CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FOURTEEN
Sunday night — 11:31 p.m.
“How did it go?” Sandy asked Aden as he entered their bedroom at Seth O’Malley’s house.
Sandy had started a series of surgeries to correct some of the damage from falling down the stairs. She’d had her ankle replaced just a week ago. Because no one knew what to do about the coronavirus, Aden had stripped down at the front door. He was wearing his boxers and T-shirt.
“Hey, you’re supposed to be asleep,” Aden said.
He leaned over to kiss her. She touched his face. He pointed to the shower, and she nodded. While he showered, she rolled out in her wheelchair to the kitchen to get his dinner. Of course, Maresol was standing in the kitchen already.
“You should be sleeping,” Maresol ordered. “Those bones are not going to heal themselves.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Sandy said with a grin. “In the meantime, can I have Aden’s dinner?”
Maresol kissed her cheek and set the tray in her lap. She rolled back to the bedroom. Aden was drying off when she got back to the bedroom. He’d been fit when they moved into her biological father’s house. But their stay here had leaned him out. He was even more gorgeous. She smiled at him and he grinned back. He wrapped the towel around himself and settled down to eat at the table and chair near her bed. He ate without stopping and took a long drink of water.
Only then did he take a breath.
“Let’s see,” he said with a grin. “How did it go. . . Shitty. It was. . . God damn some people are such assholes. More than once, they were all screaming at each other. Every one of them! One of those guys I hired last year was screaming ‘Go back where you belong’ to one of the guys that Celia hired.”
“Ouch,” Sandy said.
Aden scowled and shook his head.
“Big Sam had to step in twice,” Aden said. “I. . . I never thought that we’d be in this place. Never. But the politics, the pandemic — everyone’s on edge and carving out their own territory.”
Sandy waited for him to get to the point.
“In the end, they went with the job share,” Aden said. “But not before Jake said that he was being badgered by two big corporate construction companies to purchase Lipson Construction. The money is great. They say that employees want the money, not the work. He’s said: ‘They believe that you will cash out today and give up on tomorrow because you’re just stupid employees and not genius old white guys.’ That shut them up.”
“What did people say?” Sandy asked.
“No one said anything for a long time,” Aden said. “Jake then said: ‘What do you believe? Do you believe that only people who look like me can run construction companies? Because that’s what you’re doing here tonight. You’re telling anyone who can listen that you’re not up to the task.’ His voice. . . Like his heart had just broken. He’s done so much to. . .”
Looking crushed, Aden simply shook his head.
“Sam finally had to hug him to keep him from crying. And, that was it, basically. Third vote, there was a majority — job share. And those pricks have no idea what a nightmare it’s going to be to set it up. God, the entire thing is going to take a miracle to just make the plans.”
“You’re good at logistical nightmares,” Sandy said.
He smiled at her. Getting up, he pulled on a T-shirt and underwear. Without saying a word, he swooped Sandy up from her wheelchair. She giggled, and he smiled. They kissed. He flipped off her covers and carefully set her into the bed. He pulled up her covers. He joined her in the bed. She turned off the light and rolled over to hold him.
He was sound asleep.
She kissed his cheek. She stared at the ceiling trying not to itch under the cast. Before she knew it, she was sound asleep.
Monday early-morning — 2:03 a.m.
Looking for Jacob, Jill slid across the hardwood floors in her socks. She went out into the open space in the loft. He wasn’t in the kitchen or near the gas fireplace or in the boys’ room or in Katy’s room or in his office. She went out on the balcony off their bathroom and saw him sitting on the decking off the medical offices. Grabbing the baby monitor, she went down through the Castle kitchen and up to the second floor. She heard Valerie and Mike’s muffled voices from their bathroom as she passed. She went through the medical offices and out on to the deck.
“Are you okay?” Jill asked at the door.
She touched Jacob’s shoulder, and he jerked with surprise.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” Jill said.
“I’m okay,” Jacob said. “Lost in thought. Please.”
He gestured to the bench, and she sat down. They looked out over the snow-capped mountains. The setting moon cast everything in a deep purple and the snow on the mountains in a shade of lavender. The night was so still that it was almost as if the entire world had paused for them to enjoy her beauty.
“Spring is coming,” Jacob said.
