Passages: Part Six

Part Six

“One day, Teddy. I promise I’m going to be able to walk beside you. You won’t always have to be wheeling me around in a chair.”

Teddy had taken her to a shady corner table of the patio on her wing and had brought his chair around so that he was sitting next to her.

“We managed to walk together for a little while before you fell.” He smiled. “What I can’t wait for is to go riding with you again. You really are something. When you took off across that field and left me like that, I couldn’t believe it. You didn’t look like a girl who could do that. There you go riding off like a madwoman, and it’s not until you get down off the horse to walk with me that you fall and hurt your ankle. Some luck. Who taught you to ride like that?”

“I taught myself to race, but about who taught me to ride, you know, that’s a very good question. I don’t remember learning how. I just always could. My mother says that my father started taking me out riding with him when I was just a month old. I got my first horse when I was six months old. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been able to ride. Both my parents have showed me different things from time to time, but for me it was like walking; I don’t remember learning to do it. I guess if we lived on the ranch full time rather than in Bel Air, I’d probably be bow-legged by now.”

“Your parents have a ranch, too?”

Not wanting to sound as if she were boasting or to give too much information away too soon about her parents’ financial position, she quickly answered. “Just a little place in Colorado. Just outside of Durango.”

She refrained from telling him that up until a few years before, her father had maintained two ranches; a much smaller place within driving distance, down in southern California, as well as that huge spread they still had in Colorado. He didn’t need to know all of that.

“Tell me about your parents’ horse farm.” She asked, trying to turn the focus from herself.

“It’s in Virginia, like I told you before.” He answered. “How come you don’t like talking about yourself, J.J.? Just the little bit I knew about you before I met you told me that you live quite a life. In person, you seem even more interesting, but whenever we talk about you, you change the subject. I know your parents have money, but I really would like to get to know you, the person. I want to know J.J. Hart, not the Mission Street Girl.”

Reddening just a bit at being put on the spot and amused again about the reference to the Mission Street Fundraiser pictures, she answered. “There’s not so much to me actually. For me learning about other people and the things they do is so much more interesting.”

“But that’s how it is for me, too. I’m a people person. There’s nothing I like better than smoozing and networking.” He countered. “But I really want to know about you.”

“Okay, I give. Like what, Teddy? What would you like to know about me?”

“I already know that you like music and sound. I know you throw good parties so that means you probably like to dance. I know you like horses and that you can ride like the wind. I know you’re smart, but tell me, do you actually like school?”

“I love school.”

“You like music. Who’s your favorite musician?”

“Elton John and Billy Joel- piano men. I play piano.”

“What do you do for fun?”

“What don’t I do? If it’s fun, I’m doing it.”

“What’s your favorite color?”

“Powder blue.”

“What’s your favorite food?”

“Anything except cauliflower. I’m not picky. I’ll eat anything.”

“Your favorite drink?”

“Coke. When I’m grown, it’ll probably be rum and Coke. I’ve snuck and had that before a couple of times. It’s the bomb.”

“What’s your favorite movie?”

“Now Voyager.”

He looked perplexed.

“It’s a real old movie.” She explained. “I like the original version with Bette Davis. She’s my all-time favorite actress. See, I prefer old movies. Black and whites. My favorite actors are Cary Grant and Clark Gable.”

“Guys like your father.” He wryly observed.

She grinned at the mental comparison that instantly formed in her head.

“I never thought of it quite like that, but you do have a definite point. Now I guess that’s a nice little peek into my psyche, isn’t it? Let’s do you now, Teddy. What do you do for fun?”

“I like to swim and sail, of course. I spend a lot of time in the harbor when I’m home. Love being out on the water. I like to ski, play tennis, work with horses, and I dabble in acting.”

“Acting?”

“I love the theatre and performing. My father isn’t too crazy about me liking it so much, but he goes along with it for now. I do community theatre in Gresham and in Boston. I’ve done some school stuff too. Brookfield and Gresham’s Theatre Arts Departments collaborate on productions. I’ve done some directing too.”

“Hmph, now that really is something. I’m thoroughly impressed. What’s your favorite color?”

“I have two. Red and navy blue.”

“Favorite food.”

“Grilled T-bone steak with a baked potato. Lots of butter and sour cream. Oh, and don’t forget the A-1 sauce for the steak.”

“Favorite movie?”

“Don’t really have one, but I do like action flicks. James Bond movies, the ones with Sean Connery; I like them a lot. Don’t really have a favorite actor or actress, though. I prefer live theatre. Got another question for you.”

“What?”

By this time she was sitting forward in the wheelchair thoroughly enjoying the back and forth.

“Who would you say you look up to? If you had to pick a hero, who would it be?” He challenged. “As confident as you seem about yourself and everything else, if you have one, it’s got to be somebody great.”

“Oh, that’s real easy.” She said without hesitation and a nonchalant wave of her hand. “Jennifer Edwards Hart. No doubt. Don’t get me wrong, she’s my mother, she has her flaws, and can be a huge pain in the butt sometimes like mothers can be. And to be fair, on that same note, I know I’m one in hers an awful lot, but as a woman she’s still my girl. When my chips are down, I’ve learned that I can always go to her even though she makes it hard for me to want to sometimes, especially when I’ve messed up royally; which I do a lot. Your turn, Teddy. Who’s yours?”

“Easy one for me, too. Theodore Baxter, Sr., my old man. Same reasons as you.”

“You know, Teddy.” She laughed. “Some people might think we’re a little strange. Teenagers aren’t supposed to admit to liking their parents.”

“It’s just us.” He smiled. “Nobody else has to know. I know I won’t be spreading it around.”

He slid his hand onto hers which was resting on the arm of her chair. When he did that, she raised her fingers to lace them through his. He gently squeezed them and then closed her hand in his.

“I hate I got hurt. I hate that I’m in this hospital.” She said. “Seems like all we’ve been able to do is just sit and talk. We could have been having such a good time. There were so many other things we could have done. You have your license. We could have gone places.”

“I’m not complaining. I like talking to you. And besides, I thought we agreed that this was probably for the best.”

Looking up into his eyes, to find him gazing down into hers, she nodded in agreement. “How long will you be here in Maryland?” She asked.

“Until tomorrow night. My father said that he should be finished with Mr. Farrell’s paperwork by then. We’re leaving on a late flight to go on to Virginia to see my mother for a couple of days.”

Her face brightened at hearing that he wasn’t leaving until late. “I get out of here tomorrow. Maybe you can come to my grandfather’s and spend some time before you go? You could come for dinner. Who knows when we’ll see each other after that?”

“Will your parents mind having me there?”

“I’m sure they won’t, but I’ll ask when they come to see me today, and then I’ll call you tonight at Farrell’s to confirm. I don’t think it’ll be a problem, though. They’ve both met you. My father has met your father.”

“Will your grandparents mind?”

“It’s just my grandfather, Teddy. My grandmother died a long time before I was born. I never knew her or my father’s parents either. I just have always had my one grandfather. Are your grandparents living?”

“Yes. Both sets. I’m sorry about your grandmother and your father’s folks. It’s too bad about your not getting to know your grandmothers. Both of mine are great. They’re always sending me stuff at school. But unless it’s something to eat, I usually can’t use any of it. Whatever it is, it’s almost always too tight or too small. One is in New Hampshire and the other is in Long Island. I don’t see them often, and they still think I’m a little kid. I don’t want to hurt their feelings, so I never say anything. I just send them a thank you note and then pass the stuff on to somebody else at school who can fit whatever it is. But it’s nice to know that I’m being thought of by them when I’m away from home.”

She didn’t say anything to that, which caused him to look to her. She was staring out onto the lawn.

“What’s wrong?” He asked.

“Nothing. I was just thinking about my own grandmother, my mother’s mother, and how much I miss her.”

“But I thought you never knew her.”

“Teddy, you know that saying about how you can’t miss what you’ve never had?”

“Yeah.”

“Don’t you believe it. It isn’t true. It isn’t true at all.”

_____________________________________________________________

Since it appeared he would be eating alone, Stephen took his lunch in his study instead of the dining room. The study was where he usually ate when he was at home alone. He had been informed that Jonathan and Bill had gone out for the afternoon. Curious as to what she wanted when she called, and why she hadn’t called back, he’d phoned his granddaughter’s room, but the nurse said that she was outside having lunch on the hospital patio with a guest. Immediately questioning her being out of bed and demanding to know the identity of person with whom she was keeping company, he was informed that her mother had authorized both her mobility and her young male visitor. He had been further surprised to find that Marnie wasn’t there with them, and that neither she nor Patricia had been there at all that morning. Marnie and Patricia had yet to return to the house.

It was his plan to speak with Jennifer about all of it at lunch, but it seemed that she, too, was no where about.

As Walter arranged his tray before him, he asked, “My daughter didn’t call to say that she wouldn’t be having lunch with me?”

“No, she didn’t. In fact, we prepared a meal for her, but she hasn’t come in to the table so far.”

“Is she not in the house?”

“Rosa called up to her room, but there was no answer up there. We paged her personal phone, but she didn’t pick that up either.”

“There’s no way to call out to the guest house.” Stephen mused aloud. “I saw her go in that direction earlier.”

“Mrs. Hart left those lines disconnected, Sir, in anticipation of allowing the new occupants to have their own lines installed to their liking once they were ready to move in.”

“Yes, yes, I remember now that she told me she was what she’d planned.” Stephen sighed. “I guess she’ll turn up sooner or later. Thank you, Walter.”

Jennifer had been angry when last he saw her. Coming to the conclusion that she’d probably taken one of the horses out, he began his meal. Perhaps she’d resurface in time to escort him upstairs when it was time for him to lie down for his afternoon nap. At least he hoped she would.

He’d come to like having her do that.

_____________________________________________________________

The knob which had all her life been in a locked position, had this time mysteriously turned in Jennifer’s hand, and the door which as far as she knew had never been opened, seemed to be inviting her in. Everything had been conveniently falling into place to get her there and to do so when she was alone.

That everything happened for a reason, when it was supposed to happen, and to whom it was supposed to happen was, for her, a basic tenet of life. That belief had sustained her when certain difficult events escaped her understanding and threatened her well-being. It was a rule of survival that she had been teaching to her own child.  Evidently, this was it, the time had come, and she was the selected person. Not wanting to attract the attention of anyone else in the house, Jennifer slipped through that door and quietly closed it behind her.

Although the staircase leading up to the room above was not exceptionally long, when she did begin to climb those stairs, it seemed to take forever before her head finally cleared the floor of the attic. She was surprised to see by the light filtering in through the four octagonal windows that those same large cloths as had been used downstairs and in the passageway outside her father’s room of the main house, were draped all over objects stored in that room.

Clearing the top step, she stopped and stood there, taking everything in, allowing her eyes to adjust to the relative dimness. As she looked around, she was struck by the fact that what she could see of the walls of that room had been covered in what appeared to be expensive, but very dated, wallpaper. Those dust covers had been tucked behind and around things that were affixed to the wall, hanging over and shrouding whatever was underneath in secrecy. Even though she had never known that attic to have been used, and thought that it had always been locked off, it was evident that indeed it had been occupied by someone at one time. The stale air, and the fine curtains of cobwebs that swung gracefully from the rafters above, sparkling in the weak rays of sunlight that managed to filter in through the grimy windows, said that it had been some time since anyone had been there.

Despite the eeriness of the room and the uncertainty of what faced her there, a feeling of serenity slowly began descending upon her. The tension she’d felt upon waking and the anger that had come with her from the garden slowly dissipated. A sense of wonder replaced those emotions as her eyes took in the baseboards, a feature not usually found in an attic. They were elaborate, bearing the same brier rose carvings that could be found in the main house.

Those carvings were her mother’s signature.

Right next to where she stood was a wrought iron railing that kept one from mistakenly walking off the edge of the attic floor and falling down into the stairway. Carefully she raised the cloth from what turned out to be a large overstuffed dark brown leather chair that backed up to that railing. In its seat was a brocade throw pillow and a book, lying face down as if someone had left it there; as if they were planning to come right back for it, and didn’t want to lose the place in which they had been.

From there she turned and came all the way into the room to stand before what she guessed, judging from its oblong shape, was a couch. Taking her time to lift the dust cover away, she found the leather couch underneath was a match for the chair. A Scotch plaid afghan, its long fringes still hanging down over the side was folded on the arm closest to her.  On top of that afghan lie a woman’s white sweater.

Tentatively reaching out, she touched it, then ran her fingers lightly, lovingly over the brittle knitted fibers, as if she were afraid of waking the garment from where it had evidently been resting for over forty years. She studied the intricate pearl beadwork of the bodice and the column of pearl buttons. And she remembered it.

Dizzying swells and rushes of suppressed memory combined with confusion surged forward. She attempted to will it all back, but they burst past the age-old confines, and flooded her head, overpowering her being, knocking her down onto the couch which loudly wheezed its complaint at being so suddenly called back into service after decades of standing idle

With her eyes squeezed shut, a figure, a torso actually, appeared wearing that handsomely elegant, soft white sweater. A hand, with its long fingers, was extended out to her.

_____________________________________________________________

J.J., look at this place!” Teddy exclaimed as he wheeled her back into her room after lunch.

The entire room seemed full of flowers.

Jazz came in from the adjoining room just as they cleared the door. “I was just coming for you.” She said. “Yes, just look at this place. They’ve been coming the whole time that you were outside.”

“Who all sent them?” J.J. asked, looking around in wonder. “When we left, I only had the ones from Teddy.”

