Denver Cereal Denver Cereal

Denver Cereal, Volume 1, Chapter Twenty: He said, “No matter what” (part one)

CHAPTER TWENTY

(part one)

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 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, 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 its 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 at 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 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, and then dump him like she did every other man. Crap. Jill wrinkled her nose 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 and 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 met him, I really like him. He’s smart and funny and cute. I love his smile, and he smiles at you …a lot.”

The retelling of Denver Cereal, Volume 1, continues tomorrow…


Denver Cereal, Volume 1, Chapter Nineteen: So I’m asking . . . (part six)

CHAPTER NINETEEN

part six)

“Honey, please,” Valerie pleaded. “I want you to share all of my life. That means you have to look the part.”

Mike looked at her and sagged. He followed her to the main level of the house. A severe, matronly woman stood in the middle of the main Castle living room. The complete opposite of the flamboyant Ramon, she arched a penciled eyebrow at Mike then shook her head.

“Neeooo.” She annunciated her “no” as if she were Pepé Le Pew.

Mike raised his eyebrows at her. Not sure of what to do, he held his hand out to the woman. “I’m Mike.”

The woman looked at Mike’s paint-stained hand and crossed her arms.

“You cannot take this … this … creature out in public,” the woman said.

“What?” Valerie asked. “Why?”

“He is … too old, too hairy, and too …” The woman made a disgusted face.

“But Wes is sixty-seven-years-old. Mike’s only thirty-two-years-old,” Valerie said.

“Wesford takes care of his skin. What products do you use on your face?” the woman asked.

“Um.” Mike felt like he was answering a trick question. “My face?”

“You see, completely unworkable.” The woman sneered at Mike. Looking at Val, she said, “Why is it that you left Wes? He was the perfect companion for you. Tall, thin like you are … not so … beefy hillbilly.”

“Sounds like you don’t need me anymore,” Mike said. “Val, honey, I’m going back to my studio. Nice to meet you, ma’am.”

The woman’s harping voice drifted through the kitchen. Standing at the garden door, Mike had his fill. Turning in place, he stormed back to the living room. The woman waved her finger in Val’s face while Valerie wept.

“Get out of my house,” he said to the woman. “You have no right to come in here and say anything — to me or to my wife. You certainly don’t know me. You can’t know Val if you talk to her like this.”

He picked up the woman’s bag and threw it out the side Castle door. He held the door and pointed for her to go.

The woman looked from Valerie to Mike.

“You have ruined your career,” she said.

“I don’t care,” Valerie said. “Please leave.”

With a smug “I told you so” look, the woman marched out the door. Mike scooped up Valerie and held her until she stopped crying.

“We’ll figure something out,” he whispered into her hair.

“I don’t care if I ever act again,” she said.

“Oh, honey, we don’t live like that. You love acting. You can do what you love. We just have to figure out how to make it happen.”

Valerie nodded and wiped her tears.

“Who’s next?” Mike said.

“I have a facial appointment. I thought I’d leave you with her, but … I forgot how awful she can be … “

Mike held her face between his big hands. His eyes caressed her beautiful face, then he kissed her lips.

“I love you, Val. Whatever you need is fine. You like that Ramon guy.. um, person. Why don’t we talk to him tonight?”

Valerie gave him a watery smile and nodded. He walked her through the tunnels to her Mustang. Valerie clung to him before getting in the car. He waited until she was down the street before he went back to the house.

Laughing, he made his way back to his studio. Then panic set in.

He’d waited a lifetime to be with Val. What if he wasn’t right for her life? He was going to lose Valerie because he was too hairy-beefy-hillbilly. There was no way to fix any of those things.

Right?

The retelling of Denver Cereal, Volume 1, continues tomorrow…


Denver Cereal, Volume 1, Chapter Nineteen: So I’m asking . . . (part five)

CHAPTER NINETEEN

(part five)

“Excuse me,” Aden said. He stepped away from Jill and Sandy to read his daily list from Jacob.

“Heya, Aden,

Here’s your list:

  • Take the girls shopping.
  • Tell them about Val’s party next week. Make sure they both get something … nice. ;)
  • Have fun tonight.

