Passages: Part One

The discovery of a secret passage in her grandfather’s home leads J.J. and her family to a greater understanding of each other and themselves.

Author’s Note:

 The following story is a continuation of “The Reunion” and “J.J’s Journal: Part 8”.           As such, it refers back to details and conversations from those two selections.

Part One

“So, J., how long do you think the Duchess is going to keep me incarcerated up here?”

“She told you that you’d be in until that hickey fades off your neck. If I were you, I’d pretty much count on that.”

“Damn.”

Dejected, Marnie plopped down into the overstuffed chair across from where J.J. lie on Marnie’s bed in one of the guest bedrooms at Briarwood, J.J.’s grandfather’s estate.

“That could take forever, J. It’s not like I screwed Josh or anything. I just let him kiss me.”

“Yeah, well, you and I know that,” J.J. skeptically agreed as she sorted through sheets of heavy manila paper to which photographs had been affixed, “but my guess is either his aim must have been bad, or he just got carried away with the tongue action while he was feeling you up. Whatever the case, the Duchess wasn’t having it.”

“He did not feel me up. We just kissed. And anyway, you kissed Teddy, She saw you kiss him, and she didn’t lock you down for it. You know what, J.? I’m beginning to think I’m being discriminated against because I’m not family.”

J.J. slowly looked up from the pages on her lap.

“First of all Marnie, Teddy didn’t leave any evidence on me, and if she hadn’t seen us together with her own eyes, like she claims, she never would have known about me and him being in the gazebo. And secondly, you can say what you want, but if Josh was on you long enough to give you a hickey, you two were doing more than just kissing. I know you, and I know how you operate. I keep telling you about yourself. That’s why those things are called passion marks. You need to slow your roll, Marnie Benson. And that crap about you not being family, you can forget that. If you’ve been with us long enough for my mother to put you on punishment like she does, then you’re in, sister. Just deal with it.”

Marnie crossed her arms and her legs, pushing herself even farther back in the chair. “Yeah well, if this is how it’s going to be, then I want out of the family.”

Licking her thumb, J.J. went back to leafing through the pages. “Like the Duchess said, when that hickey fades, you’ll be out, and like I just told you, until then deal with it.”

J.J. picked up the digital camera next to her on the bed. Clicking it on, she fiddled with it for a moment; then she began scrolling through, reviewing the remaining pictures on the disc. From across the room, Marnie watched her. After a few moments, she asked, “You really liked him, didn’t you?”

“Liked who?”

“Come on, J., don’t play with me; do that with other people.”

Marnie got up and came over to sit down on the foot of the bed, mindful of avoiding J.J.’s wrapped ankle.  “This is me and you talking. You know I’m talking about Teddy. You liked him a lot, didn’t you?”

J.J. didn’t look up, but she turned the camera off and set it back down next to her. “He was okay.”

“You can tell me, J. I know how you are, too. You can tell me, and I promise I won’t make a big deal out of it. I know he was more than just okay to you.”

In response, J.J. lay her head back on the pillows, closing her eyes, and Marnie saw the faint, contented smile

After all their years together, she had come to know and accept J.J.’s inclination to carefully guard her privacy where it concerned her very personal life and feelings. J.J. would go way out of her way to help anyone else, and she had an extraordinary ability to get others to open up to her, but, she was rarely receptive to outside assistance with personal issues and almost never shared her innermost feelings. Even though they were the best of friends, Marnie understood there were spaces J.J. didn’t even allow her to enter.

Accepting that the little smile was all she was going to get, she was forced to smile in return. She patted J.J.’s knee. “That’s okay. Don’t say anything. I already know the answer, and I can tell he really liked you, too. Hell, he might even be giving old Tommy a run for his money when it’s all said and done.”

When J.J. opened one eye to peer out at her in exasperation, Marnie held back the laugh she felt, but didn’t let go of because she meant what she said.

________________________________________________________________

“But Jennifer, I’ve been flat on my back for three days,” Stephen Edwards complained as his daughter unfolded the afghan at the foot of the bed and began to spread it over him. “I’m tired of lying down.”

Earlier that afternoon, they had finally returned to his home in Maryland from Jennifer’s class reunion in Massachusetts, a stay which had been prolonged by his sudden hospitalization for dehydration. Upon his release that morning from the hospital, he, Jennifer, Jonathan, J.J. and Marnie had immediately returned to Briarwood where they were met by Bill and Pat, J.J.’s godparents, who had left the reunion before them.

Undeterred, Jennifer pulled the afghan up to her father’s chest and gently patted his cheek with the palm of her hand.

“Pa, you always lie down in the afternoon after you’ve had your lunch. It’s not good to change your habits, especially coming off an illness as you are.”

He continued to protest. “A minor setback; that’s all that was. Those fool doctors overreacted keeping me there in that hospital all that time, sticking me, poking me, and keeping me up all night checking on me. I could have walked out of there of my own accord the very next day.”

“No, you couldn’t have,” she said, shaking her head in exasperation at his patent obstinacy as well as to negate his assertion. “You were far too weak, and you’re still not one hundred percent. Rest Pa, just for an hour.”

She bent down and kissed his creased forehead. “Just for an hour. I have some matters that need my attention, and then if you haven’t done it on your own, I’ll wake you.”

He looked up at her and wanted to continue to argue, but he could see that she was determined that he stay there.

“All right. For an hour. And remember you promised to wake me up. I don’t want to waste another whole day in a bed. I want to spend some time with my granddaughter, and I want to get down to the paddock with you. I also have some business I want to discuss with Jonathan and Bill if they’ve finished going over the blueprints.”

At the door, Jennifer turned back around. “J.J., Marnie, and I will be here for a few days. You and your granddaughter will have plenty of time to get together. I have her resting right now as well. She has a physical therapy session in a little while. Jonathan’s taking her to the clinic before he flies out this evening. When I came up here, He and Bill had gone into the solarium to look over the plans. I’m sure that they’ll be speaking with you before they leave.”

“Jonathan’s a good man, Jennifer. An excellent father to that girl, and he’s been a wonderful husband to you,” Stephen commented as he closed his eyes. “The best son-in-law in the world. Bill will be good for Patricia. Settle her down some, I hope. In an hour, darling. Don’t let me sleep all day.”

“Yes, Pa.” She went through his door and closed it gently behind her, thinking to herself, “But I’m letting you sleep until your body tells you to wake up.”

________________________________________________________________

Jonathan took another surreptitious peek at his unusually quiet daughter as she sat across from him sipping a strawberry milkshake. They had stopped for one of their secret junk food diversions on their way back from her therapy session. They always seized the opportunity for stolen moments to do things like that when they were out together, but he had mostly suggested that stop in the hope of talking with her. They hadn’t had a lot of time alone since she’d left home with her mother nearly a week before to attend the mother-daughter reunion at Gresham Hall. With the recent developments, her injury and her grandfather’s sudden illness and hospitalization, there hadn’t been much opportunity for them to really talk at all.

J.J. had been in an introspectively quiet mood all day: sitting off by herself on the plane, not talking very much outside of cursory remarks at lunch, and at her mother’s instruction, going straight upstairs with Marnie afterward without protest. Normally quite vocal with the doctors and physical therapists as they manipulated her injured ankle, she had taken her treatment that afternoon with an unusual quiet tolerance even though he could tell that she had been in a great deal of pain.

“J.J., what’s on your mind?” he finally asked.

The initial answer was the one that he expected. “Nothing, Daddy. I’m okay.”

“Come on, J.J. I know when something is bothering you. Is it something you can’t tell me about?”

She looked up, smiling her mother’s smile and warming his heart completely with it. From the look in her eye, he could tell that she realized she’d been figured out, but he also knew that she probably still wasn’t really going to talk with him about whatever the crux of it was. He pressed on, however, hoping to at least scratch the surface so that he could share his concerns with Jennifer when he got back to her.

“Talk to me, sweetheart.”

It appeared, at first, that she was going to start, but then she wound up saying, “You don’t want to hear about it.”

That action frustrated him some. “Why would I ask if I didn’t want to hear about it?”

She was quiet for a few more minutes before she hesitantly asked him, “Do you ever wonder about my grandmother?”

Then, as if it were an anxious afterthought, she quickly added, “Not your mother. I mean my mother’s mother. Do you ever wonder what she must have been like?”

“To be honest with you, J.J., that question has crossed my mind more than once over the years, especially after we had you.”

“Does my mother ever talk about her to you?”

“Not very much. Every now and then she’s mentioned something, but not a lot.”

J.J. went silent again, nursing her drink, and he continued to watch her, waiting for her to say something else. When she didn’t, he felt compelled to push on with the conversation.

“You know that there’s a strong physical resemblance between the three of you. I’ve always imagined that she and your mother were a lot alike. I’m told that your grandmother was the opposite of your Aunt Sabrina even though they were twins. I figure she must have been a stand-up person to have given your mother the foundation she gave her in such a short time.”

J.J. nodded but still said nothing.

“But that’s not enough for you, is it?”

“No, Daddy,” she quietly admitted. “It just isn’t. You see, there’s not a lot of us, and I wish so much that I could have known her, talked with her. I wish I could have known all of my grandparents, but I really miss not getting to know her. My mother never says anything much about her, and I don’t want to press her, but I think I’d understand a lot more about myself if I knew more about her. Don’t ask me why. It’s just a feeling I have.”

“Understand more about yourself like what?”

Jonathan was intrigued by the statement. J.J. was only sixteen, and from what he remembered, had read about, and had observed for himself in them, most teenagers her age could still be expected to be pretty narcissistic, seeing themselves as islands in the sea of humanity, and thinking mostly of how the world immediately around them affected only them at the moment. At her relatively young age, J.J. seemed to already understand that she was the end result of the input of many people, not just her mother and father, and that what she was at the moment would affect her life down the line.

It started with her studying genetics that previous school year in her biology class and realizing that even though she, her mother, and her grandmother shared most of the same physical features, they had all inherited eye color from their fathers. J.J. had called all the way to France to find out from Sabrina that she and Suzanne had inherited their hazel eyes from their father, although they too, strongly resembled their mother.

“Well, all my life, I’ve always felt like I was a lot like you,” J.J. began in answer to his query. “We see things alike, we like a lot of the same things, we enjoy doing things together. But lately it seems that the older I’m getting, the more I find myself, believe it or not, identifying a lot more with my mother. I mean, I find myself wanting to be like her. I listen to her and I like how she thinks as a woman. She’s smart in general, but she’s extremely smart about the things that really matter. I like how she handles herself, and how people so respect her for it. I admire those things in her, and as much as it amazes me to say this, I find I want them for myself. But in some ways, I kind of fall somewhere between the two of you; I don’t think that part is going to change, but I like that, too. I know that’s the part of me that’s probably just me, but I’d like to know more about where and what I come from. Can you see what I’m saying, Daddy?”

Of course he knew. Growing up with no parents, he had wanted the same things for himself, and had been frustrated at times by that missing part of himself.  Nodding, he gestured for her to continue.

“See, going to Gresham Hall with my mother kind of made me think about all of that. Have you ever seen her picture in Alumni Hall? I did. Dee took me to see it, and I was so proud of her. But I also I found out last weekend that my mother once did things sort of the same way that I do. She got really good grades and stuff, but she got in trouble a lot for other things too. I would never have suspected that of her. It was so amazing to me and so funny to find that out, but at the same time, it was an interesting discovery. That explained some things to me, and made me feel better about myself. At least now it’s confirmed that you and I are not the only ones.”

That made him laugh out loud.

