Two weeks later
Honey Lipson opened her eyes slowly. Having just moved here, she wasn’t used to the quiet busyness of Craig Hospital. Lying in her bed, the shuffling hospital sounds reminded her of rats scurrying around the house in the middle of the night. One of her earliest childhood memories.
She took sniff. When they didn’t stink of rot, the flowers on her bedside table yielded a distinctive fresh odor. Nope just fresh flowers. Today.
She liked Swedish Hospital. She had floated on a wave of blissful medications.
Here at Craig, someone woke her, took her vitals, chatted with irritating cheer, then cruelly made her move. The movement was awful, painful, and more than anything, humiliating. She wanted the blissful, drug induced dark. Today, the cheerful bitch told her she had evaluations and physical therapy and occupational therapy and tests and….
She was grateful for her private room. She would never admit it but she cried. A lot. Especially at night.
Her mother came every afternoon at two. She loved her mother. She was enjoying watching her mother blossom as a person, not just someone’s wife, mother or girlfriend.
But her mother’s desperate guilt had to go. She wanted to tell her mother to just get over it, but she never did. On some level, she understood Tiffanie. At least her mother came to see her. She knew that her mother refused to even speak to her sister.
What woke her? Whatever.
Honey closed her eyes intent on slipping away while she could.
“I saw your eyes open. You’re awake,” a male voice said. “Don’t you’re pretend you’re not.”
“Michael Scully Junior, are you holding my hand?” Honey asked.
“I am,” MJ said. “And I’m not going to let go.”
“What happened to ‘I hope I never ever see you again ever in my whole life’?” Honey asked.
“Changed my mind,” MJ said.
“Maybe I haven’t,” Honey said. “Just because I’m stuck in this bed doesn’t mean you can sneak in here and hold my hand.”
“I… I… I….”
Stuttering, MJ blew out a frustrated breath. Honey was the most infuriating person he had ever met. She moved her fingers and he looked up at her face. She winked at him. He let out a breath.
“My brain gets messed up when I get frustrated or anxious,” MJ said.
“I understand that you saved my life,” Honey said. “Thanks. I guess.”
“It’s hard. The first weeks are so hard that you feel like you’ll always be like this. But you won’t.”
“How would you know?” Honey’s whole body blazed with indignation brought about by weeks of desperate pain.
“I was in an accident in Iraq. Our truck ran over an IED…. a bomb. I survived. Almost unhurt. I was a medic. I went from man to man on our team. I think I got to everyone. I hope I got to everyone before….”
MJ shook his head. Looking up, he saw Honey’s pale blue eyes watching him. She nodded to encourage him.
“I guess the bomb wasn’t fully discharged or there was another one…. I don’t know. There was another blast. I lost my right leg below the knee and my brain got scrambled.”
“I’m sorry, MJ. I didn’t know.”
“I was in Walter Reed for a long time,” he said. “So I know how hard it is. You want to die. Every day. And you can’t figure out why you’re not dead.”
Honey made a kind of ‘humft’ noise.
“I love you Honey,” MJ said. “Always have.”
“You have a very funny way of showing it,” Honey said. “The last words you said to me were ‘Fuck you, you stupid bitch’.”
“Oh Honey,” MJ said. “We had a huge fight. You weren’t stellar yourself. You told me ‘I wasn’t EVEN a man’ and a whole bunch of other stuff that I was mad about for years but don’t remember now. Brain damage has some privileges.”
“Do you remember why we fought?” Honey asked.
“No,” MJ said. “You?”
“We fought a lot.”
“Why did we fight so much?” MJ asked. “I can’t for the life of me remember.”
“Because you can’t keep your zipper up,” Honey said.
“Yeah,” MJ said. “I did like the girls. I never understood why you stayed with me.”
“Low self-esteem,” Honey said. She winked at him and he laughed.
“You weren’t exactly the most faithful either, missy,” MJ said.
Honey made her best shocked face. They laughed.
“I was in high school. You were a grown up Army man,” Honey said.
“Grown Army boy,” MJ said.
“Why are you here?” she asked. “I am grateful you saved my life. I just wish…. I mean, just a couple weeks ago I was fine, normal but now….”
“Boy, I know how that feels.” MJ’s eyes scanned her face. “And I don’t know why I’m here. Ever since that night…. I mean, before you were attacked. You were so beautiful in that blue dress… dancing with all those men. I haven’t stopped thinking about you. I was driving home from working out and I… wound up in the Craig Hospital parking lot.
