Issues

J.J.’s desire to be self-reliant in personal matters leads to a physical crisis for her….

Jennifer Hart sat at the kitchen table sipping from a cup of coffee while reading the newspaper. It was Monday morning, and she faced a long, busy week. There always seemed to be a million things to do and not enough time to get them all done.

She had just finished her breakfast and was using the idle moment to organize her thoughts while she read and waited for her daughter to come from upstairs where she was getting dressed for school. This would probably be her only down time. Once she dropped J.J. off, her own day would begin in earnest.

Today was Monday, “Dress Day”, the designated day of the week that J.J. was required to wear a dress or skirt to school, instead of her usual jeans and boots or shorts and sandals. Not a morning person to begin with, and Mondays themselves being hard on her after her weekends, this edict on top of the two other things usually brought out her crankier side. A check of the calendar further revealed that PMS or cramps would be further compounding her bad humor. Jennifer was already braced for the anticipated turbulence.

Jonathan marched into the kitchen from the great room carrying his briefcase which he sat down next to the counter before pouring himself a cup of black coffee. H brought it with him to the table where he sat down.

“I only have a couple of minutes. I have to be downtown for that meeting and traffic is murder at this time of the morning.”

Jennifer looked up from the paper to the man across from her and smiled. Although they had been married for over twenty years, her husband was still a most welcome morning sight. His thick, silver-streaked chestnut hair complimented his handsome, dignified face, and the custom navy blue suit seemed to accentuate those twinkling azure eyes that always seemed to be saying to her, “Meet me in the bedroom”.

She felt she had to be the most fortunate woman in the world. After all their time together, he continued to be such a charming, sexy man; one of whom she never got enough. It still melted her heart to know that not only was such a man her husband and the father of her only child, but he had remained faithful, her lover alone.

Putting the paper down, she leaned toward him. “Well, I would have invited you to spend the morning with me, but since you say you have a meeting…”

He grinned and blew on the steaming liquid in his cup. “Who are you trying to fool? Your schedule it tighter than mine. You have all you have to do, plus you have to ferry J.J. back and forth. But-” he lifted his eyebrows, “may I take a rain check?”

They both chuckled, wishing that there could some way be more hours to their nights.

“We’ll see if it’s still raining later.” She picked her newspaper back up and turned the page. “Off that subject, though, did you happen to see our child up there anywhere? She’s going to be late if she doesn’t make it down here soon. She hasn’t even eaten yet.”

“Yep, I saw her. She slid past me in the hall upstairs wearing those slip-on gym shoe things, no stockings, and a blue jean skirt short enough to be a belt. She was on her cordless talking to somebody about a field trip.”

“On the phone? Oh yes, that’s right. The art history teacher is taking a group of them to a few of the smaller galleries in the area to complete an assignment. For the life of me I don’t know why he’s attempting to take that bunch anywhere. Do you know who’s in that class?”

“If it’s J.J. and Marnie, in the same period, that’s his very first problem.”

“Yes, it’s the two of them and all of their crew during the same period. That’s the class that I told you I heard them talking about signing up for so that they could take it together. To my knowledge, there’s J.J., Marnie, Tommy, Philly and Hector, Sidney, Deon and Charmaine with the Dreadlocks to name a few.”

Jonathan groaned. “What was the school thinking about? When the computer spit that roster out, that ring should have been broken up right then. The poor teacher couldn’t have known about them when they all signed up for the class, but he has to know them by now. Sidney’s going too? Isn’t he the one who ran for Homecoming queen last fall and won?”

“Yes darling, that would be Sidney. Marnie ran his campaign, and he won hands down. He and Marnie shared the crown at the Homecoming Dance.”

Jonathan rolled his eyes, shuddering at the recollection of Tommy, one of J.J.’s best friends explaining that situation to him one afternoon out on the links at the club as he was caddying for him. It normally took a lot for a story to get a rise out of him, but that one really got his attention.

“What have things come to in high schools?” He signed, drained his cup, and set it down on the table.

“Well, this is Los Angeles and that’s where you wanted her enrolled,” Jennifer reminded him. “You knew going in that it was a school for gifted and talented kids. According to their mission statement, free thought, tolerance, and individuality are actively encouraged.”

Jonathan’s reaction to Sidney never failed to amuse her. That boy always brought pause to her usually easygoing husband. Remembering his first encounter with the openly, comfortably gay Sidney almost always brought tears to her eyes.

J.J. had been entertaining several of her friends around the pool and had introduced the boy dressed in the gorgeous one-piece Speedo to her father in her usual off-hand, congenial manner. Tommy could be seen eyeing Jonathan’s reaction with interest from the other side of the pool. From her place in the window, Jennifer could tell that it was all her husband could do to shake the boy’s hand.

When Jonathan turned to come back toward the house, “What the hell?” was written all over his face.

“He is an individual, I’ll grant you that,” Jonathan affirmed. “I wouldn’t take that group around the corner, much less to a small, closed-in art gallery. Keep your phone close, darling. You’re bound to get that call.”

“I’d better not. I’ve told that girl about her behavior in public. I don’t care what the others in the group may be doing; she knows what I expect of her.”

At that moment, J.J. dragged into the kitchen, dropping her backpack next to the door and sliding across the ceramic tile in those canvas mules her father mentioned, wearing  a short blue jean skirt and a tight knit top that just touched the waistband of the skirt. Jennifer took note of the outfit and of the fact that J.J.’s usually rosy complexion was pale, almost gray. A quick head-to-toe mother’s inventory revealed that her face, fingers, and tummy were also uncharacteristically puffy. But J.J. hadn’t come down saying anything about feeling badly or about missing school. Perhaps, Jennifer surmised, the girl didn’t feel as bad as she looked.

Droning, “Good morning” to both of her parents in passing, J.J. made her way to the sideboard where Marie had left her plate to keep it warm.

She felt like hell. Cramps had her gripped by the gut, but complaining about them wasn’t going to make them go away. It almost certainly wasn’t going to result in a reprieve from school from her mother. Her  philosophy was that having a period and all that went with it was part of being female. Priding herself on having never been a sissy or weak, she tried to make the best of it on her own. The medicine she sometimes took didn’t really help that much, and it tended to make her dopey in class. Besides, she didn’t want to miss anyway. Most of the day would be taken up for the art history field trip, and with that she was hoping to be distracted from her physical symptoms. In short, she would just have to deal with all of it on her own.

However, it would be best if nobody said anything out of the way to her. If they valued their lives, people should stay the hell out of her way.

“Good morning, Justine. And you can go right back upstairs and put on something decent. You are not going on any field trip, representing the house of Hart, dressed in that manner.”

“Aw, Mom!”

The irritation flared up, flickering bright orange-red right behind her eyeballs, and she to hold it in check, she quick-counted from one to ten. Going off on her mother in front of her father, or anywhere for that matter, wouldn’t work at all if she valued her own life. Jonathan Hart did not tolerate insolence toward his wife, and his wife didn’t tolerate insolence-period.

