“Oh. It’s you, Daddy. Good morning.”
Oh, Daddy, it’s you? What kind of good morning is that?
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it to sound like that. When I saw the number, I thought you were my mother.”
No, it’s just your lowly, no-account father calling to see how you are.
“Don’t do that. I said I’m sorry. How are you this morning?”
I’m fine. How’s my girl?
“Anxious and uptight. I just so want everything to go all right. Guess what? I got up and walked some this morning. My ankle is a whole lot better. Resting off of it really did help. I could stand up on it and everything, and it hardly even hurts. But Jazz wouldn’t let me walk without the new crutches Dr. Rodgers ordered for me. She wouldn’t let me do a whole lot on it, you know I was pushing it; I’m sick of being still. She showed me how to shift my weight so that I could use that foot, and not put so much pressure on it. I wanted to do more, but she said that she didn’t want me to over do it. Later, we’re going to exercise it and start working on getting the strength back in it. She is so good.”
So, you like Jazz?
“Yes. She’s great. She’s an athlete too; she runs- ran the Boston Marathon three times so far- so she knows exactly what I need to do to get better and to get back on track. Pardon the pun.”
“I’ve been listening to her and doing exactly what she says, but it’s been really hard to be this still for so long. I’ve been sleeping like crazy. Bored, I guess. Daddy, is my mother there or has she left already?”
Sweetie, that’s why I was calling. I’m afraid that she’s not going to make it there to you this morning.
“What! Why not? She was going to help me with my hair. She told me herself that she would be here.”
J.J., she’s caught up in something, and she just cannot get away. Uncle Bill says that your Aunt Pat is going to come instead and help you with your hair and things.
“How come my mother didn’t call me herself?”
I told you, she’s caught up.
“Daddy, she’s never that caught up. What’s going on? Is she all right?”
J.J., she’s fine.
“Please, just tell me if something is going on. She never leaves me hanging like this, and you know it. Something’s happened to her, hasn’t it?”
You know that I wouldn’t lie to you, especially not about something like that. Nothing’s happened to her. Look, do you recall your grandfather saying something about the guest house attic that night that we brought you up from that passageway?
“Yes. I remember. So, like what, did she go back down there and get lost or something? Is she stuck down there, and you can’t find where she is? Is she hurt? No! I remember. Pa said that if she made it to that attic, she would need you. There must be something bad up there or something up there that would upset her.
“Daddy, come on, please don’t treat me like some little kid. Tell me if something’s happened to her. Tell me what’s going on. I’ve had a feeling like something was wrong there the whole time I’ve been here. You know better than anybody that my hunches are usually sure things. For example, I know you stuck me in here to get me out of the way. Please Daddy, don’t keep me in the dark. Tell me what’s up. Are you guys still fighting?”
Who said we were fighting? Where’d you get that?
“I always know when something’s wrong between you two.The vibe gets bad, I can just tell.”
We’re not fighting and nothing’s happened to her, I promise you. And I put you there to get your ankle back to where you just told me that it is. There’s nothing bad in the attic. It’s just that she finally went up there yesterday, found some things that she’s gotten into, and she’s still there. She’s very busy, and she can’t stop what she’s doing right now.
“What has she gotten into? What is she doing that she can’t stop? She always does what she says she’s going to do. What’s so important that all of a sudden she can’t keep her word?”
Look, do you trust me, J.J.? Do you trust her?
“Yes, to both questions.”
Then can we just leave it there for now? She told me that she thought you would understand. She said that you would know that she wouldn’t leave you on your own without good cause, and that she wouldn’t do it if she didn’t think you could handle herself.
“I wish she would have phoned to tell me that herself.”
Listen, I’ve finalized all the arrangements for your dinner. I don’t want you to worry about anything, not your mother, not your dinner, anything. Aunt Pat is on her way to help you get ready. You just have fun, and I’ll be there to see you later on this evening. Okay?
J.J., are you all right?
“I’m fine. Bye.”
Until later, Sweetie.
Disappointed to the max, J.J. hung up.
She plopped back in the reclining chair to stare down at her wrapped ankle and foot. The swelling was mostly gone, but Jazz had bandaged it for support and elevated it to keep it from swelling again after the workout it got that morning. She then went out of the room, leaving her there with strict orders that she was to remain seated until her mother came.
But now she wasn’t coming.
Aggravated beyond words, J.J. once again concluded there was no way it was all coincidence, no way whatsoever. Somebody knew if she had two good feet, she would be home and on her way out to that guest house to see what was going on. Whatever was happening out there might not be her business, but she would be going out there just the same, out on the path to that guest house, or down into that passageway one more time. Somebody was holding out, and to quote Jennifer Hart, she “wasn’t having it.”
Being incapacitated, unable to move around at will when she was normally all over the place, and having to stay in the hospital an extra day had all been reduced to minor irritations once she made the effort to face the situation with a positive attitude. After all, it was obviously how it going to be regardless of how she felt about it.
First, there was the dream about dancing with her father and him leaving her all alone. Then, the other strange dream about her grandmother that ended with her grandmother riding off on her horse, and she and her mother walking to the guest house. Just as they reached the house, and her mother opened the front door, everything went black, and she had not been able to see what was inside. Waking with a start, realizing what happened, that once again she had been stopped cold; she had to actually cover her mouth with the blanket to keep from screaming in frustration.
Then, her mother didn’t come to visit at all the day before, which in itself had been a bit disturbing.
When Jazz came in for her that morning, she had pretended to be sleeping, just to keep her from fussing about not getting enough rest, and perhaps making her stay in bed a while longer. Actually, she been lying awake thinking about things since the wee hours of the morning. Once Jazz arrived, she quickly got washed up, had her breakfast, and walked around in the hall on the crutches under Jazz’s supervision. All of that had been done without complaint or hesitation in anticipation of having everything completed in time for when her mother got there so that nothing would interfere with their time together. The Duchess had called the night before, and she said that she would be there.
But Daddy had just hung up, saying that she wasn’t coming after all. It was a complete, total let down. For two days she had been stuck in the hospital, and her mother had only been there one time. Something was definitely up. As soon as she did get home to Briarwood, all bets would be off. Whatever was going on in that guest house or in that passageway, it was a real big deal, and not knowing specifically what it was, was getting on her nerves. It didn’t matter about lockdown any more. If she got caught at it, lockdown would be worth it to find out what or who was keeping them apart and why.
That frustrated/wired/helpless feeling didn’t mix well with those maddening, fluttery butterflies still inexplicably agitated by any thought of Teddy or his impending visit. She closed her eyes and sat back to ride out the effects of that noxious cocktail of emotions. She didn’t know exactly how it was she was supposed to feel at the end of the trip when she opened her eyes, and her mother still wasn’t there to tell how to handle it, or to assure her that it would all be okay.
It wasn’t until she felt her fingers tingling as if they were being pricked by millions of tiny needles, that she realized how hard she had been gripping the arms of the chair.
Hanging up the phone in the bedroom, Jonathan remained sitting on the side of the bed trying to get past the hurt in his heart, brought on by the deep disappointment sounding in his daughter’s voice. Her dry tone at the end of their conversation told it all. He could give J.J. all the material things in the world. They could spend every waking moment together, flying, golfing, listening to music, dancing, sailing, playing poker, eating junk, or attending any sporting event for which he had tickets. They had always greatly enjoyed each other’s company, and he knew that she loved him. He could let her know that he loved her in every possible way that there was, but he could never give her what it was that she got from her mother.
J.J. had a unique bond with Jennifer that had apparently been forged long before that little girl had ever drawn her first breath. He admired that about them, but its strength and its depth sometimes made him a little nervous as well. In light of Suzanne’s journals, and what Jennifer had said to him about them up in the attic, he was wondering more than ever about that bond.
All throughout the very unexpected pregnancy, even though he never spoke with her about it and had tried to tell himself that he was imagining things; he had sensed Jennifer’s uncertainty at impending motherhood. Being a parent was not something to which she had aspired. It was probably a situation that she was pretty sure that she had dodged until that afternoon she was told that what she was suffering from was not some form of the flu. By someone’s design, or by divine intervention, Jennifer hadn’t had the first thought that she could be pregnant, and the condition wasn’t discovered until after she was too far along, legally or morally, to do anything about it, even if that had been her desire.
Month after month as her slender, well-cared-for body filled and changed with their growing unborn child, her unspoken sense of helplessness was very evident. Upon diagnosing the baby’s relatively advanced development, the doctor immediately ordered that Jennifer cut back and ease up on her strenuous thrice weekly work-out sessions.
After that, he would happen upon her, from time to time, standing before a mirror checking out her expanding profile, a look of uncertainty and dismay on her pretty, glowing face. Although he understood her uneasiness at the loss of control over her physical transformation, there was nothing he could- or for once, that he really desired- to do for her. Gaining weight was what she had to do, whether she liked it or not. Despite whatever misgivings she might have been having about the baby, he had wanted that child- desperately so, from the moment the pregnancy had been revealed to him. Although it was a late in life child, every indication had been that there was no reason for it not to arrive healthy. Since nature seemed to have been working with them, he made very sure that they worked with nature. He and Marie made sure that she ate well and regularly, and he always arranged to go with her to keep her appointments, making sure that he knew and that she followed the doctors instructions for her to the letter.
Somewhat uncomfortable with his newfound male assertiveness toward her and her condition, and regretful of his secret paternal selfishness, he had resolved that all she would have to do would be to carry the baby to term. He would handle the rest from there, if need be. He stepped up rebuilding the burned-out house at Willow Pond, which he knew that she loved. Whatever else he thought she would require to lighten her load, he would went about trying to provide it to her. She had never seemed displeased with anything else he had ever given her, but that baby was the one gift that couldn’t be returned or refunded.
To him, during those nine months, she had been her most beautiful, and he had taken every opportunity to let her know that. There were two whole photo albums at home containing pictures of her taken during that time.
The bottom line- what he had counted on through it all- was that once it was all over, sweet Jennifer would come through and love their child once it was born. Anyone who took so naturally to animals the way that she did, despite her seeming lack of interest in children, had to have the capacity to love her own child.
In those tense minutes after the delivery, while the baby was being cleaned up and Jennifer still hadn’t said anything to him or to anyone, he suspected that she was still a bit in shock about it all. She might have been uncertain about that newborn, but from the moment she was placed in her mother’s arms, that little girl of theirs seemed to know exactly who and what Jennifer was to her. J.J. had immediately clung to her, seeking out her mother’s milk, and to his surprise and delight, Jennifer responded in kind to the natural demand. Even, Kate, Jennifer’s longtime doctor, who was more than aware of Jennifer’s apprehensions, had later confessed to him that she had been a little surprised at that move on both their parts. She said that most newborns had to be coaxed into taking their mother’s breast, and she had definitely not been prepared for Jennifer’s readiness to offer it.
J.J. Hart knew.
When she sought out and gained her mother’s love in that first poignant moment, the rock solid relationship had been established. Despite the normal mother/daughter turbulence that infrequently occurred along the way over the years, J.J. had been returning that love in abundance. There had been no nannies or other such caretakers for Justine Hart. It had always just been them and Marie, their housekeeper. Marie took care of the house, and he and Jennifer cared for the child.
Although she was well on her way to being a young woman, for J.J., her mother’s person and her word were still golden, even at those times that she might not want to hear what Jennifer was saying. J.J. had always been a rather private child and she was growing into an even more private woman who didn’t readily share her deepest insecurities or most personal thoughts and affairs with anyone. Anyone, that is, except her mother. Jennifer was the only someone to whom she would go with her most confidential personal matters. Their strong, positive relationship made him happy and proud. Even others outside their immediate family had taken note and made mention of it. He was glad that J.J. trusted her mother so much. But, as she was getting older and her concerns more complex, she was turning even more to Jennifer leaving him, at times, feeling a little shut out.
Knowing how much she had to have been counting on Jennifer being there that morning, he was disappointed and slightly annoyed that she had chosen to stay up in that attic over going to her daughter. That wasn’t her customary way of doing things. While he understood that the circumstances were outside the norm, he also knew how badly it felt to be let down and set aside by mother.
Pat stuck her head inside the open door.
“I thought I heard you coming up the back way.” She said. “Where’s Jen?”
“Still out there.” He answered, gesturing with his head. “I knew you were back; I saw Marnie outside. I just came up to get a shower and to get some things for Jennifer. I guess Bill told you about yesterday.”
“He mentioned something about it when I talked to him last night. When we got in this morning, he said you two were still out at the guest house, and that I needed to go to J.J. I just wanted you to know that in the meantime, Marnie’s going to go to Farrell’s with Bill. He, Farrell, Teddy Sr., and the lawyers are going to be looking over some things about the purchase of the boarding business. Marnie can ride for a while. She wanted to go with me to the hospital, but I can’t be bothered with her and J.J.’s foolishness this early. J.J.’s hair is no easy task. I told Marnie she could go see J.J. later on. I’ve got all of her hair stuff: shampoo, conditioner, hairdryer, curling iron. Can you think of anything else she might want?”
She was holding a travel bag open by its straps in front of her .
“I wouldn’t have thought of all of that.” He answered. “No, I can’t think of anything else unless you can somehow get her mother down into that bag.”
Pat came into the room, pulling closed the zipper as approached. “Was the Squirt’s nose out of joint over Jennifer’s not coming down?”
“I think so.” He sighed.
“What was Jennifer doing when you left her? There’s no way to get her to stop and go to J.J. for just a bit?”
He shook his head. “She’s on a mission, Pat. You know better than anyone how she gets when she’s got a line on something. I left her in the shower, but I know she’s heading right back up there to that attic as soon as she gets out. She wouldn’t stop to eat or even to come see her father. When I told her that I was coming up here, she told me to check on Stephen, and that she didn’t care if she ate or not; she wasn’t hungry. I’m going to go back and take her something and make her eat. I had to make her eat last night. That was all she ate yesterday. I’ll tell you, Pat, she’s going to be as thin as a rail and/or sick as a dog when this is all said and done, if I don’t look out for her.”
“That’s why she has you.” Pat said, taking a seat on the bed next to him. Then, talking quietly, almost as if she were afraid to, she asked, “Jonathan, is this about her mother?”
He nodded, knowing that he could trust Pat with that much and not have to worry about her letting on to Jennifer that she knew. The jury was still out on how forthcoming Jennifer was going to be about her mother once it was all over. He was sure that Pat was aware of that. The rest they would have to leave up to Jennifer to share if she wanted to share it.
“I do know how she is when she’s onto something, and that’s a biggee. Probably the biggest one ever for her.” Pat observed. “Bill and Stephen were having breakfast when Marnie and I came in this morning. Stephen was looking very well, better than he has since before he got sick in Gresham. But make sure you look in on him before you go back out there to her. You probably won’t be back yourself for a while once you do, and when you do get back there to her she is going to ask you about him. It’s a good thing those bathrooms hadn’t been ripped out yet. I guess Jennifer would have been out there seriously fermenting before she stopped to come all the way back up here for a shower.”
Jonathan was forced to chuckle despite his melancholy. “You have a real way with words, Patricia. And while it’s on my mind, I think it’s great what you did for Kyle. Bill told me about it. It’s a good move. You couldn’t get Marnie enrolled at Gresham Hall at the same time?”
“Are you kidding? Not unless you’re ready to enroll J.J. Hart, too, and I know that’s not the case. Not with you for her daddy. It’s two for one if Marnie goes, or didn’t you know that?”
“You know I was just kidding. I’m not going for that. My girls stay with me. You read people very well, them and me.”
“That’s why I’m such a business success.” Pat grinned smugly. “Look, don’t worry about the Squirt. She’ll get over it once Teddy gets there. One smile from him, and her mother will be the last person on her mind. J.J. will have her company, and Jennifer has to be left to do what she has to do right now. When it’s all said and done, they’ll be right back where they left off, and probably better for having been away from each other for a while.”
“I don’t know. J.J. wants her mother. I don’t think she understands. I mean, how could she be expected to? Jennifer has always been there for her.”
Pat placed her hand on Jonathan’s shoulder. “Well, she can’t always have what she wants.” She decisively informed him. “She’s getting Aunt Pat, and that will have to do for the time being. You can’t make her happy all the time. You just go and see to Jennifer, and don’t you two worry about anything else. I’ve got her, and if J.J. Hart starts up with me, she will understand.”
Toweling off after her shower, alone in the quiet, empty guest house; Jennifer was free to mull over the things that she had read in her mother’s journals.
The first two or three books detailed her mother’s childhood and adolescence in France. There had been four of them in that family, Simone and Henri, the parents, and the two identical twin girls, Suzanne and Sabrina. Confirming her guess, the books did start when her mother had been twelve and chronicled her very interesting life. She and her sister had been very well educated, and had traveled Europe extensively with their parents. Simone, her first name had actually been Justine, had been training to be a concert pianist before she met Henri, whom she married at age nineteen and who was ten years her elder. Although she continued to play, it seemed she concentrated her attentions on her two precocious, but diverse daughters.
Although they both were bright and personable, Aunt Sabrina seemed to have been the scamp and the socialite. Her mother, the older of the two, was quiet and more serious. She was the scholar. Each of the twins seemed to have been closer to one parent: Sabrina to their mother and Suzanne to their father. In the journals, she said that their father, her grandfather, referred to Sabrina as “l’eau: water” and he called his older daughter “la roche: the rock”. Papa Henri, her mother wrote, said that water conformed to any shape, but sooner or later went wherever it wanted. But, the rock held its ground. It could hurt without being hurt itself. It was consistent and steady and withstood most anything. Papa had been right, Jennifer observed. Aunt Sabrina fit in anywhere. She did whatever and went wherever she wanted. She might get sidetracked, but nothing held her back indefinitely, not even her age. She might be anywhere in France, depending upon the time of the year.
Her mother, the rock, she was recalling more and more clearly, had been strong, confident, and capable. In retrospect, looking at her words from a woman’s point of view, she could see that despite her youth, her mother had been mature and responsible well beyond her years. She managed an estate and its finances, ran a lucrative business, and stood fast alongside her husband assisting him with his overseas clandestine activities. The only thing she hadn’t managed to successfully do was to face down death and send it packing when it came calling much too early for her.
Leaning against the wall, Jennifer wondered, for the millionth time in her life it seemed, why. What might have been had she lived? What might not have been?
Pulling herself up, she hung up the towel, lotioned her skin, and then pulled over her head the dressing gown that Jonathan had brought for her. She wasn’t going anywhere except back to the attic, so there was no need for another stitch. She had to smile, thinking about J.J. That was her daughter’s philosophy: less was better, as long as all the “good parts” were covered. Jonathan had forgotten to pack the blow dryer, so standing in the mirror, she brushed back her wet hair so that it was slick to her head. Then she pulled it all up and twisted it into a tight ball which she then tucked under with her fingers. Once it was dry, it would probably come loose and fall back down, but dry, it wouldn’t be so worrisome on her neck and shoulders as it was when it was wet.
Somehow she knew, but she didn’t know. And she didn’t want to think that she knew.
Mention of Aunt Sabrina’s attraction to her father had come up in that last journal, catching her off guard. It was the book she had come upon first, but having no frame of reference for that information, she hadn’t been able to make much sense of it. Going back and starting from the beginning, making it to her mother’s 16th year diary, it started to come together.
She never knew that her Aunt Sabrina had been the reason for her parents meeting, and that Sabrina had been the one first attracted to her father. Those darker entries in that last journal had been oddly disturbing. There were some gaps that still needed to be filled.
So far, she had only read up to where her mother was nineteen. She was nineteen, married, pregnant, and happy with it. Thinking back on her own situation at nineteen, she, Pat, and their new friend, Marcia- a year of college under their belts- were on their first trip abroad alone, to Monaco of all places. Then they went on to visit Aunt Sabrina for a week before spending another week in Paris. She couldn’t imagine enjoying being so “locked down”, as J.J. put it, at that age. Although J.J. came much later in her life than she had to her own mother, some major attitudinal and social adjustments on her part had been required to accommodate a child. She and Jonathan had definitely undergone a lifestyle change once that little girl arrived on the scene, but by the time she came, slowing the pace hadn’t been such a hard thing to do. It would have been very hard, if not depressingly impossible, at nineteen.
Up to that point in the journals, there had been small, random, amused mentions of Sabrina’s attraction to her father. There were still several books to go to cross the bridge to that last book, and all those papers.
Even though she thought she already knew, she didn’t want to know.
In that journal she read before coming down for her shower, her mother mentioned meeting Agnes Marchand on the mall in Washington. It never occurred to her that they had ever met, or even that they ever crossed paths at all. In her mind they had been two separate entities involved in two very different times in her life. It was still overwhelming to think that Dean Agnes Marchand had known all of that time that she was enrolled at Gresham Hall exactly whose child she was. The Dean had once met her mother, and she had known her father almost all of her life. Those were things that she hadn’t known anything about until the reunion a week ago. The fact that Dean Marchand had met her mother hadn’t been revealed to her until earlier that very morning. She stood wondering if that was the reason the Dean had been so anxious to meet J.J. when they were together at the Gresham Hall reunion.
Had the Dean been informed of the resemblance between J.J. and her mother? When she finally met J.J., could she see that resemblance for herself? Did she remember what Suzanne Edwards, the woman who married Stephen Edwards, looked like?
If she had been in love with him, as Jonathan suspected she had, as her mother speculated that she was, then surely the Dean remembered. There were some things a woman never forgot. Ever.
“J.J., baby, forgive me for not being there.” She whispered to her hospitalized daughter as she gathered her things to return upstairs. “But I have to go back. The story is too good, and she said that I have to finish whatever all of this is. I have to do it for us- all three of us.”
“She’s been very quiet for a while.” Jazz advised Pat as they stood together in the hall. “Earlier she was fine, but now she seems upset about something.”
She had been lingering out there waiting for Pat to arrive after overhearing J.J.’s conversation with her father and noticing the abrupt change in her attitude after she hung up from him. Where she had been cheery and upbeat before, J.J. had since gone darkly sullen and silent. “I think she was really looking forward to seeing her mother. Are they very close?”
“Very.” Pat answered. “But her mother has been busy attending to some important business that has kept her tied to her father’s house. J.J. is just a little too used to having her mother’s undivided attention. She’s had it all of her life, and now that she doesn’t for the first time, she wants to get ugly about it. I’ll handle it. Can she stand up?”
“Yes, I’ve shown her what to do. She’s tremendously improved. Even I’m impressed.”
“I’m not surprised at all. She’s as healthy as a horse. If she had done what she was supposed to do in the first place, she’d probably be back one hundred percent by now. You take a break for a while. You deserve it after putting up with her and her attitude this morning. We’ll be fine in here.”
“I’ll be up around the nurse’s station doing some paperwork.” Jazz advised. “You can page me there if you need me. The call button is on the bed.”
“I’m sure we’ll be fine.” Pat assured her, going into the room, closing the door behind her.
J.J. was seated in the chair, her cheek resting dejectedly in her hand, her ankle elevated on the footrest. “Hey, Aunt Pat.” She droned. “Where’s Marnie?”
Pat set the bag down on the bed. “Good morning. Marnie’s with Uncle Bill. They’re going over to Farrell’s. He has business there, and she’s going to go riding.”
She stopped and looked J.J. up and down. “My,” She observed. “You’re in a funk.”
