Jill had just finished the last of the bathroom trim when Mike came up the stairs. According to Mike, some people wanted to see her wear some French clothing. Jill washed the paint off her hands and ran a brushthrough her hair. She was certain that she would get down there and they would say something like, ‘Oh paint-in-your-hair girl? Yeah. We didn’t mean you.’
But Jill would do anything for Mike.
And he had asked, so she followed him down the long stairs from Jacob’s apartment. Sandy knocked on the side door just as she got to the bottom of the stairs.
“I lost track of the time. I’m sorry,” Jill said to Mike. He held her in place so that she couldn’t retreat upstairs. “Sandy’s here to pick me up for breakfast.”
Sandy took one look at Jill’s nervous flutter, and asked, “What’s going on?”
Mike nudged Jill into the Castle living room.
“We want to see how Jill looks in some clothing,” Alex said. “Claire thinks she’ll be perfect as a spokes model with Val.”
“I apologize,” Jill blushed. “I lost track of time. We go to breakfast….”
“I’d offer to make breakfast but you can ask Mike,” Alex said. “You don’t want to eat what I might make.”
“I’ll make it,” Sandy said. “I’d like to.”
“Let’s make breakfast together,” Delphie said from the kitchen door.
“You’re so much prettier than me, Sandy. Why don’t you be the spokes model?” Jill asked.
“No way,” Sandy said. “I’ve had enough pictures taken of me to last a lifetime. Plus, they want you.”
“Come on Sandy,” Delphie said. “Let’s see what we can come up with.”
“We’re doing this early so everyone can get to Mass,” Mike said. “I’ll call Meg. If we eat here, you can try on some stuff and have breakfast and get to Mass.”
“Come on Jill. It’s pretty fun,” Valerie said.
Val took Jill’s hand and led her over to a stack of clothing. Every time Jill looked up there were more people in the Castle living room. Of course, Megan, Tim, and Steve went to school with the Hargreaves. And the Hargreaves seemed to multiply in front of her. Alex and Max were joined by their brother Colin, and sisters, Erin and Samantha. Even Candy knew the Hargreaves. Then the spouses, boyfriends and children arrived.
The usually silent Castle was filling with noisy, talking-all-at-once Catholic siblings, spouses, children and even more people from France.
Jill thought that her sanity would be restored when Katy arrived. On the heels of Katy’s arrival, Claire Martins’s husband and other children arrived. It was love at first sight for Katy and Claire’s five year old, Camille. Katy only wanted to be with Camille. The little girls played together in a corner of the room.
And Jill tried on clothing.
Claire would take a measurement or say that she like one thing or another. This woman remained convinced that Jill was going to model for her. But Jill’s high school French only went so far. From what she could make out, they were going to pay her to wear these beautiful clothes.
And pay Katy. Claire Martins wanted Katy to join Camille in modeling their children’s line.
Having had enough of the noise and chaos, Jill made her escape. She set down the last of the outfits, checked on Katy, then slipped through a hidden stairwell to Jacob’s apartment. She was almost to the top when she heard someone behind her. Turning, she saw Alex Hargreaves looking up the stairs at her.
“Escaping?” Alex asked.
“Can we come?”
Max’s identical face appeared over Alex’s shoulder.
Jill laughed. “There’s only cereal up here. I think they’re having breakfast in a minute.”
“Is there coffee?” Alex asked
Jill nodded. Max pulled the door closed.
“You don’t want to be out there with all of…” Jill started.
“We don’t.” The twins responded in unison.
Jill waved and they followed her up the stairs. Alex set to work on coffee while Jill and Max set up cereal on Jacob’s table. Jill had spent most of her life intimidated by the rich and powerful Hargreaves, in general, and independent Alex, in particular. In the twin’s funny company, Jill began to feel a little more normal. They even helped her finish painting the apartment. In fact, they insisted on helping her.
Sitting in Sunday Mass, Jill felt as if she was a totally different person than she was last week. Last week, she felt like little mousey, trampled on Jill. This week, she felt as if she was exactly where she belonged.
