Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Denver Cereal - Chapter One Hundred and Sixty-Three : Ice cream


Sunday afternoon – 7:25 P.M. Liks Ice Cream, Denver

“Right there! Paddie’s right there!!” Katy yelled with joy. She struggled against her car seat. “That’s his Mommy and that’s Paddie!”

“Stay in your car seat until we get there,” Jill said. “Stop it!”

Katy fell back against her seat. Her arms went to the sides of the car seat and her head mashed against the back.

“Okay, Mommy,” Katy said. “Can you let me go now?”

“Oh sorry,” Jill said. “I didn’t mean to…”

Katy giggled.

“What?” Jill asked.

“I was faking,” Katy began to laugh harder. Jacob joined her laugh. Shaking her head at them, Jill laughed. “I want to be your Katy as long as I can. I’ll be careful, Mommy.”

Struck by the child’s sweet words, Jill’s eyes filled with tears. Jacob pulled the SUV into a parking spot onRace Street. Katy waited until the car had stopped before she got out of her car seat. Paddie and his mother, Julie, were standing on the sidewalk waiting for them.

“Katy!” Paddie said.

“Paddie!” Katy said. “Mommy can we…”

Katy pointed to the ice cream shop and Jill nodded. Paddie looked at his mother, she nodded. Paddie grabbed Katy’s hand. Laughing, the four year olds ran toward the ice cream store.

“Thanks for inviting us,” Julie said.

“It’s fun to see you,” Jill said. “And any day Katy gets to see Paddie is a good day.”

“Paddie’s the same way,” Julie said. “Colin will be here in a few minutes.”

Noticing the change in Julie’s tone, Jill stopped walking to look at her.

“Is everything all right?” Jill asked. Jacob touched Jill’s arm and gestured toward the ice cream store. Jill gave him a slight nod. He trotted to catch up with the kids. Julie watched him walk away before she looked at Jill.

“You know I lost the baby again,” Julie said.

“Paddie slept over for a week or so while you were in the hospital,” Jill nodded.

“You’re such a good friend to us,” Julie looked away from Jill. “We have so much… drama. You and Katy have been a rock for Paddie. I appreciate it.”

“We love Paddie,” Jill said. “I’m certainly happy to help in anyway I can. What’s going on?”

“The last time I miscarried?” Julie’s eyes filled with tears. “The doctor said I was putting myself in too much danger by getting pregnant. I argued with him because I believe that God gives us children. Why would God make me pregnant and make it so I can’t have the babies? It’s very confusing to me.”

“I understand,” Jill said.

“You do?” Julie’s eyes scanned Jill’s face.

“I think it’s in the water at Catholic School,” Jill said. “When you don’t get pregnant? It feels like you failed. Not just that you failed yourself or your husband, but you failed God.”

“That’s how I feel,” Julie said. “Like a horrible, awful, evil person.”

“Jacob wanted kids and I…” Jill said. “We didn’t get pregnant. Sandy was pregnant. Heather was pregnant. Even Valerie, who’s had like two periods in her entire life, was pregnant!”

“But you’re pregnant now?” Julie asked.

Jill nodded.

“What do you think the problem was?” Julie asked.

“I think it’s not about me,” Jill said. “If children are given from God, then I have to let God decide the timing. I can’t hold onto the shame and embarrassment while giving lip service to children being from God. I have to give over the whole thing.”

Julie squinted her eyes at Jill as if she was trying to think through Jill’s words.

“But you got pregnant,” Julie said. “I…”

“It seems to me that you’re getting a pretty strong message,” Jill said.

“What do you mean?” Julie asked.

“You want children but can’t have them yourself,” Jill said. “Maybe God wants you to adopt or be a foster parent or help another woman out financially by using her as a surrogate or… I mean, I’m no priest, but I doubt God wants you to risk your life when Paddie and Colin need you so very much.”

Julie clasped Jill to her in an impulsive hug.

“They would be lost without you,” Jill said.

Steppling back, Julie sniffed at her tears. She gave Jill a wet nod.

“What’s going on?” Colin asked as he came up. “Did you ask her?”

“We didn’t get there,” Julie said. “Jill was helping me with…”

Colin gave Julie a warm hug. Jill watched them whisper back and forth. When they separated, Julie wiped her tears and gave Jill a salty smile.

“I guess you know some of what’s going on with us,” Colin said.

“When we moved back in together last year, we decided to adopt,” Julie said.

