Stephen Edwards inhaled his freshly lit fine cigar, savoring the taste and its soothing effect on his system. He sat alone in his study, thinking over his morning visit with his granddaughter who had just returned to the fold from her stay in the hospital. He had truly missed her being away for those three days, and he was amazed at how much the atmosphere in the house had changed for him since she had come back.
When Jennifer was home, he enjoyed having her there with him. But somehow when Justine was at Briarwood, the house and its rooms, and the grounds all seemed infused with renewed life. It was no real wonder; she was usually all over and everywhere when she visited, bringing with her the joyful exuberance of youth, her laughter, her music, and her boundless curiosity- all qualities that endeared her to him. But it wasn’t until she was seated at the table having lunch with all of them that he realized just how much he had been longing for her.
The down time in the hospital had been very good for her. She looked rested, her face radiant, and that ankle she showed him was much better; it didn’t look very swollen at all any more. She had come into the room, leaning on her father, limping just a bit on it. Stopping at his chair to greet him, she smiled that smile he had fallen in love with decades ago. She was so much like her grandmother had been: tall, athletically graceful, and not the least bit shy.
After she kissed him on the cheek, Jonathan helped her to her chair, the first seat next to him on the left. All during lunch, he found himself stealing glances at her, enjoying her presence. But he couldn’t help but notice her increasing quiet as she cast fleeting glances across the table to the empty seat at his right. She had been longing for someone, too.
After the meal, he invited her to the study to talk with him, thinking that perhaps she would ask him about her mother and that they could discuss what had been going on. But she never brought the subject of her mother up. In fact she had little to say, aside from answering the questions he asked about her recent experiences away from them. For some reason, while sitting there with her, he felt he could see Jennifer’s face in the place of hers, searching his eyes like hers once did, as if she were patiently waiting for him to tell her something. And just like it had been in those times with Jennifer, he couldn’t be sure what it was Justine wanted from him, and he didn’t want to bring up anything that was going to be unpleasant for her. Since she hadn’t asked, he wasn’t sure that her mother was a topic she wanted to discuss at that moment, and it didn’t quite seem the time to talk with her about her grandmother as he knew she had been trying to do before her hospitalization.
In his entire time as a father, he had never been able to escape the strict conventions of his own upbringing, where overt displays of outward affection and emotion had been discouraged, and discussing decisions and making compromises with children just not done. Suzanne had been the one to fill that more nurturing role with Jennifer. Once she was gone, it was Jennifer and her friend, Patricia, who taught him that he needed to change his line of thinking and what his role as father actually entailed.
But, as hard as he tried, he had only been able to overcome so much. He still found it difficult to tell his child and his beloved only grandchild exactly what he thought when it came to matters close to the heart. The best he could do was to tell them from time to time that he loved them. After all those years that had gone by, he secretly continued to feel unsure of his abilities to anticipate and meet their needs. He had learned to operate on hope- the hope that he was doing the right thing.
Frustrated with himself and his personal limitations, after a few minutes of polite conversation, he’d sent Justine on her way, and she had seemed just as anxious to go. Just like it had been with Jennifer; he loved her so much. He wanted so much to talk with her about her mother, but he just didn’t know what it was or how much he was supposed to say, or if she even wanted to hear any of what he had to say.
And he wondered about his Jennifer.
She had been gone for two days, and it looked as if it would be three. He didn’t miss her; he knew where she was and what she was doing. Once she was onto something, she was dogged in her determination to move through it from beginning to end. It was that quality of both their personalities that wound up finally bringing them together. He was a researcher, and so, it turned out, was she- a good one. She traveled well and she was insatiable in her curiosity about the world, just as he had been as a boy and remained as a man. They would travel together on his research and archeological projects, and in her summers off from school, she would work side by side with him, reading, digging, solving mysteries, and rooting out answers.
He had made many mistakes with Jennifer, had hidden too many things away from her in an effort to protect her, and they had been silent on the subject for too long. She had proven herself to be a lot stronger than he had given her credit for being, and he hoped that her investigative skills stood her in good stead and helped her get back some of what she had lost.
He knew where she was and what she was doing, and he was not surprised that she hadn’t returned, even for Justine’s sake. If his plan for her had taken, then she was up there for the duration. Eventually she would end up back where she belonged. Jennifer knew that with Jonathan and Patricia, her child was in good hands, and that she didn’t have to worry about her.
With that thought in mind, he sat back in his chair and crossed one leg over the other. Even he was surprised that he had left himself out of that equation.
Marnie sat cross-legged in the chair in J.J.’s bedroom watching J.J. as she stood in front of one the windows, staring out onto the grounds.
“It’s good to have you home finally, J.” She said to her friend’s back.
“It’s good to be home, Marn.” J.J. answered without turning around. “I missed this place. I missed all of you.”
Marnie could see that J.J. was preoccupied, and she knew exactly who was on her mind. She had been very quiet ever since her father and Aunt Pat brought her home from the hospital. All of them had taken lunch together, and afterward she and her grandfather had gone into his study and talked a while. Then she had come up to her room where they finally met up to be alone.
“This is her third day, J.J.”
“Are you worried about her?”
“Some.” J.J. answered. “It’s so not like her. I know she gets wrapped up when she’s working, but never to the point where she doesn’t get in touch with me. It’s like she’s just disappeared from my life or something. The last time that I talked to her was Saturday.”
Marnie, not liking the tone of J.J.’s voice and uncomfortable with the situation as a whole, tried to sound reassuring, “It’s just Monday, J., and you know she hasn’t disappeared. She isn’t gone. You know where she is. Hell, I haven’t talked to my mother since last week.”
“Yeah, but you don’t talk to your mother most of the time anyway, even when she’s around. That doesn’t count. I know where they say my mother is. But, why is she still there? What is she doing that she can’t even stop to come say hello to me or to just call me? She has to know that I’m home.”
“Why don’t you just call her cell, J.?”
“I told you, she hasn’t called me. She hasn’t come to see me. Either she can’t or she doesn’t want to talk to me. If she really is busy, I’d hate to be interrupting her. When she gets a flow going, I try not to do anything to stop her. I know how hard it is to get back into it when that happens.”
“I doubt that she’s up there writing, J. That is what you’re talking about, aren’t you?”
“I’m talking about whatever she’s into. It’s flowing for her. If she’s stuck to it this long, she’s in the zone.”
J.J. turned away from the window to look at Marnie.
“She didn’t come with Daddy and Aunt Pat to get me this morning, but I wasn’t really expecting her to do that. She wasn’t here when I got home, and I haven’t seen or spoken to her even though I’ve been here for three hours. Marnie, I’m thinking in the back of my mind- and I know you’re going to think I’m crazy, but what if something’s happened to her and nobody’s said because they didn’t want to me to worry while I was in the hospital?”
“What did your grandfather say about her when you were talking to him?”
“Marnie, that’s what’s so strange. He didn’t say. I kept watching him, waiting for him to say something about her and where she was, what she was into; but he didn’t, so I didn’t ask. All he wanted to talk about was me and what happened with me at the hospital.”
Marnie continued to watch as J.J. came over and sat down on the side of the bed.
“Tell me what’s been going on here since I’ve been gone, Marn. Even if it seems trivial and not connected to any if this, just tell me anyway.”
“There’s not much I can tell you, J. I think they did a number on both of us, you know, with keeping us occupied. I was gone a lot, and the rest of the time they were pretty much keeping me busy. On Friday, the first day you left, I was at Farrell’s with Uncle Bill and Aunt Pat. That’s when I found out that Teddy was here in Maryland trying to find you.”
“I still owe you for that, Marnie. I haven’t forgotten.”
“Yeah, right, whatever. You had fun. Anyway, the three of us didn’t come home until late that night, and since you weren’t here I pretty much kept to my room after dinner, watching television and talking on the phone. By the way, your boy Wesley is sick and you need to tell your father on him, but we’ll go there later. The next day, I got up early to come see you at the hospital, but that ended up with me and Aunt Pat going to Gresham to enroll Kyle at Brookfield instead, so I don’t know what went on here on Saturday either. All I know about that day is that it was the first day the Duchess went out to the guest house and didn’t come back. She and your father had some sort of argument. I overheard Aunt Pat talking about it with Uncle Bill on the phone in the car. She was trying to talk all in code and everything, but well, you know that didn’t get by me.”
“She doesn’t really know you can do that.” J.J. said, shrugging her shoulders. “You are the best.”
“It’s a gift. Anyway, we got back here yesterday morning, and right off Aunt Pat hustled me onto the car with Uncle Bill to go over to Farrell’s to ride while she went to see about you. I begged her, but she wouldn’t let me come with her because she thought we would be acting silly and stuff, and she said she that didn’t feel like us. I saw Teddy again while I was waiting for my horse. He was all dressed to come see you. He is sooo cute, J. Great bod, real nice pecs, good lips, nice tight a-”
“Stay the course, Marn, stay the course. We’ll go there later, too.”
“Okay, okay. I ended up staying at Farrell’s most of the day, until Uncle Bill was finished with his business. When we got back, when I found out that the Duchess was still holed up in that attic, I rushed up in here to get ready to come over to the hospital.”
“How did you find out she was still up there?”
“I didn’t really find out. It was more like I figured that was where she was. Your father was here in the house, but she wasn’t.”
“So, what? Did you go looking for her and didn’t find her, or you just assumed she wasn’t here?”
“J. You know the Duchess, and you know how she is with me. If she had been anywhere in this house, she would have come looking for me right off, making sure that I knew she was on the case, to keep me from trying anything. My radar sort of goes off when she’s anywhere around. It didn’t go off that night.”
J.J. nodded. That observation on Marnie’s part was right on the money. No way, if she were anywhere around, would her mother leave Marnie to her own devices.
Marnie continued her story.
“I knew the attic was where she had been when I left, so I assumed she was still up there. I will say this about it all. It has been really strange around here. She hasn’t been back down to see to you or to me, and you know that’s weird. She hasn’t called you, and that’s beyond weird, and you say your father hasn’t said much to you about it, and that’s the weirdest thing of all. It’s like everybody is all tip-toeing around something. Nobody has said word one about that passage, your mother being gone- none of it, even though I would think it would be a topic of ongoing conversation.”
“I know, Marnie. I get that impression, too. I don’t like this. I don’t like it at all.”
They sat in silence for a moment, and Marnie studied J.J. as she continued to sit on the side of the bed. She knew.
“So, what are you going to do?” She finally asked.
