Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Denver Cereal - Chapter Five : The non-date

CHAPTER FIVE - The non-date

“I haven’t been here in a long time,” Jacob said.

He turned right from Twenty-third Avenue into the Denver Zoo then took an immediate right into a parking lot.

“You can’t park here,” Jill said. “This parking is only for….”

Jacob waved a white security card in from of a post and the gate rose.

“Oh,” Jill said.

Jill wasn’t sure what to say. Only really rich patrons were able to park in this lot. She and Katy usually parked at least a mile away. But that was on Free Admission day when all of Denver came to the zoo. She’d never paid to get into the zoo. Of course, she’d never dated anyone who had a job.

Dated.

Is that what she was doing? She shook her head slightly. No, this was not a date. Friends? She barely knew Jacob. No, they weren’t friends.

What was she doing?

He pulled into a spot that was stenciled in block letters: “MARLOWE”. Trying for cool, she said, “Why are you parking here?”

“It’s has my name on it,” Jacob said.

“But your last name is Lipson,” Jill said.

“Actually, my name is Jacob Marlowe.” Jacob laughed. Holding his hand out for her to shake, he added. “It’s nice to meet you, Ms. Mc Guinsey.”

“We’re Ropers, now.” Jill sighed. Squaring her shoulders, she imitated his tone, “Jillian Roper and my daughter, Katherine Roper.”

They shook hands. Jacob winked at Jill and she laughed. He moved to get out of the Lexus SUV.

“But your Dad’s name….”

“Is Lipson,” Jacob settled back in the drivers seat. Turning to look at Jill, he said, “My mother was the last of the Colorado Marlowes. My parents gave me her surname. You know, I’m carrying on the family name and stuff like that.”

Jill nodded.

“Ready?” Jacob asked.

Jill nodded. Stepping out of the SUV, she opened the back door for Katy. At the apartment, Katy took one look at Jacob and clammed up. She didn’t squirm when Jill changed her clothing. Katy even waited patiently while Jill slipped into her jeans. In fact, Katy hadn’t said a word in a Katy ice age - fifteen minutes. Katy’s silence added to Jill’s general unease.

By the time Jill opened her door, Katy was out of her car seat. Katy held her arms out to Jill. Lifting her daughter into her arms, Jill felt a little less strange. For a moment, Katy and Jill hugged each other in silent bliss.

Jill jerked out of her revere. Jacob’s waiting! Trevor always wanted to ‘get going.’ ‘Hurry up, Jill. Why does it take you so long?’ He’d always say.

When she rushed around the SUV, Jacob had unpacked Katy’s stroller and held Jill’s purse. He was already wearing her backpack. Jill flushed with gratitude.

Embarrassed at her response, she bent to put Katy into the stroller. Certain Jacob had moved off, she stood up quickly. She found him holding the handles to steady the cheap stroller. She smiled then took her purse from him.

“I should probably push,” Jill said. “She gets very shy….”

“He can push,” Katy said.

“You don’t have to….”

“I’d love to,” Jacob said.

Jacob and Katy set off across the parking lot leaving a stunned Jill behind. Certain they would leave her behind, she hurried to catch up with them. But Jacob stopped walking. He turned, smiled at her and reached for her hand.

“Do you mind?” He asked. “I don’t want to lose you.”

Smiling, she took his hand.

“So Katy, what do you like at the zoo?” Jacob asked.

To Jill amazement, Katy actually answered. Katy was the quiet, obedient child around Trevor. Of course, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Everything,” Katy said. “I like animals. The zoo has special animals that you don’t find on the farm.”

“The farm?” Jacob asked.

Jill cringed when Katy began singing ‘Old MacDonald.’ Trevor hated the sound of Katy’s singing. She was about to hush Katy when Jacob joined in the song. Jill was so surprised, she stopped walking. Feeling the tug of Jacob’s hand, Jill took a few quick steps to catch up.

