J.J. Hart: A Collection of Hartfelt Tales

Stephenís Girls

By Marie

The bell had already rung by the time the last of Sheila Latimer's copies slid from the machine. She snatched the stack of papers from the tray and raced down the hall to her unattended students. She slowed at door and shook her head at the sight that greeted her. J.J. Hart, still the only girl in this class, was seated on top of a desk and surrounded by the fourteen boys with whom she studied advanced mathematics that period.

For Ms. Latimer, this was her favorite class on her daily teaching schedule. This group had been with her for the past two years, and the gains made since the sixth grade had been phenomenal, especially in J.J.ís case. Her skills were truly impressive. In fact, she was up for the National Merit Award in Mathematics this year having competed against the top students from all fifty states. J.J. was the first student that she'd taught to be nominated for the award, and it was the first time that she could recall that a girl had been considered for the honor.

J.J. had grown physically tall in those two years, and her confidence had grown right with her. She walked and operated like she owned the world. "Ms. J.J.", as Ms Latimer had come to refer to her, had developed her own style, usually arriving to school dressed in jeans and a pair of her trademark stylish boots. That long red ponytail  had grown even loner and had darkened to multiple, attractive shades of auburn. The ponytail was actually her signature. Her locker, a popular gathering place between bells, bore her silhouette complete with that ponytail thanks to her buddy, Tommy Steele, the resident artist. However, one day of each week, she would wear a beautiful dress or skirt outfit. According to J.J., this was the compromise that she had to reach with her mother to get her to leave her alone about the jeans and boots she preferred to wear. She had become immensely popular in her two years at this school. Unfortunately, as a result of her nerve, her wit, and her love of fun, she was also becoming a regular in the Detention Hall.

Ms. Latimer was especially fond of her. J.J. Hart had proven early on that she could hold her own in this room full of testosterone. In those first sixth grade days she had straightened the boys out and let it be known that she was there to stay. Now in the eighth grade, just as J.J. had predicted two years prior, she was number one in this class and holding, much to the chagrin of Ajay Singh, her fiercest rival for the first seat.

The nicest thing about this class was their generosity and concern for each other. Even though J.J. and Ajay occupied the first two seats, they all helped each other. The other seats were constantly changing due to the willing assistance of the top two seats who only competed against each other.

"Alright, you all know youíre supposed to be doing the warm-up problems. Ms.J.J., what are you doing over there that has everybodyís attention and has changed my agenda again?"

"I didnít change your agenda today, Ms. Latimer. We finished the warm-ups already." J.J. answered, looking up. "Now weíre going back over them. Ajay wants to argue me down on this one formula, but I donít think either one of us has it right."

"I think I know how to do it." Countered Ajay, "But she wonít listen to me, Ms. Latimer."

"Because what youíre saying isnít right!" J.J. argued right back. "I listened to what you said and I tried what you said but it doesnít work!"

The other boys agreed with her and Ajay threw up his hands. J.J. stuck her tongue out at him and grinned. "I respect you, Ajay. You just arenít right this time either."

Entering the circle, Ms. Latimer found that indeed all of them had the work done. They had corrected any mistakes that they had and were earnestly going over the troublesome formula trying to work it out. She was gratified. This class was a math teacherís dream.

"You all get to your seats." She instructed her students as she pulled down the screen to use the overhead projector. "Weíll work this out together."

The door opened and an office messenger came in. She spoke briefly to Ms. Latimer, who turned to the class and called out, "J.J., they want you in the office. What on earth have you done this time?"

J.J. sighed, "Nothing really. I was just late for Social Studies for the third time and got detention. This will be my fourth detention in two months, so they sent for my parent. It wonít be too bad, though. My mother is out of town for the week and so theyíll be getting my father. But, may I just stay here until you show us how to do that formula, and then go to the office afterward?"

J.J. was mischievous, but learning was her main priority when she was in the classroom.

"Sheíll be right there." Ms. Latimer said to the aide, who left the room.

J.J. sauntered down the hall going to the office reflecting on past events. She loved this place. The kids here were of all nationalities and backgrounds. It was fascinating. She had learned so much and was having such a good time.

The work, although challenging and tough, was rewarding. She studied hard, and as usual her grades were excellent. The teachers were more laid back and accepting of the social, economic, and emotional differences among the students they taught. They too were a diverse group, several from other countries. She loved conversing with them about their countries and about her travels with her parents. She got to practice her emerging foreign language talents. One of the teachers was working with her on Italian. It was also one of the languages that her mother was fluent in, so she was picking it up rapidly. That would make language number five for her. Her goal was to catch up to her mother.

J.J. knew that she got lots of breaks because she was such a good student and because the staff liked her, and not because her parents were wealthy like it had been at her previous school. Like her father, she tended to be charming, outgoing, and fun loving, and like her mother, she was curious and persistent in her pursuit of knowledge. She still played down her affluent background, although her recent thirteenth birthday party had let the cat completely out of the bag.

It was a pool party held at her home. In the eighth grade, she finally felt comfortable enough about being accepted for herself to invite everyone, and many, including some of the teachers who came, arrived in awe, completely unaware of her heiress status. Her friend, Charmaine With the Dreadlocks (there were three Charmaines at the school.) fell completely in love with her fatherís eyes. The little Caribbean girl spent the entire night giggling, to J.J.ís amusement, every time he came around. And he came around often; it was the first pool party she had been allowed to have for her birthday and having boys there in swim trunks seemed to make him very nervous.

Tommy drew her picture at the party wearing her new red bathing suit as she sat on a chaise lounge by the pool. Even though it was a very good picture, very pretty and flattering, her mother had taken it from her. She said that her father might not like it if he saw it and that she was putting it away for her to have later. J.J. really didnít think that her father would have minded once he found out that Tommy had done it. Ever since the time that she introduced Tommy to her father that Saturday at the park, he and her father had become close. Tommy now caddied for her father when he played golf at the Club and at some of the local tournaments. His mother had finished school and now had an accounting position with Hart Industries.

