Mike nodded his good-bye then walked off the stage. Deeply embarrassed at the standing ovation, he craved the quiet dark of backstage. He reached behind him for Val’s hand and felt the immediate pulse of her. Spinning in place, he wrapped himself around her. In each other’s tight embrace, they regained some sense of balance.
“I’m sorry,” Alex Hargreaves said. “We have to keep moving. There’s a crowd outside and we understand one growing around the Castle. You still want to go home?”
“I need to go home,” Mike said over Val’s shoulder. “Can I have…?”
“We’ll head out. Two minutes?” Alex asked.
Mike nodded. Alex and her team went down the hall way to the stage door. Dressed in digital fatigues, dark glasses, hats and exposed side arms, the team had held Val’s fans at bay when they arrived by limousine. Judging by the sound, there was a Black Hawk waiting for them somewhere close. When Alex opened the door to the street, they heard people, a lot of people, cheer.
“I love you,” Val said. “I never, ever thought you would do this.”
“I do anything for you, Val,” Mike said. “I’m sorry about Wes.”
“You mean that he told Oprah that I was a selfish bitch? Or the part about how I betrayed him and stole from him?”
“The whole thing,” Mike said. He pulled her even closer.
“He’s said much worse. They must have edited,” Val said.
“How would you….?”
“Jill’s friend Tanisha brought me a couple of magazines. She wanted me to know exactly what a ‘bitchass’ he was being. She didn’t want me to go back to him and destroy my life.”
“But you’re Ok….”
“Mikhail, my love and hero, has just slayed a tiger for me. Why should I care what the jester says?”
“A tiger?” Mike put his hands around her face then kissed her.
She nodded. He laughed. She kissed him.
“Time to go,” Captain Mac Clenaghan, Alex’s second in command, said. “We want you at the center of a diamond formation. There’s a lot of people out here. Wave to the crowd like the prom king and queen then we’ll surround you. Got it.”
“Yes, sir,” Mike said.
He looked at Val and she nodded. They followed the Captain to the door.
“Stand here. Go out only on my say so.”
Mike took Val’s hand. They nodded. The Captain pushed open the door. A call went through the crowd for Val, and Mike.
“Ok go ahead,” the Captain said.
Mike stepped through the door first then laughed. Parting the sea of people, a hundred soldiers, active and veterans, stood guard in their dress uniform. They created a tight corridor for Val and Mike to walk through. Val stepped next to him.
“Guess you have some friends,” Val said.
Mike looked down at Val then smiled.
“Prom king and queen,” the Captain said.
Still holding hands, Mike and Val raised their hands to wave at the crowd. As they walked down the corridor, the soldiers popped to salute.
“That’s for you,” Val said into Mike’s ear.
He puzzled at her then smiled. Waving they went down the corridor to the helicopter. One of Alex’s team bent down to help Val through the doors and into her seat. The team helped Val strap in and Mike sat next to her. Within moments, they were flying west-southwest over the city of Chicago a straight line for Denver.
“What exactly are you saying?” Aden asked the Social Services investigator.
“We’ve interviewed the children, spoken with their therapist, reviewed your employment files and had a detailed conversation with your ex-wife. At this point, it’s our belief that it is not in your children’s best interest to interact with their mother.”
“And that means?”
Aden was so freaked out about having any kind of conversation with Social Services that he couldn’t grasp what the woman was saying.
“We are requesting that you work with a Special Advocate to determine the conditions of Nuala’s return to your children’s life.”
“But don’t they need contact with their mother?” Aden asked. “What about the custody arrangement?”
“Sir, we went over this a moment ago,” the Social Services representative said. “Are you feeling all right?”
“I’m sorry. I’m so anxious about my kids that I can’t think straight.. Would you mind if I get someone to help? I mean, I know you didn’t want….”
“Please,” the woman said. Her impatient look spoke volumes.
Aden opened the door to the hall where Blane and Jacob waited for him.
“She’s saying something but I….” Aden started.
Jacob smiled at Aden. He and Blane followed Aden into the office.
“I apologize for my friend, ma’am,” Jacob said. “His kids are everything to him. He’s been very upset about this entire situation. I’m Jacob Marlowe and this is Blane Lipson.”
Jacob and Blane sat on either side of Aden.
“We are recommending that Noelle and Nash Norsen no longer have contact with their mother, Nuala Norsen.”
The woman raised her eyebrows at Jacob and Blane after she repeated what she had said to Aden.
“That’s what I don’t understand,” Aden said. He leaned back against his chair.
