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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND NINETY-FOUR
Wednesday morning — 5:15 A.M.
Katy woke when her door silently opened. She peered out from under her thick blankets to see who was there.
“Mommy,” Katy said in a sleepy voice.
“Katy-baby,” Jill said in a soft voice.
Jill sat down on Katy’s bed. She smoothed the covers and Katy smiled.
“Do you want to go to school today?” Jill asked.
“Of course,” Katy said. “I like school.”
Jill smiled. Katy had always liked school.
“I thought maybe we could spend the day together,” Jill said.
“But what about school?” Katy asked.
Jill smiled. Reading her mother’s smile, Katy closed her eyes to sleep again. Her eyes were closed for only a moment before they opened again.
“You want to know if I feel left out because you’re with the boys a lot,” Katy said.
“Something like that,” Jill said.
She’d promised Sandy that she wouldn’t burden Katy with her “neurotic anxiety.” It sounded good when she was talking to Sandy. She felt like a mature adult when she’d made the promise. But sitting on Katy’s bed right now, she had to force herself not to spread her terror all over her child.
“I miss you, Mommy,” Katy said. “I miss the days when it was just you and me. We would spend all Sunday on adventures.”
Jill’s eyes well with tears she’d promised herself she would not shed.
“Me, too,” Jill allowed herself to say.
“But I don’t miss old Daddy,” Katy said. “Or our yucky old apartment in the smelly building or not knowing real Daddy or living here or Delphie or … everything.”
Katy nodded, and Jill smiled.
“Sometimes we have to give up a very good thing to get an even better one,” Jill said with more wisdom than she felt.
Katy stared at the tiny LED stars on her ceiling.
“Do you wish we could go back there?” Jill asked.
“Before the twins?” Katy asked.
“Before we moved here,” Jill said.
“No,” Katy said.
“Okay, then before the twins?” Jill asked with a grin.
“Sometimes, yes,” Katy said. “You’re so tired from taking care of them, and they’re such bad babies. They cause a lot of trouble.”
“Babies are like that,” Jill said. “You were like that.”
“I wish they weren’t so hard,” Katy said. “It’s okay to have brothers, I guess. They’re just …”
“Babies,” Jill said. “They won’t be babies for much longer. Soon they’ll be walking and going to the Marlowe School with you!”
Katy nodded. She kept her head looking straight forward. Her eyes watched her mother.
“Do you love them more than me?” Katy asked.
“No,” Jill said in earnest.
Jill remembered asking her mother the very same question. Jill grinned.
“I love them differently because they are different from you,” Jill said. “You are a unique and beautiful human being as is Bladen and Tanner. I love you each for all of the bounty of who you are and who you will become.”
“That sounds like something you read somewhere,” Katy said. “Things to tell your five-year-old, or whatever.”
“No,” Jill said. She took Katy’s hand. “I’ve thought a lot about it.”
“Why?” Katy asked.
Jill gave Katy a long look before looking across the room to gather her thoughts.
“Right before my mom disappeared, I asked her the same question,” Jill said. “She seemed to love Megan and Mike a lot more than me. The older kids were pretty self-sufficient. I mean, Mike had already met Val and was spending most of his time with her. Megan was a homebody like she is now, but she had Tim. Candy and Steve were closer to my age, but they were already in junior high. I was a lot younger than the others. I needed my mother more and …”
“I felt like a burden to her,” Jill said. “She was exhausted all the time, you know, with all of us kids and her husband and my dad and everything. I was just a kid who needed my mom. She’d been able to be more of a mother to them because her life was different when they were little. She was so … distant that I was kind of a clingy kid. So I asked her if she loved them more.”
“What did she say?” Katy asked.
“She denied it,” Jill said. “Of course.”
“That’s silly because Mike’s clearly her favorite,” Katy said with a laugh.
Jill grinned at her daughter. She kissed Katy’s hand.
“I wrote all of those journals and sent them to her as a way of …” Jill shrugged, “ … connecting, I guess. She doesn’t really see it that way. I just wanted her to know me.”
Katy nodded as if she understood. Jill leaned over to look into her daughter’s face. She stroked her hair.
“So I’m your favorite?” Katy asked with a smile.
“It’s hard to say,” Jill said. “The boys are so young. They may easily surpass you.”
Katy laughed out loud at Jill’s matter of fact tone. Jill smiled.
“I don’t want to have favorites,” Jill said. “I want to love you, each of you, in the way you need me to love you. That may not look fair. Maybe fair isn’t a great measure for love.”