Trying to gain some sense of normal, Jill said, “We have to go here for a ticket.”

“I have a pass,” Jacob said.

“Oh,” Jill said.

Her cheeks went bright red. Overwhelmed with the ‘I don’t belong’ feeling, she let go of his hand. She was out of place. She glanced back at the car. Why had she come?

Noticing Jill’s distress, Jacob stopped walking. He touched her arm and Jill looked up at him.

“My mother loved the zoo. She came her every day the last year of her life,” Jacob said. “She left a donation when she died. That’s why I have the parking spot and the pass. You know, last Colorado Marlowe and all. This is my first time using it so I don’t really know what I’m doing.”

Jill nodded.

“Would you mind if we agree to something?” Jacob asked. “Can you just ask me about things rather than deciding there’s something wrong with you? This is all very new to me. Talking and being clear is the only way I know to make it better… more comfortable… easier.”

His empathy brought tears to Jill’s eyes. Blinking back her emotion, she nodded.

“I’ll try,” Jill said.

“Great! I’ll try to do the same,” Jacob said. He stopped walking. “Where am I going?”

“This way!” Katy said at the same time Jill said, “Through the gate.”

Jacob gave the volunteer his pass. The elderly woman searched Jacob’s face then said, “I knew your mother. They don’t make them any better than Celia Marlowe.”

Reading the woman’s name tag, Jacob said, “Thank you, Shirley. We all miss her.”

Shirley, the volunteer, looked up to see Jill for the first time.

“You must be Jill,” Shirley said. “It’s nice to finally meet you.

Flaggergasted, Jill gawked at the woman. Shirley bent down to give Katy a zoo sticker.

“And who are you?”

“I’m Katy,” the little girl said. “Who are you?”

“I’m Shirley,” the volunteer smiled. Standing up, she said, “Is this little one yours?”

“Yes,” Jacob said.

“Celia’s grandbaby…. she looks just like her.” Noticing the forming lines, Shirley said, “I better get busy. It’s nice to see you Jake. Enjoy your visit.”

Jacob, Katy and Jill moved into the zoo.

“What was that?”

“My mother was loved by a lot of people,” Jacob shrugged. “Don’t take it too seriously.”

“She knew my name! Why did you say….”

“What was I going to say?” Jacob asked. “No, Shirley. I’m on a non-date with my step-horror’s fiancé’s ex-wife.”

Jill’s head jerked up to catch his eyes. Jacob laughed.

“Your step-horror? Mike called her your…”

“I was trying for polite,” Jacob said. “Ladies present and all.”

Looking at Jill, he could not contain his joy for being with her. He beamed. She smiled in return.

“Where to first?”

“Elephants!! Elephants!!” Katy bounced in the stroller.

“She likes to see the elephant’s first,” Jill said. “But we can go wherever you want to.”

“Elephant’s it is,” Jacob said. “Where’s that?”

“This way! This way!” Katy said.

Jill laughed. Impulsively, she put her arm through his elbow. He smiled. They began their journey into the zoo.

They went about a hundred feet before Katy wanted to get out of the stroller. While Jacob looked away, Jill kneeled down to explain to Katy that she couldn’t walk. Katy loved to run really fast and then walk slow. It was too hard for adults to keep up with her. And they didn’t want to irritate there new friend, Jacob.

Jacob’s head jerked to Jill when she said his name. He made a puzzled face. When Jill looked up, he said, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Sure. Katy, stay here.”

“Yes Mommy.”

Jill stomach dropped. Even though she and Katy had been on their best behavior, Jacob was mad. Stepping away from the stroller, she racked her brain. What had she done?

“I just wanted to say that I don’t mind keeping up with Katy. If you’re keeping her in the stroller for me, you don’t have to.”

“But she’ll get tired then we’ll have to carry her.”

“Of course. That’s what kids do. Do you mind keeping up with Katy?”

