Promises: Part One

Part One

“Miss Marnie, that is the third outfit you’ve tried on. Are you really that nervous?”

Cordelia Davis had come up to the suite of rooms occupied by Ms. Patricia’s young charge to see what was keeping the girl. The car was scheduled to arrive at any moment to take her to the airport to pick up Mrs. Hart who was arriving from Los Angeles. “You have been running around like a chicken from the axe all morning.”

In the three-way mirror, checking out her smart red pants suit from all angles, stood Marnie. To the eyes of Pat’s personal assistant and house manager, the girl looked perfectly put together, just as she always did. Her uncharacteristic agitation was baffling, but amusing.

“I want to look my best, Cordelia. Mrs. H. is always so on point; she likes for J.J. and me to pay attention to our appearances, too. I don’t want her to think I’ve been slacking on my grooming or anything since I’ve been away.”

Standing behind Marnie, the tall, solid woman with the handsome cocoa-colored face held a red leather coat across her arm and a matching pair of leather gloves clutched in her hand.

“You never slack, Miss Marnie. You have given this stay your best, and it shows. Mrs. Hart will be nothing but happy with you. That is, unless you have her standing around, waiting for you and the car at the airport. Here, you don’t have time for another change.”

The woman held out the coat so that Marnie could slip her arms into it. Marnie pulled the butter-soft swing garment around her and tied the belt. Then Cordelia handed her the gloves and the red leather purse that was hanging from the mirror. “You look lovely, Miss Marnie. Are you sure you won’t put something on your head? I haven’t been out today, but the weather reports say it’s kind of cold and a little windy, too.”

“No, thank you. I don’t care for hats and scarves and stuff on my head, and I’m getting right into the car. I’ll be okay. Are you sure that I look all right? Not too overdone? This is a lot of red.”

Cordelia chuckled. “I know it’s your favorite. Nobody wears that color the way that you do. You look fine. But you really need to scoot. You and Davis need to collect Mrs. Hart and then make it back in time to fetch Ms. Patricia. You know how she gets when she’s kept waiting.”

As if she were picturing in her mind Pat’s reaction to being made to wait for her own car, Marnie grinned. “I think she’ll understand if we’re late today. I believe she’s as anxious for Mrs. H. to get here as I am. I sure wish J. were coming with her.”

“Miss J.J. had exams, I understand. She’ll be here bright and early on Sunday.”

“Ms. Haversham let me take my exams early.” With her fingers, Marnie was fluffing out her hair as she and Cordelia left the dressing room to go down the stairs to the elevator inside the front hall of Pat’s apartment. “I told her that I wanted to go to pick up Mrs. H. today, so she let me do mine yesterday. I think I did well on them. I really like having a private teacher. It suits my personality better to not have to deal with a lot of different teachers and all their assorted attitudes all day long. Or, I guess, for a lot of different teachers to have to deal with all of mine.”

Cordelia clicked on the cell phone buzzing in her pocket. She took a brief message, and put it back. “The car is downstairs,” she reported as she and Marnie arrived on the first floor.

At the elevator door, waiting for the car to get there, she issued warning. “I know you’re going to the private receiving area of the airport, but you make sure that you stay with Davis. He’s to go into the airport with you and see to Mrs. Hart’s bags. He knows not to leave you on your own, but you make sure that you don’t leave him. Ms. Patricia will be coming after all of us should something happen to you out there.”

Marnie was making adjustments to her coat collar, lifting it to cover the back of her neck. “Nothing’s going to happen,” she said as she pulled on her gloves. “But I will stay with Davis. He’s the best at making sure I don’t mess up. How Aunt Pat managed to luck up on a brother and sister to help manage her affairs and to make sure she and her guests get where they need to be, I don’t know. But you two are the best at what you do.”

“Your Aunt Patricia is the best when it comes to people, Miss Marnie. Good tends to draw good; you remember that.”

“I will.” The frosted glass doors to the elevator slid open, and Marnie stepped in. She smiled and waved. “See you later.”

When the doors closed again, Cordelia remained in the front hall for a moment, reflecting on what a good decision it had been on Pat’s behalf to have brought Marnie home to New York with her. Without that child to focus upon, she wasn’t sure how well Pat would have held up in the wake of 911 and its after-effects. Even with Marnie there, as it stood, nobody could really be sure how she was holding up. Patricia Hamilton had always been an outwardly stalwart woman. Precious few were made privy to whatever might be going on with her more sensitive inner person.

______________________________________________________________

As the memory floated, intense and warm, into her mind, clouding out her professional thoughts, Jennifer had to stop typing. Accepting her concentration was irrevocably broken for the time being, she reclined her seat and closed her eyes.

So sweet and so romantic. Always so very nice. Husband, father, and constant, consummate lover.

He even had roses and a note waiting on board for her when she got there.

“Thank you for my wonderful morning. I’ll miss you.                                                See you soon, Me.”

Jonathan had never been big on writing things out. He was better at showing her how he felt.

… searing hot, then smoldering and passionate, those bedroom blue eyes gazed down into hers as he loved her. Then he was all around her, rolling and pulling her with him until she was lying on her side, his arms and legs holding her so close that she could feel the rapid, but reassuringly strong beat of his heart.

The love had been particularly sweet that morning.

It always was right before she and Jonathan were to be apart from each other for a time. They had been together for many years, married but maintaining their individual pursuits; however, the required temporary separations still caused that low-level, forlorn aching in her heart. As far as she was concerned, that was a good thing; it should always be that way.

It had been quite difficult separating from him, leaving him dozing while she got up to start her day in the world outside their bedroom, but so much needed to be done before she left Los Angeles. The most important item on the agenda, transporting J.J. Hart to school for the purpose of personally- Duchess to unpredictable daughter- reinforcing one-on-one the established rules. J.J. was going to be home with her more lenient father all weekend.

“I don’t have to remind you of your curfew, do I?”

“No, mother. I know I have to be in by one.”

“And I know the twins are going to be home for the weekend, and they will be headed straight to you. You are not to be riding all around town, the lone girl in a car full of boys. It drives your father crazy.”

“Yes, mother.”

“And no mishaps, J.J. We’re lucky that eye healed as quickly as it did. I want no sprained ankles, scratches or scrapes, black eyes, knots on the head, nothing. Stay off all skates, skateboards, scooters, dirt bikes, and do not, I repeat, do not get on Chase’s motorcycle. Don’t ride with anybody on one. Don’t drive one. Don’t put your fanny, or for that matter, any other part of you, on one. You know what, don’t even lean against- don’t even look at one. For the next two days, you are to walk not run. In fact, how about you just get somewhere, sit down, and be still until time for your flight to leave. I mean it. I want you in New York on Sunday with all of your parts unblemished and in perfect working order.”

“Yes, mother.”

“Watch your Coke, cookies, and junk food intake, and definitely keep an eye on your father’s.”

“We’re better about that now, mother.”

“So you say. Have I covered everything?”

“You didn’t tell me you loved me.”

“All of this is because I do love you.”

“I just like to hear you say the words to me.”

The minx. Her “mother” said the words to her.

J.J. preferred to not to let her softer side show in public, but she hadn’t been too tough to hug and kiss her mother before getting out of the car while her friends waited on the wall for her.

She considered herself covering her bases with J.J., just as she always did when she had to go out of town for a few days, leaving her at home with Jonathan. This time, even though she did it, in her heart it didn’t feel as necessary as it had in the past. In recent months, J.J. had undergone a subtle change. She seemed quieter, a bit more mature, and more studious than ever. Aside from her civic, athletic, and academic activities, she hadn’t been doing much socializing. In fact, she had been hanging around the Hart Towers with her father a lot more. There had been several days in recent memory that J.J. called and asked to not be picked up from school, saying she was getting a ride downtown and her father would be bringing her home with him when he got off work. It stood to reason; J.J. loved the labs there, and the people, and of course, she enjoyed being with her father. It went without saying Jonathan loved having her there with him.

Not only had J.J. switched up, but apparently her counterpart had undergone some changes, as well.

Jen, who in the world is this child you’ve sent to New York? I thought I was bringing Marnie home with me when I left you.

“What are you talking about, Patricia? You have Marnie.”

No, this person looks like Marnie, but she’s definitely not the flighty, swift little girl from Los Angeles I know. This one hasn’t been a moment’s trouble. Haversham, the tutor, has nothing but good things to say about her. Cordelia is completely in love with her. She’s neat, clean, and oh my God, so quiet and polite. Even old lady Benedict on the second floor sent me a note yesterday saying what a nice, helpful girl she found her to be. She said she was in our building’s library and this strange girl I have here with me came down to do some research, and they ended up talking together. That Benedict bitch hasn’t said a word to me in three years!

If it weren’t for this child insisting upon being in the car when Davis comes to pick me up at the end of the day, I might forget to look for her when I get in after work. This is not the Marnie Elaine Benson I’ve come to know.

“Well, do you like that one?”

Love her.

In the plane by herself, winging her way to New York and thus, to Pat and Marnie, Jennifer recalled with amusement that phone call from Pat, which came roughly three weeks into Marnie’s stay in New York.

Two months before, Marnie’s father, her custodial parent, had been in Boston on business, leaving his daughter in their care in Los Angeles. On the night prior to 9/11, he had been gravely injured in an auto accident in Boston. For a time, Marnie when was unable to reach him by phone the next day, it was feared Carl Benson had perished on one of the planes hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center. He and Pat were both supposed to have been on those flights, but fortunately for everyone, it worked out neither of them got to follow their planned itineraries. Carl missed his flight due to unfortunate circumstance; love kept Pat from making hers.

Pat had also been in Boston on business and was coming west to transact more in San Francisco, but was stopping in Los Angeles for a visit. Intercepted at Logan International by her fiancée, Jonathan’s best friend, Bill McDowell, she had flown in with him on his plane rather than boarding the doomed Flight #175. He had planned flying her in himself as a surprise to her and only managed to catch up to her at the very last minute, actually calling her back to him from the jetway to that plane.

During the interruption of air travel in the States following that shocking terrorist incident, Pat and Bill, having made it to LAX, remained at Willow Pond with them. When they left that following Sunday, Pat took Marnie with her so that she could be closer to her father, and to her estranged mother, who it turned out had flown to Boston once she got the news of her ex-husband’s accident and subsequent injuries, making it there just before all air travel had been shut down.

It was now Friday of the weekend before Thanksgiving, eight days before Pat and Bill’s wedding in Maryland. The coast-to-coast planning had been fast and furious, the way Pat liked to do things, and now most of the details were in place. Leaving Jonathan to some business details he had to clean up before he could leave LA, and J.J. to take a couple of end-of-the-term tests at school, she had gone ahead of them to help finalize what had to be done in New York. On Sunday, Jonathan would be dropping J.J. off to join them at Pat’s Manhattan apartment. Then he would continue on to Maryland to be with Bill at his and Pat’s new home, Hamilton-McDowell Farms, where they could do whatever it was guys did before one of them got married. Once their old pal, Marcia arrived in New York from San Francisco to complete the threesome, the big girls would definitely be doing their own thing in Manhattan while trying to keep the two little ones from going too far in doing theirs.

All parties would be flying in to meet up together for Thanksgiving dinner at Briarwood, her father’s Maryland estate. The wedding was scheduled to take place on that following Saturday. But until then, there were the days preceding the wedding to get through.

Jack’s voice through the intercom startled her back to the moment. “Mrs. Hart, we’ve been cleared for landing.”

“Thank you.”