Reaching into the pocket of her smock, Jazz pulled out a folded piece of paper. “I made a list.”

Unfolding it, she read from it and gestured with her other hand as she spoke. “That big vase of yellow roses on the window sill, those are from your father. The dozen red ones over there on the table are from your grandfather. Those pink ones are from a Mrs. Steele and Abuelita Fee. Ab-yoo-lee-tah, did I say that right?”

“Yes.” J.J. laughed. “She’s my friend, Tommy’s grandmother. Abuelita is “grandma” in Spanish, and Ms. Fee is very Spanish.”

Jazz continued reading, still pointing with her other hand. “That big airplane balloon and the chocolates are from your Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill. Those different color carnations with the balloons are from “The Wild Bunch. Who’s that, J.J.?”

“My wrecking crew at home.” J.J. grinned. looking up at the “Get Well”, “We Miss You”, and “What’s Up!” balloons floating from the bedrail. “The kids I run with on a regular basis. My mother started calling us that, and we kind of adopted the name. It seemed to fit.”

Jazz reached into her smock pocket again. “And this came with the bud vase over there. It came with the stuff from the “Wild Bunch” but there were special instructions that the bud vase was to be placed next to your bed, and that I was supposed to give this particular note directly to you.”

She handed J.J. a small envelope, and when she opened it; she read the card inside aloud:

“A bud for my bud. Hope you feel better today. I miss you, Girl. Be good, and the ribbon is for all of us waiting for you to come home. Tommy.”

On the vanity, next to her bed and right next to Teddy’s wildflowers sat a single yellow rose in baby’s breath, and a large yellow ribbon was tied around the slim crystal vase.

Putting the card back into the envelope from which it had come, she smiled to herself.

“Is that the Tommy?” Teddy asked, looking down at her, noticing the little smile.

Jazz watched both of them.

Looking up over her head, back at him still standing behind the chair, J.J. answered, “Yes. I told you he was nice, just like you.”

She shifted her gaze back to the flowers in the room. “Everybody’s been so nice. I hope Tommy and the others didn’t “borrow” any credit cards to send this stuff to me. I don’t want to get home, and find everybody on lockdown for theft on my account. It’s happened like that once this summer already. It was a car that time.”

“Bring her on in here.” Jazz instructed. “She needs to rest.”

“You do need to rest, J.” Teddy agreed as he pushed her over to the bed’s side and Jazz got the wheelchair ready for her to get up. “And I’m going to have to head back. I need to return the car to my father in case he has something to do.”

“Aw, Teddy.” She whined. “So soon?”

“J.J., I’ve been here for hours. I’ve imposed upon this nice lady’s hospitality, and I’ve interrupted your father’s plans for you which were for you to stay in bed. You probably need to take a nap.”

“I don’t nap.” She informed him.

“You do when you’re in my care.” Jazz asserted as she and Teddy helped J.J. out of the wheelchair and onto the bed.

As Jazz began to fasten the ankle back into the restraint, J.J. protested, “Do I have to have that? It makes me feel like I’m on the prison ward or something.”

“Your ankle is almost back to normal. The swelling is way down.” Jazz answered, continuing to fasten her in. “This just keeps you from doing anything to it by mistake in your sleep.”

“Keeps me from sleeping too.” J.J. mumbled.

Jazz shot a warning look up from the foot of the bed. “You’re not going to start trying to be difficult now, are you? Your daddy told me that you could be.”

Sighing, J.J. folded her arms and conceded. “I guess not. No sense rocking the boat this late in the game.”

Teddy came back from the other side of the room where he had been putting the wheelchair away and stood next to her, taking her hand. “Be nice. I’ll see you tomorrow at dinner if all goes well.”

“That’s right.” She brightened.

They both looked down at Jazz, who quickly caught the hint. “I need to get something out of my room.” She said, eyeing them as she eased out of the room. “I’ll be right back.”

When she was gone, Teddy leaned over J.J. brushing the loose hair back from her forehead. “I’ll call you tonight.”

“Okay.”

He smiled. “I had fun.”

“Me too. I’m so glad you came to see me. Thank you for the flowers.”

“Thanks for the great day, Miss Hart.”

Placing his finger under her chin, he tipped it up and bent over to kiss her. As their lips met, shivers, like tiny electric charges, shot all through her body. She wanted to reach for him and melt all the way into it, but her mother’s voice sounded in her head, repeating the words, “Chaste and quick”, and “I’m trusting you.”

Reluctantly, she ended it by easing him back with her free hand, telling him, “That was nice.” With a flushed, self-conscious smile.

“It always is when it’s with you.” He replied with a blushing smile of his own.

He stood upright again by her side and released her hand which he had been clutching so tightly. Jazz came back into the room, drying her hands just as there was a knock at the door. Before anyone could go to it, in walked Bill, Doctor Rodgers, and Jonathan Hart just as her cell phone began chiming on the vanity.

_____________________________________________________________

“Look J., I just called to tell you that I don’t know if Aunt Pat and me are going to make it there to see you today… Because I’m with her doing some stuff, that’s why… Aw girl, quit fussing. You know dam- doggone well you liked having him there. It would have ruined the surprise if I had told you he was in town. What were you wearing?… I knew it! I told Aunt Pat that’s what you would have on, although Teddy would have liked you in anything… You needed your life livened up! That’s what girlfriends are for. Get over it… Okay, call me back when your father’s gone so you can give me all the juicy details, and there had better be some, J.J. Hart. You better not have been sitting there with that gorgeous hunk of a boy acting like a nun or a lesbian or something… Did you at least kiss him?… Yeah, whatever. Call me back when all of them are gone. I got some stuff to tell you anyway.  Bye.”

Marnie clicked off and looked over to Pat sitting next to her in the cab as they drove along the highway leaving Logan International Airport in Massachusetts.

“A lesbian?” Pat asked, trying not to laugh.

“Aw, you know how she is, Aunt Pat.” Marnie casually answered as she put her phone down into her purse. “One minute she’s all tomboy and everything. The next she’s looking and acting like a girl, but she she still doesn’t give a rat’s behind about boys. You know, I think even if she really was a lesbian, the guys would still be all over her, trying to convert her and whatnot. J. can reel them in without so much as batting an eye. But, I can never tell what direction the wind is going to blow with her. For real, she’s always a lady all the way, but you can take that being a lady thing too far. Guys lose interest if you play too hard to get all the time.”

Pat just shook her head, mentally amused by the modern parallels in J.J. and Marnie’s friendship in comparison to her own with Jennifer. At the same time, she leafed through the folder of faxed paperwork in her hands, checking it over one more time. Marnie watched her with admiration.

“Thanks.” She quietly said after a moment. “For everything.”

“No problem.” Pat answered, continuing to examine the papers.

“I really mean it.” Marnie insisted. “I have never seen anybody operate like you. It seems like you know everybody and you know how to get anything done. Even my father couldn’t say anything. By the time you got to him, you had it all hooked up. Even he could see that it was for the best. You have really got it going on.  He got you Kyle’s school records, his health records, everything. Then he faxed you his proxy just like that. It’s Saturday, and you were able to get all that stuff done from your office in New York. You made one phone call and flew us to New York, just like that! You knew who to call and what to say, and people just did what you said. Then you got us here and we’re on our way to Brookfield to enroll him. How do you know all those people? Doesn’t it usually take longer than that to get in there?”

Pat put the papers down into her lap and looked to Marnie.

“Yes, it usually does take longer, but like you say, I know the right people. But that didn’t come by accident. It took years, and smarts. You see, all of my life, Marnie, I’ve been on my own. The only person I could count on was me. I didn’t have brothers and sisters; no close relatives except my grandmother, and she died when I was eleven. But before she died, she taught me one good thing that’s stuck with me all of my days. She taught me that if I treated people right, they would do right by me, but that I had to do right by myself first. She said nobody would respect me more than I could respect myself. I’ve lived by that. I don’t let anybody run over me, but in the process, I try not to run over anybody. There have been times that I’ve gone out of my way to help people get out of jams, and people have done that for me. I’m in the business of assisting people. I like people, and I’ve made it my business to know them, to get involved with them. When I do get to know people and they get to know me, I build bridges, and I don’t ever burn my bridges. Even if I fall out with someone down the line, I do it in a way that if I ever need them again, I can go back, and they’ll want to help me. It was actually Dean Marchand who got your brother into Brookfield today. She said that she met you, and she liked you.”

“Me?” Marnie asked in awe. “But I only talked to her a couple of short times.”

“She said that she liked your spirit. Sweetie, you never know who’s looking at you and what they’re looking for when they’re looking at you. Keep your best foot forward always. Don’t be fake about. I mean you should be yourself, but be your best self.”

Marnie nodded in understanding, and Pat continued.

“When I was a student at Gresham Hall, I got on every nerve that lady had, but I was always polite to her. Hell, I knew I was wrong when I did the things that I did. There really wasn’t any room to say anything other than, “Yes Ma’am” when she was chewing you out. She’d have us dead to rights. Despite the fact that she stayed on me for every little thing, I liked her. She paid attention to me and to Jennifer. After I graduated, I kept in touch with her, and she with me. The Brookfield Dean happens to belong to the fraternity that is the brother organization to my college sorority. I’ve known him since those days. He’ll do whatever I need done because I knew him when, but enough said about that.  Marnie, I told you that I like people, and that people like me. But I think the greatest thing I ever learned in life is learning to like myself. I’ve always been self-reliant. I had to be, but I figured out that I was really okay shortly after I met Jennifer. She had to be the sweetest, smartest, most self-reliant girl I had ever met when we first met and got to know each other. She has always known who she is. Her mother did a hell of job with that. When she came to Gresham, she never said a mean or nasty word to anybody, but everybody knew to leave her the hell alone. She gave off that kind of, “I’ll kick your ass and make you like it” air. I liked that about her, and apparently she liked me. She was smart, so none of the teachers could do a thing with her attitude. I figured if somebody like her could like me, then I must be all right. You’re okay, too, kid.  I know that from how much Jennifer loves you, and from what you’re willing to do for your brothers. You’re just a little girl, Marnie, but you’ve already got a woman’s heart. In a minute, you’ll catch up to yourself. In the meantime, you keep being you, and take care of the bridges you build in life. You never know when you’ll have to cross back over them again. You can just consider all of this a little wisdom from your old Aunt Pat.”

Marnie looked questioningly up to Pat. “You think Mrs. H. loves me?”

“She has to love you.” Pat answered. “Otherwise she wouldn’t be bothered with you. She doesn’t do kids in general. You know any other of J.J.’s friends that she spends the kind of quality time and breath on that she does with you?”

Marnie smiled at that, then she asked, “Think I can be like you one day? A wheeler and a dealer?”

“You already are.” Pat smiled. “Who had the phony invites done up for the birthday party, sold them and made over two grand for Mission Street? Who did most of the work convincing her father to see it her way, and ended up getting her brother, Kyle, enrolled in Brookfield like she wanted? You move your pieces around the board pretty well for a sixteen-year-old.”

Marnie smiled a supremely self-satisfied smile. “I guess I am the responsible party, aren’t I?”

“It’s called ‘delegating’.” Pat said, as she rubbed Marnie’s back reassuringly. “And there’s not a thing wrong with it. Give the job to the best person or people most likely to get it done. That’s a vital strategy for effective management, and don’t you ever forget it.”

_____________________________________________________________

Blinking open her eyes to escape that unnerving image behind them, Jennifer once again focused upon the book lying on the chair. The room was so dim, and from where she was sitting, she couldn’t see if there was a title on its spine. Reaching over, with both her hands she carefully lifted it. It felt dry and brittle, and was permanently splayed open to the two pages upon which it had presumably been lying ever since it had been left there. She could see there was no title at all on the spine, but on the lower right front corner of the leather bound book was the faded gilt monogram, “SRE “.

As she traced the raised letters with her fingertips, she could feel her chest slowly filling with a suffocating, overwhelmingly noxious dread. With the palms of her hands, she pressed the book down onto her trembling thighs in an effort to still them, wrestling with whether or not she had the will, or really even the desire to see what was on the pages.

She knew what was in it, but then again; she didn’t know.

Her heartbeat rapidly accelerating, again she closed her eyes, reluctantly turning the book over in her lap. When she looked down at it, the handwritten script immediately began speaking to her, the words flavored by that rich French accent:

“-close to time for her to wake. She will be up, outside looking for me. Stephen is finally arrived home from his long journey, and I do not wish for her to wake him. He was so tired last night, but was filled with so much joy at seeing his beloved girl. He loves her, and she misses him so much when he is gone. She did not want to go to bed when it was her time. She was afraid he would leave again while she was sleeping. He brought her many things, but she was only excited to see her Papa. She asked him to take her this morning to introduce him to her teacher, but if he does not wake on his own, he will rest. I will take my Jenny to her school myself.

I cannot wait until tonight when we-”

Abruptly stopping to flip the page back to the start of the entry to see the date on which it had been started, her breath caught, and her eyes blurred: April 2, 1957.

Unable to read on, turning the entire book back over, she swept it from her lap onto the couch.

Written in her mother’s familiar hand, those were her personal thoughts; her last entry written in her journal on that final morning…

Desperate to escape her words, her voice, and that most private and secret room; gasping for breath and sure that her heart was about to explode, she jumped up from the couch, hyperventilating and blinded by tears. The resulting dizziness, the tingling in her limbs sending her into a panic. She feared the worst; a heart attack resulting from the stress and shock of finding that room, that passageway, that portrait, that journal; from everything- she had been holding it in, like she had always managed to do, but it had all been just too much to take in too short a time, .