She just wasn’t sure where that was.
“You’re not going to Mass,” Sam said.
Valerie was standing in the middle of the Castle living room. Her eyes flitted back and forth from a stack of beautiful clothing to the gorgeous hanging gowns. She was trying to decide what she wanted to try on next when her father came in.
“I’ve avoided it for all these years. I’d hate to break my record.”
“When does Jake wake up?”
“Three or four o’clock. Jill called this morning and he was still out.”
“They’re releasing him today?”
“That’s what the doctor says. We’ll know more when he wakes up.”
Sam nodded. He sat down on one of the couches.
“Wedding today,” he said.
“Why do you bother?” Valerie asked.
Looking over at her, he sighed. He shook his head and picked a chocolate brown sweater tunic from the pile. Val took the sweater from him then pulled it on.
“That’s very nice,” Sam said. “It’s a good color on you.”
Valerie looked at herself in the full length mirror Mike brought from their apartment. She rotated back and forth in the mirror then made a face at herself.
“Since we talked, I’ve debated with myself about how much I need to know about you and your… wife.” Valerie sneered.
When Valerie flipped around to him, Sam chuckled to himself. Valerie’s face mirrored Celia’s ‘you’re-in-big-trouble-Mister’ face.
“I agreed with your mother’s plan but I didn’t really think it through,” Sam said.
They said together: “Typical man.” They laughed.
“She was so sick, Val. Not even Jake realized how sick she was. And she was adamant. She wanted out of that pretentious house. She wanted to finally live in Central Denver. We’d owned this house for….”
“You owned this house?”
“Own. Yes. We bought it right before you graduated from high school,” Sam said. “Celia loved this houseand wanted to find a place Delphie could live and walk to work. Delphie never had two pennies to rub together. So we bought it. We were going to move but were afraid it would be too much for you at college and Jake in high school.
“She got so sick so fast. It was like walking off a cliff. After almost a decade, all of the sudden she wasn’t going to survive the year.”
Sam’s eyes welled. He shook his head and looked away. Valerie busied herself with trying on another outfit while he regained his composure.
“I did whatever she wanted. Sell the house. Done. Get a divorce to split up the company. Done. Marry Tiffanie. Done. But leave Celia’s side? Not a chance. We moved in here together. I worked reformulating the company. She wanted me to transform the company from single owner to a board of directors and…. I worked fourteen or fifteen hour days…. Not even Jake knew I was here every night. Then she died and….
“I woke up one day about two years later and…. Jake was at college. I didn’t remember taking him. You were an actress. And I was married to Tiffanie.”
Valerie sat next to her father. She held out her hand and Sam took it.
“We had this arrangement for Briana. Tiffanie would drop her off at the office almost every night. You’ve met Briana? She’s really a wonderful little girl. I don’t know how I did it but I was Briana’s Daddy. Tiffanie and I had lunch three times a week or so. We’d talk about finances. She set up society functions, nights at the Country Club, stuff like that. Just like when she was my secretary, I just did what she told me to do then came back to the Castle at night.”
“It was your photos that finally woke me to my life,” Sam said.
“My photos?” Valerie asked. “But….”
“I was approached by someone saying they had naked photos of you. I paid… a lot of money for them. Originals. When I saw them, I knew what they were. I called Patrick Hargreaves. You know Alex and Max’s Dad? I knew he was in the military before he was a Senator. I figured he’d know what to do.”
Valerie nodded her head.
“He confirmed that Mike was missing. He took the photos saying he’d look into it,” Sam said. “The next time I had lunch with Tiffanie, we decided that I would move in. We would try it as a married couple. Everyone believed that my trophy wife and I were happily married.”
“It didn’t go very well. I had loved your mother for more than half my life. I couldn’t imagine even sleeping in the same bed with another woman. I moved into one of the spare bedrooms in Tiffanie’s show home.”
Sam fell silent. Not sure what to do, Valerie changed into another outfit. She was just zipping the skirt when Sam said:
“I thought about killing myself every moment of every day.”
