“Maybe you can stop going to every hair stylist in the city,” Jacob said.
“I… I… I….”
“Go!” As Aden ran toward the door, Jacob yelled, “Just leave the….”
Aden stopped at the door and threw the box to Jacob. Aden ran past a stunned girl standing at the door.
“Jill?” Aden asked as he passed.
The girl nodded.
“Aden. Go on in. He’s waiting for you.”
Just as Aden rounded the nurses station, he heard the elevator bell ring. With a burst of speed, he slipped through the closing elevator doors.
“Hi,” Jill said.
Jacob scooted over in the bed. Jill sat down next to him. She leaned toward him, closed her eyes, and was swept away, again, by his lips. Each delicate kiss led to a deeper kiss. The motion of his lips brought a well of warmth that rose through her core. If she thought it possible, Jill would swear she had kiss orgasms. Breaking off the kiss was like coming to the end of a great ride at Disneyland. He left her willing to wait in a long, long line for the chance to take the ride again.
“I have something for you,” Jacob said.
His left hand stroked her hair. The bruise on her cheekbone was turning purple and a little yellow. He kissed her bruised cheek.
“I can’t really get on bended knee, but the moment I can, I will.”
Jill jerked back from him. She puzzled at his statement. Shaking her head slightly, she said, “What?”
“Shh,” Jacob said. “I’ve practiced.”
“You… I… I mean….”
Jacob sighed. Jill wasn’t going to make this easy for him. He put his fingertips over her sputtering mouth.
“Will you marry me?”
Jacob removed his fingertips from her mouth. Jill’s face broke in to a huge blushing smile.
“Really? I mean, I know that I said that I would marry you… and you asked at Pete’s but….” Jill’s words came in a flood. “You haven’t even known me a week. And we’ve only had sex once and you don’t know… I mean, I suck in bed… and I have a child and….”
Jacob flopped back on the bed. Jill laughed at the exasperated look on his face.
“Well what about the sex thing?” Jill asked. “I really don’t know anything and….”
“I think people learn from each other. I don’t know anything, not one thing, about really pleasing you,” Jacob said. “But I’m more than ready to spend a lifetime learning from you.”
Jill blushed and looked at her hands.
“So what do you say?” Jacob asked.
At that moment, the nurse propped opened the door to Jacob’s room. Two male attendants followed the nurse into the room. Moving quickly, the nurse began unhooking Jacob from the machines by his bed. Jill stood from the bed.
“What’s going on?” Jacob asked.
“There’s an opening in the surgical suite. The doctor that was here this morning?”
“He put you on an unofficial waiting list,” the nurse shrugged. “They’ll do your fusion today.”
The attendants pushed the bed away from the wall.
“Right this moment?” Jacob asked.
“It was a last minute cancellation. The scheduled patient just spiked a fever,” the nurse said. “You’ll be out this evening sometime. I’m sure you two can talk then.”
Rolling toward the door, Jacob retrieved the box from it’s hiding place under the covers. He tossed it to Jill. She caught it.
“I love you, Jill. Go shopping. I’ll see you tonight. Tell Aden to check his Blackberry.”
The room door closed and Jill looked at the box in her hand. She opened the tattered old box to find a plush ring box. Biting her lip, she couldn’t decide what to do.
Should she wait for Jacob?
Should she just open it?
The closing elevator doors clipped Aden’s shirt then bounced open again. Sandy’s head jerked up when he rushed into the elevator. Her stunned face switched to annoyance.
“Are you stalking me now?” Sandy asked. She pressed the Lobby button over and over again until the elevator doors closed again.
“Stalking?” Aden asked. “I…. Listen, I’ve looked all over the city for you. I’ve been to every hairstylist Jake or I could find.”
Sandy raised an eyebrow and smirked. “You came to MY salon.”
“Ok, you don’t want to talk to me. I get that. But I… I’d like to just understand. Jake says that people tell you what’s going on if you ask. So I’m asking.”
Sandy crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head.
