Thursday morning — 6:30 A.M Castle
Aden stood in front of the apartment where Sandy and his children lived. He’d rushed through his return to work with the sole focus of getting to this door by six-thirty. After all the rush, he couldn’t bring himself to knock. His nervousness surprised him. Sandy opened the door.
“There you are.”
She smiled. He was taken back by how beautiful she looked.
“Thanks for inviting me to breakfast,” Aden said.
“The kids are excited to see you,” Sandy said. “Nash begged me to make cinnamon scones.”
He followed her into the apartment.
“Dad!” Nash said. He ran forward to hug his father. “Shouldn’t you be at work?”
“I helped them get started this morning,” Aden said. “I didn’t want to miss breakfast. Today’s your big day, isn’t it?”
“We’re going to talk to the people at Blessed Sacrament. My old teacher called like five minutes ago and suggested the Park Hill School too. They do seventh and eight grade. Sandy’s going to call Teddy’s Dad to see if they can meet us there. Teddy’s already set up at Blessed Sacrament.”
Nash spoke in a rush of words. His eyes never left his father’s face. When he was done, he impulsively hugged his father again.
“Did you sleep good?” Nash asked.
“Well,” Sandy said. “Sleep well.”
“Sleep well,” Nash said.
“I’m really happy to home,” Aden said.
“This isn’t our home, Daddy!” Noelle said.
Noelle came in wearing her new tailored uniforms and her fancy new bra. Her hair fell in waves at her shoulder. She had a little mascara and eye shadow on. Aden’s little girl had transformed into a young woman. Aden was so surprised he took a step back.
“What are you wearing?” Aden asked.
“My uniform,” Noelle said.
“We’ll be right back,” Sandy said.
Sandy pushed Aden back out the door of the apartment. Flustered, he didn’t protest.
“What’s wrong with you?” Sandy asked.
“What… I mean how…”
“Your daughter is growing up,” Sandy said.
“She’s only ten. She’s still a baby and… and… I wasn’t gone that long!”
“She’s almost eleven. In some cultures, eleven year old girls get married, have children,” Sandy said.
“Not this culture,” Aden said.
“She’s a lovely young woman,” Sandy said. “She really cares about how she looks. Do you have some problem with it?”
“I’m just surprised. That’s all,” Aden said. “She’s… beautiful. My Noelle…”
“Watch what you say,” Sandy said. “She’s very sensitive. She’s been teased by the cute girls at school.”
“She’s been teased by a group of girls for a long time,” Aden said. “I’ve talked to her teachers about it, but there’s not much they can do.”
“Well, be nice, complementary,” Sandy said. “Valerie helped her get her uniform tailored and helped her with undergarments. Noelle feels pretty special to have a movie star’s help. So be nice.”
Aden nodded. Sandy turned back to the apartment door.
“May I kiss you?”
“What?” Sandy whipped around.
“I’d like to kiss you,” Aden said.
Shaking her head at him, she turned back and walked into the apartment. She ran into Noelle and Nash. They had been listening on the other side of the door.
“I can change, Daddy,” Noelle said. “I don’t have to wear this.”
“I was just surprised, honey,” Aden said. “That’s all. You look very beautiful.”
“I want to be your little girl.”
“You’ll always be my little girl, Noelle,” Aden said. “Always.”
When he held out his arms, Noelle ran to give him a hug.
“I think she looks great,” Nash said. In a brother’s singsong teasing voice, Nash added, “So does Teddy.”
“Who’s Teddy?” Flustered, Aden repeated, “Who’s Teddy?”
“Nash’s friend Teddy,” Sandy said. “We need to keep moving. Your Dad needs to get back to work and we have to get to school.”
Sandy and the kids sat down at the table.
“Daddy sit right here,” Noelle said.
Aden sat down between Noelle and Nash
“Nash?” Sandy said.
“Thanks for the food,” Nash said.
“Grace?” Aden asked.
“We like to start out day with a little thank you,” Noelle said.
“Because we’re glad we have each other even if things are hard,” Nash said. “That’s what Sandy says.”
“Every day,” Sandy laughed.
They ate quickly. Nash got up to take the dishes. He nudged Noelle and she went with him into the kitchen.
“So civilized,” Aden said. “No cold Pop Tarts on the way to school.”
