“Mom,” Jacob whispered.
He felt his mother near. Gradually, her face came into view. Not her cancer ravaged face, but the face she wore when he was a very small boy. Like a thirsty man, Jacob’s drank in her image.
“My baby boy,” Celia said.
“Not quite.” He felt her hand touch his face. “I love you.”
“I love you, Mom.”
“I am so proud of the man you’ve become. You’re kind and loving to everyone who knows you. Honorable. You are a wonderful person.”
Jacob stretched out his hand to touch her face.
In an instant, they were walking along a familiar shore. The day was bright and warm. There was a slight wind from the West that blew wisps of clouds through a bright blue sky. Their footprints in the tan colored sand were washed away by a slow white capped tide. They were alone on the shore. This youthful version of his mother slipped her arm into his elbow. They walked in silence for a while.
“I’ve missed you,” Jacob said.
“I’ve missed you. I’ve been around. It’s you who refuses….”
“To call you Naomi?” Jacob laughed. “Don’t you think that’s a bit… much?”
“The truth is always a bit much,” Celia said.
“Are you… all right?”
“I was in pain for such very, very long time. It’s nice to not be in pain. But I long for Ruth and you children. I miss Sam like a hole in my soul.”
“He’s lost without you.”
“You’ve been a tremendous relief for him. I don’t think he realized how much he needed you.”
“It’s hard for me to imagine Dad needing anyone… except you.”
“Poor Sam. I really messed up his life… and yours.”
“With the new wife, Tiffanie?” Jacob asked.
“Yes. I just thought that …
“With loving support and resources, they’d blossom,” they said together.
Celica stopped walking to gawk at her son.
“You used to say that any time someone was… hurtful.”
“I was wrong.”
“Yes, but that’s part of your beauty. Your belief in people.” Jacob smiled. “Are you all right with Dad and Delphie?”
“Dad and Ruth.”
“Of course,” she said. “My best friend and my soul’s love.”
“They miss you and love you so much….”
Celia stopped walking and hugged her son.
“You don’t have to explain it. I’m not jealous. We belong to each other - Ruth, Sam and I. And with you and Jillian, Jillian and Michael, Michael and Valerie.”
Jacob kissed his mother’s cheek. “You’re very sweet.”
She smiled. They walked for along the unending shore in silence. A river of palpable love flowed back and forth between them.
“I wanted so much life…. Love… laughter… babies…. I wanted to grow old… with Jill…. Twenty-six years isn’t a very long time to live. After years of thinking… hoping, I only… one chance… very fast… with Jill. I wanted to live…. I liked living.”
“Yes,” Celia said. “Why haven’t you stepped into your wisdom?”
“Why didn’t you?”
“I never pretended that I didn’t know things. Never. I never told people…. What is it that you say?”
“I just figured it would happen,” Jacob said. “What am I supposed to do? I’m not going to read Tarot cards.”
“You know tarot cards can be quite a mess. You might enjoy fixing that kind of mess.”
“I did like sorting out messes,” Jacob said.
“Then it’s time to get back there to sort out the mess you are in.”
He felt tremendous ripping pain on his entire right side. A blinding white light filled his eyes. He would have thought he was ‘following the light’ except his ears filled with the sound of yelling people and screeching machines.
“He’s back,” the nurse said.
“Welcome back, Jacob.”
Dr. John Drayson’s lack of wings and British accent confirmed Jacob’s non-descent to heaven. His gloved right hand, coated in Jacob’s blood, held a scalpel. He leaned into the light so that Jacob could see his mask covered face. His cobalt blue eyes seemed huge through his magnifying glasses.
“We’re hoping to keep you with us for a while. Nurse?”
Amidst the blazing light in his eyes and the agony in his right shoulder, Jacob felt the sharp stab of what felt like a four-inch diameter needle. A whoosh of pain relieving medication moved into his system.
“You need to hang around, Jacob,” Dr. Drayson laughed. “Alex has her heart set on the leaded glass tulips. I was hoping you could get them in by our anniversary. What do you think?”
Jacob tried to laugh but the machines screamed. Everything went dark.
Jacob opened his eyes. The room was dark and he was laying in a hospital bed. Looking to see who was holding his hand, he felt a stabbing pain in his right shoulder. The monitors blared.
Everything went dark.
Hearing voices, Jacob tried to open his eyes. The effort was too much for him.
“We’ve been able to clean up a lot. He still has quite a bit of internal bleeding. If we continue to work, we will only do him a disservice.” Dr. Drayson’s staccato words broke through the darkness. “The trauma team removed a portion of his upper lung, ribs… His collar bone is crushed. His scapula shattered. His right shoulder girdle is all but destroyed. There’s a break in two of his cervical vertebrae. We’re hoping to get him stable, stronger, then go back in… maybe tomorrow morning. I just do veins and arteries. If he’s ready, the orthopedic surgery team will start tomorrow morning.”