It hit her that nobody was aware that she was up there, and that if she did get sick she would be alone and without help. That frightening thought catapulted her toward the stairs.

When her feet became hopelessly entangled in those dust covers she’d removed from the chair and the couch, throwing her off balance, the last thing she heard was, “Do not be afraid. I am here with you, my Jenny.”

_____________________________________________________________

“Good afternoon, Miss Hart! Nurse Jones.” Doctor Rogers pleasantly sang out as the three men entered the room. “Miss Hart, are you in a better mood today? Can I get a little conversation this time, you think?”

J.J., praying hard that her father would not see any blushing left over from kissing Teddy or pick up on her nervousness over their close call, slowly leaned away from Teddy as he, just as subtly, eased away from her, while reaching into his pocket for his keys.

“I’m fine, Dr. Rogers. And it’s J.J. I think we can talk some this time.” She answered, trying to be sound casual about it. “I was kind of bummed yesterday. I apologize. I’m not usually that grumpy. Hi, Uncle Bill. Doctor Rogers, this is my friend, Teddy. Teddy meet Doctor Rogers.”

Teddy and the Doctor shook hands.

Jonathan, upon hearing himself omitted from his daughter’s greetings, shifted his focus from the aura of guilt floating about those two suspect-looking teenagers, to just her.

“Oh.” He said as he approached her bedside. “Daddy doesn’t get a hello, I take it?”

“Nope.” She impishly smiled at him. Then she raised her arms. “I saved the hug for you.”

As she embraced him, J.J., peering over his shoulder, grimaced then grinned at Teddy, who gave her a down low thumbs up while mouthing, “Smooooth.”

Bill, the doctor, and Jazz saw the interaction, and looked to each other in amusement. Bill could only shake his head, watching his best friend getting worked over by his own kid. Beautiful Junior was every bit the charmer Beautiful Senior was, and then some.

“Where’s my mother?” J.J. asked as her father released her and moved down to the other end of the bed with the doctor who was checking her ankle. “Why didn’t she come with you?”

“She was busy.” Jonathan too quickly responded, the abruptness immediately catching J.J.’s ear. “She’ll probably come on her own later.”

He then directed his attention to Teddy, who was back standing by J.J., but not nearly as close as he had been when they arrived. Nodding in the boy’s direction, he said, “Nice to see you again, Teddy, although I didn’t expect to see you here in Maryland.”

“Nice to see you again, Sir. And you too, Mr. McDowell. It’s just by happy coincidence that I’m here.” Teddy answered, feeling skewered by J.J.’s father’s piercing blue eyes. “But J.J., I’m going to have to go. I really need to get the car back to my father.”

“Wait.” She said, reaching out to catch him by  his arm. “Daddy, Teddy is going to be here until tomorrow evening. I’m getting out of here tomorrow. Remember now, you said. Do you think it would be okay if he came for dinner tomorrow?”

Jonathan looked from her ankle up to his daughter’s face, and at that particular moment she looked too much like her mother which only served to remind him of the state of his and Jennifer’s personal affairs.

“Well,” He started with the intention of nixing the idea before he had the misfortune of looking into her pleading eyes. “I guess it’ll be alright.” He relented with a sigh, feeling completely boxed in by that sixteen-year-old who had him by the heart. “I’ll speak to your mother and your grandfather when we get back. But I’m sure it won’t be a problem.”

And as much as he hated admitting it to himself, it might be his in to get him back with his wife.

“Thank you.” She smiled at him. Then she turned to Teddy. “I’ll call you tonight and let you know what time.”

“Okay.” He smiled back. As she released his arm, they squeezed hands before completely letting go of one another. “See you later, J. Bye, everybody.”

J.J. waved as he went out of the door, and Jonathan alternated between watching that boy in the tight muscle shirt and jeans, and his obviously enamored daughter who was watching both the boy in the tight muscle shirt and the back of his jeans.

“It’s not a one-way attraction.”

The words reverberated in his head, speaking to him in Jennifer’s voice.

When Teddy had completely cleared the door, he looked away to find Bill watching him with a look that said, “Let it go.” and then again to J.J. who had lay her head back and closed her eyes as Doctor Rogers carefully manipulated her ankle. The expression on her face alternated between wistful and pained, and Jonathan wasn’t sure if the pained look was the result of what was happening with her ankle or a reflection of what was going on in her young heart.

“J.J.” Dr. Rogers said in a speculative tone as he continued to examine and work with her ankle. “I couldn’t talk you into staying with us until Monday morning, could I? This ankle is looking really well considering how it looked when you got here yesterday. I’d really like to have you here a little longer to do another whirlpool treatment or two and to have you work with closely with Jazz on getting back up on your feet properly.”

Opening her eyes, raising her head from the pillow, she declared, “No. Absolutely not.” Then she turned to look apologetically to Jazz. “No offense. It’s nothing against you, but I have an appointment tomorrow evening that I fully intend to keep.”

“I’d hate to see you go out of here and do the same thing you did before.” Dr. Rogers continued, despite her objections. “You’ve made such good progress so far. Jazz can have you up and walking tomorrow afternoon and you’d be all set for Monday morning.”

“Daddy, you said forty-eight hours.” J.J. protested.

For a moment, Jonathan couldn’t respond. The feeling of constriction that had been forming in his chest had tightened to the point of extreme discomfort. The sudden sharp pain to the side of his head nearly staggered him, and he brought his hand up to his temple to press it against his skin.

“You okay, Valentine?” Bill asked, noticing the sudden distressed look cross Jonathan’s face and reaching out to him.

J.J. saw it too. “Daddy?”

“I’m all right.” Jonathan answered after a moment, waving Bill off.  He was quick to change the subject, and everyone in the room took note of it.

“J.J., I know we originally said forty-eight hours, but if the doctor thinks it would be best for you to stay another day, think about your running track. You have to be ready. I think you should consider it.”

Aggravated by the idea of having to be there another day, and perhaps missing a visit at home from Teddy, but even more concerned about what was going on with her father, she put up the weakly delivered defense, feeling just a tad selfish as she did, “But what about my dinner tomorrow with Teddy, Daddy?”

“I guess he can come here.” Jonathan answered, continuing to rub his dully throbbing temple. “Doc, you think we can arrange for my daughter and her friend to have a nice dinner here tomorrow if she stays on?”

J.J., watching him, sat back in surprise. Not only had her father given his permission, without any outside coercion, for her to have a date; but he was actually even agreeing to assist in setting it up.

“I think we can do that.” Dr. Rogers smiled. “We can even arrange to have something brought in since you’re not on a special diet or anything. I have a friend in the restaurant business who has a nice place where you can order what you’d like to have and he’ll have it delivered right here. That way you won’t have to have hospital food. Will that make it any better, J.J.?”

“Well, it doesn’t make it a whole lot better, but I guess that’ll have to work.” J.J. begrudgingly conceded aloud while secretly dancing with delight in her heart. “I’ll call Teddy and tell him I’m still on lockdown.” Crossing her arms, she continued to grumble for show. “…feel just a prisoner, all up on Cell Block H and everything. I don’t know how long Teddy’s going to want to keep coming to visit an inmate. Some summer I’m having.”

“Is this where you start being difficult?” Jazz warily asked. “Your father is letting him come. He didn’t have to do that, you know.”

J.J. looked at her and rolled her eyes in answer, but she knew Jazz was right, and that she’d better put her attitude in check. She, better than anybody, knew how out of character that move was on his part.

Besides, there was something very wrong going on with her father. Aside from his annual head cold, he never got sick, but at that moment, he was looking pretty puny over there. And from what she had already gathered, something was up with her mother as well. With her being away from home and laid up in a hospital, there was no way that if everything was right, her mother wouldn’t have come to the hospital to check up on her. If it hadn’t been for her calling to see if Teddy could take her outside, she might not have spoken with her at all even though it was well past noon. Her father said that she wasn’t there because she was busy, but the Duchess was never that busy.

J.J. sensed some sort of serious trouble between her parents. The expression of concern on her Uncle Bill’s face when he looked over to her to give her the heads up on going along with everything while she had been pretending to be fussing, gave credence to her suspicions.

It was all too coincidental.

Somebody was really working overtime to keep her in the background, off the front and out of the line of fire. Although she wasn’t one for serious flights of fancy or a girl to give in to fanciful thinking, there was no longer a doubt in her mind who that somebody was. And if that were the case, it explained her own mother’s absence.

Just like Justine Jennifer Hart, Jennifer Justine Edwards must be somewhere at Briarwood on lockdown too. The only difference was that this time it was Jennifer Justine who was being called on the carpet by her mother.

_____________________________________________________________

Even from where she was on the floor, without opening her eyes, she could tell that the attic room was changed.  The air was no longer stale and stagnant. On her bare arms and on her face, the air around her felt toasty and warm; it felt alive rather than abandoned as it had before. She thought she could hear and smell a crackling wood fire. Slowly she opened her eyes and tried to focus her vision. There was more light in the room, and she was immediately aware that  the wood floor, which had been coated in dust before, was now highly polished. So much so that the well defined grain of the boards seemed almost animated.

Her eyes open, but still a bit woozy, what she could see of the room, from her position in it, no longer had the look of being long unused. The colors around her were rich: sumptuous shades of deep brown, purple, burgundy, and gold, colors which had once dominated the interior of the main house. At the same time, there was an informal and comfortable feeling to it all.

She felt she’d been invited to that place.

It slowly became apparent to her that although she was still lying on the floor she wasn’t in the pain that she thought she should be. She knew that she had fallen, and had fallen hard, and that she had been alone when it happened. She wanted to lift her head, to check her condition more fully, and look around the room even further. That was when she realized that she was lying with her head in someone’s lap and that she was being restrained from rising up by a hand resting on her head.

“Be still, my Jenny.” She was told.

“Mama?”

“Oui, Chéri, I am here, and now you can rest.”

“I want to see you.”

“In time, my sweet girl. Be still.”

In spite of her anxiety and curiosity over all that was happening, the sound of that voice and the touch of that hand began gently easing her into a sense of absolute peace. It started at her feet, covering her in what felt like the softest pink fleece blanket.

More than anything she wanted to sleep; the kind of secure- without worry or concern- sleep that she hadn’t been able to achieve since leaving Los Angeles. Closing her eyes once again, she surrendered completely to that desire.

_____________________________________________________________

Walter returned to the house from his drive out to the guest house, and was met by his anxious wife as she came into the dining room from the kitchen to meet him as he came through the back breezeway.

“I take it, from the look on your face, that you didn’t find her.” Rosa deducted, wiping her wet hands on a towel.

“I didn’t see her anywhere. Diamond, Star, and Legs are all in their stalls, so she’s not out riding. Mike told me that she passed through there much earlier in the day on her way to the guest house. He said that she just waved; she didn’t stop. He mentioned that it wasn’t like her to do that, but it seemed like she had a lot on her mind. I drove on out to the guest house from there. The workers were finishing up out there for the weekend, and the roofers were kind of hanging back, waiting for her to come back out there before they left. They’re finished, and wanted to see if she wanted anything else done before she signed off, but she hasn’t shown. I told them to just go ahead and leave. I knew they were tired and ready to go. The foreman will be back out on Monday. I went on inside the house, but just like they said, it didn’t look like she had been in any of the rooms. The attic door was locked like always, so she couldn’t have gone up there. The site manager of the company working on the kitchen said that she’d come through the house some time ago, but that they were so busy that they hadn’t noticed if or when she left back out. They had only seen her the one time. It isn’t like Miss Jennifer to not come in and see to her father when she’s at home. He was very disappointed when she wasn’t here to go up with him when he went to lie down after lunch.”

Rosa lifted her eyes to the ceiling as if she could see through it to the room above.

“Mr. Edwards is going to be waking soon, and he’s going to want to know where she is. I don’t want him to be worried, but you know that he will be about her. It’s enough that Miss Justine is in the hospital like she is. Mr. Edwards was counting on going to see her this evening after dinner with Miss Jennifer. I sure hope she’s turned up by then. Where could she have gone for all this time, Walter? It’s been hours. Even if she were out walking, she’d have come back by now, if for nothing else, to see to her father.”

“I don’t know.” Walter said, taking her by the arm and starting them back into the kitchen. “But I have a feeling there’s something more to this. It’s been strange around here ever since that night Miss Justine went missing.”

“You never did tell me much about that, Walter.”

“I told you all that I could tell you about it.” He said quietly. “I sure hope Mr. Hart gets back here soon. At least before Mr. Edwards wakes back up. Mr. Hart will know what to do about looking for her, and if he’s seeing to that, I can take care of getting Mr. Edwards settled and comfortable.”

Rosa was again dissatisfied with Walter’s answer to her about Miss Justine, but she had become accustomed to the wall of secrecy that surrounded her husband, his boss and the Edwards family. There were places that she was not allowed to go, places that were Walter’s and Mr. Edwards’ alone. The two of them had been together for years, long before she even knew Walter, and most of their history was a well-kept secret. It had taken her some time to get used to being left out of some things, but she had come to accept that.

But she especially disliked being left out of the story of where that delightful girl had gone that night that she was so worried about her, and what Miss J.J. had been doing on that bad ankle that would land her in the hospital. She had also been troubled by the changes she had been seeing in the girl’s mother. Mrs. Hart was usually cheerful and pleasant, but ever since that night that she had gone looking for her daughter, she had been quiet, preoccupied, and almost edgy. At first she’d chalked it up to her being nervous about the girl being injured and hospitalized, but now she was convinced that it was something more than that. It made her wonder what the late Mrs. Edwards had been like and why she, too, seemed such a mystery in that house. The only evidence that she had ever been there was Edwards daughter and the picture that Mr. Edwards kept next to his bed to which Mrs. Hart and Miss J.J. bore such a strong resemblance.

