Gradually waking, Pat rolled over to put her arm around Bill and was immediately shoved back to the other side of the bed.
“What the h-!”
Shocked, she sat up to see what his problem was and to fight if that turned out to be what he wanted to do. What she found instead was Jennifer, propped up by Bill’s pillows, seated on the bed where he should have been.
“Yes, Jennifer. Not Bill. I didn’t want you embarrassing yourself and giving me something else to add to my arsenal. It’s about time you woke up. I don’t know how you get anything done.”
She was looking at something attached to a clip board lying on her bent leg, one pencil between her fingers, and another behind her ear.
“Look,” Pat began, delighted to see her friend in the flesh once again, but annoyed at being so roughly jolted into wakefulness. “You’re in my room. Look, if we’re swapping partners or something, then you get the hell out of here and send Jonathan back. You don’t have anything I need or want.”
“Go brush your teeth,” Jennifer calmly advised without looking up from what she was reading. “And hurry up. I have something to show you.”
Pat crawled out on the other side, grumbling, “You could at least tell me good morning, and pay me before you kick me out of the bed.”
Jennifer chuckled quietly. “I left my loose change in my other pants.”
A few minutes later, Pat emerged from the bathroom, smoothing moisturizer into her face.
“You have a hell of a lot nerve, Edwards. You took off four days ago, without so much as a “So long, Pat”. You left me all alone with Lucy, Ethel, Ricky and Larry. You had Ricky running ragged behind you, and now you just show back up, sitting here, bossing me around like you slept with me last night or something.”
“Lucy and Ricky told me you held it down admirably. How’s Pa?”
“You haven’t seen him yet? You came in here with me, but you didn’t go see your father?”
For the first time, Jennifer looked up from the clipboard, and Pat immediately regretted having reproached her about her father in that manner.
“What’s wrong, Jen?”
“Put some clothes on, Pat. You and I need to take a ride and talk. It’s been a very long time, and I need to tell you some things.”
“So J., do you think the Duchess will make it to breakfast this morning since she slept down here in the house last night?” Marnie asked as she stood in J.J.’s mirror, brushing her hair.
“Well, technically, she wasn’t really here all night.” J.J. called from inside the bathroom. “And she still has things to do, I think. I don’t know if she’s going to do them or not right now. There’s no way to tell with her. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”
“Where’d this ratty thing come from?”
Marnie used her brush to poke at the old doll propped up on the dresser, right below where the puppet hung that Teddy had given J.J.
“It used to be my mother’s. I found it yesterday. She must have brought it up to me last night when she and Daddy came in here. I didn’t notice it there until I got up this morning. Isn’t it cute?”
“She needs a bath. She also needs to get with Oprah and see if she can get the hookup on a makeover. Her hair and this outfit are definitely dated. Looking like this, she can forget about getting with Omar out here.
A giggle came from inside the bathroom.
“Your phone’s buzzing, J.”
“Check the display, and see who it is, Marn.”
Marnie picked up the phone from the side table and made a face. “It’s Wesley.”
J.J. groaned. “Why doesn’t he just get the hint? I never answer his calls, and he calls all the time. When I was answering them, he never listened to what I was trying to tell him. Why is it so hard for him to understand that I don’t want to be bothered? He’s got me to the place where I don’t even want to hold conversation with him. It’s always the same old thing.”
“Want I should pick up the call and cuss him out? It wouldn’t be a problem. In fact, it would be my pleasure.”
J.J. came out of the bathroom, fluffing out the ponytail.
“That would be funny, but no. Daddy says not to answer him. He just wants me to just save the messages until we get home.”
Marnie pressed “save” and put the phone back on the table, grinning mischievously.
“Your father is going to kick Wesley’s natural ass when he gets back to Bel Air, isn’t he? I sure hope I’m around when it happens.”
“I don’t know.” J.J. answered, stepping into her sandals. “I really don’t want him to.”
“What! Why not?” Marnie asked in shock. “The way he’s been hounding you and dogging Teddy and asking everybody things, trying to get all up in your business? You should want to do it yourself.”
“I do, actually. I sort of hated putting Daddy on the case. I like to take care of my own affairs, so to speak.” J.J. said. “But I just want it to be over, once and for all. We probably won’t ever be able to be friends any more once my father talks to him, or whatever. I would try to be more tactful, but then he would probably just take my kindness for weakness. I have the feeling that it would be handled better and be over quicker if it gets taken care of man-to-man.”
“I don’t know why you worry about being his friend anyway. He obviously isn’t trying to be your friend, otherwise he’d hear you when you talk. Too bad Tommy’s going away. He’d do him in a heartbeat. All you’d have to do is say the word. Tommy was looking for a reason, and as big as he is…”
Back in the mirror, fixing her face, it was a few minutes before Marnie realized that J.J. hadn’t said anything to her in response. Adjusting her position in the glass, she could see J.J. reflected in it as she stood at the windows, staring out, with her hands stuck down in the back pocket of her jeans. She noted to herself how from the side, J.J. was looking more and more like the Duchess. Marnie put her things away and crossed the room to stand next to her.
“You’re going to miss him a lot, aren’t you?”
J.J. nodded. “I wish we had been home last night.”
“For the party? I talked to Philly this morning. She said they were trying to call you from the boat. She said the party was the bomb.”
“Yeah. I bet it was. People were calling all night, but I didn’t pick up. I didn’t feel like it. It would have been nice to actually see him before he left. It’s always been you, him and me.”
“It’s always been all of us, but I know how it is with you and Tommy. Well, at least you two made up before he took off. At least you didn’t let him leave with all that up in the air between you.”
“Did you call him back to apologize?” J.J. asked. “He told me you called him and got after him. I had just hung up on him. He said we really gave him the business.”
“No, I didn’t call him back to apologize. He’s used to being cussed out by me, so he didn’t care about what I said to him. That was like a kiss for us. He only cared about getting right with you.”
She grabbed J.J. by the hand and started pulling her toward the door. “Come on. Let’s go down. Your foot’s better. Let’s get a ride in before breakfast.”
J.J. considered it a moment. Her ankle was a lot better. She might not be able to run yet, but there really wasn’t any reason for her not to ride. She’d just take it easy once she got out there. With any luck, they could take off and be back in time for breakfast with nobody else the wiser.
“Yeah, okay.” She agreed, kicking off the sandals she had just put on. “Go change your shoes. I’ll change mine and meet you out on the paddock.”
When Marnie left her, J.J. quickly switched into a pair of socks and her gym shoes, happy that they finally fit without any feeling of tightness. She more loosely laced the one in the event there was still something going on with the ankle that she couldn’t see with her eyes.
Standing to see how the shoes felt on her foot with her full weight, she pulled the folded piece of paper from her pocket. It was the article from her grandfather’s desk. She had planned to take it back on the day before by returning to the main house via the passageway. But Walter’s insistence upon staying to assist her with the attic room, and then on her returning with him to the main house in his car to keep her from walking on her “overtaxed” ankle any more, had kept her from doing so.
Somehow that incident with Ford Beebe and her mother made her think of her own situation with Wesley Singleton. Had Ford been a friend at one time? Did he ever give any indication of his feelings for her when they were kids in prep school?
J.J. stared down at the article and at the pictures of her mother and Ford. She thought about the man who tried to attack her mother at the ball the previous year, that Andy Seagren guy. He, too, had been a former friend. She wondered what it was about her mother that made men want her like that.
And was she developing that same quality? After all, there had been Allen Baker and now Wesley. And she was only sixteen.
She dropped down onto the bed to sit and think about it a moment.
Watching her mother in social situations, there were things she had noticed about her. She was a good looking woman, but she was the kind of pretty that demanded attention. Jennifer Hart had a magnetic way about her that naturally drew people to her. She was comfortable in large groups of people; friendly, more open, and, by J.J. Hart’s standards, more gullible than was good for her. In most instances, her mother tended to take people at face value until they gave her a reason to do otherwise.
It wasn’t the same for her. J.J. knew that for her and her father, it was the other way around. They didn’t trust or let their guard down until given a reason or they felt comfortable enough with the person or the situation to do so.
Yes, she decided, she had done the right thing in bringing her father in on the situation with Wesley. She hated doing it. She hated not being in control and not being able to handle it herself. It made her feel kind of wimpy and weak to have to run to her Daddy to handle her business. But, if she hadn’t heard anything else her mother had said to her, she had heard that one thing- that the word “no” meant exactly that- NO. For some reason Wesley couldn’t hear it when she said it to him. Maybe he’d hear it once Jonathan Hart said it.
She folded the article and stood to put it back into her pocket. From there she headed for the closet. It would only take a few extra minutes to put it back where it was supposed to be, and then she could make it outside to Marnie and the horses.
Lying on his back, his arms behind his head, the first thing Jonathan saw when he opened his eyes was blue sky crossed here and there with thin ragged strips of cloud. A bird flitted past overhead, and that was when he realized that his body was being slowly rocked; gently lifted and lowered as he woke.
“Beautiful and her mother have got you worn all the way down.” Bill’s voice sounded from the other end of Stephen’s fishing boat. “Bet when you married Jennifer, you thought you had ducked mother-in-law trouble.”
Jonathan chuckled at the comment. He had been waiting for him to bring up the subject of Jennifer and what had been going on.
He had no idea how long he had been asleep, but they had been out there fishing since daybreak. By the time he had felt himself growing tired, there were already several good sized specimens in the cooler.
After getting Jennifer into bed upon their return from J.J.’s room, seeing to her getting to sleep and then checking back on their daughter, who had by that time dropped back off to sleep herself; he had been unable to do the same. Knowing that Bill had a tendency to be a very early riser, he had gotten dressed and gone downstairs to fix some coffee and to wait for him. When Bill did come down shortly after, they had gotten fishing gear together and gone out onto the water.
“What are you talking about, my mother-in-law?” He laughed, sitting up so that he could see Bill who had his back to him tending both their lines which were in the water. “She’s as dead as both of yours, the former and the future.”
“Mrs. Edwards might be dead.” Bill commented without turning around. “But the lady ain’t gone from here. I don’t normally see much of what really isn’t there, but I can see that. I can feel her.”
Jonathan sat up and checked the cooler. There were a few more fish in it than he seemed to remember.
“Had a good morning so far, I see.”
“Um-hum.” Bill answered. “This is the life. I don’t know how you can stand that corporate grind any more.”
“I diversified.” Jonathan answered. “You didn’t. You stuck with just the planes and got bored. I have too many things going to be bored with the whole thing yet. But I am lucky enough to have good people in enough key places to be able to walk away for a while when I feel like it or I need to, just like Pat.”
“You two were smart enough about people to get the right line up to be able to do that.”
Bill finally turned around and sat back. “It’s a good thing you were able to do that this time. Jennifer needed for you to be here. What’s going on with her Jonathan? Is she going to be all right? What’s with this place?”
Jonathan ran his hand through his hair, brushing it off his face.
“I wondered how it must all be looking to you.” He said. “What has Pat said so far?”
“Nothing much. Like me, she’s been more worried about Jennifer and how she was doing since we hadn’t seen her, or seen much of you to ask about her. We’ve been trying to keep the girls occupied. Pat’s been seeing to Stephen even though he’s pretty self sufficient. He seems to be getting stronger. More like his old self. She told me how it probably all had something to do with Jennifer’s mother and about how Jennifer hadn’t ever really said much about the lady, not even to her. She said that she and Jennifer had always been able to pretty much talk about anything, except Jennifer’s mother. She said that as many times as she’s been to this house, Jennifer hadn’t ever mentioned anything to her about that other bedroom.”
“Jennifer didn’t remember it. Until these last few days, she didn’t remember a lot of things connected to her mother.”
“Blanked it out?”
“I think so. Or pushed it way to the back to where even she couldn’t reach it after a while. She was only twelve when her mother was killed.”
“Poor kid. So what’s up in that attic over the guest house?”
“A garret her mother had fixed up for herself. Just like that bedroom in the main house, after she died, Stephen just shut it down. He covered everything up, but left it intact. He locked the door and walked away. Jennifer never knew about that attic room. When she found her way up there, she got sort of mesmerized, I guess, and stayed a while.”
“What was Mrs. Edwards using the room for?”
“I think she just used it to separate herself. She had mostly personal things up there; books, old letters, pictures, files and records- that kind of thing. A lot of stuff that Jennifer had never seen before.”
Bill turned to look off into the distance. The white guest house could be seen from where they were on the lake.
“What did she say about that bedroom?” He asked. “How did she end up in there if she didn’t remember it? She mad at her old man for sealing it off like that?”
Then he suddenly turned back to Jonathan. “I’m asking a lot of questions, aren’t I? You can stop me if I’m getting too personal.”
“It’s all right. She’s your friend, too. I know you’re asking because you care, not out of nosiness. She found some old house plans up in that attic, and the room came back to her. That was her mother’s bedroom. Mr. and Mrs. Edwards had separate bedrooms. Edwards would be away, sometimes for long stretches, and she would sleep in there. I guess they got together in the other room, his room, when he was at home. Jennifer said that she used to visit her mother in that other room, but that she didn’t traffic too much in her father’s room as a kid.
Since her father was gone so much and for so long, she was raised here almost exclusively by her mother until she died. When she found those plans and remembered, she came back to the house through that passageway to find it. All the bedrooms are connected to that thing. I guess when she got in there and saw everything in there looking just how it used to be, she overloaded. She was already pretty worn out. It was all just too much for her, and she passed out. She’s okay now. Just tired still. She says that she isn’t angry with her father, but I think she’s still a little confused about everything.”
Bill scratched his head, looking slightly uncomfortable.
“You remember how rough it was for the boys and me when Ilene died?” He asked, gazing across and out at the water.
