“This was yours?” J.J. asked of the dollhouse as she squatted in fascination before it. “Of course it was. Says right here, ‘Jenny’s House’. It is absolutely wonderful!”
Completely overwhelmed by all the things she had been shown so far hidden in that passageway, the dollhouse was yet another delightful glimpse into her mother’s heretofore dark past. She reached in and with the tip of her finger, touched the lone little chair in that front bedroom on the second floor, getting down on her hands and knees to watch it rock back and forth.
“Is there more furniture? There has to be. There has to be more with a dollhouse this size.”
Jennifer stood behind her, highly amused by her sixteen year old daughter’s excitement and complete absorption in a dollhouse that at six, she wouldn’t have given a second look. In response to the question, she shined the lantern light on that open cabinet next to the dollhouse.
“Ooooh!” J.J. crooned as she spied the stacked toy furniture on those bottom shelves. “This is so cool. Did somebody make all this for you?”
“Your great-grandfather, Stephen Sr. made the house and most of the furniture.”
Still on her knees, J.J. was extracting pieces of the furniture, examining each one closely. “I knew he was a master carpenter, but I cannot get over this. This is just way too cool, Mom. How come it’s down here hidden away?”
Jennifer briefly closed her eyes as, standing over her, J.J.’s ponytail evoked the hazy image of a very little girl. She could see the child kneeling before the doll house; her little legs, the lacy ankle socks and pink tennis shoes. Two other small dark figures, suddenly darted past the girl, apparently chasing, playing. Vaguely, she could hear J.J. saying something, which brought her back from the momentary reverie.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
By this time, J.J. had stood up to peruse the items on the other shelves.
“I asked how come all these toys and books are down here? I would have thought they would have once been up in your room- my room now- in the main house. You said you hadn’t used the room since- I would have thought that all of it would have just been left up there. As far back as I can remember, it’s always just been a room- not a kid’s room.”
She reached in and pulled the worn, stiff rag doll from the collection of dolls on that shelf and checked it out carefully. “This one was your favorite, wasn’t it?”
Jennifer smiled at the sight of it in J.J.’s, her daughter’s, hands. “How can you tell?”
J.J. held the doll up, gently squeezing its midsection. “She’s all used and everything. I bet she was all soft and dirty and stinky in her day, wasn’t she?”
“Yeah, you know how little kids sleep with stuff and then they slobber all on it. And then they don’t want their mother to wash it because it might wash the good junk off.”
Jennifer chuckled at her daughter’s words. Then she slowly, almost dreamily explained while J.J. watched her face.
“My mother didn’t tolerate dirty and stinky. She would have washed her no matter what I said about it. In fact, she did. She wasn’t having it. That’s really why she’s so faded-looking.”
When she was done, if felt good having recalled that bit of her past without the angst that usually accompanied a detail that so intimately included her and her mother.
J.J., in response, hugged the doll to her chest and looked to Jennifer. “Then you’re a lot like her.” She said. “You aren’t having it about a lot of unnecessary stuff either.”
Then, as if it abruptly occurred to her, she asked, “Hey Mom, was all this kid stuff here and all your things back there by Pa’s desk brought down here because you stopped being a kid when your mother di- left you?”
Jennifer tilted her head in curious question, checking her daughter out closely. “What makes you say that, J.J.?”
“Say what? That you stopped being a kid?”
J.J. hesitated momentarily, as if she were considering what she wanted to say. Then instead of answering, she made a request.
“May I speak freely? We’ve never talked about this kind of thing before, and I don’t want to be asking you things that might upset you. If it’s going to bother you, we don’t have to go there.”
“That was my reason for bringing you down here, J.J. I want to talk. I want you to talk to me. Yes, tell me.”
“All right. You’ve shown me all these things, here and upstairs, and for a while now I’ve been trying to put myself in your place. I figured that first your mother died, very suddenly at that. Pa told me how he put all of her things away from you. You told me yourself that you changed rooms right after your mother died. You never really said why, but I always assumed that you did that to get away from the memories. Then Pa sent you away to school, and you really didn’t live here full time any more after that, which meant that everything you knew was left here. I figure that’s got to be enough to grow anybody up.”
Having been hit too accurately and too close to home by her child, Jennifer found it a bit difficult at first to address her daughter’s dead-on observations about the situation. Her initial reaction was to do what she had trained herself to do: retreat from it. But this time, feeling stronger about it all, she willed herself to be done with it.
“The items upstairs, by Pa’s desk, used to be in the room that is your room in the main house. These things here were once in my room in the guest house. My mother and I stayed in the guest house a lot when it was just the two of us, so I had things in both places. After she died, I went away to school and you’re right, I didn’t live here any more after that. Briarwood stopped being my home. I think that after I left, and it was apparent that we weren’t really coming back here to live, Pa and Walter brought all my things down here, just like they did with my mother’s things. Yes, J.J., to answer your question, I think I stopped being a child when my mother died. That’s when I stopped being Jenny in my mind, and I became Jennifer.”
“She was the only one who called you that. Not even Pa?”
“Yes, she was the only one. Pa never did. Only my mother. That’s what made that name so special to me.”
J.J. turned back to the cabinet to look at the titles on the spines of the books there. “So, if Briarwood wasn’t your home, then where was home in your head when you were away in school?”
When she didn’t get an answer right away, she looked back over her shoulder. Her mother’s face looked pained, and she quickly caught herself. “Am I asking too many questions? I told you, we don’t have to go there.”
“No, sweetie, it’s okay. I told you, I want to talk about it.” Jennifer quickly recovered. “When I was in school, I guess, I- I guess at first, home in my head was with my mother. I didn’t like it here at Briarwood very much after she was gone. It was too big. Too empty. I stopped coming here. I kind of bumped around the world with Pa when I wasn’t in school. Then I moved to New York for a while. Before all of this, I didn’t think I got a real home in my head again until your father and I moved into our house on Willow Pond Road.”
“Not even when you lived in New York? That wasn’t home for you? Like, for me, home will always be LA and Willow Pond. When you think about “home” now, it’s not New York either?”
“Somehow, I knew that New York was a stopover for me. It was fun living there, but it wasn’t home. Briarwood is where I grew up, but it stopped being my home when my mother died. Home, for me, is Pa.”
J.J. nodded her understanding of her mother’s explanation. Jennifer hoped that she had made herself understood. She had been homeless for a number of years- until she learned that home was wherever her father happened to be.
“Do you mind if I take her upstairs?” J.J. asked, holding the rag doll on her shoulder like a baby, patting her back as she spoke.
“You?” Jennifer asked with a surprised smile. “A doll? I guess she’ll be joining that little male marionette dressed in the Aladdin suit that I saw hanging from the mirror of your dresser.”
“So you did see him! I wondered if you did. That’s Omar. Teddy gave him to me.”
“What have I told you about accepting gifts from boys, young lady?”
“You said about accepting jewelry and clothing. You didn’t say about accepting puppets. Teddy says my wish is Omar’s command.”
“Well, you just watch what you wish for, do you hear me?”
J.J. continued to pat the doll. “She belongs in my room. That’s her home. She’s on this end, but she should be on the other.”
“Now tell me.” Jennifer said, putting her free hand on her hip. “How do you figure that?”
“Deductive reasoning.” J.J. answered holding up one finger. “I’m a good detective. Tell me if I’m wrong. She was your favorite, so that means she probably went back and forth from the main house to the guest house with you. Pa had just come home, so you and my grandmother went back to the main house from staying down at the guest house. You must have left her-”
She stopped when she suddenly realized herself exactly why the doll got left behind. Jennifer finished it for her.
“-I left her because I was so excited about my father coming home that I didn’t remember her until it was time for me to go to bed. It was dark by that time, and my mother wouldn’t let me come back for her. The next day… well, I forgot about her altogether after that. She’s been on this end ever since. No, you’re not wrong. You’re very right- a very good detective.”
“I’m sorry.” J.J. said in response to the look her mother was trying to conceal, mortified that she taken her back to that bad time.
Jennifer smiled weakly and turned around to the cabinets behind her. “It’s okay. Again, it’s why I brought you down here.”
The cabinets on that side contained old blankets, clothes, books, and assorted other household items.
“She didn’t throw away anything.” Jennifer stood back to observe.
J.J., in the meantime, had come to that side and was in the next cabinet down from her. She was digging; eagerly feeling, lifting, looking, sorting through the old clothing hanging there, filling herself with the colors, textures, patterns, styles, smells, and the history they all illuminated for her. She recognized the labels in some of the old clothes, stores in London, Paris, New York. Much of what was there was for a child, a girl. She knew they had once been her mother’s things. There were boxes on the floor of the cabinet. They looked like boot boxes. Bending low to pull one stack toward her, something large and flat, wrapped in heavy brown paper and string fell forward from where it had been pressed against the back wall and held there by the clothes and boxes. She caught it with her hand.
Jennifer, on the other end, looking at the contents of the other cabinet and trying to decide what was salvageable and what in the world might be done with the rest, heard J.J. call. When she looked to answer her, she could see her tugging at her find, pulling it from the cabinet. The packaging immediately registered, and she rushed to her side.
J.J. was annoyed by the clothes that kept getting in her way as she tried to remove the object from the cabinet. She stopped, pushed the tightly packed garments as much as she could to either side of the rack and yanked it out with both hands. When she did, a book fell out from behind where it had been wedged against that back wall. By that time, her mother was there next to her. She handed the wrapped package off to her and got down to crawl in and retrieve the book. When she stood up again, she found her mother staring down at the item she had given her.
“Aren’t you going to open it?” J.J. asked, frustrated when she saw that her mother hadn’t begun to unwrap it.
“It’s for Pa.” Jennifer answered stiffly.
“How do you know?” J.J. quickly scanned the package leaning against her mother’s legs for markings or an address. “It isn’t labeled or anything.”
“I know.” Was the answer she received, and the tone of the voice in which it was delivered, caused her to understand that she had probably come upon one of those grown-up things which was not intended to be for her eyes.
Since that book she held in her hands had evidently been hidden behind it, she figured it probably fell into that same category.
“Here.” She said, handing it to her mother. “I found this on the floor behind that. It might be important.”
Jennifer took it, leaned the package against her legs, and handed the lantern she held to J.J.
While her mother opened the book and leafed quickly through its pages, J.J. held up the light for her so that she could better read what was there. As she did, she could see for herself that the words on the pages of the book were hand-written. She could also see that the color was draining from her mother’s already too pale face.
“What’s the matter, Mom?”
Jennifer abruptly closed the book. She put it back on a shelf in that cabinet and closed the door. She leaned the package against the cabinet. Taking J.J. by the arm, she said, “Let’s go. We’ll pick those up on the way back.”
J.J. knew better than to ask any questions. It was apparent that those items weren’t open for discussion. Without further comment, she got her crutch from where she had leaned it, left the doll lying on top of the dollhouse, and continued on with her mother.
Jonathan rode slowly, trying to deal with his conflicting emotions. A lot of feelings were jockeying for the top spot, but he couldn’t settle on any one. He didn’t know exactly how he should feel.
Jennifer had just taken off on him. He thought that she had agreed to come down from the attic and spend some time away from all of that. He thought they were going to spend some time together, but when he went back to get her, she was gone.
Had she changed her mind? Had something come to her, and the resulting curiosity drawn her back? Or, had she just agreed to come down with him to get rid of him? He hated the idea of her being up there alone, but maybe that was what she needed. Maybe it was what she wanted. Had she gone back to the attic, or with her father gone out for the day, had she returned to that hidden bedroom? In either case, why had she left without a word?
Throughout the entire thing, he had stood by, waiting patiently for her on the sidelines. She had allowed him to assist on a couple of maneuvers, but still she hadn’t fully let him in. Normally when she was going through something difficult, she solicited and welcomed his help. This time she had shut both he and J.J. out. In doing that, she had given him a glimpse of what it had been like for her during their early years together, when she would complain of him shutting her out.
The manner in which they handled troubles was a major difference in their personalities. Being on his own for much of his life, he had become accustomed to depending mostly on himself. Most times, he could work things out on his own. He had always tried not to be a bother to anyone else, and he had become so good at it that it had become an automatic response in him to focus on the problem until he had it worked through. It had taken time, and a strong effort on his part to try to overcome that habit and to realize that it hurt Jennifer when he did that to her. Just as it had been with him, he was sure that she wasn’t really aware of having closed him out, but it hurt just the same.
She had read her mother’s journals, but she hadn’t said very much about what they contained. Her talk of her mother seemed to flow a bit more freely, but still she hadn’t revealed a whole lot about her or of what she had learned of her. She let him into that attic, and she had shared that with him, but she hadn’t said anything at all to him about her mother’s bedroom. She had asked him to bring the chest down out of the attic, but she hadn’t said what was inside of it. Although it was upstairs in their room, and it was unlocked; he would never go behind her back and peek into it. He was sure that in time, she would tell him. He would just have to wait her out.
Granted, she was beyond tired and somewhat distanced mentally from what was going on in their real world; but still he was very troubled at being left on the outside in this last instance. She had just simply walked away. No indication that she planned to do it. No note. Not a word. It bordered on rude, and rude was not her style. As it related to him, it really wasn’t her style. It seemed everything was out of whack.
He was tired, too. Whatever affected Jennifer similarly affected him. Plus, her search for and discovery of her mother had stirred up some feelings within him that he thought he had taught himself to ignore. It struck him as fascinating that despite the disparity in their backgrounds, they had both been deeply affected by losing their mothers. Money and privilege or the lack thereof had no bearing on that. Both of them knew very well how it felt to be left behind. She had known her mother personally and had loved her. He would have loved to have known his mother personally, but basically, both women were missing pieces of their lives and of their daughter’s history. For years he had convinced himself that it wasn’t important, but the things that were happening with Jennifer were somehow dredging up personal things with which he didn’t want to have to deal.
J.J. told him that she wanted to know about her maternal grandmother, but he also heard what she hadn’t told him that day; that she was disappointed in him for not pursuing his own ancestry. He had shut her down about that more than once over the years, and she had ceased talking to him about it. But J.J. Hart was his kid. Her silence wasn’t because she had accepted his answer for not going into it. As she grew older, he could see that she was also growing stronger in her determination to know the things she wanted to know. She was also becoming more cautious about the information she shared, and more guarded about revealing the things she observed. It was hard sometimes, even for him, to gauge what she actually knew, and her intelligence made that task even more difficult. For the time being, she was respectful of her elders and their wishes, but he knew that as soon as she was no longer in such a subordinate position, the latch would be off the gate and she would be off and running. That thought also made him uncomfortable.
In the distance, he could see Pat and Bill’s car turn in from the main road. He urged Legs on so that he could meet them at the house.
“J.J. didn’t go with us, Jonathan.” Pat answered, when, after not seeing his daughter get out of the car, he pulled her back from the others who were going into the house. “Why is something wrong?”
“No. It’s just that I brought Jennifer down from the attic to get some air. We were going to go out on the grounds. I left her for a minute, and when I came back to get her, she was gone. I thought J.J. was with you.”
“We left J.J. in her room. She was upset about something. Marnie wouldn’t elaborate; you know how they are. Maybe she’s up there asleep.”
Jonathan shook his head. “I doubt it. No matter how upset she was, she would have surfaced and come outside by now. She doesn’t like to be closed up like that too much, even when she wants to be alone.”
Unconvinced, knowing how out-of-sorts her godchild had been and recalling that slamming door, Pat took Jonathan by the arm. “Let’s check anyway.”
He tied Legs off and they went into the house, heading straight for the stairs. J.J. wasn’t in her room, but the book she wanted her mother to sign was lying on her night table. Pat picked it up and flipped it open.
“J.J. told me about this.” She said. “I see Jennifer signed it. She must have come in here.”
Looking off into the closet, Jonathan, mightily relieved at knowing that Jennifer hadn’t just callously cast him aside after all, quietly assessed, “And now she’s doing that other thing that J.J. wanted her to do.”
Pat followed his gaze, realizing what he meant.
“Maybe it’s almost over then.” She said, placing her hand on his shoulder.
He nodded. “Mrs. Edwards finally has both her girls with her.”
“Who would have thought-” J.J. said in amazement as she held the light for her mother, “a whole other world down here, in my grandfather’s house. If I had known-”
“-you would have kept your little tail upstairs anyway.” Jennifer asserted as she stepped down on that latch to get them into the attic room.
“That’s what you think,” J.J. thought to herself before she was startled by the entire brick wall before her beginning to move forward.
“Geez,” she whispered. “Do you think we could have stuff like this under our house? It’s old too. The fire wouldn’t have gotten to that. If we do, it would still be there.”
“Come on here.” Jennifer said as she quickly ushered J.J. in, praying the girl never had occasion to closely scrutinize that wall behind the bar in the great room.
She ran right into J.J. who, awed by the room before her, had stopped in her tracks. To keep the fireplace from closing on her, she had to gently push the girl the rest of the way into the room. At the low rumbling sound, J.J. peered back behind them and gasped when she saw that it was a fireplace that they had come through, and that it was moving back into place.
Jennifer watched J.J. as, her eyes still searching out the room, she lay her crutch down on the floor and then rose back up to turn in a slow circle to continue to look at everything.
Her arms inched up from her sides to wrap themselves around her torso. Her eyes closed, and a clearly visible trembling ran through her- all the way from her feet to the top of her head.
As if it were being squeezed out of her, she whispered, “Mama?”
Jennifer, mesmerized by that reaction and unable to move, herself, continued to watch her.