“We worked out together for six years. Same machines. Same weights. Same time. We talked… a lot… every day… for years. Then the one time I asked you out, you never came back to the gym.”
“Oh I go, just not when you’re there.”
“What did I do?” Aden asked. “I asked you out. You said you’d like to go out with me. You said you’d been waiting for me to ask for a long time. Then you changed your number or gave me a fake or…. I thought you liked me.”
“Well I liked you… like you.”
The elevator bounced when it hit the ground floor. The doors slid open.
Sandy tilted her head to the side. She sneered, then said, “But you love your WIFE? Is that it?”
Aden grabbed her arm when she pressed past him. Sandy glowered at him.
“Will you hear me out?”
Knowing she had to wait for Jill anyway, Sandy shrugged. She would never admit it, but she had missed him. She’d always looked forward to seeing him at the gym. Even now, when she KNEW he wasn’t there, she still looked for his car in the parking lot.
Holding her arm tight, he guided them through the hospital to a shady spot just outside the door.
“I’m not married,” Aden said. “I was married… a long time ago. But I haven’t been married in ten years. I haven’t even dated in… eight or nine years. Why do you think I am married?”
“Why should I believe you?”
“We can go upstairs and ask Jake,” Aden said.
“Right like a guy isn’t going to lie for his buddy.”
“Jacob Marlowe is my boss, and my friend. We aren’t buddies. Plus, Jacob Marlowe doesn’t lie. He just doesn’t.”
“Oh,” Sandy said. “I…. I thought you were a biker.”
“Because of your tattoos,” Sandy said.
“Oh,” Aden flushed. His arms, neck and back had been covered with tattoos. Thanks to laser technology, his adolescent gestures at identity were almost gone. “No, I work for Jake. I’m his assistant.”
“Jill and I went to high school with his assistant.”
Sandy nodded her head.
“Molly is Jake’s bookkeeper for his rehabilitation business. I work for Lipson. Jake has me and an other assistant, Blane.”
“Oh,” Sandy said.
“Why did you think I was married?”
“I went into the locker room and this girl told me line and verse about you, your wife, your kids, all this stuff. I….”
“Tall? Think? White blonde hair?” Aden asked.
“Very pretty. A lot prettier than me,” Sandy said.
“I call her Lexi Luther because she’s like my arch-nemesis,” Aden said. “Ok. Well that makes more sense. Thanks.”
Aden and Sandy stood facing each other. The uncomfortable silence stretched.
“Are you married?”
“No,” Aden said. “I was married. She left when our daughter was a couple months old. We weren’t actually divorced until four years ago. I kind of hoped she would disappear but…. Jake made me file.”
“Jake’s had a big impact on you,” Sandy said.
“You could say that,” Aden replied. “I have two kids. They live with me most of the time. Would you like to see their pictures?”
Sandy nodded. Aden opened his wallet and pulled out his favorite picture of Nash and Noelle.
“I dropped them at their Mom’s house before I came here. I…. They’re my life.”
“Why would Lexi say all that stuff?”
“Oh,” Aden sighed. “Because I fucked up. After Nuala left, that’s my ex-wife, I wasn’t in a great place. I was still… drinking.. and I was going to be a rock star. Mostly, I worked during the days and spent the nights at clubs. I didn’t know what it even meant to have kids…. I thought that women took care of all of that. Real evolved, huh. I thought if I got another woman right away, I could just keep living the way I was… you know, not have to change. Lexi and I… got together and …. It didn’t go well.”
“What happened?” Sandy asked.
“I can’t imagine you want to hear all of this crap,” Aden said.
“Actually…,” Sandy said. She dared to look at his face for the first time. “I do want to hear about it. My dad left my mom when I was a couple months old… and I have a particular interest in stories just like this… stories like mine.”
“Lexi moved in right away. But Noelle, my daughter, never liked her. She cried until I got home from work. I was at work one day when Lexi called to say that she had moved out. Fuck me and fuck my stupid kids. I….” Aden shook his head. “It was totally my fault. I just had no idea of what I was doing. What happened with you?”