“I understand that you are recommending no contact between Noelle, Nash and their mother,” Jacob said.
“I think what’s confusing is that after this incident, which includes an attempt to prostitute her ten year old daughter for drugs, Nuala retains her parental rights.” Jacob raised his eyebrows with indignation.
“Right. That’s exactly right,” Aden said. “So we’ll just go through this again in a year? Two years?”
“Sir, Nuala Norsen has told our investigator that she’s entering rehab, will give up drugs.” The investigator read her report, curled her lip at the information, then nodded. “That’s what it says. She’s already talking to the district attorney to make a plea bargain for her case.”
“But she’ll just come back. As soon as she’s out of jail. She’ll come….”
Aden’s pressured voice revealed his panic. Blane put his hand on Aden’s shoulder to silence his anxious sputter.
“Ma’am,” Blane said. “If Aden wanted to eliminate this threat from his children’s lives, what would he need to do?”
The woman smiled as if finally they were getting somewhere.
“I’m not an attorney, Mr. Lipson. But I would suggest that Mr. Norsen speak with an attorney. We will be happy to support the best interest of the children.”
“And the best interest of the children right now is….?” Jacob asked.
“They have no contact with their mother at this time,” the woman said.
“And their father will become their sole custodian? Is that correct?” Jacob asked.
“Yes, sir,” the woman said. “I cannot speak to the legalities but our recommendations are that the children live with their father in his home.”
Jacob laughed and slapped Aden on the back. Aden looked at Jacob then shook his head.
“That’s not all of it,” Aden said.
“It’s our understanding that the Denver Police are not pursuing a case against Mr. Norsen,” the woman said. “In order to support his sole custody, Social Services has a few requirements.”
“See,” Aden said.
The woman glared Aden into silence.
“Ma’am, what are the requirements?” Jacob asked.
“We require Mr. Norsen’s sobriety. We require that the children remain in therapy. We require that their father maintain a stable residence, school and social life,” the woman said.
“What documentation will be required?” Blane asked.
“Random drug testing and regular reports from the therapist,” the investigator said.
“Oh,” Aden stammered. “Oh. Well that’s….”
“Outside of the drug testing, you are saying that he must keep everything the same as it is right now. Is that correct?” Jacob asked.
“Yes Mr. Marlowe, that’s correct.” Smiling, the woman nodded. “Is he always like this?”
“Just as far as his kids are concerned,” Jacob replied.
“May I have a copy of the report?” Blane asked. “Would you mind helping me find the forms Aden will need….”
“Of course, if you will come with me….”
The woman stood. She held her hand out to Aden. Aden looked at her hand then, jumping to his feet, he impulsively hugged her. The woman laughed.
“Thanks,” Aden said.
“The man you should thank is Detective O’Malley down at DPD. He’s did most of the criminal investigation on you. Usually we wait for months for these things, but he completed it in less than a week. He recommended not pursuing a case against you. That’s was your last hold up for sole custody.”
“Well, thank you for all your work,” Aden said.
“You’re welcome. You need to speak with an attorney. We’ll be happy to provide our reports to assist you.”
“Thank you. I…. Thanks,” Aden said.
“Hi Molly,” Sam said. Stepping aside, he let the young woman into the Castle. “Jacob’s not here. He, Aden and Blane went to Social Services.”
“Shit,” Molly said. Tugging on her curly brown hair, she bit her lip. “Crap.”
“I’m sure you can get him on his Blackberry. Do you have his number?” Sam asked.
“I’m his assistant, Mr. Lipson. I mean for his home rehab business. I mean, I’m really an accountant, well bookkeeper, but I also help him with customers and other stuff…. And… I mean, I know that he’s the President of Lipson Construction but….”
Nodding, Sam waited for the flood of words to end.
“I mean I saw him on television last night. Well, that’s part of the problem. And I tried his phone and even texted him. And, I mean, I know he’s super busy and when he doesn’t answer his text he’s usually asleep or sick or unable to answer or…. I don’t know. It’s only been a week or so since he got injured but it seems like forever. And… Why are you home, Mr. Lipson?”
Sam continued nodding for a minute until he realized she had asked him a question.
“We’ve had an unusual day.”
“Oh,” Molly said. “How did the interview go? Mike and Val right?”
“It was painful for everyone who loves them. Did you watch it on television?”
“Uh huh,” Molly said. “I was surprised because she’s never done a live show or not in a long time or maybe never, I haven’t checked. She said the story was too compelling to hold onto, even for a week. Was it compelling to you? I was compelled. I cried a couple of times. Gosh that Wes is a real jerk. I hope….”