“We signed up at Catholic Services,” Colin said.

“I agreed to it but I kept thinking that… well, you know,” Julie said.

“After this last time,” Colin shrugged. “We’re both more excited about adoption.”

Walking slowly toward them, Jacob balanced a cup of vanilla ice cream for Jill, a cup of chocolate ice cream for Julie, a cone of rocky road for Colin and a cup of pralines and cream for himself. Katy and Paddie danced around them for a moment then went to find a table. Jacob followed the kids.

“We found out on Saturday that we’ve been selected as a possible family by a young mother,” Julie said. “We saw on the application that your friend Sandy is the contact person for the mother.”

“We wanted to pump you for information,” Colin said. “We’re supposed to meet the mother tomorrow morning.”

“Is  Sandy giving up her baby?” Julie asked.

“Rachel?” Jill asked. “Not a chance.”

Julie and Colin looked at each other. When they turned their focus to eating their ice cream, Jill realized she’d shut them down. She smiled.

“Do you know Seth O’Malley?” Jill asked. “He’s a Detective at Denver Police? Piano player?”

“He’s a friend of my Dad’s,” Colin said.

“His daughter Lizzie is pregnant,” Jill said. “She’s decided to give the baby up for adoption. Seth was busy with the serial killer thing, so Lizzie and Sandy went to Catholic Charities and set it up. Lizzie’s in a tough spot. I bet she doesn’t have a phone. And you know Sandy; she’s big mother to everyone. That’s probably why she’s the contact person.”

Colin and Julie looked at each other then at Jill. Julie smiled.

“Is she…? I mean…?” Colin started to ask.

“I don’t think we’re even sure what to ask,” Julie said. “We were excited to be picked and it feels… right. You know?”

“What would you like to know?” Jill asked. “I can’t really tell you private stuff but I’m happy to tell you what I can.”

“What’s she like?” Colin asked.

“Lizzie?” Jill asked. “She’s mentally very young and kind of spoiled. Her mother and step-father threw her out when they found out she was pregnant. Even though she was twenty-two or whatever, it was a horrible blow for her. She didn’t tell anyone, didn’t have any money… She’s been hiding out at Sandy’s apartment. I don’t really remember how she and her Dad reconnected. I think when the police reopened the investigation into Seth’s second wife Bonita’s murder.”

“And the father?” Julie asked.

“I don’t really know,” Jill lied. “They keep that private.”

“I guess… what we mean is…” Colin’s eyes assessed Jill. “We’ve never adopted but heard all these horrible stories about biological parents changing their minds and…”

“I know the biological father signed away his parental rights; so did the grandparents,” Jill said. “He won’t be a problem.”

Colin and Julie both seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.

“O’Malley’s pretty wealthy,” Colin said. “Why would Lizzie struggle so much?”

“She and her Dad had a big falling out after Bonita died,” Jill said. “It was horrible for Seth, like two more children dying. He overreacted; they overreacted. Honestly, I think it’s pretty normal for teenage girls to not want to hang out with their father. They wanted to stay with the ‘fun’ parent. Seth had just lost Bonita and his boys. He didn’t handle it well. So Lizzie and Julie Ann were adopted by their step-father and dropped the O’Malley from their names. When everything happened, Lizzie was too embarrassed to let anyone know what was going on with her. She didn’t even have money for food. She ate all of  Sandy’s frozen stuff.”

“That’s really sad,” Julie said.

“Very sad,” Jill said. “That’s what I mean, though. She didn’t know to ask for help or even tell Sandy. She’s that kind of young. Even though the baby is healthy, and she is too, she didn’t see a doctor until Sandy and Seth figured out what was going on.”

“And now?” Colin asked.

“She’s finding her footing,” Jill said. “She’s in counseling. She and her little sister Julie Ann are reconnecting. And Seth’s back in her life. She’s even dating a nice guy.”

“If she found a nice guy, why don’t they keep the baby and start a family?” Julie asked. “I’d think she’d marry him and…”

“She feels strongly that she’s just a carrier for the baby,” Jill said. “At first, it was just an idea, but now she feels her mission is to find a good family for him. Lizzie’s not ready to be a parent and she knows it.”

“What if she changes her mind?” Julie asked.

“I don’t think she will,” Jill chuckled. “I’ve known Lizzie since she was little. She has her father’s stubbornness. Once she makes up her mind, she’s set on a direction.”

“Like not asking for help?” Colin smiled.

