Six weeks later
With Katy perched on her lap, Jill sat on a plastic chair in the Cleveland Airport. Katy was sucking her thumb. The thumb sucking was a new thing for Katy. She started doing it in earnest in defiance of Trevor’s father.
Sweet, charming Katy did nothing more than glare when Trevor’s parents were around. Outside of responding to direct questions like, ‘Are you hungry?’, Katy had stopped talking more than a week ago. When they were alone, Katy wanted to cuddle, nuzzle and hug. But when Trevor’s family was around, Katy was absent.
Jill had forgotten about this Katy. Trevor’s Katy. Trevor never met the Katy that Jill knew. Trevor’s Katy was silent, obedient and bland. She never broke anything. She never had giggle fits or squealed or got angry or danced around or hopped in place or ….
Jill caressed Katy’s head. Her eyes shifted to look at Jill. Katy smiled around her thumb.
At least they were finally done with Trevor. All of Trevor’s funerals, two memorials and burial were over. Watching Trevor’s body descend into the ground, Jill felt a wave of relief. She had fooled herself into thinking that once Trevor was in the ground, his parents would back off.
She was wrong.
She’d wanted to push them out of the moving rental car. But instead, good girl Jill returned them to their assisted living facility.
The last thing they said?
Trevor’s asswipe father :”Only a horrible mother would let her child suck her thumb like that.”
Trevor’s crazed mother: “I can’t believe Trevor chose to breed with that woman.”
Good girl Jill kept her mouth shut, waved at the ex-in-laws then made a bee line for the airport. She and Katy giggled at the entrance. They skipped to the counter where they discovered that….
Jill’s ticket was messed up and….
Her credit card was refused and….
A load of other stuff that didn’t make any sense.
Jill wanted to launch herself over the counter and beat the woman senseless. Didn’t the airport counter woman realize that Jill had been alone!? With her evil ex-husband’s body!? And his terrible parents!? For….
Ok, she wasn’t sure how long. But a very long time. She had to get home.
Instead, good girl Jill just smiled. She thanked the woman for her help then sat down in the nearest chair. She wasn’t sure how long she had been sitting here or how long she would sit here.
At the very least, she would sit here until: Jacob answered her forty phone messages or she thought of a plan or she could figure out how to use her Frontier Airlines standby passes to get home or Sandy got off work or hell froze over.
Yes. She was grateful for Jacob’s help.
Yes. She would never be rid of Trevor or his parents if he hadn’t stepped in to fix this mess.
Yes. His father was a genius at dealing with the asshole ex-in-laws.
Yes. She was the one who insisted on taking Trevor’s body back to Ohio.
YES ALONE! Well, with Katy or her old Katy, not this Katy zombie. Still. She HAD to do it.
Yes. Jacob had paid for everything, expected nothing - which was good because he got nothing - and was a fabulous friend.
But where was he?
Of course, her phone battery died hours ago. Every time she tried to charge it in the rental car, Trevor’s father removed the charger. She didn’t have a wall plug charger.
There was always the white courtesy telephone. He could have called her there. But no. No. Calls. From. Jacob.
“Mommy, I’m hungry,” Katy said. “Can we go to the clowny place?”
“Uh huh. Paddie says they have food for kids there,” Katy said.
“Ok, Katy-baby. Let’s get something to eat.”
Jill mentally counted the money in her wallet. She had hidden a Jacob-gifted fifty dollar bill and thought she had at least four singles tucked in her change pocket. Just enough for a room and McDonalds.
Finally, a plan.
Jill carried Katy to the McDonalds counter then ordered. Reaching into her wallet, she noticed that the change compartment was open. Not worried, she went to the secret pocket and…
It was empty.
God damn, thieving parents of that cretin Trevor. Clearly the apple didn’t fall far from that putrid tree. She could just hear that miserable father-in-law. ‘It’s my son’s money anyway.’
Turning back to the McDonald’s clerk, Jill opened her mouth and the entire story fell out. Ex-husband shot to death, jerk off father-in-law, crazy mother-in-law, missing boyfriend, freaked out child.
Jill vomited the entire story.
“Listen, Lady. If you can’t pay, you don’t eat.” The clerk’s face reflected his disgust. “It’s as simple as that.”
“I’ve got it,” Sandy said. She sneered at the clerk. “And wipe that look off your face.”
“SANDY!!” Jill screamed. Hugging Sandy, she squished Katy between them. Katy giggled.
