Six weeks later October 30 - 3:40 AM
Jacob stood near the cash register at Pete’s restaurant while he waited for Jill to appear from the back. When he arrived, she was arguing with a male customer. She slapped at his hand while he fondled and rubbed her butt. Then, she stopped cold at something he said. She was so upset that the enormous Greek cook intervened. Crying, Jill ran to the back of the restaurant. Thrown out of the restaurant, the customer paced back and forth outside the front door.
The top of Jill’s head and eyes appeared in the window of the doorway to the back. Seeing Jacob waiting, her face lit up. She skipped across the restaurant to kiss him ‘hello’.
“How was hockey?” She asked. “I figured you were still playing because your team didn’t come in.”
“Long game but we won in over time. The guys needed to go home,” he said. “I picked up something for us.”
Jill beamed at him. Seeing the man pacing outside, her entire being shifted. She chewed her lip and looked down at the ground.
“What’s going on, Jill?” Jacob asked.
“Remember I told you that Trevor’s friend said Trevor owes him money?” Jill asked. Leaning to speak in his ear, she said, “He said that he’s going to take it in trade. From me.”
“How long has this been going on?”
“He showed up here about a week ago. Every night, it’s just a little worse,” Jill said. “I guess he talked to the attorneys. There’s no record of Trevor owing him money, so he’s not a part of the estate settlement.”
“Stay here,” Jacob said. He looked up to see the manager of Pete’s coming toward them. “Can you keep her here for a minute?”
“Sure,” the manager said. “Come on Jill. Let’s get a cinnamon roll for Katy.”
Leaving the restaurant, Jacob assessed the customer. The man’s eyes shifted away from Jacob. He was paper thin and his fingers were picked to the bone. Meth amphetamine addict.
“I understand that Trevor McGuinsey owes you money,” Jacob said.
“What’s it to you?”
“Jill Roper. That’s what it is to me,” Jacob said. “Right at this moment, you and I don’t have any problems. But you keep harassing Jill? You and I are going to have problems.”
“What do I care?”
“You know how Trevor died?”
“He was shot or something.”
“Assassin’s bullet through the forehead,” Jacob said. “You know why?”
The man shook his head.
“Because he was harassing Jill,” Jacob said. “The same Jill you are harassing.”
Jacob made the crazy look he usually reserved for hockey. The man backed away to the corner then ran down Race Street. Laughing, Jacob went back into Pete’s. Jill was so happy to see him that she jumped into his arms.
“I don’t think he’ll bother you any more,” Jacob said. “If he does, we’ll figure something out.”
“He’s banned from the restaurant,” the manager said. “We don’t allow people to harass our girls.”
“Good.” Jacob held out his hand to Jill. “Come on, let’s go home.”
Hand in hand, they walked across Colfax and down the half block to the Castle. With Jacob leading the way, they wound through the Castle to the ballroom. At one end of the ballroom, Jacob had set a red and white checked tablecloth, a bucket of fried chicken and a couple of cold sodas.
“I thought we could picnic,” Jacob said. He turned on ballroom music. “I thought you might enjoy practicing our dancing.”
Jill laughed. They settled cross legged on the tablecloth. She picked up a chicken breast, wrinkled her nose, then set it down. She took off her work shoes and stretched her feet with her hands.
“I have to fit into my gown,” she said. “It’s tight.”
“In all of the right places,” he said. “Plus, I’ll work it off you.”
He raised his eyebrows at her seductive statement. Of course, Jill wanted him to promise to dance with her. Smiling, he nodded.
She dove into the fried chicken. She hadn’t been eating much in preparation for the upcoming charity fundraiser season. With Valerie home, they had been invited to events almost every weekend day in November and December. Saturday night would be her first appearance among Denver’s elite in a Martin’s gown. She wanted everything to be perfect.
“Did check on Katy?”
“I called Megan around eight. Katy fell asleep about seven-thirty.” He set his chicken down to watch her lick her fingers.
“How come you’re not eating?” She asked.
“I was hoping she would pick something to wear for Halloween. She’s excited to trick or treat. But can’t seem to decide.”
“Val was like that,” he said.
While she ate, and he ogled her, he regaled her with exaggerated stories from his hockey game.
“We’re child free with an entire ballroom to ourselves. How would you like to work off those calories?”
“Dance,” she said.
Standing, he held his hand out to her. She took his hand and rose from the tablecloth.
“Your shoes, madam.”
Jacob held out a pair of black stiletto Christian Louboutins. He held her stable while she slipped into the shoes. He raised an eyebrow.
“You sure you want to dance.”
She laughed off his lust. Holding out his arms, she fit comfortably into his dancer’s embrace.
“One, two, three, four,” he said.
