Friday mid-day – 12:11 P.M.
Jill closed her eyes. After a day of sideways glances and whispers behind her back, she relished the cool quiet of the fifth floor restroom at the Art Institute. She’d thought she’d even made some friends in her first term of college.
Today she felt like she was a complete outcast.
This morning was just another morning. She had woken with Jacob and helped him get to work at four-thirty. She got Katy and went back to bed. She and Katy were sound asleep when Jacob returned home an hour later. The horrified look on his face told her more than his words:
“Ava’s gone to the press,” he said. “I wanted you to hear this from me.”
He held up today’s Denver Daily News. In big bold letters, the headline read, “Denver’s own caught doing a Tiger.” The article went on to say that Lipson Construction was going to be investigated based on his ‘abuse of power.’ All of Lipson’s city and state contracts, over half of their work, were under investigation. Sam sent Jacob home for the morning until they could figure out what to do.
Jacob had climbed into bed and pulled the covers over his head. They had snuggled with Katy until Jill had to leave for class. After all the drama of this term, she had to go to class. She left Jacob and Katy in the loft at the Castle.
And twenty minutes later wished she hadn’t.
Everyone assumed that whatever this Ava said was one hundred percent true. Everyone!
In fact, she heard a woman whisper that she had also had sex with Jacob not two weeks after their wedding. Jill glanced at the woman with surprise when she mentioned a night that Jill knew they had danced the night away at a fundraising gala. Jacob was with her the entire night. But her mind wondered… when she was in the bathroom, had he…? What about when she was checking on Katy? No. He called to check on Katy. Or did he?
Megan gave her oldest sister advice: don’t worry, don’t pay attention, just ignore them.
But who could do that?
Surely not Jill.
When Megan had to rush off to pick up a sick child from the Marlowe school, Jill had escaped to the bathroom. She planned to hide out until everyone left for lunch. Jacob was working in his carpentry workshop. She would slip out of the building and meet him. Together, they would decide what to do next.
Or at least that’s what he said when she called him from her stall.
She was about to get up from her hiding place when she heard someone come into the bathroom. Jill jimmied the lock so no one could get in her stall. She lifted her feet so no one would know she was there.
“What a fool,” a woman’s voice said. “Her husband was dogging her less than two weeks after they got married!”
“Did you see that ring?”
Jill looked down at the Marlowe diamond. She’d intentionally chosen the big blue diamond ring to wear today. The ring reminded Jill of the line of strong Marlowe brides who had worn this ring. If they could endure the horrors, and winters, of Leadville, she could endure this. She’d also worn the matching earrings Jacob had given her for Christmas. They made her feel powerful, safe and most of all, loved.
“Guilt diamond,” the women said together.
The women laughed. One woman went into the stall to Jill’s right. After trying Jill’s door, the other woman went into the stall on Jill’s left.
“I heard her ex-husband was a dog too,” the woman on her right said.
“Twice in a row?” the other woman said. “She must be lousy in bed.”
“Have you seen that Jacob Marlowe?”
“No.” The woman on her left flushed her toilet. “Why?”
“He’s totally hot,” the other woman said. “He’s Valerie Lipson’s brother. You know the actress? He’s very, very yummy. Rich too. I wouldn’t mind a round or two with him. Hell, I wouldn’t mind saying I went a round or two with him. Would make me look good.”
The women laughed.
“Gorgeous, wealthy.” The woman turned on the water to wash her hands. “She probably doesn’t care if he sleeps around. That kind of money creates a whole lot of understanding.”
“Well, here’s the kicker,” the second woman said. “I heard he’s gay!”
The women laughed.
“I wonder when the men will start coming forward to say they fucked him.”
The women laughed as if they’d never heard anything so funny.
The women left the bathroom and Jill let out the breath she’d been holding. One thing was true. Jill wasn’t very strong. She wanted to run away, to hide.
And the women were right. When were the lying men going to appear? When were the people going to start asking for money to stay silent?
The door to the bathroom opened again. Jill held her breath.
“Jill?” Tanesha’s voice whispered. “Jill, are you in here?”
Jill popped to her feet. She fumbled with the stall’s lock.