“Why?” Katy asked. “I feel it right …”
Katy touched her heart.
“I know,” Jill nodded. “I did, too. But …”
Jill scowled and looked at the headboard for a minute before looking back at Katy.
“You’re a very independent girl,” Jill said. “You’ve been that way since you were really little. You didn’t like too much cuddling or babying. You like being carried. Sometimes. You like having a special wake up. But you also like to have your own ideas and opinions. You and Paddie have a secret life that belongs just to you.”
Katy smiled at her mother’s assessment of her.
“Bladen is active, big,” Jill said. “He likes to move around. He’s already pounding on things with his little toy hammer.”
“Tanner just likes to be hugged and stuff,” Katy said.
“Right,” Jill said. “My hope is that I can see your unique needs so that I can fill them.”
Katy smiled at her mother.
“If it was fair, and fairness mattered, I’d just make sure you each had the same amount of everything, including my time,” Jill said. “You get ten minutes where I just focus on you and only you, Bladen gets his ten minutes, and Tanner gets his own ten minutes. But that’s too much time for you and not enough for Tanner. So ‘fair’ isn’t a great way to judge love.”
Jill squinted at her daughter.
“Does that make any sense?” Jill asked.
Katy nodded. Jill leaned down and kissed Katy’s cheek.
“Do you still love me, Mommy?” Katy asked.
“More than you could possibly understand,” Jill said.
“Could we have one of our days this Sunday?” Katy asked. “Just you and me.”
“Sure, but you were going to go to the zoo with Paddie on Sunday,” Jill said.
“Oh,” Katy said. “Um …”
“We can do it next Sunday, though,” Jill said with a smile.
“That sounds perfect!” Katy said.
Jill kissed Katy’s forehead and got up.
“You have about ten more minutes before it’s time to get ready for school,” Jill said.
“Thanks,” Katy said.
“For what?” Jill asked.
“For letting me go to school today when you’d rather just have me home to baby me,” Katy said.
“I am driving you to school by yourself,” Jill said.
“That sounds nice,” Katy said.
“Love you, Katy-baby,” Jill said.
“Love you, Mommy,” Katy said.
Jill smiled at her daughter and left the room. She leaned against Katy’s shut door. She wanted to rush back in Katy’s room to make doubly sure that Katy was all right. That was not what was best for Katy, even though it would make Jill feel better. She screwed closed her eyes. When she opened them, she noticed Jacob was watching her. He held out his hand. She went to him to take his hand. He pulled her into a hug.
“That was beautiful,” he said.
“Thanks,” Jill said.
“Is it true?” Jacob asked.
“God, I hope so,” Jill said with a laugh.
Smiling, he walked with her back to their bedroom to get ready for the day.
Wednesday mid-day — 12:10 P.M.
Standing in line in the cafeteria, Noelle waved to Wanda and Tink, who were sitting at a large round table. Today was Wednesday and on Wednesdays, everyone had lunch together. Most of the kids Noelle’s age ate with their usual friends. Noelle broke ranks and sat down next to Tink. Teddy sat down next to Noelle and Nash sat next to Wanda.
They left space for Katy and Paddie, but their young friends were under tight watch after yesterday’s adventure. Of course, Noelle was involved in yesterday’s adventure. But Paddie and Katy were younger and potentially more fragile. Noelle was pretty sure Paddie and Katy were tucked away because they might encourage other kids to think independently.
She didn’t say that out loud. That would be something Charlie would say. And everyone knew that Charlie was a sarcastic teenager.
Teddy kissed her cheek, and she turned to look at him.
“I want to see your drawing,” Teddy said.
“It’s not done,” Noelle said matter of factly. “Mike’s coming after school. We’re going to work on it together.”
“How are you getting inside?” Nash asked.
“They made a door,” Noelle said. “Or they said they were going to. I don’t know I’ll find out after school.”
Noelle leaned toward Wanda.
“How was testifying?” Noelle asked.
“The trials still on hold,” Wanda said. “Dad and I went down there this morning and the judge said the trial is postponed again.”
“Because the guy’s flesh is still burning off?” Tink asked with a giggle. Even though her words were horrific, her tone was almost joyous.
“I know,” Wanda said in agreement that his suffering was a good thing.
Noelle nodded. Nash and Teddy high fived. After the sudden levity, the kids looked a little sick to their stomachs.
“I hate the whole thing,” Tink said. “Just feels like it will never ever be over.”
The kids nodded.
“Did you talk to Sissy?” Tink asked.
