A Night Out

J.J. has an eventful night out with the gang while her parents enjoy one of their own.

“Hart residence”

It’s me. I’ve been trying to get you all day. Where have you been?

“I told you I was going flying with my father today. When we do that, I have to turn the phone off. We stayed up longer this time since we missed the last few Saturdays when we were away. I haven’t checked my messages.”

Okay, so where’s the Duchess?

“She and Daddy went out for the evening.”

Good. It’s Marie’s night off, too, right?

“You know full well she’s always off on Thursdays and on Saturday nights unless my parents are entertaining. Hey, how come you’re at the back gate lining up where everybody is? Whose car have you ‘borrowed’? Look, I have too much on the line right now to be taking a chance on getting caught wrong. Whatever you have up, I am not game for it.”

You will be game. Open the gate.

“Why didn’t you come to the front?”

Because I came in this direction. I was already back here, and plus I needed to find out who was home. The monitor on that front gate is automatic. Back here, you guys have to turn it on manually to see who’s out here.

“You are far too familiar with our security system.”

Whatever. The odds just were better back here of my not actually being seen. Are you going to open this gate and let me in or not?

“Did your father let you have the car? You didn’t clip him for it, did you? You didn’t get your stepmother for hers again, did you? She told you she was calling the police on you the next time you took her car without her permission, and I’m not about to be a part of that. You do stuff, and I’m telling you, if you’re on the lam; I’m not going there with you.”

Are we going to play Twenty Questions, or are you going to open the damned gate?

Hesitating for a moment, J.J. Hart stood staring at the flashing red light taunting her from the console in the kitchen. She was home alone, and she wasn’t supposed to have company when her parents or Marie weren’t there. Certainly it would be going against all the rules to let the devil herself into the house.

“I think I smell brimstone,” she muttered. “Just straight-up sulphur. It’s for sure when it’s all over, messing around with that girl out there, the odds will be pretty good of my going on lockdown.”

Finally, against her better judgment, praying in earnest for either deliverance from evil or not being caught at whatever she might get be getting herself into, she reluctantly pressed the button to admit Beelzebub, otherwise known as her best friend, Marnie Benson.

____________________________________________________________

Jonathan Hart flipped shut his cell phone and stuffed it down in his jacket pocket. He started back toward the terrace, but before he could rejoin the group of men from whom he had distanced himself to take the call, he spotted Jennifer coming down the steps toward him.

At a dinner party being given by the Clarks, as was typical for that type of gathering, the guests had migrated into male and female clusters. Although he enjoyed being out and socializing with their many friends, he was glad for his wife’s company. She was still his favorite and most interesting choice for dinner partner.

When she was near enough to him to do so, she wound her arm around his to walk with him.

“Business call?” she asked.

He changed his mind about returning to the terrace and the group of men. Instead, together they turned down the path leading to the spacious gardens behind the house.

“No. It was your daughter,” he answered. “She said she tried to reach you, but your phone was off.”

“I didn’t bring it with me.You had yours, and we wouldn’t be that far from home. Then too, this purse is so small. What did she want?”

“She said she and Marnie were heading out for the ice cream place.”

“She told you she was going, or she asked you if it was all right if she went?”

“She informed me, and I said it was fine,” he said. “You are not going to cut us any slack, are you?”

She ignored his question and posed a couple more of her own to him.

“J.J. and Marnie? Whose car does Marnie have?”

“J.J. didn’t say.”

“You know Marnie and the things she does. Does she have permission to use whoever’s car it is?”

“I guess.”

“Where else are they going?”

“She just mentioned the ice cream place.”

“Which one? The one at the mall or the other one?”

“I don’t know. She didn’t say the mall. It’s a little late for the mall, so I’m assuming the one on Santa Monica.”

“Who else is going?”

“She didn’t say.”

“How long are they going to be, Jonathan?”

“She didn’t say.”

“Jonathan Hart! You never question a thing that girl tells you. Did you ask her anything?”

“Yes, it just so happens I did. I asked her to pick me up a pint of chocolate chip.”

Jennifer stopped walking, bringing him to a halt as well. She closed her eyes and hooded them with one hand as she slowly shook her head. He imagined her picturing J.J. and Marnie in her mind as they happily tooled around Los Angeles in either Marnie’s father’s “borrowed” Jaguar or her stepmother’s, more likely than not, pilfered Ferrari. To make it worse for Jennifer, no parental parameters whatsoever had been freshly set or prior ones reinforced before they left home which essentially left the field wide open for their daughter.

Letting his arm go to throw up both exasperated hands, Jennifer cried out, “You are absolutely hopeless! J.J. runs all over you, and you just grin, lie down, and let her.”

Undeterred by her agitation, which in this case he found totally irresistible, with one arm, he took her about her waist to snatch her in close to him and cut short her resulting surprised gasp by covering her mouth with his. Just like always, her body immediately relaxed under his touch, and it was pure erotic magic for him when it happened.

“I love that little girl,” he whispered into her ear as he slid his hands slowly down her back to rest right at the start of her shapely backside.

Trailing his lips across her cheek to buss her neck, he continued whispering next to her ear, “And I love you. I’m guilty of all you say, but you’re the one who tells me all the time that our daughter knows how far to take a thing.”

She persisted arguing, but not nearly as forcefully as before. “Some things, Jonathan. She still pushes the envelope a lot in some areas, not unlike her roguish father.”

“At any rate,” he said, “she’ll make it home on time tonight. You can bet she’ll be playing by the rules for at least the week to come. She won’t risk having you put her on punishment and chance missing out on seeing that Teddy when he visits next week. But more importantly though, J.J. Hart knows she better not let my chocolate chip ice cream melt.”

____________________________________________________________

“Daddy said it’s okay,” J.J. breathlessly reported as she turned back around. “Oh my God, Marn, look at this car. It is beyond sweet.”

Leaning in over the door, she checked out the interior of Marnie’s brand new, cherry red BMW convertible.

She grabbed Marnie by the arm, telling her, “The Duchess can know nothing of this. We won’t be able to keep this on the down low forever, but we will have to keep her in the dark about it for as long as possible. When she does find out you have your own car, she’s going to put the hammer down on me riding around in it just like she did when Tommy got the bike. She might even see her way to somehow putting it down on you, too.”

Marnie nodded. “I know. That’s why I was asking you where she was when I got here. I took a shot going to that back gate. I figured if she answered the buzzer, I’d just make up some message to tell her to give you or something, and pray she didn’t flick on that monitor. Then I was going to hit you up on your cell and tell you skate down and meet me.”

“How come you didn’t tell me you were getting a car before now?”

“I didn’t know. My father arranged for me to get it as soon as I told him I was coming to live with him, but he didn’t say anything to me. I should have known something was up when he took me to get my license right after we got home from your grandfather’s last week, but he didn’t say a word about getting me a car. It was delivered this afternoon as a surprise. My stepmother almost had a stroke, she was so outdone over it. Evidently he hadn’t said anything to her about it either.”

“Does your mother know?” J.J. asked. “She talks to my mother from time to time. They’ve been going back and forth a lot lately over some country club stuff. Your mother is still pretty mad about you moving out on her before she could get back from Texas.”

“She should have been home from Texas when I got home from Maryland,” Marnie said, snaking her neck for emphasis. “If my father hadn’t had all my stuff moved to his house by the time I got back, I would have been coming home to nobody but the help. I already told him not to tell her about the car. He said he wouldn’t; he said it wasn’t any of her business anyway. He didn’t even discuss getting it for me with her. I’m telling you, J., having parents who don’t get along can work to a kid’s advantage at times.”

“I wouldn’t know anything about that,” J.J. said. “I really, really wouldn’t. The Duchess said seventeen for me, and so far she’s sticking to it. She’s not the kind you can nag into doing anything. If I tried bugging her about changing her mind about when I can have a car, she’d change her mind all right. She’d make it eighteen because I got on her nerves about it.”

“That’s what you get for having consistent parents. Admittedly, flakiness in a mother can be annoying, but it does have its benefits. Then my father started talking about he had second thoughts about being able to take me back and forth all the way to school every day. I had already told him flat out that I wasn’t transferring to another school. No way. He also said he couldn’t be bothered with hauling my butt back and forth to Bel Air to see you as often as I do. My stepmother was already bitching at him about having another somebody to have to fetch and carry and be worried with when I moved in, so he said he decided it would be best to just go ahead and get me the car. Can you believe that cow said that about me? I was about to cuss Karen all the way out about acting all snotty, like I was a bother to her or something. I don’t even talk to her unless I can’t help it. But I have the car now, so I guess I’ll let her slide for the time being.”

“For the time being?” J.J. chuckled.

Just for the time being, J. Anyway, right after she came out of shock about me getting the car, she had the nerve to say maybe I could take some of the pressure off her by taking the boys to some of the places they need to go. Like I’m supposed to be willing do anything for her after she made that crack about not wanting to take me places. What the hell was she thinking? If she was on fire, I wouldn’t even pee on her to put it out.”

J.J., still examining the car, snickered at the mental image, but then she looked up at Marnie. “It’ll work out if she’s been drinking, though, won’t it? You don’t want your little brothers riding around with her in that condition. She’s still doing that, isn’t she?”

“Yep, was already lit up like a torch when I left home today.”

“Your father should put her back in rehab.”

“She’s been two times.”

“I mean the real kind. The kind where you have to stay for a while, you don’t get to come and go, and somebody else has control of what you do. Not like AA where you’re still on your own and out and about. She obviously doesn’t have the will power for that.”

“She wouldn’t stay. She’d check herself out as soon as the going got too tough. She’s just a plain old, flat-out lush, and that’s how she like it. She needs to clean up her act, though. I think my father’s getting tired of her. He drops wives like bad habits, and she’s definitely panning out to be one.”

J.J. continued examining the glove box and the dashboard. “Doesn’t all that bother you? You’re so calm about it. If it was me, I’d be all nervous and on edge and stuff. I hate it when my parents argue. It makes me kind of sick-like on the stomach when they do.”

“Nahhh. I’m used to it. That’s their dilemma, not mine. You get nervous ’cause you’re used to how it is here most of the time, all peaceful and lovey-dovey and what-have-you. Your mother and father don’t have real fights. I bet they’ve never laid a hand on each other. Well, not in anger anyway. I’m willing to bet you they’ve never even cursed each other out good. With me, even living at my mother’s there was drama all the time between me and her. Besides, it’s not like Karen’s my real mother or anything. What do I care if she’s a lush? Getting back to what I was saying, with her being a drunk, she’ll mess around and lose the kids. My father may not be all that a lot of the time, but he does try to keep the cubs in the den. Look at my real mother. She’s not even a drunk, just sort of a floozy. He fought her for me, and she ended up losing me to him, for the time being anyway.”

“Marnie, are you sure you didn’t know about the car? I’m thinking maybe he told you he’d get you a car if you came to live with him, and that’s why you went.”

“Swear to God,” Marnie said, holding up her right hand, “I didn’t know. He told me he wanted me there. I told him it was too far away from all my friends and school, and he said he would see to me getting everywhere I needed to go if I would just come live with him. I was sick of my mother and her leaving me alone all the time, and so was he; so I went. It wasn’t until this afternoon that I found out about the car. Scout’s Honor.”

“You always say “Scout’s honor”. Like Aunt Pat told you before, we’ve never been Scouts, and your honor is questionable.”

Marnie smiled at the mention of J.J.’s Aunt Pat, one of her favorite people. “So is my father’s,” she said in reply to J.J.’s observation. “I’m pretty sure he’s messing around with somebody else again, but not my business. I have the car, so he and Karen can do whatever they want to work that out. Actually, I really don’t mind taking my brothers anywhere. It’s just that it’s not for Karen to be telling me what I should do with her kids. I’m sixteen; I don’t have any kids. She’s always trying to shift the responsibility for Brett and Mickey onto somebody else. They’re with the nanny most of the time as it is. Kyle, I’ll take anywhere any time; he’s my boy. I think he was as excited about the car as me. He wants me to teach him to drive. I told him he’d have to wait until he’s at least twelve, and then we’ll see about it. As for Brett and Mickey, I’ll do it if and when I feel like it- unless she’s lit up. She can’t take them anywhere if she’s lit up, the bitch.”

“I can see you and Karen are going to be getting along real well for the next two years.” J.J. said, pushing back from the car. “Let me go see to my dog and set the alarm.”

She went back to the house and returned a few minutes later to slide in on the passenger side. “When we get away from here,” she said, “let me drive. I want to see how it handles.”

“No problem.”

J.J. brought her CD’s, and she slipped one into the player, immediately turning up the sound then adjusting the equalizer. “Hmmm. I’ll have to do a little something to that to get the sound right,” she concluded, “needs a little something.”

“I knew you’d hook it up, J. We must have maximum boom. Same curfew?”

“I guess so,” J.J. said with a shrug. “I didn’t ask, and Daddy didn’t say. I guess it’s now till midnight, like always. It’s a good thing my mother didn’t pick up on hers when I called it. I don’t know what I was thinking about trying to call her first. Must have been temporary insanity, or the car had me slipping. If I told her I was going out, I’d still be on the phone with her, answering a million and one questions. By now, I’d have probably given up and just stayed home.”

“She works you like that,” Marnie said as she turned the key in the ignition. “It’s by design. She hopes you’ll get tired and opt to stay in. Well, my father said he wanted the car home by twelve. I guess that means me too. I didn’t argue this time. After all, he did get me the car. Let’s do it.”

High-fiving each other one good time, the girls took off, headed for the back gate.

____________________________________________________________

Jonathan turned his head to whisper, “Damn.” in irritation as Georgette Singleton slid into her chair on his right.

That earned him a poke in the ribs from Jennifer who was seated to his left.

The other woman immediately turned to him, speaking to him in her overly cultivated manner, setting his teeth on edge. “Good evening, Jonathan, Jennifer. It is so good to see you both. I haven’t seen or spoken with either of you since your return from the east coast.”

“We’ve been pretty busy,” Jonathan managed to murmur.

“Getting caught up on things,” Jennifer quickly added when she could hear the tension in Jonathan’s clipped answer to her old schoolmate. Georgette was also the mother of Wesley Singleton, the boy who had been so persistently pursuing J.J. for the past few months.

“We’ve missed you at the club. Mixed doubles isn’t nearly as much fun when you aren’t there. The Westerbrooks had guests out to the marina for cocktails last Saturday afternoon. We had such a lovely time. Everyone was asking where you were. Sheila told us you were still visiting Jennifer’s father.”

She had shifted to speaking directly to Jonathan. Georgette tended to do that whenever she was in his presence, despite whoever else might be with him. But when he didn’t say anything in response, uncharacteristically ignoring her, it was Jennifer  who graciously filled the resulting uncomfortable gap.

“Really? I’m sure it was a very nice affair. The Westerbrooks are excellent hosts, and they have such a beautiful boat.”

Oblivious to his unusually rigid manner and ignoring Jennifer completely, Georgette continued to address Jonathan.

“How’s that pretty daughter of yours? I haven’t seen her around either. She did come back with you, didn’t she? I thought sure that as soon as she got home, Wesley would have brought her by to see me. I know that he’s been trying to catch up with her. He and his father went flying down to San Diego yesterday evening and stayed with the Eastman’s overnight. That’s why William isn’t here with me. When I tell him that I saw you, Wesley will be on that phone, calling J.J., and trying to visit.”

“Georgette,” Jonathan tersely began, “I really don’t think Wes-”

Their salads being placed on the table in front of them and Jennifer’s high heel lightly poking at his instep under the table cut him off. He bit his lip and counted to ten to check his irritation and his tongue.

“Doesn’t this look good?” He wound up mumbling instead as he stared down at his salad, deliberately avoiding looking at his wife or Georgette.

Jennifer relaxed and silently exhaled, discreetly cutting her eyes over to her husband. She could see the crease etching itself into his forehead, and from that little detail she knew that despite his calm outer persona, he was fuming on the inside. Jonathan Hart, a die-hard meat and potatoes man, was not one to pay compliment to a bowl of greens and/or vegetables of any kind, no matter how appetizing it might all appear. But since their return from Maryland, his daughter was not a subject to bring up with him if the discussion of J.J. Hart was in conjunction with Wesley Walker Singleton.

____________________________________________________________

Once the girls cleared the back gate and the perimeter of the estate, Marnie stopped and put the top up on the car. They rolled up the tinted windows, turned on the air conditioner, and exchanged places.

“Oh, yesssss.” J.J. crooned as she expertly cruised through the winding streets of Bel Air. “I am liking this. I’ve never considered a ‘Beemer, but I’m definitely liking this.”

“Thought you were going for your father’s ’65 Mustang that he keeps in storage.” Marnie said.

“I was, but I think Daddy’s reneging. I’ve always liked that car, and he said at first that I could have it whenever my mother let me have a car. But then I started talking about all the modifications I wanted to make on it. You know, bigger engine, new sound system, new paint job. He says it needs an exhaust system, so I said if he was going to be replacing it,  I wanted dual exhaust put in. There’s no air in it, and I must have air conditioning. I wanted the yellow color freshened up and customized with little, tiny flames coming from under the front wheel wells. Then my mother throws in that the windows and locks had to be redone so that they weren’t manual. She says that I have to have electronic locks and power windows on whatever kind of car he gets me.”

“He gets you? I’m loving it. The Duchess is making him buy your car if you get a new one?”

“You didn’t think she was going to, did you? She doesn’t even buy hers. Daddy said that making all those changes would mess up the classic aspect of ’65  too much. I probably will end up with a new one. And then guess what else?”

“What?”

“My mother wants a safety latch put inside the trunk.”

“What the hell for?”

“I didn’t even ask. I was too dumfounded by her even thinking that one up. I believe it’s because she’s a writer that she comes up with some of the off-the-wall stuff that she does. You know, that over-active imagination. She also insists that an alarm system be put on the car, too. Talking about she knows that I sneak off to go to shady places.”

“You have to admit, we have done that, J. It’ll be even easier with cars. What? No baby Mercedes for the Duchess’ daughter?”

“Girl, please. My mother put the kibosh on that a long time ago.”

Assuming a more erect posture, J.J. changed her voice, dropping it a half octave, enunciating clearly each word she spoke while gracefully gesturing with her free hand.

“No extravagant foreign cars, Jonathan. She is just a child. You spoil her entirely too much, and I am not having it. When the time does come for her to have a car, all she’ll need to get her from Point A to Point B is something small and domestic. Justine Jennifer Hart, you are not grown, and I will not have you thinking that you are.”

Marnie fell against the door, howling in laughter at her friend’s dead-on imitation of her elegant, articulate mother.

Grinning at Marnie’s reaction to her performance, J.J. continued.

“But I ask you, Marn, does she drive small and domestic? Have you ever known my mother to drive anything other than a Mercedes or one of my father’s cars? I think her very first car was a Mercedes, and Daddy bought that for her. She didn’t need a car when she was living in New York before she married him. Say, did I ever tell you about the time she backed Daddy’s classic 50’s era Bentley into the lake? I wasn’t born when that happened, but he told me about it. He showed me the insurance pictures of it in the water. I sure wish I could have been there to see his face right when she did it. You should have seen his face when he was telling it. Can you imagine?”

“He didn’t care. She did it. She could have backed him into the lake, and he would have liked it.”

J.J. laughed. “You’re probably right. I’ve made up my mind. If I’m not getting the ’65, then I’m getting a muscle car- a new Mustang with the biggest engine they come with, some real good wheels, and ALL the toys they make for it. I considered asking for a Corvette, but she nixed that, too, before I could get to Daddy and put the request in.”

They came to a stop sign, and just as their car came to rest, Bel Air Security slowly rolled through the intersection, causing both of them to quickly sober. The patrolman inside the car looked in their direction, nodding his head to them in general greeting. J.J. lowered her face, turning it slowly away from the driver’s eyes as he passed.

“Think he recognized you?” Marnie asked in a whisper.

“Calvin.” J.J. noted aloud as she continued on to the other side of the junction. “I don’t think so. He doesn’t see much of anything. I’ve seen him a couple of times, though, falling asleep in his patrol car while trying to hide out behind those big shrubs down by your mother’s house. But just to be on the safe side-”

They were at the mouth of Bel Air, about to leave the gates. She pulled to the curb and stopped.

“You drive the rest of the way, Marn.” She said, getting out. “Like I said before, I’m not going on lockdown this week, if I can help it. I get caught driving without a license, not only will I be holed up in solitary on bread and water diet until I’m eighteen; I won’t be getting any kind of car at all until I can buy it myself.”

They put the top and the windows back down, and after exchanging places again, they left Bel Air.