“Is that you?” Tanesha asked.
“I can’t get out!” Jill said.
“Climb under,” Tanesha’s face came under the door. She held her cell phone to her ear. “Yeah I have her. Fifth floor.”
Jill dropped to all fours to climb under the door. She was half way through when she realized she’d left her book bag hanging on the door. She climbed out.
“I left my book bag,” Jill said.
“I’ll get it,” Tanesha shimmied under the door.
The door to the bathroom opened again. An older woman stepped into the bathroom.
“You should never let a man treat you like that,” the woman said. “Have some self respect.”
Without saying another word, the older woman went into a stall. Tanesha pushed Jill’s book bag under the door.
“You make all of woman-kind look like fools. You should be ashamed of yourself,” the older woman said.
“You should be ashamed at yourself for spreading gossip,” Jill said.
“You poor thing,” the older woman said.
“Lady, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” Tanesha said.
Heather came into the bathroom. While Tanesha squeezed under the stall door, Heather gave Jill a hug.
“I’ve been in her situation,” the woman said.
“There is no situation,” Heather said.
“Denial is so painful,” the woman said. “You must tear off the bandage and move on.”
Tanesha opened her mouth but Jill shook her head. The three friends left the bathroom. Sandy met them on the other side of the door. Sandy clasped Jill to her.
“You Ok?” Sandy asked.
“No,” Jill said.
“Forget them,” Tanesha said. “And focus on us.”
“We have a spa afternoon planned,” Heather said. “Sandy’s doing our hair.”
“We have massages scheduled at the Woodhouse Spa,” Tanesha said.
“Nails and everything,” Heather said. “A gift from a handsome stranger.”
“I’d love to go,” Jill said. “But I need to get home. Jacob is waiting for me to…”
“Jacob’s downstairs with some Lipson guys,” Tanesha said. “They’re escorting us to Sandy’s place. You guys can talk there.”
“Oh,” Jill brightened. “That’s perfect. But… I have to ask… Do you…?”
“No,” Heather said. “That skeevy woman is jealous.”
“Jillian Roper,” Tanesha said. “You’re being an idiot.”
“I had to ask,” Jill said. “Sandy?”
“Jacob’s not Trevor,” Sandy said. “He’s crazy about you. And you know it.”
Jill nodded her head. The friends began walking down the hall.
“Skeevy?” Sandy asked Heather. They laughed.
Monday mid-day – 12:20 P.M.
Aden pulled into the sewer line extension site at the edge of Stapleton. The site was one of the few privately funded sites. Today, it was one of the only Lipson construction sites still up and running. Stepping out of the truck, Aden was met by Jerry Siegle, the site manager.
“Aden!” Jerry said. He patted Aden on the back and the men walked toward the construction office trailer. “I haven’t seen you in a couple months. Your dance card has been full.”
“No seriously,” Jerry said. “What I don’t get is…”
“Why did I do it?” Aden asked.
“No, no,” Jerry said. “That makes sense to me.”
The men continued walking to the construction trailer. Jerry had his hand on the door handle when he said.
“An excavator digs fourteen feet straight down. We have six active sewer sites,” Jerry said. “Even the most ambitious operator only drops a sewer line at eight feet.”
Aden stopped walking. He stared at Jerry.
“Two minutes,” Jerry said. “And bye bye predator.”
Jerry looked Aden in the eyes then gave a curt nod.
“That’s what I don’t get,” Jerry said.
Monday afternoon – 3:25 P.M.
Delphie and Katy were making brownies in the main Castle kitchen when the doorbell rang. Drying her hands on her apron, Delphie followed Katy to the door. Katy was doing the Katy hop to the door – hop on one leg, then hop on the other. Adding a new flavor, Katy twirled around in place every forth hop. Delphie laughed at her little friend.
The doorbell rang again.
Delphie opened the door to find the mailman. He held up a package and Delphie opened the security door.
“I just need a signature,” the mailman said.
While Katy watched the man from between Delphie’s legs, Delphie signed for the package.
“How are you feeling?” the mailman asked.
“I’m stronger and stronger every day, Ted,” Delphie smiled. She gave him the card back.
“Good to hear,” he said.