“They’re on their best behavior,” she said. “Would you like some more coffee?”
“Should you be drinking coffee?”
“It’s none of your business.”
“My baby,” he said. “My business.”
“You sure?” she asked.
“Listen Nuala fucked up…”
Sandy stood from her chair. Walking out of the dining room, she went into her bedroom and closed her door. She sat down on the end of her bed. She could hear Nash and Noelle talking at the same time. Aden’s voice resonated through the walls but the meaning was lost. They were all talking. Nash and Noelle then the deeper voice. The voices went back and forth. Overwhelmed, Sandy lay back on the bed. There was a tap on her door.
“Yes?” Sandy asked.
Aden stuck his head in the door.
“I came in here to get away from you,” Sandy said.
“I know,” he said. “May I come in?”
“You might as well,” she said.
She shifted up to sitting. He sat down next to her on the bed.
“You don’t wear your ring any more,” he said.
“Just another broken promise.”
“How do I make this right? What do I need to do to make this right?”
“I don’t know,” Sandy shrugged. “Can’t un-tell millions people my deepest secret.”
“What do you mean? I never told anyone.”
Sandy turned to look at him. He tried not to squirm under her close scrutiny.
“How is it that everyone in the city of Denver knows that my father raped me then sold the videos?” Her voice was soft but clear. “I told Jill… and I told you.”
The blood drained from his face. His mouth fell open then shut in a grim line.
“There’s only one other person who knew because it stopped around the time we were close. He didn’t say anything to the Denver Post or the news cameras or…”
Aden opened his mouth to say something. His voice came out in a croak.
“I never even told Heather or Tanesha, not because I thought they would tell CBS morning news or their lawyer would be on the Today show. I didn’t tell my best friends because I was mortified.”
He looked away from her.
“I guess I still am,” she said. “It happened to me, not you, not even Noelle. Now the entire world knows I’m just some victim.”
“My Dad would be so disappointed in me,” she said. “That’s what gets me the most. He went way out of his way to save me and now look at my life. Unmarried, pregnant at twenty-six by some criminal who…”
“I love you, Sandy,” Aden said. “Please tell me how I can make this right. I want to marry you. I want to spend my life with you and the kids at the center of it. I’ve never wanted anything more.”
Sandy raised her shoulders then dropped them. They sat on the bed in silence for a moment.
“I need to get the kids to school,” she said. “You need to get back to work. Jake’s had a hell of a time while you were gone.”
Aden took her hand when she stood. She turned to look at him.
“I want to make this right,” he said.
“I don’t think there is a way to make it right,” Sandy said. “There’s just moving on.”
“How do we move on?”
“I’m too exhausted solve this problem for you,” Sandy said.
Standing, she picked up her purse and left the room. Looking around the bedroom, he remembered their first days here in this apartment. He’d cherished those memories while he was in prison. Reviewing the memories now, he saw what he’d been too self-absorbed to see at the time: Sandy had been injured, bleeding even, the entire time. His memories now revealed her terror, overwhelm and sorrow. He realized the kid’s numb expressions had covered their loss and pain. As if watching a horrible movie, the memories rolled in front of him.
How had he missed it?
He’d hurt everyone who loved him. As if he was hell bent on destruction, he had taken a wrecking ball to his entire life and everyone in it.
Nothing could change that fact.
As if she was standing in front of him, he heard Celia’s voice say:
“We create the lives we want through our thoughts and actions. Why did you want this?”
Stunned, he plopped down on the bed. He’d never felt like he deserved Sandy, his kids, his career, his money, and, well, everything he had. At the very moment he was going to have every piece of his shiny dream – beautiful wife, step into the CEO job at Lipson, happy children – he’d fucked it all.
The truth hit him like a ton of bricks.
“I don’t deserve it,” he said out loud.
“And we did?” Sandy was standing inside the doorway. “Sorry, I left my keys on the dresser.”
She reached around him to get her keys. Jumping to his feet, he lifted her from her feet in a hug. Setting her down, he fell to his knees.
“I get it. I really get it. And I’m so, so sorry,” he said. “I didn’t understand but I do now. Can you forgive me?”
“You need to apologize to the children,” Sandy said. “Sort your shit out. Get your life together. Make this right. Then ask me for forgiveness. Asking me now, in the middle of the wreckage, is just rude.”
Popping to his feet, he held her again.
