Jill set a pepperoni, olive and artichoke heart pizza from Enzo’s End on a foot rest in the middle of the sitting area of her loft apartment. Following Jill, Heather brought a stack of plates and napkins. Tanesha set down sparkling water for Heather and a six pack of Wild Raspberry Great Divide Ale for the rest. They looked up when Sandy came out of the guest bedroom in a fluffy robe with a towel on her head.
“This is perfect,” Sandy said. “Nothing like a girls night after such an awful day.”
“We wouldn’t miss it,” Heather said. “I wish I’d gotten there sooner. It seemed horrible.”
“How is Blane?” Jill asked.
“Sick,” Heather said. “He still has three months on that awful drug.”
“He seemed fine last night,” Tanesha said. “Maybe it’s food poisoning.”
“Nah, that’s what this treatment is like,” Heather said. “Fine one minute, sick the next. He was anxious about the Lipson meeting this morning. I think that did him in. He’s asleep downstairs.”
“Sorry you’re missing the party, Jill,” Sandy said. “Everyone’s really excited about the sale.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there all day with you,” Jill said. “You should have seen Val’s face. I was like, ‘Great, good for you. Now, give me the damned car!’”
The women laughed.
“What was with that security guard?” Heather asked. “When I got there he was like, ‘And you must be Heather. How’s the husband?’”
“He was like that with me too,” Jill said. “He asked me how I got a car. I figured it was some super secret spy thing. When he asked for Tanesha’s phone number….”
Tanesha blushed and the women laughed.
“Did you give it to him?” Tanesha asked.
“I told him he should ask you himself,” Jill said. “That man was smoking hot!”
“I gave him Tanesha’s email,” Sandy said.
“Oooohhh,” Sandy, Jill and Heather said in unison. Tanesha laughed.
“Why was MJ’s team there? I never really got that,” Jill said. “I was surprised.”
“They said they fell into it around the first of the year. That’s how they were connected in Thailand, you know, for your stuff Jill,” Sandy said. She used the towel to dry her hair. “What blew me away is that all this time – since seeing MJ again in June and everything that’s happened – they knew about me. In fact, Alex said they stayed involved with the case because they wanted justice. For me! I mean, sometimes MJ would say the nicest things to me – like when Nash was beat up, he said he thought I was an awesome person. And all along…”
Jill hugged Sandy.
“You are an awesome person,” Heather said. “Tanesha and I… We knew something bad was going on with your father… you know, when we were kids? But we didn’t know everything until today. And…”
“We think your father is a bastard,” Tanesha said. “But none of it changes what we think about you.”
“I cried when they told me,” Heather said. “You know Samantha’s boyfriend? He told me in the elevator. I cried because I wouldn’t want anything so horrible to happen to my Sandy. I had to wait by the elevator until I wasn’t crying anymore.”
“You’re not mad that I didn’t tell you?” Sandy asked.
“Not a chance,” Tanesha said. “We totally understand. I did. MJ told me in the elevator and I was furious. I wanted to go kick some ass right there. But… I knew you needed me.”
“I did,” Sandy said. “It was an awful day. And today was just the beginning. I’m going to have to testify in a big Federal case. Even after being asked a billion questions on tape and looking at that horrible website. There’s more to do.”
Shaking her head, Sandy plopped down in a chair.
“And we’ll be with you the entire way,” Jill said.
Sandy looked from face to face of her friends then smiled.
“Did you see my ring?”
“I’ve ogled it all day!” Heather laughed. “It’s gorgeous!”
“Let’s eat,” Tanesha said. “We have court cases to deal with, babies to make and whatever His Hotness has planned for Miss Jill tomorrow.”
“And you have a sexy security guard to seduce!” Sandy laughed.
“I may have one or two of my own plans!”
Laughing, Tanesha passed out the pizza. The women laughed and talked into the wee hours of the morning.
Pulling Katy and Paddie on an ancient wood snow sled, Jacob moved ahead toward what he thought was the perfect Christmas tree. Jacob and his family had always cut their trees with a national forest permit. But Jill had only had a Christmas tree once or twice since her parents died. She was having a tough time choosing a tree.
Valerie and Mike had picked a small tree for their apartment. Delphie had picked a giant tree for the common living room of the Castle. Delphie’s tree would be their main tree. Jill needed to pick a tree for their home.