“I’m not sure yet, Marn. I haven’t got it worked it out. Aunt Pat made me promise to not go down in the passage again, so that’s out. Even though it’s a lot better, I’m not taking any chances on messing up this ankle again, so I’m going to have to do some thinking on how I’m going to move about. Give me a minute.”
“Then just tell me this, J. Am I going to have to be a part of your master plan when you do get it together? I just missed going on lockdown last night, you know. I mean, the party in the game room at the hospital would have been worth it if I had ended up having to do the time, but I’m still glad that I managed to skate on the matter. Oh, and by the way, good looking out on the pizza. The boys told me that you took care of them after you fleeced them.”
“It was nothing, the least I could do. But getting back to the point, look, it’s two for one, Marnie. You know the rules. If I need you- and I probably will- then you know you’ll have to come through.”
“J.J., damn.” Marnie folded her arms and slumped down in the chair. ” Here we go again. You know, it’s not etched in stone anywhere that we have to live every moment of our entire lives with our asses hovering over the hot seat. We can have some days off every now and then. Can’t you just wait on her?”
“We’ve had our time off. I’m home now, we’re back together, so it’s back to business as usual.” J.J. said in answer. “And no. I’m not waiting much longer. I don’t like this. I think somebody’s holding out on me, and I’m not having it. Hush, I’m trying to think.”
“Well, just so you know,” Marnie continued to grumble. “Since you say we’re back at it, Aunt Pat has a conference call at three. Your father and Uncle Bill are using your grandfather’s key to go to his gentleman’s club or what ever you call it here. They’re leaving around three-thirty and won’t be back until dinner. That’s the same time that your grandfather normally lies down in the afternoon. There’s a window of opportunity if you just have to do this.”
Looking over at Marnie, J.J. asked, “How is it you came by this info about Aunt Pat, Daddy and Uncle bill? Are you sure?”
“I only know what I heard. I knew that if the Duchess hadn’t turned up by the time you got home, it was going to be on, so I started listening and gathering my data. Sure enough, she wasn’t back, and that’s what I’ve got so far.”
“Good looking out, Marn.” J.J. grinned.
“I woke up early because I knew the workmen would be coming first thing. It wasn’t even quite daylight out, but when I came to on that couch, she had already been down, showered, and was back upstairs, reading. She has no intention of coming back down- for anybody- until she’s ready. It’s as if she’s, for lack of a better word, possessed. I’ve never seen her so driven.”
Jonathan, Pat, Bill, and Walter had moved to the outdoor patio after lunch to talk, away from Stephen. Rosa, and the girls.
“I have.” Pat said, her tone thoughtful and reminiscent. “This time, though, she’s most likely trying to remember.”
Jonathan looked up and over at Pat. He heard what she hadn’t said, and hoped she would expand upon it, but she didn’t.
“How is she really, Mr. Hart?” Walter asked. “Rosa has been worrying me almost to death about her. She can’t understand why Mrs. Hart would stay so long out at the guest house and away from her father. She thinks that the two of you have had some sort of argument over Miss J.J., and that’s what I’ve had to let her keep thinking. She doesn’t know about the passageway or about Mrs. Hart and Miss J.J. going down there. She also doesn’t know that you’ve been staying out there with her at night. Been laughing herself silly about how you’ve been taking her meals to her. She thinks you’re just trying to get back in good with her. Says she has you wrapped around her little finger. It was all I could do to keep quiet. I wanted so badly to defend you and the reputation of all men everywhere.”
“She’s not that far off in that. This one’s pretty much domesticated.” Pat snickered as she patted Jonathan on the back. “I like a well-trained man, myself. I still have some work to do on the big fella over there, but he’ll crack.” She nodded in self-assurance. “He’ll see it my way.”
Bill cut his eyes over at her. “Keep waiting, baby. I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. Even you can’t teach this old dog new tricks.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say all that.” She grinned meaningfully at him. “You’ve navigated a few rather novel hoops that I can recall.”
And Jonathan could only wave his hand in amused dismissal of Pat and her comments.
Walter smiled and went on.
“Rosa can’t know any more than that. The less she knows about the whole thing the better. Some things just don’t concern her, and I want to leave it like that. Nobody outside of Mr. Edwards and myself, and now you and those children, knows anything about those switches or any of the other. Mr. Hart, you’re going to have to tell those girls- It can’t-”
“Don’t worry, Walter.” Jonathan cut in. “I’ll handle that.”
“What other?” Pat asked, her ears catching onto what Walter had been trying not to say.
Bill, in the meantime, was looking back and forth between Walter and Jonathan in confusion. Then pressing both his large palms impatiently to the table, on either side of the drink he had been slowly nursing, he finally spoke.
“Look.” He said. “I’m not one to get into anybody else’s business, but I don’t like bullshit. What is going on here? Jennifer has been up in that attic going on three days. She’s hasn’t talked to any of us, her kid, or her father. That is not like her at all, and this whole scene is not normal. Walter, I get the feeling that you and Edwards go back a long way and there’s more to the story than just gentleman and valet. What was your real role? You’re around here keeping secrets from your wife, and Pat here is blindly running interference for her best friend.
Jonathan, you and Jennifer have dabbled in this kind of crap for years. You two love this stuff, trying to unravel the cloth and all that carrying on to figure out the point of things. Normally I don’t, but now I want in. I’m tired of being in the dark here. Give me a thread of what’s happening so at least I can know what kind of cloak and dagger mess this is that Pat and I are evidently a part of.”
Jonathan looked over to Walter, who after a couple of moments, nodded his head in confirmation and said solemnly, “Mr. Edwards told me that if it came to it, it was all right to tell them. He trusts both of them.”
With Walter looking on, Jonathan began to relate to his two captivated listeners a bare bones story of the real nature of the work in which Stephen and Walter had once been involved, the purpose of that passage, and the basic reason why Jennifer was in the attic. He left Suzanne out of the first story on purpose, thinking it unwise to bring Jennifer’s mother into it any more than absolutely necessary. That particular subject, he decided to leave up to Jennifer to elaborate upon, if she chose to do so once she returned to them.
The break had to be taken. Having read all morning, she was tired, and she needed to stop and think.
As Jennifer lie on her back on the couch, her head resting on the pillows, staring at the rafters overhead, she could hear the movements of the workmen. There were voices from below, and the bumping and scraping she could hear all around her said that exterior work had begun on the guest house. For that, she was happy. Things were progressing nicely on that project.
Then she closed her eyes, relaxed her body, and allowed it to flow.
J.J. had been seven weeks old when it finally happened; that condition that she now understood to be post-partum depression. It had been one of the three most frightening times in her life, the first having been losing her mother.
She and Jonathan had taken the baby up to their cabin in the mountains to avoid the overwhelming glare of outside attention generated by her birth. Privacy had become a particularly sensitive issue, beginning with the shock of an unexpected pregnancy and then the coming of a child into their lives. In the earlier years, it hadn’t mattered as much that she and Jonathan were so frequently photographed by the paparazzi when they were out together, or that they frequently wound up featured in magazines or on the society pages of local publications. The need to be left alone had became almost a personal obsession for her by the time J.J. was finally born. She belonged to them, not to the world, and she wasn’t going to grow up in the spotlight. Her little life was not going to be exposed in that manner. J.J. would have as normal a childhood as possible, despite being their child.
She had been a month old when they vacated Willow Pond for high country, and the first couple of weeks there had gone fine. When J.J. was six weeks old, and all the pregnancy weight still hadn’t been lost, she began to feel increasingly unattractive, despite Jonathan’s protests to the contrary. She had always been proud of her slim, tightly-toned physique, but what she saw in the mirror looked to her like a perfect model for a Rueben’s portrait. From there, the least little things began reducing her to uncharacteristic tears and severe bouts of self-doubt.
That perception of her appearance also served to render her reluctant to resume her love life with her husband. Even after Kate had cleared her to do so, she continued to put him off. She wanted him, but she didn’t want him to see her ‘pudgy’ body, and aside from that, she was till nursing J.J. She covered for it all by telling him that she wasn’t ready, and like always, he had been his patient, loving self, and graciously accepted what she told him.
The baby, oddly enough, was not a problem. From the start, she had been a darling. After a brief period of adjustment, J.J. would sleep most of the night. She fed well, and she usually only fussed when she was hungry or needed changing. She had bonded very well with both of them, and the cozy cabin with its pleasant, serene atmosphere, and the fact that it was summer had been an idyllic setting for a newborn. There was really nothing she could put her finger on that triggered it, but suddenly she just could not pull it together.
She began picking fights with Jonathan. It seemed, for the first time in their lives together, everything he did got on her nerves. The least thing he would do or say, however benign, seemed to set her off. There had been no getting a handle on the erratic mood swings that ranged from happy and content to aggravated and angry. Up to that point, she had always been able to maintain a pretty even disposition, at least as far as others could see.
Unless somebody made her extremely angry…
But no matter how nasty or irritable she might become, Jonathan never said a word. However, to give her, and perhaps himself, a break, during the times that she was particularly bad with it, he would pack up the baby and her things and go, taking J.J. for long walks or for rides on his horse. He would strap her to his chest, and with his daughter held snugly to him in that sling he’d had fashioned for just that purpose, they would set off to give her a chance to cool off or calm down.
Once they would leave, those old feelings of abandonment that she thought she had long put away would rush in accompanied by that crippling panic, both of them quickly overwhelming her. Sure that she had been such a witch that Jonathan had taken their baby and was never coming back, all she would be able to do was cry hysterically.
There had been no where to turn, and nobody to whom she felt she could take it. Jonathan couldn’t have been more pleased with the baby. She began to resent his happiness and his satisfaction, not to mention the fact that he hadn’t had to go through anything more than donating some sperm, which he had been more than willing to part with, to get that baby he wanted. No way did she want to involve Pa in her distress. She didn’t take those kinds of things to him. Pat, who always wanted children, had lost that one child and couldn’t have another. She hadn’t been very sympathetic to her insecurity during the pregnancy, so she didn’t feel comfortable talking with her about that situation. Sabrina had never had a child, and she had never been overweight or anything less than lovely, so how could she know how any of it felt?
At almost forty, she felt she should have been above that. She thought herself too mature and self-assured at that point in her life to be so suddenly overwhelmed by those feelings of uncertainty, but still they persisted in humbling her to the point of depressed frustration and anger. There was no one upon whom she felt she could call for support or reassurance without exposing the vanity and vulnerability she had worked so hard over her life to keep hidden. For first time in many, many years she had the presence of mind to actively, sincerely, sorely miss her mother.