“Right,” Jill said. “That’s exactly what I mean.”

Smiling, they turned to digesting the information and enjoying their ice cream. Jill had the sense they needed something else from her, but she wasn’t sure what.

“Is there any other way I can help?” Jill asked.

“We need a reference,” Julie said.

“We don’t look great on paper,” Colin said. “We separated and I’m an alcoholic. Of course, no one knows that Paddie was almost stolen.”

“Twice,” Julie said.

“Twice,” Colin repeated. “The counselor said it was unlikely we’d get a placement.”

“Would you give us a reference?” Julie asked.

“Absolutely,” Jill said. “Sandy’s going to be home tonight. I’ll talk to her. I know Sandy’s really grateful for Colin’s help with other… things. So am I. I think it would make her really happy to think Lizzie’s baby would live with you.”

“Would be our little boy?” Julie asked.

“Would be your little boy,” Jill said. “What would your Dad say, Colin? He seems pretty into the whole Hargreaves thing.”

“My Dad’s more interested in souls than genetics,” Colin said. “Old school Irish Catholic – half mystic, a quarter superstition, and a quarter straight up Roman Catholic.”

Jill nodded.

“Daddy! Come play with us,” Paddy tugged on Colin’s hand.

Colin slid the last half of his ice cream cone into his mouth and went away grinning with Paddie. Julie watched them go and turned back to Jill.

“What do you think?” Julie asked.

“I think any child would be lucky to have you as parents,” Jill said.

Julie smiled.

“Give me a day,” Jill said. “We’ll know more tomorrow.”


Sunday afternoon – 8:05 P.M. MDT between Tucson and Denver 

Sandy leaned against her seat. Squealing and laughing, the kids were playing a competitive game of  Cars: Mater-National. She smiled. They had a wonderful weekend. Even Charlie and Sissy.

Looking down, she saw Rachel yawn. Her beloved Rachel was growing. Sandy worried about going back to work, but Rachel didn’t seem to mind other people taking care of her. Tomorrow morning, she would leave Rachel off at the Marlowe school when she dropped Noelle off.

Her heart raced with fear and her mind filled with horrifying thoughts.

“Worrying?”Adenasked as he sat down next to her.

“It feels wrong to leave Rachel at daycare,” Sandy said.

“I know,”Aden said “Boy do I know.”

He leaned over to kiss them both.

“It’s going to be all right,”Aden said.

“And we’ll know right away if it’s not,” Sandy said.

“Immediately,”Aden said. “You really love your work. I bet your clients will be relieved to have you back.”

“It’s time to get on with life,” Sandy said.

“Four more weeks until school,”Aden imitated Sissy’s voice.

Sandy smiled.

“How do you feel about going back to work?” Sandy asked.

“I’m kind of excited for some ‘normal’ in my life,”Aden said. “No prison, no ankle bracelet, no hospital wrist band, no terror over losing you or spending endless hours in the NICU. I’m looking forward to being bored.”

“We need to meet with the priest,” Sandy said.

“Catholic classes to get married,”Aden said. “Yes. MJ said they’ve had trouble getting a date at the Cathedral. He thinks if we get married together we might get a spot. What do you think?”

“Good thinking,” Sandy said. “Noelle wants to be baptized. She’s the only one who isn’t Catholic.”

“Does she want to be Catholic?”Adenasked.

“She doesn’t want to be different from everyone else,” Sandy said. “That’s the same thing when you’re ten.”

“Eleven,”Aden said.

“At the end of the week,” Sandy smiled. “Teddy goes home on Sunday.”

“It’s a lot,”Aden said.

“Aren’t we only worried about one day at a time?”Sandyasked.

“One day at a time,”Aden said. “Yep.”

He looked up to see Sam waving him over.

“This is the call.”Aden kissed her cheek and went to join Sam and Blane to take a call from one of their board members. Valerie sat down next toSandy.

“Don’t you have to go with them?” Sandy asked.

“There’s a lot of boring gadget chat at the beginning of these calls,” Valerie rolled her eyes. “They won’t miss me. I wanted to ask how it went with the FBI.”


“That good?” Valerie asked. “Should we get the lawyers involved?”

“It feels like it’s never ever going away,” Sandy said.  Hearing Sandy’s from across the aisle, Heather and Tanesha moved over to sit next to her. Mack was sound asleep on Heather’s shoulder. Gesturing to Heather and Tanesha,  Sandy continued, “These guys have been hearing about this stupid stuff forever. Now it’s filtering into Charlie and Sissy’s life. I hate it.”