Jonathan had insisted upon her being flown to New York by his personal pilots via their personal jet. 9/11 was still fresh in his mind and on his nerves. Understanding that and him, she hadn’t offered any resistance. When it came to her and J.J., their comfort and their safety, her husband spared no expense.

At the thought of Jonathan, the angst again momentarily twisted her heart. Unless he stayed for a time when J.J. arrived, she wouldn’t be with him again until the following week, maybe not until the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. This was going to be their first separation since his hospitalization that previous August. But even with him admitted to the hospital, she could at least visit to be with him. Once he was released, and especially after the disaster of 9/11, Jonathan had been more focused than ever upon keeping his family together. He wasn’t all that happy about the current break in that continuity, but they both understood that it had to happen in that way. Everyone had things to get done before Thanksgiving and the wedding.

She gathered her papers, sliding them down inside her portfolio, and then shut down the laptop and printer. Fastening her seatbelt and relaxing again, her mind meandered back to Miss Marnie Elaine.

She missed the girl. Over the years, Marnie had practically become another daughter. She had talked with her more than a few times since Marnie had been in New York, but the conversation had mostly been about her studies, her father’s recovery, and things in general. Encouraged by what Pat had been saying about her, she wondered what changes she would actually find once she and Marnie were together in the flesh once more. Marnie had always had her ways, but she wasn’t a bad or difficult girl. In fact, she could be downright charming under the right set of circumstances. Perhaps being in that upscale end of New York on her own with Pat was that right set of circumstances.

Whatever was going on with Marnie, good, bad, or indifferent; it was something she would have to see for herself. Pat couldn’t be counted upon to deliver the whole story in that situation. She had a way of keeping troublesome things, if there were any such things, to herself when it came to what went on between her and the girls.

Not to mention the troublesome things that might be going on with her.

______________________________________________________________

Marcus Borland was addressing the group assembled in the conference room. It was customary for him to take the lead and to do most of the talking in those settings; Jonathan preferred to sit and listen, interjecting where necessary or when called upon for a response. He used the time to process what was on the table for consideration and to surreptitiously check out faces, reactions, and mannerisms, and use them to calculate his own moves. But in that setting, that meeting, he was finding it hard to concentrate. It was the last one of three for that day, and he was anxious for it to be over. He and Marcus had been working hard all week, closing deals, tying up loose ends, getting anything that directly involved him out of the way. It was the weekend before Thanksgiving, and he was anxious to be out the door, leaving the business end of things with Marcus and the rest of the executive staff.

Hart Thanksgivings were spent in Maryland at Briarwood with Jennifer’s father. Once he reopened the house and the estate after his return to the U.S. from living primarily in Europe for decades, Mr. Edwards began inviting Jennifer and him to spend that holiday there with him. More times than not, Pat also joined them. Once J.J.. was born, however, the formal annual invitation was no longer extended. Instead, it became a set-in-stone expectation that Stephen’s only grandchild be with him for that week; that all his family would be home for that holiday.

He didn’t mind going to Briarwood every year in November. It afforded Jennifer time with her father, whose health wasn’t all that great, and it allowed J.J. to bond some with the old man and to spend time with one of her favorite people, her aunt Pat.

Besides, it was his family all together in one place, too. This year, with Pat and Bill getting married, there would be even more members in attendance. Some things Bill had been telling him were giving him pause for concern. Jennifer fleetingly mentioned that she had been getting some vibrations from Pat that made her nervous. It wouldn’t surprise him if Pat was having some problems.

Returning to New York after 9/11, Pat had been faced with considerable disaster and loss. Her building hadn’t suffered any damage, and all of its occupants had been accounted for, but scores of people with whom she had been acquainted were gone. If there really was something going on with Pat, Jennifer was the one she needed. He felt that was the real reason Jennifer decided to go on to New York before him and J.J. Pat’s problems might never see the light of day beyond them; those two could be a closed society of their own; one only got into what was going on between them if they invited one in. But as J.J. and Marnie were getting older, he could see them being gradually initiated into that elite sisterhood.

Not a bad place to be, he figured. The girls couldn’t be schooled by two better elders for the lives that lie before them. Oddly, Marnie was a turning out to be a more willing supplicant than J.J., but they would both be served well for the tutelage.

When his phone vibrated at his waist, underneath the table he discreetly unclipped it to check and see who was calling. It was Jennifer, leaving a message.

 Meeting be damned.

Utilizing the earpiece, he pressed in the code to retrieve her message.

Hi, darling. I know you’re still in your meeting, but I just wanted to tell you that I made it. We’re taxiing in as I’m speaking. Thank you so much for the lovely roses, the note, and for my wonderful morning. I wish it could have lasted longer, but I promise to make it up to you in full the next time. Darling, do keep up with J.J. The twins are home this weekend, and you know how they all can be when they’re together. I have to go. I love you.

A short time later, the meeting finally came to an end. As the members of the committee left, the obligatory handshakes and good wishes for the holidays were exchanged. He and Marcus lingered a while longer to compare notes, the former written, the latter delivered from memory, and then they both headed for their respective offices.

The double doors to his suite swung open once he entered his code. That was one of many recent security measures installed after 9/11 to restrict access to the executive floor and to him.

Liz looked up from what she was doing at her desk and smiled when she saw him. “All done for the day, Boss?”

“Finally,” he sighed. “From nine ’til now. Anything going on here that I should know?”

“You have a package waiting for you in your office.”

“A package? From whom?”

“Self-delivered.”

“Business-related or personal?”

“I couldn’t really tell.”

The vagueness of his secretary’s response combined with his own inability to resist even the smallest mystery drew him to the closed door of his inner office where he could hear music coming from the other side.

When he pushed the door open, J.J. looked up from her laptop to smile at him. “Hi, Daddy.”

As always, he was delighted to see her, but it immediately occurred to him that it was earlier than it should have been for her to be there. And since he was supposed to have picked her up from school, how did she get there?

He walked over to where she was seated, planting a hand to her shoulder. “All right, young lady, what classes did you cut?”

“I was finished with my exams.”

He pulled a chair around and sat down next to her at the conference table. J.J. continued scrolling through the email message list he could see that she was perusing. “That’s not what I asked you.”

She began clicking open her messages, skimming and clicking through them as she spoke. “We weren’t doing anything. It’s the last day before the break. Everybody cut out after their exams. My last period teacher didn’t even show. She told us yesterday that we would be having a sub today in her class, so I already knew I wasn’t going to be wasting my time, sitting in class, doing busy work with a sub. All Ms. Leonard is going to do is throw the stuff away anyway. So, why do it? “

“Was last period the only class you skipped?”

“I left after fourth period.”

“J.J., you have eight classes. I thought you had math sixth period. Isn’t that a major class?”

“I didn’t have an exam in math, sixth period. We took that one already. I only had exams up to fourth.”

“Fourth?” He checked his watch. “So how long have you been up here?”

“Only about fifteen minutes.”

His eyes widened. “So where were you all that time? Who brought you downtown?”

She was still checking her messages. “Chase.”

“Chase!?”

“Yes. He called me last night to let me know that he and Chance were home.” When her phone began buzzing on the table, she clicked into it to read an incoming text message. Then she clicked off and went back to the computer screen. “So I called him from school after second period and told him to come for me after fourth. He said he wanted check out the girls on our campus, so he came and hung out a little in the parking lot until I got finished with class. Then, after I got to the car, we decided to go for brunch. See, I woke him up when I called him, but by then, he had already missed breakfast, and he owed me a meal from the last time he was home. When we were finished eating, he left, and I came up here to wait for you.”

Jonathan was too stuck on the ‘who’ to deal with the ‘what’ or ‘when’.

“Chase? J.J., didn’t your mother talk to you before she left?”

J.J. sat back from the laptop and turned down the tune playing through the mini-speakers attached to it.

“Puh’leese, Daddy. You know she did. If I’m not going with her, she is not leaving town without putting a spike heel into me before she goes.”

“So if she did, then why did you leave school before the end of the day? I know you couldn’t have properly signed out without someone getting in touch with me. I can’t believe that nobody has called here to report you missing.”

With exasperation puckering her brow and pursing her lips, J.J. finally turned to fully face her father.

“Daddy, it’s the last day before the holiday. Once you finish your exams, if you’re an upperclassman, Junior or a Senior, you can leave. Nobody cares. In fact, I think they hope you have somewhere else to go. They would rather you get out than be there in the building getting on people’s nerves, just hanging out in the classrooms. Everybody knows that once exams are over, that’s all she wrote for that marking period. Look, this is you and me talking. You know good and well that if you were me in that situation, with your tests finished and everything, you wouldn’t have hung around school either. You’d have been out of there, too, just like me.”

He couldn’t argue with that. Just as she said, he wouldn’t have stayed at school under those circumstances. He knew it, and so did she. Hell, as it had been, until Max came along, attending school regularly hadn’t mattered that much to him even when he was supposed to have been there, even on test days. It was Max who made him “see” it otherwise- and feel it.

“So Chase came and got you? He didn’t call me. He knows he’s supposed to. Who told him that it was all right for him to take off with you?”

“I did. I didn’t think you would mind if he brought me here. We came straight here from my school, and we had brunch downstairs from Mongo’s. We ate in the atrium. He would have come up to speak with you afterward, but I knew you were still in your meeting. Besides, he had to meet with his own father to help with something they had to do at the marina.”

With the tips her fingers, J.J. slid in front of him a slip of paper that had been pinned under the laptop. It was a register receipt from the building vendor she had mentioned. “You can check. You’ll notice that the traveling time from school to here, and that the time it took for us to eat, jives with what I just told you.”

He ignored the receipt and instead got up from the table to go over to his desk. There wasn’t any reason to check. If nothing else, when she chose to willingly divulge information, J.J. was honest, and she was thorough. She might be wrong in a given situation, but even in being wrong, she didn’t lie. She also knew how to cover her bases, and like it or not, those were traits that he had to respect. Although she and Chase could have gone anywhere to do anything in the time between then and when she cut out of school, she had chosen to come to her father’s building to eat with her friend, and then to come to her father afterward. How could he argue against any of that? How could he argue against his own heart?

“J.J., we haven’t even gotten through the first day, and you’re already trying to get me in hot water with your mother again.”

“You’ll only go in if you tell her; I know I won’t be saying anything about it to her. ” J.J. turned the music back up. “That was her with the text-message a minute ago, the first of what I’m sure will be several before you and I leave on Sunday.” J.J. checked her watch. “She should be in New York by now.”

“She is. She left a message as they had just touched down. What did she have to say to you?”

“Just reminding me to make sure that I take my vitamins and my iron pills, and to make sure that I bring them when I come. As if Marie would let me get away with not taking them or with leaving for a trip again with them still sitting on the kitchen cabinet. She’d be putting them in my bag herself. Marie has become as bad as my mother about forcing that stuff on me.”

“But you know you have to take them.”

“That doesn’t mean I have to like doing it. Do you have a lot more to do here today, Daddy?”

“I’m done, essentially. Why?”

“I’d like to stop by St. Augustine’s, if you don’t mind.”

Jonathan, now seated behind his desk, sorting the files he carried in with him and putting things in place, looked up at his daughter. It wasn’t J.J.’s day to tutor, so he was surprised that she wanted to go to St. Augustine’s, the modern day version of his childhood residence, Mission Street.

“What? Are you planning to tell Sister Anastasia goodbye?”

J.J. raised her eyes from the monitor over to him. “No. I need to take something to Daria.”

“The little girl you’ve been working with on her math? Anastasia says she’s a handful.”

“Daria has been working with me more than me working with her. She doesn’t need help with math; she needs other stuff. And she’s not a handful; she just has issues. We all do. I like her, and I need to take her something. I told her I would stop by before I left town.”

