Passages: Part Four

Part Four

Moving hurriedly, shining the light into every nook and cranny on either side of her as she made her way through the secret passage, anxiously looking for Jonathan’s errant daughter, Jennifer was both perplexed and fascinated by its existence. Apparently it had been built as an original part of the house. But why, she wondered. To where did it lead, and had it taken J.J. there?

She wondered, too, how many times all those years ago were the nuns up in the night looking for Jonathan after finding his bed empty and him gone. Had they ever had to search for him high and low after he’d slipped off to explore some hidden place in the orphanage or in the recesses of the church building? That old, mission-style Catholic structure had to have had all kinds of out-of-the-way places that would attract the kind of persistently inquisitive, daring little boy he must have been; the kind of child his daughter had always been.

From the moment J.J. could crawl, they had been chasing her, it seemed. The child had been attracted to everything, and what it was or where it happened to be meant nothing to her; if she wanted it, she went for it. Consequently, she had been a precocious baby. She rolled over early, crawled early, began pulling up on things to stand early, and by ten months was taking her first independent steps. She hadn’t stopped running since.

Jonathan would have nothing to do with confining her to playpens or walkers. “Miniature jails” were what he said they were, so from the beginning they had both been kept busy trying to keep up with her. She traveled everywhere with them, and in crowds, the only way that Jonathan could hold on to her was to place her up on his shoulders since she often refused to hold his hand, insisting that she was a ‘big girl’ and could walk alone. Frequently, Jennifer found that she would have to intervene and take the little hand firmly in her own. Instinctively J.J. seemed to know that she was never too big a girl when it came to her mother.

All of her life, she and Jonathan had been constantly working with J.J. about not touching or going into certain things, teaching her what things were for, and how things were meant to work. There was even a brief time when she was very small that when asked, the girl would tell people that her name was, ” J.J. No-No”.

She remained unfailingly curious, thirsty for knowledge, and unafraid to pursue her interests or to accept challenges that came her way. To her credit, Jennifer had to admit to herself, J.J. did try to be obedient, for the most  part, tried to observe the rules and the limits they set down for her although she did sometimes attempt to alter or adjust things to suit her needs.

But staying put was the one lesson that had never quite taken.

The first time that she took off alone on Sam, her pony, she had just turned five. Jonathan had purchased the yearling for J.J. when she was just six months old. They had celebrated her fifth birthday with a big party at the house, and had gone up to the cabin in the mountains late that night to rest up behind it.

The next morning upon waking, she had gone in to check on J.J., only to find her bed empty, and her night gown in the chair along with the outfit that she had put out for her on the night before to wear in the morning. Even at that early age, J.J. had developed and begun to exercise her own preferences when it came to what she wore. Jennifer had gone through the cabin looking and calling for her. Not locating her on the inside she’d gone outside to the barn to see if she had wandered out there. Their two horses, Jack and Daisy Mae, were there, but not Sam. It seemed that he and J.J. were gone.

She’d run back into the house where Jonathan was still sound asleep in the bed . Rousing him, telling him what was happening, and trying to get dressed herself; she was highly annoyed when he rolled back over, mumbling to her that it was alright; J.J. would be right back.

“Right back! Jonathan, she’s five years old and out there by herself in the woods somewhere!”

“She’s fine, Jennifer. I promise you, and besides, Sam knows his way back. He’ll bring her back here.”

“Jonathan Charles Hart, if you don’t get out of that bed and come to help me find that child, I’ll never speak to you again!”

“Yes, you will.” He had sighed heavily as he reluctantly rolled out from underneath the covers. “You love talking to me and hearing the sound of my voice too much to not speak to me. But, okay, here I come.”

He got dressed, and left with her.

They had searched and searched, but couldn’t find her anywhere. The entire time Jonathan had been maddeningly calm and unconcerned, so obviously humoring her maternal anxiety. Finally in a fit of impatience and rage, she had taken off, racing her horse away from him to cross the field they had been looking in, headed back to the house to call the sheriff.

When she got there, she pulled up short. To her absolute surprise, there sat J.J., leaned back with her legs crossed, eating a slice of toast, on the bottom step of the porch. Jelly was smeared all around her little grinning mouth and had dripped from her chin. Sam was right there with her, tied to the hitching post out front. Someone had fixed him some oats to go with his water which he was contentedly consuming.

“Where did you go?” J.J. asked her as she dismounted. “You and Daddy were gone when we came back. I was hungry so I made me some toast. All by myself. Two pieces. I told you I knew how.”

In her mind, Jennifer could clearly picture her daughter nodding that uncombed, sleep tousled red head.

She’d closed her eyes and rubbed her tummy. “I put jelly on it, too. Lots and lots. It’s soooo good.”

She was sitting there wearing her favorite pair of worn, white-kneed  jeans that morning, a flannel shirt, and the “real lizard” cowboy boots her father had bought her for her birthday, the first of many more to come over the years.

Jonathan arrived right behind her, leisurely jumped down, and walked past her to scoop J.J. up from the stair into his arms.

“Good morning, Sunshine!” He greeted her, kissing her while looking back with that “I told you so” look on his smug face.

“You have a good ride?” He asked as he carried the little girl into the house, and she gleefully fed him some of her toast.

“Yep! I went to the meadow and got something for Mommy.”

Inside, there was a chair pulled up to the sink, and on the table was a water glass filled with wildflowers.

“For you, Mommy.” She pointed. “You like flowers in the kitchen. I got you some pretty ones for this kitchen.”

J.J. Hart was the sweetest wildest flower that Jonathan had ever given her.

It was some time before she learned that Jonathan used covert security anywhere that child happened to be when they were vacationing, up until the time that she started school. Since that time, he had continued to secretly use them to occasionally protect both of them when he felt it necessary. She had never seen them or had knowledge of them, and she wouldn’t have ever known of it if he hadn’t told her about it on another time, earlier that year, when J.J. had been missing.

Where could she be? It had been hours.

She had been so deep into that reverie that it wasn’t until she reached a set of stairs going down that she realized she had missed watching for the obvious signs. A thin layer of dust covered everything she’d been passing, and it wasn’t until that point that it came to her that none of it had been disturbed. Shining the light down that set of stairs she could see that there were no handprints on the rails and nothing on the stairs themselves. J.J. couldn’t have come that way. She would have had to have been holding on to the walls, and certainly she would have left footprints.

Jennifer stopped. There was no point in going down those stairs if J.J. hadn’t gone down them, and there was no indication that she had. She wondered if she had overlooked any signs behind her.  Perhaps J.J. had gone in the other direction. After all, she could have gone left instead of right once she got down on the walkway. J.J. almost always did the unexpected thing.

Turning around and leaving the staircase, Jennifer decided to go back and take a second, closer look.

_______________________________________________________________

After Jonathan was gone and the wall closed behind him, Marnie came back into the room to the side of the bed where J.J. was lying with her eyes closed

she leaned in close to J.J.’s ear to whisper, “You are totally insane. Why did you go down there by yourself? You knew the Duchess was going to catch you. She always catches you. Your ankle is through. It’s as swollen as when you first hurt it. Your whole ass is through on this one, J. And this time I was no where around, either. This time it’s just you, Sister, sailing all alone on the transport ship to Lockdown Island.”

“Shut up, Marnie.” J.J. whispered in answer without opening her eyes. There was nothing else that she could think of to say.

Pat, overhearing them, came and stood over both of them.

“Shut up, both of you.” She said in a tone so low that only the three of them could hear what she said. “You both knew about it and neither one of you said anything about it until it was too late.” Raising her voice back up to a normal level, she began issuing directions.

“Marnie, you go to bed. J.J., you let me run you some bath water, and then you’re getting in the tub to soak that ankle. It looks mighty bad to me. When this is all said and done- I don’t even want to think about what Jennifer is going to say or do to you.”

J.J. didn’t either. She was tired, and she didn’t feel like doing what Pat said. But she also didn’t feel like arguing with her about it and risking more trouble. Her whole body felt like one big lump of lead, and her ankle felt like someone was twisting it into a knot. Moving was the last thing she wanted to do.

“How am I going to get into the tub, Aunt Pat?” She asked wearily. “I can’t walk, and I can’t climb in and out of it on my own.”

“You won’t be on your own. I’ll be in there with you to help you.”

J.J.’s mouth flew open to protest, and Pat put her finger right down onto her lips to close them.

“And yes, I’ll be seeing your little naked behind while we’re in there, so get used to the idea. Just like when your mother had to go in with you at the reunion, you set it up like this, so now you have to go along with the scene you scripted. Be the little exhibitionist I know you probably are, and get your ass over in that tub when I tell you to. It’s late and I’m not entertaining any arguments at all on the subject.”

Pat walked off to the bathroom, and before Marnie left for her own room, she leaned down next to J.J.’s ear.

“Don’t worry, J.” She whispered, waving her small, perfectly manicured hand for emphasis. “She’s no perve. Prefers guys. Grown ones, definitely. Before we left the apartment she and Bill were doing the hot and nasty thing on the phone that the kid in the room isn’t supposed to recognize. But you know me. I pick right up on that kind of stuff. Well, J.J. girl, I guess this is it. See you when you get paroled from off the rock.”

“Marnie, would you please shut up.” J.J. said again, trying not to be amused despite the extreme tension she was feeling. “I’m probably going to be emotionally scarred for life behind all this humiliation. I don’t need to be getting the business from you, too.”

The entire time, her eyes had been closed and she hadn’t risen from the pillows. She had almost forgotten that he was there, but she felt it when her grandfather put his hand to her forehead.

“Don’t you worry about your mother.” She heard him say. “She’s a trooper. She’s scoured ancient temples, dug through caverns, climbed mountains, searched through dusty old archives; that down there won’t be anything for her to traverse. Your father will catch up to her. You just mind Patricia and do what she says to take care of that injury.”

J.J. didn’t say anything to that. Instead, she took his hand and held it for a moment. She wasn’t worried about the passageway so much; she knew that Jennifer Hart could handle that with her eyes closed. What worried her was what her mother would be running into once she made it to the guest house attic.

_______________________________________________________________

Opting to follow the same path his daughter and then his wife had taken, Jonathan got down to the walkway and shined the beam of his flashlight directly to the floor to take inventory of  the footprints in the dust. He could see that there appeared to be several sets in that corridor, and that they went in either direction. J.J. had said that she had come through twice so that explained to him the multiple sets, and he could see where she had begun to flag, dragging that one foot on the trip back.

He could also see the markings from Jennifer’s distinctive riding boots. She had them custom made by the same Massachusetts cobbler who had been making them for her since she was a child. Hers was a footprint he could track anywhere, the size and pattern of her steps were equally distinguishable. She stepped lightly with her toes out, like the dancer she had once been. For sure, she was down there somewhere.

Watching the inner sets of footprints closely, those closest to his side of the passageway, he followed the imprints of her boots and J.J.’s bare feet as they moved off to the right. For a moment, he thought he could hear footfalls, but they were coming from behind him. He stopped to listen, but then he didn’t hear them any more. Assuming they were an echo of his own, he continued on.

What had Stephen meant when he said that Jennifer would need him when she got to the guest house? What was waiting for her up in that attic? He was glad, in a way, that J.J. had been incapacitated. At her best, he figured she could have swiftly run that entire passageway, wherever it went, two or three times, and in all the time that she had been missing, would have seen all there was to see. If the passageway led to the attic of the guest house, she would have been the first one to make it up there. Jennifer’s father seemed to have been intimating that there was something up there that Jennifer needed to see. If so, then he wanted Jennifer to be first to see it, not J.J. Once Jennifer had been up there, seen it for herself, and processed whatever it was, then she could determine if she wanted to share it with J.J. or not.

It was hard for him to tell J.J. to back off things. He liked that she was such a persistent little bulldog when she was going after what she wanted. She was nobody’s quitter, never had been. As a baby, she’d taken quite a few falls and had often gotten into other troubles that were the result of her trying to reach for things, see something or do things, or get into something interesting to her that was out of  her immediate reach or abilities. As a boy himself, Sister Anastasia had cracked his knuckles with that ruler of hers many a time for slipping off, doing the same kinds of things, and making her have to look for him or fix him back up. It didn’t stop anything then, and nothing else had since that time. Sister eventually gave up trying and let Max have him. The gene had even been passed on to the next generation Hart. From the beginning, it was an indication for him of J.J.’s intelligence, courage, and tenacity, qualities that he greatly admired and respected in her.

But that didn’t apply when it came to her prying into Jennifer’s affairs. He loved them both, but Jennifer came first. She always had. Without Jennifer, there would have been no child for him. He’d always wanted a child, but only with the right woman. Before meeting her, he had been very careful about that, realizing that there were plenty of women out there who might want to set him up in that way, even before the money.  And then, when he finally met her, his soul mate, and his whole world seemed to have come together, he had been dismayed to find out that she wasn’t desirous of having children. In every way, she had been absolutely perfect. He’d finally found his ideal, but that part of it seemed as if it weren’t going to be. Regardless of that, he had loved her completely and they had been happy with just each other and Max for that first ten years. He certainly couldn’t have made that particular child with just any woman. So much of what made J.J. so special had come directly or indirectly from her mother.

But Jennifer had been first. She would remain first. In this matter, J.J. Hart, his precious daughter, would have to be officially sidelined for a while.

The passageway was enthralling in its possibilities. He knew that it had something to do with Stephen’s undercover work with the various governments around the world. From the way that it had been constructed, set snugly between the outer and inner shells of the house, he could see that it had been planned from the start to be a part of it. If that were so, then it had been built around the time that Stephen had been begun working with the CIA to research and recover artifacts that were being stolen by the Nazis during World War II. It had to have something to do with that.

Through his own subsequent independent research, and inquiries placed with those who would know, he found that there had been several attempts on Stephen’s life throughout the years that were related to that time and some of his other work. It was the reason why Stephen had spent so much of his life roaming the world. At one time it had been dangerous for him to remain in one place for any length of time. Putting it all together, he figured it was also a major  reason why he kept Jennifer away from him while she was growing up and after her mother died.

The last serious attempt on Stephen’s life, of which he was aware, was how he and Jennifer had first been faced with of the real nature of his work as an ‘art dealer’. That had been about four years before J.J. had been born, during a visit to her father in that house. The son of one of the Nazis that Stephen and his team had tracked down and brought to justice, had come after the entire team who were, by that time, scattered around the world. He managed to kill two members of the team in Europe before coming after Stephen in the States. In an attempt to draw Stephen out into the open, he had kidnapped Jennifer. Together, he and Stephen managed to corner and overpower the man and get Jennifer back safely. After that, the story was all out in the open between the three of them , but none of that information had been shared with anyone else, and certainly not with J.J. It was still a closely guarded family secret, one they had hoped was dead and buried.

When he first met Stephen Edwards, the time that Stephen demanded that Jennifer bring him there to meet him before they were married, he hadn’t for one moment been convinced that the steely-eyed man who was checking him out as hard as he had been scrutinizing him was a mere art dealer. The man was not warm enough, and he was far more calculating and  observant of everything around him than someone whose life revolved around the mere aesthetics of the art world.

And for an art dealer, his home had been strangely devoid of its own artistic appeal; the atmosphere was aristocratic and uninviting; the appearance was sterile and cold. Jennifer had attempted to explain that to him by telling him that her father was only there as a stopover, a stopover arranged mostly for his benefit. She had also told him that at the time, his actual home was in London, where they had met. It struck him as strange that Stephen hadn’t arranged to meet with them in London if that were the case. But he hadn’t questioned it.

On that visit, too, Walter, Stephen’s right hand, had been oddly quiet and constantly vigilant, even if he was playing the role of the attentive gentleman’s gentleman. The man’s eyes never left him; he had been assessing him the entire time. Although the art dealer story never sat well with him, he never suspected what it was Stephen really did. Some things he had left alone. After all, it was the woman he’d wanted, not her father, so it really didn’t matter what he said, where he lived, or what he did for a living.

But seeing those guns, certificates, and file cabinets in that secret area Stephen had arranged for himself brought it all back to the present. He wished he had the time to turn around and check some of that out for himself. J.J. had seen it too. Just before going down into the wall, he had turned to look back at her. She was lying on her bed with her eyes closed. He knew that she had been in physical pain, but he also knew that the wheels inside that red head were fiercely turning, and at some point they would take her back to what she had seen and she would be questioning it all. Perhaps she might even work up the nerve to try to get back down there again.

Yes, Justine Jennifer Hart was definitely likely to foul out if he let her keep playing, and to save her from that, she was going to have to be ejected from the game.

He came to the set of stairs going down to the next level and like Jennifer had, he noticed that there were no footprints on the stairs or handprints on the railing. Shining the light to the other side of the passage, he could see that Jennifer had doubled back at that point. He also saw that he had missed noticing that at some point on his way up, J.J.’s footprints had stopped, and Jennifer’s were the only marks left in the dust. Both he and Jennifer had come farther than J.J. had. She had never gotten to that staircase.

_______________________________________________________________

Jennifer had gone past J.J.’s room and had rounded the corner to pass Marnie’s when she thought she heard footsteps other than her own in the passage. But when she stopped to listen, they stopped too. Thinking that her own steps were echoing and she was only just noticing it, she continued to follow the prints of J.J’s bare feet in the dust.

The bulbs strung onto the beams over her head flashed a sickly yellow as she passed under each globe, illuminating what was coming up, and leaving what was behind her in inky blackness. What sixteen year old girl other than J.J. Hart would find being there in that uncertain situation exciting rather than terrifying? She figured that Jonathan had to be in flight in all this time. He hadn’t heard back from her, and he wouldn’t have waited very long before taking off. Maybe he would think to call Pat and get the story from her. If he did, then he would come straight in on his own without saying anything to Pa. He wouldn’t want to worry her father either.

