Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Denver Cereal - Chapter Seventeen : Cards on the Table

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Thursday morning, 4 A.M.

Jill stood with her hand on the employee exit at Pete’s Kitchen. Her feet, still oozing from the lacerations of the glass, ached in her waitress shoes. She shuffled through her regular Wednesday night shift with skinned knees and tattered feet. Pete finally sent her home with instructions not to come back until she was well. With work over, her mind turned to her lists.

“You Ok, Jill?” Pete asked.

“Yeah, I’m just… overwhelmed.”

“Of course,” he said. The elderly man patted her shoulder in a gesture of support. “You need to take care of yourself.”

Jill nodded.

“You’ll let us know if you need anything?” He asked.

“Thank you,” Jill said.

When Pete returned to tracking down more hash browns, Jill returned to making a list in her head. She needed clothing for Katy. Wait. Where was her journal? At the Castle. Yep, Castle. Maybe she’d do a load.. or forty loads… of laundry. When was the last time she washed her hair? Yesterday. Clean underwear was a must. Trash collection was… Friday. Better get the trash out.

Jill looked at her wrist watch. Three hours. Pressing open the door, Jill began the short walk to her apartment.

The last forty-eight hours had been… hell. She might always have trouble lining up all the events. When the cardiac team came out of surgery, they told Jill that Jacob had “popped a bleeder”. Both Delphie and Jill heard them say that Jacob was dead. She called Mike to tell him then collapsed in tears of grief and regret.

By the time Mike, Val and Jacob’s father arrived, Dr. Drayson came out to say a bone shard had been lodged in the subclavian artery, wherever that was. The shard kept Jacob from healing. Dr. Drayson was not only able to suture the artery, he also felt like Jacob would recover in “short order.”

And sure enough, Jacob went from being critical to serious condition in a couple hours. He was moved into a private room this… yesterday morning. Jill called just an hour ago and Valerie said the nurse told her that they would start decreasing his medication in….

Jill looked at her watch. Two hours and forty-nine minutes. She stopped walking to stare at her watch. Was it really only Thursday? She’d known Jacob less than a week. For a moment, images from Katy’s reaction to the bee sting to her ex-boss with the straight pipe wrench lofted over his head threatened to send her into blank emptiness.

Not today.

She blew out her breath and starting walking again. Shaking her head, she turned down Fourteenth Avenue.

“Hi Jill.” Trevor stepped from the shadows into the light of a street lamp.

Startled, Jill jumped and yelped.

“Trevor! What are YOU doing here?”

“I wanted to see you,” he said. He fell in step beside her. “I’ve been thinking about things.”

Jill stopped walking.

“What things? You know I have a restraining….”

“I love you, Jill. You were right. You are my soul mate. We belong together.”

“It’s an interesting week to decide that,” Jill said. She kept walking toward her apartment building.

“We were a family - you and me and our Katy….”

“Until you fucked it up,” Jill said.

“I was manipulated, Jill. We both were. I… I was so focused on doing what was right for us, for Katy, that I didn’t realize I lost the most important thing in my life - you.”

Jill stopped walking and squinted her eyes at Trevor.

“I want to get this straight. You thought that by divorcing me, taking all of our money, MY money, stealing our only vehicle, a vehicle that I bought and paid for I might add, and getting some rich girl pregnant was what was best for US? For Katy?”

“When you say it like that….”

Trevor’s voice raised in irritation. Jill shook her head and returned to walking. Trevor noticeably softened.

“Oh Jill, you cut me to the core when you’re so cold.”

Jill raised her eyebrows and turned into the apartment building.

“Jill,” Trevor put his hand on her arm. “Stop. Just listen to me.”

Jill turned to face him.

“We were manipulated by these rich people. They used us….” Trevor’s hand caressed Jill’s arm. “People like that can never understand what we have.”

Trevor leaned in. His lips brushed her lips. With her mouth just an inch from his, she said, “So you’re not getting married on Sunday?”

Trevor jerked back.

“That’s what I thought,” Jill said. “If you’ll excuse me, my dog Scooter needs to be walked.”

“Scooter! Oh my God Jill! Where did you find Scooter?”

“Don’t even start with me. I saw the papers. I know that a Mr. Trevor McGuinsey turned in him into the Dumb Friend’s League.”