Her first real Christmas.
Jill couldn’t decide. Jill wanted everything to be perfect. She stopped to consider each evergreen tree then move on to another.
Katy and Paddie were having a great time on the sled. Squealing and giggling, they kept yelling for Jacob to go faster. On one small hill, he jumped on the back and they went flying down. The kids begged him to do it again. They flew down that hill three or four times before Jill decided not to take a particular tree.
“What are you worried about?” Jacob had asked. “This is just the first of many trees.”
Biting her lip, Jill had nodded.
What was her hold up?
She remembered the perfect Christmas tree. It was probably the last Christmas tree her family ever had. It was big and beautiful. The tree smelled of hope, joy and love. She remembered it stuffed with brightly wrapped presents underneath. She wanted that for Katy.
Finally, Katy would have a real Christmas. Of course, Katy only cared about riding fast down the hills on the sled.
Towing the kids behind, Jacob ran back to where she stood. He took her hand.
“Trust me?” he asked.
Jill nodded. Jacob made a straight line toward a crowded group of Douglas Fir. Near the edge of the grouping was a perfect cone shaped tree about six feet tall. The branches had enough space for ornaments and enough depth to not seem bare.
“But we don’t have enough ornaments to fill the tree,” Jill protested. “It’s too big.”
“We’ll be fine,” Jacob said.
Jacob kissed her lips.
“Katy? What do you think?” Jill asked.
“I love it, Mommy! Can we take it home?”
“Let’s take it home,” Jill said.
In no time, Jacob cut the tree with a folding log saw from his backpack. He loaded the tree and his backpack onto the sled. With Katy on Jill’s back, and Paddie on Jacob’s, they made their way across the snow toward the cabin. In no time, they joined to rest of the laughing group to make their way back to Denver with their Christmas trees.
Sunday – 3: 25 P.M.
Jacob pulled Jill’s Lexus in front of Alex Hargreaves’s house in South City Park to take Paddie home to his father. As they pulled up, Julie and Colin came out of the house next to the rooming house. Jill smiled to see them holding hands. She hoped that taking care of Paddie would give Colin and Julie enough time to work out their relationship.
Jill went to the back seat to take the sleeping Paddie from his car seat.
“Say good-bye Katy,” Jill said.
“Bye-bye Paddie. Merry Christmas!” Katy said.
Katy’s voice made Paddie open his eyes. Paddie waved to her.
“Don’t forget my tree!” Paddie said to Jill.
“I have it right here,” Jacob said. He came around the back of the SUV holding the two foot tall Christmas tree Paddie had picked for his room. “Hey Colin.”
Jacob and Colin shook hands. While the men fell into Hockey talk, Julie took Paddie from Jill.
“How are you?” Jill asked.
Julie laughed at Jill’s tone.
“You’re surprised I’m here,” Julie said. She kissed Paddie’s cheek. “Did you have fun?”
Paddie nodded then nestled into his mother.
“I moved in with Colin this weekend,” Julie said. “Col lives in the top half of this house but I guess you know that.”
“Jake is rehabbing the house,” Jill said. “I worked on Colin’s rooms but left the others. I was hoping you might….”
“Thanks,” Julie said. “We’re excited… hopeful. It’s… better… nice.”
“I wanted to ask you,” Julie said. “I mean, Paddie loves Katy so much. We were hoping maybe you guys could come over the day after Christmas for a little brunch. Paddie has some little things he got for Katy.”
“Katy has a few things for Paddie,” Jill said. “I’ll ask Jake. I don’t think we have anything planned. He’ll probably have to work, but Katy and I could come.”
“Really?” Julie’s face lit up. “That would be great. Listen, I know that you have a lot of friends, and are a model and everything, but…”
Julie’s face clouded. She looked over at Colin. Colin walked over to put his arm around her. Jacob turned to stand next to Jill.
“I’m leaving work. Taking a leave of absence for the rest of the year,” Julie said. “Fresh start. You know. We’re putting our house in Lowry on the market. I’m letting go of everything I had before.”
“We had before,” Colin added.
Jill hugged Julie.
“I wondered if we might be friends,” Julie said.
“Of course,” Jill said. “I certainly know what it’s like to start over from scratch.”
Jill heard a sound and watched Katy run over to join them. Jill picked her up.
“Katy and I started over just a year ago,” Jill said.