Where in the hell could that girl be?

As she continued on, ominous large shapes suddenly loomed in the vague darkness ahead of her. Wanting to save the flashlight for complete darkness, she had switched if off, but the dull glow of the motion lights were revealing that something was in the passage. Flicking on the flashlight, she shined the beam down that way and could see that there certainly were things stored there, and it was in the area that was down from her father’s room.

The tracks on the floor told her that J.J. had come that way and that she had been struggling to walk. The pattern of her footprints said that she was dragging that one foot rather than stepping down on it. Intrigued by what she could be coming up on, and anxious about J.J.’s condition, Jennifer hurried her own steps. If there was something being stored down there, then J.J., with her nosy self, had to be close by. She knew that by the time that J.J. had reached that point, she had done far too much walking to be able to have gone much farther.

“J.J.” She called softly, hoping that she was there and noticing that the dust suddenly stopped as she grew closer to the objects.

Shining the light all around her, she softly called again, “J.J., are you there?”

The flashlight beam lit up a huge antique desk, one which she had never seen before. It was a desk that was obviously regularly used by someone. The papers and letters that she could see laid out on it indicated that it must belong to her father. Shining the light on the walls, she could see his certificates and awards. His medals were there as well. He had shown some others like those to her and to Jonathan the time that they were visiting and Josef Oberman came back to kill him. It was at that time that she’d found out that her father had been living a secret life all of those years that he had been away from her. Oberman managed to kidnap her to get at her father. He and Jonathan had come to her rescue, overpowering Oberman and capturing him. It had been an international matter, but it had been pretty much hushed up quickly thereafter. It had all happened so fast at that time, and the revelation had been so startling that she didn’t try to deal with it. She just accepted it.

Although the cause for which he’d done it had been a noble one, the truth of the matter was that her father had beena secret agent, and she never had never known about it. She told him at the time that she understood why he hadn’t told her, and that it didn’t matter. She had filed it away. But there the reality was again, back to slap her in the face another time.

Then, hitting even harder was the reality that since J.J. had come that way, she had to have seen all of it, too. Where was she? What was that little rocket scientist making of all of it?

Jennifer shuffled through a few of the papers on the desk, quickly deciphering the different languages. They were government papers and she wished she had the time and the nerve to delve more. But from childhood, she had been trained to not go through other people’s things. That lesson most assuredly applied to her father’s things. It was one of those thoroughly ingrained teachings that remained with her even though she was a very adult woman. He was still her father. And at that moment, the drive to find J.J. was stronger than her curiosity about those things in that place. First and foremost, she was a mother who needed to find her child.

Somewhat reluctantly, she left the desk and shined the light back onto the floor well behind where she stood. The spot she was in was clean, as if someone dusted it regularly. The ages-old dust, like in the rest of the passage, resumed just beyond that area, and it appeared undisturbed. What was going on? J.J. had to have stopped here, but where was she? Where else could she have gone? The stairs leading up to her father’s room were dusted clean, just as the area around the desk was.

Turning back toward the desk, she caught sight of the antiqued golden edge of a unique, but oddly, distantly familiar frame peeking out from under a dust cover that had been tossed over what seemed to be a large painting leaned against the wall. The sight immediately began to conjure up strong images of her father’s study, the warmth and contentment of reading before a roaring fireplace. As she approached it, a feeling of giddy anticipation filled her head, followed by overwhelmingly nauseating dread that came roiling up from her gut. She knew what was under the cover, and still, she didn’t know.

Standing over it for a moment shining the light directly down on it, she reached out and snatched the cover away, dropping it to the floor. Her mother’s eyes looked directly up into hers.

Stunned, Jennifer staggered back not quite understanding why she felt as if she had found J.J., why, “J.J.?”, had come from her mouth, or why “Jenny” sounded repeatedly in her head.

“Jennifer.” A real voice, a male voice came from behind her. Startled, she whipped around and the beam from her flashlight illuminated Jonathan’s very concerned face.

Struck speechless by the bolt of relief that strongly surged through her at the sight of him, she felt herself falling, being caught in his arms and held close before she let go and faded out completely .

_______________________________________________________________

“Is she okay?” J.J. asked about her mother from where she was seated on the side of the bed as Pat helped her get dressed early the next morning.

“I think so.” Pat answered as she helped pull the jumper over J.J.’s head. “I haven’t seen her yet. She took breakfast in her room like you did.” Her eyes dropped down to J.J.’s still very swollen ankle. “I’m glad your father is taking you out of here to get that checked. I sure hope you didn’t mess it up any worse. Does it hurt a lot?”

She noticed that J.J., once she scooted around to pull the dress down under her hips, looked concerned as she lifted her leg to take a good look at her ankle and bare swollen foot.

“Yeah, it hurts some.” She admitted. “That was pretty dumb, what I did. Is Daddy real mad at me, you think?”

“Concerned more than angry.” Pat answered. “About both of you. Want your hair up or down?”

“Up. I can do it.” J.J. tried to rise on the one foot, but Pat pushed her gently back to the bed.

“No you don’t. Sit right there. I’ll do it. I don’t think I could stand it if I saw you try to use that other foot.” She took the brush and began working on J.J.’s hair. “You know you really are one spoiled kid, J.J.”

“Spoiled!?” J.J. tried to turn her head to look around in surprise, but Pat grabbed it with both hands to hold her still. “How do you figure I’m spoiled, Aunt Pat?”

“Too many people pay too much attention to you.” Pat answered matter-of-factly.

Immediately defensive, J.J. stiffened and asked, trying not to sound as disrespectfully angry as she felt. “And what makes you say that?”

“Do you know how many people dropped what they had to do to get to you last night? How much money was spent racing through the skies to find out where you went? There were two planes and a helicopter in the air last night because of you. Not to mention how high blood pressure and heart rates were raised. Your mother spent at least four hours of her evening in search of you, and you know how much it worries her when she doesn’t know where you are. Your father isn’t going to be at a meeting that he should be attending this morning because he came here to help find you. People love you, but do you realize and appreciate how much?”

J.J. was silent, and Pat noticed with satisfaction that her goddaughter’s stiff neck softened and bowed at her words.

It was a moment of déjà vu for her. Many years ago, she’d delivered almost the same reality check speech to her spoiled and bratty sixteen-year-old best friend whose father was trying his best to love her. Jennifer had been so consumed with anger about losing her mother that it was eating her up, and she just couldn’t see that she had a father who adored her. Rick Hamilton, on the other hand, had been too busy chasing women around the globe to do much more than send money and material things to her. He made it abundantly clear on more than one occasion that he had no time to spend on her. She hadn’t had anyone except Jennifer’s father upon whom she could count for the things that really mattered, and despite his stern manner, she had come to love him dearly. When he came to see Jennifer about anything, negative or positive, he always went out of his way to include her and to treat her like family. He even did it at those times that she might have preferred to be left out.

Jennifer’s reaction to her reproach all those years ago had been almost identical to her daughter’s, but shortly after that, Jennifer began to turn the corner in her relationship with her father .

J.J. was truly loved, and there was nothing wrong with that; Pat just felt it was time for her to know and to fully appreciate how much and by how many. The girl had been blessed to have been born to that set of parents and into that extended family situation. They had all been blessed with the gift of her, but none of them could afford to take anything for granted.

_______________________________________________________________

“You wouldn’t tell me what happened to me last night when you were helping me to bed.” Jennifer said over her last sip of coffee as she sat up in bed watching Jonathan get dressed. “Will you tell me now?”

He had been rather quiet since bringing her breakfast up to her. He told her that he was getting ready to take J.J. in to see the doctor, and that he was concerned about her ankle, but it seemed that there was a lot more on his mind.

“You tell me what you remember.” He suggested as he brushed his hair while standing in front of the mirror.

“Alright. I remember that I couldn’t find J.J. in her room, so I went to look for her outside. I didn’t see her anywhere out there either.  I had a flash and I called Marnie at Pat’s. Marnie told me about the closet with the sliding wall in her room. It sounded bizarre, but I figured that if there was such a thing, then J.J. had gone down to check it out. Surely enough, it was all as Marnie said, and as soon as I got down there, I found one of J.J.’s crutches broken in half down there and I concluded that she must have started out just having a look around, and then had gotten herself trapped when the wall broke the crutch and closed up on her. I remember looking and looking but not being able to find her until… did I find her? ….or did you find me?”

Looking into the mirror, he could see her reflected as she sat up in the bed, the breakfast tray over her lap, slowly scratching her head, looking so lovely and so very confused.

“Is that all you remember?”

She appeared to be thinking it over before she finally spoke.

“It seems like…, I guess so. It’s all so fuzzy. I just only clearly remember being up here with you after that. I recall being surprised to see you, and you helping me to get undressed. I asked you how you got there so soon. You told me that you left home right away, that J.J. was fine, and that you would tell me what happened in the morning. So, what happened?”

“Pretty much exactly what you said.” He answered. “Your father heard J.J. fall and he came through his closet and found her down there. About that time the rest of us got there, and your father and Bill and I got her back to her room. They showed me how the wall worked and I went to look for you. I found you and we came back up through your father’s room after he let us back in.”

He could see the bewilderment in her brown eyes as she asked, “But wasn’t J.J.-”

And to spare her, he cut her off. “No. She was back in her room by the time I found you down there. You didn’t see J.J. at all last night. I brought you straight in here.”

“Is her ankle bad, Jonathan?”

“Pretty bad. She put too much weight on it for too long. Last night it looked worse to me than when she first hurt it. Pat had her soak it, but that didn’t help much. It needs to be looked at, if only to satisfy me. Jennifer, are you going to be alright while I’m gone? I can have Pat take J.J. You have all the workmen coming and everything this morning. I can stay and help you.”

“I’m fine, Jonathan.” She asserted as she moved the tray to the side and pushed the covers back to get up. “There’s nothing I have to do except to make sure that all of them get to where they need to be. I’ll be fine. I trust Pat totally, but I’ll be able to be better concentrate if I know that you’re taking care of her. You know exactly what she needs to do to get back to herself in that area, even more so than I do.”

He thought to himself that she just didn’t know how well he knew.

Turning from the mirror to watch her long legs as she went into the bathroom, he was more than a little troubled that she didn’t seem to remember her last moments in the passageway, the moments before she fainted in his arms. It seemed that she had moved that early morning memory away from the front of her mind in that very short span of time.

From what Jennifer had told him and from what he’d experienced himself in looking for her, he knew that she and J.J. had never left that first level between the first and second floors of the house. They had both spent a vast amount of time wandering that strange place between the walls of Stephen Edwards’ huge house. Stephen feared that Jennifer had made it all the way out to the guest house; he said that there was something out there with which Jennifer would need help, his help. Judging from her reaction, he was glad that Jennifer hadn’t been faced with anything more disturbing the night before than her mother’s picture, but her not remembering having seen it gave him pause for concern. Perhaps Jennifer did need to deal with whatever was in the guest house and get on with the business of facing down whatever still bothered her about the entire situation. There was a reason why she didn’t talk about her mother, and he suspected that it had a lot to do with painful things that she didn’t want to remember.

He’d take care of J.J. first, get her squared away, and then he’d return to help out his wife.

_______________________________________________________________

Before allowing Pat to help her to the elevator, J.J. asked her to instead help her to the closed door of her parents’ bedroom. She knocked and her father answered.

“Thanks, Aunt Pat, I’ll be okay from here.” She said, reaching to meet her father’s arm which was reaching to support her.

As Jonathan helped her inside, Jennifer was coming out of the bathroom. She stopped and stood with her hands on her hips, watching as Jonathan seated J.J. on the side of the bed and propped her foot on the hassock which he’d moved from the side of the armchair.

Looking very uncomfortable, J.J. looked first to her hands in her lap, twisting her birthstone ring around her finger. It was a few moments before she said anything. When she did, she spoke hesitantly, apparently carefully choosing her words as she went.

“I, I just wanted to come and tell both of you how sorry I am for what happened. I, I really didn’t mean for it to happen that way.”

When she looked up to her mother, she found that she was staring at her from across the room in a manner that was even more direct and penetrating than usual. The look on her face was one that she couldn’t read at all.

“Are you okay?” J.J. timidly asked her.

“I’m fine.” Jennifer answered. “But I can clearly see that you are not.”

J.J. noticed it when she abruptly dropped her eyes from staring so closely into her face to look down at her ankle. It was as if her mind had been on something else, and then shifted back to her  all of a sudden.

“I’ll be okay.” She said in response. “I’m just really glad that you’re all right.”

She then looked to her father.

“I’m sorry about you missing your meeting and your having to fly back here because of me, Daddy.”

When he winked at her and nodded, she looked back to her mother.

“Mom, honestly, I don’t ever mean to worry you or to make you mad. I know I do it a lot, but I really don’t mean to. Stuff just happens, and I… I don’t know, it just always does. I guess what I’m trying to tell you is I… I just want both of you to know that I appreciate everything that you do for me, all the time, and how much you care about me. I know I can be a big old pain sometimes, but I, … I guess I just wanted to tell you this morning that I love you both very much, and… I’m really sorry.”

Jennifer still watching her, nodded slightly but said nothing, and Jonathan, noticing her reaction, knew what he had to do. He almost felt badly about it.

_______________________________________________________________

“For two days!! Daddy, no!”

“It’s for the best, J.J.” Jonathan quietly, but firmly explained as the doctor looked on after giving them his recommendation. “It’s the only way that we’re going to get you to be as still as you need to be in order for that ankle to get right. If you’re planning to be back up to speed in a month you’ve got to first get it well. Then you have to work on getting the strength back in it. You’ve got your work cut out for you, but you’re never going to get there if you keep setting yourself back. So for the next forty-eight hours, you are going to be here, right here flat on your back with that ankle where it should be- elevated and immobile.

“But locked up in the hospital, Daddy? For a sprained ankle? All by myself?”

“You’re on the verge of having some ligament damage, Miss Hart.” The doctor interjected. “For an athlete, that can be very serious. I think you need to listen to your father. This is one of the best sports medicine programs and facilities in the country.”

J.J. sat back in the chair, huffing with disgust. She knew they were right, but she didn’t want to hear it.

“Except for when I was born, I have never had to be in a hospital in all my life, .” She muttered. “I hate hospitals and my mother hates them too. She’s not going to like me being here. She is not going to like me being where she can’t see me, especially at night, Daddy.”

“That’s why you’ll have a private nurse who’ll be on duty twenty four hours a day in your private room until you get out of here.” Jonathan answered, trying not to laugh at her dramatics and her desperate attempt to use her mother to get him to change his mind. “We’re not going to have your mother worried about you or anything else. You will do this, J.J.”

She could hear that her father was putting his foot down, and that there was nothing she could do about it. Her running meant as much to him as it did to her, and he was not about to let her jeopardize her outstanding physical abilities. She didn’t want to either, but the idea of being on total lockdown away from her family was off-putting to say the least about it. She had been blindsided by the doctor’s saying that she was going to be admitted immediately after checking the latest x-rays of her ankle.

Eyeing the doctor skeptically, she wondered if he really could tell ligament damage from looking at an x-ray. Is that what x-rays revealed? She had the feeling that she was being hustled and the lack of information she had on that subject frustrated her even further. She hated coming up short like that The nature of x-rays  and what could be determined from them would have to be researched so that she couldn’t be railroaded again, if that’s what it turned out was going on.

Pouting, J.J. angrily folded her arms in frustration. She had been placed back into a wheelchair and as a result, was feeling helpless and vulnerable. And to make matters worse, her customary ally was going against her; Jonathan Hart had crossed over to the other side. Her mother might not like the fact that she was away from her, but if it meant that she was going to get better, she’d deal with it and go along with her father’s decision. J.J. knew that all she could do at that point was surrender, but she wasn’t going down without taking one last stab at trying to make it better.

“Okay, well can Marnie stay here with me if she wants to, since it’s going to be a private room?”

Her father gave her that look that said to her that he could not believe that she had asked that question.

His spoken answer was, “J.J., I wouldn’t do that to anyone. Not even for just two days. She can come visit you during the proper hours, but no she cannot stay. You are going to rest and do exactly what you’re told for two days.”

Rolling her eyes, and sighing heavily, she very reluctantly conceded, “Alright, but I want you to know that don’t like this. I really don’t like it. Not one little bit do I like it. And I’m not going to act like I like it either. Here it is summer, and here I am, going on lockdown again. It’s not fair. I know you probably say that it’s all my fault, and it probably is, but it’s still not fair. Before you know it, summer will be gone and it’ll be time to go back to school, and I’ll have been laid up the whole time.”

Jonathan winked at her and smiled. “Yeah, but then you’ll be ready to run.”

J.J. tossed her head and twitched her shoulders in impatience and ultimate defeat.

“Okay, whatever, Daddy. Will you at least make sure that somebody packs my CD player, some CD’s, and my cell phone, please? At least that way maybe I won’t feel like I’m so much in jail.”

The doctor had to smile as his old college buddy leaned across and kissed his pretty, pouting daughter on the cheek, urging her to, “Be a good girl for Daddy.”

All she could do in return was roll her blue eyes to the ceiling one more time, purse her lips, and slowly nod her head in agreement.

Doctor Rogers looked on in admiration, recalling that Jonathan Hart had always been a popular one with the ladies. Back in college after returning from the Navy, he quickly developed a reputation for being able to melt down even the most inapproachable girls, turning them from stone walls into cooperative, giggling masses of putty with his natural charm, in no time flat. He was one of the nicest, smartest, smoothest guys on campus, and all the ladies had been crazy about him. Nobody he knew, male or female, had ever had a bad thing to say about him.