He gave her the package and the rest of their mail. Delphie thanked him again then closed the door.
“Don’t open that,” Katy said.
“How come?” Delphie said. “It has my name on it.”
“You’ll get very sick,” Katy said.
Delphie looked at Katy. She turned the box over to look at the return address. City of Denver. She looked at Katy.
“What is it?” Delphie asked. She set the rest of the mail on the table by the door.
“I don’t know,” Katy said.
“Should we be brave?” Delphie asked.
“Can we be brave AND have brownies?” Katy asked.
Delphie laughed at Katy’s chocolate lust. She herded Katy back to the kitchen then lifted the child up to the countertop. Setting the package on the kitchen table, Delphie returned to the easy rhythm of making brownies with Katy. Katy cracked the eggs on the bowl and squealed when she didn’t get any shell in the mix. They blended the chocolate goodness then put the batter into the greased square pan. Katy pressed the chocolate chips that escaped her mouth into the top of the brownies. Delphie slid the pan into the oven.
“Shall we take a look at what the City of Denver sent us?” Delphie asked.
Zonked by the chocolate, Katy gave an exaggerated shrug. Delphie picked up the package and carried it to the kitchen counter. Taking a knife from the rack, Delphie cut through the packing tape. She found a letter and a metal container inside the box. She used the knife to open the envelope.
“They sent me Levi’s ashes,” Delphie said out loud.
She looked at the metal container.
“Naomi says you should put that back in the box and wait for Grandpa Sam,” Katy said.
“I heard her.”
Delphie stared at the letter and the metal container. The metal container had a jaunty red top with white rice like flecks on it. It looked like it could just as easily contain Christmas cookies as the ashes of the most evil person she’d ever known.
“I’m still Levi’s heir,” Delphie said out loud.
“That box will make you sick.” Katy touched the box. “Don’t open it.”
Delphie looked into the child’s dark sincere eyes then back to the box and letter. Since Saturday, she’d been trying to reorient to her life. Jill, Honey and Sandy continued to make dinner. Alex taught Honey and Sandy how to care for the bees. Jill and Delphie spent yesterday afternoon going over what they wanted to plant in the gardens. For the first time in all the years of living here, she had an army of loving assistants and helpers. Even the men helped out.
“Don’t open it,” Katy said.
Delphie looked up at Katy again. She didn’t feel dead anymore. She felt like her life was evolving in wonderful ways.
She looked at the box again. She could easily go back to living as Levi Johansen as slave.
Just open the box. Everything will return to normal.
Delphie smiled at Katy.
“Let’s call Auntie Valerie and Uncle Mike,” Delphie said. “She should be at her apartment by now. Wanna?”
Katy cheered. Delphie set Katy on the ground. She was almost out the door when she turned back. She picked up the metal box and put it in a large ziplock bag. She tossed the package in the big kitchen trash can. She pushed it into the other trash in the can and put a bag of trash on top of it. Running to catch Katy, Delphie passed MJ on his way to his apartment.
“MJ?” Delphie asked. “Would you mind taking out the kitchen trash? It’s not too full.”
“Just stinky?” MJ asked. “Leave it to me. Stinky trash is my specialty.”
“Good to know,” Delphie laughed.
“I’ll do it right now.”
As Delphie turned the corner to the long stairwell, she saw MJ pickup the trash bag and carry it out of the house She smiled.
Levi Johansen deserved no better than to spend eternity with the other garbage at the Denver Dump. She was at the top of the stairs when she heard MJ return from the dumpster.
“Make sure to wash your hands,” Delphie called.
“Consider it done.” MJ yelled back.
She heard him add a new trash bag to the trash can then wash his hands.
“Come on!” Katy said from the loft apartment. “Mommy’s getting the computer ready.”
“I’m on my way,” Delphie said.
Smiling to herself, Delphie turned back to her new, and vastly improved, life.
Monday night – 8:49 P.M.
“But Dad wants to know how my first day of school went!” Nash repeated what he’d been saying all night. “He told me so.”
“Your Dad is zonked out after getting his teeth worked on,” Sandy said. “I’m sure he wants to know about your first day at the Park Hill School but…”
“He’s our Dad!” Noelle repeated her part of the argument when she came out of her bedroom wearing her pajamas. “He needs us!”
