Tuesday night, 7:30 PM
“You know how I had another Dad?”
“Uh huh,” Mike said. He lifted Katy onto the couch then gave her a mug of hot chocolate. Val smiled when he gave her a mug of cocoa. He winked at Val.
“Well, he’s going to take me away from Mommy and make me live with him. I won’t ever SEE Mommy again.”
“Why do you say that, honey?” Mike asked.
“He told me.”
Mike’s face registered shock then hardened. His look would terrify an adult let alone a small child. Valerie pushed him back away from Katy.
“When did he tell you, honey?” Ever the actress, Valerie kept her voice friendly and almost happy.
“Well, I have a Jill doll,” Katy said. She looked over at her beautiful Auntie and smiled. Val smiled in return. “You haven’t met her. Mommy got me the doll when I was about one year old. She works some nights and I stay with Aunt Megan. Have you met Aunt Megan?”
“I have,” Valerie said. She touched Katy’s wet hair. “I like your Aunt Megan.”
“I like Aunt Megan too. A lot. But she’s not Mommy,” Katy said. “I was really sad that Mommy wasn’t with me. Mommy found a Jill doll. It looks sort of like Mommy and it has her recorded voice. My Jill doll usually says, ‘Love you Katy-baby’ or ‘Sweet Katherine’ or this little poem Mommy says before bed or ‘Mommy misses you’ or…. I think that’s all. I like the ‘Love you Katy-baby’ the best. I press past the other ones so I can hear that the most when I’m sad.”
Val looked to Mike. He nodded. Katy and her Jill doll were almost never apart.
“But I haven’t been sad in a long time.” Katy stared off into space. “Since before we went to the zoo. My Jill doll was in my old room. When Mommy was in the shower, I found my Jill doll.”
“What did the Jill doll have to say?” Valerie asked in her light happy voice.
“It was my old Daddy. He said he was coming to get me and I would live with him forever,” Katy said. “Scooter growled and barked when the Jill doll talked like that. Scooter was so mad that I hid the doll. I don’t want Scooter to be mad.”
“Did the Jill doll say anything else?” Mike growled. Val scowled at him over Katy’s head. He shrugged.
“I didn’t hear, Uncle Mike.”
“Because of Scooter?”
“Uh huh.” Katy finished her hot chocolate. “He’s coming to get me.”
Val reached around Katy to hold Mike’s hand. Mike looked caught somewhere between rage and despair.
“More cocoa?” Valerie asked.
“Yes please,” Katy said.
Valerie took Katy and Mike’s mug and went into the small apartment kitchen. Katy sighed.
“Are you mad?” Katy asked Mike.
“Worried,” Mike said.
“Scares me. More than a little bit,” Katy said. “I have a new Daddy. I haven’t seen the other Daddy in forever. He didn’t want to ever BE my Daddy. Why doesn’t he just leave me alone?”
“I wish I knew, honey,” Mike said. His face softened. “But I’ll tell you this. No one is going to keep you away from your Mommy. Your old Daddy doesn’t know who he’s dealing with.”
“Oh,” Katy’s eyes welled with tears. “I don’t want to live with him, Uncle Mike.”
Mike pulled Katy on his lap. Rocking her back and forth while Katy cried, Mike made a plan. No one was going to steal his Katy and hold her captive.
Wednesday morning, 5:11 AM
“What the hell is that?”
A tractor trailer blew its horn again. Jacob, Blane and Aden went to the window of the small office. Indeed, there was a truck at the Castle gate. They heard someone run to the door.
“I’ll go,” Aden said.
“No,” Blane said. “Stay with Jake. You’ve got to help Mac at Alameda. I’ll be right back.”
Blane went out into the main Castle living room where a group of people were… giggling?
“May I help you with something?” Blane asked.
“Ooooh who are you?” A slight Hispanic man swished across the living room. “You’re not the brother and you’re dreamy gorgeous. You’re definitely….”