Fighting hard to keep the nastiness and whining out of her tone, she turned from the counter to face the table where her mother was sitting. “Everybody else is going to be casual like this. Nobody dresses up for a field trip at our school.”

“I’m only concerned with you, Justine Hart.”

Over the years, that calm, but firm tone had been honed and perfected until it was almost an art form, an infuriating art form. “So march!”

Stuff is starting already.

J.J. had to take a deep breath to keep from slamming the fork down onto the plate rather than setting it there.

It would be her.

Too bad. If it had been anybody else, some mental satisfaction might have been derived from issuing the first tongue lashing of the day. As badly as she felt, even Jennifer Hart might be treading in dangerous territory. When cramps hit, the demons completely overtook her body, forcing it to dance to the music they played.

Turning to start out of the kitchen, the slight angry twitch of her shoulders which matched the sour expression on her face conveyed her extreme dissatisfaction with the situation, and right away Jennifer picked up on the negative body language.

She turned in her chair, rotating her body as J.J. made her way to the door. “Do I detect attitude?”

“No, Ma’am.” But just as she was going through the door, J.J. said something else under her breath, causing Jonathan’s eyes to widen in shock.

“I know she didn’t just say, ‘I’m sick of this shit.’ I could have sworn that’s what she said.”

Jonathan switched his alarmed gaze from the now empty door frame to his wife. “I know that’s what she said!”

Jennifer turned back around in her chair and coolly flicked the newspaper to straighten it out after turning the page. Holding the paper in front of her with one hand, she raised her cup to her lips again with the other.

“As long as you didn’t hear her say that she was sick of that ‘bitch’, and she comes back down here dressed like my daughter going on a field trip, I’ll let it go. She’s not herself this morning; I understand the cause of her irritability, but she is not going to look thrown away even if she does feel badly. These things come, and they go, and she’s got at least thirty more years to deal with it . She can be sick of whatever she wants to be sick of as long as she does what I say when I say it.”

_________________________________________________

J.J. was slumped in the passenger’s seat, holding her hand to her stomach. She was still pale, and it was obvious that she wasn’t feeling well at all.

“Are you all right, J.J.? Do you think you’re going to make it?”

“Mom, did you have to go through this when you were a kid?”

“No, but then I didn’t have regular periods like you do. Mine came when they felt like it. Maybe only four or five times a year.”

As she watched the traffic, Jennifer could feel J.J. cut her eyes up to her.

“That had to be a bother. Sitting around every month, wondering if it just didn’t come naturally… or… if there was some other reason for its absence…”

Without missing a beat or taking her eyes off the road, Jennifer went right after Jonathan’s would-be sassy child. “When you do things in their own time- like when you’re grown and out of your parents’ house; you’re discerning about what and who you do, and you take good care of your business when do decide to do anything with anybody, you don’t have those kinds of worries for the most part, Miss Smarty-pants.”

J.J. smirked and then nodded.

Inwardly, Jennifer smirked too.

Pushing the envelope. Developing that inherited subtle sense of humor, I see. And trying to work it on me. I think not.

Minx.

Sex and sexuality were topics she never hedged on or dodged around with J.J. When the subject arose, she didn’t pull any punches. When it came to being female, with J.J. she shot from the hip, rarely soft-pedaling anything when it came to letting her daughter know what she needed to know. J.J. was too smart a girl to play games with in that area, or in any area for that matter. Only the straight truth worked with that one.

When they pulled in front of the school, like always, J.J. leaned in to kiss her mother’s cheek. As she did, she felt a hand clamp onto her wrist like a vise.

“Look.” The warning was being delivered directly into her eyes. “I know that you and the Wild Bunch are going on that field trip today. Do not, I repeat, not, have the teacher or anybody else calling me about your antics. Am I understood?”

“Yes, Ma’am. You don’t have to worry. I’m not operating at my best today anyway.”

“That hasn’t ever stopped you in the past. And tell your little girlfriend that it goes for her, too.”

“Marnie knows what’s up. Bye, Mom. See you later.”

Jennifer watched as J.J. went up the walkway to the school. She had changed into a simple emerald green knit skirt suit and a pair of silver sandals. The green went well with the color of that long ponytail. Despite her pallor, J.J. really did look quite pretty.

She wondered if there would be enough time before the class left on the trip for J.J. to make it to the restroom to change back into what she had on in the kitchen. Flashing back to when she was fifteen, that was exactly what she would have done had she not been relegated to uniforms at Gresham Hall Preparatory School for Girls. J.J. Hart went to public school and could get by with wearing just about whatever she wanted.

She pushed the buttons to close the windows and shut down the car.

_________________________________________________

Mr. Tim Harris was not looking forward to his day. The field trip with the sixth period class was that morning. Sixth period had to be the most challenging group that he taught. Several of the students were gifted academically, and many were talented in the arts. The remaining few were only there to fill an elective requirement.

For the most part, they were all motivated to learn, but they were so diverse in their interests and their backgrounds that it was hard for him to keep pace with them. For that socially cohesive group, he found himself having to tailor each lesson to their varied interests in order to keep them engaged and on task. That sometimes meant multiple plans for one lesson. Talk about differentiating. For the field trip, he had designed eighteen different tasks; six for each gallery, to be divided up among that eclectic group of adolescents. He went down the roster before him, trying to finalize who to have do what.

First of all there was J.J. Hart, a brilliant girl, one who was well traveled, art savvy, and therefore, easily bored. Her maternal grandfather was a longtime art dealer. Although he was now elderly and retired, according to J.J., he was still occasionally called upon as a consultant. As a result of her father’s vast expertise, J.J.’s mother was quite knowledgeable in the field of art as well; knowledge that she had passed on to her daughter. J.J. was an academic scholar, but not particularly interested in studying art. Consequently, she was hard to challenge and motivate, and unfortunately hooking her was key to controlling the group. She was clearly the unspoken leader of the pack.

Tommy Steele was a budding artist of phenomenal talent, but he was more inspired to create his own art than to study existing works that did not directly relate to his interests. Tommy loved drawing and he was good with his hands. He reportedly had talents as a sculptor, but was more interested in architecture. It remained to get him to see how each field related to the other. In that class, so far his main interests had been sketching, researching historical architecture, and J.J. Hart.

Marnie Benson, J.J.’s best friend and Sidney Fields, Marnie’s good buddy were strictly into fashion and aesthetics. Both of them could be counted upon to bring noise and color to any situation, especially the flamboyant, outspoken Sidney.

Philly Diaz and her brother, Hector came from a musical background, their father being big in production work for some of the major performers. Hector was a year ahead of the Gifted and Talented program, but he had been allowed in because of his considerable musical abilities. Both he and his academically gifted younger sister seemed to enjoy the study of art in any genre. Constantly at amiable odds, it was fun to watch the two of them interact.