“Who told you that?”
“Nobody had to. It’s all over your face, and your body language is speaking volumes. Not too happy to see me, are you?”
When J.J. didn’t answer, Pat asked again, a little louder and more forcefully. “Are you?”
“Truth?” J.J. asked, lethargically.
“And nothing but the truth.” Pat insisted.
“I love you, and I’m grateful that you came, but no. I’m not.” Without changing position, J.J. lifted her eyes to meet Pat’s. “My mother said that she would be here. What’s going on, Aunt Pat?”
Pat sat down on the side of the bed without breaking their eye contact. “You tell me, J.J. What’s going on with you?”
“What could possibly be going on with me? I’m stuck here in this place with a twenty-four hour baby-sitter watching me like a hawk. Jazz is nice, I like her, and she knows her stuff, but she’s not my family. I can’t possibly tell you anything about what’s going on because I do not know. But I will ask this. Why am I here? Why am I not at home? Where is my mother?”
“You’re here because you needed to be, and they say your mother is up in the guest house’s attic.”
For the first time, J.J. lifted her head from her hand and sat forward. “They say? Don’t you know where she is for sure?”
“No, I don’t.” Pat answered matter-of-factly. “I haven’t seen her. I can only go on what they tell me. I haven’t seen Jennifer since yesterday morning. I was in Gresham, Massachusetts until earlier this morning. You know that.”
“Then how do you know she’s up there, Aunt Pat? How do you know she’s not hurt or something if you haven’t seen her? Who is they?”
Pat calmly watched J.J.’s growing agitation, knowing full well that her calm demeanor was fueling J.J.’s frustration and resulting anger, just as she had planned for it to do.
“She’s okay, J.J.”
“Then if she’s so okay, why didn’t she come herself? Why didn’t she call me to tell me that she wasn’t coming? Why didn’t she just call me, period? How come she couldn’t call to just say good morning? I tried to call her, but she didn’t pick up. I’m in the hospital for Christ’s sake! I shouldn’t have to the one to call. When she did call me last night, it was at night. A whole day had gone by, and I had to call her the first time. If she’s so okay, Aunt Pat, tell me why I’m doing the calling today. I’m tired of being here by myself, in the dark, with nobody telling me anything like I’m about five years old or something. I know something is going on. I know something is wrong and you’re just not telling me.”
As Pat continued to coolly watch her, J.J. could see, much too late, that she had been goaded and was now being sized up by her godmother. Just as she recognized what was coming, Pat began to speak, spearing her heart with each softly spoken word, twisting and digging deeper and deeper with each syllable, driving her back into the chair until once again she was sitting upright, pressed hard into the cushion. With her pointed index finger, Pat made sure that her point was being clearly made.
“Now, Justine Jennifer Hart,” She quietly declared. “You know a little of how your mother has felt for the last forty-four years. Your mother is fine because your father has told you, just like he told me, that she is. I trust him, and you know full well that you should trust his word, too. Your mother is alive and well in the attic of her father’s guest house involved in whatever she’s involved in. Even though you haven’t seen her in almost two days, and even though she didn’t call you this morning, you can be assured that at some point she’s going to come down from there. You also know full well that the first thing she’ll do is come find you wherever you are. Jennifer’s mother took her to school early one morning, and dropped her off. She didn’t came back for her, and she isn’t ever coming back for her. Your mother never saw her mother’s face again after that morning- ever. Not even at her funeral. EVER, do you hear me? She went to school and her mother dropped off the face of the earth, do you understand that?”
J.J., stunned and pinned to the chair, kept her eyes glued to Pat’s as Pat continued to read her.
“All this time, she’s kept her mother to herself, just like you try to do, only she has a reason to do it. Her memories are all she has. That’s why why she doesn’t talk about her. She doesn’t even talk to you about her, does she?”
Numbed by Pat’s cold, no-nonsense tone and the raw truth of what she was saying, J.J. could only shake her head in answer as Pat went on.
“If she talked about her, she’d be giving what she has of her away. Isn’t that sad? That’s all she has of her mother, J.J. You, on the other hand, are not in that position. You just want her to yourself for you. Remember when I told you that you were spoiled, and you wanted to kick my ass for saying that to you?”
Thoroughly humbled, and a bit shocked, J.J. managed to stammer, “I- I didn’t want to kick your-, I didn’t, Aunt Pat, really.”
“Yes you did. You were as mad as hell at me for saying it. I know nobody outside of Jennifer talks to you the way you need to be spoken to at those times that you need it. She is the only one who consistently keeps you in check.
“You are a sweet, wonderful child, but you can also be a little arrogant and a bit self-centered sometimes, and you’ll run somebody over if they let you. You have a way about you that causes most people to back off you, but you know I am not afraid of you or of telling you what you need to hear from time to time. I love you too, but I will kick your ass from here to kingdom come if I have to, especially about Jennifer.
“On the day you were born, nobody was happier than I was, outside of your mother, father, and grandfather. I couldn’t have children, so when Jennifer had you, I felt like she had you for both of us. I am so proud to be the person your mother trusts to stand in her shoes when she can’t be there. Well, she can’t be here now, but I am, and I am going to tell you what I think she would tell you.
“Grow up, Justine. You could have it a whole hell of a lot worse. You understand enough about me and where I come from to trust I know what I’m talking about. She and I didn’t have anybody to stand in our mother’s shoes once they were gone. In fact, my mother didn’t even leave any shoes when she left here for good. There was nobody except us. We fell down a lot, but we ended up standing tall on our own when the air cleared. Could you do that? Could you stand in your mother’s shoes if you had to?”
“I don’t have to.” J.J. miserably admitted. “I have my mother, and I have you for backup. But, I think if I had to, because of my mother and you- what you guys have taught me- I could do it. I- I just don’t want to have to.”
Pat slowly stood, still holding J.J.’s eyes with her own. She extended her hand in truce.
“You don’t have to, J.J. Just stop all this whining and pouting about something that doesn’t really matter right now. You have your life, and Jen has hers. Both of you have business to which you need to attend. Right now, let’s go and get you ready for your date. She can be happy going about what she has to do if she knows you’re going on with your plans, and you’re not sitting around worrying about where she is when it isn’t necessary for you to be worried.”
J.J. took the hand Pat held out to her, and allowed herself to be pulled up from the chair and then all the way into her arms.
As she hugged her godchild close, Pat whispered in her ear, “I think your mother is up there getting better, J.J. Let her do that in peace, and you just go have fun in the meantime. You lead a very charmed life, girl. She’s set it up that way for you. Enjoy what she’s given you. Don’t go making misery for yourself. I wish we could have had it like you have it. You’ve got a lot of good, strong love around you.”
“I know it.” J.J. whispered back as she returned Pats’ hug. “I’m sorry for being such a brat. And when you called me spoiled that time, I really didn’t want to kick your-”
“Yes you did, and I know you did. But that’s okay. We’re even now. A few minutes ago, when I first came in here and saw you looking how you were looking in that chair; I was ready to kick yours straight to the moon for acting so spoiled.”
Once Pat left, Jonathan phoned Rosa down in the kitchen to let her know what he would need. Then he went in to take his shower. After dressing again, and repacking the duffel bag, he went down to the first floor to find his father-in-law.
Stephen was in his study. Just as Pat said, he was looking quite well, much stronger and healthier than he had been looking in those past few days since he’d been back home from his recent hospitalization.
“Good morning, Stephen.” He greeted the older man from where he stood in the doorway. “You’re looking well this morning.”
Stephen looked up from his newspaper, and gestured for him to come in. “Good morning, Jonathan. I’m feeling very well this morning. I was wondering if I was going to see you at all. I knew that I probably wouldn’t be seeing Jennifer. How is she? How are the two of you?”
Jonathan, a bit taken aback by what he said, came into the room. “She’s fine. We’re both fine. You weren’t expecting to see her? That’s funny, I thought you might be looking for her. I came to tell you where she was.”
“I know where she is. She’s up in that attic. Well, how did she handle it? Did she have a very hard time. Did you remain with her all night?”
“How did you know that she would have a rough time of it?”
“Did she find the rings?”
“Yes, Stephen, she did.”
Stephen put his paper on the desk, leaned forward and reached to pull his billfold from his back pocket. He flipped it open and pulled out a small, square, clear plastic bag which he held out to Jonathan. “Give this to her when you see her again.” He instructed.
Jonathan came to him and took the bag. Inside was a thin gold chain.
“It’s hers.” Stephen explained. “I found the ring, but I didn’t find the chain until after I had taken both the rings up to that room. I had to have it repaired, but I couldn’t go back up there again to take the chain, so I decided to just keep it with me until such time as she had the ring back. I figured I would give it to her, or I would leave it for her. I had that baby ring commissioned for her when I got word that I had a daughter. I brought it home to her; it was her first gift from her father. She wore it on her finger until it no longer fit, then her mother bought her the chain so that she could continue to wear it. A couple of nights after the accident, she ripped it off her neck and threw it away from her.”
Once again, mentally putting himself in Jennifer and Stephen’s places, he tried to picture the rage J.J. would have to feel to snatch off that baby bracelet she perpetually wore, and the fury she would be in having lost her mother to a drunk driver. He imagined Jennifer’s agonized, panicked state when she yanked that chain from her twelve-year-old neck. He wanted to reach for Stephen’s hand in empathy for the pain he must have felt as her father, for her and for himself, when he found it and realized what she had done and what she was going through.
“You’ve had that chain all this time?” Jonathan set the bag down and straddled the hassock next to Stephen’s chair to take a seat.
“Yes, I did. I have carried it with me right from where you saw me take it. It kind of made me feel as if they were both with me no matter where I happened to in the world.”
“Did you hang that portrait of Jennifer and her mother over the desk? She said it was supposed to be a surprise for you.”
“The surprise, Jonathan, was when I visited your house, and I saw that portrait in your living room. I knew she had done that unconsciously. She didn’t remember it until last night, did she?”
“No sir, she said she didn’t.”
“Walter found the portrait in the small pantry when we returned from France after taking Suzanne’s body home. She had attached a birthday card to it. Jonathan, I can’t tell you how that felt. I thought I was going to die from the pain. She was so lovely and so thoughtful.
“I had arranged to have the house cleared of everything that might remind Jennifer of her mother, and then Walter found that portrait. I didn’t want Jennifer to see it again, so I took it out of here. I thought I was doing that for my daughter, but I realized later I had done it more for myself. I took that painting and her mother’s ring to that room to leave them and all of what was there, for her. I couldn’t bear looking at them. Then, when I saw the portrait of Jennifer and Justine in your house, I could hardly believe it. Jennifer has never spoken of that painting of herself and her mother to me in all these years. But there it was, almost the identical sitting, the same color dresses, and they all look so much alike; I know I lost a couple of years off my ticker in that instant.
“I also began to suspect then that my darling was in big trouble. She had repressed too much. For years I thought she chose not to speak of her mother, but I think in choosing to put it behind her, she pushed it all too far back. She couldn’t retrieve it voluntarily, but those things have a way of manifesting themselves. Suzanne was never a woman to be put aside by anyone.”
“How did you know Jennifer would ever go up there and find those things? I mean, she hadn’t been out there in years. She says when she did go out there, it was always locked. She didn’t know about the passage to get her there. What would make you think she would go out there and try to get up in that attic?”
“Remember the letter I gave you that you gave back to me unopened?”
“You made it through. You said to give it to her only if you didn’t make it. You made it.”
“The letter instructed her to go up there.”
Jonathan nodded in understanding. That part hadn’t occurred to him. His suspicion had been that it just told her to get the guest house ready for Agnes and Belinda.
“I also gave her one other instruction, but since I am still here, I have taken care of it myself already.”
“What’s that?” Jonathan asked.
“That room is to be sealed off from inside the guest house. Agnes and Belinda may have the house, but they may not have that room. That was Suzanne’s private room. I didn’t even go there. I have only been there twice. Once when the house was first built, and again to preserve the things there for Jennifer. I have plasterers scheduled to come in after the other workers are finished working on the inside of the house. These are people that I have used in the past who are committed to confidentiality. They will build a wall over that door, and that room will only be able to be accessed from the passageway. Only we will have knowledge of its existence or how to get there.”
Again, Jonathan nodded. Then he asked, “What if something happens to the guest house? Won’t that leave the passage exposed?”
Stephen slowly shook his head. “Suzanne was an architectural genius. She designed it so that should something happen to the guest house proper, either the chimney remains standing or, should that be demolished, that end of the passageway will collapse into itself leaving a pile of rubble that would likely just be smoothed over with no one being the wiser. She was so smart. Which leads me to another subject that pertains to you specifically.”
Jonathan leaned forward a bit more to give Stephen his full attention.
“Jonathan, Jennifer’s mother was very young when we married. Too young. Not long after that, she had a baby for which she had to care. Consequently, she never formally went to college. She took a course here and there, but what she learned after upper school, she mostly taught herself. She was absolutely brilliant, and I’ve often wondered what she could have been or done with her short life if we hadn’t married so soon.
“Her favorite excuse was, ‘I will go after my Jenny is a bigger girl. I will have more time.’ Well, time ran out on her. Jennifer is very smart, but she is like I am. We’re intelligent, but we plug at it. We work hard for it. Jennifer’s advantage over me is that she’s talented, a trait she inherited from her mother. But in Suzanne and, I suspect, your Justine, intelligence occurs naturally. In them it comes easily, and they soak up things like sponges. But formal education is important, even for people like them, especially women like them.
“I couldn’t get Suzanne to be still long enough to pursue a degree of any kind. She just wouldn’t take the time to do it. I’d fuss, she would smile that amazing smile, run all over me and what I was saying, and then I would find myself leaving her alone about. She spent her days here running this place, assisting me, and raising our child. I was happy with that one child. I didn’t want her to be stuck raising a house full of my children while I was off seeing the world without her. Do not allow Justine to get tied down like that, Jonathan.”
“I don’t think we have to worry about that. Jennifer isn’t going to allow her to not finish college,” Jonathan asserted, wondering after hearing what he said about being content with one child, how Stephen really felt about that second child Suzanne was carrying.
“No, Jennifer wouldn’t,” Stephen replied, “but you would.”
“Yes, you. You are from the School of Hard Knocks and Good Fortune, a self-made man, as my wife was a self-made woman. Whether you realize it or not, Justine greatly admires that about you. She idolizes your strength, your toughness, and your smarts and she identifies with them. I know that you are a self-taught electronics genius, a Navy man who went to college after his tour of duty to study electrical engineering, but that you didn’t graduate because you got caught up becoming a success and a millionaire in the electronics business beforehand.”
Jonathan was a little stunned that his father-in-law knew all of that about him but had never mentioned knowing any of it until just then. It made him wonder what else was stored away in the old man’s head.
Stephen noticed his slight physical reaction, a straightening of the back and an almost imperceptible tilt of the head. He nodded in satisfaction. His son-in-law wasn’t a man easily surprised.
“Yes, I had your background thoroughly investigated when you expressed an interest in my daughter, as I know you will when some boy comes to you acting seriously interested in Justine’s hand. But getting back to what I was saying, despite her lack of formal training beyond upper school, my Suzanne was phenomenal. She could speak several languages, could calculate columns of figures in her head like nobody’s business. She read everything, it seemed, that had ever been printed, could quote the Bible from one end to the other, could identify valuable objets d’art on sight, had committed numerous operas and plays to memory; I could go on and on. But she just didn’t live long enough. She didn’t have enough time here to just be herself.
Justine has the same potential to be self-made. I know that she has inherited your talent for and interest in electronics. She is aggressive, tenacious, confident, and brilliant. Like her grandmother and like you, she’s tough and she can do most things she puts her mind to, with or without formal training. But Jonathan, you must see to it that she finishes herself first.You have to do that. If you say or give her the impression that it’s all right for her to do otherwise, that is what she will do despite what Jennifer wants. She listens to you when it comes to that sort of thing. I’ve watched her with you, and I’m certain that what I say is true. You, Justine, and Suzanne would have made a perfect partnership. You all share the same basic attitudes and philosophies toward life. I call Justine, ‘the Maverick’, but her grandmother was one, and so are you.
Make her go to school for at least those first four years and earn that first degree. Insist upon it. At least for that period of time, she willl be focused on herself only. I feel now that I overdid it with Jennifer, but that was my purpose in raising her in the way I did. I don’t regret making her wait and making her go to school. She got to know herself, and in waiting, when the time was right she met you.
“With Justine, I can see her starting college, then getting involved in something- some business venture, or getting it into her head she wants to travel- and then she will start badgering you, not her mother, to drop out for a while to pursue her interests. Don’t let her get sidetracked. Make her finish school first. You have to do it. If you go along with her wanting to stop, she will never go back. If she stops, she may meet some man, and make him her life instead of making her own life for herself. She’s beautiful is why I’ve held off on her bequest until she’s twenty-two. If I’m gone from here by then, and she stays on track, by twenty-two she should have completed the requirements for her undergraduate degree. She can do what she likes then. I hope with her good mind, she will go on to pursue a higher degree, but at least she will have had four years to just be Justine, on her own.
“I know she doesn’t have to do any of that- go to school, earn degrees, etcetera. Between all of us, she is going to be financially sound for life and beyond. She is bright and personable, but I want her personally and spiritually sound as well.”
Stephen stopped and looked to Jonathan. “I know I have been rambling on and on, and you have been very patient in listening to me, but have I made any sense to you at all?”
Jonathan smiled. “Completely. I hadn’t thought that far ahead or looked at it in that way. What you’ve said is eye-opening for me. I will remember what you’ve told me.”
“How is my daughter, Jonathan? Really? I know that she’s probably up there deeply engrossed, seeing as how she’s gone to the mountaintop and hasn’t come back. Are there other things in that room that may cause her any undue pain?”
“Don’t you know what’s there?” Jonathan asked.
“No.” Stephen answered. “I don’t know exactly what’s up there. That was Suzanne’s place. While she was alive, I never went up there. I maintained a small flat in London to which she never came. That was how we did things. We trusted each other and we respected each other’s space. We were husband and wife, but we were also two separate people involved in a lasting, deeply satisfying, love affair.”
Jonathan, watching Stephen closely, noticed that although his father-in-law was seemingly speaking freely about a very personal topic, revealing more about himself than he had ever done before, he appeared a little uneasy with what he was saying. He chalked it up to Stephen operating outside of his normal zone of comfort, and he followed each word intently as his father-in-law continued to elaborate.
“She’d go up there, and she would come back when she was ready. I never knew what she did up there. She never questioned what I did in my flat in London.
“Don’t get me wrong, Jonathan, there was nothing clandestine or immoral going on in. In the work I was doing, I had to be separate from her and from Jennifer at times to get things accomplished safely. She was on her own quite often, so I was fine with her taking time to be herself by herself. I thought that was important for her.
“She created that space for herself, and I didn’t question her doing that. I didn’t go up there much when she was alive. When I did go up that last time, to leave the rings, I placed the box on her desk and then covered everything else up to protect it all from the elements. I remember being struck by how she had turned that attic into such a warm, inviting room. She was gone, but her presence was so strong up there I almost didn’t want to come back down.
“I didn’t know anything else to do with Suzanne’s rings except to give them to Jennifer. I couldn’t keep them, but at that time in her life, Jennifer, being the little girl that she was when it first happened was too young to be in possession of them. So, I cleaned them up and put them in the box.
“I found Jennifer’s baby ring and the chain by the mud room door that day. I realized she no longer wanted it at that time, so I put it in the box with her mother’s in the hope that one day they would all mean something to her again. I left them for her to find later. I didn’t touch any of Suzanne’s things when I was up there. I didn’t want to pry. That was the part of her that wasn’t my wife, and I didn’t feel I had any right to any of it.”
“But you let Jennifer go up there. You expected her, you instructed her, to go up there.”
“Jennifer is Suzanne’s daughter. There is a difference in the relationship between husband and wife, father and daughter, and mother and daughter. I was intimately acquainted with who Suzanne was. Jennifer never really had a chance to get to know her mother as a person. She needed to meet and get to know the person her mother was, and that room is the best place for her to do that.
“I thought years ago, when she was staying out there during her visits when Justine was a baby, that perhaps she might pick the lock and wander up there, but apparently she never did. Her mother taught her well about not prying into the affairs of others. She was always obedient to her mother.
Stephen stopped for a moment, closed his eyes, and brought his hands to his lips. When he opened his eyes again, Jonathan notice an odd gleam in them to match the odd, not quite smile.
“My boy, don’t think me daft, but Suzanne, I suspect, has had a part in all that has been going on around here of late. She loved Jennifer so deeply. That girl was her mother’s life. I am sure she gave somebody absolute hell when she got on the other side and found herself separated from her child.
“Jonathan, those switches have been in those closets ever since this house has been standing, but it took this trip and those children to find one of them. It wasn’t until I decided to move Aggie and her sister into the guest house that it all started happening. You are a practical man. Do you think there could be a connection?”
“I don’t know, sir.” Jonathan answered, standing up and swinging the bag onto his shoulder. “But I think it’s a good idea to seal that wall. There really will be no need for anyone to enter that room from that side, and nobody on that side will even know that the door was ever there.”
“Sounded like the ramblings of an old man with too much time on his hands, didn’t it?”
“I’ve had some thoughts on the matter, too, Stephen, and they aren’t that far removed from what you just said. I just figure that whatever is going on, if it will help Jennifer, then I’m glad it’s happening, and than I’m here to help her however I can. Maybe when she’s finished, she’ll be able to tell J.J. what she wants to know. Look, I’m going to get on back out there to her. Pat has gone to see to J.J., so she’s taken care of. I told J.J. that I would be over to the hospital see her later today. I have to stop by the kitchen. Rosa is putting together something for us to eat. Walter is going to drive me out to the guest house so that the food doesn’t get cold.”
“Is Justine’s male company, the young man visiting from Boston, going to return to see her today?”
“Yes, sir. He is.”
“Who is this boy? What do you make of him.”
“His name is Theodore Baxter. He’s a Brookfield boy. Pat and Jennifer know his father from when they were in school. He seems pretty upright so far.”
“Isn’t Jennifer going to see Justine today? I understand that she didn’t go yesterday.”
“I’m not sure if she’s going to go today either.” Jonathan answered. “But whatever happens, J.J. will be fine. I’m sure of it. Pat’s there with her, and that’s the next best thing.”
“Outside of you.” Stephen winked.
As he watched Jonathan go back out of the door, Stephen recalled Patricia’s lusty adventure in the loft with the senior Theodore Baxter.
He didn’t think it would be wise to mention that particular episode to Jonathan in light of Justine’s seeing Theodore Junior that afternoon. He and Jennifer were doing things differently with Justine than he had done with Jennifer, and his hope was that growing up went more easily for his granddaughter than it had for her mother. When he thought about it being Patricia’s turn to play lookout, he snickered softly to himself. There would be hell to pay, to Jennifer this time, if she didn’t play her role better than Jennifer had done all those years ago. And there had better not be any fires of any kind to be put out this time, either. Just as he’d told Patricia all those years ago, sixteen was too young for a girl to become a woman. There were too many other things she needed to do for herself first.
He picked up his paper, and sat back in the chair to resume reading. Having said all that he could say, and having done all that he could do, he felt he could finally relax. His mind was clear, and he was sure that he was pretty much out of it.