For a few minutes, J.J. stood firmly in place. When she did open her eyes again, she almost looked frightened, as if she didn’t know where she wanted to start or if she should even move. When she did finally take a step, she went to the chair.
“Is this her stuff?” She asked, standing over the sweater and the journal that lie face down on top of it. The old afghan that had been on the couch in the beginning had been tossed across the back of the chair.
J.J., her arms still hugging her body lifted her eyes to the wall behind the couch. Saying nothing, she approached it moving from left to right slowly down that wall, looking closely at everything there. Watching her, Jennifer was reminded of a person viewing a museum exhibit. It was almost as if she could see the details and the history being leached from those artifacts on that wall into her daughter’s being.
Finally J.J. stopped at that black and white photograph. Without questioning if or how it worked, she reached up and switched on the light over it. Blinking at the relative brightness and perhaps the photo itself, Jennifer heard her whisper, “Oh. my.”
She saw it when J.J. reached her hand back, calling for her with those long, slender fingers.
Going to her, she took that outstretched hand. That was when she realized J.J. was crying.
“You’re doing a lot of that lately.”
“I’m willing to bet you have, too, Mom.”
Releasing her hand, Jennifer pulled her own daughter to her and together, arms about each other, they stood before that picture of her and her mother.
Stephen was waiting at the paddock fence when Jonathan exited the stable from returning Legs to his stall. Jonathan knew exactly what he wanted.
“She’s with her mother.” He said as soon as he was close enough to the older man for him to hear.
“How?” Stephen asked. “Did she leave on her own? Did you take her up there?”
“Jennifer came down with me. I don’t know when she left, but all indications are that she took J.J. with her.”
Stephen nodded his satisfaction. “That’s good then. Are you all right, Jonathan? You look a bit weary.”
“I am tired, but I’m glad that J.J.’s with her mother. She wanted to know about her grandmother, and what better way is there for her to find out?”
“Yes, I agree. I’m happy that Jennifer has come to the place within herself where she felt she could take her. That says a lot to me. Come on, my boy.”
Stephen extended his arm to Jonathan, ushering him from the paddock and toward the house.
“I want you to get a good meal, and then I want you to rest. You’ve been running behind Jennifer, seeing to her well-being these past few days. She’s all right now. You can stop holding your breath.”
“No I can’t Stephen.” Jonathan asserted as he and his father-in-law walked back toward the main house. “For the past few days, my family has been apart. I am tired, but it’s time for us to come back together. I’m going to get my family this evening.”
Clapping Jonathan softly on the back, he agreed, “You are absolutely right, my son. When it’s within your power to do so, do everything you can to keep your family together.”
“You were a real cute baby.” J.J. observed as she and her mother stood before the black and white photograph on the wall behind the couch. “You still smile the same, just like your mother. And that’s a beautiful horse. Big- at least 17 hands, I’d say. He’s the same one as in the painting in the passageway, isn’t he? What was his name?”
“Sinbad. Pa gave him to her as a gift.”
“I know about that. Pa told me he gave him to her for turning twenty-one. He says he thinks I look like her.”
“I always thought I looked like you.”
“We both look like her, only you look more like her than I do.”
“Oh. That’s kinda weird. ”
After a few moments more of looking at the photo and considering her mother’s confirmation of her likeness to the woman looking back at her, J.J. turned from the picture to scan the room again.
“What is this place, Mom? I know it’s the attic of the guest house, but what is it meant to be?”
“I think it was her place to be by herself, J.J.”
Moving away, and back around the couch toward the chair, once again wrapping her arms around herself, J.J. looked to the rafters and observed, “It’s almost like I can feel her up here, I think. This is so phenomenal, Mom. No wonder you haven’t been back downstairs. It’s like an archive. It’s like nobody’s been up here since she left, just like in her bedroom that Pa hid away. It’s almost like we shouldn’t be here because its her space.”
“I don’t think she would mind our being here, in fact I think she wants it. As far as Pa goes, I think that’s how he wanted it, J.J.- to cover it up and to just walk away from it all. I think he felt that if her didn’t actually pack her things away in the two places that were truly hers, if he just closed them off but left them intact; then he wouldn’t be putting her away in his mind, that other place that was truly hers.”
“That makes sense.” J.J. allowed as she slowly crossed the room.
At the gun cabinet, she stopped short and peered in. “Whoa! Are these loaded? Were they hers? I guess they were hers, they’re up here. Could she shoot them all? Has Daddy seen these? I know he did. Did he mess with them? He loves old guns like these.”
Jennifer laughed. Her first real laugh in days. “You spit questions out like a machine gun, yourself. That mind of yours must be running in overdrive right about now.”
“You know it. Just smoking.” J.J. answered, moving on to the books on the tallest shelf once she realized that gun cabinet was locked. “Was she really smart, Mom? Did she read all the time? Did she read all of these books? There were a slew of them in her room. Did she read to you a lot?”
“Yes to all of that.” Jennifer answered.
“Did you come up here with her when you were little?”
“No, I never knew she had this room up here until I came up here the other day.”
“Aw, man. You must have tripped out. I certainly would have.”
At the desk, J.J. switched on the lamp and the picture over her head immediately caught her eye. Slowly she looked up, studied it a moment, and then she looked to her mother who still stood behind the couch watching her.
“It’s just like us! Just like the one at home.”
“Did you do that on purpose?”
“I didn’t remember it until I came up here, J.J.”
“That’s you and your mother. She was so pretty. Right now, you look a lot like she did in that painting. How old were you when that was done?”
“I was twelve. Just like you were.”
“That is so amazing. Isn’t it funny how our minds work? You think you forget stuff, but you really don’t. It’s just stored and filed somewhere in the back until you put in the right disc to pull it back up. Isn’t it funny too how my grandmother and Aunt Sabrina were supposed to be identical, but even in the pictures I’ve seen of them together, I can always tell which one is Aunt Sabrina? What’s it like when it’s your mother? Could you tell?”
“Always. They never really looked alike to me either. I think that’s because we know them so well. We know them as people, not as twins.”
“Yeah.” J.J. was still looking up over her head. “If you were twelve, this must have been done right before-”
“Yes.” Jennifer answered. “It was supposed to be a present for Pa. She didn’t get a chance to give it to him.”
“It’s so beautiful. It needs to be in the main house, maybe in the music room, but not hidden away up here. The stuff Pa has down by his desk, some of it should go back. I think he took the life out of that house when he moved those things out of there.”
“The life left that house the day my mother left it.” Jennifer thought to herself. “It’ll come back when you have it.”
In the meantime, J.J. was looking down to the large desk top, delighting in the busyness and clutter.
“Grandmama kept her desk jammed up, just like you fuss at me for doing. See, Mom, that tendency is genetic. She probably couldn’t work well either if the desk was too neat.”
Then she turned around so that she was facing back into the room. Taking one more good look, inundated by it all, still not sure where she wanted to focus her attentions; she finally just spread her arms and smiled.
“Look at this! Just like you said, the woman must not have been able to throw away anything, just like me. I bet she thought all her stuff was good stuff, and she kept it right up here with her. Up here, in her own room, it wasn’t bothering anybody. Nobody could sweat her about parting with any of it or putting it up. I love it! It worked for her then. It works for me now. Now we know who I get my packrattishness from.”
“Okay, packrat tendencies.” J.J. grinned, turning back to the desk, her eyes hungrily taking in everything, but not touching anything.,
In fact, her hands were behind her back, the fingers laced tightly together to keep them there; a deeply entrenched habit left over from the “Don’t touch, J.J.” days. She was thinking to herself how fascinating, while wondering at the marvelous possibilities contained on those shelves, in all those cubbies, drawers, and in those folders stacked on the desktop. So much. Her head was fairly swimming.
Looking in the direction of the voice, J.J. could see that she was being summoned to take a seat next to her mother on the couch.
“Come on, sweetie. Let’s talk, and then I’ll turn you loose.”
Having once again requested that dinner be packed, this time for him, his wife, and his daughter, Jonathan had been on his way back out to the guest house when, from the road, he was shocked to see through the trees, Jennifer leisurely strolling on the cobbled path that led from the guest house back to the main house. Had it not been for her bright yellow outfit being picked up by droplets of late afternoon sunlight leaking through the thick, leafy canopy on that end of the estate, he might have missed her.
He blew the horn to gain her attention.
“Where’s J.J.?” He asked when she made it over to the car.
“I left Dorothy up there in the Oz. She wanted to stay. I was ready to go; I wanted to find you.”
“Off to see the Wizard?”
“The wonderful Wizard.” She smiled and leaned into his open window to kiss him. “Only he found me first. Thank you.”
Gesturing to the wicker basket and other items she could see were in the back seat, she answered, “For that and for everything that you do. You’re always my thoughtful, patient knight in shining armor. I’m sorry for having put you through all this.”
“Get in, M’lady.”
There was nothing else to say. All that she was thanking him for was no more than he felt he was supposed to do.
Although it had been many years before, it was something he tried never to forget. There had been a time in his life when he didn’t think he would ever find that right someone with whom he could share his good fortune. Now he had a queen- and a princess- to share the castle, and as king of that castle, he was going to take good care of all that was his. It was a duty, a responsibility, and it was his absolute pleasure; no thanks were needed.
And evidently, the Queen Mother thought him man enough for the job. She had called upon him to serve, and he was not about to let her down.
“We’ll stop and get J.J.” He said. “She can have dinner with us down by the lake.”
Jennifer looked to him, issuing the warning, “She’s knee deep, Jonathan. She won’t want to come.”
“It’s not a request.” He replied. “We’re a family. Tonight we’re going to eat as a family.”
J.J. first found herself feeling a little intimidated when her mother left her all alone in that attic room. She remained seated on the couch, looking all around herself.
Although it was still daylight outside, the room, with the windows being higher up and clouded by years-old film, did not receive full benefit of that light. There was a sort of constant dimness all around her alleviated by the lamp light over the picture and on the desk.
“Must be how she liked it.” She said to herself, trying to picture her grandmother moving around the room, seated in that chair, or working at that desk.
Her mother, the writer, had painted in her head a very vivid picture of the woman her grandmother had been. She sounded very much like that woman she could remember seeing in her dream. She could never clearly recall her dreams in their totality, but every now and then some detail or remnant of one remained clearly etched in the recesses of her mind. That image was one of them. The woman seated on that fence on the paddock, the one who had stared her down and challenged her with her forthright questions had been the same person her mother described in such vibrant detail.
As a mother, Suzanne Edwards also sounded very much like that woman with whom J.J. Hart interacted every day. Like somebody who expected great things, made it known that she did, and got them because she accepted nothing less than her child’s personal best. More than ever, she wished her grandmother had been a part of her real life.
More than ever, she also wished she could have been witness to the interactions between her grandparents. They must have loved each other; they stayed together even though Pa was gone a lot. It had to be love for Pa. He had held on to the things that were hers forty years after she had been gone. But what had they really been like together? Which of them had been the dominant partner? Pa was older, but it seemed that her grandmother might have been the one wielding the most clout at Briarwood. After all, the estate had been her grandmother’s stomping ground, not Pa’s. He might have been the man of the house, but she ran the house. Obviously, she knew it inside and out- and under and all around.
Before being left alone, she had been given free reign to examine everything in that room. But to her dismay, she found that same license seemed to have her rooted to the couch. Her mother said that it was all hers to peruse, but it all seemed too personal. The lessons she had been taught all her life about prying had evidently taken.
Keenly aware of the irony of the situation, she admonished herself. “Heck of a time for decorum to kick in, J.”
Turning back to the wall behind her, she once more checked out the items there, stopping at the black and white photo. Then she looked back to the other side of the room to the large painting over the desk.
At home, there were two similar pictures of herself and her own mother- one a painting and one a photo taken of them together on the back of her mother’s horse. Same colors, same poses, same relationships. How had that happened? Years separated both sittings, but they had come out very much the same. Same places in life, same settings. What was the reason behind that? Had it just worked out that way or had somebody been deliberately stirring the pot?
She stood up from the couch, dismissing the threatening onslaught of thoughts with, “Too weird.”
The one thing she was certain she didn’t want to do was read the journals. That was way too personal. She had done that once before and had learned the hard way that it was something she would never do again. Jennifer Hart said that her mother’s written words were history and had become public record of sorts. She had given her permission for her to go into her grandmother’s books in order that she should know her. Justine Hart, however, considered it an invasion of privacy. A person’s thoughts- in their head or written down on paper in a book intended just for them- were their own, strictly their own.
“J.J., one day, when I’m gone, you might want to read mine.”
“I won’t. I wouldn’t let anybody else do it either. When we’re both gone, if somebody wants to read ours, they can. They’ll be there.”
“You’re so stubborn and set in your ways for somebody so young.”
“Mom, if you write your in journal with the thought playing around in the back of your mind that somebody might read it one day, it might change what you decide to put in it. Your journal should be yours. Your thoughts should be free when you write in it.”
“I won’t care when I’m gone, J.J. It would be all right then if you read mine.”
“I know you well enough. I don’t think I need to know everything going on in your head or every single detail about your life. I don’t need to know every little thing about you. I’m sure that just like in my journals, there are some things you’d rather I didn’t know. Your mother died when you were little. That was different. You needed to read so that you could remember her.”
It really was different. Recent events had clearly shown that Jennifer Hart had largely forgotten her mother. She had admitted as much in that conversation.
How she could have forgotten about that bedroom had been a question that neither of them could answer. An entire room, sealed off in real life and put away mentally as well. No way would she not miss that set of double doors across from the head of the main staircase at Willow Pond.
Maybe Jennifer Edwards forgot because the doors to that room were way in that back hall. Maybe she had forgotten because she had just been a kid. Maybe, just maybe, she forgot because it was what her mother wanted her to do. Maybe Grandmama wanted her to move on and not dwell in the past.
For herself, J.J. decided that she would rely on what she had been told, and upon what she might find out on her own to learn who her grandmother had been. Talking to her mother had shed a lot of light on the subject.
It had also piqued her ongoing curiosity about her blue eyes. The older she was becoming, there was no doubting from whom she had taken most of her physical characteristics. But those blue eyes had definitely come from the other side of her family, from her father. But from whom had he gotten them? Who had passed him those blue eyes, her paternal grandmother or her grandfather?
Both? Her money was on it being her paternal grandfather.
On that side of the family, even though she hadn’t admitted as much to anyone out loud, it was the grandfather who interested her, far more than the grandmother. She loved Jonathan Hart. Outside of being her father, he was such a wonderful and remarkable man. Everybody liked him and thought he was a good guy. He had worked hard and made a success of what could have been a rather bleak life. What had his father been like? Did he look like him? Did he inherit that big smile from him? Was he so good natured and so much fun because his father had been? Did her grandfather’s eyes crinkle in the corners like Daddy’s when he smiled? Did her grandfather get that same vertical line in his forehead when he was upset?
She had taken to not asking him about it any more. He had made it clear to her that he wasn’t interested in knowing about his missing family. Her mother said that she didn’t know and told her to leave it alone. But a conversation with Tommy in biology class the previous spring had opened another door to a different line of thinking for her. It was one that made her conclude that she would never ask her father about his parents or about looking for them again.
The lab that day had been on genetics and dominant traits passed down from parents to their children. They had both been talking about Tommy ‘s physical characteristics, specifically his size, and the distinctive dimples and smile inherited from the father he never knew. They had also discussed how despite her looking so much like her mother, her having inherited her father’s blue eyes.
“It’s still so funny to me how you look so much like your father, Tommy. I used to always think to myself you didn’t look anything like your mother. I wondered what your father must have looked like. I always figured you had to look like him, and sure enough, it turned out you did.”
“Whatever, J. I would have preferred that he’d gotten to know me before he up and died on me. Maybe then I could appreciate looking like the man. As far as I’m concerned, I just look like Tommy. If I ever have kids, they won’t have to wonder who they look like. They’ll be looking at him every single day.”
“What if they look like their mother?”
“That’ll be okay, too. I don’t care. Just so they know where they came from. Just so they know I’m their father and they can come to me. A kid should know his or her people.”
“Yeah, tell me about it. It makes me so tired and mad that Daddy won’t even try to find out who his folks are. He acts like he doesn’t even want to know. Tommy, how can he not want to know?
“You keep saying that, and I keep waiting for you to pick up on it. I’m surprised you haven’t.”
“Haven’t what, Tommy?”
“What makes you so sure he doesn’t, J.?”
“Doesn’t know. Think about it J., your father can find out anything he wants to find out about anybody. He can have background checks run on whoever he wants, and in a matter of time, a little bit or a lot, depending on the person and what he wants to know about them; he gets the goods on the person. I’ve seen him do it more than once. What makes you think he hasn’t done that on himself?”
She had been stunned into silence. Tommy didn’t always say a whole lot. In fact, he did most of his talking with her. But when he did speak up, in just a few words, it turned out that he usually had a mouthful to say and a lot on his mind.
If Daddy did know, then there had to be a reason why he wasn’t talking, and given what Tommy said about him being able to find out things, the odds were heavily in favor of him knowing. She, too, had been witness to her father putting his investigative team to work on gathering information about someone or some company. What Tommy said made sense. Her daddy could get the goods on anybody, so what was there to stop him from getting them on himself?
If he did know, why wouldn’t he say? What could be the big secret? Was it something shameful? Criminal? Scandalous? Maybe it was something that would be a problem for her living grandfather. Pa could be awfully conservative. Whatever it was, one day when she was out of her father’s house, she would find out and deal with it. He wouldn’t have to know that she knew. It was her right to know her ancestry.