“My mom got jobs to support us. It was hard on her… really hard… like it’s been for Jill. She met my step-dad when I was eight or nine.” Sandy smiled. “He was Catholic, so we all converted. And, he was a really great guy. He was my Dad.”
“He smoked… He was older than Mom by fifteen years or so. He died a couple years ago. Lung cancer. So, you can see that I want to know what happened with you and your kids.”
“I was such an idiot. People at work leave their dogs in the car so I thought I’d just leave the kids in the car. They mostly sleep anyway. I would see them on my breaks.”
“I know,” Aden said. “I told you I was an idiot.”
“I went on my first break and I saw this woman by the car. She was singing to Noelle and rocking her side to side. My son, Nash, was sitting on the hood of the car eating a candy bar. When I got close, she looked up and said, ‘She’s really just lonely. How about if I take them today?’ I was like, ‘What?’” Aden laughed. “That was Jake’s mom, Celia. Big Sam Lipson came up behind me. He looked at me, then Celia. He just laughed. They started a daycare for Lipson employees the next day and you know what? A hundred kids showed up that day and a hundred more the following Monday. Nobody had day care for their kids. No accidents, that’s what Celia said. ‘It’s no accident Sam invited me to lunch today.’ I…. Yeah.”
“Oooh Val, from behind what plow did you find him?” Ramon said. A slight Asian man, Ramon’s exaggerated inflection and silk, leopard print caftan announced “GAY HOLLYWOOD STYLIST” like a neon sign. “He’s absolutely Neanderthal dreamy. Look at all that hair!”
“I met him skiing on Copper Mountain,” Val said. “I was twelve.”
“Oooh,” the man said. “Well, he’s a big boy now.”
He reached to squeeze Mike’s leg, and Mike slapped his hand away. When Ramon lifted Mike’s shirt to ogled his flat stomach, Mike stepped back.
“You must take your clothing off,” the man lisped.
“No,” Mike said.
Mike backed away. Ramon took a step toward him. Mike stalked out the back door toward his studio. He heard Ramon and Val laugh the entire way across the garden.
Sandy and Aden stood together in close companionable silence. Sandy shifted from foot to foot. Her familiar draw to Aden made her even more uncomfortable. She was about to leave when she saw Jill step of the hospital elevator.
“Thanks for talking to me,” Aden said. “I better get back up there.”
“There’s Jill,” Sandy said. “Hey. I thought I’d have to pry you away.”
“They took Jacob to get his neck surgery today. He told me to go shopping. I… I think I should stay here but….”
“Ah shit,” Aden said.
“Jacob said to tell you to check your Blackberry,” Jill said. “I packed up the computers.”
Jill gave Aden his computer bag. Aden dug out his Blackberry from the front pocket.
“Excuse me,” Aden said. He stepped away from Jill and Sandy to read his daily list from Jacob.
Here’s your list:
1. Take the girls shopping.
2. Tell them about Val’s party next week. Make sure they both get something… nice. ;)
3. Have fun tonight.
Oh, and the sites? They ready to start again tomorrow morning so don’t have too much fun tonight. You’ll need to cover for me tomorrow.
Aden curled his lip. Even in the hospital, Jacob Marlowe managed to disrupt Aden’s drinking plans.
The next email was from Blane, their assistant, with confirmation from every site manager that the sites would start up tomorrow morning at 5 AM.
The last email from Jacob said, ‘Get the ring box back from Jill.’
Shaking his head, Aden wandered to Sandy and Jill. Jill was holding the box out to Sandy.
“May I have that?” Aden asked.
Aden opened the ring box to show Jill that it was empty. He raised an eyebrow and laughed at her shocked face.
“You play with the Marlowe, you’ve got to expect a little intrigue.”
“But he asked me and… I….”
“Did you say yes?” Aden asked.
“When you’re ready to say ‘yes’, there will be a ring in this box. At least I hope so.”
Aden made an ‘it’s my ass if it’s not’ face. Jill and Sandy laughed. He bowed slightly in his best butler imitation.