That which didn’t kill a person, made one stronger; of that, he was more sure than ever. He was also sure that Suzanne had her eyes on all of them and her hands on both their girls whom all that time she obviously had been keeping safe within her heart .
Somehow, pulling those stairs going back up to that attic seemed a harder a task than it had been on the day before when she had gone up the first time. The door was wedged open behind her to allow Jonathan to get in as she was sure that he would come that way when he returned to her. Although she was looking forward to investigating the rest of her mother’s things in that room, the uncertainty of what else she might find out up there seemed to slow her movements. Some of what had already been revealed to her had given her pause.
Suzanne Edwards had been her mother, but she had also been a person- a living, breathing, feeling person. In her brief life, she said that she had only one real boyfriend, the man whom she met at sixteen and subsequently married. She had been eighteen and a virgin at the time of her marriage.
“So very young and so very innocent.” Jennifer found herself thinking. But according to her mother’s writing, she had been very grateful that her five years older husband had not been so inexperienced.
She wondered why that line of thinking immediately conjured up images of a certain mischievous, freckled face whose blue-eyed owner admitted to being, “pretty well versed in theory, but sorta lacking in practice”.
That reflection took her back to wondering once again how her own teenage years might have been different had her mother been allowed to live. Even though the virgin at marriage thing had thrown her, and it wasn’t something she thought she would have wanted for herself, it seemed like that lady could have made her adolescent road a lot smoother than it had been.
From what she could recall of her father during her earlier childhood, he had always been kind and attentive, but he had not been as familiar to her as her mother. He was often away, and although he had always gone above and beyond the call of duty to see to her material needs whether he was at home or not, he had never been very outwardly affectionate or demonstrative in communicating his personal feelings for her. After it was just the two of them, it had taken her a while and a shot to the back of the head from Pat to learn to recognize that it was just his way, and that the warmth and depth of his heart were reflected in his eyes, his tone, and in the random, infrequent, but gentle touch of his hand.
Her mother’s written words were touching and enlightening. She discovered a playfulness, a tenderness, and a capacity for passion that she never would have guessed existed within her father, and that she was delighted to find lived in her mother. They had been deeply in love as young people. The passages about their courtship and particularly their wedding night, although they hadn’t been easy to read, had been so intimately and tenderly depicted; it was at that place that she could first see the real talent emerging in her mother’s writing. The passages were written in French, quite eloquently so, and as she read, they gradually painted a watercolor portrait in her mind so soft, warm, and sensual that, closing her eyes, she could envision the two characters acting out the pastel hued love scenes in her mind. Allowing her eyes to travel over to the pictures on the wall, she could see them as they had been: her father a very handsome young man and her mother a willowy, graceful beauty.
…dark, tall and dashing… like Teddy… quiet, strong, and rugged… like Tommy… pretty and agile like J.J… only two years older than J.J… two years older and very much like J.J. in so many ways…
The books were also revealing an interesting, intriguing side to the relationship between the twin sisters, her mother and Aunt Sabrina. She had always known that they were identical twins, but she had never before considered the interpersonal dynamics of their ‘twinness’. At the point that she left off reading, before going downstairs, it was apparent that Suzanne spent a great deal of time looking out for her rambunctious sister. As they were growing older, Sabrina was beginning to rebel against being compared by their father to his studious, responsible, favored first daughter. The journals documented that although the two girls were very close, Sabrina could be impulsive and sometimes did thoughtless, almost spiteful things. Some of those spiteful things had been directed to her sister. Suzanne would explain them away as Sabrina’s attempts to be an individual and not part of a twin package. Their mother, Suzanne said, would usually overlook Sabrina’s antics, thereby indirectly endorsing her behavior, and their father, in Suzanne’s estimation, would usually overreact in trying to shut her completely down. As a result, over time, Suzanne developed a keen sense of extrasensory perception when it came to Sabrina. She wrote that she always knew when Sabrina was off doing something wrong or had gotten herself into trouble. At those times, she would instinctively know to move to help her or to get her out of what ever she had gotten into. It seemed that she accepted that as her role as the big sister.
When Stephen Edwards, “Etienne” as Sabrina called him, so quickly showed a preference for Suzanne over Sabrina, who had spotted him first, Sabrina stopped speaking to her sister for a time. It was their mother, Simone, who put an end to that by allowing Sabrina to begin dating as well. Although she had a string of suitors of her own, it seemed she never got past flirting with and trying to attract Suzanne’s one very serious beau. She even went so far as to sneak off on a school visit to Paris to pose nude for a local artist, causing Stephen to feel obligated to act as her bodyguard. Even in that, Suzanne was characteristically protective and non-judgmental of her sister’s efforts. It seemed that Suzanne was a very confident, trusting young woman. Not once in those journals did she denounce Sabrina or try to chastise her for her coquettish ways.
Coming back to the desk, Jennifer picked up the book she’d left lying there and took it to the couch. She scrunched up the couch pillow to be able to lean comfortably against it and the arm of the couch to continue reading. She was well on her way to reading her mother’s twentieth year, the year she was born.
Standing at the paddock fence while one of Mr. Farrell’s grooms readied her horse, Marnie was checking out the assorted frames on the well-built young men working just inside the stable doors.
“Penny for your thoughts, short girl!” A cheery voice called from behind her.
She turned around to see Teddy striding toward her.
“Yep.” She thought to herself as she took visual inventory of his casual, but tasteful attire. “J. is going to lovvvve you.”
He wore an ivory-colored, crew-necked, silk knit shirt that outlined his developing muscular chest. A pair of crisp, pleated, navy blue Brooks Brothers slacks graced his slim hips. As he got closer, she could see that he wasn’t wearing socks with the expensive, navy Italian loafers on his feet. His soft, freshly scrubbed masculine scent arrived just before he did.
As she nodded her total appreciation, her mind was still working, “Um-hmmm, tall, dark, handsome, smelling good, and built like a brick shi-.”
“Your uncle told me you were out here. How are you, Marnie?” He smiled as he extended his hand to her. “It’s good to see you. I heard you were in Gresham yesterday. How come you aren’t with J.J. or your Aunt this morning?”
“It’s good to see you too, Teddy. Aunt Pat made me come here with Uncle Bill and go riding while she went to see J.J. this morning. Said we get on her nerves when we’re together. I couldn’t argue; we haven’t seen each other in twenty-four hours, so we have a lot of catching up to do. It stands to reason that we probably would have worked a nerve or two. You look really nice.”
“Thanks. I never really know what to wear if it isn’t jeans and a tee shirt or my uniform. Since I’ve been at school and living with my father, I don’t have occasion, or my mother to remind me, to dress up that often any more. I don’t really date much. I just go out sometimes, and when I do, it’s jeans and a tee shirt. Do I look okay?”
“Just fine.” She assessed, looking him up and down a final time. Then she leaned her back against the fence. “No need to get all worked up over that dressing up thing. You’ve got the right one. J. is the same way as you said you are: jeans, some kind of shirt, and boots- as much as her mother will let her get away with it, anyway. Mrs. H. puts her in dresses every now and then to help her remember that she is a girl.”
Teddy chuckled and leaned back, next to Marnie on the fence. “I kinda figured her for that, and I like her style. Her mom doesn’t need to worry. There’s no doubting she’s a girl. I wish you two lived closer or that I lived out there in Los Angeles. I’d like to be able to spend more time with her.”
“You like her a lot, don’t you?”
He looked down at Marnie and nodded. “An awful lot. I’ve never met a girl who makes me feel like she does. Ever since I met her, I find myself thinking about her all the time. I think I’ve gotten myself in deep with Wesley over her, too.”
“Who?” Marnie squinted up to him, not trying to hide her irritation at all. “Wesley? Wesley Singleton?”
“Yeah. Somehow word got back to him that I kissed J.J. on the quad at Gresham. He’s been calling me, leaving messages and popping off hot emails ever since, threatening to beat the crap out of me when he sees me. I don’t answer ’em. Every time, the messages just keep getting madder and crazier sounding. I bet there’ll probably be a gang of irate messages and emails when I get back to Boston. All the guys will be standing around waiting for me to go into my voice mail and my e-mailbox.”
“That make you nervous?” Marnie asked.
“Nahhhh.” Teddy nonchalantly answered. “Actually, it’s almost funny. It’s apparent that he hasn’t exactly been too truthful about his relationship with her. From her picture, I could tell I liked her, but I never thought I’d ever meet this girl he was always talking about. Then when I do, I can see I was right about liking her. I can also see why he likes her so much; but that it’s evident she doesn’t feel the same way about him. Now generally speaking, I’m pretty easy going. I don’t like a lot of controversy and turmoil. But for the first time in my life, I actually feel like I could fight somebody over a girl if I had to. I’ll fight him for sure if he comes at me about her.”
Marnie grinned mischievously at what he said. The situation was right up her alley.
“I hope he brings it on then,” She said. “And that you kick his ass good. That will be two he’s got coming. East and west coasts. I don’t know what he’s thinking about, running his trap about J. like that. She does not date him or anybody else. He’s starting to act psycho, if you ask me- definite stalker tendencies. If he keeps it up, he may even work up on getting shot. I know somebody who knows about it, but hasn’t said anything about it. But who’s sick of him just the same, and is not going to have much more of it. This person is not e-e-e-even going to bother with breaking a sweat or a nail over his sorry, obsessed tail.”
“Who else wants a piece of him? Is it all about J.J.?”
“It is about J.J.,” Marnie said, dismissing it with a wave of her hand. “But trust me, it’s not anything you need to worry about right now. The ball’s in your court. Listen, I need you to do something for me.”
“Sure, if I can.”
“I was in Gresham yesterday taking care of some business. It seems my little brother is going to be attending Brookfield in the fall of this year. He’ll be in the fifth grade. I know he’s going to be a freshman in the lower school, and that you’ll be a senior in the upper school, but would it be possible for you to make yourself known to him and maybe keep an eye on him a little in the beginning? He won’t know anybody, and it would be nice for him to know that there’s one somebody there who knows him.”
“I’ll do that only if you do something for me.”
“Oh, so I’m getting blackmailed? Coerced?”
“No blackmail. No coercion. Just answer a couple simple questions for me, and then I’ll do what you want.”
“Tell me if J.J. likes me the way I like her, and if you think I stand a chance with her.”
“I told you the ball was in your court.”
“Just tell me flat out, Marnie. I really need to know, and only you can tell me.”
“She’ll kill me, Teddy, if I just come out and say.”
“Marnie, I promise you, she won’t know. It’ll just be between you and me.” He moved from the fence to stand before her, placing his hand over his breast, donning his most sincere face. “I swear it.”
Marnie sighed heavily, stuffing one hand down into a back pocket of her jeans and gesturing with the other as she spoke. “Look, you’re going to see her today, right?”
“She asked her father if you could come, right?”
“You’ve kissed her more than once, right?”
His eyes rolled dreamily to the heavens. “Riiiiiight-t-t-t.”He sang softly in answer.
Marnie, secretly delighted at getting that admission from him, finally allowed, “Well, just so you know- just between us- that’s more than she’s ever done with anybody, especially the part about asking her father. If she went so far as to ask her father if you could come see her, she really wants you in her life.”
Then, abruptly pushing up from the fence to look defiantly up into Teddy’s face with her hands planted firmly on her hips, she vowed, “I swear to God, Theodore Martin Baxter, if it gets back to her that I told you- If she finds out-”
Unable to articulate just how serious she was in any type of ladylike fashion, she cut it to her usual chase, “Dammit Teddy, she’ll know right off it was me who told you because I’m the only one who knows that much about her, and I won’t even be able to lie my way out of having said it. She’ll know it was me, and there will be holy hell to pay. Teddy, you have to promise me.”
But, despite the severity of her tone, Teddy had broken into a waltz, light-footedly dancing all around her, holding his imaginary partner close. Then suddenly he reached out to take Marnie’s arms, easily lifting her completely off her feet to swing her, like a limp rag doll, in a semi-circle through the air. Then just before putting her down, he planted huge, noisy smooch on her cheek.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you! He crooned, quickly backing a safe distance away from her to hug himself. “I am the happiest guy on the planet right now!”
Huffing in mock disgust, Marnie wiped at her face with her leather riding glove, continuing to warn him as she went on to straighten her clothes. “Teddy, I’m telling you, if you say that I said anything-”
“Don’t worry, Marnie. Mum’s the word, I promise. And just so you know, I called the Lower School Chancellor yesterday and signed on to mentor your brother already. Dee called and told me you were there with her, and to tell me what was up with your brother. The Chancellor likes me because I mentored his kid last year. At the beginning of each year an Upper School junior or senior is assigned a new student from the lower school to help him get assimilated. The Chancellor got the number for me from Records, and I called Kyle. He and I have already talked. We got acquainted this morning.”
“You suckered me!” Marnie cried as she rushed him and punched him in the arm. “I cannot believe I let you do that to me!”
“We both got what we wanted, didn’t we?” He laughed, elated over her revelation to him about J.J.’s feelings while pretending to cower as he fended off any further blows from her. “Here comes your horse, short girl.”
He helped her up when it arrived.
“Have a good ride, Marnie. This is a gentle one.”
“It wouldn’t matter.” She answered, pulling on her gloves, snapping them closed at her wrists and then gathering the reins. “My people on both sides are Texas ranchers. Me and J. have been on all kinds of horses all of our lives. See you later, Teddy. Have fun and give J. one of those kisses you give her, for me. Tell her I’ll see her later.”
“Will do.” He assured her, patting the rump of the horse to get it started, and he watched as Marnie rode out of the paddock and onto the field.
Standing there, he recalled the weekend they all spent in Gresham at the reunion. It had been so much fun having J.J. and Marnie visit, and he tried to imagine what it would be like to have the two of them as residents of Gresham Hall’s regular program during the school year.
As he walked back toward the house, trying to picture it, he realized that it was a situation that would never work. There was no way he could be sneaking into J.J. Hart’s bedroom window for a nocturnal chat, help with his homework, or a pizza run, like he did with the other girls in Waverly House. With her it would definitely be a different type of affair. If J.J. were at Gresham Hall on a regular basis, he would get expelled for sure. There would be no way that he could go to her room and not want to stay, if only to keep her company.
Especially if those blue eyes invited him to.
“You are a knockout, Squirt.” Pat announced as J.J. sat nervously fidgeting in the chair, freshly showered and dressed for her meeting with Teddy.
She had taken J.J.’s hair down, twisted it into two loosely woven French braids along both sides of her head, catching the ends in a bright gold clip in the back. From there it all flowed down in thick, loose auburn waves that reached almost to her waist. She was dressed in the sleeveless peach silk sheath with the little flowers embroidered down the front, the dress that Bill had selected and brought to her. The sandals he’d brought, she found she couldn’t wear. Even though it looked fine, her foot was actually still just a bit swollen, so she had decided to go just go barefoot which was her preferred state, anyway. She refused to wear the bandage on her injured ankle, and the fine gold chain sparkling on the other one, along with that toe ring, added just that right feminine finishing touch.
“You have hair just like your mother’s used to be, only you have a lot more of it than she ever had. Mine has always been bone straight and sort of thin. That’s why I just keep this same short cut. When we were little, I used to love to do her hair. I think I missed my calling as a hair stylist. I was good. I did everybody’s hair in Waverly- for a fee. It’s how I kept my pin money. Your mother never cared anything about her hair, so she let me fix it for her. But she never paid for my services like the others. Jen would stiff me every time claiming that the research she did for me more than made up for it. We never did figure in how much she owed me for the Home Ec help I had to give her. She couldn’t cook worth a damn. We had to work up a system to substitute her crap for something I did, or else I just had to do both of our dishes- no talent at all in that area. I did her hair until she whacked it all off in the tenth grade. I thought your grandfather was going to kill her when he saw it.”
Despite her nervousness, J.J. smiled at the thought of her mother’s cooking and Pa showing up and seeing her mother’s shortened hair without any advance warning. He seemed to have a thing for long hair too. He was always on her for wearing hers up in the ponytail so much.
“My father would probably have the same reaction if I cut mine.” She said. “He likes for me and my mother to have long hair. He doesn’t like when she cuts hers too short. He likes for it to at least come to her shoulders.”
“Your grandfather almost had a stroke when he saw your mother’s. It was too late for him to fuss about it. I mean the hair was gone at that point. It wasn’t like she could glue it back on or anything, but I could tell he wanted to cuss us both out. By the time he got there for the Parent-Teacher’s Conferences that he had come for, I had cut mine, too. It seemed like if one of us got in trouble so did the other one, even if the other person wasn’t anywhere around when whatever happened went down. People just assumed we worked in tandem and handed down the blame accordingly.”
“Two for one.” J.J. grinned. “That’s how it is with me and Marnie, too. We seem to spend three-quarters of our lives trying to avoid going on lockdown, but most of the time, it’s so much fun. Sometimes lockdown is worth it for the good time we had getting put on it. You guys had fun sometimes at Gresham Hall, too, didn’t you?”
“Looking back on it, it was a lot of the time, J.” Pat admitted as she went about putting J.J.’s things away and tidying up the room. “It was fun because we were in it together, like you and Marnie. So, are you feeling better about things?”
“I don’t know if I feel better. I just know I have to handle it better. Right now I think it’s best if I don’t think about Briarwood because I still can’t help wondering what’s going on; it’s all been so weird and out of the ordinary. But I did hear what you said about my mother doing what she needs to do. I guess I do need to get out of her way sometimes and get some business of my own.”
J.J. looked up to Pat who was standing next to the chair putting the hair things in the drawer.
“I’ve never been this antsy about seeing a boy before, Aunt Pat.”
Pat looked down at the young girl in the chair. “You’re growing up, J. and that’s what you’re feeling. It’ll be just fine. Just keep being you. You’re wonderful that way. He must already be pretty taken with you. He keeps coming to find you. From here on out, I don’t think you’ll ever be lacking for male company.”
“Don’t get too carried away, Aunt Pat. I haven’t grown up that much. I’m still not that keen on boys in general. My overall opinion remains that, for the most part, as a group they are egotistical, territorial, and childish. They have it much too easy in life, easier than us anyway.”
“But,” Pat interjected. “You have to admit, there are some…”
“Some.” J.J. agreed. Then she looked up at Pat. “What’s it like, Aunt Pat?”
“What’s what like, J.?”
“To be on your own like that. No parents or anything around. To be out there on your own. What’s that like?”
Pat, sensing something more going on in J.J.’s head, sat down on the arm of the chair, placing her hands in her lap.
J.J. noticed that her godmother laced her fingers tightly together, and as she spoke, she kept squeezing and releasing her hands.
“No matter how I try to explain it to you, J.J., you would never understand. You’ve not been anywhere near that position. It’s something you have to experience for yourself. I imagine that it’s different for everyone, depending upon how you came to be alone and how you accept that state of being. I had always been pretty much by myself even when I was living at home in that huge house with my parents, so I was used to it. Being on my own was all I knew, so it didn’t seem strange or unusual. It was very different for your mother, I think.”
“Because she was close to her mother before she died?”
“I think so.” Pat nodded. “And because she had a father out there in the world who she thought didn’t want her. I knew that my father didn’t want me with him.”
“Why would she think that? Her father loved her.” J.J. chose not to address Pat’s comment about her father. There was nothing to be said about that. Conversations with her mother about it had sadly confirmed that statement on her part to be fact.
“He put her in Gresham and left her. She was a kid, remember? She couldn’t see all the underlying reasons for why he did what he did. When she got older, she understood things better. But at twelve, all she knew was that her mother was dead, and her father went off and left her. Think back to just a little while ago. Remember how upset you were this morning about being stuck in here by yourself? You’ve only been here a couple of days. Now, multiply that feeling by six years, knowing that you can’t pick up the phone and call Jennifer when you want to; then you might start to have an inkling of an idea of what it was like.”
Sitting back to consider it for a moment, and if she dared to voice it, J.J. went ahead and quietly admitted out loud for the first time, “One day, Aunt Pat, I’m going to be all alone.”
Pat’s head snapped around. “What?” She asked before she could fully process the meaning behind her words.
“I’m all there is.” J.J. slowly answered. “I’m the last Hart. The last Edwards. One day, if life works out like it’s supposed to, I’m going to be alone in the world. All of you will have left me here by myself. That’s why I wanted to know if you could tell me something about what it was like.”
Pat, feeling her heart twist at the look on that face that was peering up to her, reached out and pulled J.J. to her, wishing she could wrap her up and keep her there forever.
“Damn.” She whispered. “Ever since you came into my life, and I noticed how much sense you have, I’ve been studying up on this giftedness component to you ever since the powers that be gave it a name. You can really come up with some stuff sometimes, J. You’ve been lying up here all this time just thinking, haven’t you? That mind of yours doesn’t ever cut off, does it?”
Leaning her head against Pat’s side, J.J. shook her head in answer.
“I’ve been having all kinds of dreams and stuff while I’ve been here, too, Aunt Pat. And I’ve been thinking about my grandmother a lot. I wish so much that she was still living. I’ll tell you this. I haven’t told it to anybody else; she’s out there moving around in my universe. I think she wants me to know something, but I don’t know what it is. I can’t quite figure it out, but I think it has to do with me being the last one. I know what I’m saying probably sounds pretty crazy to you, especially with me to be the one saying it. I mean, I’m supposed to be the practical one and all, but it’s the truth. Normally I only tell my mother things like this. She never thinks what I say is crazy or that I’m just being an immature kid, no matter what I tell her, so I don’t worry about sounding all stupid with her. She just talks right back to me like what I’ve said makes sense. I guess you’ve never treated me like a kid either when we talk, and since you’re in her shoes today…”
“Is that what was bothering you so much when I got here today? Not being able to tell your mother what’s on your mind?”
“Yes. That, and I really do miss her, even if it has only been a day or so. Is that normal? Most of my girlfriends fight with their mothers most of the time or they usually can’t stand to have their mothers around. I love my mother and I miss her when she isn’t there.”
“Defense mechanism on their parts, J. They think they have to be hard to prove how grown they are. They love and miss their mothers just as much as you do when they aren’t there. You just have a mother who isn’t going to take your crap or fight with you on your level, so you know better than to try her with any of it. You know which one of you is grown and so does she, but she realizes that you are growing. You both give each other a good bit of respect. You are also mature enough, and you have sense enough to know when and how to say, “I love you” most of the time. And about you being the only one, you’re right. You might just be by yourself one day. None of us are getting any younger, and you are all there is of us. But, hopefully, by that time you’ll have a full, busy life and a family of your own to keep you company. You’ll always have a bunch of good friends around you because that’s how you are. And you will always have your memories. You will be rich in memories, J.”
“Will that be enough?”
“Consider, baby, that some people aren’t that lucky. They don’t even have memories that they can, or that they want to call up. Count your blessings, and like I told you before, don’t go making misery for yourself. You really do lead an extraordinarily charmed life, and there’s no need for you to go looking for unhappiness. Enough of it will come on it’s own, through no fault of your own. You don’t have to go seeking it out. Every day, just enjoy the day that’s before you and deal with what comes. Right here, right now, on this day you have a date on his way over to see you. He’s handsome and he’s very nice from what I could see. That’s where your head should be.”