“At least with the boys, it was the two of them, and they could kind of hold each other up while I got my act together. With Jennifer, being an only child and in this huge place, it was just her and her father. If he was the clueless nut job I was, that poor girl didn’t have anybody to turn to.”
“I know.” Jonathan said quietly.
In all of what had been going on, he had nearly forgotten that Bill had also gone through losing a wife, and being left to raise children alone. He had been there with him to personally witness the difficulty through which his friend had gone.
Bill, too, had largely been an absentee parent up until that point. Not to the extent that Stephen had been, but he had been very involved in building McDowell Aviation around that time, leaving the childrearing largely to his wife. Bill’s boys, TJ and Peter, had been very young when they lost their mother to a fast-moving cancer, but still it had taken a while for them to get used to being alone with their father, and he with them.
It happened a couple of years before he met Jennifer, when he had still been seeing Nikki Stephanos, the Greek heiress he almost married. The two of them had been in the States at the time, and they had flown to Nevada to be with Bill when they got word that Ilene had passed on. Although the kids’ maternal grandmother lived nearby, Bill still found that he needed help with them. Nikki had been the one to suggest hiring a live-in housekeeper to see to the boys while Bill worked during the day. It was she who conducted the interviews until she came upon Clara, who turned out to be a godsend. Bill kept his boys at home with him and raised them himself. As his business grew, and his financial situation improved, Bill had moved his boys into the large ranch he presently owned. Even though TJ was now deceased and Peter had long been a grown man with his own family, Clara still maintained Bill’s home.
Jennifer had suddenly lost her mother, leaving her with a father she didn’t know very well, and had been shipped off to boarding school soon afterward. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what had happened to her when he looked at it like that. She had probably never really effectively dealt with losing her mother and the only home she had known until those last few days they’d spent in that attic. Up until then, she hadn’t talked about it, and her mind had stopped thinking about it.
Mrs. Edwards had been smoothed over and made silent.
“What kind of woman do you think Mrs. Edwards was?” He heard Bill ask.
“A real one. One who could handle herself and everybody else.” Jonathan answered. “One I wish I could have met in life.”
“Your mother-in-law? If she was anything like the one I had, you’re probably better off.”
Jonathan laughed, recalling Bill’s frequent spats with his wife’s meddling mother, spats which escalated into real ugliness once her daughter was dead. Although he didn’t try to keep the kids from her, Bill tried to have as little to do with the woman as possible while she had been alive.
“I don’t think it would have been like that for me.” He said. “For one thing, my mother-in-law would have been on the opposite coast from us, not on the next block. That was your fault for letting that happen.”
Bill smiled. “I was young. I didn’t know. What a shrew. Even the kids didn’t like her much. How bad is it when kids don’t like their damned grandmother and they’re glad when they move away from her?”
They both laughed at the memory. Jonathan had always enjoyed Bill’s two very different, but very interesting sons.
“Hey, look at that!” Bill cried, pointing across the water.
Following his finger, Jonathan could see Pat and Jennifer riding across the lawn and waving at them, heading for the other side of the lake.
They waved back.
“That’s good.” Bill said. “If those two are back together, then things must be getting back to normal.”
Jonathan checked his watch.
“We need to be getting back to the house in a bit.” He said. “It’ll be time for breakfast, and if those two aren’t going to be there, then we need to be. Rosa will have a fit if she cooks all that food, and nobody’s there to eat it.”
“Think she’s going to make us clean this fish?” Bill asked, checking the lines a last time.
“If we want to eat it, she is.” Jonathan answered. “The last time I caught fish, she told me that fish cleaning didn’t fall within her job specifications. She said that Walter and Stephen have to clean the fish they catch if they want her to cook it, and the two of them confirmed it.”
“I’ll be damned, Valentine. If had known that, I wouldn’t have caught so many.”
“You’ll be glad you did when we’re eating it later on.” Jonathan smiled. “Come on, let’s get back. We have our work cut out for us. Maybe we can get the girls to help.”
Bill waved his hand at that suggestion. “Pat? Marnie? Hell, J.J.? Jennifer? There’s not a one in four chance that we’re going to get them to lift a finger to help us gut a fish. Not one. Bet.”
“No takers.” Jonathan laughed. “That is definitely a sucker’s bet. I don’t even know why I said that.”
“I don’t know how Jonathan keeps going.” Jennifer remarked as she and Pat waved to the two men in the boat out on the lake. “When I woke up this morning, he was already out of the bed and gone.”
“The same goes for you.” Pat said from where she was riding slightly behind Jennifer. “I don’t know how you’re still standing. I know you haven’t rested well either. You never do when you’re onto something.”
Jennifer urged her father’s horse into a quicker gait than the pace to which they had slowed when they spotted the boat. “I slept while I was gone.” She said. “Off and on.”
“Eight hours? At one time, Jen? I know you.”
“No, but if you add it all up-”
“That’s not the same Edwards, and you know it. You have that look you get.”
“What look is that?”
“J.J. calls it frail. I call it wan.”
Jennifer laughed and effected a strong French accent, “You must eat, Cherie. You play hard, and you do not want to eat. You too soon get frail. Too pale and too thin when you do not eat.”
She laughed again. “I’ve always had that problem. She used to have to urge food on me all the time. She kept cookies and things just to fatten me up. Even then, I didn’t eat a lot of that.”
“Your mother?” Pat asked, pulling alongside on Diamond to see her friend’s face.
Jennifer always could mimic anyone. She could sound like almost anybody. She had a natural talent for it. As a student at Gresham Hall, she had kept everyone in stitches mimicking the Dean, Miss Smythe, and all their instructors. She had often used the ability to her advantage in her career as a journalist. But that was the first time she had ever heard Jennifer do or say anything that personal about her mother. Even though she was well acquainted with Jennifer’s Aunt Sabrina and knew that Jennifer’s mother had been her twin, she had almost forgotten that Mrs. Edwards had been French.
Jennifer nodded in answer and closed her eyes. “It feels so good, Pat. It feels so good to be out here with you. Remember when we used to get up early and sneak out to go riding at school? We thought we were getting up before everybody else, but it seemed like we always got caught?”
“It took out little dumb butts forever to figure out that the back of the Dean’s house faced out onto the Green and that she could see us crossing it. It never dawned on us that she got up early, too, and that even though her room was on the front facing the Quad, she might be looking out of the back door .”
Jennifer smiled. “To catch girls crossing the Green.”
“She was looking for the ones who might be going to go to the stables, but not to ride.” Pat grinned broadly and snickered.
“Horses, anyway.” Jennifer said. “The Dean wasn’t having it. Remember when she caught you that evening with Teddy Sr.?”
“That was your damned fault. You and that cigarette you were smoking. I told you that shit was going to going to get us killed. You were always dropping them on something flammable.”
“I wouldn’t have been inside the stable with all that hay if you hadn’t have been so hot for Teddy’s body and needed to get up to the loft so badly. I told YOU that we were going to get caught. I was just fine where I had been- out behind the stable- until you two came along needing a lookout. It’s a wonder we didn’t get expelled.”
“It was probably because of your father, Jen. We didn’t know it, but the Dean kept us because of him. Remember we got stable duty, and Teddy had to stoke those coal furnaces over at Brookfield. Poor thing. He’ll probably develop black lung later in life, and they never will trace it back to a detention at prep school.”
“In the long run, Teddy still got what he was after, Pat. I have to hand it to him for persistence. You certainly gave it him. You must have shown him a pretty good preview of coming attractions before I set the stable on fire.”
“Yeah, before I could and rock his world to boot. You should have seen us trying to get our clothes back fastened and get down there to help you and the Dean stomp out that fire.”
They both sputtered with laughter.
“Remember when Dean Marchand finally called us to her office, after she locked us in our room, to tell us that she had sent for Pa, and that he was actually coming? I thought he was going to kill both of us when he got there.”
“I had never been so scared in all my life, Jen, and that’s saying something for those times. But when he said that he was disappointed and ashamed of us, I thought I would just die. I tried to clean up my act after that.”
At Pat’s words, a lump formed in Jennifer’s throat. She signaled Legs to stop.
“What’s up, Jen?”
“I need to tell you some things.” Jennifer answered, climbing down. “I know you’ve been wondering.”
“You know I have. I’m also wondering why you haven’t gone to see your father yet. You know he’s wondering.”
“That’s part of what I want to talk with you about.”
Once they had the horses tied off, they spread the blanket Jennifer had brought with her, and they sat down it. Jennifer handed Pat one of the folders she had pulled from her saddlebag.
“Something I want you to look at.” Jennifer answered.
“I gathered that.” Pat said, flipping it open. “It’s in longhand and in French, Jen.”
“So? You read French. The handwriting is legible. Get to reading.”
“The whole thing?”
“Read enough. You’ll know when enough is enough.”
While Pat began looking at the one Jennifer had given her, Jennifer lie down on her side and opened the other folder.
It wasn’t long before Pat found herself completely engrossed in the story and unable to stop reading until she came to the end. When she finally looked up, Jennifer was facing away from her, propped up on one elbow, seemingly looking at that other folder.
“Jen, this is wonderful. Who wrote it? Your mother?”
When Jennifer didn’t answer her or acknowledge her question with even a body movement of any kind, Pat rose to her knees to peer around to Jennifer’s face.
“I knew it.” She whispered, carefully cradling Jennifer’s head in her hand before moving the arm upon which it had been resting. “You looked beat. You do this every time.”
Very gently she eased her sleeping friend down into a more comfortable resting position. She then pulled the free end of the blanket over Jennifer’s legs and took up that other folder that was lying open in front of her. On the top pages, she could see where Jennifer had been marking and making notes in the margins.
“I’ll guess I’ll just have to wait you out so that you can tell me what you had to tell me.”
Pat moved back into the spot where she had been.
“Oh well, in the meantime…” She sighed, settling in to read the pages before her. She was surprised that although it was written in the same hand, the writer had switched to English.
J.J., rushing as fast as she could through the passageway, turned the corner that would take her in the direction of her grandfather’s desk. The dull overhead lights flashed on as she moved, but she regretted not remembering to bring a flashlight to better light the way ahead of her. However, she was pretty sure that she could see well enough to make her way to where she had to go. By the time she made out her grandfather’s form seated at that desk, it was too late for her to turn back. She was close enough to him to see him looking in the direction of the light that flashed on over her head.
She felt her heart suddenly seize up, and then restart, pounding in her chest like a tommy gun. Her first inclination was to turn and run away. But she couldn’t run. She had already been spotted, and she didn’t want to risk re-injuring her ankle. Ultimately she had no choice but to proceed toward him.
“Justine?” She heard him call, his voice sounding his surprise. “What are you doing down here?”
Her face hot with guilt, sure that he thought she had come back to snoop through his things and reluctant to tell him the real reason why she was there, she was tongue-tied. She didn’t know what to say to him.
“I asked you a question.” He repeated, looking up at her from where he was seated in the wooden swivel chair.
“I-” She attempted to answer. “I just-”
He was staring at her in that same odd way as before, and the look, not her grandfather, frightened her. “I just wanted-”
Just like when her mother’s eyes bore down on her in one of those tight situations, J.J. resorted to basic instinct, to the only thing there was to do. She dug down in her pocket and pulled out the article. Then she held the folded piece of paper out to him.
He took it from her hand and unfolded it. Then he looked back up to her, gesturing with his hand for her to come closer. She moved to where she was standing right next to him.
“When were you here, Justine?” He asked. “Why did you take it?”
“I was here yesterday. I was with my mother. She brought me here to see the pictures and things. She said I should know about them. I saw that article on your desk, and I took it so I could read it all the way through.”
“Why didn’t you read it while you were here?”
J.J. hung her head slightly. “She wouldn’t have wanted me to.”
“Why wouldn’t she, Justine?”
“That’s how she is, Pa. She tries to keep negativity away from me. She wouldn’t have liked me reading that about her.”
Stephen refolded the paper and slipped it back into the top drawer from where he had taken it on the day before.
“I understand.” He said. “She didn’t want me reading it either, darling. I came by it the roundabout way myself. She doesn’t know that I know either. She tried to keep negativity away from me too.”
J.J. relaxed. He wasn’t angry with her, and it didn’t sound as if he were going to tell on her.
“Your grandmother also tried very hard to keep negative things away from your mother. That is what good mothers try to do for their children, Justine. And what children sometimes do to their parents. Trust in them, Justine. Trust your mother and your father. Take your troubles to them when you have them.”
“Keeping too much away can make a kid soft, though, Pa. Sometimes if you know ahead of time that things can happen like that, you know what to look out for. And I do trust my parents. Both of them. They’ve let me know that I can. I try to take care of myself, but when I can’t, I know I can go to one of them.”
He nodded thoughtfully, and she could tell that he was listening to what she said. She liked that he listened. She liked what he said. She liked him and she could tell that her grandfather liked her. He hadn’t gotten mad at her on the night before either when she took the shot with the cigar in the study.
But, that certainly had been one smooth stogie. Quality, she decided, did have its merits.
Standing there, she couldn’t help but let her eyes travel once again to that one covered painting leaning against the wall.
“Go ahead.” He said. “You may look at it if you like.”
She went to it and pulled away the cloth. It was still magnificent.
“Do you like it?” He asked.
“Very much.” She answered. “It’s beautiful. There are a lot of pretty things down here. Pa?”
“Do you think this one can go back up? To the music room?”
“You are sure that’s where you want it?”
She turned around to him. “Me? Where I want it? You sound like I’m in charge or something. It’s your house. I was just asking.”
“And I am allowing you to make the decision on that.”
“It just seems too pretty to be hidden away down here, that’s all.”
“Is the music room where you want to put it, Justine?”
“Yes. That’s where I want it.”