But still he knew that there were missing pieces to J.J.’s puzzle for which she would be searching. As difficult as it sometimes was to dredge up those bleak memories, he had always tried to be as forthright with her as he could be when she asked him about his past. But Jennifer tended to hold back hers with J.J. as well as with him. He often felt that it was because there was a lot that she either didn’t remember or didn’t want to remember.

Realizing how persistent J.J. could be when she wanted to know something, it unnerved him a little that she was entertaining this line of thought while staying in her grandparents’ home. He didn’t think anybody was purposely hiding anything from her. But the thought of her innocently unearthing Stephen and Jennifer’s long-buried ghosts in her quest for understanding, disturbed him. Both of them, Stephen and Jennifer, for whatever reason, had been very private with their thoughts about and memories of the late Suzanne Roussel Edwards. Child that she was, J.J. couldn’t be expected to inherently understand the repercussions of any potential investigative actions she might undertake. J.J. normally observed limits and boundaries, but early on, he recognized that his daughter was also the kind of risk-taker who wouldn’t hesitate to ignore those obstacles if the stakes were high enough.

He issued warning. “I understand what you’re saying to me, J.J., but you have to be careful. I know that you just want to learn your family history, but you have to consider that your mother and grandfather may still have some difficulty in that area. That may be why they don’t talk about your grandmother a lot. It may still hurt too much. Test the waters before you get in too deeply. You don’t want to step on any toes or cause any trouble for anyone, especially for yourself.”

“So how do I do that? Test the waters, I mean?”

“Try talking first. To both of them. Tell them what you told me, and then go, or don’t go, from there.”

“Okay, Daddy. I will.”

She went back to quietly sipping her milkshake, but he could sense the wheels spinning and the sparks flying in her head.

“Is that all that’s bothering you?” He knew full well that it wasn’t.

When she looked up again, she seemed to be sizing him up, before venturing, “May I ask you something?”

It sounded as if she weren’t really sure if she wanted to pursue whatever it was with him, but was taking the chance.

“Shoot.”

“How did you know that my mother was the one right away like that?”

“Her eyes told me.”

J.J. tilted her head slightly, reached out for his hand which rested on the table, and laced her fingers through his. “Okay, well, what if you hadn’t ever met Jennifer Edwards? What if it had been some other lady, and her eyes had spoken to you? How would you have known that hers weren’t sending you the right message?”

“It was some other lady.” He smiled, remembering that day and squeezing her fingers lightly in his. “I met Louise Tolbin first, remember?”

It was her turn to be caught off guard and laugh as she remembered that detail of how her parents met. She had to snatch her hand back and cover her mouth to keep from having an accident with that last bit of milkshake she’d taken in.

Her mother had used an assumed name to disguise the fact that she was a reporter, (about whom he had already been tipped off) and was trying to get in interview with him.

“You know what I mean, Daddy.”

“I do know what you mean.” he finally answered when he stopped laughing at her. “J.J, sweetheart, I was thirty-five years old when I met your mother. And even though she played that dirty trick on me, Louise or Jennifer, nobody’s eyes had done that to me in all that time before her, and nobody’s have since then. So, I guess, if I hadn’t met your mother, I’d probably still be single and looking for her. ”

J.J. nodded, apparently satisfied with that answer. But after a moment she quietly added a profound truth, “But then there’d be no me. It’s funny how things work out, isn’t it?”

Jonathan continued to watch her, feeling his heart slowly tightening as it more often did when he had a chance to take a good look at her. The girl was getting to be so pretty, well on her way to being beautiful, and she was right. She was gradually becoming very much like her mother in her appearance and in the way that she carried herself. She would have all of her mother’s outer grace and charm, but would still have her own style. It would be interesting to see the type of woman she finally ended up becoming.

But he knew that he had only scratched the surface of what was really on her mind. There was something more behind that “right one” question.

J.J. Hart would only be sharing the rest of it with her confidant, her mother, and for that he was grateful if the subject matter was what he suspected it was.

________________________________________________________________

“So how long are you going to keep my girl, Marnie holed up in that room, Jennifer?” Pat asked as she, Bill, and Jennifer sat outside on the sunny garden patio having drinks and reviewing the things that Pat had begun to put into place for the renovation of the guest house. “It was just a hickey for Christ’s sake. We’ve all had one.”

“Not at sixteen,” Jennifer answered in a dry tone.

“You might not have…” Pat smiled.

“Hickeys can lead to babies, Patricia,” Jennifer answered matter-of-factly. “And that’s not happening on my watch. These kids are exposed to a lot more than we ever were, and they have a lot less judgment. Marnie has too much left to do to be making silly, heat-of-the-moment mistakes, and she is as hot as a firecracker. She’s only just finished the tenth grade, and this isn’t the first I’ve heard of her being somewhere making out with some boy. There are two more years of high school, graduation from high school, and then college. She has plenty of time for that kind of action. To answer your question, I’m going up there in a little while and talk with her, and then I might let her out.”

“You’re a hard woman, Beautiful,” Bill commented from the sidelines of the conversation. “But I think you’re right. It’s too easy to let those hormones screw things up when you’re that age.” He raised his hand. “Pardon the pun. I swear it was unintentional.”

The three of them laughed at his choice of words.

Pat stood up from her chair. “Let me go up and talk to her myself, Jen. She’s technically supposed to be with me, and she and I tend to operate on the same plane when it comes to that sort of thing.”

“If that’s the case, Patricia, she’s going to be a  helluva woman one day,” Bill asserted. “But I don’t know if you’re the right one for that job. You don’t put out a fire by adding to the heat.”

Pat stopped and slowly turned her head to look disdainfully over her shoulder to her husband-to-be seated behind her. “I don’t seem to recall any complaints coming from you about anything being too hot last night. You and I should have met when I was in high school. Jennifer and I would have gotten expelled for sure in that case.”

“Wait! Wait!” Jennifer interjected, standing with both hands in the air. “I do not want to hear this!”

Pat and Bill then turned their gaze upon her.

“I know you aren’t saying anything, Mrs. Hart.” Pat declared, staring her best friend down. She placed one hand on her hip and tapped Jennifer’s breastbone with her pointed index finger.  “Like we don’t know your business. Let me tell you something, the only thing that saved you and Jonathan Hart from being the butt of all my jokes when your house burned to the ground that time, was that it was pretty widely publicized that the two of you weren’t in town at all when it happened. Had you been in there and managed to make it out of there intact, I would have been booked on Oprah, Phil, Ricky Lake, Jerry Springer, Sally Jessy, or whoever, being congenial and dropping stories about the manner in which my best friend and her hot husband actually started a fire that took out their entire mansion. I’d still be talking about it to all of our friends every time we got together. If you and Jonathan had been there, there would have been no way that you could have made me believe that the two of you didn’t ignite it, and it didn’t originate in your bedroom- in your bed. So, don’t make me go there with you, Jennifer. I’ve already warned you off me once this trip. I keep telling you-”

Laughing and grabbing Pat to hug her, Jennifer conceded. “Okay, okay! Shhhhh! Hush now! I’m sorry! I’ll listen to all your sordid stories from now on without comment.”

“That’s better.” Pat sniffed haughtily as she playfully pushed Jennifer off. “I thought if I put it to you right, you’d see it my way. You know I’ve got you over a barrel, Edwards. I know you.”

She stalked off in the direction of the door, leaving Bill and Jennifer on the patio.

Jennifer stood watching Pat until she entered the house. Then she sat back down and picked up her glass, peering over at the blueprints spread out on the table.

“You okay with all of this, Jennifer?” Bill asked after having noticed the slightly anxious expression cross her face as she looked down at the papers.

“I think so.” She sighed. “I haven’t really had a lot of time to digest any of it, what with J.J. getting hurt like she did and Pa getting sick. Now that I’m here, and things are more back to normal, it’s just beginning to sink in. My old Dean living here on these grounds, I don’t know how I should feel. I don’t know why it should matter to me, I mean it’s not like I live here.”

“But your father does. How are you with that?”

Sitting forward, leaning her elbows onto the table, she ran her hands through her hair, and then looked to him.

“I don’t know, Bill. He’s an old man, he’s not well, and he could use the company. He must want her here. He went to all the trouble of digging up these old blueprints, having architects make adjustments on them to update the house, and asking me to oversee the renovations on it and the gardens out there.”

“Nothing can happen with these blueprints or the house until you approve it all. Pat has had landscapers out, but your father’s left it all up to you and your discretion. Jonathan and I looked the plans over. Maybe you should take the plans and go out there; take a look at what needs to be done for yourself. The changes the architects made in the originals are mostly structural. Pat has made a list of some other things that she suggests, like you asked her to do, but ultimately the final call on everything is yours.”

“That idea itself makes me tired.”

An uneasy feeling had begun to settle over Jennifer like a lightweight hooded cape. She hadn’t visited the guest house on her father’s estate since J.J. had been a very little girl, and used to play out there.

It came to her that when she had been very small herself, she and her mother used to spend a lot of time there reading and talking. Her mother liked the smaller, cozier guest house when her father was away with his traveling, and it was just the two of them.

Jennifer smiled to herself. It had been many, many years since she’d thought of those happy days, and the abrupt recollection was almost blinding. When she had those rare memories, she could never seem to clearly envision her mother’s face, and that was disturbing to her. It had been that way for years.

Bill took the opportunity to observe Jennifer closely as she sat across from him in evident reverie. His own thoughts were of his buddy, Jonathan, and how he was such a fortunate man. On top of all of his other hard-earned successes, the lucky stiff had scored big in the love and marriage department as well. Jennifer’s lasting beauty, her confidence, intelligence, and her absolute devotion to Jonathan had always impressed him. She wasn’t his kind of woman, but just the same, he had always found her interesting and charming. He was grateful for her having come into both their lives because with her came happiness for the two of them. Jonathan got his ideal woman, and through Jennifer, he had gotten to meet Pat, the woman who had slowly but totally won his heart.

Now Patricia Hamilton, of the hot sheets and tart tongue, was his type. Over the years she had grown on him until he reached the place where he needed to have her be a permanent part of his life. She had recently accepted his proposal, and he couldn’t wait to marry her. But there was still the question of where they would live. East coast? West coast?  House? Apartment? He didn’t really care where it was, as long as it wasn’t New York, but she wasn’t ready to leave New York and her business permanently. They hadn’t come to any mutual decisions about that.

Jennifer stood and began rolling the blueprints up to slide them back into the tube from which they’d been taken. Placing the cylinder under her arm, she said, “I’m going to walk out there to take a look. If Jonathan and J.J. get back while I’m gone, would you tell your goddaughter to peek in on her grandfather and your buddy where he can find me?”

“I won’t have to tell my buddy anything.” Bill smiled up at her. “The guy’s got an automatic radar when it comes to you.”

________________________________________________________________

With J.J. gone to the doctor, and forbidden to leave the room herself, Marnie concentrated on unpacking and arranging her clothes to ward off boredom. It wasn’t clear how long they would be staying at Briarwood, but she didn’t mind being anywhere with the Harts. Even though J.J.’s mother had lowered the boom on her, she still preferred being there with them, locked up in a guest bedroom at Briarwood, to being at home alone.

Her own mother had left for Texas shortly after she had left Los Angeles with Mrs. Hart and J.J. to go the Gresham Hall mother-daughter reunion. And she had just taken off without even letting her know that she was going. That was typical of her. Many were the mornings that she would wake to find that either her mother hadn’t come home the night before or she had taken off before she was out of the bed, leaving her there with the help without word of where she was going or when she would be back. It had always been that way. Her father wasn’t much better. He had another wife, three little boys, and she suspected that he was running around on her stepmother who was starting to drink too much herself.