Lying there on that couch with her eyes closed, up in her mother’s attic, she could see herself as she had been: sitting on the couch in the cabin, sobbing fitfully into that pillow she held tightly to her face to muffle the sound, hoping that maybe it would smother her in the process so that she could be out of her misery. But in those moments, she would stop to realize that smothering herself would leave baby J.J. without her mother, too. If nothing else, through it all, the constant had been that she deeply loved that baby. There was no way that Jonathan Hart was going to be left on his own to shamelessly spoil that girl, with no one there to restrain him. J.J. was two months old, and already he’d bought her a diamond bracelet. He had also mentioned, in passing, that he thought diamond earrings were cute on little girls. That baby grinned every time he said anything to her. There was no way in the world that he was going to let anyone else help him raise her, and the two of them- together? Alone? Jonathan and J.J. Hart? Hell no.
Just the thought of him and J.J. on their own would kick-start her on the road back toward reality.
Strangely enough, although her distress was partially connected to giving birth to her, holding J.J. close brought her comfort. And knowing that she was hers to raise to womanhood would dry those tears- until the next breakdown.
Sure that she was losing her mind or that Jonathan was going to lose his patience and really leave her for good, and in doing so take his baby away from her crazy mother, she finally phoned Kate, her doctor, for help. Kate immediately reminded her of the hormone fluctuation that took place after a pregnancy. She hadn’t really been listening when she told it to her the first time because those things happened to other women, not to Jennifer Hart. It never occurred to her that there might be a perfectly logical, physical reason for what was happening.
It was Kate who suggested that she take the baby to meet her great-aunt in France. Although Jonathan expressed his disappointment at cutting their stay at the cabin short and at the two of them being away from him for two weeks, he hadn’t given her any argument against it. So at less than three months old J.J. Hart became an international traveler.
Sabrina and the nurse hired for the visit had been waiting at the airport for them. Although she hadn’t mentioned her problems to her aunt when she called her to tell her that they were coming, Sabrina immediately took the baby from her and without even looking at her, handed her to the nurse. Then she wrapped her, her sister’s child, in her arms and held her. That had been the one and only time that she could ever recall consciously trying to see and feel her mother through her aunt, her mother’s twin.
Sabrina had never had a child of her own, but she completely and capably took over the matter of their care. They had been there a couple of days before the nurse’s actual function became apparent to her: handling the little brown nappies. Sabrina did it all, except for that. That was the one aspect of her little grand-niece’s maintenance that she couldn’t handle. It had been hard to believe that her aunt was paying a woman full time just to change an infant’s poop, but that was how Sabrina operated:
“I have plenty money to pay. I am not doing the nasty things, and you are here to rest, so I pay somebody else to do it. Simple as that.”
The first thing she insisted upon with her, was that she wean J.J. from her breast.
“You must get back to your work. Your writing is a big part of what make you who you are. You cannot do that with Justine attached to you. Do not worry. You have given her a good start, but now you need to be a little bit free from her and she from you. She has what she need physically from you. She is not you, and you are not her. You are two separate, apart people. Remember that, my Jennifer.”
Then she forced her to rest her mind and her body, scolding her for trying to get up and see to J.J. if she woke during the night, and allowing her to sleep until she felt like getting up in the mornings.
“I get up. Nurse get up. It is why you are here. Why we are here for you. You sleep. You rest. You hush and let me do.”
Sabrina completely pampered her. She put her in her car and had her driven to where she had arranged for her to have her hair done, as well as to have a facial, a manicure and a pedicure. She called ahead to her favorite shops to let them know that ‘her Jennifer’ was coming and to have the very best ready to show her. Everyone in the area knew and loved her Aunt Sabrina, and as her niece, she had been catered to and accommodated on every level.
Sabrina sent her down to the beach near her home every day, forcing her into one of the many attractive and flattering bathing suits she had personally ordered for her after her arrival. She would snatch away the towel with which she would self-consciously wrap herself.
“You are our beautiful girl, Jennifer. You are at your very best, believe me. Your body is a woman’s body, your face is full of light. Hold your head up and walk slowly. Go, and make the men look at you like they always do. It is good food for their eyes and your spirit.”
She couldn’t be sure about the men’s eyes, but Sabrina had been right about that food for the spirit.
The nights were spent in the company of her aunt’s delightfully eccentric circle of friends, talking or playing cards. She was amazed at the bevy of handsome older men her aunt pulled in, and flattered that some of their attentions spilled over to her. Even though she’d flirted, she wanted Jonathan. She also wanted to spend more time with her child, but Sabrina wouldn’t allow her do very much with J.J. beyond holding her, playing with her or reading to her.
Then, one late afternoon, as they walked in the garden, Sabrina sat her down and spoke with her of the importance of preserving her own life despite the fact that she had a child. J.J., she said, was to become a part of the life she and Jonathan had established for themselves, and not the other way around. She spoke of making sure that she kept her role as Jonathan’s lover separate from that of being his wife and mother to J.J. After all, he had been her lover first, before he was her husband and before he became one-half the reason for the child’s being.
She laughed at her aunt’s presumption.
“My Aunt, how can you be so sure that he was my lover before he was my husband?”
“Because I know when you meet him, you stay with him, even though you not marry him until six weeks later. Jonathan is very sexy, not the type man a woman could be close to, and want to put off. Then, you are my niece, and I know you very well. You are one who would test the water before jumping in. No way you marry, and not know. You are a smart girl in that way. You do what you want in life. You do not care about convention and what people, church, say should be. You do what is right for Jennifer. I love that about you. You raise your Justine to be that way, too, my Jennifer.”
Kissing her on both cheeks, Sabrina told her how much she envied her for having found such a special man to marry and to give her such a beautiful baby to add to their very good life. Sabrina had always loved Jonathan, and she treated him like a favorite son.
At the end of two weeks, Jonathan came for them. He had been calling several times every day. Sometimes Sabrina would let him talk to her and sometimes she wouldn’t, blocking the calls by telling him that his wife was out or that she was asleep. When she tried to call him, Sabrina would somehow always manage to pop up, demanding that she keep it short. By the time he got there, they were both dying to see and talk with each other. The deeply appreciative look on his face as he watched her come down the stairs to him in that ivory-colored summer dress made her heart leap with joy.
She thought they were going home in a day or two after he had rested up. Instead, as a surprise, Sabrina had arranged for them to spend a week alone at a cozy little inn not far from her home. Neither of them wanted to leave their baby, but she wouldn’t hear of them doing otherwise.
“You need to be alone- as lovers- not as parents. Go. I take care of our Justine. Use this time for you. Once you get home again, you will not be alone again like this.”
That first night they spent together in the inn to which her aunt sent them, was the prom night she should have had at seventeen. If it could have happened that way, Jonathan would have been twenty-two and the man with whom she had shared her first time. Although it had been a long while for him, longer than he had ever gone since they met, and he had probably been more than eager; he had taken his time. More than once, he stopped to ask her if she was sure that she wanted to go through with it. When she assured him that she did, he worried the entire time about hurting her. It was almost as if it had been her first making love ever.
She could see him over her…
… so considerate and so gentle and so sweet. His beautiful blue eyes… so very sincere and patient…. strong and hot… sweaty… desperately needy… whispering in her ears as he played his music on her body…
By the time the week was over and they left the inn, she was once again whole, and she had never been more in love with her husband and her life.
But, not once during that visit with Sabrina had her mother, Sabrina’s sister, been referenced between them.
However, one night as she crept over to check on J.J. in the nursery that had since become J.J.’s permanent bedroom at her great-aunt’s house, she found Sabrina and J.J. together, Sabrina’s back was to the door as she cradled the baby in her arm. She overheard her aunt telling J.J. about her grandmother.
“She sees you, little one, and we are pleased that you have finally come. Your Grandmama was my big sister, you know. I was the little one then, and she take care of me. Now I am big. No more sister, just all by myself. I take care of your mama for her. Now I take care of you, too. I am not mama, I am not Grandmama, but I am all there is. We will make do, huh?”
Peeking over her aunt’s shoulder, she could see J.J. smile precociously up at her. She turned around and crept back to her own room, leaving them alone. J.J. had been in the best possible hands that night.
Sabrina had been there to put the pieces back together for her at other times in her life, too. While she had been away at boarding school, it was Sabrina she would call when she got into trouble, desperately seeking advice on how to handle her father when he got the news. No matter what the trouble had been, Sabrina never seemed shocked or upset. She had been there as a shoulder to cry on after that disastrous prom night. Then there was that year they spent living in Paris together as she continued her studies while Sabrina taught her how to live and to enjoy being a woman. And she had been there after that time in Australia.
Shortly after her return to the States on that last occasion, Sabrina showed up in New York, knocking at the door of the Manhattan apartment where she had sequestered herself. She stayed on for the next two months. Even though the details of what happened had never been shared with her or with anyone, Sabrina still knew more about the incident than anyone. Without words, Sabrina seemed to instinctively know how badly she had really been hurt, and she said and did all the right things to get her back on the road to being herself.
They had never talked about it, but she always suspected that Pat had a hand in Sabrina’s showing up like that
The aunt she knew and loved was a far cry from the sister her mother wrote about in the journals; the person she constantly looked after, worried about, and occasionally had to fly home to clean up after. That Sabrina had done a little of everything. She had a string of wealthy, powerful, interesting, occasionally shady male friends around the globe, and it seemed she had gone everywhere and had done everything, much of it a bit unconventional- sometimes a lot unconventional.
To put it mildly, Sabrina had been wild, but no matter where she was or what she was doing, for two weeks every summer, she returned to her home in Perpignan to entertain her visiting niece. When the visit was over, she would come to Briarwood to bring her back home, and then she would spend two weeks visiting with them. She would reside in the guest house rather than the main house, and she would allow her to stay out there with her. Her aunt had been her favorite person earth.
After the accident, Sabrina seemed to slow down some, spending most of her time in France. She and Pa had the big blowout over him taking his daughter back to the States, and that was when Sabrina stopped speaking to him altogether. Although the visits to France continued every summer, Aunt Sabrina never returned to Briarwood. Over the years to follow, she would have nothing to do with Stephen Edwards beyond very basic, necessary, written correspondence, and that had been done through a third party, oftentimes her.
It was only when he fell ill at the reunion, on that weekend before, that Sabrina broke her silence, and phoned him to check on him. J.J. had been the facilitator of that reconciliation. While everyone else was at the hospital awaiting news of his condition, J.J., confined to Gresham Hall with that injured ankle, had taken it upon herself to phone Sabrina to tell her of her grandfather’s hospitalization.
