Jill was sitting on her balcony when she saw Jacob and Valerie park in front of her building. At the sight of the Jeep, her heart started a little happy dance. Stopping by the mirror, she brushed her hair and put on some lip gloss. She paced back and forth with nervous excitement until there was a knock at the door.
Opening the door, she saw Valerie and Jacob bickering back and forth.
“Hi!” Jill said.
When Jacob turned he looked lost and sad. He opened his mouth, then closed it. She hugged him and brushed her lips with his but he was completely unresponsive. He mumbled something.
“What?” Jill asked.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“What’s going on?” Jill asked. She shook her head at him then remembered Valerie. “Please come in.”
“Wow, this is really nice,” Valerie said. She stepped into the apartment and looked around. The furnishings were inexpensive but well cared for. The walls of the apartment were painted in bright colors. And the tattered ancient carpet was covered with bright throw rugs. “Did you do all of this?”
Jill blushed and shifted a piece of hair behind her ear.
“I like to make things homey,” Jill said. “Can I get you some coffee? Water?”
Valerie grabbed Jacob’s arm and pulled him into the apartment.
“Water would be great,” Valerie said.
Jacob opened his mouth again then shook his head. Leaving Jacob near the door, Valerie followed Jill into the efficient galley kitchen. Jill opened an ancient refrigerator and pulled out a Brita water filter. She put a few ice cubes in three glasses and poured the water.
“What’s wrong with him?” Jill whispered.
“He’s had a terrible run in with your ex,” Valerie said.
“Trevor?” Jill made a dark face. “What happened?”
“I was hoping he would tell you but he’s too freaked out.”
“Does this happen?” Jill asked.
“Sometimes. He needs to go fix something. In fact,” Valerie went out into the other room, “Jake, go fix something. Here’s the key to the Jeep. Come back here in two hours. Shower first.”
Jacob looked at his sister and nodded. He looked at Jill and almost burst into tears.
“See you in a couple hours,” Jill said. She smiled and waved.
Jacob nodded and walked out of the apartment.
“Where is he going?” Jill asked.
“To one of his projects. He’ll break down a wall or fix a floor or hammer on something for a while. You’ll see. He’ll be back to himself.”
“But Lipson Construction does underground utility and roads.”
Valerie laughed, “You really don’t know anything do you.”
“We haven’t had a lot of time to get to know each other.”
“Is there a place we can talk?”
“Sure,” Jill said.
Valerie followed Jill out onto a small balcony with blooming flower boxes and even a tomato plant. Due to near constant paparazzi attention, Valerie hadn’t sat on a balcony in years. She delighted at the shady outdoor spot.
“What do you want to know first?” Valerie asked.
Jacob pulled up to a hundred and fifty year old boarded up house. The Denver Square was a two story red brick box with a wide open porch. The most prominent feature on the house was a couple of bright yellow “CONDEMNED” posters tacked to the front boards. He parked the Jeep in the shade of a hundred foot maple.
Jacob went to the back of the Jeep where he kept a pair of work jeans and a t-shirt. He laid his suit jacket and tie inside the Jeep. In quick practice motions, Jacob changed from his suit to his work clothing. He left the suit in a tidy wrinkle free pile. Running a construction company, and working construction on the side, Jacob sometimes changed on the street a couple times a day.
He walked up wide flagstone sidewalk, past the barren front yard and dry rot porch to unlock the front door. For all of the house’s exterior woe, the interior was spotless. Gleaming hardwood shone from every surface. The ceiling of the entry depicted cherubs reaching down from heaven. Jacob wandered on a paper path through the living room past a stone fireplace to the open kitchen.
He wanted to make sure the kitchen was installed over the weekend. Everything was in except for the countertop. He read the note that said that the granite shipment was delayed and would be installed on Wednesday. He stuffed the note in his pocket as a reminder to call the installers when he got back to the car. The thought of the car brought back him back to Jill.
Jacob’s voice echoed through the empty house. He let out his first real breath since Trevor said that he could smell Jill on Jacob.
“What does that mean anyway?” Jacob asked the empty house.
Valerie was right. He needed to focus on what he was good at - restoring neglected beauties.
“Like you,” Jacob said to the house.
The new owners were doing a walk through in a week. They hoped to move in by the end of the month so they would be settled by the time their twins arrived. Jacob smiled. Yes, restoring old houses was something he did very well.
Noting the delicate trail of gold inlay on the stair railing, he walked up to the second floor. He hated to do it, but the owners wanted to replace the cut glass windows on the second floor. They compromised when Jacob told them that he could replace the glass but keep the original window frames and sills. He planned to take the windows out on Sunday. But yesterday he had a non-date with Jill.
Jacob felt his entire body constrict. Can’t think about her yet.