“Molly,” Sam said. “I was getting a change of clothing to go out to a site. You were looking for Jake?”
“Oh right.” Molly blushed. “Sorry. I don’t know what to do, Mr. Lipson.”
“Maybe I can help.” Sam led Molly into the main Castle living room.
“Wow, it’s really fixed up. Is this for the party?” Molly asked.
“Yep. You and Pete are coming, right?”
Molly nodded. She bit her lip again and pulled at her hair.
“Just before Jake got hurt, like hours before, he pulled some windows from a house that we are almost done with. I mean, the owners changed their minds and added the windows, so it’s really their fault. They’ve been really nice. The owners, I mean. They haven’t pressed at all but they want to move in. I mean, the house is really done but there are these gaping holes in the side of it. I asked the guy who does some of our extra carpentry work. He said that he could help but Jake does it differently than everyone else. Well the owners? They want Jake. Period. I mean….”
“I can put windows in, Molly,” Sam said.
“Oh, that’s sweet of you, Mr. Lipson, but Jake puts them in a special way. He puts them in so you can’t….”
“See the nails or seams. Sure.”
“How did you know that?”
“Where do you think Jake learned it? It’s been a while but I bet with a little help, I could do it,” Sam said. “I’m supposed to help Jake starting next year.”
“When you retire?” Molly asked.
“Why didn’t Jake tell me that?” Molly bit her lip.
“Because he doesn’t believe I’ll stop working at Lipson,” Sam said. “You know what Molly? I’d love to work on some windows. It’s exactly what I need right now.”
“There’s a piece that is rotten. Can you….?”
“Of course,” Sam said. “Where are the windows?”
“At the workshop. I picked them up earlier this week. I mean, I know it’s stupid but I kept hoping Jake would…. He’s really sick still.”
“He’s mending,” Sam said. “What’s the deadline?”
“Well, the owners decided to paint. Colors. But they need a color consultant. We’ve used a woman who’s really good, I don’t know her name. She works at Belcaro Paints. Has an Irish last name I never remember. She’s fast too. But, she’s not available for a while. Or at least that’s what Belcaro said. They have a couple people but she’s really good so I want to wait for her. The owners….”
“I have someone who might help.” Sam smiled. “You know Jill, right? I bet she’s your Belcaro expert.”
“Wow, Jill. That’s right. Her last name was McGuinsey. I always forget that. Great. I can have painters through in a day. Oh. Gosh, that’s just great.”
“When do you need the windows?”
“Tonight? No, if we paint then…. How about by Sunday? The owners could move in next week after the painters finish.”
Sam nodded. “I’ll take a look at them tonight and let you know if there are any complications.”
“Thanks Mr. Lipson.” Molly beamed at Sam. “See you tomorrow night?”
“I’ll look for you,” Sam said then walked her to the door.
Molly smiled, waved, then went across the lawn and into the growing crowd.
“We were right,” Delphie said. She had watched the entire interaction from the kitchen entrance. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“When you first brought it up, I thought it was crazy. I can’t go back to carpentry! I’m an underground man.”
“I remember,” she said.
“But you’re right, Delphie. I need movement, something to look forward to other than fishing and laying around.”
“You’ve never been that man,” Delphie said.
“What’s Jacob going to say?”
“I’m sure he already knows. Don’t worry about Jake.”
“He was so angry when I went to see him in Maine. Furious. And I can’t blame him. He was barely old enough to drink. I don’t….”
“Don’t worry,” Delphie said. “Do you need to get to a site right away?”
“Would you like to help me with my beehives? I want to do a split so we have a few extra hives going into winter. I need help lifting a few boxes. Mike usually helps me but he’s in Chicago.”
Sam beamed. He hadn’t realized how worried he’d been about his future. As relatively young man, what was he going to do with himself when he stepped away from Lipson Construction? The worry ate at his peace of mind. He hadn’t slept well.
Hearing Delphie talk about beehives, and the joy of carpentry, he saw his life continuing. Yes, bees, his hammer, a few projects and fishing and love and….
“Come on, old man,” Delphie laughed. “Help me then get on your way.”
Thursday evening, 8 PM
Blushing, Jill twirled her glass of Merlot then looked up at Jacob. He had arranged their first real date for them. Everything was perfect. He even picked out her outfit from her new Claire Martin’s clothing then presented her with matching Loubouton heels. In her size! She stretched out her toes in the shoes. They didn’t even hurt too much.
Sitting at a small table in Twelve Restaurant, she felt like a princess in a story book.
