally meet you,” Enrique said.
Unsure of herself, Heather smiled. Tres shook Tanesha’s hand in greeting. The adults followed the children through the Zoo.
“When is your baby due?” Enrique asked.
“Our baby is due in March,” Blane said. He kissed Heather’s cheek and placed his hand on her belly to greet the baby. “Sorry, I’m late.”
Enrique shifted to let Blane stand next to Heather. Blane looked from Heather to Enrique. Blane furrowed his brow then shrugged.
“The lights are very pretty, aren’t they?” Megan, Jill’s oldest sister, asked. “Hi Blane.”
“Gorgeous,” Tanesha said. “I haven’t been to the Zoolights in … well ever. I’ve just seen them from City Park.”
“I haven’t either,” Heather and Blane said in unison. They laughed.
“These animated ones are amazing,” Tanesha stopped in front of a monkey created out of tiny pink lights. The monkey was swinging in the tree. “That’s some special talent.”
“Have you been before?” Blane asked Tres and Enrique.
Enrique shook his head.
“I came last year on the date from hell,” Tres said. “It was traumatic.”
“What happened?” Megan’s partner, Tim, asked.
“I’d rather not discuss it.” Tres gave a dramatic sniffle. “Some things are better left in the past.”
“They’re feeding the seals!” Katy squealed. “Come on!”
Friday night – 6:17 P.M. The Castle
Jill and Sandy were seated on a couch facing the front windows. The gas fireplace cast a dancing light on them. After polite small talk, Jill poured red wine for herself and Sandy. She got some sparkling water for Aden then sat next to Sandy on the couch. Aden sat in an armchair next to the couch. They stared out into the night. Realizing he couldn’t see Sandy’s face, Aden moved the arm chair until it was across from the couch. Uncomfortable, they sat looking at their wine glasses.
“This is weird,” Sandy said. “I’m sorry. I’m sure you’re wondering what’s going on.”
“Seth asked me to talk to you. He told me that if I didn’t tell you, he would,” Sandy said. “And I just couldn’t bear that.”
“I don’t understand why Jill is here,” Aden said. “If you have something to say, why not just say it?”
“I know,” Sandy said. “Jill’s here for me, not for you. I need her… help.”
Sandy looked at Jill and Jill hugged her.
“Are you worried I’ll attack you or…”
“No,” Sandy said. “I’m worried I won’t be able to do it.”
Sandy’s face reflected the mixture of feelings she felt – sadness, anger, fear, and the black numbness that went with this entire episode.
“Maybe you should start at the beginning,” Jill said.
Sandy glanced at Jill then nodded.
“My father left …” Sandy started.
“When you were a baby,” Aden completed her statement. “Sandy what is this about?”
“My father. Me.” Sandy’s eyes begged Jill for help. “My father is my biological father. My step-dad was my real dad.”
“Sandy’s father never had any money,” Jill said. “Because he just walked out, the courts assigned him child support AND alimony.”
“They always do that,” Aden said.
“Yeah, well, he didn’t believe he should have to pay it…”
Friday night – 7:15 P.M. Denver Zoo
Felling out of sync with Blane’s world, Enrique walked behind them. With the kids up ahead, the adults laughed and talked. The very air had a festive feel that left everyone a little giddy. Heather stopped at a vendor where Blane bought her some hot chocolate. When Enrique caught up, Blane offered to get him some.
Such a simple gesture. Yet, very Blane. Enrique smiled and Blane ordered for him.
A small girl, Jacob’s daughter, ran up to Blane. A little boy stopped right near her. She hopped on one foot then another until Blane noticed her. Laughing, Blane picked her up so she could see the menu. Without thinking, Enrique picked up the boy. It had been a decade since he held a warm bundle in his arms. The little boy wanted a brownie. Laughing at the vibrant children, Enrique set the boy down. The child grabbed his brownie then ran off to share it with his little friend. Blane smiled at Enrique, then gave Heather her hot chocolate.
A little teenage boy asked Blane to explain to him what a ‘whore’ was. In this simple question, Enrique saw how full Blane’s world had become. When Enrique had been the center of Blane’s world, Blane would have melted in the face of the question.
Tonight Blane laughed then asked his wife and her friend. The three had a heated discussion about what the word meant. Their conversation spilled over to the other adults. Tres got involved. Jacob expressed an opinion. With a glint of irony dancing in his eyes, Blane asked Enrique. Enrique felt the wise eyes of Blane’s wife and her friend watching to see what he would say.