“Thank you, doctor,” Jacob’s father Sam Lipson said.
“John,” Dr. Drayson said. “We’re lucky. He’s in great shape, healthy and strong.”
“I heard that you’re the best in the business…. The nurse said you weren’t working today. I… just thanks. He’s….”
Jacob heard his father weep.
“We love Jacob, Mr. Lipson. I’ll do everything I can.”
“Thank you, John.”
He opened his eyes to Valerie’s red, puffy eyes about an inch from his face. Her nose was bright red and swollen. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the blur of someone moving away from the bed.
“Your mascara’s running,” he whispered.
“You stupid jerk,” Valerie said. She didn’t bother to stem the flow the tears that dropped from her eyes and nose. “This was supposed to be MY drama, MY crisis. MY life is in crisis buddy, not yours.”
Jacob tried to laugh. He managed a vague groan.
“Where are my paparazzi?” He whispered.
“Outside. The police escorted us, and a billion photographers, to Denver Health.”
“Will I make the cover of People magazine?”
Through her tears, Valerie laughed at his imitation of her early actress days.
“Do you think this outfit makes me look fat?”
He tried to move his right arm to pat his stomach but felt a ripping, burning pain. The monitors blared.
Everything went dark.
“I’m here,” she said.
He felt movement then saw her face. Her eyes were red from crying and her face a little gaunt from worry. She leaned over to kiss his cheek.
“I wanted to tell you that I’ll marry you.”
“Well, you asked on Saturday night and I never gave you an answer.”
“I remember,” he mumbled.
“I figure if you’re willing to take a beating, save my Katy’s life, and are amazing in bed….”
“Well…. We don’t want to add ego adjustment to your next surgery.” Jill worked to keep a cheery voice. She was determined to be light and flippant when she spoke with him. “I’ll say… pretty good. Now don’t interrupt. I’ve been practicing. Where was I?”
“Amazing in bed,” he said.
“Yes. I figure if you’re willing to take a beating, save my Katy’s life and are… pretty good….”
“…in bed, then I should marry you before you ride off on some horse.”
“Horse? I don’t have any pony bags.”
“I’d say like a knight in shining armor but that ego adjustment is so costly.”
He smiled. She brushed her lips across his in a quick kiss.
“Jill?” Jacob asked.
“Would you mind if we got married tomorrow? Maybe save some excitement for our third non-date?”
“Well, I want a really big diamond. I’m willing to give you a few days, but only a few.”
“Val has your diamonds. Just ask her….”
Everything went dark.
Tuesday morning, 10 AM
Mike stopped the Mustang at the edge of the grass. The perfect lawn was broken by a few monuments. Sam Lipson sat on a bench near a blooming rose hedge. He was reading the Rocky Mountain News out loud to Celia’s grave.
“Are you sure you’re up for this?” He asked.
“My brother almost died because he did the right thing,” Valerie said. “I need to do the right thing. I need to speak with my father.”
Mike’s big hand stroked her delicate cheek. Her beautiful face was pale and drawn from her night at Jacob’s bedside. For the first time in a decade, she allowed herself to be photographed in her distraught, rumpled condition. Today, Valerie Lipson didn’t give a crap what anyone thought or said about ‘Just Val’. He kissed her lips.
“I’ll be right here,” he said.
She held him tight then whispered in his ear, “I love you so very much Michael Roper.”
Valerie slipped out of the car. Leaning in, she took a bouquet of a dozen white roses from Mike. Squaring her shoulders, she walked forward across the lawn. Her father looked up to see her and jumped to his feet in surprise.
“What is it? What’s happened? Is Jake….?”
“Jake’s in surgery. Everything was going well when I left. Dr. Drayson said they found a metal shard, probably from the pipe wrench, next to his heart. They think that’s causing the heart attacks. The cardiac team removed the metal. The cardiac surgeon is optimistic that Jake’s heart is not damaged. We won’t know for certain until he’s active again.”
Sam Lipson visibly sagged with relief.
“The orthopedic surgeons have another couple hours. Jill and Delphie will call the moment they know anything.”
“I was reading your mother the funnies.”
“You can finish,” she said.
“That’s all right,” Sam said. “She likes them….”
“Uninterrupted, start to finish,” Valerie said in unison with him.
He smiled. “Some things never change.”
“I need to speak to you about….” Valerie’s face clouded. She wasn’t sure how to even start the conversation. Shoving a picture frame at her father, she said, “Jake keeps telling me to look at this picture. What…what does he want me to see?”
“What do you see?” He asked and passed the photo back.
“I see you,” Valerie spit the words, “and your…new perfect family.”
“Why… why is that funny?”
“You can be so stubborn,” he said. “That’s why I laughed. It’s right in front of you and you don’t see it. Why is that, Valerie?”
“What am I supposed to see?”
“You and Jake look remarkably a like,” Sam said.