Suddenly realizing that she was just standing there, lost in that barrage of thought she had tried to stave off by getting up, she had to laugh to herself. Just like Aunt Pat and her mother frequently observed, her mind seemed to never shut off; often just taking flight, soaring off all on its own with her strapped into the passenger seat as its unwilling, but enraptured hostage.
The room was so full of stuff, she could start anywhere. Thinking of that book her mother had so suddenly left behind down in the passage, she decided to start at the desk. There were papers there with what she was sure had to be her grandmother’s handwriting on them.
By the time her parents arrived, insisting that she stop and come down to have dinner with them, she had waded in up to her waist and was highly irritated at being called back to shore so soon.
Despite his insistence that his family be together for their lakeside picnic dinner, it hadn’t been the pleasant outing Jonathan hoped for. J.J.’s aggravation at being made to interrupt what she had been doing to come down to eat with them had deteriorated into an impatient sullenness. Her dark mood was so pervasive, it settled like a threatening storm cloud over the meal, discouraging any possible attempts at even starting a civil conversation. Jennifer, for her part, was unusually quiet herself. After picking at the little bit of food she had put on her plate, J.J. cleaned up behind herself, and as soon as she was done, she asked to be excused. But before either of them could grant permission for her to leave, she was up. Taking the folder of papers she had brought down with her, she walked off to the pier a short way off in the distance to sit by herself.
Jonathan watched her go, mindful of how she was stepping on that ankle while also taking note of her skimpy attire and how quickly it seemed was growing up. He was a little surprised that Jennifer hadn’t stopped her to rebuke her for leaving in the abrupt manner that she had. He would have done it himself if he hadn’t been so sure that Jennifer was going to take care of it. Normally she would have.
He looked across to her. Jennifer, too, was watching J.J. go.
“I remember when I could practically hold her in the palm of my hand.” He remarked. “Have you noticed how the older she gets, the bigger and stronger that personality of hers gets? It won’t be long until it gets to the place where it won’t really matter what we say. What she wants to do is what she’s going to do.”
“That’s how it’s always been with her anyway.” Was Jennifer’s softly spoken response. “She’s okay. Let her be.”
When she turned her head back around to him, in a way, he was glad J.J. left them. It felt good to be alone with Jennifer at a time when she was finally looking and seeming more like herself. She still had the most beautiful eyes he had ever had the pleasure of looking into. They cleared away the dishes, and then he lay his tired head in her lap. She smiled down at him.
“So, what did she do to you?” She asked.
“Yes. To make you notice how big her personality is getting. She’s always wanted to do what she wanted to do, and that never seemed to matter very much to you before. In fact, you always thought it was cute. Why is it so apparent to you today?”
“Just things in general lately.” He smiled at her astute observation. “We talked some earlier, and I was kind of noticing how intelligently and shrewdly she thinks. She’s always been cagey, but lately, she’s getting really good at it. I asked her about her date with Teddy, you know, trying to lead up to what I saw them doing. She turns right around and wants to knowwhy I was asking her about it. She looks me dead in the eye and says, “Daddy, what is it that you specifically want to know? You never ask me for the details when I go out with anybody else.” I just sat there looking at her, speechless. How do you come back from that and ask your daughter about kissing a boy? I mean, what do you say? “Why were you kissing him? How did it feel?” I realized that I didn’t know what it was that I wanted to know- and she knew that. She knows I saw her kissing that boy, but she had me over a barrel. That wasn’t how that was supposed to go.”
“Poor baby.” Jennifer cooed through her soft laughter at the frustrated expression on his face as she smoothed his cheek with her fingers. “You’re such a good teacher.”
He craned his neck to look up at her. “A good teacher? What’s that supposed to mean?”
Bending to kiss his creased forehead, she answered, “You teach her all the time about how to listen to and answer questions, how to read between the lines of what people say. She only did to you what you’ve taught her to do. She read you and acted accordingly. She’s growing up, Jonathan, in every possible way- physically, mentally, emotionally. This past year has been kind of hard for her, but she’s doing a very good job of trying to cope. Being removed from her physically and emotionally the way I have these past few days, I can really see it. All of this has been out of the ordinary for her, for all of us. Right now, she’s handling an awful lot for such a young person. There’s her injury that’s kept her sidelined, all of what’s been going on here, her feelings for Teddy, Tommy’s going away-”
“Tommy finally told her?”
“She said he called her early this afternoon. She also said that she got so angry with him that she told him off and then hung up on him. I got after her for that.”
Jonathan winced at the mental picture of poor Tommy on the receiving end of J.J.’s wrath.
“I told that boy he should have told her when he first decided to take his grandmother up on her offer.” He said. “So, that’s why she’s so testy.”
“You mean angry.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s more accurate. She keeps it under wraps most of the time, but she has got a hot, hot temper. A bad one. She had sort of a tantrum yesterday when she saw you.”
“A tantrum? As old as she is? I thought I had broken that up in her.”
“It happened when Bill was carrying you to our room. You were out cold, and she came out of her room and saw you like that. I tried to stop her from going to you. She was very angry with me for that. Angry with all of us out there. Your father ended up being the only one who managed to calm her down. I think it shocked her when he called her out like he did.”
Sighing, Jennifer admitted. “She gets that from me. Pa probably had a serious flashback.”
When Jonathan didn’t say anything to refute it, she looked down to find him sporting a smug “I’m not saying anything against it.” look on his face.
She nudged him. “You can correct me, you know.”
He chuckled. “No way, Red. This one isn’t on me. She might have taken on a few of my less savory personal characteristics, but I, for one, have never been known for having a hot or quick temper. Now, we both know she didn’t get that from me, don’t we.”
“I’m going to let that “Red” crack and your insinuation pass this time. I’ve missed you too much to fight with you.”
He tilted his chin up, pursing his lips for a kiss, and she obliged him.
“I’m glad. Speaking of these past few days and missing me,” He continued. “You said when you woke early this morning that you had some things that you wanted to tell me.”
“I do. I don’t really know where to start. There’s just so much, but I do know that no matter what else might come up, I have to speak to my father before we leave here to go home.”
“I’m sure he’s waiting to hear from you. He hasn’t seen you in days either. Well, he did see you when-”
“He was there? You know, when you found me- in there?”
“That’s how I got in there. He let me into the room. I came through the passage looking for you when I didn’t find you after I came back to the attic. I saw the plans on the desk up there, read them, and I figured that you had gone looking for that room. I knew that you hadn’t gone back outside, and that you had gone that way to get back to the house. Your father happened to be down there at the time that I was coming through.”
“What was he doing down there?”
“I don’t know. He was at that desk reading or something. When I told him I was looking for you, and that I thought you had gone to that room, he let me in through that cedar closet in his room.”
She appeared to be thinking for a moment, combing her fingers slowly through his hair. Then finally, she spoke, sounding as if she were seeing in her head what she was saying.
“There used to be a regular door there inside her room, not a sliding wall. You can still see the frame. She used to keep her out-of-season clothes and her linen in that closet. I remembered the closet, but I didn’t remember the room. I associated it with Pa’s room. Those two rooms used to be connected by the bathroom. It was all one huge suite. That bathroom door… I bet he sealed it off when he changed the closet door. It was still there inside her room. I didn’t open it, but the doorway is gone inside Pa’s bathroom. I went in there for his medication when I was with him after his first operation on his heart. There’s just a wall there now. Jonathan, how could I have forgotten an entire room? My mother’s room? As a child, I spent so much of my time in there with her at night. I really did not remember it until I saw those plans.”
“You were just a kid, Jennifer. That was a heck of a hit that you took at such a young age, and I imagine a lot went on during that time that kind of pushed you to the side. Your father had so much business to tie up, he was probably a wreck himself, and not having spent a whole lot of time with you one-on-one, he probably didn’t know what to say to you. There probably wasn’t a lot he could have said. It wasn’t a very enlightened time for knowing what to do with a child in that situation. Forgetting was probably your mind’s way of protecting you and letting you get past it.”
He felt her drawing a deep breath, which caused him to hold his own until she began speaking again
“Tell me something, Jonathan. If it had happened to J.J., the way that it happened to me, and she told you in a fit of anger that she wished it was you who had died, would you ever be able to forgive her?”
He considered her question, and it was a moment or two before he answered.
“First of all, I’d realize that she was speaking in anger, and I wouldn’t believe her. Then I would consider that she was just a child and that she was dealing with having lost you.”
“But you would still be hurt by it, wouldn’t you?”
The scene in the hall on the previous afternoon, when J.J. hadn’t listened to him or come to him, played out before him. He thought of how she turned more to her mother than to him, of late, with her troubles. Although he understood that a girl becoming a woman needed her mother, there were times that he wished she would share more of what was going on in her head and in her personal life with him. Momentarily putting himself in Jennifer’s father’s place, he experienced a slight wrenching in his chest.
“Yes.” He answered. “It would hurt me, but I would understand what was driving her to say it. Jennifer, if you and your mother had built half of what you and J.J. have…”
“I said that to him, Jonathan. I remembered it yesterday in that room. I think I was made to remember saying it to him, and that I’m supposed to do the right thing to try to fix it. She never tolerated deliberately hurtful behavior in anyone, especially not in me. As a child, I had sort of a bad temper, and I got into trouble with her over it a lot. I didn’t have tantrums, per se, but I did want to do things my way, and have things go my way. I had a tendency to be hardheaded and willful.”
“You were a child. You were angry. Kids say things when they’re angry.”
“Jonathan, I also remember meaning it at the time I said it. Not only did I mean it then, I meant for the next few years. I was horrible to him. I wanted my mother back, and I really did resent him for living. He was supposed to be in the car that morning, but he didn’t keep his word to me. Instead, my mother took me, and she got killed. That was how I saw it. I faulted him, and resented him terribly for that. I told him all of that.”
Inwardly he winced again. This time in sympathy for Stephen.
“I would never have known that based on what I’ve witnessed of the relationship between you and your father in the time that I’ve known the two of you.” He said. “What happened to change how you felt?”
“Pat. She and her father. Pat’s father didn’t care one wit about her. We used to get ourselves into trouble kind of often-”
“Not you!?” He teased.
“Are you going to let me tell this?” She asked, thumping him lightly on the side of his head with her finger.
“I’m sorry. Do go on.”
“We’d do things and get put on detention. We had to stay on detention until our parents were contacted and spoke with us. Poor Pat almost never got let off right away because her father just never dealt with her. After a while, the Dean would feel sorry for her and just let her off. Eventually, my father started representing Pat just like he did with me.”
“How much do you want to bet that Dean Marchand set that up?”
“Hmmm,” She mused, tapping her finger to her chin. “I never considered that. Of course, not knowing that my father and the Dean knew each other, I wouldn’t have, would I?”
“Well, after he realized he couldn’t split us up, Pa would check on both of us as if we were really sisters. He monitored our grades, our activities, our behavior. He’d chastise us when we got out of line, and Pat would listen to him!
“Then, you already know Pa became her guardian, after Mr. Hamilton died. I think about Pat and those days, and the main thing I remember is Pat never cried- not about anything. She didn’t even cry when her father died, even though that left her alone in the world. She never let on that it bothered her. But she used to get so sad sometimes, and I know it had to do with how her father treated her.
“She’d go quiet and be way down for days, and then just as quickly, she’d wake up one morning; and she would all of a sudden be all right. She was so smart in school, well-liked by everybody, and despite the fact that she was quite mischievous, she was a very good person with the biggest heart. I think she did so well and tried so hard in her studies as a way to please her father and make him like her, but he never came around. It was so sad to watch. Afterward, she did the same for my father.
I, on the other hand, did everything I could to ignore my father, but he never stopped writing me, calling me, coming to see about me. No matter now ugly I acted, he never gave up on me. Finally, it was Pat who told me about myself.
One morning, she was doing my hair, and I said something flip about him. She yanked me by my hair so hard, and then she made me turn my head around so she could call me spoiled to my face. I thought she was going to fight me, and Pat could fight. She told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to get it together. I was so ugly that I used to throw away Pa’s letters to me without reading them. I found out later that Pat had saved them all for me, even the pieces of the ones I tore up. She loved my father, and from her and her father, I learned how lucky I was to have my father. I didn’t mind sharing him with my friend. We became his girls. I’ve only seen tears in Pat’s eyes twice. The first time was the day I had to tell her that her baby was gone and that there wouldn’t ever be another. The other was when she held J.J. in her arms for the first time.
Jonathan, I cannot believe that at one time, I didn’t want my father. When I did remember saying that to him, I just wanted to die. Just lie down and just plain die. That’s the last thing I remember about being in my mother’s room yesterday.”
“Again Jennifer, you were just a child.”
“But now that I do remember, I have to talk to him. It’s important to me that I apologize to him.”
“Darling, he probably doesn’t even remember.”
“Would you ever forget J.J. saying something like that to you?”
He didn’t answer the question. He didn’t have to; they both knew the answer.
She didn’t say anything else, but he could feel her body tensing. Looking up, he saw that she had squeezed her eyes shut as if she were in some sort of pain.
Finally she softly spoke.
“When I woke this morning with you, I had been having a dream. It’s still so unusually clear to me-”
She stopped again, but he urged her on. He wanted her to keep talking, to force it out and away from her.
“A dream about what?”
“Her. My mother. She was in that room.”
“It was night. I went in there looking for her like I frequently did when I couldn’t sleep or when I happened to wake up in the night. The room was just as it had been when she was alive, the flowers, the curtains, the fire going, her seated in the chair. But she wasn’t like she had been. She was older, like she might be now if she had lived. She was holding this baby in her arms. The baby was in a blanket just like one that’s in that trunk I had you bring down. That blanket was part of my Christening outfit. That and my mother’s wedding dress are in that trunk. I put her ring in there, too. I figured I’d give it all to J.J. whenever she comes into her bequest.”
“What about the dream, Jennifer?”
“She was holding this baby. A little girl, I’m sure. But she was disfigured.”
“She didn’t have a mouth. Where her mouth should have been, there was just skin. Smooth skin. Otherwise, she was normal, just very quiet, of course. Jonathan, she made me take the baby. She forced her on me even though I told her I didn’t want the baby because it wasn’t perfect. I was ashamed of feeling that way. But she made me take the baby from her saying that it was once hers but now it was mine and that I would do better with her than she could. I don’t know what it means, but that baby looked just like J.J., except she didn’t have a mouth.”
“Well, we know it couldn’t have been J.J.” He smiled, trying to lighten the moment for her. “She definitely has a mouth which she uses- or doesn’t use- to her advantage.”
But she didn’t smile with him. Instead, she sat all the way back against the tree upon which she had been leaning.
“I keep trying to figure out what this has all been about. It can’t all be coincidence. But if it isn’t coincidence, why is it happening now? There’s so, so much. It’s all jumbled up in my head.”
She exhaled and went limp.
“Just let it flow, Jennifer. I’m listening. I’m pretty good at following, no matter how rambling it might get. Go ahead.”
“All right. Well, I never knew that Aunt Sabrina met my father first. They were on an excursion in Paris with their school. She saw him first, and was attracted to him first. Even though they were identical, he ended up liking my mother better. After my mother met him and they got to know one another, pretty quickly in fact, there wasn’t anybody else for her. She was able to get Papa Henri to meet with him, and he must have been impressed by my father’s sincerity; he allowed them to see each other even though Pa was so much older. What would you do, Jonathan, in that situation?”
“Please.” He answered, a pained expression quickly crossing his face. “I know too many cops and hoods with baseball bats for any grown guy to even think he was going to approach me with that. Just keep on with the story, Jennifer. You’re making my blood pressure rise with that.”
She laughed a little and continued.
“I’m fairly sure that he allowed them to marry to keep them honest. If he hadn’t… my, my, my.”
She stopped at that point and sighed deeply before resuming.
“They were so much in love to be so young. Well anyway, it seems that Aunt Sabrina didn’t get over her feelings about my father until maybe after my mother died. I think she just couldn’t handle the rejection. She acted jealous, did things, flirted shamelessly with him, but my mother just thought it was funny and ignored her. She continued to be her big sister regardless. I would have clocked her myself, and put her away from me, but my mother didn’t. She said she had faith in Pa, and dismissed her sister’s behavior as humorous. I never knew Aunt Sabrina felt that way about my father. It seems so out of character. Maybe not out of character, but he’s so not her type. At least not in my eyes. When I read of it the first time, it was that night when I found the journal on the chair. That was the very last journal. It was at the place where my mother spoke of a time where Sabrina had gotten hurt and she stayed with my father in London to heal.”
“What happened to Sabrina that she got hurt?”
“She got caught up in something with one of her paramours. Reading about it, I was furious at Aunt Sabrina and my mother. I couldn’t understand a sister lusting for her sister’s husband, and trying to act upon it. I couldn’t understand my mother taking her sister’s actions and her own suspicions so lightly.”
“She thought Sabrina might make a move on my father while she was staying with him. But it was my mother who suggested that Sabrina travel to London to stay with him while she recuperated. I could not understand her doing that at all, even if that was her sister. I couldn’t fathom why she would put my father in that kind of situation. Anyway, when I came at it from the other end, from the beginning, I came to realize that the twins must have had an understanding for each other that defied outside comprehension. My mother must have had a powerful trust in her husband. Finally I decided it just wasn’t my business. I loved my mother. I love my aunt. I always will. The rest, that part of the past, is not my concern.”
“I’m glad you came to that conclusion. It’s old business, and I think that whatever happened or didn’t happen, Sabrina resolved it by taking herself out of your father’s life for all those years. Whatever it was all about, they’ve had to live with what she did, or tried to do. I’m sure that if she wasn’t right; it’s bothered her. The bottom line is she’s basically a good person. She’s always been good to you and J.J. She’s been nothing but good to me. ”
“Jonathan, I found something else out about Aunt Sabrina.”