“Well get packed up. We can go by there. I probably should see Anastasia for a few minutes anyway before going out of town for a week. Say that’s a nice tune you’ve got there. New CD?”

“You like it? That’s us, the A Jazz Band, doing the instrumental version of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got to Give it up’. Mr. Washington taught it to us. This whole CD is us. We did the final recording last week. Hector and I put the cuts together, and Hector’s father had it professionally finished for us in his studio.”

At her father’s urging, J.J turned the music up a bit more. “Don’t the horns sound good? I love the sax; it has such a sexy sound. And that’s Hector running that baseline. He and the synthesizer become one when he’s working.”

“All I can hear is the piano. You are really good.”

J.J. grinned as she blushed. “Thank you, Daddy. I love to play, and I love jazz. That tune is real old school, but like you’ve taught me, good music transcends time. It was a whole lot of fun. That was a really great session.”

“Sounds like it. Pop the CD out so that we can play it in the car. I’d like to hear the whole thing.”

Not long after, father and daughter, loaded down with laptops and he with J.J.’s heavy backpack as well as his own briefcase, were bidding Liz a happy Thanksgiving as they exited through the double doors of the CEO’s suite.

______________________________________________________________

Patricia Hamilton hung up the phone she had been on for almost fifteen minutes. She pushed back from the desk, and sighed, allowing her arms to fall and hang heavily at her sides. “I thought she’d never shut up. I have never met anyone so unable to cut to the chase. No more calls, Dora. I’m done for the day.”

Seated in one of the chairs in front of Pat’s desk, Dora checked the notes and schedules she had been working on all day. “There’s just one more thing. Mr. Cheevers said he wanted a word with you before you left for the holiday.”

Pat swiveled away from Dora and the desk to stand up. “Yeah, well, people don’t always get what they want from me.”

She stretched her arms toward the ceiling, pulling her entire body taut. “The last thing I need is to get into a conversation with a long-winded barrister at the end of my day. ‘A word’, my ass. If you asked him to, Linton Cheevers couldn’t tell you his first name with just one word. He’ll keep. Have Legal get in touch with him on Monday and see what he wants. I won’t be available. Is Jennifer’s flight still on time?”

“Mr. Hart, himself, called and said that Jack and Frank were on schedule.” Dora lifted the clipboard to check her watch. “They should be touching down with Mrs. Hart as we speak.”

“Good. Did Jonathan happen to mention J.J.? I have to ask since Jennifer is out of town. That leaves the two of them home alone.”

“He didn’t say anything about her. I imagine that at the time he phoned she was still in school.”

“Hmph, even if she hadn’t been, he wouldn’t say anything about her if there was anything untoward going on. It wouldn’t be the first time he let her cut school and be with him once Jennifer was gone. Has Marnie left with Davis for the airport?”

“Cordelia says they should be there, waiting for her by now.”

“That’s great. I’m glad Marnie worked it out to be able to meet her. I knew I wouldn’t be able to with all I had to tie up here, but I hadn’t said anything to her about it. Of course, I was sending the car for Jen, but Marnie let me know last night that she had made arrangements with her tutor to get her work out of the way so that she could take care of meeting Jen’s plane personally. That girl is something else when it comes to wrapping up business and social details. I think, too, she’s anxious to see Jen; she’s missed her- has asked about her more than a few times in recent memory. Has Bill phoned?”

“He did. You were in the three o’clock meeting and then you took that last call from Dr. Majors. He said to tell you that there’s nothing you have to be worried about on his end; everything is taken care of, whatever that means.”

Pat, now with her back to Dora, staring at the mostly closed slats of the newly-installed blinds on the windows behind her desk, didn’t reply. Instead Dora watched as her hands locked behind her back and she rose on her toes, rocking her body slowly forward and then back down on her heels again.

“I notice, Patricia, that you haven’t inquired about Marcia. You’ve asked about everyone else.”

Slowly Pat turned around to gaze down at the much shorter Dora. “What about her?”

“You haven’t asked if she’s called, when she was due in, nothing. Jennifer’s called to find out; I told her. When I tried to fill you in about her the other day, you cut me off. Look, I know you’re my boss, and that I probably shouldn’t be asking you this sort of thing, but I do care about you. You’ve been kind of quiet in general lately for you. Is there something I should know?”

Returning to her chair, Pat first leaned back in it, closing her eyes. After a few moments, she allowed the chair to bring her forward again. She began putting away her things. When she spoke, her voice had gone uncharacteristically soft. “I didn’t cut you off. I just had other, more pressing things on my mind at the moment.”

She closed the drawer, clasped her hands on the top of the cleared desk, and then fixed her deep-set eyes on Dora who it turned out was just as intently fixated upon her. “In all due respect, Dora, Marcia is our friend, but you know that she’s not Jennifer to me. Right now, I need Jen, I need Cordelia, and I need you.  I don’t need Marcia. Marcia is simply an extra added attraction. That’s why when Jennifer suggested asking Marcia to fly in with her, I nixed it. That one can wait.”

Dora nodded. She had been with Pat Hamilton, her associations, and her friends long enough to understand the dynamics between them.

Going back to the early days when she was fresh out of college, back when she first approached Pat, her writing mentor, with a fiction manuscript she’d written, and Pat told her, to “Keep your day job”, she had followed Pat’s advice and her lead. Although she was now a moderately successful author in her own right, having written and had published several self-help books on management and organization, she had indeed secured and kept a “day job”: organizing and managing the business and some aspects of the personal affairs of Patricia R. Hamilton, CEO of Hamilton House Publishing. Cordelia Davis had started out as the woman who headed the cleaning crew in the building Pat bought which had since become the headquarters of Pat’s various publishing and real estate enterprises. Cordelia was now the person who headed up the functioning of Pat’s home and oversaw a good part of her personal life.

She clearly understood what Pat was saying. Pat Hamilton was acquainted with scores of people all around the world, but precious few of them were essential to her personal life. That fact said an awful lot about Bill McDowell, the man who wanted to marry her. She and Cordelia were essential, but Jennifer Edwards, on the other hand, was as necessary to Pat as breathing. Marcia wasn’t any of those things to Pat.

Based upon her own recent observations; however, Pat would indeed need that alone-time with Jennifer. Those blinds she ordered hung behind her desk to block out the sight of what was now being called “Ground Zero” were only the start of it.

______________________________________________________________

The first thing Jennifer noticed upon entering the private reception area was the young girl, brightly dressed in that shade of red she favored and that she wore so well. The sight caused her to smile; that child always looked good.

“Marnie.”

“Hello, Mrs. H.”

She was still petite, but her normally bobbed hair had grown out to the start of a modern day page boy, longer than she had ever seen Marnie wear it. At first, there appeared to be an air of greater sophistication and reservation about her, reminiscent of a just-past-childhood Natalie Wood. Getting closer to her; however, she detected in the doe-like eyes that it was actually nervousness she was seeing, and instinctively, she opened her arms. As if grateful for the invitation, Marnie stepped into them, hugging her tightly. “I missed you so much, Mrs. H. I’m so glad you’re here.”

Jennifer returned the hug, a bit surprised by her own strong surge of emotion toward the child. “I missed you, too, Marnie. You look fabulous, by the way.”

Marnie pulled back. “Thank you. You do, too. But then, you always do. How’s J.?”

“She was fine when I left, but I expect she’s cut two or three classes since then. It’s the last day before the holiday, and I’m out of town.”

The momentary twitch of dimpled mischief in Marnie’s cheeks did not escape her attention. Undoubtedly those two had spoken and compared notes about the course of each other’s day. At that point, Davis, Pat’s driver, who had been waiting with Marnie stepped forward. “It’s good to see you again, Mrs. Hart. The car is outside. I’ll see to your bags being transferred to it, and then I’ll come back in for you and Miss Marnie.”

“Why don’t we sit down to wait,” Marnie offered, extending her hand toward the lounge area.

It was as they were walking in and taking seats that what Marnie had to her said registered. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

Marnie was fond of her and she probably did miss her, but from her tone at that moment, it sounded as if it there was a bit more going on than Marnie just being happy to see her.

______________________________________________________________

Arriving at St. Augustine’s, Jonathan and J.J. parted company on the walkway leading up to the door of the academy.

“I’ll go and see Anastasia while you do what you came to do,” he said. “Although she’ll be all over me for not bringing you up to see her.”

J.J. suppressed the frown, but she wasn’t as successful with keeping the dryness out of her tone. “Just tell her I said, ‘Hi and Happy Thanksgiving’. I won’t be long. If I finish with Daria before you come back, then I’ll meet you at the car.”

“You could always come over there when you’re done.”

“I might,” she said, shifting her focus from him to staring blankly across the parking lot, hoping the message she was sending was clear. It must have been.

“Suit yourself,” she heard him say.

As he walked off, headed in the direction of the halls of residence where Sister Anastasia’s rooms were also located. J.J. went up the short flight of stairs and through the front doors of the school. She had to check in at the office before she was able to go down to the classrooms. The class she sought was still in session, so she would have to wait a few minutes before it dismissed.

In that particular hall, classrooms lined one side while windows lined the other. Stopping directly across from the room she was looking for, J.J. stared out to the quiet green space, the Meditation Courtyard, focusing on the small man-made fishpond that she had helped build. Although she spent a lot of time at the academy, she rarely took the time to consider her own familial ties to the place when she was there.

She had seen a few old, cloudy black and white or sepia pictures online and in the church record, but she wondered what life in the original orphanage and school had actually been like in her father’s day. Back when it was called Mission Street and it was located in the Mission District of San Francisco where he was raised. As a little boy, he had grown up poor; she knew that much about him, and that when he was little, nothing about the old place was like the present facility. His upbringing had been threadbare and hard, but evidently he felt he had benefited from the experience. Instead of turning his back on a place of so many tough memories, it was he who headed up the acquisition of the new facilities, their renovation and upgrading to codes. Then he arranged with the archdiocese to move Sister Anastasia and the residency operations to those new, more modern quarters in Los Angeles. The old buildings in San Francisco had since been razed, and now houses and businesses occupied that space.

Of course, all of that had happened before she was born, even before he married her mother. In fact, they got married in what was then the new church building, which had been renamed for St. Augustine.

“Cor ad cor loquitur”

That quote, attributed to Augustine seemed more than fitting, “Heart speaks to heart”. Maybe that was why that church had been named in honor of that particular saint.

Her father didn’t talk about his childhood very much, but she understood that something about it stayed with him, way down in his heart. Although he had moved on and up, he kept Mission Street and Sister Anastasia close to him, sharing with them the blessings that life bestowed upon him. Sister Anastasia wasn’t high on her list personally, and her father didn’t try to force the two of them together, but the fact that he held the old nun in such high regard, because she had been the one to raise him, and because it was obvious even to her that Anastasia loved him, she respected her.

For a moment, she felt a little bad about not wanting to go and see the Sister. After all, according to her father, she, too, had been yet another blessing to his life. Surely he wanted to share her with his old mentor.

Nah-h-h, she gets quite enough of me. Coming to church, working on the grounds, tutoring and spending time with the kids, working the benefits to raise funds for them. I do not have to play the martyr, hanging around her, biting a hole in my tongue while she torments the he- heck out of me, getting on me all the time about what I do, how I do it, who I choose to be with, what I believe and how I should believe, treating me like I’m some kind of heathen… it’s getting harder and harder to stay civil, so it’s better if I just stay- period.

The courtyard upon which she gazed had been dedicated to Max, another important person in her father’s life, the one she would like to have met, but arrived too late to do so.