And they were off. Feeling more than seeing each other, they moved in happy unison around the room. The music pulsed through their veins. Time evaporated. As the sun peeked over the horizon, they made their way upstairs to continue their work out.
October 30 - 3 PM
“Fairy princess,” Katy said. Trailing Paddie, she ran from the main Castle kitchen into the main living room.
“Witch.” Paddie ran after Katy with Honey wheeling close on his tail.
“I’m no witch, Paddie Hargreaves. Take that back.”
“You see the future. You live in a Castle. That’s what witches do.”
“I do not have green skin, Paddie Hargreaves.”
“Green skin?” Paddie cocked his head to the side as if he had no idea what Katy was talking about.
“You have to pick something.” Honey pointed to the stack of dresses on the couch. She held up the dress that her sisters had picked. “Briana’s wearing this pink one and Becky is wearing this purple one.”
“I don’t want to wear what they’re wearing!” Katy’s face pinched and her eyes welled with tears.
“What if you wear this?”
Valerie came in from a small room off the living room holding four antique lace girl’s dresses. Katy gasped.
“SO PRETTY!!” Katy squealed.
“They are gorgeous, Val,” Honey said.
“I’ve been going through the boxes that were stored in your rooms.” Valerie made her ‘I’ve been chastised’ face, then imitated her father’s voice, “It’s your job, Val. Got to get it done.”
“You found Daddy’s fancy sparkly light,” Katy said. “We looked but we did not touch.”
“We didn’t ever touch,” Paddie shook his head with sincerity.
“Exactly. I found the ballroom chandelier. You were smart to not touch it,” Valerie said. She held up her hands. “I cut my fingers.”
Katy and Paddie mimicked her gesture to show their uncut fingers. Valerie laughed.
“Let’s see what might work,” Val said.
While Katy bounced up and down with excitement, Val held the dresses up to her. They were all too big.
“I’m so sorry, Katy. They’re too big,” Val said.
Katy’s eyes filled with tears. With Paddie following close behind, she ran through the kitchen and up the stairwell to her attic home. The toddlers ran across the open space to the small office toward the end of the loft. Jill looked up the drafting table where she had been drawing. She leaned back so that Katy and Paddie could climb onto her lap. With her arms around Jill’s neck, Katy pressed her tear stained face into Jill’s neck. Paddie hung onto the other side.
“What is it, Katy-baby? What happened?” Jill set down her drawing pencil to hold the children close. “I thought you were playing with Honey this afternoon so I could finish these nice people’s house design.”
“I wanna go back to our apartment,” Katy said. “I don’t wanna live here anymore.”
In empathy for Katy, Paddie began crying. Jill rubbed the children’s backs while they cried.
“Oh Katy-baby, you hated that apartment,” Jill said. “Remember it was stinky and hot and not as beautiful as our new home. Plus Delphie doesn’t live there. Daddy doesn’t live there. Auntie Valerie and Uncle Mike don’t live there. Auntie Honey doesn’t even live there.”
“I don’t wanna live with them anymore. I want it to be us again.”
“If we move back, we won’t be able to host the haunted house tomorrow,” Jill said. “Remember how excited your cousins were? Your friends at school? Paddie? You and Daddy and Uncle Bland and your Granddaddy made special scary stuff.”
Jill felt Katy’s wet face rub against her neck when the little girl nodded.
“What’s wrong, Katy-baby?” Jill whispered. She kissed Katy’s face. Paddie shifted to hug Katy.
“Everybody’s going to be a fairy princess.” Between her sobs, Katy added, “Even the perfect Bree and Becky.”
“Whoa, how did Bree and Becky get to be perfect?”
“They are blonde and… and… everybody likes them better. I liked it better when it was just you and me.”
Jill did her best to not laugh out loud. Katy did not like it better when it was just Jill and Katy. In the last six months, Katy had blossomed in every way.
“Precious baby-girl,” Jill said. “Precious baby-boy.”
“You don’ haf to be a princess,” Paddie said to Katy. “You could be a knight like me!”
“You think I’m a witch,” Katy said.
“The witch costume matches mine.” Paddie shrugged.
Katy’s tears evaporated but she did not move to get up.
“What happened, Katy-baby?” Jill asked.
“Everyone loves Bree and Becky more than me,” Katy said. “Granddaddy is their Daddy. My first Daddy is dead. And my second Daddy is their Daddy’s son. I’m not blonde. I not as pretty as them. I’m not….”
“Hmmm,” Jill said. She tickled Katy’s side. “That doesn’t sound true.”
“It’s true.” Katy nodded her sincerity. “Everybody loves them more than me.”
“I don’t,” Paddie said.
“See, Paddie doesn’t.” Jill kissed Katy’s head. “You spend a lot of time with your Granddaddy. He’s teaching you how to fish. He’s toured you around all Daddy’s work sites. He doesn’t do that with Briana and Becky.”
