CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and SEVEN
Sunday morning — 6:25 A.M.
“You don’t mind?” Aden asked.
They were riding the Hotel Teatro elevator down to the lobby.
“No, I’ll get the car,” Sandy said. “You have to be there by eight, right?”
“Sorry about that,” he said.
“I’m not,” Sandy said. “Last night was…”
Unable to find the right word, Sandy sighed.
“Yeah,” he said. “Totally worth today’s bullshit.”
The elevator stopped at the Lobby. Taking her hand, they walked to the front desk.
“I’ll be right there,” Aden said.
Nodding, Sandy walked through the lobby. She gave their valet ticket to the doorman. Because Aden was on house arrest, he needed to check in and check out of every location. He would check out of the hotel and check in with the Department of Corrections. He would then be given an hour of travel time. He had to get Sandy home and get back to the Department of Corrections by eight. If he was late, even one minute, they could arrest him and he’d go back to prison. Neither Aden nor Sandy wanted to take that risk. Sandy gave him a little wave and stepped out onto the sidewalk.
The morning was cool but not cold. The air was moist with spring expectation. The street was deserted and quiet. A cab slowed by in front of her to see if she needed a ride. Sandy blushed. Did she look like a prostitute after a long night? She pulled her overcoat close and turned away from the street.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a group of teenage boys moving in her direction. Tracking their motion, Sandy turned to her face them. The boys were laughing and weaving down the street. They looked as if they’d been out all night. One boy pointed, said something then laughed.
Sandy blushed. This had happened before. Strangers knew exactly who she was from all the press about her father and Aden. She was about to go back into the hotel when she heard a boy call her name. Turning toward the sound, she saw the boys push at each other. While the one boy slowed, the group of jeering boys walked by.
“Sandy!” the boy said.
Taking a martial arts stance, Sandy turned toward the sound.
“Are you going to hit me?” he laughed.
“Oh my God,” Sandy’s arms flew around her step-brother’s neck. “Charlie! What are you doing here? You smell like crap.”
Laughing, the boy held her close. At least six feet tall, he bent down to rub his face on her neck. She squealed. He laughed.
“You’re high,” she said.
“Yep,” Charlie said. “I’m high.”
“What are you doing here? How come you’re not at home?”
“Mom kicked me out.”
“What?” Sandy asked.
“She’s broke, said she couldn’t deal with my crap anymore. I was ‘too expensive’ for her.” The boy shrugged. In a moment, he shifted from a cocky street kid to Sandy’s little brother. His big dark eyes blinked at the pain that lay in his heart. “We got in a big fight and she threw me out. Changed the locks.”
“About a month ago,” he said. “I went by your place to see if I could stay with you. There was some bitch there. She ran me off so I’ve been out.”
“Oh Charlie!” Sandy clutched him to her again. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s not that bad,” he said. “I stay with the guys. We find places to stay.”
“How do you eat?” Sandy asked.
“We spare change,” Charlie said. “It’s not a noble profession like Dad would have wanted for me, but Dad’s dead.”
Charlie sighed. A storm of rage and sorrow moved across his face then he smiled.
“I stay high,” he said. “If Dad was here, everything would be different. Mom wouldn’t be so crazy. You’d still be able to see us. All that crap with your prick father… Is it true?”
“Oh God, Sandy,” Charlie hugged her. The boy wept into her shoulder. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. Oh God.”
“It’s not your fault, Charlie,” Sandy said. “You were the best thing that ever happened to me. Period. You and Sissy.”
“Why won’t Mom let you see us?” Charlie asked.
“Money,” Sandy said.
“Of course,” Charlie said.
“Why does Mom need so much money? She has a good job. Dad’s pension pays her survivor benefits for you and Sissy,” Sandy said.
“She’s addicted to QVC,” Charlie said.
“Yeah, it’s weird,” Charlie said. “Any moment she’s not working, she’s watching QVC. She buys things. Sandy, she doesn’t even open the boxes. She has like fifty of the same thing. The entire house is filled with crap. You remember how prissy Sissy is about her room?”