“That didn’t sound very good,” MJ said.
“I know what you mean,” Honey said. “I saw you at the airport that day. I guess you were working. I…. Yeah, I know what you mean.”
“What would you say to trying it again?” MJ asked.
“I don’t know, MJ. I don’t think I’ll ever walk again. I can move my fingers some but who knows what I’ll be able to do. Most days I wish I’d died. Every thing else is a blur of pain and meds. My brother, Jake, comes to see me every day. I don’t remember his visits. Mom says we talk but….
“I… I’m not even sure what you’re asking. I can’t go on dates or dance or fool around or….”
“What?” Honey asked.
“I remember that feeling. That’s all,” MJ said. “You’ve never given up on anything, Honey. You never gave up on me. You never gave up on your horrible sister or your ridiculous mother. You don’t give up. So why would you give up now?”
“Look where not giving up on my sister got me? I should have turned her in a decade ago. Mom had no idea what she was up to in high school or….”
“Some things just happen, Honey,” MJ said. “It wasn’t your fault.”
Honey closed her eyes to keep him from seeing the tears seeping into her hair. He touched her cheek to catch a tear.
“I am stationed here in Colorado now. I travel about seventy percent of the time, but I have time off every five weeks and at least six weeks in the summer. So far, we’ve been home every weekend. The LC likes to be home at the weekends.”
“What do you do?” She asked.
“Can’t tell you. Sorry,” he said. “I’d like to see you when I’m home. Would you like that?”
“At this moment, I don’t know what I would like,” she said. “I’m not great company. My mom comes every afternoon to help me bathe and eat. She usually leaves around seven.”
“Why don’t we have a date tonight? I’ll come about seven-thirty. I can bring a movie and some snacks,” he said. “You still like Milk Duds and Captain Crunch all mixed together?”
Honey moved her head slightly to nod. “What about the other girls?”
“No other girls. I have to be one hundred percent honest and faithful in every area of my life to keep my new job. You don’t have to worry about me cheating. What about other guys?”
“Look where I am, MJ!”
“I saw an orderly looking in here,” MJ laughed.
“You’re very funny,” Honey said. “I… Yeah. As long as you don’t expect too much, I’d like it if you came tonight.”
“GREAT!” MJ beamed. “Wanna see my fake leg?”
“Maybe on the second date,” she said.
“Oh, thank God,” Megan Roper said as she opened the door to find Jacob on the other side.
“I came as soon as I got your message. My team’s in a hockey tournament so my phone was off,” Jacob said. He stepped over the threshold to Jill’s oldest sister’s house. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t have any idea,” Megan said. Megan’s eyes conveyed her worry and her voiced pressed on in a fast whisper. “Jill’s been staying here a couple nights a week. She usually gets here about six. We have dinner, all of us, then she stays. She hasn’t been eating so I’ve been trying to get her to eat more. Well, she missed dinner tonight then showed up about eight. Katy was already here. I brought her home with my boys. Jill stepped into the house and started crying. She won’t eat. She hasn’t said anything. She just cries.”
“You don’t have any idea….”
“None. I mean, other than her ex-in-laws are awful. Trevor’s friends have been harassing her for money. They say Trevor borrowed money or promised money or just owed them money. They’ve beenreally cruel saying that Jill is stealing all Trevor’s money. His wife is furious. She hounds Jill for any money from Trevor’s estate. Jill was supposed to start cleaning out their apartment next week but the landlord called and said he needs the apartment clear by the end of the week.”
Jacob nodded and waited for Megan to finish.
“I’ve never seen her this upset,” Megan said. “Never. You know Jill, she can be so detached, kind of eerie calm when she should be upset. But….”
Megan hugged him.
“Thank you for coming. I didn’t know what else to do.”
“I haven’t seen her in two weeks, Megan,” Jacob said. “We text every day but that’s about it. Samantha tells me what’s going on when she remembers to… or feels like it. I don’t have any idea….”
“But you love Jill?”
“Absolutely,” he said.
“That’s what she needs,” Megan said. “She’s in here. Quietly, everyone’s asleep.”
Jacob followed Megan through the dark, quiet east Aurora home to a door near the back.
“This is our family room. She won’t stay in the guest bedroom. Says she likes it in here. I think she likes it because Katy is right across the hall.”