“My children were gone. My Celia was gone. I… I don’t know how long we went on like that. One night, Tiffanie came in and…. “
“She was pregnant already,” Delphie said. She came into the living room from the kitchen. Her crossed arms and pierced lips betrayed her indignation. “She wanted to pretend that Becky was Sam’s child. But Sam can’t… and….”
“That didn’t go very well either,” Sam said. “I moved back here the next day.”
“God I hate that woman. I just….”
“Delphinium, please. For me. Let’s not do that today,” Sam said. “I just have one more day.”
“Sorry Sam.” Delphie smiled.
“Would you mind telling Val the rest? I have to find my tux.”
“I had it cleaned,” Delphie said. “It’s in your closet.”
“And the shirt?”
Sam smiled his ‘Thanks.’
“You have to find the cuff links yourself. I couldn’t find them.”
“The cuff links? It’s going to be a long day.”
“Why don’t you shower? I’ll tell Val the rest.”
Sam nodded. He was half way out of the room when Valerie said, “Dad?”
Sam turned and Valerie ran into his arms. They held each other and cried. After a moment, Sam kissed her cheek then went down the hall to his room.
“He lives in the Birch room, the one Celia died in. He’s happiest there, I think,” Delphie said.
“Is it hard for you?” Valerie asked.
“That Sam is hung up on Celia?”
“I’m hung up on Celia. No, it’s not hard.” Delphie smiled slightly. “After all these years of knowing him, it’s nice to have a deeper relationship. Does it bother you?”
“No, I used to say to Mike that I didn’t know why he was with Tiffanie and not you.”
Delphie smiled, “Would you like to hear the rest of this?”
“I think I need to,” Valerie said.
Delphie nodded her head toward the couch. They sat next to each other.
“For whatever reason, we still don’t know why, your naked photos arrived in the mail the day after he moved out. So Sam leaves the house and the next day the photos arrive. They were in a brown envelope addressed to Sam. We were told that a clerk sent them without realizing what they were. Well, the envelope was intercepted by….”
“The step-whore.” Valerie’s lip curled.
“Exactly. So this thing happens with Tiffanie. Sam moves out and plans to divorce her when he finds out that she’s pregnant with Becky. The photos are stolen, which he doesn’t know anything about until they show up in the press. Then she….”
“Yes, honey. I wish you wouldn’t call her that. It’s not good for you to hold so much anger.”
“It’s what she is,” Valerie said.
“Let’s not argue. Your step-sister had just graduated from high school. Sam offered her a job. Like everyone who starts at Lipson, she worked the roads.”
“Work the roads until we see if you fit. If you fit, the roads will show you where you fit.” Valerie repeated a Lipson Construction motto.
“Exactly, except she didn’t like it much. She told everyone that she owned the company. She…. Anyway, Sam flew to Maine and asked Jake to buy the rest of Lipson. I think Sam planned to sell the company then kill himself. Jake and Sam argued for… days. The third day into it, Jake called me. I flew to Maine.”
“You flew? In a plane?”
“Yes. Like all psychics, plane trips are hard on me but Jake was desperate. Sam and I weren’t, well, together then. I think Jake didn’t know what else to do. Sam was a mess… a complete mess.” Delphie sighed. “I had no idea he was so bad.”
“Please tell me what happened,” Valerie said. “I’ve asked Jake and he won’t tell me.”
“I don’t really know what happened between them. I was able to convince Sam that it was all right to trust Jake. That was my part.”
“Dad didn’t trust Jake?” Valerie’s voice reflected her disbelief. Sam and Jake were always two peas in a pod.
“Sam wasn’t really himself.” Delphie shook her head at the memory. “The upshot was that Jake bought the company. He made you buy some of it.”
“He tricked me into buying four percent,” Valerie said. She imitated Jake’s voice, “Please Val! I have to borrow some money. I need to get this property and I can’t afford it.” Val returned to her own voice. “All bullshit.”