Had Sabrina stayed in the guest house when she visited because of her unresolved feelings for her sister’s husband? Or had it just been her way of maintaining the freedom which had always been so important to her and her lifestyle? Did she stop talking to her sister’s husband after the accident because he wouldn’t let her raise his child in France, instead placing her in an impersonal American boarding school while he continued to traipse around the world? Surely Sabrina had viewed that last action on his part as another rejection of her person, and had once again been deeply hurt by it.
Or had she deliberately separated herself from him for other, more personal, reasons?
Once her sister was gone, had Sabrina seen the folly of her actions, just as Scarlett O’Hara had done in Gone With the Wind once Melanie Wilkes was dead? Could she finally see how wrong she had been in thinking she and Stephen Edwards could ever have been? They were like fire and ice. He would never have tolerated her liberalism, nor she his conservatism. But then, underneath their surfaces, it appeared they were both very different people than they outwardly appeared…
Was Sabrina so responsible and vigilant toward her nieces out of a sense of duty to her dead sister? Or was it guilt? Or was it out of just plain unselfish love?
Had Suzanne been working through Sabrina all those years that she had been gone? Had Suzanne seen to it that her child was sent to Sabrina during that bad time after J.J. was born? In retrospect, Kate’s suggestion seemed to come from out of left field, even though it had been an effective remedy. And Sabrina’s capable, maternal handling of it, despite her own childlessness, even more unexpected.
The curtain of silence between her father and her aunt had been raised by J.J., the girl who had the same name as her mother’s unborn child. The girl who had ways so much like her grandmother seemed to have been. The girl who came to them so suddenly and so late, but who seemed to fit so well.
It occurred to her that like her mother apparently thought, the issue of Sabrina’s flirtation with her father was of no matter. As much as Sabrina might have tried, it never was and it never would have been. Thinking about it as she lie there, she knew that even though she was just a child when her mother died, she would have broken that up herself if they had been foolish enough to think they were going to try to be together. As much as she loved Sabrina, and despite the fact that she and her mother were supposed to have been identical, for her there had never been that much of a likeness between the sisters. For all of her patience, goodness, and generosity, Sabrina could never have taken the place of her mother. Wisely, she had never tried to do so. She had always just been Aunt Sabrina.
They had indeed made do.
Moving the Year Thirty book from her lap, she placed it on the table next to her. Then she slowly sat up.
J.J. Hart had been the cause of her finding the passage that led her up to that room, to those books, to those memories, and to that level of understanding. Her daughter had led her back to her mother. Had that certain someone had her lovely, long hand in that, too?
“I have always been with you.” Her eyes said as they gazed down at her from the portrait.
Perhaps she had, she thought to herself. Perhaps she really had been there all the time, after all. Perhaps she couldn’t see her face in all that time because she had forgotten how to look, or because, like Jonathan said, she was too close to it to see it.
Pushing herself up from the couch, she resolved to get on with the job. J.J. was home, and she would not be waiting as long. She wouldn’t need a guide to get her there. That one would take it upon herself to come find her mother.
Marnie rushed into the music room, closing the door behind her.
“Aunt Pat’s on the phone now.” She announced, breathlessly. “She is going to kil-l-l-l me if she finds out I stole her car keys.”
“You didn’t steal them.” J.J. calmly advised, as she stopped playing the piano and reached for her crutch, which she used to get up from the piano bench. “We’re only borrowing them. I saw Daddy and Uncle Bill when they left. The coast is clear. Let’s do it.”
“I don’t know why I’m letting you talk me into this. If we get caught, for sure when she sees her, Pat is going to tell your mother we stole her car, and then Duchess is sure to revoke my Learner’s Permit. Fooling around with you, I’ll be eight-damned-teen getting my Driver’s License.”
“Then you’ll just be a year behind me getting it, that’s all. I’ll drive you around until then. I promise.”
“Real funny, J.”
J.J. slowly walked toward Marnie and the doors to the room.
“Look, think positive.” She said. “We are not going to get caught. Just don’t even claim that. Daddy and Uncle Bill will be gone until dinner. Pat is up in her room on that conference call. She’s been away from her job for a week, so she’s got a lot to be caught up on. She’s so thorough, she’ll be tied up for a good while asking a million and one questions and bossing people around. Pa’s out like a light, so even he’s not a problem. You just drive me out to the guest house, drop me off, and come right back. Nobody will ever know.”
Still not convinced, Marnie pensively whined, “J.J., you know how to drive. Why don’t you just drive yourself out there? Why do I have go?”
“Then I’d like to know who would bring the car back if I drove myself out there?” J.J. countered. “Think, Marnie! You’re losing it. Look, don’t get nervous. It makes you miss your marks when you get nervous. You’re better than that.”
“Normally, I am, but when stuff starts involving your mother, I get so I can’t think straight. You are determined to do this, I see. Come on, then. Let’s go so I can get that car back. How much do you want to bet that when I pull in with the car, Pat’s going to be standing in the empty parking space, holding a noose already done up, just waiting for my neck to arrive.”
She grabbed one of the decorator pillows from a chair. “I’m probably going to need this to see over the wheel of that great big car. Why does Pat always have to get such big cars?”
“She has long legs and Uncle Bill is tall and big.” J.J. answered, opening the door. “And I really don’t think she was anticipating a short person driving it. You have your permit with you?”
“Yeah, I have it.” Marnie answered, following J.J. out of the door. “As if that makes a fat lot of difference. You don’t have a license, so that means there won’t be a licensed driver sitting next to me in the stolen car I’ll be driving. Pat Hamilton’s car, at that. How much worse can this get? We’ve done some stuff, J., but this ranks way the hell up there. If we get caught, we’re going up the river for sure. And if I get caught bringing the car back, I’m selling you out and I don’t want there to be want any hard feelings afterward. I told you what I was going to do right up front. It’s two for one.”
J.J. looked back to remind her, “It’s not like you haven’t done this before. You do your mother’s car all the time. What’s the big difference? Quit whining.”
“The big difference is that my mother is not the Duchess- or Pat- as far as that goes. Pat is crazy, and your mother doesn’t take prisoners.”
The girls crossed the front hall, nonchalantly greeting Rosa who was out there supervising the housekeeping service.
“How are you making out on that foot, Miss J.J.?” Rosa pleasantly asked.
“I’m doing fine.” J.J. answered back.
“You take it easy on that. We don’t want you having to go back to that hospital.”
“Don’t worry. I don’t want to have to go back. But thanks for thinking of me.”
They went out of the front door, watching around themselves the entire time as they approached and climbed into Pat and Bill’s rented Lincoln. As Marnie was fussing and looking for the devices to adjust the seat to accommodate her shorter legs and stature, J.J. was playing lookout. Way down at the end of the drive, a car turned in. Immediately, she checked her watch. It was too early for her father and her Uncle to be coming back; they had just left.
“Somebody’s coming. Duck down.”
Marnie snatched the keys from the ignition as she slithered underneath the steering wheel to the floor while J.J. bent just low enough across the seats to not be easily seen, while still being able to peer over the edge of the open driver’s side window. It seemed like an eternity before the little silver car came to a stop next to them.
“Who the hell is it?” Marnie hissed through clenched teeth as she hurriedly stuffed the car keys under the seat. “I told you this was a bad idea. If it’s your father, we are so dead, J. He is never going to believe that we were just sitting here doing nothing. He’ll know right off that we were planning to take off in this car. I could just kill you myself, J.J. Hart!”
“Save the death threats, Marn. It’s not my father’s car.” J.J. whispered back, as she ducked her head back down when engine of the other car shut down and she could hear the door locks click. She raised her head a little to look, and then she sat all the way up.
“Jazz! What are you doing here?”
It took a few minutes of forcing herself to sit in the chair she had been avoiding for hours, before she could even consider bringing herself to touch anything on the desk’s surface. Taking a deep breath, Jennifer quickly pushed back and away from her the stack of papers that she had piled there the night before, not wanting to be tempted to stop and read anything at that time. She knew that whatever all of that was, especially if it were some sort of creative work as she suspected it was, it would probably demand the same attention that those journals had commanded. Torn between wanting to know the answers to the questions she had up there and getting to her child waiting down below, she decided to tackle those papers and the remaining two journals last, after examining the contents of that desk.
The desk had been her mother’s desk. The attic room had been her room. She was looking down at her from above her head. Did she want her to go through her things? What would she find there?
Then she chuckled to herself, “Well, you’ve read most of her journals. Every last word, and she hasn’t snatched you up by the collar yet for being nosy. How much more personal could anything else be?”
Sliding open the top right hand drawer, the first thing she saw was a large hairbrush, a wide-toothed comb and a gilt hand mirror. Still wound in the bristles of the brush were a few long strands of red hair, and for a moment, she had to stop, close her eyes, and rub her forehead with her fingers to ease the image…
…Mama sitting at her dressing table, brushing her long, shiny red hair… she only took it down to ride and to come to dinner when Pa was home. At night, she brushed it and plaited it into one long braid… sometimes, at night they talked together. As she spoke, her mother would brush her hair as she… and then she would let her brush hers as she… in that other room…
Like a missile fired from no where, it slammed into the side of her head, striking broadside. There had been another room!
Pa now slept in the big room, but there had been another room in that suite besides his bathroom and his sitting room. That other room, at one time, was accessed from inside the big room via his bathroom. At one time there had also been a door to that room in the back hall, but that door was no longer there. It no longer existed. Where had it gone?
Flabbergasted that she hadn’t thought about it since, she sat upright. How could something like that have been forgotten? Had she just imagined another room?
Of course she hadn’t imagined it. The memory was coming in too clearly… Sunshine, gently blowing sheer curtains…ivory, burgundy, purple, gold, emerald… fragrant, fresh orchids and roses… the comforting, glowing embers of a fire…
Her mother had her own bedroom, and that was the room to which she would go in the night to find her when they were in the main house alone. Her mother would never be in that big room, Pa’s room, when it was just the two of them at home. That door to that room had been on the other end of the hall and around the corner from her old bedroom. If she woke during the night and came to her, her mother would read… talk… to her until sleep came again.
But when her husband was at home, Suzanne Edwards would sleep in the big room, and her daughter would stay put in her bedroom.
It wasn’t until Pa’s heart trouble started a few years back, that she easily went into it. That room had always been off-limits until then. She had never been told that she couldn’t go there; she just never did. When Pa first became ill several years back, and came home from the hospital, that had been the first time that she had seen a picture of her mother in that house again. The photograph was on the table, next to his bed, smiling at him when he lie his head down to sleep at night and when he woke again in the mornings.