“Not interested,” Blane said. “This is a private residence. Should I call the police?”
“No.” He dropped the flamboyant act and was all business. “I’m Ramon, Valerie’s stylist. I have a team here to set up for Oprah and get ready for the party. Can you show me to the Ballroom? I need….”
“OOOHHHH!!” Valerie squealed. She ran across the Castle living room and into Ramon’s open arms. “I was hoping….”
“WAIT!” Blane commanded.
Still hugging, Valerie and Ramon’s heads turned to Blane.
“We’re not going to be able to work here today?” Blane asked.
“Not unless you want to help us set up,” Ramon said.
“Valerie, did you tell Jake?” Blane asked.
“I forgot,” Valerie said. “Sorry.”
Blane gave Valerie a dark look.
“You know how sick he is.”
Blane started a rant, but Val looked so upset that he shut his mouth. Valerie would never do anything intentionally to hurt Jacob. She was one of the few people who knew that he was still very ill. He gave her dark look, then returned to the small office.
“No work today,” Blane said. “Back to bed for you, Mr. Marlowe.”
“I have to go to the sites,” Jacob said. “Mac said that there’s a rumor that I’m dead. He said his crews freaked that the sale’s off the table. I have to get out there.”
Blane felt his stomach drop.
“You and Aden can go into the office,” Jacob said. “Set up a route for me. I’ll rest for a while then maybe Dad and I can go around.”
“I’ll go with you,” Jill said. She came in the door in a tank top and sweats. She was carrying a crying Katy. “I’m sorry. Katy had a nightmare. She’s very upset. She wanted to see you. You
said I should just bring her if she was upset. Do you mind?”
Blane took Katy from Jill and hugged her.
“What happened, kiddo?” He asked as he carried her over to Jacob. He set Katy in Jacob’s lap. Jacob held her tight with his left arm. Katy rested her head on his shoulder.
“I got scared,” Katy said. “Can I spend the day with you and Mommy?”
“I think that settles it,” Jacob said. “We can take Jill’s Lexus. She can drive. If I need to sleep I can sleep in the car between sites.”
“Jacob.” Sam Lipson came in the room. “I’m sorry but we have a big problem.”
“Everyone thinks I’m dead?” Jacob asked.
“Someone sent the original sale plans to the press,” Sam said.
“Your plan to sell the company to our competitor?” Jacob asked.
“The one the board approved before you bought majority,” Sam said.
“God damn it!” Blane started.
“Child,” Jacob said. He looked down at Katy to see that she was sound asleep.
“Who released the documents?” Aden asked.
“Honestly? I think it’s Tiffanie’s oldest,” Sam said.
“The step-whore,” Blane snarled.
Ignoring Blane, Sam continued, “the Rocky Mountain News emailed me the fax. It’s a copy of what we had agreed to four years ago. They were alert enough to notice the dates. 2004.”
“Oh God, Jacob. I’m so sorry,” Jill said.
“Would you mind driving me today?” Jacob asked.
“Not at all,” Jill said.
“Great. I’m going to rest for an hour or so.” He looked from Aden to Blane. “I’ll hit as many sites as I can today. But we’re going to have to go public tonight. Are we ready?”
Aden’s face went ashen. Going public meant telling the world that scumbag, loser, dropout Aden Norsen was going to run Lipson Construction.
“We’re ready, Jake,” Blane said. “Or we will be. I’ll set up a press conference tonight. Say six o’clock?”
“She did this to destroy me,” Aden said. “Nuala’s still in jail. Social Services is coming at ten. I….”
“As always, she destroyed herself. She’s on probation for stealing a set of documents that includes this one. We’ve been waiting for this one to show up,” Jacob said. “This is bad for her.”
Aden nodded but didn’t look convinced. The phone rang. To avoid thinking, Aden answered the phone.
Jill lifted Katy from Jacob’s lap. They were almost out the door when Aden said, “Jake?”
