Denver Cereal Denver Cereal

Denver Cereal, Volume 1, Chapter Nine: What did you say? (part one)


(part one)

“Jill! Is Katy okay?” Sandy yelled into her cell phone.

“Katy’s okay. They’re keeping her overnight,” Jill said. “Where are you?”

“Funky Buddha. You wanna join us? I’m here with Tanesha and Heather. We’re hoping to find some fun.”

“No …”

“Jilly, what’s wrong?” Sandy asked. “Wait, hang on. I’m going to go the sidewalk so I can hear you.”

Jill paced Jacob’s apartment. After playing with the dogs, Jacob brought white wine and cheese to the deck. They drank wine, ate fancy cheese and those little crackers she had only seen on TV. Jacob’s sister, Val, and Delphie kept her laughing with funny stories about each other. She was all but asleep when he suggested she come upstairs to take a shower. He took her up to his gorgeous apartment, set out a towel and a bathrobe for her, then disappeared into the house.

Jill knew what was expected of her. After all, why would he have brought her to his house? She showered with his lavish soap and shampoo and then wrapped herself in his plush bathrobe.

Looking at his comfortable, queen-sized bed, she panicked. She couldn’t go through with it. She couldn’t sleep with some guy just because she thought he was cute … or because he paid for the hospital … or because she liked his house … or because she loved his mother … or … Vexed with herself, Jill called her best friend Sandy.

“Okay, sorry, I couldn’t hear you,” Sandy said. “What’s wrong?”

“Jacob took me back to his apartment.”

“You mean after he paid for the hospital, he took you back to his place? What’s it like?”

“It’s gorgeous. I mean, the furniture needs replacing, maybe some colors on the walls, and there’s a lot of electronic equipment. Typical guy’s place, you know. But it’s all wood floors, cut-glass leaded windows, and … The house is amazing. He calls it the ‘Castle.’ You’ll just die when you see it.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“I don’t think I can …”

Jill heard Heather ask for an update and Sandy explained what was wrong with Jill.

“Listen. There is only one reason a man brings you back to his place,” Sandy said. “Is there a bedside table?”

“Um … yeah,” Jill said.

“Open the drawer,” Sandy said.

“Okay,” Jill said. She slid open drawer in the antique table drawer.

“Condoms?” Sandy said.

Jill dug through the drawer. A reading light. Kleenex. Earplugs. A pair of glasses. A dog treat. A bag of throat lozenges. She gasped when she saw them. Jacob had condoms in this drawer!

“That man is ready to play,” Sandy said. “Good for you.”

“I don’t think I can do it. I mean, I know the accounting lady said I was going to have to, but I can’t just sleep with someone.”

“Honey, I don’t think he brought you to his apartment so you could sleep.”

“I know … What do I do?”

“She wants to know what to do,” Sandy said to Tanesha and Heather.

Jill heard her friends laugh. Tanesha grabbed the phone from Sandy.

“Jill, it’s Tanesha. I think you should enjoy that gorgeous man. You might just figure out why people actually like sex.”

“But Tanesha, I barely know this guy.”

“You know him enough for him to pay off your hospital bill. With the emergency room, what’s that gonna be? 20k? 30k?”

“I don’t know,” Jill mumbled.

“Honey, have some fun. You deserve it. That’s all I wanted to say,” Tanesha said. “She’s all yours.”

“I couldn’t have said it better,” Sandy said.

Jill heard Heather in the background. “Tell her we want every detail!”

The retelling of Denver Cereal, Volume 1 continues tomorrow…

Denver Cereal, Volume 1, Chapter Eight: The past, present, and future (part four)


(part four)

“How did you know?” Jill asked.

“What do you mean?” Jacob asked.

“The emergency room doctor told me that if you hadn’t given Katy the Primatene Mist, she would have died. Katy’s only alive because of you. How did you know she would need it?”

“Delphie said Katy was allergic to bees. She said Katy would die if I didn’t get her to the hospital,” Jacob said. “I went to Walgreens on the way to your house. That’s why I was late.”

“Oh,” Jill said.

“The pharmacist must be the same guy who helped you before. He remembered Katy and told me what to do. One shot every minute until she breathes clearly. I only needed one.”

“And you believed Delphie? Delphie, the crazy tarot-card reader? I thought you said she was a joke?”

“She’s very dramatic,” Jacob said. “I mean, her spirit guide’s name is ‘Naomi.’”


“Like from the Bible,” Jacob said.

“So she’s Ruth?”

“Something like that,” Jacob said. “You can see what I mean. Drama. Anyway, I’ve never known Delphie to be wrong. I mean, sometimes she mixes up the signs or misinterprets things. Like she told Mom that she would meet someone significant. They decided Mom was going to meet a new man. But they met you. Even so … I’ve never known Delphie to be … just wrong.”

“So Trevor will betray me again,” Jill said.

“He already has,” Jacob said.

Jacob pulled the car into the driveway of the Castle. He pressed a button and the iron gate opened to allow him access to the open backyard. When the iron gate opened, Sarah and another dog came barking and running toward the car.