Charmaine DeJean, a serious art and literature student from the Caribbean, didn’t think that any art was worth studying if it didn’t have black people as the subject, wasn’t done by a black artist, or had been acclaimed as noteworthy by a black critic. As her teacher, Tim Harris felt it was his obligation to try to help Charmaine be more open-minded, which was not proving to be an easy task. And then there was her cousin, Deon Williams, a serious jock, who had originally signed up to fulfill an elective requirement and to be with his friends that period, but who had lately, thankfully, begun to display a developing interest in the class.

Those were the principal players in sixth period Art History. Individually, they were interesting, even charming children, but as a group they were a test of his abilities as a leader.

He finished assigning and organizing the sets of tasks he had prepared for the trip. Taking a deep breath, he mentally steeled himself for the bus rides to the galleries and back to the school. He picked up the sheet of paper from his desk that had been waiting for him in the office that morning when he arrived at work to sign in. He folded it and put it in his shirt pocket. It was a fax from Mrs. Jennifer E. Hart, J.J.’s mother, supplying him with her home, cell, car, and pager numbers, as well as her email address “in the event you should find yourself in need of them. Do not hesitate to contact me. I can meet the bus wherever you say.”

He heard that the lady didn’t play when it came to her daughter. It was no wonder her kid was such a scholar; mom wasn’t having it any other way.

_________________________________________________

“J.J., that shade of green is your color, But it’s just a field trip, so where the hell are you going in those to-die-for duds?”

Marnie stood in front of her open locker, watching as J.J. arrived in the sophomore hall much more fashionably attired than usual, especially the flashy silver sandals.

“Straight to the restroom,” J.J. answered  as she bent down to unzip her backpack.

She extracted several items of clothing and her CD player and zipped it back. With her foot, she pushed the bag over by Marnie. “Keep an eye on this. I won’t be long.”

“Yeah, all right.”

Marnie turned back to the mirror on her locker door to finish applying her makeup. A few moments later, she was startled by J.J.’s mother’s face joining her own image in the glass. She whipped around putting her back against the locker to face the much taller woman. “”Jeez, Mrs. Hart, you scared the sh- C- Can I do something for you?”

When she stood upright again, J.J.’s mother seemed to tower over her. “Yes, you can tell me where your buddy is. And I warn you, don’t even try covering for her.”

Without hesitation, Marnie pointed in the direction J.J. had gone. “The restroom. Right around that corner.”

J.J. was her girl, they had been best friends almost all their lives, but dealing with Mrs. H was an entirely different matter altogether. The Duchess did not take prisoners, especially when it came to her and J.J. trying to get away with things.

She watched the woman walk away and turn the corner, and she remained in that position until a few minutes later J.J. reappeared, walking slightly in front of her mother who was carrying the things she had pulled from the backpack a few minutes before. Behind the two of them, Charmaine and Philly peeked wide-eyed around that same corner.

At the lockers, J.J. bent down to her backpack and opened the front flap. She came up with a deck of cards, her best Hoyles, which she placed in her mother’s waiting palm.

“Is that the only deck?”

“Yes, mother.”

“I’ll see you at dismissal, then. Do try to behave for the rest of the day. We’ll discuss your penance for this-” She held up the skirt, top, canvas mules, the cards, and the CD player complete with headphones, “-later on this evening.”

Once Mrs. Hart left the sophomore hall, Charmaine and Philly crept up and joined them.

“Sorry girl, there just wasn’t time to let you know,” Charmaine said. “You were already in the stall, and she just busted up in there and started looking under the doors for your feet.”

Philly nodded. “Yeah, she scared the mess out of me when I saw it was her. I was over by the window, combing my hair. She didn’t even say so much as, ‘boo’ to us. Just put her finger on her lips to tell us to shut up, and she started right in looking for you.”

J.J. opened her own locker, grabbed her backpack and stuffed it inside. “My mother makes me soooo sick sometimes, thinking she knows everything.”

“She knew you were going to change out of what you had on,” Marnie said as she went back to her mirror. “She knew you had all your stuff with you.”

J.J. finally kicked at the backpack to get it to fit completely in the locker, then she slammed the door shut.

After that, she turned on Marnie. “So, what did she do, Marn? Hold a knife to your throat to make you tell her where I went, or what?”

Marnie, unfazed by J.J.’s defensive attitude, continued applying mascara to her already long lashes. “Look, you know I’m scared of The Duchess. When your mother asks me point blank about you, and it’s just me and her, know that I’m ratting your ass right on out. That’s all there is to it.”

Marnie peeked around the door at J.J. “And anyway, she always busts your ass when you do wrong stuff. I don’t know why you keep trying.”

J.J. crossed her arms and fell back against the lockers in disgust.

No comfortable clothes. No music. No cards. Somebody else better have brought some cards to play at lunch.

But who felt like that? She certainly didn’t. Her stomach churned fitfully, her thighs and her back ached, and her clothes felt tighter than she was comfortable with them feeling. Mrs. Jennifer Edwards Hart must have a death wish to do her like that, to come into the school, on her turf and confiscate all of her stuff.

She knows full well that I have issues, but she keeps playing with the piranha.

Tommy strode into the hall with his backpack thrown over his shoulder. “Morning, ladies.”

He opened the locker on Marnie’s other side, and grinned over to J.J. as he put his things inside.

“I saw your mother on her way out, J. I saw she had all your stuff in her hands. Busted you trying to switch up outfits and sneak out with the CD player, huh? She got hold of the cards too, huh?”

He was grinning that Tommy-grin when he said it, making J.J. want to reach out and slap him- hard. Tommy Steele was the only boy she knew who had the nerve to tease her like that- and almost make her smile doing it.

“Leave me alone, Thomas,” she said instead. “I am not in the mood.”

“I like you better in what you have on anyway.”

He continued unloading his backpack, undeterred by her tone and her defensive demeanor. Smiling his trademark dimpled smile while lifting his eyebrows suggestively, he playfully leered over to her, “That outfit is classy; leaves more to the imagination.”

J.J. huffed off to Homeroom leaving Tommy chuckling softly to himself. Outside of her mother confiscating her things, he knew what her problem was. That was the only time that J.J. Hart would be in a such seriously bad mood.

The entire time, Marnie had been watching him in the mirror. Tommy was cute and liked J.J. so much. The two of them were good for and to each other. But as far as she knew, J.J. didn’t have a clue and didn’t give a damn, especially not that day. J.J. really caught it physically and emotionally when her monthly rolled around for her.

“J.J.’s mama is no joke.” Charmaine’s affirmation broke into her thoughts. “Just like my grandmother. Those two do not play. The last thing my grandma told me and Deon was, “I better not get no bad news” about us and this field trip.”

_________________________________________________

The announcement had been made during Homeroom that all students going on the Art History field trip were to meet in the front lobby to begin boarding the bus right after having their attendance taken. J.J. and Marnie made it their business to get down to the lobby right away to get in line. That would assure their being able to secure a prime seat in the back.

“Are you gonna make it, J?” Standing next to her, J.J.was pale. “Maybe you should just call The Duchess and have her come back for you.”

