Two weeks later Monday morning - 3:56 AM
“Happy birfday to me, happy birfday to me,” came a soft singing voice over the baby monitor.
Jacob touched Jill’s shoulder to wake her. He leaned over to kiss her lips. Sitting down at the side of the bed, he set a cup of coffee on her bedside table.
“Happy birfday dear Katy!!” Katy giggled over the baby monitor
“How long has she been singing?” Jill asked.
“An hour or so,” Jacob said. “I went to get her so she wouldn’t wake you but she said you have a special birthday wake up. She wouldn’t teach me.”
“Happy BIRFDAY to ME!” Katy giggled. Her voice was soft and happy.
“Did she wake you?” Jill asked.
“No, I had to get ready for the early conference call with the New York….”
“Venture capitalists,” they said together.
“Sorry, I’m still asleep.” Jill took a long drink of her coffee. “Would you like a little birthday before you go?”
“With Katy? Or with you?”
Jill giggled at the lustful look he gave her. He kissed her lips.
“What’s the special birthday wake up?”
“It’s a little silly,” Jill said. “On her birthday, we greet everything like it’s brand new. You know, like she was just born. You’ll have to introduce yourself. I will introduce myself. Everybody’s coming over for breakfast, so they’ll have to do it too. It’s silly but it’s fun. You’ll see.”
“I should be done with the call in time for breakfast,” Jacob said. “Shall we wake the birthday girl?”
“We have to give her a little notice to get ready,” Jill said.
“DO YOU WANT TO GET UP NOW?” Jacob’s voice was loud.
“IT FEELS LIKE A SPECIAL DAY BUT I CAN’T REMEMBER WHY?” Jill got out of bed.
“Mommy’s so silly,” Katy whispered.
Jacob started a quiet laugh at Katy’s whisper.
“YAAAAWWWWNNNNN!” Jill wandered into their bathroom and bumped around a little bit. “I WONDER HOW MY KATY-BABY IS??”
Seeing Jill’s exaggerated voice and movements, Jacob burst into laughter. She smiled at his glee. Taking his hand, they walked to Katy’s room. Awake but pretending to be asleep, Katy lay stiff as a board in her bed. Jill went to her bedside.
“Good morning,” Jill kissed Katy’s cheeks. “I’m your Mommy. Are you my Katy?”
“I’m Katy!” The little girl beamed at Jill. “You might not recognize me because I’m FOUR.”
“I wasn’t quite sure it was you. May I introduce you to your Daddy?”
Jacob kneeled by the bed. His fingertips caressed Katy’s soft face.
“I’m your Daddy. Are you my Katy?”
“I’m Katy! It’s my BIRTHDAY, Daddy. Did you know?”
“I’m so sorry I’ve missed so many birthdays, Katy. I’m glad to be here for this one.”
“I’m happy you’re here!!”
Katy bounced out of her bed. She threw herself at Jill and Jacob.
“Happy Birthday to you! Happy birthday to you!”
Jill and Jacob started. Katy blushed as if she’d never heard the song before.
“I’m so glad you were born!” Jacob exclaimed.
Jacob lifted her from the bed. With Jill following behind, he carried Katy out to the dining room table. Katy squealed when she caught site of the table. Jacob had filled the table with Katy’s favorite treats, balloons, and presents.
“Mommy! Mommy! Loooooook!!”
“Happy Birthday, Katy!” Jill laughed.
Jacob set Katy down so she could run to the table. She touched every present and ogled every goodie. Turning, she walked back to her parents. Holding her hand in front of her, she asked:
“Is this for ME?”
“Of course,” Jacob and Jill laughed.
“Can I have a cupy cake? A chocolaty cupy cake??”
“Of course,” Jill said. “The birthday day girl gets to choose.”
Katy ate her cupcake in one big bite. A knock on the door revealed Valerie and Mike. On Jill’s instruction, they introduced themselves to the newly minted four year old. Delphie and Sam joined them followed by MJ with Honey on his back. Everyone was treated to a brand new Katy.
Leaving for their conference call, Jacob, Valerie and Sam let Megan, Tim, their kids, and Jill’s mother, Anjelika Kathleen, into the loft. Steve, Leslie, Candy and Jazmyne arrived with more cake, more presents and more introductions. Katy passed out treats, kisses and introductions with the grace of a queen.