“She had a baby, but it died. I never knew that about her either. I do remember getting pulled out of school to go to France with my mother, to the apartment in Paris because Sabrina was sick. But I never knew what was wrong with her. They never told me. When I read of it in my mother’s journals, that visit came back to me. I was young. I know I was in an elementary grade in school, and that it was at the beginning of that school year. While we were there, my grandmother kept taking me out shopping and to the museums and things during the day. In the evenings she would work closely with me on my lessons from school and see to my needs. My mother stayed in the big suite with Aunt Sabrina most of the time. My grandmother and I stayed on the other side. I know now that my grandmother was keeping me occupied, out of the immediate situation to keep me from asking too many questions. Aunt Sabrina wasn’t married when she became pregnant, but despite the times, she was looking forward to having the baby. Papa Henri was dead, so he wasn’t there to disapprove. My mother and my grandmother were very supportive of her decision. Sort of avant-garde women for way back then, wouldn’t you say?”
“It just proves to me that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.” He answered, raising his eyes to meet hers which were looking down at him. “You two, Pat, Sabrina- and the daddy- had all better hope I’m gone from here, too, should she come up like that before her time. I’d be Papa Henri, and there’d be hell to pay for all parties involved.”
She smoothed his furrowed brow with her fingers, trying to not be seen smiling at the distress his imagination was inflicting upon him. Anything negative concerning his precious daughter…
“Anyway, their plan was that once she had it, my mother was going to come and get it and take it back to the states to raise it. My mother wanted another child, but she wasn’t supposed to have one. Aunt Sabrina wanted the baby, but she didn’t want to marry the father. Although she wasn’t ashamed of having a child out of wedlock, she wasn’t sure that she could raise one on her own. But she was willing to allow her sister to raise it. Unfortunately, Aunt Sabrina went into premature labor, and the baby was stillborn. Afterward there were severe complications, and she had to have a hysterectomy. Jonathan, she carried that baby inside of her for eight months. She felt it move, and had probably come to know it. It had to have been a complete, whole child. I cannot imagine…”
A moment or two went by before she went on.
“She named the little girl, Justine Simone, after their mother, my grandmother; she wanted her to be buried with a name. The baby my mother was carrying when she died, who I believe in my soul would have been a girl, was going to also have that name, Justine. Then, years later the same thing happened with Pat. The baby she lost was also a girl. Think if it, my cousin, my sister, my goddaughter…”
Still looking up at her face, Jonathan saw her slowly turn her head to look out toward the pier where J.J. still sat on the bench, reading.
As she continued to speak, he could hear the wonder and speculation in her tone.
“It might just be my overactive imagination, but I think that girl kept trying to get here until she did. We both know that she’s very determined, and that she usually accomplishes what she sets her mind to do. I keep hearing my mother saying to me, “Her life is better served through you, Jennifer.” Jonathan, when I first found out that I was pregnant with J.J., I thought that I didn’t want that baby either, and I was ashamed of feeling that way, just like I felt in that dream when she wanted me to take that baby and I didn’t want to do it. I knew you wanted the baby, and I wanted it for you, but I was scared that I wouldn’t know what do with it.”
“Proved yourself wrong, didn’t you?” He smiled.
She smiled back at him.
“Thank you. I had good help. When I think about it, I can see that J.J. is very close to each of us in different ways for different reasons. Do you think I could have given birth to that girl who didn’t have a voice until she came to me? If you look at it, it seems to me like every time she tried to get here, it was in a form closer and closer in relation to me. She can’t be any closer to me than being my daughter. Looking at it objectively, none of those prior situations was the best for her, for the type of person she is. Even if she had come to my mother, her father would have been away all the time, just as he was with me. She would have only had one parent most of the time. In this life, with us- you and I- she does have two constant parents- and she still has Pa, Sabrina, and Pat. I think we’ve all tried to give her a pretty good time. I know that her father certainly has.”
“What I think is, it doesn’t matter, Jennifer. I told you before, she’s ours. However, whatever, she is our daughter.”
“But what about that dream? Who is the girl with no mouth and no voice? Who is it who is better served through me?”
“I don’t know, darling. Maybe it is J.J., or maybe that’s something yet to be revealed. I don’t have a clue, but I don’t want you putting too much stock into that line of thought. I know how you are with interesting concepts. If it’s still something to come out, it will on it’s own. Wait on it. Don’t be trying to make something out of it. What else did you get out of reading those journals? Do you feel better about things than you did before you finished reading them? Before all of this went down?”
“I haven’t processed it all yet, and I don’t know if how I feel can be described as better, but I now understand more. I now remember things that I haven’t thought about in a long while. I understand and appreciate what a phenomenal woman my aunt actually is and what a good father Pa has been. Aunt Sabrina been through an awful lot in her life, a whole lot more than I ever knew. She’s had some very rough times, but nobody would ever know that to look at her. I always loved her, but I now have a whole new respect for and understanding of her. My aunt taught me how to live and how to love. She taught me to value myself as a person and as a woman. She showed me how to stand strong in the face of adversity. I understand now that what she taught me was borne from personal experience. I don’t think it was something my mother could have given me. My mother led a more sheltered, ordered sort of life than Sabrina, and she tended to keep me close to her. Pa put me out there on the ice and told me I had to learn to skate, and learn to do it quickly and well, if I didn’t want to be constantly falling on my butt. He put me out there, and he let me go. He did not stay back with me and hold my hand.
I learned to skate, and to skate well, on my own. I learned which ice was strong enough to hold me, and I learned to avoid that which was too thin. Aunt Sabrina, for her part, just stood me up at life’s banquet table, and let me sample all that was there. What I tried and didn’t like, she told me to spit out and be done with it. What I liked, she said I should chew it well, and have as much of it as I wanted. I think I would have been a very different sort of woman if I hadn’t been raised in the manner that I was. My mother set down the foundation, but Pa and Sabrina, I think, are most responsible for the woman who became your wife.”
“Then I am most grateful to all three of them.” He said, lifting his arm and wrapping it around her neck to bring her mouth to his.
Meeting him halfway, she deeply expressed to him her sincere appreciation for his listening and being there. Then, moving her lips from his, she bent further to whisper into his ear a steamy promise of further gratuities to come. In response, he could only grin broadly and squirm, squinting devilishly in lustful delight and delicious anticipation.
They both heard it.
“Excuuuuuuse me. Underage kid, here.”
The embrace ended, and they both looked around to the direction from which the voice had came.
J.J. was standing a short distance off. When she saw she had their attention, she rolled her eyes and snaked her neck at them in adolescent daughter disgust.
“Look, I don’t mean to be breaking up the reunion or anything, but may I please have permission to go back? I need to call Tommy.”
Jonathan immediately started to move, reaching into his pocket for the car keys, but stopped when J.J. held up her hand.
“No, no- don’t get up on my account. I have my crutch here. I’ll walk. I want to go back up to the attic and finish.”
She closed the gap between them and handed down to her mother the folder from which she had been reading.
“You should take a look at this.” She said. “I really think she would have wanted you to. I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more to this, but it’s still upstairs.”
Then she turned from them, pulling her cell phone from the pocket of her shorts. Jennifer craned her neck around the tree and watched as J.J. slowly strolled away, the phone held to her ear in one hand while supporting herself on the crutch with the other.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, Jonathan. I know that she asked, but did either of us actually tell her that it was okay for her to go back?”
“I didn’t.” He smirked, rolling off his side to lay his head all the way back down in her lap. “Not that it seemed to matter to her. I was told by an authoritative source, “She’s okay. Let her be”.”
“Just around here doing whatever she wants to do.” Jennifer fussed as she turned around to lean back against the tree once more.
Looking to the heavens, to Jonathan’s great amusement, she announced aloud, “Mother, whatever it is you want with me- really want with me- you are going to have to hurry up and tell me. I’ve been away from that granddaughter of yours too long, and in my absence, she’s completely forgotten that she is not yet grown.”
So? You just call me up to breathe into the phone or what? I started not to pick up at all when I saw it was you.
“I would have just kept calling until you did pick up, Tommy Steele.”
Why? So you could tell me off and hang up on me again? Your girl, Marnie, called here and cussed me flat out right after I tried to talk to you. I’ve been shot down twice today. Both of you are crazy.
“Look, I can’t speak for Marnie, but I am not crazy. You are.”
“Yes, you. Holding out on me like you did. You knew I was going to go off.”
“Look, I just called you back to say I was…”
Was what? If you’re going to play around, J., I have to go. I have a lot to do. My mother has been all over me today too. Women.
“You know what I’m trying to say.”
No, I don’t know, J. You called me, remember?
“I called to say I was… sorry. There. Now. I said it.
Sorry for what?
“What? Oh, so now you’re going to try to make me grovel and beg? I said I was sorry. That’s as much as you’re going to get, Tommy Steele. You did it. I didn’t do anything to you that you didn’t deserve. And you know full well J.J. Hart doesn’t kiss anybody’s behind.”
Nobody’s asking you to grovel, beg, or kiss butt. I asked you what it is you’re so sorry about. Sorry you were rude to a good friend? Sorry you didn’t listen to what I was trying to tell you? Sorry you hung up on me? Or are you sorry thatfor a whole year we’re not going to see or talk much to each other.
“Not see-? Tal-? What about vacations?”
I don’t even get to come home on vacations, J. It’s a total immersion. My vacations will be spent in Europe with my great uncle. I won’t be back at all for a whole year.
“What about your mother? You’re going to be away from her for a year, too?”
She and my grandmother are going to come see me on my mother’s vacations from work. Probably at Thanksgiving time, Christmas, and Easter.
“That means you won’t even be home for spring break next year, Tommy. What’s it going to be like hanging out at the beach and at the marina without you? You won’t be here for my birthday party either.”
You have all your other friends. Chase, Ollie, Chance, Deon, all the guys from school and your club, not to mention “Ivy League”. You won’t miss me. I’m just one guy in the entourage.
“His name is Teddy, not ‘Ivy League’. I don’t have an entourage, and none of them you brought up are you.”
You’ll get by. You always land on your feet. By the way, how’s your mother? Mind you, I’m not asking for me. Fee told me to ask. Says she was worried about her. Says your mother has been on her mind a lot lately.
“Is your grandmother really psychic, Tommy?”
You keep asking me that, and I keep telling you, I don’t know. Why? Isn’t your mother all right?
“She’s okay. It just seems like your grandmother always seems to- Will you miss me, Tommy?”
Why do you think I didn’t tell you until the last minute? I couldn’t tell you. I already miss you, and I haven’t even gone anywhere yet. When I was trying to decide whether or not to go, you were the only real reason I could think of to make me stay in LA outside of my mother, and she was saying I should go.
She said it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I would never have had if it hadn’t been for my father and my grandmother. She keeps trying to fit my father into the picture, and I don’t say anything to her about it, but I wish she wouldn’t do that. I’ve accepted, and I love my grandmother. She didn’t know about me until after my father was dead. If she had known about me, she wouldn’t have left me out there like he did. Even my crazy aunt at least had enough guts to try to get to know me. I don’t agree with her methods, but at least she did something about it. He didn’t.
“You’re starting to sound a little bitter, Tommy.”
Which is another reason why I want to go to Spain. I’m thinking about that way too much. At first, I thought it didn’t matter. But after time started going by, and I got to know my grandmother, I realized how much we had missed. My thoughts about my father and how he did my mother keep getting into my head, bothering me. I need to get into a more positive mode, J. Maybe if I go off, on my own, away from what I know right now, I can start fresh. Maybe with my great-uncle, I can get closer to being a man and getting on with my life. I won’t ever be a man living in my mother’s house.
And too, I’m thinking that maybe with me out of her hair, she can get a life. She’s spent the last seventeen years of her life taking care of me all by herself. I don’t ever remember her having a boyfriend or anything. She told me once she didn’t think it was healthy to have a man who wasn’t my father or her husband messing around in my life. Maybe now she can get a man in hers.
“You want a stepfather?”
If it got that far, he’d be my mother’s husband. I didn’t need a father, so I really wouldn’t have much use for a stepfather at this stage of the game.
“He could be your friend, though. Why are you in such a hurry to be a man?”
I have a whole lot of things I want to do in my life, J. A lot of dreams and goals. There are things I have to achieve to get to the things I want, and I can’t do those things if I just stand still. I’m seventeen. I need to get out into the world and get started. Time is not on my side.
“What do you mean by that?”
Just that I don’t have all day to get what I want.
“What is it that you want?”
All of it.The best of it.
“Whatever, Tommy. Just don’t grow up and away from me. You told me to wait, and be a girl for while. But now you’re talking about going away to become a man.”
It’ll all come out even in the end, J. You’re younger than me, but you’re way ahead in a lot of ways already.
“Sorry I went off on you, boy. You just caught me off guard with the news. I really am happy for you. You’re going to love Barcelona. It’s a beautiful city. Lots of architecture for you to drool over. My mother told me your uncle’s place is near the waterfront. You can sail and everything. As far as learning the language goes, just relax and let it come. The Spanish you learned in school will get you by in the beginning. You’ll work up on the Catalan your grandmother has been trying to teach you real fast since you’re going to be there so long.”
I know. Say, J.J.?
I sure wish you were home. I wish you were going to be there for the party tonight. It just doesn’t seem like a party knowing you and Marnie aren’t going to be there. Especially you. Who am I going to dance the first and last dance with?
“There will be plenty of girls there tonight. A lot of them will be glad I’m not there, tying you up. Get with somebody you know I like, and dance with her. Just close your eyes, and pretend it’s me.”
Nobody else has that good dip in her back right above her booty like you do.
“Tommy, I have told and told you about looking and feel-”
I’ll tell you what, J. The party starts at nine and ends at one. At nine-thirty tonight, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing; stop and think of me. At one o’clock. Do the same thing. No matter what I’m doing or who I’m with, I’ll be thinking about you.
“Okay. And speaking of who you’re with, Tommy, don’t you forget the things we’ve talked about where they concern your personal life. Take care of yourself. Wear your boots in the rain.”
My mother packed a king size box in my trunk, J. She says she’s going to send me a box every month whether I tell her I need them or not. She knows I wouldn’t tell her something like that even if I did need them. I tried to tell her I wasn’t into that right now, but she said she wasn’t taking any chances, talking about she’s not ready to be a grandmother.
“She’s right. She’s not even forty yet. And you never know. Just be careful. You’ll be in another country, too, and the customs are different. Watch yourself. Don’t get yourself into any trouble.”
I’m not going to Spain looking for girls to hook up with, J.
“They’ll be looking for you, though, trying to get hooked up. You’re good-looking and big. They’ll like that.”
I’m in control of Tommy.
“Yeah, right. Until things start getting hot, and some other part or you, a part other than your brain, snatches the wheel out of your hands and takes over.”
You remember that, too, J. It can happen like that for you too. You’re very special. I meant that. If you do decide to go there, and I hope you don’t; make sure it’s right. Talk to your mother. Take care of yourself, and make sure he’s the right one.
“I won’t be going there, but okay.”
Keep the porch light on for me, J.
“And one o’clock, Tommy.”
I’m not going to call you tomorrow before I leave. I don’t think I can handle that. I’ll email you when I get set up.
Love you, girl.
“Love you, too, boy.”
By the time she clicked off from Tommy and put the phone back in her pocket, she had reached the rear of the guest house. Sliding open the newly installed patio door, she went through the kitchen, into the hall and down to the open attic door.
Once upstairs, she sat down at the desk and immediately reached into her pocket to remove a folded piece of newsprint. She placed it on the desk and carefully opened it. It was an old article and apparently had been kept in that folded condition when it wasn’t being read; it had been taped in several places to hold it together. She had found it lying open on her grandfather’s desk in the passage when she and her mother had been down there earlier. The title, “Troubled Brookfield Alumni Meets Fatal Consequence”, and her mother’s name in the second paragraph caused her to scoop it up and stick it into her pocket when her mother hadn’t been looking. It didn’t seem like the kind of thing to which her mother would have wanted her exposed, and at that moment, with her close by, there hadn’t been time enough for her to read it as thoroughly as she wanted without getting caught at it.
Leaning forward, she hungrily sailed through it, reading it twice before sitting back to mull it over.
So that was what Teddy had been talking about when he was showing her that place up at Lookout Point where they had ridden the horses, and she wound up hurting her ankle. Teddy said the guy had become fixated on a Gresham girl, and years later, at a common reunion, he had kidnapped her and taken her to that place to profess his love for her. The article said when she resisted him, he tried to attack her. He slipped and fell when her husband arrived and intervened.
That Gresham girl, who at that point was a married woman, was Jennifer Hart. The incident occurred a few years before she was born. No wonder her mother hadn’t gone back to a Gresham reunion until the one to commemorate the Dean’s last term. It would take something very special to get a person to return to the scene of something so terrible. The article said the guy died falling off Lookout Point when he slipped while fighting with the husband of his victim. J.J. reflected if Ford Beebe hadn’t died in the fall, Jonathan Hart would have kicked his ass good for something like that. He did not play when it came to the women in his life. Wesley Singleton had it coming, too. She was almost sorry she had said anything to her Daddy about him.
J.J. looked up to the painting. The woman in the picture was looking at the little girl seated at her feet.
“Did you have a hand in that?” She asked aloud. “I don’t blame you if you did. If I had the chance, I would have done the exact same thing.”