Although she wasn’t on good terms with her stepmother, she had been spending more time at her father’s of late. She had become very fond of her little half-brothers, and they of her. They looked up to her, and she liked that. She also took a perverse pleasure in arguing with her young stepmother, whom she considered to be an “immature bimbo” and a “first-class gold digger”. Even though she hadn’t heard from either of her biological parents very much on that trip, she and her brothers had been speaking back and forth every day. She called them every morning, and one or the other of them would call her back during the day. The things they were telling her about what was going on at their house alarmed her some. Changes would definitely have to be made, but she’d deal with that when she finally got back home.

For herself, Marnie had come to very much prefer the stability and consistency of life in the Hart household. Even though she was on big time lockdown, at least with that she knew that somebody cared enough to check her for being out of line, which was more than she could say about her own home and her own parents. Mrs. H. could be scary at times, but Marnie knew that whatever the woman did or said to her, it was said or done out of genuine concern, and she earnestly hoped, love.

There were no words for Aunt Pat. Pat was her girl, one hundred percent all right.

Going over to the mirror, she hooked a finger into the collar of her sleeveless cotton blouse, pulling it to one side to check the small oblong mark on her neck. Ms. H. said that she wouldn’t be able to leave the room until the mark faded. Judging by the lingering cherry color of it, she figured she was probably going to be holed up for the duration. Well, at least J.J. was there with her, and with that bum ankle of hers, she wouldn’t be going too far herself.

Shrugging, she went over to gather the suit bag which lay on the bed to take it to the closet. Operating with one hand, she had to struggle with the closet door. It was heavy, as was everything in the room. All the furnishings were antiques, dark, rich, and elegant. The headboard and four tall bed posts were full of etchings and carvings. Even though she admired it, being small in stature, she felt dwarfed by it all. Even the windows were large, reaching from floor to ceiling and covered by very full ivory silk sheer curtains, topped by authentic Belgian lace valances and tied back with matching lace swags. The room was very tastefully appointed, but rather overwhelming for her.

Once inside the closet, she was immediately impressed by its woodworking. Always one to spot and appreciate style, quality, and good taste, she was taken by the old world craftsmanship. As she looked up, she could see that hand carved sweet brier vines and their delicate roses graced the moldings along the ceiling. It was a theme that ran through the rooms of the entire home. J.J. once told her that the estate had been named for sweetbrier roses, her grandmother’s favorites, and that the ones which grew out in the gardens were started from cuttings her grandparents brought over from England. J.J.’s grandparents had the house designed and built back in the 1940’s, so it wasn’t really a very old home for a mansion, but it had an old feel to it, and definitely reflected J.J.’s grandfather’s aristocratic influence. Who would put that much detailing into a closet? Even its walls were solid burnished oak.

As she stretched up to hang the suit bag on the rod, she noticed the old fashioned brass hooks along the one side of the closet. She guessed that those were for bed clothes that one might not want to actually hang up, but didn’t want to leave out in plain sight either. She returned to the bedroom for her shoes. She’d brought several pairs, far more than she would probably wear, but one never knew what an occasion might call for, and it was her policy to be ready for anything when traveling. Each pair had been placed in cloth shoe bags. Gathering them all up in her arms, she carried them to the closet.

As she was bending down to put the bundles on the floor, one set fell from her overloaded arms and rolled away from her. Cursing, she got down on her knees to retrieve it from where it had rolled all the way to the back.

At the base of the right wall, in the corner near the juncture of the back wall and just barely visible in the dimness, she saw a small metal lever, sort of like a light switch but a bit longer, protruding from the wall. Instantly intrigued, she pulled at it, but it didn’t move. She pushed up on it with her fingers, but it wouldn’t budge. Moving the hanging clothes out of her way, she stood up and with her sandaled foot, stepped down hard on it, pressing it down to the floor. For a moment there was nothing, then came the sudden clank of machinery being engaged.

“Shit!” She, exclaimed as she jumped back, completely startled and looking all around herself to see what was happening; to see what she had done. A low humming sound emanated from somewhere within the walls.

Then, as she stared wide-eyed with amazement, the entire back wall of the closet slowly slid open.

“What the hell?” She whispered to herself as she eased cautiously toward the opening.

Peering in, she could see the first few wooden steps of what she assumed was a dimly lit staircase, going down.

________________________________________________________________

The walkway from the patio behind the main house leading to the guest house started out as pavement. But as it wound back away from the main house and into the heavier, more lush foliage farther away, it turned into a cobbled lane. Jennifer stopped and stepped out of her mid-heeled mules, leaving them under a nearby tree with the intent of picking them up on the return trip. She continued on her way barefoot.

It had been a long time since she’d made the trip, and the feel of the cool smooth, weather-worn stones and the velvety moss which grew between them brought back pleasant memories of walking out with or to look for a barefoot J.J. when they brought her to visit as a very little girl. The guest house and its gardens had been one of her favorite places on the estate. The child could romp, run, and play at will, unlike up at the main house where she tended to naturally curb her rambunctious behavior around her grandfather.

As she had gotten older, J.J. began spending more of her time at her grandfather’s on the paddock, in the stables, or out on the grounds riding.

Reveling in the somewhat overgrown, feral state of the landscaping in that area, The sun-dappled, shady quiet gently dredged up a long buried feeling of contentment, the comfortable feeling that came with being a barefoot little girl herself safe on her parents’ property, pretending, playing dress-up, having tea parties, dancing the ballet, or playing back there with one or both of her mother’s German Shepherds.

Her mother’s huge, but gentle, gentle dogs… the cat… all the horses….

When Aunt Sabrina, her mother’s twin sister, would visit them from France, she would stay out in the guest house on her own. Sabrina would only come in the summer, and that was to accompany her back from her two week visits to Perpignan. Sabrina would remain with them for another two weeks before going back, and she, too, almost always went barefoot out there. There was nobody in the world like that funny, exciting, free spirit of a lady.

After the accident, Aunt Sabrina never came to Briarwood again.

Associated with that sad recollection, like the epitaph on a graveyard headstone, was the memory that she and her father stopped living there themselves after her mother was taken away from them. In his grief, her father shut the house down and sent her to boarding school. He threw himself into his work as an art dealer, and proceeded to travel all over the world. During those years, he maintained a large flat in London as his principal residence. Infrequently, if he was in the States during her breaks from school, they would come home to the main house, but it seemed so empty and lonely when they were there, that she stopped coming, electing to remain at school if that was where he was at the time. Eventually, he began to arrange to have her travel with or to him out of the country during her breaks, which she much rather preferred.

It wasn’t until he was much older, somewhat weary of his gypsy lifestyle, and she had been married to Jonathan a few years that he returned and reopened the main house and the estate for good once again. It would never be what it once was to her, but it was still a beautiful place. One day it would be J.J.’s home because her grandfather was leaving it and all of his holdings to her when he passed on.

While they had been at the reunion the previous weekend, Pat had informed her that she was leaving J.J. the Fifth Avenue apartment she owned in New York, as well. J.J. Hart was only sixteen years old, and unbeknownst to her, she was already set up to be a very wealthy young woman outside of what she would inherit from her parents and her Great-Aunt Sabrina in France.

Jennifer realized that those bequests were going to be something else for which she was going to have to prepare their daughter. Being Jonathan’s child. J.J. had always lived in the lap of luxury. Despite her best efforts to curb him, he had seen to that. But J.J. would be operating from a much different perspective when she became the one calling the shots. But, the girl was already pretty smart, level-headed, and surprisingly, fairly thrifty for a girl with parents of their means. Perhaps it wouldn’t prove to be too difficult a transition for her, after all, when the time came.

Continuing her slow meander down the path, before long, the white-shingled single story Cape Cod house came into view before her. From what she could see, dark green English ivy had taken over one side of it completely covering those windows, and it had begun its slow creeping across part of the front. Although the ivy looked lovely and romantic, she knew that its thick growth probably meant that a lot of the wooden shingles on that side of the house would have to be replaced. The windows that hadn’t been obscured by plant growth were shuttered. Stopping, she shielded her eyes with her hand as she lifted them to take a cursory peek at the tan roof. The roofing tiles, how they were faded and curling in places, told her that at minimum, the roof would require an inspection to determine if it too should be replaced- this year or next. Once she reached the door and pushed back the lace curtain of cobwebs at the door, she turned the old fashioned brass knob, hoping earnestly that the roof hadn’t leaked and that the interior of the long-unoccupied house hadn’t been too badly affected by the wear and tear on the outside.

She tentatively stepped inside and set the canister holding the blueprints on the floor.

Because of the shuttered windows, the room was quite dark, but the light from the open door was enough for her to see that the contents of the front room had been draped completely in large ivory dust covers. The effect was a little eerie, and her active writer’s imagination immediately conjured up images from those old Saturday afternoon horror movies she and Pat used to watch up at school. She found herself having to fight the strong desire to turn and leave. After admonishing herself for being foolish, she continued on inside, but just the same she left the front door standing open, telling herself it was to exchange some of the fresh air outside with the stale, musty, but happily not mildewed air, of the long-closed room.

The first thing she did was to unlock the front windows, raise them, and throw open the shutters to admit the light. Then, turning in a slow semi-circle, she took in the front entire room. Then, on a whim, she quickly went over to the covered settee in the corner, which she pulled away from the wall.

It was still there.

Two crudely drawn red J’s followed by a big red scribbled heart had been lettered right onto the wall, near the baseboard, in crayon behind that chair. It was somewhat faded, but the memory of discovering it there and the look on the little perpetrator’s face when she had been confronted with it was still so vivid that it brought a smile to her face as she gazed down upon it. At three, nearly four, J.J. had been clever enough to strategically place her handiwork where it would be obscured by the chair, and creative enough to use the symbol in place of her last name.

At sixteen, the two J’s followed by a heart had become, it seemed, her universally recognized and accepted signature.

Wandering on through the dining room, and into the kitchen, she found that everything there had been covered as well. For that she was grateful. It would all at least still be fairly clean. As she pulled the cloths away, it was apparent that all of the appliances and fixtures were pretty much outdated and would have to be replaced. Totally ripping out and renovating the kitchen had been at the head of Pat’s ‘To Do’ list, and by the time she made it back to Briarwood earlier that afternoon, Pat had already spoken with two firms in an attempt to get bids, and then the work itself, started.

Pat was the best when it came to taking initiative and getting a ball rolling. Jennifer was grateful for her help.

After raising the kitchen windows and opening the shutters, she could still see past the now awningless sun porch, through the trees, and out to the lake in the distance. But the trees had grown in more fully and the view was no where near as clear as she remembered it being when she and her mother would go out to the gardens back there to gather flowers for the table on the sun porch, and the one in the kitchen.

Her mother.

The abrupt flash of white hot memory made her knees grow weak  and she suddenly felt slightly dizzy. She leaned into the counter for a moment with her hand over her eyes as if she were shielding them from the sun.

…her mother wouldn’t let her handle the roses until after she had cut them and removed the prickly thorns.

In her mind, she could clearly see her mother’s hands as she used the pruning shears to cut the flowers on a diagonal at the stems. She had beautiful hands, long fingers like hers, like Sabrina’s, like J.J.’s.

After a few moments, she gathered herself enough to continue her journey through the rest of the house. She stepped into the hall which led to the three bedrooms and the attic door. Each bedroom had its own bathroom, and as she inspected the two smaller rooms, she made note that the fixtures in each of those bathrooms needed updating, and that both rooms would require several coats of paint.