“Then it shall be done. Is there anything else you want to ask me since we’re here together?”
“No, but may I tell you something, Pa?”
“What’s that, darling.”
“First, thank you for not being angry with me about taking the article and for not jumping to conclusions and thinking the worst of me. I really did take it only to read it. I wasn’t nosing around on your desk. I promise you.”
“I believe you.”
Secondly, I want to tell you that I think that you’re very brave and very strong. My mother told me some things about herself yesterday, and I really have to give it to you. You were a very good Papa to her. And to Aunt Pat. She said so.”
J.J. nodded. “She did. I admire you.”
“A whole lot of things. Too many to talk about.”
“Justine.” He said. “Tell me something else. Does anything frighten you?”
“Some things. Why?”
“You always strike me as being so sure of yourself. I would think that coming down here alone would frighten a young girl like you.”
She shook her head.
“You didn’t ask me anything about that bedroom. That didn’t frighten you?”
“It was spooky, but it didn’t scare me. It was my grandmother’s room, and it was in this house. This house is kind of like being at home; it’s where family is. And there wasn’t anything I wanted to ask you about my grandmother’s room at the time. At least I couldn’t think of anything to ask you a the time. Since then, my father has talked to me about it, and my mother has filled me in on it. That pretty much cleared up any confusion I might have had. I’m okay with it now. Like I said, this house is like home, so I wouldn’t be frightened of much here.”
“So what kinds of things do frighten you?”
“Not making the grade. The people I love not loving me back. Letting my family down.” She answered. “Things like that scare me.”
He smiled. “I don’t think you have much to worry about then.”
“Thank you.” She smiled back. “I hope so. I’m supposed to meet Marnie outside. May I go up through your room so that I don’t have to go all the way back around?”
“Go.” He said. “And the two of you are not to be late for breakfast.”
She had made it as far as the steps.
“Yes.” She answered, turning around to him.
“No riding. It is not yet time. Give it another day or so.”
She had to force herself not to roll her eyes in frustration. She hadn’t counted upon being shut down by him. “Curses,” She thought. “Foiled, once again…”
“I love you, Justine.” He said as she started up.
“I love you, too, Pa.” She called back down to him.
Stephen settled back in his chair again with the intention of continuing to look over his foreign correspondence, but he couldn’t take his eyes off that portrait.
Justine had spoken with her mother. Jonathan had been with Jennifer and said that she had come back to the house with him. Twice to his knowledge, she had returned to the house. She had come back for her husband, her child, even her mother. Why hadn’t she come back to see him?
“Shoot!” She thought as she shook what turned out to be the last cigarette from the pack. “Now what am I going to do?”
She had a research paper to write and had come out behind the stable to have a smoke and clear her head before returning to Waverly House and getting to work. She wouldn’t be able to slip away from campus to get to a store until the weekend. Maybe she could get one of the guys from Brookfield to go for her, one who wouldn’t expect anything much in return.
It was just about dusk, and it wouldn’t be too long before Warden Smythe started checking rooms. She and Pat were already on the cusp. There had been several small incidents in recent memory. It wouldn’t do for anything else to happen. And where in the world was Pat?
Pat had been gone from the room for an hour before she had decided to come out there to have that cigarette. More than likely she was with Teddy.
She lit the cigarette with that sterling silver lighter. She had brought it with her from Briarwood to Gresham Hall when her father first dropped her off almost four years ago at the age of twelve. It was special, and it was now hers. Leaning back against the stable wall, she took a long, hard drag, filling her lungs and delighting in the three perfect donut shaped smoke rings she expelled.
The lighter felt good in her hands. She liked holding it. It was heavy. Expensive. Tasteful, but not fancy. Elegant. With her fingers, she could feel the comforting cuts of the letters that had been carved into it, “S R E”. She dropped it into the pocket of her jacket, patted the pocket to make sure that it was there, and took another deep pull from the cigarette.
Pa had called earlier, but she had been out. Pat had taken the message and left it for her.
What did he want? It wasn’t like he didn’t know where she was. He had put her there. He had given the orders to the Dean and to Miss Smythe that she wasn’t to leave the campus unless he was notified. Sure. Right. Jennifer Edwards went where she pleased. She was nobody’s prisoner, not even her father’s.
He tried to dress her like a nun so that he could be sure that nobody looked at her when she wasn’t required to wear those uniforms. Thank God for Aunt Sabrina and her “CARE” packages and for Fontaine, who was able to alter clothes so well. Pa would probably have a fit when he saw what she had done to her hair. He liked it long. She did too, actually, but that wasn’t what was in style. Everybody was wearing their hair bobbed, and there was going to be at least one thing that she could control. Pa couldn’t control every aspect of her life.
“What’re you doing out here, Edwards?”
Pat turned the corner with Teddy. They had their arms around each other, and they looked suspect. Pat and Teddy “Bear” Baxter had been playing cat and mouse with each other for almost six months. They obviously liked each other very much. Pat said that they wanted to do it with each other.
“Having a fag in private.” She answered. “Where have you two been? You know we need to be in soon, Pat. We’re the first ones in Waverly that they’ll be looking for.”
Teddy laughed. “You spend too much time with your old man across the pond, girl. You use the word “fag” here in the States, and it takes on a whole new meaning.”
“Only if you say you’re having a fag in private will it be a problem, Teddy.” She answered, earning a hearty laugh from Pat.
“Did you call your father back yet?” Pat asked. “I told him you would.”
She rolled her eyes and answered dryly, “I don’t know why you told him that.”
Pat grabbed Teddy by the hand. “We’re going up in the loft. Keep an eye out will you?”
“How am I going to see, and I’m back here, Pat?”
“Come inside. You can watch from the door.”
“Pat, I’m no voyeur. I don’t want to be in there with you two while you feel each other up and do God only knows what else up there.”
Then she looked up at Teddy. “I sure hope you have some protection. You knock her up, and we’re all getting the boot. Even though I wasn’t in on it, I’ll go as an accessory. Nobody will believe that I didn’t have anything to do with it.”
“We’re just going to kiss.” Pat said as she pulled her by the arm.
She tried to hesitate. “You can kiss down here if that’s all you’re going to do.”
“Not like we’re going to kiss.” Teddy grinned, taking her by the other arm and helping Pat to pull her around to the front of the building.
Standing just inside the stable door, intermittently peeking through the opening where she had it cracked to let the smoke out, she was enjoying the cigarette, the familiar, comforting smell of the horses; and she was thinking about things.
Why she didn’t like boys the way Pat did? Boys liked her, but she almost couldn’t stand to have one of them touch her. They were all right as friends, but she really didn’t like it when they started acting as if they wanted to get close. They always seemed to want to touch her or touch some part of her. Their eyes were always somewhere on her other than her face. And if the eyes were on her face, then the hands would be trying to be somewhere else. That made her very uncomfortable. Would she ever like boys? Would a boy ever like her for who she was rather than what she looked like? She liked to dress nicely, but she didn’t like the animal-like attention it attracted. Why was that? Would there ever come a time when she would want a boy to touch her the way Pat liked to be touched? Would there ever be a boy special enough to her to make her want to touch him?
Would she ever understand what it was all about?
Would her father ever understand that just because she was attractive, it didn’t automatically make her a wanton tramp. Would he ever understand how his over protectiveness made her feel as if there was something wrong with her? Boys were after her; she had little interest in them. She was a girl, not an animal in heat. She didn’t have to be kept caged to keep males away from her. She was a person in control of that part of her life.
And why was it that the male animals were allowed to roam free, but the females were always the ones to be pinned down?
Rustling sounds were coming from the loft, and that caused her to check the crack in the door again.
“Oh, no!” She cried, involuntarily jumping back. “Pat! Teddy! It’s the Dean! She’s coming!”
Instantly there was scrambling and bumping in the loft. The shock of seeing the Dean coming across the Green, heading for the stable caused the almost-finished cigarette to became dislodged from between her fingers. In trying to catch hold of it, the lit end burned her fingers, and she dropped it onto the loose, dry hay at her feet which was covering a spot of what appeared to be machine oil on the floor. It instantly ignited.
“You know I could just kill you.” She said from the side of her bed as Pat paced the bedroom floor. “I was perfectly all right, all by myself, behind the stable. Then here you come with Teddy. We’re going to all get expelled. And then we’re going to all get killed.”
Pat continued to pace. “You need to give up those damned cigarettes. I did. You should too. I told you that shit was going to get us killed, and look, it has. If you hadn’t dropped it and started a fire, you could have hidden up in the loft with us till she left.”
“She had already seen us, Pat! What do you think made her come out there? She knew we were in there. She always knows. She’s going to call my father. You know she’s going to call him. I hate her for how she’s always calling my father on us.”
“If you ask me, I think she has a thing for your father.” Pat said. “She’s always calling him on us. The slightest thing, and she’s calling him. She has a thing for him, and I know it. I can see the way she looks at him that she likes him. He is handsome, and I can see why she might like him, but why use him and us like that? Why can’t she just call him up and tell him that she has it for him. Leave us out of it.”
“I think she just likes his accent.”
No way could Dean Marchand be attracted to her father.
“You dummy. She sounds just like him, Jen. Haven’t you noticed?”
“No she doesn’t.”
There was no way. Her father might be a nice-looking man, but no way could any woman like him, not as mean as he was. Especially not Dean Marchand. She’d better not like him. There wasn’t any way that was going to be. If she was thinking about it, she could just forget it.
The door opened, and Miss Smythe stuck her head in.
“Dean Marchand wants the two of you in her office immediately.” She informed them. “She said post haste. Mr. Edwards in on the line.”
Her father was the one pacing this time, one hand in his pocket, the other running through his wavy black hair. He was tall, well-dressed, and very English. He was also very angry.
“I don’t know what to do with you two. I tried splitting you up as friends. That did not work. I try talking to you. That does not work. I write to you, Jennifer, and you don’t answer. I phone you, and you refuse to talk to me. Look at you. You have cut off all your beautiful hair without so much as a by your leave, father. Dean Marchand tells me that you left campus without her permission to have it done. You feel you can do just as you please whenever you please. What am I to do with you, girl?”
Both of them had remained silent while his eyes searched theirs.
“Patricia.” He said, turning to Pat. “I don’t know what you are thinking, but I will not have you becoming a woman up in a hay loft with some twit of a boy from down the street. Sixteen is too young for a girl to become a woman. You only just turned sixteen. You have too much living in front of you yet to be giving yourself to anyone, and in that low, common manner. I won’t have it! Do you want me to arrange with your father to have you sent to a convent in the Swiss Alps? I can, you know. And if I suggest it, you know he will. The man is not well, and he does not need to know that his daughter is behaving like a low trollop at school. I am ashamed and disappointed in both of you. Patricia, tell me what I should do with you.”
“Nothing.” Pat answered humbly. “I’ll do better. I don’t want to go to the convent school. I want to stay here.”
“Then you had better learn to conduct yourself as a lady. If not-“
Then he turned to her. “And Jennifer, I just do not know what I am going to do with you. Why won’t you talk to me? What have I done to you? Tell me.”
She was silent. She wanted him to stop talking.
“From where are you getting the cigarettes? I thought you had learned your lesson when you were suspended for it the first time.”
She didn’t say anything to that.
“TALK TO ME!” he roared in frustrated fury.
Trembling with rage, she asked him, “What would you have me say?”
He had never raised his voice to her before, and he certainly had no right to do it to her now. How dare he, and in front of the Dean, of all people. Nobody in the world had ever screamed at her like that before. Who did he think he was?
He should ask himself all of those questions he was trying to ask her. It was all his fault anyway. Everything that had happened was his fault. What had he done to her? He had done it all- everything. She was the one who should have been screaming. What did he have to scream about? He wasn’t stuck in boarding school. Just like always, he was wherever he wanted to be while she was pinned down.
He pointed his finger at her, singling her out from everyone else in the room.
“I want you, Jennifer Justine Edwards, to tell me right now what I should do with you.”
She wanted to tell him that he should leave her alone. She wanted to tell him that he should go back to where he had been. That he should shut up and go away. Instead she remained silent as she stared at him in defiance while desperately fingering that cigarette lighter that was in the pocket of her blazer.
He turned to Dean Marchand who had come up with him to the room in Waverly House. He threw up his hands, and despair cracked his voice.
“I don’t know what to do with her. I just don’t know what to do. Maybe I should take her with me.”
The Dean shook her head, signaling her disapproval of the idea.
She turned away from both of them. She wouldn’t dare disrespect her father aloud, but the fury was coursing through her entire teenaged body like venom, and she had to beat it back to keep it from bursting forth via her tongue
“You should shut and die, Pa. Just shut up and DIE! SHUT UP AND DIE!!!“
“I was just about to get you up.” Pat’s voice said from behind her. “You okay? You cold, Jen? You’re shaking.”
Her heart was racing in her chest, and for what seemed like the millionth time in the past few days, she was fighting back tears. She had to concentrate on catching her breath before she could answer Pat’s question. She was glad that Pat couldn’t see her face at that moment.
“Yes, I’m all right.” She finally answered, trying to make her voice light. “I guess I was more tired than I thought.”
“Yeah, I guess you were. These stories are wonderful, Jen. Who wrote them?”
“My mother.” She said without turning around still trying, without much success, to get her faculties back under control.
“Are there more?”
“Yes. They’re in my room in the main house. Jonathan and I brought them down so that you could see them.”
“I see she has a contract here that she hadn’t signed. She was going to be published in France. Are we-”
“Pat, I have to go.”
She felt Pat take her arm and try to pull her around so that she could see her face, but she resisted her.
“Go where, Jen?”
“Just go.” She answered, pulling her arm from Pat’s grasp and getting up. “I’m sorry. I know I brought you out here, but I just have to go. I’m sorry.”
