“But Mike saw those engagements as a betrayal…” Valerie said. “Of course.”
“We had a lot of push, pull,” Mike said. “I didn’t have a job or a life. I camped out in the garage of this place.”
“Your studio,” the interviewer said.
“Not then. It was a garage. No running water, no heat. I camped there, went to therapy. Delphie, the woman who lived here, in the Castle, had no idea I was in the garage. Valerie and I saw each other probably twice a month. Valerie would come see me or I would go there,” Mike said. “Val was like an obsession. When she was gone, I thought of her constantly. When she was here, I couldn’t stand myself.”
“It was the same for me,” Valerie said.
“Then Val’s brother, Jake, moved back to Colorado,” Mike said.
“Jake’s a spark.” Valerie beamed. “He gets fires going. He got Mike working on the Castle and playing hockey again. The studio was covered in these drawings of me. Jake bought paints and left them for Mike. After a few missteps, Mike picked up oil painting like he was born to it. The first completed canvass is the one that’s in the museum.”
“I’d drawn the image so many times, it was like just getting it down,” Mike said. “Once I started, I didn’t stop.”
“What about Wes?”
“Mike and I fell into a rhythm of seeing each other a week a month and some weekends,” Valerie said. “But we struggled. I became enamored with Wes. Wes is so normal, so slick. Mike and I had a fight about him, then Wes sent a car for me.”
“An Aston Martin,” Valerie said. “Mike was furious. He threw me out of the house, told me never ever to come back.”
“I’m a real asshole,” Mike said. “You don’t have to wonder why she left.”
“I deserved it,” Valerie said. “I walked the edge, never committing to Mike or anyone for a long time. I couldn’t stand losing him again. It would kill me. Just kill me. I couldn’t have Mike and I couldn’t be away from him. I went back to LA and started a relationship with Wes.”
Valerie fell silent. She closed and opened her eyes then let out a breath.
“This man lay on the floor while men kicked him, broke his bones and refused to give up photos of me. They cut his face with some tribal knife and he wouldn’t give them up.” Tears streamed down Valerie’s face. “And when he came back, I was too afraid to love him.
“Everyone’s said all this stuff about my lowlife husband. I mean, Wes said that I preferred a stable animal to a thoroughbred champion. But Mike’s the hero who fought for me.
“This time I’m going to fight for him. For us.”
When Valerie broke down, Mike pulled her onto his lap. There was not a dry eye in the room. For at least a minute, the only sound in the room was sniffing.
“That’s a wrap,” the producer choked out.
The retelling of Celia’s Puppies, Denver Cereal Volume 2, continues tomorrow…
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