Mike nodded his good-bye then walked off the stage. Deeply embarrassed at the standing ovation, he craved the quiet dark of backstage. He reached behind him for Valerie’s hand and felt the immediate pulse of her. Spinning in place, he wrapped himself around her. In each other’s tight embrace, they regained some sense of balance.
“I’m sorry,” Alex Hargreaves said. “We have to keep moving. There’s a crowd outside and we understand one growing around the Castle. You still want to go home?”
“I need to go home,” Mike said over Valerie’s shoulder. “Can I have…?”
“We’ll head out. Two minutes?” Alex asked.
Mike nodded. Alex and her team went down the hall way to the stage door. Dressed in digital fatigues, dark glasses, hats and exposed side arms, the team had held Valerie’s fans at bay when they arrived by limousine. Judging by the sound, there was a Black Hawk waiting for them somewhere close. When Alex opened the door to the street, they heard people, a lot of people, cheer.
“I love you,” Valerie said. “I never, ever thought you would do this.”
“I do anything for you, Val,” Mike said. “I’m sorry about Wes.”
“You mean when he told Oprah I was a selfish bitch? Or the part about how I betrayed him and stole from him?”
“The whole thing,” Mike said. He pulled her even closer.
“He’s said much worse. They must have edited,” Valerie said.
“How did you know?”
“Jill’s friend Tanesha brought me a couple of magazines. She wanted me to know exactly what a ‘bitch-ass’ he was being. She didn’t want me to go back to him and destroy my life.”
“But you’re Ok…”
“Mikhail, my love and hero, has just slayed a tiger for me. Why should I care what the jester says?”
“A tiger?” Mike put his hands around her face then kissed her.
She nodded. He laughed. She kissed him.
“Time to go,” Captain Mac Clenaghan, Alex’s second in command, said. “We want you at the center of a diamond formation. There are a lot of people out here. Wave to the crowd like the prom king and queen then we’ll surround you. Got it.”
“Yes, sir,” Mike said.
He looked at Valerie and she nodded. They followed the Captain to the door.
“Stand here. Go out only on my say so.”
Mike took Valerie’s hand. They nodded. The Captain pushed open the door. A call went through the crowd for Valerie, and Mike.
“Ok go ahead,” the Captain said.
Mike stepped through the door first then laughed. Parting the sea of people, a hundred soldiers, active and veterans, stood guard in their dress uniform. They created a tight corridor for Valerie and Mike to walk through. Valerie stepped next to him.
“Guess you have some friends,” Valerie said.
Mike looked down at Valerie then smiled.
“Prom king and queen,” the Captain said.
Still holding hands, Mike and Valerie raised their hands to wave at the crowd. As they walked down the corridor, the soldiers popped to salute.
“That’s for you,” Valerie said into Mike’s ear.
He puzzled at her then smiled. Waving they went down the corridor to the helicopter. One of Alex’s team bent down to help Valerie through the doors and into her seat. The team helped Valerie strap in and Mike sat next to her. Within moments, they were flying west-southwest over the city of Chicago a straight line for Denver.
The retelling of Celia’s Puppies, Denver Cereal Volume 2, continues tomorrow…
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