A few minutes later, Pat watched in confused silence as her friend raced away on Diamond, leaving her father’s horse, the one she’d ridden out there, behind.
Marnie was waiting by the paddock fence.
“Sorry I took so long.” J.J. said as she approached her. “I got sidetracked. I stopped and talked to my grandfather.”
“It’s just as well.” Marnie answered, leaning back against the fence. “Pat and your mother have Legs and Diamond out. Only Star is left. He’s too young for both of us to ride at the same time.”
“That’s just as well, too. My grandfather put the hammer down on that before I could even get out of the house.”
“What did he say?”
“I don’t know how he knew, but he caught me right before I left him. He goes,” J.J. stopped, put her hands on her hips and changed her voice to mimic her grandfather’s. “No riding, Justine. It is not yet time. Give it another day or so. I had better not catch your crippled hind parts on the back of any one of those horses.” What a gyp of a vacation this has been, Marnie.”
“You sounded just like him, J.” Marnie sputtered with laughter. “You are so crazy, but you do those voices so good! I know he didn’t say that last thing about your hind parts. You made that up, and you know it.”
J.J. threw up her hands.
“Well, He might as well have said it. That’s what it amounted to. I swear, when I think of what all we missed not being at home this past week, and then not getting to ride at all while visiting two places where there were horses.”
Slowly sobering, Marnie leaned back into the fence. “I don’t know. I don’t think it’s been such a gyp. I did get to ride that one time, but think about it, J. We got to go to Gresham Hall and experience boarding school life a little. We met some new people. You met Teddy. Now, you have to admit, that was worth it. The boy is fine, and you know it. He looks like he can kiss. He has lips made for kissing. Can’t he kiss, J.?”
J.J. nodded thoughtfully but admitted nothing out loud. She leaned onto the fence next to Marnie.
“I don’t care if you tell me, J.” Marnie sniffed haughtily. “I know he can. I can always tell a good kisser.”
“I bet you can.” J.J. countered.
“Anyway, back to what we were saying,” Marnie continued. “Personally, aside from getting put on lockdown once for the hickey and then almost going up the river for you on car theft charges, I’ve had a very good time so far. I’ve had some down-time to think things over and make some pretty good decisions for me and my brother. That wouldn’t have, couldn’t have, happened if I had been at home by myself while my mother was all over the place doing her own thing. I would have been too busy being on the wild. It wouldn’t have happened if she had taken me with her, either.”
“Yep.” J.J. agreed. “I can see that.”
“I think too, that it was good for your family. I don’t know what all has been going on, and I don’t really want to know. I understand about private family stuff. But at least you got a chance to learn some things about your grandmother, and obviously your mother is taking care of some old business that she needed to take care of. She okay, J.?”
“She’s better, I think. She needs to get some rest, though.”
“She will when she’s done. Pat and Bill got to spend some more time together. They even set a wedding date. They’re-”
J.J. pushed off the fence to face Marnie. “Wedding date? When? How do you know? She told you?”
“Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you when we were upstairs talking. I heard her tell your grandfather. She was out in the side garden, and I was coming to bring her some of Rosa’s cake. I heard them talking, and she told him that she wanted to get married here at Thanksgiving time when all of you come here so that he could give her away. He told her that she could and that he would. I went back before they could see me because I didn’t want them to think I was eavesdropping.”
“But you were.” J.J. laughed.
“Yeah, but I didn’t want them to know it.”
“So, what did you do with the cake?”
“Hell, I ate it on the way back to the house. What do you think I did with it? Rosa’s German chocolate cake is the bomb.”
“Whatever. And then, too, J. You’re back up on two legs with no crutch. If you had been at home recuperating, you would have taken twice as long to get put back together because you wouldn’t have been still if your father hadn’t made you go to the hospital like he did here. If we hadn’t ever gone to Gresham in the first place, you might not have hurt your ankle, but you know damn well we would have been coming off our third or fourth lockdown by now.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right about that. If we had thrown that party for Tommy, you know that this morning the Duchess would have had both of us at the kitchen table right about now, chewing us out for all the gate crashers that showed up and we let in, and for how the party got all the way out of hand. She would have been laying down our fourth, maybe fifth lockdown of the summer.”
“You know it.” Marnie agreed. “But we do give the bomb parties, don’t we?”
They high-fived each other.
“Marnie, do you think you’ll ever have kids one day?” J.J. asked.
“I don’t know. I might have one.” Marnie answered. ” A girl.”
“Marnie, you get what you get. You can’t control the sex of a baby.”
“Maybe by that time they will have come up with a way for you to pick.” Marnie shrugged. “If I have a baby, and I’m not real sure if I really do want one, I want a girl. They have better clothes and stuff for girls. I would hate to be shopping for a boy. What about you, J.? You want kids?”
“Definitely. I want at least two; one of each. Maybe three if I get two of the same thing. I want a boy first, though.”
“I know I want to have a son and a daughter. If I’d had a sibling, I would like to have had an older brother. I definitely want a daughter, and I want her to have an older brother.”
“Yeah,” Marnie agreed. “It might have been nice to have an older brother. Then he could have brought his cute friends to the house. Talk about your home delivery!”
“You are hopeless!” J.J. laughed as she shoved Marnie playfully. “Only you would come up with a scenario like that. But for real, whatever I have, I know I don’t want to have an only child, though. It was okay for me, but I want my kids to have each other, you know somebody to share growing up with.”
“It’s good we met each other, isn’t it?” Marnie smiled up at her friend. “We weren’t born sisters, but how much better can it get?”
“Pat and my mother?”
Marnie nodded. “They’re the same as us. I hope we stay friends like they did, and like they are.”
“So far, so good.” J.J. agreed, winking down at her. “Somebody knew what to do to make it right and to make it last with them. Maybe they’ll help us out too.”
J.J. closed her eyes and dropped her head back to let the sun shine on her face, sending a silent message to that special someone.
“You’ve had all our backs this whole time, haven’t you? Through this whole, entire thing, you’ve been right there, haven’t you? All I have to say about it is, good looking out, Grandmama.”
Everyone was already seated at the breakfast table when Pat hurried in to take her place. The chairs had all been filled except one, the one that was directly across from J.J. and at Stephen’s right arm. All eyes were on Pat.
“I’m sorry I’m late.” She breathlessly apologized. “Lost track of time.”
They made ready to join hands to say Grace, but when Stephen reached out his right hand and once again there was no one there, he suddenly let J.J.’s hand go and stood up from his chair, tossing the napkin in his lap down onto the table. Everyone looked up at him.
“Where is Jennifer, Patricia?” He demanded. “And do not try to cover for her. I know that she was with you. I saw you from the window when you rode off together.”
“I don’t know.” Pat answered miserably. “We were together. We stopped to talk, but she fell asleep. When she woke up, she just took off on Diamond.”
Jonathan also stood at that point. “What was wrong with her?”
“I don’t know.” Pat repeated. “She just woke up, and said she had to go. I think maybe she had some sort of bad dream. She jerked awake, and that’s when I saw that she was shaking. I asked her if she was all right, and she said that she was. Right after that she said she had to go, and she left me sitting there by myself.”
J.J. looked to her father who, at the other end of the table, had pushed his chair back to get it out of his way.
“No, Jonathan.” Stephen declared. “Not this time. This time, I shall go.”
“She’s my wife, Stephen.” Jonathan protested.
“But she’s my child, Jonathan.” Stephen said decisively as he pushed his chair back to stand beside it. “She was my daughter before she was your wife. You stay, and you see to your child. I’ll go, and I’ll see to mine.”
Stephen took his coffee cup from the table and put it to his lips, quickly draining it. Then, without another word, he left the room.
Jonathan, completely at a loss for words and outdone at being overridden by his elderly father-in-law, reluctantly took his seat after Bill reached up and patted him on the shoulder. As he did, he looked across to J.J., who he could see was watching him intently.
“He’s right.” She mouthed to him, raising that one eyebrow just like the women before her. “Needs her Daddy.”
Despite his worry and his unwillingness to relinquish his mental position as Jennifer’s protector, he tried not to smile at that look on that face.
She had maneuvered a reluctant Diamond through the woods and they had finally reached the other side, the side by her pond and her tree. All the way through, she wished that she had brought Legs instead. He was more confident and therefore, an easier ride. He had been trained by her father, so he knew what to do, where to go, and how to get there without a lot of urging or direction. But it didn’t seem right to take anything that belonged to her father. She didn’t deserve anything from him.
Sitting on the ground, under the tree, she drew her knees to her chin and wrapped her arms around them, lacing her fingers together to lock herself into that position. She put her head on her knees and rocked in misery and desperation.
Her mother was dead. How could she have thought that wishing her father dead was going to make that any better? He had done nothing but try to love her, yet she wished him out of her life. He hadn’t gone. She was glad that he hadn’t taken her up on it, but she had wished it just the same. And she had told him so.
“You were just a child, Jennifer.”
That didn’t make it any better. Things like that weren’t ever forgotten. It had to haunt him that his only child had said that to him. He had lost his wife and his baby, and his remaining child didn’t want him. How hurt had he been by her behavior? It haunted her that she’d wished it. That wasn’t the first time that she’d had that dream about that day in that room at Waverly House. It had never been that vivid before, but it had invaded her sleep on other occasions, waking her while wandering around in the recesses of her consciousness.
“You still have that quick temper.”
She had always had it. Her mother had taught her to suppress it, to control it, but it had never gone away completely. It had only been internalized. Certain things, people, and situations still triggered it. It wasn’t as volatile, but it was just as intense. The tendency had even been passed on to her own child, and in her it was worse. Where she harbored anger, J.J. harbored smoldering grudges, and she did it quietly, secretly, and deliberately.
“What should I do with you?”
“Just love me.” Was always J.J.’s answer to that question when it was posed to her in frustration over a recurrent irritating behavior.
She had been too angry and too restrained in her relationship with her own father to tell him something like that. She wouldn’t have told him that, even if she had felt that was what she wanted him to do. But she hadn’t had to tell him that. He just did it, and he had no real reason to do so. Pat had been genuinely remorseful that day. She had not been. She couldn’t wait for him to go, get back on that plane, and head for London or wherever he had been. He was always leaving, it seemed. That day changed Pat. It took Pat to change her.
But what else could he have done? The two of them couldn’t have continued to bump around in that big old house. He wouldn’t have known what to do with her. He didn’t know her. She didn’t know him. That took time. And that house wasn’t the same without her mother. It still wasn’t. Unless J.J. was there.
Somehow, J.J. filled it up in much the same way. When she had been a younger child, she seemed uneasy being there, which was another major reason for insisting upon staying in the guest house when they visited, although they only told her father it was to keep him from having his routine disrupted. But as she was getting older, she seemed more comfortable there. They had sent her to Briarwood as punishment once when she was fourteen. The “punishment” quickly turned into a pleasant visit with her Pa, and ever since then, she had been becoming increasingly at ease at her grandfather’s estate and in his home. She moved around the old place more freely, preferring certain rooms over others, but fearless and at home just the same.
It was J.J. who talked her grandfather into reopening the solarium. It had been shut down for years, But after she spoke with him about it, he’d had it refurbished a couple of years ago to accommodate his “California granddaughter”. The music room was alive when she was there, just as it had been decades ago when its original owner had occupied it. Her mother had loved that room and that piano. At first it had been disturbing to hear it being played again when J.J initially started to use it. But eventually, especially lately as her superior musical talents were truly gelling, it was almost soothing. The kitchen and the pantries were frequently graced by her greedy little presence. J.J. had even led her mother to discover parts of the house that she had never known existed, and to those she had known, but had forgotten.
“I have always been with you, my Jennifer.”
The pilfered silver cigarette lighter, which she still kept in her lingerie drawer at home, came to mind. It was something she had always kept with her no matter where she had been residing. She had given up the cigarettes right after that incident in the stable, but it still saw occasional use with the cigar she might presently enjoy in her bath.
How could she go back to the house and to her father now that she knew all that she knew? What would she say to him? What would he say to her? What would they say to each other?
That room. That lovely room. He had hidden it away from her.
Or had he hidden it from himself?
“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.
But she did know. It didn’t matter to her, but she did know.
She wanted to cry, but there didn’t seem to be any tears left.
Perhaps if she went back to the guest house…. Maybe if she went back there, she could rest and regroup, then she might be in better shape to face him.
But Mama was up there, and she would want it done. She would insist upon her going back to take care of it. She wouldn’t let her rest up there. She wouldn’t let her rest until she did what it was she wanted her to do.
“In life you must try. You cannot be afraid to try. This you must do, Chérie.”
“Yes, Mama.” Resigned to getting it done, she raised her head.
Something off in the distant right caught her eye.
He was sitting there on his horse, patiently waiting for her to come out. When she looked to him, he gestured for her to come to him.
A few minutes later, father and daughter slowly rode together back up to the main house, he slightly behind her.
Stephen hung up the house phone. “Walter is going to bring your breakfast up here in a while.”
His daughter sat across from him in the same chair Justine occupied when she had been so upset over her mother, and they spent time talking together.
Although it made him uncomfortable to do it to her, he had forced Jennifer into that room when she wanted to retreat to her own once they were on the second floor. Now that he had her there, he had no intention of allowing her to leave without talking to him. That wall between them had been allowed to exist too long, and it was time to face the truth.
She had been on the grounds, but away from him for four days. When she returned, she hadn’t come back to him on her own; he’d had to go and get her. He found her where he thought he would: under that tree, right where she would be when she had been a child and would stay away from him until past nightfall, forcing him out into the dark to look for her.