The buzzer sounded, signaling the end of classes for the day. Doors opened and kids poured out into the hall. Being tall, she stood out among the elementary school-sized bodies, but many of the children, familiar with her from the after-school tutoring program, waved or said hello to her as they passed. They were all just little kids, happy to be going home for the holiday week coming up. In their uniforms, they all looked the same, which was the purpose behind them having to wear those costumes, but they weren’t all the same. Some of them would be going to the parking lot to their parents’ cars, and others would go through those double doors downstairs to head for the residence wing where they would be spending their Thanksgiving with Sister Anastasia, the other nuns- most of them elderly- and the few lay people who might stay on to help out.

She thought about her father spending his holidays with that crew, a little kid with no family to call his own. The thought momentarily saddened her, but she brightened when the bronze faced girl with the bronze-colored, curly hair emerged from the room. She was one of the last ones to leave, and she was by herself. In her matchstick arms, she carried several books and a couple of notebooks while clutching a handful of pens and pencils. On top of that precarious load, she used her chin to hold several last minute papers in place.

“Where’s your backpack, Dari?”

At the sound of her name being called, the girl stopped just outside the door to the room, and a look of question mixed with a fleeting smile crossed her small, pinched face. “What are you doing here? It’s not tutoring today.”

J.J. pushed away from the wall she had been leaning against and crossed the hall, weaving her way through the smaller bodies. She pulled out those top papers and took a couple of the books from the younger girl to ease her load. Then she helped her to better balance what remained. “I told you I would come and see you before I left for my trip.”

“Oh, yeah. I forgot.” Daria used her knee to help her get the best grip on the things in her arms. “The straps broke on my backpack, so now I have to carry all my stuff. Sister said I have to wait for another one. ‘One backpack per school year’, she said. So for now, I have to carry everything in my arms.”

As they started up the hall, J.J noticed how loosely Daria’s rumpled uniform hung on her thin body. The blouse was at least a size too big and her tiny waist and hips did almost nothing to hold up the skirt. Her shiny, stiff loafers didn’t seem to bend with her steps and sometimes actually popped off her heel. To compensate for that, she kind of slid her feet when she walked. Daria lived at St. Augustine’s and most of the attire for the kids in residence was either donated or purchased through monetary donations. Their school uniforms were bought in bulk and issued by size- apparently approximate size.

One size fits all… not.

Daria was at that awkward age where a kid always looked at odds with herself. For her, however, there were no private selections or precise fittings at the dressmaker’s studio to compensate for her temporary physical shortcomings. Outside of a hem being put in, a torn seam being closed or a lost button being sewn back on, no alterations were available to her at all. J.J.’s heart hurt for her.

At twelve, thirteen, despite her more fortunate circumstances, she could remember being a self-conscious basket case, all braces, long arms and legs, big feet, knees that hurt like hell, and a bad, bad attitude about everything. Clothes, having the right ones, being popular, and fitting in had been terribly important back then. At that age, she had taken her doting parents and her good life for granted. Daria’s mother was dead, and her older half-sister was on drugs, doing well to cling to her own life from day to day and thus, in no shape to look after a much-younger sibling, even if she had been so inclined. A biracial child, Daria had been given up by the rest of her mother’s Caucasian family. She didn’t know her father or his family; he had been in prison for most of her life.

Despite her casual, unconcerned demeanor, J.J. was sure that Daria hadn’t really forgotten about her promise to visit. In fact, she was certain that Daria had been anticipating it, and was maybe a little afraid that she wouldn’t show. In her twelve years on earth, so many people had let that little girl down. She was accustomed to it.

“I thought maybe you’d have too much to do to make a special trip over here.”

“If I tell you I’m going to do something, Daria, I’m going to do it. You can count on that.”

They had to go down a half flight of stairs to get to the lobby where Daria would take the side hall to the residence area. J.J. walked them over to the visitor’s couch in the vestibule and sat down.

Daria balanced her things on her knees, placing her pens and pencils carefully on top of the books, so that they wouldn’t roll off. “How did you get here, Miss J.J.? Who brought you?”

“How do you know that I didn’t bring myself?”

“You don’t have your driver’s license yet.”

“I have my learner’s permit. I can drive on that.”

“Yeah, but when you come, I see you. You always be in somebody else’s car or truck, and you don’t ever drive ’cause they’re kids and you can’t drive with kids on a learner’s permit; only with a grown-up. Did your mother bring you since it’s not a tutoring day? Is she here?”

J.J. snickered. “You are too old, Dari, and you see way too much, but I like how you do the math. No, my mother is out of town. My father brought me today. He went to see Sister Anastasia.”

At the sister’s name, Daria’s face immediately went sour. J.J. wanted to laugh and go with it, but she didn’t. Instead, she took the higher, more mature road she knew she was supposed to take. “That’s not nice, Daria.”

Daria snaked her neck. “Whatever. She works my nerves. Always talking about who should be grateful, who should smile and be all happy. Nobody’s giving me nothing, so I don’t have to kiss nobody’s behind for nothing I get. I pull my weight around here. I clean up. I take care of the kids. I study. I make good grades. I even say prayers when they tell me. As soon as I’m old enough, I’m going to get me a job so I can take care of myself, and then nobody can say nothing to me. I can’t help it if I don’t grin every time somebody’s wants me to. If it’s not funny, the grinning and cheesing is not going to happen.”

J.J. pulled her backpack purse off her shoulder and dug down into it, pulling out a small bag. “Well, I have something for you, and you don’t have to grin and cheese about it or kiss my behind over it.”

When she held the bag out to her, Daria merely stared at it; she didn’t try to take it. J.J. picked up her hand and pressed the bag into it. “It’s for you, Dari. No strings.”

J.J. took the school things from Daria’s lap so that she could more easily handle the new item. For a couple more moments, Daria fingered the bag, looking from it to J.J. and back to the bag.

“Girl, open it. Nothing in there is going to bite you.”

The front door opened letting in a gush of cool, late afternoon wind, and both girls shuddered at it suddenness, Daria more so than J.J. who was wearing her letter jacket. It was Jonathan back from his visit with Anastasia. Although the door was on a piston and would automatically close by itself, Jonathan pushed it back closed to more quickly cut off the air getting to them.

“Sorry ladies, I didn’t mean to freeze you out.”

He strode over to the couch, and J.J. introduced them. “Daddy, this is Daria Hall, the young lady I’ve been telling you about. Daria, this is my father, Mr. Hart.”

Daria looked up at him, and said hello, but when he extended his hand to her, she flinched, and he drew it back, jovially asking, “What’s that you have there?” to move them past the awkward moment.

Like a person recovering a brief, sudden shock, Daria’s hands trembled as she slowly went back to the bag, which she opened, extracting from it a card that held multiple sets of earrings, some crystal studs and an assortment of small hoops.

“I noticed you had pierced ears, but that you didn’t have earrings in,” J.J. said. “I was out shopping the other day, saw those, and I thought of you. I thought you might like to have them.”

Daria put the earrings back in the bag and folded it down again. “I can’t,” she said, attempting to hand it back to J.J.

“Why?” J.J. moved the thin hand away from her. “They’re yours.”

“I just can’t,” Daria repeated pushing the bag back toward J.J. “Besides, I already have some. I just don’t wear them.”

J.J. took hold of the bag and Daria’s hand, gaining her complete attention. 3.

“Look Dari, where I come from, it’s rude to turn down a gift. Besides it’s not really a gift. I heard you aced your math exam. You and I set 95 as your minimum goal, and I’m told you got a perfect score, plus you attempted and scored on the bonus points. You earned the earrings. You studied hard, you made the grade and then some. Take them. You just said that when you were old enough, you wanted to get a job. Well, right now, school is your job, so consider this your pay for a job well done. And just for the record, a girl can never have enough earrings.”

When J.J. let go of them, Daria took back her hand and the bag. She gathered her things, setting the bag on top, and then she stood, once again using the knee to make sure everything was secure in her arms.

“Thanks,” she muttered to J.J. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Hart. You guys have a real good trip.” And then she hurried off, disappearing though the doors to the residence hall, leaving father and daughter staring after her.

When Jonathan extended his hand to her, J.J. took hold of it, using it to pull herself up.

“She didn’t have any earrings, Daddy. Didn’t you see those little straws in her ears? She gets them from the broom, burns the tips to sterilize them, and then she uses them to keep the holes open. If she had earrings, would she do that? I heard some of the other girls laughing at her in the after school program. It was some of the girls who don’t live here. I know Dari had to have heard them, too, but she ignored them. Normally she’d have tried to fight them and maybe kicked their butts. I’m fairly sure she packs a hard punch, but I think she didn’t follow through because I was there. She really tries to do right when she’s with me. It’s rough to be a girl Daria’s age, not have the right stuff, and have people messing with you about it. It’s just hard to be that age, period; I remember being it. I wanted so badly to check those snotty, clueless girls for her, but it was Daria’s call. I have to say, she handled it with a lot of grace.”

When her father didn’t respond, J.J. peered up into his face, attempting to gauge his thoughts or reactions. “Did I do something wrong in giving those to her? I know kids can be real sensitive about their situations sometimes. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that. Maybe I made her feel bad. You think?”

Jonathan wrapped his arm around her shoulders, hugging her to him and pressing a quick kiss to her temple as they headed for the doors to the parking lot. “Don’t worry, kid. I think you did good. In fact, I think you might have something special when it comes to dealing with kids. And just so you know, Sister Anastasia thinks so, too.”

Breathing a sigh of relief at her father’s approval of her interaction with Daria and at getting the rare nod from Anastasia , J.J. wound an arm around her father’s waist, snagging a finger into a belt loop of his trench coat. “I should have gone to see her, shouldn’t I?”

“It’s not too late. She was down on the first floor. It will only take you a minute, and I’m sure it’ll make her day.”

“And earn me a couple of credits with The Man upstairs, I’m sure. I should probably score a few in the event I find myself coming up short next week. Let’s do it then.”

J.J. couldn’t see the amused, but proud twinkling in her father’s eyes as he held the door open for her, allowing her pass through it before him.

______________________________________________________________

When the Rolls Royce pulled out of its parking place, from her spot at one of the front windows Sister Anastasia could only sigh and shake her head as the car passed by.

Lord, have mercy… when the cat’s away….

The driver wore a baseball cap with a ponytail hanging out of the back of it. The passenger had already reclined his seat and lay back his head, apparently quite comfortable with and confident in the skills of his young chauffeur. But then, why wouldn’t he be? After all, he had already taught her to fly jets.

Lord have mercy…

She could hear both their voices in her head: “What’s driving a car compared to that?”

… those two… my Jonathan and his baby… with that car… when it comes to that girl, it does not matter to him.. nothing is too good… Lord, my Lord love them… those two….

______________________________________________________________

When Marnie declined to get out of the car once they reached Pat’s building, Jennifer understood what she was really doing.

“You go ahead, Mrs. H. I have a couple of calls I need to make. I’ll wait here.”

She was giving her room to be alone with Pat for those first few minutes.

In the elevator, on her way to the top floor, she used the time to process the things that Marnie had shared with her. She had spoken of her satisfaction with her educational and personal situation and explained that the colder winter climate in New York was the reason for her longer hair. A recent meeting in Boston with her visiting paternal grandmother had evidently been reassuring to her, and although she said her father was making progress, her fear was that he might never walk again.

Between the lines, she heard that the emotional and physical chasm between Marnie and her mother remained wide, and that Marnie was unsure what her immediate future might hold what with her father facing a long stint in physical rehab. Marnie had sort of danced around those latter things, but she had been deliberate in at least getting them to the surface of the conversation.