The thought of her father made her smile. She was glad that he was coming to handle this situation. He would be fussing at her because he had to take the time to come, but he wouldnít take the meeting itself seriously, at least not as seriously as her mother. With her father, as long as her grades were good and the disciplinary actions taken werenít for insubordination or disrespect, they were her problem. Detentions for her were no big deal. She usually got them for being late to class, for some incident in the lunchroom or restroom, or for using study hall for purposes other than study. Once, when she was the only student in detention one afternoon, she spent the time teaching the supervising teacher some strategies for improving her poker game.

Her father could not understand how someone with so many disciplinary citations could end up on the Honor Roll for good behavior. She explained it to him once when he made her talk seriously to him about the calls that he was getting. Her detentions were for things outside of class. In the classroom, she was serious. He could easily see that her academic grades and her numerous awards reflected the truth of what she said.

After she explained it to him, sitting across from him at his desk in the loft, he simply nodded and said, "O.K., J.J."

He was the best.

As she entered the office, the head secretary looked up from her desk and smiled. J.J. Hart was such a pretty, pleasant child she mused to herself as the willowy redhead stood greeting her at the counter with a smile that lit up the room. Her mother, Mrs. Hart was a pretty lady, the secretary recalled to herself. J.J. got that smile from her mother.

"Good afternoon, J.J. You're wanted in Dr. Simmonsí office. What charges are you up on this time?"

"Late to Social Studies. My book bag strap was stuck in my friend, Marnieís locker and I had to get her locker open to get the strap out before I went to class. That made me late for the bell, and it was the third time. Three strikes, and you knowÖ" She shrugged her shoulders.

"Do you need to get someone to open Marnieís locker for you to get you bag loose? You donít know her combination, do you?"

"No, but I didnít need it. I have my ways around combinations and things like that. You have to know how to listen." J.J. smiled. "Is he mad, Mrs. Marple?"

She came around the counter to stand before the secretaryís desk with her hands stuck down in the back pockets of her tight jeans.

"Is who mad?" Mrs. Marple asked.

"My father. Did he seem upset?"

The secretary gave her a strange look. "Youíd better come on in here with me." She said leading J.J. to the Principalís inner office.

"Come." Called the Principal, answering the knock.

"Dr. Simmons, J.J. Hart is here." Mrs. Marple said, sticking her head inside the door

"Send her in, please."

J.J. stepped into the office. From the angle at which she entered, she could only see Dr. Simmons seated at his desk. As Mrs. Marple closed the door, to her complete surprise and utter dismay, it wasnít her father who was seated on the other side of the desk. It was her mother.

Involuntarily, J.J. froze and closed her eyes. "Oh my God, no." Was the first thought in her head. "How dead am I going to be when this is done?"

Much like the spider inviting the fly to have a seat in its parlor, "Come, my Darling," her mother beckoned sweetly, patting the seat of the empty chair next to her, "Sit here next to Mama."

Her mother had been gone for three days and was not supposed to be back for another two. This was supposed to be Ďparty weekí with Daddy. What in the world was she doing here in this office? J.J. had missed her, but she could very well have been reunited with her under more pleasant circumstances. It was quite obvious from this nasty turn of events that this and the rest of her week were not going to play out the way that she had envisioned them.

As she took the indicated seat, her mother leaned in for her kiss to her cheek, a request that J.J. filled with much trepidation.

"I thought that you were supposed to be in New York until Saturday morning. This is just Wednesday." She said weakly.

She prayed that the answer wasnít going to be that she had flown in specifically for this conference after getting a call from Dr. Simmons. That would truly result in devastating consequences to both her personal and social life for some time to come.

"I finished early and flew in this morning after you and your father left. I was going to surprise you both. But now it looks like the surprise is on you alone. I got home just in time to get this call. Wasnít that some coincidence?"

"Yeah, some." J.J. answered miserably.

Dr. Simmons looked on amused. He loved moderating conferences between these two. There had been a few of these for him to enjoy in the past two years. When Mrs. Hart sat in on a conference with J.J. present, there was little that he had to do or say. The woman took complete control of the situation and her daughter sat like a soldier at attention when she spoke.

The conferences he had held with her father had been another type of experience. He got the feeling that Mr. Hart was merely humoring him. J.J. wore her father like a mink coat and it was apparent that he enjoyed the role. Mrs. Hart was the only person that Dr. Simmons had met so far that could make the invincible J.J. Hart completely tow the line.

Peering over quickly, J.J. noticed that the manila file folder on the desk in front of her mother was labeled "Record of Disciplinary Referrals/ Hart, Justine J. aka(J.J.)"

Once again, she closed her eyes and she shuddered, confident in the knowledge that she was truly in for it. The entire sordid story, detail after detail, was right there in front of her in black and white- and red if the reporting person was angry when he or she wrote it.

Her mother sat back in her chair, crossing her legs to face her.

"Do you want to explain to me why Iím here? Dr. Simmons has revealed some things to me and Iíve read your file. I see that you and your father are still covering up things. Why donít you tell me about it now, in your own words, J.J."

Her stomach was flipping and she felt hot and cold, the way that she always did when her mother called her on the carpet like this. She could not believe her rotten luck. Things didnít usually go this badly for her. Why her mother was so uptight about her behavior was a mystery that she could not understand. She was good in class, both academically and socially. What did it matter about the other times? It was beginning to grate on her nerves that her mother expected her to be so good all the time. A lot of things were grating on her nerves lately, her mother, boys, her body, everything.

Well, Jennifer Edwards Hart was not going to wait forever. She began her explanation of the circumstances surrounding the incident of which she had spoken attempting to get in and out as cleanly as possible.

"My strap got stuck in Marnieís locker and I had to get it out, so I was late for Social Studies."

"What about the other two times?" Her mother flipped the disciplinary record open. Reaching into the breast pocket of her suit jacket, she took out her glasses, put them on and began reading from the file, following each entry with a manicured index finger.