Back then, when he located her, he would not let her see him. Afraid to approach her in her secret place on the grounds, he would leave and wait for her on the other side of the brace of trees until she emerged on her own. This time, he was no longer fearful of her. This time he knew her and he knew himself. He was her father, she was his daughter, and there wasn’t any more time left to be deterred by fear. Tomorrow wasn’t promised, as neither of them were young any more. However, sitting there with her, he felt as if they had gone back forty-four years, and he was being given an opportunity to make it right.
“I told you I wasn’t hungry, Pa.” She quietly insisted. “I really don’t think I can eat a thing.”
“And I don’t think I asked you if you were hungry, Jennifer. You need to eat. I remember when you were a very little girl, your mother telling me that she used to have to make you eat because she felt you didn’t have enough interest in it. She told me that you lost weight so quickly when you didn’t eat. You were tiny for such a long time. I think it took you a long while to got over being born early. You’ve lost weight now in just this short time. Maybe you never got over it.”
She smiled weakly, and folded her hands in her lap. He noticed that even though her body didn’t stiffen as it normally did when he mentioned her mother to her, she was avoiding his eyes, and of course, she made no comment.
“Jennifer, what is wrong?”
“Nothing, Pa.” She said at first. Then after a few tense moments, she admitted, “Everything.”
He waited for her to go on, observing her apparent great uneasiness. In addition to her thinness, she was too pale in contrast to that mane of wind tousled, thick, auburn hair. He couldn’t recall a time when she appeared before him in such a vulnerable state, although he had imagined her looking that way before in another situation, one in which he hadn’t been able to participate.
He lifted himself from his chair and without getting all the way up from it, he moved it so that he could be seated closer to her.
“Everything like what, Daughter?” He gently pushed.
She looked away, to the window, but he could tell that she wasn’t seeing anything through it.
“Why are you avoiding me?” He asked. “You have come home to everyone, except to me.”
“Yes, you were. I’ve told you that lying to spare me doesn’t become you. For once, tell me the truth, Jennifer. Talk to your Papa for once. I’m like an old, weathered willow tree. I bend with it, as far as I must; but I won’t break.”
He saw genuine pain cross her face, and he was tempted to let her go from him to spare her, but he knew that it was now or never. If it didn’t happen then, it wouldn’t ever happen. It was what should have happened all those years ago when he had been afraid of her and her accusing eyes.
“I can’t.” She finally answered. “I don’t know what to say, and I don’t want to cry any more.”
“You’re still trying to spare me. You feel sorry for me because I have a bad heart. You think I can’t take it. You think I’m some doddering old fool, don’t you?”
She stiffened and stared at him in anger and disbelief. Did he mean what he was saying or was he goading her into talking? And if so, why was he toying with her in this way? He did have a bad heart, and she didn’t want to hurt him. The truth would do that to both of them.
“I don’t know what you mean.” Was the only thing she could think of to say in response to his accusations.
“I am speaking in plain English, and I have always had good diction.” he said. “Not that it matters. You understand whatever is spoken to you in whatever language it is spoken. In that, you are your mother’s child.”
For a long time, they were both without words, but the entire time, he watched her.
She was so much like her mother in appearance and in some of her ways. But, what had always been fascinating and frightening for him was how much she reminded him of Sabrina. Even as a baby, something about her had always reminded him of his sister-in-law.
The sisters had been twins, extremely identical in appearance, but very unalike in their ways. It had always amazed him how even as a small child, Jennifer’s aura was so like Sabrina’s and not Suzanne’s. Not being constantly with her, he knew it to be a genuine perception. Whenever he came home to her, it was glaringly apparent in her strong, naturally seductive feminine charm. As she was grew into a young woman, that air about her became even more pervasive. It wasn’t something he could describe, but as a man, he could sense it and feel it whenever he came to her at school or she traveled to him wherever he happened to be.
Through her teen years, as her physical features changed and evolved, it became even more alarming for him. He didn’t want the things that had happened to Sabrina to happen to his own child, and he didn’t want her to end up with a lifestyle as aimless as he considered her aunt’s to have been.
In a desperate attempt to make her less noticeable and less accessible, he had tried to clip her wings at school. When she was with him, he tried to monitor her every move. But it hadn’t worked. Jennifer had been who she was. She skirted his directives and did what she wanted. That was the part of her that was her mother. She was self-assured, stubborn, persistent, and she could be mean when pressed into it. She had also harbored a deeply embedded, politely discreet anger toward him.
What he hadn’t seen in her until much later, too late actually, was what Agnes Marchand had been trying to tell him when she would try to convince him that he was being too restrictive with her. That his daughter had also inherited a part of him- the sensible, focused, observant, and completely self-reliant part- and that was balancing out everything else.
He- and Sabrina-, despite his stumbling and their differing viewpoints, had raised a very beautiful girl, both inside and out. But she whether she realized it or not, and despite what Sabrina- and Suzanne- might think, he could feel that she still carried inside her some residual resentment as it related to him.
“Yes.” She answered, continuing to face the window.
“I want you to close your eyes and sit back.”
Although she continued to show him her profile, the irritation showed on her brow. “I’m not at all tired.”
He refused to let up on her. “Are you questioning me, girl?”
She hesitated at first, finally turning to him in confusion and disbelief that he was challenging her as if she were a child. But after a moment, she did as he asked. Putting her head back, resting it against the chair, she closed her eyes.
“Now what, Pa?”
“You have a good, imaginative mind.” He said. “I want you to compose a letter-”
“A letter?” She said, opening her eyes and sitting forward in aggravation at a request she thought was silly. “Pa, I don’t feel like play-”
“Do as I say, Jennifer. I don’t think I ask that much of you these days, .”
She sighed and sat back, closing her eyes again; an action he took as compliance.
“In this letter, I want you to tell me what you want to say. I am not here. It is just you and your writing pen. Write me a letter in your mind, Jennifer, and tell me, without reservation, all those things that you have been wanting to say to me.”
“There’s nothing I have to say.”
“I’ve told you about lying to me. I do not like it and I will not have it. I don’t care how old you are. Do as I say, Jennifer.”
“I don’t think I-
“You can, and you will. You may as well know that I am not asking this of you. I am telling you. We are going to do this, you and I, today. Even if it takes all day. It has to be over, Jennifer. I want it to be. I think that you do also.”
He watched her face contort slightly as she sat there with her eyes closed, but after a few minutes, he saw it when she gave in. Her body relaxed. Her features relaxed. Her tight grip on the arms of the chair eased, and the color flowed back into her knuckles. She crossed one leg over the other.
Finally she spoke.
The words came slowly at first, as if she was having to search for them, organize them, and then force them past her lips.
“In.. In these past few days, I have seen… seen some things. I…I…I have learned some things….
“…about…me….about you…Aunt Sabrina…my mother…
She raised her head, her eyes to her father. “I can’t do this.”
“Go ahead, darling. You’re doing fine. Please. We need this, you and I.”
Taking a deep breath and swallowing hard, she closed her eyes and stared again.
“I have… have some things…I need to say to you.
I am… so… sorry for all the pain you’ve had in your life….
In all this time of feeling sorry for my loss… and myself…
I never really stopped to consider… you…
…how bad things must have been… for you….
…I’ve spent these past few days… rediscovering… my mother…. and learning of the woman she was. I’ve remembered some things that I had put away from me. I learned some things I didn’t know. That I never considered.
I learned I wasn’t the only person who lost something in April of 1957… You lost your life, too, that day. I realize that now. And I am so, so sorry for your loss. If you loved my mother the way I love my husband, I honestly do not know how you made it through. I would die, Pa… I would just die if something should…
No, I wouldn’t die. You’ve taught me that. But my life would be changed, forever altered, just as yours was. You only love like that once, I think. What I would hope… what I would pray for… is that my child wouldn’t be as…”
She stopped, and he was tempted to lie and assure her what he thought she was going to say had not been a problem. But when her eyes remained closed, and she didn’t change position in the chair, he left her alone until she had it together enough to continue. After all, he told her not to lie to him. It was imperative that he act accordingly
“…as angry and shortsighted as your child was with you. You did your best, Pa. I came to know you did. I am only just recalling it, but I was hateful and horrible to you, and I am so, so sorry.
When the tears squeezed their way between her closed eyelids and ran down her face, he reached for her, but she pushed his hand away, and indicated with the other that he should wait.
“…but there was a time… Pa… that I was so angry with you. I was angry because God took her and not… you….
I thought if he was going to take someone, he should have taken you because I felt you weren’t ever there anyway. I couldn’t understand why he would take the one who had been the constant in my life. I couldn’t understand why he let her get into the car instead of you. You were supposed to take me that morning, but you didn’t, and she died. It seemed to me as if it had been done on purpose.
I know now that it was.
I blamed you. For a long time I blamed you. I thought you did it. I thought you caused it to happen. I thought if you had just stayed away… If you hadn’t come home when you did… If you had gotten up that morning like you said you would…
Then you wouldn’t let me stay with Aunt Sabrina. You made me come back here with you.
She wept between gasped phrases, and again he reached for her, but once more, she rebuffed him.
“I’m sorry I told you that… I’m sorry I wished you dead. I should have been struck down in my twelve-year-old tracks for saying something like that to you. If my mother had been alive, she would have done it herself, and I know it. Aunt Sabrina just stood there, and let me say it. That was proof positive that you did the right thing in bringing me home.
I just didn’t know… I didn’t know….
I just didn’t know that my mother’s dying when she did was how it was supposed to be for us. I thought I didn’t love you. I didn’t want to love you, but you made me… She wanted me to. I wouldn’t have understood that I did, or how much I did, if she had stayed with us.
…I thought when you … when you… when we came back here… and she was gone… all of her was gone… that you had gotten rid of her… that you got rid of her to… make me… I thought you wanted to replace her with you…
I wasn’t going to let you do that… to her or to me… I hated you, Pa. I really hated you.
I thought I really hated you, but I didn’t. I loved you.. and I wanted you to love me. But I thought you didn’t. I thought you just tolerated me because you had to.
You seemed so mean to me after… You seemed so mean and so cold in comparison to…
You didn’t smile. You went away all the time. You sent me things I didn’t want to wear. You wouldn’t let me go anywhere unless it was with you. You talked to me not with me.
You didn’t hug me… like her.
You didn’t know any stories… like her.
You… you weren’t her.
But you were my father. All the time, you were my father.
In the same ways… all the time… you were always you. You were steady. You were consistent. You didn’t ever try to change to accommodate me. You stayed true to yourself until I grew to know you.
You cared. You came to me. You chastised me when I was wrong even when you knew I wasn’t listening. You kept coming even when I didn’t want you, and I knew that you knew I didn’t want you. You brought me to you even when you knew that I didn’t want to be there. You could have turned away from me like Pat’s father did to her, but you didn’t. You had more reason to turn away from me than Pat’s father did from her. Instead you took her in, too, and you loved her because she was my friend. I didn’t know that you were hugging us, but Pat did. I had been hugged so much in my life that I couldn’t recognize one for what it was. She hadn’t been touched in such a way, so she knew when someone was holding her
I thought you only kept me because you had to… and because… I looked like her…
And because I looked like her, I thought it hurt you to look at me. That you didn’t want me with you.
It took Pat to make me see you kept me not only because I was yours, but because you loved me and you wanted me. It took Pat to make me see that my face brought you comfort, not pain, and that you loved me even more because of it.
I know I can never make everything up to you, Pa, but I want you to know I am so sorry for the unnecessary pain that I brought to your life. You were already hurting, and I’m sure that I made it worse. Being a mother myself now, I fully understand the pain I must have caused you. I would have said all of this before, but I didn’t remember what I had done until now.
I hold nothing against you, Pa. You did nothing wrong. I know it has worried you all these years, and I’ve tried to tell you that you shouldn’t.
I said earlier I know it was all on purpose. It was. But it was God’s purpose, not yours. I wouldn’t be the person I am if it hadn’t all happened the way it did. My life is complete and happy. It has been for years. That’s because everything before led to the path that took me to that happiness.
You lost your wife, but you gained a daughter’s love and respect you might never have had to the degree you do if things hadn’t worked out in the way they did. You also gained the love and respect of a surrogate daughter, who we might never have met had things been different. She might never have met you and had her life so positively altered.
You certainly wouldn’t have had a grandchild to love you. If I hadn’t met her father, I wouldn’t have had that child. I would not have met him had circumstances been different, yours and mine.
And Pa, you didn’t lose your wife. Love doesn’t die. I think God took her then so you two could stay in love with each other. That way, nothing and no one could get in the way of it. My mother is still in love in with you, and I know you still love her. It’s apparent in how you’ve kept her memory alive in the ways that you did. You put her away, but you didn’t put her up. Someone else might question everything, but not me. I understand, and I’m grateful to you…
For everything. For all of it.
Thank you for waking me up. Thank you for giving her back to me in these past few days. Thank you for leaving something so tangible for your granddaughter to have of her grandmother.
You are wise… and wonderful… and a very good father.
I love you, Pa.
Forever and always,
Spent, she slumped forward in the chair, her hands to her face.
Stephen moved the pillow he had been clutching and placed it on the floor. He leaned forward, pulling her hands away to hold them in his as he ‘read’ his letter to her.
“My Dearest Jennifer,
Thank you for telling me what has been on and in your mind all these years. Now I would like to share with you what has been on mine.
I close my eyes at night, and I can still see you in that room next to mine, sitting in her chair. The fire is lit, and you are rocking, waiting for her to come back to you. Your eyes are open, the flames are reflected in them, but you are not awake.
You would go missing from your room, and that is where I would find you after you had walked in your sleep in search of her.
One night, I waited in the hall, and I watched as you left your room. You were so young, and had been so badly injured. You didn’t know, and I couldn’t help you. You were walking, but you weren’t awake. You lit that fire in her fireplace in your sleep. You began taking small things from her room and putting them in yours. You did it all in your sleep. I feared for you and for us. So, I had that room closed off, and I took her things and put them away so you would not be reminded. I thought it would help you to move on.
