CHAPTER FOUR HUNDRED AND FORTY-FOUR
Wednesday afternoon — 3:45 p.m.
“Hi everyone!” Valerie waved to the camera on Jill’s cellphone.
Mike squinted at the camera. He sat down next to Valerie in their living room in their apartment at the Castle. Valerie had started doing monthly live video chats through one of those social media sites. This was her third. Mike agreed to attend this one. His concession to the project was a clean shirt. His wild hair and beard remained. Jill was working the camera and the comments section.
“Mike and I are here to answer your questions,” Valerie said. “A bunch of people asked to see our house here in Denver. When we’re done, we’ll wander through where we live. If we’re lucky, Mike will let you see his studio.”
Mike raised his eyebrows and turned to look at her.
“He hasn’t quite agreed yet,” Valerie said with a smile. “You should know that the house itself belongs to my mother’s best friend, Delphinium.”
“You won’t find it on the tax records,” Mike said.
“Well, that’s true, too,” Valerie said. “It’s some weird thing my brother set up.”
Valerie nodded to end that topic.
“We are both here because we have a big announcement,” Valerie said.
“@Sculptress says Mike looks like a Greek God,” Jill said. “From the statues.”
“Takes one to know one,” Mike said with a nod.
Valerie looked at Mike and then shook her head.
“Do we know what that means?” Valerie asked.
“She posted a picture,” Jill said.
She came out from behind the camera and held the phone out to Mike.
“That’s Perseus,” Mike said with a shake of his head. “I’m more Titan than Greek.”
Jill gave him a strong look. Mike replied with a shrug that included his top lip.
“Anyway,” Valerie said with a laugh. “Mike is here because we have an announcement.”
Jill held out another photo.
“That’s Hercules,” Mike said. “He’s got the lion skin cape. Look, no cape.”
Jill held out another photo.
“That’s Atlas. Note the world on his shoulder,” Mike said. He shrugged. “You’re not going to find one. I look like I look.”
“I look like I look?” Jill asked with a laugh.
Mike nodded which made Valerie laugh.
“Well, I look like her,” Mike nodded with his chin toward Jill. “She’s my little sister so she looks like me.”
“Without the beard,” Jill said.
She waved to the camera and went behind it.
“Where were we?” Valerie asked.
“Announcement,” Jill said.
“Mike and I are happy to announce that we’re going to have another child,” Valerie said.
“A boy,” Mike said.
Valerie looked at him and he smiled. She grinned at him.
“Everything is really good so far,” Valerie said. “Jackie is very excited to be a big sister.”
“I don’t care if it’s a boy or girl,” Mike said.
“You don’t?” Valerie asked with a smile.
Mike shook his head. He looked into the camera.
“Kids are awesome,” Mike said. “There are a bunch of kids here.”
“Jackie has lots of cousins,” Valerie said. “They are close like siblings.”
“My sister’s kids,” Mike nodded to Jill. “Her friends kids. Kids of every age. It’s fun.”
“Mike has an apprentice,” Valerie said.
“Noelle Norsen. She’s very talented,” Mike said with a nod. “If we have a boy or a girl, I know that our kids are going to be loved and also have a blast.”
“A few people ask if this will impact your career,” Jill asked. “Uh, @Nosybynature and @DnvrProud wonder if this might be the end of movies.”
Valerie shook her head.
“Ten years ago?” Valerie nodded. “If you had kids, you couldn’t work in Hollywood.”
“I have a couple of movies that I did this year which will be released next year,” Valerie said. “I have a few projects on the schedule for next year. As soon as I’m ready, really.”
“@Artsmything asks if Mike and the kids will be traveling with you,” Jill said.
“Probably,” Valerie said. Mike shrugged. “It kind of depends on what’s going on.”
“Like most people, we live with tight schedules — work, kids, family,” Mike said. “We try to take it one day at a time, one project at a time. Right now, we’re working on finishing up so we have some time with the new baby.”
“Wow,” Valerie said with a grin. “A coherent sentence.”
“You wanted to talk about Monterey?” Mike looked at Valerie and she nodded.
“You may know that Mike and I own a little house in Monterey, California,” Valerie said. “We lived there when Mike was in the Army.”
“We’ve rented it out since then,” Mike said.
“But we’ve had a ton of pressure in the last year or so to sell it to developers,” Valerie said.