"Tell me about this incident where you were accused of bombing the student hall monitor with the water balloon? What about this tapping into the schoolís audio system and replacing the instrumental version of the National Anthem with Whitney Houstonís vocal version? And what about playing Black Jack in study hall, looks like two times here." 

She stopped and looked over her glasses at her. "But now you and I both know that youíve done it more than that, donít we? These are the just the two times that you got caught at it." 

She went back to the file. "Am I reading this correctly? It says here that youíve set up your own personal office in the first floor restroom? Making it coed, no less! What about these four times late to art?"

J.J. rushed to address each charge in order:

"The hall monitor called me ĎRedí one time too many. Heís a tattletale little wimp and he had it coming. Whitney sounded better than the instrumental version; people pay more attention to the words and the meaning when theyíre sung well. The Black Jack thing, well, Mom, you know how that is with me. I got boredÖwhat can I say? Itís a habit. And that restroom isnít my personal office; I just happen to be there a lot so they just call it that. Nobody uses the facilities in that one restroom any more, so the eighth graders just go in there to talk about stuff. And maybe I was late to art so many times because Iím not artistically inclined?"

Hoping that she had covered all of her bases, J.J. looked up uncomfortably at her mother who looked sternly over her glasses at her,

This was not going well at all. Sweating bullets, she earnestly wished that it were her father sitting next to her at that moment. He would pretend to be upset and fuss at her in the principalís presence. Then once they got back in the hall, he would tell her to try to be good for the rest of the day, give her a kiss, and send her back to class. This wasnít going to be that kind of cake walk, this was going to be a walk down the gang plank.

Jennifer closed the folder and placed it back on the desk.

"Those were just the most recent things. I didnít bother to read everything going back to the beginning of time, which is probably to your advantage." She fanned the numerous pages in the folder for her to see.

Then she sat back and folded her arms looking J.J. directly in the eye. "I am not amused, Justine Hart. Not at all amused."

J.J. stared down at the toes of her studded burgundy cowboy boots and realized another slip-up. She had gone with her father to pick up his suit from his tailor and had seen the boots in a shop window. He had bought them for her after asking her if she really needed them. It was the same day that her mother had left for New York. Of course she said that she did need the boots. Who would say that they didnít? Now she could feel her motherís eyes on them, making mental note of their newness. These would be another mark against her already spotty record. 

Slowly she drew her feet in under her chair even though she knew that it was way too late to hide the boots. Daddy would be going down with the ship too. This situation was not going to be fixed. There was no way. She resigned herself to that fact and got braced for whatever was to come next.

There was a heady silence and then her mother spoke.

"Dr. Simmons, will you arrange to have J.J.ís teachers get a package of work together for, letís say a week." She wrote something on a piece of paper and slid it over to him. "They can fax it to this number. My daughter is going to be in Maryland for a week to spend some quality time with my father, her grandfather. I think she needs some bonding time with him. Sheís a quick study. A week out of school wonít hurt her. It will certainly give all of you here a break from her antics."

She removed her glasses and then stood, readjusting the jacket to the stylish red wool suit that she wore.

Dr. Simmons observed the two females in his office. Mrs. Hart was an attractive woman with, he couldnít help but notice, very nice legs and despite the disparity in their choice of clothing, J.J., in her own way was definitely going to be as stylish and attractive as her mother. Mr. Hart was a lucky, lucky man, he thought to himself. A beautiful, successful wife and a naughty, but academically gifted and personable daughter; the guy had it made.

Although it was midway through her class schedule, Jennifer decided to shut it down for J.J.

"Apologize to Dr. Simmons for your incorrigible behavior once again. Then weíll just go and get your things from your locker. Thereís no need for you to finish out this day. All you have left is the rest of math and then music and art. Youíre a scholar in math, Pa has a piano so you can practice your music there, and according to your own testimony, youíre not artistically inclined anyway."

J.J. stood slowly, the weight of the world on her shoulders. Standing alongside of her, she was not quite as tall as her mother, but it was evident that she would be in time. It amazed her that her mother had committed her class schedule to memory, and it unnerved her that she would be spending a week in the company of her formidable grandfather. Dealing with Stephen Edwards at his estate was more than likely going to be worse than dealing with Jennifer Edwards Hart at hers. With most, but not quite all, of the usual mischief gone from her eyes, she turned to the Principal.

"Well, I guess this is goodbye for a while, Dr. Simmons." She said solemnly, taking his hand as he walked around from behind his desk. "Itís been a pleasure. I am truly sorry that I got caught being incorrigible again. You will think about me from time to time while Iím away, wonít you?"

Dr. Simmons lost it and smiled despite his desire to present a stern, professional image. J.J. Hart was a character if he ever met one.

Jennifer could not believe the cheek of this child. She was definitely Jonathanís issue.

"Get going, Girlie." She said taking her by the shoulder and moving her toward the door. "Thank you, Dr. Simmons for the time that you take with this future resident of Juvenile Hall."

"Not a problem, Mrs. Hart. In fact, itís been my distinct pleasure. Parents like you make my job easier."

Amused, Dr. Simmons watched as mother and daughter left his office.

"Jennifer, youíre actually going to send her all the way out east just because she was late to a class?"

"Jonathan, Iím sending her out east to keep from killing her. Sheís absolutely horrible lately. She thinks because sheís J.J. Hart she can do anything she wants and it should be acceptable to all concerned."

"Well, isnít it?" He asked, getting a sharp look from her in return.

He sat on the window seat as she changed out of her suit. Although he was delighted to have her home early from her trip, he had been dismayed to find that she had intercepted the schoolís call. Usually Marie got the calls and relayed the messages to him. Occasionally one got past her to Jennifer and this had been one of those times. J.J. could be heard downstairs practicing the major and minor scales on the piano. She only did that; repeating them over and over as she was down there doing, when she felt anxious. He knew that the prospect of a week with her grandfather was worrying for her indeed. And a week without seeing that little girl was no less upsetting to him.

