Passages: Part Seven

Part Seven

Jennifer stood before the wall behind the couch. The alternating feelings of anxiety, anticipation, and revelation coursing through her person, the same ones experienced years ago on academic archaeological digs in college, on breaks, assisting her father with one of his intense research sessions deep down in some musty museum or art gallery archive.

This collection; however, she was unable to approach with the usual scholarly detachment. The subject at hand was much closer to her heart, her own mother.

Every time she removed one of those old cloths, throwing it over the stair railing to get it out of her way, either something new was revealed to her or another old memory was abruptly summoned forward from where she had it neatly stored away in her head for safekeeping. It seemed that whoever had been of the mind to preserve that room all those years ago, had loved or respected her mother to the extent that not so much as a pin had been moved from where she had had left it.

Having bared just that one wall, it was more than evident that the attic room of the guest house had been a sanctuary of some sort for Suzanne Edwards. Personal photographs, paintings, mementos of her travels, bookshelves full of books, some of those exquisitely quaint porcelain figurines she used to collect; they were all right there, and it was all so intriguing. To keep from breaking or moving anything out of place, she had been being as slow and careful in uncovering her mother’s possessions as she had been in unearthing precious ancient artifacts in Greece.

There were lots of family pictures both on the wall and on the shelves, many of her as a little girl and several of her father alone or of her parents together. Several were of her maternal grandparents and of her Aunt Sabrina. On one shelf there was even one framed photo of her father’s parents outside of their home in Wales. Many of those pictures, she had never seen, and keeping them from the light had preserved them from fading. She found them highly intriguing even though she couldn’t force herself to move in too close to them.

But the nagging idea remained that there was something up there that she had to get done. Although the need to go to J.J. was pressing, she was feeling increasingly more compelled to remain up there until she had explored the entire room. For once, she was finding herself able to convince herself that J.J. would be fine without her. She wasn’t sure what it was that she had to do, but she knew that whatever it was, it was up there, and it had to be looked into. In the meantime, she was taking pleasure in her discoveries.

Still holding the last dust cover in her hands, her attention, at that moment, was riveted to the framed black and white professional enlargement of what must have been a candid personal photograph at one time. It was a close-up picture of her mother holding her as they sat together on Sinbad. Although she remembered admiring him, she had been too young to realize just what a magnificent animal he had been. But, standing there as an accomplished horsewoman, she could certainly see and appreciate it in that picture. At the time that it had been taken, she had been a baby, probably a little over a year old. But her focus wasn’t drawn so much to the horse or to herself as it was to her mother’s face.

Whoever had taken the picture had shot it dead-on. She was looking right into the camera as if she were looking into the eyes of the photographer, and as a consequence, the eyes of the onlooker. Being that it hadn’t  been taken in color, it wasn’t possible to tell the exact shade of her mother’s eyes. It was only apparent that they were lighter in hue and that her gaze had been very direct. Her long, thick hair had been pulled up, but loosely so. Stray tendrils framed her face and gently crossed her forehead with the breeze that apparently was blowing in off the fields. Judging by her own age in the picture, her mother had to have been twenty-one or so, just a young girl herself, a few years older than J.J. was at present.

That mirror image of her mother’s face was more riveting than that portrait in the passageway had been. Unlike the painting, she knew that in that photograph the camera could only reflect what had actually been in front of it. Nothing had been altered by an artist’s interpretation, enhancement, or embellishment. That was her as she had been at that moment, and the intense power radiating from it seemed to have her leaned away, pressed up against the back of the couch as she studied it, unable to take her own eyes from it.

There she was, Suzanne Edwards, looking directly at her with a younger version of that visage that wouldn’t independently take form in her head. In both the portrait down in the passage and in that photograph there on the wall, a definite air of casual self-assurance emanated from the young woman managing quite capably to hold onto both her horse and her baby. J.J. Hart could very easily have been that young woman in that picture. That enlargement was very much like her daughter, in fact, too much like her daughter; her daughter with the same name as her mother’s unborn child.

The association stopped her breathing for a moment. It had come to her before, only, not wanting to feel it, she had quickly gotten up from the couch, and had archived it without even realizing that she had done it. Standing before that picture, it seemed that her mother’s eyes were forcing her to see it, summoning that stark recognition to that place right behind her eyes.

“My second daughter…”

Dropping the cloth that was in her hands, and reaching blindly behind her for the journal which still lie on the couch, she gasped aloud, “Oh, my God”, when she noticed that the sweater was on the arm of the chair rather than on the arm of the couch where it had been. That afghan was bunched up on the seat of the couch, no longer neatly folded across the arm. The pillow was on the floor… it had been supporting her head when she woke.

Holding the book up to the light, feeling the twisting in her gut, she reread that last line:

“The first name of my second daughter, if I am so blessed, will be Justine.”

_____________________________________________________________

The stairs led up to a brick wall, but previous experience told Jonathan that he should not be deterred by that. He had just reached the top of those stairs when he heard Jennifer’s voice cry out, confirming for him that he had been right in choosing the path that he had taken to get there.

Frantically, he felt along the top of the wall in search of a gap while fighting an increasingly losing battle to stay calm. He thought he could hear her sobbing, and he feared the adrenaline rush triggered by the sound was going to make him clumsy and cause him to miss his marks.

“Jesus, please.” He prayed as, close to tears of aggravation himself, he anxiously patted, smoothed, and pushed at the wall in search of anything to get him on the other side.

“Suzanne, please, ” He pleaded. “Let me get to her, please. I promise you I’ll take care of your gift, whichever one of them you meant. I already try to take care of both of them all the time. You have to know that. Please help me.”

Finding nothing other than bricks tightly sealed with mortar on that one side, he switched his search to the other. Shaking with worry, sweating profusely, his heart was pounding like a jackhammer in his chest as he stretched to start his fresh hunt at the top. Realizing that he was no longer hearing her at all, he yelled out, “Jennifer! Jennifer! Answer me!” to the wall.

Putting his ear to the cool, indifferent brick, he could no longer hear anything coming from the other side.

“Goddammit!” He yelled in complete fury, slamming his fists into that stubborn barrier that was keeping him from his wife. He concluded that once again, he was being foiled or slowed down by Jennifer’s mother and that perhaps he had taken the wrong avenue after all.

Then his head filled with that rich French voice, “Have I not told you about that nasty talking, Jonathan? Again you forget to whom you speak. We will speak of this habit later, you and I. She needs you now. Go to her.”

With his hands still pressed against it, the wall began to slowly ease forward like a door. He pushed on it to hasten its opening, whispering earnestly and sincerely to his mother-in-law, “Thank you, thank you, Suzanne. I promise you…”

Before it stopped moving, when it was open wide enough, he squeezed his body through and stood just inside to take in the room, seeing, but not seeing in his rapid scanning of it for Jennifer. Checking behind himself as well, he could see that he had come through the brick fireplace which was actually a door that, as he watched, was closing back by itself.

“Jennifer?”

Stepping all the way into the dimness, his immediate impression was that it was too quiet. His chest hurt like hell, and the side of his head was still throbbing. Where was she? Could she be hurt?

Not stopping to examine anything therein, but briefly noticing, in passing, the eyes intently watching him from the wall behind the couch, he headed for the staircase. Looking down over the railing, he could see that the door at the bottom was being held open by a bundle of that cloth that was trailing down the stairs. It was obvious that something or someone had gone that way because they were all bunched to one side as if they had been kicked or moved to allow passage.

She had to be running and like J.J., although she was much older, Jennifer was swift.

Aggravated at having having missed her, he sarcastically asked the air, “Does she still need time away from me, Suzanne?”

“No.” Was the humble, anxious-sounding answer. “Go to her, my son. She needs you. Hurry to her.”

Taking them two at a time, Jonathan raced down the stairs. briefly stopping to securely brace open the door by wedging the cloth under it with his foot. He didn’t hold out much hope of catching her, but he didn’t want to be too far behind her when she crashed.

_____________________________________________________________

Jazz snatched up the phone on her vanity before it managed a full ring.

“Private Suite 107, Nurse Jones speaking.”

Hi, Jazz. This is Marnie, J.J.’s friend. What’s up with her phone? I’ve been calling and calling, and she doesn’t pick up. People have been calling me all day because they say they can’t reach her.

“She’s asleep, Marnie. She took a nap this afternoon, woke up and had her dinner. Then she went right back to sleep. I have her cell phone in here with me, and I turned off the ringer on her room phone so she wouldn’t be disturbed.”

Asleep? J. never goes to sleep this early. She doesn’t take naps like that unless she’s sick or something. She okay?

“She’s fine. She was just tired.”

Well, if that’s all it is, can you get her up? I need to talk to her.

“Marnie, I told you she’s asleep. I am not about to go in there and wake her up just so you can talk to her. She needs her rest.”

Come on, Jazz, I’m dying here. I really need to talk to her. Hey, so tell me, how’d it go with her and Teddy? Isn’t he cute? And so nice. Did he kiss her? She kiss him?

“Patient-Nurse privilege, girl. I can’t divulge that kind of information. What do you want, anyway? You want me to give her a message because I’m not getting her to the phone.”

I thought J. said you were cool.

“I am cool, I’m just not telling you her business or getting her to the phone.”

Be like that, then. Just tell J. that me and Aunt Pat are in Gresham, Mass. Actually, tell her that I’m at Gresham Hall and she can call me on my cell ANY time tonight if she wakes back up. Tell her that Dee says “Hi,” and wants her to talk to her too.

“When are you coming home, in case she wakes up too late, and I decide not to give her the phone. I can at least give her a full message from you so she won’t be asking me a whole bunch of questions. I will do that much.”

What a pal. Just tell her for me we’ll be home tomorrow, and I’ll give her the low-down on everything then because she’ll be wondering how we ended up here and why.

My social life is pretty much crap right about now, and I cannot believe you won’t let me talk to my best friend. Here I am, it’s summer, there’s an all-boys’ school down the road, and I’m stuck up here in an all girls’ room on an all girls’ campus. And I’m doing good with that. I could be staying at Dean Marchand’s residence with Aunt Pat, but I managed to talk my way out of it to get up in here. It was the lesser of two evils. It isn’t fair. J’s there with all those boys and I’m here. I know I’m talking your ear off, and you don’t even know me, but I would have been telling all this to J. if you had cooperated.

“You’ll live, Marnie. I’ll give her the message. I doubt that she’ll be calling you, though. She’s pretty far under.”

Has she gotten up to pee?

“What?”

You heard me right. That’s how you can tell. She always has to go. If she hasn’t, then she’s pretty much out.

“She’s out then. And don’t feel bad about missing out on J.J. and these boys. She hasn’t been with them either. They’ve been trying to come see her, but her friend came by, and she’s been asleep ever since he left. Didn’t even wake up when her uncle delivered her things to her. She’s staying here until Monday now.”

Oh well, she probably wore herself out trying not to be seen panting over Teddy. She’s always tries to play so calm and collected. I know she’s got the hots. Monday? Uncle Bill came with her stuff? Where’s her mother? Didn’t she come?

“J.J. is staying over another day so I can make sure she’s back up on her two feet and properly. And no, her mother hasn’t been here yet. She may still come. There’s still time.”

Hmmm. That’s beyond strange that Mrs. H. hasn’t been there and J.’s been sleep so long. Well, just give J. the message for me then. Thanks for doing that and for listening to me drone on and on, Jazz. You’re good people. I’ll see you and J. tomorrow.

Jazz hung up chuckling to herself over that motor-mouthed little girl.

Teenagers, she thought to herself. Rich ones, poor ones, the ones in the middle, healthy ones, injured ones; they were all the same: so funny, so confused, and so all over the place, wandering around in that gap between being a child and being an adult. And as a nurse-therapist, she couldn’t think of any other age group with whom she had so much fun while working with them.

Pulling J.J.’s cell from her pocket, she lay it down on the vanity next to her own phone, and it immediately began buzzing again. Shaking her head, she ignored it and walked away headed for J.J.’s room.

By the nightlight, she could see J.J. lying on her back, still deeply sleeping. She smoothed her covers, and placed the hand that was hanging over the side of the bed onto her stomach. A tiny gold bracelet sparkled on her wrist, catching her attention. Peering closely at it, Jazz could see that the two hearts with the diamond set between them were engraved with two scripted J’s.

That one slim hand suddenly tightly clutched at the covers, and looking up to her face in alarm, Jazz could see a small frown briefly crease J.J.’s brow. A lone tear was squeezing its way out of the corner of her eye. It flashed as it trickled down the side of her face.

In her sleep, J.J. murmured, “Tout est bien, Mama. Il est vous et moi.”

Jazz, unfazed by her patient talking in her sleep, didn’t know quite what she said, but understood enough to hope that Mrs. Hart made it down to see her child that evening. It was evident that she was heavy on J.J.’s mind.

_____________________________________________________________

Leaving through the front door, ignoring the path to the main house, Jennifer darted around toward the back of the guest house instead. Alternately running and striding across the lawn, she swiftly crossed her father’s estate on her way to that one place that always brought her comfort. It was the place to where, when she had been very small, she and the dogs would ride out so that she could play by herself or read. Sometimes during the summer, when it was just she and her mother at home alone, her father away on one of his trips, right after breakfast she’d pack a lunch and her things and would spend entire days out there. In those simpler times there was no need to worry, no need to fear anything. When she turned back up later in the early evening, her mother would be there at the guest house, waiting for her with a smile, her open arms, and something hot to eat. She had been an excellent cook.

It was dusk, and the sun sitting low on the rosy horizon reminded her of that moment when she realized for the first time that she would never see the white Jaguar from her window as it came up the driveway. Just like when she had burst from the main house that night, she was headed for the place to which she had gone to cry by herself once it finally hit her that her mother being gone was true, and it was real that she was never coming home. It was where she continued to go to hide from her sudden stranger of a father, and escape all the people at the house who wanted to fawn over her and offer sympathy she didn’t want.

When she would emerge, convinced by the darkness and the cold to return home, she would see her father in the distance, a darkly elegant figure sitting tall on Aladdin’s back. Upon spotting her, he would wave her in and they would ride, him following her, back up to the house. He never said anything about her being gone without his leave. He never asked her what she thought. He never asked her how she felt. He just never said and never asked.

It wasn’t until many years later that he revealed he had always known where to find her. He said that he would come and make sure that she was there, but that he would sit and wait for her to come out of her ‘secret’ place before approaching her. That sepia image seared in her memory of him sitting there on his horse, appearing stoic in the face of having just lost his wife, waiting patiently in the crypt-cold night air for his daughter to come home, brought tears of stinging guilt to her eyes. Age and maturity reproached her severely: she had never asked him either.

She knew that she wasn’t supposed to have left that room, but she didn’t think she could have stood being up there a moment longer. It had all been so long ago, but those recent experiences had her feeling just as she had on that darkest day in her life.

Running and terrified, she was once again inhaling the crisp, cool- almost cold- damp air of that spring night, and experiencing the hollow, desperate, nauseating emptiness in her heart. After waking up that morning, having slept much later than usual, she had come right down and outside in search of Jonathan. She hadn’t eaten anything at all that day, so there was nothing inside to be sent up. The resultant strong cramping tried to force her to her knees, and she was at first inclined to give in to it. But, getting a second wind from somewhere, she pushed on, desperate to get to where she knew she would be herself again.

Who moved that sweater and that afghan? Who placed the pillow under her head and kept her from injuring herself in the fall? Had it all been a dream, or had she really been there? Why did the memory seem so near and yet so far outside of her ability to get a handle on it?

The resemblance between her mother and her daughter was so strong, even more so than her own to either of them. J.J. was hers, wasn’t she? How could she be anything else? Why had it taken sixteen years for all of it to happen; for the association, if there was one, to be thrust in her face in the manner that it seemed to be? Why, all of a sudden, was she so strongly feeling her mother’s presence all around her after all of the time that had gone by?

Why did it feel like her arms were around her, and that she was once again whispering in her ear, “You can do this, my Jenny.”? And if that were the case, why was she so disturbed by it?

The coincidences and the questions were too numerous to ignore.

“Please, just please tell me what it is I can do, Mama.” She pleaded as she started up running again from the trot to which she had slowed, in more of a hurry than ever to reach the place to which she hadn’t had to go for comfort since shortly before J.J. was born.

Her head aching, dazed and lightheaded from the onslaught of questions, the barrage of confusing revelations and images, and blinded by the rushing stream of tears; instinct alone was navigating her to the small pond and that huge old oak tree beyond the thick brace of trees on the west side of the lake.

It wasn’t until she was moving aside some brush while passing through the more thickly wooded area just before the clearing, that she realized she was still carrying her mother’s journal.

_____________________________________________________________

Closing the front door behind him which Jennifer had left standing open, Jonathan raced from the guest house, first taking the path that led back to the main house. He was just about there when it occurred to him that if Jennifer was distressed, she wouldn’t go where her father might see her and be upset by her behavior. That was probably especially true if it had something to do with her mother as he suspected that it did. According to what her father had told him about her, that wasn’t something she would take to him even under the best of circumstances.

Veering off the path, he began jogging across the expanse of lawn that led to the stables. As he ran, the image flashed in his mind, and it struck him as very strange that his daughter’s picture would be up in that attic.

Just as quickly, he concluded that it wasn’t his daughter’s face that he’d seen up there.

_____________________________________________________________

Fading back in from the black, J.J. found herself with Teddy, holding hands and walking down to the dock at her grandfather’s. She had her hair down, wearing that long, embroidered, peach silk dress; and she was barefoot. When they were far enough away from the house, Teddy stopped and took her in his arms. As he held her close, she could feel the cool grass under her feet, his heartbeat, and the warmth of his hands on her back through the thin fabric of her dress. Looking down into her face, he smiled his gorgeous smile and then he kissed her. She kissed him back, the delicious feeling coursing all the way down to the tips of her polished toes. Through it all she could vaguely recall what her mother had told her, and she wanted to listen to her voice and heed what she said, but the assortment of sensations she was experiencing was simply overwhelming.