“Are you kidding? No way. As it is, she’s lying in wait for me about the outfit thing. My CD player and my cards are probably already in the trash. You think I’m going to call her and make her stop whatever she’s doing to come see about me for some cramps? You must be crazy. For me to call her to come get me, it’s got to be something more serious than a little thing like a few cramps.”

“It’s more than a few cramps and you know it. Every month, you’ve been getting sicker and sicker. J.J., if she knew how bad you really get, she’d listen and she’d take you to the doctor to get you some help. Does she know that you puke and get dizzy with your period, too?”

“Hush!” J.J. looked to see who was around and might have been listening or have overheard. “Just tell the world, why don’t you? I didn’t tell her about that. Anyway, she already said that I have to deal with things. She told me that the cramps aren’t going to go away unless I take something for them. She gave me some pills to take, but I don’t like to take them. They make  me stupid and make me lose my edge. I just don’t say anything to her about it any more.”

“I still think that you should let her know the real deal, J.J. Maybe she doesn’t realize just how bad it is for you. I mean, how can she when you don’t tell her?”

“I said that I could handle it, didn’t I? Let it go, Marn. I’ll be okay.”

With that, J.J. summarily shut down the conversation, but Marnie was not done with the matter.

If she had to, she decided, she would make it a point to call J.J.’s mother herself. There was no way that Mrs. Hart would let  her daughter be so sick if she knew the full extent of it, and J.J. had a way of keeping things to herself. The Duchess could be hardnosed, but Marnie knew that J.J. and her mother had a different kind of relationship than most of their friends. It sort of defied description, but it was deep. No way would J.J.’s mother leave her hanging on a thing like that if she knew the full extent of it.

“I’ll try to run interference for you, then,” she said to J.J. “I’ll keep people off you until you’re feeling better.”

“Thanks. Now that, I would appreciate. I’m going to try to sleep on the bus. Or pretend to sleep so that people leave me alone.”

_________________________________________________

The bus filled quickly, and J.J. and Marnie, being so close to the front of the line, were able to get a seat, second to the last on the bus. Behind them on the last seats, across the aisle from each other, were Deon and Charmaine, Hector and Philly. In the seat in front of them sat Sidney who was turned around sharing the latest edition of Vogue Magazine with Marnie.

Tommy, after going to see the wrestling coach to let him know that he might be late for practice because of the trip, was last to get on. He stood in the middle of the aisle looking around for a seat. The only seat left was the one next to Sidney. He came to the back with his friends, but remained standing with his hands in his pockets. As he passed them to get to the back, the other boys on the bus turned around to watch him.

“Why don’t you sit down, Tommy, man,” invited Deon from the very back of the bus. ‘There’s a seat. Right there next to Sidney. I know you can see it. It’s right there by you.”

Tommy shot Deon a look, but remained standing with his hands in his pockets. “No, no, I think I’ll just stand.”

Sidney raised his eyes to Tommy, smiling sweetly. He scooted over to the window side and patted the seat next to him. “Tommy, I really don’t mind if you sit next to me. I’m not prejudiced against jocks.”

Tommy checked out Sidney, noticing the matching pattern in his shirt and in his socks, wondering to himself what guy their age paid that much attention to detail on a daily basis?

“That’s all right, Sid. I prefer to stand. It’s good for my calf muscles.”

But, Deon continued to urge him on. “Tommy, the driver isn’t going to take off if you don’t sit down. It’s school policy, you know.”

Tommy flipped him the bird.

Most of the other kids on the bus had taken note of the situation in the back, and were turned around, watching to see what would develop.

Mr. Harris called over the microphone from the front. “Mr. Steele, you’ll have to be seated so that we can go.”

Deon’s grin dripped mischief. “See what I mean. Take the seat, guy. Go ahead.”

Sidney patted the seat again. “You don’t have to be scared, Tommy. I won’t bite. You’re not my type anyway. Way too big.”

Deon howled with laughter. Tommy closed his eyes and shuddered. “I guess we’re not going anywhere.”  He ran a hand through his thick black hair, pulling it back from his face, and remained standing.

Ms. Grimsley, the counselor who was accompanying them, called over the microphone. “What is the problem back there? Do I have to come back there and assign seats? This is high school for Pete’s sake! Tommy, sit down.”

Exasperated, Marnie jumped up from her seat next to J.J., grabbed Tommy by the arm, and pushed him down into it. “Sit there next to J.J., dammit! You guys make somebody sick with that macho crap.”

Deon, now in hysterics, fell over onto his cousin, Charmaine, tears of mirth running down his cheeks. Charmaine pushed him off. “Go on somewhere, Deon, with your silly self! You can start that stuff if you want to, but ‘Dear will be getting that call about you, not me.”

Marnie then turned to Sidney. “Get up, Sid. If I’m going to sit up here with you, I want the window seat. That cheap cologne you wear is too loud for me. It’ll give me a migraine by the time we get where we’re going.”

“Suit yourself, honey,” Sidney huffed, getting up and letting her in. “I’m not real particular about that stagnant swamp water you’re wearing either.”

She eyeballed him. He eyeballed her back. Then, tossing her head, she slid past him to the window seat. He snapped his fingers three quick times behind her head as she did and then took his seat.

The exchange having been made, and the window opened a bit, Marnie and Sidney went back to the magazine. The driver started up the bus.

J.J., had been sitting with her head leaned against the metal window frame. Once he was settled and Marnie and Sydney were otherwise engaged, she whispered to Tommy with her eyes still closed, “You know you really ought to be ashamed of yourself for treating Sidney like that. I’ve never seen this homophobic side of you before.”

Tommy leaned in her direction to whisper back to her. “It never came up before, and it isn’t personal, J. Sidney’s all right, as long as he’s over there somewhere. But you don’t know what it’s like in the boys’ locker room. Deon and the other guys on this bus would have spread it all around that I sat next to Sidney, and I would have been getting dogged about it all afternoon at practice.” He peered over into her face. “You still sick?”

“I’m okay. I just thought you were a bigger man than that, Tommy.”

“I admit to my shortcomings, J. It’s a guy thing. Not something you would understand at all.”

Then he sat up again. That really was the best that he could do with that situation. There was no way that he was sitting next to Sidney with a bus full of witnesses, even if it did mean that J.J. was going to be mad at him about it.

“You just make sure that you apologize to Sidney, do you hear me, Tommy Steele. I’m not having it.”

“I will. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I just really couldn’t sit there with him, J.”

“I’m glad to hear that you didn’t intend to be cruel.” She shifted her head from the window frame to his shoulder. “But you owe him an apology just the same. Even though he played it off, I’m sure that he was embarrassed and hurt. That happens to him a lot. You talk about your having to hear it, but Sidney’s always dogged, and he’s really a very nice person with a lot to offer. He can’t help how he is. and it really shouldn’t matter as long as he treats people right.”

She snuggled down into Tommy’s shoulder. “Now, I’m going to come down out of the pulpit, and try to sleep until we get there.”