“When?” Jill asked, pulling her robe around her and crossing her arms.
Grinning, he pulled her close. She rested her head against his shoulder. They sat together in companionable silence.
“Want to take me back inside and ravish me?” Jill asked.
Jacob looked at her.
“Let me ravish you?” Jill asked.
He kissed her.
“I. . .” Jacob said. “It’s a hard offer to turn down.”
“I know, I know,” Jill said. “You’ve got a lot on your mind.”
“I’m just. . . upset,” Jacob said, and kissed her head. “I’m sorry. Your offer is. . . enticing. I just. . .”
“The meeting?” Jill asked.
Jacob gave an almost imperceptible nod.
“You can talk to me,” Jill said.
“Oh, I know,” he said with a sigh. “My thoughts are angry. Dark. I don’t want to vomit it all over you.”
“Vomit away,” Jill said. “I have three children. I have known my fair share of vomit. I also know how to clean up.”
“Well?” Jill asked with a smile.
“I. . .” Jacob blew out a breath. “I’ve done so much to. . . to. . . Oh, I don’t know. I’m such a big headed jerk. I had this idea that the employees could take of the company and. . . All they needed was a little training and they could own their own company. By owning a successful, profitable, necessary company would pull them out of paycheck-to-paycheck poverty. And they. . .”
Scowling, he stopped talking.
“Sounds like the meeting was awful,” Jill said.
“Worst than awful,” Jacob said. “People were screaming at each other. Pointing fingers. Raging. I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe it. I was halfway between shocked and furious. I sat there dumbfounded and so ashamed. I mean, what would Mom say?”
Jill didn’t respond to give him space to talk.
“I’m so ashamed,” Jacob said. He turned to look at her. “That’s just it. I feel so full of shame and. . . I didn’t do anything. I’m not the one who is angry! I’m not the ridiculous fool that. . . I’m just the fool that thought it could work.”
“You weren’t able to come to an agreement?” Jill asked.
“We did,” Jacob said. “I mean, they did. Finally. After I told them about the offers and how greedy and stupid everyone thinks they are and. . .”
“Are you working tomorrow?” Jill asked.
“No,” Jacob said. “We’re off until Wednesday to figure out the logistics of this. . . bullshit.”
“Ah,” Jill said. “They chose job sharing.”
“I believe you owe me a silver dollar,” Jill said.
Jacob turned to look at her.
“How did you know?” Jacob asked.
“Delphie told me,” Jill said.
For the first time in a long time, Jacob laughed out loud.
“I should have listened,” Jacob said.
“Now that’s something to be ashamed of,” Jill said.
Jacob looked at Jill but didn’t respond. Jill pointed at him.
“You have nothing to be ashamed of,” Jill said. “You believed the best in people, and look — they’ve chosen to do what’s best for them. So truthfully, you were right.”
“Why does it feel so crappy?” Jacob asked.
“The fighting feels crappy,” Jill said. “All of this arguing and fake facts and this horrible virus and. . .” well, everything. It all feels crappy.”
Jacob nodded and went back to looking at the mountains.
“Come on,” Jill said. Standing, she held out her hand, “Come inside.”
“To ravish you?” Jacob asked.
“I have decided to ravish you, instead,” Jill said.
Jacob laughed. Grabbing his hand, Jill dragged him to her. He kissed her hard. Laughing, she ran back inside. He gave one last look at his mother’s ghost, which was hanging over the garden.
“She’s right, you know,” Celia Marlowe said.
He heard her voice for the first time tonight. He felt immediate relief.
“You have nothing to be ashamed of,” Celia Marlowe added.
“Go,” Celia said. “Relish the joy in your life.”
He ran off after Jill.
Monday early-morning — 2:48 a.m.
Nelson realized that his eyes were open. Closing his eyelids felt like dragging sandpaper over eye balls. The pain was as intense as the relief. He pressed his fingers into his eyes.
And then he realized that he had no idea where he was. He tried to get up. A large hand pressed him back to the bed.
“Úbi sum?” Nelson croaked.
“Hospitium,” a male voice responded with “Hospital” in Latin.
Nelson’s mind jerked awake at the Latin. He looked over to see Tres Sierra.
“Blane?” Nelson asked.