Pat eased her off and patted her hair one last time. “You look so much like your mother looked at sixteen.” She said with her hands on J.J.’s cheeks. “So very pretty.”
“Thanks.” J.J. blushed as her godmother kissed her forehead. “Thank you for everything, Aunt Pat. You’re always saying how my mother was so pretty, but I’ve seen the pictures, and I’m looking at you now. You’re pretty stunning yourself. Uncle Bill certainly likes your looks. We know Teddy’s dad used to have the serious hots for you.”
Pat’s mouth fell open. “Teddy’s da- The ser- hots?”
J.J. nodded her head knowingly and grinned, wrinkling her nose mischievously at her godmother. “We got your number, Aunt Pat.”
At that moment, Jazz breezed into the room carrying a stack of towels, announcing, “J.J., your good-looking young man just got off the elevator.” She put the towels down on the shelf and then she approached J.J. holding out a pair of white terrycloth pull-on slippers with skid proof bottoms. “Here, put these on. You can’t be going around barefoot.”
“Oh, we will revisit that one, girlfriend.” Pat promised, squeezing J.J.’s hand a tad harder than necessary. “The ‘serious hots’. You’ve got nerve, I’ll give you that.”
J.J. took the slippers and stretched them on over her feet, whispering as she did, “These are not cute.”
“Them or the wheelchair.” Jazz warned.
“Relax, Squirt.” Pat advised. “It’s minor and they match your outfit. Just have fun and enjoy your day.”
All three of them looked up when the knock came to the open door, and Teddy stepped inside.
They finished eating what Rosa had sent out with Jonathan when he left the main house to return to the attic. Their breakfast together had been a largely silent affair, each of them occupied by his and her respective thoughts. Finally, it was her question about their strongest, dearest common interest outside of their personal relationship with each other that brought them back together.
“So was J.J. very upset with me?”
“Not so much with you as she was the situation as a whole.” Jonathan answered from his end of the couch.
He leaned forward to the coffee table in front of them and pressed down on the top of the carafe to pour her and then himself a second cup of coffee.
“She was worried that something had happened to you. It’s out of character for you to not go to her or to not do what you’ve said you were going to do, and she doesn’t know what to make of it. I told her that you had come up here, but I didn’t tell her anything beyond that about what was going on; I thought it was best to leave it alone for now, so quite naturally, she was very much less than satisfied with my answers to her. When it comes to you, she isn’t easy to convince. She stopped short of telling me to put you on the phone because she didn’t believe me that you were okay. She’ll be better when she’s back here tomorrow. At least she’ll be closer to her family. I think I might have just confused her more. ”
“She’s not alone in that confusion.” Jennifer sighed. “I feel about twenty years older today than I was yesterday at this time. I hate not going to her, but I can’t do her any good right now. She can read me like a book, and she’ll know that I’m out of sorts and be asking me a million questions, none of which I would be able to answer. I’ve had so many crazy, out-of-the-way thoughts, dreams, and notions. Nothing seems rational or concrete about any of this. At times it’s so real and then at others, it’s just plain surreal. I don’t, as a rule, believe in ghosts, but up here,” She hugged herself tightly while her eyes took in the room. “It feels like she’s all around me. Her words from her journals hurt my eyes and they ring in my ears, but I know that I have to go on. She’s dead and she’s gone; I know that. She’s been dead for most of my life, but as crazy as it sounds, I’m sure that she’s trying to tell me something. Some of what I’ve read hasn’t been very pleasant. It makes me wonder if I was supposed to even know some of it, and if so, why would she want me to know these things? She’s left something undone that she wants me to finish, but I cannot for the life of me figure it out. Either she and I have been apart too long, or I guess I’m just too dense to understand what it is.”
When he looked to her, she had put her hand to her eyes, but he saw the tear when it dripped from her chin and stained crimson the pink satin dressing gown she wore.
“Jennifer, you’re tired, and it’s frustrating you.” He said as he stopped gathering the disposable dishes and reached out to take her other hand in his.
“It hasn’t come to you because either you’re looking too hard for it, you’re too close to it, or you just simply haven’t come up on it yet. Please, I want you to stop for a while. Let’s go down to the guest dock and take the little boat out. Bill went out on it yesterday. He said he’s got it all set up to go. He was planning on taking Pat fishing. We’ll go for a ride, you can relax for a while, and then you can come back up here and continue, if you want, while I go see J.J.”
She dropped her hand from her eyes and he could see that she was fixing her face to protest, but he cut her off, “Please, darling. I don’t normally ask you for much. Do this for me.”
“Do this for me.” It was the one ace that he’d used very sparingly in their marriage, but he knew it to be the most effective one in the deck when it came to her. And just as he expected she would at that most personal request, she nodded and got up to help him finish cleaning up. He felt badly about manipulating her in that way, but he could hear that she was in desperate need of some sunlight and some fresh air.
When Teddy reached to help her up from the chair, J.J. took his hand and as she rose, she could see him looking at her with an appreciative eye. She liked the strange surge of feminine power she felt at knowing that he liked what he was seeing. She also could sense the physical strength behind the gentle hold he had on her hand.
When he repeated to her the exact words she’d said to him that day that he came into her room at Gresham Hall, wearing his handsome Brookfield uniform, to spirit her away to the Dean’s reception; she was highly amused:
“My goodness, J.J, you sure clean up well.”
“And again,” She responded with a broad smile. “So do you.”
She was very impressed with how he had taken a navy blue suit and mixed it with a plain knit shirt and those loafers to achieve his tastefully casual look, and then there was that thick, dark, curly hair that, unless it was wet, always seemed to have its own agenda. He was very handsome, indeed.
Pat handed her one of the crutches.
“Aw, Aunt Pat.” J.J. immediately began to whine. “That and these shoes are ruining the overall effect. I can walk without it. Teddy will help me out to the patio, won’t you Teddy?”
“It’s either the crutch or the wheelchair.” Teddy said before Pat could get a chance to form the same warning. “I’m not going to be the cause of your relapse. Your father never will let me see you again if you get hurt with me one more time. He might not have said, but I know that he remembers what you were doing when you got hurt the first time and who you were with when it happened.”
Not having looked at it like that, but realizing that what he said about her father was probably very true, she took the crutch and tucked it under her arm while she leaned on Teddy with the other. “I’m just not too keen on getting in another wheelchair any time soon.” She declared. “I don’t like how that feels.”
“They’ll make you ride in one when you leave her for good.” Jazz said from the doorway where she had been watching J.J. to see if she would take the crutch with her like she was supposed to, or if she was going to have to order her into the wheelchair when she didn’t.
“How come?” J.J. asked, looking warily over to Jazz who continued to watch her, checking how she was placing that foot and that ankle.
“Hospital policy.” Jazz answered matter-of-factly. “They’ll wheel you right to your car.”
“Well, if it’s hospital policy…” J.J. conceded. Then as if she were suddenly remembering something, she looked quickly to Pat. “The money for that is in the top drawer in my coin purse, like I told you. Will you still be here?”
Pat reached into the drawer and took out the small purse, which she carried over to Jazz and placed in her hand.
“In case I’m not here. You’ll find out.” Was all she said to her before turning away from Jazz’s questioning look back to J.J. and Teddy. “You two go ahead out to the patio. I’ll stay until your food arrives, and then once I know that you’re all set, I’ll head back to Briarwood. I just want to make sure that everything that your father ordered gets here all right. J.J., if I don’t come out and see you before I go, you mind what Jazz tells you. And Teddy-”
She raised one finger to him. “She’s very special.”
Teddy nodded. “I know it.”
Pat followed them to just outside the door of the room, and she and Jazz stood and watched as they went up the hall toward the door that led to the outside. They could see the other boys on the ward peeking out of their doors at them as they passed by. J.J. leaned on Teddy, and he had one arm around her waist, supposedly to help J.J.’s balance. He carried a white box under the other.
“They are so cute.” Jazz remarked. “But awfully chummy. I sure am glad you’re here with them.”
In her mind, Pat was seeing her and Jennifer’s three-day-old girl for the very first time.
She recalled her mild apprehension at handling someone so small and delicate. Until that moment, she hadn’t had much, if any, real experience with such a young baby. She had talked Jennifer through the pregnancy, but to actually touch the tiny, warm, sweet-smelling end result had been phenomenal. Looking up from the rocking chair as her friend placed “their” precious newborn into her arms, she could see in Jennifer’s face her absolute trust. Over the years, that look had never changed. When it came to leaving J.J. with her, Jennifer seemed to inherently believe in her abilities to properly handle that child. That was a good thing, an honor, one which she would reciprocate without hesitation if she could.
“Time sure does fly.” Was the only thing Pat could think of at that moment to say in reply
Having maneuvered Stephen’s fishing boat to the middle of the lake, Jonathan shut down the engine to let it float. Jennifer, propped up by several pillows including the purple one from the couch in the attic, sat on her end intently reading from another of her mother’s journals. She had made it up to book number nine, year twenty to twenty-one.
He reflected that J.J., like her mother, also got lost in the well-written word. With both of them, once they got into a book, a bomb could go off right next to them, and unless some of the shrapnel landed on the page, obscuring the words being read at that moment, they probably would never notice what happened. Jennifer certainly didn’t appear to notice the absence of the noisy engine or that they had come to a stop as she continued to read.
He waited in silence, enjoying watching her and the surrounding beauty of her father’s property. Although he disliked the austerity of cold gray Maryland winters, having lived his entire life in sunny California, he had always thought Briarwood a very lovely place, but most especially so in spring and summer. He thought to himself that J.J., once she inherited the place and came into it on her own, would probably opt to spend her winters out west. Unless she was skiing or engaging in some other active winter sport, J.J. didn’t like existing in snow and cold too much either. She rarely visited Pat in New York during the winter months, and during the time spent at Briarwood for Thanksgiving, she seldom ventured outdoors if snow had fallen. As much as J.J. liked riding, even goading, begging, and bribing on her mother’s part couldn’t get her to move from in front of her grandfather’s fireplace to accompany her on a horseback ride through the snowy hill country. J.J. Hart was a California girl through and through.
Jennifer closed the book and placed it into her lap. Then she turned her head to stare out across the water. With no makeup and her hair pulled up as it was, in profile he could see in her both J.J. and the older Suzanne that he had seen in his last dream. Right at that moment, it struck him hard that in appearance, Jennifer had fallen somewhere smack in the middle of both of them. In seeing that, he realized that she was the middleman, the passage between J.J. and J.J.’s grandmother. Whatever else she might have meant, Jennifer was one thing that had to be finished, one major thing that Suzanne might have felt that she had left undone.
A sudden gust of warm summer wind played across the water, gently rocking the boat and snatching loose her hair as it ran past them. It blew back from her face and for a moment, with those freckles, he could clearly see the girl she had been, and that she would have always physically appealed to him. Then, for the first time, he understood. It occurred to him, at that moment, what her mother had been saying to him about an arrangement in that last dream he’d had about her.
Suzanne asked if he believed in arranged marriages, and at the time he hadn’t understood that she was speaking specifically of them. Sitting there looking at Jennifer, who was still gazing across the water, and putting things together; he clearly saw that destiny must have decreed that she had always been the one for him, and he for her. It had been in the cards all the time, and surely enough, it happened when it was supposed to happen, how and to whom it was supposed to happen.
There had been plenty of women before her, beautiful ones, wealthy ones, very nice ones, but none who seemed to fit. The fit and the timing had been absolutely right when it came to their coming together. If they had met a few years before, he wouldn’t have been the man he would have to have been to ask her to be his wife. Before that chance meeting in London, she might not have been at the place in her life where she was accepting of him as a husband. She’d told him that before they met, she wasn’t sure she wanted to be married. At the time they met, she hadn’t been seeking any kind of a relationship at all. Someone else with precision timing had to have been calling the shots on that one. Before that day, that hour, that very moment, the plan had evidently not reached that point.
J.J. had conveniently come to them at a time when they were finally at a place to raise a child. They had been married for ten years, and for the latter five years, they hadn’t done anything to avoid having a child. Despite their best natural efforts, none had come. When J.J. did turn up, it was when the traveling had been done, the careers were solidly established, and they were older and more settled in life. Hart Industries was self-sufficient, and his presence wasn’t required nearly as much as it had been in the beginning. They were enormously happy and satisfied with each other, their lives, and their relationship. J.J. came when Max was gone, the house at Willow Pond had been destroyed, and for the first time it seemed there was an empty place in their lives that needed filling.
“Her life is better served through the two of you.”
Those had been Suzanne’s words in that dream. Perhaps, he thought, Suzanne had sent that piece of herself to Jennifer to keep her focused, to keep her from further floating away from the concept of family. Maybe that was why J.J. looked so much like her grandmother, to keep Jennifer from completely turning her back on and her mind from her mother. In the dream, Suzanne had also said that the tree could not grow if the roots are not fed. Jennifer’s reading of those journals was fertilizing the roots of her dormant memories. Those memories had to be the roots that would sustain that tree that was J.J. Through J.J., life would go on for both families. As far-fetched as it sounded inside his head, he had no doubt whatsoever that Suzanne Edwards had been calling the shots all along with that precision timing of hers.
And just as it was meant for them to meet twenty five years ago, apparently it was meant for them to be together in the struggle through which Jennifer was presently working. Jennifer was wrestling with whether or not her recollections of her mother having come to see her were dreams, the result of a bad fall, or if it had somehow been reality. He wasn’t sure which of those it had been for her, but he was absolutely certain that Suzanne had come and had somehow spoken with her as she had with him. He hadn’t discussed with her his own experiences, but what happened with him made him believe in the reality of what Jennifer had said. She had done more talking about her mother in the past hours than she had ever done in their entire time together. Although he had experienced moments of feeling useless on the night before, he understood that he was meant to be there for her sounding board and her support.
No problem. He was strong, and he was a very good listener.
“What are you smiling at?”
He had been so caught up in his private thoughts, and pleased that the pieces seemed to be coming together for him, that he hadn’t noticed that Jennifer had shifted her focus from the water to him.
“J.J.” He answered. “And what a great kid she is.”
She smiled, crooking her finger at him. “Come here.”
Moving carefully so as not to tip the small boat, he went to her end and they adjusted themselves so that he was leaned back on the pillows and she was leaned back on him, sitting between his legs.
“I always knew that I loved my mother.” She said quietly, once they were both settled. “But I really know that I love her now. She was quite a woman.”
“She was. She was so young, but she had me right up there in that house- in the room that Pa sleeps in now. The house wasn’t even totally finished, but she didn’t want a hospital birthing. My grandmother, Simone wanted her to come home to Perpignan to have me, but my mother wanted her child born on American soil. So my grandmother and the French midwife who delivered my mother, traveled here to the States and delivered me themselves. She wrote that my grandmother decided to come a month earlier to give her a hand here since she was alone with the workmen and just the few day servants she employed. At the time nobody lived in, so she was alone at night. My father was away on business, but he was supposed to be back in time for my being born. I don’t know how in the world she did that. I would have been scared to death if you hadn’t been with me through my pregnancy with J.J. It was a good thing my grandmother and the midwife came when they did. My mother went into labor earlier than anticipated, and it was a difficult birth. As a result,she wasn’t supposed to ever be able to have children again. I guess that’s why I was an only child for so long. Even though she had gone through so much, she insisted upon taking care of me from the start, despite the fact that my grandmother and the midwife chewed her out about it over and over. She said that she would tell them, “She is my baby.”, and she would go ahead and take care of me herself.”
“Sounds like you with J.J. Remember how you insisted upon her being left in the room with you, and not placed in the nursery with the other babies?”
“I was afraid of somebody trying to kidnap her because of who we were.”
She had to chuckle. “And because she was mine. I was her mother. I wasn’t sick, and there wasn’t any reason that I couldn’t take care of my own child. She needed to get to know me. She needed to know my touch, not the nurses'”
“I think she knew you right off the bat. I don’t think bonding was an issue on her end.”
“Okay then, I needed to get to know her. I wanted to get to know her.”
After a couple of quiet minutes, she tilted back her head to look up at him. “Jonathan, I was so scared. That whole time that I carried her, I was so scared that I wasn’t going to be what she needed- that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I was twenty years older than my mother, who never voiced any doubts about her abilities. She was so brave and so sure of herself.”
Combing his fingers through her hair, “I knew you were afraid.” He told her as he bent to kiss the top of her head. “Your mother was younger, the times were different. She had less to fear.”
“You knew? And I thought all this time that I had hidden it from you. Why didn’t you ever say? You never let on.”
“You’re good, but you’re not that good. You couldn’t hide something like that from me, and I didn’t let on because I knew you could, and that you would do it. And, besides, you had me. You, the love of my life, were having my baby, and I had never been so honored. There was no way that I was going to be anywhere other than right there with you all the way. We were in it together just like everything else we’ve undertaken. She was inside of you, but I wanted to be a part of it, as much as I could be, anyway. But you didn’t need me to hold you up, after all. You have done so well with her, Jennifer. You’re the best, the most positive thing in our daughter’s life, and she loves you very much. I’m the good-time parent. I know it and I’m okay with it. She runs all over me, but that’s all right. She has you to balance it out and keep her on an even keel. She wouldn’t be who and what she is without your guidance.”
“Your child has caused me to do some growing too, Jonathan.”
“You’re good for each other. You two were meant to be.”
She looked back down to her lap, and he saw her place her hands on top of that book.
“Funny you should say that.” She said.
He waited for her to expand upon it, but she didn’t.
“Your father has a lot of class, J.J.” Teddy said as he helped J.J. into her chair at the table on the patio that had been set aside for them.
It had been dressed with a white Damask table cloth, a small floral arrangement, and two tall unlit candles in lead crystal holders.
“It’s how he would do things for my mother.” She answered. “He’s real romantic like that. You know, that Cary Grant/Clark Gable element you spoke of yesterday. That’s really how he is.”
“What about you? Are you a romantic, J.?” Teddy asked as he filled their glasses with ice from the ice bucket and then poured water for both of them from the covered pitcher.
A small cart had been parked next to their table and it held the ice bucket, water pitcher and a cleared, covered bowl containing a fresh fruit salad.
“I don’t know, Teddy.” She answered as she began fixing a small plate of salad for him and then one for herself. “I never really thought about it. I do like things like this, but I’ve never been on a real date before. Seems a little silly to go to all this fuss since it’s in a hospital.”
“I think it’s nice.” Teddy smiled from across the table as he accepted his plate from her. “If I took you out, it’s what I would have done. Guys are going to want to do things like this for you all the time.”
“What makes you say that?”
“That’s the kind of girl you are. You make a guy want to treat you right.”
When she turned red and looked down at the table, he quickly apologized. “I’m sorry. There I go again, embarrassing you. I talk too much.”
“No. No, it’s okay. I like that you say what’s on your mind. It’s just that-”
Trying mightily to get her blushing under control, she answered, “Somebody told me that once before, but I’m only just hearing what a nice thing it was that was said. Thank you, Teddy. That was nice of you to say.”
Eager to put Tommy back where he belonged in her mind, change the subject, and get the conversation to where she had planned to go with him all day, she asked, “Teddy, when your parents split up and you went to live with your father, did you miss your mother a lot? When you’re away at school, do you miss your parents?”
He leaned forward resting his arms on the table and gave it some thought before he finally spoke.
“It was my decision to go live with my father. Him and me have always been pretty close. He’s not like most dads, you know, like leaving the parenting of the kids to the mother. He did that with my sisters, but they’re girls. When it came to me, since I’m his only son out of all those daughters, he’s always been the one to spend a lot of time with me. When he and my mother split up, it just seemed like the natural thing to do to go with him. I missed my mother a lot, of course, but she kept in touch and came to see me all the time or I went home to her for short visits. There’s never been a problem with visitation. She supported my being with my father, so that helped a lot with my decision to go. She didn’t act like I had deserted her or anything like some parents do in those situations. About missing my parents when I’m at school, I get so caught up in my work, my friends, and my activities that honestly there isn’t a lot of time to miss them. And then, my dad is right there in Boston. He can be at Brookfield in a heartbeat if I need him. He’s there a lot anyway on stable business with my uncle Phil. What makes you ask? Your parents aren’t having problems, are they?”
“No, nothing like that. It’s just been on my mind. I guess because I’m so close to both my parents and I always have been. I’m a security risk, or at least I used to be when I was younger, so I was always kept pretty close. My mother, my father, and my aunt grew up either without parents or missing one of their parents. It’s just been on my mind a lot lately to wonder what it feels like, especially since I’ve been in here. It’s the first time I’ve been away from everyone like this. I’m usually left with at least one somebody in the family.”
“College is around the corner, J. If you’re planning on going away, that’s how it’s going to be.”
“Oh, I know that. I’ll be okay with that, I think. I just wonder what it’s like, that’s all.”
“If you have two parents who love each other and they get along, enjoy it while you can. Don’t be rushing to get away from it. That’s heaven. I wish I had it, and mine were still together. But my parents fought all the time and that was pure hell. It had been going on most all of my life, and I was sick with it.”
J.J. nodded in understanding. She was blessed. Just as Aunt Pat had been telling her, she led a charmed life.
Her parents rarely fought, but she knew that sick feeling that came in those times that they did, that sour feeling in the gut of which Teddy had spoken. She’d felt it just the day before when her father had come to visit, and she suspected that there was trouble between them. She thought she’d felt it that morning when speaking with him, but it went away when he assured her there was no problem. He would have evaded the issue if there had been trouble, but he wouldn’t outright lie about it. She realized how bad it must have been for Teddy to have felt that day after day.
“Do you still have trouble with your stomach?” She asked, referring to that revelation he’d made to her at the reunion the previous weekend.
“Never.” He answered, and then he looked directly at her. “Until I met you. Lately I’ve been having a little trouble down there with butterflies and things.”
Meeting his warm brown eyes, she admitted shyly, “Me too.”
One of the floor nurses suddenly appeared at J.J.’s room door looking frazzled. Without announcing herself or greeting anyone, she abruptly asked Pat and Jazz, who were inside giving last minute instructions to the catering people who had just arrived, “Does anybody in here know anything about some pizza and soda being delivered to the recreation room? I have a pizza man at the desk with a hand truck, carrying seven large pizzas and a half case of Coke, talking about somebody in here ordered it. There’s all kinds of boys limping and wheeling, gathering all around my desk like bees on honey, making me almost have to beat them back because they’re ready to eat it. The dietician is going to have a fit when they don’t want their regular dinner after filling up on that pizza!”
“Pay the people, please.” Pat casually said to a bewildered Jazz, summarily dismissing the frantic nurse still standing in the doorway. “J.J. ordered it for the boys. She’s paying for it out of her winnings from last night. It’s in that purse I gave you earlier. She said it was the least she could do. A little treat to them for being such good sports. And by the way, if they haven’t already figured it out, tell those boys not to play with her any more. They know not what they do when they mess with her and a deck of cards.”
Shaking her head in wonder, Jazz pulled the purse from her pocket and headed for the front desk to pay J.J.’s tab. Her little patient was truly something else. There was just no figuring the girl out.
Reading to the end of the journal she’d brought out to the boat with her, Jennifer closed the book and placed it back in her lap. She was still leaned against her husband and could feel his hand resting on her shoulder. Faced away from him, she couldn’t see him, but from the stillness of his relaxed body and his prolonged silence, she assumed that he had dozed off as they floated lazily in the small boat, lulled into serenity by the calm of her father’s lake.