“Sometimes people feel very insecure. When they feel insecure, they lash out at other people who seem to have it all.” Nervous, Enrique paused to catch his breath. “It’s a horrible, destructive term used to belittle great people, make them feel small, as small as the person who says the word.”
It was the warmth from Blane’s wife’s smile that allowed Enrique to take the next breath. He felt as if he’s passed a test or won an award in her beautiful smile. Blane turned to the boy. While Enrique calmed himself, Blane and the child worked through the last of the boy’s confusion.
Jealous? Was he jealous? He’d expected to be insane with jealousy. This little pregnant girl had snared his Blane. She held his hand, laughed at his jokes and at the end of the night she would go home with him.
Gazing in the distorted Zoo restroom mirror, he felt like a little like the Grinch whose heart grew two sizes that day.
Blane was so happy. Everything about him echoed a depth of happiness that Enrique had never seen in Blane before. Something inside Enrique loosened or let go. He wanted Blane to be happy. If this girl made him happy, that’s what Enrique wanted for Blane. Enrique let out a breath.
And, in this moment, Enrique knew something he’s avoided for years. Enrique loved Blane deeply, wholly and without question. He would never love another being as much as he loved Blane.
What was he going to do?
Friday – 7:35 P.M. The Castle
Aden’s face had become so pale. His lips were set in a grim line. His eyes were round and dark.
“What are you thinking?” Sandy asked.
“This is the most horrible thing I’ve ever heard,” Aden said.
“Listen, it’s not Sandy’s fault,” Jill said. “She didn’t have a choice! What was she going to…”
“I know, Jill. I know,” Aden said. “I know.”
“Oh,” Sandy and Jill said in unison.
“If there’s more, I’d like it if you would tell me, Sandy,” Aden said.
“There’s a lot more,” Sandy said.
Jill opened another bottle of wine. She refilled their glasses and brought Aden another bottle of sparkling water.
“I have some crackers and cheese. Would you like some?” Jill asked.
“Sure,” Sandy said.
Aden took Sandy’s hands while Jill was in the kitchen. He kissed her lips then stroked her hair. Steeled for this entire conversation, Sandy could only give him a slight smile. Jill returned with some fancy crackers and cheeses. She set it down. Feeling Aden and Sandy’s eyes, Jill laughed.
“Should I just get the Pringles? I have a secret stash. Around here, they tend to eat only this fancy crap,” Jill said. “What do you say – sour cream and onion or bar-be-que?”
“Both?” Aden asked.
Jill laughed. She returned with a couple tubes of Pringles. Settling in next to Sandy, they were ready to begin again.
“I was eight the first time….” Sandy started.
Friday – 7:45 P.M. Denver Zoo
When Heather came out of the bathroom, Enrique and Blane were talking, just talking. They were far enough away that Heather couldn’t hear what they were saying. Tanesha touched Heather’s hand to slow them down. The women stood watching Enrique and Blane.
Although Enrique and Blane never touched each other, they seemed deeply connected. Blane raised his eyebrows and Enrique laughed. Speaking rapid Spanish, Enrique fired off a statement and Blane laughed. Never touching, the men went back and forth in an intimate dance of conversation. Tanesha nudged Heather and they walked to the men.
Blane looked up when she was close. He kissed her cheek as he always did then greeted the baby with a hand on her belly. Taking her hand, he was one hundred percent available for Heather. Tanesha made a joke and Enrique laughed.
Walking to the next light exhibit, Blane’s hand in hers, Heather realized something she would never, ever forget.
Enrique and Blane belonged together.
The thought made her smile.
Friday – 8:00 P.M. The Castle
“That’s how I met my Dad. My step-dad,” Sandy said. “He was assigned to work with Vice. They set up an appointment with me. My Dad came in and….”
Sandy fell silent. Her grief over losing her Dad and how he’d saved her made it unbearable to continue.
“He paid for Sandy for a whole day,” Jill said. “He took Sandy to the Zoo, the Museum of Nature and Science and stuff like that. He bought her clothes. That’s how he met Sandy’s Mom. He and Sandy’s Mom met and never were apart until he died.”
“Your Dad knew about all of this and did nothing?” Aden’s tone echoed his grief and helplessness.
“He arrested my father on some charge,” Sandy said. “Taxes, I think. He was arrested the very next day. My father’s been in jail all this time. He did every single year of his time, then all of his parole. He finished up last year sometime. According to Seth, he started this Internet business the day he was done with all of that.”