Or a minor princess.
Enjoying the attention, Katy spun in circles for hours. When Jacob, Valerie and Sam returned for breakfast, the birthday girl was sound asleep in Jill’s lap.
Monday – 12:47 P.M.
“Aden, I’m right in the middle of a color, can I call you back in about ten minutes?”
“Sorry to interrupt. I know you’re busy,” Aden said. “Nash’s school called. There was a fight at lunch and Nash is gone. You haven’t seen him?”
“No,” Sandy said.
“I need to check around. I called you first,” Aden chuckled. “Just an excuse to hear your voice I guess.”
“I’ll call you later when I know something. Will you call me if he shows up?”
“Of course.” Setting down her cell phone, Sandy said, “I don’t feel good lying to your Dad.”
Nash looked up at Sandy through purple, swollen eyes. When he moved his head, MJ told him to stop.
“Give me one more minute, buddy. I know it’s hard to wait, but you don’t want some mondo scar,” MJ said. “What will the ladies think?”
“What ladies?” Nash grumbled.
“Give it a few years, Nash. You’ll be a lady killer. Trust me.”
“I wouldn’t mind surviving seventh grade,” Nash said.
Sandy hugged Nash the moment MJ was done. She left them to get some more ice for Nash’s face.
“Those guys must be bigger than you.”
“There were five,” Nash said. “Yeah, they’re bigger.”
“You keep practicing with Colin, and those boys won’t bother you any more,” MJ nodded. “But five boys…. Why did they come after you?”
“You wouldn’t understand,” Nash said.
“Try me,” MJ said. “I wasn’t very cool in Junior High School. Fluorescent red haired military brat and all. My Dad was gone all the time and my Mom was bat shit crazy.”
“You’re from the land of the fucked up too?” Nash asked.
“I’m a Mayor in the land of the fucked up.” MJ laughed.
Nash’s eyes evaluated MJ. He knew MJ had lost his some of his leg in Iraq. In fact, MJ had showed him all of his different fake legs. He also knew MJ was married to Honey. Honey’s family was more fucked up than even Nash’s family.
At least Nash had his Dad, and Noelle. And they loved him. Nash nodded.
“I always had just Dad,” Nash said. “Dad’s amazing but he’s a Dad. He just worked and took care of us. Miss Celia used to help, but she died when I was three. Noelle doesn’t even remember her. Dad fell really hard for Sandy… like five years ago.”
Returning from the ice machine, Sandy heard her name. Nash had been upset for months. She knew that Nash needed to talk. Not wanting to interrupt, Sandy waited in the doorway.
“He stopped dating and just… waited, went to school, took care of us, you know,” Nash said. “When he started dating Sandy? In June? It’s the happiest Dad’s ever been. Ever. Us too. Noelle wants to be everything like Sandy. And, I…. I love Sandy.”
“What’s not to love?” MJ smiled. “She’s pretty, kind, loving….”
“I want her to be my mom,” Nash said. “But….”
“These kids at school say all this stuff about her,” Nash’s voice dropped to almost a whisper. “They say she’s a hooker or a whore. One guy says he had a video with her doing all kinds of….”
Her horror flooded her very being. Nash’s voice was lost in a soft hum. Sandy’s mind began to come undone.
“Hey Sandy, you’re next client is here,” the receptionist said.
Sandy nodded at the sound.
“Are you Ok, hon?” The receptionist asked.
“Should I tell your client you’ll be a few minutes?”
Finding her voice, Sandy said, “Just a few.”
Sandy smiled to reassure the receptionist. Her mind clicked into gear. She’d spent decades of her life pretending. Certainly she could get through this day. She let out a breath.
“Nash, honey, do you want to stay here or go to the Castle with MJ?” Sandy asked. “I should call your Dad either way.”
She gave him the towel full of ice. He held it over his bruised and cut face.
“I can stay for a while, Sandy,” MJ said. “At least until he’s feeling a little better.”
“Am I expelled?”
“Probably suspended for a few days,” MJ said. “We won’t know until we talk to your Dad. Would you like Sandy to call?”
Nash nodded. Sandy bent down to kiss his cheek. Flooded with guilt that her life had caught up with this precious boy, she hugged him tight. Nash wept against her shoulder. She sighed.