And from what he was observing taking place there before him, the man could still work that Hart magic. Even his own icy-eyed, headstrong, angry daughter had been no exception. She had since melted resignedly down into the chair, resting her cheek in her hand as her father completed the paperwork authorizing her admission.

_______________________________________________________________

After signing the final work orders for the roofers and the company chosen to gut the guest house kitchen for remodeling, Jennifer slowly made her way back to the main house while the workers set to going about their respective tasks. Pat and Bill had gone to see Mr. Farrell and the real estate agents, taking Marnie along with them. Jonathan and J.J. weren’t back yet from having J.J.’s ankle evaluated. Her father had been on the phone with Dean Marchand when she’d left him before coming out there. Rosa and Walter were in the kitchen having their own breakfast while overseeing the housekeeping service her father used as the workers performed their duties.

She was glad that everyone was somewhere else and otherwise occupied. She needed the time to think about the previous evening and her time in that mysterious passageway. It was like one of those frustrating dreams where just the ending of it eluded her upon waking. She could recall all the events leading up to her going down there and looking for J.J., but beyond turning back from the staircase that would have taken her down to the next level, the memory was gone, but still she could feel it. It was as if it were there in her head, but just out of reach of her ability to clearly and completely recall it.

Seeing J.J. that morning in their bedroom seemed to try to trigger it, to connect to it, but the harder as she’d tried, the farther away it seemed to get. Whatever the detail that was eluding her, it was somehow connected to J.J., but other than knowing that she had been looking for her so desperately, she couldn’t figure out how.

Her father and Jonathan had exchanged a strange look earlier that morning as she, Jonathan, and J.J. came off the elevator and met him in the front hall. Her father’s eyes had asked Jonathan a silent question, the answer to which had been negative judging from the look Jonathan sent back. She acted as if she hadn’t noticed it, paying more attention to helping J.J. get and maintain her balance with the crutch and one foot, but she definitely had not imagined it.

After greeting them, her father had walked away toward his study carrying with him an unmistakable air of disappointment. The two of them, Jonathan and her father, had always been cordial, but she had never known them to be confidants. What question could they have between them that didn’t include her, and that Jonathan’s answer to it would be less than pleasing to her father? She had always been the factor that connected all of them. Was the question about her?

Had she done something to upset him?

Had J.J.?

Jonathan had been deliberately evasive in filling her in on what had transpired with them in the passageway; he would only say that he had found her down there and that they had come up through her father’s room. But she couldn’t remember being near that room, Jonathan’s being down there, how they got out of the passageway, or how they got back up into their bedroom. She only remembered him helping her out of her clothes, and that he hadn’t tried to make love to her after doing so.

Undressing her normally turned him on, and that would be the natural progression of events, but it hadn’t happened in that situation. Not that she had wanted it to, which was also very much out of the ordinary. She could recall feeling extremely drained and only wanting to lie down and sleep. Once she was in the bed, he simply undressed himself and held her to him like always, but it was as if he were trying to keep her closer to him than ever.

What was happening? What was it all about?

Her cell phone went off in her pocket and continuing her slow walk back to the house, she pulled it out and answered it.

“Jennifer Hart.”

Hi, Darling. How’s it going?

“Good. They’ve gotten here and are just getting started. The roofers say they should be done in a couple of days. They have a whole crew on the kitchen. The new appliances should arrive tomorrow. That way they’ll be here when it’s time for them to go in.”

Great! Look, I’m on my way back. Bad news, though. I’m alone.

“Bad news? Alone? Where’s J.J.?”

J.J.’s been admitted to the hospital. They’re going to keep her for forty-eight hours.

“Two days? For a sprained ankle?”

It was a pretty bad sprain to begin with, and she’s making it worse. The doctor suggested she remain there so she can keep it immobile. I could have taken her back home, but I left her there. I think it’s best. She’s not going to be still like she needs to be there at the house, and we don’t have time to sit on her every moment of the day to make sure she does. There’s too much else to be done with the guest house that will divert our attention from her, and Marnie is there to boot. The doctor wants the ankle completely still for forty-eight hours, and that’s not the best situation in which to expect J.J. to be still. Putting her in the hospital was the only way  I could see to get her back to one hundred percent before track season starts. The guest house work needs to be completed so we can all get back home together, and when we go back J.J. needs to be well on her way down the road to recovery.

“I don’t know, Jonathan. She’s never been in a hospital before. Maybe I should get ready and go down there to stay with her. I don’t know how comfortable I’ll be knowing she’s there by herself.”

You don’t have time for that. You’ve got things to do there, and she has a job of her own to do. She’ll be fine. She’s in a private room. I’ve already interviewed and selected a private nurse who’ll room in with her for the duration. J.J.’s a big girl now. She can handle it. Besides, you know that if she’s there at the house, she’s going to try that passageway again.

“How can you be so sure? Maybe she saw all she needed to see last night. Maybe she’s learned her lesson. It’s for sure she can’t do much walking.”

Darling, this is J.J. Hart we’re talking about. Hell, she’s my kid; I know her very well, which is why I know she’s in the best place right now. If it were me, and I was sixteen and had found a place like that, as  soon as somebody turned their back and I could get away; I’d be back down there in a shot, bad ankle or no. I’d just suffer the consequences once they came down the pike. She would too. She’s shown us that much already.

“Since you put it that way, I have to admit you’re probably right, Jonathan. I hate this, though. I don’t like her being away like this.

It’s a first step in her facing the consequences of her actions. She’s getting older, and it’s time she starts shouldering personal responsibility more fully. J.J. is an athlete with a brilliant future. She’s invested too much to let her curiosity get in the way of her complete recovery. She only has  a month or so to get it together before the season starts, and already she hasn’t run in almost a week. That alone puts her behind. Look, she says she’s going to need some things, and I do want her to be comfortable. Could one of you get a bag together for her? She wants all of her creature comforts: CD player, CD’s, phone, all of that. She tried to get me to let Marnie stay there with her, but I wouldn’t go for it. J.J. needs to rest.

“Marnie’s going to just plain die when she finds out. Jonathan you’ll be transporting her down there for the next two days. It’s for sure Marnie isn’t going to want to be here with just us, especially since Pat will be tied up with Bill. You know J.J. and Marnie are not  going to be separated during the day like that. But I do agree with you about not letting her stay with J.J. We’d just be getting calls from the hospital staff about them cutting up. I’ll go ahead and take care of J.J.’s bag myself. Jonathan, tell me something. Was she very angry?

Angry and as mean as a rattlesnake. Was snapping up everybody who tried to say anything to her as they were getting her to her room. I finally had to check her about her behavior. She’ll get over it, not that it matters because that’s where she’s going to be. I’ll be there with your shortly. I have a stop to make first.

“Alright. I’ll see you when you get here.

Jennifer clicked off with the thought in mind that J.J. Hart was a lot like her father, but she had two parents. She wasn’t the inquisitive person she was just because of her father. As soon as everybody turned their backs, her mother fully intended to go back down in that passageway, too.

There was a reason why she couldn’t remember what all happened down there, and the only way to get it back was to return to the place where the details had apparently been left.   _______________________________________________________________

J.J. lie on her back in the room, her ankle securely placed into some sort of device designed to keep it immobile. Dr. Rogers had personally come in to see her after one of the staff nurses had helped her out of her clothing and into a sterile smelling, cotton hospital gown, which she detested. He showed her how the television and the radio worked, tried to engage her in a little polite conversation, and when she wasn’t able to be her normally congenial self, she figured that he must have gotten the picture of how it was going to be because he left saying that he’d check back on her later. As far as she was concerned, he didn’t have to. She wanted a “Do Not Disturb” sign placed on her door.

Pointing the remote to the television which was mounted on the wall before her, she surfed idly through the channels. It was daytime, and daytime TV was definitely not her thing. In the daytime, she was usually either outside or, if it was that time of the year, at school. All she could think of was that being stuck inside, watching daytime television on a bright summer day had to be the saddest thing in the world. She’d asked the nurse who helped her to bed to draw the curtains so that she couldn’t even see the world outside. With that thing on her ankle, she figured that they might as well have just put her into a straight jacket.

They had only been at Briarwood three days, not quite three because the day wasn’t done yet, and she had landed herself in the hospital. It was Friday, and Daddy said she had to be there for forty-eight hours, which meant that she would be spending an entire weekend in the bed. By the time she got out, her parents would be closer to being ready to go back home to Los Angeles. How would she find time to talk to her grandfather about her grandmother? He seemed the most likely avenue to get her there, but so far there had been too many roadblocks.

Her mother was occupied with the guest house. She had been pissed off about the pictures, and she hadn’t seemed all that sympathetic that morning despite the fact that she’d gone in there to her, broken down, and apologized sincerely to her for going down into the passage and making her come looking for her like she had. That didn’t appear to have helped her case any.

When they were together in the bedroom that morning, her mother kept looking at her all weird and everything, and it was hard to tell what was on her mind. But then, Jennifer Hart wasn’t always an easy read even in the best of times. Since she was apparently in one of her unforgiving moods, the information about Suzanne Edwards would probably have to come through Pa. But, he was at Briarwood, and there she was confined to that prison of a hospital. Officially, physically, and completely locked down.

How much worse could it all get?

What was up with Pa’s office in the passageway? Why would he need that to be there? He had the study downstairs off the front hall and it was full to capacity. What was all that stuff that was covered up in his secret place, and what was the meaning behind all those certificates and medals on those walls? They had been commendations from governments around the world. Why would her grandfather get official recognition of that kind? What had he done to earn medals? And why would he hide them down there, where nobody could see them?

She vaguely knew that he had been involved in World War II, but she had always assumed that he had fought or something. She hadn’t really thought about it in detail at all. She didn’t even know if he had fought for England or the United States, or even if he had seen actual combat at all. It struck her as strange how there was so much to know about her family that she didn’t know. That wasn’t even counting the absolute mystery surrounding her father. Looking at it like that, it was also funny how much she had just taken for granted, just as Aunt Pat had been suggesting earlier. She hadn’t liked having Pat reproach her like she had that morning, but what she’d told her had been the complete truth. Whenever she was in trouble, it seemed everyone got involved and rallied around to help without giving it a second thought, and it really did not have to be that way. Her best friend, Marnie was a case in point. With all the parents and stepparents she had in her life, she seldom interacted with any one of them on a meaningful level. And from what she understood about her situation, Aunt Pat had operated under conditions similar to Marnie’s, as a child.

Her thoughts drifted back to the night before and that passageway. That one huge portrait of her grandmother had been breathtaking. Who had the artist been? Were there other portraits of her down there? There had to be. If so, were they among all those things that were covered up down there in Pa’s secret place? Why was the portrait there, all covered up and not out and up where it could be seen? Why was everyone so quiet about the lady?

And what was up with the attic of the guest house? Pa said that her father would have to help her mother if she made it up there. Had her mother gone up there? Had she freaked out over whatever it was that he was talking about?

On the way to the doctor’s office, she had been too nervous to ask her father anything about it. The transgression was too new yet, and for all his usual joviality, he turned deadly serious when it came to Jennifer Hart and her well-being. It was her fault that her mother had to go down into that passageway looking for her, and if she found something disturbing in the process, that was her fault as well. Judging by the fact that she had been relegated to patient status, away from them and placed in maximum security in a hospital with a twenty-four hour baby-sitter, she could pretty much assume that he did not want her involved in whatever was going on at Briarwood.

There were so many questions that she wanted to ask, but at that moment in time, under the circumstances in which she was currently operating, there was no one at all to whom she could go for answers. She wasn’t even sure if she was supposed to ask some of the questions she had. Might it be impolite to ask any of them at all? Perhaps some of it was none of her business in the first place.

But she was the only one left to whom it could be told. It wasn’t like she had brothers, sisters, close cousins, or anybody. It was just her. One day it would be only her that was left. If they didn’t tell her, then the family history would die out with them when they went. Didn’t they realize that?

It wasn’t fair. None of it was fair.

Looking back up to the television she figured it wasn’t fair either that Ricky Lake, Jerry Springer, and all of ‘their ilk’, as Jennifer Hart would say, got famous for rooting out people who were obviously suffering from either a serious lack of judgment or anything else at all to do, paying them to get on daytime TV to tell the whole world all their sordid, low-life business; and in the process, make perfect jackasses out of themselves…

_______________________________________________________________

When Jennifer peeked in on her father, he was alone in his study, reading one of the two or three newspapers to which he subscribed.

“Pa?” She called from the doorway.

He looked up and smiled. “Well, hello. How are things going out there? Did you get everyone started out all right? Agnes is very excited. She and Belinda want to come out and take a look before you and your family head back home. How long do you think you’ll be staying with me?”

“They’ve gotten started. I think we made good choices as far as choosing the rights firms with which to work. They seem committed to getting things done in a timely manner. Both those companies out there now have assured me that they could do quality work within my time frame. The others I’ve lined up have committed to the same. We’ll likely be here well into next week at least, perhaps longer. Jonathan just called me. J.J.’s been hospitalized for treatment of that ankle.”

Stephen put his paper down in his lap and sat forward in his chair. “Hospitalized? Was it that serious? How long are they keeping her?”

“Pa, now don’t get upset. It’s only for two days, and it’s just so that she can rest off of it. I think it was more Jonathan’s idea than the doctor’s. They were given an option, and he opted for her to remain there. She’s not going to be still unless she’s made to be. It was the only way.”

Stephen sat back and sighed with disappointment. “But I get to see so little of her as it is. I was looking forward to spending time with her on this visit. He did put her in a private room, didn’t he? With a private duty nurse? She must have her own nurse, Jennifer. I won’t have just anyone looking after her. If he didn’t, let me know; I’ll do it. I know several people who can put me in touch with someone reliable at a moment’s notice.”

He was already reaching for the phone, and Jennifer, highly amused by her father’s excessive concern and patrician thinking, came into the room and took a seat at his side.

“Jonathan’s done all of that, Pa. J.J.’s going to be fine. Her father has already seen to her having a private room and a room-in nurse. If you want, I’ll take you to see her this evening when I go to take her things to her. You can see for yourself.”

Putting the receiver back in its cradle, Stephen seemed to relax. “I’d like that very much. I know you and your husband. You know better, but Jonathan has been out on that west coast too long. You’re both much too casual with that child. You can’t be too careful, you know. But, I should have known that Jonathan was on it. Despite his allowing her too much familiarity, he takes very good care of that girl, Jennifer. I often envy him. He’s always known Justine, and has always been able to meet her needs. They have a very strong and positive relationship. She’s a very lucky child.”

Jennifer placed her hand on top of her father’s. “No more fortunate than I was. She just had sense enough to realize it earlier than I did, that’s all.”

Stephen reddened at her words, but chose not to respond to them. Instead he spoke of J.J.

“I must say she surprised me some last night. I had the idea that she’d probably hurt herself wandering about like she did. She took quite a fall too. Was out for a bit even after I got down there.”

Jonathan hadn’t mentioned anything to her about J.J. being knocked out, and the knowledge of it shocked her. It made her wonder if there was anything more to J.J.’s hospitalization that Jonathan had neglected to mention. But then, he hadn’t said much of anything about the details of the previous evening as they related to J.J. or to her being in the passageway.

“Pa, if I may ask, what is that place and why is it there? Was it always there?”

She noticed that he looked a little uncomfortable as he put his paper on the desk and removed his glasses. Then, strangely he turned his face slightly away from her, so that he was looking straight ahead.

“I had hoped you’d never have occasion to know about it.” He said quietly. “I prayed that you’d never have need to be there.”

He stopped speaking, and she waited for him even though she was dying to hear the story. After a time, he continued.

“It was meant to be an escape route for your mother and for you. I was away so much… She feared for you.”

“Me? But it looks like it was built with the house. I wasn’t around when the house was planned.”

“But she had already planned for you, and she knew that we faced certain dangers. It was her idea. She was a brilliant woman to be so young. The plan and the design were all hers. I doubt, though, that she ever thought that you would one day be down there searching for your own child.”

Jennifer dropped her forehead into her hand. The flashes were starting up again.

“What dangers, Pa? I don’t remember anything like that. Are you speaking of your government work? I thought you told me that the agreement was that we were never to be a part of your work. Why would we be in danger here?”

Stephen slowly turned to face her.

“Jennifer, when I told you and Jonathan about myself, I’m afraid that I neglected to tell you all of it. I thought it would never come up, and that it was something you would never have to know. But, I should have known better. I’ve always tried to teach you that what’s done in the dark almost always comes to light. And so it has, my Darling.”

Her eyes were locked on his face, and he knew that he had to continue and that he had to tell it all to her. She would know otherwise, and despite everything, he had always tried to be truthful with her. He settled back, crossed his legs, and began his story.

“For a time before we were married, and continuing on until your mother found out that she was pregnant with you, she worked with me in my ‘art business’. Her father, a very cultured man himself, was delighted that she was immersing herself in the arts, and her mother encouraged her efforts. But, nobody in her family knew what we were really doing, not even Sabrina. If he had known, her father, your grandfather, would never have let her marry me. Once she learned the true nature of what I was actually doing, your mother begged me to let her be a part of it. I tried to talk her out of it, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She wasn’t going to have it any other way. I loved her so much; I couldn’t do without her, so I had to let her come with me once we were married. We were partners, she and I. I trained her, and for those first couple of years, we worked side-by-side all over the world. She did the same reconnaissance and recovery work that I used to do. It was from her that you inherited her ability to pick up languages so quickly. I can’t begin to tell you how gifted she was in that area. Learned most of it up on her own as we moved about the world. It was as if all she had to do was listen to pick up linguistic nuances. We’d be somewhere for just a bit, and before I knew wit, she would be conversant enough for both of us.