“Did you close the school today?” Aden asked. “An email went out last night that the school is closed today in memoriam for you. It’s on the website too.”
“She really is an idiot,” Blane laughed. He went around to sit down at a computer. His fingers flew across the keyboard.
“What?” Aden asked.
“Hacking a website is a federal offense,” Blane said.
“Well, the parents are freaked out. The staff is freaked out….”
“How long will it take you to fix the website, Blane?”
“Three minutes,” Blane said. “I’ll send an email that the site was hacked and the ‘in memoriam’ was a prank.”
“I’ll go to the school,” Sam said.
“She gets satisfaction in creating misery,” Jacob said. “This is stupid bullshit drama. There’s no reason for us to freak out about any of this.”
Aden blew out a breath then nodded. Jacob was right.
“I’ll get to the office,” Aden said. “We have sites that need our attention.”
“Ok. Website fixed. And….” Blane pressed a few more keys. “Resecured. Email is out. I’ll go with Sam.”
“I’ll talk with Valerie,” Jacob said. “Isn’t Mike being babysat by those military people?”
“Yep,” Jill said. “Alex and her friends.”
“We’ll need them today,” Jacob said.
Every head in the room turned to look at him.
“Why?” Sam asked.
“Because this stuff is designed to get and keep us running around. Someone at the school, someone at the sites, someone at the office. That leaves the house unmonitored.”
“But they are in Thailand,” Blane said.
“We’re having a big party on Friday. There are going to be lots of people in and out of here setting up, getting ready for Oprah, and every other thing. Anyone could do anything. You heard what they did to Jill’s place.”
“I’ll take care of that first,” Aden said.
“Thanks. Let’s hope I’m wrong,” Jacob said. “I’m going to rest for one hour. Then, we start.”
“I’m sorry,” Jill said. “Katy needs to use the restroom. I used the restroom here so I know where it is.”
“Oh no problem,” Jacob said. They were walking into their fifth job site. “Would you like me to go with you?”
As with every site they had visited, the Lipson Construction employees dropped what they were doing to greet Jacob. The site manager, an Amazonian woman named Bambi, came running out of the construction office.
“I’ll be all right,” Jacob said. “Go on.”
Jill carried Katy across one of Lipson Construction’s largest road sites. An enormous water and sewer project that started at Sand Creek on the Stapleton redevelopment project andended nearly ten miles south near Centennial, Jill and Katy walked across the nexus point of the water in and water out. Sam told her that these permanent looking structures would move south in a week. Like a turtle, this project picked up it’s belongings as it inched it’s way along. Because of the size of the project, they had erected a nicer, still portable, structure for the toilet. According to Sam, ‘decent facilities’ were on Bambi’s mandatory requirements list.
Katy had been tickled, petted, and loved at every site. Someone always had candy or a toy especially for her. The car rides were filled with Katy’s songs and stories. Jacob sang along to most song and laughed at Katy’s stories. Listening to Jacob and Katy, Jill felt her heart ache. They were becoming a real family.
Jill set Katy in a stall then went to check her burns. She was standing at the mirror when a woman came in the restroom. Wearing a hard hat and dark glasses, the woman made a beeline for a stall.
“Are you here with Jake?” The woman asked from inside the stall.
“I’m driving him around today.”
“Me too!” Katy said from her stall.
“My daughter is here with us,” Jill said.
Jill stepped aside so the woman could use the sink and mirror.
“Jeez, what happened to your head?” The woman asked.
“Someone put acid in my conditioner,” Jill said.
“My sister did that to me once. Hurt like hell,” the woman said. “She got mad at me for something. I don’t even remember what. That was her retaliation.”
Jill turned to look at the woman and recoiled. She backed to Katy’s stall door to block the woman’s way into her stall. Noticing Jill’s reaction, the woman’s brow furrowed with confusion.
“I’m Honey Lipson,” the woman said. “I’m sorry. I seem to have….”