It was at the door of the master bedroom that she hesitated uneasily. Standing there, she peered in at the large bed in the shadows which had been covered in the same manner as all the other furniture in the house and in that room. It seemed to have been a lifetime ago since the times she and Aunt Sabrina read together in that bed, or talked together in the moonlit dark as they spent nights there.

It certainly had been years since the days when J.J. was a tiny baby, months old, and they had come there to bring her to Pa. To keep from disturbing her father, she had insisted on staying out there with the baby. She had read to her infant daughter in that bed, and Jonathan laughed because he thought it hilarious that she would read classics to a child so small.

He had to eat his words that day when J.J. was just three, and in an effort to put off taking a nap; she shocked him completely by suddenly beginning to read to him from the book he thought he would be reading to her.

All those moments had been special and marvelous. But now that room would be Dean Marchand’s room, the house would be her house. It was her father’s wish, and his will would be done. Jonathan’s theory was that Dean Marchand had spent her adult life in love with Stephen Edwards, a man who would never love anyone but his late wife. As ambivalent as she still secretly felt about it all, Jennifer felt that if that were true, then the woman deserved to have some happiness and comfort in her remaining years. After all, Agnes Marchand had never harmed her, in fact, she had done the best she could do to see to her well-being all those years ago as her Dean at Gresham Hall, and outside of her father, Agnes Marchand was the main reason that she and Pat had been such academic scholars. The woman would have it no other way despite their often outrageous behavior.

“Nothing below 95% Jennifer, Patricia, ever, or it’s the detention hall for both of you! I know your capabilities, and if you have time for all this other nonsense, then you’d better compensate for it by being academically excellent!”

And compensate, they did. When they began to notice they usually made similar grades, she and Pat made the decision to pace themselves and to finish in the exact same spot, at the top of their high school graduating class, and to share the limelight equally.

“A penny for your thoughts.” A voice whispered so closely to her ear that she could feel the warmth of the speaker’s breath.

So deeply lost in her past, it startled her to be so abruptly snatched back to the present, further jarring all the other thoughts and images swirling around inside her mind.

“Jonathan! Don’t do that! You scared me half to death. One of these days you’re going to give me a heart attack sneaking up on me like that!”

Turning her head to see him, she was greeted by his infectious smile.

“I was only bringing you your shoes.” He said as he held up the ones she’d left by the tree. “They told me you came out here.” He moved in behind her to bring his body into contact with hers. “I see you’re in my favorite room.”

“Oh, no you don’t.” She firmly asserted as she moved her hips forward, away from him.

Turning around completely, she backed away after detecting the lusty nuances in the tone of his voice as well as the familiar physical signal from him against her backside. That movement inadvertently placed her inside the room.

“Not here!” She cried. “This place is filthy.”

He stepped toward her, his devilish blue eyes locked on hers. “We’ve been in tighter spots; a few less savory locations that I can think of.”

“Jonathan! Our daughter used to sleep here in the afternoons!” She continued stepping back. “This bed was where I used to read with my mother!”

“So. What’s that got to do with us?” He took another step toward her, backing her in farther while marveling at that mention of her mother.

After two more steps, she had backed in as far as she could go, and she had to catch herself to keep from losing her balance.

Reaching around her with one hand,  he snatched the large cloth from the bed to toss it to the other side of the room. Underneath it, there was a plush burgundy and gold satin coverlet on the bed, looking brand new for having been hidden away all those years.

“Jonathan! It would be like sacrilege or something!”

With one hand he pushed her and as her calves were already pressed against the footboard, she fell backward onto the bed. As soon as she was down, he quickly followed, covering her with his body and kissing her deeply. She relaxed beneath him, surrendering to his sexy entreaties, eagerly returning his passion.

“How can my making love with you be sacrilege,” He whispered into the sensitive spots on her neck and into her hair. “When it’s the closest thing to heaven? I love you so much, I don’t ever care where it happens, just so that it happens.”

Between the feel of the satin beneath her, which she always found to be highly arousing, the touch of his lips and the sound of his voice which were always deliciously irresistible, and his skilled hands which were working the erotic magic that only he could work on her body, what was left of her already seriously impaired resolve was rapidly dissipating.

“But I left the front door open.” She weakly protested  as he unzipped her Capris and briefly stood to slide them down her legs.

Dropping his own pants to the floor right behind hers, he returned to her and told her, “I closed it and locked it when I came in.”

He went back to nuzzling her neck and her ears while unfastening her blouse with one hand.

“Where’s J.J.?” She asked with increasing difficulty as she ran her hands up his back, underneath his shirt, feeling the still powerful muscles ripple as he moved. “She’s not going to show up down here looking for me, is she? You know how she is.”

“You can forget about her for a while.” He breathed heavily. “I bought them a couple of CD’s and rented them some movies on the way back from her appointment. Besides, the therapist says she can begin to go without her crutches, and you know her, she’s anxious to get back on her feet as soon as possible. But she’s still in a lot of pain. I don’t see her limping all the way out here on that one bad foot, and she won’t want to come this far on crutches either. Not even for you.”

“You seem to have it all worked out. Jonathan, just when did you plan this rendezvous?”

“On the way out here.” He declared, sitting up to straddle her on his knees. He removed the blouse completely and discarded it on top of the pile of pants and shoes, and then snatched his own shirt off over his head without bothering to unbutton it. “I had planned to somehow get you upstairs to the room, but you were out here, which was even better. I’m walking out here, and thinking, we’ve never done it out here. This is the only spot on this whole place that I can think of that we haven’t. Why haven’t we?”

“Because J.J. was always with us when we were out here.”

“Oh, yeah. Well, then I’m thinking how much I love a barefoot woman. And my woman was obviously barefoot seeing as how I found her shoes under the tree while I was on the way. Then when I saw you from behind standing in the hall in those pants…”

“Oh, I see.” She laughed. “Now the chauvinist in you comes out. The old barefoot and pregnant thing? And I always took you for a leg man.”

“Been there. Done that. I took you, didn’t I? Pregnant, good legs, and all.” He smiled, wrinkling his nose and rubbing it against hers. “And I just love loving you in these more rustic settings.”

“A guest house on an estate is hardly rustic, Jonathan.” She reached out and ran the flat of her hand across the satin bed cover for emphasis. “And for the record, you might have knocked me up, but I was hardly barefoot for that nine months of my life.”

He leaned down over her and gently took her face in his hand to make her look directly at him.

“Yeah, but you still had those damned good legs the whole time, not to mention the other things that were damned good. I think one of your good friends said it ever so well, “god-”

“Jonathan!” She cried to stop him from repeating Pat’s long ago coarse words.

“Sugar.” He finished with mischief. “How’d she know?”

“You’re both sick.”

So how about it, Red?” He grinned and raised his eyebrows mischievously as he looked down into her face. “In Dean Marchand’s new room?”

She was transported beyond desire and the mild irritation of him calling her by that hated name, and instantly elevated to that level of rushing excitement and challenge generated by pulling pranks and staging rebellions at Gresham Hall. All of that, along with the sexual intrigue and the symbolic desecration were deliciously wicked. Much too wicked to resist.

“Since you put it that way.” She said with an ultra-lusty smile while wrapping her arms around his neck to draw him down to her, she purred into his ear. “I’m game if you’re game.”

“I’m so glad that some things never change.” He whispered back.

________________________________________________________________

With Jennifer gone and Pat inside the house, Bill got up and went inside himself hoping to catch old Walter, Stephen Edwards’ gentleman’s gentleman, back in the kitchen and get up a friendly game while Edwards was napping. Instead, he was met by a frazzled looking Pat in the front breezeway.

“What’s wrong?” He asked as she rushed from around a corner.

“I can’t find that damned Marnie anywhere. She’s not in the room where she’s supposed to be, and as far as I can tell she’s not anywhere upstairs. If Jennifer finds out, she’s going to hang her. Were you outside just now? Did you see her? Where could she have gone?”

“Calm down.” Bill said, putting his arm around her. “She can’t be too far. She was probably in the bathroom or something and just didn’t hear you. I can’t see her disobeying Jennifer and leaving the house.”

“She wasn’t supposed to leave the room, Bill! And she wasn’t up there. I checked everywhere. Where’s Jennifer?”

“She’s gone down to the guest house.” He answered. “The girl is here somewhere.”

Jonathan and J.J. came through the front door. He was carrying one of the crutches while J.J. limped in with the aid of the other, cautiously using the injured foot.

“Hey, Beautiful Junior!” Bill called out to her. “I see they cut you loose.”

“Somewhat.” J.J. gamely replied, puffing through the pain. “I just have to get used to using it again. I think I’m going to use Pa’s elevator to go upstairs, Daddy.”

“Need some help?” Jonathan asked her as she took a video store bag from him.

“If you could just bring that other crutch up later so I can put it in the closet,” She answered. “That would be good. I can do the rest.”

“Hold on one minute.” Pat demanded as she walked up to her with one hand on her hip. “What happened to Marnie? She give you any idea of where she was going to cut out to while you were gone to the doctor’s?”

J.J. looked both confused and amused at the same time. She shrugged, trying to hide a smile. “How would I know? I was with Daddy all afternoon. She didn’t say anything to me. You guys lose her or something?”

In her mind she was high-fiving Marnie for giving them the slip like that.

“Or something.” Pat answered. “All I know is your mother better not find out that she’s left that room or there’ll be hell to pay and you know you’ll be going right down the tubes with your girl.”

Paling just a little at that truism, J.J. knew that the matter would have to be investigated. At that point in time, only Marnie was on lockdown. They might be best friends, but she had no intention of going down with her on trumped-up charges of harboring a fugitive.

“I’m sure she’s upstairs somewhere.” J.J. nonchalantly answered as she slowly headed in the direction of the elevator. “I’ll call back down to let you know.”

“Your mother says for you to peek in on your grandfather, J.J.” Bill said, remembering Jennifer’s last words to him.

“I don’t care what you two do.” Pat added as the elevator door opened. “All I know is I’m coming up there in ten minutes, and if Marnie isn’t up there, I’m turning the whole thing over to Jennifer just as soon as she gets back, and you two do not want that.”

Turning back to Bill and Jonathan, she muttered, “Imps! That girl is not up there, and those two think they are so slick.”

Jonathan’s attentions were elsewhere. His eyes were scanning the area. “I take it Jennifer’s-”

“Out at the guest house.” Bill and Pat chimed together.

________________________________________________________________

By the time she got to the second floor, J.J. really just wanted to sit down on the floor and cry. The ankle hurt so badly, but she knew that she had to make herself walk on it in order for it to get stronger. She had put on a brave face for her father, but alone up there all of her bravado seemed to peter out leaving her feeling weak and helpless. After peeking in the door of her grandfather’s room which was right at the elevator, and finding him still asleep, she limped over to Marnie’s room, which was closer than hers.

She knocked on the closed door. There was no answer. Turning the knob, she tentatively stuck her head in the door. There was no sign of Marnie.

Going in and closing the door behind her, she called, “Marnie?”

There was no answer.

Peeking in the bathroom, she didn’t see her, but still she called again, “Marnie?”

Again, no answer.

J.J. leaned on the crutch to take the weight off her injured foot and ankle. The situation was angering her. Marnie knew that she wasn’t supposed to go out of that room. They’d talked about it earlier. If Marnie was out and got caught, they’d both be wallowing waist high in the deep and murky. Even though she had been no where around, the Duchess would indict them both; Marnie on fleeing charges and she’d go down for suspicion of conspiracy.

Standing in front of the open closet door, she called a final time, “Marnie!”

“J.J.!” Came the muffled reply. “Get me the hell out of here!”

J.J. could barely hear her, but she could make out that it was Marnie’s voice and what she was saying.