“I have to get the kids to school,” she said.
“I’ll take Noelle. It’s on my way,” he said. “You and Nash can take care of schools.”
“Don’t fuck this up,” she said. “The kids can’t handle another disappointment from you.”
“No, ma’am, I won’t,” he said.
He followed her out. He had already dropped off his ‘young woman’ when he realized that he once had this conversation with Celia. Celia told him it was up to him to decide how much he was worth. Smiling, he rolled into Lipson Construction lot. He might not know what he was worth, but he sure as hell knew how to start figuring it out.
Thursday mid-afternoon — 2:30 P.M. Lipson Construction
Valerie hopped out of the driver’s seat of Jill’s Lexus SUV. She’d promised to take Katy and Paddie on the big equipment this afternoon. By the time she got around to the back, Katy and Paddie were out of their car seats. Valerie helped the children out of the car. As soon their feet hit the ground, Katy and Paddie began hopping like bunnies toward the office.
As they neared the front door, Katy took off running. When the automatic door slid open, she squealed with laughter.
“I’ll do it!” Paddie said.
Katy ran back. They waited for the door to close then Paddie ran forward. The door opened. The children were beside themselves with laughter. Paddie ran back.
“You do it!” Katy said to Valerie.
Valerie ran forward and the door opened. Katy and Paddie squealed and cheered. Hoping to quell the chaos, Valerie took their hands. They walked into Lipson Construction.
“The doors at the store do that,” Paddie said.
“These are more fun!” Katy said. “Faster!”
“More fun to do it myself,” Paddie said.
“Hey Val,” the receptionist said. “I didn’t know you were here today.”
“I came to see if we could lure my brother into showing us how all the big equipment works,” Valerie said. “He’s expecting us.”
“Who are these munchkins?” the receptionist asked.
“I’m Paddie. Who are you?”
“I’m Clara,” the receptionist said. “Your kids?”
“Jake’s daughter,” Valerie said. “And her best friend, Paddie Hargreaves.”
“I thought Jake had a daughter. There are pictures of her and Jill of course, all over his office, but I also heard he didn’t have any children,” Clara said.
“Just me!” Katy said.
“Anyway, you can go back,” Clara buzzed the door. “We’re all so relieved that Aden’s back. Blane called and said he’s coming in tomorrow. It’s like things are getting back to normal here.”
“That would be very nice,” Valerie said. “Thanks.”
With a child in each hand, Valerie went through the door to the back office. Once through the door, Katy yanked her hand from Valerie’s. Katy took off running toward Jacob’s office. Not to be out done, Paddie jerked out of Valerie’s grasp and ran after Katy. Valerie ran after the children. They were a laughing, giggling parade through the office.
Valerie was around the corner when she heard, “Hey, you can’t go in there.” She sped up. Turning the corner into the hallway that held Jacob, Sam and Aden’s office, she heard Katy’s distinctive cry. A blonde woman in a risqué dress and five inch heels had Katy and Paddie by the wrist. Katy had a red welt on her face.
“This child assaulted me!” the woman said.
Valerie looked at the small child then back at the woman.
“She’s a pretty good at martial arts,” Valerie said.
“No child should treat an adult that way,” the woman said.
“So you slapped her?” Valerie asked.
“What are these children doing here?” the woman asked.
“I was raised in this office,” Valerie said. “Children have always been in this office. Who the hell are you?”
Valerie dropped to her knees. She held her arm out for Katy and Paddie.
“Let go of them,” Valerie said.
“I will not,” the woman said. “I am escorting these wild children out of this office this instant.”
Katy began to howl. Paddie began to cry in sympathy for Katy. People poked their heads out from their offices. Aden’s secretary was moving across the space toward them.
“Evette, let the children go,” Aden’s secretary said. Her voice was calm and soothing. “Evette’s new, Val. She just doesn’t know. Evette, this is Valerie Lipson. Mr. Marlowe’s sister?”
“The soap opera slut,” Evette said.
Aden’s secretary stepped back in horror.
“Mr. Marlowe does not need to be bothered by your nonsense or some bastard children,” Evette said.
“DADDDDDDYYYYYYY!!!!!!” Katy screamed.
Jacob and Aden flew out of his office. Quick to assess the situation, Jacob’s face set in sheer rage.