Watching the top of her dark red head, Tommy was gratified. Yes, he would apologize to Sidney, and thank him, too, for affording him the opportunity to have J.J. Hart lean on him for support. She was sick, and it was so good to know that she felt comfortable enough with him to do that. She didn’t let too many people do that for her, and certainly not guys.

_________________________________________________

The visit to the first two galleries went few negative incidents.

The first one, which featured mostly classical works, was judged as boring by most of the students. They endured the guided tour yawning and distracted. It didn’t help that the guide was a small, wizened older woman who obviously conducted tours for older adults. The entire time, Mr. Harris and Mrs. Grimsley, one in front of the group and one in back, kept their eyes on the the kids, holding their breath and praying for them to behave. Thankfully, they did.

Once they were set to work, they went about completing their tasks, grumbling and protesting, but finishing them. Only Charmaine loudly protested her dissatisfaction when she found only one black person portrayed, and he was “rowing a boat full of white people”. At that point, she went looking for the curator to question him about it, and was only talked out of confronting him by Deon and Philly.

Actually it took Deon reminding her about the “no bad news” decree their grandmother had delivered prior to releasing them that morning, to get her to see reason. Like Jennifer Hart, Bernita DeJean was swift to react when it came to bad behavior.

There was also a rather heated discussion to erupt between the boys and the girls over the concept of beauty depicted in the nudes.

Why is it mostly women up there naked?

How come the male nudes look so feminine in the face and all soft and pudgy about the body?

Those people aren’t even cute, and they got their picture painted.

Mr. Harris talked with them about how the idea of beauty changed over the years. But then the boys wanted to know why only the “fat girls” didn’t have their clothes on in the paintings. And the girls countered that question with why curvy and voluptuous ranslated into ‘fat’ by the boys. And then why couldn’t that ‘fat’ be beautiful?

Sydney just wanted to know who picked the people who got painted, period. In his opinion, they weren’t up to par. Certainly better choices could have been made for subjects. “Everybody”, he said, “couldn’t have been ugly in those days”.

“Nice outfit,” he assessed with his discriminating eye as he scrutinized one painting of a woman in a colorful flowing gown. “They couldn’t find anybody else better looking to model it?”

_________________________________________________

The second stop was at a contemporary art gallery. When she discovered the works of Charles Bibbs, her favorite artist, Charmaine was in heaven. She fell in love with the different series of black dolls completed by doll artisans, especially, the Daddy Long Legs collection. She informed the group around her that her grandmother collected them, and one day they would be collector’s items. She happily described many of the works for those who were assigned her same task. After a time there was a small crowd gathered around her as she conducted her own tour of the African American art section. It was a side of her that Mr. Harris hadn’t seen. He was fascinated by her knowledge in that area. It was a side of her that he hadn’t seen before. Up to that point, he thought that she had just been spouting off with her usual racially tinged rhetoric. Watching the other students’ interest in what she was saying, and her animated delivery of the information, he began to formulate his own plans for incorporating the current gallery and Charmaine into his lessons.

Philly and her brother, Hector, discovered the sketches and paintings of famous singers, musicians, and performers. They worked them into the task that they had been given. Some of the prints were of people they had met through their father’s work. They happily identified the ones they knew to the other students on assignment with them. Mr. Harris and Ms. Grimsley enjoyed watching the kids teach each other.

There were also some old Andy Warhol and Peter Max prints over which they kids were ecstatic over. The two adults in charge had to smile to each other over yet another new generation of admirers.

J.J. had worked mostly on her own that morning. She stuck to the task and saw it through to the end, finishing well before the others. Having passed it on the way in, she wandered off into the gift shop by herself. Upon noticing that J.J. was missing, Marnie went to look for her, and upon finding her, happily joined her in shopping. Soon she was followed by Philly and Charmaine, then Tommy, and gradually the rest of the class.

The remainder of that gallery session turned into a shopping spree, with the students discussing their finances and their purchases rather than the lessons learned.

Breathing sighs of relief when the time was up, Mr. Harris and Ms. Grimsley finally put the students back on the bus for the trip to the last gallery. Ms. Grimsley had her eye on J.J. Hart. She didn’t look well, and she hadn’t said very much all morning. A couple of times in both galleries, J.J. had come up missing from the group for short periods, and when she asked Marnie about her, she got the explanation that J.J. was in the ladies’ room. She reasoned that it must be her time of the month, but as the day progressed the girl seemed to be slowing considerably.

While they were at lunch, she noticed  J.J. hadn’t eaten anything. She sat next to Marnie in a corner of the booth  with her head down on the table. That was not like her at all. Normally J.J. would have started a card game that had to be broken up, or would have music playing through her headphones which had to be confiscated, something. But today, she was silent. Marnie, Tommy, and the others appeared very concerned about her, but J.J. just kept waving them off.

Right before she boarded the bus, Ms. Grimsley took J.J. by the arm, pulling her off to the side to speak with her.

“Are you alright?” She asked. “You don’t look well at all.”

“Yeah, I’m okay.” J.J. answered not meeting her eyes. “I’m just a little tired.”

“You can tell me, J.J. I can help. That is my job, you know.”

She was more than familiar with J.J.’s tendency toward privacy and self-help. Of all of her counselees, J.J. Hart was one who she rarely, if ever, had an opportunity to assist with matters that were not academic.

“Really, Ms. Grimsley. It’s nothing out of the ordinary. I’ll be fine.”

J.J.”s smile was weak and ingenuine, but Ms. Grimsley accepted it and watched her walk away from her to board the bus. As she did so, from the corner of her eye, she picked up on several young faces that had been checking her and J.J. out at them from the rear of the bus. Their focus shifted solely to the front as J.J. got on.

Ms. Grimsley boarded and situated herself in a seat up front that would allow her to could see J.J. in the large overhead mirror that reflected what was going on in the back. J.J. was  sitting with her head leaned against Tommy Steele’s arm. Her eyes were closed and Tommy appeared to be making sure she was comfortable. Marnie was turning back around from looking over the back of the seat. Tommy said something to J.J., and she shook her head without opening her eyes or speaking back to him. He nodded and settled in to allow her more space to rest against him. All of them in the back gave the impression they had closed ranks around her.

Watching Tommy and J.J., Ms. Grimsley smiled to herself  Tommy was a big guy, a star wrestler on the school’s team, but he was always so gentle with J.J. She too, was different when she was with him. Often outgoing and subtly aggressive, it was almost as if he had a calming affect on her. With him, her demeanor softened. Those two had always been special together. Observing them sitting together back there, Ms. Grimsley wondered if she was seeing signs of things to come.

_________________________________________________

Mr. Harris handed his students their final task cards one-by-one as he called their names to get off the bus at the last gallery. He was glad that he had done it this way. The kids seemed to like that they weren’t all doing the same thing, and he happily watched them as they had exchanged ideas and made connections across tasks all during the trip. It was more than he thought would happen. They had been silly and a little loud at times, but just the same, a lot had been accomplished.