Still looking up, she recalled sitting with her own mother for the portrait that hung in the great room at home, and for that one brief moment, she transformed into that girl in the green dress sitting on the floor in that painting above her head. Her mother became her grandmother, the brown eyes lightened in color and became a lot more intense in their gaze. It was so real that it felt almost like if she reached out, she could have taken her grandmother by her hand.
It was another moment before she realized that she had laced her own fingers together so tightly that the circulation was being hampered in them. Snatching her hands apart, she flexed her fingers to ease the tingling.
“What’s going on, Grandmama?” She asked aloud in frustration at being faced with yet another bit of strangeness. “What?”
Continuing to look up, J.J. took another stab at trying to work things out in her head.
It was so weird that forty years after that painting had been done, even though she hadn’t seen it or thought about it in all that time, her mother had commissioned almost that exact, same thing be done for them. That painting, sitting for it with her own mother, must have really meant a lot to Jennifer Hart. It must have hung around in the back of her mind, and pushed its way out in the form of that second painting. When they were talking about it, she attempted to explain it by saying that the painting at home represented what was going on in her head. She used the word, “manifestation” to describe it. That was a very good word for it.
J.J. shifted her gaze from the picture to the gun cabinet. The frightening image of Jennifer Hart holding a gun to a man’s head flashed into her mind, and a cold tremor ran through her body. The terrified man upon whom her mother was holding the gun was Allen Baker Jr.
She hadn’t told her parents until way too late that someone had been sending her presents and notes at school, trying to set up a meeting with her. He had also been spying on her when she was dressing, taking pictures of her as she did. He had been a grown man in his thirties; she had just turned sixteen. It was a frightening and humiliating experience. When Jennifer Hart found out about it, she took matters into her own hands. In her heart, J.J. believed that her mother had gone to that mall in her place to meet with him with the full intention of killing him over it.
Closing her eyes to get away from it, J.J. could still hear her mother talking to Baker through her teeth, and she could still feel the panic and dread she felt watching her that day. Her father had been there, too. She could hear him in her head, trying desperately to convince his wife to give him the gun.
At first she refused, then she stuck the barrel of the gun into the man’s head. While everybody watched, scared to death of what she was going to do, she kept talking to him in the weird voice, saying exactly what was on her mind.
“I want you to know what terror feels like. Jonathan, you see, I want him to know what J.J. was feeling. I want him to know how powerless, helpless, and traumatized little girls feel when some dirty lowlife does this to them. I don’t want him to forget how terror feels. Our daughter won’t ever forget. It isn’t something that is ever forgotten.”
Her words had been gospel truth. It hadn’t been forgotten.
She had not forgotten what it felt like to be watched by unseen eyes, and to have ominous advances made by an anonymous someone. To feel like someone was watching, waiting, following her every move, and thinking dirty things while they did.
She also had not forgotten the look on her mother’s face that day, the gun she was so afraid that her mother was going to use on the man, or the unnatural sound of her voice when she was threatening him. She hadn’t sounded at all like herself. Had that been a manifestation of something else going on in her mind? Was someone else speaking through her that day?
She said that terror was something that was never forgotten. How would she know if she hadn’t experienced something terrifying like that herself? She had gone through the incident with this Ford Beebe guy, but had there been others? Had there been other terrors like that in her life? She and Daddy had scrapbooks that chronicled adventures they had experienced before she was born. Some of them had sounded kind of dangerous. Were there other things that had happened to her of which even Daddy wasn’t aware?
In talking together some time after that incident at the mall with Allen Baker, when things were trying to get back to normal, her mother said that there was something she would tell her about when she was older. She said it was something that had happened to her a long time ago. Was this incident with Beebe what she had been speaking of that night up in the mountains, or was there something else? Had she handed off the gun that day with Baker because she didn’t want to shoot him in front of her child, because her sense of decency wouldn’t let her do it, or had someone else made her put it down?
How many other things had she done in her life that were the manifestations of what she didn’t really remember, but were there in her mind just the same? Did everybody have quiet things like that floating around in their heads that sometimes came out in the things they did?
She could feel her breathing beginning to be a little labored and her chest tightening in warning. It was time to leave that line of thought and those images.
She stared back up into her grandmother’s face. They all really did look very much alike, but there was a lot more to the relationship than that. Heredity evidently went a lot deeper than appearances. Those papers from her grandmother’s desk, that she’d been reading when her parents came up and that she was looking at out on the pier, confirmed that. She was sure that when her mother read what was in that folder she left with her, she would see it. It went way beyond names and faces. Heredity originated in the past, but it stretched out its mysterious, wondrous hand to touch and affect the future. It was blatantly apparent on that side of her family.
But what and from whom had Daddy inherited? What did he get from his mother? His father?
Jennifer Hart said that J.J. Hart walked like her father. From whom had Jonathan Hart inherited that distinctive swing of his left foot, that step he had passed down to his daughter? Who had the gambling gene? His mother? Probably his father, but it would be totally amusing if it had been his mother. Had Mr. Hart, Sr. been a pilot, too? Had he been a big-time risk-taker, like his son? Like his granddaughter? Maybe it had been Mrs. Hart, Sr. who took chances and tempted fate. What was a manifestation of heredity on that side of her family?
Who knew? One day she would.
Heredity was life, and she had a right to know. Didn’t she?
“I’m only sixteen.” She finally sighed, addressing her grandmother once again. “I know you think I’m smart and strong, but this is too deep. It’s just too much right now.”
Her heart heavy and her nerves on overload, she reached back and pulled the band from her ponytail in an effort to ease the pressure she felt building in her head. Shaking her hair loose, she got up from the desk and went over to the couch with the intention of lying down. But noticing for the first time her father’s pajamas, both their robes, the folded sheets, blankets, the pillows, and the wine bottle on the table; she had second thoughts and stopped in her tracks.
“Oh, h-e-e-e-eck no. There’s no telling what they….”
Shuddering in revulsion, she turned away and went to the chair where she dropped heavily onto the old stiff cushions. She drew up her legs, folding them underneath her, and lay her head down on her grandmothers’ sweater, right next to the book she had no intention of reading. She hoped to rest, but her mind was still going. Her emotions, still churning.
…changes… soooo many….
Jennifer Hart…Suzanne Edwards… mothers…daughters….
…Mom … Daddy….
The two of them.
Hidden rooms… secrets… resurrected memories….
…dead, but not gone, grandmothers….
beloved rag dolls and charming satin genies….
…dollhouses and sadness….
…packages with no labels… book with no titles… questions with no explanations….
The two of them together.
…stories… strange coincidences…
…or were they?
So, so, so much to consider… to think about… to make sense of….
Looking around herself, as much as she could without lifting her head, she envisioned that room all fixed up. Updated and cleaned, but not changed. It wouldn’t take a whole lot. It really could be nice again. A good place to escape to and be alone. On rainy days, the sound of the drops on the roof would be soothing. On winter afternoons, it would be so warm and cozy with the fire going. Normally, it was locked away from the rest of the house. Maybe it could be sealed off like Grandmama’s room, then it really would be a personal place with only one secret way in.
One day maybe.
It was no wonder her grandmother had created her own spaces and places to be away from everyone, to step away from the world. She and Suzanne Simone Roussel had more in common than just their looks.
Pat found Marnie in the side garden, seated with her feet up on one of the benches, talking into her cell phone.
“Hang the hell up,” she ordered, moving Marnie’s feet from the bench in one sweep of her hand so she could sit down.
“I gotta go,” Marnie said into the phone before clicking off in mild annoyance and a little bit of apprehension. “Wha’d I do now?” she asked Pat.
“Nothing. It’s just that I’ve never seen anybody talk on the phone as much as you do. Your phone bill has to be outrageous.”
“I wouldn’t know. My father pays it. And you talk on the phone a lot.”
“I’m conducting business when you see me on the phone,” Pat countered.
“So am I.”
Pat rolled her eyes. “Monkey business doesn’t count, Marnie.”
“Business is business,” Marnie replied with a wave of her hand. “I have to keep my traps checked. Whenever we do get back home, I want to be able to pick right up where I left off. There’s already Tommy’s party that we’re missing. I’ll automatically lose some networking ground there. I’m subject to get back and find out that some of the local tramps have moved in on the men I had staked out and primed for myself.”
“Boys, Aunt Pat.”
“Boys? Like in more than one?”
“I believe in diversifying my interests. It’s not good to put all your eggs in one basket.”
“How in the world did you get so jaded so young?”
“I’m not jaded. Just practical. See, I get bored real easy with guys. One guy will have one thing I want, but not something else. Another guy will have something else, but be lacking in other areas. You know how it goes.”
“Unfortunately,” Pat sighed resignedly. “I have to admit that I do.” Then she stopped and skewered Marnie with her eyes. “Are you having sex yet?”
“Man!” Marnie exclaimed, sitting forward with the shock. “That came out of the blue! Hit me with your best shot, why don’t you?”
“Just answer me, Miss Hickey 2001.”
“Of course not! I don’t like anybody that much. I just told you, I’m fickle.”
“Planning on doing it any time soon?”
“Nahhhh.” The girl answered, sitting back against the stone arm of the bench. “Me and J.J. and our crew made a pact to put off going all the way until we’re at least seventeen and/or in our senior year. I had to negotiate hard for seventeen, though. J.J. and them were pushing for eighteen or after we graduate high school. Even though I don’t have any immediate plans to do it, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be held to that.”
“So, you like the boys, do you?”
“Oh, I love ’em!” Marnie grinned. “J. says I have issues. Sometimes I think something’s wrong with me, too. But I do love boys. I think about them all the time. I love talking to them and being with them. I like looking at them, and having them looking at me. I like smelling them, even when they’re all sweaty and stuff, probably especially when they’re all sweaty-like. I love muscles, hairy legs, and those veins they have in their arms, and nice tight b-”
The look Pat gave her cut her off.
“Is that so bad, Aunt Pat?”
“Well, I guess you can’t help being who you are and how you feel. Just keep your hands to yourself, especially when the boy happens to be sweaty- and make them keep their damned hands to themselves for the time being to keep you from getting all sweaty. Sounds to me like you don’t need any help with that. Stick to the plan you girls have. It sounds like a good one to me. Don’t get into all of that serious stuff too soon. J.J. hasn’t turned up yet?”
“Nope. I was sitting out here to see if she would, but so far she hasn’t.”
“I thought she might come back after she had dinner with Jonathan and Jennifer.”
“I didn’t, really. I was just hoping she might.”
“Why didn’t you think she would?”
“She’s too bummed to be with anybody right now. That’s how she is. Most of the time she can handle things pretty well, but a lot’s been going on with her, piling up. She was bummed worrying about her mother, and then the thing with Tommy took it over the top, I think.”
“What is it with her and Tommy, Marnie? I thought he was just a friend. What’s the real deal on them?”
“He is just a friend. But it’s like he’s special to her, and her to him. I can’t describe it because I haven’t ever felt it like that myself with anybody, but I see it in them. It’s like- like- they know each other real well. Like people, not just like she’s a girl and he’s a boy. I don’t know- I can’t really describe it. It’s not like the way she likes Teddy or he likes her. It’s almost like it’s more than that. I, I- I just can’t describe it to you, Aunt Pat.”
Pat nodded. She knew exactly what Marnie was trying so hard to say. She was marrying a guy like that.
“I heard you all say that Mrs. H. had come for J.J. and had taken her with her.” Marnie said. “Do you think she took J. to where she’s been?”
“I think so, Marnie.”
“Was she feeling better? Mrs. H., I mean. She looked really bad yesterday when Uncle Bill was carrying her in the hall.”
“I thought I told you to stay in that room.”
“I did stay in the room. But there’s a keyhole in the door.”
“You don’t have any shame, do you?”
“I did what you told me. You didn’t say I couldn’t peek.”
“I don’t know how Jennifer was feeling. I didn’t see or talk to her. I have to assume she’s better, she was up and she felt well enough to go see to J.J.”
“I’m glad she did that. J.J. gets panicky when something’s wrong with her mother. She loves her mother a lot. What’s all this about, Aunt Pat?”
“What did J.J. tell you?”
“She just said that it was about her grandmother. She said that her mother has been going over some things that belonged to her grandmother that she hadn’t seen in a long time. She said that her mother had been working on some of her grandmother’s things in the guest house.”
Pat nodded, but added nothing to that.
“So what happened to her yesterday? How come the Duchess passed out like that? The real reason, Aunt Pat, not what the kid should hear. Mr. Edwards said that she was just tired, and that I shouldn’t worry.”
“That was the truth, Marnie. She was exhausted. You’ve seen Jennifer when she’s working. She doesn’t stop unless somebody makes her. Nobody could get her to stop this time, so she overdid it. Why do you call her “the Duchess.?”
Marnie laughed, unaware that she had done it in front of Pat.
“No disrespect. It’s just that she’s just so classy and sharp all the time. It’s our little secret name for her. Don’t tell her, okay? J.J. freaked out yesterday, didn’t she? I saw her. I heard her. She tried to play it off when I saw her later, but seeing her mother like that really freaked her out.”
“Marnie, tell me, does J.J. seem as concerned about her father as she does her mother? I know she loves them both, but she is very attached to Jennifer. I need another perspective on it. She does “freak” as you call it when something happens to her mother. What can you tell me about that?”
When Marnie didn’t answer right away, Pat could see that she was being was being studied. The scrutiny was so intense and lasted so long that it began to make her strangely uncomfortable.
“What’s wrong, Marnie?”
“I want to tell you something about J, and I’m trying to decide if I should. I think you should know, seeing as how you’re her godmother and all, but if I do, you can never say anything about this to anybody. EVER.”
“I know I can trust you, but you still have to swear that this stays right here. I’m only going to tell you because you should know this, but I won’t tell you if you don’t swear to not say anything about it.”
“I swear, now what?”
“J. knows that her mother didn’t want her at first. She knows that her mother never wanted a kid.”
“What? That’s nonsense, Marnie.”
Marnie sat forward, leaning in toward Pat. “Look, you told me earlier today not to play crazy with you. Well, you can’t play it with me either right now. You, of all people, know what I’m talking about.”
“How do you know that she knows?” Pat asked in reluctant concession.
It was evident that Marnie’s remark was based on fact. There wasn’t an ounce of uncertainty in those big brown eyes and Pat could clearly see that.
“She told me. I was going through that bad patch with my last former stepfather, and J. was helping me work through some feelings I had about my own mother. I was hating her around that time, and it was taking me down. J.J. and I were talking about it, I called my mother stupid for not believing me or believing in me. J. checked me for that and said that mothers aren’t stupid; sometimes they just don’t know. That’s when she told me about her mother.”
“What did she say?”
“She told me she found out that her mother never wanted children. She said she knew that her mother wasn’t real happy to be pregnant, and that she never wanted kids. She knows her father always wanted a kid, but she was surprised to find out her mother didn’t. Her mother had told her she had been a surprise to her, but J. always assumed after all that time, it was a happy surprise. Like they had been trying to have a baby for a long time, and they finally got one. She found out later that wasn’t the case- that she hadn’t been a happy surprise for her mother, just her father. She said it took her out for a while.”
“Marnie, how did she find that out?”
“That part I won’t tell you.” Marnie answered, adamantly shaking her head making her shiny dark hair whip with the determined movement. “You’ll have to just trust me. She knows, Aunt Pat. She knows.”
“Okay, you know that I, of all people, can certainly respect your not divulging the source. All I want is to just know if she has the right information. I want to be sure that something wasn’t lost in the interpretation.”
“It wasn’t, believe me.”
“When did she find this out?”
“She said she was about twelve.”
“When did you say she told you? How old were you two then?”
“We were fifteen.”
Pat was taken aback. J.J. hadn’t given up any clue, verbal or otherwise, that said she was aware of anything like that. Maybe her behavioral craziness during that time period hadn’t just been about hormones and growing up after all.
“So why are you telling me all of this now, Marnie?”
“Because you asked me that question about her mother and her father, and so you can understand why she does some of the things that she does.
I’m sure you understand Mrs. H. well enough to know why she does J. how she does her. You’re J.’s godmother. You should have the inside track on her, too. J.J. and her father are a lot alike, so they naturally get along. He’s different from Mrs. H. He’s a lot more laid back and just kind of takes things in stride. J.J. and her father kind of tune in to each other. But I think sometimes J. worries about being a problem or a burden to her mother, and that’s why she tries so hard to be the best at everything and to work out stuff for herself. She calls herself making it easier on her mother so that she isn’t ever sorry that she had her. She works like a dog at that, Aunt Pat.
I think, too, that in her mind she worries about her mother not being there for her. You know, like Mrs. Edwards wasn’t there for Mrs. H. When we were talking about it, J.J. did tell me that she’s gotten past finding out that she wasn’t wanted by her mother, but I think way in the back of her mind, it still worries her. She did say, at that time when she first told me about it, that she thought her mother was silly for doubting herself and her ability to be a good mother. She thinks the world of Jennifer Edwards Hart even if she doesn’t see eye-to-eye with her all the time. Do you think Mrs. H. is so thorough with J. because she’s trying to make it up to her for not wanting her? That’s what I think.”
“When did you talk to your own mother last, Marnie?” Pat asked, trying to keep her facial expression even.
Out of the mouth of babes. She would have to think over that last part of what Marnie said. It had never occurred to her to look at Jennifer’s intense, carefully crafted relationship with J.J. like that.
“The day before yesterday.” Marnie answered matter-of-factly. “She was at a party on a yacht with some of her friends when I called her. It was cocktail hour, so she couldn’t talk long.”