“Sandy’s Dad took care of everything,” Jill said. “He made it so Sandy never ever had to see her father again. He even….”
Jill’s voice trailed off. Sandy and Jill shared a long look. Gritting her teeth for strength, Sandy continued.
“I was pregnant. My father’s child,” Sandy said. “Even being such a Catholic, my Dad took me to get the… procedure. I….”
Sandy’s resolve broke. Her face crumbled with sorrow and rage. Her tears fell. Unable to stop himself, Aden dropped to his knees in front of her. He held her to him while she cried. He looked up when Jill touched his shoulder. Jill nodded her head toward her office and left them.
Friday – 8:00 P.M. Denver Zoo
“I’d absolutely love to go for fried food,” Tres said. “But then it’s my habit to never say ‘no’ to pregnant women.”
“Been around many?” Tanesha asked.
“I have ten siblings and ten half-siblings,” Tres said.
“Someone is always pregnant in our family,” Enrique laughed. “Including our mother.”
“Or step-mothers. We have three,” Tres laughed. “Fried food it is!”
“And pie?” Tanesha asked.
“Where can we go?” Blane asked. “What do you think, Jake?”
“Pie is always good,” Jacob said. “Marie Calendar’s is closed. What about Village Inn?”
“Oooh pancakes!” Megan said. “My boys would love staying up late for pancakes. What about Katy and Paddie? It’s getting late for them.”
“I wanna go!” Paddie said.
“Me too! I’ll stay awake,” Katy said.
“Me too!” Paddie agreed.
“Then pie it is!” Jacob said.
When Heather laughed, Tres was sure he’d never heard a more beautiful sound. He was about to touch her when Blane took her hand and they set off toward their car with Tanesha.
“Close your mouth,” Enrique whispered in Spanish. “You’re drooling.”
“Just looking forward to pie,” Tres replied in Spanish.
“Yes, I can see what you’re looking forward to,” Enrique laughed.
Tres laughed. His eyes lingered over the back of Heather. They walked to Enrique’s car in silence.
“Glad we did this?” Tres said.
Unable to find enough right words, Tres nodded. Enrique laughed.
Friday – 9:10 P.M. The Castle
“You still want to marry me? Even knowing all of this?”
Aden nodded. He was kneeling in front of her.
“Because I love you, Sandy. What happened to you is awful, horrible and what’s happening to you now is even worse. It’s an insult on top of such a deep injury. But that doesn’t change how I feel. I’ve loved you a long time. I want to love you all of my life.”
Sandy’s round beautiful eyes searched his face. There was only sincerity and love on Aden’s face.
“There’s lots of videos of me. Lots and lots and lots of video with me doing… things,” Sandy said. “That boy probably has one.”
“What your father did is your father’s responsibility, not yours. You were a child. Are you in videos now?”
Sandy shook her head with vehemence.
“That’s all that matters to me,” Aden said. “Do you care if I’m an alcoholic? Drug addict? Is it a big deal that I have a criminal record?”
“Of course not,” Sandy said. “You left all that behind. You’ve made good choices since then.”
“That’s how I feel about you,” Aden said. “We’ll get through this together. We’ll overcome this together.”
Sandy clasped him to her. He shifted her back.
“Shall I?” Aden asked.
Taking Sandy’s nod as a yes, he slipped the gorgeous ring on her finger. She held the ring up to look at it on her hand.
“It’s old and new,” Aden said. “We are old friends, and new lovers. We have old pasts and new futures.”
“It’s perfect,” Sandy said.
“Come on,” Aden said. “Let’s get out of here. The kids are staying with Jake and Jill tonight. We have a kid free night to ourselves.”
Wiping her face, Sandy nodded.
“And I have plans,” Aden said. “Trust me?”
“Can I show Jill?” Sandy asked.
“Of course,” Aden said.
Sandy knocked on Jill’s office door. Jill opened the door to hug Sandy. The women whispered back and forth before ‘ooohing’ over the ring. After one last hug, Jill nudged Sandy toward Aden. Sandy nodded to Jill.
When she turned to him, she was his beautiful Sandy again. The terrible weight of her horrible story seemed to dissipate. Aden took her hand. They were in his car before she asked:
“Where are we going?”
“If I only get the rare date with you, my love, it’s going to be magical,” he said.
Denver Cereal continues next week….
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