She stopped working directly with me when we had you, but she continued some of the operations from here, working out of that passageway. She knew exactly what I was doing all the time, and she did all that she could to assist me. That was why she never complained about my frequent and extended absences, and it was why you were left here alone with her so much. We needed to keep distance between me and the two of you. The estate, you and your mother were always very well-protected, but the danger was always there that someone would come after the two of you while I was away. Your mother knew that, but she had the added comfort of knowing that she could quickly get you out of harm’s way should anything manage to occur. You were the most precious thing in the world to her, and she knew that she could take you down there and hide you, or she could get you out of here completely.”

As she listened to her father, Jennifer was being inundated by the blurred images that were trying to force their way into her head. It began coming back to her in ragged bits and pieces. She was always kept very close. She didn’t ride the private school bus with the other children. Instead she was taken and picked up daily, usually by her mother who accompanied her everywhere. Ballet class and recitals, piano lessons, riding lessons and competitions, birthday parties; she had always been right there. There had been no impromptu guests at Briarwood. Visitors had to call ahead to be admitted to their home. The only time that larger gatherings of any kind took place were times when her father was at home. Her father always came home for her birthdays and her parties.

She had never known. Never had an inkling that anything like that was going on behind the scenes. Up until she was gone, her life with her mother had seemed perfectly normal, but in retrospect perhaps a bit insular. She wondered if what her father had revealed to her had anything to do with why they spent so much time in the guest house when he was away. Her mother said that she just preferred to be out there, but was that all there was to it?

A headache was in the making. It was all too much to take in at one time.

“I’m going to lie down for a bit before lunch.” She said, standing, feeling suddenly very tired, and anxious to head off the dull throb starting in her temple. “I’ll be in our room. Would you let Jonathan know when he gets back?”

“I’ll tell him.” Stephen said, watching her leave.

It was unusual for her to nap during the day. Even as a child it had been hard to get her to stop and rest. She’d given no comment on what he had revealed to her about her mother. And once again, even though he had spoken very specifically to her about Suzanne, Jennifer had made no direct mention of her to him. That was how it had been since her mother left them, and as always, it left him wondering why, and if it would ever get better for her.

Since it had finally been discovered, he had hoped that her excursion down into the passage would help. But apparently, she hadn’t completed the journey all the way to its end. If she had, she probably would have still been up there.

_______________________________________________________________

J.J. didn’t realize that she had fallen asleep until she could feel someone adjusting the covers on her hospital bed. She opened her eyes to find a young, black woman standing over her, checking out her ankle.

“Hey.” The woman smiled in greeting. “You finally woke up. You’ve been out for a little while.”

She didn’t say anything to that, instead quickly assessing the attractive cocoa brown woman dressed in a stylish modern nurse’s uniform: a colorful pullover top, white slacks, and white leather Birkenstock slip-ons  appearance from head to toe. J.J. especially admired her hair which was parted in several tightly coiled rows that led to the top of her head to finish in a thick, shiny black ponytail. It was the same style aerodynamic styled that she would sometimes get from Charmaine when it was time for her track meets or she wanted to go swimming.

“I’m going to be your private nurse.” The woman continued as she checked over the chart that had been left for her. “I’m Miss Jones, but since we’re going to be roomies for the next couple of days, you can call me Jazz. It’s short for Jasmine. Other floor nurses may come in to check on you from time to time. But I’m going to be in charge of your primary care.”

“I like your name.” J.J. finally answered. “Both of them. Jasmine is a pretty name, but Jazz is really cool for a nickname. I’m J.J. Hart.”

“I know. I like your name too. Justine is very sophisticated, but J.J. is even better. You look like a J.J. What’s the second J. for?”

“My full name is Justine Jennifer. And what does a J.J. look like?”

J.J. noticed that Jazz looked her in the eye when she spoke, and that was vitally important to her when encountering someone for the first time; one of the first lessons in reading people that her father had taught to her. She’d never thought of her formal name as sounding sophisticated. It had always been, for her, somewhat pretentious sounding. She liked that new observation, but they still had a way to go before she completely let her guard down.

Jazz nodded. “A J.J. looks like you. Your paperwork said that you’re a runner. Now J.J. Hart’s a good, flashy name for a runner. You any good?”

“Well, I’ll put it this way.” J.J. answered. “Before I was born, my parents had a winning race horse named J.J. Hart. He was named for both my parents; their first names both start with J. My father says I do justice to the name, J.J. because I’m usually in the winner’s circle at the finish. I either win, place, or show- mostly win- just like the first J.J. Hart.”

Jazz checked the device on J.J.’s ankle while she had been talking.

“You’re confident.” She observed. “I like that in a person. That’s a particularly good thing in an athlete. I run competitively too. Ran the Boston Marathon this year for the third time and finished decently again. I’m a staff nurse here, but my area of specialization is physical therapy which is what I usually do up here when I’m not doing private duty. That’s why I’ve been assigned to you. I met your father a little while ago, and I liked him right off. He’s crazy about you. I could tell that he’s aces for such a powerful guy. Handsome too.”

Instantly amused, J.J. remarked, “Funny you should use that particular term “aces” to describe him. Thank you for the compliments. He is a cutie, and I like him too, most of the time. Not today, though. I’m mad at him today.”

Jazz looked down the bed at the face of her wealthy young charge and could see that she was being closely inspected and sized up. Her father said that she was pretty well-behaved for the most part, but that she could be stubborn and impulsive at times. He appeared to have been being very candid and straightforward in talking about her. That last comment from J.J., she figured, had come out of frustration. He said that she was usually very active, and that having to be still would probably make her irritable, not to mention the fact that she was there very much against her will. The ankle was pretty badly swollen, but would go down quickly if she could keep her off of it.

“He said that you would be. I think we can get you fixed back up without too much drama. You just stick with me, kid. You’re supposed to stay completely flat.”

“What about when I have to go to the bathroom? What about showers? I sometimes take two or three a day.”

“No showers, just sponge baths. But I will let you up to go to the bathroom. We can work that out. I think it’s too unladylike to do otherwise unless you’re just too sick to get up. But if I do that for you, you have to promise to do what I say otherwise.”

She came and stood at the head of the bed. Looking to J.J., she raised her eyebrows for confirmation of the agreement she had put on the table. J.J. held out her hand to her.

“It’s very nice to meet you, Jazz. I was pretty upset about having to be in here earlier, but I think we might work out okay, you and me. See, I have a thing about my dignity. My mother and my aunt have been playing fast and loose with it ever since I had my accident. Helping me in the shower and the bath; I could have just died. I really appreciate the bathroom thing. I promise, if you can help me with that and not make me have do it the other way, the way that first nurse said, I’ll do whatever you tell me.”

Jazz took her and and shook it.

“It’s a deal, J.J. Hart. Now, I’ll let you in on something.” Jazz leaned conspiratorially onto the bed railing. “You’ve been in here with the door closed and everything, so you can’t know this yet, but you have a distinct advantage being up here. Do you know that you’re the only girl on this ward right now? The rest are all boys and they are itching to meet you. When I got here, all of them that could walk were out in the hall with their crippled selves, waiting, asking me questions. I thought I was going to have to beat somebody down just to get in here.”

“What kind of place is this I’m in that there’s no other girls?” J.J. asked. “I was so mad that I didn’t even question where they were bringing me. I just knew it was part of a hospital and somewhere I didn’t want to be.”

“Sweetheart,” Jazz answered. “This is the Adolescent Sports Medicine wing. Everybody over here is a jock of some sort, from ages twelve to seventeen, and like I said, you are the only girl right now. It gets pretty live on this side. Folks aren’t sick, they’re injured. These are kids who are normally active, who’ve been sidelined for the moment- you included- so they tend to get bored easily.”

“So what do they do for fun. Do they play cards?” J.J. asked, the tips of her fingers beginning to tingle. “You know, to like, kill the time?”

“There’s a rec room up here with a big screen TV, and monitors to play video games. There’s always some game on the television depending upon the season. They do play cards, and they play chess, checkers, you name it. All of you are injured in some way, so there’s only so much you can do physically. Those are probably the most popular things that go on up here besides television, CD’s, the phones, and just plain goofing off and getting on each other’s nerves. I’m afraid you won’t make it to the rec room while you’re here. You’re going to be pretty much confined to here.”

J.J. reached for the room phone, hoping that it had been activated while she had been sleeping. Pleased when she got a dial tone, she punched up Marnie’s cell to fill her in on what was going on with her and to make sure that all the right things got packed and delivered. Also she needed to rub it in about being the only girl in a wing full of male athletes. She didn’t care so much about that personally, but she knew that once she got the word that she’d been locked up, Marnie would be somewhere laughing to herself about her having to be on lockdown and in a hospital to boot. That information about her being the only girl on a ward full of boys would shut her trap.

While Jazz went to go set up her own things in the adjoining room, J.J. spoke to Marnie and then hung up satisfied that her mission had been accomplished. Marnie had hissed a whole string of vile curse words into the phone about how unfair that situation was.

Plumping up the pillows, J.J. lie back on them to think. A couple of cars on the train might have been derailed, but the engine was still on track and running full steam. The next two days might prove to not be so bad after all.

_______________________________________________________________

Even though he was driving, Bill had to turn around  along with Pat to look into the back seat at Marnie when she clicked off from where she had been whispering into her phone and informed them that J.J. had been admitted to the hospital.

“She messed that ankle up that bad last night?” He asked over his shoulder.

“I guess she did.” Marnie answered. “They kept her.”

“It did look pretty bad this morning.” Pat commented. “She told me it hurt a little when I asked her about, which says that it must have hurt a lot. Normally she wouldn’t admit to that kind of thing. When I was helping her in the hall upstairs, she was trying not to let me see how much it was bothering her, but I could tell that it did.”

“Then it probably was pretty far gone.” Marnie said. “I have to give it to J. on that. She doesn’t whine about stuff. She was on the phone just now trying to tell me that she really thinks her father just set her up to stay there so she could be off her mother’s nerves and her foot at the same time. She said she tried to get him to let me stay there with her in the room, but he said no. Said he wouldn’t do that to anybody, like we’re hard to deal with or something. J. said she was mad at first, but that she’s alright with it now. Turns out she’s in a private room, with a cool nurse, and she’s on a wing with a bunch of other jocks like her.”

“You didn’t tell her the other thing?” Bill asked while Pat was still looking around the back of her seat at Marnie who busy checking the other numbers on her display.

Marnie shook her head in answer as she began to punch in a number.

“She’ll find that out soon enough,” She said before pushing the button to send her signal. “The lucky bi-, lucky stiff. Aunt Pat, Uncle Bill, guess what? J.J. told me that she’s the only girl on that wing. The only girl. Now how fair is that? She doesn’t even like boys all that much. I love them. She’s supposed to be on total lockdown, but she’s there on lockdown. You know, I think when we get back to Briarwood, I’m going to take one of the horses out, Legs I think, since he’s so big. I’ll go fall off him and hurt my ankle or my arm or something so I can get admitted, too. Stuff like being the only girl in Hunk and Jock Heaven never happens to me. If it was me, I’d be on an all girls’ or old ladies’ ward.”

“Yeah, well, we all know that there’s reason for that.” Pat said, her tone dry as she turned back around to face the front. “Some folks would just run rampant given that set of circumstances. Check your neck, and think back. You were supposed to be with all girls when you got that.”

Bill smiled, and had to catch himself to keep from laughing. “You didn’t have to go there.” He whispered.

“I’m serious, Bill.” She cried. “Would just plain scandalize the place. We’d have to go get her and hope the boy’s parents didn’t press charges.”

Marnie rolled her eyes and waved her hand at the back of Pat’s head in dismissal of the comment as she pushed the button on the phone to reach her brother, Kyle.

_______________________________________________________________

With J.J. settled in to his satisfaction, and having teleconferenced his L.A. meeting at Hart Industries from Dan Rogers’ office upon finding that the good doctor had all the right equipment at his disposal, Jonathan returned to Briarwood intent upon devoting his complete attention to his wife.

He had first driven directly out to the guest house where he found the workmen busy stripping the old roof from the small structure. Most of the old tiles had been removed, and the new tar paper had already been rolled out onto one side in preparation for laying new ones. A large rubbish hauler had been left on side of the house, and debris from the roof was being dropped and swept down into it.

Discarded materials from inside the kitchen were being deposited into the same container through the open windows. The rush was on to get the kitchen gutted and redone because more workers would be coming to install new windows within the next few days, and then the interior painters would be getting started. The exterior construction and painting would begin as soon as the roofers were finished, which from the look of it wouldn’t be much longer than another day and a half, two at the most.

He sat for a moment marveling at his wife’s amazing organizational skills. Despite whatever else might be going on with her, she always managed to take care of the responsibilities with which she was faced. He could sense some ambivalence on her part toward Dean Marchand moving onto Briarwood with her father, but he knew that her sense of duty toward him had overridden any of that, and that she had moved all else aside to get the job done. He hoped for each group of workers’ sakes that they managed to maintain the schedule she’d set up. The way that things had been worked out and contracted left no room for delays or dalliances outside of those caused by weather, and Jennifer was an absolute stickler about people meeting deadlines. He too, wanted it done in as timely a manner as possible so that he could take his family home.

The foreman of the roofing team walked up and greeted him as he was getting out out of the car. From him he learned that Jennifer had already returned to the main house. Since he was already there, Jonathan took a peek inside the house to see how the kitchen was coming along before driving back around to the front. He could give Jennifer the report when he caught up to her. As he stood in the doorway  watching the old appliances being hauled out of the back patio doors, he tried the door which led to the attic. It was locked, just as it had always been.

After speaking with Walter, who happened to be in the front hall of the main house, Jonathan found Stephen on the phone in his study. He had been hoping that Jennifer might be there with him, but when he didn’t see her, he waved and started to walk away, not wanting to disturb his father-in-law’s call. But Stephen looked up, saw him, and gestured for him to wait. The older man cut his conversation short at that point and hung up.

“I didn’t mean to stop you.” Jonathan explained. “I was just looking for Jennifer.”

“I know.” Stephen said. “But first tell me what you’ve done with my grandchild.”

“What makes you think I did anything with her?” He asked, trying not to smile. “She hurt her ankle and they kept her at the hospital so that she could stay off of it. It’s as simple as that.”

“And all very convenient, Jonathan. My guess is that you didn’t put up too much of a fight over it.”

Jonathan stuffed the bag he was carrying under his arm, and then pushed his hands down into his pockets.

“No Sir, I can’t say that I did.”

“You and I both know that she would have gone back, don’t we?” Stephen leaned back in his chair and casually exhaled a large ring from the smoke that he’d drawn from the cigar in his hand. “She wouldn’t have been able to help herself, would she?”

Jonathan looked down to the floor to keep from laughing at being seen clear through by his astute elder.

“No, I don’t think she would have.” He answered. “She needed to be her out of her mother’s way, and I wanted that ankle to heal properly. I thought that was the best way to handle it all the way around. Actually, the doctor suggested it before I could.”

“Am I to understand that she has a private room, and a private duty nurse?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“The nurse, I take it is female and will be there with her the entire two days?”

“Yes, Sir. She’s rooming in with her.”

Stephen nodded his approval. “Then I concur with your decision. Justine was never going to be still here. Far too many distractions.”

“Where’s Jennifer?”

“She told me she was going up to lie down for a while. You should probably go see to her. I’m fairly sure that she has some things to tell you. I know that you have questions of your own that you’ve been too polite to ask about what you and Justine saw last night. I told her all about it this afternoon. She never made it as far as the guest house last night, I assume.”

“Neither of them did. J.J.’s ankle kept both of them on this end. Did she say anything to you about it?”

“Not a word. She asked me what it was, I told her and she left without comment saying that she was going to lie down. I thought it strange. Did she mention anything to you last night?”

Jonathan rubbed his brow. “No, she didn’t.” He didn’t want to tell Stephen that it appeared that she had blocked it all out.

She had been so disoriented after he found her, that once he got her back to the bedroom, he didn’t want to leave her to get back to Stephen to ask him about anything.

“Pity.” Stephen said quietly. “Well, go along with you and see to her. It’s odd for her to lie down to nap during the day. I hope she isn’t feeling ill. Lunch should be ready shortly. I guess Patricia, and her party will have made it back by then. Farrell is very pleased to have them as buyers. That was he with whom I was speaking on the phone. He said that they had just left for a drive around the grounds. That couldn’t have worked out better for him or for them. They all seem pretty satisfied with the transaction.”

Smiling, Jonathan gave Stephen a small wave of the hand to let him know that he was taking his leave.

As he watched him go, Stephen figured that it was highly unlikely that either he or Jennifer would make it back down, not for lunch anyway.

_______________________________________________________________

After leaving her father, and putting J.J.’s things together to take to her, Jennifer returned to her own room.

The pain in her head had subsided somewhat, but she took the medication anyway to keep it at bay. While she was alone like she was, she wanted to try the passage again. But then, she thought better of it because the pills she’d taken were meant to relax, and she wanted to be completely alert whenever she went back down there. On the second trip, whenever it happened, she intended to take her time and see all that there was to see.

To give the medicine an opportunity to take effect, she drew the curtains, stripped down to her lingerie, and lie down on the couch under the windows, covering herself with a light blanket. She didn’t like having to do that in the middle of the day; it wasted time, but she was spent.

Something about that guest house, the myriad of situations going on around her; J.J., her injury and her ‘issues’; all of it was dragging her down. Granted, there hadn’t been much time to relax or to rest since the Gresham Hall reunion of the previous weekend. So many things had happened in that short span of time, but as a corporate wife, a mother, and a professional in her own right, she was long used to being constantly on the run. This time it was as if something outside of all of that was slowing her down for some reason, and she couldn’t imagine what that reason could be.