She was just getting ready to tell Walter that she hoped Mr. Hart made it back soon as well, when he and Mr. McDowell came through the swinging kitchen door.

Mr. Hart, looking apprehensive, a far cry from his normally relaxed and carefree manner, immediately asked after his wife.

_____________________________________________________________

Jazz put the four protesting boys out of J.J.’s room. They’d shown up right after her father, godfather, and Dr. Rogers left, wanting to stay and visit with her; but she had other plans for her patient. After she eased the last one of them out into the hall, she closed the door all the way.

“You,” She said, pointing to J.J., “Are going to rest until time for dinner. You’ve been going non-stop all day. You can mess around with them later.”

“It’s only about an hour ’til dinner.” J.J. complained as Jazz drew the curtains on the windows to darken the room. “I can already tell you; I’m not going to sleep. It would take me that long to try. I could have been playing cards or watching the game with the guys. But no, you want me to pretend to sleep.”

“I don’t care what you do.” Jazz asserted calmly as she passed through the room. “As long as you do it in here, in that bed by yourself, and you rest. And don’t get on that phone.”

“By myself?” J.J.’s head snapped up. Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?”

“Take it however you want it,” Jazz smirked. “Just so it happens that way.”

“You better be glad I like you, Jazz. Look, I need to call my mother.” J.J. insisted, mostly in an effort to be difficult to get back at Jazz for teasing her. “I know you’re going to allow me one phone call to my mother, aren’t you? Even people in lockup for real get that.”

Jazz stopped to pull up the blanket at the foot of the bed to cover J.J.’s legs.

“I will in an hour.” She said. “And don’t mess around and make me have to call her myself to tell her that you’re acting up. She told me that I should do that, you know. Now do I need to take that phone from you, or can I trust you to do as I say?”

“You and her did an awful lot of talking, didn’t you?” J.J. asked as she leaned over and slid open the vanity drawer.

“Not a lot. Just enough for her to let me know what the deal was with you and how to best handle you. She said that she was the cure for what might happen to start ailing you other than that ankle while you were here, and that she was just a phone call away. I have her on speed dial.”

“Whatever.” J.J. thought to herself as she selected a disc from her CD case and slipped it into the player.

“I’m out.” She declared as she clamped the headphones over her ears, adjusted the sound, and put her head back on the pillows, essentially separating herself from Jazz and the rest of the world.

It had not escaped her attention that once again, she’d been blocked from perhaps getting herself into trouble. She had secretly planned to get Teddy to take her down to the dock on Pa’s lake once dinner was over, and then they would go for a quick ride out on the boat. Oh well, she sighed to herself, it had been properly moved and seconded that someone else was definitely in charge of all that was happening, and she made up her mind that she was just going to go with the flow from there on out. But that wasn’t something that anybody else had to know.

And if she had to be still for an hour, she was going to do it her way- with Sarah Vaughn and her jazz band. As Ms. Vaughn crooned in her ears, J.J. thought about how like her father she felt she was and how in tune they were about most of the things they enjoyed doing.

Music had always been one of those things with the two of them. He had introduced her to the jazz music he enjoyed so much. It started with him teaching her ballroom dancing while listening to it. When she was little he’d stand her up on his feet and they’d sail around the great room to the tunes in his vast collection. He told her all about the artists, the instruments, the history. Her friends didn’t understand her affinity for the form, but her music teacher at school, Mr. Washington did. A jazz musician himself, he thought it was great, and he encouraged and supported her interest. He felt she had a brilliant future as a jazz pianist.

She knew better. Her father played coronet but for him, like the piano was for her, that was for fun. In real life there was more important business. She was a Hart. The very last Hart.

Her father loved all kinds of music, and so did she. Except for opera; neither of them could stand opera. She wondered if her grandmother had liked opera and if that was where her mother got it from. Maybe it was from Pa. That sounded like type of thing he’d go in for. Jennifer Hart kept trying to convert them, but there was just no way. They tolerated it only out of their love for her.

She hoped that whatever it was that her father had been going through when he had been there in the room with her would be over soon.

Nobody did it like Sarah Vaughn. Her voice, so rich and so warm… like a warm cup of tea mellowed by a lemon and a generous dollop of honey.

Those piano men in her band could really work it. The saxophone and the bass were such sexy sounding instruments…

If her ankle was any good, she could just get up and…

Teddy…. so sweet… so nice… so handsome…. What would it feel like to dance to a slow tune with him?

…ummmm…. so sweet…

Listening, mouthing the lyrics, isolating the assortment of  instruments behind that magnificent voice crooning, “My Funny Valentine, sweet, comic Valentine… you make me smilllle with my heart…”

Her fingers danced over her belly as she stroked the ivory keys of that fine old concert grand she could feel in her mind. As soon as she got back to Pa’s, she’d shut herself up in that music room and….

Closing her eyes, she wondered again what was happening with her mother, and if she was okay. If the Duchess didn’t call first, the first thing she’d do after the hour was up would be to call her to see how she was and to find out when she was coming down. She’d ask her to bring something pretty for her to wear for her dinner. Her daughter requesting a dress to wear ought to make Jennifer Hart feel a little better if it turned out something really was the matter with her.

What she really hoped was by the time she did get to go back home to Pa’s, things would be back to normal. It felt so much like they weren’t.

The track playing seemed so appropriate for the moment:

… tell me where is the shepherd for this lost lamb… there’s a somebody I’m longing to see… someone who’ll…

Allowing her body to fully relax, she floated way down deep inside herself, to that place she went when the music got sooooo good. Where she forgot about any and all worries and troubles.

…I’m a little lamb who’s lost in the wood…I know I could…always be good….

The violin overture swelled, and she drifted off, dancing on a cottony cloud in the arms of her debonair, Clark Gable/Cary Grant/Jonathan Hart father….

…oh how I need…

…toward two figures waiting in the bright, but shadowy distance…

…someone to watch over meeeee…

……..

_____________________________________________________________

“How can you be so sure she’s out there?” Bill asked as he turned onto the winding, narrow road used when driving from the main house back to the guest house.

It was a seldom used little road over which the row of trees on either side had grown together to form a leafy canopy. The afternoon sun was able to peek through in places dappling the pavement with dollops and random droplets of infrequent brightness.

Jonathan was in the passenger seat. His face tense, his eyes focused on the road ahead. His right hand was still pressed to his temple, the fingers gently massaging that throbbing artery.

“I know she’s out there.” He said.

“Think she’s made it up to that attic?”

“That has to be where she is. Walter says she’s been gone since she left the house this morning. That was when we had that argument, and when you saw her. Something’s wrong. The way my chest and my head feel, I know she’s up there, and that something’s not right. I can always feel it when she’s in trouble or in pain.”

Bill had reached the front of the small house and stopped on the road which ran right up into the driveway on the side of it. He switched off the engine, and ducked his head to look through the windshield up to the octagonal window at the top of the house that peered down on them like a wary eye.

“Got any idea what’s up there?” He asked.

“My wife, for starters.” Jonathan answered as he opened the door to get out. “And quite possibly her mother.” He thought to himself as he closed the door and leaned back in through the open window. “Leave me here. You go back.”

Bill peered over at him with uncertainty. “What if it turns out that she’s not here? Or worse yet, she is, but there is something really wrong? Shouldn’t I wait? Maybe you’ll need my help.”

“We’ll be okay.” Jonathan answered patting the car like it was the rump of a horse that he wanted to send on its way.

He walked off, and Bill watched him cross the lawn to approach the front door. He entered through it, and the door closed him.

Turning the engine back on and making a U-turn, Bill started back for the main house, hoping that Jonathan’s legendary knack for having the right hunches was holding up.

______________________________________________________________

Stephen hadn’t quite drifted all the way off when her voice whispered in his ear, as if she were lying right next to him, “Rest now, Stephen.”

“What?” He murmured, slightly startled. He didn’t open his eyes, instead, he basked in the welcome sound of that voice which no longer disturbed him the way that it did in the beginning.

“Rest.” She repeated. “Do not worry any more. Our Jenny has finally come to me.”

He smiled.

“She is sleeping now. But when I am finished with her, I will come to you. We must talk, you and I.”

He nodded in agreement and turned over onto his side, pulling the afghan up over his shoulder.

Knowing that Jennifer had finally completed the journey and had been properly received, he could relax completely, whispering to her mother, “All right.” and hoping that Jonathan wouldn’t be too long in going to look for her.

______________________________________________________________

Jazz gingerly removed the headphones from J.J.’s ears, trying not to wake her and picked up the player from the bed. Putting the headphone next to her ear, expecting to hear heavy metal or some rap, she was floored to hear Sarah Vaughn’s voice. That was the kind of music her parents listened to. She picked up the CD storage case and leafed though the eclectic music collection inside. The girl had everything from classical music to hip-hop, from Beethoven to Duke Ellington to Pink to DMX, and some of everything between. J.J. Hart was truly a strange one. There was just no wrapping that girl up and putting her into one package.

She placed the player and headphones on the vanity, and then she stood over her to watch her sleep. Smiling down on her, she whispered, “Thought you said you wouldn’t go to sleep. Didn’t take long for that to be a lie.”

After checking the ankle for any swelling after the doctor’s ministrations on it, she then pulled the blanket all the way up over the girl’s arms. “Just determined to argue me down.” She continued to fuss to sleeping ears. “I knew you were tired even if you didn’t. Love will do that to you, little girl. Especially that first one.”

Reaching past J.J.’s head, she moved the cell phone from next to the pillow and put it on the vanity, too, before tipping into her own room to complete her paperwork.

______________________________________________________________

Inside the silent, empty guest house, Jonathan didn’t stop until he reached that attic door. He tried the knob, and even though it wouldn’t turn, everything in him said that Jennifer was up there. The instinct was so strong that he could hardly breathe. As he dropped to one knee to examine the lock and the knob to see how to dismantle them,  his hands shook almost uncontrollably. Without Jennifer and her cosmetic bag, he found himself caught without his normal all-purpose tool, a fingernail file. The credit card from his wallet was too short, and the blade on the pocket knife he carried proved too thick to slip into the jamb. No matter how hard he tried to fiddle with it, he couldn’t get into the lock. It was the first time that he had ever been completely defeated by a lock of any type.

His head continued to throb on that one side, and he feared it was an indication that she had somehow gotten hurt. They had been together so long and were so in tune with each other, that when one hurt the other felt it.

Beating on the door and twisting the knob as hard as he could in a frustrated attempt to break it, he called out, “Jennifer! Jennifer! Are you up there? Jennifer!”

The thought kept repeating itself that Stephen said that she would need him once she got up there. What the hell was up there with her?

The door and the knob stood fast.

With his ear to the door, he waited, and although he heard nothing from the other side, he still had no doubt that she was up there. Leaving the door, he went room to room, checking each ceiling, looking for a trap door or some other possible way to get up there, but he could find none. He determined that he would just have to get up there from the other way, and knowing how it operated, he’d just have to make sure that he took the proper tools for the job. His hands weren’t small enough to get him through, but since he knew what was required, he could improvise.

Sorry that he’d sent Bill back with the car, he raced from the guest house to make his way to the back main house. This time he’d take that passageway all the way to its finish.

______________________________________________________________

Confused when the music suddenly ended and her father stopped dancing with her, releasing her hand and his hold on her back, J.J. looked up into his face.

“What’s wrong, Daddy?”

“I have to let you go now.” He solemnly answered, but he wasn’t looking at her any more. He seemed to be looking past her.

She wanted to look back behind her to see what he was seeing, but he was beginning to slowly float away from her.

“Why, Daddy?” She asked. “Forever? For always?”

“Daddy’s just going to step back a little for now.” He said as he floated even farther away from her, and the cloud began to enfold his form inside of it.

“How come you won’t you tell me why? Have I done something wrong?”

“It’s so you can grow, J.J., but I’m not leaving all the way. I’ll still be with you. Okay?”

“Don’t go at all.” She told him. “I’m scared. Don’t leave me here. What will I do if you leave me? I don’t know where I am.”

“You are not afraid.” He adamantly informed her. “You are my daughter, and I don’t have scared blood. I have to step away, but I’m not leaving you alone. I want you to turn around.”

By that time, she could hardly see him.

“Turn around? For what?” She asked, squinting, trying in vain to keep him in view as she valiantly held back her tears.

His voice repeated, “Turn around, J.J. They can help you. They want to help you.”

Finding herself all alone in the swirling vapor, the only thing left to do was to obey her father’s words. When she turned to look behind her, in the distance she could see two women, one with her hand held out as if she were waiting for her to come to her and take it. Even though they were too far away for her to make out their exact features, she knew exactly who they were, and that they were waiting for her, so she started toward them.

______________________________________________________________

Jennifer thought that she could hear Jonathan calling her name, but he sounded as if he were far away. Someone was pounding on the door below. It had to be him. Even though his voice was muffled, she could hear the desperation in his tone. Despite the fact that she was still angry with him, she wanted to answer him, to at least let him know that she heard him.