____________________________________________________________

Jonathan had endured dinner, tuning out for the most part, the constant prattle of the woman seated next to him. He was grateful for Jennifer, who in spite of Georgette’s initial rudeness toward her, had done most of the talking with those around them. He needed the time to regroup and to think. He knew that his wife had run interference between he and Georgette solely out of her feelings for him. Although she hadn’t directly said anything to him to that effect, he thought he could sense that Georgette had also somehow recently fallen out of favor with Jennifer. Georgette had done something, but lady that she was, Jennifer had kept whatever it was to herself.

After a few attempts to engage him in conversation, Georgette, finally deterred by his continued quiet, began speaking with Dr. Ollie Jackson and his wife, Midge, who were seated on her other side.

Generally an easygoing man who took most people in stride, he found himself very uneasy with his feelings about Georgette. He wasn’t sure if he had come to dislike her because her excessively solicitous, ingratiating manner was personally offensive to him, or if it was because of his growing aversion for her son. He suspected that it might be due to his gut feeling that she was directly or indirectly orchestrating Wesley’s almost obsessive behavior toward his daughter. Georgette had made it more than clear of late that she highly approved of J.J. as an eventual mate for her youngest son. She was of the school of thought that it was a parental responsibility to guide children into ‘appropriate’ relationships, and she had been very instrumental in engineering the marriages of her two older sons to pretty,  proper heiresses.

J.J. Hart was nobody’s commodity, and as much as it made him anxious to think about her along those lines, whatever young man she chose to be with, in whatever capacity she chose to be with him; he would be someone she selected for herself. As a woman, J.J. would be more than able to hold her own financially. She was already capable of making pretty sound decisions about people in general. He was sure that whatever man she ended up spending her life with would be someone of substantial personal integrity. That element in a man would be of the most importance to her. It was a quality which he noticed seem to be a constant in the friends she kept closest to her in her circle of friends. He could see that she wasn’t going to be a woman who would allow herself to be used or dominated. At sixteen, she was already that type of girl.

They had gotten back from their unexpected extended visit with Jennifer’s father a little less than a week ago. Their time at Briarwood had been difficult and demanding, to say the least about it- especially upon Jennifer. J.J. had fallen and hurt herself in Massachusetts right before their arrival at her grandfather’s Maryland estate. Jennifer’s father had been ill and was recovering. Then Jennifer herself had been taken through some rather unusual circumstances, although she came away from it much better for having gone through it all. It was good to be back home and back into their regular routines. But it was while they were in Maryland that J.J. had confided in him that Wesley’s persistent attempted attentions to her were making her uncomfortable. It had even gotten back to her that he was questioning her friends about her and about with whom she might be spending time in Maryland.

His prying into her personal affairs had been the straw that broke the camel’s back as for as J.J. was concerned. The whole thing was a situation that would not be tolerated as far as her father was concerned.

Since the previous spring, she had been trying to avoid Wesley. She limited her time and conversations with him. She had stopped answering his frequent emails and phone calls altogether. He had begun coming on strongly to her, letting her know that he cared for her, and that he wanted her to be his girl. J.J. wasn’t ready for that with anyone. She had tried telling him as much, but he seemed to not hear her. His best friend, Ollie, had come to J.J. with the warning that she should let her parents know about the situation. Ollie knew something that he wasn’t telling J.J., but whatever it was, he felt it was serious enough to tell her to let someone in on it who could best look out for her.

She had first spoken with her mother about it, but afraid that he might overreact, she told him that she had asked Jennifer to keep it to herself for the time being. But finally she had come to him on her own with it, which told him everything he needed to know. She wouldn’t have said anything to him about something like that unless she felt strongly that it was necessary.

Once they had gotten back home, his first order of business had been to ask J.J. how many times Wesley had called her and left messages for her on her cell phone. When she first let him in on it, he had asked her to keep track of the calls. Then he asked to listen to some of those messages, and to the ones that had been left on her house line. They were numerous, and although the content wasn’t offensive or threatening in any way, the underlying tone of insistence was disturbing to him. While they had been away, J.J. hadn’t accessed her personal voice mailbox, so it filled up. Wesley had then started calling the main house line to badger Marie, their housekeeper about J.J.’s whereabouts. His disruptive persistence was upsetting to Marie who was also very protective of J.J.

That was even more infuriating.

J.J. had badly hurt her ankle in that fall she took, and in those few days since their return home, she had been concentrating on recuperating completely. Consequently, she had been staying pretty close to home, exercising outside on the grounds and in their home gym. She was also working with a trainer to get back into shape for the upcoming track season at school. During that time, the calls and emails were still coming from Wesley. J.J. was quite popular in the area, and Wesley had to know that she was back home, but at least the boy had the good sense to know not to try to come by and see her unannounced.

She had been pursued by another in a like manner earlier that year. But that time it had been more overtly sinister, and he hadn’t known about it until it was almost too late. Although she had been frightened by the experience, but she had also learned from it. This time J.J. was handling things better. She had distanced herself from Wesley physically and communicatively. She had done everything she could, within her power to discourage and deter him, and this time she had let her father know.

They had always been careful with her, keeping her out of the media spotlight that still occasionally focused upon them. They had kept her close, and had raised her to be as typical a child as possible, despite the enormous advantages at her disposal. Consequently, she had been relatively sheltered and as such, was still pretty inexperienced when it came to things like that.

The situation with Wesley was a bit more tricky than the other one had been because, despite it all, Wesley was someone J.J. considered to be a friend. She didn’t trust easily, but she was fiercely loyal to her friends. She was smart and pretty savvy, but still, she was only sixteen.

Not to worry. That was why she had a father.

As a child with no parents, raised by nuns and priests and the assortment of lay people who assisted them, he had largely been alone and on his own in the world. It served to make him extremely self-sufficient, but he had never really forgotten the loneliness and the fear he had sometimes felt. As her father, he had made it his mission to J.J.’s life that she would never have to feel as if she didn’t have anyone to whom she could turn in times of trouble.

Daddy was watching, and he was truly biding his time.

______________________________________________________________

It was Saturday night so the parking lot of the Dairy Queen, a popular weekend hang-out spot in the summertime, was filled with cars and teenagers. J.J. and Marnie had been off the scene for almost three weeks. First they had been out of town. When they got back, Marnie found that her father had moved her in with him out in Burbank. She had spent the past few days getting settled and making inroads on establishing her alpha female presence in her father’s chaotic household.

Once she was back home, J.J. had spent her time concentrating on strengthening her ankle and on just enjoying being back on Willow Pond with her family and her dog. The most she had done as far as her friends went, was to touch base with them via telephone and email. She had missed them, but she needed those first few days to be by herself and to get back into her own rhythm. She was eager to be firmly up on her two feet without any restrictions, and she was intent upon steering clear of trouble so that there would be nothing standing in her way of thoroughly enjoying her visit from Teddy Baxter, her new friend who would be coming in with his father from Massachusetts in a week.

Tiffany Landers was waving them into the space right next to her and her sister’s black SUV. Apparently she had been holding the spot for them; she didn’t appear too surprised to see them. Her younger sister, Brittany, or Britt as she was better known, was hanging out of the truck window, also waving to them. Both girls squealed in delight at the sight of Marnie’s new car.

J.J. turned to Marnie. “So, what? Did you call everyone on the planet and tell them to be here?”

“This planet, Jupiter, Mars, and Venus.” Marnie grinned. “We’ve been gone a long time, girlfriend, and we have a lot of catching up to do.”

Another SUV pulled right up behind them, the horn blasting. It was Philly and Charmaine.

“What’s up, J! Nice ride, Marnie!” Philly cried out of the driver’s side window. “I got to the truck before Hector could. We left him standing on the curb, trying to pull on his shirt. He was mad as hell! It was my turn to have it, but I knew that he was going to try to ‘jack me for it, like always. I beat him to the punch this time.”

“You should have seen him.” Charmaine laughed, standing up to stick her head out of the passenger side window. “He was running behind us, still pulling on his clothes, screaming and hollering. Their father finally came out and got all over him for being loud and attracting attention, making the Latin family in the neighborhood look bad. It was too funny. Real nice ride, Marnie. You are so lucky. What’s up, J.? Gir-r-r-r-l, do we have a mouthful to tell you!”

“Gossip?” J.J. called back to them. “You know that’s not me.”

“Then forget her.” Marnie yelled back. “You can tell me. I live for gossip, and right about now I’m starving to death.”

“Marnie, you are crazy! We’ll meet you all on the patio after we park this.” Philly said with an amused wave of her hand. “I gotta find a space where I’ll be able to watch the truck just in case Hector has Deon or some of their boys to bring him up here to rip it off from me.”

“Not gossip. More like hot tips for you, J.J.” Tiffany said to J.J. as she opened the door for her. “Come on so we can get a good table out on the patio.”

Getting out, J.J. looked back to Marnie. “You did good. Looks like most of the gang is here. I don’t really want to hear any he said/she said, but I am looking forward to being back in the mix.”

“Oh yes, it’s definitely Ladies Night.” said Marnie, flipping up the visor from where she had been checking her face and hair. “And the feeling’s right.”

“I’m going in to order Daddy’s ice cream first and have Hank keep it on ice till we go.” J.J. said as she closed the door. “That way if something jumps off, all I’ll have to do is run in and pick it up.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Marnie answered, closing her door and checking herself one last time in the side mirror before joining the girls. “Daddy Hart will be good and pissed if his chocolate chip is all mushy when he gets it.”

______________________________________________________________

“Can we just go?” Jonathan leaned in and whispered into Jennifer’s ear as they waited for dessert to be served. “I don’t know how much more of Georgette I can take.”

“She hasn’t said anything to you in some time.” Jennifer whispered in answer as she turned from the gentleman to whom she had been speaking on her other side. “Georgette’s been chewing on poor Ollie and Midge’s ears most of the evening. I think she got your hint. I wish Larry over here would get mine.”

“He’s enjoying your beautiful smile. Come to think of it, maybe he’s enjoying it too much. Want me to clock him one?”

She suppressed a giggle. “That won’t be necessary. I’ll lean this way and pay more attention to you. Maybe they’ll both get the hint.”

“Well, I sure hope she has. I’ve been blanking her out as much as I can. But the sitting here, waiting for the other shoe to fall is driving me crazy.”

“You’ve been very good, Jonathan. It won’t be much longer. We can’t be rude to the Clarks just because Georgette gets on your nerves. We’ll make our excuses right after dessert. It will be eating and running, but I think we can get away with it if you’re still ready to go.”

“Okay, you said that I’ve been good. Do I get some kind of reward for that?”

“Some kind.” She smiled mysteriously. “And you only get it if you continue to be good.”

“You are one hard lady, Jennifer Hart. With the source of my anxiety sitting right there next to me, that’s going to be a tough order to fill.”

“But the payoff will be soooo well worth the effort.” She promised. “And just so you know, in order to effectively relieve your anxiety, and mine, in return this hard lady will be looking for a very hard-”

“Your desserts, Mr. and Mrs. Hart.”

Startled at being so abruptly called back to the real world from the delightfully steamy one they had made of their own in those brief moments, they both discreetly sat up to attention.

“You’ll have to finish that thought for me later.” He whispered out of the side of his mouth. “I’ll be holding you to it.”

“Can I count on that?” She asked, seductively moistening her lips with just the tip of her tongue. “And just how tightly will you be holding me to it?”

“Umph.” He quietly grunted in appreciation when he briefly closed his eyes to savor the rush. “Stop it.”

His lusty wife’s implications almost made him forget about that slightly nagging just-this-side of-bad feeling he had been having about his daughter. Given what all was at stake, they probably would be eating and running. J.J. would be gone until midnight, and of all the things he loved about Jennifer, one of the things he loved most about her, and had from the very beginning, was that she looked like such a lady, but alone with her she was one hundred percent woman.

However their evening turned out, he was certain that if they left and went home early, he would be feeling a lot better for having done so.

______________________________________________________________

As soon as Wesley cleared the front door with his father, he shot up the stairs to his room and closed the door. He needed to use the phone in private.

“Ollie. I just got home. Did you talk to her?”

Yeah, I talked to J.J. today.

“All right. So? What did she say? Did you tell her that I’ve been trying to get in touch with her?”

I’m sure she knows it. I thought you went to check out Cara Eastman?

“I did, but now I’m back.”

And Cara?

“She’s all right. I just mostly went to help my old man fly out there and back. He finished up what he had to do early, and then we came back. What about J.J.? What did she say?”

We didn’t talk about you.

“Why not? I told you that when you talked to her, you should ask her. Why didn’t you? She’ll talk to you about me if you ask her.”

I told you I’m not getting caught up in that, and I’m sticking to what I told you. She’s too young for you, and on top of that, she’s not interested in you. I don’t know why you refuse to catch the hints she’s been putting out there for you. Leave her alone, Wes. You’re getting more than your share of action. You’ve been getting it all summer. I should have a fourth of your luck with the ladies. Leave J.J. be. She obviously doesn’t want to be bothered. You’re messing up a good friendship. That’s all she wanted with you, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t even want that at the moment.

“Those other girls aren’t her, not even close to being her. And I do not want her for that. J.J.’s not that kind of girl. I can get action from anybody else if I want.”

We should all be so fortunate. I should have your phenomenal luck and confidence. So what in the world do you want so badly with J.J. if it isn’t that? She’s a very pretty girl, but she’s young, and you think you can work her because of it. You know that’s all it is. Admit it, forget it, and move on. You cannot work J.J. Hart like you might be able some of those other air heads you manipulate.

“It isn’t that. It really isn’t. I don’t know what it is, but it isn’t just for that. I wish she would just talk to me like she used to. I don’t like her ignoring me like this. You know, Ollie, now that I think of it, I’m beginning to wonder if you must want her for yourself, and that’s why you won’t help me. I thought we were best friends. Friends look out for friends.”

We are friends. I’ve known you all my life. But we’ve also both known J.J. all of hers. She’s my friend, too, and in this I’m more concerned about her. I’m looking out for her. We both know that with her ‘no’ means exactly that. She’s told you that more than once, and she means it. And furthermore, I resent you saying that about me wanting her. She’s like a sister to me. That’s it. A little sister. You need to check yourself before you mess up another friendship like you’ve messed up the one with her.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. It’s just that it makes me so frustrated and mad that she won’t even talk to me these days.”

You’ve just pushed her too much and too far, and now she’s backing up from you. You can’t have everything go your way all the time. I know you don’t think so, but some girls are going to turn you down. J.’s one of them. That’s life, Wes. You’re just mad and frustrated because she’s talking to Teddy and not you. Evidently she likes Teddy. You need to accept that and get past it. She’s not for you.

“But she’s for him?”

If she likes him. And that’s her business, if she does. He’s closer to her age anyway. He’s probably also more her type.

“Well, if he knows what’s good for him and his type, he’ll stay out east and leave her alone.”

Look, I gotta go, Wes.

“Wait. Where you headed?”

I thought I’d hang out or something for a while. Go get me some ice cream, maybe

“To the ice cream place down on Santa Monica?”

Yeah.

“Swing by here and pick me up. I’ll go with you.”

Look, Wes. I’m telling you up front. We’re going to the ice cream place. We’re not going by J.J.’s. I mean it. I’m not going to be a part of you casing out her house or anything else along those lines. If that’s what you have in mind, just go on and drive yourself. Leave me out of it. I don’t want J.J. putting me on ice, too. I also don’t want her old man putting my lights out.

“The hell with Hart. J.J.’s old man doesn’t scare me.”

That wasn’t the tune you were singing when you took her to the ball, or when you noticed him casing you out at the club that last time J.J, shot you down in person- that time just before she left for France this summer. I don’t think you’re high enough on his list to be trying to be too near his daughter.

“Forget that. Hart tries to put the screws to any guy who comes near her. That’s just how he is. So, you think she’s got me on ice, and that’s why she’s avoiding me?”

You are clueless, man. Truly and utterly clueless.

“How long before you get here, Ollie?”

I guess I’ll be there in about thirty minutes. I meant what I said, Wes.

Clicking off from Ollie, Wesley punched in J.J.’s number one more time even though he already knew the closest he was going to get to talking to her was leaving a message on her voice mail. She kept a cell phone with her all the time, and he could just picture her checking the display and putting the phone back in her pocket or in her purse without answering. The thought and the mental image angered him into another round of self-rationalization.

If only she would talk to him, he could explain himself. If only he could see her, he could make her understand that he wasn’t trying to bother her; he just wanted to spend time with her like they used to do. If they could just spend some time together, she would be able to see that they were supposed to be together. They had so much in common: their backgrounds, their upbringing, their affiliations, their interests. Why couldn’t she see that?

Sure she was younger, but she wouldn’t always be. As they both got older, those two- almost three years wouldn’t matter so much. In just one year, it wouldn’t matter as much. The difference between seventeen and twenty wouldn’t be as great as the chasm between sixteen and nineteen seemed to be.

If she had different parents, it wouldn’t matter as much either. The Harts were so old-fashioned, and they kept her way too close to them. They would be better able to see how grown up she was if they would just step back, realize that it was no longer the fifties, and take a good look at what was going on in the modern world around them. Other girls J.J.’s age were dating, and doing a lot more than that, with boys their age or older. Their parents didn’t make a big stink over it. It was a biological fact that girls matured faster than guys, so the guy should be older than the girl, shouldn’t he?

J.J. was sixteen, her parents were loaded, but they hadn’t even bought her a car of her own car yet. She stayed home to go to public school, rather than attending a local private academy or a boarding school like he and many of their friends. She even had an earlier, more strictly enforced curfew than most girls her age in their social circle. But still, she was smart, mature and responsible; much more so than a lot of other girls her age who were allowed to stay out a lot later than her. Didn’t her parents trust her?

Mr. and Mrs. Hart were way too strict and way too overprotective. Even his mother had mentioned how protective they were toward her, although it seemed she approved of the antiquated restrictions they placed on her. She thought it was what made J.J. so much more of a lady than some of the others at the club. His older, married brothers thought J.J. was premium, too, and although Warren thought he should go for it, his oldest brother, William Jr. advised him to wait and give himself, and her, some time and space in which to grow up some more.

But what did William know? He was in the middle of a nasty divorce, so naturally he would be a little bitter and hesitant. Right after graduating college, he had married the girl he dated since high school. Why after all that time of knowing each other, they hadn’t gotten it right, was hard to understand. But just because his brother and his wife couldn’t make it, that didn’t mean it would be that waythat for him. It wasn’t like he wanted to marry J.J. tomorrow. But he did want to make it known to her that he was attracted to her, that he thought they were good together, and that one day they could be great together.

Jonathan Hart was notorious for how he interrogated and broke down the guys who came over to take J.J. out. The man even made him sweat bullets the night he escorted her to the Mission Street Ball. His concern was somewhat understandable. She was his only child and his daughter, and J.J. was quite a girl. Some guys were  just out to take advantage of girls. But then again, some dumb, desperate girls just set themselves up to be taken advantage of by guys. They knew the score. J.J. knew the score, too. But she wasn’t dumb, and she was hardly desperate. She was the kind of girl that made a guy proud to be seen with her on his arm. She was the kind of girl that made other guys wish they were in the shoes of the one she was with.

Word was that as a young man, her father had been very popular with the ladies. Thinking on it, Hart was probably the main reason why J.J. had cut him off as she had. Her father had probably told her to do it. Having flashbacks of what he had been like, Hart most likely told her that she should put some distance between them; that she was too young for a guy of nineteen to be interested in her. J.J. respected her parents. Her mother never seemed to mind him coming around J.J., but her father had always been another story. J.J. and her father were very close, so naturally she would listen to what he said. That had to be what was going on. Her father had shut her down.

J.J. had always been his friend. When they were was younger, she had been more like a pesky little sister. But as they had gotten older, he saw her differently. Unfortunately, now that he wanted her in his life, she seemed to be pulling farther and farther away. That she might not want to have anything at all to do with him any more was pretty hard to take.

It had to be her father.

It was because of Mr. Hart that he hadn’t told J.J. about how he felt about her when he had her all to himself the night of the ball. It was because of him, and that street punk Tommy, who always seemed to be lurking in the background that night. After the time at the ball, Tommy always seemed to be around. He was at her house, hanging with her in LA, at her father’s building, they went to school together- he was everywhere and with her.

At her birthday party, she had gotten angry and had shot him down when he tried to tell her how he felt about her again. But she had been mighty cozy with Tommy that night. Could she be attracted to Tommy? How could somebody like J.J. want someone like Tommy?

Tommy was tall, dark, and brooding in comparison to his less threatening blonde haired and brown eyed, more ethnically acceptable appearance. Tommy wore his black hair too long, had an earring in his ear, rode a motorcycle, and never seemed to have anything much to say. Although he resembled some kind of modern day pirate, Mr. Hart seemed to highly favor him. Tommy was frequently at his side, talking with him, caddying for him, toting, fetching- no doubt trying to get in good with him. He didn’t have a father at home, so Hart was probably just doing some pay-back charity work in dealing with him.

