“Mike’s married to Valerie Lipson.”
“But Valerie Lipson is Jacob’s sister,” Jill said. “How…?”
“Val and Jake aren’t Catholic. Remember that huge fight Dad and Mike had? That was over Valerie,” Megan said. “Dad forbid Mike to go out with Val because she wasn’t Catholic. Mike disappeared for a week. Mom was hysterical. She made Dad go after Mike.”
Candy and Jill nodded.
“They met skiing when Mike was fourteen or something,” Steve said. “Remember how much Mike used to ski in the winter? Camp in the summer?”
“Every moment he wasn’t working or in school,” Candy said.
“That was so he could be with Val. They dated from the time they met. Mom and Dad didn’t know,” Steve said. “When they got married, Mike figured we would be against it because Dad was against it. So he didn’t tell us.”
“We only found out when….” Megan’s face flushed red and her eyes filled with tears.
“When what?” Candy said. “We aren’t children anymore, Meg. You don’t have to protect us.”
“Mike died or they thought he was dead.”
“WHAT?” Candy and Jill said in unison.
“I… I really shouldn’t tell you this,” Megan said.
“Yes, you should,” Steve said. “If you don’t, I will. It’s time to stop the secrets, Meg.”
“Around the time that Jake’s mom died…..” Megan began her story.
“I wonder if you might help me,” Valerie said.
When the Frontier Airlines clerk moved from the ticket counter to the boarding pass counter, Valerie stood in her line. She signed autograph’s and talked to fans in order to keep the US magazine reporter at bay.
“Absolutely. What can I do?” The woman said.
“There’s a reporter from US magazine and….”
“Oh don’t worry, hon. I took care of him. He wanted to sit next to you but I put him in the back of the plane. I radioed the gals on the plane. They will let you off then hold him for a while. You should be able to make a quick get away.”
Val’s face registered real relief, “Thanks.”
“You’re father’s a great man. I’m happy to do what I can.” She passed Val her boarding pass back over the counter. “Just watch me. I’ll let you know when it’s safe to board.”
Valerie blushed and nodded. “Thanks.”
Continuing to buffer herself from the reporter, Valerie signed autographs and chatting with fans. She watched the line of passengers board the plane. Confident that he had corralled Valerie on the flight, the reporter boarded the plane. When the agent nodded, Valerie made her excuses then moved down the ramp to the plane. The flight attendants settled Val in the front seat with a glass of champagne.
She slipped in her iPOD ear buds and returned to her memories of the best time of her life. As always, those memories of love and laughter collided with the reality of that awful spring.
Val and Mike were naked, wrapped around each other, when the dreadful news came. Mike was going back to the Middle East and her mother wouldn’t live to see Easter. Jake begged her to come home, but she wasn’t going to give up her last month with Mike.
She wasn’t sure how it happened. She was on the pill, after all. She only knew when. She was pregnant when he left.
Unbidden, Valerie’s mind ticked through the markers of that horrible spring:
Val gets pregnant and Mike leaves for the Middle East.
February and March:
They talked every night. He sent her crazy pictures. In response, she sent him pictures of herself naked. She didn’t tell him about the baby. Her mother had a bunch of miscarriages. Val wanted to make sure she was really, really pregnant. She was going to tell him April 15th as a tax joke.
Mike went on a week-long mission. No problem, he’d call when he was done. She was brave for him in their last phone call but cried herself to sleep that night.
April 15th, 8 AM:
Opened the door to two somber Army men. Mike’s team was ambushed. Mike was presumed dead.
April 15th, 8:25 AM:
Sedated by the doctor.
April 15th, 7 PM:
Awakened by telephone:
“No. It’s Jake. Come now, Mom’s dying.”
April 16th, 1 AM:
Walked in on father sobbing at mother’s bedside.
“I can’t do it, ” he sobbed.
“You have to,” Mom said. “Do what we planned. Take care of your new family. Jake and Val need you… more now because I won’t be here.”
“You’re my whole life,” her father said.
“Then do it for me. Stick with our plan.”
“Ah, Celia. I can’t live without you.”
April 16th, 7 AM:
Celia Marlowe Lipson drew her last breath with her children and best-friend by her side.
