Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Two Hundred and Fifty-Four : Cats

Chapter Two Hundred and Fifty-four

Cats

Friday morning — 5:12 a.m.

“Hey,” Jacob said as he entered the kitchen.

“Hey yourself.” Delphie held out her arms and they hugged. “How are you, Jacob?”

“Good,” Jacob nodded and yawned. “Tired.”

“It’s been quite a week,” Delphie turned back to the counter where she was slicing vegetables. “I was going to make a casserole . . .”

Jacob scowled behind her back.

“ . . . but Sandy already started some soup,” Delphie said. Jacob looked relieved. She glanced back and he smiled. “She asked me to slice up some zucchini and we’re all set. Gosh, it’s great to have so much help. Remember when it was just you and me? We almost starved.”

“We may have more guests than we realized,” Jacob said.

“How so?” Delphie asked.

“Jill keeps seeing cats,” Jacob said.

“Cats?” Delphie asked.

“Black cats,” Jacob said. “She said she was with you in your apartment and Cleo arched her back and hissed.”

“She did?” Delphie looked puzzled. “Cleo? I don’t remember that. But my memory is less than perfect after the stroke. Who are you?”

Jacob laughed and Delphie turned her focus to her zucchini.

“I have a group tonight and this weekend,” Delphie said.

“Sounds fun,” Jacob said.

“Want to come in and give a demonstration?” Delphie asked.

“Yes, Delphie, I’d love to be a freak in your side show,” Jacob said.

Laughing, Delphie shook her head at Jacob.

“Should I call animal control?” Jacob asked.

“No,” Delphie said. “I can’t see the harm in having a few cats around.”

“I don’t like that they’re bugging Jill,” Jacob said.

Delphie nodded and kept chopping.

“Any ideas?” Jacob asked.

“None,” Delphie said. “Are you working tomorrow?”

“No,” Jacob said. “We’re off on the weekends.”

“Why don’t you check out the cats this weekend?” Delphie asked. “You’ll have time.”

“Good thinking.” Jacob kissed her cheek. “Thanks.”

Delphie nodded. When she looked up again, he was gone. She carried the cutting board to the crockpot and dumped in the zucchini. She was in the middle of giving the soup a good stir when a memory fluttered through her mind.

When Celia was close to delivering Jacob, she’d seen something. Delphie looked off into the distance to try to remember what Celia had seen. Nothing came to mind and Celia was off somewhere, probably with Valerie and Jackie. Delphie stopped stirring, made sure the top was on the crockpot, and got her phone. She texted Valerie:

“Check w Celia. See something black when pregnant?”