How raggedy and tacky was that?

Reportedly, Tommy was an artist. He had to be a starving one. J.J. was a scholar, a mathematician, a scientist of sorts, and an heiress. What could they possibly have in common? What could she and Tommy find to talk about together other than what went on at their school? Why was she even going to a school like that? What did she see in him? Tommy wasn’t anywhere near their kind. He wasn’t good enough to even look at J.J., to think about her, much less to  touch her and hold her to dance with her like she allowed him to do.

Tommy Steele was trash.

His mother said she couldn’t understand why J.J.’s mother hadn’t put a stop to something like that. She said if it wasn’t for the Harts, somebody like Tommy wouldn’t be allowed in their part of town. Mrs. Hart hadn’t been reared in that manner. She was from old European money, had attended exclusive private schools, and had spent a large part of her youth and young adulthood on the east coast and in Europe. Mr. Hart had really lucked up on her. His beginnings were way more humble and lower class, but through hard work, he had pulled himself all the way up to their level, at least financially. But he needed to be more mindful of the future of his hard-earned fortune. In light of that, the Harts were far too accepting of J.J.’s choices for friends.

J.J. needed to stick to her own kind. She was far too superior a girl to do otherwise. She needed someone in her life who could keep her focused on priorities.

But for now Tommy was out of the way. Way out of the way. For a whole year, he would be gone to Barcelona. Hopefully he would decide to stay there for the rest of his Spanish bastard life. Perhaps in a year, J.J. would have forgotten about or would have outgrown him and that crowd he came from.

Tommy Steele might be completely out of the picture, but in his place was someone else with whom it seemed he was going to have to contend. And Teddy Baxter could be an even greater threat to his plans than Tommy Steele.

Teddy was a rising Junior at Brookfield, the school they both attended in Massachusetts. J.J. met Teddy at the Gresham Hall girls’ school reunion she attended with her mother the month before. His own mother had been there too. Mrs. Hart, his mother, Ollie’s father, and Teddy’s father had all gone to private prep schools in Gresham, Mass. as teenagers. They had all been friends. His mother had come home from the reunion, telling him she had seen J.J. and Teddy together. She said that she thought she even saw them kissing. That bit of news that day had sent him to his room to brood over it for hours. J.J. had kissed Teddy, but in all the years they’d known each other, she had really never kissed him. The closest he had come to that was a chaste peck on the cheek.

Since then, word had been trickling back to him from Brookfield that Teddy was in regular contact with J.J. Teddy and J.J. were closer in age, and even he could tell that there were things about them that could click, and unlike Tommy, Teddy was indisputably playing in her league. There was no getting around that, a fact which Ollie had painfully laid out for him. They both had wealthy, influential parents and had been raised in a manner to be able to appreciate the finer things. They were both heavily into horses, computers, music, the arts, and adventure. As much as he thought he and J.J. had things in common, Teddy might have just a little more.

Also Teddy, like J.J., moved very comfortably and naturally among all kinds of people. At school, Teddy had been cited several times for sneaking down to the city where he messed around with the masses he preferred to the exclusive Brookfield crowd. J.J. was the same way, often leaving tony Bel Air seeking her entertainment in other, more gritty parts of Los Angeles. Even though they were both friendly and popular, Teddy and J.J. seemed content to be loners of sorts. They both operated on some inexplicable personal plane that was neither above nor below everyone else, but on a level that was just not quite a part of the one that everyone else was on. And as such, both of them led very private lives.

Despite Gresham Hall, the all girls’ prep school, being right up the road from their school, and his being pretty popular with many of the young ladies there; to his knowledge, Teddy had never dated any one girl exclusively. In spite of her seemingly endless stream of male friends and acquaintances all over LA, J.J. had never dated any one boy exclusively. At school, nobody really had the inside track on Teddy. At home, nobody really knew J.J.’s business. If the two of them were to take to each other, he could see them closing ranks, and then nobody would be able to get in to know what was going on with them. It was already beginning to pan out that way. His wide-ranging solicitations for information about them that summer had been yielding disappointingly sketchy returns.

But there was one good thing about that situation. Teddy lived out east, and J.J. was there in the west. Not too much could possibly happen with that much physical distance between them.

There were about three weeks left before he had to leave Los Angeles to return to Massachusetts to start college. That wasn’t a lot of time, but surely it was enough to at least get to talk face-to-face with the girl. When he did get back out east, he’d stop in at Brookfield to pay Mr. Baxter, Jr. a visit, seeing as how the young man had chosen to not respond to his phone calls or emails either. Since he refused to cooperate when asked nicely, he would have to be reminded in person of just how out of line he was. Teddy knew full well that J.J. was spoken for. He had been making that perfectly clear for the last couple of years. Theodore Baxter would have to be shown that he had stepped out of his place.

At the tone, Wesley Singleton didn’t leave another message on J.J.’s Hart’s cell. What good would it have done? He finally accepted if he was ever going to get to talk with her and be able to make his point, he would have to meet with Miss J.J. Hart one-on-one. She could be awfully stubborn, but he was sure he was the one who could get her to see the light. One way or the other, she was going to at least be still long enough to hear what he had to say.

Hanging up, he got up from the side of the bed, and went in to get a quick shower so he could change before Ollie got there to pick him up. Some ice cream would do him good. Maybe they’d run into some of their buddies down there, too, and make a real night of it.

______________________________________________________________

The sodas were just arriving at the table on the patio when J.J. came back from having her father’s ice cream scooped, packaged, and held for her. She had made arrangements inside with Hank, one of her friends who was on duty that night, to pick it up later on.

“I ordered for you.” Marnie said, motioning to the waitress to set the tall glass of Coke in front of J.J.. “Cheeseburger with everything, chili-cheese fries, and that Coke.”

“The Duchess would just die if she heard that.” J.J. smiled as she sat down. “And Daddy would be pushing you out of that chair, to get in and fight me for some of it. Right before you came over tonight, I had fixed myself something to eat from the leftovers in the fridge. I’m not really hungry, but I think I can get that down if only to remember what it tastes like.”

She looked to the other girls around the table. “Me and Marnie have been stuck only eating properly balanced meals for a long time.”

“You can only take so much of that.” Marnie said, taking a long swallow of her sugary Orange Crush. “Then you start craving crap like crazy. It’s so good to be home. So, Philly, you gave Tommy a good send off, I hear.”

“It was the bomb!” Philly said. “People came from all over. People came that we didn’t even invite. That’s how you know the party is off the hook. They heard about Tommy going, and they came to see him off. J., you would have loved it. Everybody came together out at the pier. Beverly Hills, Burbank, Bel Air, West LA, Inglewood, my cousins from East LA, some of Deon’s friends that Tommy knows from South Central. The 405 got a good workout that night. Folks were traveling up and down the highway just to get to the pier with us. We had the best time. Everybody acted right and got along. It was definitely your kind of party. Everybody was asking where you and Marnie were.”

J.J. beamed, thinking of how happy it had to have made Tommy. A week gone and still she hadn’t heard from him. He said he would get in touch when he got settled. She had been checking her computer almost compulsively, several times a day since she had been home, but there had been nothing.

“Tell her who didn’t come to the party,” Tiffany urged Philly with a nudge to the ribs.

“Wesley, I’ll bet,” Marnie guessed. “It was him, wasn’t it? Like somebody cares.”

“Yep,” Britt nodded. “Ollie came, but he didn’t.”

“He doesn’t like Tommy,” J.J. said. “Why would you expect that he would come to a party for Tommy?”

“Because everybody else was there.” answered Tiffany. “We had invited some people, but then folks just started showing up. We thought he might crash the gate just to show up and gloat about Tommy being gone for a year and away from you. J., Wesley has it real bad for you.”

“Is this the hot tip you had for me?” J.J. asked, bristling a little. “I really don’t want to talk about Wesley, and I don’t care what he does or doesn’t have for me.”

“I’m afraid we have to talk about it, girlfriend,” Charmaine insisted, leaning across the table toward J.J.

Instinctively, J.J. knew it was something serious. Of all her close female friends, Charmaine was the most grounded and mature in her thinking, and she greatly respected that in her. They were the same age, but somehow Charmaine always seemed so much older. Like Tommy, Charmaine was another one of those who didn’t lightly offer her opinion, but when she did express herself, people tended to pay attention. She was an aspiring writer, a good one. J.J. noticed that just like her mother tended to do, Charmaine could step back from life and look at a situation from the outside in to objectively assess what was actually going on.

J.J. fixed her eyes on Charmaine and listened.

“He has been calling everybody he thinks might know the answer, to find out where you were and how to get through to you,” she said. “He even called me. I was shocked to say the least about that. I didn’t think Wesley knew black people had phones. He doesn’t make it any secret that minorities aren’t very high on his list of who to have to dinner, unless they’re there to serve it up.”

“Screw him,” Marnie snorted. “Everybody’s better off without having to deal with his cocky butt, white people included. We don’t like him either; at least I don’t. Never have. If he keeps his ass on the down low and away from me, that’s just fine. He’s getting weirder and weirder. And he’s got a lot of nerve checking up on you like that, J. Where did he get your number, Charmaine, and why did he think you, of all people, would tell him anything?”

Still looking at J.J., Charmaine answered, “That’s what I’m talking about. I don’t know how he got my number, but he had to be digging deep. We definitely don’t move in the same social circles. He doesn’t know me at all except maybe by sight, which is why I think he might have thought I would tell him something about you. He discounted my integrity and our friendship based upon how he perceives things and people. But, J.J., he apparently worked pretty hard at getting that number from somewhere. For him to go to all that trouble and have to resort to calling me, he had to have exhausted all his local avenues. Deon, Tommy, and Hector wanted to go and kick his butt when I told them about it. It’s all around town that he’s been looking for you. We know how you are, and how much you value your privacy. He obviously doesn’t know you very well either, but you need to look out for him. He’s looking all around for you.”

J.J. threw up her hands in angry frustration. “Why should I have to go around looking over my shoulder? What in the world does he want? Do I have to write it in the sky for him to see what I’ve been saying?  I want him to just leave me alone. I have a good mind to just go over there to his house and face him down once and for all. ”

“Your father said to stay away from him,” Marnie reminded her. “From what I hear, I think you should be listening to him.”

“He ain’t healthy, J.,” Britt said from her seat next to J.J. “He had sex with Isabella, and she told Tiff-”

Tiffany cut her sister off. “I told you we weren’t going to tell that.”

“She should know,” Britt insisted. “She should know where his dirty mind is.”

“I agree,” Charmaine solemnly seconded.

“Go on,” J.J. said. “I’m a big girl.”

Britt started to speak, but Tiffany pushed her back in her chair. “I’ll tell her,” she said, “you little blabbermouth.”

She swallowed and sighed heavily. “Isabella said that she and Wesley did it in his parent’s guest house, and when he- you know-, he called out your name, not hers.”

J.J. sat back in the chair, numb with shock and disbelief.

“By the way,” Philly said casually. “She wants to fight you now.”

“Fight me?” J.J. cried, stunned even further. “What did I do? I haven’t seen her, said anything to her, or done anything to her. I haven’t even been home for almost a month. I don’t date Wesley. Never have. We’ve gone out a couple of times to formal affairs, but I’ve never even really kissed Wesley. Just on the cheek- lightly on the cheek- one time, I think.”

“She feels you stole her man.” Tiffany answered. “In her mind, she thinks it’s your fault. She thinks you’ve been working on Wesley. Even though I’ve been trying to get her to see reason, she’s been gunning for you ever since that happened.”

“When was this?” J.J. asked.

“The night of the party,” Philly replied. “She skipped out on the party because Wesley called her to come over.”

J.J. folded her arms to disdainfully sum up the situation. She frowned.

“I see. He called, and she jumped up and went over there. The prince claps his hands to summon a concubine, and she goes running to his bed like she’s the chosen one out of the harem or something. Like that’s going to win her the favor of her master or something. Give me a break.”

Marnie slowly turned to look at her. “You know, you really need to quit hanging around with your mother and Pat. That literary shit, all that imagery stuff, it’s definitely starting to rub off on you.”

Charmaine suppressed a snicker despite the gravity of the situation. J.J. did have the ability to paint some awesome pictures at times with words.

Tiffany, tickled with the three of them, chuckled, took a sip of her soda, daintily wiped at her mouth with the tip of her paper napkin, and then continued the story.

“Pretty much that’s how it was. I saw her leaving the boat, so stopped her and I asked her where she was going. I mean, it was the party. She was already where everything was happening. I couldn’t imagine where she would be taking off to. She told me she was going over to Wesley’s to get with him. I knew that was all wrong, so I tried to stop her. I tried to tell her that Wesley was a dog, but she wouldn’t listen. See, at the start of the summer, I thought he was pretty cute, too, so I thought I might like to date him.  But after a little while, I realized how stuck up and arrogant he actually was, and that he was still gone on you; so I let it go. While we were going out those few times, though; he kept trying to get me up to that guest house, too, but I knew better. He wasn’t going to be using me like that. When Issy told me that was where she was going that night, I tried so hard to talk her out of it, but she got mad because she thought I was saying it because I still liked him. She went anyway. Then she wound up calling me the next day talking about how I was right and that she should have listened. She was all crying and mad and everything.”

“Why would she even tell that?” Britt bewilderedly mused aloud. “I would be too hurt and embarrassed to tell anybody that something like that happened to me.”

“Just no shame,” Marnie assessed. “And then she wants to fight J. over it to boot. What sense does that make? How mixed up can a person be?”

“I guess she has to have somebody to blame,” J.J. sighed, wrestling with the disgust, confusion, and apprehension bombarding her all at once. “If Issy liked him, it’s probably easier for her to excuse him and blame me. I guess it would be a lot harder and more painful for her to accept that she let him use her. After all, she went over there to him on her own. It’s not like he hemmed her up. I almost feel bad for her, doing that with him and getting used like that. I hope it wasn’t her first time.”

“It wasn’t,” Britt assured her. “She’s been at it since she was at least fourteen. She’s always been hot. I think her mother has had her on the pill since the same day she got her first period.”

J.J. leaned her chin into her hand. “I don’t know why girls can’t hold each other up like guys do. A girl does something to a guy, and his boys rally right behind him to join forces against the girl. A guy does something to one of us, and we turn on each other over them even when it’s the guy who was wrong. I don’t understand it. I hate it. I wish it wasn’t that way.”

“It isn’t with us,” Charmaine declared, “and it won’t be if we focus on sticking together.

She placed her hand in the middle of the table, looking meaningfully at the circle of girls around her. One by one each of them placed a hand on top of hers.

“Seventeen?” she asked everyone seated there, “and- or seniors in high school?”

“At least,” said Philly. “Too much drama for me right now.”

“I’ll be a senior this year,” Tiffany confirmed, “and I’ll be eighteen shortly after, but I don’t think I’ll be rushing into anything. Me and Britt and our older sister might be a little wild. I mean, we’ll throw a party in a heartbeat when our parents are out, or there’s a half day of school that nobody knows anything about; but we’re not ready for all of that. The guys I know are too shady and immature.”

“Me too,” chimed Britt.

“The ones I know aren’t ready for prime time either,” Charmaine agreed. “They just don’t know it. They tell you they love you and all that good stuff, and they might think they mean it at the time, but what it really boils down to is sexual gratification. Right now in my life, I have other things I need to do. Like try to find out how I’m going to afford Spelman if I don’t get a scholarship. I’m going to that college by hook or by crook.”

“After hearing that Isabella story, I’m think I’m even beginning to fully buy into this seventeen-senior thing,” Marnie agreed. “I’d hate to have to shoot a guy in his ass for thinking he was going to try to dog me, but I will.”

J.J. said nothing. It was such a disturbing, nasty, ugly story, and she couldn’t think of anything she had done to make Wesley think of her in that way. It was all so bewildering. She hated not having control over what was going on with him and that situation. Even though it signaled things were taking a strange, sordid twist, that last detail wasn’t one she could share with her father. She didn’t know what to make of it, but she knew she would die before she told her father something like that. She wasn’t even sure if she could share it with her mother.

But there was one thing of which she was sure. If Isabella took it there, she’d be sorry. J.J. Hart didn’t start fights, but she didn’t take a licking either, especially not over something as trifling as somebody making a bad decision with a stupid, horny boy. That had been Issy’s fault. Nobody made her go over to the Singleton’s guest house. People had even tried to talk her out of it, but Issy made the choice to do what she’d done. She hadn’t had anything at all to do with her going to Wesley’s and getting worked over in that way. She didn’t want any part of it, but if Issy wanted to make her a part of it, she’d definitely be sorry.

She really wanted to ask more about Tommy and the party, but that moment was gone. That last thing was filling up all the currently unoccupied spaces in their conversation and in her mind.

Her cell phone went off, vibrating in the pocket of her shorts. Removing her hand from the stack on the table she reached in to answer it. It was Wesley. She flipped it closed and put it back in her pocket without comment.

Everyone at the table had been watching her, and judging from her facial expression; they guessed who it was and nodded in agreement with her response.

Tiffany slapped her hand down hard onto the tabletop, startling them all to attention.

“Look, when the food gets here, let’s hurry up and eat. It’s our night. Let’s go down to the pier. Chase and Chance said they’ll be down there. Chase called me before we left, and said that he, his brother, and their parents were spending the night on the boat because they’re sailing out in the morning to see some relatives. He said he took his new bike down there to ride it. Right now, their parents are at the Clarks with mine.”

J.J. grinned. “So are mine. What a coincidence.”

Marnie nudged J.J., her nose wrinkled in devilish conspiracy. “No adult supervision at the pier.”

“Or at the houses.” Insinuated Britt, nudging her older sister.

“Forget about my house.” J.J. warned.

There would be no sneak pool parties at her house. The Harts did not play that at all. She got into enough trouble over the legitimate parties she threw.

She felt her heart skip a beat with the sudden rush of excitement. She had almost forgotten about Chase’s new motorcycle. She hadn’t seen it yet, but he had called to tell her that he had it. He said that he and Tommy had been riding out a lot together before Tommy left for his trip. Chase and Tommy had become very good friends in the past few months. They had lived for the bikes that summer. It would be good to see the twins again. She knew that Marnie had missed Chance, who had a strong crush on her. Since her move to Burbank, she hadn’t seen very much of anybody either.

And the loophole theory hadn’t had a good workout in a while.

“Yeah,” She eagerly piped up as the waitress arrived with their platter of food. “Let’s hurry up and get through. Forget all that other crazy stuff. Let’s just be girls tonight and have some fun.”

She whipped out her phone.

“Who are you calling?” Marnie asked as J.J. punched in a number.

“Chase, to tell him that we’re coming out there, and that they should be looking for us within the hour.”

Marnie nodded her approval. “Good looking out, J. Tell him to tell Chance I said, “Hey, baby.”, and make it within forty-fives minutes that we’ll be there.”

_______________________________________________________________

Jennifer had gone to make their excuses to her friend, Susan Clark. Having taken another quick, but interesting phone call, Jonathan dug his car keys from his pocket and moved to a spot in the hall near the front door to wait for her.

They had turned down the offer for after dinner drinks after deciding that they were just going to leave. Aside from his lingering irritation and discomfort concerning Georgette, and unable to stop thinking about the Wesley situation, he was quite honestly, just plain tired. It seemed that he hadn’t stopped a moment since their return from Maryland. His mental agitation wasn’t helping that state of affairs at all. The time hadn’t been there for him to address the boy directly in the manner that he wanted to, but that would have to be taken care of soon. Far too much time was being spent dwelling on it.

After that call, he had the sudden urge to phone J.J. while Jennifer was still out of earshot, just to check and see what she and Marnie would claim to be into. It wouldn’t do to let Jennifer know that he was doing that, but that call and the thing with Wesley had him just a little bit anxious about J.J. being out there on her own in the open like that. Jennifer would suspect something was up if he was the one playing the apprehensive parent, and if he told her the real reason behind why he was calling, she would be more upset over it than he was. She could be tough on J.J. when she was out of line. She had also proven herself to be a loose cannon in situations like the one with Wesley, especially if the girl involved was their daughter. With Georgette there in the same house… in front of all their friends… no, that wouldn’t be a good thing.

“Jonathan, can I get a word with you?”

It was Dr. Ollie Jackson. He came up from behind, placing his hand firmly on his shoulder to gain his attention.

“Sure.” He answered, pushing the cell phone back down into his pocket before he could get it all the way out.