I’ve been talking with my father’s attorneys to make sure that I don’t have to go back to my mother should my father not be able to come home right away. If it comes to that, I’ll probably end up going to Texas with my father’s mother. At least there I can be with my little brothers. My grandmother wanted to keep Kyle there with her in Texas when she came and picked him up for Thanksgiving. She wanted him to transfer to a Texas school, but he wants to stay at Brookfield in Boston to be closer to Daddy. She wanted me in Texas for Thanksgiving too, but she understood that I wanted to be here for the wedding. Aunt Pat told her that she’d like for me to stay.

Pat had mentioned to her about Marnie’s conversations with the lawyers. Sixteen and conducting that kind of business on such an elevated level. Pat said Marnie was a prodigy when it came to conducting business, and evidently, since their last conversation on the topic, Marnie hadn’t wavered an inch in her decision about not returning to her mother’s care. Whatever happened, it was doubtful that Marnie would be ending up in Texas; that was too far away.

In taking Marnie into her home, Pat had at first been apprehensive about alienating her mother. Not wishing to give the impression that she was trying to influence Marnie’s decisions regarding her and her mother’s difficult relationship, she took deliberate care to listen, but not comment on the things Marnie shared with her. It had in fact, been her original intention to try to help Marnie get past her resentments. But when they did finally meet, Maureen made a comment to Pat, supposedly jokingly, about how Pat should be enjoying getting child support for a child that wasn’t even hers.

Maureen could not have known about Pat’s firm belief that behind every comment made in jest, lie a deeper, more serious implication. Pat immediately processed and analyzed that one for all of its not-so-hidden insinuations, and where she once avoided stepping on Marnie’s mother’s toes or encroaching on her maternal territory, she allowed Marnie to take full lead in what she wanted to do as it related to her living arrangements and her dealings with her mother. The only thing she said she wouldn’t allow Marnie to do was be overtly disrespectful to the woman, which she said was an exercise in maturity for both Marnie and her, although “woman” wasn’t quite the word Pat used when talking about it.

Should Marnie’s mother become difficult, Pat said she would handle her. So far, it hadn’t come to that. Maureen Tolbert was flighty, but she wasn’t completely foolish. Pat said that after that one time, even though she would always accompany Marnie to Boston to see her father, she kept her distance from Marnie’s mother. Marnie, always phoned ahead to see if her mother was there before they visited. If she was, Pat remained in the waiting room at the rehabilitation center, allowing Marnie to go in and see her father on her own. In those instances, Maureen, would make it a point to come down and speak with her, but Pat did not go to Maureen.

“I’m the oldest, and the one most likely to kick somebody’s ass. She can come to me. Then it can’t be said that I ambushed her when I wind up telling her how I really feel.”

Most of the time, however, Maureen wouldn’t be there when they visited, and Marnie would invite Pat to go in to see her father with her. Despite his injuries and lingering incapacitation, Pat said that Carl was in good spirits and she was glad that she and Bill could put his mind at ease about two of his kids.

Jonathan informed her that the funds Marnie’s father once provided to Maureen as child support had been diverted to the account Pat managed for Marnie’s needs while she was with her. But according the the monthly statements copied to Jonathan since he was her official temporary guardian, Pat hadn’t touched a dime of it. She was taking care of Marnie on her own, leaving what her father provided in trust for her. In light of that, the crack from Maureen had to have outraged Pat. It was a wonder Pat hadn’t let Maureen have it right there on the spot.

Which is a signal in itself…

Marnie had been clear in her thoughts and feelings about that.

I don’t know, Mrs. H. She does all the right things, says all the right stuff, and acts like herself, but I can’t help but get the feeling that things aren’t quite right with her. She had to attend quite a few memorials when she first got back here, but you know about that, I’m sure. There were a lot of people that she was acquainted with who got killed or hurt when the Towers got attacked and came down. Some of the bodies weren’t ever even found; it had to be assumed that those people were dead. That’s got to be enough to get anyone depressed.

But I think it’s more than that. It’s like it might be something personal with her and she’s keeping it to herself. I don’t even think Cordelia has been let in on it. I know you tell us not to eavesdrop, and I really wasn’t; I was just on my way in to talk with Aunt Pat in her study last Tuesday evening, and I overheard them talking. Cordelia was asking her if something was bothering her, and Aunt Pat almost bit her head off. That’s not like her. She is crazy about Cordelia, and Cordelia is nuts about her. Aunt Pat apologized to Cordelia at breakfast the next morning. I don’t think Cordelia was ever upset over it, though, maybe just even more concerned.

That was probably a correct assessment on Marnie’s part. Cordelia had been with Pat for decades, thus she had become intimate with the rhythms and flows of her personable employer.

You know, Mrs. H.,  I think Aunt Pat’s even got Uncle Bill walking on eggshells. He phones all the time, and he went to Boston with us the time before last to see my father and Kyle, but he hasn’t been back here to see her in over a week, maybe closer to two.

Not a good sign at all.

In their frequent personal conversations together, she thought she had been detecting something amiss with Pat, but she had chalked the whatever-it-was up to the devastation Pat faced in New York, having Marnie in her previously childless household, and the stress of preparing for her upcoming nuptials. Pat hadn’t said very much about 9/11, the Towers, and the after effects as they related to her. When the subject did happen to come up between them, after a few moments, Pat would steer the conversation in another direction.

On her way in from the airport, she had seen from a distance the devastating aftermath for herself. There was no way that a proud native and lifelong New Yorker like Pat wouldn’t be adversely affected by the sight, not to mention having narrowly missed being an actual part of it.

But like Marnie, deeper instincts were saying that there was more going on than that.

Reaching the top floor, the elevator doors slid open to reveal the burnished mahogany and leather elegance of the executive digs. A familiar face herself at Hamilton House, after being announced and admitted by the young receptionist at the front desk, she found herself stopping to speak with this one or that one before finally reaching Pat’s suite where Dora met her, standing in the open door of the outer office.

“Jennifer, so good to see you. How was your flight? How’s Jonathan? And J.J.? And where’s Marnie? She usually comes to pick up Pat. Isn’t she with you?”

Jennifer laughed as she returned Dora’s hug. “You sound like J.J., firing so many questions at me at one time.”

“Sorry. It’s just that it’s been a while since I’ve seen you. And as always, you make me sick, looking so great.” With an arm around her waist, Dora escorted her inside, leaning in to say in a near-whisper next to her ear, “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Dora, You are the second person to say that to me since I touched down. The other one is downstairs in the car.”

“Marnie?”

“Yes. And to answer you about the other, Jonathan and J.J. are fine; probably even more so since they’re at home together without much supervision. Marnie stayed in the car to give me some space with Pat.” Then Jennifer lowered her own voice. ” Before I go in to her, is there something I should know?”

The door to Pat’s office swung open before Dora could utter the first syllable of what she might have said. Dressed in an overcoat, a brightly patterned silk scarf stuffed into the turned-up collar, and a snazzy black fedora pulled low over her eyes, Pat stepped out, closing the door behind her. “Jen. I thought I heard your voice. You made it.” Her laptop bag hung from her shoulder and she had her briefcase in hand.

Wiping off the lipstick smear left from a quick buss to Jennifer’s cheek, which Jennifer had returned while flicking a piece of lint from Pat’s black cashmere sleeve; it was like that with them. No matter how long they might be physically separated, they picked up right where they left off, as comfortable with each other as if they’d had breakfast at the same table that morning.

“Where’s Marnie? Even though I’ve told her repeatedly that it isn’t necessary, she normally comes up to get me.”

“I left her down in the car. She said she had some calls to make.”

“That girl lives on the phone. I don’t know what she would have done if cell phones hadn’t been invented by the time she came along and needed one.” Pat stretched out her free arm to check her watch. “She’s probably talking with her brothers.”

“I think she really just wanted to give you and me some room and time to-”

Pat pulled the laptop strap further up on her shoulder. “Let’s get out of here for now, old girl. I waited lunch for you to get here. Now it’s almost dinner time here, and I’m starving. You? Hold my calls, Dora. Forward the ones that you know you should, and make damn sure you’re accurate on those. I don’t really want to speak with anyone, if it can be helped. Jennifer is here with me already. Bill knows how to get to me, Jonathan certainly knows how to get in touch with her, and J.J. will be ducking everybody except Marnie. We’re out of here.”

“I’ll see you in Maryland next Saturday,” Dora said.

Pat pressed her free hand to Jennifer’s shoulder, and they started for the door to the hall with Pat practically pushing Jennifer in front of her.

______________________________________________________________

“Yeah, J., I just got done talking with your mother a while ago. I saw her texting you earlier, when we were together in the car.”

“She’s emailed me, too, since then. It’s Friday, soon to be  night time here, and she’s ‘noid about it.”

“Did you cut those last classes after all?”

“Heck, yeah. I wasn’t staying in school once I had my exams over with. Chase came and got me. To make up for skipping out, though, I went to Daddy’s office. I had stuff to do there.”

“Yeah, well, you like hanging out down there anyway. Your mother said she  figured you for skipping. I bet she’s going to ask you about it when she sees you.”

“I’ll deal with it and her when and if that happens. It’s after the fact now; I’ve already done it. How much can she do to me in New York with Aunt Pat and in Maryland with Pa? By the time we get back home, she’ll have forgotten about it.”

“You hope. So whatcha got up for this evening, J.? Have you seen Chance? I know you have. How does he look? Did he ask about me? We’re still not speaking since I had to cut him off once he told me he was taking that Emily girl to the Harvest Dance at his school, but I still love him. He did have to be taught a lesson, though.”

“Marnie, we’ve had this conversation. Did you really think he was not going to go the dance just because you weren’t there? And did you think he was going to go to it alone? It not like he snuck and went. He called you and was up front about going and that he was taking Emily What-ever-her-name-is. He told me this afternoon that he and Emily are just friends who needed somebody to go to the dance, so they decided to go with each other. He said he didn’t even kiss her.”

“He better not have. He must be feeling bad about it if he told you all of that. He should have just gone by himself.”

“If it had been you in his place, Marnie Benson, you wouldn’t have, and you know it. You’d have called somebody up and went to the dance with him in a shot.”

“So? It’s totally different with girls. We have to have a date. It wouldn’t look right if we didn’t.”

“Speak for yourself. I don’t care about going to dances without a date. When I do have one, it’s usually because the Duchess makes me. If I could, I’d opt to go by myself most of the time. Less drama that way.”

“That’s you. You’re not normal when it comes to that sort of thing.”

“I beg your pardon. Not normal?”

“You know what I mean, J. You don’t care about stuff that most girls our age care about, boys, dating, and all that. That kind of thing has never been all that important to you. Me, I have to have an escort. Chance, on the other hand, did not. And there’s no way I’m believing that he didn’t kiss that Emily girl. I know him; he loves women. He probably Frenched her. If he thinks he is going to ever French me again-”

“Whatever, Marnie. As soon as you two hook up in person the next time, he’ll be all on you, and you’ll let him, tongue all down your throat, gagging you, and everything, feeling all on you. By that time, you’ll be so pent up and frustrated- with your hot self- there’s no telling how many bases he’ll cover. Who knows, he might even score.”

“Don’t make me say it to you, J.J. Hart. And we’re going to see who’s all pent up and frustrated once Teddy Baxter makes it to Maryland. He’s still coming, isn’t he?”

“He says he is, but that’s not a problem for me. I can control myself, unlike someone else I know.”

“I’m warning you, J. Two words are on the tip of my tongue. The first one starts with an ‘F’ and the second one is all about you.”