“Get busy,” Tanesha said to the clerk. “Because we want some food too. And you best not spit in any of our food because I WILL find out where you live.”
“TANESHA! Oh my God!” Jill hugged Tanesha in a Katy sandwich. “Where’s Heather?”
“She’s with Noelle in the bathroom,” Sandy said. “They’re trying some makeup. She’ll be here by the time we get our food.”
“Oh God, Sandy. I don’t have any money! And my ticket was canceled and there’s something wrong with Katy’s name and…. Why are you here?”
“Why isn’t your expensively perfect cell phone working?” Tanesha asked. “I texted you at least three times. I do not like it when I don’t hear from my girl.”
“It ran out of juice,” Jill said. “I tried to charge it. Every time I plugged it in, Trevor’s dad disconnected it saying I was wasting Trevor’s money with these fancy gadgets. Oh God. Oh God.”
Jill hiccupped her emotion from anger to sadness to sheer joy.
“It’s over, Jill,” Sandy said.
“How did you get here, Auntie Sandy?” Katy asked.
“We’re a surprise,” Sandy said. “When was the last time you saw Jacob?”
“I was there for his shoulder surgery a few weeks ago,” Jill said. “I’ve been in Ohio since then.”
“But you’ve talked to him?” Sandy asked.
“I think so,” Jill said. “I don’t really remember. Every time I tried to take a call, I was interrupted. We’ve texted.”
“That’s what he said,” Sandy said. “What was the last text you received?”
“Um, I don’t remember.”
“I’ve called and texted about forty times and he doesn’t answer.” Jill defended her irritation and frustration. “You know, there is the white courtesy telephone here.”
“Jacob is at the Lipson Construction retreat,” Sandy said.
“No, Sandy.” Jill’s voice carried her exasperation. “The retreat is at the end of August.”
Sandy and Tanesha laughed. Seeing Heather walking toward them, Sandy asked, “What’s the date today?”
“August Thirtieth. Why?”
“Oh God,” Jill said. “I lost track of the days. No wonder our tickets are screwed up. What about Katy’s name?”
“Jill!” Sandy looked like she could shake Jill. “The DNA tests came through. Jacob is Katy’s father.”
Sandy tickled Katy, who giggled.
“But you knew that, Katy didn’t you?”
“Katy’s name changed.”
“What? Why?” Jill asked.
“Katy is Kathleen Roper Marlowe now. I brought her new birth certificate with me.” Sandy shook her head at Jill. “You filed all of this paperwork! Where’s your head?”
“I’m not doing very well.”
“No shit,” Heather said. Realizing Noelle was there, she said, “No shoot.”
“It’s OK, Heather,” Noelle said. “Daddy swears too.”
“Do I know why you’re here?” Jill asked.
“We’re all going to Maine, girlie.” Tanesha was carrying a tray of McDonald’s food. “Let’s eat. Then we’ll catch our exclusive corporate jet.”
“Why are we going to Maine?” Jill asked.
“God Jill, you are out of it,” Sandy said. Sandy gave Jill an open hug. “The Lipson retreat started early. The board wanted to meet to go over how Lipson was going to respond to the economic down turn. The entire sale to the employees is on the table again. The whole management team left right after Jacob’s surgery.”
“Nash left last week with Delphie to drive to Maine. He says the place is really neat. They went fishing and had real boy time. Whatever that means,” Noelle said. “I got to stay with Sandy.”
“We’ve had fun,” Sandy smiled. “I’ve missed my Jill.”
“I’ve missed my Jill,” Jill said under her breath.
“We’re flying to Maine for some….” Sandy started.
“Shopping!” Tanesha said.
“Play time!” Heather said.
“We’re all booked into at least one full day spa,” Sandy said. “It’s all Jill recovery time. We’re along as a sacrifice for our girl, Jill.”
“I get to go too!” Noelle said.
“Oh.” Jill looked at Katy then at her friends. “Oh.”
“There’s our ride,” Heather said.
Jill turned to see Jacob running toward them.
“Oh my God, I was so worried,” he said. He took Katy from Jill.
“Works.” Grimacing, he shifted Katy to his left arm. “Sort of.”
Life stopped as Jill and Jacob stood, staring at the walls, only a step away from each other. Then Jill threw her arms around his neck.
And life returned.
“It’s over, Jill,” Jacob said.
“What about the estate and all of that?” Jill asked.
“We’ll let the lawyers work out the rest.”