Jill looked up at Jacob and gulped. She wasn’t quite sure how to respond. She bit her lip and shook her head.

“Do you mind carrying Katy? Because I don’t mind carrying her.”

Jill shook her head. “You’re not mad?”

“Absolutely not. What would I be mad about?”

Jacob shook his head slightly. “I have the special delight of going to the zoo with a kid. I’d be pretty stupid to be mad at a kid for being… a kid.”

Still biting her lip, Jill shrugged. Jacob smiled.

“Let’s free the hostage,” he said.

Jill unhooked Katy from the stroller.

“Why don’t you go to the elephants while I take this back to the car?”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I can be there and back in a few minutes,” Jacob said. “I’ll meet you there.”

Before Jill could respond, Jacob took the stroller and jogged through the zoo. The further away Jacob ran, the better Jill felt. Taking Katy’s hand, they skipped to the elephants. Katy’s delighted chatter at the elephant mommy and the elephant baby filled the air, and Jill’s heart. Katy’s wonder helped Jill feel more grounded. She looked around to see, for the first time, the beautiful day.

When Jacob returned, carrying a green balloon for Katy, Jill was happy to see him. They bonked heads trying to tie the balloon on Katy’s wrist. Jill laughed and he blushed. Before they could say, ‘I’m sorry,’ Katy was off to see another animal.

After quick stop at Monkey Island, Katy pointed her finger and ran to watch the penguin’s eat lunch. Katy’s mind, and conversation, bounced from topic to topic. She was fascinated with Bear Mountain but the Apes scared her a little bit. She stood against the plexiglass barrier while an ape stood to watch her. Backing away from the plexiglass and the ape, Katy cried for the ape behind the glass. While Jill comforted her soft hearted daughter, Jacob bought tickets for the train. The laughing ride on the train cured all Ape related problems.

Stepping off the train, Katy said, “I have to go potty, Mommy.”

And Jill froze.

Katy took forever in the bathroom. She did everything BUT go to potty. Every public restroom was at least a fifteen minute procedure. When Jill and Katy were alone, Jill marveled at the songs, conversation and general observations Katy made in the restroom.

But when Trevor was with them?

He was furious. ‘Why doesn’t she just go?’ or ‘What kind of a mother are you to let her take so long?’ She tried to explain that there were always other mother’s camped out waiting for their three or four year olds. But Trevor insisted she was manipulating Jill to purposely disrupt his life.

More than once, he left them. Jill and Katy had to take the bus home from the Zoo or the Rockies game. When they got home, Jill would lock Katy in her room so that Katy wouldn’t have to witness Trevor scream at Jill.

“What happened?” Jacob touched Jill’s arm.

“Katy has to use the restroom,” Jill said. “I’m really, really sorry. She takes forever and….”

“I wondered where it came from,” Jacob said.

“What?” Jill was so surprised by his statement that she jerked out of her Trevor related panic.

“Well, as a guy, you wait forever for women in the bathroom. Waiting for Valerie? My sister? I’d practically evolve into a new species before she came out again.” Jacob smiled. “I didn’t realize four year olds curled their hair. Does Katy have a propane curling iron too?”

Jill couldn’t help but laugh. She shook her head. “A new species?”

“You’ll see. You’ll have the opportunity to wait for Val and you’ll know what I mean.” Jacob laughed. “How about this? I’ll sit right here and you guys can go in,”

“Will you be here….”

“There is no chance, not one, of me ending this non-date,” Jacob smiled. “I’m have a great time!”

“Me too,” Jill said.

“I might get some food. Do you want anything?”

“French Fries! French Fries!” Katy said.

“Anything else?” Jacob asked.

“We can share a hamburger or chicken strips,” Jill said. “There’s juice and water in the backpack.”

She pointed to her backpack that he insisted on wearing.

“I wondered what cool on my back!” Jacob said. “I’ll meet you here.”