“I bet she’s missing you after all this time.”
“Yeah, right. She didn’t even ask me when I was coming home. She just wanted to know if I needed her to put some money in my account. She’s going to be drugged when she finds out I’m moving in with my father.”
“You aren’t doing it out of spite, are you, Marnie?”
“No, not really. He threatened to take my mother to court to get custody of me after the stepfather thing, but he hadn’t led his life a whole lot better, and I told him that. I was mad at both of them at the time. But being away like this, I’ve had a chance to stand back and see things how they really are and how they really should be. Briarwood is a great place, but then, anyplace with the Harts is great. They are a real good family, and even though Mrs. H. makes it a sharp point to keep me honest, I always feel welcome, like I’m a part of them. I never feel like a third wheel. But I have my own family. My father may not be the best as a person, but he’s okay as my father. He has called me every day to see how I am and if I need anything. He’s talked to you. He’s talked to Mr. H. several times to see if I’m behaving-”
“He should have called me today, so I could have told him how you tried to take off in-”
“-and to see what Mr. H. says about what I need. He might be shady with his wife and his life and stuff, but he does care about me and his other kids. J.J. has a good father. I think that means a lot to a girl. I’m finally seeing that I have one, too. I need to be with my father on a daily, Aunt Pat. He asks questions. Even though it gets on my nerves when he does it, he doesn’t just let me do things without questioning me. My mother never asks. She leaves me on my own too much, and even I can see that’s not real good. I need somebody to check me and check the stuff I do sometimes. I know I can kind of get out there. To tell you the truth, I scare myself every now and then. I also need somebody to light a fire under the guys who take me out, and to let them know that I’m not just some bimbo they can do however they want. I think guys need to know that a girl’s father is back at the house, and that he might kill them if they don’t treat the girl right. It keeps them on point.”
Pat tried, unsuccessfully, not to laugh.
“You are so blunt, but you make a whole lot of sense, Marnie Benson, about a lot of things. If your father is willing to be there for you, you go for it. You’re right about a girl needing her father in her life. Thanks for the heads up on J.J. It’ll stay right here with me. You can count on that. Now look, Rosa’s cut you a big piece of that German chocolate cake she made. She said she was saving it for you for when you turned up again. Why don’t you go get that? Give the phone a chance to cool off.”
“What’re you going to do?” Marnie asked as she got up.
“Wait here for Bill. He said he was coming out when he finished getting beaten by Mr. Edwards at backgammon.”
“Walter owes me five dollars. We were playing gin last night, and he came up short. Maybe I’ll give him a chance to get even while I’m having my cake.”
Marnie started to walk away, but suddenly she darted back to slide her arms around Pat’s neck and kiss her on the cheek. Then, just as abruptly, she let her go and started back down the path.
“What was that for?” Pat called behind her.
“For liking me without trying to change me.” Marnie answered without turning around. “For listening. For asking questions, but not stupid ones. For being “the girl” in my book.”
When she was out of sight, from behind the hedge that separated them, she called out, “And because I love you, Pat!”
Pat slowly turned around and leaned back against the bench, reflecting on all that had just transpired. It occurred to her that the children a woman got weren’t always the ones that came from inside her body. Sometimes they just landed in a person’s lap, looking for trust and affection and giving it back by the bucketful. She had so tragically lost one little girl years ago, but it seemed she had gained another two.
Two for one, just like always.
She was shocked when a few seconds later she had to wipe at her eyes. That hadn’t happened to her in years.
Jonathan had fallen asleep in her lap and for the third time, Jennifer opened that folder to attempt to read what was inside. The sight of that familiar script running across and down the first page tugged at something wedged deeply inside her. The resulting strong surge of emotion had twice forced her hands to close it before her eyes could read, or her mind to translate, what was being said. The text had been written in French, and she was impressed that J.J. had so quickly translated and processed it to the point that she thought it was worthy of her mother reading it. That little girl was so smart that it sometimes overwhelmed even her. She secretly recognized that J.J.’s prowess with foreign languages might even be stronger than hers. At sixteen, J.J. had received less formal training, but could understand, read, and speak far more than she could at that age; and she was still learning and gaining.
On that third attempt, again her first instinct was to avert her eyes, but she made herself look, read, and interpret.
“In the beginning, she had come to her mother, making a place for herself to grow right beneath her heart. So still, quiet, and sweet, it was some time before her presence was realized. The woman had been frightened to find herself so unexpectedly with child. It was a child she was not sure she wanted at that time. But she need not have been dismayed. His seed had been golden.
As she watched from the window that little girl playing with the dogs and the stick at the shore, she realized there was no joy to compare to that which came with her Justine. No greater love exists than a mother for her child. It is greater, even, than that of a woman for her man. The love between a man and a woman can be challenged. It can grow weary. It can end. But the bond between mother and child is constant and eternal.”
She read those first paragraphs twice before stopping to close her eyes and rest her head back against the tree.
“Jesus, please.” She whispered in fervent prayer.
That wasn’t what she had read on that other night when she had first sat down at that desk. Apparently J.J., more fearless and with less at stake, had dug down into that pile of papers on the desk in search of a beginning. It was just like that child to cut to the chase to make sense of things.
When had those words in that first paragraph been written, and of whom had her mother been speaking? Was it something she created? Had she been she speaking from her own experience? Or was it something she anticipated happening?
Whatever she had been doing, the words on that page were speaking to her daughter, reaching out from the page and holding onto her by the heart.
“I have always known her… I have always known our Justine.” Echoed inside her head.
Opening her eyes, she attempted to read on.
“Justine!” She called to her from the door. “It is time for you to come and eat.”
The mother watched as the girl ran to the house with the dogs following, barking their happiness and excitement at being in the company of their lively young mistress. As she made her way across the sand, the late afternoon sunlight caught the gold in the soft auburn hair gathered in a long, thick braid down the child’s back. Her bright eyes and mischievous smile warmed the mother’s heart as she sailed through the screened door she allowed to loudly slam closed behind her. The dogs whined pitifully, disappointed at being left on the other side and away from her.
As Justine washed her hands at the sink, the mother heard her ask, “Mama, when is Papa coming home?”
“He will be home when he gets home, my sweet girl. Until then, you can have all my love.”
Upon reading that last line, she closed the folder and pressed her hands down on it as if to prevent it from springing back open on its own.
“Her life is better served with you than it is with me, Jennifer.”
“What’s the matter?” She heard Jonathan’s voice ask as she felt his head leave her lap, then his fingers as they brushed at the sudden hot tears on her cheeks.
The barrage of confusing, blurred, pastel colored images her mother’s words summoned from their well-established hiding places overwhelming her thoughts and emotions, she could only drop her heavy head, slowly shaking it in response.
“Tell me,” He urged, his hand circling her forearm and gently squeezing, “baby, talk to me.”
“She was writing up there,” she finally managed to get out. “My mother was a writer.”
“Why does that upset you?”
“It doesn’t- I, I’m not sure. It just hurts so badly. I don’t understand- I just don’t- I’m sorry.”
The story in that folder under her hands was begging to be read. The package and the book were waiting for her down in the passage. J.J. was up in the attic, on her own, freely exploring and with all the time that she had been gone, she was probably several steps ahead, but just as confused and full of questions.
When they had talked earlier in the attic, she could sense that J.J. had a million things she wanted to ask. But as she spoke to her of what she remembered of those early days at Briarwood, J.J. mostly just sat and listened. Always hungry for knowledge, the enraptured look on that freckled face made telling her those things so much easier and so very rewarding. The girl had been like a sponge, eagerly soaking up and retaining the history flowing straight from her mother.
Of all the things that remained to be done, the most pressing of it all was the matter of facing her father. It would be so different and so very difficult now that she remembered that room and what she had done to him. Once again, it felt like the weight of the world sat on her shoulders.
“Jonathan, I am just so tired.” She quietly admitted from within the sanctuary of the arms that held her close.
“I know, and there’s nothing to be sorry about where it concerns me.” He answered. “I told you, I’m in this with you all the way, and I meant it. I hear you saying that you’re tired, but you’re going back up there anyway, aren’t you?”
“I have to.”
“I understand that you have to do what you have to do, and I support you totally, but I’ll be glad when I have my family back. I want you back, all of you.”
“I know you want us all to be together again. I do too, but this isn’t finished yet. You see that even though you wanted it for us tonight, as did I, it didn’t happen. It wasn’t yet time. It just isn’t finished.”
They both knew that she was right, and it wouldn’t be over until it was. None of them was in charge of what was happening. They would all have to continue to go along with whatever what had been scripted for them.
“What’s in the folder?” he asked.
She handed the sheath of papers to him.
Relaxing his hold on her, but not letting go completely, he opened it.
“It’s in French. Is this your mother’s handwriting?”
“You know you’ll do better reading it to me. It’ll take me too long to decipher it. I make better sense of what I hear.”
She read aloud to him in French those first few passages, the ones that she had read to herself. He followed along, listening intently.
When she stopped reading, in the same place she had stopped before, they both looked to each other.
“Sounds like the beginning of a beautiful seaside story.” He observed, sure that she had interpreted it as something else- just as he had.
“It sounds just like how I grew up.” She replied. “She used to always say that to me when I would ask after my father and about when he was coming home. That was her patent answer; to tell me that he would be there whenever he got there and about letting me have all of her love in the meantime. I also had long curly hair like J.J.’s used to be, and she would pull it into a braid down my back like that to keep it from getting all tangled. Do you remember I used to do that with J.J.’s hair when she was in the water, before she got big enough to do it herself? I just did it last night after she fell asleep and it was loose.”
“I bet you were a cute kid. A real comfort to your mother when your father was away.”
“The girl in this story also sounds like J.J.” She said, ignoring the compliment, her mind focused on the story. “Just like in that first paragraph, I didn’t know a baby was there growing inside me until way down the line. According to the journals, my mother knew right away that she was pregnant with me. She was very sick at the start. I wasn’t sick a day with J.J. I was just tired and sleepy all the time. I had no idea I could be pregnant.”
“I remember that. It wasn’t like you to sleep and be tired all the time like that. I knew something out of the ordinary was happening with you. I kept praying that you weren’t sick, but I never suspected that.”
“Just like the woman in my mother’s story. My baby came to me so quietly,” She stopped and looked into his eyes. “And so sweetly that I never once would have guessed that a child was there. J.J. just got settled in under my heart, established herself, and started growing. And then, the girl in the story is named Justine, just like J.J.”
“Well, from what you’ve told me, Justine seems to be a pretty common name in your family. That name has been carried by at least one somebody for at least three generations.”
She smiled. “J.J.’s your seed and she’s golden. Just like my mother said, there wasn’t any need to worry.”
Warmed by her words, but not willing to let her imagination take flight before she finished working with the material, he resisted the urge to kiss her. Instead he advised her, “Before you start drawing conclusions, I think you need to finish the reading. You need to see the whole picture. See what she was doing or saying exactly.”
“Judging by this little bit and her journals, I already do know one thing, Jonathan.”
She could write. She was extremely talented. Her journals were like talking to her. I don’t know if it’s because I feel I lived this, or because of how she wrote it, but I could sense every bit of what she was saying in those lines of that story. I could see it. I could smell the surf. It smelled like being a kid in Perpignan on the back end of Sabrina’s house in the summer. It was like summer days spent with my mother down at the guest house when it was just her and me. It was like when you and I would take J.J. and the dogs down to the house at the beach, and we would let her play out there by the ocean. I could see her and Junior and Third, the sunlight all in her hair as she romped…”
She closed her eyes and leaned into him.
“When I was a very little girl, my mother had two dogs. They were shepherds named Hans and Gretel. They were my playmates most of the time here on the estate. She had a cat, too. Her name was Puff. She had kittens in the stable…”
He felt her rest her head against his shoulder and again he moved her into the circle of his arm.
“… In Perpignan I would go down to the beach and play. Aunt Sabrina would French braid my hair so tightly that it felt like my eyes would never close again. She said it was because it was so thick, and she didn’t want to have to keep doing it all day. But somehow it would always come loose. She’d laugh and put it right back up. Sometimes she’d let me skinny dip. It felt so good. Sometimes she’d go in with me.”
“Nude? With you?”
“Yes. She was something else. So liberated.”
“I thought the term was Bohemian. What about your mother? Was she like that?”
“In some ways. She was very much into women being strong and independent, and doing the things they wanted to do. An example of that is my name.”
“My parents were having a first generation American child, but my father was very proud of their European heritage. If his first child had been born a boy, my father wanted him named Stephen Harrison the Third. If the child was a girl, he wanted her to have a Welsh name. He had chosen, Guinevere. He wanted his first daughter to be named for the Queen of Camelot. Once, when I was little, my mother told me the story of my given name. What she told me was that she didn’t like the name, Guinevere, and that she didn’t want me having to go through life stuck with it. But, what she wrote in her journal was that Guinevere was the name of the woman who was the reason for the demise of Camelot, and she wasn’t going to have any daughter of hers be saddled with that bad luck handle. By the time my father got home after I was born, she had already recorded my name as “Jennifer”, a derivative of Guinevere, but what SHE wanted my name to be.”
She heard Jonathan begin to chuckle at the story.
“Then on top of that, she had given me my grandmother’s Christian name for a middle name. My grandmother was here when he finally got back. She was none to pleased with him for having left my mother on her own in that advanced stage of her pregnancy. He had planned to be back in time for my birth, but I came a little early. That left him no room to fuss about anything.
My mother was so smart and she didn’t take anything off anybody, not even Pa. I remember her working for voters’ rights and being sympathetic toward the Civil Rights movement, which was just beginning to gain momentum. Pa, being more conservative, didn’t always see things her way, but that was his problem as far as she was concerned. She had been following what was going on in the south, reading about it, listening to the radio accounts…
It seemed like she could do or fix anything. Even though my parents were quite well off, something had to be really broken for her to not take a stab at trying to put it back right. But at that same time, she discouraged the latent tomboy in me. She instead steered my energies into more feminine forms of athleticism; ballet, tennis, riding lessons, ice skating.
She was so affectionate. We talked all the time. She was always telling me stories. I think she made most of them up as she went. Told me stories all the time. Right before-”
He heard her stop abruptly and urged her on. “Go ahead, Jennifer. I’m listening.”
“I was twelve.” She said in a whisper. “Right before she died, she had begun teaching me about my body and the physical changes I was about to undergo. All my life she had been educating me about sex and all. I mean, she had to. She bred horses. When Gretel went into heat, she had to be kept away from Hans, who seemed to lose his mind during those times. Puff got pregnant with some degree of regularity- we never knew exactly who the father was. She was a free spirit, I guess you could say. Could have been any one of the toms who wandered in and out from time to time and that my mother used to feed. I had seen and questioned all of that.”
“Here I thought you grew up a pampered little rich girl. Instead, it sounds more like Rebecca of Sunnybrook farm.”
She smiled a little.
“That was how my mother was. She was like a chameleon. One minute she could be in the stable helping to birth a calf, another she could be taking tea with the mayor’s wife, the next she’d be under the sink with a wrench, and right after that she’d be in a beautiful gown having dinner with my father and their guests. She was raising me largely in that manner. For all her refinement, she was quite down to earth. She was a real lady, but she was a woman first.
As biological things happened around here with the animals, she just explained them to me and told me about how people function in much the same ways. So, I ended up with a fairly good understanding of the human process. But, when she left, it was just such a very difficult time emotionally in my life to lose my mother. Pa didn’t know what to do or say. We didn’t have that kind of relationship, and even if we did have it, I don’t know if he could have been much help. It was hard without her. I made a lot of mistakes trying to figure things out for myself.”
He was glad to hear her say what she’d said. It opened a door for him to better understand her. He could now see that she was teaching J.J. in the way that she had been taught. Whether or not that had been a conscious move on her part remained to be seen.
“Is that why you’re so careful to be thorough and explicit with J.J.?” He asked.
“That… and other things.”
He felt it when her body stiffened slightly at that attempt on his part to probe deeper into her past.
“I just don’t want her to have to go through all of what I went through.” Was her evasive, somewhat disappointing answer.
“She’s not alone like I was. Human development and sexuality are natural and normal, and she needs to feel that they are. As long as she has me in her life- and you- she’ll never have to go it alone unless it is her choice to do so. We had her late, and in the back of my mind, I guess it’s worried me some that I might not live to see her to adulthood.
I recall Pa fussing with my mother like you do with me sometimes about J.J. over how much she let me see and what she told me. But she was absolutely right in doing that. With her gone and me away and on my own at Gresham Hall, it came in very handy, in fact essential. I wasn’t receptive to that kind of conversation with anyone else, except maybe Sabrina who was too far away to access on a regular basis. I was sort of a private kid. Pat was as ignorant as they come at twelve, but had the nerve to be liking boys and hot with it. It was left up to me to keep us informed. Pat, and everybody else in Waverly it seemed, counted on me for that. And then there was that small group of girls on the Quad who were a little too close to each other.”
“You heard me. Scared poor Pat to death. She was appalled- simply had no idea at the time that such situations existed.”
“And you did at twelve?”
“We were about thirteen or so when we first noticed it at Gresham. It was between some older girls. Aunt Sabrina had already filled me in, though. A couple of her girlfriends who used to visit when I was there with her were a little chummier with each other than seemed normal. I happened to pick up on it. I asked her; she told me.”
“What about Sabrina?”
Jennifer dismissed his concern with a wave of her hand.
“No. She was out there, all right. A true free-thinking Bohemian in every sense of the word, but strictly into men. Poor Pat. Talk about your teenaged homophobia. I guess that applies when you’re talking about females, too, doesn’t it?”