April 20th, 8 AM:
Valerie and Jake reviewed their mother’s memorial plans with the mortician. Shaking the mortician’s hand good-bye, she felt a burning, a ripping, thousands of times worse than a cramp. Jake took her to the hospital. Her last connection to Mike was dead.
April 24th, 8 AM:
More than ten thousand people celebrate the life of Celia Marlowe Lipson.
Paperwork waited at Monterrey. Mike was officially dead.
Valerie moved the band from her wedding set to her right hand where it remained today. Hoping the Pacific would cleanse her misfortune, she threw the diamond solitaire into the ocean.
Jake helped Val pack the Monterrey house.
Valerie settled her new Hollywood Hills home, called her agent, and got an audition.
“Ms. Lipson.” The flight attendant touched Val’s arm. She gave Val a Kleenex to wipe her dripping eyes. “We’re taxiing right now. I thought you might want to get your possessions together so you can make a quick exit. Do you need a ride home?”
“I arranged for a car,” Valerie said.
“I called ahead. There’s a lot of photographers waiting for you. We’re going to sneak you out the back. What company is meeting you?”
“Prestige,” Valerie said.
“I’ll call them. They can send a second car,” the flight attendant said.
“Michael Roper usually drives me. Would you mind asking for him?”
“Sure,” the flight attendant said.
“Thanks,” Valerie said.
“You have about an hour before visiting hours are over. They woke up Katy so you could spend some time with her. They’ll put her to sleep again before you go,” Dr. Drayson said. “I’d encourage you to enjoy your time with her then go home and get some rest. Katy will need you to be one hundred percent tomorrow.”
Jill nodded. She had already called in sick to work tomorrow. She knew that Katy would need her. She just dreaded having to desert her at the hospital. Following Dr. Drayson back through the ICU, she worked to keep the horror from her face. Her baby was swollen, her skin was bright red, and she was hooked to a bunch of machines. When Katy opened her eyes, she was Jill’s girl.
“Mommy,” Katy said.
Jill’s eyes filled at the sound of her daughter’s croaking voice. Katy hadn’t been able to speak the last time she was awake.
“Katy-baby.” Jill bent to kiss her daughter.
The nurse lowered the guard rail so that Jill could sit on Katy’s bed.
“Mommy, I’m sorry. I made you cry.” Katy’s red swollen finger caught a tear from Jill’s eye. “I didn’t mean to get sick.”
“Oh baby,” Jill said. “I’m just happy to see you.”
“Are you going to ask Jacob to be my Daddy?”
Jill burst out a laugh at her daughter’s question.
“I think he would be a good Daddy,” Katy said.
“We’ll see, Katy-baby. We’ll see.”
“Ma’am,” the driver said.
He held open the door to the small limousine and Valerie stepped into the back. The flight attendant escorted Valerie to an employee’s garage where the limousine was waiting.
“Michael usually drives me,” Valerie said.
“I apologize, Ma’am. Mr. Roper was previously engaged. We attempted to shift his assignment but his client specifically requested him six months ago.”
Valerie watched the man come around the limousine then step into the driver’s seat.
“Wedding?” Valerie asked.
“Bachelor party.” The driver started the car. “Better him than me. Where am I taking you?”
“Race and Colfax,” Valerie said.
“So, Val. Are you going to marry Wes?” The driver looked at Valerie through the rear view mirror.
Valerie smiled her movie star smile.
“What’s this about a husband?” The driver said as the window to the passenger compartment closed. Valerie clicked off the microphone.
Slipping on her sunglasses, she tried to figure out how to see Mike and not seem desperate.
For two years, four months and fifteen days she was desperate. Desperately lonely. Desperately sad. Desperate to move on. Desperately lost.
Then Michael Roper returned to her life. She was leaving the Ivy in West Hollywood on the arm of a handsome, and secretly gay, actor when she saw Mike. Fifty pounds lighter and broken, Mike Roper stood on the sidewalk waiting for her. If the actor hadn’t been holding her up, she would have collapsed to the pavement. Somehow, they managed to miss the watchful eye of the ever present paparazzi. They escaped to her home in the Hollywood Hills.
They didn’t leave the house for a month. They argued until they made love. They made love until they were exhausted. They ate whatever could be delivered, bathed together and barely dressed. The incredible draw toward each other was had remained impossibly strong.