Trevor grabbed her arm before she stepped into the building.

“Don’t let them do this to us, Jill. We belong together. I still love you with every cell in my body, every fiber in my being, every thought in my head, and every action in my life.”

Jill visibly sagged.

“Please,” Trevor said.

She felt his hand move along her rear. Under his pressure, her hips shifted toward him. While her mind returned to her lists, he kissed her then slipped his hands under her shirt. He flicked open her bra and moved to cup her breasts.

Her weary mind whispered, ‘This will be over soon enough.’

For the first time, Jill heard what her mind had repeated every time Trevor touched her. Horrified by the thought, Jill jerked to the present.

And found that…

She was standing on the sidewalk like a Colfax crack whore, while her ex-husband busied himself on her body. She took a step back. She wrenched his hands from under her shirt.

“Get off me.”

“You can’t just lead me on!” His voice was a terse whisper.

Jill couldn’t help herself. She laughed.

Trevor slapped her hard across the face.

“Stupid worthless whore, how dare you?”

Trevor grabbed her arms and jerked her toward him. She banged against his hip. He was rock hard and ready. He mashed his lips onto hers.

At that moment, she knew.

He was going to have her no matter what.

Jill wrenched her arms from him. Using her elbow to push him off her, she bolted into the building. Racing up the stairs, she reached her door when he slammed her face forward into the wood. He caught her when she bounced off the door. With one hand over her mouth, he unbuttoned her pants. His finger nails raked their way to her soft flesh.

While he jerked her pants down, and his own, Jill worked to get her key into the lock. Trevor was so lost in his lust that he didn’t realize what she was doing.

Scooter flew at Trevor. His bark brought Sarah from the living room couch. While Sarah lunged and barked, Scooter snapped at Trevor. Trevor screamed in pain and fury. He lunged at Scooter, but Sarah blocked his way.

When Trevor turned, he saw the hallway lined with neighbors. Jill’s next door neighbor Mr. Wilson rushed Trevor with his baseball bat. Terrified, Trevor ran for the stairs. Scooter and Sarah chased him from the apartment building.

Everyone stood in stunned silence. Before anyone could say anything, Mike poked his head into the hallway from the stairs. Whistling for Scooter and Sarah, Mike sauntered toward Jill’s apartment. The dogs trotted up the stairs in answer Mike’s whistle. Mike looked from Jill to Mr. Wilson. He put a hand on Mr. Wilson’s baseball bat.

“Mr. Wilson?”

“Nice to see you, Michael.”

With a nod, Mr. Wilson returned to his apartment.

“Trevor?” Mike slipped his jacket and tied it around Jill’s waist to cover her bare behind, torn jeans and underwear.

Jill nodded.

“You Ok? Spaced out?”

“No,” Jill said. “I’m here.”

“Huh,” Mike said.

He guided her into the apartment. Settling her on the couch, he went to get her a glass of water. When he returned, she writing out her list on a pad of paper.

“For someone who was almost raped, you seem very… together,” Mike said.

“Raped? Oh, yeah, I guess so.” Jill flushed. “I should change. Ah, crap my feet are bleeding.”

Getting up from the couch, she went into her bathroom. Mike helped her rebandage her feet then she went into her bedroom to change.

“Do you ever think that things happen for a reason?” Jill asked from the bedroom.

Mike stood in her bedroom door.

“Sure.”

“I stayed with Trevor, married him even, because I thought he would never leave me. I wanted something permanent so I would never ever be alone. “

“Like after Mom and Dad died?”

Jill’s eyes welled with tears. She pulled a t-shirt over her head. Before she could pull on another pair of jeans, Mike pointed out the scratches on Jill’s lower back where Trevor’s fingernails had torn her flesh. She turned to give him a soft smile. Mike nodded.

Speaking in a whisper, she said, “I knew he cheated but I thought he needed me too much to ever leave. He was so demanding - I need this book, pay for my school, I want this car, make my dinner, fuck me now…. I….”

Mike hugged his little sister.

“Then he left and took everything. Just like that. He’s gone. And… I didn’t die or fall apart or starve or…. Every terror I lived with since I was nine years old, every single one, never happened. None of them. I… I realize that I’m a lot stronger than I thought.”