Opening her eyes, she was at first confused by her surroundings, which kept her from calling out. It quickly came back to her that she had come up to the attic of her father’s guest house, that she had been frightened, and that she’d then tripped and fallen. Something else had happened after that, but that was no longer clear in her mind. It seemed that everything was getting blurred and fuzzy of late, and that was a feeling with which she wasn’t comfortable at all. She liked being in control of her situations. But evidently, someone else was doing the driving in this episode, and she was being relegated to the role of passenger.

The craziness was obviously continuing. Although she remembered falling to the floor, she realized that she was waking on the leather couch instead. The plaid afghan covered her, and the brocade pillow that had been in the chair was now under her head. A fire that she couldn’t see, but vaguely remembered, and could clearly hear and smell, was crackling somewhere in the room. Directly across from her was a large, very busy desk antique desk, like the one she’d seen in the passageway outside her father’s room. The lamp was lit and papers were stacked and scattered all about. The chair was rolled out as if someone had been working and had just gotten up to go for coffee or something.

Once again, she noticed the wallpaper behind the desk. It was an old pattern, expensive and tasteful, but it looked new rather than old and faded as it had when she’d first come up there. Raising her eyes above the top of the desk to where dust covers had hung earlier, she sucked in her breath.

There it was looking as if it had been done yesterday rather than over forty years ago.

A large portrait hung there, the memory of which she had pushed all the way to the back of her mind. Her mother had commissioned it done right after her father left on that last trip. Every day for a month,  she would come home from school, change clothes and get her hair done up to sit for it with her. Her mother was going to surprise her father with it for his birthday. But she never got the chance.

It was a portrait of her and her mother. She was seated at her mother’s knee, looking up at her. They had both worn emerald green dresses. her mother’s was silk and hers was velvet. Closing her eyes, she could see that portrait of her and J.J in the great room at home. The similarities were uncanny. The colors, the poses, even J.J.’s age at the time were almost the identical to the one at which she was looking. Had that been a subconscious move on her part? How had that portrait gotten up there? The last time that she’d seen it, her mother had hidden it in one of the downstairs pantries.

Her mother.

It was strange, but she seemed to recall her having been there earlier. How could she have been? Still, her presence seemed very strong. As a child, she could always sense when her mother was nearby, and there she was experiencing that same comforting, reassuring feeling. Lifting her head to peer over the arm of the couch to the chair, her mouth fell open in awe.

As if seated on a throne, dressed in what she used to laughingly call her “uniform”: a fitted white blouse, riding breeches, and her tall, shiny black riding boots, was Suzanne Roussel Edwards. Her arms rested on the arms of the chair, and her legs were assertively crossed at the knee. She was looking straight ahead, her head held regally erect, as if she were waiting for something or someone. The still lush, red, but now silver streaked hair was casually pulled up into a loosely braided knot. In profile and bearing, it was very clear that J.J. Hart was growing into the living image of her grandmother.

In absolute reverence, the only word Jennifer could manage to utter was, “Mama.”

At the sound of her voice, her mother turned and cast her direct, hazel gaze upon her. She was still a beautiful woman, much older than she remembered her, but with the same fine, aristocratic features, good cheekbones; high, intelligent forehead, and that distinctive widow’s peak that had been passed down to the next two generations. Much older and a lot more discerning herself, Jennifer could clearly see that the difference between her mother and her identical twin sister, Sabrina, was in their aura.  Even in appearance, her mother possessed a more settled, refined, and low key air than her flamboyant, outgoing sister. Any initial astonishment at her being there was quickly replaced by the joy of finally seeing that face once again.

“Jenny.” Her mother smiled with a slight nod of her head. “You are not afraid?”

Jennifer, unable to speak, merely shook her head.

“That is good. It will save us time if I do not have to calm you or try to convince you of my reality.” Then Suzanne looked a little perplexed. “Why are you not afraid of your dead mother? I am dead, you know.”

“I don’t care.” Jennifer answered. “I’ve missed you so much. I just want to look at you. I prayed so many nights to just be able to see your face again. I never said goodbye to you. I’ve always wished I’d had a chance to do that. I wondered what you’d look like now. I never saw you again after that morning when you took me to school. After….”

“The accident? What you see before you is what I would have been to you if it had not been for my earthly mishap.”

Then Suzanne tilted her head. “Why do you want to say goodbye to me, anyway? You got out of the car and told me that you would see me later. It is later, Chéri, and you see me. There was no goodbye to say. I never left you. I have always been with you.”

“Mama, in most all of the time that you’ve been gone, I couldn’t see your face in my mind.”

“Jennifer, you know that sometimes we cannot see those things that are too close to us, that are a part of us.”

“I couldn’t feel you with me either. You couldn’t have been with me when-”

Suzanne held up her hand to cut her off. “I said I have always been with you.”

“When Pa left me at school? You were there?”

“I was with you all the time in Suite #1, Waverly House. I see you do the ugly, naughty things you did in your hurt and anger. But I also see you change and become a good girl again.”

“When I graduated-”

“At the top of your class with your friend, Patricia. I was there. You go and you cry by yourself behind the curtains before the ceremony. I kissed you to let you know that I was there with you. I want you to be strong and go on to make your speech for your Papa. He was so proud of you, Jenny. You make the tears come to his eyes. I was right there. I was proud of you, too.”

Sucking in her breath at the thought, “Prom night?” Jennifer whispered in dread. “Were you there?”

Raising one eyebrow in reprimand, Suzanne then pursed her lips before calmly answering, “You were a very naughty girl, but you learned your lesson. I saw to it that you learned. Sex is not what makes a woman be a woman. You try and rush to make a contest out of it with Patricia, and you try to get back at your Papa. You only hurt yourself in the end, so to speak. Yes, I was there. Then I send you to Sabrina so you could learn what a woman really is. I think she taught you too much of how to be a woman. There were some things my too-blunt sister could have left to the imagination.”

Jennifer blushed. That year spent in Paris with Sabrina had been an eye-opener for sure. Then, like a sledgehammer, it struck her. “Mama, were with me in Australia? You couldn’t have been.”

Her mother’s eyes bore into hers, and Jennifer could tell that she knew.

“I was there, Jennifer.” She quietly answered, not taking her eyes from her. “He could not hurt you like he wanted to hurt you. If he had succeeded, then he would have been having a face to face meeting with me, your Mama. How do you think you had the strength to recover once you made it back to the States? On your own, you became stronger, and you are much wiser for the terrible experience, and you teach your own girl what she need to know. Sometimes a mother cannot save her child from falling, but she can make the healing better. I was there in London when you go to do your work. There were barriers keeping him from you, so I put you in his path. I knew that if Jonathan Hart could see my smart, pretty baby, he would love you. I had my eye on him for a while, and I knew he was a good man, and that you would love him.”

Suzanne stopped and winked knowingly while nodding her head. She pointed her finger at Jennifer. “You, my hot potato, you want to rush into his bed that night. I sent him to sleep to keep you from giving in to your impulses and giving it all to him too soon. It is best to make the man wait, although he would have loved you, still. Can you see that I have never left you, my darling?”

“But I called for you when I had my baby. I couldn’t see your face, and I was so afraid.”

Her mother smiled. “You had nothing to fear. You were older, but you were strong and healthy. I told you, you marry a good man who was right there with you, and I was there with the two of you, Jennifer. You did see me. That is why you did not cry out with your pain. You were holding on to me with your mind, and I to you. We push that baby girl you did not want, but fell in love with, out together. I watched her come from you. God knows best where and with whom to put his babies. She is such a wonderful child, so full of life, just as I have always known she would have been. Thank you for her.”

“You always knew? Would have been? Thank me for what?”

“I’ve long known our Justine.” Suzanne said with a casual wave of her hand. ”Now, my Jennifer, you must finish. You must finish for me what I could not.”

“Finish what, Mama? What is it you want me to do?”

“I need you to finish it all. You are smart, but you also have great talent for things.” Suzanne stopped and smiled appreciatively at her child. “Oh, my baby girl, you make me so proud of you in so many ways! You must finish the work for your Papa, but I need you to do this thing for me also.”

“But why did you wait so long to come to me to tell me? Why now?”

“It is time, Jennifer. There are many changes soon coming. They start here with this house and your Papa’s friends living here.”

“Are you all right with that? I mean, with the ladies being here?”

With a slight lift of her chin, Suzanne answered, “In this house, it is fine. But I am still the lady of the manor house, just as you are of your Willow Pond. Stephen knew what to do with that. I will be reigning over Briarwood until my  second daughter comes into her own. To her only, will I relinquish the position. You have been very fortunate with your husband, so Briarwood will be Justine’s first home.”

To that, Jennifer could say nothing, but it confirmed that she and her mother were on the same page about the matter. Stephen Edwards did indeed know what he was supposed to do, and Jonathan Hart, if it came to that and he knew what was good for him, had better follow suit.

“Speaking of Justine,” Suzanne continued. “You must finish for me everything, and Justine must be made to know. Stay up here for a while, Jenny. Stay up here, and you will know what you must do.”

“Is this your secret place?”

“It was not a secret. It was private. It is just a place where I could be Suzanne. Not Stephen’s wife. Not Jenny’s mama. Just me. Every woman needs a place of her own so that she can keep a part of herself to herself. It is an easy thing for a woman to get lost from herself. I give this room to you now. I want you to stay here and look and learn, Jenny. Maybe one day, this will be Justine’s place to come. That will be for you to say.”

“Did Pa hang our picture there?” Jennifer asked, pointing to the portrait.

Suzanne nodded. “He came here to put my things away for me. Walter gave him the portrait from where I had put it. Your father brought it up here and hung it in that place.”

“Do you know why he took you and everything about you away from me?”

“It was all he knew to do, Jenny. He meant you no harm. He was just in pain. There were many things on his heart, things that he could not face. Things that are not for you to know. If you want to have or need to see any of the other things that are not here, you know where they are. You have my permission to look at and to keep any of it.”

“What about Pa? What will he say?”

“You still ask many, many questions.” Suzanne observed. “He has had his time. It is your time now.”

“He told me about you and him working together.”

“That is history. Not worth talking about, and I will not waste our time together explaining that which you can find out on your own. I must go back soon, so you must listen to what I say to you now. Your father, he is old and he is ill. You and Justine are all that he has left. You two are all that remain of us. It is up to you to make sure that things are completed.”

“But I can’t stay up here now.” Jennifer insisted, feeling overwhelmed by yet another task being foisted upon her, especially such an ominous one. “Jonathan is looking for me. I could hear him calling for me. J.J., our Justine, is in the hospital. I have to go to her. I haven’t seen her all day.”

“Yes, Jonathan is looking for you,” Suzanne agreed, “But he will find you in time. He is smart, and he knows how to get here. It will take him a while, but that is how I want it. His love for you will eventually bring him right back to you.”

Suzanne stopped, and her face took on a stern look as she addressed her daughter.

“And when it does, Jennifer Justine Edwards Hart,” She continued, with a mother’s unmistakable conviction. “You tell your husband how you are sorry for what you say to him this afternoon. You still have that quick temper. He is a good man, and he loves his child. You cannot fault him for that, or hold him responsible for the resentments which he cannot know that you carry inside of you. You never told him what bothers you, so you cannot expect him to understand. He is not the one who hurt you. He loves you too much to hurt you. He is protective of you and Justine, and that is as it should be; the two of you are all that he has. You are right, as well. Justine is a free spirit, very much like our Sabrina. She cannot be held too tightly. You hold her too tight, she will fly away and never come back to you. She has the little handsome friend now. That boy from Boston. They are very taken with each other, and you are wise to let her explore, but to also give her limits. You let her know to not go too far. Justine listens very well to you, and that is good. I watch her, too. She sometimes wants to be slick, but I always watch her. But you, Jennifer, you must release past hurts so that they do not affect your present, and you must work with your husband on this thing with Justine. But I think, maybe he comes around on his own. He does something today that tells me that.  Like I say, he is a smart man. He knows our girl, too. That is why she is at the hospital, and why you do not have to worry about going to her this night. She will be fine. Justine will not miss you. Her mind is really elsewhere anyway. You must stay here. I will go to her, and I will see to her. You will do as I say.”

Feeling as if she were sixteen and the one who should be wearing running shoes, Jennifer meekly asked, “How will I know when I’m finished?”

“You will know.”

“Mama?”

“Oui, cherie.”

“Are you always with me? All the time? Even-”

Her mother held up both her hands, stopping her, and closed her eyes to shudder at the implication.

“I turn my back in those times, which means my back is turned quite often. I am there, but I do not have to witness with my eyes and ears everything you do. Since you marry, I do not watch over you as much as I once did. But I do think, Jennifer, that you must inherit my infertile genes. Otherwise, between the two of you, your father and I, we  would have many more grandchildren in all these years.”

Her mother leaned over the arm of the chair, and looked directly into her face, asking, “In his car, Jennifer? You had only known him four days. To credit you, at least it was a Jaguar, like your Mama’s. Was that a little dig at Mama, Jennifer? For leaving you? Your father’s study, Jenny? I know that was a dig. His chair? On his precious Persian rug? Tsk, tsk, tsk. You were absolutely shameless.”

Sick with humiliation, Jennifer looked up in time to catch the amused twinkle in her mother’s eyes.

“I’m convinced. You have been with me all the time, haven’t you?” She murmured. “That last time you mentioned, in Pa’s study, that was all Jonathan’s fault.”

“Oh, no, no, no, Cherie, do not try to heap the blame on that boy. I did not see you try very hard to stop him. You try to hush him, maybe when you do things to him to make him loud.”

