Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Three Hundred and Ninety-five: The big shift

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“My office …” Jacob started.

“Blane came in to supervise packing up your office,” Aden said. “They’re doing it right now. It should be done before we finish lunch.”

“Wow,” Jacob said.

“It’s what you have wanted for a long, long time,” Aden said. “You’ve sacrificed your life to make this company work.”

Jacob’s hazel eyes watched Aden in silence. Aden squirmed.

“I’m sorry,” Aden said. “Have I done something wrong? I thought you’d be thrilled.”

Jacob didn’t respond. He gave Aden the same unemotional look.

“I don’t want to push you out,” Aden scrambled for the right words. “I certainly am not pushing you out. You can stay as long as you want. You’ll be on the board for the rest of your life. I mean, you’re Jacob Marlowe. Shit, I really botched this. You …”

“I’m just surprised,” Jacob said cutting him off. “That’s all.”

“I … uh …” Aden scowled. “I feel like I should apologize.”

Aden leaned forward.

“It is what you wanted, isn’t it?” Aden asked.

“I have,” Jacob said.

“But?” Aden asked.

Jacob took a breath and held it. He looked away for a moment before looking back at Aden.

“This thing … has been my entire life — day in day out — for … ever,” Jacob said. “It’s been my every thought, every waking moment, even when I’m rehabbing buildings. I spend all of my time problem solving some Lipson bullshit. And getting the employee buyout has been … a lot. My life is more entangled with this company than it is with Jill or my children. I …”

“I know,” Aden nodded.

“And, now it’s over,” Jacob said. “Just like that. It’s over.”

“You still own more than fifty percent of the company,” Aden said. “Would you like me to call Blane? We can cancel everything and just go back to work. Let’s do that. I’ll call and you …”

“You know what I mean,” Jacob said.

Aden didn’t dare to even breath. He nodded.

“I do,” Aden said. Grappling for what to say next, he came up with, “How does that feel?”

Jacob smiled at the phrase they’d had to practice for marriage classes. Aden grinned at Jacob.

“It feels like being plunged into the Sea of Amber,” Jacob said in a rare moment of intimacy.

The waiter appeared with their lunches. Jacob leaned back to let the waiter set his steak down in front of him. They did the dance of grinding fresh pepper and making sure they had the correct steak sauce. When Aden looked back at Jacob, the intimacy had passed. Jacob was grinning at Aden with his usual “I’ve got this” grin.

They spent the rest of lunch laughing and talking as they usually did. When it was over, Jacob shook Aden’s hand and left for the Castle. Aden stood on the sidewalk for a moment watching him drive off. As Aden moved toward his future, he couldn’t help but feel like he’d missed something undefinably important. His cellphone rang with the latest Lipson Construction emergency. Moving into problem solving mode, Aden forgot all about Jacob’s confusing statement and the weird moment at lunch. He started his truck and moved into his future.


Wednesday afternoon — 2:15 P.M.

Jacob woke up when the sunbeam shifted. He was sitting with his knees up and his back against the wall on the porch off the medical offices. He closed his eyes and tried to trace how he’d ended up here. After lunch, he’d wandered around the Castle for a while. The entire building was devoid of people. The twins were out with Edie and the rest of the kids were either at school or downtown at the trial. Mike was in the garage and Valerie went to help Sandy at the rape trial. Jill was out with Heather looking at a new project for their rehabilitation business. MJ and Honey were in New York. Even Delphie was having lunch with Maresol. Jacob had wandered from one silent room to the other before he’d found the the porch off the medical offices. He’d sat down in the sunbeam and fallen asleep.

Feeling movement, he looked to his left. Mike was holding out a bowl to Jacob. Taking the bowl, Jacob noticed that Mike had a box of Cap’n Crunch with Crunchberries tucked into his armpit so that his hands were free to hold the milk. Jacob grinned, and Mike shrugged. He gave Jacob the milk before sitting down next to Jacob. Mike pulled two spoons out of the back pocket of his jeans. They settled into the age old ritual of filling the bowl, adding the milk, and dipping in the spoon.