The day was a pretty one. The afternoon sun danced across the gently rippling water, and highlighted the assorted hardwoods and evergreens that partially lined the shore. In the distance, sat the large white main house with its glistening tan Spanish tiled roof. In the other direction, sitting way back between the trees, down the path that led from the smaller dock was the tiny bit of whiteness that was the guest house.
As a child, on slow summer days, she would load one or both of the dogs into the canoe and row out to the middle to fish or sometimes just to float and read. Lying there as a woman now, she wondered if her mother ever climbed up on something to watch from that high back window in her room in that attic. Surely she had, just as she would if she were up there, and J.J. was out on that lake in a rowboat.
There had been severe complications during the delivery and after her birth. Her mother wasn’t supposed to be able to have any more children. So how had she become pregnant again, and why would she be happy about it if it was going to put her health so much at risk?
But she died, and she never had that baby, so the questions were moot.
The passageway in the main house had not only been an escape route. It had also been designed to be a place to store the artworks that were recovered until they could be returned to their owners or claimed by some museum. According to her mother, Maryland had been chosen as a place to settle because of its relative proximity to the seat of American government, and to the Atlantic Ocean- and subsequently, London, her father’s base of operations. Briarwood was close enough to conduct their clandestine Central Intelligence activities, and far enough removed to maintain their personal privacy. The ocean provided a perfect way to import and export the artifacts that were kept in the secret passage.
It was all coming back. The strange packages that infrequently arrived in the night and only when her father happened to be at home. They came when she should have been sleeping, but always perceptive; upon noticing the mysterious looks exchanged between her parents at the dinner table and hearing the unusual flurry of activity outside her bedroom door, she would hide on the darkened staircase and try to see what was going on. The packages were always heavily wrapped in thick paper or tarpaulin, or boxed and taped closed many times. The delivery man or men would be dressed in dark clothing and no words would ever be exchanged. In the morning, whatever had come in the night was nowhere to be seen and no mention was ever made of it. She knew better than to ask.
One night, when she was ten, her mother finally caught her out of the bed, spying on her father through the spindles of the darkened front staircase as he took a delivery. It was the one time that she could remember her mother being angry enough to frighten her to her soul. Creeping up behind her, placing her hand over her mouth, her mother had snatched her up to carry her, like a sack of potatoes under her arm, back to her room. Closing the door behind them, then tossing her onto the bed, she sat down next to her and scolded her severely, reverting back to the French she used when she was very angry. Her words were whispered, but her vehement objections to her behavior very clear. Although she knew there was something more driving her mother’s ire at the time, she just listened and didn’t ask any questions. It was the last time she ever spied or eavesdropped on either of them.
That incident, like many, many others had been packaged and put away long ago, but it had eased its way back to the front of her mind along with the other things that were making themselves known to her again. That night, her mother had scared her mightily. Being just a child, she couldn’t have had any idea of the danger in which she had put them all by looking down on her father and that man at the door. It took forty-four years to find out and to understand how much she had frightened her mother and why.
And Sabrina. She was so different in those journals from the Aunt she had always known. It was early in the reading. Maybe things would change down the line. She hoped they would, but somehow she knew that they wouldn’t.
Watching a small flock of birds cross the skies, she had the thought that it was a good thing that the relationship she had with her aunt was so positive and so solidly established. If it were anything else, what she was reading might have swayed her opinion of the woman in another, less savory, direction. Being a free spirit was one thing, but…
“Hey, are you going to talk to me at all any more this afternoon?” Came that most welcome voice from just above her head.
“I thought you were sleeping.” She answered, reaching up to take the hand that brushed lovingly across her breastbone. “I didn’t want to wake you. I know you didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“I slept just fine. I was with you.”
She twisted around, and he leaned forward to meet her. When they kissed, without breaking the bond, he pulled her up to take her fully in his arms, feeling that the dressing gown she wore was all that separated him from her inviting flesh.
She gladly came to him. It felt good to be in such familiar, secure territory and out of the fog for that moment.
Not wanting to, but his curiosity getting the best of him, Jonathan pulled back from her and stilled his roaming hands to ask, “So, what have you found out? Has any of it gotten you any closer to understanding?”
“I only understand that I’m not even close.” Was her response. “I just come upon more and more questions that need answers.”
“That’s just it. I don’t know enough to even form the questions. I’m going to have to do more and look further before I can even fully speculate about anything.”
“So, what now?” He asked, looking down into her face which was so close to his own, fully aware of what her answer would be, and that it would once again take her from him.
“I have to go back.” She answered.
He could hear in her voice her reluctance to leave, but her mother was calling for her to come back home, and he was grateful that now he had his own child upon whom he had to call. J.J. and her needs would fill for him the void left by Jennifer’s temporary absence.
“So, Miss Hart.” Teddy said over his salad. “Tell me. What do you think you want to do with your life? Got any goals yet?”
“I’m forming some.” She answered. “I’ll probably be an engineer of some kind. Most likely electrical. I want to travel on my own some. I love music a whole lot, but I don’t know if I want to do anything with it. I guess I have lots of interests, but I can’t say that I’ve honed in on any one of them. What about you?”
“I really want to be an actor. Maybe a screenwriter or a playwright, too. I enjoy both. I think down the line, I’d like to be a producer or a director. Something like that.”
“For real?” She smiled. “I think that is so great. Stage, movies, television? Which area would you like to start in?”
“I would love to be on stage. I love to act, and I’m a good song and dance man, but I haven’t ruled out the movies. It’s probably all for nothing anyway. My father wants me to join his firm or to go into law.”
“So why don’t you just tell him what you want to do?” J.J. asked. “That way there won’t be any misunderstandings.”
“I don’t want to disappoint him. I love my old man, and he’s always been there for me. He keeps saying to me that’s what he’d like to see me do. I guess he’s hoping to pass the firm on to me. Maybe I can do the things I want on the side while I study accounting or law.”
She looked skeptically across her salad plate at him, but didn’t say anything. It sounded like what he wanted wasn’t something he was going to be able to do as an aside. Looking at him, and from the little she already knew about his person, Teddy had actor written all over him. He had the looks, and judging from his antics at Gresham and his determination to find her once he arrived in Maryland, drama and intrigue were in his blood. Criminal law might be a remote option, discounting what she’d read between the lines about his not being able to stomach negative conflict and constant turmoil. But he definitely was not made for the cut and dried, black and white world of accounting.
Instead, she asked him, “Where do you want to go to college?”
“MIT or Harvard.” He answered. “I’ll probably end up at Harvard. I like both schools, and I’ve got the grades, but lately, Harvard’s been where my interest is most drawn to. There’s a great drama program there. I could minor in that while I study for my major. What about you?”
“I don’t know yet.” She answered, avoiding pigeon-holing herself. “I haven’t made a definite choice yet.”
Ms. Grimsley, her counselor at school said that due to her test scores and her extraordinary math aptitude, feelers were already being sent out about her from MIT, and she had pretty much settled on it, herself. Her heart raced a little at his mention of MIT, but it was too soon to know if that was because she did or she did not want to attend the same school as Teddy for college.
But he’d heard what she said. “I hope you do decide to come East. It would be nice to be able to spend more time with you. I’m looking forward to you coming here in the spring for the Prom.”
“Me, too. And I hope you’re still planning to come to my birthday party. Did you know that your father took my Aunt Pat to her Prom when they were in high school?”
Teddy grinned. “He told me. He said that she was the one that got away.”
“I’ll bet she was, but it was just as well.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Because, Teddy, you wouldn’t be here. It took your mother and your father to make you. If he and Aunt Pat had stayed together, you wouldn’t be you, and I’d be here all by myself.”
“You wouldn’t be here. You wouldn’t have fallen if you hadn’t been with me.”
“So see, all things happen how they’re supposed to happen, to whom they’re supposed to happen, and when they’re supposed to happen. Aunt Pat and your father weren’t meant to be. Your mother and father were, if only to make you. And you and I are supposed to be right here, right now.” She looked up and pointed with her fork. “I like to believe that somewhere up there, somebody’s got a huge drawing board, mapping it all out. Our lives are governed by a power greater than our own. We get some choice in the matter, but basically, it’s already pretty much set up.”
“Good point. I see why you’re in that program you’re in at school. How about you, J.? Do you see yourself married with children in the future? Do you think that’s in the grand plan?”
“No comment.” She quickly replied as the waiter her father hired appeared to pick up their salad plates in preparation for bringing out the main course.
She knew it would take too much to try to explain her position to a boy who didn’t know her that well. He might not understand without her going into all the reasons, and she wasn’t about do that so early in the friendship. It would have been too hard to explain to him in just a few sentences that she wanted children and a special man in her life one day, but he probably wouldn’t be a husband. He might not understand that she planned to keep the name Hart for herself and that her first son would be named for her father, regardless of her marital status. It was a discussion, perhaps even a debate, that she wasn’t ready to have at that point in her life. It hadn’t even been run past Tommy yet, and he was normally the one boy upon whom she could consistently count to give her an honest, objective, contemporary male opinion on whatever idea she put on the table.
She was relieved when Teddy just smiled and didn’t question her any further. Instead, what he said was, “That’s what I like about you.”
“What?” She had to smile back.
“You leave a guy wondering.”
“Well, there’s something I like about you, too.”
“Yeah, what’s that?”
“Are you going to be okay?” Jonathan asked as they stood at the bottom of the attic stairs. It had only been a few days that all of it had been happening, and despite her recent foray into the fresh air and sunlight for a while, she had already developed a pale, wan, tired look.
“I’ll be fine.” She smiled weakly. “Kiss J.J. for me, and tell her how sorry I am that I can’t be there.”
“I’m sure she knows. You don’t want to come home for a minute? See your father?”
“It’s not that I don’t want to; I just can’t. I have this feeling that if I stop, I won’t want to come back here. I have to do this while I’m of the mind to do it.”
He released his hold on her waist and reached into his pocket to pull out the ring box. Placing it in her hand, he closed her fingers around it when it seemed that she didn’t want to hold on to it at first. Then, from his other pocket, he took the little plastic bag containing the chain.
“Your father said to give this to you. He said it was yours. He’s been carrying it in his wallet all these years.”
She looked at it, and immediately tears began to well in her eyes as a lump took shape in his heart.
“I have to go.” She said hurriedly, taking it from him and giving him a peck on the cheek. Gathering her gown in hand, she ran up the stairs.
He watched her until she was out of sight. Then, fighting the strong urge to follow her, he took a deep breath, turned around and forced himself from the guest house. She needed to be alone with her mother. In the meantime, while it was still daylight, he would go and see to their daughter.
Maybe by the time he got back from J.J., Jennifer would be closer to knowing what she was supposed to do.
“Look,” Bill said to Marnie as she slid from the car on her side, almost before it came to a complete stop in the driveway. “Don’t be in there causing problems. I’m going back home, pick up Pat and Mr. Edwards, and we’ll be right back here.”
“Now I ask you,” Marnie said through the open passenger window, after closing the door. “How much trouble can I cause in hospital, Uncle Bill? I just miss J., that’s all.”
Bill tried to read past the innocent look on Marnie’s face, in a last ditch attempt to decipher her real motive for so eagerly pressing him into bringing her over to the hospital after their return from Farrell’s. She had rushed in, showered, changed into that little spaghetti strapped sundress and those sandals she was wearing, and had practically forced him into the car.
“Marnie, I don’t think she’s going to be too happy to see you, with Teddy there and all.”
Holding up one hand for emphasis, she replied, “I keep asking people, why should she be the only one happy? She’s had him to herself long enough. It’s been two hours at least. She’ll get over it if I show up. I’ll be good, I promise. See you.”
He watched as she quickly walked up to the glass doors of the hospital, carrying a shopping bag. She turned and waved just before going in.
“Look out.” Bill mumbled. “Here comes trouble.”
After securing her visitor’s pass, Marnie made her way up to Adolescent Sports Medicine. Before stepping off the elevator she smoothed her hair and her dress. As she passed through the open double doors of the wing, she deliberately slowed her step, catching the full attention of the few older boys who happened to be in the hall at the time. She smiled to herself in supreme satisfaction while she pretended to not notice them. The first stage of her mission had been put into play
She peeked her head inside J.J.’s room to find the private nurse seated at the desk doing some paperwork.
“Hi, Miss Jones!” She sang out, purposely avoiding calling the woman by her first name. “Remember me?”
“Marnie?” Jazz asked, looking up from what she was doing, and in fully recognizing her, confirming, “J.J.’s friend.”
Marnie stepped into the room. “Yep. How are you? Where is she?”
“I’m just fine, and she’s outside on the patio having dinner with her friend. Are you going to join them?”
“I might.” Marnie answered, putting her bag down next to the chair by the bed. “Which way is it to get there?”
“Down that hall.” Jazz pointed. “They’re probably having dessert by now, but there might be some dinner left. The caterers brought plenty, even with what her father arranged for me. If not, I can get something for you from the hospital kitchen.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Easing back toward the door, Marnie assured Jazz, “I’m sure I’ll be just fine. I’m going to head on down that way.”
Jazz went back to what she was doing, and Marnie went in the direction Jazz had indicated. Halfway down, however, she detoured for the recreation room. She had seen it that night when they had all come to see J.J. While everyone else was talking, she had slipped off on her own to do a little investigating. As she hesitated in the doorway of the room, the boys inside looked up from their games, the pizza and sodas, and the televisions to that most welcome female sight. They heartily greeted her. Those who could, stood up, and they all beckoned for her to come in and join them. As she did, three others others limped, walked, and wheeled in behind her from the hall.
A few minutes later, Marnie Benson was eating pizza, having a soda, and immensely enjoying getting acquainted with and being the center of all that youthful male attention.
It took a few minutes before she could stem the sudden rush of tears. Frustrated at once again being forced to face the pain of the past, she’d fled from Jonathan, leaving him at the bottom of the stairs, not wanting him to see her cry again. There had been too much of that, and the pain she knew that her distress inflicted upon him wasn’t his to bear.
Seated on the couch, she looked down at the little purple box clutched tightly in her hand. Before, when she’d opened it, Jonathan had been with her and he had been her encouragement. This time she was alone, and it hurt so much. It all hurt so much.
Twisting around, she looked back to that black and white enlargement. When their eyes met, in her head she could hear her saying, “You must do this, my Jenny.”
With her mother watching over her shoulder from her place on the wall, she pulled open the top, and in her heart she was grateful that her father had not buried that wedding ring with her mother. It was exquisite. But why had he left it there for her in a room that she had no reason to ever visit? How did he know that she would find it? Why had he taken that chance?
For the first time in over forty years, she reached out to touch it, running the tip of her finger along the smooth, flat surface of the largest stone. Although she knew it was a wedding ring, it was the first time that she really noticed that there were actually two parts to it. The emerald cut main stone was a solitaire and simply magnificent. It had to have cost her father a small fortune even all those years ago, a sizable chunk out of his part of the Edwards’ trust. Evidently he hadn’t been a cheap man, and he’d had excellent taste when it came to the woman he loved enough to ask to be his wife. He’d put a ring like that on an eighteen-year-old girl’s finger. She had to have been some eighteen year old, and he had to have had some faith in the staying power of that marriage.
She looked down to her own equally fine set of rings. Jonathan Hart had not been frugal either, and there was never any doubt about the staying power of their union. She hadn’t been looking for a husband or even a lover at the time they met, having pretty much closed the door on both at that awful point in her life. But Pat had forced her back out into the literary world, sending her on assignment to London. Then fate stepped in, and she took a seat next to the best of both worlds that day in that in the bar of the Ritz Hotel. When a thing was right, it was right.
Till death do us part.
In the case of her parents, maybe not even then. As far as she could tell, her mother had not been replaced in her fathers’ heart or his life, and at that point, she probably never would be.
The little bag containing the chain lie in her lap. Setting the open ring box on the arm of the couch, she picked up the bag and opened it, pouring the chain out into her palm. It was the same one, the same chain she had worn around her neck as a child. Her father said that he had been carrying it all that time. He had fixed it and kept it with him. Why?
Just like with J.J. and her bracelet, she had been an infant when she received the ring. Her first gift from her father, as a child, it had always been a part of her. The chain had been given to her by her mother when her fingers outgrew the ring. She recalled her mother saying, not long before the accident, that she was going to have to soon replace the chain because it was going to become too tight on her neck as she was growing older. The chance for that exchange had never come. The ring and the chain had been left behind, no longer needed, no longer a part of her life- discarded like everything else from that time.
Unfastening the catch, she tried the chain around her own neck. It was a too-tight fit. J.J. was almost as tall, and for the moment, thinner, however, she was gaining fast. The chain would have to be extended or replaced to fit her. Taking the baby ring from the box, she threaded the chain through it, and refastened the clasp. After putting them back into the little plastic bag, she slipped it into the pocket of her dressing gown. That she would give to J.J. when they were together again. The wedding ring, too, she decided, would be J.J.’s. It was fitting that it be hers. She loved diamonds; emerald was her birthstone, and that ring, her birthright. But she would come into it at another time, somewhere down the line when she was a woman worthy of it. Taking a last, loving look, she closed the top down on the box. Moving it from the arm of the couch to the coffee table, she got up.
There were still several journals to be read, things to be uncovered, those papers on the desk, and the desk itself, not to mention the passageway that still needed checking out. There remained many questions that needed answers and stories that required endings. And on top of all of that, another little girl was out there waiting for her mother to come back to her.
Heaving a heavy sigh, she stood in the center of the room, looking all around herself, trying to decide where to start first.
Teddy had moved his chair to J.J.’s side of the table after they’d finished their dessert, bringing with him the box he had been carrying when he arrived.
“Here.” He said, placing the box in her lap. “I brought you something.”
“A surprise!” She squealed with delight. “For me? I love surprises!”
“I hope you like it. It’s so you’ll remember me.”
As she began to open it, she smiled up at him. “I don’t think you’ll have to be worried about me forgetting you any time soon.”
Folding back the tissue inside, she pulled out what she thought was a doll, but what turned out to be a marionette dressed like a swarthy, mustached genie, complete with satin vest and pants, a turban, and pointed shoes with satin stars on the toes. She laughed as she held him up and fiddled with his strings to make him move, “You are so crazy, and silly, and so sweet. I love him! And you’re right. I’ll think of you and Gresham Hall every time I look at him.”
“I’m so glad you like it, J. I saw him when I was downtown with my father earlier, and I thought about you and what you said about me.”
“What’s his name?” She asked as she examined the puppet closely.
“His name is Theomar, Omar for short, and your wish his command.”
She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you, Theodore Martin. He’s great.”
The sun was lower in the sky, and the time that they were both dreading had finally come.
“Well,” He sighed as he checked his watch. “As much as I hate to even form the words, I think I’m going to have to go. I’ve got to get back. Our flight leaves at nine. It’s about a thirty minute drive back to Farrell’s from here, and then there’s the drive to the airport.”
When she didn’t say anything, he took her hand. “I’ve had such a nice time, J. I’ve never met anybody like you.”
“Me, too, Teddy. You’re pretty special yourself. I hate you have to go. There’s no telling when we’ll see each other again.”
“Will you be back in Maryland soon to see your grandfather?”
“Not until Thanksgiving. I have a break from school then, and we always come to Maryland to spend Thanksgiving with him.”
His face brightened. “Maybe I can work it out to come see you. I’ll be on break from school then, too.”
Her face lit up as well. “Maybe if I talk to my mother, she’ll let me come to Boston to spend a day with you or something while we’re here. She’s pretty understanding about those things. But I should tell you that if she lets me, she’s going to be coming with me. My father isn’t going to let me come by myself. Come to think of it, he’ll probably be there too, riding shotgun.”
He burst out laughing. “You have such a colorful way of putting things.”
“But pretty accurate, though, wouldn’t you say?” She nodded with a grin. “You’ve met my father. You’ve seen how he is about me. But you’re such a genie about getting where you want to go that one day he might just answer his door in Los Angeles, and there you’ll be, standing in your puff of smoke.”
“I don’t know, J. Your father’s kinda big, and I’m already sort of a wanted man in-”
When he so abruptly stopped, she looked up into his face. “Go ahead.” She urged, catching his drift right away. “Finish that.”
“Nothing, J.J. It’s nothing.”
“No, what were you going to say?”
He leaned forward, taking her other hand in his, moving his face closer to hers. “Are we going to waste time on stupid stuff? I said it’s nothing. You know there’s a will, so I just might find a way to get out there to you. I don’t know if I can wait all the way until Thanksgiving to see you again.”
“Handle it then, Genie.” She smiled. “I’ll be happy to see you however, whenever.”
But, underneath her silky veneer, she already had a line on where he had been going when he cut himself off, and the smoke was finally rising about a certain out-of-line someone at home. The time had come; things were getting out of hand.
“I hope you always feel that way, J.”
Leaning in to her, he brought his lips to hers. The realization that it would be a while before they saw each other again made the contact even sweeter and more poignant. “Chaste and quick”, J.J. reminded herself, to no avail, as she answered his call. It was simply too good. Neither of them wanted it to end when it did.
“Will you tell your father how much I appreciated him allowing me to see you like this?” He asked, looking into her eyes, and she into his. “He must love you very much to go to all this trouble to make you happy. He’s a great guy for setting this up and for letting me have dinner with you. Please tell him I said “Thank you”, J.”
“I think you’ll be able to tell him that yourself, son.” Came the baritone voice from somewhere too close behind where they were seated.
The covers had been carefully removed from everything in the attic. In two trips, she had taken the large bundles of cloth to the railing and thrown them over onto the stairs to get them out of her way. Once again, she was standing in the center of the room, only this time she knew where she wanted to go. The problem was getting up the nerve to get there.
The gun rack had shocked her somewhat. While taking the cloth from it, she thought she would find another bookshelf, but she was taken aback at the assortment of long guns and the two handguns inside the glass doors. Staring at it, her mind was racing. Her parents’ work, she knew, had been dangerous; she had seen those guns in the passageway outside of her father’s room, but she was unprepared for the presence of those weapons in that otherwise serene, peaceful hideaway that had been her mother’s space. Yet, there they were. There had been no mention of them in the journals, but they were up there, so she must have known how to use them.
The thought of capable, young Suzanne Edwards being able to skillfully defend herself and her child in that manner added another intriguing dimension to the person she was getting to know.
The other bookshelves contained books, all kinds on many different subjects. There were also several framed photographs on those shelves, mostly of herself as a little girl, and they were startling, but fascinating. Aside from the posed ones from school and her ballet recitals, most of them she had never seen. The others were candid photos, taken when she obviously hadn’t been aware that she was the subject captured in someone’s lens.
Apparently, her mother had also dabbled in photography, just as she currently did in conjunction with her journalistic endeavors. She had come across several interesting, old box cameras in uncovering the shelves. She, too, had pictures she kept of J.J., taken when she had been unaware that anyone was looking. Those were her favorites, the ones of her standing on her head or turning a cartwheel while wearing a dress, sneaking a quick, cool sip from the outside water hose spigot, or when she was into something else she knew that shouldn’t have been when she thought there were no witnesses. Those pictures on those shelves must have been her mother’s favorites, as well, seeing as how they had been kept up there close to her in her private space.