Jennifer cringed as she mentally replayed that event which occurred during that weekend she’d brought Jonathan home to meet her father for the first time. Since they’d opted for separate bedrooms on that visit, she had been unable to get to sleep. She had gone downstairs and into her father’s study to get a book. Jonathan had sneaked down from his room and he’d ambushed her there, from behind, no less.

“Mon Dieu, Mama.” Jennifer whispered, recalling that last detail.

And her mother laughed at her deep, blushing embarrassment. That rich, throaty, hearty laugh that had been absent from her life for too long, the one that was once music to her ears.

“I love you, my sweet girl.” She said when she could stop laughing. “Since we are both very much women now, I have to tell you, you are my child in that. There is nothing wrong in loving the man you love. It was your father who made us wait before we married. My father, your Grand-père Henri, had issued a death threat to Stephen. It was one that my fiancée took very seriously. I was so very young compared to him, and Stephen respected that. Because of him, I was a virgin until I married. No experimenting, like you, Cherie. I just get lucky and get a really good one the first time out. One who knows what to do- really, really well.”

Her mother closed her eyes and kissed the tips of her fingers. “C’est magnifique.”

“Mama!” Jennifer exclaimed, covering her ears. “I don’t want to know this.”

Her mother laughed again, and Jennifer uncovered her ears to hear it.

Then, her curiosity getting the best of her, Jennifer asked the question that had been buried deep within her since that tragic morning years ago in the stable, and had surfaced with her mother’s visit,  “Is Sinbad with you?”

“Of course he is, Darling.” Was the welcome answer. “After the accident, your father sent Sinbad, Hans, and Gretel to Farrell’s farm, but Sinbad did not thrive there. He was my horse and he was used to only me. It was not long before he joined me, and he has been with me since that time. We ride every day, some days all day long.”

“I was going to take care of him for you, but Pa never even asked me if I wanted him. I didn’t know what had become of him. He did that with everything. He never asked me what I wanted or what I wanted to do. I was so angry with him for such a long time.”

“I know that you were. I know that at the time it probably all seemed confusing and cruel to you, but it was all that he knew to do. He was crazy with grief and overwhelmed by his sorrow and his duty to you. It was not all his fault. Some of the blame is mine to bear. I did not require him to take an active enough part in your life. I made you mine, and that was a mistake. I also know that in your heart, you no longer hold any of that against him, and that makes me happy. You have done better with Justine and Jonathan. But then Stephen and Jonathan are very different type men. Your husband has not made his work his life, and I do not think that Jonathan would allow you keep Justine to yourself the way that Stephen allowed me to do with you.

“Put your head down now, and sleep, my darling.” With her eyes glistening, Suzanne blew her a kiss. “I fear that my time here with you is over.”

“But I just woke up. It’s been so long that we’ve been apart.” Jennifer anxiously whined. “I don’t want to sleep again. Please stay a little longer.”

“I cannot. Do as I have told you, my love.” Her mother quietly demanded. “Put your head down now and sleep. You have much ahead of you.”

Jennifer obediently put her head down on the pillow and pulled the afghan up over her again. Lying there, her eyelids immediately grew heavy and a sweet, lulling contentment quickly began overtaking her. As she felt herself fading out, she pondered over what it could be that her mother wanted so badly for her to finish. Then she wondered if it had all just been a dream.

Drowsily lifting her head to peek back over the arm of the couch, she saw that the chair was empty. That white sweater was draped over the arm, and that journal was lying face down on the seat as if her mother had just left them there with the intention of coming back for them. She had to have moved them there. They had been on the couch when she’d seen them last.

Once again, Suzanne Roussel Edwards departed without saying goodbye. But, it was all right this time. This time, her daughter was assured they really would see each other later, and her mother really hadn’t purposely left her behind.

______________________________________________________________

Frustrated and growing increasingly angry, Jonathan once again stuck the screwdriver into the space behind the door frame slightly above his head. He’d made it back to the main house, changed clothes, and gone directly down into the passageway to that first stairway that went down. There wasn’t enough room behind the frame for him to feel for an exact location on the loop with this fingers, so he was left to poke around blindly with the steel end of the screwdriver, trying to line  it up with the circle so that he could pull down on it to open the wall.

Something or somebody was slowing him down. He had been struggling with that first door too long. His memory for detail had always been pretty accurate, and he thought he was reaching into the precise spot where Jennifer had placed her hand when she’d opened it. All the while, he was worrying about what was happening on the other end of the passageway. The uncertainty surrounding his wife was affecting his agility. His hands were nervous and sweaty, and he fought with himself to keep his thoughts focused upon just getting to her rather than on what might be going on with her.

“Come on, dammit.” He muttered as he continued to poke and prod. “Catch. Catch!” And the screwdriver finally caught.

Making sure that it was firmly latched onto what he hoped was the right device, he pulled down on it, praying that it wouldn’t slip out. It held, and the wall slid open for him. When he hit that third step, it began to lower itself. But he didn’t see that. He never looked back. Instead, intent upon completing that most precious of missions that was in front of him, he stuck the screwdriver in his back pocket, grabbed the lantern he’d brought with him, and bounded down the stairs like a man much younger than his years.

______________________________________________________________

Once the closet wall slid back shut behind Jonathan, Bill left from that room to go into J.J.’s room. Standing before her closet, trying to decide if he should follow through, he pulled a quarter from his pocket, called heads and tossed it. When it landed in his favor in his palm, he turned on the light inside and proceeded to go through her dresses hanging there. After selecting a pretty peach colored silk, he took it to the bed where he laid it out and then called Rosa on the house phone. He asked her if she would come up and pick out the rest of the things J.J. would need to go with the dress so that he could take it all to her.

After all, his niece would want to look nice for her dinner date with that boy she had a crush on, and who, in turn, apparently had one on her. A football jersey just would not do for such an important occasion, and with Pat, Marnie and everyone else gone in different directions, that left the matter up to him. No way was Uncle Bill going to let his girl down.

Before going back down the stairs, he detoured around to Stephen’s end of the second floor. Cracking the door just enough to peek in to check on the old man. If he found him awake, it was his intention to ask Stephen if he’d like to go with him when he took J.J.’s things to her.

But he was still soundly sleeping.

______________________________________________________________

 

Jennifer groggily came to on the dusty attic floor. She immediately recalled falling after getting her feet twisted in the dust covers, and she began preparing her mind to get up. Anticipating pain and sure that her entire left side, including her fair-skinned face was probably a mass of bruising, she gingerly raised her head. But her face wasn’t on the floor. Somehow her head had come to rest on that brocade pillow that had been on the chair…or was it the couch?

Pulling herself up into a sitting position, she was surprised to find that she felt no pain. She reached up to touch her face and there was no tenderness there whatsoever. After checking her torso for soreness, she pulled up her top, but there was no bruising of any kind.

How was that?

It was as if she had just decided to put that pillow under her head and lie down to nap in that spot from which she’d just awoken. Had she knocked herself out or had she been sleeping? How had that pillow so conveniently happened to be where her head landed? It was all so confusing. Everything was so fuzzy, uncertain, and so damned confusing.

But, in the back of her mind, pushing its way forward was the nagging idea that there was something she had to do. Whatever it was, it was in that room and she had to do get it done.

Do what? Why? Until a little while ago, she hadn’t known about any of it. Not that room, the journal, the passageway, none of it. What in the world was there for her to do up there, and why her?

After unwinding the cloths from around her ankles and retrieving the shoe that had come off in the process of her getting tripped up, she stood and surveyed her forlorn surroundings. She was at the head of the room and on her right, across from the the couch, she could see that some extremely large object had been covered up. Above it, also covered was what she guessed was a painting, judging from its shape and how the cover had been tucked behind it. Looking back to the couch, she could see the journal pushed up against the far arm of the couch where it landed after she’d flung it from her. Taking a deep breath for resolve, she went over to get it. Jennifer Hart didn’t leave things she started undone, and that was one thing in all of the uncertainty that she was acutely aware of leaving unfinished.

She took it from the couch to the chair where she sat down with it. Picking up where she left off, it felt a bit strange to be reading her mother’s private thoughts, even if they had been left there abandoned for so long. It made her wonder if one day J.J. would be sitting and reading her words.

“I cannot wait until tonight when we tell her about the baby. Stephen made me wait until he came home so that we could tell Jennifer together about her new sister or brother.”

Baby?

Jennifer picked the book back up from where, in shock, she had lowered it into her lap. To better see, she held it up into the dim light coming down to her through the windows up over her head.

A baby?

She continued to read.

“I suspect Stephen will want a son this time, a boy to carry his name. I have prayed for this child to be another daughter. Jennifer has brought me so much joy. I want her to have a sister.

This girl I will call after my own mother. Stephen asked that our first child have a Welsh name, so I called her Jennifer. It very much suits her. She is as her name says, soft and fair. She is also smart and sweet; so delightful a girl. She will be a good example and a good big sister as I have tried to be with my own baby sister, Sabrina.

 I joke. Sabrina and I are only five minutes apart in age, but I am still first, so I guess that does make her the baby, our wild and pretty baby.

Our mother was called Simone, but actually that was her second name. Her first, which she did not use, was Justine. It was her mother’s first name, and it is my Jenny’s second name. The first name of my second daughter, if I am so blessed, will be Justine.

The rest of the page was blank

______________________________________________________________

At the bottom of the stairs, Jonathan barreled right past the place in which he and Jennifer had stopped on the morning before. The passageway veered off to the left at that point and he went right with it, thinking to himself how in all the jams he had found himself enmeshed before, with and without Jennifer, he was having his first experience with both a ghost and his mother-in-law.

Mother-in-law trouble was certainly something he never anticipated encountering, but he was having so much difficulty reaching Jennifer, first emotionally and then physically, that he’d concluded it had to be some supernatural force standing between them. It was the kind of barrier that only a mother could put up between her child and someone else. He recognized it from those rare times that Jennifer had put herself between him and J.J. He’d definitely felt it that morning when she’d moved away from him to whisper into the phone when J.J. phoned to ask her about going outside with Teddy. It seemed she mostly did that when the issue revolved around J.J.’s being a girl and her growing up. Jennifer was not letting anyone or anything get in the way of that happening the way that it was supposed to happen in her eyes, not even him.

It all led him back to the belief that at some time in her life, Jennifer had been hurt, badly hurt by some man. She’d never come right out and said anything to that effect, but she had alluded to it on several occasions. He felt that the man might be someone he knew, which would explain her not coming right out and telling him. She knew only too well what his reaction would be to something like that.

If her relationship with her father had been precarious at one time, that probably contributed to the things he was seeing in her as well. But there was no doubt in his mind that there was something negative in her past that was affecting her present.

Her behavior at times spoke volumes. When it came to J.J., she could downright ferocious in her protectiveness. From what he could see, it must be hereditary. Jennifer’s mother had designed the entire passage to protect her child. In that portrait, although she had been quite beautiful, Suzanne looked like a woman who didn’t ask a whole lot of questions before she took action. She had come to him in that dream with the message that he hadn’t been able to make any sense of. She had been insinuating herself into Jennifer’s dreams, waking her from her sleep, apparently requesting something of her. Suddenly J.J., who looked so much like her, wanted to know more about her. It was all connected. Suzanne Edwards, his mother-in-law was awake and making her presence known to all of them.

Maybe it was that she didn’t want Stephen’s friends moving into the guest house. Women could be funny about things like that. He figured, even dead ones might be territorial. What else could it be?

He stopped short when the passage before him split in three different directions.

“Dammit, Mrs. Edwards!” he screamed in frustration. “What the hell do you want. Just tell, me, please!”

“C’est Suzanne, Jonathan.” Sounded in his head. “Juste un peu de temps. She has to finish for me, and you mind your tongue when you address me.”

“Sorry.” He apologized aloud to the air. “Just a little time to finish what, Ma’am?”

“That which was mine to do.” Was the mental answer. “That which is now hers.”

Starting off again, keeping to the path he was on- the straight shot, he muttered determinedly, “Not without me, she doesn’t. I can’t wait. Mrs. Edwards, I love your daughter. We are a team, and you cannot keep us apart. We work very well together, and we’ve been doing it for years.”

He heard laughter, and then a voice telling him, “How very well I know that, my son.”

______________________________________________________________

Stephen rolled over in his sleep, and when he reached for her like he still did even after all the lonely years that had gone by, this time she was there. At his touch, she stirred as if from sleep and then turned over to face him.

She was so young and so beautiful, the afternoon sun flooding in from the windows behind her igniting her fiery redness, making her seem to glow. In her uninhibited movements toward him, the covers fell away, exposing her  bare breasts to him. The sight aroused him in a way and to a degree that he thought no longer possible. She smiled and reached out to him.

Immediately self-conscious and ashamed of his old body, he shrank back from her.

With a disappointed frown, she asked, “What is wrong? Have I been away so long that you have fallen out of love with me? Do you not want me any more?”

“I am old.” He sadly answered. “I have grown so old without you.”

“You are beautiful.” She said, reaching for and taking his hand, entwining her long fingers in his.

When she drew his hand to her breast, he could see that the skin of his arm was no longer flaccid and loose. It was the muscular, sinewy arm of a younger man. Looking down at himself, he was nude and his chest was hard, the hair once again dark and lush. As he cupped her flesh, he could feel her nipple swelling under his palm, confirming for him the actuality of her presence. She was warm, soft, and so very familiar. Drawing her to him, he held her close, feeling her firm, long body lined with his own hard, virile frame, and he inhaled deeply from her, taking in her comforting rosy scent. For the first time in a long time, he felt strong and definitely alive.