“Scooter,” Jill said under her breath. “Why do you have Scooter?”

“Trevor took Scooter to the Dumb Friends League. He told them he found Scooter on the street,” Jacob said. “Delphie knew he would be jealous of Scooter. She wasn’t sure what Trevor would do. So Mom had an identification chip put in Scooter with Delphie’s address and phone number. The Dumb Friend’s League ran the chip and called Delphie. That was right before I came back to Denver.”

“Trevor said Scooter was dead. That stupid bastard. I can’t believe … Oh God, Scooter …”

Jill jumped from the SUV to greet her old friend. Standing near the back of the truck, Jacob watched Scooter give Jill kisses on her mouth in delighted reunion. When Sarah nudged his leg, he rubbed her ears and threw the ball she had dropped in front of him.

Looking up, Jacob saw Valerie come down the back steps and into the garden. When Valerie smiled at Jacob, he knew she was finally “just Val” again. He ran across the lawn to hug her.

In the dimming light of the summer night, Delphie stood on the back porch of Celia’s Castle. Watching the reunion of Jill and Scooter, and Jacob and Valerie, Delphie said, “Just like we thought, Naomi. They’re finally all together. Now the fun begins.”

The retelling of Denver Cereal, Volume 1 continues tomorrow...

Denver Cereal, Volume 1, Chapter Eight: The past, present, and future (part three)


(part three)

“Ma’am,” the driver said.

He held open the door to the small limousine and Valerie stepped into the back. The flight attendant had escorted Valerie to an employee’s garage, where the limousine was waiting.

“Michael usually drives me,” Valerie said.

“I apologize, ma’am. Mr. Roper was previously engaged. We attempted to shift his assignment but his client specifically requested him six months ago.”

Valerie watched the man come around the limousine and then step into the driver’s seat.

“Wedding?” Valerie asked.

“Bachelor party.” The driver started the car. “Better him than me. Where am I taking you?”

“Race and Colfax,” Valerie said.

“So, Val. Are you going to marry Wes?” The driver looked at Valerie through the rear view mirror.

Valerie smiled her movie star smile.

“What’s this about a husband?” the driver asked as the window to the passenger compartment closed. Valerie clicked off the microphone.

Slipping on her sunglasses, she tried to figure out how to see Mike and not seem desperate.


For two years, four months, and fifteen days she had been desperate. Desperately lonely. Desperately sad. Desperate to move on. Desperately lost.

Then Michael Roper returned to her life. She was leaving the Ivy in West Hollywood on the arm of a handsome, and secretly gay, actor when she saw Mike. Fifty pounds lighter and broken, Mike Roper stood on the sidewalk waiting for her. If the actor hadn’t been holding her up, she would have collapsed to the pavement. Somehow, they managed to miss the watchful eye of the ever-present paparazzi. They escaped to her home in the Hollywood Hills.

They didn’t leave the house for a month. They argued until they made love. They made love until they were exhausted. They ate whatever could be delivered, bathed together and barely dressed. The incredible draw toward each other remained impossibly strong.

But the obstacles were much greater.

Losing Mike, her baby, and her mother in the course of two weeks had been too much for Valerie. She had become bitter and pessimistic. She would never trust him, or anyone, again. While her words lashed at him, her hardened heart froze him out.

Mike’s unspoken experience had left him shattered. Moment to moment, his moods were unpredictable. One moment, he would sob. The next moment, he was punching walls and screaming at the top of his lungs. Then, worst of all, her best friend and lover would appear from inside the wreckage of this man. Valerie ached for her Mike.

A month after Michael Roper returned to her life, he disappeared again. He left a note saying he had to “get right” before he could be with her. By the time he reappeared, she was a star on one of the most popular soaps and engaged to the gay actor.

As the limousine pulled up in front of the Castle, Valerie wondered what to do about Mike.


“Where to?” Jacob asked.

They were sitting in his Lexus SUV outside the hospital. With her sisters’ help, Jacob and Steve were able to get Jill into the car. Jill didn’t want to “abandon” Katy at the hospital. Sitting in the passenger seat, Jill looked longingly at the hospital.

“I should stay here,” Jill said. “Katy needs me here.”

“I will bring you back before Katy is even awake to need you,” Jacob said. “I promise.”

“I don’t want to go home,” Jill said. “I can’t … I can’t look at her things.”

“Okay,” Jacob said. “Would you like to come to my house?”

Jill bristled, then nodded. She knew what was expected of her. Jacob started the car and moved toward Seventeenth Avenue.

“How did you know?” Jill asked

The retelling of Denver Cereal, Volume 1 continues tomorrow...

Denver Cereal, Volume 1, Chapter Eight: The past, present, and future (part two)


(part two)

February 27:

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.

April 5:

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.

April 28:

Paperwork waited in Monterey. Mike was officially dead.

April 29:

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.

April 30:

Jake helped Valerie pack the Monterey house.

May 5:

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…

Denver Cereal, Volume 1, Chapter Eight: The past, present, and future (part one)


(part one)

“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…

For full chapters, visit Stories by Claudia