They were awfully cute… so little and dirty and happy on the back of that horse… digging in the sand at the lake’s shore. The uncanny resemblance, dirt and all, between herself as a child and that little girl born so many years later was striking.
As she stood there trying not to see it, the cedar trunk on the floor between a bookshelf and the desk was clamoring for her attention. But the feeling that there was something special kept inside that box that had been designed to preserve things, was holding her firmly in place. It felt as if whatever was inside of it was personal, and she had been taught only too well about prying into other people’s business. But she had also been told, by that same person, that she had to proceed with a thing even when she was afraid of it. Fear, she finally admitted, not obedience, was what was keeping her from going over to it. After all, as a professional journalist, and especially after she met up with that insatiably curious Jonathan, snooping, among other things, had become a favorite recreational activity.
“Okay.” She whispered to herself as she made her feet move in that direction. “You can do this, Jenny.”
Kneeling down beside it, her eyes closed, with her hands resting on the rounded top, she prayed that it would be locked, thereby, keeping her from having to immediately deal with whatever was inside. When she pushed up on it, however, she found, to her dismay, that it was not. With her eyes still squeezed shut, she kept raising it up and back until she could feel it stop, resting against the side of the desk. The strong cedar scent that escaped from inside of it, and the resulting wave of nostalgia that washed over her were almost overwhelmingly welcome. She went weak as she inhaled the memory of that cedar closet in her mother’s bedroom in the main house, the room where she kept the part of her wardrobe that was not currently in season. It wasn’t until that moment that she remembered exactly why she had always loved that smell, but still she couldn’t bring herself to look down at what was there.
“Jennifer, Jennifer, Jennifer.” She thought. “Stop being a wimp and get a grip.” Then she laughed at herself.
Chiding herself in that manner, it sounded like J.J. was standing over her, egging her on, being the irreverent, pushy little thing she could sometimes be. Even though she was the child in their relationship, J.J. had a way of occasionally nudging her into stepping outside of her comfort zone. Thinking about it a moment, it came to her that J.J.’s entire existence had taken her out of what she had long considered to be her level of comfort, and had moved her into something else entirely.
Slowly, she opened her eyes, and at first she was confused. A wooden board of sorts seemed to be wedged across the top of the contents of the trunk, but then she realized that what appeared to be some sort of decoration carved into that board was actually a recessed handle. Pushing down on one side of it, the other came up allowing her to slide her hand under so that she could lift off the top of what turned out to be a shallow box that fit inside the trunk.
The first things she saw were several stacks of letters, each bundle of various sized envelopes, tied together by either yellow, pink, or red ribbon. Picking up one stack tied with yellow ribbon and quickly flipping through, she found that those were letters, post and greeting cards that had been sent to her mother from her father. The post marks on them showed that they had been stacked by date going back to before her parents were married. Further inspection of the other bundles revealed a system: the pink-tied bundles of letters and cards were from Sabrina, and the red ones from Simone and/or Henri. As she pulled out the neat packages of correspondence, she flipped through them, reading the dates. She was mildly surprised at how much time had gone by.
It wasn’t until her lap was full, and she had decided that she would put those letters and things to the side to later make up her mind as to whether or not she wanted to read them, that she noticed the other items in that box. A short stack of very old report cards for “Jennifer J. Edwards” were neatly fitted into the upper right corner. She took them out, and underneath were old programs from ballet recitals in which she had performed as a child. Stacked next to those were programs from her very first equestrian events and those first ribbons she’d earned. Scattered about were several folded sheets of waxed paper with bits of long dried-out flowers pressed between them, a child’s drawings, and several folded pieces of paper with crudely drawn flowers, faces, or “Mommy” written on them.
“Oh, Jesus, please.” She prayed, begging for strength as she realized what that box actually was, and that she was cresting another hill on the emotional roller coaster she had been riding. “Mama, you kept all of this?”
Inside that box were all the notes, hand-picked flowers, the painted rock, the little handmade clay cup, sea shells, hand-drawn pictures, graded school papers with their foil stars curling up at the tips, certificates- all the things a child brings to her mother to show her how much she loves her. All the things she had earned to make her mother proud of her, had been collected in that box and kept up there in that room with her.
She opened the first report card in the stack. The remarks were handwritten, very unlike the computerized evaluations J.J. currently received. It was her fifth grade report, and the grades on it were superior. She had always been an excellent student, and her mother had always voiced her pride in her academic accomplishments. On the back, she had signed it four times, one for each quarter that it was brought home for her review. The others cards, she found, going back to the first grade were the same; her mother always signed for them. She had been in charge of her education until the sixth grade. That year, she had only signed twice, and then it all ended. That incomplete card was sent home after her withdrawal from that school, and had been stuck in one of those old scrap books that contained more evidence of her abandoned childhood.
After that, her father signed for them. He reviewed the ones mailed to him in London from Gresham Hall where she completed the remainder of that grade and the rest of her lower and upper school career. He would write to her expressing his pride in her good work, encouraging her to continue. But for those first four years, she’d thrown the letters away unread. It wasn’t for him that she did well in school, and it wasn’t for him to say anything to her about it.
Later, when things began to get better between them, when she was older and knew better; she felt badly about it. She told Pat, late one rainy night when they were talking back and forth across the room after lights out, how much she regretted having done that. Pat immediately threw back her covers. She got up from her bed, and went into her steamer trunk at the foot of it, pulling out several large manila envelopes.
“I knew you would change your mind.” She declared as she brought them over to her and put them on her bed. “I knew you would come around about your father. He loves you and you’re so lucky.”
It seemed Pat had gone behind her, retrieving the letters she had discarded, and had saved them all for her. In smaller envelopes inside the large ones, she had even saved the pieces of the ones that had been torn up in childish anger. They spent that night together, taping the torn ones and reading them all aloud to each other by flashlight.
Pat was simply the best. For a girl with no real family, she certainly knew how to be family: a sister, a daughter, a much loved godmother and aunt.
With trembling hands and her vision blurred by the tears that kept threatening to spill down her face, she reached for one of those little folded papers in the box and opened it to read that very old message inside, written in a small child’s painstaking scrawl:
Mommy, I am sorry I went to the water without you. You told me not to but I did not lissen. I am sorry you are so angry with me. I will not do it agen. Wen I wake up from my nap, I hope you will love me agen.
The memory rushed at her so hard and so fast that, seated on the floor, she found herself pressed back against the bookshelf where, once she couldn’t retreat any farther from it, she finally slumped in exhaustion.
She had been very little, around five or six, but she clearly recalled getting caught by her mother, skinny dipping alone in the lake. She had been warned several times before that about going into the water alone, but the day had been hot and the water so inviting. Her mother arrived out of nowhere, it seemed, scolding her angrily in French, ordering her out of the water and back up to the guest house where they had been staying. She made her wash up and then put her to bed. Even at that young age, she considered napping during the day a waste of precious time. There was so much else to do and to see. Once the bedroom door closed and she was left alone, she had gotten back up to write the note. When she finished, she folded it, drew a sad-faced girl with red hair on the front, and slipped it under the closed door out into the hall. Then she took her nap.
When she woke, her mother was there in the room, lying next to her on the bed, holding the note in her hand. She smiled her wonderful smile, forgave her, and told her that she loved her but that she was too young to go into the water alone. Too many bad things could happen, she said, and what would she do without her Jenny?
Then she made her come to the kitchen table to eat homemade cookies with milk and to correctly write the misspelled words in the note five times each. At five or six, she could format and write the note because her mother had been teaching her to write, helping her to send letters to Aunt Sabrina and to her grandparents in France and Wales for as far back as she could remember.
Resting against the bookshelf, her mind drifted off to her own desk in the great room at home on Willow Pond and that one locked drawer that contained the same kinds of things from another little girl to her mother. Holding the folded paper in her hand, she closed her eyes and could see that other crudely written message that she had long ago committed to her excellent visual memory:
im sorry. i wont be bad any more. i will lissin to you neks time. i will hol yor hand neks time win you tell me to. i wont run a way. i do not love naps but i do love you lots. im sorry i made you mad at me. do you still love me? i love you. dont tell daddy i was bad at shoping. ok?
J J Hart
It had been painstakingly written in pencil on Jonathan’s expensive linen letterhead stationery, which had apparently been pilfered from his desk upstairs. She could picture in her mind that child sitting in her father’s chair, her spindly legs crossed, bare toes curled, tongue between her teeth as she sounded out each letter to form each word. The note had then been moistly sealed in a matching envelope and addressed to “Jenfer E Hart”, and tossed over the loft balcony down to her desk.
All of done when that little one should have been trying to keep herself out of harm’s way, in her room taking that punitive nap assigned to her.
That day had not been a good one, and J.J. Hart had taken her mother to the wall. Just turned four and by that time, definitely her Daddy’s girl; hopelessly headstrong, delightfully and infuriatingly incorrigible; but it was evident she was nothing short of brilliant.
At that point, no one had ever formally sat down with J.J. to teach her how to write words or how to put together a note. Because of their extensive traveling, which didn’t really stop until J.J. started Kindergarten, she hadn’t attended nursery school or any other form of preschool. They had seen to her first educational experiences; shapes, colors, letters, numbers, all of that. From the beginning she enjoyed being read to, and by age three, she had somehow taught herself to read on her own. Soon after, also on her own, she began writing the words she sounded out, forming basic sentence patterns to express the things that were on her mind. In those earliest days, J.J. seemed to prefer her father’s company when he was at home. But during the day, when he wasn’t, she would stay near her mother, watching closely and quietly everything she did. Apparently, she had been watching with purpose.
After getting back up that day, J.J. Hart began her first writing lessons, sitting at the kitchen table with her mother, the journalist.
That was the first of many increasingly articulate notes written over the years, among them several more written as apologies or peace offerings. There were also assorted items in that drawer that had been offered as tokens of affection: pretty rocks, dried flowers, a hard-won aggie, the tennis ball she’d hit with that sinister backhand of hers to win her very first tournament and trophy at age nine. She had even autographed it for her. That drawer was special, which was why it was kept locked; it was for a mother’s eyes only. The things inside brought her secret consolation in the more stressful, tense moments of her life with her own daughter. In more recent times, as J.J. was growing up and away, the items in the drawer eased her momentary bouts of maternal angst and separation anxiety. J.J. was growing up so quickly, it seemed.
Dizzy, weak, and shaky with her conflicting emotions, she leaned forward to rest her head against her hand which she had propped on the edge of the trunk to steady herself. When she did, she could feel that shallow box inside shift. Looking closely, she could see leather bands pressed along the two inner sides. Putting the letters, cards, and papers in her lap on the floor, she rose up on her knees to lift that box out by those age-stiffened belts.
Directly underneath was a thick layer of old tissue which she removed and placed on the floor. A white cardboard box was right there on top. When she lifted off the lid from it and pulled back the tissue inside, she could see cloth: ivory satin and old lace. She gingerly reached in and took out the first item. It was an elaborate, obviously very expensive baby’s Christening gown, bonnet, and booties. Under those things were two folded ivory blankets, the top one hand-crocheted with pink ribbon laced through the edges, each corner fitted with a tiny pink silk tassel. The other was plain ivory with satin edging. Aside from the cloth being a little stiff from having been packed away for so many years, the entire little outfit was in pristine condition.
She had read of it on the boat. It was documented in the journal that the gown and bonnet had come from her father’s parents. The blankets from her mother’s parents. The knitted one and the booties had been hand-crocheted by Simone, herself, for her first, and as it turned out, only grandchild. The entire outfit was an heirloom.
“Preserved for posterity.” She thought to herself, examining each item closely. “Only nobody knew you were here. She never had the chance to tell me about you until now. I found you sixteen years too late.”
She folded it all and put it back in the box, which she left on the floor with the letters and papers. There was another layer of tissue covering whatever else was in the trunk. She could feel that whatever was beneath it was something soft. Folding the tissue back, she was met by a mound of ivory satin, resting in a thick nest of more tissue that had obviously been carefully arranged to protect the fabric from the red, preservative wood lining the trunk. Taking gentle hold of it; she stood, and in rhythm with her rise from the floor, her mother’s wedding gown unfolded itself in front of her.
Even when she was once again standing erect, much of the dress remained inside the trunk, and she had to reach in and pull it out, folding the skirt and the long train three times over her arms before she had it all. It too, was stiff, but in perfect condition. It was as if it, too, were perhaps being saved for someone else to wear. The dress was expensive, but the style was timelessly simple, and tastefully elegant. The low-cut, long sleeved bodice was decorated with intricate embroidered roses, and the embroidered, full skirt was embellished with random scatterings of pearls. The veil, simply a long scarf of fine Belgian lace, rested at the bottom of the trunk on top of the last thick layer of tissues.
Gathering the dress securely in her arms, then picking up the box containing the Christening gown from the floor, she took it all to the couch where the first thing her eyes lit upon was that tiny purple box containing the ring that had come with that dress and veil lying across her lap. At that point she stopped trying to hold it back or to restrain it in any way.
The overwhelming evidence of her mother’s love… all the words that had been left unsaid… the plans she must have made that had gone unfulfilled… Nobody knew. Nobody said. Nobody could tell her what her mother wanted. What she was, who Suzanne Edwards had been, her wishes, hopes, and her dreams, had been locked up there, silenced; waiting patiently to be heard again, in the attic of the guest house for all those years.
She dropped her face wearily into her hands. The entire thing, the whole situation, the feeling of abandonment, the emptiness, the loss; all of what she thought she had left behind was tearing at her heart in a way that she had never felt before, and she wept accordingly. She cried not as the child she had been, but like the woman and mother she had become. As such, she now knew for sure what might have been and all that she and her mother- all of them, actually- had lost- no, what had had stolen from them. Suzanne Roussel Edwards was a family treasure, a precious gem, who had been ripped from them, never to be recovered and returned by Central Intelligence or anyone. She would never be replaced. The gap she left would never be refilled.
…”What would I do without my Jenny?”… Indeed.
Up there all alone, with her mother’s essence closer to her than it had been in over forty years, she vented her complete frustration at not being able to reach out and catch onto her lovely long fingers with her own. Through her tears, the pain, and the struggle to breathe, she angrily wondered why in the hell, after all that time, she had been called up there to suffer in the manner that she was. Why couldn’t things just be left to rest where they had been for all that time before, in that safe place in her head and in that attic where they hadn’t been bothering anyone?
The woman in the portrait over the desk stared down at her, and her deep-set hazel eyes mirrored the compassion and the understanding reflected in the words of her journals.
“You can do this, my Jenny.”
“I don’t think so, Mama.” She sobbed aloud.
She could feel the young woman on the wall behind her, pushing her, challenging her with eyes that mirrored her strength of spirit. Hers had been a natural strength, a gift she had used to embolden her innately shy, timid daughter as if she knew that she wouldn’t always be there for her, and that her daughter would need to learn to be strong for herself. It was that same strength which had been reincarnated in the spirit of that granddaughter, Justine, who just in her being born, let her mother know that she could more than adequately do things of which she’d never thought herself capable.
The woman dressed in riding gear, seated in the chair next to her, turned to her and told her, “You will do this thing, Jennifer. You must. I say you must, and you will. It is now yours to do.”
All she felt she could do was slowly nod her head in answer as, head bent low, she continued to vent her sorrow. There was nothing she would deny that voice from her past, but trying to do whatever it was that it wanted of her was causing far too much pain at that moment for any more words.
Jonathan had first stopped at J.J.’s room where he found Jazz getting J.J.’s things ready for when she came in, so that she could work on her ankle some and then go to bed. After finding out that J.J. and Teddy were still outside, he stayed and discussed with her the progress of that injured ankle and about how things had gone with the dinner he had arranged for his daughter and her friend.
Jazz told him that all had gone well, and thanked him for the special meal he had ordered for her. She went on to tell him how much she had enjoyed her time with J.J. and finding out what an interesting person she was. J.J., she said, hadn’t been anything like what she had anticipated. He asked her what she had expected, and her answer had been that she didn’t know, but that she had been having a good time with the person to whom she had been assigned, no chosen, to assist. Then she related to him how J.J. had put the boys through their gambling paces on the night before while she had been on the phone, as an example of how she had been surprised by her charge’s personality, knowledge, and diverse range of abilities.
He knew that he shouldn’t, but he couldn’t help but find it amusing that J.J. had found herself some willing patsies, and it was pride that he felt when Jazz told him what J.J. had done with her winnings. That was his girl, and that pizza gesture was an example of why, outside of being his child, she held such a deep place in her daddy’s heart. She was definitely a winner, but she knew how do some good with whatever it was she won; she knew the importance of giving some back. It was a lesson he and Jennifer had been trying to teach her by their example all of her life. The lesson seemed to have taken, although the means by which J.J. came by hers were often rather unorthodox. He had learned to trust that she wouldn’t take her ‘talents’ too far, and as long as things weren’t looking too outwardly shady, he no longer asked a whole lot of questions. For some reason, despite the fact that she usually ended up either appalled or mortified, and sometimes both, Jennifer still insisted upon knowing all the details once it came to her attention that J.J. had been engaging in some unauthorized activity.
While they were talking, Dr. Rogers had stopped in with the intent of checking on his patient, his old college buddy’s daughter, before leaving for the day Jonathan was glad to have caught him at that opportune time. The three of them were able to talk together for a short while, discussing the best course of action for J.J.’s continued improvement once she was back at her grandfather’s.
With that worked out, the doctor left and looking at his watch, Jonathan decided that it was time to go out and see how much longer Teddy intended to linger. It was getting late, and it was time for J.J. and Marnie to be heading back inside. J.J. needed to get changed and get to her last therapy session before the rest of her company, Bill, Pat, and perhaps Stephen, arrived for their visit.
As he passed through the busy corridor, he could see out the corner of his eye the heads that turned to look in his direction. He figured word of who he was must have gotten out. Even though he had long been wealthy and fairly well-known, he had never gotten used to the stares and the artificial politeness and attention that often came his way. When he was with Jennifer, he felt more comfortable with it. She handled it better, and being that she was a woman, so outgoing and attractive, when they were together, it was normally directed toward her, anyway.
Being the daughter of two ‘celebrity’ parents, getting older, and looking even more like her mother than ever, J.J. was beginning to increasingly draw more outside attention of her own, including that of the media. He had been able to use his influence to quash a lot of that. He didn’t want her exposed in that manner just yet. It couldn’t always be avoided, but he wanted it kept to the bare minimum, feeling that she was just too young and too vulnerable yet for that kind of attention.
To her credit, J.J. had always seen right through the phoniness, and she too had no use for it. She was usually cordial about it when it came her way, but it was a factor of her life that she had never appreciated. However, like it did with him, it made her sharper about being able to read people and being able to gauge the legitimacy of their motives and actions. Based on conversations they’d had on the subject, and her behavior when faced with being put in the spotlight, he could already tell that J.J. was going to try to avoid the public eye as much as possible, just as he had tried to do. In their souls, they both preferred their personal privacy. So far, she was choosing well the select, but eclectic group of individuals that formed her personal circle, which, in a way, eased his mind somewhat about the boy she met in Gresham, the one she called herself liking. There had to be something positive to his character, otherwise she wouldn’t have gone out of her way to spend the time with him that she had been spending.
As he passed the recreation room, the noise inside briefly drew his attention. Several boys were gathered in a corner around one of the large monitors. On the screen he could see that a video game was being played by someone down front whom he couldn’t see for the crutches, wheelchairs and bodies of the others standing around. He was glad, for once, that J.J. was with Teddy. If it hadn’t been for that, she would most likely have been the one they were gathered around to watch play. The girl was good, especially on the racing and war games. That ability, her talent and interest in electronics, technology, and sports; her preference for jeans and shorts over dresses and skirts, and her easy-going, platonic friendships with a number of young men caused Jennifer to consider her to be mostly a tomboy still, despite her age and her looks. As far as he was concerned, she could stay a tomboy for a while. It had been his intention for her to rest quietly in that hospital. Instead, he’d inadvertently booked her on a ward full of boys with whom she’d managed to hold at least one card party. And if that weren’t enough, Teddy Baxter, the first boy she’d shown an interest in, had tracked her down from Massachusetts to Maryland.
He sighed to himself at that thought. No less than he would have done for a girl like Jennifer Edwards must have been, he guessed. And after all, J.J. Hart, was Jennifer Edwards’ daughter. He had to give it to that Teddy for that. At least the boy had good taste, and if J.J. liked him back, as it seemed she did, that said a lot about him.
He pressed the switch on the wall to signal the glass doors to the patio to automatically slide open as he approached, and he stepped out onto the open-air area where several young people were sitting and talking with visitors or playing cards or games with each other. At first he didn’t see the two for whom he was looking. There were several large potted plants and stone benches out there, creating a soothing, tranquil garden effect. He spotted the white-clothed table over in the remote corner by the wall overlooking the terrace below. A waiter was removing the dishes from it to the waiting cart.
It took another couple of seconds and several stutter-steps toward them for it to register that Teddy had leaned in and was kissing his baby, right on her precious, innocent lips. And that she was kissing him back!
He stopped a short distance behind them, unsure if he should go back inside and give them some privacy, or if he should just go over and break it up completely. He didn’t want to embarrass J.J., but at the same time, his own voice was screaming hysterically inside his skull that she was only sixteen, and as her father he should be doing something about it. Before he could make a decision, however, the kiss ended, and he heard Teddy asking J.J. to thank her father for setting up the dinner.
When he got their attention by suggesting that Teddy thank him in person, they both looked up at him, and it floored him that they didn’t look surprised or shocked to see him.
“Hi, Daddy.” J.J. casually smiled, as if she were twenty-five and had been kissing her husband of a few years.
Didn’t she know that he’d seen them? She had to know.
“Hello, Mr. Hart.” Teddy said as he stood and cordially extended his hand. “It’s good to see you. I was just about to leave, but I’m glad you’re here so that I can thank you in person.”
Jonathan took the hand offered to him, noting that the boy had a good, solid grip.
“You have a wonderful daughter, Mr. Hart. Thank you for allowing me to spend time with her. It was great, and I really enjoyed myself. I think we both appreciate all you’ve done for us.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Jonathan could see J.J. looking up at them, with that face so much like her mother’s, as she nodded her agreement to what Teddy was saying. He also noticed that she had that hair down again, too. That was twice she had done that for Teddy Baxter.
Teddy released his hand and reached down to take J.J.’s. “I really have to get going. I’ll call you tonight when I’m back home.”
“You do that.” She said, smiling coyly up at him. “Talk to you later.”
“Thanks again, Mr. Hart.”
Teddy swung his suit jacket over his shoulder and took his leave.
Jonathan looked from the boy walking away, to the girl in the chair, and back to the boy going through the automatic double doors, flabbergasted by their cool, composed behavior.
He was thinking to himself that when he was seventeen, he would have died a million deaths if some girl’s father had caught him kissing her. He and Jennifer had been highly embarrassed at the times that her father had walked up on them before they were married, and they had been a whole lot older. Even as old as they were, and for as long as they’d been married, Jennifer was still constantly trying to silence him when they made love in her father’s house, afraid that he would hear them. As if Stephen didn’t already know.
Kids, there was no figuring them out.
“Look, what Teddy brought me.” He heard J.J. happily say.