“Plus, I need to finish the colors in your home,” Jill said. “That will be our first excuse to get together.”
“You can make brunch on Friday?” Colin asked.
“Sounds very fun,” Jacob said.
“Did you get my tree?” Paddie asked.
“We’ll set it up in your room,” Colin said.
“At the yucky house?” Paddie asked.
“This house,” Colin said.
Paddie cheered. Julie kissed his cheek. They turned to go into their new home.
“See you Friday,” Jacob said.
Katy and Jill followed him into the car. After settling Katy in her car seat, Jill got into the passenger seat. Jacob leaned over to kiss her lips.
“You are very sweet,” Jacob said. “Julie really needs a friend.”
“Everyone needs a friend.”
“I don’t!” Katy said. “I have Paddie and he’s my best ever friend!”
Laughing they made their way to the Castle to join the holiday celebration.
Monday morning – 4:30 A.M.
Sitting on her meditation pad, Delphie heard the house start to stir. The family was getting up for work. She needed to get moving. Yet something held her in place. Not an evil force or another’s will, Delphie was held in place by a question. For the last week, Delphie had started her meditation session with a single question : “Why has all this misfortune fallen upon us?”
The Goddesses were silent on this topic.
She wondered if their silence was because she was so lucky, so blessed with love, laughter and prosperity. Was she not grateful enough?
The cloud of misfortune felt so dark, so heavy and so silent. The Goddesses must surely see it more clearly than she did. They refused to answer.
Ever since she was a small child, Delphie had relied on the Goddesses to guide her, support her and care for her. Even when she lived with Levi Johansen, the Goddesses intervened to help her. After all, they brought Celia into her life.
Delphie had tried to reach Celia but Celia was silent as well. Only her clients received her psychic support. Otherwise, the spirits and Goddesses were silent. She meant to ask Jacob or Katy but kept forgetting in the Christmas busyness.
Snuffing out her candles, she said a closing prayer to Quan Yin and began getting ready for her day. Sam had wanted to get some sleep so he slept in his rooms last night. She made the easy journey down the stairs to the kitchen. Hearing rustling in the living room, she went out to see who was up.
She stopped short at the doorway to the living room. Jacob was standing in the middle of the living room with ornaments flying around him. With a flick of a finger, an ornament would fly to the tree then gently settle on a branch.
“Damn it! You little shit! I knew you were going to do this!” Wearing a pair of flannel pajamas, Valerie pushed past Delphie. “You get to decorate the tree every year. You better not have put my favorite ornament on the tree.”
Jacob smiled. Valerie’s favorite ornament hovered in front of her face.
Valerie snatched it from the air. While ornaments flew around her, Valerie skipped to the tree and placed her ornament. She kissed Jacob’s cheek on the way back to the kitchen.
“Your skills have improved,” Delphie said. “And your other abilities?”
“Just a second, I’m almost done,” Jacob said. An angel holding a star lifted to the top of the tree. The tree shimmied and shuddered as the angel settled on the top. “I figured I should practice. Jill wants to do our tree the old fashioned way.”
“Your other abilities?”
“What about them?”
Jacob walked to Delphie to hug her.
“They’re stronger than they were, especially since Jill’s here. I don’t know if it’s something about Jill or if pining for her all the time made me weaker. I’m a lot stronger when she’s around.”
“Love will do that.”
“I think it’s her.” Jacob smiled. “Katy’s powers are stronger when Jill’s around. Yours too.”
“I’ll have to pay more attention,” Delphie said. “Have you talked to your mother lately?”
Delphie tried to make her voice casual as if she was curious, not desperate. Jacob gave her a long look.
“Stop psychic-ing me.” Delphie used Jacob’s favorite saying back at him.
“Johansen has you in a cloud, Delphie,” Jacob said. “That’s why you feel shut off. Do you remember feeling this way before?”
“Not until you mention it, the cloud started after I saw him again,” Delphie said. “And yes, I was like this before. Even though the Goddesses supported me, and I could see their support daily, I couldn’t hear them. Not until I was free.”
“How did you get free?” Jacob asked.
“They put Levi on some medication,” Delphie said. “It just happened.”
“Huh,” Jacob said. “I’m going to try to make coffee from here. Want to watch?”
Delphie wrinkled her nose at the vision of coffee grounds all over the kitchen. She shook her head.