“Last night,” Wanda said. “Ivan came in when he was home from wherever. He kissed Sissy’s cheek like it was no big deal.”
“How did Sissy seem?” Nash asked.
“Good,” Wanda said. “Sick. I thought she was better, you know. She seemed good when she was here, but I guess she’s been sick since she got there.”
“Dad says it’s going to take her at least until the end of the summer to get better,” Noelle said. “’There’s no shortcut to this kind of healing.’ That’s what he says, anyway. I talked to her just for a minute when I got home last night. She called to make sure I was okay. I’m going to talk to her tonight.”
“She’s like our celebrity friend,” Tink said.
“You should talk!” Wanda said with a laugh. “You and Sissy text all the time.”
“No we don’t,” Tink said.
Wanda picked up Tink’s phone. Over Tink’s protests, Wanda went through the texts.
“Let’s see,” Wanda said. “You sent Sissy a picture of lunch ten minutes ago.
Wanda’s lips moved while she counted.
“Only twenty-five texts today,” Wanda said. “So far. But you’re right. She’s only responded twenty-four times.”
Tink blushed and the kids gave her a good natured laugh. Tink wrested her phone back from Wanda. They settled into eating their lunches.
“The foods good,” Teddy said.
“Really good,” Tink said with a nod. “Last week, it was bagged lunch.”
“Do you talk to Charlie?” Nash asked Tink.
“Text,” Tink said.
“How’s he doing?” Nash asked.
“Good,” Tink said with a nod. “He and Dale are really just settling in. He and Sissy have a week off before they start up at school again.”
“I guess they worked out this morning,” Tink said. “It was a big deal because Sissy’s been in so much pain. They didn’t do like a million things, but they stretched and did something he called ‘Jane Fonda.’ Some kind of workout they could do.”
“I think he’s having fun being there. I get to go for a weekend in …” Tink looked up at the ceiling for a moment before looking back, “47 days. Heather bought my ticket already!”
“Yea!” Noelle cheered.
“I miss them,” Teddy said with his characteristic sincerity.
The other kids nodded. Nash scowled such a dark scowl that Noelle turned to look at him.
“What’s going on, Nash?” Noelle asked.
Nash pointed toward the door. The children looked to where he pointed. Sandy was talking to the teacher at the door.
“It’s Sandy!” Noelle said. Standing up from her seat, she waved her arm overhead and yelled, “Hi, Sandy!”
Sandy looked in their direction when she heard Noelle’s voice. She looked relieved and rushed in their direction.
“I’m so glad you’re together,” Sandy said.
Noelle hugged Sandy.
“What’s going on?” Nash asked.
“The defendant in the trial has decided to plead guilty,” Sandy said. “Not sort of guilty or maybe guilty, but guilty to every charge.”
“Don’t you think it’s just another bullshit thing?” Tink asked.
“That’s what I thought,” Sandy said with a nod. “The judge did, too! He told the defendant that he was going to reach every charge one at a time. The defendant would have to stand in his court and plead guilty to them one at a time.”
Unsure of what to say, Tink and Wanda looked at each other before looking at Nash, Teddy, and Noelle.
“Have you seen Ivy?” Sandy asked.
“She’s having lunch with Katy,” Noelle said. “They’re working on their tarot skills or something like that. I didn’t know what it was.”
“Can you get her?” Sandy asked.
“Why?” Nash asked.
“Oh, I didn’t say that?” Sandy asked.
The kids shook their heads.
“The judge has invited every victim to come to court,” Sandy said. “He wants the victims to hear the defendant plead guilty. He’s keeping the jury for sentencing. He expects that we’ll be back on Friday to read our victims statements.”
“What about Sissy?” Wanda asked.
“Sissy’s going to be there today by video conference,” Sandy said. “A few of the other girls, too. If Sissy wants to read a victim’s statement, she’ll have to come back to do it. Has she mentioned it to you?”
Wanda and Tink shook their heads.
“I think we thought this thing was going to go on all summer,” Tink said.
“It’s a miracle that it’s over,” Wanda said.
“His lawyers said that his skin stopped burning when he decided to plead guilty,” Sandy said. She raised her eyebrows at them. “I think it’s magic.”
Sandy turned to see Ivy running in her direction.
“Is he dead?” Ivy asked. Her voice rose with hope.
“No, sorry,” Sandy said. “He’s going to plead guilty. We’re due there in … Oh, gosh, we should leave. Let’s see, I need …”
She looked at Tink and Wanda. Noelle, Nash, and Teddy stood up.