To this day, I cannot set foot in that room for seeing you there, your eyes open but blind to the world around you. I thought I had lost you, too. You were my baby. You were all I had.
So much was happening. There was so much to be done. Things were missing that I could not find- that I still have not found. I didn’t take the time to see to you and what you needed or wanted. I didn’t know a child could be so affected. I just didn’t know, Jennifer. I didn’t know what to do- for you or for me. For that you must forgive me. I simply did not know.
I sent you away, hoping you could put it all behind, and that I could regain my foothold on life in order to be a proper father to you. I could not leave you with Sabrina. It would have been so easy to do so, but I could not. You were mine, and in my heart I felt it was not the best thing to do for you. So, I sent you to Gresham Hall and to my trusted friend Agnes because I was sure you would be safe with her. And you were. Although she could not help your heart, she fed your fertile mind, and she let no outside harm come to you.
You were entitled to your anger, Jennifer. I understood. It did hurt, but I understood. I had faith it would get better in time. That is what fathers do.
We got better, you and I, but by that time, you had put your mother too far away from you. Your mother was not, is not, a woman to be set aside by anyone. It is right and fitting that you should know her so you can share her with Justine. That is what she would have wanted, I believe. It is what I want also.
But to hear you say you love me, my daughter, despite all you have been through, has made it all worthwhile, the bad times as well as the good. It was all I ever wanted. It was what I needed to know.
And I do take joy in your face and in that of our Justine’s. They do bring me great comfort. With all my heart, I do still love Suzanne Roussel, and I hope you are right in thinking she still loves me. I will be looking for her right off whenever I do cross over. I have so missed her all these years. I hope she will be as happy to see me as I will to be back with her.
I was not your mother. I tried my best, but I could not be all she had been to you. Nobody could replace her. She was a very special person. All I could be was your father. I never meant you any harm in any of what I did. I only meant to protect you. I regret some of the decisions I made as they related to you, but I must tell you, I do not, in any way, regret the outcome.
No, I do not at all regret the outcome. You, Jennifer Justine, have been and are my greatest pride and my life’s joy. I want you to know that straightaway from me.
I will be forever grateful to your mother for giving and trusting such a precious gift to me.
I love you, too, my darling daughter.
Forever and always.
When Walter arrived with the tray containing Mrs. Hart’s breakfast, he stopped before knocking at the closed door. The sound of someone sobbing, faintly heard through the heavy wood, gave him pause.
He set the tray down on the carpet, knocked softly, and discreetly walked away.
“Hi, Teddy. What’s up?”
J., you must have been talking to Omar.
“Talking to Omar about what?”
About me. At least I hope it was you who’s responsible. I’d like to think that it was.
” Will you stop with the riddles. What’s up?”
I’m coming to LA, J.J., In two weeks.
“For real? For what?”
My father has to meet with one of his corporate clients there. I don’t know all the details. All I know is my classes will be over, and he gave me the choice of going to spend time with my mother or going with him to Los Angeles. You know what I picked. I love my mother, but I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. That is, if it’s okay with you.
“Why should I care?”
What? You don’t care if I come see you while I’m there? You don’t want me to?
“You didn’t say you were coming to see me. That’s what I was waiting to hear.”
Aw, J. Why you wanna play with my emotions like that? I thought you were putting me down, and I was about to be truly devastated here.
“Don’t be. Of course I’m playing with you. If you tried to come to LA, and didn’t come by to see me, you’d be in big trouble, buddy. But don’t tell your mother that you chose to come see me over visiting her. I’d hate to be getting on the lady’s bad side, and I haven’t even met her yet.?
Trust me. I did not let that cat out of the bag. She would never understand that, I don’t think. But then again, maybe she would. She’s a pretty understanding lady, much like you say your mother is. She would understand that if I was going all the way to Los Angeles to see a young lady, that young lady must be pretty special. I told you, I really don’t date that much. Up until now, nobody’s been interesting enough. How’s that ankle?
“It’s practically healed. I’m doing my physical therapy right now. I don’t even need the crutch any more. I’m taking my time on it, though. Jazz says, “Hello”. Daddy hired her to continue my sessions here at my grandfather’s. She’s the best, I mean it.”
Tell her I said ‘Hello’ back. How’s Marnie?
“She’s good, I mean, well.”
“They’re all fine.”
Well J., I have to go. I’m working in the stable this morning, and my uncle is calling me. I just wanted to tell you that. May I call you back later today?
“I’ll be mad at you if you don’t. You have to fill me in on all the particulars so I can start getting my Daddy ironed out. I don’t want to have to fall out with him, but if he acts up, it’s going to be on. I’ll be looking forward to your visit. ”
When J.J. clicked off from her call, Jazz looked up from where she was manipulating J.J.’s ankle. “That boy still crisscrossing the United States, trying to keep up with you?”
“Just a friend, Jazz. And it’s a coincidence, just like before.” J.J. answered as she put her phone back into her pocket. “It just happens that his father has to come to Los Angeles for a meeting, and he’s coming with him.”
“Girl, please.” Jazz said. “He’s crazy about you. You going to admit to me that you like him?”
“All right, a little.” J.J. coyly answered. “He’s okay.”
“Whatever you say, Miss J.J. Hart.” Jazz laughed.
“Don’t let her fool you.” Marnie crowed from her seat on the chaise next to J.J., after gulping down the mouthful of grapes she’d been eating and that had kept her from talking until then. “She likes that boy more just a little. Hey, J., you know this is a party, don’t you?”
J.J. looked sidelong to Marnie, a mischievous smile on her lips. “He will have to meet the crew, won’t he?”
“Yeah, and you know what happens from there.”
“Um-hum, we go on lockdown the next day.”
“But it will be so worth it, won’t it?” Marnie grinned back.
“You know it, girlfriend!”
They laughed and high-fived each other.
“You two are an absolute mess together.” Jazz observed, having witnessed that mischievous exchange and having been in their company several times before. “I would hate to be having to fool with you two on a regular basis. I feel sorry for your parents.”
“They’ve been at it a long time.” J.J. answered. “Especially mine. They know.”
“And” Marnie added. “They know how it is. Things just kind of happen when it’s us. Get the particulars from your boy, J.J., when you do talk to him again. I have to have an adequate amount of lead time to get things hooked up properly.”
“Teddy already told me it would be in about two weeks.”
“Good. I can work with that. Plan B: a back to school/ meet Teddy get-together with the crew- and whoever else just happens to come by. If your father tries to act up about your going out with him, we’ll still have Plan B. Your place or mine?”
“Mine. You’ll be staying at your father’s by then, and it’s going to take some time to get the Duchess warmed up to the idea of me being over there. It’s more likely that she’ll agree to let me have people over our house to meet Teddy. But remember, Plan B takes place at the end of his visit, Marnie. Plan B is likely to get us locked down if it turns out the way it normally does. And I’m not trying to be stuck, holed up in my room, having miss out on a chance to be with Teddy over a “get-together” gone wild. You know the Duchess and the Duchess knows us. She won’t be fooled.”
Marnie looked to J.J. “Did you hear your father say that about us helping him and Uncle Bill clean some fish this afternoon?”
“Daddy’s lost his mind. He had to have been joking.” J.J. answered. “Even Aunt Pat flipped him off. I don’t clean fish.”
“You know I don’t. Not with these nails.” Marnie said. “And the Duchess? Please. I can hear her now, “I think not, Jonathan.”
“My poor mother.” J.J. said. “It’s definite that she wouldn’t clean it. Even if she was at her best, she wouldn’t do it. And if she tried to cook it, God help us, she’d just kill it again. The woman cannot cook, Jazz.”
“What about you?” Jazz asked through her laughter. “Can you cook? Do you eat fish?”
“Yes, I eat fish. I can cook it, too. But I don’t clean it. Some things I do think men are supposed to do. Gutting fish falls right in there with that line of thinking. And anyway, Marnie, Aunt Pat said we’re going shopping as soon as my therapy is over because you, her, Uncle Bill, Pa, and me, we are going out to dinner this evening. She said Daddy, Uncle Bill, and Walter can clean the fish while we’re shopping and put it on ice so we can have it another time.”
“How come your mother and father aren’t going to dinner with us?” Marnie asked.
“Aunt Pat says that my mother will need to rest. Of course, Daddy wants to stay here with her.”
“I could have figured that. Marnie said, “Real lovey, dovey” directing that last part to Jazz. Then she asked J.J., “Your mother and your grandfather still up there?”
“They were when I checked the last time. His door was still closed, and I could hear them talking,” J.J. answered. “I’m pretty sure they had a whole lot of old ground to cover.”
“Make sure that you thank your mother for me, J.J., for signing my mother’s book.” Jazz reminded J.J. “She’ll be tickled to have the author’s signature.”
“My mother was glad to do it.” J.J. said. “I’m glad you brought it. Believe it or not, I hadn’t ever looked at it before. I learned a couple of things, too.”
Marnie tilted her head back, holding up the last bunch of grapes. “You know, J., this is turning out to be a pretty good summer.”
“Oh, yes.” J.J. concurred, wincing slightly as Jazz demonstrated an exercise to increase her range of motion in that ankle. “For everybody, I think. Despite it all.”
The knocking at the bedroom door woke Jonathan from his sleep. Afraid that it would wake Jennifer whom he wanted to continue to rest, he sat up in the bed, preparing to get up right away to answer it. He was surprised to find the spot next to him empty. The covers were turned back, and she was gone.
He thought that it was all over, but apparently it was not, and it he was instantly irritated by another unexpected absence on his wife’s part.
She had to have been emotionally and physically exhausted after her time that morning with her father. She had returned to their room, taken a hot shower, and by the time he came up from downstairs to check on her, she was lying across the bed nearly comatose with fatigue. After helping her to her side of the bed, he had stayed with her until she was completely asleep. Then he had gone over speak with Stephen.
Afterward, he and Bill had taken care of the fish and put it away. Then once all the rest of them had finally left for the afternoon, he returned to the bedroom where Jennifer still lie sleeping. He took a shower and crawled into the bed behind her. Alone with her, all he wanted to do at that point was to sleep himself and to hold her in his arms as he did so. He wanted his wife back, and for a time, it seemed, he had her.
Checking his watch, he realized that it was time for dinner. Jennifer had slept through lunch. Now, once again, it looked like she would be missing another meal, as if she could afford to do that.
“Don’t you think it’s time to give her back to me, Suzanne?” He asked as got up, grabbed his robe, and threw it on to go to the door.
When he opened it, Jennifer was there, carrying a large covered tray. Walter stood behind her with another. They came in, walking silently past him to the table by the window. As he stood at the door watching, Walter removed the items from the trays and placed them on the table. Then he placed the bottle of wine in the bucket of ice that he carried across his arm. When he was finished, she graciously thanked him for his assistance. As he passed to return to the hall, Walter nodded to him.
He closed the door, and that voice softly spoke to him in answer to the question he had put to her.
“Yes, it is time, my son. Merci beaucoup. Enjoy your good life and your sweet love.”
When he turned from the door and back into the room, the sight took his breath away. Jennifer was standing before the window, the evening sun creating a sort of celestial aura all around her. As she moved, setting up the table to personally suit them, the light played in her wavy red hair which she had taken down from the topknot into which she’d twisted it when she’d fallen asleep earlier, and it filtered through the full, but filmy material of the ivory peignoir she was wearing. Where she had appeared tired, drained, and too pale that morning after she had come from her father, she was once again back to her vital, peachy self. It was as if nothing had ever happened, and she had been touched by something divine to enhance her natural beauty.
“I thought I’d bring dinner to you tonight.” She explained as she turned to him. “I knew you had to be tired if you were sleeping during the day like that. You were really out of it. Come on. Sit down with me.”
He walked to the table, unable to take his eyes from her.
“What’s wrong?” She asked as he took the seat across from hers. “Why are you looking at me so strangely?”
“You are so absolutely beautiful.” He answered. “You’re always lovely, but this evening- I don’t know what it is. It’s even more so.”
Her face colored, enhancing the fine features he was already enjoying.
“Jonathan, you’re making me blush!”
“I can’t help it. You look like an angel. ” He told her. “When I woke up and you were gone, I thought you had gone back again.”
“I’m finished.” She said, pouring wine into his glass. “It’s done. I finally feel as if I’ve passed through it, whatever it was.”
“I’m glad for that.” He replied. “I hope you don’t mind, but while you were sleeping, I gave your father the package and the book that we brought from the passage. You said that you wanted him to have them. He seemed very relieved to get the book.”
“I don’t mind, and I’m sure that he was. He told me that he knew that she kept it, but that he didn’t know where. I thought it was strange that she made no mention of their OSS/CIA activities in her journals. But that was typical of her. She seemed to keep the different parts of her life separate from one another.”
“You said last night that J.J. found it. Did she read any of it?”
“No, she found the package first, and in pulling it out the book fell out from behind it. She handed it right to me. I only looked at a page or two myself before I realized what it was. At that point, I got J.J. out of there. She doesn’t seem too eager to know very much about that part of her grandparents’ lives. I believe she prefers to just think of them as her grandparents. I would like that she stay innocent of it myself for the time being.”
“I noticed that she seemed a little uneasy when I was telling her about it. But if she was able to so easily find the book, how come your father couldn’t?”
He also noticed that where once Jennifer might hesitate to answer a question about that time in her life, she was now speaking freely of it, as if it no longer bothered her at all to recall it.