“You’re one of the strongest people I’ve ever met,” Mike said.

Jill smiled.

“So Wonder Woman, are we moving all this stuff to your apartment at the Castle?” Mike asked. He gestured around the apartment.

“Not today.”

~~~~~~~~

The first thing Jacob noticed was the silence. Not quite alert and not quite unconscious, he scanned his immediate environment for sound. Nothing. He felt tiny fingers pressing his eyelids apart.

“Katy,” Jacob whispered.

“I knew you were in there,” Katy said.

He opened his eyes and found her face about an inch from his face. He attempted a smile. Katy patted his cheek.

“I’m not supposed to be here.”

“Where’s here?”

“Psshft. Mommy says this is called a ‘hospital.’ That means a house for sick people. I was in a hospital but I STILL don’t remember being sick.”

Jacob smiled and the little girl laughed.

“I wanted to know if you would be my Daddy,” Katy said. “No one will tell me so I thought I would just ask you myself.”

“I’d be honored to be your Daddy,” Jacob said.

“No matter what?”

“No matter what. Pinky swear?”

Katy held out her pinky and they shook pinkies.

“Katherine Marlowe Roper!” Jill scolded from the doorway of the room. “What are you doing here?”

“But Mommy! I didn’t touch any of the white gauze!”

Katy seemed to fly through the air when Jill lifted her from the bed.

“Hi,” Jill said.

Holding Katy in her arms, she leaned over to kiss him. His left hand cupped her face while his thumb caressed her bruised cheek. His concerned eyes asked the question but Jill shook her head. Her eyes flitted to Katy. Jacob smiled.

“We haven’t seen you in a while.”

“Where am I?” Jacob asked.

“You have a private room. It’s funny because there’s been a whole bunch of people here - your family, my family, people from work, the police, your entire hockey team. This is the first time you’ve been alone. Well, not quite alone.” Jill looked at her daughter. “You are in big trouble, Little Missy. I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”

“Oh,” Jacob said. “Don’t be too mad. She’s very sweet.”

“He’s going to be my Daddy,” Katy said.

“KATY!”

“We pinky swore,” Jacob said. “Plus she’s a Marlowe.”

“In honor of Celia M…. Oh.” Jill blushed. “Sorry. You don’t have to….”

“Oh honey…” Jacob’s energy evaporated. He closed his eyes then opened them. “I want to be her Daddy. Sometimes… things… defy….” He let out a breath. “Explanation.”

She thought he was unconscious again when his eyes popped open. His eyes shifted to look at Jill then said, “Are we engaged?”

“Do you see a large diamond?” Jill held up her left hand as a joke but he was already out.

“Are you going to MARRY my Daddy?” Katy asked. “Well that’s PERFECT!”

Katy clapped her hands together and Jill laughed.

~~~~~~~~

Thursday night, 7 p.m.

Mike looked down the Castle’s dining room table at his brother, Steve and Steve’s wife, Leslie. They were as silent as Megan, Tim and Candy on the other side of the table. Jill was at the hospital for her first official “date” with Jacob. Delphie was entertaining the Megan’s kids and Katy in one of the sitting areas. The clinking of silverware echoed in the formal dining room.

Valerie slipped her hand into Mike’s. He turned to look at her. She had lost weight this week. Tonight, her beautiful black hair was held back with a simple band. Her face was make up free. When she smiled, he felt the same heart constricting feeling that he had felt the first time she smiled at him.

“Ok,” Steve said. “Since no one’s going to do it, I’m going to. Frankly, I’m sick to vomit of the secrets in this family. Mike and Val invited us here for dinner and we’re acting like church mice.”

“What secrets?” Candy asked. Her dark eyes blazed a ‘shut up’ to her brother.

“YOUR secrets,” Steve said.

Candy bristled.

“Meg’s secrets.” Meg’s head jerked up to look at Steve.

“Hell, my own secrets,” Steve said. “Fuck, did you know how abusive Trevor was? Anyone?”

Every head shook from side to side.

“He almost raped her and Jill was like same shit different day,” Mike said. “OUR baby sister sat in Walgreen’s praying for her child’s life because that fucker wouldn’t let her go to the hospital. Why? Because she couldn’t afford it. It makes me furious.”