Delphie smiled at her ability to use this technology. She stuck her phone in her pocket and went upstairs to start her day.

~~~~~~~~

Friday morning — 6:42 a.m. PST (7:42 a.m. MST)


Malibu, California

“You have a text,” Seth’s oldest daughter Lizzy said, as she walked through the kitchen of the Malibu house. “Came in a couple hours ago.”

Valerie was sitting at the counter breastfeeding Jackie.

“I do?” Valerie asked. “Would you mind reading it to me?”

Lizzie picked up Valerie’s phone from the counter where it was charging.

“Check with Celia. See something black when pregnant,” Lizzie read. “Mean anything to you?”

“Not a thing,” Valerie smiled at Lizzie. “How are you feeling?”

“Really good,” Lizzie smiled. “This whole ‘hang out at Dad’s rental on the beach’ thing is pretty awesome.”

Nodding, Valerie smiled.

“Can I ask you something?” Lizzie looked away in case Valerie said no.

“Sure.”

“How did you know that Mike was . . . you know, the one?” Lizzie asked.

Valerie smiled.

“Ok,” Lizzie said. “I’m supposed to personalize my statements. How will I know if Schmidty is the one? For me, I mean.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Valerie said. “Because you’ve had bad experiences, you don’t want something so good to become bad.”

“So it’s better to keep looking,” Lizzie nodded.

“Better? Seems a little psycho,” Valerie said.

Lizzie nodded.

“I think in the end you have to trust yourself,” Valerie said. “If things get bad with Schmidty, you can always leave. You’re not alone anymore. Your sister and dad are in your life again.”

“But things were good with . . . you know, my mom’s husband.” Lizzie looked heartbroken.

“There weren’t really, were they?”

Lizzie’s eyes filled with tears, and she shook her head.

“I’m not going to do that again.” Lizzie balled up her hand and hit her leg. “Never again.”

Lizzie pounded the side of her thigh.

“It doesn’t really seem like you had a chance to choose . . .”

“That’s what everyone says,” Lizzie said. “It wasn’t really your fault. It was his fault. He was the grownup . . . but I did it! I chose to be with him! I . . .”

“Why would you do it again?” Valerie’s voice was mild and low. Lizzie was so surprised by her words that she jumped.

“I wouldn’t,” Lizzie said.

“There’s your answer,” Valerie said.

Lizzie scowled. Remembering the phone in her hand, she said, “Do you want me to text her back?”

“Can you read it again?”

Lizzie read Delphie’s cryptic message.

“I’ll call her,” Valerie said.

Lizzie set the phone down on the counter. She was about to leave when she spun in place.

“Thanks,” Lizzie said.

Valerie smiled. Lizzie nodded.

“Tell him to make it really big and sparkly,” Valerie said. “He can afford it.”

Lizzie laughed and went out to the beach. Valerie looked down to see that Jackie was sound asleep. She carried her to their bedroom and changed her diaper. She was changing her into a cute onesie when Mike came in from the shower.

“What’s up with Lizzie?” Mike asked.

“She’s getting serious with Schmidty,” Valerie smiled.

“Mmm,” Mike nodded.

“Delphie sent me this weird text about Mom seeing something,” Valerie said. “The only thing I could think was that it related to Jill and the boys. You know how she’s obsessed. Any ideas?”

“Jill thinks some feral black cats are living at the Castle.” Mike shrugged and went back into the bathroom.

“Black cats,” Valerie said under her breath.

She carried Jackie to her bassinette. Valerie fussed for a minute before setting her precious baby down.

“Black cats,” Valerie said again. “Mom . . . pregnant . . . cats.”

She gasped.

“What?” Mike ran in from the bathroom. “What is it?”

“Those aren’t cats,” Valerie said.

~~~~~~~~

Friday morning — 10:02 a.m. MST

Denver, CO

Jill braced herself and opened the door to the doctor’s office. The quiet waiting room was filled with pregnant women. Children played quietly in the corner, attended by their imported nannies. Jill instinctively looked down to see if she’d worn her nice shoes.

She couldn’t see them over the mound that was now her belly. The door to the suite opened and Sandy came in.

“Did you check in?” Sandy asked.

“Just stepped inside,” Jill said.

They went to the empty counter. They could see the receptionist’s back as she talked to someone down the hall. They waited.

“Can you tell me . . .” Jill leaned into Sandy. “ . . .am I wearing my nice shoes?”

Sandy looked at Jill’s shoes and then at Jill’s face. Sandy shook her head. Jill scowled. When Jill looked back at Sandy, her friend was laughing. Jill nudged her.

“Nervous?” Sandy asked in a low tone.

Jill nodded.

“Jill Marlowe?” A nurse appeared from the back. She grabbed the clipboard to read her name. “Um . . . Maybe you should just come back.”

The nurse gestured toward the end of a long hallway. Jill stepped forward and Sandy followed close behind. Out of the corner of her eye, Jill saw people stop to look at her. When she turned to look at them, they started talking again like nothing had happened. Jill swallowed hard. Hearing a noise to her right, she saw people in blue suits going through a room full of filing cabinets. She heard shouting from the office where she’d originally talked to the doctor. Jill could almost feel Sandy’s heightened awareness as she became more on guard. Leena, from Alex’s team, stepped into the hallway from an exam room on her right. Before the door closed, Jill thought she saw the medical practice manager lying facedown on the floor with some big guy’s foot on his back.

“Oh, hey, Jill,” Leena said. She smiled as if nothing was going on and moved past them. “Love my hair, Sandy.”

Jill felt movement behind her. Samantha Hargreaves trotted up the hallway.

“Do you come here too?” It was the only thing Jill could think to say.

“Sure,” Samantha smiled. “You know Val; I’d have to go where she was going.”

“Are you almost due too?” Jill asked.

“Ha,” Samantha laughed. “I wish. No, I just got huge right away. We have seven months to go. You got big fast, didn’t you Sandy?”

“Not that fast,” Sandy laughed.