Jennifer walked over to him in her slip and placed her hands on his shoulders. Looking into his eyes, she spoke to him, hoping that maybe she could make him understand this time.

"Jonathan, you do this. Burgundy boots; did she really need those?"

She shook her head at him in exasperation still looking into his eyes.

He shrugged his shoulders, giving the weak defense, "She said that she didnít have that color and she needed them."

Jennifer rolled her eyes at him and continued, "Honestly, youíre putty personified! You donít see anything wrong in anything that she does. She has your ways, which isnít a bad thing, except that J.J. is a girl with an ego like a boy. Sheís a smart girl and sheís clever, and those are two very different things. In combination, they can be very frightening things. I love her just as she is, but all that she is must be tempered or else at some point sheís going to be a girl out of control. Everyone likes her and caters to her. Nobody gets upset with her. She can do no wrong. The world is her oyster and her ego is being fed to the point of obesity."

He put his hands about her waist feeling her shapely, taut body through the thin fabric. She was in fantastic shape for a woman her age. Looking down at her flat midsection, he recalled the fascination he felt and the enjoyment he got from placing his cheek next to her growing abdomen, feeling J.J. as she moved inside of her mother all those years ago. Knowing that their love had resulted in that brilliant child downstairs made J.J. all the more precious to him.

Yes, he spoiled and indulged their daughter, but J.J. took care of business in the classroom, which proved what was most important to him. She recognized when to turn it on and when to ease up and play. She had instinctive intelligence, which would help her make it in any situation. He knew that if she could make her place in the world a pleasant place to be, she could do anything she set her mind to do. He also knew that Jennifer balanced and countered all that he overlooked with her consistency and firmness.

J.J. loved and respected her mother. Jennifer was probably the only person on earth to whom she gave her complete, undivided attention when she spoke to her about anything. The two of them didnít always see eye to eye, but J.J. never gave her any lip, and Jennifer never lost her dignity. It was definitely Jennifer who was doing the driving when it came to maneuvering the road that she and J.J. were taking in their lives together.

He didnít know how this child, so much like him in her ways, was going to make it with her rigid, aristocratic grandfather for an entire week.

"Jennifer," he began, pulling her in closer to him. "What am I supposed to do if she calls me at the office begging me to fly up and get her? You know I canít refuse her if I can hear her pouting."

"When you she calls you up whining in the phone like I know she will, just keep in mind that if you go out there and get her before the week is up, you and I canít do the things that we do when sheís away." She raised an eyebrow and nodded. "An entire week with no interruptions- all day and all night- just think of the possibilities."

Her smoky, sensuous eyes made many delectable promises.

The scales resounded from the great room, made their way up the staircase, and drifted in through the heavy closed doors of their bedroom. J.J. was truly out of sorts downstairs.

"You know how to push both of our buttons, donít you?" He said before he slid the silk straps of her slip down from her shoulders, then pulling her onto his lap to massage the J.J. tension from her neck and upper back.

"I think our daughterís on her own for a week."

Stephen Edwards watched for the car to come up his driveway as he returned from his morning ride on the grounds surrounding his home. He rode his horse slowly reflecting to himself that the girl would probably arrive by limousine. That was so much automobile for such a little passenger. His son-in-law truly knew how to treat the women in his life. He felt gratified that the women in Jonathan Hartís life happened to be his daughter and his only grandchild.

Initially he had vehemently opposed Jenniferís decision to marry this man. She had only known him a ridiculously short time before agreeing to accept his proposal, and on top of that the man had the audacity to ask her before he had spoken with her father. That was not how things were done where he came from, and Jennifer was all that he had left.

Despite his initial anger, he had come to love Jonathan like a son. It was more than apparent that he was devoted to Jennifer and that through the years she had been very happy with him. Every time they visited, she was more radiant and more beautiful than when he had seen her last.

Then finally, as the jewel in her crown, Jonathan gave her a child, his grandchild. Stephen had been holding his breath on that subject for at least six years. He gave them the first three years to get to know each other, and when it didnít happen after that he had just about given up hope on it ever happening in his lifetime. It did almost stop his old heart when Jennifer called to tell him that she was expecting ten years into the marriage. She and her husband led a lifestyle at the time that did not lend itself to rearing a child. Jennifer stayed on the go all over the world and it worried him some that she might come to resent the constraints that having a child might place on her very successful career.

He had never had those concerns about Jonathan. From the beginning Stephen could tell that a child was what he wanted despite his going along with Jenniferís wishes and not pushing for one. He had always secretly felt that Jennifer should allow the man at least one child considering that he had no other family, but it wasnít his place to say that to her. Her mother would have told her as much if she had been living; the woman didnít bite her tongue on any issue that she felt strongly about. Watching Jonathan interact with Justine always brought a smile to his face. He was good with the child, even if he was a bit lenient at times.

Late in her pregnancy Jennifer came to visit him, but it was not until she brought the actual baby to him and he held the little girl in his arms that he finally believed that he was a grandfather.

Obviously, his fears for Jennifer and motherhood had been unfounded. From the beginning, when she had to go, the child simply went with her. At age thirteen, Justine had been around the world, had spent her lifetime among her motherís accomplished and famous friends, was raised in her fatherís corporate world, and seemed to have most satisfactorily completed the family circle for the two of them.

This was the first time that she would be visiting him without her parents. On her last visit, she had come with her parents when the problems with his heart had resurfaced. He was ill and cranky and hadnít spent much time with her. When Jennifer called this time to ask his permission to send her to him, she explained that the girl was very smart, but as she was growing into a teenager, she was becoming rather wild and reckless. She also said that the girl was stubborn. That particular detail about his granddaughter came as no surprise to him. It was most likely genetic- on her motherís side.