She sat in amazed wonder that an entire room had just disappeared from the main house and from her mind. Trying to picture the exterior of the house, she realized that even the windows were no longer there. The room had just vanished, just as Sinbad, the dogs, the cat, and all of her mother’s things had gone away without mention when she and her father returned from France. How had the memory of that room disappeared as well? It must have been stored away, just as so many others had been securely wrapped up and warehoused. The shock at having forgotten something that big and that important was overwhelming, and for a few moments, she was frightened into absolute stillness by the power of her mind to so involuntarily and completely put things away as it had.
Then she recalled Pa saying that her mother had worked with the architects to design that house. If so, there had to be plans, and if there were plans, most likely they would be there in that room with the rest of her personal writings. The second drawer down on the left in the desk proved to be neatly organized files, and she quickly found what she was looking for under B, the file labeled, “Briarwood”.
As she pulled it out to lay the thick folder out before her on the desktop, her eyes glanced up, and she could have sworn that the expression on that face overhead bore an even more satisfied smile.
Sitting in the solarium after dinner with the inner doors closed and the patio doors open, J.J. was having her first completely alone-time in days. She had left Marnie up in her room, lying down and talking on the phone to Josh, the boy whom she met at Brookfield on the previous weekend. Pat and Bill had gone out together on the horses for an evening ride, and she guessed her father was going to stay on in the guest house where he had gone to take her mother’s dinner to her. She still hadn’t come down from that attic, but at least his going up there confirmed that was where she was- or at least where he wanted people to think she was.
As she sat on the chaise lounge, she worked on the stretching exercises Jazz had shown her. Putting her ankle through its more strenuous paces, it tingled some, but it wasn’t anywhere near as painful as it had been in the days before, and she was glad that at least that one thing in her life was getting back to normal. She could walk on it a lot better, but it would be great to be able to get out and run on it again. If she could run, she could blow out all the cobwebs and kinks that had formed in her days of idleness, and as a result she would be able to breathe more easily and think more clearly about everything that was happening. Something was definitely going on, and the force behind all of it was greater than all of them put together. She was certain that somebody was watching over them, putting things into play, working her own program through them.
As she sat there, she wondered if her grandmother ever sat in that room. What had she seen as she looked out the patio doors and the windows all around her, out across the expanse of low, rolling, green hills that undulated gracefully down to the lake? Had she watched her child play out there? Had she watched Pa as he fished out on the water? What had she thought about as she sat there? Did she miss her family in France. Did she ever wish her sister had come with her to America? Did she ever imagine that she would one day have a grandchild who would be sitting there thinking about her?
Certainly she had sat in that room. It was one of the most pleasant rooms in the house. She was probably still there, looking, watching over all that her family was doing.
But, how could that be? She was dead.
But did dead really mean gone?
Bending over to use her hands to massage the ankle the way that Jazz showed her, once she got past the initial soreness and found the rhythm, she continued with thinking things over.
She didn’t believe in spirits and ghosts and such; but she knew that her grandmother was real. She’d seen her. She’d talked with her. Her grandmother watched over her in the night, and she’d helped her when there hadn’t been anyone else to whom she felt she could turn. It wasn’t something that could be explained- not even to herself- but she wholeheartedly believed it. Although she had never told, nor did she think she would ever tell anyone about having actually seen her, and although being aware of her presence still made her a little nervous, she had accepted it as true. Suzanne Edwards had been invading her dreams of late, trying to tell her something. What was it she wanted to say? It had to be more than just ‘listen to Jennifer’. It had to be.
And what did Grandmama Suzanne want with her daughter, after all those years, and why was it all of a sudden so pressing? Did Suzanne Edwards once call Jennifer Edwards in to talk with her, and did she watch over her in the same way that Jennifer Hart talked with and watched over Justine Hart?
Had Jennifer loved her mother in the way that Justine loved hers? Did Jennifer miss her mother as much as Justine was missing her mother at the moment? Did Jennifer’s mother miss her, and if so, did she come to her and talk to her in the way that she did with the granddaughter? If she had spoken to her, had Jennifer been listening?
Probably not. Jennifer Hart had a very unique way of completely tuning out what she didn’t want to hear. According to Aunt Pat, she couldn’t see her mother any more in her head; all she had left were her memories, and that was why she didn’t ever talk about her mother. If Aunt Pat was wrong, and she did remember her, was she so selfish as to want to keep her mother so much to herself that she wouldn’t even share her with her only child? And if she was right, how healthy was that tuning-out thing when it was your mother you were tuning out?
No way. She just didn’t remember.
Jennifer Hart was not a selfish person, especially not with her kid. If she knew, if she remembered; she would have said.
Could the silence on the subject be because her mother no longer had any memories? After all, it had been many so years ago, and she had only been twelve when it happened. That could be the explanation for why she didn’t talk about her. Or maybe she did recall some things, but it hurt too badly to talk about them. Or maybe it was just too hard to dredge up and give away her treasured buried memories like that.
In either case, how sad was that?
Yep, Jennifer Edwards probably got her hips called up to the attic because she hadn’t been paying attention, just like Justine Hart’s would have been by her mother in that case.
Bummer. Absolute, total bummer.
“Justine Jennifer Hart, do you hear me talking to you?”
How many times in life had she heard that line? It seemed like as far back as she could remember. Most likely, she figured, it was how she learned her full name. That one question and lockdown had been the siblings she never had. Like pesky, constantly underfoot, but familiar siblings.
If her mother’s mother operated anything like she did, then she’d better be listening.
“Jennifer Justine Edwards, do you hear her talking to you?”
It must be something to be all grown up, but still get called in and raked over the coals by your dead mother like that.
Leaving her ankle, J.J. lay her head back and closed her eyes to slow down her whirling, racing thoughts. She prayed one more time that her mother wasn’t in any distress, while earnestly wishing that she could somehow help.
It had not escaped her attention that once again she had been thwarted in her attempt to get around the barrier that was keeping her from getting into something or being somewhere she knew that she wasn’t supposed to be. Daddy and Aunt Pat definitely weren’t the only ones who were on top of it and on to her. Jazz had too conveniently pulled into that driveway just as she and Marnie were about to make their getaway in Pat’s car. She had talked Marnie into going along with it, knowing full well that it was wrong to take the car without Pat’s permission and with neither of them being officially licensed to drive, but at that time, she hadn’t given a tinker’s you-know-what how wrong it was.
Without saying anything about it, Daddy had set it up for the physical therapy sessions with Jazz to continue in private. He’d made an arrangement with the hospital for Jazz to take an extra week’s leave. She had already been entitled to one week off after having spent an entire three days on private duty with her, but somehow he had gotten wind of the fact that Jazz had finals coming up, and he figured an extra week off would be a way that she could concentrate on studying for them. Not knowing what he had in mind, Jazz had volunteered to come out and continue the sessions since she was getting the time off from work. But Daddy didn’t believe in people working for nothing, so he hired her to come for an hour a day. He was paying her in addition to what the hospital was paying her. He had also supplied her with a car to keep her from putting miles on her own. During that first session that afternoon, it also came out that Doctor Rogers, who had been her physician at the hospital, was her father’s old college/ racetrack buddy. He had been the one to okay the entire thing, her hospitalization, the extra day’s stay, and Jazz’s coming to Briarwood.
It seemed like Daddy had the hook-up with everybody, everywhere, all the time, and anybody in whom he saw potential got the hook-up from him. She loved that about her father. He was always using his good fortune, his clout, and his money to take good care of his own, and to look out for other people, bringing them right along with him. He was Jonathan Hart, CEO of Hart Industries; but he was still regular, just a very good, regular guy.
Teddy crossed her mind, and she felt her face go crimson at the thought of her father walking up on her while they were kissing. Her mother had caught her in the act before, but somehow it was very different, very uncomfortable knowing that Daddy had been witness to it. BUT- she was glad that she had heard her mother’s voice in her head again, saying “Keep it chaste and quick”, and that she had been somewhat mindful of the fact that they were out in the open. If he had seen it when they were saying goodbye that last morning in the shadows on the side of Waverly House in Gresham, Mass, Daddy would have to have been rushed around to the coronary care unit on a stretcher.
Without a doubt, somebody else had taken charge of her fate. She was being outfoxed and blocked on all fronts lately. Right from the beginning, hurting her ankle had kept her from going off with Teddy when it was obvious that they were very attracted to each other. When she discovered the passage, she wound up confined to the hospital, which kept her from being in position to try it again right away. Then, when it seemed opportunity might knock one more time, Aunt Pat had boxed her into making a pact with her to stay out of it once she was back on her feet again. Even though she had gotten away with it once, Daddy showed up on that patio the previous evening just in time to catch her kissing Teddy. What was that all about? Then, that very afternoon when the ‘window of opportunity’ had been slammed shut on her and Marnie, her suspicions of being at someone else’s mercy had been firmly cemented. It was all out of her hands and in somebody else’s- and she knew who that was.
Even in her dreams, she had been cut off from doing what she wanted to do. No doubt about it, somebody bigger and stronger was at the helm of their ship.
Her mother still hadn’t come down from that attic. She had been there for three days. The cell phone by her side hadn’t rung once from that number in the last two days. Not knowing what was happening, not having even said hello to her mother, was making her fitfully anxious for her.
Picking up the phone, she punched the button for that number but stopped before pressing the button to send it. She switched the phone back off and lay it down on the table again. What she wanted was to see the face, not just hear the voice. That voice could be coming from anywhere. What she really wanted to see was that smile, and to know that she was all right.
If things weren’t any different in the morning, all bets would be off. If she had to crawl all the way out to that guest house, she would, and nobody, living or dead, would be able to stop her.
He had looked everywhere for her after returning to the main house. Finally, after coming back down from the second floor, he knocked on one of the closed doors to the solarium.
“J.J.! You in there?”
Her voice called out from inside. “Yes, Daddy. I’m here. Come on in!”
Entering the airy, pleasant room, Jonathan was immediately delighted by the sight of his sun-kissed, flame-haired daughter reclining on the chaise just inside the screened patio doors. Looking at that girl in that room, the velvety, Kelly green vista beyond her serving as her backdrop, he was once again reminded of how blessed he had been in his life and of how far he had come. When he had been her age, he could never even have imagined having a legitimate reason to enter a home like Briarwood, much less marrying a girl from one. He had not the first thought that his life would turn out so fine and be so satisfying.
He crossed the room and brought one of the other chairs over so that he could sit next to her.
“What’re you doing out here all by yourself?” He asked, slipping off his leather sandals to feel the cool, sea green terrazzo beneath his bare feet.