“After my mother died,” She began. “My father said that he couldn’t bear to spend too much time in this house, period, much less the passageway. When he decided that we would have to leave here, and that he was going to shut the house and the estate down, he took the rings up to the attic for safekeeping. Then he covered up everything she had up there. He and Walter brought all of my things out of the guest house and my bedroom. They stored them down there to preserve them. I don’t know for whom or what, but once he was finished down there, my father never went on that other end again. Not being able to bring himself to go through her things, he never bothered to look for the book. He said that his desk was as far as he goes down there.
“Believe it or not, he has never walked the entire thing the way that we did. He went in and out those last times through the guest house, and he had to do it with Walter. My father said that other than my mother, Walter was the only one who would go through, but that even he wouldn’t do it once she was gone. He wouldn’t even go up to the attic. He went in through the closet in master bedroom of the guest house. The other night with J.J. was the first time that Walter has been back up there.”
Jonathan nodded as the mental picture slowly formed. “He’s the right stature. Slim and tall. Probably even more so back then. I could only do it because I- I, I just had the right stuff, I guess.”
At that moment, he understood that he would never be able to navigate that passageway again. It hadn’t been built for him to be able do so. He had only been allowed to do it to go to Jennifer. She said that she was done, and so was his time down there.
“Your father opened the package when I took it to him.” He told her. “It was a portrait of a pretty little Jewish girl. He said he came across it in Germany among some other stolen art pieces. The girl and her family had been rounded up by the Nazis and were never heard from again. Your father figured they were probably lost in the Holocaust, and the painting had been confiscated from their home along with everything else that had to be left behind.
The portrait didn’t have any real monetary value, but your father, being away from his family- and his own daughter- so much, was struck by it when he saw it. He sent it home to your mother. He said that his intention was to try and research it back so that he could return it to any family or friends who might have survived. When he saw it today, he said that he had forgotten all about having sent it to home. Apparently, your mother never knew what it was; she just put it away like she always did with the things that were sent to them. That was the last thing that he sent to Briarwood for safe keeping. He said that he’s going to offer it to the Holocaust Museum in up in Michigan.”
Jennifer quietly moved the food around on her plate.
After a while, he asked, “What is your father going to do with that bedroom?”
“Nothing.” She answered. “He’s going to leave it up to J.J. For now he just wants it to stay as it is. He’s also putting a wall in front of the door to the attic room, so that it can’t be accessed from the guest house. J.J. can get to it, if she likes, through the passageway. Once Dean Marchand and Miss Smythe are no longer occupying the house, if J.J. wants to remove the wall, she can. It’s all going to be left up to her. This will all be hers, and it will be her decision.”
He stopped eating, and watched her. She wasn’t eating very much, and he still couldn’t get over her radiance.
“Are you okay, Jennifer?”
Her eyes rose from the plate, and he could see the answer reflected in them before she spoke it.
“I’m fine. For the first time in a while, I’m fine. I finally feel like I’ve done what she wanted me to do even though I never really pinpointed exactly what that feeling was that I had. Somehow I feel at peace finally. I’ve never really felt this- thing- this feeling- before. It’s new. It’s… good.”
He had been wanting to know if she had figured it out, and he decided that it was going to be okay at that point to ask her.
“Do you know who the girl without a mouth was now? That girl from your dream?”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t know for sure. Just like with any good story, I think there are many ways to interpret it.
It could be J.J. So many things say that it could be. It could be about her and about me giving voice to what she wanted to know about her maternal grandmother.
Maybe it’s the little girl in the painting wanting to be released from the cabinet before my father shut down the attic and her chance at being found. It could be the girl, Justine, in my mother’s stories. I had forgotten her. She had been shut up in that attic for all that time. My mother had a contract in her desk. I showed it to Pat. Her French stories were going to be published, but in France. Although she maintained her French citizenship, my mother was proud that her daughter was an American. I think she would have wanted her stories published here, too. At the end, she was trying to write in English, but like J.J. said, her lack of command over the language hampered her efforts. I’m going to talk with Pat and see what we can do to make Justine speak. I tried today, but I just couldn’t get it together. I know she thinks I’m crazy.”
“No she doesn’t. Pat understands, and she was very concerned about you. She knows you were upset and that was why you left her the way that you did. I’m sure that she’ll be honored to work with you on the stories.”
“She and I haven’t collaborated on a project like this in a long time. I think this is something that I want to share with her.”
He smiled. “She’ll like that you included her on that.”
“I wish she could have met my mother, Jonathan. Mama would have fallen in love with Pat. She liked anybody with heart.”
She stopped and looked to him. “She would have adored you. You’re all heart. You’re my heart which would have made you hers as well.”
He leaned across the table and gestured with his finger for her to meet him. She did, and he kissed her, savoring the wine flavored rush that flashed through him. She would have to eat a little faster. He wasn’t going to be able to stay on his side of the table much longer.
“How’s my Marnie?” She asked as she leaned back from him. “Tell the truth. How much has she been into since I’ve been off the scene?”
“Nothing we couldn’t handle.” He chuckled. “Relatively speaking, she’s been an angel.”
She appeared satisfied with that answer.” Relatively speaking, you say? I’ll accept that. That’s pretty good for her.”
Sipping from her glass again, she cocked her head thoughtfully.
“Do you know what I’ve been thinking through all of these unearthly goings on?”
“It might sound silly, so please don’t laugh at me. You know how my imagination gets away from me sometimes, but-”
“I promise I won’t laugh at you.”
“Well, I was in the shower after I talked to my father, and I was thinking about things. I was so tired, but it was a good tired. I was happy that he and I had finally talked things over and had gotten our old business out in the open. He explained some things to me about myself that I didn’t know. It helped me to better understand him and some things he did and has done. It was wonderful and liberating. I came away from him freed of a weight that I didn’t even know I had been carrying.
I was tired, but I kept thinking of you and hoping that you would hear the water and come in to me. The only two things I wanted at that moment were you and to sleep. While I was thinking of you, I thought about how much my personal life changed once we met. For a long while before that, I put on a happy face. I really thought I was happy for a time. But in actuality, right before you especially, things had been pretty bleak for a while. I won’t say I was unhappy exactly when we met, but I wasn’t satisfied in my heart until you came along. I had come to a place where I didn’t trust any man. I realize now that I didn’t even trust my father.”
She pushed her plate aside and leaned forward to look into his face.
“Jonathan, it’s all been so good with us. Almost like somebody scripted it to happen in the way that it has. At that time in our lives when we met, we both had everything going for us except that one special someone to love. I was standing in that shower thinking, wouldn’t it be something if our mothers met each other in heaven and got to talking about us? I could just hear my mother:
“You say you have a son? How old? I have a daughter. He is older, but she is just the right age for him. Pretty girl, lots of red hair, on the thin side though, but just needs a good man in her life to fill her out. Give her babies. Is your son a good man? Tall? Handsome? Real-l-l-ly? Blue eyes, eh? Employed? Owns own company! Oh yes, that is nice. CEO? You don’t say? That is a very good thing. What about your boy? Tell me, is he looking for someone special? No. No. Forget what he looks for, what do you think he needs? Does he need a good, smart, hardworking, a little stubborn maybe, girl? Let’s talk, you and I. See if we can get some grandbabies.”
My mother puts her arm around your mother, and they walk off to discuss the transaction. Then they put their heads together and work us from heaven like that puppet Teddy gave J.J. There we are in London, thinking that we’re in control, when in reality, it’s our mothers.”
He had been laughing since she began her imitation of her mother, delighted by the brilliant portrayal of the Suzanne Edwards in his dreams, and by Jennifer’s ease in sharing her with him.
“You said you wouldn’t laugh.” She frowned. “It’s just a silly thought.”
He got up and went to her, drawing her up by her hands from the chair.
“I’m sorry. But I’m not laughing at you.” He assured her. “I just think it’s such a wonderful way of looking at things. Believe it or not, I’ve considered that possibility myself; that they might have met up there and be watching over us. That would explain why I fell asleep after I had successfully maneuvered you into my bedroom that first night that we went out.”
“Maneuvered me? Listen Buster, you didn’t maneuver anybody.” She asserted. “Why do you think I agreed to come up there? To talk?”
He grinned and pulled her to him. “Really? You were going to- It had to have been your mother.”
Holding her close, he whispered next to her ear. “I was laughing because I’m just so happy to have the real you back, and to know that you’ll be there next to me in the morning when I open my eyes.”
“Me, too.” She whispered back. “I’ve missed you. I know that you hurt when I hurt. I hurt when you do. But it’s over now. I’ve put my demons to bed.”
“Some of them.” He thought to himself. “Not quite all.”
But the rest of it was another situation and would wait for another time, he guessed.
She pulled back to look up into his face. “That girl without a mouth that my mother was trying to force on me really could have been me, couldn’t it?”
He didn’t offer an opinion. He just gazed down at her. She was so beautiful, and it didn’t matter any more.
“I’m really not very hungry.” She said, her fingers seductively playing in the hair on his chest.
“I’m not either.” He admitted as his hands traveled down her spine to gently caress that backside he knew and loved. “Not for food right now anyway.”
He could feel her untying the belt to his robe as she accepted his kiss. In answer, he brought his hands around to caress her body through silken fabric and then to unfasten the two satin buttons to the robe of her lacy ensemble, revealing the deeply low-cut gown underneath.
“We’re all alone.” She advised, planting kisses on his bare chest and neck. “Everyone’s gone. Walter and Rosa went down to the guest house to see what the cleaning service is going to need to do before the Dean’s visit on the weekend. They’ll be there a while.”
“I know.” He answered, dropping the peignoir robe to the floor and slipping his fingers under the tied straps that held the gown onto her shoulders. “I was still up when everyone left. Walter told me earlier that he and Rosa were going down there. It wouldn’t matter anyway. There’s nobody in this room except the two people who should be right now.”
He pulled up on the two bows with his fingers, and when the straps came loose, the gown dropped to her waist, draping itself about her hips.
Aroused by her self-satisfied smile, he took his time to move his eyes over her. She took great pride in her appearance and in her well-toned body, and he was glad of it. She was definitely defying the aging process. He didn’t think he would ever tire of looking at, touching, tasting, holding, or most especially, loving her.
“Come on.” He heard her say through the lust colored haze that was overwhelming him. She took him by the hand and lead him over to their bed.
She turned to him and allowed her gown to slide the rest of the way to the floor to join the robe he had been wearing. Then she helped him out of his pajama bottoms.
“Can you come over?” She asked with a naughty twinkle in her eye as she was pulling him onto the bed with her. “My father isn’t home right now. I think we’ll be more comfortable here in my bed than on my mother’s couch.”
“I didn’t complain about your mother’s couch.” He replied, as he gathered her into his arms, expertly slipping a knee between hers as he did. “And it’s been a mighty long time since I found myself in a girl’s room, trying to operate before her father got back home. But it’s the first time that I wouldn’t care if the old man doubled back and caught me. With you, I’d die a happy death.”
“Remember that night in his study before we got married?” She smiled naughtily.
“He would have killed me dead. You would have been my widow before you were my wife. But like I said, that would have been worth it.”
“Do you recall that morning before I left home, it seems like some eons ago now, when I asked you what could happen in one weekend?” She laughed. “It’s been some trip, hasn’t it? ”
“And do you remember me telling you some time ago that any trip that ends up here, and like this, is a trip that couldn’t have been all bad?”
He took her face in his hand to bring her mouth to his.
“I really love you.” They both said at the same time.
As they began what was to be a joyful- and prolonged- reunion of their spirits, Jonathan thanked his mother-in-law one more time for that gift she had delivered to him. Without her, none of what he had would be.
“Merci beaucoup, Mrs. E.”
It was late when they returned from dinner, and following Pat’s instructions delivered right before getting out of the car, the girls went directly upstairs. After leaving Marnie in her room, J.J. bypassed her own bedroom with the intention of telling her parents good night.
Unsure if they were in the main house or had gone back to the guest house, just before knocking, she put her ear to their door.
Just as quickly, she changed her mind, and proceeded back down the hall to her room.
“Business as usual, I see.” She muttered to herself, shaking her head in exasperation. “It’s a wonder I’m not mentally scarred… been together forever and still hot… ought to be tired of all that… sheesh…”
She went into her room and closed the door behind her.
Tommy was gone. He hadn’t called, just as he said that he wouldn’t. She imagined that he was in Spain, getting settled in at his great-uncle’s house. She hoped it wouldn’t take him long to get acclimated. Tommy was so quiet and aside from a couple of short trips to Canada and Mexico, he hadn’t ever been that far out of the country. She wondered if he had thought about her, and if he had remembered their arrangement on the night before when he had been at his party.
If he did, with whom had he been dancing at the time, and had he imagined that person was her? Or, had he been standing at the railing of the boat by himself, looking up into the California night sky as she had been staring out of her window into the skies over Maryland, thinking about him and how much she would miss him in the time to come?
Teddy had phoned during dinner at the restaurant, but with Pa at the table, she hadn’t picked up. That would have been bad form in his eyes. Turning back the covers on her bed, she decided that as soon as she got showered and between those sheets, she’d call Teddy back. Maybe he had the particulars together about his trip to LA, and then they could talk for a while.
After all, Jennifer Hart was very occupied. It was highly unlikely that she would be stopping what she was doing to make her usual rounds to see who might be on the phone “at all hours of the night”.
Standing in the back hall, the morning light casting multi-colored shadows through the panes of the stained glass window on that one end, Jennifer marveled at that wall before her. Nobody would know that behind it were heavy double doors with brass handles in the shape of brier rose branches, and that those doors had been closed for over forty years. Just looking at it, she thought, nobody would know the love and the warmth that once emanated from the room hidden behind that wall and those doors.