As far as he was concerned, the child had always been feral. In his opinion, Jonathan and Jennifer permitted her far too much freedom and exposure to outside influence. Their first mistake was in abbreviating her beautiful given name to two letters: J.J. What kind of name was that for a proper young lady? Then they allowed her to leave that fine private academy in Bel Air to attend a common public school in the city with the local element. She wore her beautiful hair in that horsetail thing and was in pants constantly, just like a boy. He would do anything for Jennifer, but he really didnít know what he could do with Justine, not J.J., without hurting her feelings. But there would definitely be some changes made in her this week if she were going to be there with him, of that he was sure.

Seeing a car turn into the driveway from the main road, he urged his horse into a trot to meet the limousine as it approached the house.

Jennifer frequently sent pictures of Justine to him, but it had been a year since he had seen her in the flesh. He was unprepared for the girl that emerged from the car. She was taller and more slender than when he had last seen her. Although she still wore that hair up and was clad in jeans and boots, when she turned to face him he could see that she was becoming the mirror image of his Jennifer.

"Hello Pa." She greeted him smiling the same wide, beautiful smile as her mother.

She walked over to him from the car and gently patted his horse, laying her cheek against its silken face, talking softly and greeting it the way that her mother would.

"Heís beautiful!" She exclaimed. He had forgotten how much Justine loved horses even though he was boarding her racehorse on the grounds of his estate.

Then, extending her hand up to him, she said to him, "Take me for a ride, Pa. Iíve been bad and theyíve sent me here to you for rehabilitation."

Looking down on her into her blue eyes, as she put her foot into the stirrup, he was compelled to reach down and pull her up to him. She mounted the horse behind him as easily and as naturally as Jennifer had done with him as a young girl. For some reason he recalled that time that Jennifer got sent home from school for getting caught smoking cigarettes in her room. He had met the car that delivered her in this same driveway. She had been thirteen at the time too.

Wrapping her arms around his waist, his granddaughter lay her head on his back.

"Welcome home, Justine." He said to her. "Where would you like to go?"

"Anywhere you want to take me, Pa." The hands that encircled his waist were long and slender, like Jenniferís hands. Like Suzanneís hands.

In those few opening moments, Stephen Edwards completely lost his heart to his granddaughter.

"Mr. Hart, Mrs. Hart is here to see you."

"Send her right in, Deanne!"

He was always delighted when Jennifer came to see him during the day. They had not seen as much of each other as they had planned this week.

Right away Jennifer found herself getting more wrapped up in her work since J.J. had been away. She was not as distracted by having to build her day around taking her to and picking her up from school. The hours flowed into each other and before she knew it, the whole day would be gone.

On the same day that he had put J.J. on the plane, urgent business with a division that he was trying to sell off immediately surfaced, taking up Jonathanís time. He found himself in and out of meetings, on the phone, or reading paperwork. For them to be able to have a few minutes together like this was a treat.

She entered the office with a picnic basket.

"I took a chance. Do you have time to eat lunch with me?"

"Iím making time." He hit the intercom button. "Deanne, please hold all my calls and I want no visitors for about an hour."

As she set up the lunch, she informed him of their daughterís experiences in Maryland with her grandfather.

"Jonathan, your child has my father ordering and eating fast food pizza. I just got off the telephone with him and I swear I could hear NíSync playing in the background. He said that he had to order the pizza because he lost to her at gin last night; that was their bet. I sent her up there for Pa to straighten her out and now sheís corrupting my father! Jonathan, sheís only been there three days!"

"He should have known better than to bet against her." He replied smiling. "J.J. knows an easy mark when she sees one."

After all, that was his baby girl and he taught her all that she knew. She was murder with a deck of cards and a good bet on the table.

"You know this trip is in vain, donít you?" She said sitting with him at the table. "Sheís done a number on him too."

Jonathan grinned at her over his sandwich,

"You Edwards women do that. We guys donít stand a chance against your smiles. Your mother was probably the same way. She probably just smiled and had your father wrapped around her little finger."

The reference to her late mother brought a smile to her own face. They didnít speak of her often. "I seem to remember that she did have a wonderful smile. She probably did do that to Pa."

"You and J.J. certainly do it to me."

J.J. got up from where she had been laying across the bed studying her history book. She and her grandfather had pigged out on pizza for lunch and then he went into his room to take his afternoon nap. While he was sleeping, he liked for her to have what he called "quiet time" in her room. She could nap, she could read or work on her schoolwork, play the video games she had brought with her, or she could listen to her music as long as she used the headphones. The time was supposed to be used to refresh the spirit, he said. The concept somehow appealed to her. She planned to incorporate it into her schedule at home. It seemed to take the edge off.

There was a paper stuck in the pages of her book that she was using for a bookmark. She pulled it out and unfolded it. It was an email from Tommy. She read the message that she had printed out earlier from her laptop in her grandfatherís office. Tommy was at school in the computer lab where he was supposed to be paying attention in class. Instead he was sneaking and sending messages to her:

From: Thomas Jordan Steele

Subject: Keeping in Touch

Message:

My Banished Friend,

How goes it at Briarwood with the Old One? Hope youíre not bored stupid by now. We all miss you in study hall. Itís no fun at all here without you to keep us laughing.

Marnie got detention for cussing in the lunchroom. It was meatloaf day and you know she hates meatloaf. She let it fly and the lunch lady heard her. So now she has two days on lockdown. She got two days instead of the usual one because she was a repeat offender on that same charge. I guess sheíll get life the next time.

I was with your Dad yesterday. I helped him in his office. He showed me how to download some files for him and then we went to McDonalds afterward. He said not to tell your mother. I told him that I wouldnít. Besides, your mother scares me so I wouldnít talk to her if I didnít have to anyway. His secret is safe with me.

Miss you, girl.

Your bud,

Tommy

She refolded the paper and put it under her pillow. It felt good to know that her friends in the outside world were thinking about her. She lay back on the bed and surveyed her surroundings.

This was the room that once served as her motherís room when she was a little girl and she lived at home with her parents. When she went away to boarding school and came home for visits, her mother had moved into a different room in the house. That was the room that her parents now shared when they came here. This room was understood to be her room in her grandfatherís home.