“Where are you?” She called, looking all around in an effort to pinpoint the direction from which her voice had come.

“In the closet!”

Turning toward the open closet, it was clear that Marnie wasn’t in immediate sight. She went inside just to be sure. No Marnie.

“Where did you say you were?” She called again.

“In the damned closet!!”

“I’m in the closet! You aren’t in here!”

“Yes I am. I’m on the other side of the wall!”

At that point J.J. noticed that Marnie’s voice was coming from the direction of the back of the closet, and indeed it was sounding from behind that back wall.

“What are you doing in there?” She asked, speaking to the wall.

“Waiting for you to get me the hell out of here! What do you think?”

As Marnie was speaking, J.J. had been desperately looking around for a button, a knob, anything that looked like it might operate the wall. “How in the world am I supposed to get you out?”

“Push down on that lever on the bottom of the wall.”

J.J. looked around for a lever. It was cumbersome for her to be moving on that one crutch and a bad foot inside the closet. She didn’t see anything.

Irritated, she asked the wall, “Where?”

“At the bottom, dammit! If you’re facing the back wall, it’s to your right!”

Looking down, J.J. could finally see the small lever. But then the dilemma was that she would have to stand on the bad foot in order to push down on it with the good foot. If she got down on her hands and knees to try it with her hands, then she most likely wouldn’t be able to get back up without help if that didn’t work. There was no way that she was calling anyone for help with it until she had to. The issue at hand was getting Marnie out of there.

Bracing herself and holding her breath, she eased her weight onto the injured foot, and with a mighty groan to soak up the pain, she used her other foot to press down hard on the lever. Like Marnie had been, she was mesmerized when the back wall slowly slid open, but only for a moment, and then she was overcome by pain. Marnie fell to the carpeted closet floor, exhausted and as white as a sheet. J.J., blind with pain, fell down next to her.

“I have never been so freaking scared in all my life.” Marnie whispered after a moment. “Thanks, J.”

“Where were you? What were you doing in there?” J.J. winced through the pain, holding back tears. “What is that where you were?”

Marnie sat up. “It’s some kind of passageway, but I didn’t go any farther than the first few steps. I found that switch and I opened the wall. I was just starting to check it out, but there’s some kind of mechanism in the stairs that closes that door back behind you after the first couple of steps. I got locked out there, and there wasn’t any light. I couldn’t see…. Damn, J. I was so scared. I hate the dark.”

J.J. could see that Marnie was trembling and looked as if she wanted to cry. She sat up, and put her arms around her, hugging her close. She knew that Marnie did have a real fear of the dark.

“It’s cool, Marn. You’re out now. But, look, we have to get a grip. Aunt Pat is coming up here for you in a few minutes. She said she was up here and couldn’t find you. We have to hurry up and close that wall back so she doesn’t see that it opens when she gets here. I want to go down there and see what’s up with it later. If she sees it, she’ll tell my father that we know about it and we’ll never get back down there.”

J.J.’s eyes were on the opening. “Oh man, I never knew that was there!”

“Are you crazy!” Marnie exclaimed, watching J.J.’s eyes gleam with excitement. “This is like something out of a Frankenstein movie! I’m not going back down there!”

“Stomp on that thing to close it back and stop all that whining.” J.J. ordered as she pushed Marnie toward it. “And yes you are going. We are nobody’s wimps. After Daddy and Uncle Bill leave, and my mother and Aunt Pat go to bed at night, we are going back in there to see where that goes.”

“How are we going to get back in here once we go down there, J?” Marnie continued to whine. “I told you that it’s set up to close when you get on the steps. When the door or wall or whatever that is closes, the lights go way down. It’s really dark.”

“We’ll just stick something in the wall to keep it from closing all the way, that’s all. Don’t worry so much. It’ll work, you’ll see. Help me up.”

Marnie got up, gave J.J. an assist in standing and getting her crutch under her arm, and then she went over to step on the lever to close the wall back.

“I’m not agreeing to anything.” She warned sullenly.

“Marnie, look,” J.J. explained, trying to get Marnie to see things her way. “I’m sick of all the secrets. I want to find out about my family. About my grandmother.”

“So just ask the Duchess! Ask your grandfather!” Marnie cried. “We don’t have to go down there to find out about her.”

“I would, but I don’t feel comfortable about it. I don’t think they like to talk about her, and I don’t want to be a pain.” J.J. said as she slowly crossed the room leaving Marnie standing in the closet door, watching her. “But I really want, I really need to know. And now I want to know why that passage or whatever that is, is there.”

J.J. made it to the bed and flopped down on it, exhaling loudly. Marnie came and sat down beside her.

“J., look, I’m scared of the dark. I don’t want to go back in there. And how do you propose to get down there with your crippled butt? You don’t even know how far or where that thing goes.”

“We’ll take flashlights so it won’t be dark, and we won’t go tonight. I know I can’t make it tonight. But you know me, when I have the will, I make a way. Hook or crook, before we leave Briarwood to go home, we’re going down there to see what’s up. You don’t have to be scared. I’ll be right there with you, and you know with us, it’s two for one.”

________________________________________________________________

Pat stood with her hands on her hips looking down in exasperation on the two girls who were seated on the bed.  Watching both of their faces each bearing pseudo-innocent expressions, in her mind she was wondering why she was even bothering to ask the questions she was about to ask of them. But the responsible adult in her was being compelled by some unseen inner force to proceed.

“I was up here, and I did not see you, Marnie.” She insisted.

“I swear.” Marnie pleaded sincerely, hand over heart. “I did not go out of that door, Aunt Pat. I was here all the time.”

“Then why didn’t I see you?”

Bill stood in the doorway watching them all. Sneaking a peek at him, J.J. could tell that he was amused, and that he might suspect that something was going on with her and Marnie. She focused back on Marnie and Pat, secure in the knowledge that even though he might think something was up, never in a million years would he be able to guess what it was.

“I was right here. I promise you, I did not go out of that door” Marnie continued to plead with Pat as she pointed to where Bill stood propped against the door jamb. “Maybe I was in the closet when you came in and you just didn’t see me, and I didn’t see you. Were you calling me? I didn’t hear you. Maybe I was in the bathroom.”

Pat continued to eye Marnie and J.J. with frustrated suspicion. “I didn’t call you because I didn’t see you. And you were not in that bathroom. I checked.”

“I told you she was up here.” J.J. interjected calmly, almost sassily. “Marnie wouldn’t disobey my mother like that.”

Marnie’s large brown eyes had gone completely soulful to match J.J.’s defense of her. “Yeah, I told you I’m scared of her. The Du-, Mrs. H. said for me to stay put, and I did.” She held up her right hand. “Scout’s honor.”

Pat took hold Marnie’s hand and pushed it back down to the bed in disgust. “You’ve never been a damned scout, neither one of you. The Scouts wouldn’t have either one of your scheming little asses. They’d get their charter revoked admitting the likes of you two. There’s something rotten going on here. I want you to know that you don’t fool me one bit. I don’t know how you pulled it off, but I know I’m not crazy. Marnie was not in here when I came up here looking for her.”

“I never stepped foot out of that door.” Marnie stated again.

“She really was up here when I got back, Aunt Pat.” J.J. seconded as she nodded her head to emphasize it, the ponytail bobbing.

Bill tried not to let Pat see him smirk as she turned on her heel to leave them. She had been outfoxed, and he knew that she knew it and didn’t like it one bit. That wasn’t how it was supposed to go.

She stopped at the door to address Marnie, “I told Jennifer I’d speak to you about that vampire bite on your neck. Consider yourself spoken to. Don’t get caught slipping like that again or the next time, incarceration will be the least of your worries if I get wind of it. As of this moment, you’re free. Paroled.”

“I can go out of the room now?” Marnie asked timidly, with wide eyes. “Early release?”

“Certainly not for good behavior. It’s just until your next slip-up, and which will probably be some time early tomorrow. I’m out of here.”

She and Bill left, closing the door behind them. Just before the door closed, Bill looked back, catching J.J.’s eye. She simply eyed him back, and she tried not to smile. There was no way for him to know what it was specifically, but she knew that he was on them. So was Pat, but she couldn’t prove anything either.

Silent and frozen in place until the adults had been gone a reasonable amount of time, at J.J.’s signal, Marnie crept to the door, cracked it, and peered out. The hall was empty. She raced back to high-five J.J. who was smiling impishly as she shrugged, “It’s not like we lied. You didn’t ever leave out of that door. And technically, you were still up here when I came up. Good looking out, Marn.”

“Scouts wouldn’t have us?” Marnie scoffed. “We’re the ones wouldn’t be caught dead. Good looking out, J.”

________________________________________________________________

“Thelma and Louise up there in that room have something hot cooking on the burner.” Pat observed as she and Bill descended the staircase together after leaving J.J. and Marnie.

“I got that impression too.” replied Bill. “J.J. gave me the eye like she knew I had her area code, but not her entire number.”

Pat continued to speculate. “I’m not crazy. Marnie was not in that room when I went in there. Now you  know for a fact that I went up right behind J.J. I hid out in our room and watched that door. I saw J.J. when she got off the elevator. When I was up there before, I had put a piece of transparent tape over that door when I came out. It was still intact when J.J. went in and was hanging there when she closed the door behind her. So, Marnie didn’t get back in that way. There was no way for her to put the tape back if she did. Those windows are too high off the ground, and they’re screened, so she couldn’t have done it that way.”

“Maybe she was in there all the time.” Bill offered. “Maybe you just didn’t see her, like she said.”

“I highly doubt that.” Pat responded as she cast a sidelong look at him. “I was in there long enough to discover some other things, however.”

“Like what?”

“It’ll all come out in the wash.” She said as they reached the bottom of the stairs. “You’ll see.”

__________________________________________________________________

They were gathered in the parlor for cocktails. Everyone was dressed and ready to be seated for dinner with the exception of J.J. and Marnie who had yet to come down.

“Aren’t the girls eating tonight?” Stephen Edwards asked. “Perhaps you should go up and check on them, Jennifer.”

“They don’t want that, Pa.” Jennifer answered tersely from her seat on the couch next to Jonathan. “Trust me on that. We’ll give them two more minutes and then if they’re not here, they can forgo dinner. They knew what time they were supposed to be down here.”

As if they she’d heard what was said, Marnie appeared at the door of the room, fashionably attired in a stunning off-white, high-collared dress and white sandals. Jennifer nodded her appreciation. She had to give that one credit for style and fashion sense. Marnie always looked good.

“I’m sorry I’m late.” She humbly apologized . “J.J.- Justine-” She corrected herself, looking to Mr. Edwards. “sends her regrets. She’s not feeling well. She isn’t sick or anything. She just says she’s tired and that she’s going to bed.”

“It’s not even dark outside.” Jonathan observed with concern as he stood up from his perch on the arm of the sofa, placing his hand on Jennifer’s upper arm. “Maybe you should go up and check on her, Darling.”

“Yes.” Stephen agreed. “Justine is never ill or tired, at least not so much so that she can’t eat. I’ve never seen her turn down one of Rosa’s dinners.”

Marnie, standing at an angle where she could only be seen at that point by Pat and Bill, looked over to Pat who was watching her with questioning eyes. Putting her hand to her ear, Marnie quickly gestured as if she were talking on the phone, and then she shrugged as if to say, “I tried to tell her.”

Walter appeared at the inside door which led into the dining room, indicating that the meal was ready to be served.

Jennifer moved toward the other door. “You all go ahead in.” She said. “I’m going to go up and see to her.”

“We can wait for you and Justine.” Stephen offered.