“Thought you might be full from the steak,” Mike grunted between bites.

Jacob turned to look at his friend.

“Ever notice how Aden can be such a girl?” Mike asked.

Jacob laughed.

“I think I hurt his feelings,” Mike said in imitation of Aden. “Have some stones, man!”

“What did you say?” Jacob asked.

“What makes you think Marlowe has feelings?” Mike said with a snort.

Jacob laughed.

“He talked to Blane too,” Mike said.

“What did Blane say?” Jacob asked.

“He’ll get over it,” Mike said.

“He’s right,” Jacob said.

“Of course, he’s right,” Mike said. “We’re men. Real, gen-u-ine men. We don’t care if we’re chucked out on our asses because …”

“We can shit out something better than this,” Mike and Jacob said in unison something Mike’s Commanding Officer had repeated uncountable times.

They laughed.

“That’s right,” Mike said with a grunt.

As if to emphasize the point, they finished the bowl of cereal and poured another. They were halfway through the second bowl when Mike turned to look at Jacob.

“No, really, are you okay?” Mike asked.

“Yes,” Jacob said. “No.”

“Same as always,” Mike said.

They laughed. Jacob looked out across the yard. From this spot, he could see the snowcapped Rocky Mountains. If he was smart, he’d build some high end condos on this very spot. He stretched his neck while the plans for the condos came together in his mind.

“Planning the high-end condos again?” Mike asked with a grin. His voice shifted to an imitation of a revival preacher. “You know, people are pouring into Colorado. You should seize the opportunity.”

“How’m I going to get Delphie to sign over the property?” Jacob asked in joking earnest.

“You could always kill her,” Mike said.

Jacob laughed. Mike smiled. He held up the box but Jacob shook his head.

“I’m in training,” Mike said as he filled his third bowl.

“Training?” Jacob asked.

“Val’s talking about having another child,” Mike said. He loudly crunched his cereal. “I’m a supportive spouse.”

“That why you answered your cellphone?” Jacob asked.

“Fuck yeah,” Mike said. “I was hoping it was Val calling to tell me it was time to get it on.”

“Really?” Jacob asked.

“No,” Mike said. “I was on the toilet and the phone was in my pocket.”

Jacob laughed. They sat in companionable silence while Mike finished his bowl of cereal. He set the bowl on the deck and burped. Mike grinned with pride at his burp, and Jacob laughed. When the levity died, Mike turned to look at Jacob.

“What’s got your goat?” Mike asked.

Jacob shrugged.

“No, really,” Mike said.

“I feel unappreciated, I guess,” Jacob said.

Mike nodded in agreement.

“I gave up my life, my entire life, to move back to Denver and unreturnable years of my life and had to deal with every manner of bullshit and …” Jacob blew out a breath. “Then, it’s just the door. Time to go. We don’t need you. B-bye.”

He waved with his right hand before tucking it under his other arm in an angry gesture of crossing his arms.

“That’s not really what happened, right?” Mike asked.

“No, it’s not,” Jacob said. “It’s just how I would feel.”

“If you had feelings, that is,” Mike nodded.

“Exactly right,” Jacob said.

“I probably would too,” Mike said. “If I had feelings, like, you know, Aden does.”

Grinning, Jacob nodded.

“Which I don’t, by the way,” Mike said.

“I never thought you did,” Jacob said.

Mike laughed. They watched the mountains for a while in silence.

“There’s no way for someone to appreciate all that I’ve done,” Jacob said, finally. “Or even know what I’ve given up. They’d have to live inside my head to see it all. I know that. I also know that if I hadn’t been here, I wouldn’t have married Jill and met Katy and had the boys and had a chance to live with all of this joy …”

“And made a shit ton of money,” Mike said.

“And lost it all,” Jacob said.

“Both,” Mike said.

Under his breath, Jacob said, “Everything.”

“But?” Mike asked.

Jacob gave him an irritated look and returned to looking at the mountains.

“What’s this about the Sea of Amber?” Mike asked.