“He doesn’t speak Latin,” Tres said with a smirk. He pressed his hand into his chest. “I happen to be fluent in Latin. You’re welcome.”
“What?” Nelson asked.
“You were raving in Latin when you woke up. Only I could help you. Well, there was that guy from the pharmacy. He was here when I got here.”
“What?” Nelson asked.
Tres just grinned at him.
“It’s good to see you, man,” Tres said. “We’ve been out of our minds with worry.”
“How long have I been gone?” Nelson asked.
“Couple of years, according to Delphie and Heather,” Tres said.
“A couple?” Nelson asked.
“Seven,” Tres said. “But in regular, non-Templar time, it’s only been a little more than a month. You got back just in time for the biggest and brightest pandemic in the last hundred years.”
“I should get to work,” Nelson said, trying to get up. “The ER must be swamped.”
“You need to sleep and rest,” Tres said.
Nelson weaved. He flopped back onto the bed.
“What’s wrong with me?” Nelson asked.
“Besides the fact that, according to the doctors, you’ve had the shit beat out of you for years?” Tres asked. “Your dad?”
“Never,” Nelson said. “War. Wars. Many wars. Jacques. Miserable fucking Templar training.”
His eyes welled with moisture. He shook his head.
“You’ve had surgery,” Tres said. “Three. Your ribs had been badly broken and set wrong.”
“Pushed off a horse,” Nelson said.
“You have been freed of your spleen,” Tres said.
“Infection?” Nelson asked.
“Injury,” Tres said. “The docs said that if you hadn’t gotten here when you did, your spleen would have likely burst. Uh. ‘Like a ripe berry.’ That’s a direct quote.”
Nelson lay back in the bed. After a moment, he turned to look at Tres.
“Why are you speaking French?” Nelson asked.
“Oh, Tres, I can’t believe you’re fluent in French now,” Tres said. “How ever did that happen?”
In a deeper voice, Tres continued, “Well, my dear friend and brother, Nelson, speaks fluent French. I thought that it would be good to learn so that when he shows up spouting languages like a cross between the Exorcist and a Pentecostal Christian, I could translate. Because, really, I have nothing better to do.”
Nelson snorted a laugh. He grabbed his ribs and moaned. Tres grinned.
“But why isn’t Blane here?” Tres said, imitating Nelson. Back to his imitation of his own voice, he said, “He’s asleep, like you should be.”
“No, really,” Nelson said.
“I know that it will surprise you, but we’re in the middle of our own drama,” Tres said.
“Shocking,” Nelson said.
“Blane’s been working like a madman,” Tres said. “He’s sleeping so that he and the others can work like madmen again.”
“Why aren’t you resting?” Nelson asked, and yawned.
“Because I know something he doesn’t,” Tres said.
“Sounds like you know lots of things he doesn’t know,” Nelson said. “What’s the deal with the languages?”
“I’m good at languages,” Tres said, with a shrug. “But mostly, I learned Latin for my high school project. Spanish was my first language, so it wasn’t a huge stretch.”
“You should be in the diplomatic corps,” Nelson said.
“I wouldn’t be here to have this scintillating conversation with you,” Tres said.
Nelson grinned at Tres.
“I missed you,” Nelson said.
Tres opened his mouth to respond, but Nelson was asleep again. Tres got up to get the nurse.
Monday early-morning — 4:48 a.m.
“Heh,” Sam Lipson said, softly.
His soft chuckling brought footsteps from the loft. He turned to a wet-from-shower Jacob running down the stairs. He turned back to the computer in front of him.
“You okay, Dad?” Jacob asked.
“Fine, fine,” Sam Lipson said.
Jacob put his hand on his father’s shoulder and looked over his shoulder.
“What’s that?” Jacob asked.
“Tres sent out this program for us to review and approve,” Sam said.
“Yeah, I saw that,” Jacob said. “Coffee?”
The coffee maker on the counter beeped indicating the coffee was made.
“Delphie set it up last night because she thought it would be an early morning,” Sam said.
Sam poked at the computer and then chuckled again
“Did you get any sleep?” Jacob asked, as he poured the coffee.
“Not really,” Sam said. “You?”
“No,” Jacob said, setting a mug down next to Sam.
