Jill thought she knew everything there was to know about Sandy. They had been best friends since Sandy converted to Catholicism and Jill made it home from Costa Rica. They shared every trial, every tribulation and every triumph.
But Jill had never seen Sandy in love, or even in like, for that matter. In fact, Jill was certain that Sandy would never let any man get close to her. Certainly, not after what her ‘real’ Dad did to her on his weekends.
Standing in front of a dressing room mirror at Nordstrom’s, Jill felt a stab of intense jealousy. Sandy and that cutie, Aden, had flirted and chatted the entire way to the mall. They weren’t ignoring her. They were just consumed with each other.
As fast as Jill’s jealousy came, it disappeared leaving her strong desire for Sandy’s happiness in it’s wake. Like Galadriel in that Ring movie, Jill felt like she had passed a test - The Girlfriend Jealousy Test.
Jill wanted Sandy to be happy. Period.
She squinted to herself in the mirror. She had to talk to Aden. But what should she say?
Should she tell him about Sandy’s prick father? No.
She could tell him that Sandy was only promiscuous to keep people away. Yeah, that’s not going to work. But if she didn’t tell him, Sandy would push it, sleep with him then dump him like she did every other man. Crap. Jill made a face at herself in the mirror.
Coming out of the dressing room, she saw Aden shake his head at Sandy. He gave her another skirt. Sandy wagged her eyebrows at Jill when she went into the dressing room. This was Jill’s chance.
“You like Sandy a lot,” Jill said. She sat next to him.
Aden’s head jerked to look at Jill.
“Is it that obvious?”
“Yeah.” Jill smiled at Aden. “Go really slow.”
Jill said it in such a low voice that she wasn’t sure Aden even heard her. Aden made no indication he heard anything. Instead, he stood to greet Sandy as she came from the dressing room. Jill joined him. Together they encouraged Sandy to get something a little more Hollywood and a little less Hollywood Boulevard.
Sandy laughed then pulled Jill into the dressing room with her.
“Well, what do you think?” Sandy asked.
“About the skirt?”
“Aden. He’s the guy from the gym that I….”
“I remember.” Jill took the skirt from Sandy and put it on an hanger. “I think he’s great! I’ve told you that for years and years. Did you find out about his wife?”
“He’s divorced. Like you told me, it was just some jealous girl,” Sandy said. She pulled her jeans up. “You don’t think he’s too old for me?”
“I’ve never thought he was too old for you, Sandy,” Jill said. “I liked him when you talked about working out with him. Now that I’ve meet him, I really like him. He’s smart and funny and cute. I love his smile and he smiles at you…a lot.”
“What would Tanisha and Heather say?”
“They’ll say what they always say,” Jill said.
Together they said, “How big is his dick?” They laughed.
Sandy picked up her purse then impulsively hugged Jill.
“Thanks,” Sandy said.
“Just go for it,” Jill said. “You’ve always been really happy around him. You seem really happy today. Why not just enjoy that?”
Watching Sandy greet Aden, Jill smiled to herself. Her little plan worked.
Sandy let Aden hold her hand when they walked through the mall. Sandy even did the unheard of - let him buy them coffee at Starbucks. Sandy never let a man buy something for her. Period.
When Aden dropped them at Denver Health, Sandy asked if he might take her to work. While Jill waved, Sandy made funny faces out the passenger window of his SUV. Smiling, Jill went into the hospital to see if Jacob was out of surgery.
Maybe both Sandy and Jill could find love. Jill beamed with delight.
Mike was in a complete panic. Pacing back and forth in the Castle kitchen, his mind worked overtime to convince him that he was not right for Val. He was too ugly! Not Hollywood enough! Too hairy! Those stylists knew the truth. Val couldn’t be seen in public with him. Sure they’d spent a lot of time together over the years. But it was always in private, away from the camera. Who wanted to be married to someone they couldn’t be seen in public with??
With his panic, his rage grew.
Why had he even tried? How could he ever believe that she would be his partner? His wife? Who did he think he was? He wasn’t famous! He wasn’t a star or a producer or a model or anything but a fucked up traumatized asshole. Jerking open the liquor cabinet, he reached for a bottle of whiskey. With his hand on the bottle, he saw the phone number he wrote on the cabinet for moments just like these.
“Where are you?” she asked.
“Castle,” Mike said.
“We just got back. Meet us at the workshop. We can’t deal with the photographers,” she said. “Get going, Michael. We’re going to lunch.”
Alex’s voice always meant freedom and safety. Help was on the way. He wasn’t alone. Mike’s panic seeped from his pores. Alex would save him.
Mike almost skipped through the tunnels. He paced the workshop for five full minutes before Alex Hargreaves’s Jeep CJ screeched to a stop on Detroit street. Alex, John Drayson, and a couple other guys piled out of the Jeep.