Jacob turned to look at Mike.

“You really want to know?” Jacob asked.

“Yes, I really fucking want to know,” Mike said with a nod.

Jacob sighed. He opened his mouth to speak but shook his head instead.

“I know that feeling,” Mike said. “I have plenty of experiences like that.”

Jacob nodded.

“It’s like if you start talking about it, you’ll never stop,” Mike said. “If you start feeling, you’ll never stop.”

Jacob nodded.

“No one’s here,” Mike said. “At the very least, we have a couple hours before anyone gets home. Jill and Heather are downtown with the kids. Aden was in the car heading there. No one will be home until after all of that bullshit is done and dusted.”

Mike shrugged.

“I can handle it,” Mike said.

Jacob gave a slow shake of his head.

“Hey,” Mike said. “You listened to me for days, months really — in the middle of the night, early morning, on the phone when you were at work, all night when you were in Maine … You were there for me when I threw up, hallucinated, yelled at walls, cried like a crazy person, and … Every single time. You were there. Let me extend the same. Trust me. I can handle it.”

“How do you know I need to talk?” Jacob asked.

“I can read it on you,” Mike said. “And …”

Mike squinted and looked off in the distance.

“And?” Jacob asked.

“You haven’t been the same,” Mike gave Jacob a quick glance. “Since you came back, I mean. You’re harder, more cynical, less giving. More in control.”

“Did Jill talk to you?” Jacob asked. “Aden?”

“God, no,” Mike said. “No one’s said a thing. Not even Val. I guess they’re hoping they’re wrong and you’re okay.”

Jacob snorted in agreement.

“I know you better than they do,” Mike said. “I know that you keep everything stored up inside.”

“I leave some of it in the hockey rink,” Jacob said.

Mike chuckled. They fell silent again. Mike waited for a while before running his shoulder into Jacob’s.

“Talk to me,” Mike said.

Jacob opened his mouth again and closed it again. Mike raised his eyebrows and nodded in a “go ahead.”

“I …” Jacob said. Shaking his head, he sniffed back his emotion and looked away.

There was a noise behind them. Jacob and Mike looked up to see Blane standing in the doorway. Without saying a word, he sat down on the other side of Jacob. Blane put his arm around Jacob and pulled Jacob into him. Jacob broke down in earnest.


Wednesday afternoon — 2:15 P.M.

“Can I have your attention?” the Victim’s Coordinator yelled from the front of the room.

Tink reached over to hold Heather’s hand. Heather gave Tink’s hand a squeeze. There were so many victims that the large room was standing room only. The Victim’s Advocate’s office had limited them to one parent per child. Most kids had opted for their mothers. Because Sandy had Noelle and Nash, she was able to have Jill with her. Wanda was with her father Erik, and Frankie stood next to his mother. Aden was there with Teddy because they’d agreed that Bestat’s presence would cause too much of a stir. Dr. Bumpy and his wife, Dionne, were there to support everyone. Delphie and Ivy were standing next to them in the front of the room.

Valerie was there to support Sissy and Charlie, who were watching over video conference on her tablet computer. Valerie had special permission to carry the tablet. There were two or three other people who had other victims on their portable devices.

No one heard the Victim’s Coordinator. Samantha Hargreaves put her thumb and index finger in her mouth and blew a loud whistle. Everyone stopped talking.

“This is what’s going to happen,” the Victim’s Coordinator said. “The Judge will read each charge and the defendant will plead guilty to each charge, one at a time. It’s very unusual, especially when there are so many charges. But that’s what the judge insisted upon. The Defense has agreed as a gesture of good will.”

Tink looked around the room. Everyone stared at the Victim’s Coordinator in gaped silence. She looked from face to face. Most girls were terrified to see the defendant again. A few parents looked like they were ready to beat the young man to death.

“We will begin as soon as you are settled in the courtroom,” the Victim’s Coordinator said. “We will continue until the defendant has plead guilty to every single charge. This process will take, at the very least, a few hours. We will take a break every ninety minutes to use the bathroom.”