She pulled the blanket all the way up to her chin, thinking about what her father told her about her mother and that secret passage. He said that it had been conceived and designed by her. What kind of woman had she really been?

Apparently she had been ingenious. Aside from being extremely young, she’d designed part of a house, she’d worked as an agent right beside her husband in his secret work, continued that work on her own from out of that house, and she’d learned all those languages that she could speak on her own. She had done all of that and still managed to be a devoted, full time mother without giving up a clue that she was into anything else. What else could she do? What else was there about Suzanne Edwards that she didn’t know?

Lying there on her back, Jennifer tried hard to dredge up any one of the long stored away recollections that might have been an indicator for all the things that had been going on that she hadn’t known about. But there was nothing. She had been too young, and it had been too long ago.

Gradually it began to dawn on her that she hadn’t really known her mother as a person. She had only been twelve years old when she went away, and she had been just too young to know. At twelve, she hadn’t been at that place in her life where she could separate the person from her mother. It was a startling, but enlightening revelation.

But, by the time she was twelve, J.J. Hart knew the difference.

One afternoon Jonathan had a conversation with her where it all came out. Later he very proudly described how she had so concisely broken it down to him; how she had cleanly dissected her mother from the person, and how she seemed to be glad to be her mother’s only child. Her mother, she’d said, was one person and Jennifer Edwards Hart was another.  He thought it cute. But for her it had been a confirmation of how intellectually gifted J.J. actually was. Despite the fact that she was a child, she could see that the two were not one and the same, which was rather sophisticated thinking for a twelve-year-old.

At sixteen, and well before that, J.J. sometimes did and said things were indications of her understanding that even though they were her parents, there was a part of Jonathan and Jennifer Hart’s relationship that did not include her. J.J. recognized their love and she respected it. She’d clearly demonstrated as much when for her own sixteenth birthday, she’d arranged a cruise for them as a gift from her saying that she knew how important it was for them to be alone together. She said that she knew that because of caring for her, they didn’t get to do that as often as she knew they would have liked. That too, was a sophisticated thing for a girl her age to think of doing. The reasoning behind that gift had been the thing that made it so special.

Poor Jonathan could be so clueless at times. He still didn’t recognize why J.J. was so reluctant to come into their bedroom. But she knew exactly why. She had set it up that way from the time that J.J. was an infant.

J.J. had never been allowed sleep in their bed, even as a newborn and still being breastfed. They had always gone to her room in the night. Jonathan had never liked it, and had frequently voiced his disapproval at leaving their child on the outside of that door. But she’d held her ground, insisting upon that being the one element of their life together that would not change with J.J.’s becoming a part of it.

As J.J. had  gotten older, she quickly came to realize on her own that their bedroom was not hers, and she took it upon herself to not venture there. There were even a few heart wrenching times when she was still quite small and had graduated from the crib to a regular bed, that they’d found her, her blanket and her pillow rolled up into a ball on the floor outside their door. It then became habit for them to get up and check on her a couple of times during the night to make sure that she wasn’t longing for one of them. Now a teenager, J.J. had long since stopped looking for them in the night, but they still sometimes checked on her.

When J.J. did have occasion to enter their room, she always seemed a little uneasy until she left. Usually, she would just say what she had to say, take care of whatever business she had come on, and then she would leave. That was just fine with her mother. They had never had to worry about being unexpectedly walked in on by a little one while they were together in that room.

However, Jonathan Hart was still the lover had always been and since he couldn’t be counted upon to confine his sexy, amorous moves solely to the bedroom…

_______________________________________________________________

When he entered the room Jonathan could see that Jennifer was lying on the couch in the quiet, darkened bedroom. She had drawn the curtains all the way around, which was what he knew her to do when she had or felt herself getting a headache. When that happened, light and noise intensified her pain.

She had covered herself with a blanket which was pulled all the way up to her chin, and she appeared to be sleeping with one hand to her forehead, another indicator of a headache. Not wanting to disturb her, he eased into the room and took off his suit jacket which he hung up in the closet. His mind was whirling with questions. What had Stephen told her about the passage? Had any of what she’d seen come back to her? If so, was that why she had chosen to lie down in the middle of the day? Had she chosen to lie down, or had she been forced to do it?

He sat down in the armchair to watch her, admiring the serene expression on her face, hoping that when she woke she would be feeling better physically and emotionally. He thought of Dan Rogers, and how surprised the doctor had been to learn that he was still married to the same woman after living in fast-paced, upscale Los Angeles for so long. They hadn’t seen each other in ages, and he had been delighted when his inquiries into finding a facility for J.J. revealed that his old friend was the top man in the sports medicine field in the state. Dan, himself was on his second wife there in Maryland. It was true that many couples he and Jennifer knew seemed to play musical chairs when it came to partners, but he had been proud to tell Dan how fortunate he had been to meet, marry, and hold on to the only woman he ever really wanted for a wife. The doctor then brought up their old horse racing days. He commented on how back then he and the guys tended to follow Jonathan’s suggestions for placing bets because his repeated success at the track indicated that he  knew a sure thing when he saw one. Apparently, the doctor said, he had followed suit in his love life.

Apparently.

As he sat looking at Jennifer, Jonathan thought about how lucky he had always been, even when he couldn’t see it for himself right away. His greatest good fortune lie sleeping on the couch across from him. That bit of luck he’d recognized from the start.

As if she could hear his thoughts, a smile slowly formed on Jennifer’s lips, and he realized that she hadn’t been asleep.

“What are you over there thinking about so hard?” She asked.

Amused, he answered, “How do you know what I’m doing? You have your eyes are closed.”

“I can feel you thinking.”

“Is that so? How’s your head?”

“I’m fine. I think I caught it in time. So, what did you stop off and buy for her?”

“Buy for whom?”

“You know who I’m talking about, Jonathan. What did you buy your daughter to keep her from being upset with you for having her admitted to the hospital?”

“What makes you think that I should I have bought her anything?”

“You shouldn’t have, but I know that you did. What did you buy? Tell me.”

He laughed softly.

“Two Raiders jerseys to wear to physical therapy. She’s been wanting Gannon and Rice, so I got them for her. I figure we can take them to her later. They’ll be big and loose on her like she likes them. Give her freedom of movement when she starts back to working out.”

“You are such a pushover.” She laughed, slowly shaking her head. “She just twists you around like one of those big old soft, warm pretzels you get at the fair. She just does you however she wants, and you go for it every time. All she has to do is pout those lips a little bit and you immediately start feeling badly, as if you were the one who did wrong and not her.”

Jonathan got up and went over to the couch where he sat down on the edge of it to face her. He took the slender hand that was over her forehead and held it, kissing the lids of her closed eyes, which she then opened.

“She’s my only child,” He whispered. “I hate when she’s mad at me, even when it isn’t justified. And besides, she looks so much like you, I don’t stand a chance. ”

At his mention of J.J.’s likeness to her, a quick picture of her in a white blouse on the back of a large horse flashed in Jennifer’s mind. The image flickered, then it was gone, and like looking directly into a camera flash; it left her momentarily blinded and squinting.

Witness only to her outward reaction, Jonathan leaned in even closer to her. “Jennifer, are you alright?”

Lightly rubbing at her eyes with her free hand, she requested, “Darling, would you call the kitchen and let them know that we won’t be down for lunch?”

Without question, he got up, made the call, and returned to the couch to lean back over her.

“What is it? Is it your head?”

“No.” She answered, slowly sliding her arms around his neck and bringing his face down to meet hers. “It’s my heart.”

“Your heart?”

She raised her head to lightly touch his. “I need to feel you closer to it.”

Unwinding her arms from around him, he stood and began unbuttoning his shirt enough to pull if off over his head.

“You know, you are absolutely right.” He said. “About my being a pushover, that is. All you have to do is let me know what you need, and I really do just go for it every time. I don’t stand a chance with you either.”

“But I’m not a petulant, pouting child. And you don’t have to buy me things or have to worry about your chances here. I’m easy.”

She slowly pushed back the blanket to let him see. “This, my love, is no long shot when it comes to you. It’s your sure thing.”

He had been anxious and curious to hear what Stephen told her, and he wanted to talk with her about it, but the lacy, shapely, freckled, sweet-smelling subject at hand was much more intriguing. And it was a sure thing that he would enjoy that a lot more.

“Damn.” Was all he could hoarsely whisper in response to her invitation as he joined her on the couch.

The story behind the passage could wait a while.

It would have to.

_______________________________________________________________

 

Shortly after dinner, Jazz answered the knock at the door, and was met by several youthful faces.

“What do you all want?” She asked with a hand on her hip, pretending to be annoyed, as she assessed the group of boys; two on crutches, one with his arm in an elaborate sling, and a fourth in a wheelchair.

“She up yet?” Asked one of the boys.

“Yes, she’s up.” Jazz answered. “But I don’t know if she’s up for company, and anyway, I don’t know if I want her meeting the likes of you.”

J.J., inside the room but her bed positioned so that she was behind the door, sat listening to the exchange.

“Aw come on, Miss Jones.” Another out of the group begged. “We just want to say “Hi” to her, and then we’ll go right back out.”

Jazz continued to stand fast, folding her arms. “I don’t notice that you guys go to all the trouble of washing your faces and combing your hair to meet a new guy on the floor. So what’s up with the Welcome Wagon this time?”

“Are you kidding? This is a girl! We got the word that she can’t walk, so since she can’t get down to the rec room, we came to meet her. Come on Miss Jones, just for a second. We waited like you told us to earlier. We saw her dinner tray get carried out, so we know she’s up.”

Jazz stuck her head around the door. “You feel like seeing anybody?”

J.J., bored and in need of something to do other than read the magazines Jazz procured for her and watching television, adjusted the hospital gown around her to make sure that she was decent. She wished that her own things would hurry up and arrive. Running her hands back over her hair to smooth it, she answered, “Just for a minute, I guess.”

Jazz opened the door to admit them and they entered one by one, approaching the side of her bed. When they were all there, in unison they greeted her, “Hi.”

J.J. smiled and simply said, “Hello.”

“I’m Alan, sixteen, broken leg, football.” The huskier boy on the crutches immediately offered. He gestured with his head toward the other boy on crutches. “That’s Ed, fifteen, hairline fracture tibia, skateboard. In the wheelchair is Ben, thirteen, broken leg and ankle, basketball; and the sling is Jake, fifteen, elbow trouble, bad slide, baseball.”

All the boys nodded or waved and gestured toward their respective injuries as Alan introduced them.

Amused even further by their apparent positive attitudes toward their assorted mishaps, she introduced herself, “I’m J.J., sixteen, sprained ankle, not looking where I was going, hole.”

They all laughed.

“So, you’re a jock, too?” Ben asked, rolling the wheelchair closer. “This is the jock ward.”

“I run track.” J.J. answered. “And I play tennis. That’s why I’m here. I have to let the ankle rest, and I wouldn’t do that at home so they locked me up in here. I feel kind of silly, though, looking at you guys. You’ve got it a lot worse than I do.”

“It’s all relative, J.J. Hart.” Alan said. “If you don’t take care of that ankle like you’re supposed to, you could be just as bad. And we’re all going to get better. We’re all getting fixed up. That’s why we’re here. So, what’s your quiet-time game? Monopoly, chess, checkers, dolls?”

“It doesn’t matter.” She answered. “I know how to play all of the ones you named. Except dolls. I don’t do dolls. And I don’t like to be stereotyped.”

“My mistake.” Alan immediately apologized with a mischievous grin, indicating that he had been trying to goad her.

“You play cards?” Ed asked. “I like cards. Gin is my game.”

“A little.” Was her soft-spoken answer.

“They play cards a lot here.” Jake said. “I usually do too, but it’s not so easy with one hand.” He pointed to his sling. “I got pins in my elbow right now. But if you want to play, I can show you, and you can play my hand for me.”

“That would be nice.” J.J. answered sweetly. “Maybe I could pick up a few pointers while I’m here.”

“Alright, you guys.” Jazz announced. “That’s it for today. You all can hook up tomorrow. J.J. needs her rest and so do you.” She walked to the door and opened it. “Let’s go. She’ll see you all tomorrow.”

Slowly, they ambled, rolled, hopped to the door calling, “See you, J.J.!”

Smiling, she waved goodbye to them.

She’d ‘play’ Jake’s hand for him alright. That Alan had one coming for trying to get her with that ‘dolls’ comment. She hoped Marnie was able to get small bills.

_______________________________________________________________

“I thought Jonathan was going to die.” Pat laughed as she and Bill entered their bedroom upon returning to Briarwood from visiting J.J. in the hospital. “We got off that elevator and all those boys were coming out of J.J.’s room. He thought he was putting her away for safe-keeping but instead, it looks like he just made more of a headache for himself. Guys just love that girl. That’s how it was with Jennifer; she attracted a lot of attention. Only J.J. is worse because she’s one of them. Jen would shake them off or ignore them, and eventually they got the message and left her alone. J.J. just blends right in with them, and they love her all the more for it.”

“Stephen was just as bad as Jonathan.” Bill remarked with a snicker as he took a seat in the side chair. “He stopped right there in his tracks when he saw them. I bet he gave that pacemaker of his a real good workout right then. The funniest thing was when Jennifer saw both of them and  put her hands on her father and her husband at the same time. She didn’t have to say a word; they knew to leave it alone. I really like her style with how she handles J.J., hell, how she handles everybody for that matter. She lets J.J. be herself, doesn’t just shut her down when it comes to that sort of thing, or let anybody else do it either. J.J.’s getting to be so pretty these days that she gives poor old Jonathan the blues, but you know Jennifer’s watching it and that she has a handle on it. When J.J. does get out there on her own, she is going to be one hell of a woman. A real tough number in every way, but especially on the heart.”

Pat came out of the closet from hanging up her dress. “Jennifer’s a very smart and savvy woman. She doesn’t pull any punches with J.J. Consequently, she’s raising a very smart, assertive, savvy little girl.”

She came over to Bill and took a seat on his lap. “She was real nervous about having that kid when she found out she was pregnant, but it’s worked out just fine. They’ve been good for each other, even though they’ve had their moments. She’s kind of hard on J.J. at times, but it’s usually over the things that she needs to be on her about. I’ve been working on Jennifer lately, myself,  trying to get her to see that she can ease up some. She’s gotten J.J. to the place she needs to be. She can lighten up on her, but I don’t think she knows it yet.”

Bill wrapped his arms around her and nuzzled her cheek. “Jonathan worried a lot about Jennifer, too, during that time.” He said. “He thought at first that she might not want to go through with the pregnancy even though it was so late when she found out. You and Jennifer are so close; he figured you two would know how to get around that if she wanted to.”

Pat pulled back in surprise. “Did he really think that we would conspire against him like that? I didn’t know that you two talked about things like that. Do you mean to tell me that you two actually discussed us doing that to him? How could he think she’d do that?”

Bill could only shrug his shoulders.

She twisted around to look at him and folded her arms. “I cannot believe you guys.”

Realizing that he might be messing up, he tried to explain it to her.

“Women, especially strong ones like you and your friend, have no idea how intimidating you can be at times. Especially when one of us guys is hopelessly in love with you. Reason flies right out the window. He was just panicked and scared and caught between a very real rock and a hard place. He loved her so much, but he wanted that baby an awful lot too. He knew that he couldn’t force her into it, he didn’t want to try to talk her into it, but he didn’t want her to do anything other than have it either. It got to the place where he was scared to talk to her about it or even touch her, at first. He knew she didn’t want kids, and he got scared that she’d terminate the pregnancy, using her age at the time as an excuse. And you two are so smart and well-connected that you’re scary sometimes. I know that you probably can’t see that intimidating part, but the reality is you can get anything done. I mean, look how fast that guest house is coming together. You started it, and she came right in and picked right up. Look at all that you and Jennifer had done with your lives during a time that it was supposed to be a man’s world. You have to admit, Pat, it was a reasonable fear. I was a little afraid that she would do it too.”

Pat wanted to be angry, but even she had to concede that it was a realistic thing for Jonathan to have considered at that time. Contrary to what Bill had said, she knew only too well how intimidating she could be, and Jennifer, in her own quiet way could also be, especially at times that she felt her back was against the wall. It was for sure that if Jennifer had wanted to do it, one or the other of them could have arranged for the procedure, either in the states or abroad. They knew the ways, had the means, and if that had been Jennifer’s decision, she wouldn’t have said a word. It would have been her own private matter. She would have arranged for it, had it done, and no one would have been the wiser, not even her husband.

“Well,” She sighed, relaxing and unfolding her arms to lean back into Bill’s arms once again. “It was all Jennifer’s call anyway. By the time she finally let me in on her being pregnant, she was at least four, I think maybe even five going into six month’s gone; way too late to do anything else. If it had been anyone else’s baby, she might have done that. But no way would she  have done that to Jonathan. Even if  she had come to me with it, I’d have tried to talk her out of it myself, but she made up her own mind. When she called me up trying to whine, I had to curse her out as it was. I always wanted children myself, but I lost that one baby, and then it couldn’t happen after that. My best friend having one was the next best thing. And every time I look at that little girl, I know she made the right choice for Jonathan and for herself. That child was supposed to be. Just like you and me. In fact, when you think about it, it was J.J. was who got us together in the first place. Remember that first time? That night at the hotel after her Christening?”

“Yeah.” Bill grinned. “We told Jonathan and Jennifer we were going to the movies. It was quite a show all right.”

“Well, we actually did start out going to the movies. We just ended up being the stars in our own. A double feature, if I’m recalling it correctly.”

Bill pinched her lightly in the side. “Then you told Jennifer that you couldn’t stand me. That I was arrogant and conceited.”