“Mr. Marlowe…” Evette started. “Let go,” Jacob said. “Now.”
Evette released the children. Katy ran to Jacob. Valerie picked up Paddie.
“Be in my office in an hour,” Aden said to Evette.
“I was just…” Evette said.
“One hour,” Aden said.
With his secretary trailing him, Aden walked to his office. His secretary closed the door. With one last look at Evette, Jacob and Valerie took the crying children into his office. Valerie sat on the couch with Paddie and rocked him back and forth. Jacob sat down in his office chair with Katy.
Jacob’s heart sank with guilt and overwhelm. He had no idea what to do for Katy. He just held on to her and tried to say soothing things to her. He was about to call Jill when Katy began to take a few deeper breaths.
“That lady hit Katy,” Paddie said.
Jacob pulled Katy back to look at her. Katy nodded and pointed to her cheek. Jacob kissed her cheek.
“Can we still go on the road-a-vores?” Katy hiccupped through her sobs.
“Road-a-vore?” Jacob asked.
“The b-b-big machines,” Katy said. “Mommy said they eat the street.”
“I promised the kids they could drive the big equipment today,” Valerie said. “I’m so sorry. I had no idea…”
“It’s totally my fault,” Jacob said. He rocked Katy against him. “I knew she was…”
“Insane?” Valerie asked.
“They’re going to have bruises on their wrists and Katy’s face…” Valerie said. “Jill’s going to kill you. Have any arnica?”
“At home,” Jacob said. “I don’t get bruised at the office.”
“Softy,” Valerie laughed. “I have some in my bag from the movie. I think it’s in the car.”
There was a knock at the door. Aden’s secretary poked her head in.
“I brought some ice for Katy’s cheek,” she said. “Aden said to give you this.”
She gave him a tube of Arnica gel. Standing with Paddie, Valerie took the Arnica and ice.
“Thanks,” Valerie said.
Aden’s secretary nodded then closed the door.
“Fix the door,” Valerie said.
Jacob worked his skill to seal the door closed. Valerie put arnica gel on Paddie’s wrists then tossed the tube to Jacob. Jacob put the soothing gel on Katy’s wrist and face. He wrapped the ice pack in his handkerchief and held it against Katy’s cheek. He said a silent prayer that the arnica gel would help to keep the bruising down.
“Chocolate?” Jacob asked Katy.
As if agreeing to something important, Katy gave him a solemn nod. Jacob took out the box of ‘fancy chocolates’ he kept for Katy’s visits. Paddie jumped off Valerie’s lap to explore the box with Katy. Tears calmed, the chocolate seemed to sufficiently restore the children.
“Road-a-vores?” Jacob asked.
Katy and Paddie clapped their hands.
“Let’s get out of here,” Valerie said. “Can you come?”
“I wouldn’t miss it,” he said.
He unsealed the door. Moving quickly, they walked past the crazy secretary. They never gave her another thought. With road-a-vores and chocolate around, who could think of anything else?
Thursday mid-afternoon — 3:30 P.M. By appointment only
“Hey Pete,” Sandy said. She’d seen him standing outside her hair studio. He looked up when her client left but didn’t come to the door. She opened the door.
“Would you like a haircut?” Sandy asked. “I have time.”
Pete nodded. Sandy washed his hair. Because of the surgery, she had to shave his hair down to less than a half inch. She lathered him up and gave him a shave. They went through the ritual in silence.
“You’re done,” she said.
“Molly says I need to have a job before she’ll talk to me,” Pete said. “I’ve been looking all day. I mean really looking. No one will hire me.”
“What about Lipson?” Sandy asked.
“You have to be clean six months to work there,” Pete said. “I’ve burned a lot of people with my drug use. Plus, I look like a homeless person. At least now I look like a homeless person with a good hair cut.”
“Do you use drugs any more?” Sandy asked.
“No, Jill helped me with it but I still have a long way to go,” Pete said. “I was clean in prison. I went to three meetings today and I got a sponsor. I’m done with drugs. I need someone to give me a chance.”
“I know that feeling,” Sandy said.
“Yeah, I bet you do,” Pete said. “I heard about what happened, you know, with your Dad?”
“Father,” Sandy said. “You remember my Dad? He was the cop.”
“Yea, I remember him. Great guy.”
Sandy picked up a load of towels and began walking toward the back.