The well-defined muscles of his back and arms, which she suspected were the result of the hard work he did with the horses, rippled under her roaming palms as his tongue explored her mouth and her lips. His caressing hands ventured lower and lower and even lower, unti-.

“J.J.” Came a voice from behind her.

Startled, she tore herself away from Teddy and whipped around to see who was calling her, praying to God Almighty that it wasn’t her father.

It was Tommy, standing there with his arms folded, looking only at her.

“I thought you said you were listening the other night.” He said.

“I heard you.” She answered guiltily, unable to meet his accusing eyes. “I was just kissing him.”

“In a minute he was going to be feeling you up for real, and then, out on the water, once you let it go so far and get so hot, you were probably going to end up screwing him.”

“How do you know what I was going to do, Tommy? You think you know everything about me.”

“I do know you.” He said. “I know you get a kick out of trying stuff that you know you shouldn’t. And I know you were sneaking off to go do something you know you shouldn’t be doing with him. Me and you, we both know you’re not ready for it. It might not be your intention to have sex, but you’re always saying how things have a way of getting away from you. Don’t do this, J. Wait.”

“I wasn’t going to do anything. And wait for what, Tommy? Wait for who? You?”

“Just wait on all that, J. You’re the best, a lady. Wait until you’re sure you’re with the best, somebody who’ll respect that. When it does happen for you, it won’t be with me, for sure. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I respect you and all that. But like I told you, I know your old man personally. I had my ear pierced, but I’m not putting myself in position to get my forehead pierced. I know how he is when it comes to you, and he is not messing around. Jonathan Hart plays for keeps when it comes to his daughter.”

Placing one hand sassily on her hip, J.J. patted her foot impatiently while waiting for him to finish.

Tommy continued, “It might just be this guy one day. It might not be. But whoever it turns out to be, you need to be sure about everything, J. You are not sure, and you know it.”

“How do you know what I am? And just why are you all up in my business, Tommy Steele?”

” ‘Cause I care, girl. I’ll always care, and I won’t lie to you about stuff. I don’t have to. I don’t want anything from you that I have to butter you up to get. When it comes to us, we can just be real with each other.”

“Oh, so what are you saying? He can’t like me for me? It can’t be that we just like each other? He has to be buttering me up just so he can get in my panties. Is that what it is, Tommy? So, just how insulting can you really be?”

She was fired up and ready to fight, but Tommy, just like he almost always infuriatingly did at those moments, remained calm.

“All I’m saying is wait, J. Don’t even be thinking along those lines. Quit letting your head go there, and just have fun and be a kid for as long as you can. Don’t get all hemmed up with that stuff and start growing up too fast. Just be a girl for a while longer, J.J. That’s all I’m saying. I know what I’m talking about.”

Through the entire exchange, she noticed that Teddy hadn’t said a word even though he had reached to take her hand in his, and he continued to gently hold onto it while she and Tommy were talking.

Tommy kept looking down directly into her face the way he did when she was wrong and trying to challenge him about calling her on it. In the end, all she could do was break the stand-off by shifting her eyes down to her feet, quietly conceding, “Okay, Tommy.”

She knew that he was serious because he rarely did that much talking in the presence of someone he didn’t know, especially another male. Under normal circumstances, Tommy would have been off to the side, silently scoping Teddy out like an overprotective big brother or something.

When she looked up again, Tommy was still standing there, his legs apart and his arms folded, but he was smiling, flashing those infamous dimples. Nodding to her in his customary low key manner, “Okay, then.”, He said.

He faded out, and she woke up.

_____________________________________________________________

Out of breath, Jennifer cleared the woods, dropping exhausted and emotionally spent, to the ground underneath her oak tree, still clasping her mother’s book in her hand. Leaning back against the trunk, the book pressed to her breast, she closed her eyes to concentrate on willing her sensibilities back within her control.

Consciously slowing her breathing, her eyes still closed, she could feel the book pushing against her hands trying to reopen itself to those pages upon which it had been resting for so long. She thought she should have broken the dried binding in unknowingly closing it to make her flight from the attic, but still it was fighting to be in control.

She opened her eyes and lowered the book to look at the front cover again. After a slight hesitation, she allowed the book to open, but she turned the pages back to the first entry. It had been dated May 12, 1956, her mother’s thirty-second birthday.

Another set of coincidences? J.J.’s birthday was May 2nd. Her own birthday was November 2nd. Her mother died on April 2 carrying within her a second child whom she’d hoped would be a second daughter.

Had she been the second passage for that second daughter to try to achieve the life denied to her the first time?

…God knows best where and with whom to put his babies… I have always known her…

Although they sounded faint and distant, she recognized her mother’s voice and her words. She would have been willing to swear under oath that she had heard them spoken before.

Jerking herself back from that extremely distracting, speculative reverie, and those words whose origin was just out of reach of her powers of clear recall, she did remember that her mother had been the one to teach her to keep journals. It started in ’56 on the day she turned twelve. Her mother died, one month to the day, before the midway point of that first book, but she hadn’t stopped keeping it. It was what her mother wanted her to do, and there had been too much confusion, anger and fear to keep it all bottled up inside. Some of it spilled over into words put on the pages in that book, and that had been the starting point for what turned out to be a satisfying and ultimately illustrious writing career. With the exception of a certain few people in her life, she had always been better at expressing her true feelings through the written word.

The year following her mother’s death, for her birthday, her father surprised her by sending her a new book, from where he was working in Germany, to start journaling her new year. At that time, she didn’t know that he was aware that she kept a journal. Annually supplying her with a blank book was a tradition that he had maintained through the years, and even though she was long grown up, she still looked forward to that special gift from him on her birthdays.

She had given her own daughter her first journal. Although J.J. had been writing ever since she could hold a pencil, and had all of her life been watching her mother write, it wasn’t until she was twelve that she’d given her that first book and taught her about keeping a journal. Was that an unconscious repetition of her past or yet another coincidence?

Every year since then, she had given J.J. a new book on her birthday. Like her father had done with her, she planned to continue that practice as long as they were both living.

Living. As long as they were both living…

I was not long here… You two are mine… All there is left of me….

In the remaining light of the day, her hands still not quite steady as they held the book up to her eyes, she began to read. Perhaps something on those pages would make it all start to make sense and help her to clearly remember.

_____________________________________________________________

When he was close to the area, Jonathan got down off Jennifer’s father’s horse and taking the reins in hand, he walked Legs to the edge of the woods to tie him off. Then he turned to begin his search. Panning the area, in the distance ahead of him, he spotted her sitting on the ground under that big tree, and seeing her there, he experienced a moment of deeply sentimental déjà vu.

He recalled coming to look for her sixteen years before when, bored and resentful at being sidelined while they visited her father just before J.J. was born, she’d taken off to ride on her own. When he found her that afternoon, she was sitting in that same spot, leaned against that same tree. He had been incensed that she would risk climbing onto, riding, and climbing down unassisted from a horse that late into the pregnancy. His plan had been to let her have it for being so reckless, endangering herself and their baby.

Instead, when he got to the other side of that tree and looked down into that precious face and at her hand bearing the ring that represented their union resting upon that rounded belly, the anger instantly evaporated. All he was left with was his anxiety for her and for that child, both of whom he wanted to negotiate a safe passage through their upcoming challenge and then return to his loving arms. The only thing he had been able to do that day was mildly scold her. Then he sat with her to rest his head in what was left of her lap, feeling that little person, whom he was certain was his daughter, pressing herself against his cheek trying to get to know him as he talked and sang to her.

…a safe passage…

Those words reverberated in his mind as he tied off Legs and then started toward his wife. Recalling the details of that strange dream he’d had, he thought he was beginning to put the pieces together, but what was taking form was too fantastic and far-fetched for his practical mind.

When he recalled that she had been so furious with him earlier, he stopped a few feet behind her to consider his position, surprised that in his anxiety, he had forgotten that important detail. It also occurred to him that his head and his chest, which had both been threatening to explode since that afternoon, no longer bothered him.

“Jennifer.” He called quietly from where he stood, not wanting to startle her or to get too close in the event that she was still defensive.

She didn’t seem to hear him. Her head was down, and he wondered if she were awake. Taking a few more steps in, he called again. “Jennifer.”

Still, she didn’t answer.

It wasn’t like her to not sense his presence. Sure that she had to be sound asleep or worse, unconscious, he hurried all the way to her side. Rounding the tree, he could see that she was deeply engrossed in reading a book, but that her face was glistening, wet with her tears.

She didn’t notice him until he knelt down beside her. Startled, she looked to him, and it seemed she froze and hesitated to acknowledge him at first. But when he reached for her, she dropped the book down into her lap, and leaning her forehead into his chest, she whispered, “Thank you for coming.”

“Are you all right?” He asked as he sat down next to her to allow her to come in closer to him.

“I miss her so much.” Was her response before she let go completely.

_____________________________________________________________

Slamming the phone down in aggravation, J.J. pressed the switch by her side to turn on the fluorescent light over her head.

Jazz, seeing the light flicker on, appeared at the door between the two rooms. “You finally up?” She asked. “You slept for a good little while.”

“Yeah,” J.J. answered, propping herself up on one elbow. “It seems I can’t make a long distance phone on that room phone. Like a dummy, it took me three times to figure out that I wasn’t just putting the number in wrong. May I have my cell, please? I have to call somebody at home real bad, right now while it’s still fresh in my mind.”

“Your mother?” Jazz asked, heading back into her own room for the cell, calling over her shoulder to add, “This thing’s been vibrating off and on like crazy. Oh yeah, Marnie called. She said for you to call her back.”

She came back out and handed J.J. the phone.

“No, I’ll call my mother in a minute, and Marnie will have to wait until later.” J.J. answered as she pressed in a speed dial code. “I have to first jack up my boy at home about being inside my head like he was, messing with the good flow I had going.”

“What?” Jazz asked, stopping short in astonished amusement before going through the door back into her room. “What’s a rich, Beverly Hills, California girl like you know about ‘jacking’ somebody up, folks being ‘in her head’, and having her ‘good flow’ messed with? That’s talk from the ‘hood.”

“First of all, I’m from Bel Air, California not Beverly Hills.” J.J. answered. “And neither one of those places is on the moon. But I hang out everywhere, with everybody, not just with the Bel Air set. You get a good mix of young people together, and the language becomes universal. I see you understood every word this rich Bel Air girl said. I’m multi-lingual.”

“So I’ve noticed.” Jazz smiled appreciatively. “You switch up when you talk in your sleep too.”

J.J. grinned, and then she held up her index finger to let Jazz know that her party had picked up.

“Hey, Tommy. It’s me.” She began. “Let me first say thank you for the rose, the message, and the yellow ribbon. It was all very thoughtful of you. But what I really called for is to ask you what’s up with you being all in my dreams and stuff? I thought we talked about that once before… What? … How do you know what I was dreaming? Who abdicated and appointed you to the position of my daddy?”

Jazz watched a sly smile creep across J.J.’s face as she listened to the response she was getting. Her reply to the unseen party was, “You think you know me so well, don’t you, Boy?”

Going back into her room to give J.J. some privacy with, apparently, another one of her ‘gentleman callers’, Jazz figured that J.J. Hart had conquered the east coast and west coasts, and she looked like a little girl who, by the time she was twenty-one, would have all her bases all covered.

_____________________________________________________________

It had grown dark out by the pond. The only light came from the brightly shining partial moon.

By that time, Jennifer had cried, and he had let her, until he was sure that she had to be spent. In all of their years together and through all of the things which they had come, he had never seen her in that state. It was as if the dam she had been maintaining all those years had finally failed her, and there was no stopping the torrent that rushed over and through its crumbling gates. As he continued to hold her, not another word had passed between them. The situation was alarming and disturbing. He didn’t know what, if any, specific thing had triggered her distress, but he had been given enough advance warning to have emotionally prepared himself for the fallout.  He could see why both her parents had sent him to her, and he was grateful for their trust.

That book she had been reading had fallen on its cover from her lap to the grass beside them when she first came to him, and reading upside down, he’d caught a good glimpse of the scripted words on the open pages. It was that very last line which specifically caught his eye, and the words sent shivers through him as they immediately called up that dream once again.

Suzanne had apparently been pregnant at the time of her death. Jennifer had never said anything about that to him, not that she’d ever really talked much at all about that tragic event in her life. How far along in the pregnancy had her mother been, he wondered. Had Jennifer known about it before reading of it in that book? Was that what had set her off?

Had Suzanne’s Justine, who had been blocked from having a full shot at life so long ago, been granted it through the two of them in the person of J.J. Hart? Was she the gift of which Suzanne had spoken to him in that dream? Given those details, as bizarre as it seemed, that theory made sense to even his pragmatic mind. Why else had both Suzanne and Jennifer been present at J.J.’s birth in that dream? Why had Suzanne been the one to deliver her, but Jennifer the one who was holding her?

What more precious gift could Jennifer’s mother have given her than part of herself, and with what other person on earth, other than her daughter, would Suzanne entrust with a package so dear?

In the darkness, as Jennifer continued to softly sob, he adjusted his arms around her to bring her even closer to him as he continued to mull it all over. Despite how wild that notion seemed, if that were the case, then he felt supremely honored. To have been sent that particular woman to be his wife, and then to have been entrusted himself with that little life which had been made to wait until just that right moment and that right circumstance to happen, he knew that he had been blessed. It meant that they had been selected, specifically that he had been selected, to be that girl’s father by someone he’d never met, but whom he held in the highest regard for the daughter she’d borne and to whom she’d given such a solid foundation in their brief time together.

When she had been still for a time, he whispered, “I’m sorry.” Into the tousled hair at the crown of Jennifer’s head.

She leaned back to look up at him, and his heart almost broke at the sight of her very puffy, splotched face and  her swollen watery eyes.

“Why?” She asked. “What do you have to be sorry for?”

“I made you angry earlier. I should have trusted your judgment. You know what’s best for J.J. along those lines. You trusted my judgment with her. I needed to trust yours.”

Returning to her former position, lowering her head and leaning into him, she didn’t say anything at first. Then she said, “I need to go to her. I haven’t seen her at all today.”

“Not with that face. Not in the shape you’re in.” He wiped at her damp cheeks with his thumb. “She’ll know that you’ve been upset, and you know how she is about you. We never will be able to get her to stay there. Dr. Rogers wants her to stay over another day, and she absolutely will not if she thinks there’s something going on here with you.”

She looked up to him again, this time with great concern. “Why is she staying over? Has something else happened to her? She’s done something else to that ankle, hasn’t she? I knew that I should have gone to her.”

“No, no she’s fine.” He assured her, brushing her hair back from her face. “Dan just wants Jazz to get her back on her feet properly. You know, have her walk around the hospital under supervision for a while before cutting her loose; not just send her home on her own like they did the last time. He thinks that she’ll be more careful if she’s shown the proper way to do things before she leaves the hospital.”

“Oh. I guess that does make sense.” She said.

She went back to staring across the pond, and he wondered why he hadn’t seen it before. J.J.’s being away another day was also keeping Jennifer from being distracted by her. It was all so convenient. He was suddenly sure that Suzanne Edwards was working with slowing down his daughter in the way that she had worked on slowing him down in that passage. If that were the case, then she definitely had the upper hand, and complete control over all of what was happening. He wondered what it was she so badly wanted with Jennifer.

“Jonathan,” He mentally chided himself. “These Edwards women have you losing your grip.”

The night air was beginning to get cool, and so was the skin of her bare arms.

“Let’s go back to the house.” He suggested. “I know that you haven’t eaten all day. Come back to the house. You can call J.J. to check on her while I fix you something.”

“I can’t. If I’m not going to the hospital to see J.J., I have to go back.”

“Go back where?”

“Up there. I have to go back to the guest house.”

“Why? Can’t it wait?”

“I’m not finished.” She asserted. “She said that I have to finish. I wasn’t supposed to leave, but I felt like I had to, so I did. But, I have to go back. She told me that she would see to J.J., and that I shouldn’t worry about her. But she’s my responsibility. I have to see to her. I haven’t been on my job at all today.”

Disturbed by her unusually ominous, conflicted line of thinking and conversation, he looked down to the top of her head. “Who said you have to finish? Who said she’s seeing to J.J.?”

“My mother.” Jennifer answered in a hushed voice that sounded almost as if she didn’t believe what she was saying herself. “I think, I’m almost sure that she came to me today. While I was up there, I tripped and I fell. I think I hit my head, and I thought I was out, but… It was all so crazy and confusing, but I’m sure she told me I had something to finish. She wanted me to stay up there. I can feel it in my bones that I’ve left something unfinished.”

The tears were sounding again in her voice, and it cracked badly when she told him, “She wasn’t supposed to be in the car that morning, Jonathan, but she took me to school to let my father sleep in. I didn’t remember that until I saw it written there. The night before, he had just come home from one of his trips. I asked him to take me to school the next morning because I wanted him to meet Miss Primrose, my teacher. I was so proud of my father, the art dealer, and all the places to which he traveled. My mother wrote that she was waiting for him to get up. But I guess he didn’t, so she ended up taking me herself. She never made it back here. That’s the last thing she ever wrote in her journal. About him and me and… If he had just gotten up like he said he would. He was nev-”

“Shhhh.” Jonathan said as he held her even closer, rubbing her arms in an effort to still her increasing trembling. “He probably realized that too. But it happened the way that it was supposed to happen, Jennifer. You know how that goes. What if’s and blaming won’t change a thing. As terrible as it was, that was how it was supposed to be.”