Pat had to snicker. “I had to throw her off. She kept asking me what happened. And how do you know what I said?”

Bill held up his hands. “She told Jonathan. Jonathan couldn’t wait to tell me.”

Once he broke the kiss they shared,  Bill asked, “Hey Pat, what do you think our kid would have been like? I mean, if we had a girl?”

“Marnie.” Pat smiled back at him without hesitation. “And if so, you’d be bald now instead of having that head full of salt and pepper, and we’d be divorced because of her.”

Bill shook his head. “No I wouldn’t, and no we wouldn’t. If I was her Daddy, some of that brass would be toned down by now. I never had any trouble out of T.J. or Peter. But then again, if you were her mother and she was my daughter, you’d be the one dealing with her like Jennifer does with J.J. and I’d be like Jonathan, just having a good time spoiling the shit out of her. Marnie’s awfully cute. You got any idea what she’s working on with her brother? They’ve been doing a lot of talking back and forth on that phone.”

“I think I might have a line on it, but she hasn’t said anything to me yet. I’m waiting for her to tell me. Since the jury’s still out, I won’t say what I’m thinking. Has Jonathan said anything more to you about that secret passage?

Bill slid Pat off his lap and stood up to remove his blazer. “No. I’m sure something happened with Jennifer down there, but he didn’t elaborate last night, or should I say this morning. I told you when they came past the room, she was looking a little disoriented, and he said he didn’t need help with her when I asked. I’d hoped we’d all talk about it at breakfast, but then J.J. and Jennifer didn’t come down, and we’ve all been scattered and separated most of the day. So far, he hasn’t said anything else to me about it, so I didn’t ask anything. I figure somebody will explain it to us when the time is right.”

“I’m so curious about it.” Pat said. “I wonder why it’s there.”

“We can’t pry. These big old houses always have some kind of secrets to them. Probably just storage space or something. You saw all that stuff Edwards had covered up down there.”

“I guess so.” She sighed. “Feel like getting the horses out and going out for a late ride before turning in?”

“Down to the lake?” He suggested. “Then maybe take the boat out for a while?”

“I’d love that.”

“Pat, are you sure you’re fine with this decision we’ve made about Farrell’s place. Are you sure you’re going to be happy there?”

“Absolutely.” She answered, removing her slip so that she could get into her pants. “Aren’t you?”

“Absolutely. I want to be where you are.” Coming up from behind her, he wrapped his arms around her again, suggesting, “Now, since we’ve gotten the rest of it in order, can we get some dates together?”

“A date together, you mean.” She said, turning in his arms to face him. “It is time, isn’t it?”

He smiled down at her, “Yeah.”

_______________________________________________________________

“You sure I can’t get into the shower?” J.J. asked, placing the face cloth over in the basin of warm water. “I cannot imagine going like this for another whole day and a half. Good thing I got in before I left home this morning. I won’t be able to stand myself at this rate.”

“J.J., you haven’t done anything to get break a sweat, much less get dirty.” Jazz answered as she gathered J.J.’s toiletries and placed them in the drawer. Then she carried the basin into the bathroom. “You’ve been in that bed all day. But it is nice to know that you like to be clean.” She called. “Even without the shower you want, you’re in a lot better shape than some of people. There are a few folks who are still into the ‘only on Saturday night’ thing.”

J.J. shuddered. “I cannot imagine.”

Leaning over the bed railing, she checked the vanity. The essential items were there: a few books her mother selected from the library on top; her cell phone, CD player, CD’s, the two decks of cards, her lucky dice, a roll of small bills, and her change purse in case somebody got cheap with the bets, in the drawer. Marnie hadn’t left out anything. While the adults had been talking, Marnie had been loading up the drawer. Taking out the phone, she closed the drawer and sat back.

“Are you all set for the night?” Jazz asked as she placed a lidded cup of ice water and a drinking straw on the tray table. “Is there anything else you think you want?”

“I’ve been to the bathroom. That’s all that matters to me.” J.J. answered. “I’m all straight out here.”

Going down to the foot of the bed, Jazz checked her ankle. “You have a very nice family.” She said. “You look just like your mother. She told me before she left to not let you be on the phone all night. She said that I could take your cell from you if I had to.”

“But you wouldn’t do that would you?”

“I will if you abuse it, but it won’t come to that, will it? This ankle is already looking a lot better.”

“That’s good. And it all depends on your definition of abuse.”

“If it rings all night and keeps me up, it’s abuse.” Jazz answered. “Well, if you don’t need anything, I’m going to turn in for a while. I’ll be in to check on you off and on.”

“Okay, thanks.” J.J. took the phone in hand and switched it to vibrate mode. It wouldn’t ring and disturb Jazz, there would be no abuse, and with Jazz in the other room; she could talk all night if she wanted to.

Checking her display for the first time in twenty-four hours, she could see that Wesley had called three more times, and she immediately dumped those. She’d had two calls from Teddy in Massachusetts. Fussing at herself for not checking earlier, she called his number, but there was no answer. Just to assure herself, she tried it again, but again there was no answer. Along with several other calls from Los Angeles, there had also been a couple of calls from home that she definitely had to return.

_______________________________________________________________

Hello

“What’s up, Tommy?”

 Hey, J.J.! Where you been? I’ve been calling you. You didn’t pick up, and I got worried. You always have your phone with you.

“I didn’t have it this time. I went to an emergency doctor’s appointment with Daddy first thing this morning, and I left it because I thought I was coming right back. But then he let them lock me up.”

Lock you up? Lock you up where? You in Maryland or back at home?

“I’m still in Maryland, but I’m in the hospital.”

The hospital! What happened to you? Hold on. I know what happened. You messed up that ankle some more, didn’t you? You did something crazy, and you messed it up bad, didn’t you?

“Tommy, I-”

Yes, you did. And your father got sick of you and had you locked all the way down. Well, no better for you, with your busy self. I been telling you that one day somebody was going to toss a net over you, and it’s finally happened. And you can’t say anything about it because your daddy did it, and he’s your boy. If he did it, it was justified, even if it’s killing you to admit it.

“Tommy Steele, I wish I cussed like Marnie. I’d let you have it, boy. You think you know everything.”

Well. I know one thing, girl, if you’re in the hospital, that means you can’t be off trying to get busy with your little mystery Ivy League boyfriend. I haven’t forgotten our last conversation. You need to just hurry up and get home. So what did you do to your ankle? It is your ankle, isn’t it?

“Yes, it’s my ankle. And it was just something dumb. I’ll tell you when I do get home. It’s a long, kind of crazy story. And about my so-called mystery Ivy-League, none-of-your-business boyfriend, there is no such person. I don’t have a boyfriend. I have friends. And for your information, I’m not interested in getting busy with anyone. I don’t even know why I let you try me like that. Nobody else in the world talks to me or does me like you do.”

I do it because I can. When are you getting out, and when are you guys coming home? I heard your father flew back there last night on emergency. Were you the emergency?

“You ask an awful lot of questions, Tommy. I called myself being courteous in returning your call. I thought it would be for some polite conversation, not the third degree.”

Whatever, J. It’s just us, so answer ’em. I only ask because I care and I miss you.

“Yeah, right. I have to be here in the hospital for two days, so I get out the day after tomorrow. I don’t know when we’re coming home. It depends on the guest house and how long it takes to get it fixed up. My father did come back here because of me, but that’s all I’m going to say about that. What’re you up to?”

I visited that construction site today that I was telling you about. The one my grandmother’s company is part of. She’s letting your father’s people handle the business end of it, so Marcus and I visited the site. It was the bomb, but it felt kind of funny knowing that my people are connected to it. Wish I was.

“Maybe one day, Tommy. If you want it bad enough, it’ll happen. One day you’ll have your own company, and you’ll build your own stuff.”

I hope you’re right. I’d love to build houses, I think. Big ones like yours. Big houses that are homes, not showplaces. And functional office buildings. Hey, how’s your mother? She okay with you being in the hospital?

“She’s fine, and I’m pretty sure she’s fine with it; I’m still here and breathing. I’ll be sure to tell her you asked about her.”

You don’t have to do that. Just forget I asked you anything about her.

“You’re so crazy, boy. I don’t know how you can be scared of my mother as big as you are. You’re twice her size.

Size don’t have nothing to do with it, girl. And I’m not scared of her; the lady just makes me nervous. Hold on, let me take this call.

“No. Go ahead. I’m tired, and I’m going to hang up. Good night, Tommy. I’ll talk to you tomorrow probably.”

Okay, good night, J. Take care of that ankle like they tell you to. Don’t be giving the people a hard time.

“Yeah, right.”

She clicked off and tried that Massachusetts number one more time. Still, there was no answer on the other end. Lying back, she figured that was a call that just wasn’t meant to be that night. There were several other numbers in memory to which she needed to return calls, but it was late and she was actually getting tired.

The thought of Tommy being afraid of her mother made her smile. He had always been that way about her. Remembering that night he and his friends crashed her sleepover, and him getting caught red-handed by her mother, bragging about how they had sneaked in behind a car that came through the gate, made her laugh quietly to herself. She could still see the shocked and terrified look on his face when they both turned that corner and there the Duchess was leaned up against that post on the patio with her hands stuck down in her pockets of her sweat pants, greeting him with, “Good evening, Thomas”.

He had gotten taken in to her father to get ratted out, but to her mother’s dismay, he ended up hustling pool in the billiards room as Jonathan Hart’s partner for the rest of the night. Tommy said they cleaned up.

She adjusted the pillows to make them flat, and lay her head back to try to go to sleep in that unfamiliar, antiseptic room, thinking that there was definitely no place like home- her room at home on Willow Pond.

Because of that thing on her ankle, she was unable to roll over onto her side the way that she was accustomed to sleeping. She lie there, staring at the ceiling, unable to completely relax her body right away, and her mind was still wide awake and at work, as well.

Her mother had made her feel uneasy while she had been there that evening. She seemed distracted, and didn’t say a whole lot to anyone. Even though she’d packed and personally delivered her things to her,  and it seemed like she’d taken the time to select things that she preferred to wear, her mother didn’t say very much directly to her  at all. When her father gave her those expensive jerseys he’d purchased, which she loved, there wasn’t a word said about him overindulging her like there normally would be in that situation. They had all been talking and laughing. Aunt Pat, Uncle Bill, and her father fussed over her, and Pa questioned Jazz until it was almost embarrassing, but there was a distance her mother kept between herself and the others in the room, including her. Even though she had kissed her when she got there and again before she left, it was as if it had only been a gesture on her mother’s part.

Was she that upset with her about everything?

There had been too many people in the room to try to corner her father or Aunt Pat to ask what was wrong with her. When she asked Marnie about it, Marnie said that she hadn’t noticed anything. But she also said that she had been with Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill all day and hadn’t seen that much of the Duchess. She also said that nobody was talking about what happened like she thought they would.

There was nothing that got on her mother’s nerves worse than not knowing where she was, or her getting into things that she knew that she shouldn’t. Her being down in that passage without permission or anyone in the house knowing where she had gone, had to be what the problem was. What else could it be? Certainly she couldn’t still be in a snit over those pictures.

It was out of character for Jennifer Hart to carry a grudge that long when it came to her. Normally she would just call her in, lay her cards on the table, read her the riot act about whatever the trouble was or what she had done, issue a stern warning or some form of punishment, and that would be it. Silence, and/or distancing herself was not her customary way of handling what she considered to be troublesome behavior, at least not for the length of time that it had been going on. But J.J. felt there was no mistaking the chilliness in her mother’s demeanor while she had been there in that room that evening.

And she kept looking at her so funny. Just like she had been looking at her that morning when she went into their bedroom to apologize. Kept narrowing her eyes like she was trying to figure her out or something. What was the deal on that?

Taking the phone in hand one more time, she pressed the speed-dial button for her mother’s cell, but before the signal could connect, she clicked off. She realized that she didn’t know what to say to her, or how to say whatever it was she first thought she wanted to say. She concluded that it was just that she wanted to hear her mother’s voice.

Telling herself that maybe she had just imagined all of it, she decided to go ahead and try to get some sleep. She put the phone down on the bed right next to her pillow, and closed her eyes.

_______________________________________________________________

While J.J. was going through her mental struggle at the hospital, Jennifer lie in her bed at Briarwood wrestling with her own thoughts. She was keeping very still, trying to allow Jonathan to fall all the way to sleep.

Ever since awakening that morning, she had been operating within a sort of fog, and had gone about her day feeling somewhat detached from everything and everyone around her. She started out uncertain of what happened the night before when she went looking for J.J. in the passageway, and that only been intensified once she heard her father’s explanation of its existence and his revelations of  her mother’s clandestine activities of long ago. Things further clouded with her own realization that she hadn’t really known the woman her mother had actually been.

The feeling of isolation eased during the sweet time she and Jonathan spent alone together that afternoon. Of course, there had only been the two of them in the world then, anyway.

But when she was awakened from the ensuing slumber by J.J.’s voice telling her, “Il est temps pour vous de se lever, Mama. Il est temps pour vous de m’aider.”, she found the fogginess returned, much thicker and murkier than before.

She heard herself drowsily asking J.J., “Time for what, Honey? What is it you want me to get up and help you with?”

But she opened her eyes to find Jonathan staring at her in puzzlement.

He didn’t ask, and she didn’t attempt to explain it to him, but since that moment, she had been trying to figure it all out.

While she had been sleeping, J.J. had been away from her in the hospital . Why had J.J. been chosen to wake her? Even if she was there, that child would never have come to personally get her up while she was in the bed with Jonathan- not unless the house was on fire. Even then, she probably would have stood and screamed at them from the doorway.

And why had J.J.’s voice been speaking to her in French? If J.J. wanted her to so something, she would have spoken in plain English so as to be completely understood straightaway. So, was it J.J. who really needed her to help her? Or was it someone else speaking to her through J.J.? If so, who? Why?

Even though Jonathan had been quick to tell her that she hadn’t found or seen J.J. in the passage, why did she still  have the nagging feeling that she had encountered her down there? Jonathan wouldn’t lie, but he would try to keep  something from her that he thought might be disturbing. If that were the case, what might that something be?

It was also odd how nobody other than Jonathan, not Pat, Bill, Walter, Rosa, or even her father had actually come out and asked what happened with her in the passage. Everyone had to know that she had gone down there, but nobody else outside of Pa had said a word to her about it. It was as if they had all been silenced or instinctively knew not to inquire. Dinner had been a dreamlike affair, with everyone strangely quiet and seemingly on edge.

Every single time that she looked at J.J. that day, the same disturbing, thought-provoking, gut-wrenching feeling returned. She could feel it every time J.J.’s blue eyes looked up to her, and it actually hurt to look back. At the hospital that evening, even though it was killing her to leave her there when it was time to go, she almost couldn’t wait to be away from her. It had been an inexplicable and inexcusable feeling which had nearly reduced her to tears once they were in the elevator to go back to the car.

Upon returning home, she’d twice reached for the phone to call J.J. to tell her that she loved her and to have a good night, but twice she’d stopped herself thinking that it was too late and that when she’d spied Marnie placing the other illicit items she’d brought into the top drawer of the vanity, she’d also seen the cell phone go inside there as well. J.J. probably wouldn’t hear the cell if it was still in the drawer, and she didn’t think the hospital switchboard would put a call through to her room phone at that hour. After all, she had been the one to inform the nurse of J.J’s nocturnal phone habits, and what to do about it. What would it look like if she were the one placing the call so late? How much grief would J.J. Hart give her about that?

When Jonathan had been breathing rhythmically, softly snoring  for a sufficient length of time, she eased his arm just enough from where it was draped over her for her to slide from the bed. She had put her clothes in J.J.’s room that afternoon in anticipation of what she was going to do as soon as the opportunity presented itself that night. Watching for any movement from him as she tiptoed across the room, she was relieved at not waking him as she opened the door and silently went out of it.

After closing herself inside J.J.’s room, she quickly dressed using the light from the flashlight that she had also left there. Then she went directly into the closet where she was momentarily thrown off by not finding the switch in the same place as it been in Marnie’s closet. But dropping to her knees, a quick visual inspection revealed that it was on the opposite baseboard. Standing, she tripped it with her foot, and was gone.

_______________________________________________________________

Through one half-open eye, Jonathan had watched as his wife left his side. He lie there unmoving, feigning sleep, giving her enough time to make her departure from the room. When she hadn’t returned after ten tense minutes, he knew where she had gone, and he turned on the light to sit up. Even though he had been expecting her to do that, he still had to fight the urge to get dressed and go after her right away.

According to what her father had said to him about her, and from what he had observed of Jennifer’s first confused and then distant behavior that day, whatever awaited her in that passage must be something she needed to see. Something was calling to her. It was even speaking to her in her sleep. He had never gotten around to asking her what her father had told her about the passageway.

And poor J.J. It was so evident that she had noticed the changes in her mother, and that she didn’t have a clue what to make of it. He knew that she was probably wondering and taking those changes personally. Jennifer ranked number one with J.J., and he was sure that the current state of affairs was confusing and hurtful to her, particularly since he’d removed her from the immediate situation. Once they returned from visiting her, it had been all he could do to not take a late walk by himself out onto the grounds, phone her, and try to explain it to her. But the story was too long, too complicated, and there were still too many loose ends.

He wanted badly to go back down there into the passage and more closely inspect that portrait of Suzanne Edwards himself. He too, had been startled by J.J.’s resemblance to her grandmother at that point in the woman’s life. In the brief look he had gotten, it was immediately apparent that J.J. had inherited her aura and carriage. But he had been more preoccupied by Jennifer’s strong physical reaction at the time to take as close a look at it as he had wanted.