“Bree is big enough for the fancy dresses.” Pulling away from her mother’s neck, Katy nodded. “I don’t have a fancy dress. You have a fancy dress. Auntie Valerie has a fancy dress. Delphie has a scary fancy dress.”
“My mommy has a fancy dress too.” Paddie nodded at Katy’s logic.
“Even Auntie Honey has a fancy dress,” Katy said.
“Auntie Honey’s welcome home party is tonight,” Jill said. “Her dress is for that. Have you seen her costume for tomorrow?”
Katy and Paddie shook their heads.
“She’s a pretty scary Mistress of the haunted Castle,” Jill said. “Do you remember what’s also happening tonight?”
“Uncle MJ is coming home.”
“And what else?”
“Auntie Honey gets her pretty ring that I helped pick up from that nice lady Thao,” Katy said. She buried her face in Jill’s neck.
“At the Art of Gold? Yep. What did she give you?”
“A fancy chocolate candy for me and one for Paddie. We ate them at school.”
“If we move back to the apartment we’ll miss Honey’s coming home party, and our Halloween haunted house party, and most of all we’d miss your Daddy,” Jill said.
“He can come with us,” Katy said.
“How come you can’t wear the dresses Mrs. Valerie found for you?” Paddie asked.
Jill pulled Katy away so she could look at her face.
“I’m too little,” Katy said. “Bree will look perfect in those fancy dresses.”
“Your Auntie Megan can sew anything. We might ask her to fix it,” Jill said. “You know she could.”
“Auntie Megan doesn’t live here.”
“We can call her on the phone,” Jill said. “I know she’d love to help her special Katy girl.”
Jill took her phone from the desk.
“See I press ‘M’,” Jill said. Megan’s picture came up on her phone.
“Look Paddie! That’s Auntie Megan!”
“I press this green button and….”
Megan picked up the phone.
“Heya Jilly,” Megan said. Megan sounded like she was washing dishes.
“We have a major problem, Meg,” Jill said.
“What happened?” Jill could hear the water turn off. “What can I do?”
“We have a very special girl who needs some special Auntie help with her costume,” Jill said. “We have some fancy dresses that are too big.”
“You never learned how to sew,” Megan said.
“With you around, I never needed to,” Jill said. “Would you have time to….?”
“Of course,” Megan said. “We’re coming for Honey’s party. The boys are excited to see what you’ve set up for the haunted house. I’ll have plenty of time. Why don’t I bring my portable? We can make the adjustments and she’ll be all ready for tomorrow.”
“Bless you,” Jill said.
“That child is your daughter,” Megan said. “Hey, I have to run and finish dinner. Love you, sis.”
“Love you,” Jill said into the phone.
She set the phone down on her table.
“Do you still want to move if you can wear one of the pretty dresses?” Jill asked.
Katy shook her head.
“Why don’t we go see what Valerie found for us?” Jill asked.
The toddlers climbed off her lap. Standing, Jill held out her hands. The children took her hands.
“Before we go? Can we have an ice cream?” Katy asked.
“Another good reason to not be at the apartment,” Jill said.
“ICE CREAM!” Katy squealed.
Laughing, Jill retrieved an ice cream sandwich from the freezer. They were almost to the door when a worried Valerie stuck her head in.
“Oh God, Jill, I’m so sorry,” Valerie said.
“Would you like an ice cream sandwich?” Jill asked.
In this moment, the movie thin actress was the Aunt first. She dropped to her knees to hug Katy and Paddie. When she looked up, Jill gave her an ice cream sandwich.
“I haven’t had one of these in twenty years. At least.” Valerie said.
“Are those the dresses?”
Valerie gave Jill the dresses before tearing open her ice cream. Jill held up one dress after the other.
“I like this one,” Jill said.
“I do too,” Katy said.
“Me too,” Paddie said.
“Then we agree,” Jill said. “Our fairy princess will wear this dress for Halloween.”
When the children cheered, and Valerie laughed, Jill felt an overwhelming sense of joy.
October 31 - 12:03 AM
Naked and entwined, Sandy sat on Aden’s lap with her thighs to either side of him. His hands grasped her behind. They rose slowly, playfully, until, like a flash of light, her head fell back, her face flushed red, and she sighed her release. Without warning, she pounced upon his lips and tongue. She kissed him through his climax and onto the aftermath.
Of all the things Aden loved about Sandy, he loved her tiger kisses the most. He craved them during his day. Looked forward to them every time they were together. Every moment of every day was a tease for the moment of release, climax and kisses. He wrapped his arms around her to hold her tight.
“Happy Birthday,” he whispered in her ear.
Surprised, she pulled back to look at him.