“I have to go sweetie,” Sandy said. “Love you Nash.”
“Can I stay here with you?” Nash asked.
“If I call your Dad,” Sandy said.
Nash nodded. Sandy dialed Aden.
“Oh thank God,” Aden said. “He’s there.”
“He didn’t want me to tell you,” Sandy said. “MJ was here with Honey. I was doing her hair when Nash arrived. MJ stitched up Nash’s eye. He says Nash’ll be all right. No broken bones. MJ gave him something for pain and infection but he needs a doctor for more meds.”
“The fight was bad?”
“He says five bigger boys,” Sandy said. “He’s banged up but nothing awful.”
“He’s suspended from school the next three days,” Aden said.
“We figured,” Sandy said. “Listen, I have a client waiting for me….”
“Should I come and get him?”
“Nash is fine here. Just come when you can,” Sandy looked over to Nash. “I bet he’ll be asleep in a few minutes.”
“Thanks Sandy,” Aden said. “Just… thanks.”
Sandy hung up the phone. Digging in her purse, she gave Nash her iPOD.
“Thanks Sandy,” Nash said.
“I’ll stay until he’s asleep,” MJ said.
MJ hugged Sandy.
“You’re a really great person, Sandy,” MJ said. “Thanks.”
Embarrassed, Sandy turned to her routine. Her troubled mind drifted as her client rambled about what to get her boyfriend for Christmas. By the time Aden arrived, Sandy had almost forgotten that Nash knew about her past. Waking Nash, Sandy saw the poor boy’s love for her. After promising to call later, she returned to her clients and her day. After work, she walked home.
Locking the door to her condo, she made a small pile of Aden and the kids stuff. They’d basically lived at both houses for the last few months. When she was done, she placed a call to Aden. Luckily, she got his voicemail.
She was sorry. She couldn’t see him any more. His kids needed him one hundred percent now. She was just a distraction. That was how it had to be. She wouldn’t change her mind.
Turning off her phone, Sandy picked up her present, the cake she’d made, and went to Katy’s birthday party.
Monday evening, 6:25 P.M.
“You sure you feel up to going?” Heather asked Blane. “I can go by myself.”
“To Katy’s birthday party? I wouldn’t miss it,” Blane said. “Do you always introduce yourself to the new Katy?”
“Every year,” Heather said.
“That’s the cutest thing I’ve ever heard of.”
He held the door for her and they walked to his cherry red Mustang. He opened her door, helped her into the car then went around to his side.
“You’ve barely said a word since you got home from clinic.”
“I haven’t?” Blane seemed surprised. “I’m sorry Heather. I don’t mean to worry you.”
Blane pulled out of their driveway. They drove in silence to the Castle. Rather than going in the gate, he stopped at the curb.
“I want to thank you,” Blane said.
“Me? What’s going on Blane?”
“Enrique showed up at the smoking clinic,” Blane said.
Gasping, Heather grabbed his hand. Her eyes reflected with her concern and caring for him.
“I didn’t think it bugged me but…. You’re right I’ve been quiet.”
“How was it?” Heather asked.
“It was…. Today’s my day to run the clinic,” Blane said. “I was running from room to room. I didn’t notice he was even there until a student asked me to approve the treatment. I went in… and there he was….”
“What did you do?”
“I sent the student out.” Blane’s eyes were vague. He smiled, then looked at Heather. “That’s why I wanted to thank you.”
“Asked him why he was there,” Blane said. “He said he wanted to beg my forgiveness. He started and I raised my hand for him to stop. Just automatically. I didn’t care about his tiny excuses and apologies. I said, ‘I’m not the little orphan you knew. I have a family who loves me, a wife and a child who depend on me, a career I’m good at and a job that I adore. I’m not that throw away kid who you can jerk around with your excuses and lies. I’m a part of a large community of people who love and respect me.’”
Blane let out a breath.
“It just came out.”
“Wow,” Heather said.
“Yeah wow,” Blane said. “When we first talked about you moving in…. I didn’t realize how much it meant to me. You’ve made me feel important. Valuable.”
“Well Jake too,” Heather said. “That’s who you meant by family. Right?”
