“Val, we’ve looked for your marriage license and we haven’t found one for you,” the interviewer said.
“I have both of my parent’s last names. I’m Valerie Marlowe Lipson. I was married as Valerie Marlowe and Mike…”
“My family name was Repin. When I entered the Army, I had to dig out my birth certificate. Low and behold, Megan and I are Repins. Our other siblings were born here in Denver. They’re Ropers. I was married under my legal name Mikhail Repin.”
“But your name is Roper?” the interviewer asked
“Yes, ma’am. We still called ourselves Mike and Val Roper, we married under our official names,” Mike said. “Megan sorted our names out after I died.”
“What?” the interviewer almost jumped from her chair.
Valerie gave the interviewer a soft smile then continued with their story.
“We lived in Monterey. I finished school early and we played house. It was a truly magical time in my life.”
“Mine too.” Mike shrugged his shoulders. His sigh spoke volumes. “Then it ended.”
“My team was assigned to the Middle East,” Mike said. “Val and I had been through this so many, many times that you’d think we’d have gotten used to it. I know people who learn to deal with it. But for us, it was…”
“Horribly sad.” Valerie finished his sentence.
“Val made it work for me. She is a great actress. She put on a bright face and helped me every step of the way. She was… a delight on every phone call. She sent me those pictures…”
“You know the ones. The poses of me naked? I think the entire world has seen them. Well, I took them for Mike. I was in our bedroom. You can see the ocean in a couple of them.”
“I’ve seen them,” the interviewer said. “I’d say they are more seductive photos than nudes.”
“That’s nice of you to say,” Valerie said. “I… I wanted to make him miss me… a lot.”
“She’s right, Val,” Mike said. “They’re not like Penthouse or Playboy. No full frontal nudity. They’re just you and the camera. They’re very seductive.”
Valerie gave him a soft smile.
“She sent me a photo a week,” Mike said. “And we tried to talk every night. I noticed her body was changing but…”
“I was pregnant,” Valerie said.
Mike’s eyes filled. When he turned to look at Valerie, she kissed him.
“Mike went on a mission. I was going to tell him when he came back, but I met two Army men instead. They told me Mike was missing and I should assume he was dead,” Valerie said. “My mother died the next day and I lost the baby a few days later. In the course of a few days, I lost the three people that mattered most to me. I… barely survived.”
“And where were you, Mike?” the interviewer asked.
Mike looked at the woman then looked at Valerie. With the question, his mouth was cotton ball dry. His eyes flicked across his brother and sisters, Valerie’s family, and the billion people in that tiny room. Like an oasis in the desert, his eyes landed on Alex Hargreaves. Wearing a ridiculous maid’s costume, her green arm band tattoo peaking from the ruffled edges of her sleeve, she winked at him. He let out a breath.
The retelling of Celia’s Puppies, Denver Cereal Volume 2, continues tomorrow…
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