All that evening, he thought he could sense that Ollie had something he wanted to say to him. But they had both either been in groups that contained other people or they had been completely separated from each other. At dinner, Georgette and Midge had been seated between the two of them, and he had consciously communicated everything he could through body language to discourage Georgette from turning the conversation back to him. He thought he had seen Ollie trying to catch his eye, but he had been too leery of catching Georgette’s eyes, instead, to look well enough to be certain. It was the first time that evening that they had been in the same place alone. Ollie was normally a man of few words. If he had something to say, and he had been trying to say it all night, then whatever it was; it had to be important.

The two men exchanged a hearty handshake.

“It’s good to have you and Jennifer home.” Ollie said. “Maryland must have done you two some real good. You both look so rested, and Jennifer, even though she’s always been lovely, is more radiant than ever.”

“Thank you.” Jonathan smiled. “It was a very good visit. It was really was for Jennifer. She’s very close to her father, and she loves spending time with him. You know he hasn’t been well, so any time she gets to be with him is good time. Pat came and stayed at Briarwood with my friend, Bill, who’s now her fiancée, the whole time we were there, so all of us got to spend time together, too. All in all, again, it was a very good visit.”

“I’m glad of that. When are Pat and Bill getting married?”

“In November. At Thanksgiving at Jennifer’s father’s place.”

“That’s great. They’re both good people. Pat’s always been a great girl. I’ve only met Bill a few times, but if she’s agreed to marry him, he has to be a stand-up guy. I wish them every happiness. But, Jonathan, look, I don’t know if this is a good time or not, but I don’t want to wait on this. While you were out of town, Ollie, Jr. came to me with some things that I think you should know.”

“Shoot.” Jonathan said. “I’m listening.”

“You might already know this. Stop me if you do. J.J. might have already said something to you. I hope she has. But I feel I’d be remiss as a father and a friend if I didn’t pass this on to you from me. I don’t have a daughter, but if J.J. were mine, I’d want to be told. Her mother and I have been friends so long that I sometimes I feel as though she is mine on some level.”

“Ollie, just spill it. You and Jennifer have been friends since you were kids in school. You’ve known J.J. all of her life, and the saying is that it takes a village to raise a child. We are that village. I know that you have her best interests at heart, just as I have with Ollie Jr. I’m aware that your son looks out for my daughter. He’s a good boy. I probably need to tell him that myself. What is it you need to tell me?”

Ollie looked back over his shoulder. Georgette Singleton was standing not too far off, talking with two other women.

“Let’s step outside, Jonathan.” He said.

_______________________________________________________________

As Ollie drove, he watched Wesley out of the corner of his eye. As they had passed the cut-off road that led to the Hart estate, Wesley had looked in that direction, but had made no comment. Ollie was glad of that.

“So tell me about Cara Eastman.” He said, trying to draw Wesley out of his quiet and his mind onto something other than what he was sure was going through it at the time.

“I told you.” Wesley said. “She was okay. Nice enough. Cute. She’s kind of short, though. I don’t even think she’s five-two. I prefer taller girls. She’s going to school here in California in the fall. She’s going to commute. I don’t think I want to be bothered with a college girl who still lives in her parents’ house.”

Ollie resisted the temptation to point out that in the fall, J.J. Hart would be a high school Junior, and she would still be living with her parents for the next two years, at least.

“What about you, Ollie?” Wesley asked. “Are you going to try to talk to Tiffany?”

“She wouldn’t like somebody like me.” Ollie said. “I do like her, and she’s nice to me when we see each other, but outside of being somebody who hangs around with you, I don’t think she really even knows I’m alive. I’m not her type. I’m not any girl’s type, I don’t think. Girls like Tiffany like guys more like you. How come you two didn’t hook up? She seemed to like you an awful lot earlier this summer. She’s really pretty.”

“She’s not my type.” Wesley answered. “She is nice, and she is pretty, but I just didn’t dig her. She comes off one way, but in reality, she’s not what she seems. I don’t mean that in a bad way. She was just not what I was looking for at the time.”

Once again, Ollie bit his lip, even though he wanted so badly to ask Wesley just what it was that he was looking for in a girl. Nobody would ever suit Wesley, it seemed, except that one girl; the one with whom he didn’t stand a ghost of a chance. It worried him that Wesley refused to deal with the obvious. It worried him more that in his desperation, Wesley might try something really stupid with J.J. The pieces seemed to be falling into place for just such an incident, and he was really getting scared for her.

The whole situation had him wanting to distance himself from Wesley. He had been feeling that way since that previous spring and the feeling had only intensified over that summer. But once he confided his misgivings to his own father, his father had asked him to maintain the relationship for the time being, if only to monitor Wesley’s actions and to keep him advised. Wesley, somewhat self-centered by nature, had become so focused on his own goals and desires, that he probably couldn’t even sense the tension developing in their long-standing friendship.

It wasn’t long before they were pulling into the parking lot of the Dairy Queen. It was still crowded with cars and Ollie slowly cruised in search of a parking space. They were approaching the end of an aisle that emptied into the front of the building. A group of girls had come out, and they were standing at the curb just as they were pulling past. It was a moment before Wesley realized that one of them was J.J. Hart. He could spot those long legs and that thick, distinctive ponytail from a mile off. But before he could tell him to stop, Ollie seemed to speed up, whipping the car around into the next aisle.

“Go back around.” Wesley testily ordered, craning his neck to look back to try and see where the girls were going. “I think I saw somebody I know.”

Ollie, however, had also seen J.J. and her friends.

“We have to get to the end before I can go back.” He said, deliberately slowing to let another car he could have easily passed, pull out. “I can’t just back up.”

Wesley had turned all the way around, but he couldn’t see the girls any more for all the trucks in the lot.

“Everybody’s driving these damned SUV’s.” He growled in aggravation.

“Who was it?” Ollie asked, slowly starting to drive forward once the car full of kids had driven off in front of them.

“Just somebody I thought I recognized.” Wesley answered, still looking.

“Can you see her?”

Ollie turned the car into the next aisle, the one away from the direction in which he had seen J.J. and her friends walking.

“Hurry up and go back!” Wesley urged. “Why did you turn this way? Geez, you drive just like a little old lady!”

“Lot of people walking around out here.” Ollie calmly observed. “I don’t want to run anybody over anybody because you’re in a hurry to catch up to some girl.”

“I didn’t say it was a girl.”

“Then who was it? I know you’re not this anxious to see some guy.”

They had pulled back into the main aisle and were on their way back toward where the girls had headed. Ollie could see the two familiar SUV’s backing out.

“Go!” Wesley commanded when he spied them, too. “The trucks! Over there. I think that’s your girl, Tiffany.”

With his heart in his throat, hoping that if J.J. was in the truck with Tiffany, she would see them in time and duck down, Ollie sped up a little, pulled up alongside them, and tapped the horn.

“Hey, Tiff!” Wesley called up to her, as he was on her side.

“Hey Wes.” She smiled down. “Hi, Ollie. What’s up?”

“Where’s the party?” Wesley asked, his eyes looking past her. “I know you have the weekend’s agenda.”

“No party.” She graciously answered. “We just came out for a bite to eat and some girl talk.”

“Who you got in there with you?”

Wesley had pulled himself up from the seat onto the window’s edge, straining to see who else was in the truck.

“Just me.” Britt waved from the passenger’s seat.

“Is that Philly?” Wesley asked, dropping back down into Ollie’s car and pointing to the truck in front of them.

“Yeah, and Charmaine.” Tiffany pleasantly replied.

Wesley looked skeptically into her face. “J.J. not with you guys? She’s back home, you know.”

“We know.” Britt called. “But she’s not with us. It’s just us girls in these trucks tonight.”

Philly and Charmaine waved back at them from their vehicle. Wesley looked, but he couldn’t see any other heads through the back window of the truck. Unless she had ducked down, he couldn’t see J.J.’s familiar pony tailed silhouette. J.J. wasn’t one for ducking and hiding. If she were in either of those trucks, she would have spoken. If it turned out that she was angry, she would have confronted him.

“Well, I’ll guess we’ll see you all later.” He finally said in frustration. He was almost certain that he had seen J.J. with them coming out of the building.

“Okay.” Tiffany said as she signaled the girls in front of her to go on. “See you, Ollie” She waved into the car at him.

The two trucks pulled off, headed for the street. Ollie and Wesley followed behind them, but at the driveway, they turned to go on and try to find a parking space.

A few minutes later, the red BMW that had been blocked in when Ollie and Wesley stopped to talk to the girls, started up and backed out.

_______________________________________________________________

When Jennifer finally emerged from the house, Jonathan could tell by the sheepish look on her face that they weren’t going home right away. He shook his head as he watched her coming toward him, thinking to himself that his woman had to have the biggest heart in LA. She had the hardest time turning people down.

“I’m sorry.” She immediately said.

“So where are we going?”

“To the pier. The Barnetts invited us onto their boat for cocktails. They’re sailing with the boys down to Baja in the morning, and they wanted us to have drinks with them before they left. They invited us and the Landers.”

“Aw, Jennifer-r-r-r-r, no.” He whined pensively. “I don’t want to go.”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She pleaded, fiddling with the lapel of his blazer. “I know you were ready to go home. But they’re always so nice to us and to J.J. I didn’t want to tell them we couldn’t come. People have been so pleasant to us all evening, telling us how much they missed us and all. It would be wrong not to entertain the invitation. The Barnetts always honor ours. We don’t have to stay long.”

He groaned in disappointment, “By the time we do get home, J.J. will be back.”

“But Georgette won’t be there on the boat.” She offered, leaning into him, looking up into his face.

He looked down at her and instantly softened. “Lady, you know you are not playing fair.”

“What?” She smiled innocently.

“You look at me with those eyes you know I love, press just the right parts of yourself into me, and then you finish it off by telling me that I can be the hell away from Georgette Singleton. How am I supposed to fight all of that?”

“You’re not.” She answered, taking his hand in hers to lead him toward their car. “Just keep in mind that anything worth having is worth waiting for.”

He reluctantly went with her, positioning himself slightly behind her to appreciate the view, and thinking to himself that being with her would be worth it whether he had to wait for her or not. Things just could have gotten started a lot more creatively if they could have made it home before J.J. got in. It was probably just as well. With Ollie’s information still fresh on his mind, and the thought of J.J. and Marnie out and about on their own, it probably would be better to get a drink or two under his belt to calm his nerves and soothe his rankled disposition. It was a good thing that J.J. was everything she was, and that Wesley was with his father. He still wanted to get J.J. on her cell, but he would just have to play it like any other night that J.J. was out having fun, and like any other night that they were out on the town. Calling J.J. up while she was out with her friends, just to see how she was doing, would be out of the ordinary for him. Both Jennifer’s and J.J.’s antennas would be up over something like that.

He would just have to trust in the things that had been taught to their daughter all of her life. J.J. was smart and she almost never let her guard down. She might be young, but past experience had clearly shown him that, just like her Daddy; she would take a chance when one presented itself. And also just like her Daddy, she had excellent coping and survival skills, and she knew how and when to put them into play.

_______________________________________________________________

The three vehicles carrying the girls drove into the parking lot of the marina where Chase and Chance Barnett were kicking around a hackysack as they waited for them to get there. In the summer, the deeply tanned Barnett twins could almost always be found on or somewhere near the pier and their father’s huge sailboat. When Marnie and J.J. pulled into the empty spaces near where the boys were playing, they stopped and ran toward the new car.

“Too sweet!” Chance yelled in appreciation, approaching Marnie’s side of the car as Chase headed for the passenger side.

The girls had put the top back down, so the brothers were able to hop into the back seat almost before Marnie could come to a complete stop. Chase immediately leaned forward to wrap J.J. up tightly in both his arms, pulling her back toward him where he smooched her hard and noisily on the cheek. She instantly struggled loose and playfully pushed him off, knocking him back into the cushion of the rear seat.

“I missed that.” He told her, holding his shoulder while pursing his lips to send her an air kiss. “What’s up, J.?”

She tried, unsuccessfully, not to smile back at him.

“You are one sick puppy, Chase Barnett. I’ve told you time and again about putting your lips on me. I’ve been gone for almost a month, and I don’t know where your mouth has been in all that time. With you, there’s just absolutely no telling.”

“You’re right, J. I wouldn’t tell you the places its been.” He winked devilishly. “You’re too much of a lady. But, I did wash up and brush my teeth when you told me you were coming down.”

Chance was leaning forward from the back seat. He was between the two front seats, checking out the interior of the car and Marnie’s bare legs.

“What are you looking at?” Marnie asked him, shutting down the car, but not doing anything to obscure his view of the car or her.

“Al-l-l-lll the sights up there.” Chance crooned appreciatively. “What’s up, Marnie, baby? J.? This is a real nice car, Marnie. I’m telling you, you girls have it made. Your fathers just hand you the bomb cars, no strings attached. We guys have to beg and make deals to get cars out of the old man. Me and Chase have to keep the deck swabbed to pay our old man back for the one Corvette we share between us.”

“Not to mention toting that barge, lifting that bale, and doing whatever else Captain Hook wants done.” Chase added. “That’s why we’re out here tonight. We’ve been here all day trying to get things shipshape for him and to keep him from repossessing the car. In all fairness, though, we do get a trip to Baja. I love Baja.”

“You just love the girls there.” J.J. said.

“I love girls everywhere.” Chase replied. “Especially tall, freckly, red heads with seriously killer legs.”

“Not to mention cute little brunettes with sexy toes.” Chance added, earning a dimpled smile from Marnie who had laced her fingers daintily in his as they rested on the console between her and J.J.

J.J., unimpressed by the flattery, turned around to the back seat.

“I’m warning you, Chase. I’m not having it out of you. Don’t even look at me.”

“It can’t be helped, J.” Chase answered. “You’re not real easy to ignore.”

The other girls had gotten out of the trucks and come over. The next few minutes were spent examining the new car, greeting the boys and laughing about how Marnie and J.J. had given Wesley and Ollie the slip at the Dairy Queen.

“I feel sorry for Ollie, though.” Chance commented. “Me, him, and Chase have talked some. I think he wants to get away from hanging with Wesley, but he just doesn’t know how.”

“Yep.” Chase seconded.

“All he has to do is make a clean break.” said Charmaine. “Sometimes people change, and friendships change right along with them.”

At that, J.J. opened the door on her side and got out, motioning to Chase who got out with her. Just as he did, another car full of boys noisily pulled up, sliding on the gravel, drawing all of their attention. It came to a dusty stop, the back doors opened on both sides, and Deon and Hector jumped out, calling their thanks to the driver as the other occupants of the car loudly called and waved. They were all school acquaintances of the girls.

Hector turned to the group surrounding Marnie’s car, pointing and yelling to his sister, Philly.

“I knew we’d find you guys here! You can’t outrun me, girl!”

“I’m calling Daddy!” Philly yelled back, reaching into her purse.

“And I’m telling Grandma you’re following me again!” Charmaine angrily cried, addressing her cousin, Deon. “She told you about doing that! She told you to get a life of your own. You’re always following me and hanging around me, trying to see what I’m doing!”

“Can I help it if I love you?” Deon answered, waving off the blows she was trying to inflict upon him. “Deal with it.”

“I’m sick of dealing with it, Deon. I’m telling.”

“Whatever, girl, whatever.” He said in dismissal of her complaints. “Whate-e-e-ver.”

The car the boys had arrived in sped off, and a full blown, very animated argument erupted between the four relatives, in the midst of all the other youthful interchange going on, .

Chase and J.J. stepped away from the group.

“I heard you got a bike.” She said to him. “When are you going to show it to me?”

“It’s over here.” He answered, walking her toward the slip were his father’s sailboat was moored. “I have something to give you anyway.”

The shiny new Harley was parked on the landing. She was instantly reminded of Tommy and of how meticulously he maintained his motorcycle. She was also reminded of how much she actually missed him.

“It’s beautiful.” She said, walking around the bike to fully admire it. “How does it handle?”

“It handles like a dream. When I told Tommy I was getting the bike, he told me, “Nothing but a Harley”. I’m so glad I listened.”

“Did your father buy it for you?”

“Are you kidding? As cheap as he is? My old man lost a bet with me; that’s how I got it. I bet him I could make a 90% grade point average or better overall and stay out of detention the last semester. He bet me I couldn’t. I had half the money saved for the bike already, so he bet me that if I did it, he would put up the other half. You know once he put his money on the table, it was in my hands. You know he lost. I gotta tell you, J. I sure am glad I didn’t. I’d be at wilderness camp or summer school right now. That was his end of the bet. Summer school or wilderness camp for the whole summer.”

She laughed. Chase was cut out of the same cloth as she. She completely understood his taking the bet. It was one where he could control the outcome. There was no way he could have lost a bet like that.

“It doesn’t pay to bet us like that, does it?” She asked. “We can put the pedal to the metal when there’s a worthwhile bet on the table, can’t we?”

“You know it, J. Raising the stakes just makes it all so much more interesting. And what he was proposing if I lost made me work that much harder to win.”

“Speaking of putting the pedal to the metal, Chase-”

“Hold on, J. Wait right here.”

He turned and started to walk away toward the boat.

“Chase, wait!” She called out when she realized that she was still carrying the cold-pak containing her father’s ice cream. “Put this in the freezer in the galley. I’ll get it from you when I get ready to leave.”

“What’s this?” He asked, taking it from her.

“Ice cream for Daddy.”

“Yeah, okay, J. You know, your father is a trip, but he’s an all right, helluva guy. I saw him at the club right after I got the bike. He was all over it. I think if so many of your mother’s friends hadn’t been there at the club that day, he might have taken it out for a ride. I told him how I came by it. The man actually patted me on the back and told me he was proud of me for beating out my old man like that. Not for the all A’s, making the Honor Roll, or the not getting detention; but for winning the bet. Can you believe that? Your father is a true hustler to his heart. No wonder he’s gotten over like he has in life. I guess I can go ahead and  keep his snack cold for him.”

“You’d better. You don’t want me to tell him that you’re responsible for the ice cream he has his mouth all set for being mushy. You also know that he knows people.”

Chase went onto the boat and down into the cabin area. A few minutes later, he came back out. He was carrying a motorcycle helmet which she recognized right off.

“Tommy told me to give this to you.” He said, handing it to her. “He thought you might need it once you saw the bike.”

“So, he must have told you about my loophole theory.” She smiled.

“Yeah. He told me. You are a real piece of work, J.J. Hart. I never knew you could ride. As much as we’ve talked and hung out this spring and summer before your trips, not once did you let on to me that you were on that bike. He told me that he taught you. He says you’re really good. I should be hurt that you held out on me like that.”

She held the helmet in close to her. After purchasing it for her out of his money that he earned from his two after school jobs, Tommy had gotten one of his friends to personalize it by airbrushing two tiny intertwined hearts on it. That was the only rough spot her fingers encountered as she ran them along the smooth surface.

“Chase, you know I don’t tell everything that I know. And Tommy really had no choice but to teach me. After I broke it down for him, he had to see it my way. And I was seeing him and reminding him of my way everyday.  See, my mother said that I couldn’t ride on the bike with him. She didn’t say that I couldn’t learn to drive it myself or that he couldn’t ride with me once I did. Once I made him see reason, he had to play along. Technically, we hadn’t broken any rules. He bought me this helmet. He said it was because if we did get caught, despite the loophole, he knew he would still be in hot water with my mother, but at least he couldn’t be accused of teaching me to do it wrong.”

She straddled the bike and sat down. Then she looked up at Chase, who was standing next to her.

“So, having said all that, you do know how this is going to be with us, don’t you?” She inquired, gesturing with her hand. “I don’t have to spell it out for you, too, do I?”

“J., you are going to get me killed by your old man.” He protested, although he was already resigned to how it was going to be.

“Chase. Come on. This is me you’re talking to. We’ve been friends a long time. A lot of water has gone under the bridge, some of which only you and I know what was actually in it. I know you. You know me. I’m no chicken, and you’re not scared of anything or anybody.”

“Your father can still light a fire under me from time to time. Does he understand about the loophole theory?”

“Understand? I think he invented it. Furthermore, I firmly believe that it’s hereditary.”

“How about your mother? I haven’t ever had to tangle with her, but I don’t think I want to either. Tommy said, real adamantly I might add, that she’s the one who put the rule down on you, not your father. He said that if he was worried about anybody finding out, it was her.”

J.J dismissed his fears with a wave of her hand and a slight lifting of her chin.

“What she doesn’t know, she doesn’t have to know. If it happens to come to the light, I’ll spell it out for her, too. I’ll go on lockdown, but I will still know how to ride, and once I come off lockdown, I’ll just do it again. Just not right away and in another part of town. I don’t think Daddy would really care even if he did know. He understands certain things about  me.”