“I wanted you to know I never thought anything bad about you,” Pete said. “You were always nice about me and Molly. I knew something was going on when we were in high school. I always thought it was that pilot guy. He was old and so… dashing.”
Sandy stopped walking. She nodded to him then put the towels in the hamper.
“When I heard, I still don’t think anything bad about you,” Pete said. “Bad things happen to people. Doesn’t make them bad.”
“Thanks,” Sandy said.
“I bet you could use some help here,” Pete said. “I could help you. You wouldn’t have to pay me, but I…”
“The boys were helping me, Pete,” Sandy said. “Nash and Teddy, but they’re back in school. I could use some help. I really need someone here at night. It’s not the greatest neighborhood.”
“Like live here?” Pete asked. “I could do that. Molly let me stay in the basement last night. She’d be glad to have me gone for a while.”
“I don’t want to be in the middle of you and Molly,” Sandy said.
“Molly made me sign divorce papers,” Pete said. “But she didn’t file them. She’s really mad at me, hurt. The kids don’t trust me. I’ve really fucked up.”
“I’ll talk to Molly,” Sandy said. “Why don’t you come back around five? I can show you what I need done. You can look at the space and see what you think. If we agree, we can call probation and set up an appointment.”
“Thanks Sandy,” Pete said. “I won’t let you down.”
“Let’s just take it one day at a time.”
Pete hopped to his feet. He hugged Sandy.
“I’m not going to be your girl, Pete,” Sandy said. “Just your boss.”
“I only want Molly,” Pete said. “But I could really use a friend.”
Thursday afternoon — 3:30 P.M. Lipson Construction
“I think you know why we’re meeting,” Aden said to Evette. “We’d like you to clear out your desk. Ms. Roberts has your last check.”
Aden nodded toward the director of Human Resources.
“Mr. Norsen, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Evette said.
“Today will be your last day at Lipson Construction,” Aden said. “We have a number of offenses, but more than anything, you’re not qualified for your position. Ms. Roberts?”
“We find your typing and general secretarial skills to be insufficient for our staff.”
“Jake doesn’t need me to type,” Evette said. “He uses me for other things.”
“Such as?” Ms. Roberts asked.
Evette batted her eyes in the direction of the Human Resources director.
“Are you suggesting that you and Jacob Marlowe have been intimate?” Aden asked.
“Intimate is a word for it. Passionate is another.” Evette flipped her hair. “He’s amazing. So you can’t fire me.”
“Colorado is an ‘at-will’ state,” Aden said. “Your employment is not working for us. We are, in fact, firing you.”
“Suit yourself,” Evette said. “I’m sure the world would love to know about Jakey and my relationship.”
“What relationship?” Ms. Roberts asked. “There is no…”
Evette winked at Ms. Roberts.
“I’ll take thirty,” Evettesaid. “To stay silent.”
“Thirty what?” Aden asked.
“Thirty thousand,” Evette said. “That’s the going rate.”
“Get out,” Ms. Roberts said. “Now.”
Evette took the check from her hand and flounced out of the room. Aden and Ms. Roberts stared at each other.
“You don’t think…” Ms Roberts said.
“I don’t,” Aden said.
Aden’s secretary looked in the open door. Aden made a motion and she closed the door.
“Lawsuit?” Aden asked.
“Worse,” Ms. Roberts said. “Women like her make big bucks making accusations against wealthy men. It’s disgusting. I’m sure the media will eat it up.”
“Any way to protect Jake? Lipson?’
“We’ll just have to hold on through the storm,” she said. “We’ve done that for Valerie before.”
“Should we tell Jake?”
“Jacob Marlowe could not care less about this kind of tripe. This is not the first time some woman has gone to the papers about her fictitious relationship with him.”
“Yes, but it’s the first time since he’s been married and had a child.”
“I’ll talk to him,” Ms Roberts rose to leave.
Aden let out a breath. It was going to be an interesting ride.
Thursday evening — 6:30 P.M.
“Wow, you got really dirty with Daddy today,” Jill said. She was washing Katy in the big bathtub off her bedroom. “You must have had fun.”
“We had so much fun!” Katy said. “
“So many bruises,” Jill said.
“Professional construction workers, like me and Paddie, get bruises.
“Yes honey,” Jill said.
“What’s a bastard?”
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