He turned back to her, to see that she was holding up a brightly dressed puppet. “Um-hum. Nice.” He answered, still largely at a loss for words. “Where’s Marnie?”
“Marnie? I don’t know. Is she here?”
“Bill said he was bringing her over. She should have gotten here more than an hour ago.”
“I haven’t seen her.” J.J. answered, shrugging her shoulders, while putting Omar back in his box.
Jonathan’s mind immediately went back to the recreation room and all those boys.
“Come on.” He said, reaching for J.J. to help her up. “You have a therapy session, and I have get back in there and break up Marnie’s.”
He also wanted to get back to Jennifer. His head was beginning to hurt again, and he knew that wasn’t a good sign. Besides, she needed to eat, and that wasn’t going to happen unless the food went up to her because she certainly wasn’t going to come down to it.
Aunt Pat, it’s me, J.
Why do you always tell me it’s you? I know it’s you.
I guess I just want you to be sure you know who you’re talking to. You know, so you don’t say anything out of the way thinking that I’m my mother. People say we sound alike sometimes.
Not that much. Not to me. I can always tell. Plus, your number is in the display.
Oh, yeah. I forgot about that. Are you busy? Are you alone?
No, I’m not busy. I just got out of the shower. And yes, I’m alone. Uncle Bill is playing chess with your grandfather down in the study. Marnie’s in her room on the phone, keeping her head low after her diversion to the recreation room and the ensuing party you inadvertently threw for her and the boys.
That was too funny when Daddy went in there and broke it up. You couldn’t even see her at first. She was down front playing the Mario Andretti game on the Playstation, and all these boys were standing around her. She’s really good, and they were all cheering because she was beating the pants off one of the guys. Daddy goes in there, busts up the crowd, and comes out dragging Marnie by the arm. All the boys were all mad and stuff that he made her go with him. She’s trying to explain, talking about she wasn’t doing anything wrong, and mad because he made her lose.
I thought he was going to wring her neck. Bill wanted to kill her for playing him like she did. I told him he should have known what she was up to.
Uncle Bill knows how Marnie is, or at least he should by now. If there’s some boys in the picture, that’s where Marnie is heading. Where’s Daddy?
With your mother. Where else?
Is she still up there? Out in the guest house?
I guess so. I haven’t seen or talked to her since the last time you and I talked about it. Why? What’s with you calling me. I just left you.
I couldn’t talk to you with everybody in here like they were. I have something I need to tell just you. But first I’ve gotta ask you something.
Did Daddy say anything to you about me and Teddy kissing?
I thought he was looking a little shell-shocked! What? He caught you?
Teddy was getting ready to leave, and well, we kissed. I didn’t know Daddy was standing right there.
Was it a good kiss? A real good-bye, I-won’t-see-you-again-for-a-while, kiss?
One you enjoyed quite a bit? Eyes closed, the whole nine yards?
Damn. J.J., you are going to give that man a heart attack. You know he can’t take things like that. What have I told you about looking around yourself, checking your surroundings, before you do things?
I thought we were alone! Who would have thought that he’d show up out there, Aunt Pat?
Evidently you should have. What did he say to you?
He didn’t say anything. That’s why I was asking you if he said anything to you.
He didn’t say anything to me about you. He did go on some about Marnie being so swift and the boys liking her so much. I let it go in one ear and out the other, though. Marnie wasn’t hurting anybody. In fact, I think, if you ask me, she made folks feel better. Kind of like entertaining the troops, if you will. You two know you can liven up a room. Just start a party any-damn-where.
What can I say? It’s a gift that keeps on giving. We both have been blessed in that way. Maybe Daddy didn’t really see us, you think?
I wouldn’t count on it. Squirt. He sees everything. He took inventory and stored it for future reference. So, what did you do when you realized he was there, and that you had been busted.
I played it off. Acted like it was no big deal. On the inside, I wanted to just melt dead away into the floor. I’ve never been so mortified in all my life. My Daddy saw me kissing. Geez, Aunt Pat.
So, what did Teddy do? Freeze? Look like a thief caught with his hand in the till?
No. Teddy’s studying acting. He just acted like it was cool, and then he got the heck out of there. He was about to leave anyway, and that was as good a time as any to go. I bet now Daddy won’t want me to be with Teddy any more, Aunt Pat. We had made some plans to try to hook up at Thanksgiving. Daddy probably won’t let me anywhere near him after this.
How much closer are you trying to get, J.?
Not that close, Aunt Pat. It’s not what you’re thinking. I’m not looking for anything heavy to develop between us. We just want to spend some time together, you know, with me on two legs- walking on two legs, doing something other than sitting around and talking.
Let me ask you something. Who ended the kiss tonight?
I think I did.
Well, it did feel good and everything, but I didn’t want to send out any wrong signals. I’ve been told that if I don’t intend to end up horizontal, I shouldn’t be bending myself in that direction. It felt like it wanted to go there, so I stopped. I’m not ready for anything more than a kiss or two.
Who told you that horizontal thing?
See, I wouldn’t worry about your father not letting you see Teddy again. Jennifer has enough time between now and Thanksgiving to get him right. Even if he did see you kiss that boy, and he tells her he saw you; Jennifer knows what she’s taught you, and that you’re listening to her. Don’t worry about that. It’ll work out. You’ll see.
Which brings me to what I wanted to talk to you about.
What’s that, J.J.?
Do you think she’s okay? Do you think she’s hurting up there?
J., why do you worry so much about things? You’re just a kid.
I haven’t seen my mother in two days. She hasn’t seen hers in forty-four years. I know I can see mine in a little while. Even if everything in that attic is about my grandmother, she still won’t have her mother back. That would kill me, Aunt Pat, if it was me.
But wouldn’t you rather have that than nothing at all?
… I’ll have to think about that. I don’t know which would be worse. Nothing, or getting close and then still not having the one you want. I know whatever she’s into, it must be deep. She didn’t even call me today. She’s never done that before. I hope she’s okay. I hope she’s not crying and up there looking like something the cat dragged in. I worry about her. She stops eating and everything when she gets in deep over something.
Has anybody ever told you that you’re not the mother? Jennifer is.
She says it all the time, but it doesn’t change anything. I still worry about her.
You’re a very good girl, J.
Whatever. Do you think she’ll come in the morning to get me when it’s time for me to come home?
Well, she’s still up there now, and it’s late. She and your father spent the night up there last night. They probably will again tonight if she isn’t any closer to where she needs to be. I wouldn’t bank on it, Squirt. Will you understand if she doesn’t?
Yes, I’ll be okay with it. I’ll be coming home.
Will you promise me that you won’t go down in that passage or whatever it is again once you get home? Promise me you’ll let her work it out?
Awww, Aunt Pat! Don’t make me promise that.
Promise, me, J. I know you. I know you’ve been lying there in that hospital, strategizing. But I want you to leave this alone. For once, I don’t even know what’s going on. Nobody does, outside of your parents and your grandfather, and I get the feeling that Stephen doesn’t even know the whole story. Promise me that you’ll stay out of that passageway.
Awww, come on. I really-
J.J., promise me.
Okay. I promise. Sheesh.
Thanks, J. I think it’s best. She probably is up there having a very hard time. The fact that she’s left you to yourself like she has says it all. She wouldn’t do that unless she had to.
She knew I had you, Aunt Pat, so I wasn’t to myself. She knew that she could count on you to step into her shoes, and that I wouldn’t be alone out here. You do a good job of it, too. I hope this is all over soon. It’s been beyond weird.
This whole thing, starting with Gresham Hall and the reunion. It seems like things, events, have been lining up to get us all into the places that we are. Like it’s all been on purpose. Can’t you see it? My mother deciding to go and take me with her. Pa wanting my mother to work on the guest house, then him getting sick, thereby making sure that she got to Briarwood. Marnie finding the passage. Me going down there and hurting myself so that I could be out of the way and my mother could be by herself to get up into the attic. It all lines up and it all seems by design.
I think that you think too much, Squirt.
You can say what you want, but I don’t think I’ve been having those dreams I told you about for nothing. There is definitely something on the wind. I can smell it.
Whatever, J. It was nice of you to send your flowers to the other kids like you did. You have such a good heart. Tell me, what was the significance of the few you you kept for yourself?
Well, I knew that I couldn’t bring all those flowers home, so I kept one flower from everyone who sent them to me. I had to keep the bud and the vase from Tommy. The bud opened up today, and it was so pretty. He’s my boy. I need to call him, too. I haven’t talked to him all day.
You going to tell him about Teddy?
Of course not. Why would I tell him that? That’s not his business. He’s my boy and all, like I said, but not like that. I keep my private life private.
You are your mother’s child in that.
Hey, Aunt Pat.
Why did you do that to our book?
Because I could. You and Marnie aren’t the only ones.
It’s no good at all now.
And again, J.J. Hart, whatever. Anything else you want to ask or tell me?
Just that I love you, and thank you for everything, except the book. I don’t thank you for doing that to our book.
I love you too, Squirt. I’ll most likely see you in the morning.
I’ll be glad to see you this time because I’ll be happy to be going home. I hope my mother is finished by the time I get there.
I hope so, too. Good night, J.
Good night, Aunt Pat. Sweet dreams. Tell Uncle Bill the same.
I will. Goodnight.
The buzzing on the line indicated that someone else was trying to call. After hanging up from Pat, J.J. switched over. It was Teddy saying that he was back at home in Boston.
J.J. was just hanging up when Jazz came into her room to check on her one last time before lights out.
“How does that ankle feel after that workout?” She asked, pulling the covers back to take a look at it.
“It’s fine, Jazz. It doesn’t hurt at all.”
“Your father’s a real nice guy, J.J. He reminds me a lot of mine, only yours has a lot more money and can do more fantastic things for you.”
“Thanks.” J.J. answered, and she was struck by the fact that even though they had been together two days, she didn’t really know anything about Jazz. The attention had been so focused upon her and her ankle, that she hadn’t thought about Jazz apart from being her nurse. She was suddenly very interested in knowing more about the person with whom she was sharing her quarters and part of her life.
“May I ask you about your family, Jazz? If I’m being too nosy, you can just tell me. I’ve been told that I’m nosy before. I’m immune to being hurt by it. I’ve accepted that’s just how I am.”
Jazz finished folding the towels and put away the wash basin, then she came and sat down in the chair next to the bed. She crossed her legs and folded her hands in her lap.
“Yes, you may ask.” She said. “Well, let’s’ see. There’s my mother, my father, and my two sisters. I’m the oldest and the first kid in the family to graduate college. My sisters are still in school. That makes my parents proud that we all went to college. Me too, I guess. I went on an athletic scholarship for track, and I just missed the cut to go to the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta. My event would have been Track and Field, of course. My father was my main, my most important coach, and I think my missing out hurt him as much as it hurt me. But I made it up to him by graduating and getting my Bachelors degree with honors. Now I’m just finishing up my Masters degree in nursing. I think that makes him more proud than if I had competed in Atlanta.”
“My father and I went to Atlanta!” J.J. piped up. “His company was involved in some of the technical work. We attended the Track and Field events. Just think, I would have been rooting for you. I think it’s pretty gutsy of you to have made it to the level that you did. Will you ever try again to make the American team again?”
“No, I’m pretty much through with that. I don’t have the time to train like that any more. My life is pretty full at the moment.”
“My father is my main and most important coach, too.” J.J. remarked. “He’s always been my tennis coach, and he’s almost always with me when I run track or I compete. He’s heavily into sports, too. I guess that’s mostly where I get it from.”
“Are you good at tennis too, J.J.?”
“I do okay. It’s just for fun though. I like basketball too, and I’m pretty good, but I’m only serious about running.”
“Are you going to go for the Gold?”
“Who knows, Jazz. I just might if I can get my ankle to act right.”
“That ankle is going to be just fine, J. Young kids like you bounce right back. You’ll see. Next week this time, you might not even remember that you hurt it, if you do what you’re told.”
“What’s your mother like, Jazz?”
“She’s a wonderful lady, J.J. Very sweet and smart. She’s a teacher, which explains why all of us are pursuing higher education. When she was thirty-five, though, she came down with MS. She’s pretty much confined to a wheelchair now, but she tries so hard to do as much as she can for herself.”
Jazz nodded. “My sisters and I help her out a lot, but she doesn’t want us to. It bothers her that she can’t do things for herself sometimes, but we just remind her that’s what family is all about.”
“Oh, Jazz. I’m so sorry about your mother. That must be rough for all of you.”
“Thanks, J. It does get tight sometimes, but blessings seem to always come our way, so things end up working out. The world is full of good people. My fiancé is a very good man. He helps me with school, and helps out with my family things as they come up. He and my father get along really well. Good people come into my life all the time. I hate that my mother has to go through that, but we all just do what we can to make things easier on her. In turn, she keeps trying to be in control of her life as much as she can. It keeps her fighting, so it all works out.”
“You have a fiancé? How are you here with me, then? You’ve been here night and day. When do you see him?”
“He knows the nature of my work, and that sometimes it takes me away. Besides, he’s studying to be a doctor, so he has his own thing to do. After we get married, and we’re finished with school and his residency, we want to open our own sports medicine practice one day.” Then Jazz stopped and smiled. “Who do you think I’m in there on the phone with at night?”
“What’s his name?”
“Bill, like your uncle. He’s big like your uncle, too, only he’s black.”
“I wasn’t even going to go there.” J.J. grinned. “Is he cute?”
“I said I was marrying him, didn’t I?” Jazz answered. “Of course he’s cute. I don’t want to get married and be waking up next to Frankenstein every morning. You keep that in mind when it’s your turn. A guy doesn’t have to be drop dead gorgeous, but you don’t want him stop-a-clock ugly either.”
They both laughed.
“So, how was your visit with that cute Mr. Teddy? Is he your boyfriend now? He seems to like you an awful lot. Tracked you down and everything. It must be nice to have the kind of money that just lets you move like you want to.”
“It was fine. We had fun. He’s only here because of coincidence. His father had some work here and Teddy came with him, hoping that we could hook up. I doubt that his father would have let him come on his own. I showed you the puppet he brought me.”
“Yeah, a genie puppet. What’s that all about?”
“It symbolizes his ability to just pop up wherever he wants. It’s been like magic with him and me. But no, he’s not my boyfriend.”
“You really like him?”
“He’s very nice. I like him a lot, but not for a boyfriend. I don’t think I want any boyfriends right now.”
“How come? I thought all sixteen year old girls were looking to hook up with somebody. I was at your age, even though I didn’t. You’re awfully cute yourself, and you seem very nice. That phone of yours never stops ringing. I’m willing to bet that eighty percent of those call are from boys.”
“You’re stereotyping sixteen year old girls, Jazz. I would expect that you, of all people, would know better.”
Jazz smiled in acknowledgement of what she was really saying.
J.J. went on. “Seriously though, I’m not ready for all the stuff that goes with dating. I don’t want to be tied to one person right now. Dating exclusively is kind of like being married, and I don’t want that for myself at this point. I don’t want to be involved in the jealousy and drama that goes with all of that. Besides, Teddy lives here and I live out west. That’s too far to be trying to keep tabs on one another. The way that it is now, I see him when I see him. He sees me when he sees me. We can talk on the phone and email when we feel like it. I just want to be me by myself for now.”
“I think that’s a great attitude to have, J.J. More girls ought to take their time like that when it comes to boys. I didn’t date because I was too busy studying and running. You need to have a talk with my baby sister, the one just out of high school and on the wild up at college. What about your girl, Marnie?”
“Goes through guys like Kleenex.” J.J. said with a wave of her hand. “She has issues, and they come out in how she does boys. She likes the attention they give her, but she doesn’t really have a use for them once she knows she’s got their eye. She sort of uses them, I guess, to feed her ego, but the guys seem to like being used by her, so…”
“Did you get to talk to your mother at all today, J.?”
“No, but it’s okay.”
Jazz tilted her head a little to study her patient’s face. “You sure?”
“I am. I really am. I know it probably seems strange to you that she hasn’t been here, but believe me, she’s not in any way negligent. In fact, she really on the other extreme most of the time. She’s the best. But right now there’s some things going on in her life that she has to handle. She knows I’m in good hands between Daddy, Aunt Pat, and you. I’d be lying to you if I said I haven’t missed her while I was here. I’ve missed her like crazy, and I wish she had come, but that was how it had to be this time.”
Jazz stood and stretched. “Well, J., I’m turning in. You’ve got your water, your books, your music, and your phone. Do not be on that phone all night. Do you hear me?”
“Yes, Warden. I hear you. Teddy’s already called. I just have to call Marnie and Tommy, and then that’s it.”
“About this Tommy-”
J.J. held up her hand to stop her. “Don’t even ask. He’s just another friend.”
Jazz smiled and started out. Just as she got to the door, J.J. called out, “Hey, Ms. Nurse Jones!”
“I’ve enjoyed. Thank you.”
“I’ve enjoyed, too, Miss Hart. It’s been my distinct pleasure.”
Once she was all alone in her room, J.J. reached down for the shopping bag that Marnie had left with her. She pulled it up onto the bed with her and emptied out the contents, a bound leather scrapbook and a cardboard cylinder.
She picked up the book and smiled. It was a fine looking book. Pat had it engraved with the words “Gresham Hall Reunion, Year 2001, in gold script; but both ends of the book were bound, making it impossible to open it to see what was inside. A laugh sputtered its way through her nose and she put her hand to her mouth to keep Jazz from hearing her. Aunt Pat had fixed both hers and Marnie’s wagons. No, they weren’t the only ones. Aunt Pat was good. Really, really good.
But, there were still those other copies of the pictures- the ones she had Dee make extras of…
Pushing the book back into the bag, she picked up the cylinder, twisted off the lid and pulled out a large rolled up sheet of heavy drawing paper. It was a pencil sketch, a collage that Dee had composed of all of their faces. There was Madison and her sister, Dakota; Dee, Marnie, Josh, Frank, and Teddy. Her face was drawn in the center of all the others. Everyone looked exactly like themselves. It was as if it had been done by a professional artist. Dee definitely had a phenomenal talent in that area. The note she sent with the drawing said that it was a gift for giving all of them such a good time that weekend.
She had given them? Putting the sketch down in her lap, J.J. lay her head back to think.
Aunt Pat said that she got too much attention, but the attention she got wasn’t attention that she consciously sought after. It just came her way on its own. But why?
Was that a good thing or a bad thing? She had only known Dee for a little more than a weekend, but that of sketch of hers was saying the same thing. The action at Gresham did seem to center around her, but that was because she got hurt, wasn’t it? There had been the unwanted attention from that stalker, Allen Baker, earlier that year, but that wasn’t good. Wesley was paying too much attention, and that wasn’t good either. But that situation was going to be rectified as soon as they got back to LA. His name and his number were turning up far too often lately, and enough was enough.
Her parents paid attention, but that was good. Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill did too, and that was good. Her friends listened when she spoke, and that was good. But why did they all pay attention in the first place? What made some people get noticed and others ignored? What was it about her that put the spotlight on her. Was it her or was it who people though she was?
Where in the world was Jennifer Hart when her daughter had so many questions and needed her help to find the answers to them? Where in the world was she, period?
All through her time with Teddy that afternoon, although she immensely enjoyed being in his company; in the back of her mind there had been a sort of desolate, nagging, worrying thought that she hadn’t seen or talked to her mother. All that day, even though she knew it wouldn’t, she kept waiting for the phone to ring and for that voice to be at the other end. That evening, when everyone came to visit, although she felt like it wasn’t going to happen, she was still a little disappointed to not see that face. Pa hadn’t come either, but he did call while they were all there. She loved Pa, but it wasn’t him that she missed.
“Please God, don’t let her be up there hurting.” She closed her eyes and prayed in earnest. “Let her be okay. Grandmama, help her like you help me. She was first, you know. She’s older, but she needs you just as much. I’ve had her and my Daddy to teach me to hold my own. You didn’t have time to finish with her, and then Pa was on his own with her. But he wasn’t you. A girl needs her mother.”
When Jazz came back in, she found J.J. sleeping with the shopping bag across her legs and her hand resting on top of the sketch her friend had brought her earlier. She rolled the sketch back up and put it back into the canister from which it had come. Then she stuck it down into the shopping bag, and set it all back on the floor next to the bed.
She didn’t usually get emotionally involved with her patients, especially the rich white ones to whom she was usually assigned for private duty. Quite often they were aloof pains in the butt who tended to try to treat the staff like pieces of furniture, and she would find herself having to assert her position of responsibility and liability, which a couple of times resulted in her being reported for having a “bad attitude”. But she had come to that place in her young life where she realized that she was good at what she did, and that was how assertiveness in a woman, especially a woman of color like herself, was sometimes perceived. She respected all people, and for the most part she received that same respect in turn, which was really all she wanted anyway.
But there was something about that sleeping girl and her family that was very different. The genuine concern and affection between them all was almost tangible in the way that they came to see to J.J.’s needs, and in how they interacted during their group visits. She had been especially touched by J.J.’s few words about her mother. She hadn’t done a lot of talking about her in their time together, but reading between the lines of what was said and what she had observed, the depth of her feelings for the woman were evident. Mrs. Hart’s absence had been glaringly obvious, and how deeply it affected J.J. even more so. Where someone else might have taken what the child said as taking up for a negligent parent, somehow she got the feeling that what J.J. said about her mother was legitimate. She had spoken with the lady in person and on the phone, and it was evident that she was concerned and that she was a good mother, but how the woman could stay away from a child that precious was hard to understand. However, she must have had her reasons, just as J.J. said she did. That was the only logical explanation.
The father was a jewel of a man. He took excellent care of his kid, going above and beyond the call of duty to ensure her comfort and happiness. It was obvious that she was the apple of his eye, and it was apparent that his compassion for others was just as sincere. Even when he had been all over Marnie about sneaking off to that recreation room to be with all those boys, he had checked her in a way that wasn’t embarrassing for her and that conveyed his concern for her well-being. It probably even made Marnie think about it for a moment, although she didn’t think it was likely to change anything in her. She could tell that Marnie was an unlit firecracker just waiting for the right flame.
She smoothed the covers over J.J. and patted her cheek. The girl’s last name was Hart, and it wasn’t without reason. She and her father were all of that and then some.
Usually she didn’t get emotionally involved with her patients…
Jennifer sat up in the chair while Jonathan lie sated and soundly sleeping on his side on the couch. With her bare feet pressed against his warm back and the blanket wrapped around her legs and body, using the book light he had brought up to her, she was up to the twenty-third year in her mother’s journals.
Following her experience with the trunk and the resulting meltdown, she’d fought mightily to regain her composure, not wanting Jonathan to return and find her in that state. Aside from that one break she had taken when he returned from his visit with J.J., she had spent that entire afternoon and evening trying to renew her spirit and to bolster her resolve to continue by bracing herself up with what was left of the rock, her mother’s words.
Loose and relaxed from having made love, she was finding the reading a tough go. Under normal circumstances, she would have been the one to fall asleep, but this time the slumber hadn’t come for her. She knew that he was tired; he had been holding all of them up, and that last effort on his part had expended whatever reserve energy he might have had. He had fallen right off into a deep sleep immediately after.