After popping out a South facing window pane, he went to the three double hung windows at the front of the house. The window’s wood trim and sill had been stripped, varnished and wrapped in paper so he could remove the windows. Popping off the inch molding that held the window in place, he heard a noise behind him.
“I’m surprised you’re here,” Mike said.
“The gold inlay looks amazing. Did you finish the entry?”
“It’s gorgeous. I bet their twins will look just like the cherubs.”
Mike shrugged. “Want some help?”
“So that’s what he means when he says ‘my father’s company’.” Jill nodded. “I thought he was just… faking or something.”
“No, Jake loves to restore old things. Fix messes, that’s what Mom used to say. Give him a mess to fix and he’s happy.”
“No wonder he’s interested in me,” Jill said.
“What happened with Trevor?” Jill asked.
“Your ex is going to tell you that Jake put him up to the whole thing so that Jake could… um… sleep with you.”
Jill made a face and shook her head. “Trevor is such a weirdo. Everything is someone else’s fault. Trevor never makes a choice and is never, ever wrong.”
“I know plenty of men like that,” Valerie said. “But Jill, you have to know a few things so you can be prepared.”
“First, Jake had no idea you were our step-sister’s fiancé’s anything. In his boy mind, you lived on a whole other planet than them. He knew that our step-sister was serious about someone through our father. Jake promised Dad that he would pay for the girls’ weddings. So Dad let him know that she thought she might get married soon.”
“Huh,” Jill said. “Jake paid for the engagement party.”
“Jake paid for the engagement party.”
“I wondered because no one expected to get paid… for their work, you know? Because of me. But everyone got checks. That was Jake.”
“That was Jake. He wasn’t going to go to the engagement party but Delphie talked him into going. He brought some friends along to keep him company. He figured he would hang out with his friends, write a check and go home.”
“Dr. Drayson said he was at the party. He helped us at the hospital.”
“John’s married to Alex Hargreaves. Max is Alex’s identical twin. Max is our lawyer.”
“Twins? Really?” Jill said. “Wait. I know them. They come into Pete’s. I call them ‘my lucky twins’. Brown hair, big eyes, tall but very thin?”
“That’s them. They’re kind of hard to miss.”
“Are you friends with them? They’re like the Catholic elite here in Denver. Their brother Colin testified this morning at the restraining order hearing and their Dad helped find me. Anyway, I like them but I’m a little intimidated by them.” Jill blushed and looked down, “But then….”
“I was terrified to meet you! I watch Our Loves, Our Lives whenever I can. Candy, my sister, tapes it for me. She watches it for Mike. We’d do anything for Mike. Then we got hooked. Candy’s a pastry chef because of Mike. OH!”
Jill put her hand over her open mouth. Val smiled.
“Putting things together?”
Jill nodded, “You paid for Candy’s school after Mike died.”
“I promised Mike I would always take care of his family. I tried to get you to go to college, but Meg said that Trevor took your first semester tuition.”
“We have to talk about Jake,” Valerie said.
“Ok,” Jill said.
“Jake didn’t know you were divorced until he came to the apartment right after the new year. The owner was going to tear the building down and sell the lot. Jake came by to see if he wanted to refurbish the building.”
“This place?” Jill made a face. “There’s nothing here a wrecking ball wouldn’t fix.”
“Exactly. But Jake gets called because he pays top dollar and saves owners a lot of hassle. Anyway, he had finished touring the building when you came home from the market. You were bawling in your car. The elderly lady that lives on the first floor saw Jake gawking at you.”
“Mrs. Robinson,” Jill said. “She’s a menace but has a big heart.”
“She told Jake that your husband divorced you the day before leaving you penniless with a baby. That’s how he found out. But he didn’t know that your husband was marrying our step-sister.”
“Ok, why do you keep saying that?”
“Because Trevor is going to say that Jake knew about it all along.”
“Oh, I see. He was just waiting to pounce at the engagement party. For a pouncer, he was very… sweet.”
“Jake’s very sweet. Anyway, Jake carried your groceries up to your apartment that day. You don’t remember?”
“Those days are a complete blur. I remember some guy but when I went to thank him he was gone.” Jill’s face flushed with the memory of those painful days. “Trevor came that day for his stuff…. He took the car. Oh. You’re saying Trevor saw Jacob.”
“He must have,” Valerie said.
“Oh,” Jill said.
“Jake bought the building so that you wouldn’t have to move. He thought that losing your home would send you over the edge.”
“Jacob’s the new owner? Really?” Jill chuckled. “He fixed my dishwasher. We’ve lived here five years and the dishwasher has never worked. Huh. Mrs. Johnson told everyone that I was the reason we didn’t have to move but I thought she was just a crazy old nuisance.”
“She was right,” Valerie said.
“But Valerie, what happened this morning?”
“He says to me that he’ll tell Jill that I set everything up so that I could fuck her and dump her. Another bitch on my list. Because that’s how guys like me operate.”