“It’s the only empty space left,” Charlie said. “As soon as I was out, she started filling my room with crap.”
“You go back?”
“To check on Sissy,” Charlie said. “I walk her home from school. She gives me her lunch.”
“Sandy?” Aden glared at the filthy boy. He slipped his arm around her.
“Aden, this is my brother Charlie,” Sandy said. “You remember me talking about him.”
Aden’s face shifted to neutral.
“Nice to meet you,” Aden held his hand out for Charlie to shake.
“Hey, this is the gym guy,” Charlie laughed. “I knew I’d seen your face somewhere.”
Charlie shook his hand.
“Whoa, I didn’t notice the rocks,” Charlie said. “Did you guys get married?”
“A couple days ago,” Sandy said. “Not a church wedding. We’ll do that next year.”
“Good,” Charlie said.
“Listen, Lizzie, Seth’s daughter is staying at my place this summer. I talk to her,” Sandy said. “She had no right to…”
“Like I said,” Charlie said. “I’m doing all right. Summer’s coming and I think it would be nice to be out a while. Maybe I’ll come in this fall.”
Charlie hugged Sandy again.
“It’s really great to see you,” Charlie shifted to street kid again.
“Hey Charlie, quit talking to your girlfriend,” a boy yelled from the Denver Performing Arts Center. “We’re going to eat.”
“I should go,” Charlie said.
“My salon is on Colfax,” Sandy said. “Come by. You can at least take a shower. I can fix your hair.”
Charlie hugged Sandy close again. For a moment, like he had when he was a toddler, he rested his head on her shoulder. When the moment passed, the street kid returned. He raised a hand in good-bye to Aden and sauntered down the street.
Sandy ran after him. She pulled the cash out of her wallet and shoved it into his hand.
“I’m not Mom!” Charlie said. “I can take care of myself.”
Sandy smiled and he laughed.
“Thank you,” he gave her a smile. “I’ll come by the salon. Your car’s here.”
“Come by,” Sandy said as she ran back to Aden. “A shower, a meal, hard to beat.”
“Love you!” Charlie yelled.
“Love you!” Sandy yelled back.
Charlie ran off to meet his jeering friends. Aden held the passenger door open for her and she stepped into his SAAB sedan. He tipped the valet and took the driver’s seat. They had gone a few blocks before he spoke.
“You know that Charlie was high,” Aden said.
“Charlie has a problem with pot and meth,” Sandy said. “I paid for him to go to rehab a couple years ago. Mom pitched a fit so he didn’t stay the whole thirty days.”
“He can’t be around Pete,” Aden said.
“I know,” Sandy said. “But he can be around me.”
“Sandy, that’s not your little brother,” Aden said. “He’s a full blown street kid. There’s no way to know what he’s done to get drugs.”
“Speaking from experience?” she asked.
“Yes,” Aden said. “I am speaking from experience. And…”
He shook his head and fell silent. They drove a few more blocks.
“What?” Sandy asked.
“I don’t want you to be hurt,” Aden said. “He seems like a great kid. Handsome and strong. Smart.”
“He is a great kid,” Sandy said. “He and Dad were really close. He hasn’t gotten over Dad’s death. And Mom’s a wreck.”
“What?” Aden asked.
“I’m overwhelmed with my own life and responsibilities,” Sandy said. “I don’t know what I can do for Charlie but love him and pray for him.”
“Did you give him money?” Aden asked.
“I did,” Sandy said. “And don’t tell me not to Aden Norsen. I know he’ll spend some of it on drugs. He’s my brother and I love him.”
“You know about tough love?” Aden asked.
“Yes, but not ten minutes after I stayed in a luxurious hotel where I was pampered by expensive food, spa services and amazing sex,” Sandy said. “I’m not tough enough to deny a hungry little boy.”
Aden smiled. He squeezed her hand.
We need to get him help,” Aden said.
“We?” Sandy asked.
“I’m married,” Aden pointed to himself then to her, “to you.”
“Oh,” Sandy said.
“We take on each other’s problems together,” he said.