“Jonathan, she was pregnant.” She said in a hoarse whisper “I didn’t even know. Pa didn’t tell me. Why didn’t he? Why did he have to hide everything from me?”

“It would have been a private matter at that point. Afterward, he probably called himself sparing you. You were just a kid; you didn’t need to know that. What good would it have done for him to tell you? You’d already lost your mother. If, God forbid, I had to walk in your father’s shoes, I wouldn’t have told J.J.  It wouldn’t serve any purpose except to give her something and somebody else to grieve over.”

“But, why would my mother be allowed to get pregnant only to die two months later? It doesn’t make sense and it seems so unfair. It took her twelve years to get that child. She was so happy about that baby. In just this one book, my mother had so many plans, so many dreams, and they died with her.”

In his head, things were absolutely beginning to take some shape.

“Maybe not.” He whispered as he rocked her in his arms. “Maybe not”

Although he could hear that she was crying again, he felt it when her body relaxed. He hoped that was because of what he’d said. That after having read that journal, she had also made the connection in her head, and characteristically, just hadn’t voiced it. He was certain that if she had, she would speak of it with him later, once she was more sure of her suspicions. Jennifer’s ability to see, accept, and make sense of things outside of the box were far stronger than his.

They sat under the tree a little while longer. Finally, he eased her up from the ground, telling her, “Come up to the house. Eat and call J.J. Then I’ll take you back to the guest house myself if you still feel like you need to go.”

“All right.” She agreed. “Will you come up there with me?”

“I’ll go anywhere you want me.”

Together they rode back to the house on Legs who had been waiting patiently in the shadows for them to come out.

_____________________________________________________________

Mom! Hi! How are you? I’m so glad you called me. I was just getting ready to call you. Where are you?

I’m at Briarwood, and I’m fine.

How come you haven’t been down to see me today? I was looking for you to come. Daddy made you that mad?

I’ve been busy at the guest house all day, but I’ve been kept abreast of what’s going on with you. And how many times do I have to tell you that you have nothing to do with what goes on between your father and myself.

I know he made you mad. He was acting all funny when I asked him where you were, and you just confirmed it. I know that’s why you didn’t come with him and Uncle Bill to see me when they came this afternoon.

It’s funny how nosy and sassy some people become when they’re on the other end of a telephone rather than up close and in person.

Isn’t it, though? But I figure I’m already on lockdown, so I have nothing to lose.

Well, it’s my understanding that you have a dinner date tomorrow.

Oh. Yeah, hey look, I’m sorry about the being sassy thing. I’ll mind my own business. I’ll behave, I promise. I’m sorry.

I thought you’d see it my way.

Can you believe that Daddy set it up for me? I asked if I could invite Teddy to Briarwood tomorrow for dinner, and he said yes. But when it turned out that I wasn’t coming home until Monday, he said Teddy could come here and have dinner with me. Daddy ordered all the food and everything. You must have broken him down real good when you went off on him.

Justine, what did I just tell you?

I’m just  saying. Anyway, I think he just let Teddy come here tomorrow so I wouldn’t be mad at him about making me stay here longer than he said at first. Are you coming in the morning? I’ll need your help with fixing my hair. I want to wear it down, but I can’t twist and pin it up all fancy and pretty in the back like you can.

Your father indulges you entirely too much. He has spoiled you until you are completely rotten. And since when are you into fancy and pretty? What am I now? Your personal hairdresser? You want me to show up just so I can do your hair?

No. I want you to show up because I miss you. Really. Daddy and Uncle Bill came this afternoon, I got flowers from everybody it seems, and that was all very nice. But, I really wish you could have come, for just a few minutes anyway. You never know how much you miss someone you love until they’re all of a sudden not where you want them to be. Please try to come in the morning. Even if you don’t have time to do my hair. I just want to see you, and I need to tell you some stuff. I think only you can make sense of it for me. Guess what? Uncle Bill brought my peach colored dress for me to wear because he said that you and Daddy were busy. Wasn’t that thoughtful of him? He said he picked it out for me himself because he thought it was pretty. Can’t you just see old macho Uncle Bill trying to pick out a dress? Too funny.

Bill spoils you too. They all do. Yes, that was very thoughtful of him, and he obviously has taste. The silk was a  good choice. It looks very nice on you. What time is Teddy supposed to be there?

We told him three-thirty.

I’ll be there tomorrow morning to fix your hair. I’ll help you in the shower, too. I know you haven’t let Jazz take you in.

She wouldn’t let me get in. I feel all grimy and sticky. I could only do what she calls sponge baths. I’d go in with anybody at this point, although I would prefer to keep the number of people who’ve seen my behind at a minimum. I have a lifetime to show it off, if I so choose, don’t I?

Hush, you little harlot. I’ll be there. Your hair probably needs a good washing. I’ll bring the blow dryer too.

Thanks. Hey, mom. I have a question.

Shoot.

Can girls have wet dreams like boys have?

J.J.!

Come on, don’t go all shocked on me now. I need to know.

For whom do you need this information?

Just tell me.

I guess so- or something equivalent to it, I imagine. Our equipment is different. My goodness, girl. Maybe we should call this date off if things have escalated to that level.

I didn’t say it was me. I didn’t say it was about him.

But you said, and I have an excellent ability to infer. You forget, I’m a writer- an insightful writer. I know how to read between the lines of what hot-tailed, sassy, little girls say.

It was just a question.

Um-hmm. Well, I have a question of my own for you, J.J.

Ooh, a sex question? I’m game. I’m pretty well versed in theory although, at this point in my life, I’m sorta lacking in practice. Go for it.

You’d better be ‘sorta lacking in practice’. Look, I’m serious, J.J. May I ask you what I want to ask you?

I’m sorry. Yes. I’m listening.

You have to be honest and promise not to ask me any questions afterward.

Okay. I promise. Shoot.

If I wasn’t your mother, and you could pick anyone in the world from any time period at all to be your mother, who would you pick?

If Jennifer Hart wasn’t my mother? Couldn’t possibly be my mother?

Yes.

Anybody else, any time, from anywhere? But not Jennifer Hart?

Yes.

Then I’d pick Jennifer Edwards, no doubt.

Good night, my sweet daughter. I’ll see you in the morning.

Bonne nuit, ma chère Mama.

Jonathan came back into the kitchen to find Jennifer finishing up the sandwich he had made for her. Her still flushed and puffy face bore a more peaceful, relaxed expression than when he’d left her to go upstairs.

“You feeling better?” He asked. “Did you get to talk to her?”

“Yes to both.” She sighed, shaking her head in amusement. “I just love that little girl. She’s such a mess.”

As she spoke, she was again fingering the monogram on the front of that journal lying face down on the table. He watched her hand as she did so, wondering what was really going through her mind.

She continued. “She told me that you arranged for her to spend some time with Teddy. Thank you for doing that for her. I know it probably wasn’t the easiest thing for you to do.”

He held her sweater out to her and she stood to put it on. “Just keeping the peace.” Was his response as he helped her into it. “I’m trying to come around and let go. And you’re right. It isn’t very easy.”

Pulling the sweater around her, she turned to face him, kissed his cheek, and looked up into his eyes. “You’re such a softie with her. She has you all wrapped up. I told you, just like a pretzel. She’s had you like that from day one.”

“She’s not the only one.” He answered touching his lips to hers.

His sheepish, boyish smile instantly touched her heart, and she kissed his face again. “You’re all heart, Mr. Hart. I’m crazy about you, too.”

Turning back to the table, she took up one of the oil lanterns that he had set down, and tucked the journal under that arm. “I guess I’m ready.”

“Are you sure you want to do this tonight, Jennifer? You haven’t had much sleep, and you’ve been through an awful lot today.”

“I have to.” She answered. “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

“If you’re going, and you’re letting me, then I’m going, too. I don’t want you out there alone like before. I talked to Bill when I was upstairs. Pat and Marnie are in Massachusetts. They’re staying overnight.”

“Massachusetts? Overnight?”

“Long story.” He said with a wave of his hand. “I’ll explain the whole thing to you later, but it amounts to Pat and Bill acquiring a surrogate kid.”

“I can hardly wait for the screenplay. Did you talk to Pa while you were up there? Maybe I should go up for a minute.”

“Bill said that your father went right back up to his room after dinner. When I looked in on him, he was getting ready to lie down.”

She was mildly surprised at that news. “So early?”

“Walter said he had a kind of rough afternoon. Said your father was concerned about you. I told him that you were fine. He seemed okay with it.”

“Did he ask for me?”

Jonathan shook his head, pulling her back from where he had started for the stairs. “He seemed satisfied to know that you had resurfaced, and that you were with me. He said that he was turning in for the night. You want to head out there from the inside or the outside? I left the attic door open when I came down.”

She thought it strange that her father hadn’t asked for her to come to him after she’d been missing all day, but anxious to get on with what she felt she needed to do, and since Jonathan had seen him, she decided not to worry about it just then. As soon as she finished out there, she would come back in and go straight up to see him.

“Since we know how to do it this time, and since you now know the way,” She said, taking Jonathan by the arm. “Let’s do the passageway again. I’d like to make the entire trip with you this time.”

He picked up the bag that he had brought down, as well as his lantern, and they went up the back stairs to enter the passageway through their closet.

_____________________________________________________________

Hanging up from Marnie and Dee at Gresham Hall, and back from her trip to the bathroom accompanied by Jazz, J.J. lie looking up at the television on the wall, but not really seeing anything on the screen.

Marnie had called to see how she felt about her asking Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill to look out for Kyle. At first she had been confused about why Marnie thought she would care about that, but Marnie’s concern had been that she might be overstepping their friendship. Reminding Marnie that she, too, referred to both of them as ‘Aunt’ and ‘Uncle’, she had assured her that she had nothing to worry about from her.

Actually, she was glad and relieved that Marnie’s brother would be going to Brookfield. He certainly needed out of that crazy house he was living in. Kyle was the odd-man-out in that family, and he needed to be elsewhere. She’d tell Teddy about him, and maybe he could keep an eye out for him, too. Kyle would be much better off not having to worry about being in between other people’s drama.

She hated that Marnie was talking about moving in with her father. That meant she would be all the way over in Burbank and not right down the street any more. But then, even in Bel Air, she lived two miles down, so it wasn’t like they were within walking distance or anything. Since she wasn’t changing schools, and her father pretty much did whatever she told him, Marnie would probably be around just as much, and they would probably still be together like always. According to Marnie, she might even be able to work up on a car, which would be a definite bonanza for both of them.

She almost wished she was at Gresham Hall with Marnie, Pat, and Dee. Gresham hadn’t been so bad for a prep school, but then again, Madison, Teddy and the others who had made it be so much fun, were all still scattered  about the east coast for the summer.

Even if she hadn’t hurt her ankle and hadn’t ended up in the hospital, she felt that she would have needed to stay in Massachusetts for the time being. She wouldn’t have been able to relax and have a good time anywhere else. What she really wished was that she could be back at her grandfather’s. Her mind was fixed on her mother, and whatever it was that she was doing, or perhaps going through, at Briarwood. She wanted to be with her, or at least to be closer to her to see for herself what the deal was with her.

The Duchess had sounded a bit evasive in her answer to the question of where she had been. “Busy” wasn’t cutting it. Her mother was never too busy  to see to her. That was one of her strongest suits as a parent.

It wasn’t unlike her at all to fly in from a business trip to attend a school program or function, or to sit in on a conference if the situation called for it, only to fly right back out if she had to return to where she was. It was just what her mother would arrange to do if there was something she was involved in, and her presence was needed. Wherever she happened to be, or whatever she was doing, she had never been too occupied to stop and pick up a phone or pop off a quick email, just so they could keep in touch. This was the first time ever that she could remember being in a situation, this time laid up in a hospital, and almost having to go in search of her. She was uncomfortable with the feeling, but once again, she was reminded that it was a precursor of things to come as she got older. She couldn’t be her mothers ‘sweet girl’ forever, she didn’t guess.

But then, why had she asked that strange question? Wanting to know if she could choose anyone else to be her mother, whom would she choose? And why had she lowered her voice to ask it? Who else did she think could do that better than she could? There was honestly nobody else anywhere, from any time period, that she would want to do that job, or that she would even hypothetically consider having occupy that place in her life. What was Jennifer Hart thinking? What made her go there?

Didn’t she realize that contingency plans were already firmly in place for the chance gold-digging girlfriend or, Lord help her, the conniving stepmother, should she ever, by some extremely remote chance, ever materialize. The bitch was already toast, and she didn’t even exist.

Then there were those dreams. She remembered all of them, most particularly the ones that included her mother and her grandmother. Closing her eyes, she could see her grandmother seated on that fence. Picturing her  face in that dream, she was proud of the heritage; how they all looked so much alike. God, how much she wished she could lean up against that fence next to her and kick it around with that lady. As strange as it seemed, she missed the rapport that they would probably have shared. She missed being able to call her grandmother up on the phone the way that she did with Aunt Sabrina. The fact that her grandmother had so agilely climbed up to sit on the top of that fence dressed in pants and riding boots and that shamelessly low cut blouse was symbolic of what she could feel were similarities in their personalities.

Had she lived, she just knew that outside of Jennifer Hart, Suzanne Edwards would most likely have been her greatest confidant. The times they could have spent riding together, more like flying according to that dream, over the fields! The things they could have talked about and shared. She would have loved spending part of her summers at Briarwood with her grandmother. Maybe they both could have traveled together to France to visit Aunt Sabrina. Maybe they just could have traveled period, freeing up her mother and father to have more time to themselves. In her heart, she knew that her grandmother would have been someone she could have trusted and someone upon whom she could have counted. Apparently, she already could trust her and count on her. She’d shown up before to help her over the high places. She wished she had worked up the nerve to have taken her hand in that dream.

She was startled when a tear tickled its way down her cheek like some tiny annoying insect, and she quickly wiped it away before Jazz could walk into the room. She didn’t want her to see it and start asking questions. The things that were on her mind were not topics open for discussion with anyone at that point.

Although there was no way that she could call her life unfair, just the same, in a small way, she felt that it was. Her father had parents he had never really known, and that it seemed he didn’t care to know. The grandmother she truly wanted to know was dead, and nobody talked about her, not even the one remaining grandparent who had to have known her the best.

Other people, outside the family, would probably tell her to make do with what she had. It was for sure that she couldn’t dispute that what she had was premium: two parents she loved and who loved her dearly, a grandfather for whom she cared deeply and who in his own way she was sure, loved her; and an extended family who were always there for her. But still she wanted to know that one person.

She concluded that she would definitely ask her mother, and risk whatever fallout that might result from it. Daddy said to cut out the middle man when he could be cut out, and to go right to the source. That was what she would do. If it didn’t feel right in the morning, then she would do it at the first opportune moment that presented itself. But she would do it. The two of them could talk about anything. Maybe by that time, her mother would have something to tell her. Whatever was going on, it was something out of the ordinary if it had her that tightly locked down to Briarwood.

Having finished with that line of thinking, she shifted her focus to Teddy and what they would talk about at dinner. It probably didn’t matter. The conversation between them seemed to flow naturally, as if they had known each other a long time, at least a lot longer than a week. That dream, the one with him in it, she tried hard to push to the back of her mind.

_____________________________________________________________

“What were you thinking when you were down here earlier?” Jennifer asked as she and Jonathan walked the lower level of the passageway having easily navigated the upper level and come through that first wall and down those stairs.

“I wasn’t thinking anything.” He answered. “I was just trying to get to you. It wasn’t as easy to get through it when I was by myself. How did you get into the attic? Did you have the key?”

She looked a little confused for a moment, as if she didn’t remember right off. Then she slowly answered, “No. The door opened for me.” After a pause, she asked, “You were down there, weren’t you? Calling for me.”

“I came for you, but the door was locked. I couldn’t get in and I couldn’t even pick the lock like I normally can. It wasn’t even that complicated a mechanism, but I just couldn’t work it. I guess I was too nervous about getting to you.”

“You’ve never not been able to pick a lock, Light Fingers.”

“You were never the object I was after behind the locked door. I did call for you, but you didn’t answer me. So I went out, got back to the house, and I came this way.”

“How did you know I was up there? I didn’t have to be, you know. The estate is huge. I could have been anywhere.”

“I knew you were there.” He asserted. “And you were. Only, when I finally made it up there, I must have just missed you.”

“When you got there, how did you get in?”

“The fireplace up there is actually a door.”

She looked over to him in surprise. She had seen the fireplace, but she would never have guessed that was its function. “How did you open it?”

At first he didn’t answer. Then deciding that they were probably in store for more strange happenings, he told her most of how it happened. “I didn’t. It opened by itself and let me in.”

To his surprise, shock almost, she said, “Did you ask it to?”

“No.” He answered truthfully.

She didn’t need to know that he had asked her mother to do it, and that Suzanne had seen to it. He didn’t think Jennifer was ready to hear that her mother had seen to letting both of them into that room. Her nerves had taken quite a few hits in that one day, and although he knew her to be a strong person, there was no telling what else was waiting for them up in the attic, and she had yet to encounter those cabinets coming up ahead of them.

After so many years of keeping her mother and their relationship packaged up in her head, she was being forced to face the woman’s reality. The knocks she was taking made him hurt for her, but, if nothing else came from it, he hoped it would all help her to assist J.J. when she came calling, which he knew she surely would be once she made it back home. J.J. Hart wasn’t lying in that hospital bed vegetating. That mind of hers was going a mile a minute, wondering what was happening with them and planning her strategy to find out.

“Jonathan, look.” Jennifer stopped in her tracks. They were at the place where the passage branched off into the different directions. “How did you know which one to take? How many times did you have to try?”