Oh, and the sites? They’re ready to start again tomorrow morning so don’t have too much fun tonight. You’ll need to cover for me tomorrow.

— J”

Aden curled his lip. Even in the hospital, Jacob Marlowe managed to disrupt Aden’s drinking plans.

The next email was from Blane, their assistant, with confirmation from every site manager that the sites would start up tomorrow morning at 5 a.m.

The last email from Jacob said, “Get the ring box back from Jill.”

Shaking his head, Aden wandered to Sandy and Jill. Jill was holding the box out to Sandy.

“May I have that?” Aden asked.

“But … but …”

Aden opened the ring box to show Jill that it was empty. He raised an eyebrow and laughed at her shocked face.

“You play with the Marlowe, you’ve got to expect a little intrigue.”

“But he asked me and … I …”

“Did you say yes?” Aden asked.

“I …”

“When you’re ready to say yes, there will be a ring in this box. At least I hope so.”

Aden made an “It’s my ass if it’s not” face. Jill and Sandy laughed. He bowed slightly in his best butler imitation.

“Mr. Jacob has asked me to take you ladies shopping. He would like me to invite you to a fete at the Castle hosted by Miss Valerie in a week’s time.”

“What?” Sandy asked.

“Val’s having a party with all her Hollywood friends. She wants to celebrate Jake’s survival and introduce Mike to her friends. Jake wanted to invite Jill as his date. He thought Jill would feel more comfortable if her friends were there.”

“Oh … We would mix with Hollywood people … But …” Jill bit the inside of her lip.

“Good thing you’re taking us shopping,” Sandy said. “You buying?”

“Mr. Jacob,” Aden said.

“Great. Jill? Will you call Tanesha and Heather?”

While Jill dialed her cell phone, Sandy looked at Aden.

“How old are you?”

“38. You?”

“26.”

“Is that a problem?”

Sandy shook her head. “I’m really sorry. I should have asked, but …”

“I understand,” Aden said.

“Do you still want to …?”

“I have to coach soccer at five but I’m otherwise free today. You?”

“I work from two to eight, but …”

“Perfect,” Aden said. “What if we shop this morning and I’ll take you to dinner tonight?”

Sandy blushed, smiled, and nodded.

The retelling of Denver Cereal, Volume 1, continues tomorrow…


Denver Cereal, Volume 1, Chapter Nineteen: So I’m asking . . . (part four)

CHAPTER NINETEEN

(part four)

“What happened with you?” Aden asked.

“My mom got jobs to support us. It was hard on her … really hard … like it’s been for Jill. She met my step-dad when I was eight or nine.” Sandy smiled. “He was Catholic, so we all converted. And, he was a really great guy. He was my dad.”

“Was?”

“He smoked … He was older than Mom by fifteen years or so. He died a couple years ago. Lung cancer. So, you can see why I want to know what happened with you and your kids.”

“I was such an idiot. People at work would leave their dogs in the car so I thought I’d leave the kids in the car. They mostly sleep anyway. I would see them on my breaks.”

“WHAT?”

“I know,” Aden said. “I told you I was an idiot.”

“What happened?”

“I went on my first break and I saw this woman by the car. She was singing to Noelle and rocking her side to side. My son, Nash, was sitting on the hood of the car eating a candy bar. When I got close, she looked up and said, ‘She’s really just lonely. How about if I take them today?’ I was like, ‘What?’” Aden laughed. “That was Jake’s mom, Celia. Big Sam Lipson came up behind me. He looked at me, then Celia. He just laughed. They started a day care for Lipson employees the next day and you know what? A hundred kids showed up that day and a hundred more the following Monday. Nobody had day care for their kids. No accidents, that’s what Celia said. ‘It’s no accident Sam invited me to lunch today.’ I … Yeah.”

~~~~~~~~

“Oooh, Val, what plow did you find him behind?” Ramon said. A slight, Asian man, Ramon’s exaggerated inflection and silk, leopard-print caftan announced, “GAY HOLLYWOOD STYLIST” like a neon sign. “He’s absolutely Neanderthal-dreamy. Look at all that hair!”

“I met him skiing on Copper Mountain,” Valerie said. “I was twelve.”

“Oooh,” the man said. “Well, he’s a big boy now.”

He reached to squeeze Mike’s leg, and Mike slapped his hand away. When Ramon lifted Mike’s shirt to ogle his flat stomach, Mike stepped back.

“You must take your clothing off,” the man lisped.

“No,” Mike said.

Mike backed away. Ramon took a step toward him. Mike stalked out the back door toward his studio. He heard Ramon and Valerie laugh the entire way across the garden.