“But I have to help myself first. Right?” Sandy asked.
“Right,” Aden stopped at the Park Avenue stoplight. He leaned over to kiss her.
“I feel awful,” Sandy said. “I had no idea he was out of doors. Mom wouldn’t let me see him or Sissy. I’ve tried over and over again. I should have tried harder.”
“He could have tried harder too. No one forces him to use drugs. Those are his choices. Plus…” Aden said. “He’s fifteen?”
“Just turned sixteen,” Sandy said.
“Out of doors isn’t such a bad place at sixteen,” Aden said. “He’s big enough to keep the predators away. I bet he’s having a grand time.”
“Don’t be sad,” Aden said.
“I’m all right,” Sandy nodded. “I’ve had a wonderful night. I’m a little tired… sore in great ways…”
He laughed. Pulling into the Castle driveway, he leaned over to kiss Sandy one more time. Grabbing her suitcase, she moved to get out of the car.
“Good luck this morning,” she said. “Let me know where you are.”
“See you soon.”
Sandy watched him drive away. With a sad sigh, she turned into the Castle.
Sunday morning — 6:25 A.M.
Waking slowly, Jill rolled onto her side. Jacob scooped her over to him. She lay with her head against his bare right shoulder. Her fingers traced the scars left by the impact of a pipe wrench and seven surgeries.
“It’s been almost a year,” she said.
He turned his head to look at her.
“Did you think you would be here a year later?”
“I hoped, longed and dreamed I would be right here a year ago,” Jacob laughed.
She smiled. She kissed his lips. Resting back against his shoulder, her fingers continued moving along the scars.
“Do you still have the angina?”
“Yes,” he said. “But much less. Exercise is really the best thing.”
“What about the surgery?” she asked.
“I think I’ve had enough of hospitals for a long time,” he said.
“Wouldn’t the surgery stop the angina?”
“No guarantee,” he said. “The docs aren’t sure that’s a piece of metal from the pipe wrench. It could be something else against my heart. Could be a genetic defect. I’d hate to go through all the trouble for nothing. Everything in my life is in flux right now. I don’t think I need to add surgery to the mix.”
“But if it would make you better…” she started.
Seeing his puzzled look, she stopped talking.
“What’s bothering you, Jill?” Jacob asked.
“I just don’t know if it was worth it,” she said. “I wish I’d…”
Jacob sat up in bed. He turned to look at her. She sat up to meet his gaze.
“Life isn’t really a ‘tit for tat’ equation,” Jacob said. “I didn’t pay for this life with you by getting assaulted by Ashforth. It’s just something that happened on the road to being here. Like meeting in Santa Monica. Like moving back to Denver.”
“You make it sound like almost dying is just life, just happens,” she said. “If I…”
“Oh Jill,” Jacob said. “It’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything to make him hurt me.”
“It feels that way,” Jill said. “The least I could have done was heal your wound.”
“You saved my life,” Jacob said. “I don’t think you could have done more, Jill. You’re not God. You don’t control everything.”
“Oh, the God thing again.” She flopped back against her pillow.
“I’m looking forward to spending the summer with you and our daughter, Katherine. I’m very excited to hike, fish, play, work on some rehabs and whatever else life has in store for us.”
“I’m excited too,” she said.
“This year has been complete upheaval. Everything is different today,” Jacob said.
“Is different good?”
“This different is fabulous,” Jacob said. “I’ve never been this happy. I think everyone I know is happier than they’ve been in years and years.”
“I am,” she smiled at him.
He leaned down on his elbow.
“Then what’s bothering you?” he asked.
“I just have this feeling… like the other shoe is going to drop,” Jill said.
Jacob leaned over to kiss her lips.
“Could happen,” she said.
“You don’t think this crap with the secretary, me getting run out of Lipson Construction, you getting tortured by people’s cruel words… That’s not the other shoe?”
“That’s just life,” Jill said.
“Well, then, it will have to be a big fucking shoe,” Jacob laughed. “Mammoth, in fact.”
“As long as we have each other, we’ll be fine,” he said. “Do I still have you?”