“How did you….?”
“Your Godfather called last week,” Aden said. Imitating the Denver Police Detective’s brusque manner, he said, “Norsen? Sandra’s birthday is the thirty-first. Get her something nice.”
“So did I?”
“What do you mean?” She asked.
“Wasn’t that nice?”
Sandy laughed. Pulling on her short sheer bathrobe, she went into his master bathroom for a glass of water. She took a long drink, then refilled the glass for him.
“The kids made you some small things,” he said.
“I hate my birthday, Aden. Really. Can we just ignore it?”
“After the breakfast party,” he said. “Your mother’s coming over.”
“Oh great. Don’t you have to work?”
“I’m off until Tuesday,” he said.
Opening the drawer to his bedside table, he took out two packages. One looked like an envelope, the other looked like a ring box.
“Happy Birthday, my darling Sandy. I’m so very glad you were born.”
Sandy hugged him.
“Will you open them?”
“No engagement ring,” Sandy said.
“Nope. Even though we’ve been friends for more than six years, we are not going to talk about marriage until we’ve DATED at least a year,” Aden said. “I respect you too much to try to force you into something you’re not comfortable with. And if you don’t want to get married? That’s fine with me.”
Sandy smiled a little girl smile he had only seen once or twice when she was eating something gooey and chocolatey. She ripped off the Happy Birthday wrapping on the ring looking box. Opening the cover, she gasped when she saw the floating ruby heart with three diamonds near the tip on a gold snake chain.
“Is this one of Jill’s?” Sandy asked.
“No, ma’am,” Aden said. “The kids and I purchased that together. Well, Nash figured out how the website worked. Noelle insisted on the heart. I picked the size and added the diamond. One for each of us.”
Sandy hugged him.
“You have one more,” he said.
“Help me put this on,” she said.
Standing in front of his full length mirror, he helped her with the clasp of the ruby necklace. As if to check it’s strength, she pulled on the necklace. Spinning in place, she kissed him.
“Thank you. It’s…. I’ve always wanted….”
“You have one more,” he said. He gave her the envelope.
She tore off the wrapping paper to find plane tickets to Cancun.
“A couple years ago, you said that you’d always wanted to go to see Chichen Itza. We’re staying on the beach just outside the jungle.”
“You and I,” Aden said. “We leave Saturday morning so that we don’t miss Halloween. Is that all right?”
“We get to trick or treat? Go to the big Castle haunted house? And go to Mexico?” Sandy’s smile lit up the room. “What about the kids?”
“They’re staying with Delphie and Sam. They’re pretty excited about it because they get to go to one of those fundraising dinners.”
“Fancy party,” Sandy said.
“We have a number of those to attend this season, too,” Aden said. “They’re taking our place this time.”
“All of this - you, the kids, everything. It’s all what I’d always hoped and dreamed of,” Sandy said. “Thank you doesn’t seem like enough.”
“This jewel, and the trip, pale in comparison to how much I love you, how much the kids love you. To the joy you bring us.”
Sandy hugged him.
October 31 - 1:07 P.M.
Jill stalked the Castle side door waiting for the mailman. Aden’s surprise trip to Cancun had put a crimp in their girls day at the spa. Jill had ordered a perfect-for-Sandy yellow bikini. It was supposed to be here Wednesday. Denver’s Postal Service never missed a chance to prove reaffirm it’s status at the slowest in the country.
Jill looked through the metal gate. A few photographers lingered across the street but the pressing hoard had been cleared off by the city. American Disabilities Act. Honey needed free and easy access to her home.
The mailman waved from the gate. He laughed when she squealed over the bikini package. He also gave her the stack of letters, magazines, and other Castle junk. Thanking him profusely, she waved as he walked away.
“Anything for us?” MJ met her at the door.
“I think Honey has a stack for you, MJ. Did you see it?”
“I was kinda busy last night, Miss Jill. Had to work off a trip and a diamond ring!” MJ impulsively kissed Jill’s cheek. “I know I’ve said this, but thank you for the diamond. She’s so happy. I never would have thought….”
“Girl’s like bling, MJ,” Jill laughed.
“I love this place.” MJ leaned close to her. “Do you ever get used to the whole thing?”
“I haven’t,” Jill said.
MJ touched her arm then wandered down the hall toward their apartment.
Jill laughed. Flipping through mail, she shook her head to MJ. With her package under her arm, she was about to set the envelopes down when she saw a postcard sticking out of one of Valerie’s magazines.
Her pulse quickened at the picture.
Turning it over, she saw that it was addressed to Jillian Roper. Sweating, she glanced around to see if anyone was watching her. Looking back at the card, she read:
Your mother would like to be there when you marry Jacob Marlowe.
Denver Cereal continues next week….
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