But now that she was there, he had to tell her. The pain was almost too much to bear as he forced the words from where he had been keeping them.

“Suzanne, I am so sorry. You warned me you would leave me if I ev-”

“Hush.” She said, placing a finger to his lips. “I know about it. That girl meant nothing to you. You lusted in your mind, Stephen, not in your heart or with your body. Women put themselves in front of you, and you men cannot help what your bodies tell your minds to think.”

“But if you hadn’t phoned to tell me about the baby, I might have-”

She cut him off again with that finger to his lips. “But you did not. You could have, but you did not. I know what happened. You were an ocean away and lonely for your family. But you did not let her into the life that was yours and mine alone. You put her away from you, and you came home to me and to Jennifer. You are a good, honest, decent man.”

“But still you left me.” He mourned into her hair. “I know that’s why you left me. You always said you would if I-”

“Hush, I tell you. It was simply my time to go, Stephen. Everything happens for a reason. Things happen to whom and how and when they are supposed to happen. You taught that to me. I realize now that I had to go so you could get to know your daughter, and she could know you. She is a fine woman, Stephen. You have done well with her. If I stayed, Jennifer would not be who she is today. She would not be strong and worldly as she is. Like you, Stephen. She is very much like you in some of her ways . If I stayed here, you two would not share what you have together. You have made her self-reliant, confident, and smart. Her life would not be what it is had it not been for you. This is how it is supposed to be. You must let go of past guilt. You have nothing to feel guilty over. You were not the cause of my leaving.”

“I made a mess of Jennifer for a while.” He admitted. “I did everything wrong. Sometimes I feel I can never make it right by her.”

“Our daughter has told you time and again it is fine, and it is. She has not the capacity to lie, and if she did have it, she would not lie to you. What she says to you is the truth, and she speaks it to you from her heart. You must believe her. She has let go of it. You must also. There are still some things that confuse her, some memories that make her sad. She has an anger down inside of her, but it is not for you. There are things that she needs to have clarified for her, but she will work them out on her own. She is not a child any more. She is a very happy, fulfilled, grown-up woman, and you are largely responsible for that. The rest is her own doing and that of her husband. Do not worry another moment about the past and our Jennifer. They have reconciled themselves.”

There were other things he felt he had to tell her, for which he felt he needed to apologize. There were things he needed to say. While she was there, he wanted to purge himself of it all, and to set the record straight between them once and for all.

“You were so young. I took you too soon. We married when you were just a girl. You spent your entire adult life as my wife and mother to my child. You didn’t have enough time to live as yourself. When Jennifer was sixteen, I made sure she did not put herself in the position to have done to her what I did to you.”

“Jennifer is not, was not me, Stephen. I loved you, and I loved my life. I regret nothing.”

“Agnes?” He asked, looking down into her face, tracing her nose and her lips with the tip of his finger. “Do you know about Agnes?”

“I am aware she loved you. I could see it when I met her long ago. I felt badly for her because you loved only me. I think to myself it must be terrible to love someone who cannot return your love. If it is what you want, her being here, it is fine that she will be here on these grounds with you.”

“And our other child, Suzanne?” He whispered. “What became of it?”

Suzanne smiled, a bit mysteriously he thought, then she said, “She is my heart.”

She raised her lips to his, and he took them without hesitation.

It was a while before he could move his mouth from hers. He never wanted to stop tasting her and being physically connected to her. As his hands freely roamed over her, intimately reacquainting themselves with her long-absent flesh, he never wanted to stop exploring her or feeling her heart beating next to his.

She looked up into his deep smoky eyes, stroking his cheek as he combed his fingers through her thick, flowing curls. “You make yourself lonely, Stephen, for Jennifer’s sake. You should have taken a lover, maybe many lovers, to keep you company.”

“I tried, but after you- you are my only love.” He sighed. “I wanted only you. After a few attempts, I realized no one else mattered. No one else would ever matter. It became unimportant.”

Burying her face in his chest, she admitted,  It is selfish of me to say this, but I am glad you have kept me in your heart. I hate so much your being alone, but it is nice you love me in this way. You, too, are still my first and my only love.”

“Where is Jennifer now?” He asked after kissing her again. “You said she had come to you.”

“She is upstairs in my garret. I have left her there, and I have told her what I want her to do. Jonathan is not far behind her, of course, but I have slowed his steps. That will give her time.”

“Have you seen our grandchild, Suzanne? She reminds me so much of you. You would have loved her so much.”

She merely smiled and nodded. He noticed her silence and how she avoided his eyes.

Brushing his hand through the thick dark hair on his own forehead as he bent to press his lips to the top of her head, he pleaded with her, “Suzanne, I know that you can’t stay, but please take me with you when you go this time. I want so much to be with you. I am so sick and tired of living here without you.”

She shook her head and with her fingertips wiped away the tears from his cheeks. “It is not yet your time.”

Then, rolling away from him, stretching out onto her back, she pushed the decorative pillow out from underneath her head onto the floor and invited him to join her.

“Make love to me, Stephen, before I must leave you.” She urged, taking hold of his hand and pulling him to her. “I have missed you. Having to go so suddenly from you, I miss so much you touching me.”

“Not as much as I have missed touching you.” He whispered into the soft flesh of her neck as he covered her, wasting no time in entering her. “My darling, how I’ve missed you…” He managed to murmur as their bodies e intimately reunited.

She arched her back to take him fully, caressing and pulling him inside; he slowly and deeply filled her, trying desperately to blend their souls. Closing his eyes, he took supreme solace in her presence, and savored her essence absolutely. Holding back as long as he could to prolong his contact with her, when he felt himself reaching the pinnacle, he began fervently praying for death to take him, too.

______________________________________________________________

It seemed once again Mr. Edwards would be dining alone.

When he went up to wake him so he could begin to prepare for dinner, Walter  found him sitting in his chair by the window. He was staring out onto those back fields where, whenever they were home for one of their brief stopovers, he would watch Mrs. Edwards as she rode in the mornings. It was also where, more recently, he sat to watch his granddaughter, Justine, when she visited.

As he approached him, he noticed tears shining on old man’s cheeks and that he was clutched to his breast that royal purple brocade pillow with the oft-mended, frayed gold edging, the traveling companion with which he had refused to part over the years.

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Ahead of him in the passage, Jonathan could see what looked like large wooden cabinets of some kind lined against  the walls. Immediately curious as to what they contained, he hurried his steps. Without Jennifer there next to him, being his voice of reason or discretion, no way was he passing up checking them out.

He was mildly surprised to find that the first one he tried wasn’t locked. He turned the latch and pulled open the door. Inside were dolls, all kinds of dolls. Some were antique and some more modern, a few appeared to be very expensive and of foreign origin, but they were all older dolls. They weren’t the kind of pristine dolls that one kept in a curio cabinet or showcase to preserve them. The ones inside that cabinet had been someone’s playthings at one time.

The second cabinet that he opened, a larger one, contained more toys, a girl’s once bright, pastel-colored toys. There were also many, many books. Scanning the titles from right to left, he could see that they were children’s titles. As he read across, that was when he caught sight of it. Next  to that cabinet, sitting on a wooden pallet to keep it from resting directly on the floor was a huge, white Victorian dollhouse. It was half the height of that cabinet, which stood taller than his head and it was almost as wide. In the dim light, it was so elaborate that, fascinated, he turned on the lantern he carried and squatted down to examine it more closely. Over the front door was a small gold plate with the words, “Jenny’s House” engraved on it.

Rocking back on his haunches, he could only gape at it in awe. For the first time he was faced with concrete evidence of his wife’s privileged childhood. The door to the cabinet was still open, and down on his knees, he shined the light inside to see that the lower shelves contained an abundance of miniature furniture, which he assumed had at one time graced the rooms of that house. It had been carefully stacked, as one might do with real furniture. The rocking chair that he pulled out was a finely crafted tiny version of the real thing. It was solid wood, each spindle on the arms set into its own tiny hole; no plastic pieces for Jennifer Edwards. “Made in England” was printed on the tiny oval sticker that was still on the bottom of it. He had no doubt that the chair had been purchased in England as well. The entire dollhouse had probably been shipped from somewhere else in the world to the States expressly for that little girl. It looked as if it had been handmade; the craftsmanship was outstanding.

There were other large cabinets there in that area of the passage, but he no longer wanted to see what was in them. It was too much like looking into Jennifer’s head, at things that maybe she didn’t want him to see.

Why had she never spoken of any of this? It seemed she’d had a happy, even idyllic childhood, at least up to the point that her mother died. Her own horses, the toys and books, her parents’ estate, her parents themselves, she rarely spoke of any of it. What he would have given…

In a way, after seeing all of those things and putting it together with the little he did know about it, he was glad that she hadn’t talked much about it. In that short space of time there by himself, the bleakness of his own childhood had begun haunting him. It was so long ago, but the feelings were still there, and certain things triggered the vivid, bleak memories. Those cabinets, their contents, and that dollhouse had definitely done it.

He carefully placed the little wooden rocking chair in an upstairs bedroom, near a window. Securely closing the cabinet doors, he picked the lantern up from the floor to turn it off. Then he continued on his way, hoping that he had picked the right path and that there was nothing else down there to slow or stop him from getting to his wife.

______________________________________________________________

After finishing that last entry, Jennifer sat for a long time with her mother’s journal face down in her lap.

A baby. Her mother had been pregnant at the time of her death with a child that would have been her brother or her sister. Not only had her mother lost her life, her father his wife and she, her mother; but they had all lost a child in that accident.

Overwhelmed, she leaned back and closed her eyes. It was all too much. Why was it coming at her so fast and so hard? For years, her mother had just been gone from her life and pushed way back in her mind. Now suddenly she and everything about her seemed to be surfacing. What was her mother trying so hard to tell her? What did she want her to do?

Her mother. A baby. The possibilities that had been lost in someone else’s careless moment.

Things happen how they’re supposed to happen, to whom they’re supposed to happen, and when they are supposed to happen. Wasn’t that what she always told J.J. when she was having trouble understanding why certain situations occurred or why a thing turned out the way that it did despite her best efforts to have it happen some other way.

Opening her eyes again, although she really didn’t know how long she had been up there, she realized that it must be getting late. The sun was not as high, and the room was getting dimmer. Despite that, she was suddenly anxious to see what other secrets it held. Somehow, where earlier she’d felt as if she were invading someone’s privacy, she now had the feeling that she had been brought there specifically to see what was there. Why else had that door at the bottom of the stairs opened for her, but not for Jonathan.

Jonathan? Had he been there?

It seemed as if he had been. Maybe that had been part of the dream she felt she’d had, that good dream in the back of her mind upon which she couldn’t quite get a handle. Whenever they got back together, she would have to apologize to him for her anger with him earlier, and she would have to stop being so touchy with him about J.J. After all, she hadn’t ever really explained to him why she felt so strongly about allowing her some wingspread along those lines. But, J.J. Hart was not going to grow up sheltered and naive about herself and men. That wasn’t healthy, not in the world in which she was going to be growing up. It hadn’t been healthy way back when she had been a young girl either. Being a man, Jonathan couldn’t be expected to inherently understand that, and being a very protective and physical man, she didn’t dare tell him all of her reasons for feeling the way that she did. She would just have to find a way to work with him on this thing with Justine.

Work with him on this thing with Justine… work with your husband on this thing… That sounded as if she’d heard it before.

J.J. Hart. She hadn’t set eyes her child at all that day. That was unusual. What was more unusual was that it didn’t seem to matter that she hadn’t seen her. The desire to stay and explore that room was stronger than her need to go to J.J. Like everything else that had happened, it was truly out of the ordinary. Having had her visit from Teddy, and assigned to a hospital ward full of athletes, she was sure that J.J. wasn’t missing her mother at all.

Behind her, over her head, cloths covered various items affixed to and along that wall.

Standing up on the couch, she decided to start there, carefully removing the first cloth. Hidden underneath it was a glass box. Inside, a girl’s slightly yellowed white leotard and ballet tutu had been artfully displayed. Standing upright with the costume were a pair of worn white toe shoes. Staring at them, she relived the memory of her mother handing her the shoebox that day after school. She had been eleven when her ballet instructor felt she was finally strong enough to train to dance on point. After having studied almost all of her life, receiving those first white satin shoes had been a gratifying rite of passage. The costume was from her first recital performed in those shoes.

“I am proud of you, Jenny.” Were her mother’s words that day as they sat in the car in front of the school where she’d come to pick her up after classes. “You have grown from a pretty little cygnet into my beautiful, graceful swan.”

Even after her mother was gone, and she had been sent away to school, she continued to study and to dance. That was one thing that Pa had done right. He’d arranged for her to continue to work in Massachusetts, but with a friend of his who had once danced in Russia. When she performed on stage, she would imagine that her mother was seated in fifth row center, watching with tears in her eyes the way that she had done when she was living. But her face would never have features, only tears which she wiped away with her lovely long fingers.

Those first toe shoes had been quickly outgrown, and had been replaced many times over the years. She never suspected that her mother had carefully preserved those first ones for posterity up there in her private room.

Although she hadn’t danced in years, she still privately performed many of the exercises just to stay toned and limber. J.J. had never been interested in ballet, couldn’t be talked into taking the first lesson. But, beginning when J.J. was very little, whenever she worked out in the exercise room at home, J.J. would watch her, mimicking her movements.  The girl had the strength, the grace, the flexibility, and the feet, but not the desire to pursue it seriously. The performing arts world had definitely missed out on that one, but the track and field arena had gained a star.