“We look like our mother.” Valerie flipped her hair at him.
“Celia was fair skinned. She had light brown hair until the very end of her life,” Sam said. “You don’t have fair skin or light brown hair. Do you?”
“What are you saying? We’re African-American?” Valerie spit at him.
“My family has been in the West since long before there was a United States. We’re mutts. Dark hair, darker skin, hazelish eyes…. African-American, Native-American, Spanish,” Sam Lipson shrugged. “The Lipson’s pass their features to their children.”
Valerie curled her lip at her father. She jerked the photograph to her eyes. Four tiny little blonde bitches… with their tiny blonde whore mother. Trevor’s wicked fiancé and her bitty sister stood next to their mother while her father’s…. What? They looked like…. She pull the photo next to her eyes.
“Your mother wanted….”
“How dare you blame your slutty behavior on my mother! She was devastated by you!”
“Was she?” Sam asked. “Are you sure?”
Valerie threw the photograph at her father’s feet. Crossing her arms over her heart, she started to walk off.
“I promised Celia that I only tell you kids when you asked.”
Valerie swung around to look at him.
“Jake asked about six month’s after Celia died. But you…. What’s it been nine years? You were at the lawyers today. You walked in on us the night before you mother died. And still, you don’t ask the question. Just ask me.”
“Fine. Why did you betray my mother?”
“I’ve never betrayed your mother. Never. Not one time in the lifetime of knowing her. She was the very best thing in my life and I miss her like a hole in the very center of me.”
“How can you say that? She gets ill and you’re off…. With that horrible woman… and…. I thought you had a vasectomy?”
“I did,” Sam said. He smiled at the question. Valerie was finally ready for the truth. “It’s the only time Celia was truly angry with me. She wanted babies so badly but there are reasons she’s the last of the Marlowes. She was lucky to survive carrying Jake. She was determined to have more children. I… I didn’t want to loose her so I had it done.”
Valerie looked down at the bouquet of roses in her hand. She remembered the fight. It was the only time she ever remembered her parents screaming at each other. They fought for days. She was five or maybe six years old. Jake was a little more than a year old.
“Then how did you get your secretary pregnant?”
“I didn’t,” Sam said.
Valerie shook her head. She almost left again when she realized she what she needed to know.
“Dad, what happened?”
“Finally,” Sam said. “Thanks for that.”
He held out his hands and she gave him the roses. They walked together to Celia’s grave. He placed the roses in a flower holder near the bottom of her grave. Letting about breath, he turned to her.
“Celia was sick for a long, long time. She fought the cancer for a decade or more. She wanted so much to live.” Sam smiled remembering. “We kept it from you kids because…. Well… because raising you was… important to us. When we knew that fighting wasn’t an option any more, she…”
He stopped talking for a moment. His expression reflected his love and frustration for his Celia.
“Oh your mother…. She always thought the best of everyone. If someone was awful, she would say that they didn’t know any better.”
They said together, “with loving support they will blossom.” They laughed.
“Tiffanie’s boyfriend was in and out of prison. She was just pregnant with Brianna when he violated parole and was sent back to Canyon City. Your mother felt that if I married her, said that the baby was mine, I would save Tiffanie… and her children.”
“But why would Mom do that?”
“Why do you think?” Sam asked.
“Can’t you just answer the question?”
“Who did your mother love more than anyone in this world?”
“More than me and more than Jake.”
“No one. Jake was her favorite.”
“God damn it Valerie. You know that’s not true.”
At that moment, patience left Sam Lipson. The last 20 hours left him raw, exhausted and unwilling to play into anyone’s bullshit.
“Me.” Valerie whispered.
“But this destroyed me. I….”
“Your mother knew things,” Sam said.
“Like Jake and Delphie.”
“More like Jake. Long term visions, big picture stuff. Life was a chess board to Celia. While all our friends went into building houses, we switched to underground utility. Celia knew the Californians would come to Colorado and build cheaper than anyone else. Everyone we knew went out of business except us. Delphie is good at the next six months and specifics in the next day or hour.”
“Mom knew about Mike,” Valerie said.
“And your baby,” Sam said. “She knew that I wouldn’t make it… six months without her. With her death, my death, the baby, and Mike… She didn’t think you’d survive.”
“I barely survived as it is.”
“Exactly,” Sam said. “The only thing that would keep me going was having people depend on me. And I do love babies. I didn’t care about living without her but…”
Sam face shifted to a kind of quiet love. His eyes filled.
“She believed that your anger… for me… would pull you through all of the loss.” He put his hand on her shoulder. Valerie looked up into his face. “She was right.”
“Oh Dad.” Valerie reached up and her father hugged.
While she cried into his shoulder, he said, “It was so worth it, Val. So completely worth it.”
“Val! Val!” Mike yelled from the car. He ran across the grass to them. “Jake’s dead.”
“So that’s it?” Jacob asked.
Denver Cereal continues next week….
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