“I’m making coffee, Jake. Don’t mess with me,” Valerie yelled from the kitchen. “I’m tougher than I look.”
Laughing, Delphie pushed Jacob into the kitchen.
“I need practice,” Jacob said. “Big objects are easy, but it’s the finer details that take real practice.”
“You’re stronger than Levi ever was,” Delphie said. “Thanks for the coffee, Val.”
“Easy to do with HANDS.”
Valerie held her hands up to Jacob’s face. He laughed. Singing ‘I’ve got the power,’ Valerie trotted upstairs to change.
“You have to kick this thing,” Jacob said.
“I can’t,” Delphie said.
“You couldn’t,” he said. “You can now. What’s the question?”
“Why has all of this misfortune come over us?” Delphie asked.
“What misfortune?” Sam asked on his way into the kitchen. He hugged and kissed Delphie good morning.
“All these law suits, Val losing her movie, poor Sandy’s past coming back to hurt her, Jacob’s heart problems, the company’s struggles, the list is pretty long. And it’s happened all at once.”
“I lost my baby,” Honey wheeled into the kitchen for a cup of coffee.
“Honey’s baby,” Delphie said. “The doctor said the baby was fine.”
“No genetic problems. There was no reason for the miscarriage,” Honey said. “They’re guessing it was because of the injury but….”
Honey shrugged then sighed. Delphie kneeled to hug her.
“That’s a lot of misfortune,” Delphie said.
“At least we have each other.” Sam placed his hand on Delphie’s back. “That’s all that matters to me.”
Delphie stood to hold him.
“I think it’s Johansen.”.
Delphie’s head jerked to Jacob. Jacob poured a travel mug of coffee for Honey. He gave her milk then poured a cup of coffee for himself.
“Then Johansen must die,” Honey poured the milk into her coffee then gave it back to Jacob. “Asshole. I don’t even know the man and he takes my baby? MJ better not find out. He will flip out.”
“He’s evil,” Delphie said. “He can do things… You’d be surprised.”
“How did he get in the house?” Sam asked. “I thought the house was protected by white light or Goddesses or some other thing.”
Jacob nodded to Delphie.
“I didn’t let him in,” Delphie said.
“Cloud?” Jacob asked.
“Oh God,” Delphie’s hands flew to her face. “It’s all my fault! Just like Delbert. It’s all my fault!”
“That’s how,” Jacob said. “He rides in on your guilt.”
“I was there when Delbert died, Delphie. Delbert did what he wanted to do, what he needed to do for himself,” Sam said. “Surely you know that.”
“I don’t give a shit how he got in here,” Honey said. “I want to know how to get rid of him. I don’t play nice when people hurt me or my family. It’s all just bullshit!”
Honey wheeled out of the kitchen.
“You have to let go of your guilt.”
Jacob put his hand on Delphie’s shoulder. He kissed her cheek then went up the stairs to his apartment.
“He’s right.” Sam prepared a cup of coffee then started another pot. He turned on the burner to the tea pot. “What would it take to let this go?”
“Forgiveness,” Delphie said.
“Whose forgiveness do you need? Celia never blamed you. Ever. Her mother always said that Delbert did whatever he wanted all his life. Even Celia’s weirdo sister never thought it was your fault.” Sam pulled her to him. “I never thought it was your fault.”
Delphie rested her head against Sam’s shoulder.
“Jake decorated the tree,” she said.
“I hope he’s not too shy to un-decorate the tree this year,” Sam said. “That’s the real work.”
“Forgive yourself,” Sam said. Kissing her forehead, he stepped back. He made Delphie’s green tea then gave her the cup. “I need to keep moving.”
“Ask Celia to help you.” Sam turned at the door. “If anyone can do the impossible, it’s Celia.”
Sipping her green tea, Delphie realized that Celia would fix this. Celia would think it was funny. She just needed to ask. When she was a child, she never asked to be free of Levi Johansen because she didn’t know she could. She didn’t know life without him. She knew life now.
Delphie jogged up the steps to her apartment. Sitting back down on her meditation bolster, she lit the candles and restarted her incense. Closing her eyes, she whispered:
“Celia, help me lift this cloud.”
The silence was deafening.
Denver Cereal continues next week…. Please note - Denver Cereal will skip Christmas and catch up with the gang near New Years. The Christmas segment will be available as a special chapter during the holiday season.
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