When she could hear him softly snoring behind her, she’d extricated herself from his embrace, covered him with the one blanket, wrapped herself in the other and moved to the chair to take up where she had left off. But in that more lethargic state, it was harder to concentrate. She had read far too much that day, anyway. Switching off the light, and lying the book down in her lap, she gently rubbed her eyes and then closed them to rest, remember, and reflect.
She had carefully repacked all the things she’d removed from the trunk and closed the top down on them once again. Then she drug it from the spot in which it had been for so long to a place over by the stairs. That trunk and its contents would leave the attic when she did. It would go down to the main house to be housed in that bedroom which she had claimed for her own. That dress and that ring inside were Briarwood, the Christening gown, a symbol of what made Briarwood what had been, a place built from the union of two people in love. Those items had once belonged to the lady of the manor house. Circumstances had caused them to almost miss a step in their passage through family history, but they had been discovered that day like some long buried treasure, and summarily cataloged. They still rightfully belonged to the lady of the manor, and they would be passed on to her when she came of age.
All of it would be hers, except for the contents of the shallow box at the top and the journals. Those things in the box would leave Briarwood when she left and would join the things in that locked drawer in the desk at Willow Pond. The journals would stay up there in the attic, where apparently, they had always been. After she was gone, the succeeding lady of both those houses would have her memories, a solid rock of history in both places upon which she could lean should she ever need to do so, but J.J. could already stand pretty well on her own.
Jonathan had returned bearing sandwiches, fruit, wine, water and a note from Rosa saying that she had spoken with Marie at home about her not eating, and that Marie had sent instructions that the note be delivered to her, demanding that she eat. The note tickled her. Marie was always fussing about how lightly she ate in comparison to Jonathan and J.J.’s hearty, lumberjack appetites. Ever since the time she had been hospitalized for pneumonia a couple of years back, Marie had made monitoring her health and well-being one of her additional duties. It had become almost a personal mission for her, and it was nice knowing that she thought of her in that way.
By the time he came up the stairs, the trunk was repacked and she had returned to the couch and was once again reading, appreciating the passionate, interestingly complex relationship between her mother and father, trying to understand the dynamics between her mother and Aunt Sabrina; and basking in her mother’s loving words for her only child. The woman could really tell a story, writing her thoughts so clearly that it was like seeing inside her head.
…All the things she’d done as a small child had been duly noted, documented for all time: first tooth, first word, first steps, first transgressions, they were all right there. Would J.J. be as surprised and amused one day as she sat in the loft, reading at Willow Pond?
She’d seen it when Jonathan’s eyes lit upon the trunk, but he didn’t ask, and for that she was grateful. The discovery was too raw to speak of at that time, and she might not have made it through the telling. He had also seen the guns, and after putting the tray down on the coffee table, he had gone over to examine them, but made no comment at all.
He handed her the note from Rosa, then they ate while he told her of his visit with their daughter. As he was describing having caught J.J. and Teddy kissing, she had almost laughed out loud at his alarm. Nothing took him out of his usual calm like something he considered to be negative or unusual going on with J.J. could.
Her first cold as a tiny baby kept him up all night in the nursery, sitting in the rocker or lying on the daybed as he held her in his arms or on his chest. No amount of pleading on her part could convince him to come back to bed in their room. Until J.J.’s nose was no longer stuffy and her little sneezes and coughs abated, he remained right there with her. When she was cutting teeth, she soothed her sore gums by gnawing and drooling on her father’s fingers. The sight of it had been disgusting and she was sure that it was unsanitary but J.J. loved it, and so did he. Her spitting up on his expensive custom made suits and shirts was a joke to him as long as the spit-up wasn’t from her being sick. And the time J.J. fell from the horse and knocked herself out up at the cabin, the paramedics almost had to treat him, too.
His baby kissing a boy? That was the limit.
He just didn’t know; that was only the beginning. What would he do if she came home with a hickey? How much time would he lose off his life when she …
She’d sat and said nothing while he spoke of his experience, and of how casually J.J. had responded even though she had to know that he saw her. There was nothing to say without it leading to another argument. J.J. was no longer a baby, and there was no way to keep her one. From what he’d said of her behavior, it sounded as if she had control of the situation and had handled herself like the lady she was being taught to be.
It was so funny that he couldn’t see his own charming casual sexiness emerging in his child, and that he was inadvertently nurturing and feeding into it. After all, who set up the romantic dinner for two? Who taught her how to dance with a man? Who treated her like an elegant lady when he took her out with him? Who spoiled and indulged her shamelessly? Who insisted on the finest of everything for her? Who was it that taught her, “Never let them see you sweat, baby.”?
J.J. took the lessons she was taught, and had no problem with turning them around and using them on the teacher. The earliest, most definitive evidence of that came when she had been around four and a half and was serving time on house arrest for something she’d done that could no longer be recalled. She’d eased down the back staircase after waking from another out-of-harm’s-way nap, and came around to the front of the desk where she stood, leaning silently against it and staring until it was impossible to ignore her any longer.
“What is it, J.J.?”
“When can I go outside to play again, Mommy?”
“I told you that you’ll go when I think you’ve learned your lesson, J.J.”
J.J. stood, her arms folded across her chest, still leaned against the desk, continuing to stare at her with her father’s penetrating azure eyes, clearing indicationg here was something more on her mind.
“What is it, J.J.?”
“Mommy, how will you know I learned my lesson if you don’t let me go back outside? I did bad outside, not inside. I wasn’t bad in my room.”
Game, set, match.
J.J. had always been mischievous and a quick study. That she was a thinker and a schemer, became crystal clear that day. With age and continued experience with life and with house arrest, she had only gotten better at it.
J.J. knew that she had been caught kissing by her father, but she just was not going to let him see her sweat over it. That girl had inherited more of what, until recently, she had considered Jonathan’s ways than hers, and he knew it; and he was mighty proud of it. But for all of his strong powers of observation, he really could not see that sexual component of it. He complained of J.J.’s lack of inhibitions, and blamed her French roots for it, but she came by it honestly- directly from him, and that route might have been French too. There was a reason why he could understand spoken French even though he had never studied it, and couldn’t write, read, or speak it very well.
As always when these things came up, she wondered if he would be so bent out of shape if J.J. Hart had been born Jonathan Hart II. If he had walked up on his son kissing somebody else’s daughter, more than likely, he would be high-fiving the boy for it. At the very least, he would have been patting himself on the back for having sired a chip off the old block.
Well, too bad, too sad. J.J. Hart was one hundred percent girl, just as her mother and her Aunt Pat specially requested, and she was a chip off that old block, all right. Definitely her daddy’s girl, just like he liked it.
But she was her mother’s heart.
Her continued silence on the subject, she knew, had agitated him even more, but he had sense enough to know what it meant, and he left that topic to go on to that hopeless little flirt, Marnie. Smiling to herself, she wished she had been the one to walk up on that situation, picturing in her mind the horrified look on that dimpled, pixie face when it looked up from the game to see her standing there.
If nothing else, Marnie had excellent timing; she knew just when to pull the stunts she pulled. Knowing that her greatest obstacle was busy up in the attic of the guest house, she knew the coast would be clear for her to make her move. She knew just who to hit up to take her to the hospital, and she had banked on J.J.’s mother not coming down that evening to visit, and on J.J. being occupied with Teddy. She knew that Pat would show up sooner or later, but she also knew that Pat wouldn’t care. Heck, Pat would probably tell her what a clever job she had done of running over Bill to get to the boys.
Marnie didn’t fear anyone else in the group, except maybe Pa, and she gave him his room. But she had a very healthy respect for Jennifer Hart. Even Marnie’s own mother didn’t have the ability rope that wild filly in like she could. Talking about striking fear in a little vamp-in-the making’s heart. Carl Benson had better be ready for his daughter when she moved in with him once she got back to Los Angeles because whether he knew it or not, he had his work cut out for him. Marnie Elaine Benson required monitoring twenty-four-seven.
When Jonathan saw that neither story was going to get a rise out of her, he let the entire thing drop and switched his conversation to general things, such as what was going on with everyone else: J.J.’s recovery and the plans he had set up for her once she was back at Briarwood, how her father was doing and that he had asked after her, Bill’s meeting with Teddy Sr., and how much they actually seemed to hit it off once they sat down to talk business.
But she hadn’t had much to say to any of that either. All of it seemed so detached and far away. None of that down there, below the attic, seemed all that real to at the time.
That was why she was so glad to have him there. Although he was from the other side, he was the bridge that kept her connected to reality. In the driven state that she was, she could easily have closed herself up in that room until she found the reason for which she was compelled to stay up there. There was something about his presence that strengthened and at the same time, calmed her. When he was up there with her, even with him asleep like he was, the room didn’t seem so large, so gloomy, so devoid of life.
After they ate, it had begun to grow dark. As they enjoyed the glasses of wine he had poured, he once again lit the fire, and then he had come to her.
“I miss you, Jennifer.”
“Jonathan, I haven’t gone anywhere.”
“Your body is here, but you’re a million miles away. Outside in the boat, I kissed your lips, they kissed me back, but you weren’t behind them. I’ve been talking to you, but you haven’t said very much of anything. I know that you’ve been preoccupied, but where are you, sweetheart? You’ve been leaving me a little bit at a time ever since the reunion. Now you’re up here, and I’m here with you, but it’s like there’s still something keeping you from me.”
“I know that I haven’t been myself, Jonathan, and you know the reasons why. I think you know more about it than I think you know, if that makes sense. But understand, nothing in the world could keep me from you. Nothing and nobody.”
He had seated himself on the arm of the chair in which she had been sitting. Slowly, she got up and stood before him to unzip the dressing gown which she pushed from her shoulders and let fall from her.
“As you can see, there’s nothing here keeping me from you. The only thing between us now is what you have on. Are you going to turn me down again?”
“Not twice.” He said, drawing her into his arms. His kisses and caresses seemed to feed her spirit. His touch warmed her and eased the numbness that was trying to overtake her without her even having been aware of it.
He moved her to the couch where he continued to relax her mind and arouse her body in the way that only he knew how to do. Then stopping and rising to stand over her, his eyes never leaving her, he got out of his clothes and came back to her.
As they lie together, wrapped totally in each other, he suddenly took his mouth from hers, brushed her hair back and looked into her eyes.
“What would your mother think?” He’d asked. “Us being up here like this in her room?”
“From what I’ve read so far, I think she would consider me a very lucky girl.”
“Do you think she would mind me making love to you whenever, however, wherever, and always?”
“You already have a good start on whenever and however, Jonathan. I would think that if you haven’t yet been struck in the behind by that lightning bolt in all these years, you don’t really have anything to worry about at this point with wherever and always.”
“I love you so much. I just want you back.”
“You have me.” Was her answer as she maneuvered herself into position to straddle his body and leaned down to kiss him, mouthing, “I love you, too.”
She figured he had done all the running around that day, gallantly going about seeing to everyone else’s needs. He had done enough. It was his turn to lie back and have his needs met.
With their only light coming from the undulating flames, their bodies joined in ecstasy on her mother’s couch, they filled the long quiet room with the soft sounds of their love. She’d had no shame as she boldly took him to the peak of ecstasy and then eased back off, only to slowly, maddeningly take him there again. He was such a good man and such a good lover, and he provided so much of everything while asking so little in return.
But in the end, it was he who took control of the session, masterfully rolling her over onto her back without leaving her, to drive them both home. It was expending that last burst of energy on his part that finished him. Judging by the fact that he hadn’t moved in some time, she figured that he would probably sleep for the rest of the night.
As she mentally replayed those final delicious moments, she was mildly startled by the sound of her own contented, involuntary hum in the stillness of the setting.
According to the journals, her mother and father had been a passionate couple as well. They had found some rather creative locations of their own for their romantic trysts.
As a child, during her two week visits to France to see Aunt Sabrina, she always thought that her father came home from his travels to keep her mother company in her absence. It turned out that he was keeping her company all right- all over the main house, in the side gardens, in the woods, by the lake, on the boat, down in the wine cellar, in the guest house, – it had been unbelievable, well maybe not unbelievable, but truly unexpected, considering the person she thought she knew her father to be. Reading about it had been like that proverbial train wreck, she didn’t want to, but she had to slow down and take a look.
One other thing stood out in that. Suzanne Edwards never mentioned bringing her husband up to that attic with her. When she spoke of coming to her ‘garret’, she was always alone. As cozy as it must have been back then, it would have been an ideal place for two lovers to meet for a little private time away from the child.
She had also spoken of her ‘writings’, but it wasn’t just the journals she was writing. It was something else. That something else was probably on that desk, written on those papers she had started to read the previous evening. Those folders were on that desk to which she hadn’t been able to bring herself to sit all that afternoon. She had seen part of something on the night before as she’d sat there, but in the light of day, following her experience with the trunk; it had been too painful to even try to get close to it again. The desk had been avoided the entire time that she had been back up there.
All of that had been forgotten when she had been with Jonathan. Whenever they were together in that manner, everything and everyone else ceased to exist. Even after all their married years, and at a time in their lives when a lot of couples had put that physical part of their relationship largely behind them, they still enjoyed pleasuring each other in that way as often and as intensely as possible. Jonathan sometimes smugly marveled at his enduring prowess and stamina for a man of his age, and she had to admit, he had good reason. But then, he did have the right someone with whom he could work his magic. She didn’t consider herself a slouch in that department either, and knew that she could still give as good as she got. Those workouts through which she still regularly put herself weren’t only meant to keep her body looking good. The proof of that other purpose lie comatose on the couch. Watching him sleep, that bit of private, personal arrogance made her smile to herself in satisfaction.
She wondered, too, what her mother really would think of her if she knew all the things she had done in her life, the mistakes she’d made, the times she’d stumbled, and how well things had turned out in the end. Her mind said that she would have been happy for her happy ending. But, then she realized that had her mother lived, things would have happened very differently, and nothing would be as it was.
There wouldn’t have been any Gresham Hall and she wouldn’t have met Pat. She and her father wouldn’t have gotten to know each other in the way that they had. She wouldn’t have had so many heartaches, and there wouldn’t have been that time in Australia. But those things, especially the latter one were what indirectly led her to London and into the arms of the love of her life. That union had resulted in another, altogether new someone; the someone who would succeed all of them and be their future. Aside from wishing that her mother could be a part of it, there was nothing that could make things in her life better than what they were.
All things happened for a reason, but it was hard to think that her mother’s dying was the reason she had come into the life she was living. It was all so confusing and frustrating.
J.J. once again danced into her mind, and she wondered if her daughter was thinking about her mother. Probably not, she had been with Teddy all afternoon. Her head was most likely swimming with thoughts of that boy, and she wasn’t giving her mother a second thought.
J.J. might like Teddy a bit more and differently than she liked other boys at the moment, but he wasn’t what she was thinking about all by herself in that hospital. How many times had she had to remind J.J. that she wasn’t the mother in their relationship? Sitting there in the chair with her eyes closed, she could almost feel that girl wondering where she was, what she was doing, why she hadn’t come, and if she was all right. She had probably asked Jonathan a million questions that morning when he called her to say that Pat was coming instead, and she had probably been a lot more forceful about it than he had intimated in their conversation about her that morning. If J.J. wanted to know something, and the subject really mattered to her, she didn’t really care how she sounded when she put the questions that she wanted answered on the table.
Then it came to her. Scarlett O’hara.
That was who Aunt Sabrina sounded like in the journals. She sounded like Scarlett O’hara from Gone With the Wind: rich, spoiled, pretty, headstrong, and desirous of the one thing she couldn’t have, Ashley Wilkes alias Stephen Edwards. She had been jealous and hurt. That was all it was.
The realization pulled her forward in the chair until she was sitting upright with her hands resting on that journal in her lap. All of a sudden, that part of it was coming together.
It had to have been the ultimate rejection. Aunt Sabrina had scoped out Stephen Edwards first and had gotten his attention. But it was the sister to whom he had been attracted- theidentical twin sister! Sabrina had been rejected by him on the basis of her person, not her looks. In that situation it couldn’t be blamed on her sister being prettier, or taller, or having better hair, prettier eyes, or shapelier legs. Stephen had chosen Suzanne over Sabrina solely because of who she was and who Sabrina was not. It was strictly because Suzanne had been who he preferred.
God, that had to hurt. Sabrina was only sixteen when that happened, just a child.
Sabrina had been the gregarious twin, the one who got all the attention. The entire family tended to cater to her, their squeaky wheel. Even though they weren’t allowed to have male callers, the tall, pretty Roussel twins got plenty of male attention, although Sabrina was the only one to respond to any of it. Suzanne said that boys made her nervous and edgy. She was less sure of their intentions toward her than Sabrina, who tended not to care why, as long as the attention itself came her way. The earlier journals talked about Sabrina’s ‘tantrums and noise’ at not being allowed to date the boys who were interested in her, and of how Suzanne wished she would just “shut up about it or speak for herself alone”. That is, until Stephen Edwards came into their lives. Suzanne said that after a few days of talking, she knew he was the one for her. He was the first young man with whom she felt comfortable and compatible.
As it turned out, Papa Henri allowed him to see her after meeting with his daughter’s prospective suitor in Paris, even though she was only sixteen and he was a man of twenty-one. Sabrina had been outraged at the entire turn of events. Despite her best efforts to have it all, it seemed that Suzanne, who customarily deferred to her, had for once gotten and held onto something that she thought she wanted. And in getting him, Stephen Edwards was someone/something that Sabrina could never have. Sabrina was not one who accepted the word “no” without a fight. She was still that way.
Thinking on it, it was no wonder that she kept trying to attract her sister’s beau. She had actually been trying to prove something to herself, not to hurt anyone. She had been trying to fix the hurt within herself- and her more self-assured sister understood and wasn’t angry with her. Perhaps that explained her life-long single status and her still steady flow of male friends. Maybe she was still trying to prove something to herself.
But Suzanne said that she understood, and that she wasn’t angry with her sister. She wrote that it was her husband with whom she took issue. She wrote that she’d told her husband that if he ever succumbed to Sabrina’s or any woman’s wanton ways while he was traveling away from her and out of her sight, she would leave him flat and take their child back to France with her. There would be no questions asked, no explanations accepted, no second chances offered. She’d written that she told him that she held him responsible for his actions because it was he who stood next to her and vowed before God to keep himself only unto her. Sabrina, she said, had made no such promise to her. They were sisters, they were twins, but they were also women, and she knew the ways of women and weak men. She hadn’t married a man she considered to be weak. Other women he might encounter in the world hadn’t made that vow to her either, and she said that she wasn’t going to waste her time and her life sitting at home, worrying about a wayward husband. She had to know that she could trust him, and he had promised her that she could. In turn, she assured him that he would never have to worry about her. It was he who had made her a woman on their wedding night. She was his woman, and she would remain his woman until the day she died- unless he screwed up.
Jennifer sat back again, her hands still on the book. What a woman Suzanne Edwards had been.
J.J.’s explanation for not getting exclusively involved with anyone seemed to mirror that philosophy. She said that she didn’t want to get wrapped up in the “drama” that went along with dating. In listening to her and reading between the lines of what she said, basically, what it boiled down to was that J.J. saw boys as not being ready for her, and she was not ready to deal with boys. From the time she was a little girl, and could differentiate between the sexes, her opinion of males, as a group, matured in its wording, but never seemed to waver in its meaning. She saw them as “generally egotistical and immature”, but she did allow that there were a few exceptions to that, starting with her father. Teddy might like J.J., and she might be attracted to him, but for the time being, he would only be allowed to get so close to her. To do more would require J.J. to open herself, figuratively as well as literally, in a way that she wasn’t mentally or emotionally ready to do.
Then she laughed to softly herself. It occurred to her that out of all the boys J.J. knew and had known over the years, she was finally taken with one. But conveniently, this young man lived on the other side of the country, a safe distance away. For the majority of the time, he would live his life in Boston and she would live hers in California, and when they did happen to have occasion to get together, they could be glad to see each other. There wouldn’t be that day to day, in each other’s faces type thing. Smart girl, that J.J.
In that, she was a chip off that other block, the one who also had not believed in having ‘locals’ as anything other than friends. There had been other men before Jonathan, but she only ever said “I love you” to one- the one lying across from her on the couch with her feet pressed up against his back.
In the end, she figured, if J.J. wound up with anybody, it would probably be an older man. Someone more settled and better able to accept her intelligence and independence. Most young men would be intimidated by her refusal to defer to a male and by her tendency to speak her mind. To date, there was only one she could say who gave the impression that one day he might fit the bill and it wasn’t Teddy. The jury was still out on Teddy.
J.J. had already caught the eyes of an older gentleman, although he was trying ever so hard to fight it and get on with his life. He was twelve years older, way too old to be even remotely interested in a sixteen year old, but still it had happened, and J.J.’s mother was very aware of it.
It had come to her attention at J.J.’s last birthday party, her Sweet Sixteen party. He and his crew had come as a personal favor to J.J. and to Jonathan to photograph the event for her. But as she and Pat walked behind J.J. as she descended the front staircase to join her guests, she had seen the look on Russell Thomas’s face as he took J.J. in from where he was standing, facing them at the bottom. J.J. had been gorgeous that night, barefoot and dressed all in powder blue: a tight top and an equally tight pair of suede jeans with long fringes down the legs. It was one of those moments in a young girl’s life when she is at her absolute best, and J.J. certainly had been at that moment. For the balance of the evening Russell had almost been non-functional for trying to deal with his feelings after being smacked soundly between the eyes by them. Looking on as J.J., oblivious to it all, ran down to him and innocently hugged him in greeting, her own heart had almost stopped. To J.J., he was just her friend Russell, the photographer who had taken her school pictures, her Mission Street Charity Ball pictures, and the man who had rescued her mother from someone who had tried to hurt her at that ball earlier that year.
Since that time at the ball, Russell had joined Hart Industries and had taken every opportunity to avoid any situation that would put him in close proximity with J.J. He had declined a couple of invitations to company functions at Willow Pond. Earlier that year, Jonathan had invited Russell to accompany him on a business trip that he and J.J. took to Chicago, but at the last minute something conveniently came up that kept Russell from going. His efforts to distance himself from that child were admirable as well as wise. It was a precarious situation for him on many levels.
He was twenty-eight to her sixteen, and he was now a Hart Industries division head, which made Jonathan his boss. Jonathan trusted Russell implicitly, and as he had turned out to be an intelligent, industrious young man, there were big plans in the works for him. On top of all of that, Russell had also come to know what an astute individual Jonathan Hart happened to be, and if the man ever got a line on that…
But fortunately for all of them, the bottom line was that Russell was a decent man. There was no way that he would do anything improper to or with J.J. He had never been anything but decent and extremely protective toward her, but until J.J. Hart was eighteen, her mother would be keeping her guard up and her eye on her child.
“So much.” She finally sighed quietly, moving the book to the table, lying it face down so that she could pick right back up in the same place.
So much to think about. So far to go.
The fire had died down to glowing embers, and wrapping the blanket tightly around herself, she got up to put more wood on it. When it was once again burning strongly, she turned to come back, and was astonished to see that Jonathan was awake. He had turned over to face her, and was propped up on one elbow, watching her. As she approached him, he held open the blanket that covered him, inviting her in.
“Come on.” Was all he said. “Sleep.”
Suddenly very, very tired, she allowed her blanket to fall to the floor and joined him underneath his. Whatever it was would wait until morning. It had waited forty-four years; it could wait a few more hours.