Stepping back, Jill nodded.
“Mommy, can we eat now?” Katy asked.
Jill looked at Katy then laughed.
Honey’s physical therapist lowered the pull up bar so she could grab on. After wrapping her wrist straps around the bar, Honey hooked her not-so-working ring and little fingers on. She held the bar with her mostly working fingers and thumb. The physical therapist turn on the mechanical pulley that lifted the bar and pulled Honey from her wheelchair.
“Ten pull ups,” her physical therapist said. “Get going.”
With his help, Honey squeezed out ten pull ups. She’d always been able to do pull ups. As soon as her scars healed, she wanted back in the gym and back on the pull up bar. Sweaty from her workout, she went slowly today to warm down.
“Ok, let’s finish up with hanging sit ups again,” the physical therapist said. “You were so almost there yesterday. Just five.”
Honey lifted her legs. With the physical therapist’s assistance, she was able to do five hanging sit ups. She could almost do the entire range of motion. Everything, except for the part that required her leg and hip muscles to work. Together. Like they used to. But didn’t.
“The muscles are receiving signals, just very softly,” MJ had said. “Like a low voice on the telephone.”
Honey wasn’t convinced the muscles were listening at all.
“Let’s stretch it out.” The physical therapist moved behind Honey. While Honey hung on the bar, the therapist stretched her right leg. “Hey, how’s your boyfriend?”
“What boyfriend is that?” Honey asked.
“The red haired guy,” the therapist said.
“That guy? He’s out of town most of my life.”
“He’s not your boyfriend?” The therapist moved to stretch her left leg.
“How can you have a boyfriend that’s never around? Sheez, I haven’t seen him in….”
“Twenty days, two hours, and forty-eight minutes,” MJ said from behind her. “Can I do that?”
“Sure,” The therapist said. “I’ll leave you here. You’ll make sure she gets back to her room?”
“You bet,” MJ said.
MJ’s hands stroked her body. Slowly, he took her through stretches for her legs, hips, and waist. Lifting her slightly, he stretched her shoulders and arms. His fingers found her sorest spots and worked to relieve the knots. Honey had to focus all of her attention on the bar to keep from melting to the ground. In this moment, she was sure she’d never felt as cherished, as loved, for exactly who, what and where she was.
She had been angry with him for his little secret missions that kept him away. She knew she was being unreasonable, but she missed him. Especially when Jake was out of town. Even though she’d made friends with a few other patients here, being in the hospital sucked.
“You can drop,” he said.
Honey unwrapped her straps then let go of the bar. She dropped into his arms.
“Hi,” he said.
“Hi,” she replied.
“Would you like to be carried back to your room?”
“I won’t be able to show you my cool wheeling skills,” she said.
“How about a kiss?”
Turning away from him, Honey’s limited mobility in her arms hadn’t stopped her from practicing crossing her arms. She crossed her arms across her chest. He laughed at her stubborn look.
“In that case,” MJ said.
He tossed the tiny Honey over his shoulder. While Honey giggled, he carried her back to her room.
Jill sat down next to Sandy in one of the Learjet’s comfy chairs. She held her hand out to Sandy. Sandy took her hand.
“I’m sorry I’ve been so absent,” Jill said. “I can’t really describe what’s been going on with me. Will you forgive me?”
“I understand. Some things we have to do ourselves,” Sandy said. “I’ve missed you terribly.”
“I’ve missed you,” Jill said. “Can we catch up this week?”
“Of course,” Sandy said. “We’re not that far behind. Mostly I’ve worked and hung out with Aden and the kids. Summer in Denver, you know. Movies at Red Rocks, Jazz in the Park, camping on a weekends, stuff like that.”
“You guys are doing well?” Jill beamed.
“Weird, huh!?” Sandy smiled. “I like him.”
“I like him too.” Jill hugged Sandy. “I’m so happy for you.”
“Me too. Um, Jill?” Sandy moved back from the hug. “Can you do something for me?”
“Anything,” Jill said.
Sandy reached into her purse and pulled out a stack of white business envelopes held together with a rubber band. Each envelope seemed to have something in it.
“For the last six or seven weeks, my fucktard sperm donor has been leaving these with the receptionist at work. She says he comes in, gives her the envelope then leaves. He doesn’t say anything. The envelopes all have my name on them. Would you?”
Jill took the envelopes from Sandy. Taking the rubber band off, she saw that Sandy’s biological father wrote, “YOUR SHARE” under Sandy’s name on each of the envelopes. Jill’s brow creased with concern.