“Once.” He answered taking her arm to keep them moving. “I went with my hunches, and took the straight shot; I figured it was the shortest distance between two points, you and me. I was right.”

“Like always, when it comes to that.” When she smiled, he saw it and thought about how much he loved that smile and her.

He wondered if his father-in-law could possibly have been as taken with his wife. If so, how had he kept going after she was so suddenly gone? It had to have been for Jennifer. J.J. would be the only thing that would make him have to fight to hang on if Jennifer was somehow lost to him, especially under the circumstances that Stephen had lost Suzanne.

“What’s that?” He heard her ask.

The cabinets were directly ahead. He didn’t answer her. Instead he watched as she hurried ahead of him, her relentless curiosity drawing her directly to them.

“Did you look inside these?” She called to him as she threw open the doors of the first one she reached.

He saw her step back with her eyes closed, whispering, “Jesus.”, and he stepped up his own pace to reach her.

She stood before the cabinet containing the dolls.

“Are they yours?” He asked from his spot right behind her.

“Yes. I haven’t thought about them since… They’re all here. Even the ones I’d outgrown and thought were gone.”

She reached in and pulled a faded, worn rag doll from the cluster of others, and held it to her breast. “I slept with this one all my life until- I was a big girl, but I still loved this one. I loved dolls, playing house, make-believe, and- I left her behind in that room. I left all of it when I moved to the other room. I never thought about what became of it all. I took the things I needed, closed that door and left. Shortly after that, I was gone from the house altogether. I guess I didn’t look back.”

He lit the lantern he carried and made sure that it illuminated the doll house.

“My God.” She whispered, as it immediately caught her attention. She went to it and dropped down into a squat before it. “Jen-, my house. This used to be in my room in the guest house.”

“Your room in the guest house? You had two bedrooms of your own? You never told me that.”

She nodded, running her hands along the roof as if connecting to it in that way was feeding her memory.

“I told you that my mother and I used to spend time out there. Actually, it was a lot of the time while my father was away, since that was quite often. I forgot all about it. How could I forget something like this? My father had it shipped to me from Wales. His father, my grandfather made it and a lot of the furniture that went inside. He was a master carpenter and cabinet maker. He made wonderful pieces. It was how my father’s family made their fortune. My father sent me all of those dolls and most of the toys in that cabinet. Wherever he was, he would send books and playthings to me from all over the world.”

Jonathan remained silent. Her childhood sounded like all that he thought it had been. She had been a princess to his pauper, and once again he marveled at his good fortune and at how fate had lined things up to bring their lives together. He could see that although her hands remained resting on the roof of the dollhouse, she was speaking with her eyes closed as if she were seeing in her head the things she was saying. He was glad that she didn’t seem as troubled over being confronted with her past  as she had been earlier out by the pond .

“My mother was the more grounded of the two of them.” She continued, talking quietly, her eyes still closed. “Dolls and things never meant much to her. She didn’t discourage it, but she was more physical, very athletic and vital. She was into developing my person, my character, while my father fed my mind and my imagination. She nurtured my health, my spirit, and my soul; he encouraged me to dream. She taught me try things- to not be afraid to try the things I dreamt of doing.”

It was the most personal revelation she had ever made to him about her mother or her upbringing, and standing over her, he eagerly listened, enraptured by her words. Suzanne Edwards was sounding more and more like one of the family, but an interestingly different woman than he had always pictured her. The pieces were coming together, and she was a definite fit. Even her father had been fleshed out a bit more for him in what she had said.

Jennifer laughed a small introspective laugh as she stood, using the dollhouse roof for balance.

“I guess it’s just as well that it was brought down here.” She said. “It’s for sure that J.J. Hart wouldn’t have had any use for it, except maybe as a fortress, a hideout, or maybe a drop-off point for some kidnapper. Naturally, a door would have had to get kicked off its hinges in the ensuing melee. Furniture would have had to be broken up. It’s better off down here. It’s still beautiful, isn’t it?”

“Yes. It really is.”

“After my grandfather finished it, my father had it shipped to the States by boat. It was delivered to Briarwood on a flatbed truck. My mother and I were completely surprised. He hadn’t said a word to her about it. The delivery men had to really work to get it through the doors. They had to take my bedroom door off the hinges and remove the frame. My mother had a royal fit that day about my grandfather and especially my father sp-”

She abruptly stopped speaking, and her eyes opened wide as she brought a hand to her lips.

“Oh no, do go ahead and finish that.” Jonathan urged, a smug smile on his lips.

“I don’t remember.” She said quickly.

“Yes you do. Go ahead.”

She tried to wave him off, but he took that hand, and pulled him to her so that they were face-to-face.

“Go ahead. Tell me what she had a fit about.”

“Nothinnnng” She insisted.

Moving his face even closer to hers, until they were nose to nose, nearly lip to lip, he looked her in the eye. “You never were a good liar. Tell me.”

She was blushing, squirming, trying to avoid his piercing eyes and inviting mouth. “Spoiling me.” She muttered, trying to push away from him as she said it.

“What?” He insisted with one hand to his ear, the other holding onto her to him to keep her from getting away. “I don’t think I heard what you said.”

“You did hear me.” She answered as she finally pushed off from him. She took his lighted lantern from him, turned around, and held it up to the cabinet to view the rest of its contents.

“All the furniture and everything…” She noted aloud to herself with a voice heavily laced with wonder. “My grandfather, I was told, made a lot of these pieces by hand.”

Then, suddenly, she reached out and closed both doors. Turning off the lantern, she swung back around to face him.

“I have to keep going.” She declared. “If I stay in this spot much longer, I won’t be able to. I’ll just have to come back to here later.”

She looked to him, and he could see her eyes were pleading to him with an urgency he couldn’t understand, but that he was more than willing to heed.

“Jonathan, please help me. I need to keep going until I get there. Don’t let me stop or turn back.”

“I won’t, but get where? The attic?”

“To wherever it it she’s trying to get me to go.” She answered, once again near tears. “I keep asking, but she won’t tell me.”

He took his lantern back from her and hefted the bag back onto his shoulder by its strap. She picked up the journal and her lantern from where she had placed them on the floor. Holding her hand, he led her on up the passage, headed for that staircase that would take them up to the attic.

_____________________________________________________________

“J.J., you suckered those boys and you know it.” Jazz fussed as she watched J.J. roll up a small wad of bills and stuff it down into her change purse. “I let you have company for a few minutes, go make a phone call, and the next thing I know you got a casino going out here. You know you all aren’t supposed to be gambling. I swear, girl, you are going to get me fired.”

J.J. placed the change purse in her vanity drawer. “You think they’re not gambling down in that rec room when nobody’s looking? Besides, I was watching the door while you were in there on the phone. It was cool. I wouldn’t leave you hanging or get you jammed up. Look, there’s a sucker born every minute, Jazz. Everyone has to learn that lesson. Some learn it hard, some easy. Either you’re on the make, or you’re the mark. I’m no swindler, but I will hustle when I have to or I can. They tried to play me, but I’m no sucker, and I’m nobody’s mark. They discounted me because I’m female, and they thought I was a mark because they’ve probably heard that my parents have money. They thought they were going to get my spending money. They just didn’t know who they were messing with. How much do you want to bet that they know now?”

Once again, Jazz found herself mesmerized by her young patient.

“I’ve seen you play, and I’m keeping my money in my pocket. Where did you learn to play like that, and play so fast?” She asked. “You are beyond good. You play like a pro.”

“I cannot reveal my source. It would incriminate someone very dear to me, and that person stays in enough hot water over me, as it is. But, I will say that I’ve been playing, honing my skills, just about all my life.”

“You shouldn’t have taken those kids’ money.”

“Why not? They came in here thinking they were going to take mine! They were just wrong, that’s all. Can I help that? If you choose to play grown, you might lose grown. It’s a chance you take. That’s just the breaks, Jazz. It’s not like I cheated, or anything. I wasn’t even the one to bring up the subject of gambling. They did. I just took them up on it. They tried to say it would make the game more interesting. I’ll say it did.”

Despite knowing that she shouldn’t encourage her or in any way condone her behavior, Jazz couldn’t help but smile. “You are a total Beverly Hills mess.”

“Bel Air mess.” J.J. corrected her as she picked up her cell. “I need to call my grandfather and check on him since he didn’t come to check on me.”

“Well, I’m going to turn in for a while. I’ll be back in a bit later to check on you myself. Don’t be on that phone all night. Your grandfather, and that’s it.”

Okay, good night, Jazz Jones, who’s trying to be like somebody in this room’s mother. ”

“Good night, J.J. Hart who already is a first class card shark, and who’s probably a pretty interesting, but nerve-wrecking daughter to her real mother.”

“I do my best.” J.J. winked. “Keeping up with me keeps all the rest of you sharp.”
_____________________________________________________________

Stephen returned from his bathroom with the glass of water, and placed it on nightstand. Then he sat down on the side of his bed. Jonathan had come in to speak to him and had since gone. He said that Jennifer was with him, and that meant that she was in the best possible hands outside of his own. Perhaps even better than his own given his current state of health.

There was no mention made of where she had been all afternoon and evening, but there was no need to mention it. He had already been informed of her whereabouts, and even if he hadn’t been, he would have known where she was and what she was doing. It was the only thing that could have kept her away from him all that time. Her mother had always come before him in her life. That was how he thought he wanted it to be. He hadn’t counted on Suzanne not being there for her. He took for granted that she would always be there to see to their child while he continued to actively engage in the work they were doing, just as he had taken it for granted that she would always be there for him at the end of his travels.

That afternoon he learned that she was still waiting for him to come home to her from the end of his journey. But it was taking too long to get there, and after that afternoon, more than ever he longed to join her.

Too soon, Jennifer and the rest of their family would be returning to their respective homes, and once again, he would be left alone with Walter and Rosa in that big rambling house on all that land, both of which his faulty heart wouldn’t allow him to fully enjoy any more. When he first became ill, Jennifer tried to convince him to move with her to California, even going so far as to offer their guest house to allow him his personal space to which he had become so accustomed over the years. But not wanting to be a daily burden to her, he had declined the offer. Even though moving to the west coast would have put him in daily contact with his family, especially with his grandchild, it would have taken him too far away from his familiar, comfortable surroundings and his tangible memories of the one he had lost.

He hated that his restless, adventurous spirit was being held hostage by his failing body, and he had grown tired of feeling that way. He was sure that the persistent weariness had been the reason for his succumbing to his recent illness and subsequent hospitalization when he had been in Massachusetts for Jennifer’s reunion. Sick of feeling so helpless and restricted, he wanted out, to leave the world he had outlived, and to spend his eternal life with his daughter’s mother, his healthy heart. Together, they would be young again, reliving their dreams, making wondrous love, and traveling freely wherever, however, and forever.

It wouldn’t take much, he supposed, in his weakened state. A double dosage of those pills, then he could lie down, drift off to sleep, and just not wake up again. Jennifer would never know. Jonathan, as astute as he was, might suspect, but he would never let on to her. She would think that his old, damaged heart had just finally given out, and in her innate stubbornness, would not allow more than a cursory investigation be done on the time-worn body. She would have him buried, grieve some- after all he was her father- but she was strong, and she could handle that. If she could survive losing her mother in the way that she had, she would come through losing him in no time. Jonathan would help her past it, and she would get on with her life.

It was even a convenient time to do it. All of them were already there. They wouldn’t have to make the trip back to Maryland. They would all be there to support Jennifer, and each other.

Agnes and Belinda would come for the funeral, and then they would have a home. It was written down that way. They would probably miss him not being there with them, but at least their needs would be comfortably met.

And Justine’s future needs would be more than adequately satisfied. That too, was written, so there were no misgivings there. She was growing into such a wonderful girl, but he feared that he hadn’t been able to convey to her just how highly he thought of her and how much he loved her.

When she was little, she had greatly resembled her mother as she had been at that stage of her of life. But, as she was getting older, she was so like Suzanne, that she sometimes made him uncomfortable. Out visiting the stables, or riding over the distant hills, she seemed the living image of her grandmother. The distinctive, constantly assessing look in her blue eyes could be easily misconstrued as a trait she’d inherited from her blue-eyed father. But in actuality the look she cast upon the world was the same as Suzanne’s had been: direct and undecipherable unless she chose for it to be otherwise. At times, during her visits, he found that he had to distance himself from her emotionally to keep her from hurting him.  At those times, he could feel her sensing his hesitation around her, and in turn, she would pull back from him, avoiding him and giving him a wide berth. It crushed him when that happened. He knew that she didn’t understand, and probably saw it as something else. The poor child couldn’t possibly know that at times she haunted him, just as her mother had done so long ago when he could hardly bear to look at her.

Now Justine was sixteen, the same age as Suzanne had been when they met, and with another generation, he was reminded of it. She had seemed a woman to him, but in reality she had just been a girl. He saw it first when Jennifer was sixteen. But in Justine, with her being so like her grandmother; he could really see it. Suzanne had been just a child who had grown up too fast in trying to keep up with him. How could her father have allowed her to marry so soon? But then, how could Henri have stopped them? In marrying her at eighteen, even though it wasn’t as out of form in those days as it was at present, Suzanne had been robbed of that chance to be young and free for a time. She hadn’t been allowed enough time in her brief life to stretch out her wings and just live.

The pills on the nightstand were meant to help him sleep, but up to that point he had never taken them. Under normal circumstances, if he weren’t sleepy, he assumed he just wasn’t tired. At those times, he would get up, go downstairs to read or to work until he felt ready to lie down again. This night, however, he was bone-tired, mind-weary, and he wanted to sleep forever.

He unscrewed the top from the little brown bottle and poured several of the tiny pills into his trembling palm. Taking up the water glass in one hand, clutching the pills in the other, he shut his eyes and offered up a fervent prayer. What he was doing was a sin, of that he was acutely aware, but he begged understanding of his plight, and for mercy on his soul despite the transgression. How wrong could it be to not want to be a burden to the living, to have peace of mind and escape the lingering feelings guilt, and to want to join the one he loved, the one who had forgiven him, in the afterlife?

The phone rang. Ignoring it, he continued to pray.

It rang again, breaking his concentration, but he remained in the same position with his eyes closed waiting for someone else to pick up. It rang a third time.

“Damn.” He muttered to himself in disgust and frustration. He put the water glass and the pills down on the night table. “Where in the world is Walter?”

It was in the middle of ringing a fourth time when he picked up, thinking to himself, “How absurd.”

What did it matter to him who was on the other end? After all, he was leaving. If the call had just come a few minutes later, he wouldn’t have even had the presence of mind to hear it. He would have been on his way to the only person to whom he wanted to speak.

Edwards’ Residence.

Hi, Pa. It’s me. I just called to see how you were getting along. I hadn’t talked to you all day, and I didn’t want to go to bed without doing that. How are you feeling?

I’m fine, Justine.  How are you? I should be the one asking you. After all, it’s you who happens to be in the hospital.

I’m doing goo- well. I’d just like to be home with all of you, but I guess this is how it has to be for now. What are you doing? Reading? Having a cigar and a brandy? Missing me?

Missing you, darling. I wanted to come and see you this evening, but I’ve been a little under the weather all day.

What’s wrong?

Just tired. That happens to me sometimes with this heart. When it does, I just have to take it easy until I feel strong again. I understand that you have to stay a little longer yourself at that hospital.

Just another day, until Monday. I sure hope it’s Monday morning. I want to come home to my family.

Soon, my dear. The time will pass before you know it. Time has a way of doing that, you know.

So I’ve been told. Well, I didn’t want anything. I just called to hear your voice. It’s a shame to be this close to you in Maryland, but not be able to see you every day. But when I get back there, we’ll have plenty of time, won’t we? I’ll be able to walk when I come home, but I’m going to take it easy this time. I’ll be still, or we can walk slow and take our time getting strong again together. I have some things I’d like to talk with you about anyway. We can walk slowly and talk.

I’ll see to it that you take your time. That’s one thing your old, broken down grandfather can handle.

You aren’t old, Pa, just aged, like fine wine, a lot smoother and more mellow than you were. My mother says wisdom comes with age. You should consider yourself very mellow, very smooth, and very wise.

Do you know that I love you, Justine?

Yes. You just told me. I love you too, Pa. Good night.

Good night, dear girl.

He hung up from her. Then he scraped the pills that had been in his hand back into the waiting brown bottle, carrying it into the bathroom to pour the pills down into the toilet and flush them away. On his way back into the bedroom, he threw the empty bottle into the trash.

Just as Suzanne said, it wasn’t his time. Things happened when they were supposed to happen. He knew that all too well. His granddaughter was coming home on Monday, and she wanted to be able to walk and talk with him. That was what was supposed to be.

Reaching for his robe at the foot of the bed, he stood to put it on and to slide his feet into his slippers. From there, he crossed over into his dressing room where he pulled down on the second hook in the row of brass hooks just inside the door. When the wall facing him on the other end of the room rolled back, he went down the stairs to read, hopefully until he was tired, and to thank his wife for having that child pick up the phone to call him when she did.

_____________________________________________________________

“Okay, what now?” Jonathan wondered aloud as he faced the brick wall at the top of the stairs once again.

He was running his hands over it again, trying to find something out of the ordinary that might be a clue to how to open it without the benefit of outside, unearthly help. Jennifer stood at the foot of the stairs, watching him.

“What did you do the last time, before it opened?” She called up to him.

“I heard you, and then I called for you. You didn’t answer me, and then I couldn’t hear anything when I listened for you at the wall. I got frustrated, I cussed, and then I hit it with my fists.”

“Maybe you should repeat that ritual. Maybe there was some magic in one of those things.”

There had indeed been some magic all right, but he had been warned twice about summoning her with the language he’d used. Maybe if he talked nice.