After a time, he got up and went into the closet to start getting dressed. As he did, he cast his eyes down to the well-camouflaged switch in the baseboard of that closet. When it was time, to keep from alerting anyone else to his movements, he’d be leaving from there. Stephen said that if Jennifer made it to the guest house attic, she would need for him to be there for her. He would give her enough time to get there, and then like always, he would be there for her, if that was what she needed.

_______________________________________________________________

When she went in to conduct her 2:00 A.M. check, Jazz could not believe it when she found the cell phone buzzing, the display flashing, in the bed next to her young charge’s head. J.J. was sound asleep with her head turned in the opposite direction. Reaching past her, she picked it up and clicked it off, noting that the party was male and calling from a Maryland number. Then she placed it on the vanity next to the bed. She knew that J.J. was from Los Angeles, but figured a girl from her affluent, well-traveled background probably knew kids all over the country and that as pretty and personable as she was, many of them were probably boys. Before she left, her mother had taken her aside and mentioned that J.J. and her friends had no sense of time when it came to the phone, and that at home her round-the-clock phone use was a constant point of contention. She warned that since they were apart, there was the distinct possibility that J.J. and Marnie would be on that phone off and on all night.

It was nice to see J.J. so quiet and still. She had been up for most of the evening, and she’d said that she was unaccustomed to sleeping on her back, so it took her a while to drift off.

Jazz checked that ankle which had gone down even more, and then pulled the cover back over J.J.’s foot. On her way back out to her own room, as an afterthought, she picked up J.J.’s cell phone from the vanity and slipped it into her robe pocket. It would be a very good thing if the girl could sleep through the night without being disturbed. If the cell phone were with her, it’s going off couldn’t be a distraction, and since she had already disabled the ringer on J.J.’s room phone earlier that evening, that one wouldn’t be a problem either.

_______________________________________________________________

Once the wall closed back behind her, Jennifer stopped to take a seat on the bottom step of the half flight of stairs that led down from J.J.’s room, trying once again to recall what happened the night before. She idly wondered how often her mother had moved around down there. Where had she been going? Pa said that she’d worked down there. If so, what exactly had her role been? He said that she had designed the place to hide out with her child. What had her plan been? Where did it all lead? He said that they could escape from the house using that route. How?

Why did she have to die so soon? She had only been thirty-two years old.

Jennifer sat reminiscing that at thirty-two, she had only just begun to really live. She, Jonathan, and Max had been together for three years, and J.J. wasn’t even a distant thought at that point. She was still a part of life to come; a very integral part.

Even after some forty-odd years, there were still so many questions that hadn’t been answered, and that might never be answered.

When all she could remember of the night before was starting out going to the right and ending up at that other dark staircase that would take her down to the next level, wherever that was, she decided to first retrace those steps, to follow those fresh footprints on the floor and see where they led her.

_______________________________________________________________

Fully dressed, Jonathan sat on the side of the bed trying to kill time. Jennifer’s mother was calling her, and he had to give them some time. He was sure that this was what it was all about. It started at Gresham Hall, and since then all the right pieces had mysteriously fallen into place to bring Jennifer home to Briarwood, her mother’s last home.

As he sat there thinking of them, his mind once again went back to his own boyhood. But this time to how much he used to wish that someone would utter the words, “Charlie, your mother’s looking for you.” to him.

For as long as he could remember, he would get into trouble for leaving the grounds of the orphanage to play for hours with the other children in the neighborhoods surrounding the mission. It wasn’t that he would be trying to get away; it was just that he loved people so much, all kinds of people, and the world outside of Mission Street provided so many diverse opportunities. There were other children at the orphanage, but he knew all of them. They were almost like siblings except that they would come and they would go. Relationships would form and then they would be over. After a time, he was the oldest remaining of them which was just another harsh reminder to him of his unwanted status.

Every time he got the chance, he would slip off to spend the days with his numerous buddies on the streets of San Francisco. But at dinner time, the calling would start, and everyone would start wandering off toward their homes and their families, complaining of having to go. He would return to Mission Street wishing that someone other than the sisters and the other children would be waiting for him.

Upon his return, Sister Anastasia would most assuredly be waiting for him- at her desk in her office. She’d be wringing her hands and fussing, more than ready to put that ruler of hers to work. But somehow he always had the feeling that she was more relieved to see him than angry, and as time went by, increasingly reluctant to chastise him for that. When he got to be about eight or nine, and she could see that her punishments, corporal or otherwise, were not going to stop his forays into the world, she gave up and let him go his way warning him that before leaving he had better have completed his chores satisfactorily. He also had to keep his grades up, stay out of trouble, and be back in time for meals. He had kept up his end of the bargain, for the most part anyway, until the year he turned fifteen and it all started going bad. It was at that point Max stepped in.

Anastasia, despite her advanced age, was still running Mission Street with that same iron fist and will. She and Jonathan had become and remained good friends and had formed a partnership of sorts in the business of running the orphanage and the school, the St. Augustine Mission Street Academy. Jennifer and J.J. had pioneered a tutoring/mentoring program earlier that year at the Academy through the Mission Street Foundation, Jennifer’s philanthropic organization. J.J. and a few of her school friends tutored some of the children after school. Jennifer had arranged for community volunteers to work as mentors to some of the older children.

The Reverend Mother gave the unconventional, free-spirited J.J. the blues with her high expectations and rigid set of rules. That she so aggravated J.J., tickled Anastasia to no end. She got a kick out of watching J.J. bite her tongue solely out of respect and her upbringing. Then when the old nun saw him, she would be in tears telling him about it. She said that she could see his same adventurous spirit reincarnated in that girl. She had a high regard for J.J. and her mother, their group, and the work all of them were doing.

As far as he was concerned, J.J. Hart was a little bit of everybody, but a whole lot herself, and he was increasingly proud of that little girl he loved so much.

He almost laughed out loud when he thought about how, as a little boy, Anastasia had often suggested to him that he might want to consider the priesthood. He had been a good boy, a good student, and a seemingly devout Catholic for a time. Through Anastasia, he knew all of the priests, the Monsignor, even the Bishop of the Archdiocese, and they were all well acquainted with him. Despite his youth, in his heart he had always known that the priesthood wasn’t for him. But it wasn’t until that time when he was twelve and got caught by an usher in the balcony at the local theatre, in a very compromising position with fifteen-year-old Mary Ellen Wisocki, who at the time was busy showing him a few things, that Anastasia had to admit to admit to herself and to him that a religious career probably wasn’t in his future. As far back as he could remember, he had always been fascinated by and attracted to the opposite sex. He didn’t remember ever going through a period where he didn’t like girls.

He wondered what Jennifer been like as a little girl. He figured that she had probably been quiet, smart, and deceptively soft. Most likely she had been a closet spitfire in the right set of circumstances, much like she was as a woman. As a girl, she would have been five years younger than he was at the time, so he probably wouldn’t have looked twice at her until she was at least fifteen or so, and if so, he would have been a man and she, a child.

Like J.J. was to Wesley.

If that had been the case, would he have been as desperate to get close to her as Wesley seemed to be with J.J.? Probably not. Jennifer would have not only been jailbait, but she would have been way out of his league, and her father would have killed him for even trying to speak to her. It wouldn’t have just been because he was a grown man interested in his little girl, after all Stephen had been five years older than Jennifer’s mother who was sixteen at the time they met. But Stephen’s concern would probably have been one born of social consciousness. Her father would have considered him a ‘guttersnipe’ compared to her. If it weren’t for the money, his business, the social position that the former provided, and his ability to take care of Jennifer as well, or maybe even better than her father, Stephen would probably still consider him not good enough. It was for certain that in the beginning, his background hadn’t stood him in good stead with the man.

He wondered if Jennifer would have cared about that if they had met when she was twenty and he was twenty five, before good fortune took such a fancy to him. Somehow, he didn’t think so. They might not have married, but they definitely would have been lovers. The sensual attraction between them had been natural and right there from the start.

Every time he thought about that first evening on the town they spent together in London, when he’d taken her up to his suite at the Ritz with the thought of capping it all off by spending a marvelous night of lovemaking with that luscious, fascinatingly delightful redhead, only to have jet-lag completely overtake him, he still felt a twinge of embarrassment. Any other beautiful woman in her position might have been insulted and lost interest after he’d fallen asleep on her like he had on Jennifer that night. But that girl knew a good thing when she met one, and he did too. When something was right and was meant to be, it would be. There was no stopping it. If she hadn’t come back that next morning, he’d have scoured the earth looking for her.

They had been like two heat-seeking missiles and it had been worth that brief delay on all levels. When they did finally get together, the fireworks were phenomenal. They became one in every sense of the word that first time, and the fireworks were still going strong.

His mind drifted back to Wesley and J.J., and “The hell if that’s so.”, Was his immediate thought. “If it’s not what she wants, it won’t be.”

That was his biggest problem with that situation. He did have a problem at the moment with Wesley being older. It might not matter as much farther down the line. But the bigger issue was that the boy wouldn’t take no for an answer. Being a gentleman was in his nature, and he had always been disturbed by guys who thought they had to force themselves on women or who felt they had to play the heavy in a relationship. In the Navy, he had seen a lot of that macho posturing, and had been sickened by it. Misusing women and discounting their right to choose with whom they wanted to be wasn’t something he allowed to happen in his presence, and he would be damned if it was going to happen to his daughter. After listening to those messages Wesley left on J.J.’s machine, he knew that situation would definitely have to be dealt with once they returned to L.A. The boy hadn’t said anything out of the way, but his persistence was alarming. Addressing it would be the first order of business. He had planned on handling it before returning to Maryland, but J.J.’s going missing the night before had nixed that.

Slowly standing, he stretched his entire body from head to toe. Then he reached for the flashlight which was lying on the bed and headed for the closet. The situation at hand was Jennifer, and it was time to go looking for her.

_______________________________________________________________

Having passed the other rooms and stairs, watching the footprints on the floor, Jennifer could see what she missed the night before, and what Jonathan had apparently missed as well: the point at which J.J. had stopped and gone back before reaching the unused staircase to the next level. Looking for it, she could clearly where see J.J.’s bare toes had turned to head back, and that hers and Jonathan’s continued on. Continuing to follow their original path, she reached that set of stairs for which she had been aiming and turned right back around as they and their footprints had before, She noted, though, that she had the option at that point of continuing on straight ahead or going down those stairs.

Using the motion lights to see her way, she quickly passed the rooms she’d gone by on her way up, once again reaching J.J.’s room from where she had entered. Curious, she went back up the stairs to see if indeed there was no way to get back in. Shining the flashlight over the walls and down into the corners, she could see nothing that could be used as a switch or control to reopen the wall. Since getting back in wasn’t her most urgent goal, she decided to table that and keep following the footprints on the floor.

As she walked, she marveled once again at the workmanship and thought that had gone into designing that place, this time with the new appreciation that her mother conceived of the idea and why she had done it. The house was almost sixty years old, and the passageway had been built of wood, but  aside from the dust it was still solid and completely functional.

The parallels were also intriguing. When J.J. had been a baby and she and Jonathan were fresh off those ‘things’ in which they had once involved themselves, she had worried mightily about someone coming after them, and what she would do if she found herself alone in that situation with the baby. The knowledge that could take J.J. down to that place behind the bar that led down to that secret underground vault they had discovered by chance years back, always gave her an added sense of security. They could either hide down there or get out through that place in the wall. After the fire, Jonathan had that feature reinstalled behind the bar when he had the house reconstructed. Never really afraid for herself; she just wanted J.J. out of harm’s way and would do whatever it took to insure that. Apparently her own mother had felt the same way.

And if she had been loved by her mother then as much as J.J. was loved by her mother now…

She could see the shadows of something large ahead of her. She turned the flashlight back on and the flashing of images in her head began as well.

J.J. on a horse… The roaring fireplace in her father’s den… Books, lots and lots of books… A big horse… A powerfully big horse…

Sinbad.

It was Sinbad.

J.J. had been riding Sinbad.

Sinbad had been her mother’s horse; a splendid mahogany-colored Arabian that was ridden and cared for solely by her mother. She was told that he had been a housewarming gift from her father to her mother, and he had been hers for as far back as she could remember.

She hadn’t thought about him for so long…

He disappeared shortly after…

It all started flooding back when the motion lights and the flashlight beam lit up that desk and the things she had seen before. It wasn’t J.J. she’d seen. It was…

She shined the beam down alongside the desk toward the wall.

Staring back at her once again was Suzanne Edwards astride Sinbad. She was wearing that white blouse that shamelessly showed off her toned cleavage and her shapely form. She was very young, looking  remarkably like J.J. Hart with her long, thick red hair flying loose and free as she crested that back hill on the west side of Briarwood.

Her knees once again weak at the sight but better prepared to look upon it, Jennifer dropped down into a squat and shined the light directly onto that portrait which had been missing for over forty years.

Just as the picture itself had been hidden away down there all those years, the memory of it had been tucked away in her mind. She recalled that it once hung over the fireplace in her father’s book-filled study, in the place that her own wedding portrait now occupied. Looking upon it, she was filled with wonder. The resemblance between her mother and her daughter was amazing. It wasn’t just a physical similarity. The strength and self-confidence that emanated from the woman in the portrait reminded her immediately of J.J. To know that her mother and her daughter would never meet to see it for themselves, and realizing how much they all had missed when their circle had been broken so long ago eased her wonder to grief.

Rocking back to sit on her heels, she began slowly putting the night before back together. This place was where she had ended her journey. She was down from her father’s room and the things that were there were his things. That was his door at the top of those stairs, and he was probably asleep or reading on the other side. But try as she might, she still could not recall Jonathan having been there or them going through that door to get back inside.

Shortly after the accident, things had started disappearing from the house. She surmised that under all that cloth were the pictures, portraits, and reminders of her mother that had been removed. Closing her eyes, she could picture her father and Walter sadly gathering the things and bringing them down there bit by bit.

With her eyes still closed, she traveled back to the day that she reluctantly returned with her father from that second service, the one held in France.

She first thought that she would be left to live with Aunt Sabrina. Certainly her father didn’t expect her to go back with him; he was never home. But her father did make her leave Sabrina and come with him. When they returned to Briarwood, she found that when they lowered her mother’s coffin into the ground and left her there in the cemetery, all of her had been left completely behind.  In their absence, all her had been removed, the house had been completely purged. Although she’d waited for him to say something to her about it, her father offered no comment on it at all. It was as if her mother hadn’t ever been there or even existed.

She’d raced up to her own room, and was relieved to find that her father must have forgotten about her personal photograph collections because those albums were still there in her closet. To keep him from getting to them and putting them away as well, she wrapped the books in plastic and secreted them out to the stables for safekeeping. They stayed there in the loft for years, until she felt comfortable enough with him bring them back inside to her new bedroom, the one she had chosen for herself after returning home from that funeral trip to France.

J.J. now occupied that first room, the childhood bedroom where she’d spent that first chapter of her life; the room to which her mother would often come in the night to check on her. Once her mother was no longer there, that room seemed behind her as well, and it, too, had been left in her past.

And then there was the matter of Sinbad.

Standing graveside, not hearing anything that was being said by the priest who was droning some final prayer, she made a silent promise to her mother to look after him and her German Shepherds for her, knowing how much she’d loved those animals. After their return to the States, she had gone out to the stables that next morning to take Sinbad out onto the paddock to work him as her mother would and to get him accustomed to her, after which she planned to feed him and brush him down. But when she got there, she found his stall empty and that all of his gear had been removed. All of her life, he had been there; his things had been there. Most mornings her mother could be found there with him, talking to the hands, or talking to one of the owners of the horses she used to board there. Even Sinbad’s name was gone from over the stall door, although the outline of the brass letters remained, faded into the sun bleached wood.

In shock, she turned around to the groom and the stable hands to question it, but all of them were pretending to be busy. She could tell that they were averting their eyes from her.

She didn’t ask. Instead she got on her own horse, Sweet Sue, and rode the countryside all day long. It had been dark a long time by the time her father caught up to her. When he found her, that was when she realized that it was night.

He had always been a big, quiet man and had become even more quiet in those dark days. In that set of circumstances, he had become almost forbidding to her. He wasn’t angry that night that he came to find her. He wasn’t angry on any of the other nights after that when he had to ride out to find her. She never dared to ask him what became of Sinbad or her mother’s dogs.

As she knelt there recalling that morning, the feeling of being afraid of and intensely angry with him also eased back over her. She remembered trying to stay away from him and away from everyone else. For the first time in her life, she didn’t want to be at school. She didn’t want to be anywhere. If no one knew where she was, then they couldn’t tell her father, and  if he couldn’t catch up to her, then he couldn’t put her away from him too. But eventually, he did catch up to her and he did put her away.

That day that they parted at Gresham Hall, he spoke to her of his need for her to be a big girl, and of them having to be strong and them working together on getting past it. “It” was what he said. He said they had to do it together. But how in the hell could they do that? They wouldn’t be together. They didn’t speak of her mother when he was talking. In fact, terrified and blindingly angry, she hadn’t been able to say anything at all. She was determined that he wouldn’t see her cry, and to open her mouth would have been opening the floodgates. So, it ended up with him just saying what he had to say and then he left. Not once had he asked her what she wanted or what she needed. It wasn’t his way.

“It” had happened. Her mother and everything that was her were gone. Sinbad was gone. Her father was gone, and she had been left all alone. Life as she knew it, was gone. When that door to Suite #1 of Waverly House closed behind him, she’d felt for just that moment that she was all alone in the entire world.

But that was when the bathroom door opened and Pat emerged from where she had obviously been eavesdropping. They had never met before, had never spoken a word to each other, but she came right over and sat down next  to her on the bed, placing her bony hand on top of hers.