“They are in order of when I got them. The first one’s on the bottom,” Sandy said. “Ok, I’m going to close my eyes.”
Sandy covered her eyes with her hands. Jill opened the first envelope. Inside was a stack of hundred dollar bills and a note that said:
“Your grown now. You shud get the money the courts forced me to give your mom. Your father don’t cheat nobody.”
Jill ripped the rest of the envelopes open to find more hundred dollar bills. The envelopes held many thousands of dollars.
“What is it?” Sandy asked from behind her hands.
“Money,” Jill said. “Thousands of dollars. Cash.”
Sandy dropped her hands to take a look. Jill gave her the stack of money.
“Mom said he doesn’t have any money,” Sandy said. “What is all of this?”
“Maybe he feels guilty,” Jill said. “He’s trying to make it up to you.”
The women looked at each other then both said, “Nah.”
“There’s a note in the first one. Your father don’t cheat nobody,” Jill read.
Sandy’s warm face turned a shade of gray.
“I’m sure it doesn’t mean that,” Jill said.
“That’s what he’s doing for money.”
“Oh God, Sandy. We have to tell your Godfather Seth,” Jill said.
“No. God, Jill, please don’t tell them either. Please.”
Sandy’s eyes pleaded for Jill to come up with a solution.
“How about this? Why don’t we spend the money in Maine? We’ll have a great time, buy all kinds of ridiculous things, then when we get back to Denver, we’ll decide what we want to do.”
Sandy’s head shook back and forth.
“No,” Sandy’s voice was quiet but firm. “Then I’ll benefit from his… stuff. Like he used to say.”
“I’m doing this for you,” Jill and Sandy said together.
“I’ll just keep it for you. How’s that?” Jill asked. “When we decided what to do, we’ll have it all. Like evidence.”
“We’ll do this together.” Jill hugged Sandy.
“Just when everything’s perfect,” Sandy whispered.
“Together. We’ll take care of this.”
Jill’s voice was confident, but her heart broke for Sandy. This was very, very bad. But no matter what, she would stand by what Sandy wanted. That was all that mattered.
“Here’s one thing I know,” Jill said with absolute clarity. “He didn’t destroy you before. He won’t destroy you now.”
“Oh God Jill, I hope so.”
“There’s no way around it, Michael,” Mike said out loud while he ran. Wearing only exercise shorts, he was trail running in the Santa Monica Hills. “You hate it here.”
“And what’s not to hate?” Mike continued talking to himself. He ran down a thin dusty trail toward the ocean. “There’s the lovely smog, the traffic, the heat, the stupid people, the noise, and….”
He ran a few miles along the dusty path through the dry sage bushes.
Running up a steep embankment, he reached a cliff over looking the mountains. He had been running fast with the hope of taking the edge off his frustration. Breathing hard, he jogged along the top of the cliff.
“The ocean is beautiful. Valerie is beautiful. God, I love Val.”
Turning back around, he went back to his fast pace. He ran another few miles.
“I can’t paint here. I don’t fit in with the people or the place. I’m not me here.”
Heading down another steep embankment, he slowed to pass a woman and her trainer out for a fitness run. The women leered at him. He waited another few miles before talking to himself again.
“I hate the ‘Come fuck me now and no one will know.’ All the fucking time. Phone numbers in my jacket pockets. Women follow me to the bathroom. Friends of Val’s. Fuck.”
He sped up to try to release some of the tension.
“I get to touch Val every single day. Sometimes more. Why would I want anything else?”
As if to emphasize his point, he ran for a mile straight uphill. Turning a corner, he slowed to a jog.
“I miss Jake. I miss Jill. I miss my art. I miss a bowl of Crunch Berries. I miss Monday nights at Alex’s house. I miss Megan’s family pot lucks. I miss Delphie and her stupid bees. And, God damn it! I miss me!”
Mike’s voice echoed on the canyon as he ran through. He ran the rest of the way to his leased-by-the-studio-for-the-vet-husband black Humvee. Every time he was close to the black monstrosity, he thought, “What the fuck? When did Michael Roper want a Humvee?”
Toweling off, he pulled on his shirt. Nodding to another set of leering women, he got in the car. With the air conditioner and the radio blasting, he made his way toward his new ‘home’. Pulling up in front of the house, he sighed.
“What am I going to do?”
Denver Cereal continues next week….
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