“Just sitting.” She answered. “Thinking.”
“How’s that ankle?”
She raised her bare leg to show him. He could see that the ankle didn’t appear swollen or puffy at all.
“I walked some more on it after dinner.” She told him. “It’s much better.”
She twisted around to him, and poked him accusingly in the arm with her index finger. “You surprised me today with Jazz, Daddy. You could have told me she was coming.” Then she smiled. “I really want to thank your for that, and for what you did for her.”
“Well, she likes you.” He smiled back at her. “And you told me that you liked her. The two of you seem to work well together, so it was a good deal all around. She gets to study, spend time with her mother, and do well on her finals. And you get a good, solid workout.”
“You got me with Doctor Rogers, too, Daddy.” She nodded. “I know he’s your buddy. You got a good one in on me. No wonder he was so quick to hem me up in that hospital over a sprained ankle. I should’ve known something was up with that. I thought something funny was going on. I owe you one for that.”
He laughed. “To put it in your terms, I had to use my “hook-up” to get you to lie down and be still. See how much better you are for it?”
She waved her hand at him. “Whatever, Daddy. I thought you were going to stay out there in the guest house with my mother. Did you at least stay long enough to see to that she ate? You know how she gets.”
“She ate. She didn’t want to, but I made her. Then she sent me back to see about you.”
“You could have stayed out there. I’m okay. I can take care of myself, and I have lots of company down here. There’s plenty to do.”
“She insisted. I think she wanted to be alone.”
“Alone? From you?” J.J. turned in the chair toward him and took his hand, lacing her fingers through his. “Daddy, tell me the truth. Is she really up there, and is she okay? For real, is she okay?”
“She’s– J.J., she’s really up there. I told you she was. Why don’t you believe me?”
“It’s just that I haven’t seen her or heard from her. I’m home, but she hasn’t come down. She’s never left me like this before- without even calling me.”
“She’s just busy, baby. She’s up there finding out some family things, and it is taking a lot out of her, but she’ll be fine if we just let her do what she has to do.”
Looking at his daughter, he could see her anxiety all over her face. “You miss her a lot, don’t you?”
“Yes.” She answered quietly. “Do you think there’s any chance my mother will be back down tonight?”
“I don’t know, Sweetie. I honestly don’t. But she did say for me to remind you of her love for you. She said that she hopes you’ll understand, and that you will be patient with her.”
To that, J.J. said nothing. She understood, but it didn’t matter about understanding. Tomorrow was another day, and patience was one virtue to which she didn’t care to aspire.
When she released his hand and silently turned her head away from him to look back out of the doors and onto the grounds, Jonathan watched her. He knew exactly what she was thinking. Patience was something he’d had to work hard over time to acquire, himself. It had taken many years and Max boxing his ears on several occasions for it to finally take. At times, he still had problems with making himself watch and wait.
But they had other business to cover, and his hope was that what he had to tell her would occupy her mind for while, and divert her attention from missing her mother.
“J.J., I came to talk to you about something else, too.”
“What’s that?” She asked without turning back to him, sounding as if he were distracting her from her thoughts.
“I need to tell you about your grandfather and that passage. J.J., when I tell you this, you’ll see that it is important family business, and is not to be shared with anyone.”
When she turned back around to face him, he could see that he had her full attention.
When she could hear the front door close below her, Jennifer crept down to the first floor to use the bathroom. After eating the meal he had brought up to her, she had convinced Jonathan to leave her and go back to the main house to have his talk with J.J. The workmen had all gone for the day, so once again, the guest house was empty and she was all alone.
She had come down for the same reason, earlier that day and found the entire interior crew hard at work. A group in like overalls was scraping, spackling and priming the walls in all the rooms in preparation for painting. The same men as before were still toiling in the kitchen. Another team had started ripping out the bathrooms in the master and the first bedrooms. The work on the outside of the house and on the landscaping had still been going on. She could see the light streaming through the master bedroom windows from where the heavy growth of ivy that covered them the day before had been stripped from that side of the house.
After checking it all out, she had gone back up to the attic, closing the door behind her. She continued with what she’d been doing until she could hear that they had gone. Then knowing that Jonathan would be coming to bring her dinner to her, she had gone back down to prop the door open him.
It was funny how things like ‘the facilities’ got taken for granted until one needed them. She was grateful that the smallest bedroom’s plumbing hadn’t yet been touched. Whatever she needed to find out up in the attic would have to be quick in coming. There was no way that she was going to be able to continue to work up there if it meant running all the way back to the main house when she had to go.
Returning to the desk, she reopened that second drawer and extracted that file again. She had studied it some earlier, but had put it away when she heard Jonathan calling for her. For some reason, one that she couldn’t put her finger on, she wasn’t ready to share with him that room she remembered. Looking over the plans for the main house, she had confirmed the room’s existence, but found that the passage had not been included on that set of plans. She had just finished looking over the plans for the guest house also contained in that folder when she heard him coming. Hastily, she stuffed it all back into the folder, and into the drawer, closing it just as he started up the stairs.
It hadn’t been sorted out enough in her head to be able to talk about it, but she had found out one important thing in that quick look she had gotten of the guest house plans: she knew how to get out of the attic and back into the passage from the inside. But she hadn’t said anything to him about that or about the nagging feeling she had about the contents of those other cabinets down there.
Sitting at the desk, once again staring at those papers she had unfolded before her, she rested her head wearily in her hand as she tried to put herself in her father’s place. Why had he done that? Why had he so completely removed her mother from their lives as he had done?
Why had he sealed up that bedroom? She had been grown a very long time. Why hadn’t he ever said anything to her about the attic room in the years before? Her mother’s horse? The dogs? The cat? All that had been her, just gone. All gone. Completely vanished. Didn’t he realize that-
No, he couldn’t have.
But why had he done that to himself? It was almost as if he were punishing himself for something. Or had he, like she had done, been trying to hold on to what he had left of her?
Did he realize that his daughter had forgotten about that room, or did he think that she had just been too polite to ask after it? Over the years, could he see that she had forgotten so many other things connected to her mother? Did he know that she couldn’t visualize her mother in her mind any more? If he was leaving the house to J.J., didn’t he think the existence of that room would be discovered? Was he counting on J.J. finding it after he was gone?
Or- had someone else been counting on her finding it as a part of the whole guest house/attic/passageway thing? Had it all been preordained to happen at that time, to her, and in that way?
The folders, the papers she had begun to read the night before, and those last two journals on the desk remained untouched. She had read parts of that last journal on that first night, but there remained a gap that she suspected would be bridged in the Year Thirty-one book, and she wasn’t ready to cross over at that point. She didn’t want to know, but realized that eventually she would have to know all of it. That feeling that there was something she had to do, that she was there for a specific purpose, was still persistently prodding her to keep on.
She had to get back to that room.
Picking up one of the lanterns Jonathan had refilled on one of his trips back to the house, she got up and went over to the black and white photograph on the wall. Reaching for the switch that turned on the light above it, she twisted the corrugated cylinder at its base. Immediately, she could hear the low rumble in the wall, and the creaking of machinery as the fireplace opened. She entered the passageway wondering how in heaven’s name she hadn’t remembered.
“The CIA, Daddy?” J.J. whispered in awe, leaning across the arm of the chair in which she was seated, eyes wide with amazement. “Central Intelligence?”
Jonathan nodded solemnly.
She sat back, completely dumbfounded.
“Are you all right?” He asked after a few silently tense moments.
“Yeah. Yes, I’m fine. Just a little bit shocked. The CIA. I never would have guessed in a million years. But, now that you’ve told me, I can see it. I really can.”
“Um-hum. Pa’s so closed, but I can tell he keeps a lot inside. He knows a lot more than he lets on. And then he’s so stiff and uptight. It’s like he has his fists clenched all the time just to keep anything from getting out or getting in. Now I understand why. It’s all crystal clear to me.”
“What is, J.J.? What’s crystal clear?”
“Why he is like he is. Why he did the things that he did with my mother. He had to keep his mouth shut about things, and be on point all the time. He had to keep her away from him and keep people from noticing her. She was, for him, like I am for you and my mother, only worse.”
“Like you are? What’s that?”
“You know, I’m a weak spot for you guys, a target. That one sensitive place where somebody knows they can hit you and mortally wound you. So, you are careful to keep that spot covered all the time because you know that’s where you’re most vulnerable. You keep your guard up to protect that weak spot and yourself all the time. Your enemies know that if they can hit you in that weak place, they’ve got you down. Don’t you see, that has to be why Pa sent her away once my grandmother died. It was to keep her safe. I knew it wasn’t just to get rid of her. He couldn’t keep her with him. He moved around too much, and he knew too much. He couldn’t send her to Aunt Sabrina, either, because that would have put Aunt Sabrina at risk. He put my mother in a neutral spot, near home, nearer to D.C. I bet she was guarded all through school, and she didn’t even know it.”
Watching her as she worked her way through that line of thought, Jonathan was impressed. J.J. had always been logical and analytical, and with every year that passed she was getting even sharper. Even he hadn’t considered that last thing. Stephen probably had arranged for Jennifer’s security at Gresham Hall. It was far enough away from Briarwood, but close enough to Washington to insure her safety. It made him wonder if or how much, or if, Dean Agnes Marchand and/or Belinda Smythe, Jennifer’s housemother at Waverly House actually knew about the situation.
“I knew there was more to Pa all the time, Daddy.” She said, breaking into his thoughts.
“Why? How did you know?”
“I could feel it. I just always felt that he wasn’t cut out for just being an art dealer. He’s too cold, too masculine, too macho for that. I mean, I’m not being sexist; he knows his art, but I just always had a feeling that there was another, less aesthetic angle to it. He’s an art dealer, but do you see any really personal pieces here aside from the ones my mother has put here? It’s like the things that he hung here, aside from your wedding picture in his study, are here just for show, not because they say anything to him or about him personally. I knew something was up for sure when I saw all those guns down in the passage and all those medals and certificates. We were down there together, just him and me. He was walking away from me, and I watched him. He’s old, but I can tell that at one time, he was a pretty big, strong, and powerful guy. Probably very intimidating with those eyes of his. He can make his eyes look just like a shark’s. Have you ever seen him do that? It’s all making sense to me now. I wonder if he ever had to take anybody out.”
