“But Valerie Lipson is Jacob’s sister,” Jill said. “How …?”
“Val and Jake aren’t Catholic. Remember that huge fight Dad and Mike had? That was over Valerie,” Megan said. “Dad forbade Mike to go out with Val because she wasn’t Catholic. Mike disappeared for a week. Mom was hysterical. She made Dad go after Mike.”
Candy and Jill nodded.
“They met while skiing when Mike was fourteen or something,” Steve said. “Remember how much Mike used to ski in the winter? And camp in the summer?”
“Every moment he wasn’t working or in school,” Candy said.
“That was so he could be with Val. They dated from the time they met. Mom and Dad didn’t know,” Steve said. “When they got married, Mike figured we would be against it because Dad was against it. So he didn’t tell us.”
“We only found out when …” Megan’s face flushed red and her eyes filled with tears.
“When what?” Candy said. “We aren’t children anymore, Meg. You don’t have to protect us.”
“Mike died. Or, they thought he was dead.”
“WHAT?” Candy and Jill said in unison.
“I … I really shouldn’t tell you this,” Megan said.
“Yes, you should,” Steve said. “If you don’t, I will. It’s time to stop the secrets, Meg.”
“Around the time Jake’s mom died ….” Megan began her story.
“I wonder if you might help me,” Valerie said.
When the Frontier Airlines clerk moved from the ticket counter to the boarding pass counter, Valerie stood in her line. She signed autographs and talked to fans in order to keep the US magazine reporter at bay.
“Absolutely. What can I do?” the woman said.
“There’s a reporter from US magazine and …”
“Oh, don’t worry, hon. I took care of him. He wanted to sit next to you, but I put him in the back of the plane. I radioed the gals on the plane. They will let you off and then hold him for a while. You should be able to make a quick getaway.”
Val’s face registered real relief. “Thanks.”
“Your father’s a great man. I’m happy to do what I can.” She passed Valerie her boarding pass back over the counter. “Just watch me. I’ll let you know when it’s safe to board.”
Valerie blushed and nodded. “Thanks.”
Continuing to buffer herself from the reporter, Valerie signed autographs and chatted with fans. She watched the line of passengers board the plane. Confident he had corralled Valerie on the flight, the reporter boarded the plane. When the agent nodded, Valerie made her excuses and moved down the ramp to the plane. The flight attendants settled Valerie in the front seat with a glass of champagne.
She slipped in her iPod earbuds and returned to her memories of the best time of her life. As always, those memories of love and laughter collided with the reality of that awful spring.
Valerie and Mike were naked, wrapped around each other, when the dreadful news came. Mike was going back to the Middle East and her mother wouldn’t live to see Easter. Jake begged her to come home, but she wasn’t going to give up her last month with Mike.
She wasn’t sure how it happened. She was on the pill, after all. She only knew when. She was pregnant when he left.
Unbidden, Valerie’s mind ticked through the markers of that horrible spring:
The retelling of Denver Cereal, Volume 1 continues tomorrow…
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