With one last look to Jacob, Jill and Katy went into the restroom. And Katy took forever. Using this time as alone time with her mother, Katy reviewed all the animals she had seen and what she wanted to see. She asked questions about Jacob. Miraculously, Katy even went potty. After a quick hand washing, they were out the door.

Jill scanned the area for Jacob.

He wasn’t there.

Jill had to bite her lip to keep from crying. The one moment she let her guard down to have a good time, look what happened? He left.

Feeling Katy tug her hand, she looked down to see Katy pointing. Jacob sat at a table talking to two octogenarian zoo volunteers. Jill hadn’t seen him behind the volunteers. She felt a wave of relief.

“Here she is!” The elderly man said. He kneeled down to Katy level, “How are you, Katy? I’m Edward and this is my wife, Mary.”

Katy shook his extended hand.

“I bet you’re hungry,” Edward said standing. “We don’t want to keep you. We just wanted to meet Celia’s granddaughter and say ‘Hello’ to Jake. We’ve seen Delphie, but we haven’t seen Jake since Celia died.”

In that moment, Jill realized that she knew Celia. Like a scene from a movie, Jill remembered meeting Jacob at Pete’s Kitchen all those years ago. Every detail, from how frail his mother was to the illegal jolt of attraction she felt for Jacob, flashed across her brain. Shaking her head to clear the memory, Jill wandered to the table.

Katy was already eating her French Fries when Jill sat down at the table. She watched Jacob and Katy discuss the advantages of ketchup. Jacob had already set up lunch including the fruit juice and water from Jill’s backpack. He bought a couple hamburgers, chicken strips and lots of fries.

And they ate everything.

One last bite and Katy was off!

Jill wiped Katy’s hands while they walked. They found more penguins at Bird world. T Katy bounced along the metal guard rail past each the hoofed animal. When a buffalo caught Katy’s eye, she stopped stalk still. While Katy and the buffalo shared a silent communication, Jill and Jacob stood behind her.

“I realize that I knew your mother,” Jill said.

Jacob nodded.

“She was very kind to me in a difficult transition in my life,” Jill said. “Sometimes, when I get down, I talk to her… in my head, you know? I always feel better when I talk to your mom. I think of her as my guardian angel. I called her Celly… Celly Marlowe…not Celia. I guess I thought your mom was a Lipson.”

The buffalo looked away and Katy ran into the cul-de-sac where the white wolf pack lived. The animals greeted Katy with a wild howl which she imitated. Jill and Jacob returned to their places behind Katy.

Jacob smiled, “Most people know her as Celly Marlowe. My dad was always just ‘the husband’ to her magnificence. I fell lucky to have known her.”

“Me too,” Jill said. “She had this friend… crazy red hair….”

“Delphie?”

“Delphinium, like the flower. She gave me a reading before I married Trevor. She told me Trevor would betray me three times before I was finally done with him. I thought the whole thing was hilarious.” Jill sighed. “I told Trevor and…. Well, he wouldn’t let me go back. After Celly died, then again when I was pregnant with Katy, Delphie offered a free reading but I….”

“Delphie can be a bit much,” Jacob said. “She lives with me…. I mean in my house…. I mean….”

“I know what you mean,” Jill said.

Jacob smiled.

“I hate to think of it. You know? Trevor’s only betrayed me twice,” Jill said. “I hate to think of what the third time will be.”

“Then don’t,” Jacob said. “Just be here with me.”

On impulse, he slipped his arm around her. When Jill leaned into him, their eyes caught with a jolt of electricity. She lifted her chin and his mouth made an easy journey toward her luscious lips. Their lips were almost touching when they heard:

“Stupid bee. You won’t hurt me again. I’ll squish you and ….”

“KATY! NO!” Jacob and Jill screamed at the same moment.

Denver Cereal continues next week when Katy has an anaphylactic reaction to the bee….

~~~~~~~~

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