“You’re the expert on words and how they work.”
“Well, all I know for sure is that a girl operating out there on her own in the world, like J.J. soon will be, had better know what she’s up against. Knowledge is power and it’s important to me that when I finally cut her loose, our girl be nearly invincible in that area . Whatever path she takes, I want her to make informed choices. Then, if by chance, she does mess up, it won’t be because she didn’t know any better and hopefully, she’ll know that she can always come to us for help.”
“I bet your mother was thinking along those same lines. Time just ran out on her.”
“Aunt Sabrina’s life was probably a model for what she felt she needed to teach me, and yes, her time did run out. She wasn’t able to get all the lessons in before she left me.”
Jennifer picked up the folder from where she had placed it on the ground next to her.
“Gonna finish that one?” he asked.
“Might as well get on with it.” She sighed. “Talking to you about it as I go, having you near; it’s getting easier to face things as they come up.”
“Good.” He said, tipping her face up toward his, finally giving her the kiss onto which he had been holding. “I’m glad I could help.”
“You always do.” She smiled.
Releasing her, suddenly very tired himself, he rolled over onto his stomach and put his head down on his crossed arms. “I’ll be right here.” He murmured.
As his body relaxed, Jonathan hazily recalled his father-in-law’s uncomfortable demeanor on that night that Stephen had been speaking to him about Jennifer’s mother and about making J.J. stay in school. If anything happened between him and Sabrina in London, no matter how unwarranted it might have been on his part, Stephen had to have been carrying an enormous amount of guilt over it all those years. Jennifer’s mother died on the morning following the day of his return to the States. If something happened between he and Sabrina, he had to have made a correlation in his mind. He hoped that the man at least had a chance to make love to her one more time before she left him.
The pit of his stomach churned violently in sympathy, and he was glad that he was lying on it at the moment. He thought once again of how strong the old guy had to have been. Feeling Jennifer’s body next to him, he thanked God that Stephen Edwards had been up to the task put before him.
Jennifer, rested her back against the tree, making sure that her body stayed in physical contact with Jonathan’s. As long as he was there…
Settling in, she stopped resisting and allowed her mind to hear her mother’s story.
When she could hear rustling and could see the leaves of those high hedges trembling again, Pat’s first thought was that Marnie had returned. She was surprised to see the shiny dome of a bald head moving just above the line of shrubs, and then Stephen Edwards’ face as he slowly ambled from behind them, coming toward her using his distinctive ebony cane to aid his steps.
It was good to see him up and moving about so much more. She doubted that he did much of that when there was nobody visiting with him Briarwood. He had enjoyed their ride out to Farrell’s and then to the country. He was a stubborn old man, and Walter probably wasn’t able to do much with him outside of getting him do the bare minimum. Despite his recent illness, Stephen had probably seen more action in recent days than he had in some time. It was a going to be a good thing having the Dean and her sister coming there to live. That would give him a reason to walk or ride out to the guest house to see them, or just to get up and be moving about to receive them down at the main house as his guests. When she and Bill moved into their new home, they would be close enough to also occasionally visit.
“Well, hello!” She called out to him. “What are you doing out this way?”
“Just taking a little walk.” He answered. “I was feeling pretty good, so I thought I would take advantage of it. I let your fiancée- husband-whatever- since you’re sleeping with him under my roof- beat me. I had to give the poor boy one, let him think he got one in on the old man. He was on his way out here to see you, but Rosa sidetracked him with an offer he couldn’t refuse. He’s inside having some of her cake, watching Marnie wear Walter out at gin rummy. I don’t know why that man insists upon playing with that little hustler. I told him that I think she cheats, but that I just cannot prove it.”
Pat grinned at the thought.
“She probably does.” She agreed. “But if so, nobody’ll ever catch her at it. She’s genuinely good at cards, but she’s even better at the dirt she does, unless she’s trying to do it to Jen or to me.”
She held her arm out to him as he sat down next to her.
“She is very cute.” He said as he got situated, leaning his cane against the stone bench. “Reminds me a lot of another little girl I used to know. She was the dickens, too, and just as endearing.”
“Now who might that be?” Pat teased.
He winked at her. “No sign of Jennifer or Justine?” He asked, sounding as if he already knew the answer.
“No.” Pat sighed. “Not yet. Wherever they are, they must all be together. Jonathan said that he was taking their dinner to them and that they were going to eat down by the lake. He took all the fixings when he left in the car. I haven’t seen him or any of them since.”
He merely nodded. It was just as he thought it was.
Suzanne was working with her girls, and his son-in-law would just have to go along with her program. Stephen Edwards knew better than anyone how forceful Suzanne Edwards’ will could be. Even though he had been Jennifer’s father forty-four years longer than Suzanne had been her mother on earth, she was still her mother’s child. His wife had been silent a long time, so it stood to reason that the woman must have a lot of ground she needed to cover with her daughter. It had been four days since he had last seen Jennifer, and now it seemed Suzanne had Justine with her too.
It was fitting. Justine was next in line, and her time was coming.
“So, have you and Bill decided on a date to get married?” He asked. “Not that it matters. You already sleep wi-”
“You said that, already, Stephen. I heard you.” Pat answered, highly amused. “But you have to admit, I am good and grown up these days.”
“You’ll always be my little girl, Patricia, just like Jennifer. I don’t care how old you get. I’ll still be older and I’ll still be Pa to both of you.”
“I know.” She answered, putting her arm around him and squeezing. “You’ve been the best and I love you. But it’s not like you don’t know me and how I am. Which brings me to something I want to ask you to do for me.”
“Anything.” He said. “Just name it.”
“Well, when I got married the first time, all those years ago, it was wrong. I wasn’t marrying a man I loved. I wasn’t getting married for the right reasons, and I wasn’t getting married with the intention of staying that way. I didn’t ask you then. I was too ashamed to come to you that time.”
“No need to have been. I understood. I didn’t like it, but I understood. And although I did not approve of the marriage, I was so sorry that things turned out as they did for you.”
“At any rate, this time I’m doing it for all the right reasons. I love this man. This time I want it to last for the rest of my life. I would like to ask you if Bill and I might get married here at Briarwood.”
“I thought you two made plans to get married out at Jennifer and Jonathan’s place? Won’t Jennifer be disappointed?”
“She’ll understand when I tell her. Bill and I talked about it, and I’ve been thinking. How could you give the bride away if she’s way out there in California? I’m not ashamed this time, Pa. I want you there with me, with us. At Thanksgiving time, the Dean, Miss Smythe, Bill’s son and his family, everyone that we care about can be here. And the man I’ve considered to be my father all these years will be right there to give me away.
I wouldn’t be anything if you hadn’t come into my life, Stephen. All I had was money, and that’s nothing without purpose. That’s what you gave to my life. I would have given up a long time ago without that. Jennifer had a head start on me. She had her mother those first few years, and then you to finish what she started. In me, you just had a plain old lump of coal. But you never gave up on me. You just kept pressing and rubbing and polishing until you could finally see a glimmer of hope.”
“A diamond in the rough.” He nodded, his eyes gleaming. “You’ve never been plain. You know that I will be honored to open my home for your wedding and to walk with you if you don’t mind moving slowly to accommodate these legs of mine. Bill is a fine man. I wish you two had found each other earlier, but things have to happen in their own time, don’t they?”
“That’s what you taught us, and I thank you.” She smiled. “I’m eternally grateful to you. For everything.”
He sat back again.
“Well, my darling.” He thought with a sigh. “I thought I would be there sooner, but it looks as if you will have to wait just a little longer for me. Like always, I’m being delayed. I have to do this for our other girl, and then maybe it will be time for me to finally come home to you.”
He considered that moment of weakness and hopelessness up in his bedroom on that night not long past, when Justine’s timely phone call thwarted his faulty, hastily made plan.
“All things in their own time, Patricia,” he said aloud.
“It was worth the waiting, Stephen,” she replied, completely unaware of how true those words rang with him.
His stomach was doing flips, and every time her face contorted with the pain, he thought he would puke from the stress or have a heart attack and die from holding his breath. Unfortunately, he couldn’t afford to, and didn’t deserve to do either. She had the harder job. Her fingernails dug deeper and deeper into his palm as she bore down, and he watched as her entire body trembled each time she struggled through another powerful contraction.
“Damn,” he thought, “what have I done to you?” as sick and clammy with worry he could only watch as Jennifer silently followed Kate’s order to push one more time.
He rode the wave with her all the way to its crest, teetering painfully at the apex, and audibly exhaled when she eased her grip on his hand on the way back down. Kate was talking the entire time, coaching Jennifer through it, but he hadn’t heard a word of what she was saying.
“I’m so sorry, darling.” He whispered sincerely into her ear.
She said nothing in response. She hadn’t spoken one word once the contractions became serious.
Not once in that entire six months that she was aware of being pregnant had Jennifer directly said that she was happy about that baby her body was nurturing. Not once had she come out and stated that she wanted it. She hadn’t said anything to the contrary, but she didn’t seem as excited as a first time mother should have been either. She seemed to just accept it; as if it were something that just happened, as if it were nothing out of the ordinary. He knew her well enough to see through her. All was not well, at least not as well with her as she wanted it to appear.
But, not once had he directly asked her how she felt about it either. For once, he was almost afraid to admit to even himself, it hadn’t really mattered to him how she felt.
Somehow, some way, after ten years- without any undue effort- one seed had finally taken, firmly planting itself inside of her. She didn’t even know it was there for the first three months. They were older than most first time parents, and had figured at that point that there wouldn’t ever be any Hart children. Even so, everything had gone as it was supposed to go. All the tests said that the child was everything it was supposed to be. Apparently this was what was supposed to happen, and it was happening when it was supposed to happen.
Up until that very day, his position had been that all she had to do was carry it until it was ready to be born. Although he wanted her to want the baby as badly he did; it hadn’t really mattered to him how she felt about it. More than anything, he wanted her to have that baby. If it were possible, he would have done it himself, but it wasn’t. If she would do that for him, he was prepared to do the rest, whatever it took, once she gave birth to it. It was a secret he would take to his grave, and he had vowed to do everything he could to make it up to her. He was finally getting a child, and it was with the love of his life.
But sitting there with her, watching her and utterly unable to make it better for her, he was having second thoughts. For the first time since he was a kid, he had gone down to the chapel, on his own, for the sole purpose of praying. He prayed for her, and he prayed for forgiveness for his selfishness. He was totally ashamed of himself. He already had everything. Maybe in wanting that baby, he wanted too much. Maybe it wasn’t worth it. What if she didn’t make it? What if in giving him the baby he wanted so badly, the Lord decided to take in her return? For the first time that he could remember; he was honestly, truly, totally afraid. Without Jennifer, there would be no reason to live on.
It had been almost fourteen hours that she had been at it. Kate said that it wouldn’t be much longer. He hoped it wouldn’t be. It wasn’t going to be much longer before he was in tears. Max’s death the previous year had brought forth tears he hadn’t shed since he was a child. Now the most precious person to him on earth was trying to have a baby, his baby, one for which she hadn’t asked and perhaps didn’t want. It was taking so long, and she was in so much pain. He wiped at his eyes to keep the water from spilling.
“All right.” He heard Kate say from the foot of the bed. “I’ve got red hair down here. This should be it. Push for me, Jennifer. One good time.”
Jennifer’s face contorted and once again she bore down on his hand as her body tightened and arched from the mattress.
Kate peered up from her task.
“Jonathan, you want to see this baby come into the world? This is probably going to be a once in a lifetime thing for you. Look into that mirror right there.”
Reluctant to leave her, but desirous of witnessing with his own eyes, the birth of what would probably be his only child, just as Kate indicated, he released Jennifer’s hand, placing it in the waiting hand of the attending nurse who slid into the chair he’d vacated. He was sure that she didn’t even know he had left her side, she was so far into what she was doing.
As Kate coached and urged, she gently went about her work, pulling and twisting at the tiny, gray-pink person slowly emerging from his wife’s trembling, straining body. He had seen the movies in the birthing class, but he was totally unprepared for the tiny face bearing Jennifer’s distinct hairline that rotated toward him in Kate’s capable hands.
“Come on, Jennifer.” The doctor urged. “One more.”
A few seconds later, she announced quietly, “It’s a girl. Jennifer, Jonathan, you have a daughter.”
His heart soared and in his heart, he gave thanks. A girl. How much better could it get? He had it all. The woman he loved. A good life. And the daughter he’d wished for.
Seconds later came the noise for which he had been waiting- his daughter’s cry.
“Seven pounds, eleven ounces.” He heard Kate say.
He’d even won the pool. He and Bill had their money on 7-11 as the baby’s weight- another secret he’d be taking to his grave. They had always been lucky at the table. She was twenty-one inches long. Another win for the pool. Blackjack was one of his favorite games with the cards. Their little girl had proven right off to be her daddy’s lucky charm.
He was seated at Jennifer’s side. She was awake and they had put her back together.She had just given birth and was extremely tired, but she was radiantly beautiful, and he had never been more in love with her.
“Here she is!” The nurse sang, handing the baby, wrapped in a pink blanket, down to her mother.
For that one uncertain moment, he thought he might choke on his own heart as it lodged solidly in his throat.
What was Jennifer thinking? What would she feel for that baby they made? What did the kid look like? He had only seen her when she was coated with fluids. If she looked like her mother, she was safe. There was no way to tell what kind of recessive genes might be lurking on his side.
“Jonathan, she’s absolutely beautiful.” Came the welcome, but raspy voice, the one he hadn’t heard in hours.
That was when he realized his eyes had been closed, and he had stopped breathing.
Nestled in her mother’s arms, a tiny hand wrapped tightly around one of her mother’s fingers, was his daughter. He released a deep sigh of relief. Minutes old, it was obvious she had been blessed with Jennifer’s rosy features, including the red hair. But when she blinked opened her eyes, his chest filled with paternal pride. They were clearly going to be blue. Their daughter, his baby, had his eyes.
Jennifer held her close and kissed her forehead, greeting her with, “Hi, Sweetie. I’m your Mommy. That’s your Daddy, and you are so beautiful. We are going to love you and take such good care of you.”
His world was complete.
He looked across to the other side of the bed to thank Kate. But, Kate wasn’t there any more. Another woman had taken her place. She was dressed in that riding gear again, her hands confidently gripping her slim hips, as she stood looking down on the three of them.
She met his startled, questioning stare with a smile. Then she blew him a kiss and said, “A gift, mon fils. A mother’s gift to you.”
He heard her calling to him, but he couldn’t see her lips moving as she looked down at the baby in her arms.
“Jonathan, wake up.”
Slightly disoriented, he lifted his head from his arms.
“Hey.” She whispered into his ear. “It’s getting dark. We’d better start back.”
He groaned, remembering where he was, slowly raising himself into a sitting position to stretch. “I was gone.”
“I know. That must have been some dream you were having.” She said as she brushed the hair back off his forehead.
“What makes you say that?” He asked. “I didn’t talk in my sleep, did I?”
“What? Afraid you might have called some names you shouldn’t have? Some numbers I might recognize? A race or two you placed bets on?”
“I’m better than that.” He yawned. “Wha’d I do, for real?”
“You were just sort of restless- kept smiling in your sleep. What was that all about?”
He rose to his feet and held his hand out to her so that she could use it to get up.
“My daughter has blue eyes.” He answered, pulling her to her feet.
“So, what’s the big deal in that?” She casually asked, bending to gather the picnic basket and the folder. “She’s had those for sixteen years.”
“It’s a Daddy thing.” He answered, picking up the blanket and folding it. “You wouldn’t understand.”
He didn’t understand either. A gift? Jennifer, the baby, or the baby’s eyes?
And from whose mother?
Unable to stop thinking and wondering, after a time, J.J. gave up trying to turn it all off and returned to the desk and those papers.
She had skimmed through those folders earlier and had found that they contained stories. There were a lot of them, and they had all been painstakingly written in long hand, about half of them in French and the rest in English. The first folder she encountered, the one closest to her and out of the stack, had been done in English and didn’t seem to be very well-written. However, it stirred her curiosity enough to make her check out the other folders.
It surprised her that they were stacked upside down, and it only took a moment for her to guess that they might have been placed in the order in which they had been written. One-by-one, she had restacked them face-up, marveling at how much her grandmother’s handwriting resembled Aunt Sabrina’s. She had just started reading from the first folder in the pile when her parents had come up, insisting that she stop and go down to eat with them.
She had been angry with them, but it wasn’t their fault. They just didn’t understand how important staying up there at that time was for her. She was just getting into it, getting into her zone, and when they made her come down, the flow had been broken. Once that happened, it was done. She couldn’t just come back up and get it back. It didn’t work like that with her.
But, reading that first story out on the pier brought back memories and made her wonder. It was so strange. Would her mother remember? Surely she would, and when she did, she would be returning to that attic to continue. She would have to, once it clicked with her. That was how she was. And when she did, she would need a neat place to work. Jennifer Hart couldn’t work in clutter or chaos. It wasn’t her style.
It was the least she could do.
She set about straightening the items on the desk, carefully rearranging them, without removing anything. The lipstick stained coffee cup was left right where it had been sitting. The writing pen, she stood upright inside of it. Those two things seemed sacred.
Taking up a sheet of note paper, and one of the pencils from a cubby, she wrote one word down on the paper. Then she folded it, and wrote “Mom” on the front, leaving it right in the middle of the desk, next to the cup. When she was finally satisfied that the work space had been well-enough prepared, she fluffed the pillow that was a match for the one in Pa’s room and put it back in the chair. Then she pulled her cell phone from her pocket as she started down the stairs in search of a broom.