Megan opened the door to the room.
“Jilly, I thought you might….”
Jill ran across the room to Jacob. She tucked herself into his arms. Megan pulled the door closed.
Jill was crying so hard that he couldn’t imagine she could see. He led her to a soft armchair then pulled her on his lap. Nestled on Jacob’s lap, Jill cried into his chest while he caressed her hair.
“What happened?” He whispered.
“I… I… I got my period,” Jill said. “I know it’s dumb but I was hoping so much….”
“Are you laughing at me?”
“I’m laughing at me,” he said. “I was hoping too.”
Jill laughed through her tears. “I’ve missed you.”
“Ah Jill, I’ve missed you too… desperately,” he said. “Remind me why we have to do this?”
“Because everything would be worse if they knew….”
Jill’s tears overwhelmed her. He pulled her into his chest again. Rocking her like a child, he let her cry.
“It’s so horrible… so horrible. Everyone’s mad at me. Every time I turn around someone wants something else from me. If I spend a dime, Trevor’s parents say I’m wasting his money.” Jill took a handkerchief from Jacob. “Thank you for sending Rosa. She’s a Godsend. I don’t think the apartment has ever been that clean. She makes the best food too. And the flowers are so beautiful.”
“Rosa took care of my mother’s house, then Val’s and my living areas. She asked if she could help,” Jacob said. “I’m glad she’s able to help. Are you eating what she makes?”
Jill nodded. “She comes on Mondays and Thursdays. And leaves us dinner for two days. Katy loves her enchiladas. And her sheets are so soft. It’s like a tiny oasis in the middle of this awfulness. I dread the moment my in-laws find out. They will freak out. Did you know people have been coming by the apartment looking for Trevor’s money? It’s crazy. What money did Trevor ever have? I never knew him to have anything. If you hadn’t fixed the security, I think they would have broken into the apartment.”
“What do you need tonight?” Jacob asked.
“I don’t know,” Jill said. “I’ve just tried to hold it together but when my period started, I just lost it. I yelled at Trevor’s father when he called me ‘stupid bitch’ for the eleventy billionth time. I didn’t know what to do so I came over here.”
“Let’s start with food,” Jacob said. “I bet Megan has some Captain Crunch.”
“Nope, all healthy at this house,” Jill said.
“Why don’t I go out and get some supplies?”
“Don’t leave me.” She cuddled deeper into his arms. “Please.”
“You have to eat,” Jacob said. “And sleep.”
There was a tap at the door. Megan poked her head in. She was carrying two bowls.
“I brought some spaghetti. I mean, it’s nothing fancy, just noodles and jar sauce, but….”
“Oh God, that sounds wonderful,” Jacob said. “It smells delicious. Thank you so much.”
Megan blushed to her hair line.
“Like I said, it’s not much… just left overs really.” She set the bowls down on the pool table in the middle of the room. “There’s a water cooler over there with cups. And….”
Megan realized that Jill was nestled on Jacob’s lap. Megan beamed at her sister, shrugged her shoulders, then went toward the door. Jill intercepted her for a hug.
“Thanks sis,” Jill said.
“Love you, Jilly,” Megan said. Looking over at Jacob, she said, “You’ll let me know what I can do?”
“We need to meet tomorrow morning,” Jacob said. “Could you contact the rest of the….”
“They be here. Does seven work?”
Jacob nodded. Megan waved then left the room.
“What was that?”
Jill picked up the bowls of spaghetti and brought them over. He took a bowl from her.
“Oh God, I love spaghetti and jar sauce,” he said. “It’s perfect comfort food. I’m starving.”
“You need help. And messes are my specialty,” he said.
“No. No. You can’t help. No one can help. I have to do it myself.”
“Give me a little credit, Jill,” Jacob said. “No one will know that you’re receiving help.”
“No way. Plus….” Jill bit her lip as her eyes became vague.
“I don’t want you to know about what stupid bitch I am,” Jill whispered.
“I was serious,” she said.
“I know,” Jacob said. “Have you ever been to the art museum and see a painting that you thought was beautiful and someone else thought was ugly?”
“Sure. But I still have to do this myself.”
“Some people don’t know how to appreciate the beauty in other people. They are too caught up in themselves,” Jacob said. “Even if I knew every little detail of what they thought, I’d still see your magnificence.”