Jennifer stopped before completely exiting the room. “No, just go ahead. I don’t know how long I’ll be, and I don’t want to hold any of you up a moment longer. We’ll be fine. We can eat later if it comes to that.”

Jennifer continued on her way as all the rest of them made their way to the dining room, each of them offering up a prayer of deliverance for J.J./Justine.

________________________________________________________________

J.J. had too much on her mind to be trying to deal with the entire immediate family at that time.

She had left Marnie’s room after Pat and Bill’s visit, and had gone on over to her room, where she found upon checking her cell, that Teddy had called. For the first time in her life, she felt butterflies in her belly when she saw a boy’s, that boy’s number on the display. That reaction was not like her at all, and she didn’t understand it or know what to do with it. Flustered, she didn’t call him back right away.

Instead, she got into the shower to get ready for dinner and to take her mind off him, and while there, she thought about her earlier conversation with her father.

What kind of woman had her grandmother been, and why didn’t her mother speak of her? Why didn’t her grandfather ever tell her about what things had been like when her grandmother was alive? What had life been like in that house? She had seen plenty of photographs of her grandmother, but somehow they weren’t enough. What did she, the woman, like besides roses and horses? Was she funny? Did she have a temper? Was she smart? Was she talented in any way? And how in the world did she hook up with Pa at sixteen when he was twenty-one? Her own father would die if that had been her. No, the young man trying to date her would die, and she’d be locked in her room until she turned twenty-one.

Her grandmother had been sixteen when she met the man she eventually married, and she married him at eighteen. Her mother met her father and fell in love with him, literally, right away. And it had been real. Twenty-five years later, they were still together and from what she could see, still in love. What did it feel like to be in love? What did it feel like to…

The comforting feel and sound of the hot water on the skin of her body and the thought of her last meeting with Teddy connected and caused her mind begin to mull over what it might feel like to have a boy….him….

She pushed the thought away, chastising herself for going too far and fantasizing like some hot little trollop, like Marnie.

It wasn’t until the ankle started to throb that she realized she had been just standing there letting the water run over her and liking it. She quickly got out, toweled off, and pulled on her robe.

With all the hair she had, blow drying her hair always seemed to take forever, and when it was freshly washed and dried, it felt and acted like an exceptionally long, fluffy, dark red, lion’s mane. Even though it was kept professionally trimmed in layers to prevent split ends, it still reached almost to her waist. As she stood before the mirror, she recalled what Teddy had said about how she looked different, prettier, when her hair was down. But there was just so much of it, and it was just so difficult to manage when it was down and loose.

Shaking it out, she thought for a brief moment that perhaps she should finally have it cut, but just as quickly she dismissed the idea. She liked it long herself for the ponytail, and her father would have a fit about her cutting her hair short. He didn’t like it when her mother cut her hair, but she did it anyway saying that she was too old to have really long hair.

What in the world was up with the butterflies and the jitters? She placed both hands to her abdomen as if that would make them stop. The feeling still hadn’t gone away even after the relaxing shower should have rid her of it. Normally, after a hot shower or a bath, she’d be so relaxed that if she sat or lay down too long, she’d fall asleep.

Sitting on the side of her bed to apply the lotion, she thought about that passageway on the other side of Marnie’s closet. Why just that closet? The sudden idea came to her to check her own.

Having been in that closet seemingly thousands of times in her life, she was sure that there was no such lever in there, but she was wrong. The same lever was in her closet as well, only it was on the left hand side in the dimness of the back corner, near the floor. She couldn’t risk checking it out with all the adults about, but she would be investigating it the first opportunity she got.

Going to her dresser, trying to get used to moving around without that crutch, she got her camera and returned to sit on the side of the bed. Once again, she reviewed the pictures left on the disc that were taken at the reunion the past weekend. There were pictures of all of them, including several of Teddy. Marnie had taken them for her when they were all outside on the Quad and she couldn’t go because of her injured ankle.

One was a particularly good close up of him where his soft brown, curly hair had fallen down into his dark brown eyes. He was dark himself, tanned from having spent so much of his summer working outside with the horses, and he was laughing. He had a nice smile. It was the kind of smile that forced her to do the same. When she closed her eyes, she could feel his lips on hers. She could taste him.

The persistent, at that point almost nauseating, butterflies were still there fluttering like mad, and she knew that there was only one way that they were going to go be stilled. Picking up the phone, she punched in the number.

To her dismay, the feeling only intensified when he picked up.

“Hello, J.J., I was hoping you would call me back.”

“You called me.” She said, trying to sound nonchalant. “Why would you think that I wouldn’t, Teddy?”

“I don’t know. I just, for a minute, thought you might not. I guess I was thinking maybe you’d back off me after I came on so strong this morning. I want to apologize if you think I did.”

“It was just a kiss.”

“It was more than just a kiss, J. I know it, and I think you know it. I believe you felt everything I felt.”

What he said was so true, but she just smiled and didn’t say anything. She didn’t know what she was supposed to say, or if she should say anything at all.

“J., you there?”

“I’m still here.” She confirmed in a soft voice.

“Well?”

She thought it over. Honesty had always been her policy when it came to boys. She saw no need to switch up with him.

“You’re right about me.” She admitted. “I liked it too. I liked it every time we did it.”

“I’m glad. It felt so good having you in my arms. I know I shouldn’t have done that, I mean, we just met and everything, but I couldn’t help it. I just didn’t want you to go. It’s never been like that for me before. Up to now, even though I haven’t been a monk or anything, I could take girls or leave them. That’s not a line, J.J., believe me. You can ask anybody. Ask Maddy when you talk to her the next time. She knows me better than anyone.”

“I don’t have to ask Madison. I believe you, Scout.”

He laughed. “Scout?”

“Aren’t you the one who’s always on the lookout, scouting for who might be watching for you while you’re skulking about?”

“I guess you do have a point.” He laughed again. “Look, thanks for coming downstairs to meet me outside like that this morning. I know it wasn’t easy, what with you on those crutches and all. You are some tough lady. I like that about you. How’s the ankle?”

“It’s better. They’ve started letting me walk on it now. And about coming down there to meet you, I wanted to be there. I knew that if you came upstairs to our room again, it would be taking too big a risk. I told you, I think Dean Marchand is on to you. And with Marnie and Dee there, we wouldn’t have been able to say goodbye like we did. And I really liked having your arms around me that way, but it’s probably a real good thing that I’m not there any more.”

He chuckled a little. “I know what you mean, and don’t get me wrong, I liked kissing you and holding you, but I don’t want to rush into anything heavy. J.J., I like you, the person. I totally enjoyed your company these past few days, and I want to get to know you better. I want us to be friends. Promise me you won’t go back to Los Angeles and forget all about me when you get back to all your other friends.”

“I don’t think you have to worry. I don’t think I could never forget you.”

“I can call you sometimes and you’ll call me? I promise I won’t be a pain. I know you don’t like to be pressed.”

Certainly, I’ll call you, Teddy, and you know that you can call me anytime you want. There’s a difference in actively maintaining a friendship and just pressing someone to be pressing them.”

“You won’t forget about the prom either. That invitation was sincere. I want you there with me, and I’m counting on you. Ask your folks now so they can get used to the idea.”

“I’m sure it’ll be okay. They’re not funny about me traveling like that. You just don’t forget about my party. I’ll be sending you an invite.”

“J.J., I’ve been hearing about your parties for three years. I never dreamed I’d get invited to go to one. I wouldn’t miss it for the world, especially if you’re going to be there. Look, I won’t hold you any longer. I know that it’s about dinner time. I just wanted to hear your voice.”

“That’s such a nice thing for you to say. I liked hearing your voice too. Don’t be a stranger. You’re one really nice guy, Teddy. One of the nicest I’ve ever met. I enjoyed your company, too, while I was in Gresham. You made it fun, and I’m going to miss you. Until the next time?”

“Until the next time. Good night, J.”

“Goodnight, Teddy.”

Her heart was still racing, the wings in her stomach were still fluttering, and a shiver raced through her entire body. She still had the phone to her ear when Marnie stuck her head in the door.

“J.J., you’d better get dressed, girl! You know what time Walter said we had to be down and that your grandfather and your mother expect us to be on time. I just got my ass taken off lockdown. It’s not going back on because you made us late.”

J.J. put the phone down on the night table.

“I’m not going down to dinner. Just tell them I’m sick or tired or something. I don’t want anything to eat.”

Marnie tried talking her into it, but there was no way she could have gone down there in the state she was in. Her mind awhirl, there were just too many questions that needed answers. When Marnie finally left, J.J. lay down across the bed and rolled over onto her stomach to contemplate everything. Feeling light headed, she hung her head over the side to get some blood back into it.

There was only one person she wanted to see, and opting out of dinner was the sure fire way to make that happen and to make it so that they were alone when it did. Skipping meals was not allowed.

The anticipated knock came, and she heard the door swoosh quickly across the carpet before she could call out to admit her guest. Even though she heard it, she continued to lie there on the bed with her head hanging down, her hair trailing onto the floor, secure in the knowledge she was most likely in pretty hot water, but her heart was relieved.

The door swooshed back across the carpet and closed.

“Alright,” she heard her mother say. “You’ve skillfully played your trump card, and you got me up here. Now what seems to be the problem?”

________________________________________________________________

“Bill.” Stephen called across the table as he cut into his thick steak. “I understand that you and my other girl there are planning to marry.”

“Yes, Sir.” Bill answered. “I don’t know about her, but I can hardly wait to get it done. Then we have to come to some agreement about where to live.”

“So I have been made aware.” Stephen answered. “Aren’t you going to ask me if I approve or not? After all, I’ve been her father by proxy for over forty years.”

Pat blushed, Marnie and Jonathan suppressed smiles, and Bill looked a bit uncomfortable.

“Do you approve, Sir?” He asked with uncharacteristic humility.

Jonathan could see the amusement in his father-in-law’s eyes as he took his time chewing his meat and chasing it with a sip of wine before he deigned to answer.

“I like you a lot better than that first no-account fop she married. You, I can respect. You are a man. ” He finally said. “I told her that first one wouldn’t last, and it didn’t.”

“I was young.” Pat insisted.

“And foolish, but I told you all of that at the time.” Stephen casually reminded her.

He took a longer sip of wine, looked over at both of them, put his glass down, and then he smiled.

“I think it’s a good match. One thing about it, neither of you is rushing into it, and you’ve both been down that road before. At least now you know the pitfalls. I give you both my blessing. Be careful with your love for one another. Cherish each of your days together. Treat every one of them as if it were your last.”

The table was quiet for a while, each of them feeling the words of the older man at its head.

After a time, Stephen finished the final forkful of his food. He wiped his mouth and observed. “I guess Jennifer and Justine aren’t going to be joining us at all this evening. I hope all is well with Justine. Jonathan was she ill earlier? Marnie, did she appear to not be feeling well when you left her? How was that ankle of hers? What did the doctors say, Jonathan?”

“I think she’s probably worn out, Stephen.” Jonathan answered. “The doctor says that she’s coming along. She had another therapy session today. This is her first day using only one crutch, and I know she was in a lot of pain trying to walk on that foot. She was trying not to let me see it when we were together earlier, but it was kind of hard not to. It’s probably taken a lot out of her.”

“I think that was it, Mr. Edwards.” Marnie quickly agreed, glad for the inroad into an answer. It looked a little swollen when I left her. She doesn’t talk about it when she’s in pain, but I’m guessing that’s pretty much what it was.”

“Yes,” Stephen nodded. “Probably so. And Jennifer wouldn’t leave her if she were in any sort of distress. She’s devoted to that child.”