“You’re not married to Trevor?”
“Trevor?” The confused woman curled her lip at the idea then her eyes went big. “Oh my God. You’re Jill. Trevor’s Jill. Oh my God. You had…. You had long hair! You….”
The women stood face to face. When Honey’s eyes welled with tears, Jill’s rage and panic dissolved. The small blond woman was crushed by Jill’s injury.
“I’m so sorry,” Honey said. “My sister did this to you. Didn’t she?”
“Mom’s going to die. Just die. Does Dad know?”
“He knows,” Jill said.
“Let me help you with the cream,” Honey said. “That’s what you were doing when I came in right?”
Jill gave her the burn ointment. Honey dabbed the ointment through Jill’s stubble of hair to the burns on her head.
Katy came out of the stall. She lifted her hands and Jill picked her up.
“Oh my God. Everyone’s been talking about Jake’s little girl,” Honey said. “Oh my God. That’s Katherine.”
Jill flushed Katy’s toilet. When she turned around, Honey Lipson was gone. She washed Katy’s hands and made her way to find Jacob. When she arrived, she saw Honey and Jacob deep in conversation.
“What is it?” Jill asked.
“Honey is going to talk to the police about her sister. She says….” Jacob’s eyes scanned Jill’s face. “They’re planning on fighting the restraining order.”
“She called Mom last night to ask for money,” Honey said. “They want me to pick them up at the airport Friday morning. She told Mom that she and Trevor are going to Val’s party.”
“NO! NO! THEY CAN’T COME BACK!” Katy screamed.
Sobbing, Katy turned her face into Jill’s chest. Jill pushed past Honey to the Lexus. Getting in the back, she held Katy while she cried. Jacob came around to the open car door to rest his hand on Katy’s back.
“What should we do?” Jacob asked.
“She’s just a little girl, Jacob. She’s really scared.”
Jacob nodded. Katy turned her wet face to him.
“I’d eat some French Fries, Daddy.”
“With Ketchup?” Jacob asked.
“And a balloon?”
“Of course. Green?” Jacob smiled.
“Can we go to the zoo?” Katy asked.
“I have to work some more, but I had a call from your friend Paddie. He’s hoping he could come over this afternoon. You can stay with us or….”
“Paddie? Mommy, can I see Paddie?”
“After French Fries?” Jill asked.
“Ok,” Katy said. “Will you stay with me, Mommy?”
“Blane can meet us for lunch then take me to the remaining sites.”
“Are you sure?”
Jacob winked at her. She helped Katy back into her car seat. Getting out of the car, Jacob held her.
“It’s going to be fine,” he whispered.
“I hope so.”
Wednesday, 1:30 PM
It had been a long, long time since Jill had laughed so hard. Katy and Paddie were a comedy team. If they weren’t chasing each other around, they were pretending to be someone they knew. Right now, Katy was pretending to be her Uncle Mike.
“That’s just how it is.” Katy lowered her voice, puffed up her chest and put her hands on her hips.
“No, he’s more like,” Paddie puffed up his chest. “Where’s the cereal?”
Paddie and Katy squealed with laughter. Mike picked one up under each arm. They both giggled and squealed. He carried them near Alex Hargreaves then set them down. Dressed in a tank top, shorts, and her huge smile, she looked more like someone on vacation than a military guard.
“Let’s play a new game,” Mike said. “Aunt Alex will show you how to play.”
Katy ran forward to Aunt Alex. Alex bent down to hug the tiny girl.
“You’re going to help me like you help Uncle Mike,” Katy said.
“I hope so,” Alex said. “See this guy?”
She pointed to a tall, thin man with dark curly hair.
Paddie threw himself at the man. He picked him up and twirled the little boy around. Excited, Katy jumped up and down in front of him. A tall man, he knelt down to shake Katy’s hand.
“Troy is going to be your ‘I-can-do-anything-to-you-guy’”
“Oh wait,” Jill said. “What if they hurt him? I don’t want….”