“I don’t know. Why did Meg already know?”
“I called Candy to ask if she would either cater or help find caterers for Trevor’s funerals.”
“But they haven’t released the body.”
“That’s all right,” Jacob said. “We’ll have a funeral anyway. When his body is released, you can take it to Ohio.”
“Oh,” Jill said. “That’s a good plan. Trevor’s friends will be so focused on what they get to do, they won’t bug me anymore.”
“I will deal with his wife,” Jacob said. “She’s more my problem than yours. As for Trevor’s friends, I will hire a security service for the building. Mrs. Robinson told me there were people lurking around. I didn’t want to interfere.”
“My father has a particular gift for dealing with difficult people. He thinks they’re funny,” He said. “That’s why we kept Ashforth around for so long. He will enjoy taking care of your in-laws so you won’t have to deal with them all the time. He’s Trevor’s father-in-law afterall.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “He loves you. He won’t care what they say either.”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you trust me?” He asked.
“Of course,” she said. “But….”
“Then tonight, we’ll eat then rest. Tomorrow, I’ll sort out this Trevor inflicted mess. And….”
He took a bite of spaghetti and purred with happiness.
“And we can get to down the real work of making a babies,” he said.
“Work, work, work,” Jill said. “You are a workaholic.”
“Can I just kick her if she says, ‘I mean it’s just like you know’ again?” Mike finished tying his neck tie.
“I will.” Valerie straightened the knot. She looked into his face. “You’re mad because you missed the hockey tournament.”
“With Jake out, our team sucks anyway,” Mike said. “I’m Ok to miss one. But just one.”
“You hate this.”
“I… love you,” Mike said. “This is your work. I can hang. It’s just that these people are so….”
“Stupid,” he said. “All they talk is how hard they’ve worked as if to justify the ridiculous amount of money they have. Most of them work a two days a week!”
“If that,” Valerie said. “Listen….”
“I’m all right,” Mike said.
“I told you we should have stayed in the bathtub,” she said.
Shaking his head, he lifted the keys to her Mercedes sedan from the key hook.
“It’s just a moment in time, Val,” he said. “Let’s make it an early night.”
“Are you tired?” She asked.
“Something like that.”
He scooped her up and kissed her breathless. Setting her down, he opened the front door to their Hollywood Hills home. Valerie opened her cell phone.
“Hack, hack,” Valerie coughed into the phone. “I’m getting sick and I have an early call. We’re going to have to miss tonight. I know. I’m disappointed too. Yes, I will. Besos to you.”
“That’s my girl.”
Shutting the door with a foot, he lifted her into his arms and carried her to the bedroom.
“I think you should move in,” Aden repeated.
“I love my condo,” Sandy said. “Why would I give it up?”
“To live with me and the kids,” he said. He nipped her bare nipple. “To be with me.”
“Aden, I….” Sandy shifted away from him. Rotating her feet to the side of the bed, she sat up and began gathering her clothing.
“Too soon?” Aden asked.
Sandy dressed. Standing at his bedroom door, her eyes wells of sorrow, Sandy shook her head. Aden jumped out of bed.
“Say something,” he said.
“I can’t,” she said. “I’m sorry. I can’t.”
“So I guess this is it,” she said. “I’ll get my things and….”
“Whoa. Wait. This is not it. No, no, no, no, no.” Aden shook his head back and forth. “No way.”
“What other choice do we have?”
“We continue doing what we’re doing,” Aden said. “Some day, the time will be right or maybe never. Some couples live in different houses. I guess I….”
“But you need a wife and your children need a mother,” Sandy said. “And I… I can’t… I….”
Smiling, Aden clutched her to him.
“It’s not all or nothing, Sandy,. You weren’t put on this planet to make my every wish come true. You don’t have to give into every thing I want when I want it.”
“What do you want, Sandy?”
“I like the way things are,” Sandy said.
“Ok. Then come back to bed. Let’s start over.”
When Sandy shook her head, Aden let out a breath.
He knew that look.
Sandy had retreated to someplace far in the back of her head. Helping her out of her clothing, he led her back to the bed. He spooned around her until the storm he’d come to expect arrived. He pulled her onto his chest while she cried.
He had no idea why he loved her so much. He just did.
And if he ever found the bastard responsible for scarring her so deeply, he would kill him.
Denver Cereal will continue next week….
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