Sam looked up at him.
“That meeting was. . .” Sam shook his head.
“Hard to describe,” Jacob said.
Distracted by the computer, Sam didn’t respond. He chuckled again. Jacob drank his coffee and ignored his father. He was waiting to talk to his father about what his father wanted to do with the company.
“Dad?” Jacob asked.
Sam looked up at Jacob.
“What do you want to do?” Jacob asked.
“What do you mean?” Sam asked.
“What do you want to do with the company?” Jacob asked, working to keep his frustration out of his voice.
“Oh, we job share,” Sam said with a nod.
“Last night, you. . .” Jacob said. “What are you looking at?”
Sam smiled at him. He turned the laptop around so Jacob could see the screen. The screen held a spreadsheet.
“What is that?” Jacob asked.
“It’s a. . . well I don’t know what it is,” Sam said. “Tres said it’s a ‘programmed template.’”
“I read the email while I was in bed,” Sam said. “I said to myself: ‘Sam Lipson, you are not any good at this computer stuff. Everyone’s counting on you so you better get up and figure it out before the kids get up.’”
“Okay,” Jacob said, grinning at his father talking about himself in the third person.
“So I got that laptop you bought for me,” Sam said. “It wasn’t charged so I had to find the charger and. . . Anyway, I got on the main frame by myself.”
“Well done,” Jacob said.
“I was impressed myself,” Sam said with a laugh. “I followed the link in Tres’s email.”
“What is it?” Jacob asked.
“It’s the job share,” Sam said. “He says in the email that he started working on this when we lost those state contracts.”
“What does it do?” Jacob asked.
“It does the work,” Sam said.
“How so?” Jacob asked. “Aden’s going to be here in a minute. We planned to work all day on the logistics.”
“Right,” Sam said. “You have to match people up by job position, their job performance, preferred schedule, their particular skill set, and stuff like that.”
“It’s all here,” Sam said, turning the laptop back around. “Here — I put your name in this box and get... me with alternative of Aden and possibly Blane.”
“Give me an employee’s name,” Sam said.
“Okay, Erik Le Monde,” Jacob said. Erik’s daughter Wanda was over last night to hang out with Noelle.
“Plumbing,” Sam said. “Five stars. Skills and rating match with Deter Robinson. Schedule too. Two alternatives.”
Sam grinned at Jacob.
“What about contracting?” Jacob said. “You know how those lawyers complain.”
“I already did contracting,” Sam said. “Oh, and look! You can check this box and do the entire department. It takes a long time for bigger departments but we only have eight in contracting.”
Sam turned the computer around to show Jacob.
“Really?” Jacob asked. Leaning forward to see that what he said was true.
“I did the site managers, because I know them by name,” Sam said. “I would tweak this one for that one, you know how it is, but. . .”
Sam shrugged. Jacob looked at his father in disbelief.
“It’s really slick,” Sam said. “We’ll easily finish this today and go fishing tomorrow.”
Jacob smiled. A bedraggled Aden came into the kitchen.
“Why are you smiling?” Aden asked.
“Tres’s program works,” Jacob said.
“No way,” Aden said. “He’s been talking about that thing for years. It actually works?”
“Looks like it,” Jacob said.
Blane came into the kitchen.
“How’s Nelson?” Jacob asked.
“In surgery again,” Blane said. “But good. Why are you smiling? I thought it would be all-sad-sacks-all-the-time here.”
“Tres’s program works,” Jacob said.
“You sound so surprised!” Tres said, walking into the kitchen from the back.
Sam got up and hugged Tres.
“Thank you,” Sam said. “You’ve saved our bacon.”
The other men looked at Sam and Tres.
“He’s serious?” Aden asked.
“We still have to grind our way through it,” Tres warned. “It will take us all day. But we should be set to notify the employees by this evening.”
“We can have everyone here for a barbecue,” Sam said.
“Dad,” Jacob said, “Virus? Pandemic?”
“Oh right,” Sam said. “We can email them.”
“We’ll email the team leads and site managers,” Aden said. “Get their approval first.”
“Good thinking,” Sam said, with a grin.
Aden started laughing. Sam joined him. Jacob grinned while shaking his head. Blane started making breakfast.
Denver Cereal continues next week...
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