Not much had been changed in here over the years that she could see. It was always the same every time that she came, white lace curtains, matching bedspread and pillows and the baby pink throw rug on the hardwood floor. She liked the consistency and the familiarity.

On the huge antique dresser was a picture of her mother when she was a young girl. She wore her hair down in the picture, but it wasnít as long as hers. Getting up from the bed, J.J. wandered over and stared at the picture, taking her own hair down from the ponytail that she knew her grandfather couldnít abide as she did so. Her hair was much thicker and longer than her motherís, but she noticed that it wasnít as curly as it used to be when she was little. It was becoming wavy. It was so long that when it was loose it hung down past the middle of her back. Lately her mother had been making her go to the hair salon with her where the stylist would trim it evenly. Her mother said that would keep the ends from splitting and looking raggedy. Brushing it back from where it immediately tried to fall forward she peered into the mirror on the dresser at her face.

So far, things hadnít been so bad here at Briarwood, the formal name for her grandfatherís estate. It used to be run as a horse farm, but now he only kept a few horses, including her racehorse, Triple J. She had ridden him every day that since she arrived, taking him way out away from the house and letting him race freely as she rode him across the far fields, relishing the fact that there was nobody out there to tell her to stop, slow down, or to be careful. The horse loved it, as did she. As long as she made it back for lunch and dinner in time to wash and get dressed her grandfather had not said anything to her about how she occupied her time. The only thing that he had gotten onto her about was for not wearing gloves when she rode. She liked the feel of the leather in her bare hands, but he wanted her to wear the riding gloves to keep her hands soft. After holding her hands in his, and examining them closely, he gave her a pair of her motherís riding gloves that he kept in the mud room, and demanded that she wear them every time. She was getting too old to abuse her hands, he said. A lady needed to preserve her hands. She did as he asked.

After a good workout, she and Triple J would return to the paddock windblown and exhausted. She would then assist Mike, his handler, in getting him brushed down, watered, fed and settled in his stall. Going into the house afterward, invariably her grandfather would be in his den on the phone or reading, his ever present pipe sending the comforting aroma of his fine tobacco into the front hall and down to the mud room where she changed from her riding gear. They didnít talk a whole lot, but they said enough. He was much kinder than she remembered him being. She felt that on this visit she could actually breathe around him, which was something she had trouble doing in the past.

Last night he mentioned that her mother said that she could play cards very well. She told him that indeed she could. He then said he didnít think that she could beat him at gin. She bet him a pizza delivery that she could. He said that if he beat her, she had to wear her hair down for the rest of her visit with him. He lost and had to pay for the pizza that she ordered for lunch this afternoon. She was shocked when he ate some with her and even more stunned when he said that it was good.

He wanted to hear the music that she listened to in her headphones, so she played the Nísync CD for him after hooking up her player to the speakers on his system, and he actually said that he liked it. He had been amazed that she knew how to make the CD player work with his system, and he asked if he could keep the CD for a bit so that he could hear it all the way through. There were a couple of racy lyrics, but she was glad that it wasnít one of her rap tapes. The serious cursing on a couple of those would stop his heart for real. She kept those completely under wraps from her mother. She wouldnít understand the need for those at all.

Maybe her grandfather wasnít such a tough old guy after all. While they had been playing cards, he told her that he thought that she had beautiful hair and that time he didnít criticize her ponytail as part of the compliment. Then he said that he thought that she was going to be much prettier than even her mother. That part, she didnít believe, but if her motherís father said it, thenÖ She peered closer into the mirror. Nah, no way.

She closed the bedroom door. Her grandfather would be asleep for a while and Walter, his gentlemanís gentleman was downstairs in the middle of assisting the cook with dinner. She would be alone for a while. Spending time here at the Hill Haven away from her friends, the phone, and her parents had given her the opportunity to reflect on herself and some things that sheíd put to the back of her mind.

Going over to the full-length mirror in the closet, she stood looking at herself. Outside of making sure that she was neat and clean, she never really paid too much attention to her appearance. She knew that she wasnít hideous or anything, but focusing on her looks had never been a priority item for her. Being comfortable in her clothes, getting good grades, and having fun were more important.

Her grandfatherís words about her hair, the way that he looked at her eyes when he talked to her, and his comment about her being pretty, brought back something that her mother had told her a year ago on that day when she caught her kissing with Tommy in the gazebo on the rear grounds. She involuntarily shivered recalling how scared she had been that day talking with her mother up in her bedroom about what she had done. Her mother told her that when she got her period she would become pretty all of a sudden, and she said that her blue eyes would make her face interesting. Well, she did have her period now, but she had been too busy having fun to stop and take notice of any other changes. Now that she was all alone she had the time.

She took off all of her clothes and stood naked before the mirror examining her body closely. As far as she could see, she was still too skinny; she didnít have much of a chest, although it wasnít anywhere near as flat as it used to be, and her legs and arms seemed to be too long for the rest of her body. But, she did have good hair and she did like her blue eyes, though that was mostly because her father had the same blue eyes.

Her skin was darker than her motherís, but it was going to be all freckled just the same. She could hear her motherís voice in her head as she stood there looking at herself. She was fussing about her not putting on sunscreen before going out, and getting on her about spending so much time in the sun on the beach. Her mother was having some problems with her skin lately that she didnít want to talk about, but that she had been seeing the skin doctor about. She had taken to freaking out over her being in the sun too long. Whose fault was it anyway that they were born so red? Probably her grandmother; she had been red and her twin sister in France was red too. Why should they have to stay out of the sun due to some accident of birth? What was the point of being born in and living in California if you couldnít enjoy the sun? It was so grossly unfair.

Lately the boys, who up to now had just been her friends, were beginning to act differently toward her. A couple of them had asked her for kisses. She had to knock one on his butt about it when he tried to do it anyway after she turned him down. Fortunately, her mother had told her that it might be like that. She said that girls got periods and boys got horny, those were her words. She asked her if girls got horny too. Her mother said yes, but to talk to her first if she started feeling that way. She wasnít feeling it yet, she guessed. What did horny actually feel like?