“Yeah, but he understands things about me, too. I’m not so sure how he’ll-”

“Chase, look, don’t try to fight it. You know how it has to be. You know how it’s always been with me and you. That’s why Tommy left my helmet with you. Once he let you in on our little arrangement, you knew what the deal would be, too. You know you can’t fight me. Give it up.”

She put the helmet on her head, securely fastening the strap. Then she reached around and handed him his.

“Let’s do this, my friend.” She said. “You know you want to.”

He strapped on his helmet.

“I’m driving tonight.” He decisively informed her. “You have on those sandals, and I haven’t forgotten about that ankle.”

“Okay. Tonight.” She agreed. “I do have on sandals, but my ankle is fine. The next time we go out, I’m driving.”

She scooted back to let him onto the seat.

“You’re going to have to hold on to me.” He said with just a hint of mischief playing in his tone, but enough of it for her to be able to pick up on it.

“Eventually.” She answered. “When you get into driving and can’t concentrate your filthy attentions on me. I’m not used to being in the back. And I know how nasty you are, and that you’ll be making something of it when I do.”

“Not with you, J.” He said. “I’m not that way with you. I don’t think of you like that at all. I won’t even be thinking about your arms being all around me, and about how soft, firm and good you feel up there and everything.”

She punched hard him in his arm. “Just drive, boy. And if I even think something foul is crossing your mind-”

Her fussing was drowned out by the sudden roar of the engine, and with his back to her as it was, she couldn’t see the satisfied smile he sported on his face.

_______________________________________________________________

As Jonathan drove to the marina, Jennifer sat next to him, leaned back in the seat with her eyes closed.

“Are you okay?” He asked after a few minutes of silence.

“I’m fine.” She answered. “Just resting my eyes.”

“You’re not going to sleep on me, are you? This was your idea to go the pier, you know. If it was left up to me, we’d be going through the front gates right about now.”

“I know.” She answered, her eyes still closed. “I know. But I’ll need my rest now if I’m going to be busy making it up to you later.”

“Oh,” He said as he reached out to lovingly squeeze her silk-clad thigh. “Well then, you rest. Yeah, you do that.”

In the rear view mirror, he noticed that the car that had come up so quickly behind him seconds before had suddenly dropped some distance back. In that second, just before the small red convertible switched lanes and abruptly turned down a side street, he managed to catch a glimpse of the front vanity plate: “MRNSTR”.

Instantly interpreting the play on the name, it all came together for him. He had been told that the car had been a new, red one. That was Marnie’s father’s pet name for her. He often said that he freely accepted the blame for the little ‘monster” he felt he and his ex-wife had cultivated over the years.

He glanced over to Jennifer. Still sitting there, reclining with her eyes closed, he was sure that she hadn’t seen a thing.

It was best. As far as all parties were concerned, it was best.

_______________________________________________________________

“Shit!”

Stopped in mid-sentence by noticing with sudden horror the license plate on the car ahead of her, and realizing who was in it, Marnie slowed, and then without warning to her passengers, whipped her own car off the avenue and onto the first side street she came to, shocking her three male passengers into screaming with the maneuver and her skills. She coasted into an open space at the curb and stopped to fan herself.

What the hell?” Chance cried from the seat next to her, “What happened?” while Deon and Hector loudly voiced their own surprise from the back seat.

“I sure am glad you not a new driver.”

“Damn, Marnie!”

“Shut up,” she hissed in answer to all of them. “I’ve been driving since I was eleven. I just couldn’t get a license to do it legally until now.”

“What was that all about?” Chance asked again.

“That was J.J.’s father’s car up ahead of us. Didn’t any of you see it? I was so busy running my mouth that I didn’t see the car or that “1 Hart” plate until I was way too close. I could only see him in there, but I’m sure J.’s mother was in there, too. I hope to hell neither one of them saw me. It would be just like Mrs. H. to have spotted me. I’m telling you, the lady has freakin’ sonar when it comes to catching me slipping.”

Hector and Deon, extremely familiar with J.J. and Marnie’s methods of operation, looked to each other, nodding in instant understanding of the gravity of the situation.

“So, you guys are hiding the car out from J.J.’s mama, huh, Marnie?” Deon concluded, sitting forward to speak over Marnie’s shoulder as he rapidly put the pieces together. “Trying to keep her from shutting you two all the way down? Trying to keep her from laying down some ground rules for the car?”

“You know it, Deon. You’ve been hanging with us long enough to know how the woman is.” Marnie answered, using a tissue to wipe away the tiny beads of nervous perspiration from her forehead and the bridge of her nose. “I just got the damned car. We haven’t even had a chance to do anything in it yet. She finds out I have it, and it’s over. My father respects her opinion when it comes to me. He’ll listen to anything she says. Me and J. thought we’d try to keep it on the down low at least until school started back. We figured with me living in Burbank now, it wouldn’t be as hard as if I still lived in Bel Air.”

“It’ll never work.” Hector advised from the back seat. “I hate to be the voice of doom, Marn, but you’ll get caught. Mrs. Hart always catches you and J. when you’re doing stuff you shouldn’t be doing. What your girl, J., really better hope is that with her parents on the loose like that, they don’t roll up on her and Chase riding on that bike. That’ll really get J.J. sent up the river for the rest of the summer.”

With blinding clarity, Marnie instantly pictured that scenario in her head: the Harts stopped at a light and Chase and J.J. blowing through the intersection- speeding no less- J.J. snuggled up behind that fine Chase, her long ponytail blowing behind her, ratting her out.

“Call Chase up on the phone, Chance.” Marnie quickly directed as she made ready to pull out of the space. “Tell him to take the back way to Tiffany’s. The Harts are headed for the pier, but Chase and J.J. don’t know that. They left before the call came. There would be hell to pay if Chase messed up and had to go back for something, and he showed up with J. on the back of that bike. Loophole theory or no, that girl will be going down for the count for real. Her mother will not be hearing it. She’ll be locked up till the first day of school. Maybe longer. Tell him to take Santa Monica. It’s a little out of the way, but there won’t be as much of a chance of them running into her parents should the Harts decide to go home or something instead.”

“Tiff and Britt’s parents ought to be scared to leave home.” Hector laughed. “Them girls don’t ever follow rules. They have some kind of party every time they’re home alone. They’ve been raided by the police twice, and Britt says they’re on a first name basis with the guys on their security patrol. After that last time, when all of us got caught up there on that half day, my father said the cops ought to just put their house on their list of places to regularly patrol, just like they do stores and other commercial places.”

Marnie reached out and poked Chance in the shoulder as he was trying to punch up his brother’s number. “It’s a good thing your mother called to let you and Chase know that they were coming to the boat with the Harts and the Landers. She thought she was just making sure that you guys had finished your work. Poor thing. She didn’t know that she was giving us the heads-up to clear out and telling us that the Landers’ house was fair game again.”

_______________________________________________________________

Chase and J.J. had driven down the coast road. They stopped in on a group of Chase’s beach friends who were playing poker on the deck of a large pleasure boat that belonged to the father of one them. They turned down the offer of an ice cold beer from the cooler that was being kept carefully out of sight. Even though she didn’t see anybody smoking, J.J. thought she caught a faint whiff of reefer on the air. She had the gut feeling that if she hadn’t been with Chase, he probably wouldn’t have taken them up on the weed, but he might have on the beer. They were invited to join the card game, but thinking that they might get too heavily involved once they started playing, and not wanting to spend their entire evening there; they reluctantly declined.

After leaving the boat, traveling farther down the beach, they came upon some mutual friends engaged in an intense volleyball game in the sand. J.J., a notoriously good player, wanted to go in, but she was talked out of it by Chase who reminded her that she probably shouldn’t be doing something so strenuous on her healing ankle.

From there, they returned to the main road, both of them enjoying the cool night air, the gentle roar of the ocean, and the lavender beauty of the Pacific coast they so often took for granted, having lived with it all of their lives. It was one of those points in time when a young person can truly appreciate just how fine being alive actually is, and they were both experiencing it to the fullest.

Someone was jogging in the distance ahead of them. As they got closer, the figure became familiar to J.J. She signaled Chase to slow down and then to pull up alongside the man. Instinctively, with the sound of a motor increasing behind him, the man moved in closer to the shoulder as he continued to run. He appeared appropriately startled and apprehensive when the bike moved in with him. He stopped. Chase stopped. J.J. waved to get the man’s attention.

“Russell, aren’t you going to speak to me?” She called out.

Russell Thomas, her favorite photographer, went from defensive to surprised as he recognized the voice and the face underneath that helmet.

“J.J.?” He cried. “J.J. Hart! What in the world are you doing way out here and riding on the back of a motorcycle?”

She put her finger to her lips, grinning mischievously. “Shhhh! Not so loud. Somebody might hear you. How are you, Russell?”

Russell trotted over to the bike, wiping his face with the towel he wore around his neck and combing his wet hair back from his forehead with his fingers.

“Well what do you know.” He said. “After forever, I finally get a few minutes down-time to take a run, and who do I run into? My favorite subject, Miss J.J. Hart. At least you’re wearing a helmet. Where’s your cigar? Gave ’em up?”

“Won’t stay lit on the bike.” She winked. “With the wind and all. Russell, this is my friend, Chase Barnett. Chase this is Russell Thomas. He’s a Hart Division Head- Visual Imaging.”

“I know.” Chase said, extending his hand to Russell. “You took the primo pictures of J.J. for the Mission Street Foundation. Well, not exactly for the Foundation, but that’s what the money they raised ended up going for. I know the whole story. I respect your work. Mr. Hart’s an all right guy, isn’t he?”

“Aces.” Russell replied as he shook Chase’s hand. “And thanks for the compliment. I got completely suckered by this little girl that day. I almost got fired from the photography company I was working for at the time, but meeting her turned out to be the best move of my life. Now I run the company. The lady’s definitely my good luck charm. Life was never so sweet before I took those pictures, and everything switched up for me.”

“I know the feeling.” Said Chase. “J., here, is the best. Aces, just like her dad.”

“I thought you joined the Athletic Club.” J.J. said to Russell. “Daddy said that you did.”

“I did. I go sometimes, but mostly just to network. For working out, there’s nothing like the open air and the ocean. I guess I’m just not that corporate yet. Lately, I’m traveling all the time, or I’m up to my neck in business. Whenever I can get a few free moments, I want to be outside like this. The house is almost finished, and I spend as much time as I can there working on it or out in front on the beach.”

“No special lady yet, Russell?” J.J. insinuated. “That’s going to be an awfully nice house. Too big to be in all by yourself.”

“No special lady yet, Miss Nosy.” Russell answered. “I don’t have time right now. Maybe when I’m a big wheel like your father, I can slow down, lay back, and set my sights on someone special.”

“Don’t wait too long, Russell, and let the good ones get away.” J.J. advised. “Maybe the next time we go out to our beach house, we’ll come down to see your new house. My mother loves to decorate. With you being a bachelor and all, maybe she can give you some tips. She has great taste.”

“I’d like that, J.J. I’d tell you to tell your mother, “Hello” for me, but then I guess that would leave you wide open to having to explain to her where and how you saw me.”

J.J. nodded her acknowledgement of the truth underneath what Russell was saying. He knew enough about the Harts to know exactly how her mother was and what her reaction might be to what he was witnessing. No way in the world would Jennifer Hart condone her daughter riding on the back of a Harley- in shorts and sandals, at that- he was sure.

“Uh, yeah, it would definitely do that, Russell. So I guess you’ll just have to tell her that yourself when see her.”

She repositioned herself back on the bike behind Chase. “Well, I have a little more time before my coach turns into a pumpkin, and before that we have to make our way up into the hills. So, I guess we’ll be going.”

“It was good to see you again, J.J.” Russell said. “And it was nice to meet you, Chase. You two be careful out here. There’s a lot of drunks and crazies out on Saturday nights.”

“We will.” Chase promised as he restarted the bike.

Waving goodbye, the teenagers pulled off, leaving Russell on the side of the road, waving back to them. He watched until the tail lights of the bike disappeared in the distance. Once again he found himself wishing that J.J. Hart was at least five years older.

She was such an interesting little person, so smart and talented, full of life, daring, personality. And so strangely engaging for such a young girl. Despite the fact that he knew exactly how old she was, in those few times that he’d spent in her company, there had been very vivid glimpses of a side of her that seemed much older and wiser than her years. Aside from her superior intelligence, most of the time, however, she was everything a sixteen year old girl was supposed to be.

He wished for the opportunity to just sit down and talk with her- just to have a good, long conversation with her to see for himself what it really was about her that was so intriguing. But with the difference in their ages, that kind of interest could easily be misconstrued as something seamy and dirty; an older man lusting after an adolescent girl. But there was absolutely nothing he would do to hurt or compromise her. Since the night of her birthday party, when he first noticed that oddly captivating element of her person, being in her company made him very uncomfortable. Mrs. Hart, her mother was a beautiful woman with a very soft, naturally sensual air about her. He didn’t want to think that same sensuality was what it was that he was seeing in J.J. It seemed like it was something beyond or deeper than that. She looked like her mother, but J.J.’s aura was very different. There was a harder, tougher edge to her. But since he couldn’t be sure exactly what it was about that child that was speaking to him, he had been keeping his distance from her. J.J., innocent that she was, didn’t have a clue about any of it. The girl had no idea at all of the strong effect she had on the opposite sex.

And he didn’t want there to be any misunderstandings. On anybody’s part. He wouldn’t do anything to hurt her, and he wouldn’t let anybody else do it, either. He’d seen that Wesley lurking around the Hart Towers. He had been with them that night of the ball when Wesley had been her escort. It would never be, and no matter how hard he might try or how badly he might want her, J.J. would never be Wesley’s girl. Even he could see that. Wesley was pushing, and she wasn’t one to be forced into anything. He wondered if that boy had any idea how onto him Mr. Hart was.

He wondered if that boy on the bike with J.J. knew just how lucky he was to be able to legitimately spend that kind of time with that kind of a girl.

“Youth is truly wasted on the young,” Twenty-eight year old Russell Thomas thought as he started back running. “No truer words….”

_______________________________________________________________

Jennifer had gotten up from and left all of them who were inside talking and playing cards. When she didn’t return right away, Jonathan had come in search of her. Since their return from her father’s the weekend before, she seemed to experience moments where she was quieter and more reflective than usual. She had been put through a lot on that visit, and he knew that there were still things on her mind that she hadn’t voiced.

He found her on deck, standing at the boat’s railing, looking out across the water. He stopped some distance behind her to watch her, to appreciate her.

He couldn’t help but smile. As the time passed, she was only getting better. It was nothing short of amazing. More mature in her appearance, she was still as stylish, lovely, and soft as ever. She remained the classiest, most unpredictable, most exciting woman he had ever met. He hoped she still as crazy about him as he was about her. Every indication said that she was, but he had never been one to take the good things in his life for granted.

There she stood in the night breeze that came in off the water. It played in her hair and in the folds of the lightweight fabric of her flowing pants outfit. She was everything he had ever wanted in a woman, and she was his. At that moment, he once again counted his blessings. She could rest assured that he would always be solely hers.

He approached her from behind, quietly inquiring, “What are you thinking about?”

As if she had been expecting him, she slowly turned to him and answered, “You. I was hoping you’d get the message I was sending to you, and that you’d come out here with me.”

He handed her the drink he had brought to her. Then he slid that hand around her waist to bring her close so that they were both standing together, looking out onto the water.

It was a beautiful night on the Pacific.

_______________________________________________________________

As J.J. and Chase sailed along the road, they were each lost in their own thoughts. So far, it had been a very good night.

For J.J., who as she was growing older was beginning to appreciate the things that really mattered, it was being in the company of someone she knew she could trust that made the night so good. It was comfortable to be with Chase. He allowed her to be herself without having to constantly keep her female guard up against the male in her presence. She hated having to do that. He made cracks about her looks and her body from time to time, but she could tell that it was more out of habit than desire. Chase was a real lady’s man, and the macho in him forced him have to constantly live up to that, but she sensed that he honestly had no such serious designs on her.

It was odd. He was very rugged and cute, and a whole lot of fun. People often commented on how well suited they seemed to each other and on how well they got along. She was frequently asked by their friends why she didn’t consider Chase as a serious beau. With their similar interests, on the surface it probably did look like they were good for each other in that way. Both of them liked playing cards, betting, boats, bikes, sports, roller skating, living on the edge of the rules, and each other. The two of them also hung out a lot. Their families spent a lot of time together, but for some reason, the two of them had never really clicked in that manner. They had always just been buddies. More than anything, they both knew that they could trust each other to get each other’s backs.

Chase was like the big brother she sometimes wished she had. When she was with him, she could relax. She didn’t have to worry about being a girl and about what his ulterior motives along those lines might be. He looked, but he didn’t touch- much. Chase was one who didn’t let his guard down either. He watched around himself just as much as she did around herself.  Together, they were always covered; when one was off, the other was on. Being with Chase was sort of like being with Tommy, but at the same time, it wasn’t. She wasn’t sure what the actual difference was outside of them being two different people, but it wasn’t quite the same. It really was not. With both of them she could relax and be herself, but with Tommy it was on another level. She had known Chase longer, but with Tommy, it was sort of a bigger thing, literally and figuratively. On all levels, it was bigger- mentally, physically, concretely, and abstractly- it was deeper, way deeper than with Chase and a lot more meaningful to her.

And then there was Teddy. He made her heart sing, her stomach cramp, her knees weak, and her toes curl. She could hardly wait to see him.

There was so much in Los Angeles that she wanted to show him. So much she wanted to do, so many people she wanted him to meet, and there would be so little time. Her mother had already taken some of it for an affair at the Country Club that she was forcing her to attend that Saturday night. The only saving grace in that was that Teddy would be there to accompany her. Jennifer Hart had already okayed that part of it, and Teddy said that he would be happy to go.

Wesley. Annoying, nasty-minded, one-track Wesley.

How gross and embarrassing was his doing that to Isabella- and her? What right did he have to think of her like that? What had she done to make him see her in that light? Never again would she see him in the same way. She didn’t think she would be able to find the words to relate to either of her parents that story Tiffany had told even if it was something they should probably know about him. She wouldn’t be telling that to anyone at her house or anywhere- ever.

It was so disgusting, confusing, and as such, a little frightening. Her head was swimming, and it suddenly felt so heavy. She put it down on Chase’s back to get out of the wind. Then she wrapped her arms around him and held on.

_______________________________________________________________

Chase smiled to himself when he felt J.J. put her arms around him, and relax against him. He was glad for that. It was a sign that said that she trusted in him. He knew her well enough to realize that she didn’t do that with a lot of guys. Maybe not with any guy. Neither of them were very trusting, and to him, J.J. was special. It was funny, but she was the one girl that he didn’t want in that certain way, and even he couldn’t really understand it. She totally fit the bill, but she truly wasn’t one of the ones.

He and the guys frequently joked that males and females couldn’t be ‘just friends’; that guys generally regarded female “friends” as girls they just hadn’t had the opportunity to try to get into bed yet. J.J. Hart was pretty and was always a lot of fun. Although he joked with her about personal things, he really didn’t want her like that. At seventeen going on eighteen, and a life-long beachcomber, he’d had some intimate experiences with the some of the girls out there- enough to know that J.J. fell into the category that should have made her his type. Instead, her attractiveness worried him more than it enticed him. He feared for her around other guys who might not have her best interests at heart and consequently, might not treat her right.

She was more like a sister, a precious baby sister; somebody for whom he should look out. A dear little sister that he would have to keep an eye on until things could get ironed out. Nobody was going to be allowed to hurt her on his watch.

While she had been gone for those weeks that summer, he and Tommy had spent a lot of time together. That previous spring, J.J. had given a sleepover for a few girlfriends which he, Tommy, and several others had crashed, turning the sleepover into a full-blown party. After a rather frightening turn of events that night, he had become very good friends with Tommy, who despite his initial quietness, which he had first taken for standoffishness, turned out to be a really regular, very interesting guy. Despite his living on the other side of the tracks, so to speak, he lead a very intriguing life, one that Chase found very much to his liking. They had spent the months since, dwelling in and blurring the line between each other’s worlds.

Tommy had been very worried about leaving to go to his family in Barcelona and leaving J.J. Before he left, he had filled him in on some rather disturbing things about Wesley Singleton. They were things that he thought he had seen for himself at J.J.’s  birthday party, which had also taken place the previous spring. His suspicions had been confirmed by Tommy’s revelations to him and by trickles of information that were getting back to him from their crowd. Wesley was operating way out of line in a lot of ways, but especially so when it came to J.J. Tommy worried about her, but he worried more about her father. He was afraid of what Hart might do to that silly boy once he got wind of what was going on.