“Anyway, Marnie Elaine, he said his mother was kind of upset that he didn’t want to stay the whole weekend in Virginia with her. He’s going to her house on Tuesday to be there for Thanksgiving, but then he’s leaving on Friday morning, coming to Maryland.”

“So he’s staying in Boston with his father this weekend until Tuesday?”

“Yeah, he said he had some things to do. Some stuff to take care of before he went to his mother’s.”

“It’s going to be cool that he’s staying at Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill’s place. That’s not too far from your grandfather’s. We could walk over there if it weren’t going to be so cold. It’ll be easy for him to get to you. Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill really like Teddy because of how he’s taken such good care of that bad seed brother of mine. I sure am glad my grandmother took Kyle with her to Texas. For a minute, I thought he was going to have to be here with us. I mean, I love him and everything, but this is a girls’ week. We haven’t been together in a while. We don’t need to have some little, tattling-everything kid tethered to us. Although Kyle can be bribed into silence.”

“Or otherwise coerced. Was your grandmother mad when you didn’t want to go with her? You never did say about that part of it when you were telling me about it.”

“I think because I’m here with Pat, and because after the wedding, I’ll be going back to LA with your parents for a while, she wasn’t too bent out of shape over it. She respects all of them. She knows I’m comfortable, and that I’ll be taken care of. I love my Granny, but no way was she getting me on that plane with her- holiday or no holiday. She’d get me to Texas, and the next thing I know, I find out it was a one way flight. She’d make me stay there. She wouldn’t let me come back even to LA. As it was, she was trying to get Kyle to transfer to that school in Texas. Daddy ended that, though. He wants Kyle there close to him- and to Pat and Bill. Speaking of Bill, I think he told Teddy he could stay there at the house, close to him, to keep Teddy away from you at night. With Teddy on his turf, Uncle Bill can keep a better eye on the boy, and your father and Teddy’s can get some rest.  They had probably already discussed it when it was arranged for Teddy to stay there, Uncle Bill, your father, and Teddy’s father.”

“No need. Teddy’s a gentleman, and I’m not sizzling hot like you.”

“I’m going to let you have that one, too, J. Partially because it’s the truth. When the Duchess was in here earlier, she was giving me the third degree about the tutor, my schoolwork, my mother, all of that.”

“And?”

“I think I passed muster. Except for the part about my mother. I didn’t want to talk about that, and thankfully, she didn’t make me. There’s no conversation for that. Nothing about that is going to change.”

“How is she?”

“Still her. I can’t wait for you to get here, J. It’s Friday, it’s cold outside, I’m in the house; there’s nobody to play with and nothing to do. I’m already in my PJ’s.”

“Some house. A luxury apartment in upper east Manhattan? Girl, please. I’d be all over. They’d be looking for me. You have a library, a gym, a pool, a spa, a running track, a movie theatre, Duncan Sinclair- all at your disposal in one place, and you’re sitting in the house?”

“I don’t want to do that other stuff, and Duncan is cool, but he’s painting his fingernails black and wearing eyeliner these days. That’s posing a problem.”

“Hmmm. Going Goth, eh?”

“More of a fashion statement with him, I think, maybe  a cry for attention- I don’t know. But now Aunt Pat really doesn’t trust him. Aside from her considering him your basic ‘low-life pothead’, now she’s convinced he’s Satanic- all into devil worship or something, too. He said she hemmed him up in the lobby one day and told him that she’d shoot his ass off if she caught him sniffing anywhere around me. He told me he believes she’ll actually do it. I can only talk to him if we happen to run into each other in the building somewhere. She’s still on that edge I’ve been telling you about, so I couldn’t assure Duncan that she was just playing around. Who knows with her?”

“What’s up with that, Marn? What do you think is going on with her? Cold feet over the wedding, maybe? I mean, she’s been single a long time. She could be just nervous or something.”

“I don’t know, J. I think it’s more than that. You’ll have to see when you get here, if she hasn’t gotten it worked out by then. She and the Duchess have been closed up in her study for a while, talking. Maybe your mom can get it out of her. If there is something to it, Jen is definitely the one to get to the bottom of it.”

“I guess.”

“So what are you going to do tonight, J.? You never did say.”

“You didn’t give me a chance. I don’t know. I don’t really have any set-in-stone plans, but I’m going out of here. If I’m going to do anything this weekend, it better be tonight. Daddy probably won’t let me stay out late tomorrow night because we have that early flight on Sunday. I’ll call Chase and them and see what’s going on after I hang up from you. We’ll probably get into something. In the meantime, you keep your ear to the ground and see what you can find out about Aunt Pat so that you can fill me in when I get there.”

“Bet, J. I’m all over it. And I’ve got some stuff to show you when you get here. I’ve been saving it up. Look, hint to Chance when you see him that he needs to be sorry and make up with me.”

“But he didn’t do anything wrong, Marnie.”

“You heard me. And tell him it would be nice if he sent me a present.”

“You are beyond spoiled.”

“Whatever. Just make sure you do it, and bring it with you when you come.”

______________________________________________________________

The wood and leather theme of Pat’s professional setting repeated itself in the fine furnishings of her private study. A fire burned in the small hearth, its dancing glow reflecting off tall shelves of books and warming the two women inside the room. They had been there for a while, lounging and talking while enjoying after dinner drinks and each other. They had been going over the details of the upcoming nuptials and the reception that would follow. Pat was behind the antique desk which had once belonged to her beloved grandmother, flipping through a folder stuffed with papers. Jennifer was semi-reclined on the oversized couch, her legs propped and her back braced by several large decorator pillows. She had closed the folder on her lap and was instead studying the room.

“It’s hard to believe that you’ve done so much with what used be one small apartment, Pat. This was once my living room.”

“It was never a small apartment, Jen, even by seventies standards. I could always see the potential. Buying the other units and converting them, I just expanded upon what you started.”

“You’ve done an excellent job. I love being here. You have such wonderful taste. You really missed your calling as an architect and interior decorator.”

“I think you just get a sense of the old vibes when you come here. We certainly have had some good times here over the years, haven’t we, Edwards?”

“Ooooh,” Jennifer snickered, wrinkling her nose with the reminiscence. “The sable.”

Pat smirked. “It’s in my cold storage closet. Now that you mention it, I may have to pull it out for next weekend. It’s cold in Maryland this time of the year.”

“Not in Bill’s bed, it won’t be.”

“Yes, but I have to make it to the bed, don’t I?”

“Tramp.”

Pat waggled her finger. “Uh, uh, uh- I’ll be married. Tramp no more.”

“Touché, old girl. Touché.” Jennifer set the folder she held on the coffee table in front of the couch. “It seems as if you have it all covered, Pat. There doesn’t appear to be anything else left to do. You have your people on it. We’ve done as much as we can do. All that’s left is for it to happen. I know it’s a little late to ask this question, but are you sure you aren’t going to offend a great many people by keeping this such a small affair?”

Pat sat back in her chair and crossed her arms. “Jen, I keep telling you, this is not a first marriage for me or for Bill. I’m no blushing, young bride. I’m a mature, very grown woman getting married for the second time in my life. Hopefully this time will be better than the first and last longer, but it’s still a second marriage. I only need- I only want my real friends and family there.”

“But you know so many people. All over the world, you know people.”

“I am acquainted with them, as they are with me, but very few of them know me, or I them. I am marrying a man I love for all the right reasons. It’s taken me over fifty years to get it right, but I think- I know I finally have what it takes and have found who I want.”

Then she stopped talking and Jennifer noticed something in her face and in her voice, but she wasn’t quite certain what.

“Are you telling me everything, Pat?”

“Everything like what?”

“I have this feeling that you’re holding something back from me. I’ve had it ever since I got here.”

Pat unfolded her arms and sat forward, but when she spoke, she focused on the desktop rather than looking across to Jennifer. “Why would I do that? You’ve been right with me through all of this planning, preparing. You helped me decide on the chapel, to have the reception at the new house. We designed my dress together- well, you designed it, and I agreed to it. What else is there? What could I be leaving out?”

“You. You could be leaving you out. Are you?”

Pat sat back again, running her fingers through her hair, brushing it back from where it had fallen across her brow. For a fleeting moment, she seemed to Jennifer to be uncharacteristically tired. “I’m fine, Jen. Everything is how I want it- how we want it. Bill said to do the wedding and all however I wanted it; he just wants to be married. For all he cared, if things had panned out, we might have just gone to the courthouse when we were in Maryland at your father’s place last summer. He only held off because Pa got sick, and I wanted him to give me away- as if after all this time there’s anything here that Bill hasn’t already had.”

At the mention of her father, and Pat’s desire to wait to have him at her wedding, Jennifer nodded and smiled. “I understand. And there is one thing that Bill hasn’t had from you.”

“What’s that?”

“You, as his wife.”

“I guess you’ve got me there, old girl.” Pat smiled as she said it, but Jennifer noted that the smile wasn’t quite genuine.

______________________________________________________________

Restless with Jennifer away and J.J. having gone out with her friends, Jonathan came down from the bedroom to raid the kitchen. Marie had long since turned in, which left him completely to his own devices. After downing several large chocolate chip cookies, chasing them with a long swig off the milk carton, and then belching in sated male abandon behind it, he put the milk carton back on the refrigerator shelf and went into the great room.

He had just gotten settled in with a book when the front door opened. Looking up to check who it was coming in, although it could only have been one person, he then snatched a quick peek at his watch.

“What’re you doing back so early?”

J.J. closed the door and crossed over to the great room where he was seated on the couch facing the foyer.

“Daddy, I know you are not sitting there, waiting up for me.”

He noticed her checking out his robe, pajama pants and slippers, and concluded that to her that was exactly what it must have appeared he was doing.

“I was not waiting up. I came down here to get a book. It pulled me in, and this is where I wound up.”

She slung her purse over the back of the couch across from him, took off the leather jacket, and then came around to plop down on the couch herself.

“Yeah, sure. Down here? Right where you could see the door and me coming through it?”

“It just worked out that way. Why are you in so soon? I haven’t even had a chance to start mentally working out the consequences for when you broke curfew, which with your mother out of town, I was sure you’d try to do. Now here you are, home with twenty minutes to spare.”

“Well, I guess I threw a great big old spanner in that, didn’t I?” J.J. folded her arms and sat back, studying him hard. “So, you admit, you were waiting up for me. Or, more like lying in wait for me.”

“Okay, so I have a little trouble sleeping when you’re not home, and it’s just you and me. Sue me for being a concerned father. You left here with Chase “Shake and Bake” Barnett. That in itself automatically raises my level of concern. Now will you please answer my question: why are you in so early? And since we’re on the subject, why have you been keeping so close lately? You used to be all over the place. Now, you’re either at school, at home, or down at the office most of the time.”

Giving in to her amusement at her father’s assessment of Chase’s character, his persistent paranoia, and his astute observations about her recent movements, J.J. got up and came over to sit next him, folding her legs underneath her body. That was when he noticed that her hair appeared to be a bit wet.

“I don’t know. I guess I’ve been pretty busy these past few weeks with things I’ve been into at school, the stuff you and I have been doing, and then, too, it’s just not as much fun being out without Marnie. It brings Chase down that Chance is moping around about Marnie being gone. Of course, she’s not speaking to Chance anyway because he took some other girl to a dance at his school.”

“But Marnie is all the way in New York, and she doesn’t go to his school. Why would that be a problem?”

“Come on now, this is Marnie, my drama queen best friend we’re talking about. Go figure.”