Poor Marnie didnít even know what Ďhornyí meant and she had to fill her in on that. When Marnieís period came that day in Science class, she spent the entire rest of the afternoon in the Counselorís office crying hysterically until her mother came for her. Marnie just knew that she was hemorrhaging to death. J.J. smiled to herself at the memory. It was so funny and so pathetic at the same time. Marnieís mother hadnít told her anything about that happening to all girls their age.

On the way home that day, her own mother had been strangely quiet when she told her about Marnieís incident. It wasnít until later that she realized that her motherís mother was probably dead when she got her period. Who told her about it and helped her to know what to do? Surely not Pa. Maybe her mother spent the day in her Counselorís office too, far away at boarding school, scared and crying. The thought of that made her sad for a moment. Then, putting things together, she figured that probably explained why her mother spent so much time making sure that she understood all that stuff. She didnít want her to be stupid about those things.

Blake, the boy she had beaten up in the fifth grade had transferred to her school last semester after being Ďaskedí to leave the Academy. He had gotten into some kind of trouble and his parents were given the option of voluntarily transferring him out or waiting until he was officially expelled. He was smart, so he had tested into the gifted program.

When he saw her, he tried talking to her, telling her how pretty she was. He knew better than that. He knew full well that she didnít talk to him; she hadnít said one word to him since that day, and she never would as long as they lived. He no longer existed. She walked away from him without saying a word, but it was strange because the whole time that they remained at the Academy together after the fight, he knew that she had cut him out of her world and left her alone. What would make him think that anything had changed? Was it changes in her body that made him risk talking to her?

Turning to see herself from all angles, she wondered what the boys saw in her. She pushed her breasts together wondering if one day she would have cleavage like her mother. She hoped so. What was the point of having breasts if you didnít get cleavage with it? She got close and examined her own face. Maybe Pa and her mother were right. One day she would be pretty. She couldnít see it for herself right now. Certainly she would never be the beauty that she knew her mother to be. Taking one last good look and sighing, she picked up her clothes and went into the bathroom to take a shower. She had to get into a dress for dinner with Pa.

Stephen watched his granddaughter as she sat across from him cutting her steak. She could really put it away and he liked that. She wasnít choosy and she didnít pick at her food. She ate. Every night she came down to have dinner with him wearing a dress or a skirt without him having to remind her, and sheíd take her hair down and weave it into a loose braid down her back. Although he would have preferred that she wore it loose, the braid was better than that tail-thing.

After almost four days, she had not been a bit trouble; in fact he rather enjoyed knowing that she was there with him. She spent a great deal of time in the afternoon and the evenings in her schoolbooks. In the mornings, from his bedroom window, he could see her riding her horse out to the fields. He knew that she was racing that animal when she thought that she was far enough out to not be seen. But Justine was an excellent rider and what she was doing was probably as good for her as it was for the horse. She was still light enough not to hold him back.

On his orders, Mike had followed her out the first couple of days to see where she was going and what she was up to. He came back with the report that she was riding the horse across the back plains at top speed, standing in the stirrups like a jockey. Stephen figured that sitting and working a horse must be in their blood: his late wife, Suzanneís, Jenniferís, and now Justineís. They seemed born to it. All three of them began riding almost before they could walk. In Justineís case, it was before she could walk. Her father bought her a pony and was leading her around on it before she was a year old. By the time she was five, just like the women before her, she was riding off alone. All of them had spirit, and they made him proud.

"Justine, did you speak with your mother and father today?"

"Yes. I talked to Daddy this morning when he got to his office. I called my mother right after to tell her good morning. She emailed me too this afternoon and I emailed her back. She said that sheíd call me later after she gets back from some work sheís doing for California Homes magazine. I always send her a message before I go to bed to tell her Ďgood nightí."

"You Harts and those computers, cell phones, car phones, pagers, and gadgets. Jonathanís got you all wired to each other."

"Well, he is Hart Industries, Pa. Technology is his world and weíre living in it. If you want I can show you how to send my mother an email after dinner. Itíll really surprise her to get one from you!"

"No thanks, Iíll just stick with the old fashioned telephone."

He pushed back from the table and folded his arms. "Tell me something, though. Why were you sent to me, Justine? Whatís going on with you and Jennifer? Is it trouble with boys?"

She frowned, "No way, Pa. I donít even like boys. Aside from you, Daddy, and a few of my friends who happen to be male, I think boys are jerks."

He laughed softly.

"Iím glad to hear that for right now. Then just what is the problem?"

J.J. put her knife and fork down. She wiped her mouth slowly with her napkin and took a sip of water. She knew this conversation with her grandfather was coming and she had been dreading it ever since she got there.

"I donít really know, Pa. I guess I just do stuff that makes her mad. I like having fun and sometimes I get in trouble in the process. She doesnít like that I get in trouble so much. I guess weíre not all that compatible when you really get down to it."

"What kinds of things are you doing, Justine? Robbing banks, stealing cars, knocking over liquor stores?"

She laughed out loud. He caught her off guard; she didnít know that he had such a sense of humor. It was like her motherís: it blindsided you. You had to look at their eyes to see where they were coming from because they would say things without cracking a smile.

"No Pa, nothing that serious. I get detention a lot at school for things like being late to class, stuff like that."

She wasnít going to get into too many details. It probably wouldnít do to mention the black jack games in study hall and the coed bathroom thing specifically. Keep it short, her father had often advised her about providing details.

"But Jennifer says that you are an honor student. How is that if youíre being punished all the time?"

"One doesnít have anything to do with the other, Pa. Itís the stuff that I do out of class that gets me into trouble. I do what Iím supposed to do in the classroom." Her eyes searched his face beseechingly. "Iím not really bad, Pa. I just like to have fun and she doesnít give me an inch."

He could see her squirm as she spoke.