“Mr. Jacob has asked me to take you ladies shopping. He would like me to invite you to a fete at the Castle hosted by Miss Valerie in a weeks time.”
“What?” Sandy asked.
“Val’s having a party with all her Hollywood friends. She wants to celebrate Jake’s survival and introduce Mike to her friends. Jake wanted to invite Jill as his date. He thought Jill would feel more comfortable if her friends were there.”
“Oh… We would mix with Hollywood people… But….” Jill bit the inside of her lip.
“Good thing you’re taking us shopping,” Sandy said. “You buying?”
“Mr. Jacob,” Aden said.
“Great. Jill? Will you call Tanisha and Heather?”
While Jill dialed her cell phone, Sandy looked at Aden.
“How old are you?”
“Is that a problem?”
Sandy shook her head. “I’m really sorry. I should have asked, but….”
“I understand,” Aden said.
“Do you still want to…?”
“I have to coach soccer at 5 but I’m otherwise free today. You?”
“I work from two to eight but….”
“Perfect,” Aden said. “What if we shop this morning and I’ll take you to dinner tonight?”
Sandy blushed, smiled, then nodded.
“Honey, please,” Val pleaded. “I want you to share all of my life. That means you have to look the part.”
Mike looked at her then sagged. He followed her to the main level of the house. A severe matronly woman stood in the middle of the main Castle living room. The complete opposite of the flamboyant Ramon, she arched a penciled eyebrow at Mike then shook her head.
“Neeooo.” She annunciated her ‘no’ as if she was Peppy Le Pew.
Mike raised his eyebrows at her. Not sure of what to do, he held his hand out to the woman, “I’m Mike.”
The woman looked at Mike’s paint stained hand and crossed her arms.
“You cannot take this… this… creature out in public,” the woman said.
“What?” Val asked. “Why?”
“He is… too old, too hairy and too….” The woman made a disgusted face.
“But Wes is 67 years old. Mike’s only 32 years old,” Val said.
“Wesford takes care of his skin. What products do you use on your face?” The woman asked.
“Um.” Mike felt like he was answering a trick question. “My face?”
“You see, completely unworkable.” The woman sneered at Mike. Looking at Val, she said, “Why is it that you left Wes? He was the perfect companion for you. Tall, thin like you are… no so… beefy hillbilly….”
“Sounds like you don’t need me anymore,” Mike said. “Val, honey, I’m going back to my studio. Nice to meet you, ma’am.”
The woman’s harping voice drifted through the kitchen. Standing at the garden door, Mike had enough. Turning in place, he stormed back to the living room. The woman waved her finger in Val’s face while Val wept.
“Get out of my house,” he said to the woman. “You have no right to come in here and say anything - to me or to my wife. You certainly don’t know me. You can’t know Val if you talk to her like this.”
He picked up the woman’s bag and threw it out the side Castle door. He held the door and pointed for her to go.
The woman looked from Val to Mike.
“You have ruined your career,” she said.
“I don’t care,” Val said. “Please leave.”
With a smug I-told-you-so look, the woman marched out of the door. Mike scooped up Val and held her until she stopped crying.
“We’ll figure something out,” he whispered into her hair.
“I don’t care if I ever act again,” she said.
“Oh honey, we don’t live like that. You love acting. You can do what you love. We just have to figure out how to make it happen.”
Val nodded and wiped her tears.
“Who’s next?” Mike said.
“I have a facial appointment. I thought I would leave you here with her but… I forgot how awful she can be…. “
Mike held her face between his big hands. His eyes caressed her beautiful face then he kissed her lips.
“I love you, Val. Whatever you need is fine. You like that Ramon guy.. um, person. Why don’t we talk to him tonight?”
Val gave him a watery smile then nodded. He walked her through the tunnels to her Mustang. Val clung to him before getting in the car. He waited until she was down the street before he went back to the house.
Laughing, he made his way back to his studio. Then panic set in.
He’d waited a life time to be with Val. What if he wasn’t right for her life? He was going to lose Val because he was too hairy-beefy-hillbilly. There was no way to fix any of those things.
Denver Cereal continues next week….
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