“The courtroom is sealed to anyone not directly impacted by the events of this trial,” the Victim’s Coordinator said. “But know this, if you chose to share what’s happening in this courtroom with anyone — say a reporter or on social media — your charges against the defendant will be dropped.”

A few people groaned.

“The judge is dead serious about this condition,” the Victim’s Coordinator said. “The trial is closed to the public. The defendant is going to plead guilty to every charge. Do not get in the way of this process until it’s over. If you want to tweet or whatever when we’re done, that will be just fine.”

“You will have to go through a metal detector,” the Victim’s Coordinator said. “You will also be hand searched. This is so that you will not be able to go all ‘Wyatt Earp’ in the courtroom. If you are carrying a weapon of any kind, I strongly encourage you to use this time to lock it in the trunk of your car. This includes knives. If the Denver Police find the weapon on you, they will confiscate your weapon and you will be allowed to enter the courtroom. You will not get your weapon back. Period.

The Victim’s Coordinator nodded.

“No matter who you are or what type of license you have including a conceal carry license,” the Victim’s Coordinator said.

“You were warned not to bring you telephones or digital gadgets,” the Victim’s Coordinator said. “There are a few of you who have specific permission to help victims who weren’t able to attend in person. If the police find you with your camera, phone, or a device you do not have written permission to have with you, your device will be confiscated and donated to the Denver Road House. It will not be returned to you. If you manage to sneak it in, the defendant can claim that his civil rights have been violated. That will cause a mistrial and this entire process will start over again.”

A few people groaned and shuffled around. A couple of men squeezed out of the room. The Victim’s Coordinator turned to Samantha Hargreaves.

“Is there anything you’d like to add?” the Victim’s Coordinator asked.

“I …” Samantha started.

A small woman, she was invisible to most of the room. Her brother, Colin, set a chair in front of her and helped her onto it. She waved when she was up.

“I know that, at this moment, you feel triumphant,” Samantha said. “That’s normal. This man has hurt you so badly and in so many ways. You may feel elated to get in the courtroom and start this process.”

“I want you to know that the next few hours are going to be brutally hard,” Samantha said. “Please take care of yourselves. We’ve asked a number of Victim’s Advocates to attend the session.”

“Victim’s Advocates? Can you raise your hands?” the Victim’s Coordinator asked.

A number of women and a couple of men raised their hands.

“These Advocates are here to help and support you,” Samantha said. “If you get overwhelmed or have trouble, just ask for help by raising your hand. Don’t try to tough it out. No one will think badly of you if you need a break or get some help. While there’s nothing easy about any of this process, these final moments can be brutally hard.”

“I am going to be up front with the District Attorney,” Samantha said. “I am still fighting for you. I will watch like a hawk to make absolutely certain every single thing that happens is in your best interest. If not, I will object. The judge has already said he will do whatever is best for the victims.”

Samantha nodded and stepped down off the chair.

“How do you feel?” Heather asked Tink in a low voice.

“Really scared,” Tink said. “I wish Charlie or Sissy were here.”

“Val has them on her tablet,” Heather said. She waved for Valerie to come over. “Do you want to talk to them before we go in?”

“It’s not the same,” Tink said.

“It’s not,” Heather said. She put her arm around Tink.

As people started to move out of the room, Ivy came up to Tink and the girls hugged. Valerie made it to them. Noelle was right behind Valerie. With Valerie’s help, the girls talked to Charlie and Tink before heading into the courtroom. They easily made it through the metal detectors and the search. Behind them, a father was arguing over his handgun. Heather gave the father a soft look before heading into the courtroom. Because they were one of the first, Tink and Ivy were able to save seats for Noelle, Nash, Teddy, and Wanda. Valerie sat next to Tink. Aden and Erik, Wanda’s father, sat right behind them. Sandy and Jill sat together near the wall.

They waited almost ten minutes until all the victims were in the courtroom.

“Please rise!” the Bailiff called.

They stood in their seats and the judge came into the courtroom.

“You may be seated,” the judge said.

And the proceeding began.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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