Valerie was pregnant and Mike left for the Middle East.
February and March:
They talked every night. He sent her crazy pictures. In response, she sent him pictures of herself naked. She didn’t tell him about the baby. Her mother had a bunch of miscarriages. Valerie wanted to make sure she was really, really pregnant. She was going to tell him April 15 as a tax joke.
Mike went on a week-long mission. No problem, he’d call when he was done. She was brave for him in their last phone call but cried herself to sleep that night.
April 15, 8 a.m.:
Opened the door to two somber army men. Mike’s team was ambushed. Mike was presumed dead.
April 15, 8:25 a.m.:
Sedated by the doctor.
April 15, 7 p.m.:
Awakened by telephone:
“No. It’s Jake. Come now, Mom’s dying.”
April 16, 1 a.m.:
Walked in on father sobbing at mother’s bedside.
“I can’t do it,” he sobbed.
“You have to,” Mom said. “Do what we planned. Take care of your new family. Jake and Valerie need you … more now because I won’t be here.”
“You’re my whole life,” her father said.
“Then do it for me. Stick with our plan.”
“Ah, Celia. I can’t live without you.”
April 16, 7 a.m.:
Celia Marlowe Lipson drew her last breath with her children and best friend by her side.
April 20, 8 a.m.:
Valerie and Jake reviewed their mother’s memorial plans with the mortician. Shaking the mortician’s hand good-bye, she felt a burning, a ripping, thousands of times worse than a cramp. Jake took her to the hospital. Her last connection to Mike was dead.
April 24, 8 a.m.:
More than ten thousand people celebrate the life of Celia Marlowe Lipson.
Paperwork waited in Monterey. Mike was officially dead.
Valerie moved the band from her wedding set to her right hand, where it remained today. Hoping the Pacific would cleanse her misfortune, she threw the diamond solitaire into the ocean.
Jake helped Valerie pack the Monterey house.
Valerie settled into her new Hollywood Hills home, called her agent, and got an audition.
“Ms. Lipson.” The flight attendant touched Val’s arm. She gave Valerie a Kleenex to wipe her dripping eyes. “We’re taxiing right now. I thought you might want to get your possessions together so you can make a quick exit. Do you need a ride home?”
“I arranged for a car,” Valerie said.
“I called ahead. There are a lot of photographers waiting for you. We’re going to sneak you out the back. What company is meeting you?”
“Prestige,” Valerie said.
“I’ll call them. They can send a second car,” the flight attendant said.
“Michael Roper usually drives me. Would you mind asking for him?”
“Sure,” the flight attendant said.
“Thanks,” Valerie said.
“You have about an hour before visiting hours are over. They woke up Katy so you could spend some time with her. They’ll put her to sleep again before you go,” Dr. Drayson said. “I’d encourage you to enjoy your time with her and then go home and get some rest. Katy will need you to be one hundred percent tomorrow.”
Jill nodded. She had already called in sick to work tomorrow. She knew Katy would need her. She dreaded having to desert her at the hospital. Following Dr. Drayson back through the ICU, she worked to keep the horror from her face. Her baby was swollen, her skin was bright red, and she was hooked to a bunch of machines. When Katy opened her eyes, she was Jill’s girl.
“Mommy,” Katy said.
Jill’s eyes filled at the sound of her daughter’s croaking voice. Katy hadn’t been able to speak the last time she was awake.
“Katy-baby.” Jill bent to kiss her daughter.
The nurse lowered the guardrail so Jill could sit on Katy’s bed.
“Mommy, I’m sorry. I made you cry.” Katy’s red swollen finger caught a tear from Jill’s eye. “I didn’t mean to get sick.”
“Oh baby,” Jill said. “I’m just happy to see you.”
“Are you going to ask Jacob to be my daddy?”
Jill burst out a laugh at her daughter’s question.
“I think he would be a good daddy,” Katy said.
“We’ll see, Katy-baby. We’ll see.”
The retelling of Denver Cereal, Volume 1 continues tomorrow…
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