Wiping the tears from her own eyes, she moved on to the next cloth.

______________________________________________________________

Jazz had to wake J.J. when her dinner tray came, and she was shocked when right after eating, J.J. requested to wash up and put on her night clothes.

“Don’t you want to stay up a while, J.? It’s not even dark yet. Don’t you still want to call your mother?”

“I’m so tired.” J.J. yawned. “I don’t know why. I’m never, ever like this, but I can hardly keep my eyes open.”

“Should I wake you when Teddy calls or your parents stop by?”

“Daddy’s not coming back, I don’t think. If my mother comes, which I doubt that she will, she’ll wake me up anyway. She must be pretty wrapped up in what she’s doing. She never leaves me hanging out here alone like this without calling or anything. And speaking of that, here Jazz, take my phone. You know if the call is from Farrell’s, it’s Teddy. Just tell him for me what happened with me not coming home, and that he should come here to the hospital at three-thirty tomorrow afternoon. The food gets here at four. I’d call him myself right now, but I’m too sleepy to even  look up the number.”

She braided the ponytail and then loosely looped it into a ball on top of her head, tucking the ends underneath the band to hold it all in place. Then she lie back and pulled up the covers.

“If I don’t wake back up, and he hasn’t called by eight, would you please ring him up for me and give him the message? The number’s in memory. Now before you go to fussing and everything about how that’s not your job and all that, I know you’re not my secretary. But you’ve seen him, and I think you know where I’m coming from. I do not want to miss out on this. He’s leaving to go back to Boston tomorrow night, and I’ll just die if I don’t see him before he goes.”

Jazz stuck the cell phone down in her smock pocket. “I got you, girl.” She assured her. “It’ll get handled. You rest.”

When the boys from the ward stopped in to see if she could have company, J.J. had been sound asleep for fifteen minutes.

______________________________________________________________

As Jonathan continued to make his way through the dimly lit passageway, and it seemed he’d been down there forever, he remained certain that he had chosen the right path. Why else would Jennifer’s outgrown belongings have been stored in those cabinets behind him? Surely her mother would have put the things in an area that she frequented.

Why had she kept the dolls and the toys? How had that huge dollhouse ended up down there? For whom had they been saved? Had Mrs. Edwards planned on having other children? Was she anticipating that one day she’d have a grandchild to whom she could pass them? If so, she would have been sorely disappointed. J.J. would have let her down on everything except the books. As a little girl, J.J. had little use for toys, especially those toys traditionally assigned to girls.

Jennifer had begun collecting dolls from around the world for J.J. when she was just an infant. For the first few years, they lined the shelves in her room, but J.J. rarely touched them. The tea set kept on her table usually got pushed to the side to make space for the things she really liked doing, reading and writing. J.J. ignored, actually disdained the pink or frilly, lacy things in which Jennifer liked to dress her. She preferred tee shirts, shorts or jeans, books, building blocks, toy planes and trucks, balls, and of course horses and playing cards. Any board game bought for her always came up lacking the set of dice that came with it even though J.J. rarely played with the games themselves. The few items that she did play with weren’t fit for saving or handing down once she finished with them. She’d worn out several bicycles and pairs of skates. She broke or dented baseball bats, cracked tennis rackets, bent golf clubs, deflated footballs, basketballs, and on and on. In short, J.J. Hart was rough.

But the dolls remained untouched. It took a hostage situation in J.J.’s closet the year that she was seven for Jennifer to finally come to terms with the fact that she was raising a true tomboy. She’d gone into the closet for something and found several of J.J.’s dolls face down on the floor, their eyes covered by tape and their hands tied behind their backs with rubber bands. Horrified, Jennifer had screamed for him. In turn, he called for J.J. to come to them and explain what was going on.

“Oh, I forgot!” She said as she nonchalantly entered the closet, passing her mother and kneeling down to begin removing the tape and rubber bands. “See, I was playing like I had kidnapped them, and I was waiting for the ransom money. No harm was going to come to them if the ransom showed up at the drop like I demanded, and it was going to show up ’cause I was in charge of the game. But then Marie called me, and I went downstairs to get my lunch. I forgot all about them being up here all tied up like this.”

At that point, she must have noticed the distressed expression on her mother’s face. “They’re just dolls, Mom.” She’d said, looking up from the floor at her in what he thought was exasperation. “Not real people. I wouldn’t kidnap real people. I was just playing a game.”

Jennifer sent J.J. back down to finish her lunch. Then she’d reamed him out for smirking during J.J.’s explanation. He couldn’t help it if he found the situation amusing. She thought the child might be disturbed and in need of counseling. For him, it just confirmed that their daughter was an imaginative little realist, with a flair for adventure and intrigue. And after all, like J.J. said, they were just dolls.

After she released all of them from bondage, Jennifer placed the dolls in a box and sealed it. Then she had him take it down to the cold storage vault in the basement where she kept her furs. One day, she said, maybe she’d get a granddaughter who turned out to be a real girl. J.J. never got another doll, and as far as he knew, she’d never asked after the ones she’d had. As for him and J.J., they’d spent the rest of that afternoon at the dock, stocking up the sailboat, Romance Continued, for that outing he knew Jennifer would need after that incident.

Now it seemed he and Jennifer did have a real girl. A one hundred percent, growing-up, multi-faceted, beautiful girl who liked boys, or at least, a boy.

It was a good thing this Teddy lived in Boston, otherwise a serious talk would have to be had with the kid. Him, he’d leave him alone for the time being, seeing as how he was going home the next day. They would have this one dinner, and the kid would be gone. But if he was going to have to make room in his life for J.J.’s male ‘friends’, then they would have to be made to understand the ground rule: for now, Justine Hart was his daughter, her father loved her dearly, and they should act accordingly. Jennifer didn’t much like it when he ‘talked’ with the boys who’d been J.J.’s escorts, or who came by wanting to take her places, but they needed to know. That way there would be no misunderstandings. When he’d had occasion to speak with the fellows concerning J.J., he meant every word he said. There would certainly be no words minced when he had his conversation with that Wesley about this latest fixation he seemed to have developed.

To keep the peace, he would follow Bill’s advice. He would back off and allow Jennifer to manage that part of J.J.’s life. She had her reasons, he was sure, for being as defensive and adamant as she was about it. It was for certain that his daughter couldn’t have a better role model than her mother, and that J.J. was listening to the things Jennifer taught her. In the meantime, he’d focus his attention on the boys. Jennifer’s contention was that men needed to talk to the boys in the way that women talked to the girls. That part of it, as it related to the fellows interested in his daughter, he would manage.

Sixteen years had gone by entirely too quickly. In a minute, J.J. would be eighteen and off to college. Maybe he would be better equipped by that time to let her go off on her own. Maybe she would opt to stay in California and commute to school. He quickly dismissed that notion. J.J. was their child, and as soon as the door was opened to her, she’d be out of it, on her way to seeing what the world and life had in store for her, just as the two of them had done.

Finally, in the distance ahead of him, he thought he could see stairs. Lighting the lantern, he could clearly see that indeed there were stairs ahead of him apparently going up to another level. He prayed they were leading up to the guest house attic and Jennifer, and that they weren’t another one of Mrs. Edwards’ diversions.

______________________________________________________________

J.J. got her wish. She’d gone back to sleep hoping to get back into that dream from which she’d been interrupted when Jazz woke her for dinner.

When the mist cleared, she could see that those two female figures were still by the paddock fence where she’d left them. She approached them and took the hand her mother held out to her.

“Hey, Mom.”

“Hi Sweetie, did you get enough to eat?”

“It was okay. Not like Marie’s or Rosa’s cooking, but I didn’t barf it back up or anything. No cauliflower, so I didn’t make any noise about it. I was polite like you’ve told me to be.”

The other woman was sitting up on the fence next to where her mother was standing, and she had her head turned away from them. She’d been looking out onto the paddock at that big, mahogany Arabian that Mike was walking back into the stable. When she turned back to look at them, J.J. could see that she looked very much like Aunt Sabrina, in fact, just like Sabrina. But there was a difference that she couldn’t immediately identify.

Her mother spoke, “Mama, this is Justine.”

“I know who she is. ” The woman said bluntly, looking down at her so closely that J.J. was inclined to shrink back behind her mother a bit. “I’ve long known of her. Do you know who I am, Justine?”

Uncharacteristically intimidated by the woman, more so her eyes, J.J. could only nod as she shrank even farther behind her mother. Of course she knew who she was. That voice had been speaking to her for a while. She’d seen her before, too, just not that close up and in the actual flesh.

“I cannot hear you.” The woman said, not breaking her gaze from her. “Do you know?”

“Yes, I know who you are.” J.J. answered in a voice just above a whisper. “You are my grand-mère. You are Suzanne Simone Roussel Edwards.”

Her grandmother smiled. “You are not afraid of me, are you?”

Shaking her head, “I just don’t know you.” J.J. told her, noticing that she was wearing the same riding outfit as she had worn in that large portrait upstairs in the passage.

“Do you want to know me, child?”

“Yes, Ma’am. Very much. I miss you even though I don’t know you. I feel like I should know you.”

J.J. could feel her mother’s hand gently squeezing hers in approval, letting her know that she was doing fine. She stepped out some from behind her. “I would like to know you.” She told her grandmother. “And for you to know me.”

“I have told you, I do know you, Justine. Do you love my Jennifer?”

J.J. was caught off guard. That was a heck of a question to be asked with her mother standing right there to hear what she said in response.

“Very much, Grandmama.” She answered. “She’s my mother.”

“I mean, do you love her outside of being your mother?”

That was a question she could honestly answer, so she went right for it.

“Of course, Grandmama. She’s a great lady. Actually, to tell you the truth, I sometimes like the person more than I like the mother. By nature, it’s almost involuntary to love your mother, but you don’t have to like the person. That’s part is a choice. I happen to love them both.” J.J. screwed up her face. “Does that make any sense?”

She could see her grandmother look to her mother and nod. Her mother nodded back. A message of some sort had been exchanged between them.

Then her grandmother laughed, the same rich, infectious laugh as her mother’s.

“You are delightfully intelligent, Justine. And brave and brutally honest. It very much makes sense. I like that you are intelligent, nervy, and straightforward. I like, too, that you are a good girl who loves her mother. I know that you love your father. But with him, what is there not to love?”

J.J. could only smile in response to that comment. She was tickled that her grandmother knew that about her father.

“What about your grandfather? Do you love your grandfather?”

On that question, J.J. hesitated in order to measure her words. She wanted to be honest, but clear.

“Well, he’s scary sometimes. He’s kind of stiff and proper, but I do love him because he’s my grandfather, and I know that he loves me. Even though I’ve known him all my life, I don’t really know him that well. But I think he wants it that way. He’s not real open with me. It’s not his way, I don’t think.”

“He does love you, Justine. You will come to know that for sure in time. I think sometimes he is nervous with you, and he does not know how to show you how he feels. But there are many reasons for that. Justine, I want you to do something for me.”

J.J. stepped forward a little more. She wanted to touch her, to reach out and hold her hand to complete their circle, but she hesitated to to so. Somewhere in her mind, she knew that she was talking with a dead person, and she wasn’t sure if she was supposed to touch her in that state. But she didn’t want to miss a syllable of whatever it was her grandmother wanted to say to her.

“Yes, Ma’am?”

“Listen to Jennifer.” Her grandmother advised. “Hear her when she speaks to you. She does not lie, and she speaks to you as a woman, not only as your mother. She will tell you all that you want and need to know.”

Let completely down, J.J. wanted to scream, “Is that it? Is that what I’ve been waiting all this time for you to tell me?”

Instead, out of her deeply ingrained sense of respect for her elders, she quietly answered, “Yes, Ma’am.”

She already knew that. What was so important about that? Deeply disappointed, she hung her head to keep her grandmother from seeing her face.

She felt her mother squeeze her hand again as if she understood her frustration, and that made her check and push back the rush of impatience she was feeling. Her grandmother hopped down from the fence, looking as if she were making ready to leave.

“You two take care of each other.” Suzanne said to them as she brushed off the seat of her pants. J.J. took note of her good cleavage and her toned, slim frame. That was one difference between her grandmother and her twin sister. Aunt Sabrina’s body was less lean; she wasn’t as fit.

Suzanne continued, “You two are mine. You are all there is left of me on earth. I was not long here, but I have left the two of you to represent me. Continue to make me proud, my girls. I love you both.”

She walked away from them, waving and blowing a kiss. As J.J. watched her enter the paddock, her stride long and confident, she admired her style and wished that she had stayed longer. Her grandmother would be seventy-five, but she had the appearance and the carriage of a much younger woman. Even from behind, Suzanne Edwards looked like she didn’t take any crap, and more than ever J.J. wanted to know more about her. Her grandfather had said to her that she reminded him of her grandmother, and he would be the one to know. Nodding her head in appreciation, still watching her grandmother’s self-assured back, J.J. felt that was yet another someone upon whom she could model herself.

A few minutes later, her grandmother emerged from the stable astride that huge horse, racing boldly off over the east hill, closely followed by two yapping shepherds. Before she was out of sight, she reached up and released her hair from the where the braid was wound on the top of her head. It came loose and rode on the wind with her.

Yes,  J.J. felt, that was definitely someone to whom she could look, and again she felt profoundly sorry that she had been born too late to know her. But she was able to see at that moment that her life was surrounded on all sides by strong women. That thought made her feel secure.

Still holding hands, when Suzanne was out of sight, she and her mother walked away from the fence and headed up the path that led to the guest house.

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