“I’m not surprised. He was on a tear. His way or forget it. Sam was such a wreck he couldn’t see that Jake’s way was really the best.”
“What did Jake do?”
“For starters, he put an end to the bullshit. Your step-sister was escorted off Lipson grounds. The lawyers went after the publications that published your photos. Money was no object. The publications couldn’t prove it was you and they didn’t have releases. I don’t know how much it cost, but Jake won reparations from everyone who published the photos. Blocked from these two avenues of cash, your step-sister started selling your details to the press. Jake pulled no punches. She was arrested and spent time in jail until she took a plea bargain. I think she’s still on probation.”
“Jake was done with the entire mess. He bought the fishing cabin in Dexter and made Sam live there. That was another round of…. Well, Sam was at the cabin a week before he came to his senses. Sam needed to fish, breathe fresh air, and live in peace. He was all but destroyed by all this… turmoil.”
“But Tiffanie was pregnant and….” Valerie said
“He wouldn’t divorce her,” Delphie finished.
They sat contemplating Sam Lipson for a moment.
“It’s not really Becky’s fault that her mother is….” Delphie sighed. “That’s pretty much it. Jake came home. This place was literally falling down. Sam was in Dexter and I was camped out here. Mike showed up the day after Jake came back to Denver. Jake and Mike went to work on the Castle. By the time your step-sister was out of jail, and Becky was born, the Castle was almost livable. Sam returned from his sabbatical ready to start living again.”
“Why didn’t Tiffanie divorce Dad?”
“Jake worried that Tiffanie would use a divorce to destroy Sam. Sam was very fragile. More public drama would have ruined him. So Jake set up those trusts. If Tiffanie files for divorce, she voids everything. He and Tiffanie are meeting on Monday to sign the divorce papers Jake set up four years ago.”
“Why is Dad going to the wedding?”
“He promised he would. Your father keeps his word. It’s important to him.” Delphie shrugged. “Since Becky and all of that, Tiffanie has been on her best behavior. She knows she screwed up. I personally think she’s horrified by the monster her daughter has become.”
“I’m horrified at what her daughter has become,” Valerie said.
“Your publicist will be here in a few minutes,” Delphie said. “She’s at Starbucks with some little person.”
“Thanks,” Valerie said. “Why do you think the step-whore went after Trevor?”
“Birds of a feather? I don’t know. She did it with deliberate purpose. I think she wanted to hurt Jake or maybe Sam. But what they did to Jill? To Katy?”
“Let’s just be glad our Jill is free,” Delphie said. “I’ll get the door.”
Delphie was standing next to the door when there was a knock.
“Oooh honey, what ARE you wearing?” Ramon flew across the threshold to Valerie. He squealed. “This is…. NO. Don’t say it.”
“I told you NOT to say it,” Ramon twirled around the room until he saw the gowns. He fluttered over to the gowns. “Oh. Oh. Oh.”
“She wants me to be the spokesmodel for a new off the rack line. This is….”
“NO! Claire Martins has a new line! You’re the look of a Martins line?” Ramon fell on the floor in a mock faint. “I’ve died and gone to heaven.”
“I thought we were dressing the troglodyte,” Jen whispered to Val.
“Mike? My husband?”
“Right, your husband.”
“They’ve done that as well,” Val said. “Or they are going to. Frederic, Claire’s son, is working with men. Mike’s one of his first men. Did you book Oprah?”
“Thursday,” Jen said.
“I think Frederic said Thursday would work. He’s creating a special tux for Friday,” Val said. “You should see Mike. He’s been waxed. He even got a hair cut. He’s drop dead gorgeous.”
Jen fell to the floor in an imitation of Ramon’s mock faint. Valerie stood over Jen and Ramon laughing. Jen opened one eye.
“Is this Mike as good in bed as he is coming up with miracles?”
“Yeah,” Val laughed.
Ramon opened one eye, “Does he have a brother?”
Valerie fell on the floor next to them.
Denver Cereal continues next week….
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