“Do you want to finish lunch?” Sandy asked.
“We’re done,” Tink said.
She got up from her seat but left her tray.
“Get your trays,” Sandy said. “We’ll drop them on our way out.”
Tink winced at forgetting her tray. She turned to pick it up. Sandy started toward the door.
“Are we ready?” Sandy asked after the kids had dropped off their trays.
She looked from face to face. The children nodded.
“Good,” Sandy said.
“What about Frankie?” Wanda asked.
“He’s on his way,” Sandy said. “Go get your backpacks! Hurry! We don’t want to miss this!”
The children ran off to their classrooms. Sandy smiled.
“You look happy,” Helen Seigle, the principal of the Marlowe School, said to Sandy.
“I’m really happy,” Sandy said. “Just maybe, this trial will be over.”
“Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” Helen Seigle asked. “What a blessing that would be.”
“Let’s hope,” Sandy nodded.
Noelle ran back to Sandy. She was wearing her sweater and her backpack. Ivy came up next. Sandy was hugging Ivy when Nash and Teddy arrived. Wanda and Tink weren’t far behind.
“Good luck,” Helen Seigle said. “We’re behind you one hundred percent!”
Sandy rushed the kids out to her big SUV.
“Ready?” Sandy asked looking in the rearview mirror.
“More than ready!” Tink said.
Finding no words, Sandy started the car and drove in the direction of the courthouse.
Wednesday mid-day — 12:10 P.M.
After taking their order, the waiter collected Jacob and Aden’s menus. He turned in place and walked toward the kitchen. They were sitting in wood panel lined private book at The Broker, Denver’s oldest premium steak house.
“Why are we here?” Jacob asked.
“Four years ago, you told me that when I had found someone to replace me, and the employees owned more than forty percent stock, you’d be done,” Aden said. He took a drink of his water before lifting it to Jacob. “Today is that day.”
“What?” Jacob asked with surprise.
“As of today, the employees own forty-two percent of the stock,” Aden said. “And I have finally found my replacement.”
Jacob’s mouth fell open. He closed it for a moment before squinting.
“You’re surprised,” Aden said with a grin.
“Stunned,” Jacob said.
“You’ve been really patient,” Aden said. “I wanted to take you out to celebrate and to say thank you.”
When Aden looked at Jacob, he had tears in his eyes.
“You believed in me when I didn’t,” Aden said. “My whole life is … Sandy, the kids, Rachel … It’s all because of you. I will never be able to thank you enough.”
Jacob gave him an awkward smile. Aden looked confused.
“What’s wrong?” Aden asked.
“I’m just surprised, I guess,” Jacob said. “We’ve been so busy at work with all of the new developments and buildings. Home has been crazy. I guess I lost track.”
Aden nodded. Trying to gain some footing, Jacob shook his head.
“Who did you choose?” Jacob asked.
“You’ll be surprised,” Aden said.
“Surprise me,” Jacob said.
“Bambi,” Aden said. Jacob smiled. “I wanted to give someone a chance like I’d been given a chance. I asked Rodney and he didn’t want anything to do with it. Pete, DeShawn, and Jason wanted nothing to do with it. I talked to a few others who didn’t want the responsibility. Bambi asked me about it last Friday and I realized she was perfect. She knows the company. Like me, she started as a day worker and worked her way up to being a site manager. Everyone loves her.”
Moving into his comfort zone, Aden straightened his shoulders and cleared his throat.
“We have a big task ahead of us,” Aden said. “Replacing you and your dad, I mean. We go from being Lipson Construction, with an emphasis on Lipson, to … I don’t know what. Bambi has been dedicated to help make that happen the entire time she’s worked at Lipson.”
“You approve?” Aden asked.
“She’s a wonderful choice,” Jacob said. “What will happen to Honey? She’s worked for Bambi since she was injured.”
“Bambi insisted that Honey be given her job,” Aden said. “She made Honey’s advancement part of her employment deal. Of course, everything is up in the air with Honey’s treatments. But as soon as she’s ready, Honey will become a site manager in her own right. Bambi thinks she can handle the large sites, but we’ve never had a such young site manager take over such a big site.”
“Honey can do it,” Jacob said.
“That’s what Bambi says,” Aden said with a smile.
They fell silent when the waiter brought them their drinks — coffee for Jacob and ice tea for Aden. The waiter set a basket of bread in front of them before disappearing again.
“So that’s it,” Aden said. “You don’t ever have to return to the office again.”
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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