Everybody knew what a nice guy Jonathan Hart tended to be, but he and Tommy had discussed the dark undercurrent they could sense in him. They had decided that it was actually the underlying threat of the danger one might face in crossing him that gave him that slightly intimidating air. It was that, and the fact that the man was so smart and seemed to notice everything while he didn’t appear to be looking at anything. He was wealthy, powerful, and a total class act; but he was also the kind of man who wouldn’t hesitate to literally take matters into his own hands when the need arose. It was a known fact that he often carried or had a gun at his disposal. Everybody also knew that those two females in his life, his wife and his daughter, meant everything to him. Wes was playing with dynamite. Neither he nor Tommy cared very much for Wesley, but neither of them wanted to see him get tangled up in that way with J.J.’s father.

J.J. wasn’t like the others that Wesley tended to be attracted to or whom he tended to attract. She wasn’t passive or needy. That girl had her own mind and made her own choices. Her parents had raised her to be that way, and that definitely wasn’t the type of girl that Wesley was looking for. Why he couldn’t see that in J.J. was mystifying, but there was no mystery in the reality that she would never be his girl. Tommy didn’t really feel that Wesley wanted J.J.  because he liked her so much. He felt it was because she didn’t want him, and Wesley wasn’t accustomed to being turned down. He thought it was a power thing for Wesley, and after talking it out with him, Chase had come to see it the same way. Guys like Wesley didn’t really like girls; they used them. Wesley would not be using that girl riding on the bike behind him.

He had sent Tommy on his way with the assurance that in his absence, there would be no need for him to be concerned over J.J.’s welfare as it related to Wesley. He and Chance were keeping an eye on things, and unlike Tommy, they lived and more naturally moved in the same social circles as J.J. and Wesley. They were in a prime position to monitor things. He and his brother were twins, not identical, but in tune with each other all the time; on the same wave length whether they were together or apart.

He and Chance had talked about the thing with Wesley long before Tommy had actually filled him in. With the exception of Tommy, they all belonged to the same country club, and the talk had been going around. It was evident to them and to many others, that Wesley had developed some sort of sick fixation on her, and the two of them had already decided that nobody was going to be sweating their girl, their sister. When J.J. said buzz off, that’s exactly what she meant. Wes would just have to accept that. He would just have to accept that fact on his own or the hard way. It didn’t matter which way Wes chose, but he would have to leave her alone.

Chase could feel his phone vibrating on his hip. It was dark, and they were flying. He slowed and pulled the bike onto the shoulder. Normally he wouldn’t have stopped to take a call, but he wasn’t going try and answer it while driving with Mr. Hart’s precious cargo behind him.

“What’s the matter?” J.J. asked when he stopped and switched the bike off.

“Phone.” He answered, pulling it from where is was clipped to the waistband of his shorts. The display was lit. “It’s Chance. Something must be up.”

She got off and walked a short distance to stretch her legs while he took his call.

After a few minutes, he clicked off and called to her. “J.!”

“Yeah?” She started back toward him.

“Chance said our mom called him right after you and I took off. She said that her, our dad, your folks, and Tiffany’s were headed out to the boat. With all of them coming out to the marina, the group decided to go ahead on up to Tiffany’s right then. Marnie, him, Hector, and Deon were on their way in Marnie’s car, but they rode up on your folks before Marnie knew it. She’s not sure if they saw her or not, but she said for us to take the back way to Tiffany’s to avoid possibly running into your folks ourselves.”

“I wonder if Daddy saw Marnie in the car.”

“Chance didn’t say. He said that when she spotted the car, she veered off onto a side street.”

“Oh great.” J.J. groaned. “Veered off? A sudden movement? He saw her. I know he saw her. If she had just sat there, he might not have, but if she turned off all of a sudden; she got his attention. He might not have recognized her in that new car, but he wouldn’t miss something like that altogether. He’s taken inventory, Chase. You know something? Normally, Marnie is the biggest sneak in town, but she always freaks out and panics when she thinks my mother might be involved.”

“Well all I know is, your mother and father are on the road somewhere, and we need to not be seen by them. We can’t go back to the pier. We’ll just go on to Tiff’s from here.”

“What about Daddy’s ice cream?” J.J. asked as she climbed back on behind him. “It’s still on your parents’ boat. He’s expecting me to bring it to him. I can’t let him down.”

“It’s for sure that we can’t go back to the boat and let them see you on this bike. Even if we go back to the boat and I drop you off to wait somewhere until I get the ice cream, I run the risk of my folks locking me down, talking about it’s too late for me to go back out on the bike. I think we should just leave that one there and get another one. We’re going back up Santa Monica. We’ll just make a stop, I’ll buy him another pint that you can put in the freezer at Tiff’s, and then I’ll eat the one on the boat later.  I like chocolate chip, too. We’ll stop at the DQ, get the ice cream, and then we’ll just go straight on to Tiffany’s.”

“Sounds good.” She nodded, patting him on the back to confirm it.

_______________________________________________________________

Ollie peeked once again to the table over by the wall where several girls that he knew were sitting. A couple of them had looked over his way, and he wished he could invite them over or that they would invite him over, but he couldn’t and they didn’t. He caught Lillie’s eye for a moment, but she quickly turned away. He knew that was because he was sitting with Wesley. He hadn’t invited them over either because of Wesley.

From the look of it, judging from the girls’ frequent fleeting glances at him, Wesley was the topic of discussion at that table. It had to be Wesley; he was the only one at their table about whom girls would find something interesting enough to talk about. It was too bad that Wes couldn’t see how fortunate he was to be who he was. What he wouldn’t give to be as attractive to girls as Wes seemed to have always been.

They had been there for some time, and although people they knew had stopped to speak, nobody had asked to join them. Wesley was in some sort of funk and he was giving off bad vibes. They permeated the air around them, poisoning the atmosphere of their table. Ollie sorely wanted to get up and go sit with some of the others who seemed to be having a much better time, but his loyalty to Wesley and his obedience to his own father had him rooted to that spot.

Lately, he noticed that where Wesley had once been very heavily sought after, it seemed he was receiving far fewer invitations to places, gatherings, and outings. Girls even seemed to be avoiding him. He would be talking to Wesley about an event to which he planned to go, only to find out that Wesley knew nothing of it. At the club, if he was alone, he had no trouble seating himself with the girls or with anyone there. But if he happened to be with Wesley, people, especially the young ladies, tended to shun them.

As he sat there at the table with his lifelong friend, he was more sure than ever that as soon as he could, he was going to have to put some distance between them. Being quiet and sort of shy, he had never been all that popular, but Wesley was becoming somewhat of a social pariah among their peers, as well as a pain in the butt in general. People were getting older, wiser, and making their own choices of friends, rather than sticking to the associations cultivated by their parents over the years. The bad thing about it all was that he, too, was feeling about Wesley what he was sure that everyone else was feeling. It pained him that he was feeling that way, but that was really how it had gotten to be. He was excited that they would be attending different colleges in the fall. For the first time in years, he would be free to be his own person and out of Wesley’s shadow.

A motorcycle could be heard roaring into the lot and it apparently came to a stop around in front of the building. From where he and Wesley were seated, he couldn’t see the bike or who was on it once the motor stopped. The girls at the table near the wall could see who it was, and after a minute or two, one of them; Isabella Hawthorne, slowly stood. When she did, Wesley, who hadn’t had much to say since they arrived, appeared to notice Isabella for the first time. His eyes widened a bit at the sight of her, and then he pointedly cast his eyes down into his plate of half-eaten food as if he didn’t want to be seen by her.

He didn’t have to do that. Isabella was watching something or someone out front, and the other girls were clamoring around her, looking as if they were trying to get her to sit back down. Suddenly, she pushed back from the table and stood, causing her chair to noisily fall over. She broke from Lillie’s grasp and quickly left that table, charging in the direction of the front. The other girls got up and followed behind her, sounding as if they were pleading with her not to go through with something.

“I wonder what’s up.” Ollie said, turning back to Wesley.

“I wouldn’t know.” Wesley dourly answered as he picked at the French fries that had to be cold by that time. “I’m sitting right here just like you.”

What sounded like angry yelling could suddenly be heard coming from the front, and it drew the attention of the people eating and relaxing out on the patio. Some turned in that direction; others got up to rush toward the front to see what was going on.

The voice, a female voice, clearly ordered, “Get up then, you red-haired bitch! Get up!”

Something deep within Ollie forced him up out of his chair and got him moving. He ran from the patio to the front to find a crowd rapidly gathering in a tight circle on the parking lot. He knew that in the middle of it, someone was either fighting or getting ready to fight, and in his heart, although he prayed it wasn’t, he had a sick feeling who the parties might be. Fighting his way through the thick knot of young bodies, when he reached the center, he saw the one he hoped he wouldn’t: J.J. Hart. She was squaring off with Isabella.

“I don’t know what your problem is,” J.J. was saying. “But I can assure you of one thing. I’m not going to be too many more bitches out here. In fact, you can make book that I’m not going to be another one at all. Now, I’m going to assume that you had a moment of insanity and give you that first one. But Christmas is in December, Issy. This is August, and I don’t know when your birthday is, but I do know that I don’t know you well enough to be giving you gifts.”

Isabella was irate, but she’d had the presence of mind to physically position herself just outside of J.J.’s immediate reach as she continued to confront her.

“You think you’re all that, J.J. Hart. You go around all high and mighty, thinking you’re cute, thinking you can have anybody you want. You have everybody thinking you’re so good and smart and all. You think all the guys want you and dream about you and drool over you. Well, I have news for you. Nobody wants you.”

When J.J. took a couple of steps toward her, Isabella took a couple of steps back.

“First of all.” J.J. said, pointing her index finger toward the other girl’s face. “Unless you’re a mind reader, which I highly doubt you are because if you were you’d be running right now; you don’t know what I think. You don’t know me like that. And if nobody wants me, like you say, then why are you even bothering to bring this crap to me? I’ll tell you why. You made a fool of yourself, that’s why. That’s not my fault. Now, I can’t help how other people might perceive me, but I do take great care to keep myself to myself. I haven’t shared my thoughts with you. I don’t share my personal business with anybody, unlike some people who spread theirs around shamelessly. And speaking of spreading it around,”

J.J. stopped and put her hands on her hips. Then, rocking her head and snaking her neck in that very distinct way that only angry teenaged girls can effect, she loudly declared.  “And Ihave news for you, Miss Isabella Hawthorne. What you need to do is be more discerning and discreet about with whom you choose to spread ’em. Then maybe you won’t feel so inclined to regret it afterward and have to go running, looking for sympathy, crying and blabbing all about it to whomever will listen about how stupid and common you were.”

A deep, “Ooooooh”, went up from the crowd as the other girl’s eyes widened and her mouth fell open in shock.

Instantly turning bright red with embarrassment, an outraged Isabella threateningly balled her fist and raised it. But J.J. stood firm.

“If you hit me, Issy.” She warned in an ominously calm and controlled tone. “So help me, it’s going to be on. I am going to hit you back as hard as I can, and then I’m not going to stop hitting you until I feel like it. I am a redhead, just like you said, and if you so much as touch me, I will be an angry redhead, which is not a good thing at all. I’ll be mad not only because you hit me, but also because you had the nerve to call me out of my name. Once I start on you, Issy, I promise you, I won’t stop thumping on you until I stop being mad, which won’t be for a long, long time. I don’t want to fight you. At this point, I don’t have a real reason to fight you; you brought this nonsense over to me. But if you  follow through with that right you’ve put up, I promise you, I will do my best to put your lights out. Try me, if you want to.”

The other girl took another step forward, but still, J.J. didn’t budge one inch. She remained in place with her hands on her hips, legs apart, her feet solidly planted on the pavement. She stared Isabella down, never once taking those ice blue eyes from the eyes of her opponent.

The crowd grew still and silent, almost as if everyone had stopped even breathing. Isabella took another tentative step forward, further raising her fist to J.J.’s head as if at any moment she were going to strike her. It hung menacingly aloft as J.J. remained steadfastly in place, continuing to stonily challenge Isabella with her aggressively resolute presence.

Finally, as if she realized that the parade had come to its end and someone had opened the valve to release her hot air, Isabella’s hand slowly dropped back down to her side as she sullenly hissed, “You make me sick.” before turning away.

“Whatever.” J.J. answered, crossing her arms in confident self-satisfaction as she watched the other girl walk away. “I thought you’d come to your senses, start acting rational, and see it my way.”

The disappointed crowd began to slowly disperse. As the people cleared, and her fury gradually dissipated, J.J. turned around to find Chase watching her. He was casually leaned against the bike which was parked at the curb, holding the cold-pak containing her father’s ice cream in his hand. As she walked back over to him, he beamed appreciatively.

“J.J. Hart, I can’t leave you for two seconds, can I?” He teased as she approached. “I thought I told you to wait here and look out after the bike?”

“What?” She asked, holding up her hands in question, trying not to laugh. “I was just sitting here, minding the bike and my own business. She came over here and started up with me. And I guess you were just going to stand there and let her jump on me?”

“Girl,” Chase chuckled as he handed her helmet to her. “I wasn’t the least bit worried about you. It was Issy I was  concerned about. She had a whole lot of nerve walking up on you like that. What was that all about?”

“Some dumb stuff she did,” J.J. answered. “That she’s trying to blame me for.”

“Blame you? You haven’t even been home.”

“Tell me about it. See Chase, this is yet another one of those episodes in my life that tells me I don’t need a steady boyfriend. The possessiveness involved in it just stirs up mess, and I don’t want any part of it. She’s mad at me about somebody I don’t even talk to very much any more and who, as far as I know, isn’t even her boyfriend. Imagine what it would have been like if he was.”

“We talking about Wesley here?”

When she didn’t answer him, Chase let the question drop and tugged playfully at her ponytail. “I’m proud of you, J. You are my absolute hero. I didn’t want you to have to fight her, but I have to admit, I would have loved seeing you mop up the lot with her. With you in it, it wouldn’t have been your run of the mill chick fight.”

“Chick fight? I beg your pardon.”

“Ass kicking, then J.”

“That’s better.”

“If she had been silly enough to hit you,” He continued. “I would have had to let you get a few good ones in before I went out there and pulled you off her to keep you from just going ahead and killing her. She was just talking junk. Issy thought she was calling your bluff, but she messed around and got her own bluff called. The girl may be stupid, but she’s not crazy. She was not about to try and jump on you. You see how she walked away after you told her what the flavor of the night was? I guess that wasn’t what she had a taste for, huh?.”

“She better had walked away.” J.J. muttered as she fastened the helmet strap, got on, and took the ice cream from Chase. “Or the flavor of the night for her would have been my knuckles, and her teeth would have been the chaser. I still owe her for calling me that name out loud to my face. She need not think I forgot. She’s got it coming. When she least expects it; she’s got it coming.”

Chase climbed onto the bike, amused by that deceptively tough girl behind him. She looked like one thing, but in actuality, she was something else entirely. There wasn’t anybody else in the world like J.J. Hart. And Issy had better be watching her back. J.J. held grudges, and Issy had taken it too far. It was hearing someone yelling out, “red-haired bitch” that drew him running from inside the ice cream parlor. When he got out there, he half expected to find J.J. beating the crap out of whoever it was. Yep, it would come for Issy when she least expected it. J.J. Hart wasn’t going to take something like that lying down.

A police car rolled through the lot, slowing almost to a stop as it approached them. The two officers inside looked over and sized them up. J.J. discreetly looked down into her lap pretending as if she were checking out the bag in her hands. There was no telling who on LAPD knew her father and might recognize his daughter on the back of that motorcycle.

“Everything okay?” One of the officers asked from his open window.

“It’s cool.” Chase answered.

“You, young lady?” The officer probed.

“Just fine.” J.J. said without looking up from where she was putting the ice cream down into the cargo carrier.

As the cop car continued on its way, Chase stared after it while J.J. continued to keep her face hidden.

That was why they didn’t see it when Wesley pulled Ollie’s car up to the curb where Ollie still stood in the place to which he had retreated once it became apparent that J.J. had the situation well in hand.

_______________________________________________________________

Standing at the rail with Jennifer, his arm about her waist, her head resting on his shoulder; Jonathan could see the lights of a tanker way off in the distance. He was reminded of his early days as a child in San Francisco when he would sneak off from the orphanage to go down to the wharf and watch the ships come in and depart. A gregarious child who never met a stranger, he would talk with the men who worked the docks and the ships, listen to their stories, and dream of one day traveling to far-off places. When he was old enough, he followed through in the only way an orphan boy with no money could. With his guardian, Max’s blessing, on the day after his high school graduation, he joined the Navy. That had been the beginning of it all.

All those years ago, he never would have imagined that his life would be as it was. Choosy about the people, especially the women, he let get in close to him, and skittish about long-term, exclusive commitments altogether; never would he have imagined at that time that married love could be so sweet and so everlasting. The woman by his side certainly hadn’t been his first, but she was the first he had ever seriously considered marrying. The almost instant hunch he had about her had been right on the money. He’d always been lucky at taking chances and following his instincts. She might not have been the first woman in his life, but she had been and would be his last; the most sure and solid hunch he had ever acted upon. For twenty-five, soon to be twenty-six years, she had been right where she was at that moment: by his side. Together they had made a good life, one might even say, a wonderful life.

He felt her sigh and could tell from his years of experience with her that it was one of contentment. He reached to caress her cheek with his hand. Tipping her chin up with his fingers, he bent to kiss her. She turned in his arms to completely face him, and like heated, sensuously scented wax, she softly melted into it. With both palms spread to be better able feel more of her, he pressed her body to his, and delighted in it as she subtly moved against him. In moments his body was answering hers.

“See what you do to me, Mrs. Hart?” He asked in a hoarse, strained whisper.

“Is it time to take our leave?” She smiled suggestively up at him.

With the tip of her tongue, she flicked at the tip of his nose, and he moved his roaming hands down to the small of her back to bring that part of her even closer to him. “What does my watch say?”

“I can’t see your wrist, Jonathan. It’s behind me. Even if I could. it’s too dark to tell the time out here anyway.”

“That wasn’t the watch I was speaking of. You don’t need light for the one I’m referring to, and you’ve always been able to tell time by it without having to look.”

“Ohhhhh, yesssss.” She purred,”that timepiece. The pocket watch. Well, if I’m going by that one, Mr. Hart, then I’d have say it’s past time for us to make our excuses.”

_______________________________________________________________

Carolyn Barnett, who had come out of the cabin ahead of the others, held her hand out to her husband and the Landers to hold them back until Jennifer and Jonathan finished the passionate kiss she could see them sharing at the rail.

“Must be nice,” she privately mused as she watched in mild envy. “Chuck could take some romance lessons from that Jonathan. Jennifer’s a mighty lucky girl to have kept the interest of a man like that after all this time.”

She, like most of their circle, was certain Jonathan was that rare husband who never strayed. For all his attractive material attributes, in addition to his good looks, generosity, charm, and the ample opportunities she knew for herself had presented themselves to him, apparently there was only room for that one woman in his life. She was aware of several individuals who had graciously, but ever so clandestinely, offered him the chance for diversion, only to be turned down. He had been his polite, good natured, discreet self when doing so, never once making those women feel like the tramps they were in going behind Jennifer’s back in that manner or letting on that he had been come onto. It was always one of the predators who let the cat out of the bag, and the story was always the same. He said no, but nicely.

She’d noticed him ignoring Georgette Singleton at dinner. It wasn’t like him, but then again; she was one of the ones. But Georgette was sneaky with it. She was trying the back door, attempting to set her son up with J.J., but it would never work. Having spent a good deal of quality time with her, she could see that J.J. was too strong and too independent, not Wesley’s type at all. And Jennifer wouldn’t have it anyway. Jennifer was a polite, genteel woman, but she had proven once before how lethal she could be when it came to that girl of hers. She could tell that Jennifer was on to Georgette- in more ways than one. Poor Georgette, she just didn’t know. She needed to back off completely while there was still time to do so with dignity.

After the appropriate few seconds had passed, Carolyn signaled the others, and they proceeded as a group toward the Harts.

“Hey, you two.” She sang out. “Break that up. Judy and Ted just got a call.”

Jonathan and Jennifer eased apart, clearing their throats, hoping that the strong arousal they were feeling didn’t show so much in their faces. There weren’t ashamed of their passion for each other, and it wasn’t like these close friends weren’t aware of their feelings or their relationship, but there was such a thing as prudence- in public anyway.

“Our patrol service.” Ted Landers filled them in as he dug in his pocket, coming out with a set of car keys. “It seems the wagons are circling around our house. I don’t know what it is about my girls. We threaten them, we punish them, we try to reason with them, but still they don’t get it.”