“Hotels,” Mike said.
“It’s one of the only properties to develop there,” Valerie said. “The rest is Pacific Grove State Marine Conservation Area.”
“It probably won’t surprise you to know that we are in the process of giving the property to the Conservation Area,” Valerie said. She looked at Mike, who was nodding. “We felt like it was the right thing to do.”
“@TheCynic says it’s probably just a tax dodge,” Jill said.
“We don’t live in California,” Valerie said.
“Since it’s a California state conservation area,” Mike said. “If we lived there, we might. But we live here.”
Valerie and Mike looked at each other before looking back at the camera.
“We did it because we thought it was a good idea to support the Conservation Area,” Mike said. “Not because it’s super good for us.”
Valerie nodded. Before she could speak again, Mike started talking.
“Listen, we’re simple people,” Mike said. Valerie turned to look at him. “We know it’s popular now to make a lot of money and pile it up in your bank or stocks or buy lots of junk. Some people talk about that as winning. Or how you win the modern life. Be a bajillionaire or whatever. We don’t believe that.”
“We have what we need — work we love, family, our health, good friends, each other,” Mike said. “We have enough money to eat and pay for the house. We live comfortably. That’s enough for us. If we have extra, that’s nice, but it’s not the goal. For us, that’s just dumb.”
Valerie smiled at him and then looked back at the camera.
“We go to bed comfortable with our choices,” Valerie said. “It’s an easy life to live.”
“Did you want to show people the apartment?” Mike asked.
“Will you show your studio?” Valerie asked.
“Sure,” Mike said with a shrug.
“I … um … I should say,” Valerie said. She glanced at Mike and then back at the camera. “Mike’s always lived this way. For me, I grew up with the idea that the goal was to make enough to support yourself and the rest wasn’t important. But along the way, I forgot it. So, before you tweet me and tell me I’m a hypocrite, you should know that this has been a journey for me.”
She looked at Mike and smiled.
“I like myself a lot more now,” Valerie said with a nod. “I like my life a whole lot more now.”
“A few people have asked if you have a name yet for the baby,” Jill said.
“We’re looking at Greek statues,” Mike said with a laugh.
Valerie shook her head and mouthed “no.”
“Atlas,” Mike said.
Mike looked at Valerie. She looked as if she would barf. He laughed.
“Maybe not that,” Mike laughed.
Mike stood up.
“Let’s show them around,” Mike said. He turned to Valerie and held out his hand. “Come on.”
Valerie got up and took his hand. With Jill on camera, they went through their apartment.
“The best thing about this living room is the fireplace,” Valerie said. She went to the marble tiled fireplace. “We only have a few of these wood fireplaces. Jake, that’s my brother, has replaced most of the fireplaces in the house with gas because we can use them more.”
“Denver has a lot of burn bans in the winter,” Mike said.
Jill used camera on her cellphone to show the small living room. Valerie went through the door to their bedroom.
“Our bedroom,” Valerie said.
The bed took up most of the small bedroom. Mike scooted next to the bed and opened the bathroom door.
“The bathroom has a claw foot tub, which is pretty awesome,” Valerie said. “Jake moved the plumbing so it’s in the middle, which makes it more usable for us.”
Jill showed the shower stall and sinks, as well as the claw foot tub. Mike shrugged.
“Jackie has a little room on the side of our room,” Valerie said. “Jake added it to our apartment when we got pregnant. The new baby will stay here with us.”
Valerie gestured to the bassinette on the table. Jill followed Valerie out of the bedroom around the bed. Valerie opened the door to a small room that was now a nursery.
“It’s not very big,” Valerie said. “We live here and have this private space, but we also have the rest of it.”
“We have kitchen, over there,” Mike pointed to the kitchen.
Jill walked to the kitchen with her phone.
“We don’t cook much here,” Valerie said.
“We eat with everyone else,” Mike said.
“Now, Mike’s studio,” Valerie said. “You can see the rest on the way.”
Mike followed Valerie out the door. Jill came behind with her phone. They walked down the hallway and down the stairs. In the kitchen, they found Katy and Paddie eating brownies at the kitchen table. Delphie was standing at the table.
“Here’s my sister’s …” Valerie said.
“Sh…!” Jill said and dropped her phone. Her phone started smoking and caught on fire. “Katherine Anjelika Roper Marlowe!”