“If you want her to finish whatever it is you want, Suzanne,” He said to her in his head. “She will have to get in there. Are you going to show us how or what?”

His palms were flat to the wall as he leaned on it to wait for an answer of some kind, while at the same time questioning his sanity .

“I don’t normally talk to dead people, but you’re calling the shots, old girl.” He continued to think.

“Vous êtes un garçon arrogant. Who is old? ”

“I knew that would get you. Yeah, I can be a pretty arrogant boy. Now are you going to show me how or what, like I asked you?”

“We will talk, this I promise you, Jonathan Hart. Push at bottom of the wall with your foot.”

“Jonathan,” Jennifer called from the bottom step. “Do you see anything yet?”

“Coming at me from both sides.” He thought to himself, and he briefly wondered what life would have been like if Jennifer’s mother had been living during their marriage. If what he had been going through was any indication, between Suzanne, Jennifer, and J.J., he speculated that would have really been one strong female coalition. Neither he nor Stephen would have stood a ghost of a chance between them at all.

“Shine that lantern up here, down by my feet.” He called down to Jennifer.

She turned on one of the lanterns she had down there with her and came up a few more stairs to make the light shine stronger, enabling him to see a tiny lever, much like the ones in the closets, set close to the doorframe, camouflaged by the brick and obscured by the darkness at the top of the staircase. With the very tip of the toe of his shoe, luckily a cowboy boot he had changed into when he’d gone back to the house, he stepped on it. The wall began to rumble, moving slowly forward as it had earlier. That lever, like the other switches, had been designed for a much smaller person, a woman, to maneuver.

“You didn’t even have to curse it.” Jennifer observed as she came on up the stairs to enter the room when he beckoned to her.

“I knew that wouldn’t work.” He said, gently pushing her and the things they’d brought with them into the room. Previous experience told him that the door/fireplace would be wasting no time in closing behind them.

The room was now dark, and they couldn’t see. He set down the bag and lit his lantern.

“Are there any light fixtures in here?” He asked, holding his lantern up in search of lamps or light sockets, the flickering of the oil flames casting weird shadows on the already somewhat eerie space.

“I don’t know. I didn’t look. There was enough natural light for me to be able to see when I was up here before.

“Jennifer, what is this place?”

“It was where my mother came to spend time alone. I think this was where she was able to come and think and just be, kind of like my secret place out by the pond. It’s not really a secret, it’s just a place that’s yours alone.”

“How do you know that?” He asked.

“I just know.” She answered. “Look at the things on this wall.” She didn’t want to say that she had been told that was what it was. She wasn’t really completely sure herself of having been told of it or of all that seemed to have happened.

He focused on the wall behind the couch and the things that he had seen there in passing when he had come through the first time looking for her. Standing before the box displaying the tutu and ballet shoes, he said, “I take it these were yours?”

“From my first recital on pointe.”

“I bet you were good, even as a kid.”

“My mother called me a swan. I remember that it hurt like everything at first, but I really wanted to learn. It was hard work, but so much fun. My mother would be right there, urging me on. Afterward, once we were home, she’d run me a warm bath and massage my feet and my legs until I fell asleep. I could feel myself getting stronger and better as time went on. It wasn’t that much longer until- I kept dancing for her.”

“I can still see it in your posture, the way you stand, your shoulders, your back, the way you hold your head high. The training has stayed with you.” He was still standing before the box, picturing her dancing in that little dress and those shoes. “I wish I had known you then.”

She stood on the other side of the couch, watching him, not wanting to get back close to any of it just then or to deal with any of what was still covered up across the room, behind her. He continued to move slowly down the wall, looking at the books on the shelves, the pictures, the knick-knacks, and then he came upon that big black and white picture.

“It’s amazing how much J.J. looks like her. Suzanne is all over that girl; her hair, her eyes, the air about her, everything. You look like your mother, but J.J. really looks like your mother. You were a beautiful baby. That is you, isn’t it?”

“Yes, that’s me.”

“Beautiful horse, too.”

“That was Sinbad, my mother’s personal horse. My father bought him for her when she turned twenty one. When he turned thirty, she gave him an Arabian, too. Aladdin was what she called him. All my life, it seems, my mother had me on a horse. As a kid, the horses were part of my family. They got to be almost like siblings or something.”

“Oh, but you complained about me putting J.J. on a horse so soon.”

“J.J. was my baby. From the start- the very start- you were pushing the envelope with her.”

He was still studying the picture. “That could be J.J. that your mother is holding in that picture. It’s just plain amazing. Those are some mighty strong genes. I would have liked that lady, I think. She seems like my kind of people.”

“I think she certainly would have loved you, Jonathan.”

Holding his lantern up, he found that an ornate brass light fixture was stationed right over that picture. He reached up and turned the old-fashioned switch positioned at its base, but apparently that bulb hadn’t stood the test of time.

“Look in that bag, darling, and give me one of those light bulbs.” He called over his shoulder as he began unscrewing it.

Unzipping the bag he’d placed on the couch, she found several light bulbs wrapped in face towels right on top. “You certainly were thinking ahead.” She handed him a bulb over the back of the couch.

“I was never a boy scout.” He said as he exchanged the old bulb for a new one and screwed it in. “But I do know how to be prepared. When we get back up to the house, if it’s still dark out, we’ll have to raid the pantry before we go upstairs. There’s not a bulb left up there in our room.”

Once he had the new one in, he turned the switch again and was grateful that the wiring was evidently still operable. The light seemed to have Suzanne looking directly at him, almost as if she was trying to speak to him with her eyes.

“That is one beautiful picture. I guess she would want something like this close to her. It kind of reminds me of that one I took of you and J.J. up at the cabin. Had you ever seen it before?”

“No, tonight was the first time. It was the first time I had ever been up here. I didn’t know that she came up here at all.”

His saying that, about the black and white enlargement reminding him of the picture he’d taken of her and J.J., triggered something in her. Turning to the opposite wall, the one behind her, she focused upon the the wall space above what she knew was a covered up desk and chair. Something hung in that space, but it, too, was covered.

She started in that direction carrying with her one of the lanterns for light. “Jonathan, help me with this.”

He came around the couch bringing the other lantern which he sat on the floor. She directed him to the opposite end from where she was standing holding one end of the cloth in her hands. He grabbed hold of the other end.

“Lift it off.” She instructed. “I don’t want to disturb anything under here.”

Very slowly and carefully they pulled the cloth back until the antique desk and rolling wooden armchair underneath were completely uncovered. Even in the shadowy light they could see the fountain pen lying on top of the papers there as if someone had been working and had just stopped with the intention of coming right back to what they were doing. Next to the papers was a china coffee cup, a dried, cracked lipstick print still gracing the rim. A brocade pillow, a match for the one in the overstuffed chair on the other side of the room was in the wooden armchair. Its shape had been distorted, conformed as if it had been being used to support someone’s body as they sat working.

“It’s just as she left it.” Jennifer reverently whispered. “Nothing’s moved. Like it was all just sitting here waiting for someone to come back.”

Jonathan, cloth still in hand, and likening the finds in that room to discovering the treasure and secrets in the tomb of some ancestral queen, added, “Or to just come.”

He checked the bulb of the desk lamp, and when it didn’t work, he replaced it and switched it on.  Jennifer blinked at the sudden brightness of the light and in reaction to all that lie before her. There were loose papers underneath the pen, other small stacks of loose sheets,  and a pile of folders containing thicker stacks of papers on that oversized desktop. In the hutch above the desk were books. Envelopes and other miscellaneous objects stuffed the cubbies. A folded program from a ballet recital lie there as well as one from a play that was lying open. Right next to the fountain pen, in the middle of the desk on top of the loose papers, sat a small box. “Jennifer” had been written on it.

“Darling?” Jonathan said, pointing to it.

She had dropped the cover to the floor, but her hands remained at her sides. She couldn’t say anything, didn’t want to touch anything.

“It has your name on it.” He said quietly.

She knew what it was, but she didn’t know, and the sense of dread was once again almost suffocating her .

“I don’t want it.” She managed to get out between strained breaths.

“You have to face it, Jennifer. I’m right here. Take it.”

“No.”

“You have to. It’s yours. He gave it to you.”

Her name had been written on the box in Stephen’s distinctive hand.

“Do it.” He gently urged. “That’s why I’m here. They know I won’t let anything hurt you more than it has to. Go ahead.”

She reached out, and for a moment or two, all she could do was tentatively touch it with two of her fingers.

“Go on, Jennifer. Open it. It’s yours. You have to do it.”

She picked it up and removed the lid from the box. Inside was another box, which she gently dumped into the palm of her hand. It was a small purple velvet jewelry box shaped like a tiny treasure chest. Seeing the silent tears beginning to slide down her face again, he came to stand by her side as she slowly lifted the top, and he managed to catch her when she went limp at the first glimpse. Closing her hand around the box, forcing her to hold on to it, he helped her over to the couch where they sat together as she shakily, more closely, examined its contents.

Inside the box was what she had feared it was, an exquisite emerald cut diamond wedding ring and band. The design was outdated, but it still brilliantly sparked when the light over the picture on the wall behind them caught the main stone and the assortment of smaller stones. Stuck in the slot next to that wedding ring was a tiny gold baby’s ring. At its center was a heart with the letter ‘J’ engraved upon it.

“My mother’s.” She explained. “And mine.”

Closing the box, squeezing it tightly in her hand, she folded over, breaking down once again.

She cried for her father, for her mother; for Sabrina, left all alone in France, having lost her special sister, her identical sister that tragic morning. She mourned the little girl who so suddenly lost her mother and the childhood she voluntarily left behind shortly after. She cried, too, for J.J., for their Justine who never had the chance to know that part of herself. It struck her as odd that it never occurred to her before coming up to that attic that, even though they had never met, J.J. had lost out big time too.

The image of some stranger removing that ring from her mother’s lifeless finger, then the doctor giving it to her father, telling him that his wife was gone, was more than she could bear at that moment. Like J.J. often did when they talked, she could recall focusing on her mother’s wedding ring as they spoke on some difficult subject. And then there was the picture in her head of her father, left all alone in the hospital corridor, going home with only that ring… Him, coming up to that room and leaving that ring he had lovingly selected, perhaps even commissioned for the woman he had asked to be his wife… leaving it up there in that room to wait for her daughter to come for it. Had he done that right after, or had he done it years later? And where had he found that baby ring that she had torn from the chain around her neck that night as she raced from the house? That night when she finally faced it that her mother was never again coming back home or to her.

Pa had to have been the one to cover up all her mother’s things in that room in the manner that they had been. She couldn’t see him allowing anyone else up there. How strong he had to have been to place that ring on the desk, and then leave it after covering it up like a corpse. How much pain had he been made to endure?  She certainly hadn’t made it any easier for him. How had he known that she would one day come to that room? Had he preserved all of what was there specifically for her in the hope that she would one day come and find it? Or was it just another in the string of strange coincidences?

Through all of the pain, she could feel Jonathan right there, leaned closely over her, stroking her hair, holding it back out of her face, to let her do what she needed to do. With him, she felt secure, free, and safe enough to let go without worrying about spooking him or his ego, or being seen as weak in his eyes. She was grateful for him. Her husband was a person secure in himself. He understood her need to be who and what she was outside of being his wife. He accepted how essential it was that she be allowed to do the things she felt she needed to do, whatever they were, and he never pried past the boundaries she had set up to keep the pain away. It was as if he knew. She could always count on him to be supportive of her, even when she was crying a river and drenching him repeatedly in it.
_____________________________________________________________

They had exchanged the usual nightly greetings, and once again he delighted in the sound of that voice that had been missing so long from his life as she asked after their visiting family. She welcomed the nightly opportunities to practice her English, and he was impressed by her relative fluency. She rarely had occasion to speak English any more.

But then the conversation took an unusual turn.

We have been quiet too long, Stephen. We do not speak never, and when we do talk, we do not speak of that which we know we should. It has only been a short time that we talk again with each other, but it has not gone away.

Sabrina, I don’t want to speak about it. It’s done. It’s over. Dredging it back up isn’t going to change any of what happened.

I know you think that is why she leave us, but you are wrong in that thinking. I think it is why you never have another woman in your life. I know for sure it is why I have no one man in mine. None could compare.

Leave it alone, Sabrina. I just called to talk, not to reopen old wounds.

The wound has never closed. It has not for you either.

Please, Sabrina. Please let it go.

Stephen, she knew of it. She always knew of my feelings for you. My sister knew, but still she love me. She love you. She trust you, and she was right. I come to you, but you would not have me. Even so, I have never stop loving you even while I hate you. It is good that you close yourself away from me after my sister left us.

I wanted you when you came to me that night. I almost took you. After Suzanne was gone, I just couldn’t have you in my life. And it was you who shut me out, as I recall.

You wanted Suzanne when I come to you that night. That would have been whom you were taking. You were alone, and you see in me your wife, your love. Even when we were small girls, my sister always knew when I was doing the wrong things and she would always come and stop me. She knows me and what I am. It is why she phone you when she did. She call to stop me and to save you. She love you as did I, but her love was stronger. The kind of love you need in your life. You love Suzanne, not wild Sabrina.

After Suzanne, I couldn’t be with you in any way. It wouldn’t have been very hard to make you be Suzanne in my mind. That wouldn’t have been fair to you or to Jennifer. You were you. If I let you in, Jennifer would have come to hate you. She already hated me. It was best that we did what we did.

This I know, but still it has trouble me. I try to tell my sister I am sorry by taking care of Jennifer and Justine since she is no longer here. I talk to them, look after them, teach them. I love them, and try to make sure that they are strong girls. Jennifer was much harder job than Justine. Jennifer was silent and stubborn. Justine is different. She listens and she is stronger on her own.

She is like Suzanne, naturally strong and assertive. Jennifer is more sensitive, sometimes unsure and closed, like me. It comes off as being stubborn, but we really just want to be able to do things on our own. We hide our insecurities well, my child and I, but I know her as I know myself.

As do I. Our time is not long here, Stephen. We get older and closer to our time to go every day, and I need to say the words to you that I already say to my sister. I am sorry.

We can’t help who we love, Sabrina. We really cannot. I didn’t fault you. I would have been the one to hurt both of you. I faulted only myself for being weak. I was the one who was married. I was the one who was committed. Maybe we were both wrong, but now it is over. It has long been over. Let it go. I know for sure now that Suzanne has forgiven us, and I for one, am over it.

You do nothing for her to forgive you. She save you from me. I need you to forgive me now, Stephen. You need to say if you will or not. I need to hear from you if you will or not.

I forgive you, Sabrina.

Merci, Stephen. Now, I can finally be completely at peace. How long will our Jennifer be there with you?

I don’t know. I wish she could stay forever, but she’s married to Los Angeles. She has her life, and I have mine.

Such as it is. You make yourself unhappy, but it is as you like it.

Just as I like it. I have my family, my friends, and that is enough. You are my family and my good friend. Despite everything, I have missed you and I’m glad that you’ve come back.

And I have miss you. Rest, Etienne. Get strong again. Justine has only the two of us from our time, and we must last and be strong for her until it is the end of our time. Good night, my dear brother.

By the time he hung up from his sister-in law and the draining conversation they’d been having, he was ready to sleep. He switched off the light on the antique desk and crept slowly back up the stairs from the passage to return to his room. Sitting again on the side of his bed, as he drank the glass of water he had earlier poured for himself, Suzanne smiled compassionately at him from the framed photograph that he kept close to him on the night table. Setting the empty glass down next to her, he pulled on the cord to turn off the lamp and then lie down for the night. Like Sabrina said that she was, he finally felt completely at peace with himself, his situation, and the world, something he hadn’t experienced in a very long time.

_____________________________________________________________

When he could sense she was at a place to go on, Jonathan pulled Jennifer upright from where he had earlier eased her into position to lay her head on his shoulder.

“I don’t mean to press you, but we need to get back to it.” He said to her. “You came up here to do a job that you said needed doing. You asked me to not let you stop.”

She nodded in agreement, wiping her eyes with the tissues she’d had the presence of mind to stuff down into her pocket before leaving the main house. Pressing the velvet box containing the rings into his hand, she asked. “Would you keep this?”

He put it into his pocket and stood, helping her to her feet. They went back to the desk, where she reached for the first in a row of books on the shelf above the desk, none of which had titles.

“Her journals.” Jennifer noted aloud, starting in the middle and leafing quickly through the pages of the book in her hand, trying not to see the individual words. Closing it, she reached back up and ran her hand along the spines of the ones still on the shelf. “Eighteen.” She counted. “With the one here and the one I had over there, if this is all of them, she must have started when she was twelve. Like me. Like J.J.”

“She must have come up here in the mornings before you got up or at night after you went to bed.” He suggested. “Perhaps during the day while you were off playing or at school.”

“It seems like this is where she was that morning. I found that last book on the chair over there. She wrote about taking me to school if my father didn’t wake on his own to do it.”

They were again standing at opposite ends of the desk, and he noticed that Jennifer hadn’t even taken the most cursory glance at the papers on the desk upon which her mother had evidently been working. Instead she seemed a bit distracted by whatever was hanging, still covered up, over the desk, .

He reached up for the dust cover. “Let’s see what this is.”

When she seemed hesitant to reach for her end, he gave her a verbal nudge, “You can do this. Just lift it off.”

Slowly and cautiously to keep from pulling it down, they lifted the cloth from a portrait of a woman and a girl. Jonathan reached for the lantern on the floor behind him and held it up to better see the details. When he did, he could see that Jennifer had closed her eyes and was gripping the end of the desk with both hands.

“Open your eyes, darling.” He told her. “It’s beautiful. Looks just like the one at home with you and J.J. Almost identical.”

When she remained standing there with her eyes closed, he went to her, sliding his arm around her waist to comfort her. “Look at it, Jennifer.” He whispered soothingly into her ear. “Open your eyes. Do it. You need to do it.”