“Annie’s for lunch?” Alex asked. She hugged him then kissed his cheek. “How’s Jake?”
“He’s in surgery. He should be out in an hour or so,” Mike said. He pulled the workshop door closed. “But he should be home in a couple days.”
“That’s great news,” John said.
The men greeted him with hugs and pats on the back. Mike fell in beside them for the short walk to Annie’s Café.
He was going to be all right.
“Hi.” Jill leaned over Jacob’s bed in the Recovery Room.
“Hi. How did you get in here?” Jacob asked.
“I told the nurse I was your wife.”
“We got married? Did I miss our wedding night too?”
“Was I amazing?” Jacob asked.
“I hope so,” Jill said.
“Chocolate chip?” Delphie asked.
“Yes! Yes! Yes! Can we make brownies?!? Mommy likes brownies and I like brownies and I bet my Jacob likes brownies and I bet my new Auntie….” Katy stopped talking. Her face scrunched up in puzzlement.
“Right, Valerie, likes brownies and I can bring some to Aunt Meg’s house tonight. I go to Aunt Meg’s house every, every, every Friday night. THIS time, I’ll bring brownies!”
Delphie lifted Katy onto the counter in the main kitchen of the Castle. Delphie retrieved Katy from school early so they could spend some time together.
“I thought you wanted cookies,” Delphie said.
“Aren’t brownies a kind of cookie?” Katy asked. She took a sipper cup of milk from Delphie.
Delphie nodded her head at Katy’s logic. Moving around the kitchen, Delphie pulled all the ingredients for brownies from the cupboards and refrigerator.
“Would you like to crack the eggs?”
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” Katy clapped her hands and bounced on the counter. “I NEVER get to really cook. They say I’m too little but I’m FOUR. FOUR is not too little to do anything.”
Delphie held Katy’s hand and they cracked an egg together. Katy squealed with delight when the liquid dropped into the bowl.
“I wanted to ask you about being four,” Delphie said. She gave another brown egg to Katy. “Together?”
Katy bashed the egg against the bowl. The egg crushed in her hand.
“Ooh not so hard,” Delphie said. Using a dishtowel, Delphie wiped the egg from the girl’s hand.
“I’m sorry!” Katy’s dark eyes filled with tears. “Did I ruin the brownies??”
“No honey,” Delphie said.
“Oh good.” Katy held her hand out for another egg and Delphie laughed.
“Yes, just like that. Tap, tap, tap,” Delphie said. “You’re three years old.”
“I AM NOT! I AM FOUR!” Katy shouted. Her lip vibrated and tears dropped from her eyes. “I’m no baby! Three year olds are BABIES. I’m a BIG girl.”
“Katherine, you can only be what you are.”
“NO! Don’t say that! NO! NO! NO! I’m FOUR.”
Delphie raised her eyebrows at the little girl. While Katy worked through her tantrum, Delphie set up the blender. She plugged it in next to Katy.
“Would you like to blend?”
“Yes.” The storm of emotion left Katy’s face bright red. “Are you mad at me?”
“No, honey. I don’t understand why four is better than three,” Delphie said.
“It just is.”
“Hold it steady.” With on hand on the blender and one arm around the child, Delphie reassured the child. Katy leaned into Delphie’s warmth.
“I had a Daddy….” Katy whispered.
While tears dropped from Katy’s eyes, Delphie’s hand moved softly over Katy’s back.
“He didn’t love me…. I tried to be really, really good but he didn’t even like me… even one bit. He was always mad… at me.”
Delphie turned off the blender. Keeping her arm around the little girl, she dug in the bag for a handful of chocolate chips. She opened her hand to the crying girl. Katy took one chip after another until Delphie’s hand was empty.
“He didn’t want stupid baby like me. He made Mommy so sad. She cried forever.” Katy shifted away from Delphie. She whispered, “and it was all my fault.”
Delphie held Katy in a tight hug.
“I woke up in that place… that hospital place? And I thought Mommy left me too.”
“Your Mommy will never ever leave you.”
“But she might if she finds out I’m bad.”
“Oh honey, how are you bad?”
“I’m a needy, whiney, stupid baby.” Katy’s voice was barely over a whisper.
Delphie heard a snort then felt movement behind her. Delphie stepped aside to let Jill hold Katy. While Delphie finished preparing the brownies, Jill and Katy cried and whispered back and forth. Delphie was about to leave the kitchen when Jill stepped away from Katy.
“She’d like to ask you something,” Jill said.
Katy’s hand twirled in her hair. She whispered into Jill’s ear.
“Ask her, Katy-baby,” Jill said. “She won’t lie to you.”
“Do you think I’m a needy, whiney, stupid baby?” Katy asked.