“Jake? It was like he was standing next to me,” Blane said. “He tells me how valuable I am. Almost every day. But, you? The baby? You make me feel important. Thanks.”
“You make me feel important. Valuable,” Heather said. “Not some dumb heifer who got pregnant and dumped. But a real lady.”
Blane kissed her hand.
“How did you leave it?”
“I walked out,” Blane said. “I approved his treatment then went back to running around. I didn’t give him another thought until I was in the car driving home. I guess that’s why I was quiet. I’m a little… stunned.”
Heather laughed. Joining her laughter, he continued through the Castle gates and to Katy’s birthday party.
Monday night, 9:27 P.M.
Turning down the hallway to her condo, she saw Aden waiting by her door. She should have expected that.
“Shouldn’t you be with your kids?” Sandy asked.
“My kids are at home, Sandra. After an evening at the Emergency Room, I took them home. They’re exhausted.”
“They shouldn’t be alone,” Sandy said. “Did you come for your stuff?”
Sandy scowled at his raised voice. Opening the door, she pointed him inside.
“Why did you leave the kids alone tonight?” Sandy asked. “Tonight of all nights!”
“They aren’t alone, Sandy,” Aden said. “Blane and Heather came over after Katy’s party. Blane is giving Nash some acupuncture.”
“Oh,” Sandy said. “I put your stuff by the door.”
“I see that,” Aden said. “What’s going on, Sandy?”
“Nash is in real trouble, Aden. He needs all of your time. Noelle too,” Sandy said. “I take up your nights and weekends. The kids need more of you.”
“It seems to me like you need me right now,” Aden said. “I thought we were past all of this.”
“All of what?”
“The push-pull,” Aden said. “You love me. I love you. Nash and Noelle love you. It’s that simple.”
“It’s NOT that simple,” Sandy said. “Your kids need your help.”
“They need our help, Sandy. Nash came to YOU when he was in trouble, not me. He wanted YOUR help.”
“You know what he got in a fight about? They beat him up because of me.”
“Sandy, no.” Aden grabbed her shoulders to force her to look at him. “No. They’re bullies. They fought with Nash because he’s not afraid of them. You were just an excuse.”
“We should cool it, Aden, really. If I’m not around, those boys won’t bother Nash anymore.”
“Fine. You won’t pick him up at school anymore,” Aden said. “But you and me?”
Sandy shook her head. Aden sighed.
“Don’t give up, Sandy. Just because of some bullies? Don’t give up.”
Sandy shook her head.
“If we cool off the evenings, what about our workouts?” Aden asked. “Why don’t we keep working out every morning? I enjoy that.”
“I like working out with you. I always gain so much weight this time of year.”
“In all the right places.” Aden slipped his arms around her. “We’ll give it a month?”
“What about New Year’s? Will you spend New Year’s with me?”
Sandy’s face was a wash of worry.
“Jake and Jill are having a party at the Castle,” Aden said. “We’ll stay with them. Val’s inviting her Hollywood friends.”
“Jill’s been talking about it for weeks,” Sandy gave a slight nod. Her eyes sparked with hope. “I’ll go… with you.”
“Will you still marry me?”
“ADEN, NO!” Sandy exclaimed. “So that the bullies can beat up your precious son. NO!”
“Ok, ok, ok….” Aden pulled her to him and stroked her back. “We’ll workout together for the next two weeks and see what happens.”
“What will Nash do this week?” Sandy asked.
“He’ll have to come to work with me,” Aden said. “He’s got to do his school work. There’s a meeting set on Wednesday to resolve the issues between the kids. We’ll see how that goes.”
“Is he injured?”
“No, MJ was right,” Aden said. “They x-rayed him head to toe. He’s fine. The stitches were perfect. He’ll have some bruises for a while, but he’ll be all right.”
When Sandy sniffled, Aden leaned back to look at her face.
“This was really hard for you,” Aden said. “Why do it? I love you. I’ll miss you every night, every moment I don’t get to see you.”
“It’s for the best,” Sandy said. “I’ll miss you too.”
Aden pulled her close again.
“You should go,” Sandy said.
“Please, it’s easier if you just go.” Tears dropped from her eyes. “Please.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow at the gym?”
Sandy nodded. Aden’s eyes caressed her face. He gave her a curt nod. Then walked out her door.
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