To that, Jonathan said nothing. Stephen did have a way of looking at a person as if they were prey. He’d seen it first-hand on that weekend that he came with Jennifer to meet with him for that first time. Stephen Edwards had been a very steely, intimidating man, and he had seen all the things that J.J. had mentioned about her grandfather in those first few moments he spent standing with him in the vestibule of his home. He wasn’t about to tell J.J. that he knew of at least one person her grandfather had been involved in “taking out”, and that he was certain there had probably been others. She didn’t need to know that attempts had been made on her grandfather’s life as well. She’d figure all that out on her own in time
“Daddy, did my grandmother know? Does Aunt Sabrina?”
Jonathan hesitated, but he had come too far with the story to not tell her all of it that he could. At that point, he couldn’t do anything but tell her the truth. J.J. had always depended upon him to answer her honestly when she asked him things.
“I’m not sure but I don’t think Aunt Sabrina did or does, but yes, your grandmother knew. She worked with him. Beginning with before they married, before your mother, she worked right with him. After she had your mother, she stayed here, but she continued to assist him from here.”
“For real?” J.J. clasped her hands together in excitement. “Oh, man. How cool is that? She must have been some lady. I really, really, really wish I had been born sooner so I could have known her. But I guess it would make more sense to say that I wish she had lived longer. Just think, if I had been born in time for that, if she still had to leave us, I might have been my mother’s little sister. But she would have been way too bossy, and smart, and perfect for me to be trying to follow her class act with common walk-on part.”
Then a devilish grin crossed her face. She wrinkled her nose and looked to her father. “But, if we had been sisters, the playing field would have been a lot more level. I could argue back and fight her or ignore her and say whatever was on my mind to say when I didn’t want to hear it, if she was just my big sister, couldn’t I?”
Jonathan was forced to laugh at that impish face and at that mental picture. “You are an absolute mess, J.J. Hart. And being the big sister, she still would have had the advantage over you. You still would have had to do whatever she said. And if your grandmother- slash- mother was gone, Jennifer probably would have ended up raising you anyway.”
“Yeah, but then I could have been a lot more vocal in my opposition to it, though. The way it is now, I can’t say nothing.”
“Anything, and I think you lucked out getting her for a mother.”
“Me, too.” She smiled. “I’m no fool. I can recognize a winning hand when I have one.”
This time he reached out and laced his fingers in hers.
“J.J., you do realize the gravity of what I’ve just told you, don’t you? You understand the importance of it staying right here, just between us?”
“Of course, I do. You know that. You wouldn’t have told me if you didn’t think I did. I know what to do with the confidential information that comes my way, and you know that you can count on me. Thank you for telling me and for trusting me with it.”
“What will you tell Marnie about the passage? She knows that it’s there.”
“She hasn’t asked me anything much. She’s not really interested beyond just knowing what’s down there and what’s up with my mother. If she wants to know more, I’ll just tell her it’s storage space for the paintings and stuff my grandfather bought, collected, and sold in his business, and if I have to go any farther, I’ll say it was just a way for my grandmother to get to the guest house without going outside. She already knows that it goes to the guest house attic. Depending on what my mother says when she comes down, I might tell Marnie more about that. If a big deal isn’t made over it, Marnie won’t want to know any more than that. After all, it’s relatively dark down there, and there aren’t any boys, so it doesn’t hold very much fascination for her”
Laughing again, Jonathan let her hand go and smoothed her hair. “You’re really something else. I got good and lucky with you. Somebody sent me a real treasure when they sent you to me.”
“You sure you didn’t just get stuck with the booby prize?” She grinned.
“Nope.” He grinned back at her. “Absolutely, without a doubt, a gift.”
As he looked at her looking at him, he understood. Then he thanked Suzanne- and Jennifer- for her and for trusting in him.
Jennifer moved through the passage resisting the temptation to stop to check out anything along the way. She passed the dollhouse, the cabinets, and the place where the passage split, vowing once again to return and more fully inspect them at another time. She was anxious to get back to that upper level and to that place that had confounded her and Jonathan that first night. Not remembering so many things that were once such important parts of her life, continued to frustrate her. How much more had she put away without being aware of it?
At the top of the stairs, she opened the wall and confidently continued on as if she had traversed that place all of her life. She knew exactly where she was headed. That first night, they thought it was a false lead, designed to throw someone off. If she was right about it, if Pa hadn’t disabled it, that was the way in to where she wanted to go. And since the passageway was supposed to be secret, there would have been no reason for him to have done that.
At the top of that one dusty, dark set of stairs; at the door where they first thought there wasn’t a room, she blindly reached over her head to feel around the doorframe until her fingers caught on that same kind of loop as was over the entrance to her own closet. Praying a quick prayer that things would go her way, she pulled down on it.
At first there was nothing, and her heart instantly knotted with disappointment. Then, the low rumbling started and the wall slid slowly open to reveal complete darkness before her. She switched on the lantern and held it out in front of her to see what was inside.
The closet was oversized, more like a small room, lined on one side with clothing still hanging in a long, neat row. She stepped inside to more closely examine the outdated, but tasteful garments, her head heavily swimming with blurred, murky, slowly moving, faintly familiar images. Slowly moving the light, she could see the neat rows of shoes, still standing at attention on their forms, still patiently waiting for the honor of being selected to adorn their owner’s feet.
The other side of the closet consisted of wooden drawers and cabinets with brass handles shaped like roses. The base boards and the ceiling moldings of the closet bore the brier rose carvings. Built into the wall, by the door that led out to the bedroom, was a dressing table and a large mirror. A brass bench was positioned before it.
Suddenly weak, her knees threatening to give out beneath her as the sudden, jarring, hazy impression formed: a woman sitting there, brushing her long, red hair. Jennifer leaned her body against the wall behind her for support to wait out the resulting lightheadedness.
All of her mother’s personal things were still on that tabletop, haphazardly arranged as if she had just finished using them and perhaps, running late, had left them to be straightened up later. The bench was pulled back and slightly turned out as if she had gotten up from it the moment before rather than over forty years ago. A thin coating of dust had settled on everything, dulling surfaces, softening edges, further emphasizing her mother’s long absence. The eeriness was reinforced by the quiet and the yellow glow from the lantern as it selectively highlighted each new discovery. The sense of isolation that had been creeping up on her ever since she’d heard the wall slide closed behind her a few moments before, intensified.
She realized that just as he had done with the attic, when her father closed off that room, he had done so and walked away, leaving it just as her mother had left it. In that closet, at least, it appeared that he hadn’t removed or touched anything. In fact, a pair of silk stockings still lie draped across the seat of that bench at the dressing table. She tried not to touch anything either. It seemed almost sacrilegious to put an earthly hand to any of it.
The closet door leading into the bedroom was slightly ajar, and as she stood before it, she wrestled with herself for a few moments as to whether or not she wanted to proceed, knowing all the time that she would; that had been her reason for coming all that way. But she couldn’t be sure of what waited for her on the other side of that door. After all, she hadn’t exactly been invited into that place.
Or had she?
What would she find in there? What new jolt would there be to her system? To her well-being, such as it was at that point?
Unsure how much more she could take, and wary of going on, after a brief internal struggle, she finally resolved to get it all over with. One could never go back in time, but whatever waited for her out there, she felt it would be as close to going back as she would ever get. She had been brought that far. It must have been meant for her to get there. Everything had fallen into place to see to it that she made it. All of it had happened for a reason.
Holding the lantern before her, she approached the door and with the flat of her other hand, she eased it open and stepped inside.
Jonathan had come back to the attic looking for Jennifer, and was at first mildly alarmed at not finding her there. But then, his full attention had been drawn to something else. As he sat looking at the papers before him on the top of Suzanne’s desk, he was thoroughly fascinated. They were blueprints for both the main house and the guest house. The guest house plans he was looking at were far different from the ones he and Bill had been studying for the renovations. Those plans that Stephen had given them to look at downstairs did not include as many details as the ones on that desk. Tracing the lines with his fingers, things began quickly adding up and the questions he hadn’t asked aloud were being answered.
After accompanying J.J. outside and walking a short distance with her, listening as she told him some things that were on her mind that she didn’t want overheard by anyone else, he’d put her on the elevator to go up to her room upon their return to the house. Then he had made his way back to guest house. Calling to Jennifer as he entered, and not getting an answer, he quietly climbed the stairs to the attic, assuming that she had fallen asleep up there. In returning, it had been his intention to try and talk her into coming down to spend at least one night sleeping in their bed. She had to be tired, and in need of a proper rest; but he knew that she wasn’t going to stop on her own. On his walk over, he had been preparing the strong argument that he knew he would need to have worked out before he got to her in order to be able to convince her to go along with it.
It threw him off when he found she wasn’t there, but that was when he saw those plans.
His attention was most strongly drawn to the plans for the guest house and those spidery lines that almost blended in with the watermarks in the paper. They radiated from the house to the edge of the paper. Sliding the edge of the blueprints for the main house and gardens to match up with the edge of the plans for the guest house and its gardens, he could see what Jennifer had most likely seen; that those faint lines on both sets of plans matched up and eventually merged into one barely visible line that deceptively faded in places, making it look as if it were not deliberate. Having experienced it first hand, he recognized those faint lines as representing that passage that connected both houses.
Going back to the guest house plans, he closely examined them, noting that they were meticulously detailed to the point of some fixtures and furniture in the room being indicated on them. Why had that been necessary? Then he noticed the almost imperceptible, tiny Greek symbols, alpha and omega, drawn in various places. The beginning and the end- in and out- and he could see it. Omega was indicated by a bookshelf near the desk, it was also on the light fixture over the picture, and behind the fireplace was an alpha. The way in and the way out. He could see it.
He checked out that tall bookshelf first. It was loaded from top to bottom with books, pictures, and porcelain figurines, and other personal knick-knacks. Starting at the top, he began examining it, not quite sure what he was looking for, but continuing to look, getting all the way down to the bottom. It was at the floor where he noticed something out of the way. Although he couldn’t see legs holding it up, the bookshelf didn’t quite rest on the floor.
He stood upright and holding it by its sides, he pulled at it, and wasn’t at all surprised when it quite easily rolled away from the wall. It had been sitting on recessed wheels, and behind it he found the door, the omega on the plans, a way out. Opening it and noticing its unusually heavy weight, he found that the other side of the door was brick that blended right in with the surrounding wall. According to the plans, that door would lead down those steps and back into a closet in the master bedroom of the guest house, which explained how one got to the outside- and hopefully away- by way of the lake or the woods. He supposed that, like the other exits and entrances, it was set up so that the bookshelf maneuvered itself back into place once someone went through the door.
He noted that if one were down in the passage, and took the wrong path, luck ran out. There was only the one way in, one alpha, and that was through the fireplace. Someone would have to know what to look for and have the right equipment to operate it. The plan Jennifer’s mother set up was a relatively simple one, just difficult to operate, and frustrating and confusing to maneuver. As such, it was highly effective.