“Me too,” Megan said. “I… I had no idea.”

“We are all we have. Our parents are gone. We don’t have grandparents. No more secrets,” Steve said. “It’s time to put it all out there on the table.”

“We’ll start,” Leslie said. “We can’t get pregnant. I have endometriosis and… we’ll….”

Everyone’s head turned to look at Leslie.

“We’re good candidates for IVF. We’re healthy, don’t drink or smoke. The doctor thinks we’ll be successful but….” Steve stopped talking. He looked at Leslie then nodded. “We can’t afford it. We wanted to ask if maybe…”

“We’ll help,” Valerie said. “If you prefer to borrow the money, we can do that as well.”

“I make good commissions on my painting and Val’s contract was extended for another year,” Mike said.

“You’re not driving anymore?” Candy asked.

“I only drove so I could drive Val when she was in town,” Mike said. “See there’s a secret.”

“We could be together and no one would know,” Valerie said.

“We’d love to help you guys have a baby,” Mike said. “Just if that’s all right with you.”

“Thanks,” Leslie said.

“We’re not married,” Tim said.

Megan’s eyes went wide and she shook her head.

“We got pregnant before we got married, then didn’t want to….” Tim caught Megan’s look and stopped talking. Megan’s face was bright red.

“Ah shit. Who cares?” Mike asked.

Megan red ashamed face turned to her little brother. Mike’s warm smile brought tears to her eyes.

“You guys were so young and I got pregnant and….”

“You and Tim raised us,” Steve said. “I don’t give a crap. I can’t imagine Jill cares.”

“Jill knows,” Tim said. “I told her when Trevor divorced her.”

“I’m gay,” Candy spit out in the middle of the conversation.

When everyone turned to look at her, she seemed to dissolve into the chair. Steve kicked her under the table.

“Tell them or I will,” he said.

“I’ve been dating a girl for… a long time.”

“She lives with her girlfriend Jazmyne,” Steve said. “Has for the last four years. Jazmyne is a firefighter and a terrific person.”

Candy made a face. “I’m going to hell.”

“Well, we’ll be there to keep you company,” Tim said. “Are you happy? Do you love her?”

Candy nodded.

“Then we’re very happy for you,” Megan said. “We just wanted you to be happy.”

“Mike broke my nose,” Steve said. “Remember I went to Hollywood the summer after college? I was on this tour of the stars houses when I saw Mike and some girl walking down a hill. I mean, I hadn’t seen or heard from Mike in two years. Then there he was! So, I followed them. They cut into the backyard of this house. I….”

“He caught us in a delicate position,” Valerie said. “In our own backyard, but delicate none the less. Mike hit him on a reflex.”

“You DID get a new nose,” Candy said. “I KNEW it!”

“Yeah,” Steve said. “Valerie arranged for the surgery.”

“I could have killed him. I…,” Mike said. “I went to treatment about a week later. I have a secret.”

“Your secret studio is in the carriage house of this house,” Candy said. “We all knew that. We thought it was because you were friends with Jake.”

Mike looked from face to face and everyone nodded.

“We also know about that you’re the artist who painted the ‘unknown Denver artist painting’ at the Denver Art Museum,” Tim said. “Well, we guessed. Now that I’ve met Val…. It’s her isn’t it?”

Valerie nodded.

“I gave it to a friend who said it was too good to be owned by a single person,” Mike nodded toward the ceiling. Everyone looked up to the clouds, blue sky and sun that adorned the dining room ceiling. “I’ve done a bunch of the work here too. I’ll show you around when we finish dinner. I actually have another secret.”

Valerie’s head turned to look at him. Her eyes puzzled. Mike slipped his hand into his pocket.

“Jake paid a guy to find this for you,” Mike said. “He just figured you’d like it back some day.”

He opened his hand and there lay Valerie’s original diamond engagement ring. Valerie screamed. Covering her mouth with her hands, her eyes welled with tears. His eyes held the question again. She nodded. He slipped the diamond solitaire on to her hand.

“Thao at the Art of Gold cleaned it up and fixed it. She said we could update it but I thought you’d want to….”

Valerie kissed him quiet.

Denver Cereal continues next week….

~~~~~~~~

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