Slowly she opened her eyes, and the face that she couldn’t remember was hanging on that wall. Even though her mother’s eyes in the portrait were focused upon the little girl seated on the floor beneath her, when she opened her own eyes to look up at the picture, at that moment she could feel them looking into her eyes .

“Bonsoir, mama” She involuntarily whispered as if her mother could hear her.

“Bonsior,  my Jenny.” Echoed in her head, and she immediately looked to Jonathan to see if he could have said it, but he was still staring up at the portrait, and she didn’t see his lips move when she heard that unmistakable voice say, “Bienvenue, ma chérie.”

“Tell me about that.” Jonathan said, bringing her back. “Do you remember it? Did you have this in mind when you and J.J. sat for the one at home?”

Slowly shaking her head, she answered, “Not consciously. Actually, I didn’t remember it until just now. I guess I pushed it back and away.”

Feeling her body trembling, he moved her into the desk chair. Remaining standing, he leaned back against the desk right next to her to continue to listen.

“It was right before-” She abruptly stopped, placing her hand to her mouth.

“Say it.” He urged as he pulled her hand away.

“Right before she lef-”

“Say it, Jennifer. Say what happened. I know that it hurts, but it’s me you’re telling it to.”

She took a deep breath and a hard swallow to fight back the tears that she was sick of wiping away.

“We sat for it right before she was ki-” She pulled her hand from his to cover her eyes after dropping her head. “Killed. It was supposed to be a birthday surprise for my father. She hid it away in the pantry, and she was going to give it to him the next night after he got home. I was so excited about him coming home and her giving that painting to him as a surprise. He loved paintings. Only it didn’t happen the way that it was supposed to. It’s funny, I had forgotten all about that, until just now. I never even thought about it again until I just saw it, but somehow I knew…”

“Your father must have found it and brought it up here.” Jonathan surmised. “He must have been the one to preserve this room like this. It looks like all he did was cover her things up. He didn’t move anything. How old were you in that painting?”

“We sat for it the month before she died. I was twelve.”

“Looking at that picture, at twelve, you and J.J. could have been sisters.”

They looked questioningly to each other.

“Why is all of this happening?” She asked in a hushed voice. “What does it all mean?”

“What does what mean?” He asked trying to sound casual, but knowing full well that she was adding things up in her head in the same way that he had already done. He wanted to see what picture was forming for her without prompting from him.

“She was pregnant when she died. She wanted the baby to be a girl.” She continued. “Our daughter, who came from my body, looks more like my mother than I do. J.J.’s birthday is a month to the day that my mother died. Our birthdays all contain two’s, the baby my mother carried would have been a second child, hopefully a second daughter. We were all twelve when we started writing down our lives. J.J. was born at the start of the second decade of our marriage, after Max, when there were just the two of us.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“Do you think my mother- Do you think J.J. could be- I don’t know what I’m trying to say.”

“What I think is that J.J. is ours.” He stated definitively. “We made her, you and I. She has your good looks and my blue eyes, your good mind, and my nerve. Think about it, Jennifer. Your father has brown eyes. Your grandfather had hazel eyes. Your father’s father even had brown eyes. J.J.’s genetics study says that in your family the children inherit the father’s eye color. She couldn’t be anybody else’s but mine. I’m the only blue-eyed guy in the bunch. Now I will grant you, in ’57 I was seventeen and wild, sorta had a thing for older women at the time, too, but that’s another story. I promise you, I didn’t even know your mother, honest. She was a definite looker, but I swear, I never lay a finger on her.”

Aghast at his almost sacrilegious insinuation, her jaw dropped as her head snapped up. Ready to confront him, she was stopped by the naughty twinkle in those blue eyes of which he had spoken.

“You really are a pig at times, Jonathan. If my mother were here, she’d slap you sillier than you are. I don’t know why I put up with you and your filthy mind.”

“Because you love my filthy mind. You wallow around in the muck I manage to think up, right along with me, and you’re crazy about me, warts and all. Besides, I don’t think I’m the only one with the less than immaculate thoughts. I can recall being shocked on occasion by some things that other parties have said and done.

“Unfortunately, I find that I can’t deny that I’m mildly attracted to you even if you do entertain a rather debauched pattern of thought.” She reluctantly admitted, trying not to smile as she continued to look up at him in exasperation. “But I am not anywhere near as warped as you.”

“What about those little outfits you pick up at that place on Rodeo Drive? Talk about debauched…You’d have people who don’t know you believe that I’m the pirate, and you’re the lady. They just don’t know. ”

“As it should be.” She was finally forced to smile, but the glimmer of amusement quickly dimmed as she asked, “But what about J.J.’s spirit? Could it be that her spirit got a second chance through us?”

For a moment, they both went silent, considering the possibility. It was too far over the top for him, but not so far for her, and despite how bizarre it might have sounded to either of them, past experience said that anything was possible. It was Jonathan who finally spoke what was going through both of their minds.

“We wouldn’t have had any control over that. Maybe it did. Maybe it didn’t. Who knows. I don’t subscribe to that line of thinking, but I don’t discount it either. But if that were the case, how precious a gift is that? Your mother must have really loved you to trust you to take on that responsibility for her. I can tell she really loved you.”

“And you, too. She knows who I married, I’m sure.”

“Yeah well, I’m pretty sure of that.” He agreed, immediately calling to mind the conversation that he had been promised.

Hanging her head over the back of the chair and stretching her body, Jennifer answered wearily, “It’s just all too much to consider in too short a time. We’re talking a gap of forty-some years. Why now?”

She reached up to run her hands through her hair, pulling her fingers through to the ends.

“God, my head hurts. I’ve cried myself sick, and I’ve done far too much abstract thinking. It seems like it’s been a year, and today has only been one day. So much has happened since that Friday when I left LA for the reunion. Remember me asking you what could happen in one weekend? I know that it’s been a little more than one weekend, but a whole lot of water has gone under the bridge since then.”

Gently massaging her temples with the tips of his fingers, Jonathan’s attention had shifted to the papers on the desk, the ones his normally inquisitive wife seemed determined to not see.

“There’s still a lot to be done.” He said. “There is a reason why you’ve been led up here.”

“Besides finding the rings?” She peered up at him.

“Stop avoiding it, Jennifer. You’ve done that long enough. Her journals are there. You’ve got these papers before you. There’s still things up here that are covered up. The ring box was sitting right on top of those papers and it had your name on it. The lock on that door at the bottom of the stairs opened for you and only you. You have been allowed to come up here for a reason.”

“Jonathan, I couldn’t read her journals.” She whispered, almost desperately. “That would be a supreme invasion of her privacy. I just couldn’t.”

“I think she wants you to. Maybe she waited this long to summon you up here because you’re at a place in your life where you need to know her better. You were just a child when she left you. You really couldn’t know her as a person. You only knew her as your mother.”

She was struck by the accuracy of his words about her not knowing her mother as a person, an observation she had already secretly made to herself.

“Maybe it’s because of J.J.” He continued. “Maybe because J.J.’s coming of age, and needs to know her. Your mother was sixteen when she met your father. J.J. is sixteen now, and for the first time she’s met a boy she likes on a personal level. I don’t know what the correlation is, but it seems to me that might be a line of thinking to pursue. What are all those papers on the desk?”

“Just business, I’m sure.” Jennifer answered while slowly, reluctantly leaning forward in the chair to peek at the ones lying underneath the pen. “She ran the stables herself. My father took a minimal hand in that. He wasn’t around. She was always checking in and out horses, talking horses out in the stables with the hands, keeping books and ledgers. She had started showing me a little bit about how to keep the books. I would love it. It was her way of telling me how smart she thought I was.”

He watched her reach out and place her hand on top of the papers closest to her on the desktop. What was there, didn’t look like ledgers to him. It didn’t look like business at all. When her hand just rested there, covering the pen, but without picking anything up, he looked down at her and could see that once again, she had closed her eyes.

“I envy you.” He said.

“Why?” She asked, without changing position. “Why would you envy me this stress?”

“At least you once knew her. At least you have a chance now to pick up where you left off, even if it is only through what she’s written.”

She opened her eyes to look up and find him staring down at her with that piercing blue look that he used when he was challenging her, when he was trying to get her over the hurdles she was sometimes reluctant to straddle in life. In his eyes she also could see the sincerity of his words. He had not been so fortunate. He rarely, almost never spoke of not knowing his parents, and he had never spoken specifically of his mother at all. His silence on the subject, as well as his usually affable disposition had served over the years to stifle any speculation she might have had on how he might really feel about it. In his eyes, she could see that he was allowing her a glimpse into that empty place inside of him, and in doing that he was letting her know that she needed to move forward for both of them. Feeling his hand move to her shoulders, she picked up the pen in one hand and the first piece of paper in the other. Scanning it briefly, she then scooped up the other sheets lying underneath.

_____________________________________________________________

Bill turned the ceiling fan on high and moved over by the open window to enjoy his cigarette and his phone conversation.

“I’m doing alright. Just missing you. How’s Marnie? “

I called over to Waverly a while ago. That Dee was trying to tell me Marnie was in the shower. I wasn’t going for that song and dance act. They tried that mess before. I made Dee put Marnie on the phone to make sure she was actually there.

“Was she there?”

She was. Irritated as hell, though, that I didn’t trust her to be. That’s when I asked her who was in the shower with her. She couldn’t hold back laughing at me asking her that. She knows I have her hot little number, and don’t think I’m not going to call back in an hour or so just to make sure she wasn’t taking that shower in preparation for sneaking out to make a late night date with the Hickey King.

“Speaking of late night dates…”

I’ll make it up to you, I promise.

“I don’t know if I can take that much making up. I’m not as young as I used to be, you know.”

I can’t tell. You get no complaints from me. How’s Jonathan and Jennifer?

“I don’t know. I’m assuming they’re still out at the guest house. I told you earlier that I dropped him off out there because he thought that’s where she was. He was right. They stayed out there for a while, then they came back here for a few minutes so she could eat, and then they went right back. I’ve just been here, all by myself, seeing to the elderly, delivering dresses, and what have you.”

You’re not there by yourself. Walter, Rosa, and Mr. Edwards are there, not to mention that damned cigarette I between your fingers right now where it’s probably been all day, since I haven’t been there with you.

He reached behind him for the ash tray. “What cigarette?”

The one you’re stubbing out because I asked you about it.

“Aw, Pat, damn. Can’t I keep one vice?”

One? You drink, you smoke, you curse, you gamble, you won’t exercise unless I make you; you’d eat crap all the time if I wasn’t checking on you. Which one vice are you planning on keeping, William McDowell?

“You curse. You drink. You gamble, Patricia Rose.”

But when I do it, it’s for medicinal or spiritual purposes, to maintain my sanity. You just do it to be doing it.

“See, that’s why I need you in my life. To help me put things into perspective.”

You’re giving up smoking, Bill.

“Oh, right. I give up smoking and get a pre-pubescent kid in its place. Some trade-off. I’ll probably need the damn cigarettes more than ever since he’s Marnie’s brother.”

Stop complaining. You love the idea of looking out for the kid, and you know it.

“I’m just glad it’s a boy and not your girl. I couldn’t take looking after Marnie. She’d have me going up on charges after I shot another butt-hole into one of her boyfriends. You still coming home first thing in the morning?”

I plan to.

“Good. I talked to J.J. not too long ago. She’s expecting her mother to come help her out at the hospital. You might have to go in Jennifer’s place if she doesn’t make it back here tonight. J.J. wants her hair done, but I got the feeling Jennifer might not make it back in time.”

Why?

“She and Jonathan had that fight earlier that I told you about. Now they’re out there closed up, all alone. They’ve been out there forever. You know how satisfying it is after a good fight. You know them, they don’t even have to have had a fight. Out there, all alone, all night. They’ll probably be sleeping it off until noon.”

Bill, there’s no furniture out there.

“Where there’s a will…”

I guess you do have a point. We are talking about those two. Well, I’ll be there, and if need be, I’ll see to the Squirt. How’s Stephen?

“I just looked in on him. He’s asleep.”

I miss you, Bill. You’re a really good guy. Thank you for being so patient, understanding, and helpful in all of this. Not many men would put themselves out like this.

“It’s all in the family, Pat. Family sticks together. Don’t forget to check on that damned Marnie again. In fact, give me the number. Hell, I’ll do it.”

Don’t call her cell number. She could be anywhere on that and lying, saying that she’s in the room Call the room phone. If she hears from you, that’ll really shake her up and keep her in there. I wrote the number down in my phone book. It’s right next to the phone on the desk. I love you, big fella. Good night.

“I love you, too, babe.”

He hung up from Pat, and went over to the desk. After leafing through her book and locating the number, he punched it into the phone. A sleepy sounding voice picked up.

“ ‘s is Marnie. I better be who you want to talk to, and since I was just about asleep what you have to say had better be good.”

He smiled into the phone. “You need to check your display before you start right into telling people off when you pick up. And furthermore, what better be is, you better be in that room every time I call there tonight, and ALONE, except for Dee.”

“Uncle Bill?”

_____________________________________________________________

Pat hung up from Bill with a huge grin on her face, picturing Marnie getting that call from him. Those little hips would be glued to that room for sure after that. She didn’t really think that Marnie was going to try anything; they had done a lot of talking that day, but with Marnie, there was nothing wrong with having backup. And big Bill was definitely backup. He didn’t say a lot, but on this trip, she’d noticed that both J.J. and Marnie tended to pay attention when he spoke, or even gave them the eye.

J.J. had been asleep both times that she attempted to call her. Earlier that afternoon, upon arriving at Gresham Hall, she’d tried to reach her, only to find that she was napping after her visit from Teddy. Must have worn herself out emotionally, Pat guessed. Just young and green… Time and a few more hash marks on the wall would fix that.

Later that evening, when she came up from having dinner with the Dean and her sister, she saw where J.J. had returned the call. But upon phoning her back, she was told that the girl had fallen back to sleep after eating her own supper. That was highly unusual. J.J. slept pretty hard when she was tired, but it wasn’t like her to sleep during the day, much less take two naps. Perhaps it was because she was bedridden and bored. She had called and talked to Bill, so at least one of them had spoken with her.

Getting under the covers, taking the book she had been reading from the night stand, she tried get back into it, but soon found her mind wandering. She ended up turning it face down on her lap, and just letting her thoughts go where they wanted.

A lot had been accomplished that day. Marnie’s father had been very accommodating, almost uncomfortably so, and the enrollment had gone down very smoothly. Kyle would be starting at Brookfield in early August. It was good seeing Tom Matheson again, now Dean Thomas Matheson, but time had not been as kind to him as it had been with her. He was newly separated, he said and while trying not to ogle her, he had asked her to dinner, much to that nosey Marnie’s delight. But she turned him down citing her previous engagement with her hostess, the Dean of Gresham Hall. She laughed to herself when the words, “cut your losses and run” crossed her mind. It had been good when it was, but those days were long over and Mr. Matheson was ancient (but sizzling hot) history.

When she finally got the opportunity to speak with Master Kyle Benson, himself, for the first time; he had been so polite and gracious for such a little boy that she felt she couldn’t wait to meet him. Marnie said all along that he was a good kid, and going past her obvious sisterly bias, it certainly sounded like she might be right. Whatever drama the boy was going through at home, she hoped it would end for him once he was out of the situation. She and Bill would make sure that his stay on the east coast was a bit more stable than what Marnie depicted his experience had been out west.

There was so much ahead of all of them, what with seeing to the work on the guest house, J.J.’s rehabilitation, the Dean and Miss Smythe moving to Briarwood, closing the deal on Farrell’s place, the upcoming wedding, moving to and maintaining three households. And then there was the matter of Jennifer.

Throughout most of the day, she had been able to put her friend on the back burner, but alone and the day done, there she was again, worrying the hell out of her. What was going on at Briarwood? What was with that secret passage that J.J. and Marnie had discovered? Bill was so maddeningly unconcerned about what was down there. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to count on him to tell her anything. She would just have to wait and see what Jennifer said.

Bill said that Jennifer and Jonathan had an argument over J.J. Evidently that had been patched up. They were out in the guest house together where Bill said they had been most of the day. Jonathan just needed to get over it about J.J. and boys. That girl was going to attract attention, and she was going to like some of the boys who were attracted to her. It was inevitable. Jennifer had been gorgeous and boys just fell all around her feet. J.J. was her mother’s child, and apparently her grandmother’s child, as well. That Mrs. Edwards had met Mr. Edwards at sixteen and married him at eighteen was one thing that Jennifer had shared with her. Jonathan need not worry. Jennifer was probably a more formidable force with which a boy would have to reckon than even he. She was just as vigilant and observant, but a lot more low key about it. J.J.’s stalker had underestimated her and had almost paid for that miscalculation with his life. He had anticipated Jonathan, but it was Jennifer he should have feared.

That boy at home, Wesley, was probably in for it when Jennifer got back to LA. According to Jennifer, he was beginning to crowd J.J., attempting to be possessive of something that was in no way his. She hadn’t said that she planned to take any action, but if there was one thing in life that pushed Jennifer’s button, it was a man trying to possess her, or more recently, hers. It brought out that darker side in her every time. Wesley needed to be afraid, very afraid. Perhaps a call from her to his mother, an old classmate and mutual acquaintance, was in order just to offer fair warning.

It wouldn’t be unlike Jennifer to say nothing to her about the passage, what was down there, what was with the attic or any of that. They shared everything it seemed, except their mothers. If any of that had anything to do with Mrs. Edwards, then she might never find out what was going on.