Since that day, neither of them had been alone. Through bad times and good, they had never let go of one another. Even in that very worst of times, she knew that she could count on Pat even though she never shared the details with her or with anyone.

Her own hand crept to her chest and she realized that it hurt; it hurt so much to even breathe. Tears were coursing down both cheeks, and the pain doubled her over.

When she recovered enough to raise her head, looking around herself she reflected that this was her father’s place. Maybe it had been their place. Jonathan said that her parents had been traditionalists: he worked and she stayed home to raise the child.  Had her father ever let her mother be anything other than his wife and helpmate? Did she know that she was someone else outside of being a wife and a mother? Did she know how smart she really was?

Some things took a while to become apparent to a person. Had she lived long enough to know who and what she was and what she wanted? It sounded as if her father knew how intelligent she had been, but she wondered if he ever let her know that he knew it. Had he said it to her? If he did know it, did he come to that realization before or after the fact?

Judging from the relative cleanliness of the area, and the papers she recalled seeing on his desk, her father still used this place with some regularity. Perhaps it was where he came to be close to the love of his life. Apparently Suzanne Edwards had been that; he’d said as much, and he had kept her down there all to himself, just as she had kept her tucked away too. It was at that moment that she concluded with finality that he and Dean Marchand were just friends. The Dean might have wanted more, but he had not. The opportunity had been there, but apparently he hadn’t taken advantage of it, and her father had proven that he was a man who made his own choices and his own way in life.

It was good to know, however, even so long after it happened, that he hadn’t really left her alone. He’d left her in the care of his dear friend, Agnes. The realization was strangely comforting.

Sighing, and wiping at her eyes and face with her hand, she concluded that it was all old business, mostly her parents’ business, and not hers. Nothing about any of it could be changed, and the wonderfully full life that she had been leading for the past twenty-five years more than made up for any and all of the old hurt. From that entire painful experience, she had learned a valuable lesson that she’d carried with her for life; to be self-sufficient, to take care of and love herself.

Feeling as if an old, tiresome burden had been put down and left by the side of the road, she decided that she didn’t want to look at anything else there. It was time to walk away from it and to push on.

Picking up the flashlight, she approached the painting to stand over it.

“Is this why you brought you me home? Is this why you kept waking me up?” She whispered. “Now, what do I need to help your granddaughter with, Mother? Are you going to show me that too?”

Then she smiled at the thought of sensible, level-headed Jennifer Edwards Hart standing there talking to a painting and almost expecting an answer to her questions. She kissed the tips of two fingers and placed them to her mother’s canvas cheek.

Turning off the flashlight beam she draped the cloth back over the painting and walked away, back the way she had come, going toward that staircase going down, and she hoped, out.

_______________________________________________________________

On the other end, Jonathan was down onto the walkway. He, too, started out in the same direction as he had the night before, taking the time on this trip to stop at each set of stairs that led up to a closet. He looked for disguised switches, loose bricks, the odd piece of wood- anything that might be, or could possibly be hiding, a device to reopen one of the closet walls. It didn’t make sense to him that there wouldn’t be a way to get back in.

By the time he got back around to that staircase where he and Jennifer had turned back, he hadn’t been successful in finding anything that even remotely looked like it would serve that purpose. The dust on those stairs and railings still appeared undisturbed, and that let him know that Jennifer had not gone that way. The floor beyond that point bore no signs of her having gone on ahead on the walkway. She had to have turned back. That, for him added up. She was a methodical thinker, and even if she didn’t recall the details, she would have followed the evidence of her previous trip down there. That meant that she had gone back in the direction of her father’s secret office and that portrait that the sight of it caused her to pass out.

Even though he was anxious about Jennifer’s well-being, the mystery of what was down those stairs beckoned loudly to him. His curiosity quickly getting the best of him, he took the chance. At about halfway down, the flashlight beam revealed that there was a wooden door at the bottom. Reaching it, he grabbed the handle, yanked it open and had to abruptly catch himself to keep from slamming into the brick wall that faced him. It was a false door and a false lead. It was also a waste of precious time.

Thinking of Jennifer and that portrait again, he ran back up to the top of the stairs and followed the footprints in the dust on the wooden floor.
_______________________________________________________________

He didn’t stop, didn’t deviate again from the walkway. Moving stealthily, like a swift panther in the dim lighting that flashed off and on as he passed, he nearly knocked Jennifer down when he met up with her as she turned a corner that he was quickly approaching.

“Jonathan!” She cried, stopping short and jumping back, her hand over her heart “What are you doing here? I keep telling you, you’re going to kill me walking up on me and startling me like that!”

Feeling badly about being the cause of her shock, and also having seen her tell-tale teary eyes, he took her in his arms for a few moments and rubbed her back to help her calm down.

“I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.” He apologized. “I didn’t mean to scare you. You were gone from the room, and I knew that you had come back down here. I just came to find you. Are you alright?”

“I found her.” She quietly explained after composing herself, wiping her wet face on his shoulder to keep him from seeing her tears.

“Who?”

“My mother. It’s was an old portrait of her, One I haven’t set eyes on in ages, but Jonathan, it’s absolutely amazing, almost frightening. J.J. looks so much like her.” She looked up questioningly to his face. “That’s what I saw before, didn’t I? When I kept thinking that I had seen J.J.?”

He nodded.

“What happened to me after that? Please tell me. I need to know.”

“You fainted.” He said. “I think it shocked you that time.”

“This time too.” She affirmed. “Maybe that’s why I was so sure that I saw J.J. down here. I was looking for her and found that painting instead. It must have gotten all jumbled up in my head when I passed out. She was so beautiful and J.J. is so much like her.”

“What else was down there?” he anxiously asked, very curious about the covered items outside of her father’s room.

Much to his disappointment, she answered, “I don’t know. I didn’t look. Those are my father’s things. I didn’t want to go through them.”

Stepping out his embrace, she looked all around him. “How do we get out of here? Did you see those stairs back there that went down to the next level?”

“Yeah, I saw them.” he answered, taking her hand. “They go right down to a door which leads right into a brick wall. As I was feeling my way around, I looked for ways back in; checked out each one of those staircases leading down from the closets, but I couldn’t find anything. You know something? Your father’s door/wall/whatever didn’t close automatically like the others. When I got here last night, he was down here with J.J. and that wall was still open. It seems like all the others close once you get on the stairs. His must operate differently. I bet that’s probably the master unit for the whole system. Let’s take a look there.”

With her hand tightly gripped in his, he started off, but she pulled him back.

“No.” she declared. “Not his room. I don’t want him to know I’ve been back down here and to think that I was snooping through his belongings. There has to be another way. I really don’t want to bother him.”

“Well,” He said with a mischievous, suggestive grin. “We could always knock on Pat and Bill’s wall. They’ve got to have the same mechanism in their closet and they could let us back in. Feel like breaking up something?”

She suppressed a snicker. “No. I would hate to have someone do that to us. Let’s just have a look around. There has to be a way out. We’re together; it’ll be fun. Just like old times.”

He winked at her in agreement and they turned to go back the way he had come. When they reached the staircase which led to the false door, they kept going.

_______________________________________________________________

Standing at the back wall of her closet waiting for it to open, J.J. marveled at the fact that she couldn’t feel pain in her ankle when she stood on it to use her other foot to push down on the switch. It felt like all was back to normal. As soon as it slid open just wide enough for her to slip her slender frame through, she bolted. She’d left Marnie behind, asleep in her bed, for a couple of reasons other than her being scared of the dark. Not knowing what she was going to find, she didn’t want to be divulging family secrets, not even to her best friend. And secondly, she needed someone to let her back in once she returned. With Marnie still in her room, she could do what she had to do, then call her on the cell that she slept with, and get her to let her back in through that closet.

Once she was down on the walkway, however, she momentarily hesitated, trying to decide if she wanted to go back to that area outside of her grandfather’s room or if she wanted to go in the other direction, the exploration of which she had cut short on her first trip.

The things she had seen, but hadn’t really had time to actually look at, outside of her grandfather’s room were too intriguing to pass up. She wanted to conduct a closer, unsupervised inspection of those certificates and medals. She also wanted to take a peek at what could be hidden underneath all those dust covers. Everything that she had ever been taught told her that it was wrong for her to go back there. Her grandfather had told her himself that it was his secret, private office, but it was as if she had no control over it. Reason went by the wayside, her parents’ teachings evaporated; she had to go back. She had to see for herself. The decision having been made, she took off, headed in that direction.

The flashlight was in her hand, but she didn’t have to use it. Since she wasn’t being hampered by her ankle, she was able to move fast enough that the motion lights were keeping the way well enough lit for her to see where she was going. She was fairly flying, knowing full well that she had to move fast to keep from being discovered missing from her room by her mother. She rounded corners, breezing past the other rooms and their respective stairs until she was coming up on the area that she was seeking.

As she got closer, though, she noticed that the overhead lights no longer flickered on as she passed under them. The passageway ahead was in complete darkness. Not even shadows of what was ahead could be seen, just like on that first trip she had taken down there. Not wanting to stumble and fall as she’d done before, and thereby alerting her grandfather of her return or hurt her ankle again, she switched on the flashlight and was stopped in her tracks at the sight.

There before her stood Jennifer Hart dressed in her riding gear, hands on her hips, her legs apart, looking at her with that strange, unreadable stare. It almost looked as if  she could see right through her, as if she weren’t really looking at her at all, but at something beyond her. Unnerved and frightened by her unexpected presence, the look in her eye, and by what she might do to her in light of her blatant disregard for her grandfather’s privacy and the rules, she turned to run away. But, her escape was blocked by another woman, an older, very beautiful aristocratic looking woman whom she immediately recognized. She too was staring that same strange stare, only she was looking directly at her, and appeared as if she were about to say something to her.

“J.J.! What’s wrong, Sweetie? Wake up!”

The voice belonged to Jazz. Opening her eyes, J.J. looked directly into her face as she leaned over the bed. She could feel that the woman was holding her down onto the bed, pinning her back by her shoulders.

Her face full of concern, she released her and asked, “What in the world were you dreaming?”

All J.J. could think of was what she had seen, and that once again, she had been stopped from getting to know her grandmother. She could feel tears of frustration, regret, and embarrassment welling in her eyes, and she turned her head to look for her phone and to keep Jazz from seeing her cry.

“My mother.” She answered, groping for the phone and secretly wiping at her eyes. “I need to call my mother.”

Jazz reached for J.J.’s searching hands and gently held on to them, speaking soothingly. “It’s okay, J.J. Whatever happened, it was just a dream. It’s three in the morning. Your mother is probably asleep.”

“I need to call her anyway.” J.J. persisted, still looking onto the bed while Jazz continued to hold her by the hands. “I need my phone. It was right here.”

Jazz let one of J.J.’s hand go and wiped the perspiration from her forehead,  smoothing back the tendrils of hair that had escaped from the band which held her ponytail while she had been thrashing around in her sleep.

“Calm down.” She urged. “It was just a dream. I have your phone. It was buzzing earlier this morning, and I didn’t want it to wake you up. Whoever it was can call you back at a more decent hour. Go back to sleep. I promise you that you can call your mother the first thing in the morning when you wake up again.”

More lucid by that time, J.J. asked, “So who was calling me when the phone went off? Can I see?”

Jazz had moved down to the foot of the bed to check on the ankle device and to pull the covers back over her foot. “I don’t know.” She answered. “It was a local number. James Farrell? Who’s that? Your boyfriend?”

“Farrell? Mr. Farrell? I don’t think so, Jazz. He has to be almost as old as my grandfather. I wonder why he would be calling me?”

“Well, it was around two o’clock A.M. The call came from his house. He got a son, a grandson, or something?”

J.J. had to laugh. “His son is too old to be calling me too. He’s about fifty, and my Daddy would take him out for sure if it was him calling me. He doesn’t even like guys my own age looking at me. I don’t know about any grandson. Farrell just boards my horse and my family’s horses. Our families have known each other for years, but I don’t know them personally like that. I wonder what was up on that?. Maybe it was Marnie. Maybe they stayed over. My Aunt and Uncle who you met when they came to see me are buying old man, Farrell’s place from him.”

Jazz returned to the head of the bed. “Well, whatever. I wasn’t letting whoever it was talk to you at that time of the morning. Here.”

She took the phone from her robe pocket and handed it to J.J. “Go back to sleep. And wait until morning. Don’t be bugging your mom right now.”

“I’ll wait ’til morning.” J.J. said, tucking the phone back next to her pillow. “She’d let me have it good for waking her up this early telling her I just wanted to hear her say ‘Hi’ to me.” She looked sheepishly up at Jazz. “I have it on good counsel that I’m kinda spoiled, as you can probably see. Basically, I guess I’m a Daddy’s girl, but I love my Mama like crazy. She’s mad at me right now, and it’s killing me. She can be a big, old pain sometimes, but she’s the one I always need.”

Jazz had to smile. The girl was precious, and her people did pay an awful lot of attention to her. It surprised her just a little that J.J. was asking for her mother. Of all the people in that room that previous evening, she got the feeling that Mrs. Hart was the only one of them who didn’t spoil and indulge her. If she had to pick any one of those adults who J.J. might have called for comfort after having had a bad dream, she would have picked Mr. Hart. He was a big, teddy bear of a man, and it was for sure that he loved and doted on that girl. It certainly wouldn’t have been that just-this-side-of-snob grandfather of hers. She didn’t get the feel that it was her race that was problematic for him. More than likely it was her age. Nobody of any color under the age of forty-five would have been good enough to nurse his granddaughter unless they had a Ph.D, a dossier full of prestigious references, and maybe a personal pedigree as long as his arm. His daughter had been the one to call him off when he had been questioning her so relentlessly.

“I wouldn’t blame her for letting you have it.” She told J.J. “I’d do the same thing if you called me for something like that at three in the morning. Try to go back to sleep, now.” She switched off the light over the bed and started back into her room, saying, “I’ll see you in a few hours.”

Closing her eyes, but no where near sleep, J.J. lie there thinking. In her dream, her mother had been standing in the way of her getting to her grandfather’s things which might have held the answers to the questions she had. She’d turned around and her grandmother had been right there behind her. She was going to tell her something. What was it she wanted to say? Why did the dream have to end before she could say it?

She made up her mind. The first chance she got, before they went back home to Los Angeles, without a doubt she was going back down there. She hadn’t been able to get what she needed from her grandfather. Her grandmother evidently had something to tell her, and she definitely wanted to hear what she had to say. After all, what did she have to lose? Jennifer Hart was already mad at her. She had apologized to her, told her that she loved her, but there she was in the dream, standing in the way.

_______________________________________________________________

Jennifer stopped in her tracks and dropped down onto the dusty wooden floor. Jonathan stood over her watching as she folded her legs under her with a flexibility that belied her age. It was indicative of that constant exercise regimen she had always maintained.

“I’m exhausted.” She sighed. “We’ve been walking around and looking for over an hour, and still we haven’t found a way down or back in. All we keep running into are false leads. What are we going to do?”

They had been wandering, just as she’d said, looking for an exit of some kind. They had come to three different staircases and all of them led down to no where. One had even led down to another door on another level, but once they reached it, they found that it too opened to a solid brick wall. There were a couple more of those staircases that led up to walls like their closet wall, but in both cases, as far as they could tell from where they were, there weren’t any rooms on the other side to which the walls would open. They appeared to be false leads as well. That level of the passageway was a puzzling maze of a place that seemed to have no way to get one off of it.

“We’re missing something.” He said, shining the beam from his flashlight all around them trying to find a clue that they might have passed up. “This thing was designed so that only somebody who knew how to get down here to escape would know the way out. Anyone else who might have gotten in coming behind them, or fooled around and happened to find themselves down here, like us, wouldn’t know the way out. You say your mother designed this?”

“That’s what Pa told me. He said that it was so that she could get me out of harm’s way if someone were to get past security and into the house. He said that she knew that there was a possibility of someone using us to get to him, and it was supposed to be her means of escape.”

“You’ve got one hell of a family history, Lady.” He said. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking it. You know me. I am thoroughly impressed here. I love this kind of stuff, and I’m proud to be married to the spies’ kid. I knew you were good, but I certainly did not know that it was genetic like this.”

Thinking of J.J., she asked, “Do you really think it might be genetic, Jonathan? You know, something that could be passed down through the generations for real?”

Picking right up on her line of thought, he answered, “Why do you think I stuck her in that hospital? We would have run smack into her down here tonight if she’d been at home. She can’t help it. She’s evidently got genes from all sides that make up that enquiring mind and raw nerve of hers. Even your father knows it. He was just about laughing over me leaving her at the hospital. He saw right through me. She’s just driven to do things like this; it’s out of her control. That’s how she ended up down here the first time. If she were here, even with that ankle, we’d all be wandering around here together right about now, trying to find our way out.”

Jennifer sighed. “As nosy and clever as she is, she’d have figured it out and been back up in her bedroom. You and I would be the only ones still wandering. ”

He snapped his fingers. “That’s it! ” Holding his hand out to her, he said. “Come on, let’s go back and check something out. I’ve got a hunch.”

Pulling her up from the floor, he waited and watched as she dusted off her backside.

“What are you thinking?” She asked. “Where are we going?”

“Back to J.J.’s room. That used to be your old room. If this thing was designed for her to get you out of here, it makes sense to me that whatever is going to lead out of here would be somewhere near that room. Your mother would have come to your bedroom to get you, and she would have taken you into the closet. She would have closed the door behind the two of you, and brought you down here to get out. Looking at it like that, I have to figure that she wouldn’t have placed the real exit far too from there. We’ve missed something and that something is near that room.”

Holding tightly to each other’s hands, they started back in that direction.

Continue to next story

 

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