“I know.” Samantha patted her belly. “My mom said she was this big. She was huge with Colin, but you’ve seen Colin right?”

As if on cue, Colin Hargreaves turned the corner and blocked the hallway with his six foot five inch frame. The nurse opened an exam room, and much to Jill’s surprise Colin and Samantha followed them inside. Samantha gave the nurse a blistering look. The nurse swallowed hard, turned in place, and trotted out of the room.

Never afraid to step into the fray, Sandy asked, “What’s going on?”

Jill stared at the back of her head.

“I don’t like this one bit, Jill,” Sandy said. “We’re leaving.”

“Yeah, well,” Colin said. “You can’t leave.”

“Why not?” Sandy said.

A tiny woman, Sandy stood up to her full height. With her shoulders pressed back, no one doubted that she could cause some serious trouble.

“We’re waiting for MJ,” Samantha said.

“MJ?” Jill blurted out.

“He’s going to track your pregnancy,” Samantha said.

“What’s going on?” Sandy asked.

“No one can tell you right now,” Samantha said. “That’s why I’m here.”

“To not tell us?” Sandy asked.

“To assure you that you’ll know what’s going on in time,” Samantha said. “Right now, all I can say is this office was doing something that’s not quite legal. Not just with you, Jill. With everyone. They sent Val’s stuff . . .”

Colin cleared his throat and shook his head. Samantha sneered at him.

“Anyway, it’s a huge mess,” Samantha said. “For them.”

“But Val,” Jill couldn’t help but put her hand on her heart. She felt her boys’ worry as well.

“Let’s just say that your dad went down to pay that genetics lab a little visit,” Samantha said.

Colin burst out laughing. She scowled at him and he shrugged.

“And me?” Jill asked.

“We need to take a DNA swab from you, Jill,” Colin said. “That’s why we’re waiting for MJ.”

“Only he can do it?” Sandy asked.

“He has our kits,” Colin said. “We don’t trust anything here. We want our own stuff.”

“What will you do with my DNA?” Jill asked.

“They will use your DNA to track the lab work and experiments,” Samantha said.

“Lab work?” Jill swallowed hard.

“Your dad, uh, discovered they had done quite a bit with your samples,” Colin said.

“My samples?” Jill asked.

“Pee, blood, vaginal swabs . . .” Colin stopped talking when he saw Samantha’s stern look.

The small exam room fell silent.

“I don’t like this,” Jill said under her breath.

“If it makes you feel any better, Jill, they did this to a lot of people,” Samantha said. “This office didn’t realize what they had when they sent your samples in. They were just following routine.”

“You mean all those women out there . . “ Sandy started.

“And their kids,” Samantha said.

“But don’t worry,” Colin smirked. “They won’t do it again. In fact, they won’t be doing anything again for a long, long time.”

Samantha gave him the standard, oldest-sister “Shut up, you’re being an asshole” look. Clearly used to the look, he smiled. Jill scowled.

“What?” Sandy asked Jill.

“Just wondering how this could happen,” Jill said.

“There’s a lot of money to be made in pharmaceuticals,” Samantha said. “Doctors don’t make as much money as they once did, so some are always looking for ways to supplement their income. As far as they’re concerned, they’re turning waste products into gold.”

“So they let them experiment on their own wives?” Sandy asked.

Samantha’s pinched lips told them that the doctors spared their own wives. MJ came in. Clearly flustered, he nodded to Colin and Samantha and went to Jill. He held out the little comb and she opened her mouth. He took the sample and nodded.

“MJ is going to be with you the rest of the time,” Samantha said. “He’s going to go to every doctor’s visit and be with you when you have the baby. He will personally take control of your samples to make sure they go to Blane.”

MJ nodded.

“I’m glad,” Jill said. “MJ saved Sandy’s life. His daughter is Katy’s cousin. I’d be honored if he helped me.”

Sandy was surprised when Jill smiled and nodded.

“Is there anything else?” Jill asked.

“We’ll let you know,” Colin said.

Jill smiled and they left the exam room. They were almost down the hall when Jill stopped and went into the doctor’s office. Inside the office, Sandy heard the doctor scream. Jill trotted out of the office. She gave her the sweetest smile.

“Anything else?” Sandy asked.

Sandy heard a noise in the lobby. By the time they got there, all the women in the waiting area were standing at the desk.