“Say something,” Jacob said.
“I’m not sure what to say,” Jill said. “I’ve never… any of this. I don’t even know what to order.”
“I ordered for us when I made the reservation,” Jacob said. “They serve an amazing lobster here. I haven’t had anything like it since leaving Maine.”
“I’ve never had lobster.” Jill smiled.
“You look good enough to eat,” he said.
Jill’s blush deepened. She leaned back for the waiter to set their salads in front of them. When she leaned forward, Jacob took her hand.
“You said you wanted to talk about the fall,” he said.
“I’ve decided what I want to do this fall,” Jill said. “I mean, if it’s Ok with you and ….”
Jacob winked at her. Jill often asked Jacob’s permission for what she wanted to do. He didn’t like it, but couldn’t seem to convince her otherwise. She nodded.. Clenching her teeth, she gathered her courage.
“I’d like to go to college in the fall. Full time.” She took a drink of her wine for courage. “And I want to work at Pete’s a couple nights.”
She nodded. Jacob waited for her to finish.
“I know I have the money from the diamonds and the modeling thing, but I really loved working at Pete’s.”
Jacob opened his mouth to say something.
“Pete’s is like a family to me. I’ll need help with Katy.”
“Ok, that’s easy. We can plan around it,” Jacob said.
“You’re all right with it?”
“Of course,” he said. “I think it’s a great idea. I bet you’ll love going to college. I don’t know if you can get in this late but we can sort that out.”
“I checked,” Jill said. “I can take classes at Metro or the community college and transfer when I get into UC Denver. What about Pete’s?”
“If you want to work there, you want to work there.” Jacob shrugged. “Katy and I will survive.”
“She can stay with Megan,” Jill said. “I need help with school and….”
“If I’m going to be Katy’s father, then I can take care of her a few nights on my own.”
“What do you mean?”
“We agreed that I’m adopting Katy, right?” Jacob asked.
“We signed the papers and submitted them to the courts,” Jill said. “My lawyer said it would be six months until we were sure.”
“Fathers take care of their children sometimes. Look at Aden, he has his kids all the time. That’s what fathers do.”
“Oh.” Jill blushed again. “Really?”
“My Dad used to take us all day Sunday. It gave Mom a break and gave us some time to be together. It was fun. He still takes care of Briana and Becky.”
“You’re Dad didn’t ….”
“I don’t really remember. I don’t think so. Tim takes care of their kids. He said he would take care of them if Meg went to college. I’ve been trying to talk Megan into going to school with me. Since Steve’s done with nursing school, it’s just she and I that haven’t been to school. And I think she might go with me. I just… I mean….”
Jill almost said ‘Trevor didn’t ever take are of Katy’. She promised herself she wasn’t going to talk about him anymore.
“That would be great,” Jill said.
“So we’ll work it out together?”
“Right,” Jill said. “Together. Right.”
Hoping Jacob would forget the other thing she was supposed to tell him about, the button, she focused her attention on her salad.
“You were going to tell me about the button,” he said.
Her cell phone rang. Pulling the phone from her bag, she saw that it was Megan.
“I’m sorry. I have to answer,” she said. “It’s Meg. Katy’s….”
“Go ahead,” he said.
“Meg?” Jill asked.
“Jill! Katy’s having some kind of a seizure. Steve and Leslie are here for dinner. Steve said that she’s not having a seizure, because he’s seen them at work… you know in the NICU. He says it’s more like a fit. Her temperature spiked and her eyes rolled back. She was like that for a while then woke up. She seems Ok. We called the nurse on call and she agreed with Steve. The nurse said to watch her. But….”
“I’ll be right there,” Jill hung up her phone. “I’m sorry Jacob, but Katy’s sick.”
Jacob popped to his feet. Within moments, they were on the sidewalk stepping into a cab.
“She spiked a fever and her eyes rolled back,” Jill said. “I guess she seems Ok but….”
“What?” Jacob stunned look unnerved Jill. “What do you mean?”
“She spiked a fever and her eyes rolled back,” Jill repeated.
“Jill.” Jacob’s intense look caught Jill of guard. “Was she responsive?”
“I don’t think so,” Jill said. “Why?”
Jacob shook his head and looked out the window. Jill put her hand on his sling.
“You’re scaring me, Jacob. What are you thinking?”
Jacob turned back to her. His eyes reviewed her face.
“I’ve thought and thought… I’ve gone over everything I can think of….”
“Jacob! What is it?”
“How is it possible that Katy is my child?”
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