Jennifer hadn’t gone out that way. She was in too deeply to have chosen to go back outside via the front stairs, and she hadn’t been downstairs in the house when he came in. She had gone back into the passage, of that he was sure. Crossing the room to the light fixture, marked with an omega on the plans, he started to try to figure that out when it came to him that he had seen something else on those blueprints for the main house. He returned to the desk to be sure. Sitting down once again, he pulled those papers to him.
On the second floor of the main house, he had only ever known there to be five bedrooms, with Jennifer’s father occupying the large suite that took up the northern wing of that floor. In the back of his mind, it had always struck him as odd that the inner footage of the rooms themselves, as far as he could see, didn’t seem to equal out to that entire end of the house. He had seen something on his first pass with those plans, but being more focused on the guest house and the passage, he hadn’t paid that much attention.
With his finger, he slowly traced the second floor and that time he really saw it; another room that was part of Jennifer’s father’s suite. A bedroom was connected to the “Master Suite”, and it was labeled on the plans as, “Mrs. Edwards’ Room”.
Jennifer had never mentioned that room to him, and he could only guess at the reason why. For the past few days, her memory had been repeatedly jarred, her entire mental and physical being, slammed in the process. She had been reasonably strong in the face of it all, going so far as beginning to try hide her tears and distress from him. But she hadn’t rested well in two, going on three days. It had to be getting pretty heavy for her.
Returning to the light fixture, it didn’t take long before he was squeezing back through that open fireplace and on his way back through the passage, headed for the main house.
As she entered the other room, she noted to herself how it all smelled so dry and old, like an antique shop or some other place long deprived of fresh air. It was a couple of moments before she realized that the reason she was so focused on the odor and couldn’t see anything, even with the lantern, was because she had closed her eyes. Holding the lantern higher, she forced herself to look into the room before her, to the bed being showcased by the dim light. It was still there, clad in plush royal purple satin, its four carved posts still reaching for the vaulted ceiling. Decorator pillows in shades of gold, teal, and ivory still lie casually strewn at its head.
The old ivory carpeting on the floor- the other rooms had hardwood floors at the time. In the beginning, that bedroom had been the only one fitted with carpet .
…she didn’t like wearing shoes in that room, and she hated for her feet to be greeted by the cold wood floor on winter mornings…
“Oh, mama” Jennifer heard herself whisper, her voice sounding a lot like J.J.’s in her head, as she pictured her mother’s bare, slender, manicured feet in her mind.
The sheer ivory curtains still covered the huge windows, but no light came through. Stepping slowly in and holding the light to them, she could see the bricks on the other side of the panes.
The involuntary whisper, “Pa. Why?” sounded like a shout in the stillness.
Rotating back to the bed, Scotch plaid cloth, the sewing box, and the resulting sharp flashback they evoked caused her grab onto a bedpost to steady herself as she slid slowly down to the floor, ending up on her knees, leaned against the side of the bed. Placing the lantern on the floor, she held her aching head in her hands to keep it from exploding from the rapidly flashing, blinding images inside.
“No, no, no, Jenny, you must go back and change. The hem is torn. I will fix it after I take you and come back here. Get another from your closet to wear today, put it on and bring that one to me. Hurry, you will be late.”
“Je me rappelle, Mama.” She found herself murmuring in agony. “I remember, I remember.”
The uniform skirt was still lying there on the bed where it had presumably been since that morning. It was so small, and the hem was still pulled down from where her shoe had gotten caught on it, tearing at the threads as she rushed to pull it on that morning. She had been anxious to see her father. He was back, and he was supposed to take her to school. But as it turned out, he didn’t wake up in time, and her mother, insisting that he be allowed to sleep, had taken her instead.
She had probably planned on sewing the skirt in that room to keep from disturbing him from his rest. But it had never been repaired because she had never come back. Her mother always did what she said she was going to do, but she hadn’t that time. She couldn’t. She never came back for the skirt, or for anything else in that room. She didn’t come back for Pa, and she didn’t come back for her. She never returned to Briarwood, and her rooms had been suspended in time, as if one day she would.
She covered her ears as a voice very much like J.J.’s began angrily, almost hysterically, screaming in her head.
“Why didn’t you get up and take me, Papa? You said that you would, but you didn’t. Why didn’t you get up? If it had been you, I wouldn’t even miss you. You’re never here anyway. If you had been in the car like you said you would be, it wouldn’t have been her. My mother loved me. I won’t go with you. You don’t love me, you’re just stuck with me. I wish you had been in the car. I wish you had been the one to die!”
With horror she realized that it couldn’t be J.J.’s voice resounding in her ears; J.J. had always called her father “Daddy”. As a little girl, before the accident, she had called her father, “Papa”. It was she who had uttered those vile, hurtful words.
How could she have said those ugly things to that sweet, grieving man? It was not in her nature to be cruel or impolite, especially to her elders. How could those words have come from her mouth?
“Oh my God.” She sobbed. “No. No.”
Her eyes rose to take in the large brick fireplace being up-lit by the lantern, and she could feel it …
…warm and crackling…the fire was lit… they sat close to it… early spring coolness waited outside of the perimeter of the fireplace…
“Sit with me, my Jenny. I brush that wild hair, tame it so you can sleep.”
…they were on the floor on the hearthrug in front of the fireplace. Her mother brushed and braided her hair… she was talking… telling a story… she made up stories… in English… in French… in Spanish… in German… wonderful stories about France, Spain, Italy, Germany, England… the moon, the stars… all the places she had been or wanted to go…
“There are many languages, Jennifer. They are all so beautiful to the ear. Can you hear the all the sounds they make? Different sounds to say the same things. Can you hear them?”
“Yes, Mama. I can hear them.”
“One day, I will teach you more than the French and the Spanish. You learn so quickly. You have a good ear. You will know all the languages I know and more. You will be much smarter than your mama. You will go to university, and you will learn all of them properly. You will be a polished, finished lady, and you make your Papa proud. You will not be a tomboy horse lady like your Mama. You will be my beautiful swan.”
“You’re not a tomboy. The horses love you. The land is who you are. You’re my beautiful Mama.”
“And you are my Jenny.”
…such pretty hands… she took good care of them…wore gloves always when she worked the horses… tended the roses… beautiful gowns and long hair when her father was at home… hazel eyes that could see clear through to the soul… so patient, so strong, fearless, and wise…
In her mind, she saw in the distance, standing on the crest of the east hill… tall and slender, her long hair loose and blowing in the wind. She stood with her legs apart, her hands on her hips as she surveyed all that was hers. She had been the lady of the manor.
…queens, kings, knights, princes who won the kisses of their princesses, damsels in distress rescued by brave, handsome men, Joan of Arc, Sojourner Truth, Good Queen Bess, Lizzie Borden … she spoke of strong women…
…and a little girl…
…she made up lots of stories of that girl… Justine… Justine with long red hair who was brave and sassy and strong… whose mother loved her… who loved her mother… the Justine stories were always told to her in French…
“Who loves you more than Mama, my Jenny?”
“Only God, Mama.”
“Your Papa loves you too, Jenny. Do not ever forget that wherever he is, your Papa holds you close in his heart.”
“Not like you do, Mama. Papa loves his work. You’re always here with me.”
It was true he was often away, and she had resented it, but even as a child she knew that he had always loved her. It was in the ways that he showed her that he was thinking of her when he was away. When he was home, it was in the manner that he so patiently taught her about the world he loved to travel. He took her with him in his boat and taught her to fish. As she lie at his feet, reading aloud to him before the fire in his study, he questioned her thoughts on what she read, or stopped her to discuss the text.
He had never been real big on idle conversation, “chatter” was what he called it, but he always reached for her hand and held it in his when they silently walked together on the grounds.
However could she have said that to him?
“… you have always had that nasty temper…”
Why in God’s name hadn’t he slapped her across her insolent mouth as she deserved? Why hadn’t Sabrina soundly chastised her for saying that to him? Her aunt had been standing right there in that doorway, listening to everything that was said, and yet she remained silent.
She vividly remembered all of it.
No matter how badly she had treated him after her mother was gone, he never wavered in his devotion to her. He kept phoning and kept writing despite the fact that she rarely had anything to say when he called and never answered his letters. How had he ever gotten past his daughter saying something like that to him and treating him as she had? It had been so long ago, but it was as clear in her mind as if it had just happened a moment ago. She could even taste the acidic bitterness of it burning into her tongue, and she could feel it boiling in the pit of her stomach.
Closing her eyes, she tried to imagine J.J. saying something like that to Jonathan. In her mind, she could see the crushing hurt in his eyes and felt his intense, choking pain upon hearing it. She doubled over with it, clutching at her own chest, while still being inundated with the flood of recollections.
She had said that to Pa, her Papa, and at that time and for years after that, she had meant it. Everything had been taken away, as if her mother had never been there, as if her father never had a wife. She had been left with only her memories, and she decided that she would keep them to herself. Like her photograph albums, she hid them away. In her twelve-year-old mind she figured if she didn’t let him know that she still had them; he couldn’t take the memories away like he had everything else. In the beginning, he never mentioned her mother, and likewise, neither did she. After a time, when he did try to speak of her again, it was as if she couldn’t bear to hear him speak of her, so to keep him from continuing, she would remain silent in the hope of quickly changing the subject. Over the years her silence on the subject had become habit.
But finally, finally, it was becoming clearer. Finally, she was beginning to comprehend.
She clearly understood that in all of it, her father really had, in his own way, tried to do the best he could.
But with her mother’s death, she had forgotten her words and her teachings. She hadn’t trusted in them or in her father’s love. Now that she could remember what she had done, how would she ever make it right by him again? He had to still remember her saying that to him even if it had been decades ago. It had to still hurt him. Somehow, some way, she would have to seek his forgiveness and right the wrong she had done to him. Nobody was getting any younger, and tomorrow wasn’t promised to anyone. Her mother’s brief life had proven that to all of them. It had to be acknowledged out loud between them, and soon.
Weak, drained, and faint with shame and remorse, she left the lantern where it was and crawled to the foot of her mother’s bed where she finally collapsed on the old hearth rug before the mouth of the cold fireplace. When she closed her eyes, her mother’s face loomed crystal clear before her. She was wearing that white sweater from the attic. Her hazel eyes warmed her, and her voice was soothing as she stroked her throbbing temple with her long, slender fingers.
“Rest now, my Jenny.” She said. “Get strong again. There is more to do, a little farther you must go.”