He especially admired J.J. Hart. He knew that she wasn’t at all herself today, but regardless, she turned her work in completed, and it was excellent, as always. She was a model of perseverance, despite her tendency toward mischief. He almost missed having to scold her on this trip. Her being down seemed to affect the entire feel of the outing. All the kids seemed a little more subdued and serious than usual. J.J. was the unspoken leader, and they all appeared to be looking out for her without really saying anything about it. He didn’t think that she was even aware of her status in the group, but she definitely set the pace. He was grateful for the lack of playfulness, and it put him at ease in general, but he and Ms. Grimsley were uncomfortable about J.J.’s seemingly deteriorating condition.

As soon as they finished at this gallery, they had already determined between them that one of them would call her mother to meet the bus back at the school so that she could take her home.

“J.J. and Tommy.” Mr. Harris called. “You have the same task this time.”

The two came forward and took their cards. Once they were off the bus, they compared them.

“We have to find six works done between the 1940’s and the 1960’s in two different mediums.” Tommy paraphrased from the instructions on the card.

“Whatever.” Answered J.J. wearily. “Let’s just get it done.”

She started in, but Tommy gently put his hand on her shoulder, pulling her back to him. “Why don’t you find a seat when we get inside? I’ll take care of your work for you.”

“No. I can do it myself, Tommy.” She answered. “But, thanks for the offer. You do three and I’ll do three.”

“Alright.” He agreed. He knew that she wouldn’t give in to her trouble. That would not be J.J. Hart.

They went inside the gallery with the others.

_________________________________________________

Splitting up. J.J. took the first floor and Tommy went upstairs. Several people with the same task approached her wanting to know if she had found anything yet, but J.J. waved them off. She wanted no interference with getting finished and then finding a chair. Under normal circumstances, she helped everybody who asked and still got her work done, but something was different this time.

She felt simply awful, and it wasn’t getting any better. She couldn’t wait to get home, take the medicine, and climb over in the bed. It had never been this bad. Every month lately, it seemed to get worse. Maybe she really should have said something about it to her mother, but that would be whining. Her mother was a busy person. Nobody at their house had time for a weak link. Even when her mother had those bad headaches she sometimes got, she kept right on going with what she had to do.

She had been searching through a stack of paintings in a bin, checking the information printed on the accompanying cards, when she heard Tommy call to her from a railing over her head.

“J., I know you don’t feel good, but you gotta come see this!”

“I can’t, Tommy.” She answered. “I don’t feel like coming up the stairs. Just write the information down. I’ll take your word for it.”

“No J.J., it’s not about the assignment. You have got to see this! Trust me on this one.”

She looked up at him peering down at her from overhead.

“Tommy, I swear to God, if I come up those stairs and you get me up there to see something stupid, it’s going to be on for real.”

J.J went to the staircase. As she went up, she took the time to admire the ornate wrought iron working of the banister. It was the kind of thing that her mother would point out to her; the kind of thing that she was beginning to take notice of on her own. Tommy met her at the head of the stairs.

“Brace yourself.” He said.

“For what, Tommy?” She frowned. Her head was beginning to hurt along with everything else. “You know that I’m not in the mood for any drama. Just tell me what’s up.”

“This isn’t something you can just tell.” He said taking her hand. “You gotta see this.” She noticed that he was whispering.

He took her to a bin way in the back where he had been searching, and she could see that he had stuck his task card between two frames. He reached in and pulled out the large painting which he had book marked.

“Who does this look like, J.?” He asked.

It was an oil, a nude of a young woman lying provocatively positioned on a couch; a young woman who looked remarkably like her mother. J.J. looked to Tommy, who was staring at her. She looked back at the painting and gulped, “It looks like it could be my mother.”

But it couldn’t be. She would never have posed nude. Especially not posed like that. Or would she?

“I don’t think it’s her.” Tommy answered, examining the picture for the fifth time since he’d come across it. “I thought so too at the very first, but the eyes aren’t the same. Look at the color. The look in them is different too. Has your mother’s hair ever been this long? And I don’t know how old your mother is, but I’m pretty sure the year is wrong for it to be her, too. Actually, J., to me, the lady in this picture looks more like you.”

When she gave him that hard, crystalline stare, he quickly added, “Honestly, I’m not fantasizing or anything. It just does.”

J.J. checked the signature. It wasn’t one she recognized. They turned it over to check the date on the information card. The only information given was the artist’s name, it did say ‘France’, and the year ‘1942’. Tommy was so dim. That was way too early a date for it to be her mother. The woman in this painting had to be at least in her late teens when it was done. She had breasts and everything. Her mother hadn’t even been born when this painting was done. If it were her mother in the painting, she’d be beyond ancient by now.

Suddenly, J.J. felt dizzy and she had the fleeting thought that it must be the rushing emotions she was feeling. Who was this lady? France. Could it be…

Tommy watched J.J.’s face. Just as he came to the conclusion that the lady in the painting had to be one of her relatives, her eyes rolled and she slid to the floor in a dead faint next to him. He quickly and discreetly placed the painting back in the bin between several others and marked it with his card before dropping down next to J.J. and yelling for someone to call for help.

_________________________________________________

Jennifer just happened to be still at home working at her desk when the phone rang. Checking the caller I.D. with the plan to let Marie, the housekeeper answer it, she immediately recognized the number of the school’s main office.

“I am going to strangle that girl if this is what I think it is.” She vowed, removing her reading glasses to take the call herself. “I do not have time for her foolishness today. This is just too much!”

A few minutes later, she was rushing out of the door calling to Marie, “Contact Mr. Hart for me, please! Tell him to meet me at Memorial. J.J.’s sick, and that’s where they’ve taken her!”

_________________________________________________

Part Two

J.J. woke in her own bed late that evening to find her mother sitting next to her on the bed propped up by pillows. She had nodded off with a book in her lap.

She rose up a little and nudged her. “Mom?”

Jennifer woke with a start. Then she looked down and smiled when she saw that she had awakened. “How are you feeling?” She asked.

“Since they doped me up at the hospital, a lot better.” J.J. answered sitting all the way up and lying back on the pillows. “I’m sorry I scared you and Daddy like that. I don’t know what happened. I think I probably fainted because you made me wear a dress.”

Her mother rolled her eyes in exasperation. The child never quit.

“You’re not off the hook about that stunt you tried to pull, young lady.” She warned. “And you heard the doctor. You fainted because you’re anemic. J.J., why didn’t you tell me you’d been having such a hard time and that you’ve been so sick every month?”

Not getting a response right away, Jennifer looked over to find J.J. playing with her birthstone ring the way that she did when she was nervous.

“I’m waiting for an answer.”

“I didn’t want to bother you, or for you to be worried about me. You have your own things to do.” She stopped and sighed deeply. “I thought it would pass in time…. And I didn’t want you to think that I couldn’t hold my own.”

Softly, almost inaudibly, she continued, “I didn’t want you to think that I was a wimp. You told me that it was all part of being a girl and that some of it I would just have to deal with. That’s what I know you do when you don’t feel so good, so that’s what I tried to do with that. You’re busy. You don’t have time to let dumb stuff stop you when it happens to you, so I didn’t want to bother you with mine. I thought I could handle it on my own.”