He turned in his chair toward Bill. “May I impose upon you to do an errand for me before you and Jonathan leave this evening?” He asked.

“Certainly.” Bill answered.

“I want you to go see my friend Farrell and take a letter from me to him. I wanted to speak with you and Jonathan together, but Jonathan and I have business here. I’ve filled him in on it, and I’ll speak with you later, when you get back. Take Patricia with you. Farrell hasn’t seen her in years. And Marnie could do with some air. I’ll give you directions to his place. It isn’t too far from here. He boards my horses, and he currently has Justine’s horse, Triple J. Check on him for me while you’re there. I was going to have him delivered, but I thought better of it. She’ll do herself more injury. If that racehorse is here, she’s going to ride him no matter the condition of her ankle. Her mother was the same way. Jennifer once fell from a horse, was unconscious two hours, came to, and began arguing with me tooth and nail to let her go back out riding.”

Jonathan looked on in amusement as he listened to the patriarch of their family lining all of them up like pieces on a checker board. It left him wondering how Bill would feel about the game plan Stephen had in mind along with wondering what was going on with Jennifer and J.J.

________________________________________________________________

J.J. didn’t raise her head or say anything until she felt her mother sit down on the bed next to her.

“So,” Jennifer began. “I see we’re going to start pulling the Gresham Hall disappearing act again.”

Slowly sitting all the way up, “No.” J.J. shook her head. “It’s nothing like that.”

“Is it your ankle?” Jennifer asked with concern. Looking down J.J.’s leg, she could see that it appeared more swollen than it had earlier that day. “I’ve never seen you give in to pain before, so I find it hard to believe that’s the problem if that’s what you’re going to try to tell me. Whatever is going on with you, it had better be good because I was starving.”

“Come on, Mom. You know that I’m nobody’s punk. That’s the kind of thing I would just suck up and keep going with. It’s a little swollen, I guess, because I’ve been on it, but no, I have other issues tonight. Real ones, and I couldn’t face all of them down there with so much going on in my head. I don’t mean to keep you from your dinner, but I needed to talk to you. I tried to look for you earlier, but you were busy, I guess. When I asked her, Aunt Pat said you’d taken the blueprints and had gone down to check out the guest house with Daddy. I started to come out there. I hadn’t been out there in so long, but I didn’t feel like limping all that way with or without the crutches. At the time, I thought it could wait until later tonight, maybe after dinner.”

She brushed her hair back from her face with both of her hands, without much success, before continuing. “But now I know that it can’t. I’m sort of a mess, Mom.”

“You’ve been a mess all your life, J.J.” Jennifer calmly responded, using her hand to brush back J.J.’s hair too. “Tell me what the new dimension is to it.”

“One second.” J.J. said, holding up her finger as if she’d had a sudden thought. She reached out and picked up the house phone, putting it to her ear.

To Jennifer’s complete surprise when the other party picked up, J.J. confidently, but politely put in the request with the kitchen that her mother’s meal be delivered to that bedroom. She turned down the offer of having anything brought up for herself, saying that she wasn’t hungry. But she did say that she might be down to raid the kitchen later to keep from bothering anyone. Jennifer could hear the cook’s very vocal objections, to which J.J. simply rolled her eyes. Impressed by her daughter’s assertiveness and diplomacy, Jennifer was beginning to be able to picture J.J. one day running that house and its staff. And although she could had turned down food for herself, Jennifer could also picture J.J. picking off her plate once it arrived. Even though she’d admonished her all of her life for that, she had never been able to break her from doing it.

Upon hanging up, right before her mother’s eyes, J.J. instantly reverted back to troubled teenager. She leaned back to put her head onto her mother’s shoulder. “I think I have guy problems, Mom.”

“Who?” Jennifer asked, peering down into J.J.’s face. “You?”

The answer was a silent nod.

“Who it Tommy? This Teddy?”

“Tommy? Mom, I’ve told you a hundred times, he’s just a friend. Of course I’m talking about Teddy.”

“But J.J., you only just met Teddy a few-”

Jennifer caught herself in mid sentence, and just as abruptly, J.J. lifted her head from her mother’s shoulder. They both faced each other, each looking into the other’s eyes, each reading the other’s mind.

“Don’t go there again.” Jennifer warned.

“Don’t start anything, and there won’t be anything said about it.” J.J. countered.

“I told you before to do as I say, and not as I’ve done, Justine Hart.”

“Easier said than done, Jennifer Hart.” J.J. rallied back.

When her mother gasped, J.J. raised her eyebrows mischievously. Then, going morose once again, she leaned forward putting her forehead to Jennifer’s shoulder.

“I’m your daughter, so you know it’s entirely possible that it could happen like that for me too. I may not know exactly what I’m feeling, Mom, but I know that I’m feeling something I’ve never felt before. It’s like there’s cotton stuffing my head and there’s birds flying around in my stomach. I’m hot and I’m cold. I don’t let people, especially boys get to me like that. Could you- would you help me?”

Slipping off her shoes and sitting back against the headboard, bringing J.J. up to sit next to her, Jennifer got relaxed and comfortable. It felt like they might be there for a while with this one.

________________________________________________________________

Jonathan turned down the cigar offered to him by his father-in-law as they got settled in his study after dinner. He and Bill would be leaving later that evening, and that would be the only time for them to talk. The room they were in was one of his particular favorites in that house; it was the most friendly, the one most lived in. Stephen Edwards spent most of his day operating from his study.

Looking around himself, there were precious artifacts and paintings from around the world. There were family photos everywhere. There were many of Jennifer, several of he and Jennifer together, some of Jennifer and her father, and a whole shelf devoted to J.J. But in the entire large, rather busy room, there was nothing of his late mother-in-law, Suzanne Edwards. Jennifer told him years ago that her father removed all pictures and reminders he had of her in his study, and all the pictures of her in the house shortly after her mother died. The only ones that he didn’t collect and put away were the ones in her personal collection of photographs which she  kept in albums in the closet of her old room upstairs, and the one framed photograph of her that he kept next to his bed.

When Jennifer was pregnant with J.J., Stephen had thoroughly surprised her with a box full of pictures of her with her mother from the time she was born and as she was growing up. At that time, in one of her rare offerings about her mother, Jennifer had mentioned to him that there were scores of others, including some portraits that her father had done of her mother over the years, that she hadn’t seen since her mother’s passing. He had never mentioned them again to her, and she said that she had never worked up the nerve to ask her father what he had done with them.

Walter came in bearing brandies, which they heartily accepted.

“Close that door for me, Walter.” Stephen requested as the man was going out.

When they were alone, Stephen turned his chair toward his son-in-law.

“Now Jonathan, I know that you asked me here,” He said. “But before we do anything, I just wanted to thank you for being there with me that morning that I fell ill. Because you were there, and are such a quick thinker, I was able to get assistance right away. I don’t know how long I would have been in that room until someone found me. Surely Agnes wouldn’t have come looking for me until a great deal of time had gone past. After all, she was going out of her way as the Dean of a prestigious all-girls school entertaining an overnight male guest like she did.”

Jonathan took note of the twinkle in Stephen’s eyes, and he was tickled at the idea that Stephen thought there might be some scandal generated by word getting out of the eighty-year-old Dean having an overnight male guest. Stephen had been housed in his own room, but he doubted if anyone getting wind of it would care if the and Agnes Marchand had slept in the same room, the same bed even.

“I was happy and thankful to be there.” He answered. “You’re looking a lot better. Your color’s returned. How are you feeling this evening?”

“Pretty much back to myself.” Stephen Edwards disliked talking about himself, especially in connection with being ill, so he moved the conversation along. “So, what’s on your mind, Jonathan?”

“I wanted to talk with you about Jennifer and about J.J.”

At the mention of those names, Stephen focused in even more closely. “What about them?”

Jonathan hesitated. For all his usual self-confidence, it made him somewhat uncomfortable to be in such close proximity with the man before him, on his turf, and broaching such an intimate subject. But for J.J.’s sake, he had to ask, and Stephen definitely needed to know what he might be up against.

He rubbed his brow to gather his thoughts, and noted that Stephen was watching him intently, waiting for him to speak. Jennifer had definitely inherited her father’s eyes, he noted; they both had eyes that could either melt a person’s heart, or cut right through it straight to the soul of a person.

“I had a conversation with J.J. today.” He began. “It seems she’s becoming rather interested in knowing about her family, particularly her grandmother. I know that it bothers her that I don’t know anything about my family, but I’m hoping that she’s concluded that there’s nothing to be gained by looking in that direction… I have.

Now, I’m sure that you appreciate that she’s a very intelligent girl, but along with that intelligence comes a good bit of curiosity and daring. She’s a little afraid to ask the questions she has; she doesn’t want to cause either you or her mother any pain by asking you a whole lot of questions about her grandmother. But I don’t put it past her to be putting her nose in places it shouldn’t be. When she wants to know something, she doesn’t care where she has to go to do her research.”

Stephen chuckled. “She got that honestly. I never cared either when I was on a case. Went anywhere, did anything. Her mother, as I’m sure you know by now, is the same way. Justine is a third generation sleuth. I appreciate your telling me. I didn’t know she felt that way. I’ve been watching her over the years, especially now that she’s getting older. She’s the same age now as her grandmother was when we met. In many ways, Jonathan, Justine is very much like her grandmother. I look at her at times, and I swear I can see Suzanne. The same maturity and strength of character, some of the same mannerisms.”

A wistful look crossed the old man’s face. “Her grandmother would have cherished her, just as she did Jennifer. They were so close.”

Stephen leaned back in his chair and sighed with closed eyes. After a few moments,  he turned back to Jonathan. “You said that you also wanted to talk with me about Jennifer. There aren’t any problems between the two of you, are there?”

Smiling, almost laughing, at the absurdity of the thought in light of the afternoon they’d spent, Jonathan answered. “No. I’m still crazy about your daughter, and I hope she feels the same way about me.”

“From what I can see, you can be sure of it.” Stephen smiled. “So, what’s on your mind?”

Jonathan rubbed his brow again, “What I was wondering, Stephen,” He proceeded, speaking slowly. “is why she so rarely speaks of her mother. She never has, and up to now it hasn’t really mattered to me even though I wondered about it. I’m only asking it of you now because J.J. mentioned it to me today. It’s confusing to her, and I think it’s beginning to bother her some. I know that Jennifer was young when the accident happened, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since my conversation with my daughter. It seems strange to me that Jennifer doesn’t even talk about her to J.J. They discuss everything, and I do mean everything.”

Stephen looked as if the subject matter pained him as much as Jonathan thought it might. It appeared that he had to summon up the strength to speak on the subject himself. When he did, it was as if he had been holding it all in for a very long time.

“Jonathan, my boy, our Jennifer had a very hard time for several years after her mother died. Shortly after the accident, in a fit of rage, she once told me that she wished I was the one who had been killed. To tell you the truth, it seemed she hated me so much for living that there were times that I, too, wished it had been me. It’s a horrible thing when your own child won’t talk to you, won’t listen to you, hangs up on you when you call, just shuts you out completely. I’d lost my wife, and it seemed my child as well. It took Sabrina to slap me back into reality, to get me to stop feeling sorry for myself and to get a grip on my daughter so that I could go ahead and raise her on my own. I suppose nowadays a father would put his troubled child into some type of counseling or therapy behind such a traumatic loss, but back in those days, you just pushed on.