Mike tugged his side of the window. The window slid across the paper wrapped sill. They set the window onto the floor. Jacob went to work on the next window.
“I thought you were gay.”
“Oh, that too. I gave her AIDS.”
“I told you he was awful,” Mike said. “Did he go off when he got the restraining order?”
“I’ve never seen anyone get like that. Ever. We left the room.” Jacob set his tool down to wipe the dust from the wood. “How did the hearing go?”
“Did you know Colin works for Homeland Security now?”
“I thought he still worked at the bakery,” Jacob said.
“Colin gets up there and describes in detail exactly what Trevor said and did. The judge signed the order right there.” Mike laughed. “Trevor’s going to have a hard time going against a Homeland fucking Security Senior Agent.”
Jacob nodded. “So there’s some good news. I can’t imagine having to deal with Trevor… ever… let alone every day.”
Jacob turned to look at Mike. He shook his head and returned to popping the trim from around the window.
“So what got to you?” Mike asked.
“No,” Mike said. “I came to put another coat of varnish in the railing and found you here. I thought you’d be with Jill and Katy. You guys seemed pretty hot this morning.”
“I have to take these windows out,” Jacob said.
He yanked off the last piece of trim. Mike stepped forward to help pull the window from the sill. Mike set his end down and pointed to a rotten area of the frame.
“I have piece that will match,” Jacob said.
“What did Trevy say that got to you?” Mike asked again.
“He told me that he was going to tell Jill that I was responsible for all of this. Even Scooter! I took Scooter from them to make him look bad. She would believe him because she belongs to him. She will always love him and only him. He said…. He said their souls are joined. Trevor owns her soul. But it wasn’t what he said as much as…. “
“The confidence he had when he said it? Yeah, that’s how those guys were in Afghanistan. I mean, logically I knew they were lying. Val would never forget me or give up. I knew that someone someday would come for me. But they were so sure, so confident in what they were saying…. I… I believed them.”
They pulled the last window in silence.
“What are you going to do?” Mike asked when they set the last window down.
Mike laughed. “Come on, lover boy. I brought a work truck. Let’s load up these windows. You’re taking them to the workshop?”
“To the window shop. They need measure the frames to make the double panes,” Jacob said.
“Ok, let’s call the girls and tell them we’ll bring lunch,” Mike said.
Jacob nodded. “Val said to take a shower.”
“Oh well, you wouldn’t want to wash off the stench of Jill would you?”
“But why would Trevor say all of that?” Jill asked. “I…. We’re divorced. He hasn’t wanted to have anything to do with me or Katy since the day he left.”
“He found out that his rich wife is only worth about forty grand a year,” Valerie said. “Now she’s lost her trust because she violated the confidentiality agreement. But Jacob won’t follow through on that.”
“Why? Because she’s pregnant?”
“How did you know?” Valerie said. “I was afraid to tell you.”
“Oh, I know the man,” Jill said. Jill waved her hand in the air as if having a baby was like swatting a fly. “We were in high school and he wanted a baby. I’m the only reason we don’t have fifty. Children are things, possessions, toys, not living growing beings. Speaking of which, I need to give Katy her medicine. I’ll be right back.”
Valerie nodded her head.
“I mean, you can come and meet Katy. I’m sure she wants to meet you. She’s just still very sick.”
Following Jill into the apartment, Valerie marveled at the way Jill had made everything feel like home. She watched Jill wake Katy then negotiate the medicine. Half asleep, Katy took the meds then let Jill kiss her before falling back to sleep.
“I think she’s just happy to be home,” Jill whispered.
“There’s no place like it,” Valerie said.
Jill smiled. They refilled their water glasses and returned to the balcony.
“I’ll tell you this, Valerie. I’ve never told a soul. I knew he was with someone else. I refused to believe it but I knew it. And when he gave me the divorce papers? We were in bed, of course.”
“You mean he asked you for a divorce after you…?”
“Yeah,” Jill said. “When he gave me the papers, the first feeling I felt was relief. Sheer relief. Stupidly, I signed them right there. My lawyer will never let me forget that stupid act. But Trevor? He was stunned. I took a shower. When I got out, he was gone. I’ll tell you. I cleaned this place of every single item he owned - everything. I would have chucked it but I knew he’s throw a fit. He filed the papers then came here! He expected to spend the night here!”
“The manager threw him out. I…. You know, Delphie said this morning that I know the truth when I hear it. And she’s right. I might not always know a lie, but I always know the truth. I know you’re telling me the truth Val. Can I call you, Val?”
“Trevor said, that day after new year’s and after he fucked me, he said, ‘you and Katy are better off without me’ and I knew it was true.”
Valerie smiled. No wonder her mother loved Jill.
“When do you think Jacob’s coming back?”
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