Jennifer felt a sharp pang of guilt. She and Jonathan were indeed busy people, and J.J. did tend to be so very self-sufficient that it was easy to let her go her own way. She hadn’t been paying close enough attention to her. From the time that she was an infant, J.J. had always been a watcher, and if she was watching her and modeling her actions, as it seemed that she was doing, her perseverance was understandable. As J.J. said, it was true that she didn’t let things stop her. But that did not, however, excuse her, as her mother, for not seeing that J.J. was in trouble. She felt simply awful at that moment for having allowed that to happen. How did she ever get that busy?

“J.J., you can’t do everything that you see me do. I’ve had years of practice at handling things. You didn’t tell me that it was like this for you or explain to me that you felt so badly, and Marnie tells me that you’ve even been being sick at school. You didn’t tell me any of that. Judging by today’s turn of events, it is a whole lot more than you can handle on your own.”

“Marnie’s got such a big mouth.”

“Yours should be bigger when it comes to things that matter. What have I told you about bringing things to me when they get heavy? You can’t do it all by yourself, baby. I’m a grown woman. You’re still just a little girl. I am your mother. That’s why you have a mother.”

Jennifer reached out and brought J.J.’s face around to hers by taking her chin in her hand. “Don’t you realize how lucky you are to have a mother to come to with your troubles?”

J.J. noticed that her mother’s voice dropped significantly on that last question and the meaning behind it hit her like a ton of bricks. She was indeed fortunate; not only to have a mother, but also to have a mother like the mother she was sitting next to, one to whom she could turn when things became too difficult. Her mother had been deprived of that experience when she was twelve. By the time she was fifteen, she was on her own away at school.

“Mom, what did you do? You know, when you would have personal problems. How did you know what to do?”

“We had doctors and nurses at school. There was the house mother too.”

“But she wasn’t your mother, was she?”

“No, my darling.” Jennifer answered with finality as she sat back. “She was not. None of them were.”

J.J. could not imagine sharing something so intimate with anyone other than her own mother. Sometimes it was hard to even talk to her about those things. No way would it happen with anyone else. Ms. Grimsley had been beating a dead horse this afternoon when she tried it. J.J. could always sense a sad space inside her own mother when she talked about not having her mother with her when she was growing up. The thought of it made her hurt for her. How could a girl talk about something so private like that with a stranger?

“Mom, does everybody know what happened to me?” J.J. asked quietly. The thought was humiliating. “Do they know why I was sick?” She turned and whispered anxiously. “Does Daddy know? It’s so embarrassing.”

Jennifer could hear the discomfort in her voice, could see it in her red face, and she could feel it in her own heart. J.J. was intensely private about her personal life, even to the point of being slightly obsessive about it. There were things that she didn’t want to share with even her father, as crazy as she was about him. She realized the importance of putting her mind at ease on this.

“Of course your daddy knows, J.J. He was at the hospital with me. You know that. Why would your father knowing bother you?”

“I don’t know. It just does. It’s just such a personal thing. I bet everybody saw me all laid out on the floor like that. Everybody knows what was wrong with me, I’ll bet.”

Jennifer thought her heart would break. J.J. looked as if she wanted to cry. This must be a serious breach of her personal space for her.

“I don’t think that many people even saw you until the paramedics brought you down from the second floor.” She told her. “Ms. Grimsley let me know that Marnie, Philly, and Charmaine came upstairs and wouldn’t let anyone else come up except her. They even put Tommy off the second floor even though he had been thoughtful enough to put his jacket under your head and had stayed there with you until they raced up there.”

That brought a smile to J.J.’s face. “Those are my girls. They always get my back. I owe them big. Not even Mr. Harris could come up, Mom?”

“Not even Mr. Harris. By the way, that reminds me, Marnie has two days of detention at school for cursing out the paramedics for not allowing her to go in the ambulance with you and Ms. Grimsley to bring you to the hospital. Ms. Grimsley called her mother, and her mother has put her on punishment at home as well so don’t try calling her. There is no phone in her room and her cell is in her mother’s purse.”

J.J. sat up to look over at her mother in disbelief. “You didn’t try to get her out of it, Mom? You could have told them that’s just her way and that she didn’t mean any harm. You know how she is. You could have squared it with Marnie’s mother for her. She just wanted to be with me.”

Astounded at the extent of their blind loyalty to one another, Jennifer reached out and gently pushed J.J. back into the pillows. “Rest yourself, child.” She said, dismissing J.J.’s agitation and her accusatory cries. “No I did not get her out of it. I don’t care if her outburst was in your defense. Marnie curses like a sailor and she needs to learn to control it.” She then turned to eye J.J. “Your daddy says that you do too.”

“What? Who, me?”

“Yes, you, Justine Hart. He heard you when you were leaving the kitchen this morning. You remember, when I sent you upstairs to change?”

Thinking back, the sudden recollection of that angry moment in the doorway turned her face beet red. She quickly changed the subject.

“Dr. Kendall told me that anemia is an iron deficiency, but she said that you would talk to me about the ways to fix it.”

The abrupt turn of the conversation did not escape Jennifer’s attention, even though she chose not to address it further. The rush of color to her daughter’s face said everything that she wanted to hear. Little did Miss Hart know that she would be losing her phone too for the rest of the week for that and for the clothes escapade, sick or not.

“Well, that’s what I was sitting here reading.” Jennifer answered patting the book in her lap. “I was anemic also at your age, which accounted for my irregular periods. I just wanted to see if anything has changed as far as its treatment.”

J.J. peeked at the spine. It was her mother’s medical reference book.

“From what I’ve read, and from what I can see, it’s not your diet. You eat pretty well. Marie sees to you getting plenty of iron in your diet. You will have to lay off those Saturday afternoon junk food binges with your father that you two think you’re sneaking around behind my back on. I know that you get plenty of exercise, although you may have to cut back on track some. You might be overdoing it.”

J.J. gasped. “Give up track?”

“Not give it up. Just cut out some of that distance running that you do. You may be overtaxing your system. Dr. Kendall says that you aren’t finished growing yet, and distance running might be depleting your system quicker than you can get it back. If we monitor your diet and your activities, you may outgrow it.”

“Did you outgrow yours?”

“No, eventually mine had to be treated medically.”

“And what if I don’t out grow mine or I keep getting sick?”

“Then it can be treated with hormones like mine was.”

Something in her mother’s voice caught J.J.’s ear. “Hormones? You’re talking about putting me on the pill, aren’t you?”

“It would help you feel better, J.J. Your symptoms would be alleviated. I don’t want you feeling badly every month. You definitely can’t keep on like this. Part of your problem, I believe is that you push yourself too hard.”

“I don’t want to be on the pill right now, Mom. I really don’t.”

Looking into her face, Jennifer could see that she was absolutely sincere.