Jonathan chuckled, making J.J. giggle, too as she picked back up her story. “But anyway, tonight Chase and I tried cheering Chance up by taking him out, but that got old real quick. It kept raining off and on, and almost nobody who’s fun was hanging out. Charmaine and Deon left right after school today to go home to St. Thomas for the holiday, so that cut them out of the picture, even if they had come this far over from where they live. Tiffany and Britt couldn’t get out tonight at all; Tiff’s grades are down, consequently she is, too. And Britt did something to make their mother mad, so Mrs. Landers put her on house arrest along with Tiff. Overall, it was a pretty dull evening. Chase, Chance, Hector, Philly, and I, we all went to Speed Zone. We raced the cars, ate, played some video games, and then I told Chase to just bring me home; I wasn’t having a good time. You and I have the stuff to finish up tomorrow and the flight out on Sunday. I want to be rested for that. It’s too bad we can’t fly ourselves to the east coast, isn’t it?”

“It would have been nice, but I still have a month to go before they take my ticker off the endangered species list.”

“Don’t make light of it, Daddy. It’s not endangered; I don’t even want to think that it might be. And what happened wasn’t funny.”

“I’m sorry. I know it wasn’t. But after they do release me, for sure it’s back to the friendly skies for us, on our own.”

Reaching across to her, Jonathan gently brushed the heel of his thumb high on J.J.’s right cheek. “It is a good thing this eye healed up in time. Your mother would have had a fit if you were still sporting that shiner for your aunt and uncle’s wedding pictures.”

“Ooh yes, she sure would. Can you imagine the questions years from now, people looking at those wedding pictures and seeing me with that black eye? My kids would be like, ‘Mommy, who clocked you?’ And my dignified, ladylike mother would still be as disgusted and mortified then as she was while I had it, telling her grandkids what a roughhousing tomboy their mother was back in the day. That episode wasn’t even my fault; I was strictly a victim of circumstance. At that point in time, I wasn’t even roughhousing; I was just standing there and whack!. A knot on the head and a shiner to boot. I think that eye upset my mother more than it did me.”

“Yeah, well, the assortment of creative eye patches you kept pulling out on her didn’t help matters any. Stars, diamonds, spades. The heart.”

J.J. grinned and shrugged. “Life threw me a lemon; I just made some lemonade out of it. What else could I do? Despite looking like a prizefighter, I still had school, and I had to keep up all my commitments. There was no way I could just go into hiding, like Marnie said she would have, and it wouldn’t have helped anything to have been moping around about it; that’s not me. The black eye was just one of those things. All I could do was try to make the best of it until it got better.”

“Just like the thing with me getting sick and my heart.”

At his not-so-veiled reminder of how alike they actually were when it came to making the best of personal adversity, J.J. nodded in understanding. “Yeah, like that, I guess.”

In the soft radiance from the lamp on the side table, J.J.’s smile and the temporary warmth in her eyes as they spoke together were so much like Jennifer’s. He was glad that she had left J.J. behind with him. It was a reassuringly comfortable moment with his child, who was rapidly growing farther and farther away from being a child. The two of them, he and J.J., didn’t often get such a large block of time to be by themselves.

“Your mother is proud of you, J.J. She likes showing you off at your best. I do, too. I’m really looking forward to this weekend and the next.”

She leaned in to kiss his cheek. “Me, too. Well, we need to be up early to get the rest of the stuff done downtown tomorrow before we leave, so I’m going to bed now.”

She rose, but bent over at the waist to twist, workout-fashion, from side to side before standing upright and stretching out her body. “I need a good workout; I’m too tight. Can’t wait to hit Aunt Pat’s gym and the track. Don’t stay up too long,” she yawned. “I’ll call over to you in the morning and wake you.”

“Do that. And make sure you dry your hair all the way before you get over into the bed. You and I are predisposed to head colds. You show up in New York with so much as a sniffle, and I’ll be catching pure hell- from your mother and your Aunt Pat.”

“My, my, my, Daddy. Now what have I told you about using that word? And you wonder where the hell I get it from.”

Gathering her things on the other couch, she turned around just long enough to impishly wink and give him a small wave. “Good night.”

Shaking his head, trying hard not let her see his less-than-responsible amusement, he watched until J.J. was out of sight, and he could hear her going up the stairs. Then he lay his head back and closed his eyes, wondering where the hell the time had gone.

He could still feel her lying asleep, curled up on his thighs as he held her securely in place. Tummy full, bottom dry, and needs met; her tiny back rose and fell beneath his palm, and because she was so small, through it, he could feel the rapid beating of her contented, worry-free heart. Back then he could keep her there, but now she was fast growing up; friends of her own, driving, flying, beginning to make a life and a reputation for herself; a big girl with a big heart, growing up and away. Even Anastasia was pleased with how she was turning out.

But although J.J. was branching out, in some new, intriguingly subtle way, he could feel her moving even closer to him, tucking herself even more securely under his wing. He liked the feeling and the implication for their future.

Jennifer, warm, soft, freckled, and sweet, floated into his head. Those eyes, that smile… her.

He remained where he was, sinking even deeper into the couch cushions savoring the odd mixture of alone and content that rolled over him, accompanying her mental and emotional image. They had spoken together earlier that evening, but now that it was late…

… he was restless, but there were still a few things to be done in the morning, and like J.J., he needed to be rested. He propped his feet on the coffee table, clasping his hands across his midsection.

Breathing deeply… evenly… slowly…, concentrating on those things that would relax him all the way: J.J.- safely tucked in her room, upstairs at home with him. Jennifer- in New York with Pat and Marnie. There was no reason to be unduly concerned about anything that mattered; all his ducks were accounted for.

And there was also no reason to be in a rush to go back up to that master suite and that big empty bed. In his mind, he took hold of Jennifer’s hand and with her, began to drift away.

______________________________________________________________

Upstairs in her room, J.J. headed straight to her computer where she popped in the disc she pulled from her bag. Opening her general email account, her fingers flying across the keyboard, she punched in a quick message to “theOGenie84″.

“Here’s what you said we needed, so now you can go to work. I’m taking care of my end. You make sure you have yours covered. The stables will probably be the best place for us to hook up to do it. I can’t wait to see you next week.”

She uploaded the file on the disc and sent it on its way. Then she checked her incoming messages, clicking in and out of her various online addresses, scanning the lists for anything that needed immediate opening. She stopped with a smile at the one message she knew would be there, waiting for her on that last account: “Jenjus1″ to “Jusjen2″@Hartsystems.net- their direct line, which they only used to communicate with each other.

“As you’re reading this, Justine Hart, I trust you made it in on time, and that you haven’t worn yourself out. Pat sends her love. Marnie looks great and says that she can’t wait until you two “hook up”. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad; you just know that I’m not having it out of either one of you once you do get here. In the meantime, be good and take care of your father.

Have a good night, sweetie. I’ll talk with you tomorrow.

I love you,                                                                                                    Mom

P.S. Tell Teddy that I said “hello”, and know that you are not be on that telephone with him all night. You will see him soon enough. Do not arrive here looking like a raccoon. Get your rest.

“Whatever, Mother.” J.J. sighed as she clicked off the message and popped out the CD.

“About the phone thing, I’m not even calling him up. I’m going to bed- not because you said so, but because I’m tired and I have a lot to do tomorrow. Like you said, I’ll see him soon enough. And he and I already have our plans in place for when I do. So there.”

Then she smiled again at being able to get smart and not having to deal with being called on it.

She got up with Daria on her mind as she headed into the bathroom to take her shower and dry her hair. That child was yet another matter that needed further consideration and discussion.

______________________________________________________________

Finished with journaling her thoughts for the night, Jennifer closed the book, placing it and the pen in the corner of the writing desk. That desk and the large wrought iron bed in that room were hers, left from the days when the original apartment had been hers. In designing that suite of rooms specifically for her and Jonathan when they visited, Pat held onto those two pieces and incorporated them into the current decor. As very young women, she and Pat had been into fine furnishings, especially antiques. They were together, scouring shops, when the bed they came upon the bed. Pa sent the desk over from London where he purchased it at auction to commemorate her twenty-third birthday. She left them behind when she moved to California, but Pat understood how much she treasured those two items and kept them for her to use when she visited New York.

It was hard to tell what the old apartment once looked like before it went co-op. Now, instead of a modest three bedroom, rented apartment on the fifth floor, four large suites of rooms on two floors comprised “Pat’s Place” on 72nd.

The upstairs suite, in closer proximity to Pat’s own private quarters and Cordelia’s rooms was where Marnie was currently residing. That suite had once been where she and Jonathan stayed, but when J.J. was born, those rooms had been redesigned to accommodate her. They started out as a nursery, but over the years had evolved into an area in the house for a young woman to spend time, entertain, and rest her head. Marnie had taken the second bedroom there. Cordelia had already taken care of having the first ready and waiting for J.J. to get there.

The fourth suite, the one next to the one she was in on the first floor, was for real guests, which Pat seldom had. One had to be very close to Pat to get an overnight invitation to stay with her. Although her “apartment” took up half of both the fifth and sixth floors of the apartment house, and she owned two other large units in the building earning her a place on the governing board, Pat usually arranged for out-of-towners to stay in one of the local hotels. Just as she’d said earlier down in the study, she knew all kinds of people, but she didn’t know them, and they didn’t know her, and she preferred it that way. When she got there, Marcia would be taking that fourth suite. Even though Pat and Marcia’s relationship was a bit on the caustic side, Marcia was inside the circle Pat had drawn around herself. Just inside….

Rising from the desk, her mind still firmly fixed on Pat, Jennifer pulled off her robe and draped it over the  filigreed iron footboard.

Just as Marnie said, Pat was doing and saying all of the right things, but there was something amiss. Something was wrong in her face, her tone of voice, her mannerisms, and even though she had always been slim and angular, it appeared she had lost some weight. After an evening of pondering it, her mind was busy with trying to make the pieces fit. Pat had been through an awful lot that she hadn’t really spoken on. But then, Pat had never been one to dwell on the misfortunes in her life. She tended to work with them, have the appropriate reaction, which would be largely temporary, and then move on. More than a few of her business acquaintances had been lost to the 9/11 disaster which she had narrowly missed being a part of herself. She returned home to face a slew of security implementations designed to afford her and all she’d built a greater measure of safety, but at the same time reinforcing to her just how tenuous life and one’s peace of mind could be. She’d brought Marnie home with her, and with Marnie came a whole new list of concerns- but those she seemed to enjoy; Pat glowed when she spoke of Marnie. And then she was getting married, an event she seemed determined to keep as private as possible.

It was also odd that Bill hadn’t been there. When she asked Pat about it, she abruptly addressed and then closed the subject. “He has a lot to do in Maryland. He doesn’t need to be running back and forth. I can take care of myself and things here.”

The tone of her voice clearly conveyed that the issue should be dropped. And it was.

But now alone in her room, she wondered about it. What was going on? That funny feeling in her stomach and in her heart said that there was something Pat wasn’t sharing. What could it be that Pat was leaving her out of it? Had she and Bill had some kind of falling out that had built a wall between them? That didn’t seem possible. Bill wanted Pat, and he would break down any wall Pat tried to put up. He was that kind of man. Was Pat having second thoughts about getting married? That didn’t seem to be the case. She was going through all the right motions for that. If Pat had changed her mind about getting married, she would have said so. She was that kind of woman. So, what else could it be?

Asking Pat point blank and not taking evasiveness for an answer would be the only way to get at her. To do that, she would have to wait for a moment where she could blindside her. If Pat saw it coming, she’d bob and weave- do anything she could to avoid it. That girl could be excellent at ducking.

I am not having it.