He remembered that Jennifer had squirmed that same way when he had to ask her about her detentions, her many detentions between ages twelve and fifteen. And when he got called to go up to the school, he had to book a flight from wherever he was in the world to get to her. Yes, she had squirmed quite a bit when he got there. She squirmed a whole lot that time he had to pay for that lab she blew up when she and Pat were back there playing in the chemicals during a lab experiment. Jennifer had been an honor student also despite her antics. It so tickled him that she was being paid back by this smart little imp sitting across from him looking so much like her.

This was turning into just an entertaining conversation rather than a grandfather scolding his wayward granddaughter. What was happening was crystal clear to him. The two of them were jockeying for position and Jennifer would win hands down, just as he had done with her so many years ago. This would play itself out. In the meantime, he would enjoy his visit from his grandchild. No mediation on his part was needed other than the cursory reprimand:

"Sheís not supposed to give you an inch, Justine. Youíll just try to take a mile if she does." He said with a sternness that he didnít feel. "I want you to try to do better about all of these detentions when you get home. You donít want to be the cause of your mother being upset, do you?"

"No, Pa. I donít set out to get in trouble. It just kind of happens. Iíll try to do better when I get back, I promise." She loved the sound of England in his voice. It almost made getting fussed at pleasant.

She would get into more trouble, he knew. There was another year or two of this to come before J.J. Hart became Justine Jennifer Hart. But when she did, in her own way would become every bit the lady that her mother had become, and as her grandmother had been. Suzanne would have taken great delight in the little redhead seated across from him. It hurt him that the two of them had been deprived of each other.

During this visit, while he had so much intimate time with her and the opportunity to closely observe her, he recognized that Justine had a quality, an edge, to her that had been present in Suzanne. He had never been able to put a name to it with Suzanne, but he recognized it just the same in Justine. It was their direct manner of speech, their assertive carriage, the aura- whatever it was, it gave one the feeling straightaway that they were not the type of women that needed a man to protect them; they could and would take care of themselves. It was true of Jennifer also, but it was not as obvious in her outward bearing as it was in her mother and presently in her daughter. Jennifer had a softer countenance than her mother and her daughter.

"Iím going to hold you to that promise." He said to her.

"But not too hard" He thought to himself.

It was late. 

Before going up for the night, Jennifer sat down to check her emails. She had several feelers out in the atmosphere concerning her latest pieces and she decided to see if she had any nibbles. Opening her mailbox, she was stunned to find this email:

From: Stephen A. Edwards

Subject: Justine J. Hart

Message:

Sheís a joy, Jennifer. When you look at your daughter, you are seeing your mother.

Enjoy her. Be patient with her. Someone was very patient with you.

                I love you, darling.

                Pa

Jennifer shook her head with amusement. If her father was seeing her mother in J.J., then he was totally taken by her. Loving Jonathan as she did, she had come to understand just how devastated he had been in losing her mother so suddenly and so tragically. It explained why he never remarried and as far as she knew, never became seriously interested in another woman. In all that time, she had never known him to express even a passing interest in any other woman. She could imagine herself reacting in that same amnner if something ever happened to Jonathan. No one else could ever begin to occupy the chasm that he would leave.

She was glad that J.J. was filling some of that void for her father this week. The fact that J.J. had gotten her grandfather online confirmed that she was bringing him out. He was under her spell and had been completely won over. It was probably the first time in his seventy-eight years that he had ever sent an email to anyone and J.J. Hart had gotten him to do it.

Jennifer figured that girl was really going to give the guys a run for their money whenever she started being interested in the opposite sex. She had her father and now her grandfather in her hip pocket and they both obviously liked it there.

She recalled with delight Jonathanís earlier words about the Edwards women and the mention of her mother. She wondered if her mother could see her and see J.J. She hoped that she could at least see J.J. If she could, she probably found that little clown amusing too.

Closing her fatherís message, and then scanning the list of other messages, there was another that caught her eye.

  

From: J.J. Hart

Subject: Pa and Me, You and Me

Message:

Mama,

Iíve been very good, you can ask Pa. Iím having a really nice time. At first I didnít think that I would. I rode Triple J. again this morning. Heís a dream! You have to ride him when you come. Pa says that youíre not too heavy for him and you wonít hold him back.

Iíve had a dress on every day and I hate it, but Pa likes them so it doesnít seem so bad if it makes him happy. I had my hair down too, but in a braid, not loose. You would like it.

I know Iím a pain sometimes. I donít mean to be, but stuff happens. Mom, I always love you and respect you no matter what it seems like. Iíll try to do better when I get home, but I canít control everything around me. I canít promise that you wonít get mad at me again. Stuff happens sometimes and I just get caught up.

I miss you a lot.

Your daughter,

J.J.

Jennifer sat back and smiled, reaching out for the letter of congratulation that had arrived earlier that day from the White House. She read it again for the tenth time that day. It stated that the National Department of Education had awarded Justine Jennifer Hart the National Merit Award for Mathematics Achievement.

 

Jonathan was upstairs working at his desk in the loft. Before shutting down the laptop, he checked his emails also. He too had a message:

 

From: The One and Only J.J. Hart

Subject: May I Come Home Now?

Message:

                                Daddy,

When are you coming to get me? I miss you, my mother, and Third. I love Pa. He doesnít see anything wrong with me, just like you donít. He fussed a little and I told him Iíd try to do better and I will.

I like it here, Triple J is a dream, but Iím ready to come home. I promise to try to clean up my act so that you wonít keep getting into trouble with my mother over me.

She doesnít know about the navy boots yet. Iíll keep them under wraps for a while when I get home. When I do put them on Iíll wear them with something navy so they wonít be so noticeable.

                   I love you, Daddy. Come and get me soon, pleeeeeease!!!!

                               Your Hart                               

                                XOXOX

At the same time, she from the bottom of the spiral staircase up to the loft, and he from the top of the stairs down to her desk below:

"Jonathan!"

"Jennifer!"

"Letís go and get my daughter/my Hart tomorrow!"

-End-

"Stephen's Girls"

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