“We leave home,” Judy Landers continued. “And it’s fair game. They get on that phone, and our house turns into Club Landers. I think when Carolyn called her boys this evening to let them know that we were coming out here to the boat, that must have started the relay. They all hang out together. Tiffany and Brittany must have gotten the message and figured we’d be here for a while.  Before we left, we phoned the service to say that we would be out for the evening, and to tell them that they should call us if things started looking suspicious. The service says that a couple of trucks and a car have pulled up so far with a bunch of kids in them. It’s a shame we have to live like this. First we had to go through it with their older sister. Thank God, she went off to college and stayed. Now it’s these two. Just two more years, just two more, and we’ll be finished.”

“In two years we’ll all be done.” Chuck Barnett said. “But I’ll miss the twins when they’re gone from home. They’re a handful. but they are my boys.”

“If you know like we know.” Ted Landers replied. “You won’t miss them that much. They’ll be regularly in touch- with your wallet, your nerves, and your heart.”

Jonathan smiled. He figured J.J. would be in touch with his wallet, nerves, and his heart when she went off to school in two years, but like Chuck said about his boys, he would sorely miss his daughter, too. She was definitely his little girl.

Ted sorted through his keys, separating the ignition key from the others. “The patrol service and the local cops know my kids’ M.O. totally. They had Audrey’s number when she was living at home, but before she left, she must have taught her little sisters all of her bad habits. Well, there’s no sense calling the two of them to ask what’s going on. With those cell phones, they could be anywhere, doing anything, and if we call the house, that’ll just be a signal for them that we know something’s not right. So, we’re going to just do as the kids say, and “roll up on them” without warning.”

Jennifer looked skeptically to Jonathan. “You don’t think?”

Jonathan shrugged his shoulders helplessly. He thought, but he didn’t want to think it. At least he didn’t want her to know that he was thinking it.

“It is her crew.” Jennifer speculated aloud. “She did  leave with Marnie. And it is Saturday night.”

“I thought it was a little strange that the boys had cleared out by the time we got here.” Chuck Barnett reflected. “Chase and Chance had been out here all day, working on the boat, and hadn’t gone anywhere. When you talked to Chance, Carol, did he say that they were leaving? If so, with whom? When we got here, I saw their car was still in the lot, but I see Chase’s bike is gone. He keeps it parked down here. Jennifer, you say Marnie’s out and about? And J.J., too? That could explain my sons’ whereabouts. Chance is nuts about that Marnie, and Chase and J.J. are as thick as two thieves.”

“Funny you should put it that way about those last two, Ted.” Jennifer answered. “And yes, J.J. and Marnie supposedly left our house together.”

Jonathan nodded to assure her and everyone assembled that was what he had been told. “They said that they were headed for the ice cream place.”

“And Tiffany and Britt called us and said that was where they were going.” Judy Landers nodded back, putting things together. “Tiffany said that they were meeting some of the other girls there. She said that Marnie called and told them to meet her there.”

“We’re all “rolling”.” Jennifer decided. “If Marnie’s on that overused cell of hers, she’s probably called every teenager in LA by now, and if there’s a party going on anywhere, Miss Incorrigible and Miss Company are going to be front row, center. They’ve been away from the crew for almost a month, and I’m sure they feel they have a lot of ground to cover and lost time for which they have to make up. Ice cream place, my foot.”

She looked back at Jonathan and rolled her eyes at him. “Putty.” She said accusingly. “Grade A.”

Jonathan followed her as she marched from the deck. Pulling his keys from his pocket, he was thinking how once again he had been thwarted in his desire to get home and be alone with his wife. J.J. owed him big. She’d better have that ice cream, and it better not be mushy.

From the set of her shoulders, he could tell that Jennifer was loaded for bear. He didn’t hold out much hope for the ‘MRNSTR’. She, more likely than not, was up there showing off that brand new car of hers. Being the bigger social butterfly, Marnie was an even more aggressive party animal than J.J. If they were right about what was going on at the Landers’ house, Marnie was definitely up there. She wouldn’t miss an illegal gathering like that for the world.

J.J., on the other hand…  as unpredictable as she could be, might… might not….

Now with her, there was just no telling.

As he walked with Jennifer to the car, he prayed that J.J. Hart had made other plans and wouldn’t be up in those hills when her mother arrived, “rolling up on” whoever happened to be there. If that girl happened to be present when they got there, there wouldn’t be anything he would be able to do or say to save her. Or himself.

And he’d been so good.

J.J. owed him real big. She’d better not have forgotten that ice cream, and whatever she was into, wherever she might be; it had better not be mushy.

_______________________________________________________________

Ollie was at first surprised to see his own car pulling up to the curb. Then, recalling that when he’d gotten up to see what the commotion was, he’d left his keys at the table with Wesley who was now behind the wheel, he went around and got in on the passenger side.

“I paid the bill for both of us.” Wesley informed him.

Ollie could see that although he was speaking to him, Wesley’s eyes were trained on the motorcycle and the two people across from them at the curb.

“Thanks.” Ollie answered. “Where we headed from here? Your house?”

Wesley nodded, but didn’t take his eyes from J.J. and Chase.

When the motorcycle pulled off, Wesley also slowly pulled away from the curb.

Ollie was kicking himself. He’d hoped it wouldn’t happen that way, but he could clearly see that he should have followed his first mind and insisted upon Wesley getting out from under the wheel.

“Don’t, Wes.” He pleaded, although he was pretty sure that he was speaking in vain.

Wesley hung back, slowly cruising through the parking lot, giving the motorcycle a lead.

“Don’t what?” Wesley asked, his focus still trained on the bike.

“You know what, Wes. Leave her be.”

“I’m not doing anything to her.” Wesley replied. “It’s a free world. We can go where we like. If it just so happens that it’s in the same direction as they’re going, is that our fault?”

“There’s no “our” in this.” Ollie declared. “Understand that. I’m asking you not to do this. She almost had that fight because of you. You’re all up in her life, and she doesn’t want you there. Can’t you see that? You say that Tommy isn’t good enough for her. Well, she’s with Chase tonight. What’s your argument against Chase?”

Wesley didn’t answer. Instead he drove out of the lot, maintaining his distance from the bike, but keeping it within his viewpoint. Ollie, feeling like a hostage in his own car, continued to try to talk Wesley into doing something else.

“Come on, Wes. Leave them alone. Let’s just go to your house and play the video or something. Let’s call Tiff and them and see what’s up. They always have something up.”

Again, Wesley didn’t answer. He continued to follow J.J. and Chase, speeding up and slowing down with their progression through traffic, keeping the bike in sight, but also keeping his distance. J.J. and Chase turned out onto the busy main street. A few car lengths back, Wesley turned behind them. Chase abruptly switched lanes. Wesley switched too.

When Chase suddenly weaved into the right lane and turned down a two block side street that dead-ended into an alley, as they followed, Ollie could tell that he was on to them, and that things were getting dangerous.

“Wes, end it, man. Somebody’s going to get hurt.”

“I’m not doing anything to anybody.”

“Yes, you are, and you know you are. Chase knows it, too. If you care about J.J. the way you say you do, you’ll stop before they get hurt trying to lose you.”

“That’ll be Chase’s fault, if they do get hurt.” Wesley said. “Nobody’s chasing him. I can drive where I want. If he gets J.J. hurt, it’ll be his fault for driving that bike so recklessly with her on it. And it’ll be her fault for getting on it in the first place. I know she’s not supposed to be.”

“I’ll tell you this much, Wes. If she gets hurt, and it gets back to her father that you were involved; he is going to snap your neck.”

Chase turned and went back out onto the avenue, gliding into the middle lane. Wesley followed maneuvering them into the same lane, but remaining several cars back.

Ollie’s heart was in his throat. It was beating so hard in there that he felt as if he were going to choke on it. It was his car they were in, but everything was so out of control. He didn’t know what to do or what else to say to get Wesley to break it off. He also knew that Chase Barnett was tough and stubborn. He wasn’t going to let Wesley get anywhere near J.J. if he could help it.

He was happy to see that the upcoming traffic light was turning yellow, and that the bike was going to be caught by it. That would slow everything down, for the moment at least.

_______________________________________________________________

They had ridden several blocks when Chase first noticed that they were being followed. He had seen the familiar maroon colored sedan, but it wasn’t until he executed a few unusual maneuvers, turned a corner that he didn’t have to turn, and drove through a narrow alley, that he was sure that it was Ollie’s car tailing them.

“Why are we weaving and stuff like this, Chase?” J.J. called to him over the noise of the motor. “Why did we come down here?”

“Hold on to me tight, J!” He called back to her. “Real tight. Hold on, put your head down, and don’t let go no matter what happens.”

Typically, she questioned his instructions to her. “What’s wrong?”

“Just do what I told you.” He ordered as he slowed the bike down, yielding to a yellow light. “Trust me, J.”

They had exited the alley and had returned to the main thoroughfare. The sedan was still a couple of cars back.

Checking the mirror on her side before she did, J.J. quickly lay her head down on Chase’s back, put her arms around him, and held on. At first, it seemed as if they were going to stop right along with the lanes of traffic on either side of them. But, the second before the light actually turned red, Chase gunned it, shooting out to cross the intersection.

At the same time, a car coming from the other direction jumped the light.

_______________________________________________________________

“I knew it.” Jennifer declared as she and Jonathan turned into the long drive leading up to the Landers home. “You didn’t ask enough questions. With that girl, you almost have to have a script prepared just to make sure that all the right questions get asked and all the bases get covered. If so much as a comma is left out of the instructions given to her, J.J. Hart is going to notice it and use it to her advantage.”

“You don’t know for sure that she’s up there.” Jonathan said as he hopefully scanned the assortment of cars and trucks Ted and Judy were gesturing toward as they got out of their car ahead of them.

When he spotted that new red BMW at the curve of the driveway, he instantly felt sick.

“If she is, Jonathan Hart,” Jennifer was fussing. “You might as well be prepared. I am going to wring that little chicken neck of hers in front of that entire cast of characters around that pool and in that house. She knows better than this.”

She opened her door as soon as he stopped the car, and was out before he could switch it off, all the while continuing to let him know her intentions.

“Then I’m going after her little hot girlfriend just as soon as I find her and snatch her out of whatever clinch she’s wrapped up in with Chance or whomever it is she’s set her swift little sights on this evening.”

“And then sir,” She stopped and pointed her finger across the top of the car at him as he got out on his side. “I’ll be dealing with you.”

Loud music, the sound of splashing water, and youthful voices laughing and calling came from the rear of the large house. A car full of kids and music started into the driveway. It abruptly stopped and then backed out to quickly squeal away.

Having been momentarily distracted by that, she focused back on him.

“Oh, they were planning to have a hell of a good time at these peoples’ house, weren’t they?.”

“At least it isn’t at your house.” He weakly offered as a pizza truck slowly drove past them and continued around the drive to the back as if it were routine procedure. Both of them watched it along with Ted and Judy who also looked on as it blithely passed by them. All four parents then looked to each other. Ted shrugged, threw up his hands in surrender, and started up to the house.

Jennifer turned back to look at Jonathan. “Oh, no. You’re right about that. Your daughter may be wild, but she surely isn’t that crazy.” She said.

As she moved away from him toward the house, he noticed that the bushes were rustling along the other side of the parked cars, even though there was no real wind; at least not enough for that kind of movement. He stood still and watched, lowering his sights to the ground. Someone was crouched down, moving along that side of the drive. Whoever it was making their way from the house, and their progress was being reported by the shrubbery.

He continued his surveillance, almost certain he knew who it would turn out to be. He wasn’t the least bit surprised when Marnie crawled out from between the car parked in front of the one he suspected was hers, the one with MRNSTR on the front plate. She was so intent upon watching the adults approaching the house, especially the one in the red silk Dior whom she seemed startled to see was there, that she didn’t notice him at all.

“Damn! There’s J.J.’s mother, too.” She quietly exclaimed as she briefly ducked back between the cars. “Where the hell did she come from? I wonder who tipped all of them off.”

Apparently Marnie wasn’t alone. She peeked back out past the car bumpers, reporting, “The coast is clear. Come on.”

Getting up and dusting herself off, she rushed the driver’s side door of the BMW, saying, “Hurry up and get in so we can get the hell out of here before somebody spots us, especially Mrs. H.”

He was somewhat gratified to see that it was Chance Barnett who rose up from where he had been crawling along on the ground on the other side. It must have been the stunned, deer-in-the-headlights look on his face that got Marnie’s attention. She slowly turned her head to follow his gaze, and when she saw who Chance was seeing, her entire body slumped into the side of the car, and she put her head down on her arm as if she were going to faint.

“Where’s J.J., Marnie?” Jonathan asked, remaining in the same spot he had been in the whole time. “You know Mrs. H. is on her way up there looking for the two of you.”

When Marnie, too overcome with shock, couldn’t answer, Chance answered for her. “She didn’t come, Mr. Hart.”

“Why not?” Jonathan asked, his eyes shifting from them, to Jennifer who soon disappeared around the side of the house, and back to them. “Marnie, I thought she said that she was with you.”

“She was at first.” Marnie finally managed to get out while shakily fanning herself with her purse. “We did go to the DQ together, but then we went out to the marina from there. I don’t know where she went after that.”

She held back that she and Chance had been on their way out to see if J.J. and Chase had gotten there, and if not, to go looking for them. Instead they had almost run right into Mr. and Mrs. Landers. It could have been worse, she figured. She could have stayed up at the house, and had the Duchess roll right up on her, catching her red handed at the scene of the crime and consequently finding out about the car under the worst possible circumstances.

“On the bike.” Jonathan concluded. “With Chase.”

Chance looked to the ground. Jonathan looked to Marnie, his eyes asking the same question of her. She looked off into the distance. Their combined silence loudly confirmed his hypothesis.

After a few uncomfortable moments, he finally said, “Get out of here. One of you get on the phone and get to J.J. Tell her to head home. Tell her what happened, and that I said so.”

Marnie looked at him in disbelief while Chance hopped over into the car. “What, Mr. H.?” She stammered. “You’re gonna-”

“Come on, Marn.” Chance urged. “You heard him say. Take him up on it. Let’s go!”

“Get!” Jonathan repeated, stealing glances up to the house. “Go now! If Mrs. H. catches you up here, you can kiss this new car goodbye for a while. Do what I say if you want to hang on to it.”

Marnie snatched open the door and jumped into the driver’s seat. Seconds later, she was making a U-turn in the drive. Jonathan approached the car and stopped her before she could pull all the way out.

“No speeding.” He ordered. “There’s no need to hurry. Just get Chance back down to the marina, and you head straight home. We’ll keep this between us.”

“I owe you one.” She said sincerely.

“Oh, this is no freebie. ” He informed her. “Make no mistake. I will be calling in my marker. You just be ready when I do.”

“No problem, Mr. H.” She promised, tugging at his shirt collar and pulling him to her to kiss his cheek. “You’re the best. We’ll get to J. You can count on it.”

“Thanks, Mr. Hart.” Chance said from the passenger seat, phone already in hand. “You’re an all right guy.”

Jonathan patted the car to send them on their way, thinking, “It’s just that I remember what it’s like to be sixteen and seventeen, that’s all.”

“Get out of here, both of you.” He said to them.  “Go. To the marina and then straight home, Marnie. Call my cell when you get home- from the house phone- so that I’ll know you made it safely. You and I will talk later.”

“I will. Okay.” She said, waving as she and Chance drove off.

Jonathan stood there until Marnie made the left at the end of the drive, and they were out of sight. Then, with his hands in his pockets, he slowly strolled up toward the house to join the others who were putting an end to the festivities.

The kids were wrong to do what they’d done, but from all indications, theirs was not generally a sex, drugs and alcohol group. The Wild Bunch partied, and they could get one going anywhere/anytime, but still, they partied pretty cleanly. Pizza, noise, and a mess was usually the extent of the fallout from one of their impromptu gatherings. He figured he’d be gloating all night over his kid(s) not being caught up there at this one. A lovely, but feisty, redhead would have to live up to those threats she’d made. Oh, she’d be dealing with someone all right.

He wondered about J.J. and where she was with Chase on that motorcycle her mother would go ballistic about her being on if she knew. Jennifer had unwittingly left the door open on that one. He had already figured out J.J.’s pattern of thought on that. Her mother had only stipulated that she couldn’t ride with Tommy on his bike. He was certain that J.J. had put the loophole theory into play, not that it would help her any if Jennifer was to get wise to her. She could try to explain to Jennifer that hole in the instructions she’d been given until she was blue in the face, but Jennifer would lower the boom on her just the same. He was tempted to call J.J., but he thought better of it. Marnie would catch up to her and warn her off. Also, At that point, there wasn’t that much time left until she would have to be home anyway, and he had no doubt that she’d make it in on time. There was too much at stake for her to not make curfew and risk deliberately annoying her mother in any way.

Still, he couldn’t shake that slightly anxious feeling he’d been having all night about her. There had been that first call, and that hadn’t been helped by Ollie Sr.’s suspicions about Wesley and the unusual inquiries Ollie Jr. said that he’d been making. But he wasn’t too worried. According to Georgette, Wesley was with his father. J.J. wasn’t with Marnie anymore, but she was with Chase, and he knew that he could count on that boy to look out for her.

Chase Barnett, like Tommy Steele, had been fully indoctrinated, by him, on exactly what the deal was as it related to his daughter. He didn’t trust too many guys with her, but he did have faith in those two. They were young and very male, but there had been no middle man with Tommy and Chase. He had known them since they were kids and had personally lit that fire under them about her years ago. Since that time, he had taken great care to keep the flames brightly let, so he was fairly certain that nothing in the message had been obscured or misinterpreted. They both knew first-hand what was expected of them when J.J. was in their company. Chase wouldn’t let any harm come to J.J. that didn’t come to him first.

And besides, although she might be a little on the daring and slightly reckless side, just like her mother said; J.J. Hart wasn’t crazy- or loose- at all. She might be a little rich girl from Bel Air, but she wasn’t naive. She had a reasonable amount of LA street smarts, too. Despite Jennifer’s lingering misgivings about his daughter’s judgment, he really did have faith in her. When it got down to the bottom line, J.J. knew exactly what was expected of her, too.

_______________________________________________________________

Horns were blaring from the cars stuck behind them. People were shouting, but Ollie, oblivious to it all, continued to pound Wesley. Shocked and caught off guard by his normally submissive and passive friend’s sudden vicious attack on him, Wesley found himself hopelessly entangled in the seat belt and unable to do anything in defense other than try to protect his face. Ollie had him pressed against the driver’s side door as he delivered blow after furious blow.

When he witnessed what had happened ahead of them as they stopped for the traffic light, in a moment of panic and then blind outrage, Ollie had released himself from his own seat belt, snatched the car into park, and then leapt across the console to pounce on the cause of it all. Things had been allowed to go as far as he was going to let them without some assertive reaction on his part, and in those few moments following, he vented his years of repressed resentment and his more recently formed frustrations.

Wesley finally managed a weak attempt at retaliation. Striking out blindly, he knocked Ollie’s glasses from his face. They shattered and broke into several pieces when they smashed into the windshield. That only served to further enrage Ollie who escalated the intensity of the violent beating he was delivering.

Both doors of the car were suddenly yanked open, and Wesley sort of fell out, restrained from going all the way to the ground by the seatbelt into which he was still harnessed and the arms of the policeman who caught him. The other officer pried Ollie off Wesley, while the first one released Wesley from his seatbelt and helped him up from where he was awkwardly slumped, dazed and streaked with the blood that flowed from his nose and mouth and which also stained Ollie’s knuckles.

“We’re through, Wes!” Ollie spat as the officer on his side of the car drug him, struggling furiously, away to the curb.

“Forget about it. You and me, this so-called friendship; it is through! My father’s right. Mr. Hart’s right. Everybody’s right. I’m the only one who’s been soft and stupid. You’re a sick, spoiled, low life! I told about what you were looking for. My father knows all about it. He knows all about you. I hope Hart kicks the crap out of you, too, when he catches up to you!”

_______________________________________________________________

Walking down the Lander’s drive, on their way back to their car after helping Ted and Judy get things squared away and sending the kids packing, Jennifer requested Jonathan’s phone.

“Who are you calling?” He asked as he handed it to her.

“J.J.” She answered. “I find it mighty strange that both she and Marnie aren’t here. I looked everywhere just in case they might be silly enough to try hiding from me, but I didn’t see any sign of them at all. Did you notice that the twins weren’t there either? I just want to know what’s going on with them.”

She pressed the speed dial button and put the phone to her ear. They had reached the car. He got in while she remained outside her door waiting for J.J. to pick up. After a few moments, she got in.