She wasn’t really surprised. J.J. wasn’t quick to take medicine of any kind, but she wanted to know her exact reasoning behind not wanting this for herself.

“Why not, if it’s going to make you feel better and help you?”

J.J. went back to fiddling with her ring as she quietly spoke her mind.

“Mom, you know me. First of all, I don’t like medicine. I really wouldn’t want to be taking contraceptives if they weren’t going to be for what they were designed to do. You know that I don’t need that right now. But, I do need checks and balances in my life. There are a lot of things that I would do or I would try if it weren’t for the idea that I might get caught at it and get in trouble. Sometimes that’s the only thing that keeps me honest.”

Switching to fiddling with her mother’s wedding ring on the hand by her side, she continued in the same soft voice, “Right now, I don’t want to have sex or anything, but what if one day I got closed up with a boy and it started feeling real good? If I was on the pill, and I knew that I didn’t have to worry about getting pregnant, what would stop me from going all the way and maybe regretting it later? I know me, Mom. I don’t always stop to think until it’s too late. I really don’t think I should do that until I’m older. Maybe my judgment will be better then. I would just as soon stay sick until I was really ready to be with somebody like that as long as I’m not going to die from what I have or anything in the meantime. Can I ask you something?”

“Ask me what?”

“How old were you when, you know, you got on them?”

“I was twenty-five, but the pill was just getting to the place where we could trust it to take it. It was still kind of new then. It’s a much better product now than it was then. If it had been what it is now, I might have done it sooner.”

“If I’m not better by the time I’m seventeen, then I’ll do it. Maybe by then, I’ll really need to be on them anyway.”

When her mother quickly snapped around to look at her, she winked, “Gotcha!”

Jennifer drew J.J. to her and held her in her arms. The girl was such a mess and such a sweet child even if she was just plain incorrigible at times.

“How old are you, anyway?” She laughed, hugging her tightly. “Sometimes you’re fifteen and other times you’re fifty.”

“I just know me, Mom. It’s not healthy to give me too much room to operate in. Stuff happens when it comes to me.”

Suddenly recalling the last thing that happened at the gallery that afternoon, J.J. leaned back and looked up into her mother’s eyes with pure mischief.

“Hey Mom, did I tell you that there’s a naked painting at the gallery that looks just like you? It was done in France, one of your favorite places to let your hair down.”

_________________________________________________

Finale

“How’s J.J. these days?” Jonathan asked. “Why was she asleep when I got home?”

“She’s much better. It’s just the first couple of days that give her so much difficulty. She said that she was tired and she went to bed early tonight, but she wanted me to be sure to thank you for buying the painting. She didn’t want just anyone having access to it.”

The painting was on the floor leaned against the legs of Jennifer’s desk by the bedroom window, and they could see it from the bed where they lay together talking before retiring for the night.

“That little minx had the nerve to tell me that it was done in France where she knew I like to “let my hair down”. I guess I wasn’t supposed to read into that. When I saw the hair in that picture, I could have tagged her little butt good. That’s just why her phone and that CD player are over there on my desk now. Your child is something else, Jonathan.”

Jonathan chuckled. “She had to have a moment where she thought that was you, Jennifer. All of you look very much alike; your mother, her sister, you, and J.J.” He turned his head to view the picture from another angle. “I bet Tommy thought it was you at first too.”

He felt her stiffen momentarily at the realization, and he stifled a smirk.

“Oh, I see.” She said, nodding. “You want to be funny. You had to put that image in my mind, didn’t you? Well, let me put one in yours. Aunt Sabrina over there, looks very much like your daughter with all that loose hair and that pose. Tommy probably made that connection too when he was looking at it.”

Jonathan had been the one to retrieve the painting from the gallery once Jennifer told him about it. It was right where Tommy told him that it would be, with the card from his assignment still stuck between the frames. As soon as he pulled it out, he could see the resemblance to his wife, and especially to his daughter. If he could see it, he knew that Tommy had seen it. Seen it all.

With that, Jonathan climbed out of the bed. Going over to the painting, he turned it completely around so that it no longer faced the bed. He came back and got in saying, “Yeah, you’re right; that did it for me. Touche’, my darling.”

He pulled the covers up and took her back into his arms. She lay her head on his chest.

“How was your father able to tell you so fast which one of them it was, Jennifer?”

“He remembered the artist and the sitting right away. The artist originally wanted to paint my mother, but she wouldn’t do it, Pa said, and he wouldn’t have let her do it anyway. They were dating by that time, and my father was so much older than my mother that he considered himself her protector, I guess. The artist was going to pay my mother a lot of money for the sitting. Since they were identical twins, Aunt Sabrina went in her place and got paid for it. You know Sabrina has never had any reservations about things like that.”

“How old was she when she sat for that?”

“Pa said that they were sixteen. Aunt Sabrina had to sneak to do it. My grandparents would have killed her if they found out what she was doing. She swore my mother and Pa to secrecy. Pa said that he would follow her to the studio and wait outside for her in case there was any trouble. The artist later moved to America and opened a studio here. I called Aunt Sabrina this afternoon. She said that she hadn’t thought about that in years, and that she would love to have it, so I’ll have it shipped out to Perpignan in the morning.”

“If things were going on like that back then, it’s no wonder your father married your mother when she was only eighteen. They probably couldn’t hold out any longer. Especially if your mother was as lovely as you.”

“She was prettier, I think, and that was just Sabrina who was wild like that, Jonathan. You know what a Bohemian my aunt has always been. Pa says that my mother was the quieter, more reserved one.”

“Yeah, and your father says that he can see both the twins in J.J. What part of J.J. is Sabrina, Jennifer? The part that doesn’t like to wear clothes?”

“Probably. She doesn’t have any problem showing herself off.” Jennifer smiled. “But the best part of her is the part that she gets from her father, her blue eyes and her spirit.”

He kissed the top of her head. “And her mother’s intelligence, strength, and determination.”

There was a knock on their door. Jonathan answered it with a call, but no one came in. He got up and went to the door, and opened it. At his feet was a small jewelry box with one of J.J.’s note cards tucked underneath it that said on the front, “To My Mother.”

“It’s for you.” He said, coming back to bed and handing the two items to Jennifer.

She sat up and opened the card. She read the note inside aloud to him.

Mom,

I got this for you the other day at the art gallery when we were on the field trip. But after I got so sick, I forgot to give it to you. I found it just now when I was cleaning out my purse.

I don’t have a phone or a CD player, so I didn’t have anything else to do in here…

When I saw it in the display case at the gallery,  I immediately thought that it said a lot about us (you and me). I think you’ll understand when you see it.

I hope you like it.

I love you and good night.

J.J.

Jennifer lifted the top from the box. Inside was a tiny gold lapel pin. It was an exquisitely wrought feminine hand. In the palm was a small solid gold heart standing upright on its point. She turned the box around in her hand to see it from all angles, then she looked to Jonathan to find him beaming.

“She’s right, you know.” He said. “Any way you look at it.”

End

Continue to next story

Continue to Age Sixteen, Book One

 

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