“Walter, I know you’re not going to start cleaning anything this late in the afternoon.” Rosa said as she watched her husband place supplies and rags from the utility pantry into a plastic tote.
“Not me.” He answered quietly. “Miss J.J. is doing some cleaning out at the guest house.”
“Miss J.J.? Why is she cleaning? Doesn’t she know that the service will tidy up out there once all the work is done? Her mother will have a fit if she finds out you have that girl working out there. She’s already ticked with Mr. Hart. She hasn’t shown her face here in this house in days, she’s so mad with him.”
Walter continued placing the things he thought J.J. would need into the container.
“No, she won’t be upset. Mrs. Hart will understand. She’s not funny about Miss J.J. doing work. She thinks it’s good for her. That’s why the girl is regular like she is.”
Seeing that her fussing wasn’t going to deter him, Rosa sighed, “Well, I guess you know this family better than I do. There just isn’t any figuring them out. Surely Mr. Edwards wouldn’t want that girl out there cleaning like a chambermaid.”
“It isn’t about Mr. Edwards and what he wants.” Walter told her as he came past her to get his car keys from the hook. “Miss J.J. called and asked me to bring these things to her, and that’s what I’m going to do. Whatever she’s into, all I’m doing is taking her what she asked me to bring. That’s my job.” He kissed her on the cheek.
He went into the larder for a minute and emerged, telling her, “I’ll be right back.” As he went of the back door.
Going to his car, he put the tote inside and got in. He stopped at the gardener’s shed to get the lamp oil and logs. Driving down that small back road to guest house, he smiled to himself.
No, it wasn’t about Mr. Edwards and what he wanted. It never had been at Briarwood. And it never would be.
As he took the winding road from the lake back to the guest house, Jonathan noticed it as she continued to flip through that folder. Opening it, closing it, sitting back with her eyes closed, and then sitting forward to open and peruse it again. Even though it wasn’t completely dark out, she finally turned on the overhead light, letting him know that whatever it was she was reading had drawn her completely in. By the time they pulled in front of the guest house, she had gone so far back into it that he had to call her name to get her realize that they had arrived.
“Huh?” She answered, looking startled.
Jennifer looked behind her to the house. “Oh!”
When she reached for the door handle, he caught her by the arm. “Wait.” He said.
She turned back to him, and he could see it in her eyes. “You’re onto something, aren’t you? You’ve got a line.”
“Something’s onto me.” She smiled.
She leaned forward and brushed her lips against his. “It means that I think it’s going to be all right. Will you trust me for a little while longer?”
“Will I be able to stand the suspense?”
“You thrive on suspense, Jonathan Hart. Come on.”
At the top of the attic stairs, they both stopped in amazement. Someone had gone to some effort to spruce up.
The lemony scent of furniture polish lingered on the air. The floor had been relieved of its fine carpet of dust, and from somewhere, a Persian runner had been acquired and placed under the table. Fresh logs rested in the grate. The couch had been made up like a bed and their bed clothes were laid out for them. A bottle of wine, two glasses, and a small covered serving tray were on the table.
Jennifer could see that the desk had been polished. It was neat and inviting. The lamp light had been tilted up to illuminate that painting over it. The lamp on the wall over the photograph had also been left on. She looked to Jonathan.
“Fairies?” He shrugged.
“No.” She answered. “She doesn’t believe in them. Never has.”
Heading for the folded piece of paper she could see on the desk top, Jennifer picked it up when she read that it had been left for “Mom”.
“What does she say?” He asked, going to the table to pour a drink for both of them.
“Genevieve.” She answered.
When he looked up to question her, he stopped short. She had her mother’s cup in her hand and had touched it to her lips.
Suzanne Edwards really had passed on that one strong, distinctive trait to both her girls: that wonderful smile.
“Hey! What’s going on?”
J.J. popped up in the bed, shocked into waking by the light turned suddenly being turned on in her face.
Before her eyes could focus, she could feel people seating themselves on the bed on both sides of her. A large hand shook her by the shoulder from the left and she got a kiss on the cheek from the right.
“Bed check, Hart.” Her father’s voice proclaimed. “Wake up, sleepyhead.”
“What time is it?” She asked irritably, rubbing her eyes. “What’s up?”
“Stop that.” She heard her mother say as she felt her hands pulling her fingers from her eyes. “Stop doing that. I’ve told you that’s not good for the skin around your eyes.”
“I wouldn’t be doing it if I hadn’t been so rudely awakened.” J.J. fussed. “What are you guys doing in here?”
When she got it together, she could see that both her parents were grinning at her- like idiots- as far as she was concerned. She hated being awakened before the clock could go off or she could wake on her own, and they both KNEW that.
She could also see that they were in their night clothes.
“Shouldn’t you guys be up in the attic? Me and Walter cleaned it up for you. We thought you were staying out there again. Mom, I fixed up the desk the way you like it so you could work.”
“You and Walter?” Jonathan asked.
“Walter and I.” Jennifer corrected her.
“Yeah, Walter, I, whatever. I called and asked him if he would bring me some cleaning stuff out to the guest house, and he did. He ended up staying with me to help. It turns out that he used to go out there every now and then and clean that room for my grandmother a long time ago. He told me that she and him- he?- were the only ones who went up there, and that she usually took care of it herself; but that he would sneak out there sometimes at night and dust and stuff for her. He said she was a fine lady and that he was glad to do that for her. I didn’t even know that Walter knew her. You never told me that, Mom.”
Jennifer reddened and looked down to the covers.
“You didn’t overwork that ankle, did you?” Jonathan asked, attempting to flip back the covers from her feet to see for himself.
“No, Daddy, I didn’t.” J.J. answered, impatiently fanning at his hand and flipping the cover back before he could get a good look. “That’s why Walter stayed. He was worried about me being on my feet and getting into trouble with you two and Pa. He wouldn’t have let me overwork my ankle even if I had tried to.”
“How could you be so sure that I was coming back up there to work, J.J.?” Jennifer asked from the other side.
J.J. put her hands to her ears to whine, “What i-i-i-is this? Twenty questions? What t-i-i-i-me is it? I know it’s got to be either really late or very early. I went to bed late, so it’s got to be early.”
She peeked around her father to the window. “It’s still dark outside!”
Jonathan hugged her to him, laughing at her confusion and aggravation, and she weakly struggled to get loose from his hold on her.
“Sorry, Sweetie.” He said, giving her a quick peck on the forehead. “We couldn’t wait. We had to come see you.”
He knew her and her habits, and he knew how she had to be feeling; but he didn’t care. He was her Daddy, and at that moment, she was going to do what he wanted.
J.J., fully awake by that time, asked, “See me for what?”
Then her mind immediately flashed back to the incident with Pat’s car, and she stiffened, bracing herself for what she was sure was going to be a double-barreled direct hit. She was already pinned down by her father’s arms and was faced in the proper direction. Aim was not going to be a problem.
“To ask you about Genevieve.” Jennifer answered. “I can’t believe you remember her. You were so little.”
At that name, J.J. went limp. She relaxed and her face brightened. So that’s what it was.
“I remember lots of things from when I was little.” She smiled. “Especially the good things. I won’t ever forget that. You used to tell me stories to get me to take my naps. You would come in and lie down on the bed with me, and tell them to me. I thought you made those stories up as you went along. Turns out that you ripped off Grandmama, and you changed the girl’s name to cover your tracks. Hey! Isn’t that plagiarism?”
When both her parents laughed, she sat forward and looked to both of them.
“What? What did I say? It’s the truth. She did do that. I saw it for myself.”
Jonathan tugged at the thick fragrant rope of hair that hung down her back. “I swear, you have such a suspicious mind, little girl. Listen up. Your mother has another story she wants to tell you.”
J.J. leaned back on her father who smoothed some loose hair back from her forehead while he wrapped the other arm around her waist. Then she turned to her mother.
“Mom, all I have to say is this story had better be a good one at four, or whatever o’clock it is, in the morning.”
Jennifer delivered that inherited one eyebrow raised look in return.
“I can tell that I’ve been away from you too long and that you need breaking back in.” She warned. “But, you’re right. My mother did tell me stories like the Genevieve stories I used to tell you. Only I really didn’t remember them until you left me that note on the desk. It sort of registered when you left that first folder with me, but when I saw that name up there on the desk in your note, it hit me like a ton of bricks. All the bells and whistles went off. Those folders up there contain the stories she used to tell me in that room, her room, in front of that fireplace. Some of them, I’d never heard. You see, I used to go to her at night so that she could brush and braid my hair while she told me those stories. I didn’t know she had written them down, but they’re all up there. It seems that your grandmother was a writer, J.J., a really good writer, and I never knew it.”
“That means that you got it from her.” J.J. smiled. “That’s nice. Talents can be hereditary, too. You told me before that she taught herself to speak several different languages. You must have gotten ability that from her, too. Then I got it from you.”
“Do you remember what I told you earlier about manifestations?”
“Well, to continue this story, originally my name was supposed to have been Guinevere.”
“Oh, Ugh!” J.J. grimaced, cutting her mother off. “Geez, I’m glad somebody did something about that! That would have made me Justine Guinevere. You can bet that I never would have told anybody my middle name. I wouldn’t even have used the initial, just to keep people from asking what it was. Daddy probably wouldn’t have even hooked up with you with a first name like that. Would you have, Daddy?”
“Guinevere Edwards beats Louise Tolbin.” He quipped from behind her head. “Not by much, but it does. When she told me that Louise Tolbin was her name, my first thought was, how could such an outstanding looking girl have such a plain name? Imagine my relief when she quit lying and told me her real name.”
“My mother?” J.J. cried, a hand to her mouth. “Lie?”
When Jennifer shot them both a look, he pulled J.J. closer, ducking for cover behind her.
“Louise Tolbin is a plain name, all right.” J.J. said through her laughter at both of them, while holding up her hands to fend off the look from her mother. “But Guinevere is just downright ugly. It’s a wisecrack waiting to happen. Folks would have been lining up to clown you over that, Mom. It’s one of those names you leave home every morning knowing that you’re going to have to fight somebody over it before the day is out.”
“Anyway.” Jennifer continued, dismissing both of them. “Pa wanted me to be called Guinevere, but my mother didn’t. She compromised and called me Jennifer, which is a form of that name. When I was a little girl, I thought my mother was making those Justine stories up about me since my middle name was Justine. When I stored them away in my mind, I guess I put the Justine part of me away as well. In the stories I used to tell you, I called my character, Genevieve.”
“Ohhhhh, I know! I know!” J.J. excitedly cried, holding up her hands in wonder and discovery. “I see! When the stories came back through you to me, you used a another form of Jennifer. You made her Genevieve, which sounds like it must also be a form of Guinevere. Is it? Am I right?”
When Jennifer nodded that she was correct, J.J. piped up happily, “It’s really, really so funny and so interesting how the mind works, isn’t it? But do you know what I noticed about those stories in the attic, Mom? I didn’t get to read them real closely, but I did notice it.”
“My grandmother could write beautifully in French, but she didn’t do so well on the ones I skimmed in English. She didn’t have the same command of the English language and they lost something.”
Jonathan proudly hugged her and her mother reached out to squeeze her hand, saying, “You saw it. You are so smart, J.J. I should have sent you up first.”
“You had to go.” J.J. answered. “It was about you and her. I’m sure she wanted you to go in first. You’re hers; you’re the starter. I’m only the second string. Do you think that the stories were what all this has been about? She wanted you to find them? Are you going to work on them and fix them for her?”
“I don’t know for sure if that’s all it was about.” Jennifer answered. “Look at us. We’re talking about her and what she wants like she’s still living.”
J.J. sat back, leaning against her father again.
Folding her arms, she skeptically mumbled, “Think what you want.” Under her breath, earning a soft chuckle and a pinch in the side from him.
“But I’m glad that I went,” Jennifer proceeded on. “And I’m glad that I found the stories and everything else.”
J.J. smiled. “I’m glad you got your memories back. By the way, I took care of Pa tonight, Mom. I knew he had to be missing you in all this time.”
Jennifer looked to her questioningly.
“Darling.” Jonathan said.
The tone of his voice caused J.J. to look up at him. She could see him looking expectantly over her head to her mother.
When J.J. looked back to her, she was pulling something from the pocket of her robe.
“We have something for you, Sweetie.”
Jennifer removed the baby ring and chain from the small plastic bag and held them out to J.J.
“My father gave this to me when I was born, J.J. I wore it until my mother died, and then I took it off. I found it again up in the attic. I want you to have it now. It should have been yours when you were born.”
J.J. took it from her and examined it closely.
“So pretty and so little.” She whispered. “How come you took it off? Because you stopped being a kid?”
She felt it when her father squeezed her just a bit around the middle with the arm he still had around her and she quickly looked up into her mother’s face, hoping that she hadn’t hurt her or made her uncomfortable. From her expression, it didn’t appear so as she nodded her head in answer to the question she had put to her.
After studying it a few moments more, J.J. held it back out to her mother, declaring, “I can’t take it.”
Jennifer looked surprised and a little hurt, which caused J.J. to quickly lean forward on her father’s arm. She placed the ring and chain in her mother’s palm and then folded her fingers back to hold it there.
“Please understand, Mom, I can’t take it because it isn’t mine to have. I have mine. My father gave it to me.”
Reaching her other hand back to gesture to Jonathan, inadvertently touching her fingers briefly to his face, the heart bracelet he had given her as an infant sparkled at her wrist.
“Daddy gave me what I was supposed to have. Your father gave that to you. You’re his daughter. That ring has been where it was all these years waiting for you to come back for it. It’s yours still, even if you aren’t a kid any more.”
J.J. sat forward again, this time reaching for and taking both her mother’s hands.
“But I’ll tell you what. If you really want to give it to me, then I’m going to ask you to hold on to it for me. You can give it to my first child, your first grandchild.”
“Some years from now.” Jonathan quickly added.
Without letting go of her mother’s hands, J.J. twisted around to look back at him in complete exasperation. “Well of course, Daddy.”
“What if it’s not a girl?” Jennifer asked, fighting to hold back the tears her daughter’s maturity and sincerity were trying to draw from her. “What’s a little boy going to do with a heart that has a J on it?”
“Same thing as my daddy did with his.” J.J. answered. “Be Jonathan, and use it to love you.”
At that point, Jennifer lost her battle.
Jonathan and J.J. instantly scrambled to go to her. They took her in their arms and they both wound up crying with her.
Stephen, having awakened some time before, was growing weary of lying there waiting for sleep to return. It was morning, but still too early for daylight to have come. Finally, convinced that he was awake for the duration, he reached to switch on the light. Readjusting the pillows behind his head, he sat up and took from the table next to the bed the book he had been reading on the night before, opening it to where he had left off. After a few minutes, he came to the end of the page and realized that he hadn’t read a thing. He closed the book and then his eyes.
That previous evening, his granddaughter had come down to the study to find him, apparently just before turning in. She appeared in the doorway wearing a white full length robe and slippers with her damp hair swept back from her face, and loosely woven into a braid that she had pulled over one shoulder.
He hadn’t seen her since breakfast that morning, and although he already knew, he expected she might say where she had been all that time. But she didn’t. She didn’t mention having seen her mother or her father either.
What she told him was, “I just came down to see if you needed anything.”
That had been an unusual move on Justine’s part.
Normally, when she was there, that would have been Jennifer standing in that door. Often, he would be the last to go up, and unfailingly she would stop in to see to his needs before she retired for the night. But then, it had been several days since he’d last seen her. Patricia had been filling in for her, and he had sent her up to bed some time before, assuring her that he was fine.
Mostly in jest, he had suggested to Justine that a cigar and a brandy would have been nice.
At those words, the girl silently crossed the room to go over to the bar. There, she expertly poured a drink and brought the snifter over, sitting it down next to him. Then, she selected a cigar from the humidor. To his shock and surprise, she took it to her own lips and lit it correctly, casually taking a puff or two from it before winking and handing it down to him.
“Smooth.” She observed with a slight nod of her head.
He had never seen that side of his grandchild before, and to his own amazement, he had been curiously delighted by her naughty daring. He didn’t know exactly what she had been into all day, or how she learned to do those things, but at that moment, she had been the living image of her grandmother.
He never did find out where or from whom Suzanne had learned to smoke those little cigars she was sneaking around smoking when he met her at sixteen. Neither of her parents did it. He always assumed that Jennifer had learned it from watching him when he found out that she was doing it- at thirteen. He didn’t even want to speculate upon Justine; her living all the way out there in that wild and loose California and going to public school and all.
Properly attending to the bar and being card sharks seemed to come naturally for Roussel girls, and from all indications, Justine hadn’t been left out of any of that either.
“Well if that’s all you need.” She had smiled at that point. “Good night, Pa. Rest well.” And then she kissed him on the cheek. and took her leave.
Sitting there in the bed, he could clearly envision her as she walked away from him. It had been a disturbing sight indeed. She was just as tall, that thick robe adding just the right amount of bulk to her more childlike body. That red braid was thick and long and hung just below her waist in the same way. The only saving grace for him had been, that after of a day of being on it, she was slightly limping on that one foot.
On the nightstand, Suzanne was still smiling that smile that had stolen his heart from the very beginning. That same smile had been holding his heart hostage for decades, and it had almost stopped it in the study on the night before.
Never again would he wonder what happened to that other child he thought she had taken with her when she left him. That girl had always been with them, and after her visit to that attic, evidently she had finally she had found her way home.
A son would never have been able to do any of that.