~~~~~~~~

Sandy and Aden stood together in close, companionable silence. Sandy shifted from foot to foot. Her familiar draw to Aden made her even more uncomfortable. She was about to leave when she saw Jill step off the hospital elevator.

“Thanks for talking to me,” Aden said. “I better get back up there.”

“There’s Jill,” Sandy said. “Hey. I thought I’d have to pry you away.”

“They took Jacob to get his neck surgery today. He told me to go shopping. I … I think I should stay here, but …”

“Ah, shit,” Aden said.

“Jacob said to tell you to check your Blackberry,” Jill said. “I packed up the computers.”

Jill gave Aden his computer bag. Aden dug out his Blackberry from the front pocket.

“Excuse me,” Aden said. He stepped away from Jill and Sandy to read his daily list from Jacob.

The retelling of Denver Cereal, Volume 1, continues tomorrow…


Denver Cereal, Volume 1, Chapter Nineteen: So I’m asking . . . (part three)

CHAPTER NINETEEN

(part three)

“Oh,” Sandy said. “I … I thought you were a biker.”

“A biker?”

“Because of your tattoos,” Sandy said.

“Oh,” Aden flushed. His arms, neck, and back had been covered with tattoos. Thanks to laser technology, his adolescent gestures at identity were almost gone. “No, I work for Jake. I’m his assistant.”

“Jill and I went to high school with his assistant.”

“Molly?”

Sandy nodded her head.

“Molly is Jake’s bookkeeper for his rehabilitation business. I work for Lipson. Jake has me and another assistant, Blane.”

“Oh,” Sandy said.

“Why did you think I was married?”

“I went into the locker room and this girl told me line and verse about you, your wife, your kids, and all this stuff. I …”

“Tall? Thin? White-blonde hair?” Aden asked.

“Very pretty. A lot prettier than me,” Sandy said.

“Lexi.”

“Right. Lexi.”

“I call her Lexi Luther because she’s like my archnemesis,” Aden said. “Okay. Well that makes more sense. Thanks.”

Aden and Sandy stood facing each other. The uncomfortable silence stretched.

“Are you married?”

“No,” Aden said. “I was married. She left when our daughter was a couple months old. We weren’t actually divorced until four years ago. I kind of hoped she would disappear, but … Jake made me file.”

“Jake’s had a big impact on you,” Sandy said.

“You could say that,” Aden replied. “I have two kids. They live with me most of the time. Would you like to see their pictures?”

Sandy nodded. Aden opened his wallet and pulled out his favorite picture of Nash and Noelle.

“I dropped them at their mom’s house before I came here. I … They’re my life.”

“Why would Lexi say all that stuff?”

“Oh,” Aden sighed. “Because I fucked up. After Nuala left — that’s my ex-wife — I wasn’t in a great place. I was still … drinking … and I was going to be a rock star. Mostly, I worked during the days and spent the nights at clubs. I didn’t know what it even meant to have kids … I thought women took care of all of that. Real evolved, huh? I thought if I got another woman right away, I could keep living the way I was … you know, not have to change. Lexi and I … got together, and … It didn’t go well.”

“What happened?” Sandy asked.

“I can’t imagine you want to hear all of this crap,” Aden said.

“Actually …” Sandy said. She dared to look at his face for the first time. “I do want to hear about it. My dad left my mom when I was a couple months old … and I have a particular interest in stories just like this … stories like mine.”

Aden sighed.

“Lexi moved in right away. But Noelle, my daughter, never liked her. She cried until I got home from work. I was at work one day when Lexi called to say she had moved out. Fuck me and fuck my stupid kids. I …” Aden shook his head. “It was totally my fault. I just had no idea of what I was doing. What happened with you?”

The retelling of Denver Cereal, Volume 1, continues tomorrow…


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