“I think you are a beautiful, funny, smart girl. It’s a pleasure to know you,” Delphie said. “But I also think you’re three years old.”
“But do you think I’m a needy…”
“No Katherine. You are not a needy, whiney, stupid baby.”
Katy’s face scrunched up as if she was thinking about something hard or complicated.
“Mommy says that sometimes people don’t know what they’re saying. She said that my old Daddy wasn’t telling the truth when he said that about me,” Katy said. “Do you think that my Jacob wasn’t telling the truth when he said he would be my Daddy?”
Delphie laughed. The timer rang for the brownies and she pulled the pan from the oven. She tossed several handfuls of chocolate chips on top of the hot brownies. Holding another handful of chips out to Katy, Delphie said, “I’ve known your Jacob a long, long time. I’ve never known Jacob to say something he didn’t mean.”
“He said ‘no matter what.’ And we pinky swore. Does ‘no matter what’ mean that when I’m a needy, whiney, stupid baby he will STILL be my Daddy?”
“No matter what,” Delphie said. “I think that’s true for all of us.”
Delphie made a movement with her hand. Valerie came into the kitchen from the sitting room where she had been secretly listening.
“I’ll be your Auntie forever,” Val said.
“I’ll be your Mommy all of my life,” Jill said.
“And I’ll be your Delphie.”
Katy nodded her head.
“Ok, I’ll be three.”
He hadn’t meant to kiss her. But she leaned in and…. Aden could barely breathe. Desire pumped through him like he was fifteen again. With effort, he stepped back. Jill said go slow but oh my god….
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Tomorrow is a very big day for me. And….”
“What is it?” Sandy said.
“I can’t have anything in my life right now that’s not one-hundred percent,” Aden said.
He took her hand and led her from under the bright porch light to the porch steps.
“What do you mean?” Sandy asked. She sat next to him on the step.
“There’s not one thing I’d like more than to.. be.. with you… tonight.” Aden fumbled for words. “That kiss was… incredible.”
Sandy blushed. She took a few slow breaths to slow her panic filled heart.
“Why don’t we go inside?”
“Because… I… I can’t,” he said.
“We don’t have to do anything. I mean Jill and Jacob just slept in the same bed. We could….”
“I don’t have that kind of self control,” Aden said. “No, Sandy. I can’t do that.”
“Why is tomorrow such a big day?” Sandy asked.
“Tomorrow is the first day I will act as the head of Lipson Construction. If I didn’t know better, Jacob set this up to get me out there.”
“Head of Lipson Construction? I thought you were an assistant.”
“I’m supposed to take over the running of Lipson Construction in January,” Aden said.
“Oh,” Sandy said. Her heart sank. He was saying she wasn’t good enough for him. “I can see why you don’t want to….”
“I want to. You have no idea how much I want to.”
Sandy turned so she could look at his face. Her eye reviewed the shape of his brow, his eyes and the set of his mouth. There was no lie in Aden Norsen’s face.
“What’s going on?” Sandy asked.
“I’d like to date you, see if we work - you and I - and go slow. As much as I wish I did, I don’t have Jacob’s skill at figuring the future. I have to go one tiny step at a time.”
“Yeah. Date… exclusively. Like I hoped you might be my date to Valerie’s party next week,” Aden said. “And I wondered if you were available for dinner tomorrow night.”
“You want to date,” Sandy said. “Me?”
“I’m not much of a catch,” Aden said. “I have two small kids and I work a lot. You’re young. You should enjoy your unfettered time.”
“I got over porn decades ago,” Aden said. “I’ve never paid any woman for sex. Before you ask, I’m only attracted to women.”
“They check us every year at Employee Health. I’m clean. No diabetes either. You?”
Sandy shook her head. She didn’t make her usual ‘just boy crazy’ joke.
“Not in years,” Aden said. “I have two small kids. I’m their only parent. And I work a lot.”
“Yes, Sandy.” Aden flushed. Humiliated, he was about to get up when, for no reason at all, he said, “Dinner tomorrow? I’ll be exhausted. It’s my long day.”
“Saturday is my long day too,” Sandy said. “I’d like to see your house. Before I decide, I’d like to see your house.”
“I’ll make dinner. Can I pick you up?”
“I get off at six,” Sandy said.
“I’ll pick you up at work.”
Smiling and blushing, they stood in front of each other. Aden kissed Sandy’s cheek and went to his car. Sandy stood on the porch waving until he was out of sight. Turning into her building, she took the stairs two at a time to her apartment. When her black and while cat Cleo gave her a scolding, she started laughing. She laughed as she fed Cleo and changed for bed. Staring at the ceiling, she absolutely beamed.
Aden wanted to date… her… exclusively!
Denver Cereal continues next week….
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