“It wasn’t me!” Katy said. “I swear.”
“Don’t swear,” Jill said.
Jill gave her a hard look and then looked at Paddie. He shook his head and pointed behind her. Abi was standing on the edge of the kitchen with her new infant.
“Is that your cell phone?” Abi asked. “Sorry.”
“Sorry?” Jill asked.
“It happens sometimes,” Abi said.
“It happens that you set my phone on fire?” Jill asked.
Abi nodded to the baby in her arms. She lifted a shoulder in a shrug.
“Sorry,” Abi said. “She didn’t do it on purpose. She just can’t contain her power yet.”
“Oh,” Jill shook her head. “Katy’s done it more than once. On purpose.”
Katy nodded and Paddie laughed. Jill looked at Valerie.
“Sorry,” Jill said.
“I’ll just say that Mike messed with your phone so he didn’t have to show his studio,” Valerie said.
“I’m a genius!” Mike said with a laugh.
She laughed and he put his arms around her to pull her to him. They hugged while everyone stood around with stupid-end-of-rom-com looks on their faces. After a moment, Mike pulled back. He nodded to everyone and wandered out the back door.
“Where’s he going?” Abi asked.
“To his studio,” Valerie said. “What are you doing here? Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean that as it sounded.”
“I came to help Delphie with the … what did you call them?” Abi asked.
“I didn’t call them anything,” Delphie said with a sniff.
Valerie kissed Delphie’s cheek and excused herself. She went upstairs.
“Fires of Hell,” Katy said out of nowhere.
“Are you involved in this, little one?” Abi asked.
“Nope,” Paddie said.
“Not us,” Katy said.
“We have school,” Paddie said. “At some point, you have to get educated.”
“Can’t be ignorant,” Katy said.
“Ignorant?” Jill said with a laugh.
Katy nodded. Abi grinned at the logic of Paddie and Katy before turning back to Delphie.
“Why so petulant my Oracle?” Abi asked.
“Because …” Delphie said.
She sniffed at Abi. Turning in place, she stormed out of the kitchen. Abi laughed. She looked at Katy.
“Any ideas?” Abi asked.
She glanced at Jill when Katy shook her head.
“I think she’s waiting for Blane,” Jill said. “Heather said that he told her that they were not investigating. She’s mad at him.”
“They seemed fine at the wedding,” Abi said.
“You have opened a wound,” Delphie yelled from the stairs.
Amused, Abi looked up at the ceiling after her. Jill shook her head. Giggling, Katy covered her mouth with her hand. Paddie rolled his eyes.
“Don’t worry,” Jill said in a low voice. “She’ll be fine.”
“I will not!” Delphie yelled.
“You’re making dinner!” Jill said in a loud voice.
Delphie laughed and then slammed her door for good measure. Abi grinned.
“How are you settling in?” Jill asked.
“I like it here,” Abi said.
“Good,” Jill said. “Honey wanted to talk to you about getting on the schedule.”
“Schedule?” Abi asked, her grin never fading.
“For making dinner, doing other household stuff — mostly food, childcare, stuff like that,” Jill said.
“Ah,” Abi said. “You don’t want me making dinner.”
“We don’t?” Jill asked.
“You don’t,” Abi nodded.
“But, everyone knows that grandmother’s cooking is the best,” Jill gently teased. “Surly you know all kinds of wonderful recipes.”
“Not this grandmother,” Abi said.
“No?” Jill asked.
“I know great ways to kill almost anything,” Abi said with a glint in her eye. “I can skin a cat in less than two minutes.”
She pointed to Cleo who happened to be waltzing by. The cat stuck up its tail in protest and Abi laughed. Cleo lay down in the middle of the table to allow Katy and Paddie to pet her. They obliged.
“Besides, the last meal I made was the primordial ooze,” Abi said. “Very smelly, very nasty. Gilfand hasn’t ever let me live it down. In fact …”
“In fact?” Jill asked.
“Well, Gilfand says …” Abi said. “Never mind. I’ll get Fin to do it. He’s actually quite handy for a snotty princeling. He’ll probably make you rabbit, though.”
“Rabbit!” Katy looked horrified. “Not Max.”
Abi shook her head.
“I was kidding,” Abi said.