Throughout their long friendship, thinking back on it, Pat couldn’t recall one time that Jennifer ever referred to her mother on a personal level, and she had never had much to say about her own mother. Outside of her, in school, Jennifer never talked about her mother with anyone. When being profiled for the senior yearbook, she had walked out of the interview when Clara tried to push for information about her mother to include in her biography as co-valedictorian. Jennifer’s yearbook biography was printed with no mention of her mother. It was how she wanted it.

There was never any, “My mother said…” or “My mother and I used to…”. Jennifer had evidently done a job on even herself with blocking her mother out of her memory and her life. She had confessed to not even remembering what the woman looked like any more.

As distant as she and her own mother had been, even she could remember what Elise Hamilton looked like. Maybe that was because there had never really been anything to forget. She could remember her father, too, but once again, there hadn’t been that much to put to the side. If it hadn’t been for Mr. Edwards providing the framework, she probably wouldn’t have cared very much about achieving anything in life. Her family was wealthy on both sides. As an only child and grandchild, at twelve, thanks to both her grandmothers, she was already an heiress and on track to join the ranks of the idle rich from which she had come. Despite the money and having all her material needs more than adequately met, life didn’t seem very much worth living until Jennifer and her stern, but loving father came into her life.

It was Mr. Edwards who provided the structure, guidance, and some goals to which she could aspire. Through Jennifer, she had achieved the sense of family that, up to that point, had been missing in her life. They had different parents, but had become sisters just the same.

She remembered being in the bathroom that long ago morning and hearing someone come into the room at Waverly House. It was Dean Marchand, who was the lower school headmistress at the time, and she was calling for her. A willful child, who that day was not in the mood to be cooperative or social, she remained frozen in place so as not to be discovered. Listening at the door, she could hear a man talking. It sounded as if he were speaking to someone, and he had an accent; English, she thought. He was asking questions, but she couldn’t hear that he was getting any answers.

Waiting until she heard the door to the room close, she cracked open the bathroom door and peered around it. Someone’s expensive luggage was everywhere on that side of the room. Coming all the way out of the bathroom, she saw that on the bed behind the door sat a small, thin girl with freckles and a lot of long red hair. She was staring straight ahead, looking like she was trying very hard not to cry.

Nothing had to be said. They were the only two in the room at that time, the only two in the world as far as she had been concerned. Going over to the bed, she sat down next to the girl and took her hand. To her surprise, still looking forward, the girl took her hand and squeezed back.

“Jennifer.” She said without looking at her. “Jennifer Edwards.”

“Patricia, but call me “Pat”, Hamilton.”

For the first time, they turned to look into each other’s face. Then, at the same time, they both said, “I hate this place.”

They looked each other in the eye, and she knew that it was going to be all right. Reading people had always been her gift. From the start, she could tell that Jennifer Edwards was a keeper. Not one tear did she shed that day. Pat Hamilton liked people who could hold their own, like she did every day of her life.

If what was going on with Jennifer was keeping her from J.J., like Bill said it had, then it had to be about her mother. She had to have found something up there about her mother. She wondered how many tears her friend had shed that day up in that mysterious attic her father had warned them about. Jennifer could stay up there as long as she needed. J.J. would be in good hands in the meantime.

It was comforting to know that Jonathan was up there with her, and she hoped that when it was all said and done, Jennifer would finally be able to see her mother’s face when she closed her eyes to go to sleep.

_____________________________________________________________

Jennifer was startled when Jonathan suddenly appeared at her side with a glass of wine. She had been so engrossed in surveying, skimming, and organizing the papers in front of her that she had almost forgotten that he was there.

“Where did you get that?” She asked, when the glass appeared under her nose. When she looked up, she found that he was standing next to her dressed in just his pajama bottoms. “And those?”

“I packed for the duration.” He answered, gesturing over to the couch. “Before we left, while I was upstairs, I tried to think of everything we might need to make it comfortable while we were out here.”

Following his hand, she could see that the couch and the chair had been made up with linen, pillows and light blankets from their bedroom. He had moved the chair so that it faced the couch and was close enough to allow one of them to sleep in it with his legs propped on the couch. The coffee table that had been situated in front of the couch was moved down to the other side of the chair and on it were towels, toiletry items and two neatly folded stacks of clothing including both their bathrobes. Bringing her attention back to him, she noticed that the top to his pajamas, hung over his other arm and he was holding it out to her.

“Somebody thought of everything.” She said, laying the papers she had been reading down on the desk. “You certainly got maximum use out of that bag of yours.”

“I’ve had years of practice at packing in a hurry for the two of us.” He said, as he set her wine down on the desk. “Come on, get into this. You need to lie down for a while. I know that you’ve got to be tired.”

She took a sip of the wine, removed her sweater, and stood to unfasten her top. “I could do with a break. You don’t want to just go back to the house?” She asked.

He shook off the question. “Nope. I know you. You won’t be able to sleep more than a couple of hours and then you’ll be trying to get right back to this desk, and I don’t want you out here alone at night. We can stay here and save the steps. Besides, I’m convinced now that she doesn’t want you to leave until you’ve done or seen whatever it is you’re supposed to do or see.”

What he said as well as the way he said it immediately caught her attention. “Why?” She asked. “What makes you think that?”

“Come here.”

He took her by the wrist and walked her over to the railing, asking, “Remember when I said that I left the door open so that we could get back in from downstairs if we chose to go that way?”

They both peered over the railing. The dust covers once again fully covered the stairs as they had when she had been dropping them over earlier. Where he had pushed the last few against the door on his way out to ensure that it didn’t close, those were bunched inside the now closed door. “I don’t think she wants anybody else from that other side of the door up here disturbing you. You see that I could only get in from the back way- with you.”

They looked to each other for a moment, each searching the face of the other. Then, without a word, she returned to the desk and continued to undress.

“What have you found out so far?” He asked, as he went behind the couch to turn off the light over the picture.

“What I was looking at appears to be the middle of something, a disjointed story of some kind that she was working on. I only had looked at those sheets there in front of me. There are parts missing, and it wasn’t making that much sense to me. There’s something that goes with it, but I haven’t yet worked up nerve enough to look at anything else. I didn’t even know that she could, or that she liked to write. It’s kind of surreal to be reading things she’d written; like it’s all not really happening, and at the same time, with the style she uses, it’s as if she’s talking to me. My mother wrote in English the way that she spoke it. Most of the time, when it was just the two of us, she spoke French.”

As she draped her blouse across the back of the chair and bent to slip off her pants, he returned to her side of the room. She removed her bra and turned around to take the shirt he still had on his arm from him. When she noticed where his eyes had traveled, all she could do was smile. It was nice knowing that he was still so attracted.

“May I have the shirt, Jonathan? Before I catch cold. You ought to be tired of looking by now.”

“Sorry.” He mischievously grinned, handing her the shirt. “But I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that sight.”

He turned away from her and started toward the fireplace, talking as he went.

“Look, we’ve got some wood here. I checked the flue. It seems clear. I want to see if I can get a fire started. This is one well-constructed house. Screens were installed to keep debris and I guess birds and other small animals out of the chimney. If we have a fire, that’ll keep it from getting too cool up here during the night if you do get back up later. This is an attic and the temperature can be inconsistent. That’s probably why that fireplace is up here. I can tell she used it.”

Over by the desk, Jennifer was overwhelmed by a strong, woody smell and the popping sound from a crackling fire. Her whole body was suddenly warmed, and she was rendered momentarily dizzy.

“That was no private summer.” She thought to herself as she held on to the desk for a moment, praying that he hadn’t noticed.

Again she was frustrated by one more recollection whose origin seemed just beyond her ability to get a grip on it. The last time she had been in front of a fire that she could recall had been in the great room at home. She was sure that was not the fire that was trying to register with her.

In the meantime, he knelt on the hearth with the box of long matches he had pulled from the bag. A few minutes later, after stacking a few of the dried-out logs from the rack into the grate, he had a small fire going.

Once she felt steady again, she switched off the desk lamp and extinguished the lanterns to preserve them. Then, wine in hand, she headed for the couch to stretch out, realizing that she actually was more tired than she could ever remember being.

When he stood up and turned back around from his efforts with the fire, he saw her reclined on the couch, her head resting on the pillows that were propped against its arm. She and her long bare legs were being softly lit by the undulating orange light. Looking at her lying there, he felt like it was just the two of them that evening, with nobody or anything else anywhere, in the world. They had been summarily cut off by someone who wanted them to get something done without any outside interruptions. He thought of  the emotional hoops that Jennifer had been made to jump through in such a short span of time, and it worried him a bit to know that there were probably still more to come.

Her face, at that moment, bore an expression of peacefulness, but he knew her. Her composed outward appearance belied her reluctance to face what was there. She was curious, but confused about it all, and probably still a bit apprehensive about facing the unknown. Yet, looking at her resting there on that couch, nobody outside of himself, or maybe Pat, would ever know it. They had both come to know that, like her steely father, Jennifer Edwards Hart was good at wearing masks to protect herself from being found out. He felt that she sometimes wore them to protect herself from herself. It unnerved him some to see her back up from that ring box with her name on it, just as it had been to witness her reaction to that portrait in the passage. Normally, she would take on a challenge or a mystery with great relish, but Suzanne Edwards seemed to have her daughter in retreat mode. He was sure that he had been sent to be his wife’s encouragement. Jennifer was a fighter. She would get through it, whatever it was. He would see to it.

“You are one beautiful and complex woman, Jennifer Hart.” He was thinking as he crossed the room to take the chair. “And I’ll be right here for you.”

“Why is this happening, Jonathan?” She asked when he was seated, as if she had been reading his thoughts. “Really, we’ve been coming here to Briarwood to visit for over twenty five years. My mother has been gone from this world for forty-four years. Why now?”

“I don’t know for sure. I have some theories I’m working on besides the ones I’ve already mentioned to you.” He answered. “I’ve been doing some thinking on it, but haven’t formed any real solid opinions. Jennifer, I need to talk with you now about something that’s definitely happening. I think it might help you press on.”

She raised her head a bit to look over to him. “What is it?”

“It’s about J.J.”

“What about J.J.?”

“When I took her to the clinic that first day that we arrived, we went for milkshakes afterward and we talked. She told me that she wanted to know about her grandmother. For some reason, she’s become fixed on knowing about your mother.”

“She told you that? Why didn’t she just ask me or Pa?”

“What she needs I don’t think she can get from your father even if she were to go to him.”

“She’s been my child for sixteen years. She’s never really asked me anything about my mother. I didn’t think she thought about it or that she cared to know. She’s seen the pictures that I have, and we’ve talked over those. J.J. knows that she can ask me anything, in fact, she does. I have to tell you, there are times that I almost wish she wouldn’t. Since she never knew my mother, I thought she was content with things being the way they were. I didn’t think she’d be interested.”

“Well, she isn’t content. She didn’t come to you with it because she didn’t think she could ask you. J.J. feels like since you didn’t ever bring your mother up to her on your own, that you didn’t really want to talk about her or that it bothered you to talk about her. Your daughter has a very high regard for you. If she thinks she’s encroaching on your privacy or that it hurts you to talk to her about it, she isn’t going to ask you. But that doesn’t mean she’s any less interested in finding out. ”

“Jesus, give me strength.” Jennifer sighed. “I didn’t know. It never even occurred to me.”

“I’m sure that was what she was doing down in that passage that night. She was curious about what it was, but then she thought she might find out some things about Suzanne down there. When I got there, she was right down from your father’s room. She’s seen that portrait of your mother on Sinbad. She saw all the other things down there too: the guns, the certificates, everything. Don’t think she hasn’t been rolling it over in that head of hers. I got odds that say she won’t mention any of it, but the first chance she gets once she’s home from the hospital, she’s going to try to get  back there.”

“And she’s had all that down time to plan it out. I know for fact that she’s going to try it.”

“Jennifer, you’ve never talked about your mother very much at all voluntarily, not even to me. Why is that?”

“I just have never been able to.” She answered in a strained whisper. “Not to anyone. I don’t know why.”

“I think you do. You’re just not saying.”

“I just really didn’t talk about her. I don’t know why. I just couldn’t, so I didn’t.”

“Why?”

Narrowing her eyes at him, trying to figure out what he was doing, she could not believe his badgering her in the way that he was. It wasn’t his style at all. He had to know that he was pushing too hard on an issue that didn’t concern him. He had been pushing like that all evening. She was tired and extremely irritated at being repeatedly forced by him and by circumstance to talk about and confront things that she had long put away in a safe place, those things that were hers alone, and that hurt so much to finally dredge back up and face.

“Why are you pressuring me like this, Jonathan? You never talk to me about your mother. I don’t pressure you about that. You won’t even entertain the thought of looking for her, not even for J.J.’s sake or yours. Why is that? Tell me. Why is that?”

And she immediately felt badly when he looked away from her, dropping his face dejectedly into his hand to nervously rub his brow.

“… still have that quick temper.” Those words echoed accusingly in her brain as she watched him, and deeply remorseful, she felt like kicking herself for jabbing at him in that manner.

But before she could say anything in apology, he began to answer her question.

“Because, Jennifer, if I do, I have to admit out loud that I got left behind by my mother, like trash or garbage- definitely something she didn’t want. Maybe it was that she died and that’s how I came to be alone, but  the way I figure it, it’s more likely that she just didn’t want me. I didn’t fit into her plans. If I talked about any of that with you or with anybody, I would have to admit out loud that I might have just been someone’s error or their bad luck. At the place I’m in, I have no complaints with my life. Dwelling on that part of it, in any way, makes me sad.

I’m not a man who fools around with sad. It’s not an emotion that I have time for. Sad just drags you down, and I don’t have anything to feel sad about. Max convinced me of that a long time ago. When he came into my life, he said that I had wasted enough time on that which I had no control over, so I stopped speaking of it or even thinking about it very much. Instead I concentrated on what I could control. I focused on being the best me I could be since I was all I had. I never knew my mother, so there’s really no one to talk about.

Remember when J.J. and Tommy got kidnapped, and Tommy found out that his mother had gotten him with a married man, and that she had only assumed the last name, Steele? Tommy told me that he had never thought himself a bastard until then. I could have died when that boy said that word to me about himself. If you could have seen the look on his face when he was talking about it. He said that the whole situation made him wish that he never knew anything about his father, despite learning that his father wanted him, but just wasn’t man enough to do right by him. Thank God for his grandmother being the woman she is, as well as his mother. They hold him up and make him keep his head high. We’re just now getting that boy to the place where he’s believing that it didn’t have anything to do with him, and that the label wasn’t his to wear. I say that to him, but I can relate wholeheartedly with what he was saying to me. I don’t know if I’m a bastard or not, and I don’t want to know. As long as I don’t know, I don’t have that brand seared onto my brain.

Jennifer, you knew your mother. You had a childhood. You knew who your mother was, what she was, and you know that she loved you. The evidence of her love is all around you up here. The evidence of both your parents’ love for you is in that little box in my pants pocket, sitting right next to the symbol of your father’s love for your mother. If I were in your place, I would go up, stand on the roof of this house, and yell it to the whole world, “My mother and father loved me!” Jennifer, at the very least, you should tell it to your daughter. It won’t make your mother any less yours. Suzanne belongs to both of you. Living or dead, J.J. has a grandmother, and she needs to know her.”

His words burned her eyes and tore at her heart. She wanted to cry again in sympathy with the pain he had to have been feeling to tell all of that to her, but she didn’t. To know that he had said something to her harsh enough to make her cry would have hurt him even more, even if she did deserve to have had it said. She didn’t think that she could cry even if she had given in to the desire. It felt as if there just weren’t any tears left.

“Jonathan, I am so sorry about what I said.”

“Don’t be. I’ve been pushing you pretty hard; you have a right to push back. We both needed to say what was said. As much as we talk, and try to keep the lines of communication open, we’ve been tap dancing around that issue for years. I keep thinking all the time that J.J. was sent to us for a reason, and she keeps proving that to me. Now here it is, she’s done it again.”

“I’m sorry about this afternoon, too, when I became so angry with you in the garden. I know that you love J.J. and only want to protect her. I realize that you only want what’s best for her. But you cannot keep her from growing into a woman by shutting her down. Her growing up entails boys being part of her life. It’s natural and it’s normal, and it’s what’s going to increasingly be as she continues to get older.”

“And prettier. I do want what’s best for her, and that’s why I wish you would talk with her about her grandmother. One day, darling, she is going to be all there is. There’s nobody left to carry on after all of us are gone, nobody except her. She needs to know her history and her heritage. I don’t have any. She only has your family, and you are the best one to teach her about that. You’ve done such an excellent job with her on everything else. She’s a great kid who’s just growing up too fast for her daddy.”

“Only physically, maybe. She is sweet sixteen in every other way, and not a moment older. I won’t let her be right now. Everything in it’s own time, which means that she has to explore some in order to learn. I don’t want her to be naive and uninformed. When she does leave us to go away to college, I want her to be mentally well-equipped to deal with the opposite sex. I wasn’t prepared, and it was so hard.” She closed her eyes. “So hard.”

He waited, finishing his drink and watching her finish off the last the last drops of the wine in her glass, hoping that finally she would elaborate on that secret she was harboring that sometimes affected her reactions. When she set the glass down on the floor, he could see that she hadn’t bothered to fasten that pajama top. Despite the resulting powerful, carnal urge to go to her, he remained rooted to the chair, waiting for her to continue. But he was sorely disappointed when she put her head back on the pillows, closed her eyes, and changed the subject.

“Maybe that’s what she meant about, “It’s time.” when she kept waking me up.” She mused aloud. “Maybe this is all about J.J. She is sixteen, and she’s attracted to Teddy. My mother was sixteen when she met my father, who was her first boyfriend and her first lover.”