Turning back the covers, sliding over into the bed, and turning off the light, Jennifer resolved that her immediate goal upon waking would be seeking out that opportune moment. It needed to be taken care of before J.J. got there on Sunday and definitely before Marcia got there the following week, allowing Pat to use one or maybe the two of them as diversions.

Pulling up the covers, rolling onto her side, trying to get comfortable, it felt funny, desolate almost, to not have those strong arms wrap around her, drawing her into his familiar warmth.

______________________________________________________________

Saturday

“Hmmm?”

“Daddy, it’s time to wake up.”

“Hmmmmmm???”

“Come on, wake up, Daddy. We have things to do. Marie left for her sister’s already. I’m down here making us breakfast. You need to be at the table in twenty minutes so you can eat. Get up, now. We have stuff to do.”

“Hmmmm.”

“Daddy? Did you hear me? Are you awake?”

“Yes. All right. Al-l-lrigh-h-h-t.”

Jonathan hung up the phone, yawned, and rolled over, burying his face in the other pillows, glad that he remembered to ask Marie not to change the linen before she left for the weekend. Deeply inhaling, he filled himself with the remnants of Jennifer’s soft scent before propping himself up on his elbows and waiting for his sleep-fuzzy head to clear.

“Better get a move on.

He used his feet and his legs to push back the covers.

That one will be up here, banging on the door if I take too long. No soft and gentle there at all… bossy little dictator.

But he was smiling as he drug himself out of the bed, taking up his cell from the night table as he passed it.

… and loyal subject that I am, I just do whatever she tells me.

______________________________________________________________

Down in the kitchen, busily assembling the ingredients and the tools she needed to prepare breakfast, J.J. had to use her knee to close the refrigerator door while she answered her cell with her free hand.

“Good morning, Mom.”

Good morning, Justine. Are you out of bed?

“Of course, I am. I’m in the kitchen, making breakfast for Daddy and me. What’s happening with you?”

There’s nothing much going on here this morning so far. In a little while, we’re going to take Marnie to see her father since she’ll be away for the holiday and there won’t be much time to fit it in next week.”

“Are you guys going to fly or drive?

Fly. We’ll take a commuter flight over. It’ll be quicker that way.

“I wish I was there, so that I could go with you. Tell Mr. Benson I said ‘hello’.”

I will. We had sort of a late breakfast this morning, and then I needed to make some phone calls. I thought I’d start with phoning you. What time did you get in last night?

“I’m not stuck on punishment up in my room, so I have to have made curfew.”

That’s not what I asked you.

“Twelve-something. I was in way early. And I went to bed shortly after. I’m wide-eyed and energized this morning. I’ve already had some juice and my vitamins. I took the dog out, watered your plants,  checked your fax machine; there was nothing there for you, and I started up your car to make sure it’s running right. Anything else you can think of that I might have left out?”

Don’t be fresh, little girl. And my car runs just fine whether I’m there or not to start it up. Don’t drive it an inch unless your father is in it with you. Where is your father?

“I just called upstairs and woke him up. Where’s Marnie? I haven’t talked to her today, but it’s early here yet.”

She’s in her room, I suspect. She said she had some calls of her own to make.

“She’s probably doing a.m. anonymous hang-ups on Chance; they’re kind of on the outs currently. So how’s Aunt Pat?”

She’s fine.

“Really?”

Why wouldn’t she be?

“I just asked.”

Um-hmm. So, what’s on your agenda today?

“Not much. I’m think I’m just going to stay low for the most part. The flight out tomorrow is pretty early, so I guess I’d do better to just keep close. You know, make sure that I have everything ready to go.”

Good thinking. Do not forget to pack those vitamins, J.J. I’m not going to hear, ‘I forgot’ when you start slowing down and then you’re sick and dragging around for your cycle. You’re going to be away from home for a week. That’s a long time for you to go without what you’re supposed to have.

“Yes, ma’am.”

And don’t cook anything greasy. I know how poorly the two of you tend to eat when I’m not around. He gets heartburn, and you get pimples.

“Yes, ma’am.”

No junk food for lunch either.

“Yes, ma’am. Anything else you want to cut us off from?”

Don’t be fresh, I said. Your father will be dropping you off to me tomorrow, and  I won’t have forgotten.

“Yes, ma’am”

The call was cut short by her mother having to click over to take an incoming call. As soon as she hung up, J.J. placed several slices of bacon on the heated griddle. Then she popped in four thick pieces of bread to toast and dropped a dollop of butter into the warm skillet.

Grinning to herself, she poured the egg and cheese mixture from the bowl over into the melted oil. When it began to bubble, she gently moved it around to keep it from sticking, and then mixed and flipped it with the spatula, all the while thinking to herself, “Too late, Jennifer, fixed menu. It’s Saturday, my Daddy and I are home alone, and grease is the order of the morning; we’re overdue. I promise we’ll do better for lunch.”

______________________________________________________________

“Good morning, my darling.”

Good morning to you. I was just on the phone with our child when you clicked in. She said that she was preparing your breakfast. Did you sleep well last night?

“Yeah, pretty much, after J.J. came down and got me from where I’d drifted off, sitting up on the couch. You?”

I was restless. I always am the first night when I’m away from you. So, waiting up for your daughter last night, were you?

“I just happened to be there when she came in, that’s all. She got in early- for her- and went up to bed, but I was restless, too, without you, so I stayed downstairs. I planned to read, but I guess I must have dozed off. I don’t know how long I had been there when she woke me up and made me go to bed. How’s Marnie?”

She’s great, but just as Pat said, she’s changed some.

“Changed? How so?”

I can’t quite put my finger on it. I guess for now I’d have to say that she seems calmer, more at peace with things. I don’t know. You’ll have to see it for yourself.

“And Pat?”

That’s another story. I can’t quite put my finger on that either, but I intend to ASAP.

“What do you suspect is going on with her? Now that you’re with her, what can you see? Does she seem to be having second thoughts about getting married? Is she unhappy? Nervous?”

No, I don’t think it’s any of that. As I said; I can’t quite pinpoint what it is. For me, it’s more like I can feel it, rather than see it. Jonathan, I- I guess, I can’t even get words around it, but it’s there. Something’s wrong with her. It’s in her eyes, her smile, in what she’s not saying. She’s herself, but it’s as if she’s forcing it. She’s said to me more than once, how she’s glad that she has Marnie there with her. I’m beginning to believe that focusing on Marnie is allowing her to avoid something else.

“Well, she won’t have Marnie after next week. She’ll only have Bill. Marnie will be back here with us at least until she and Bill get back from their honeymoon. I know you only just got there, but have you and Pat discussed what happens with Marnie after that?”

No, we haven’t. As you said, I’ve only just gotten here. But in my opinion, Marnie should remain in Los Angeles to at least finish out this school year. She can’t keep bouncing around, although I must say that so far, it doesn’t seem to have done her any harm. The reports she’s shown me from the tutor and from school are excellent, even better than when she was going to school at home. I think she’s more focused without all of her friends, the car, and the turmoil in dealing with her mother and stepmother.

“Speaking of Marnie and her mother-”

No progress. In fact, I believe Marnie is actually trying to get ‘divorced’ from her mother.

“Divorced?”

You heard me.

“Whew! That’s something. She’s only sixteen. She has two years before she can be legally considered an adult.”

She’s covering her bases, she said. She doesn’t want to be in a position to be forced back with her mother in the event Carl can’t take her back to live with him. She’s even spoken with her father’s attorneys about it. I don’t know. It’s such a mess. I hate that she’s so determined to not be with her mother, but I can’t entirely say that I blame her. Of course, I’d never let her know that.

“I know you wouldn’t, darling. Whatever happens, we’ll be there for her. And for Pat. Are you and Pat still going to Boston with Marnie today?”

Yes. We have a three o’clock flight out. We’ll see Carl, have dinner, and return later tonight. I’ll phone you when we get in.

“I’ll be waiting to hear from you. Give Carl my regards. So listen, before you go, what are you wearing?”

It’s after eleven in the morning here, Jonathan. I’m fully dressed.

“Dressed in what?”

The navy silk blouse you brought back for me from your trip to Geneva and a pair of navy slacks.

“Slacks?”

Yes, slacks. You sound as if I said something dirty. And the long sleeves on the blouse. It’s cold here.

“Um. No mental images to be formed from that. Are the slacks tight at least?”

Jonathan, they’re slacks. There’s a reason why they’re called that. You need to hang up. I have things to do, and so do you.

“If I was there with you, I know what things we’d be doing. You’d be out of those slacks- and the long-sleeved blouse, and I-.”

And you should be getting ready to go downstairs before J.J. comes up for you. She doesn’t like her table kept waiting. Darling, please watch what you eat. You and J.J. have those devil-may-care dietary tendencies that aren’t good for either of you.

“I love you, too, darling.”

She returned the endearment, sure she smelled through the phone recently-purchased bacon being fried in her kitchen.

Lumberjack breakfast, without a doubt. They probably went shopping yesterday evening and loaded up on all the triglycerides and carbs they could find. Now she’s doing the cooking. Thank God, it’s only one day.

Her husband and her daughter, two of a kind, both feeding off each other in every sense of the term.

But then, it was only one day. How much trouble can they get into in one day?

Pat stuck her head in the door of the study. “Jen, we’d better get a move on. With all the security crap at the airport, it’s better to get there early since we’re going commercial. I’ve already sent for the car.”

“Oh.” Jennifer closed her date book and rose from the desk. “All right, I hadn’t considered that. When I’ve flown, it’s always been private since- well, since.”

At the door, she stopped, looked Pat in the eye, and took her shot. “What is going on with you?”

But to her disappointment, Pat feinted, immediately turning her face away.

Jennifer reached for Pat’s wrist, wrapping her fingers snugly around it and holding on when Pat’s reaction was to try and pull it free. “I can tell, Pat. You know that I can. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. You’re imagining things.”

“I do have a huge imagination, Pat. But not when it comes to us. If I feel it, if you feel it, we know that it’s real. My heart is talking to me. Now you talk to me.”

Pat eased her wrist loose and used that arm to put around Jennifer’s shoulders. “Let’s go take Marnie to her father, Jen. That’s what we need to do right now.”

Jennifer stood fast. “Did you hustle me out of your office yesterday to keep Dora from asking too many questions in front of me? Was that why you almost pushed me through the door?”

“You ask too many questions, Edwards. I’m your elder, remember.”

“And I’m your friend. Do you remember that?”

Hugging her, forcing her to come with her as she moved back into the hall, Pat whispered, “No matter what else is going on, I never forget that. Ever.”

______________________________________________________________

Saturday Evening

The day turned out to have been a long, but fine one. A lot had been accomplished. The errands were done, the bags were packed, and the flight arrangements finalized. There was nothing left to do except enjoy what was left of it. With Jennifer away for yet another evening, not expecting to hear back from her until later, Jonathan put into play his plans for filling the time.

First, some last minute shopping, then an early jazz concert at a small venue he’d been invited to visit. The last stop was sharing a thick steak dinner with good company. He emerged from the restaurant refreshed and satisfied, only to be ambushed by media hounds.

“Hey, Mr. Hart! Over here! One for the papers! Who’s the hottie with you? The one you had with you in the cozy private booth? I don’t think that’s Mrs. Hart!”

On instinct, he shielded the young woman from the blinding flashes with his coat and hustled her into the car as the valet held open the door. Slamming it shut behind her, he then whirled back around to face the brash young photographer, the one with the intrusive nose and the rude, oversized mouth… the one who must not have known any better, but would soon find out.

Continue to Part Two

 

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