Katy looked worried. Abi kissed her head.
“Don’t worry little one,” Abi said. “He knows you could fry him where he stands.”
Katy and Paddie squealed with laughter.
“In fact?” Jill asked again. “What does Gilfand say?”
Abi nodded as if that was an answer. To end the conversation, Abi turned and went into the Castle main living room.
“What does Gilfand say?” Jill whispered.
Katy shrugged. Paddie giggled.
“Katy?” Jill whispered.
“They call her the grandmother of people,” Katy said softly and nodded. “What does the ooze become?”
“The ooze?” Jill whispered. “Become?”
Jill blinked for a few minutes.
“Oh,” Jill said. “You mean the ooze that people came from…”
Katy nodded and they laughed.
“It’s not funny,” Abi said from the living room, which made them laugh a little more. “You were a huge accident. That’s a genie we couldn’t put back in the bottle!”
“Good to know,” Jill said with a laugh.
Abi laughed. She peeked her head into the kitchen.
“Gilfand’s never forgiven me,” Abi whispered.
“How about if we put the ooze, I mean Fin, on the schedule?” Jill asked.
“Good thinking,” Abi said with a nod.
Katy and Paddie laughed. Jill smiled when Abi laughed too.
Wednesday afternoon — 6:45 p.m.
Jacob opened the door to the loft and one of his twins ran into his legs. The child looked up at him and laughed. Smiling at the boy, he looked up to see Edie right behind.
“Sorry,” Edie said.
“It’s my pleasure,” Jacob reached down to pick him up. “I see they’re walking.”
“Yes,” Edie said with a nod. “They learned that when you were gone. I think they were trying to walk to find you.”
Jacob laughed. He leaned toward Edie and mouthed: “Which one do I have?”
“Tanner,” Edie said.
The child squealed and bit his fist. Across the loft, there was an equal squeal from Tanner’s brother, Bladen. Bladen took a few tentative steps away from Jill before trotting over to Jacob. He picked up Bladen.
“You boys seem happy,” Jacob said to his sons.
“They’re obnoxious,” Katy yelled from her room.
“Five going on fifteen,” Edie whispered.
“I’m almost six!” Katy said.
Jacob furrowed his brow in question. Katy was such a happy child, she was almost never upset or surly like she was tonight.
“She has to finish her chapter before she can have dessert,” Jill said.
Jill kissed Jacob and took Bladen from him.
“No afternoon brownies?” Jacob asked.
“That’s not funny,” Katy yelled.
Jacob kissed Tanner and gave him to Edie. He went into to see Katy.
“How you doing, Katy?” Jacob asked.
Katy was sitting at her desk. She looked up at him and scowled. She looked so much like Jill that Jacob had to stifle a smile. Still a small girl, he easily lifted her from her chair. He sat down on her bed with Katy on his lap. For a moment, she let Jacob hold him close.
“What are you doing?” Katy asked. “Trying to encourage the idiot? I’m just an unimportant girl, you know.”
“You are the smartest, bravest person I’ve ever known,” Jacob said. “And I love you.”
“You must not know very many girls,” Katy said.
Jacob laughed so hard that Katy smiled. Not one to be down for long, Katy snuggled into Jacob and they held each other for a moment.
“So,” Jacob said. “What’s the problem?”
“I have to read that book,” Katy said.
“She’s assigned to read a chapter book of her choice,” Jill called from outside Katy’s room.
“What book are you reading?” Jacob asked.
“Some book I’m ‘spose to read,” Katy said.
“It looks pretty big and hard,” Jacob said. “What is it?”
He got up and went to her desk. Under the warm glow of her desk lamp, he turned over the book to see the cover.
“You’re reading Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States?” Jacob asked.
“She is,” Jill said from out in the loft.
“Why?” Jacob asked in a softer voice.
“Scott the Snot told me I had to read it,” Katy said.
“Why do we care about what Scott the Snot says?” Jacob asked. “Is it because you call him names?”
“I don’t call him names,” Katy said with a sigh.
“Scott the Snot?” Jacob asked.
“He picked that name,” Katy said. “I’m ‘Katy the Lady.’ We picked words that were like us at the beginning of school so other kids would know what we were like. He likes it that he’s a snot. He says that his dad is rich and that he’s better than everyone else.”
Denver Cereal continues tomorrow…
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