“You do,” Jill said. “Do I still have you?”
“More and more every day,” he said. “We’ll be fine.”
“You don’t see…”
“But you can’t see your own future and…”
“There’s nothing coming, Jill,” he said.
“Just life,” she said.
“Just life,” he said.
Sunday afternoon — 3:25 P.M.
When Noelle heard a car pull into the Castle driveway, she jumped up to race to the door. She opened the side door, looked out and closed it again.
“Nope, it’s not him,” she said as she returned to the Castle living room.
Sandy and Jill were clearing and cleaning up the final wreckage from Levi Johansen’s visit. The floors would be sanded and polished tomorrow. Jill had arranged for new furniture. But right now, they needed to finish taking down the hundred year old wall paper. Once the floors were done, the plasterers would repair the walls. Jill worked the steamer while Noelle and Sandy scraped the strips from the wall.
“Mrs. Heather, Uncle Blane, and Mac,” Noelle said.
“You closed the door in their faces?” Giving Noelle a dark look, Sandy dumped the wall paper she was holding into a thirty gallon trash can.
“Not in their faces,” Noelle said. “They weren’t even out of the car.”
“Still,” Sandy said.
She wiped her hands on the jeans she was wearing and went to the door. Heather and Blane had already gone around the back. She shrugged.
“They must have gone around the back,” Sandy said. She turned into the living room.
“I’m sure they’ll find us,” Jill said. “Can you take this piece?”
Sandy scooted forward to catch a big piece of wall paper. Another car pulled into the driveway. And Noelle ran to the door.
“Nope, it’s Jake and Mike,” Noelle slammed the door closed.
“Noelle! You can wait for people to come in,” Sandy said. “Open the door. Go. Now.”
Noelle slumped back to the door.
“They went in the backyard,” Noelle said. “Daddy’s here!”
Noelle ran out to meet her father. She slammed the door behind her. They heard another car pull into the driveway.
“You can go,” Jill said. “I can finish this.”
“It’s Ok,” Sandy said. “Plus, I’m wearing his jeans. They were the only jeans that fit.”
Jill laughed. The women worked together in happy silence. They finished the rest of the room before they realized Aden and Noelle hadn’t appeared.
“Why don’t you go shower?” Jill asked.
“Sounds like everyone’s in the backyard,” Sandy said.
“I find out what’s going on,” Jill said.
Sandy nodded. She took the stairs two at a time. Waving to Nash and Teddy, who were playing video games, she jogged into her bedroom. She stripped off Aden’s pants and tucked them at the bottom of the laundry pile. She was sure he wouldn’t care, but he might. Turning on the shower, she defensively told herself that he could stand to be a little responsible for the baby. She laughed at her own justification.
A quick shower, led to dressing in a pair of pants she couldn’t zip, a long sleeved shirt and a big sweater. She looked like a bowling ball, but that would have to be all right. When she went out into the living room, the boys weren’t there. Neither were the cookies she’d made this morning. The boys must have gone looking for food.
Sandy pulled her wet hair into a ponytail, pulled on a pair of fleece lined boots and wandered down to the first floor. The entire Castle seemed deserted. She went downstairs to the basement but Aden wasn’t in his apartment. Honey and MJ weren’t in their apartment either.
Perplexed, Sandy went upstairs. She checked the main Castle living room. No one. Even the kitchen was still. Sandy looked out through the window in the door to the backyard. The backyard was set up for a party. Of course, every day Valerie was home was a party. Smiling, she walked out onto the deck.
“SURPRISE!” Everyone yelled. “Congratulations!”
Sandy was so shocked she took a step back.
Aden came forward with a glass of champagne.
“They wanted to have a little party for us,” he said. “Everyone helped.”
He leaned down to kiss her.
“Are you all right?” Aden asked.
Sandy bit her lip to keep from crying. She nodded.
“We were doing the wall paper to keep me occupied?” she asked Jill
Jill nodded and gave her a hug. And the party began. The laughing, talking crowd of loved ones celebrated the first union of Aden and Sandy.
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