“I think some things are just like that,” Valerie said. “Did they find your Mom’s locker?”

“Sissy told you?” Sandy asked.

Valerie nodded.

“They’re waiting for ‘the right’ warrant. Whatever that means,” Sandy said. “They think they can get forensics finished tomorrow and Tuesday. They want me to go through it on Wednesday. Seth will go with me if he’s feeling all right, but he’s still pretty sick.”

“Can you do that?” Heather asked. “I thought you were back to work next week.”

“Just in the mornings,” Sandy said. “I’m meeting them at one. Can you go?”

Heather nodded. They looked at Tanesha and she nodded.

“You’d have to kill Jill not to be there,” Heather said.

“How do you feel about all of this?” Tanesha asked.

“Disgusted,” Sandy said. “Exhausted. I wish it would just go away. I feel like I need a vacation from our vacation.”

The women laughed.

“Adenwants me to spend the afternoons ‘recovering.’ That’s what he says,” Sandy said. “At this rate, I need the afternoons to do laundry.”

“Why don’t we ask Maria for more help?” Valerie asked. “She’s been dying to take care of Rachel, but she’s not sure you wanted her help.”

“I feel kind of guilty. She helps me so much. She cleans up after our piggy kids and even fills the fridge. She’s wonderful,” Sandy said.

“You need help,” Heather said.

“Especially with this legal storm brewing,” Tanesha said.

“Could you guys be my best friends?” Valerie chuckled.

“Sure,” Heather and Tanesha smiled at Valerie.

“Can you introduce us to hot, hunky single nice actors?” Tanesha asked.

“I think that Jeraine is very sexy,” Valerie said. “And when he sings?”

She fanned her face and gave them a dramatic sigh.  Sandy and Heather laughed while Tanesha scowled.

“There’s Dad,” Valerie said. She waved to Sam. “I’d better go. If you need any help with this,Sandy, you let me know. I’m available on Wednesday too. I’ll be there!”

“Thanks,” Sandy said. Valerie touchedSandy’s shoulder and moved over to the men grouped around the conference phone.

“How are you?” Heather asked.

“Tired,” Sandy said. “But… it feels good to have finished this stuff with my mother. You know?”

“I think it’s good to have everything out on the table,” Tanesha said. “You can grieve and move on.”

“What are you going to do about…?” Heather nodded her head toward Sissy and Charlie.

“Talk to them,” Sandy said. “See if they need counseling. I don’t think there’s much else we can do.”

“Do you think that’s why they’ve had so much trouble?” Heather asked.

“Trouble seems to be our way of life,” Sandy said.

“Well, they have a great chance now,” Tanesha said.

“Just like you!” Heather said. “I’m excited for medical school.”

“I know!” Tanesha said. “Three more weeks. I can’t believe it!”

“And Jeraine is still going?”Sandyasked.

“Now why should I care what that man does?” Tanesha asked.

Heather and Sandy laughed.

“May I join you?” Anjelika asked.

“Of course,” Sandy said. “We’re just laughing at Tanesha’s hatred for the love of her life.”

“I have a lot of experience with that,” Anjelika smiled at Tanesha. “Hurts like hell and feels wonderful.”

Tanesha’s head jerked toward the woman. She’d always thought of Anjelika as the spoiled, Russian princess mother of her friend Jill. They shared a long, assessing look before Tanesha gave a slight nod and looked away.

“Mack is such a beautiful baby,” Anjelika said. “May I?”

She held her arms out. Heather placed the sleeping baby in her arms.

“It’s such a joy to hold babies,” Anjelika said. “When we travel throughCentral America, I go to the orphanages to hold the babies. They are so sweet and lost. It’s a real joy.”

The women watched Anjelika soothe Mack and shift him to her shoulder.

“I’m looking forward to seeing Rachel tomorrow,” Anjelika said. “I’m going to be in the nursery this week to help with the transition.”

“You are?”Sandyasked.

“Of course,” Anjelika laughed at Sandy’s surprise. ”You sound relieved.”

“Relieved? At the very least,” Sandy said. “You’ll let me know if anything’s wrong?”

“Of course,” Anjelika said. “But there won’t be. Rachel’s going to be fine. Soon, she’ll be making friends. Mack here has already romanced all the six month olds and is working his way through the one year olds.”

The women laughed.

“I wanted to talk to you about Sissy,” Anjelika said.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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