But the obstacles were much greater.
Losing Mike, her baby, and her mother in the course of two weeks was too much for Valerie. She had became bitter and pessimistic. She would never trust him or anyone again. While her words lashed at him, her hardened heart froze him out.
Mike’s unspoken experience left him shattered. Moment to moment, his moods were unpredictable. One moment, he would sob. The next moment, he was punching walls and screaming at the top of his lungs. Then, worst of all, her best-friend and lover would appear from inside the wreckage of this man. Val ached for her Mike.
A month after Michael Roper returned to her life, he disappeared again. He left a note saying that he had to ‘get right’ before he could be with her. By the time he reappeared, she was a star on one of the most popular soaps and engaged to the gay actor.
As the limousine pulled in front of the Castle, Valerie wondered what to do about Mike.
“Where to?” Jacob said.
They were sitting in his Lexus SUV outside the hospital. With her sisters’ help, Jacob and Steve were able to get Jill into the car. Jill didn’t want to ‘abandon’ Katy at the hospital. Sitting in the passenger seat, Jill looked longingly at the hospital.
“I should stay here,” Jill said. “Katy needs me here.”
“I will bring you back before Katy is even awake to need you,” Jacob said. “I promise.”
“I don’t want to go home,” Jill said. “I can’t… I just can’t look at her things.”
“Ok,” Jacob said. “Would you like to come to my house?”
Jill bristled slightly then nodded. She knew what was expected of her. Jacob started the car and moved toward Seventeenth Avenue.
“How did you know?” Jill asked.
“What do you mean?” Jacob asked.
“The emergency room doctor told me that if you hadn’t given Katy the Primatene Mist, she would have died. Katy’s only alive because of you. How did you know she would need it?”
“Delphie said that Katy was allergic to bees. She said that Katy would die if I didn’t get her to the hospital,” Jacob said. “I went to Walgreen’s on the way to your house. That’s why I was late.”
“Oh,” Jill said.
“The pharmacist must be the same guy that helped you before. He remembered Katy and told me what to do. One shot every minute until she breaths clearly. I only needed one.”
“And you believed Delphie? Delphie, the crazy tarot card reader? I thought you said she was a joke?”
“She’s very dramatic,” Jacob said. “I mean her spirit guide’s name is ‘Naomi’.”
“Like from the bible,” Jacob said.
“So she’s Ruth?”
“Something like that, “Jacob said. “You can see what I mean. Drama. Anyway, I’ve never known Delphie to be wrong. I mean, sometimes she mixes up the signs or misinterprets things. Like she told Mom that Mom would meet someone significant. They decided Mom was going to meet a new man. But they met you. Even so… I’ve never known Delphie to be… just wrong.”
“So Trevor will betray me again,” Jill said.
“He already has,” Jacob said.
Jacob pulled the car into the driveway of the Castle. He pressed a button and the iron gate opened to allow him into the open backyard. When the gate opened, Sarah and another dog came barking and running toward the car.
“Scooter,” Jill said under her breath. “Why do you have Scooter?”
“Trevor took Scooter to the Dumb Friend’s League. He told them that he found Scooter on the street,” Jacob said. “Delphie knew he would be jealous of Scooter. She wasn’t sure what Trevor would do. So Mom had an identification chip put in Scooter with Delphie’s address and phone number. The Dumb Friend’s League ran the chip and called Delphie. That was just before I came back to Denver.”
“Trevor said Scooter was dead. That stupid bastard. I can’t believe…. Oh God, Scooter….”
Jill jumped from the SUV to greet her old friend. Standing near the back of the truck, Jacob watched Scooter give Jill kisses on her mouth in delighted reunion. When Sarah nudged his leg, he rubbed her ears then threw the ball for her.
Looking up, Jacob saw Val come down the back steps and into the garden. When Val smiled at Jacob, he knew she was finally ‘just Val’ again. He ran across the lawn to hug her.
In the dimming light of the summer night, Delphie stood on the back porch of Celia’s Castle. Watching the reunion of Jill and Scooter, and Jacob and Valerie, Delphie said, “Just like we thought Naomi. They’re finally all together. Now, the fun begins.”
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