“He’s tough. Plus he volunteered,” Alex said. Leaning into Jill, she said, “We’re bored out of our minds babysitting your brother. You’ve got to help us out here.”
“Ok, let’s start with something easy,” Alex said. “Show me how you punch.”
Katy and Paddie tapped at Troy.
“Ah come on. You can hit harder than that! Give him a good whack.”
Wednesday, 3:25 PM
“This was a very good idea,” Valerie said.
She lay naked on a mattress in his artist’s studio. The studio’s evaporative cooler worked over time but the small space was still hot. Mike was drawing flowers with ice cubes on hersweating body.
“Every actress needs her beauty nap,” Mike said.
“You’ve been very good for me,” Val said. Rolling over onto her side, she said, “I was wondering….”
“I’m going back to LA with you on Sunday,” he said.
Valerie’s hand flew to her mouth. Her eyes filled with tears.
“If the house is too small, we’ll just have to get another. I’ll check out the garage to see if I can work there,” he continued. “It’s time.”
“What about Wes? What about…?”
“I don’t give a shit about Wes, Valerie. I’ve only ever, always cared about you.”
“What about hockey?”
“Now that’s a problem. We talked about it as a team. We used to only play Saturdays at midnight. We moved to Wednesday because the teams are better. But Colin thinks the better teams will move to….”
Valerie kissed him. One pulling kiss led to another. Val drew him on top of her. Taking her hands, he stretched her arms above her head while his mouth worked it’s way from her ear down her neck. She shifted, inviting their union, when he pulled back.
“Wait,” Mike said.
He kissed her then moved to the mattress. Concerned with his tone, Valerie sat up to look at him.
“That make-up guy? That Michael Moore? He said… Well, then I talked to Alex and she agreed… And….”
Mike shook his head and looked away from her. Valerie pressed his head back to look at her.
“He asked me what I was hiding from. With the beard. He said the scar’s not bad and hardly noticeable. Moore…. He said that I should….”
“Shave off your beard,” Valerie said.
“I’ve asked so much of you,” Valerie said. “I…. We can cancel Oprah. You don’t have to….”
“I’ve practiced my interview, Val. I’m ready. Plus command wants me to tell my story. It’s important…. I just….” Mike’s eyes scanned her face. “I’ve been hiding a long time.”
Valerie put her hand on his chin. Their eyes held for a moment.
“Will you…. I bought all the stuff…. John told me how to do it. His beard grows really fast and Alex won’t kiss him with a beard. If he’s gone a week, he has….”
Valerie gave him a lingering kiss.
“I’d love to see your beautiful face again,” Valerie said. “Scar and all. Tell me what to do.”
He gave her a cordless electric razor. She yanked the sheet from the mattress and wound it around his neck to catch the hair. By his instruction, she clipped an inch at a time until only a quarter inch of stubble remained. She took his hand to feel the stubble.
“You’re sure?” Valerie asked.
“I can’t hide forever, Val. They just win that way,” he said. “I’m…. It’s over. I want to live in the present with you.”
Holding his face, she leaned forward until their foreheads touched. She breathed in his scent, his warmth, then kissed his forehead. Moving without hesitation, she sprayed the foam into her hand. She worked with slow, gentle, delicate care. The sound of the razor scraping over his skin seemed to bounce off the walls.
Finally, she was done.
Letting out a breath, Valerie sat back. Her hand went to her mouth and her eyes filled with tears. Her gorgeous Mike had returned to her. Finally.
“That bad, huh?”
He hopped up and went to the pedestal sink. Checking himself in the mirror, he washed off the last of the shaving cream. He was rubbing some special ‘no bump’ cream over the place where his beard had been, when Valerie came up behind him. Her head peeked over his shoulder and their eyes held in the mirror.
In one movement, he spun around, lifted her from standing and carried her back to the mattress.
Denver Cereal continues next week….
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