“She doesn’t answer.” She said, hitting that speed dial button again.

Another few moments went by. She clicked off and looked over to him. “Still no answer. That’s so odd. She always has that phone with her.”

She pressed the button for the house phone; J.J.’s line and then the main line. They both just rang without being picked up.

“She isn’t there either.” Jennifer said, handing him back the cell.

He started the car, beginning to feel a little more than slightly apprehensive himself.  “Maybe she let the charge run down in her phone.” He suggested.

She sat back in her seat with a confused and mildly worried look on her face. “No, she had her cell on my desk this afternoon, using my charger. She never leaves home without a phone or without charging it. It’s a habit with her to keep her phone charged. Ever since that episode with her and Tommy getting taken, she’s even more diligent about it.

Jennifer reached for the in-dash phone. “Maybe I can get Marnie.”

“Just wait, darling.” He said quickly, moving her hand from the receiver as he began backing the car up to pull out and take the horseshoe drive to the other side to go out.

Attempting to sound casual and reassuring, while trying to ignore the hunch he’d been having that all was not well in J.J.’s world, he said, “Let’s just get home. I’m sure she’s okay. Maybe she’s got her phone in her purse and it’s on vibrate. She wouldn’t hear it if that’s the case. It’s fairly close to time for her to be in anyway. By the time we get home, she should probably be there. We don’t want her to think we don’t trust her or that we’re nervous Nellies.”

“I am a nervous Nellie.” Jennifer tersely admitted as she crossed her arms. “And I don’t care if she knows it.”

He understood that the cavalier attitude he was consciously projecting was frustrating her, but her phoning and not getting an answer was unsettling to him. He knew that his cell number had to have shown up in J.J.’s display, and he was certain that if she had seen it, she would have picked up. It wasn’t like her to ignore one of them when they phoned her, like he was told some kids were inclined to do. The purse theory he’d offered had been subterfuge on his part. When J.J. had her phone on vibrate, she normally kept it on her person so that she could feel it when she was getting a call. All night he had been experiencing that vaguely anxious feeling about her, and his hunches were usually never off. Information he had received and the recent turn of events were making him very nervous for her.

He resolved that if she wasn’t there when they got home, he would be getting right back into that car to go looking for her himself even if it wasn’t quite time for her to be home.

_______________________________________________________________

No answer on J.’s phone or Chase’s.” Chance said from the passenger’s seat. “I don’t like this. Chase always has his phone.”

“So does J. Try the Hart’s place.” Marnie instructed.

“No answer there either.” He reported after putting the number in and letting it ring several times. “It’s funny that neither one of them picks up, and that they didn’t show up at Tiff’s either.” He stopped and his eyes got big. “Hey Marn, you don’t think that they might be-”

“Oh, get real.” Marnie scornfully cried. “J.J. and Chase? I don’t think so. If anything, they’re somewhere swimming or playing cards or something, and they don’t hear the phone. Or they’re talking and just don’t feel like picking up. J. does that sometimes if it isn’t her folks calling. Besides, Chase knows he’d get his teeth knocked out about coming at J.J. like that.”

“Why does it always have to be the guy, Marnie?” Chance asked in defense of his brother. “What if it was J.J. who came on to Chase?”

“Because,” Marnie answered. “We both know that in that situation, Chase would be the horn-dog. J. and Chase aren’t like you and me.”

Chance smiled, despite his instincts insisting that something wasn’t right with Chase. “Yeah, what was I thinking? That is my brother we’re talking about. So, what are you saying, Marn? I got a shot with you?”

Marnie slid him a sidelong glance. “Let’s just say that if you continue to play your cards right, you might make the waiting list.”

Nodding in satisfaction with her response, Chance smiled. “See, that’s why you’re so much my kind of girl. You just say what it is. You at least give a guy something to aim for, hope and whatnot.”

Marnie laughed. ” I don’t know which one of us is sicker or nastier, you or me.”

“Does it matter?” He asked. “We’re both horn-dogs.”

“Go on, boy. Try those numbers again.” She said.

Before he could do so, however, the phone rang in his hand. He answered and then proceeded to listen, responding briefly and intermittently to the almost one-sided conversation.

Marnie, still driving but intrigued by what she couldn’t hear, repeatedly asked, “What?” Only to be waved off by Chance.

“What?” She kept asking, growing increasingly impatient as Chance’s responses became more animated.

“Tell me, dammit!” She cried in frustration, only to be waved off again.

Finally he hung up. “That was Lillie Phillips.” He said. “Seems like the rest of the world has been on the wild while we thought we were on the loose up at Tiff and Britt’s.”

“What happened?”

“For starters, J.J. and Issy got into it big time at the DQ.”

“What was J.J. doing back there?”

“I don’t know. Lillie didn’t say. She just told me that J.J. kicked Issy’s butt without lifting a finger to her. She said that it was over something stupid, and that she and her girls tried to talk Issy out of confronting J.J., but that Issy wouldn’t listen. She said J. beat the mess out of her with words.”

Marnie shook her head in sympathy for Isabel, and snickered at the mental tableau. “No, you don’t want to go there with J. That girl is getting so she can work the King’s English like nobody’s business. Gets it from her mother and her grandfather. And if it was over what I think it was over, then I know J. hung Issy’s tramping ass high up on the cross, hammered the rusty nails in with the heel of one of Issy’s own shoes, and then walked away wiping her hands of the whole damned thing. What else did Lillie say?”

“Well, you know Lillie’s old man is an attorney. It seems that Ollie Jackson and Wesley Singleton just got hauled in.”

“Arrested? For what?”

“Disorderly conduct. They were fist-fighting in the middle of Santa Monica.”

“Oh, man! Wes and Ollie?” Marnie laughed. “That’s a hoot.”

“Yeah, Ollie supposedly broke Wesley’s nose. Beat the crap out of him, she said her brother told her. He called her, asking her if she had any idea what was up between them. Their father is Ollie’s father’s attorney. Brent overheard him talking to Mr. Jackson on the phone. He called Lillie trying to see if she knew exactly what went down. Wes and Ollie have always been so tight. He said everybody he’s talked to so far was so shocked that Ollie would jump on Wes like that.”

“I’m not.” Marnie declared. “Brent and Lillie are gonna get killed one day for calling around and spreading their father’s business around like that although I’m glad it got spread over here this time. Try those numbers one more time, Chance.”

_______________________________________________________________

Jonathan headed for the kitchen to let Third out and to see if J.J. might be back there. Jennifer went straight up the stairs. Her worried mother’s heart immediately eased when she saw that band of light peeking out from under J.J.’s door. She knocked, then called for her, and when she didn’t get an answer, she opened the door. J.J. wasn’t in immediate sight, but the sound of the blow dryer going in the bathroom with the music playing loudly behind that, explained what was going on.

J.J., who hadn’t heard anything over the noise, jumped when her mother suddenly appeared in the bathroom door.

“Mom!” She cried, switching off the dryer and using the remote to turn off the music coming from the sitting room. “I didn’t hear you come in. You scared me! It’s a good thing I was decent.”

“I’m sorry, and you don’t have anything I haven’t seen.” Jennifer said as she entered the bathroom while attempting to hide her relief. “I called for you to let you know that I was coming.”

“I guess I didn’t hear you with the dryer and the music going and all.”

“I also tried to phone you twice before that when I was on my way home.”

“I must have been in the shower.” J.J. replied. “My cell phone is there in the room next to the house phone. I haven’t checked either of them. I haven’t been out of here since I got out of the shower. I’ve been drying my hair for the longest, it seems. I really need to looking into having it cut.”

“Your father would have a fit. How was your night out?” Jennifer asked, carefully watching her daughter’s face as it was being reflected in the mirror while she waited for the answer.

“It was okay.” J.J. casually answered as she applied night cream to her face. “We didn’t really do anything. We just hung out.”

“You and Marnie?”

“Me, Marnie, and a bunch of different people off and on. I think I saw everybody at some point during the night. I ev-. I saw all the gang. Like I said, it was okay.”

“Anything especially exciting happen?”

J.J. was careful to keep her expression even, and to focus on her own face, purposefully avoiding her mother’s eyes which were being reflected in the mirror as they searched hers. “Not especially. It was just a night out.”

“Um- hmmmm.” Jennifer sat down on the dressing table bench right next to J.J. She took her daughter’s still slightly damp hair and her hair brush in hand, and slowly began stroking the long locks as she continued to speak.

“We happened to go out to the Landers’ tonight. It turns out that a lot of your friends were there, trespassing as usual.”

She turned to the mirror to catch J.J.’s eyes again to try and gauge her reaction.

“Oh, yeah? Did the patrol service rat them out again? The cops come?”

There was nothing to read in those blue eyes, and there had been no tell-tale changes in that freckled face.

Jennifer put the brush down and separated the hair into three sections which she began to slowly thread together in a loose braid.

“No. No cops.” She said. “We happened to get there before things went too far.” She looked back to the mirror. “I thought at first that I might find you there, but I was happy and proud to see that you weren’t.”

“No.” J.J. answered with a sigh, turning away from the glass and putting her back to her mother, seemingly to allow her to more easily do up her hair. “I decided to just come home, get a shower, and wash my hair. I was kinda tired. We’ve been away so long, I guess I need time to get back up to full speed.”

“Oh, but you did know about it.” Jennifer pushed. “So, what you’re telling me is if you hadn’t been tired, you might have gone to Tiffany’s?”

J.J. turned back to the mirror. Jennifer looked into it also. Their eyes met and J.J. smiled mischievously at her mother’s reflection, all the while thinking, “Don’t even try it. You didn’t see me, you didn’t catch me, I didn’t do it; so you know I’m not admitting to anything.”

Then she twisted around so that she could look directly at her mother.

“I’m taking the Fifth on that.” Was her vocal response.

Jennifer finished the braid, inwardly smirking at the cagey answer, knowing full well that there was more than likely a whole lot more to the story of her daughter’s night out than she was being told. But at that point, it was of no matter. J.J. was home, safe in her room and ready for bed with no visible scars or bruises- or hickeys. Whatever she might have been into that night, she had apparently come through it no worse for it. She had even made it in before curfew. Showered, her hair fairly dry, and dressed in her nightclothes, J.J. Hart had, for once, made it in well before curfew.

“Well, I guess I’ll call it a night myself.” Jennifer yawned as she stood and stretched. “Good night, Sweetie.”

“Good night, Mom.” J.J. stood and leaned in to press her cheek against her mother’s. “Sweet dreams.”

As she watched her mother leave, the Wesley thing crossed her mind, but she pushed it away. She wanted to tell her and to get her take on it, but it was just too dirty to talk about. She didn’t think she really wanted to know what might make Wesley think of her at a moment like that. It might be understandable if they had some kind of relationship along those lines, but they did not.

It was just too sordid to talk about. With anybody. She wished she hadn’t been told of it.

When she heard the bedroom door close, signaling her mother’s departure, J.J. dropped down onto the bench and loudly exhaled with relief, her hand pressed to her rapidly beating heart.

“You’re getting good,” she told herself.

It had been one heck of a night. She’d driven illegally, hung out with good friends, driven the coast on the back of a Harley, been invited to a weed and beer card party, and seen Russell, a person she always enjoyed seeing. She’d almost gotten into a fight, an event to which the police had evidently been summoned, she’d been followed/chased by a lunatic and his wimp of a friend, and it had all culminated in she and Chase almost being killed.

…all because of Wesley. Why would Ollie aid Wesley in following them like that? Because of them, she and Chase had nearly been run over at that light. Wesley was in the wind as far as she was concerned, and she wasn’t so sure that Ollie was her friend any more either.

Just like a guy.

Ollie had taken Wesley’s side, holding him up despite the fact that he had been the one who had been warning her about him all along. He said he was looking out for her, but he was still being loyal to his friend, his guy friend. He had been aiding Wesley in all of it that night while they were all out there on the street. That had certainly been Ollie’s car following them. That had been Ollie’s car that Chase had been trying to get her away from when he went through that yellow light. Fortunately, in the end, the only actual casualty of that other car jumping the light had been Chase’s phone, which popped off his pants and got run over when she had been holding on to him for dear life.

After they somehow escaped being wiped out, they had ridden for several more blocks to be sure that they had lost the maroon car before they finally stopped to check on each other. Once they pinched each other and determined that they were still actually alive and in one piece, they had gone into the coffee house and had an espresso to calm their nerves and to talk about the whole thing- well, not the whole thing- but as much as Chase needed to know, anyway. After that, they both decided that somebody was trying to tell them that it was time for them to go home, and that was exactly what they had done.

She left the bathroom and went to sit on the side of her bed to recover from the evening and from trying to keep her cool with her mother. She had come in and taken that shower strictly as a means of coming down from the frenzy she had been in. Her emotions had truly been put through their paces. After a few minutes, she got in under the covers and was about to look at a magazine when there came another knock at the door.

“Come in.” She called.

Her father stuck his head in. The pint of chocolate chip and a spoon were in his hands.

“Thanks.” He said as he held them up for her to better see them. “Good thinking on the double cold-pak. Not mushy at all.”

“You’re welcomed, Daddy. I was glad to do it for you.”

“I just wanted to say good night to my girl before I turned in to enjoy it.”

“No problem.” She smiled. “Don’t eat it too fast. Mom’s going to have a fit about you eating that right before bed, but that’s on you. She was your wife long before she was my mother. Good night and good luck. You ought to know her by now. ”

“That I do.” He smiled back, but instead of him leaving, he came in and stood over her bed, looking down at her in what seemed to her a very curious manner.

“What?” She asked after an uncomfortable minute.

“Nothing. Just enjoying the view.” He smiled, bending down to kiss her on the forehead. “No more driving without a license. Okay?” He said as nose-to-nose, he looked directly into her eyes.

“Oh,” She thought to herself. “When it comes to me, Calvin suddenly regains his eyesight.” Nothing got past Daddy.

“Okay.” She guiltily blushed. “Sweet car, though, isn’t it? Does my mother know?”

“I didn’t tell her.” He answered. “About anything.”

“Thanks, Daddy. I’ll do right from now on. I just had to that one time. I love you for not ratting me out or being mad at me. I promise I won’t do it any more.”

“I know you won’t, and I love you, too, baby. Good night.”

“Good night.”

He left, closing the door behind him. Just as he did, her cell buzzed on the night table. It was Marnie. They talked for a few minutes after Marnie finished letting her have it about not answering her cell. Then she hung up in total wonder at the details of the brief, but informative conversation.

Daddy was the absolute man. A class act all the way. Once again, she sighed with relief. She understood completely why a kid had two parents. Hers were great together, and separate, they were equally as good in their own way and for totally different reasons. They both played important parts in her life, and they played them well, insuring full coverage as far as she was concerned.

She got ready to turn off the lamp, but then her eyes rested on that picture of her grandmother that she kept on her night table.

It was at that moment that she knew precisely who pushed her and Chase out of harm’s way at that intersection, making that car miss them by inches. It had been such a close call that when she closed her eyes, she could still feel it whizzing behind her as it passed, the driver not having time to brake at all. She knew who it was that had been up on Santa Monica with good old Ollie. He hadn’t let her down after all. It was such a good feeling to know that he hadn’t broken her trust and that she could still count him among her good friends

And she knew who had been up in the hills at Tiffany’s with Daddy, helping him to see to his own either being in, or getting to, the right places at the right time. It had been one hel- heck of a night.

She thought of what might have been if things hadn’t turned out as they had. She pictured her father’s facial expression, and what it would have been in that case when he stuck his head in her door those few moments before.  She thought about her mother and what she would have been going through when she came into the room, if things hadn’t worked out as they had. Poor Chase. He had just gotten caught in the middle, trying to look out for her. He would have just been a pawn, collateral damage.

Wesley Singleton was a jackass. In her book, he was a finished chapter- through- completely out of her life, the life he had almost caused her to lose.

It had indeed been a hell of a night.

But it was okay now. She was back home, and she was safe. She had been delivered from evil, and she had avoided lockdown. Ask, she thought, and you shall receive.

Good looking out.” She whispered to the photo. “Thanks again, from me and from all of us.”

She switched off the light and lie down to sleep.

_______________________________________________________________

Having taken that call he had been expecting on his cell phone, Jonathan was just hanging up from a call that had come in on the house phone when Jennifer finally came into the bedroom from the dressing room. She slid under the covers and across the sheets to join him over on his side of the bed, ending up on her stomach, but looking up into his face.

“Ohhh.” She cooed with concern when she noticed that furrow in his brow. “I know that look. What’s wrong?”

With her fingertips, she caressed and smoothed his forehead. He closed his eyes, relaxing under her soothing touch as he answered, “Nothing really. It was just Ollie Jackson giving me some news on some young stock we’ve been investing in.”

“Not doing well?” She asked.

“Depends on how you look at it, I guess.” He answered. “To me, it looks like it might have great potential. We’re going to meet together in the morning and take a closer look at things. See what action we want to take.”

She stopped massaging his forehead and put her head down on his chest where he loved having her. He ran his fingers through her hair which served to ease him gently back into his usual contented self. The calls he had received in that short span of time said that his nagging bad feelings about J.J. that night had not been unfounded. Fortunately they just hadn’t played out. Since they hadn’t, and J.J. was safe in her room, her mother didn’t really need to know the details of what all had gone on, even if he did. Their daughter had held her own, and had made it back to them relatively unscathed. She was some girl. And just like Jennifer said, she was her Daddy’s girl; she always had been. A rogue, a scamp, a contender, a survivor. Completely, totally, essentially, absolutely all Hart

Wesley had truly messed up once and for all. He had been trying to wait it out, but that message from Ollie Sr., just before Jennifer came into the room, had taken things to an entirely new level. It had to stop. Ollie Jr. had proven himself… but so had Wesley.

“Darling.” He said, still stroking her hair. “I know that you don’t want J.J. to have a car just yet, but I do think she needs to go ahead and at least get her license. She’s sixteen and pretty responsible. There may be times that she needs to drive. Some of her friends already have cars, and we can’t govern her every move. At least if she has a driver’s license, she’ll be legal if she has occasion to get behind the wheel of one of their cars.”

“And just why might she have occasion to get behind the wheel of someone’s car, Jonathan?”

“Well, you know how she and her crew are so cozy and how they share things back and forth. She might even find herself in a situation where she’s out with someone, and she needs to be the designated driver. Kids do things sometimes, and I want her to be able to capably, safely, and legally handle herself. She’s growing up, Jennifer, and she’s going to be out there, away from us, more than ever as time goes on.”

“And seeing as how she already knows how to drive.” Jennifer added without raising her head.

Surprised, he looked down to more accurately gauge her body language. When there was nothing to read, he finally ventured, “You knew that?”

“For years.” She confirmed. “I know that you started with her out at the ranch. Jonathan Hart, anything you can do, J.J. Hart can or will be able to do. There’s been a definite pattern to it all along- all of her life. You’re her muse, and she’s your attentive rogue apprentice. She’s becoming quite adept at it, too, I should tell you.”

Right away, he thought about the flying. The girl was so good. That afternoon, up in the sky with her he could see how much she’d grown. After those calls about her, he could see it even more. If Jennifer knew that J.J. could fly or, God forbid, that she was ready for her pilot’s license, she hadn’t given up a clue that she did. But then again, she hadn’t given up one about the driving until that moment. He quickly decided that he’d table the flying confession until it actually came down to it.

“She can get her driver’s license.” Jennifer conceded. “She might as well be legal. But I do still want her to wait until she’s seventeen to get a car of her own. I think she’s too young yet to feel that she can just come and go at will, and that’s what she’ll be thinking if she has her own car. She’s responsible, but not that responsible.”

“Speaking of my daughter being responsible.” He said. “I seem to recall being threatened earlier, and I think that I’m owed a sincere apology. My kid was at home. But someone did tell me that I’d be dealt with later about it. If you check my watch, I think you’ll find that it is later.”

Sliding her hand down underneath the covers and checking, she looked up to him with a naughty smile.

“I see. It is time, and I do sincerely apologize. Our kid was at home, just like her father said she would be.”

“That feel like putty to you, Mrs. Hart?”

She chuckled. “Not at all, Mr. Hart, but it’s definitely Grade A.”

“And I’m still going to get dealt with, right?” he nodded hopefully.

“Right,” she answered as she eased herself on top of him to deliver the first delicious kiss of his “punishment”.

“And so is that damned Wesley,” he hazily thought to himself as this time he was the one to melt into it.

End

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One Response to A Night Out

  1. cindie neu says:

    Thrilling-exciting !!! Wesley needs to go to jail. Great stuff Marie. Can’t wait to get to the next one. I still have to mention the romance and the lovin’.

    Liked by 1 person

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