“I heard they’re doing experiments on us,” one woman said.

“Without our permission,” another woman said.

Before the receptionist could answer, another woman yelled, “I can’t believe it! Wait until you hear from my lawyers!”

The women were quickly becoming an angry, pregnant mob. The receptionist called for security. Jill smirked and they threaded their way through the crowd.

“How’d you do that?” Sandy asked when they were at the elevator.

“I figured that I only have a few weeks left with these powers,” Jill smiled. “Better to make the most of it.”

“What did you do?” Sandy asked.

“The women heard inside their heads that the doctor was using their samples to create new drugs without their permission,” Jill said.

“No, I mean the doctor,” Sandy asked as they stepped onto the elevator.

“Oh, I don’t think he’ll have any more children,” Jill said.

Sandy laughed.

~~~~~~~~

Friday mid-day — 2:15 p.m.

“Jake!” Valerie yelled into the phone.

“Are you taking cell phone etiquette from Delphie?” Jake asked. “You just broke my ear-drum.”

Valerie chuckled.

“Jacob, my darling baby brother,” Valerie said. “I’ve been trying to get in touch with you.”

“I’m kind of in the middle of something,” Jacob said.

He stepped out of a six-foot trench and waved to the backhoe operator. The engine revved and he missed what Valerie said.

“Sorry, I missed that,” Jacob said.

Television news blared in the background.

“I’m in the airport,” Valerie said. “We’re coming home.”

“Great,” Jacob said. “Should I make your bed? Leave a chocolate on the pillow?”

Valerie laughed and he chuckled.

“I wanted to tell you before we got there,” Valerie said. “You know how you said Jill was seeing cats?”

“Uh-huh,” Jacob picked up his shovel to clean up the trench.

“Those aren’t cats,” Valerie said.

Jacob waved to the backhoe operator.

“Sorry,” Jacob said. “I missed what you said again. There’s a storm coming in and we want to get this done before it hits. Maybe we should talk tonight?”

“Oh my God,” Valerie said.

“What? What happened? Val?” Jacob screamed into the phone.

The sound of the television news got louder.

“Oh my God,” Valerie repeated.

“Valerie!”

“It happened, Jake.” Valerie’s voice was low and filled with emotion. “Just like you saw it.”

“What happened?”

“The street buckled. People are caught under the concrete. The trailers flipped . . . People in trenches. All the equipment is either in the ground or flipped over. How do you flip an excavator? Jacob, you have to go. Go now.”

“Go where?” Jacob asked.

“Your old site,” Valerie said. “Did you get the equipment out?”

“Yesterday,” Jacob said. “It’s at the farm.”

“Call everyone,” Valerie said. “We need to be there to help dig them out.”

“Help what?” Jacob asked.

Rather than respond, Valerie held the phone up to the television.

“This just in,” a male announcer said. “There has been a catastrophic earthquake near Denver International Airport, just outside of Denver, Colorado. The airport is closed until further notice. This story is unfolding. Please be advised, the footage you are seeing is graphic. Viewer discretion is advised.”

“People in the trenches are . . .” Valerie whispered. “Blood everywhere, screaming, . . . It’s like one of those doomsday movies, Jake, but real. You have to . . .”

“We’re on our way,” Jacob said. “You’ll . . .”

“We’ll be there as soon as we can,” Valerie said.

Whatever she said next was lost as the workers around him were receiving the news. His phone rang and he clicked over to speak to the site manager responsible for closing the big site by the airport, Jerry Siegle.

“Did we . . .” Jacob started. His team’s cellphones all seemed to ring at once.

“All three teams are at the farm,” Jerry said. “Your dad’s here. We . . . Oh my God.”

“Go.” Jacob looked up to see everyone on the team was talking in low voices into their phone. “We’ll be there as soon as we can get there.”

“Done,” Jerry said.

For a moment, the team stared at each other.

Monday’s meeting had run long because they had argued through this very scenario. It took hours, but they finally agreed. No matter what the state did, no matter how difficult the other guys were, if the earthquake happened, the Lipson Construction crews would respond.

“Load up,” Jacob said before answering his phone again.

With a nod, they got to work. They loaded up the backhoe, packed up their shovels, left a note for the homeowner and headed toward their old site.

They only hoped they weren’t too late to help.

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