“He needs to rest,” Sandy said. “I promise you. He will get through all this oral surgery this week and we’ll see him when he’s feeling better. He’s very swollen.”
“Tell us again what happened,” Noelle said.
“After you brush your teeth,” Sandy said. “Nash! Pajamas!”
Nash stomped into his room. He came out moments later wearing pajamas.
“Teeth?” Sandy said to Nash.
He scowled at her then went into the bathroom he shared with Noelle. Sandy heard the kids squabble over the toothpaste. Noelle came back out.
“What happened?” Noelle said.
“Wait for your brother,” Sandy said.
Nash slunk out of the bathroom.
“You wanna check my teeth?” Nash asked.
“You wanna hear what happened?”
Noelle nudged Nash.
“Your Dad called me around four today. I was doing my bookkeeping when he called. He went to the dentist today because of his…”
“Broken teeth,” Noelle said at the same time Nash said, “Snaggle puss teeth.”
“Right,” Sandy said. “Some of the teeth were so bad that the dentist needed to pull them right away. Your Dad is going to have to see the dentist every day this week to get his teeth fixed. He’ll get temporary crowns then have to go back for permanent.”
“What about the teeth in front?” Noelle asked. “They’re broken.”
“He’s going to get implants to replace those teeth,” Sandy said. “It’s kind of amazing. He hasn’t had his wisdom teeth pulled either. He needs to get that done. He’s going to have oral surgery tomorrow for another tooth. Anyway…”
“It’s a mess,” Nash said with Sandy.
“Why did he call you?” Noelle asked.
“For a ride,” Sandy said. “He was too drugged out from the Novocain to drive. I went to pick him up and brought him back to the studio. He can’t take pain meds…”
“Because he’s an addict,” Nash said.
“Right, because his recovery is important to him. Blane is doing acupuncture in one of the upstairs offices. He gave your Dad acupuncture for pain. Your Dad stayed at the shop…”
“Mostly sleeping,” Noelle said.
“…until I was done with my bookkeeping. I took him back to his apartment and went to get you from school. That’s all I know.”
“Was he ugly?” Noelle asked.
“He was in a lot of pain and very swollen,” Sandy said.
“And the soup we made?” Nash asked.
“We made some of your Dad’s favorite soup for him to eat,” Sandy said
“And we blended it,” Noelle said.
“I’ll take it to him when you guys get to bed.”
“Why can’t we go?” Nash asked.
“Because you need to have a peaceful sleep,” Sandy said. “Some horrors are for adults.”
Noelle and Nash nodded solemnly. Sandy smiled.
“Now off to bed,” Sandy said. “I’ll stay for a few more minutes then bring the soup to your father. Hugs?”
Noelle and Nash hugged Sandy good night. She walked them to their rooms then waited a few minutes. She went into the kitchen to get the butternut squash soup when she heard the front door open. Not wanting to disturb the kids, she skid across the kitchen floor in her socks.
The door was open a crack. A man’s hand held a pint of Sandy’s favorite peanut butter and chocolate ice cream through the crack. Sandy laughed.
“Bribery will get you nowhere,” Sandy said.
Laughing, Aden came in the door.
“Where did you get this?” Sandy asked.
“Walgreens,” Aden said. “Just a little thank you for making me dinner.”
He hugged her. She kissed his cheek.
“Can you eat with all that cotton in your mouth?” Sandy asked.
“I think so.”
Aden followed Sandy into the kitchen. The sound of their talking and laughing drifted through the apartment.
“Nash!” Getting up, Noelle went through the shared bathroom. She knocked on his door. “Nash!”
“What?” Nash asked. He opened his bathroom door.
“Sandy has a man here,” Noelle said.
“It’s probably Dad,” Nash said.
“It doesn’t sound like Dad,” Noelle said.
Nash listened to the man’s voice.
“It doesn’t sound like Dad,” Nash said.
The children looked at each other.
“What do we do?” Noelle asked.
“We have to do something,” Nash said. “Sandy and Dad have to get married.”
“We have to do something.”
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