It took a few years for us to come to some type of amicable terms, and it wasn’t until she was almost grown that we actually became friends. Up until then, she was an angry, spiteful, brilliant little handful, and during all that time, she never mentioned her mother’s name to me even once. Never referred to her mother. If I tried to talk with her about Suzanne, she’d shut down completely on me. It wasn’t until she was making her speech at her high school graduation that she alluded to her mother in my presence. But still, to this day, Jennifer rarely speaks with me about her mother, and even then it’s in very general terms, never her memories of her. It came to be that we just didn’t speak of her much at all. That seemed to be how Jennifer wanted it, and I guess it became habit with me. I had my memories, and I kept them to myself. My daughter’s silence about her mother makes me sometimes wonder if she even remembers her.”

Jonathan recalled as he sat listening to Stephen talk, her mention of sleeping in the master bedroom of the guest house with her mother. Evidently, she did have some memories. In his years with her, he’d noticed that Jennifer had a way of moving unpleasant things away from the front of her mind to enable her to keep to business at hand. Most likely her mother was buried down deep figuratively as well as literally. But there had been that night at the reunion when she’d wakened from a sound sleep, frightened and confused saying that someone had been calling her, and they’d referred to her as “Jenny”. She didn’t allow anyone to call her by that name; not even him.

“It must have been a very hard time for you, Stephen.” He commented. “I’ve tried, but I can’t imagine having to have been in your shoes.”

Stephen at that point was puffing on a cigar to get it lit. He stopped to look up thoughtfully at Jonathan who had stood to make ready to leave.

“You know they tell me, Jonathan, that which doesn’t kill you, tends to make you stronger. I’ve come to know first hand what a very true statement that is. I’ve lived it. So has Jennifer. I think sometimes in more ways than you or I are even aware.”

Hearing her father say that, rocked Jonathan to his core. Her father had noticed something amiss in her too, and. evidently he wasn’t aware of what it was either.

“I just wanted you to know about J.J. in case you found her snooping in places she shouldn’t, or she starts asking you unusual questions.” Jonathan advised his father-in-law, while puzzling over with the possible meaning behind Stephen’s words about Jennifer.

Jonathan then reached inside his jacket and extracted an envelope from his breast pocket which he held out to Stephen. It was the envelope that Stephen had given him that previous Sunday right before he passed out at Dean Marchand’s, the one that he was supposed to give to Jennifer in the event that her father didn’t make it through that crisis.

Stephen took it from him, chuckling to himself. “The hits keep coming, and I guess I just keep getting stronger. They haven’t gotten me to say ‘uncle’ yet, my boy.”

The two men shook hands.

“I need to go up now and check on J.J. and that ankle.” Jonathan said as he headed for the door and opened it. “You’ll keep an eye on her for me while I’m gone. You know how she can be with a horse within a ten mile radius.”

“Between Jennifer, Patricia, and me, that maverick of ours will be keeping her two feet on the ground, for the next couple of days anyway. I can’t promise beyond that. I imagine she’ll have us all pretty worn down by then.”

Jonathan smiled knowing that what Stephen said was true. With the work being done on the guest house and the grounds surrounding it, they would all be occupied and tired of J.J.’s whining. Somebody would be breaking down, which would be right up J.J.’s alley.

“I’ll be back by that time.” He confirmed. “Bill and I decided to let somebody else fly us back in my plane since we’ve been up all day. But I’ll be flying back to get my family as soon as my business is done in Los Angeles. Our pilot will be here in a couple of hours. I’d like to spend some time with Jennifer, too, before we leave. Thanks for the insight and for listening, Stephen.”

“You’re very welcomed, Jonathan, and thank you.”

Stephen watched his son-in-law go out of the door and then he tore the envelope into small pieces and dropped it over into the trash. He had made it through the crisis, much to his own surprise, and Jennifer knew what he wanted her to do for Agnes Marchand. She had already begun working on it. There was no further need for the letter. He’d lived to tell it all to her himself, and his hope was that through her work on the guest house, Jennifer could achieve the release and the resulting peace that he felt had eluded her all those years.

As he leaned back in his chair, he sent a large cloud of smoke billowing from his lips and wondered how in the hell much more time that boy needed to spend with Jennifer. Walter had said that they’d spent the afternoon together in guest house. Her being out there cavorting with Jonathan was the reason he’d ended up sleeping so much longer earlier that day than he’d planned. It was Walter, not Jennifer, who finally awakened him from his nap to get ready for dinner.

The recurring question of how in the world his beloved daughter and her randy husband got away with having just that one child, played in his mind once again. He figured that it had to be genetics. He was an only child, Suzanne had been an identical twin, Jennifer wound up being an only, and Justine was the third generation only, and all of them had been born of loving parents. Jonathan and Jennifer had certainly continued the legacy of love. If his theory was correct, the stars were lined up for Justine being lucky in love as well. The constant factor in all of those successful pairings before her were the women; her great-grandmother; Simone, her grandmother; Suzanne, and her mother, Jennifer. All strong, intelligent, supportive, loving women; all of them partners, not subordinates to their men. As young as she was, Justine seemed to be following suit. That one would be subordinate to no one.

As he closed his eyes, savoring his Havana and fingering the brandy snifter on the table next to him, he determined he’d give Sabrina a ring when he was done, just to let her know that he was still drawing breath.

They had talked every evening since her first call. It seemed she stayed up half the night too, just like he did.

Then he’d call Aggie. She liked to talk and stayed up late as well.

________________________________________________________________

 

Pat checked the rear view mirror one more time, and caught Marnie as she was finally clicking off her phone.

“Why don’t you just get some kind of permanent attachment, some hooks or something,  put onto your ear so you can just walk around with that thing and talk into it all the time.” She commented over her shoulder.

Marnie had been on her cell since the moment she climbed into the back seat. “Who was that anyway? The hickey king?”

Marnie rolled her eyes, and smiled. “No. It was my little brother, Kyle.”

“Brother?” Bill asked in astonishment. “I thought you were an only child.”

“I’m my mother’s only.” Marnie answered him. “I’m the oldest of my father’s four. I have three younger brothers. He has a son by his second wife, and two by his latest wife.”

Bill was stunned. He had heard about Marnie’s somewhat negligent mother, but he was unaware of the situation with her father. He only knew that her mother and father were both very wealthy, and that they weren’t together. Pat hadn’t filled him in on the rest when she’d told him how fond she had become of Marnie, and how much she reminded her of herself as a kid.

“I take it you’re close to your brothers then?” He asked.

“Me and Kyle are pretty tight. The other two are still pretty small, but I love them too. Kyle’s got issues, like me. His mother got pregnant with him while my father was still married to my mother. That’s what busted them up- the affair, not Kyle- he just got caught up in their mess. He’s ten now. His mother walked out on my father when he started messing around with Karen, his present wife and she got knocked up. Terry, the second wife, just went off and left, leaving Kyle with my father. He had just turned four. So now there’s Kyle and Brett, and Mikey. Karen called herself getting an heir and a spare, I guess. What she got, was her hands full. Kyle is ten now, Brett is six, and Mikey is four. Kyle does most of the looking out for them when I’m not around, him and the help. That’s why he and I talk all the time. Karen’s becoming a lush, I think, and my father is a male slut.”

“Marnie!” Pat cried out in shock at Marnie’s bluntness.

“Real is real, Aunt Pat. If he was a woman, you know that would be the first thing out of anybody’s mouth. The shoe fits on both feet, not just on the ones who have the babies. Mrs. H. wrote that in her article about us girls, and it’s true. Society needs to get it together on that one.”

Bill looked in the rear view mirror and marveled at the unchanged expression on Marnie’s face. No emotion, no hurt, no anger; she had simply been stating fact, as if she had come to terms with her family situation and had accepted it for what it was. It was a sad state of affairs as far as he could see, but Marnie didn’t seem upset by it.

“Does Kyle ever see his mother?” Bill ventured.

“She lives in Europe. He sees her when she’s in the States. She writes him. Sends him stuff when she’s away. I make him read the letters, but he keeps the stuff she sends in a box. Half of the time he doesn’t even open any of it. He doesn’t deal with any of it or her. It’s kind of pitiful. He says that I’m more like his mother, so I try to do what I can for him. I love the kid. He’s really smart, so I try to encourage him to do well in school and to not get in trouble and stuff. My mother tries to act snotty about my relationship with him because of how he was born, but that wasn’t his fault. She can be sort of immature too, so I just diss her and take care of my brother.”

Pat reached across the console and squeezed Bill’s hand to cut him off from asking any more questions. She knew the whole story and would catch him up later. Bill was thoroughly impressed with Marnie’s seemingly mature take on things. He had always taken her for just a flighty, naughty little clothes horse, and for being on the swift side when it came to boys. That brief conversation had shed a whole new light on an entirely new dimension to her character for him. The girl actually had substance. It made him love Pat even more. He could see exactly what she saw. She’d had it rough as a child too.

“Did you talk to J.J. before we left?” Pat asked Marnie in an effort to change the subject.

“No. When I went up to get my jacket to this outfit and my purse, she and her mother were still in her room with the door closed. I didn’t bother them. I figured somebody would tell them where we went.”

“What do you think was her real problem. She wasn’t sick or tired, was she?”

“I don’t know for sure.” Marnie answered.

She loved Pat, but she wasn’t selling out J.J. Besides, as far as she knew for certain, she really didn’t know what J.J.’s problem was. She could only guess.

“Um-hmmm.” Pat answered, accepting the answer.

It was how she would have answered for Jennifer in that situation, so she understood the obvious evasiveness totally.

Marnie for her part was enjoying both the rural Maryland countryside that she could see outside the windows of the car and being in the company of the two people in the front seat. She was glad that Pat was marrying Bill. Being J.J.’s  long time best friend, she was well-acquainted with both of them, and she thought it was nice that they had gotten together like that. She was thinking that it would be nice if she was their child and she was riding in the car with her parents going for a drive. As well as she knew J.J., she wondered if that girl ever really thought about how lucky she was. She craved the stability that J.J. took for granted, and she wanted it even more for her little brothers. She at least had her mother, such as she was. At that point in time, her brothers only had her, it seemed.

“At what grade does Brookfield Lower School start, Aunt Pat?” Pat heard Marnie ask out of the blue.

“It starts at grade five, Marnie. Why?”

“Just asking.” Marnie answered.

From the mirror, Pat could see her staring out of the window and she knew that the girl had something on her mind.

“You ever been to Farrell’s place?” Bill asked Pat.

“A few times when I was visiting with Jennifer and Jonathan. Farrell boards the Edwards’ horses and the horses of a lot of the people who live around here part time, or who don’t want to care for their horses full time. It’s a working horse farm like the Edwards place used to be before Mrs. Edwards was killed. Jennifer’s mother ran that part of the family business while Mr. Edwards was traveling with his work. After her death, Mr. Edwards shut that and the house down and farmed out the horses to Farrell. We just found out on this trip that he sent some of them to Gresham too, but not Jennifer’s personal horses. Those went to Farrell.”

“Nice place?” Bill asked.

“Beautiful, from what I remember. It’s been a while. It had a good feel. Lots of land with rolling hills and a small lake like Briarwood. Jennifer and I have ridden it a few times.”

They both looked at each other with the same thought. Bill pulled the sealed letter Stephen had given him from his breast pocket and held it out to Pat.

“Do you think we’re being set up?” He asked.

“Yep.” Marnie answered from the back seat.

Somebody somewhere was looking out for everybody on this trip, she thought to herself.

Continue to next story

 

One Response to Passages: Part One

  1. Lesa says:

    I love Bill and Pat. Pat has made me do a few spit takes and burst out laughing. She is hilarious. I love how Bill refers to Jen & JJ as beautiful and beautiful jr.
    I very much enjoyed Stephen putting Bill on the spot to ask permission to marry Pat. Tee-hee.

    Liked by 1 person

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