“Wait, wait, wait.” He cut in, holding up his hand to stop her. “About this first lover thing. Now, I just want you to know that I am going to try harder to be open-minded, but dammit, I’m not trying that hard. J.J. has only been sixteen for two months. She’s not sleeping with anybody yet, I don’t care what any of you modern-thinking, semi-feminist women in this family unit have to say about it, including her. I’m putting my foot down on that. I’ll lock her up first, I swear it. And secondly, how do you know that your father was your mother’s first lover?”

She tried not to laugh at Jonathan’s adamant reaction to the thought of his baby girl having sex, thinking that it was probably best not to address that on any level. He had to have been having flashbacks of being “seventeen and wild”. Instead, she chose to deal with his last question to her.

“She told me. She said that he was her only lover.”

“Her onl-? When did she tell you this? You were twelve when she died. You remember talking about things like that with your mother when you were eleven? Twelve?”

“No. I think- She told me wh- Jonathan, I know she told me today in this room. I can’t get a handle on what happened up here earlier, but somehow I’m sure she was here. I could feel her. That’s kind of what spooked me when I ran out of here when you came up the first time. It fades in and out, and although I know her having been here couldn’t have happened; I know she said that to me. Perhaps it was just a dream I had when I fell. She said that, and she said a lot of other things to me. I just can’t remember it all clearly. It’s coming and going in bits and pieces. Jonathan, I remember falling. I got scared, got my feet twisted up, lost my balance, and I fell hard on my left side. I can even remember seeing stars. But when I came to, it was as if I had just lain down to take a nap. I ought to have a goose egg on the side of my head, but I don’t because of the pillow. The couch pillow under here was on the floor, under my head, even though I left it on the couch. That sweater that was on the chair when you came up had been moved from the couch, but not by me. That old afghan had been folded across the arm of this couch before I fell, but when I woke up, it was mussed and on the seat as if someone had used it to cover themselves.  Somehow, I remember lying on this couch, but I was on the floor the whole time. And you know me, I bruise if I bump into anything. But there isn’t a mark on me. You saw me when I was changing. ”

“I guess I would have noticed if you were bruised. You’ll have to forgive me. My attention was drawn elsewhere at the time.”

But he recalled the pain, the evidently sympathetic pain, he had suffered in the left side of his chest and head earlier when he had been looking for her. It had started at the hospital while in the room with J.J., about the time she would have first gone up into the attic.

She rolled her eyes at him and his reference to having his attention diverted, and continued.

“I seem to remember her sitting in that chair talking to me. She said that she had been a virgin when she married, and that my father was her only lover, but that he was quite gif-”

“Please don’t tell me that you talk to J.J. about us.” He butted in. “I know you two talk over some rather racy topics.”

She softly laughed . “Jonathan, nobody wants to know that their parents make love, let alone talk about it with one of them. I seem to recall being mortified when she was talking about it. Of course we don’t speak specifically about you and I. But just so that you know,  Pat says that she already knows about us and has known for some time.” Amused by his nervous reaction to the topic, she teasingly added, “She says that J.J. and Marnie both know.”

He sat forward to better see her face in the flickering shadows, “What the hell do they know and how?”

She could see his horrified expression, and suppressed a snicker. Nothing much in life shocked Jonathan Hart, so his scandalized reaction was most comical to her.

“Pat didn’t say.” She coyly answered. “I don’t think she really wanted to know. Said she caught the tail end of something they were saying once when they were visiting with her in New York. But she did say that J.J. feels that we get rid of her from time to time so that we can “do it”, to quote your daughter. I know that she knows about sex and that she’s beginning to understand what a mature relationship between a man and a woman entails. Why do you think she sent us off all alone on that cruise for her birthday?”

“So we could ‘do it’?” He answered, talking mostly to himself as he rested his head back against the chair, his fingers once again massaging his furrowed forehead. “Geez…”

“Maybe that’s why I’m up here.” She reflected, easing up on him. “You say that J.J. wants to know about my mother. Well, I guess that in order for her to learn about my mother from me, I have to know about her. Does that make sense, Jonathan?”

“Um-hum.” He murmured, not quite over their exchange about J.J. “But I think it’s more about you and your mother.” He elaborated, recalling his dream again.

“Me, too.” She grudgingly conceded. “I was just grasping at straws. Like J.J. puts it, I think I have been called on the carpet. But, in the meantime…”

She got up and came to him, straddling him to sit on his lap facing him. “…I’ve done everything to you. I told you off, made you look for me, made you be my rock, hurt you, shocked you, talked your head off. I think now that I owe you.”

Taking his face between her palms, she drew his lips to hers and, traced them with her tongue. To her delight when the ensuing wine-flavored kiss ended, he continued hotly and slowly working his way around her neck, trailing his moist attentions passionately down her chest ending up in the valley between her breasts. She arched her back and tossed back her head to relinquish herself to him, fully expecting his expert hands to join the oral symphony he was playing on her flesh. But, to her aching dismay, she instead felt him stop and begin to fasten the pajama top she wore.

Blinking open her eyes, she looked to him with surprise. He was shaking his head as he buttoned her up.

“No, Miss Edwards. You have work to do and you’re going to rest so that you can get back to it. You’re not going to avoid it. If I make love to you, you’ll sleep a different kind of sleep, and you won’t be as edgy. Consequently you’ll put off getting things done that much longer. Besides, I think I’m already in deep with your mother, and the hell if she’s going to find me screwing her daughter on her personal couch in her private room. I’m all for fireworks when making love, but I’m not getting a lightning bolt shot into my butt on a down stroke by Suzanne Edwards.”

“What do you mean you’re in deep with my mother?” She pouted through trying not to laugh at the image he’d painted. “What could you possibly have done, and how would you know?”

“Let’s just say that I believe you when you say that she was here with you. Don’t ask, but I know she spent some time with me today, too. Come on.”

He lifted her from him and guided her back to the couch. Together they lie down, and he pulled the blanket up over them. They didn’t speak any more, and when he felt her relax in his arms and begin to breathe evenly, he eased back up from her and left her there sleeping. He added wood to the fire, stoked it, and then returned to the chair. Gently lifting her legs, he slid his under hers and settled in, pulling up the blanket there on the chair to cover himself.

Drifting off, he found himself walking the path from the guest house to the paddock. He could see a woman dressed in riding gear sitting on the fence, looking as if she were waiting for him. From a distance, she looked a lot like Jennifer, but as he got closer, he realized that the time for their talk had come.

_____________________________________________________________

As he leaned casually against the fence, standing next to her, he found that he was in no way apprehensive of her. Her aura was inviting and somehow in harmony with his own. She was beautiful for an older woman, looking nothing like the seventy-something years she had to be. She even had good cleavage, he somewhat guiltily noticed as he tried hard not to be seen checking it out. It was evident where Jennifer got it from, and even more so, from where J.J. was getting it. Her eyes bore into his face as he looked up at her, but he could see the amusement dancing in the flecks of gold that made the hazelness so attractive.

“So you have come.” She said smiling that distinctive, wide, pearly smile. “Bienvenue, Jonathan, our arrogant boy with the foul tongue.”

“Bonjour, Madame Edwards.” He answered, offering no apologies for his unorthodox, more colorful language. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”

“Suzanne.” She reminded him. “You speak the French terribly, but in English, you curse beautifully. Despite that bad habit, you are a good man for my Jenny. We make the good choice on you two, she and I.”

“You and who? What choice?”

“Do you believe in arrange marriages, Jonathan?”

“No, Ma’am. I don’t.”

“They can work, you know. If the selection is wisely made and the people in the arrangement are right for each other, they work out very well.”

“I don’t get you. What do you mean? Who are you talking about?”

“It is of no matter.” She said with a wave of her long hand which he noticed was absent of wedding ring. “It is done, and it is done well. Are you happy, Jonathan? I must know from you. Not just with Jennifer; I know that she makes you happy, but are you happy on the inside? As a man are you happy?”

“Very much. I have all that I need to make me happy. I like me. I love my life. Yes, I’d say that I’m pretty happy.”

“Does my Justine add to your happiness? Does she fulfill you and your plan for your life?”

“In every way. She’s a great joy to me, and she’ll carry on for me in the future. Before her, I worried that I was the end of the line, and that Jennifer was the end of hers. Now we have a legacy to leave the world. She will continue on.”

“She will do that. She will also give you grandchildren, and that will be good for all of us. It was better that she came to you and Jennifer.”

“To whom was she supposed to come?”

Suzanne said nothing to that question. She simply offered, “She happened when she was supposed to happen, to whom she was supposed to happen. Her life is better served through the two of you.”

“She’s not going to give me these grandchildren any time soon is she?” Jonathan asked when the words registered in his brain and connected to his previous conversation in the attic with Jennifer and then to J.J.’s affinity for one Theodore Baxter, Jr.

“Sooner than you might expect, but not sooner than is proper. She has things to do first.”

“Why is Jennifer in the attic, Suzanne? What is it you want from her?”

“She was moving too far away from me, Jonathan. The years had too much distanced us. Lately I could not see her face clearly inside my eyes any more, and she could not see mine inside of hers at all. She is my daughter. I am her mother. That is eternal. Even though I am away from her, we needed to come close together again. She has had her back to me long enough. She needs to know me and to know of my work. The tree cannot not grow if the roots are not fed.”

She jumped down from the fence to stand before him, and he had to admire her agility and her slim, strong, but remarkably shapely  physique.

“I must go now.” She smiled. “Love our Jenny always, Jonathan, whenever, however, wherever; it does not matter the place. Just love her. She loves you, this you can believe. You are good to and for each other. You must continue to take care of our baby girl, but do not hold her too close. She will make us all proud if you let her fly. And keep your eyes on my Stephen and my Sabrina. They are not as strong and as brave as they appear. Just stubborn as hell kind of people.”

“Oh, you can curse, but I can’t?”

“I am older, more grown than you.”

Fifteen, sixteen years tops, Suzanne. That’s not by a whole lot.”

“It is still more than you. You will respect those years when you speak to me and of me.” She raised an eyebrow and poked him in the chest with her index finger. “Right, Monsieur Wild at Seventeen and Liking the Older Women?”

“I guess.” He conceded uncomfortably, stuffing his hands in his pockets and shuffling his feet in the grass, beyond relieved that he had turned down Jennifer’s gracious and tempting offer made up in that attic.

She stood back from him and placed her hands on her hips. “So, what you think, Jonathan? Still a looker?”

He grinned his appreciation of her arrogance and her form. “Still a looker.” He answered. “A definite ten.”

She shook her head. “You have it wrong. I am eleven, definitely.”

Suzanne Edwards, his mother-in-law, was some kind of woman. There was an oddly disturbing, challenging, and very sensual element to her presence, a sensuality that even he could detect, although it made him highly uncomfortable to acknowledge it. Stephen had to have been overwhelmed by her when they met, despite her youth at the time. Just as he had been by her daughter, who had been and remained the sexiest woman he had ever met. J.J. Hart was the last in a line of extraordinary women, a line that included her grandmother, her grandmother’s identical twin, and her mother. Standing there before Suzanne, he could see that his daughter had somehow been passed an extra healthy dose of Grandmama.

Suzanne placed her hands on his shoulders and leaned forward to kiss him on the cheek.

“I have given you much to do, I know,” She said, once again focusing those fascinating eyes of hers on his face. “But she told me you were a man enough for the job, and I have come to believe her absolutely.”

“Who told you?” He asked again. “Who is ‘she’, Suzanne? Tell me.”

She stepped back from him, and smiled mysteriously as she took him in from head to foot one last time. “I must go.” She repeated. “We will all one day be together in one place as one family. You will never be alone again, my Jonathan. Thank you for taking care of my girls” Then she turned and walked away from him.

He watched her until she entered the stable. When she didn’t return, he started back up the path to the guest house, still feeling his mother-in-law’s sweet kiss on his face. It made him smile.

_____________________________________________________________

After pulling on her robe, Jennifer bent to whisper in Jonathan’s ear that she wanted him to move from the chair onto the couch she had just vacated. Even though he wasn’t anywhere near fully awake, he blindly obeyed. She knew that he couldn’t have been very comfortable sitting up as he had been, and she was touched by his determination to remain with her, as well as his chivalrous concern for her comfort by allowing her the entire couch. She spread the blanket over him after making sure that he was settled and then kissed his gallant cheek. Leaning in close to him, although it was quite dark, she saw it and felt it when he smiled.

The floor felt gritty and cool to her bare feet, so she pulled on the socks that, just like a man,  he had dropped where he had taken them off. As she did, she was thinking to herself, “This can’t be anything but love.”

At the hearth, she added a few more logs to the embers smoldering in the grate, and moved them around with the old iron poker to get the fire going strongly once again. Having slept some, she felt renewed in her energies and decided to tackle the job she had evidently been assigned, once and for all. Pouring herself another glass of wine from the bottle on the table, she returned to the desk.

Turning on the desk lamp, she tilted it up to shine the beam on the portrait over her head. Lit from below in that manner, her mother seemed to be looking right past that little girl next to her, and down to the woman the girl had become.

“All right, Mama.” She sighed. “I’m awake now, and I’m alone. I think I can do this. Please, just don’t be too rough on me.”

Bringing the light back down to shine directly onto the desktop, she reached for the first in the row of her mother’s journals, figuring that it would probably be best to start at the beginning.
_____________________________________________________________

 

When Jonathan woke, the weak light of a new morning was creeping into the room. Momentarily disoriented, he immediately sat up to get his bearings. The wall behind the couch brought it all back to him that he and Jennifer had spent the night in the attic of the guest house. Once he realized that he was on the couch and that the chair was empty, he pushed the blanket back and swung his legs around to the floor making ready to get up and go look for her. He didn’t have to move any farther. He could see her seated at the desk. Several of the journals from the shelf were stacked next to her head which was resting on top her arm and upon the book she had apparently been reading when she had fallen asleep. An empty wine glass was next to her extended hand. She was in her robe, had knotted her hair into a ball behind her head, and he chuckled when he saw that she had his socks on her feet. Suzanne Edwards was certainly taking her beautiful, elegant, stylish daughter through an awful lot of changes.

Going over to her, he whispered, “Come on, Jennifer.” As he bent to get an arm around her to help her up.

She woke slowly which spoke of how tired she was, but as he tried to move her to the couch, she resisted him. “No. Just let me get a shower, and I’ll be all right. I don’t want to go back to sleep. I need to keep going.”

“Jennifer, you’re tired. You need to rest.”

She sat down on the edge of the couch, pulling her hair down with her fingers. “I can’t. I have to finish.”

“Okay. So what have you found out so far?”

“That J.J. may have started with my mother, but I don’t think my mother could have been her mother in the way that I am her mother.”

He tilted his head at her words, not sure if it was that she wasn’t quite awake, or that her words just weren’t registering with him.

“What?” He asked. “Come again.”

“Last night, we -you and me- speculated as to whether or not the Justine in my mother’s journal was J.J. or not. I know now that she and my mother could never have been mother and daughter. It wouldn’t have worked.”

“Why is that?”

“They would have been too much alike. They would have cancelled each other out. All my life, I always thought that I was more like my mother, but although she was my mother, I find that I didn’t know the real woman that she was. Overnight, through her writing, I’ve found- I can see- that my temperament and my ways are more like my father’s. It’s so amazing to discover that about myself after all this time. Those journals over there sound just like your daughter, only they start in French and work their way into English.

I’m at the place where she’s nineteen and married. Jonathan, she was brilliant. So responsible, insightful, and funny. She was upbeat, confident, and so very fearless. She and my father had traveled, and had done so many things in such a short time. She was slipping around, helping my father with his undercover work before they ever even married. Once they were married, they went everywhere in just a year. She was only nineteen with a high school education, but she had taught herself so many things. At the point that I dozed off, they had purchased the land and were planning for the house. My father had hired an architectural firm, but she was writing the plans right along with the architects. She knew all the terminology, the best materials to use. She was studying on her own about building houses.

I’m not even halfway there, but J.J. is so much like her it’s scary. My mother was assertive, sassy, smart, and so irreverent, but classy all at the same time. She was hot too. I had to skip past some places. They were much too intimate for me to read- the places after she met my father- but, she was one heck of a woman. Lord help us, if J.J. follows suit… My father was her calming force. He reigned her in when she needed it.”

“You have some ways, and some traits that are like your mother.” Jonathan observed from where he was standing over her, taking full advantage of the position to look down the loose front of her robe.

“I mean you have to.” He quickly cleaned it up when she looked up and caught him, and when he realized that his knowledge of her mother’s attributes had come from dreams, very strange, but still vivid dreams. “You’re no where near as straight-arrow as your father.”

“I think he only became that way after my mother died because he didn’t know what else to do. It was his way of protecting himself. I can see now that he probably withdrew from everyone, even from me. In her journals, as a much younger man, he sounds like an entirely different person: affectionate, carefree, impulsive, daring. Things happen in life that make a person change. Jonathan, I have to finish this. It’s as if I’m getting acquainted with her all over again. I don’t want to stop. I still don’t know what she wants me to do.”

He could hear that she was digging in her heels, and he could see emerging that almost doggedly obsessed person she became when she was onto something.

“Jennifer, when are you going to eat? You lose weight so fast, and you haven’t been eating properly. I don’t want you doing that- not eating, I mean.”

“I’m not hungry. I haven’t really been since all this started. But I’ll eat something if you bring it.”

He had one solid ace, and he decided to play it, hoping that it would move her from that room and back into the light for a while.

“When are you going to see J.J.? She’s expecting you to come to the hospital this morning, isn’t she? Are you going to let her down?”

But it seemed she had a trump card in her hand, which she handily played.

“J.J. knows me. When I’m not there, she’ll know that it was because I couldn’t be. She might be let down in the beginning, but she knows that I wouldn’t leave her without good cause. She’ll know I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think she could handle herself.”

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