She thought about all that had been lost. How she missed her mother’s touch, her eyes, her strength and her encouragement. Her smile and her laughter. How she wished she could have brought Jonathan home to meet her. she wished it had been her mother rather than Aunt Sabrina who had occupied the seat next to Pa at their wedding. She wished those arms had been there to hold that grandchild for whom she had dreamed. She and J.J. could have sat before that fire. She could have brushed J.J.’s hair while she told her those stories that contained that girl with her granddaughter’s name.
If only Pat could have met her. Her mother and Pat would have hit it right off. Pat would have had a mother who loved her.
If only… if only….
Wishes. And dreams. And memories.
The memories were there. They were intact; clear, bright, full, and complete. That wonderful face that had been unclear for so long, its many familiar expressions, it all formed so easily in her mind now.
She had awakened that morning secure in the knowledge that for her the journey was finally over. She had navigated that passage that took her away from what she had known, lifted her to a higher level of understanding, and then brought her full circle back home, right back to the loving arms of her Papa. It left her with a feeling of great satisfaction and contentment.
Pa had done what he had to do, and he had done it to the best of his ability. When they talked that previous day, he admitted to her that he had made mistakes and he had acknowledged his shortcomings. Despite all of that, after the terrible sudden blow they had both suffered, he had done his best to see to their survival. Through it all he had been diligent and faithful to his duty as her father.
And he said that he was proud of the outcome of his efforts. He said that he could see that it had all been worth it. He told her that she had done justice to that face she bore. Coming from him, that meant everything to her.
Although she wished he hadn’t made such a pure and absolute sacrifice, he had remained true to his one love. It had to have been a lonely time for him. But, it had been his way of preserving her memory. Although it might not have been done for that purpose; thanks to him, his granddaughter would have a virtual storehouse of artifacts through which she could one day comb in order to better learn of her grandmother. It was like the end to some sad, but poignant story.
For herself, she was satisfied that she had the things that she needed. The trunk sat in her bedroom where it and the things inside would continue to rest until J.J. was ready for them. The keepsakes from the tray inside had already been removed and packed way in her bags, ready to leave with her when it was time for all of them to go back home. The stories and her mother’s notes had all been brought down from the attic. And the memories had come down as well.
She could remember, and it didn’t hurt any more.
Pat. She was looking forward to sharing Suzanne Edwards with Pat. She would explain to Pat how the stories originally came to be and together, they could translate, edit, and finish her mother’s work. From there, Pat would see to it that Suzanne Edwards’ other child, her Justine, would one day delight other little girls in the world as they had her own.
Pressing her cheek against the cool plaster, she whispered, “I miss you, Mama. I have made it right by Pa, and he by me; but I still miss you so very much.”
How had he made it through without her?
Pa. What a man. What a real man.
Jennifer opened her eyes. J.J. was standing at the other end of the hall watching, her eyes full of concern.
“Are you okay?”
Moving from the wall, Jennifer beckoned for the girl to come to her.
“I’m fine, Sweetie. What are you doing up so early?”
J.J. slowly started toward her, and Jennifer noticed that she was no longer limping.
“I couldn’t sleep.” She answered. “So I got up. I was going to go downstairs, but something drew me around here. I didn’t know you were here. I didn’t mean to bother you.”
“No bother.” Jennifer said. “Just like you, something compelled me to come here, too.”
Looking at the wall upon which her mother had been leaning, J.J. remarked, “If I hadn’t seen if for myself, I would never guess what was on the other side.”
“But it’s there.” Jennifer said. “It was- is real.”
“What’s going to happen to the room? And the attic? Are you going back up there to work? Pa told me that he’s having the attic door covered over just like this room. He doesn’t want anyone going up there from the guest house. What’s going to happen to all her stuff? Will it just stay up there? Will this room always be closed off?”
Jennifer reached out and put her arm around her daughter. “Still firing off those questions like a machine gun, I see.”
J.J. laughed self-consciously. “I’m sorry. You know how I get over things like this.”
“Well, to answer you, no, I’m not going back to the attic. There’s nothing else up there for me. Pa is closing off the attic door, but he’s leaving the passage open. If you want to ever go back, you can. As far as this room goes, nothing is going to happen to it right now. Pa wants it left as it is. When he’s gone, whenever that happens, then you and I will decide what to do with the room and her things.”
“Me and you? You trust me to help you with something like that? I’m just a kid.”
“You and I. And you’re my kid. That gives you certain rights and responsibilities.”
“Okay. If you say so.”
“I say so. Do you think you’ll go back to the attic, J.J.?”
“I don’t know, Mom. I really don’t right now. It’s all been a bit much, and I think I want to back off for a minute. Right now, I prefer to talk to you about the things I want to know. But I would like to have the dollhouse taken out of the passageway. That’s an heirloom. I would hate to see that get sealed up down there. Maybe it can be brought up here and be put in the solarium.”
Jennifer nodded. “I’ll look into that. But the passageway will always be accessible to you. That attic room will always be there for you.”
J.J. nodded. “Thank you. It’s a nice room. One day maybe. We’ll see.”
She slid her arm around her mother’s waist.
“Hey Mom, guess what?”
“Teddy is coming to LA. His father has business there in two weeks, and Teddy is coming with him.”
“You don’t say.” Jennifer answered off-handedly as they moved slowly toward the main hall. “No parties, J.J.”
“All right, but is it okay if I just have the regulars over to meet him?”
“Didn’t I just say no parties?”
“That’s not a party if it’s just the regulars.”
“J.J., having just the regulars over is-”
I promise,” J.J. interjected. “I promise it’ll just be us, and it won’t get out of hand. I promise it will just be us.”
Jennifer cut her eyes skeptically at J.J.
“Who do you think you’re talking to? I know you. I’ve known you all of your life. I know how you operate. You give me those “promises”, which are in actuality just false hopes, and the next thing I know, I’m catering Wild Bunch Fest number three, 2001. I’m not crazy, J.J. Hart.”
“Okay, okay, let’s just table that for now.” J.J. said quickly, waving her hand to get it out of the air before her mother could nix the idea completely.
She put her arm around her mother’s shoulders. “Let me ask you something else, then. What if he just comes over to see me for the day or something? Will that be all right?”
“I guess so. Now I don’t see a problem with him, alone, coming to see you.”
“Good. Okay, then I need you to do something for me.”
“You know how Daddy is, right? Well, I’m really worried that Daddy is going to act all funny. You know how he gets. There’s two weeks before Teddy comes, right? Can you work on Daddy for me? You know, like, soften him up in case Teddy asks to take me out or something? Tell him how you know Teddy’s father, and that I’m responsible, and everything.”
“Work on him? Soften him up? J.J., your father knows Teddy. He’s met Teddy’s father. He allowed Teddy to come see you and have dinner with you.”
“Yeah, I know, but that wasn’t in LA. That was at the hospital, a controlled environment. Mom, you know how paranoid Daddy gets. Teddy will be at our house this time. Daddy will be acting all territorial and stuff, and he’ll start circling, trying to break Teddy down, just like he does all the boys who ask me out. Teddy, being from out of town, won’t know that’s just how Daddy is. If your husband has that gun under his jacket or his vest while he’s talking to Teddy, I’ll be so embarrassed. Come on, you know how to get Daddy to act right. Please. Will you talk to him for me?”
They were in the main hall, and Jennifer stopped, pulling J.J. around to face her.
“What is this? I’m back in mother-mode for five minutes, and you’re already badgering me about supporting your social life.”
“Yes!” J.J. said, placing her hands on her hips. “We’re overdue! I’ve been patient. I know you had old issues to work out, but we have some current issues to work out here, too.”
Jennifer placed her hands on her hips and looked J.J. in the eye.
“Well, Justine Jennifer Hart, if you hadn’t let your father catch you engaged in that passionate lip lock with Mr. Theodore Martin Baxter, Jr., then perhaps you wouldn’t be so agitated and paranoid yourself about what he might do to that boy once he has him on his turf.”
Caught speechless, J.J.’s mouth fell open.
Jennifer burst into laughter. “What am I going to do with you, girl?”
Seeing that she was being teased, J.J. pursed her lips and suggested, “Just love me like always, I guess. Do you and Daddy talk about everything?”
Then she walked into her mother’s waiting arms.
As they held each other, J.J. whispered, “One more question, Mom. A serious one.”
“What is it, J.J.?”
“How long does it take to stop missing someone?”
“Tommy this time?”
J.J. nodded next to her mother’s head.
“He’ll be back, J.J.”
She knew that wasn’t what J.J. wanted to hear, and Jennifer held her daughter even tighter.
She was growing up. In those two weeks so much had happened, and in that short time J.J. had moved from one level up to another. Soon she would be off and on her own, and moments like the one they were sharing would become just fond memories.
“It depends.” Jennifer said, amending her response. “Sometimes you never do. But Tommy will be fine, and so will you. A year will go by in no time, and he’ll be right back home.”
“I’m glad you’re back home, Mom. Really. I missed you being in my life.”
“I wasn’t gone, J.J. I’ll never be. Wherever you are, I’ll always be with you.”
“In my heart.” J.J. answered, confirming that she understood what her mother was saying. “I know that. But I still missed seeing your face and talking with you when felt I needed to.”
All Jennifer could do with that admission was smile and kiss J.J. on the cheek. That she understood only too well.
“Let’s get a ride in before breakfast.” She suggested, taking J.J. by the hand, leading her to the staircase.
“You’re going to let me ride? J.J. asked. “You’re not going to hassle me about the ankle?”
“Discovered boys and getting soft?” Jennifer challenged.
“Not me. No boy is getting in my way.” J.J. said. “Let’s do it.”
Mother and daughter went on down stairs.
Stephen emerged from his dressing room and checked the clock on his night stand. He would have enough time before breakfast to get his morning phone call in to Sabrina, and if she wasn’t in one of her long-winded moods, he might have a few minutes left to get one in to Agnes to firm up the details of her upcoming weekend visit.
Standing before the mirror, fastening his shirt buttons and checking his appearance, he felt stronger and better than he had in a long time. Every day he had been getting better and stronger, but he was sure that his renewed spirit that morning had a lot to do with Jennifer. It was nice to be able to rest assured that she loved him and to understand the specific reasons why she did outside of just being her father.
Like her parents, she was articulate, direct, and well-spoken. Because of that, the cards were all on the table between them. There were no more secrets, no more uncertainties. There would be no more walking on eggshells and no more wondering. They had cleared the air completely, and for the first time in decades, she had spoken with him of her mother. It felt good to hear her do that. Like her mother had been able to do, Jennifer had a unique way of making the listener see and feel the story she was telling.
She had spoken to him of her mother freely and without pain. In fact, she seemed to take joy in doing it. They had talked for a very long time, and he was still invigorated by the sensation of having an invisible weight lifted from him. Checking his own face in the glass, he found himself smiling. That girl and her mother had always had that kind of hold on him. He could think of either of them, and that same smile would involuntarily form. As strong-willed a man as he considered himself to be, those two- and apparently that child- held some sort of mystical power over him which didn’t bend or break him, but which could weigh on him and make him feel things in a way that nobody and nothing else in the world could.
He understood now that it was because he loved them, and he cared deeply what they thought of him.
After the weekend, Jennifer, Pat, and their families would be leaving to return to their homes. He would miss them greatly. But the following week, Agnes and Belinda would begin moving into the guest house, and he was looking forward to having them there. Knowing that they were on the grounds would motivate him to get out and walk more. Having them in for afternoon tea, or taking it out there in the guest house with them, would be a delightful change of pace. When Jennifer and/or Justine weren’t visiting, Briarwood could be a lonely, empty place. But with the recent turn of events, that had all been remedied for him.
With Sabrina back in his life, he would continue to enjoy his entertaining morning and evening conversations with her. He would have the intellectual stimulation of conversations with Agnes. Belinda Smythe would keep all of them active. All of that would sustain him. He had to be there for Patricia. She was getting married at Thanksgiving and she wanted him to stand as her father. He would have to be there for that.
All things happened for a reason, in their own time, and in the way that they were supposed to happen. It was a sad fact, but none of what currently was, would be, if things had happened any differently. Lost time would be compensated for in the next life, of that he was sure. She was waiting patiently for him, just as she had always done. Once they were rejoined, however, nothing would ever part them again.
Picking up that favored purple pillow from the bed, he took it to place it in his chair in front of the window as he did every morning. For a moment, he held it and thought of the day Suzanne purchased that set of four royal purple pillows. She had taken two up to the attic with her, and she’d left two on that bed.
It took Jennifer to notice and ask.
“Pa, there are two pillows just like this one up in the attic.”
“They were her favorites, Jennifer. Purple was her favorite color.”
“Pillows are usually purchased in sets of two. Where is the fourth one? I don’t see the other one.”
“It’s under her head, darling. Where it always was when she slept.”
He put his pillow in the chair, and looked out to the field. The sight took his breath away.
He could see her with his horse in the distance. She had her hands on her hips and her legs spread apart as she stood at the crest of that hill with her back to him, looking down on all that would be hers.
Justine. She had taken her long hair down and it was blowing in just the same way.
She had no idea. Jennifer didn’t want her to know yet that it was all going to be passed to her.
“She will know in her own time, Pa. Let her be a child for now.”
He agreed. That was as it should be. She was her grandmother’s child, a direct descendent of Suzanne Simone Roussel. At sixteen, Justine was the spitting image of her. Jennifer was like Sabrina, but Justine was like Suzanne. She looked just like the girl in that picture he and Walter had hung in the music room earlier that morning. And just as it had been with that first girl, Justine’s wishes for Briarwood would be his command.
But no matter the length of it, her life would be different from her grandmother’s. It would be fuller, finer, and more extensively lived. Her father would see to that. Her mother would see to her being every bit the woman she was, and more. Justine would have it all. As far as he could see, she was already well on her way.
Suzanne would have loved that girl. She had truly loved her girl.
As he watched, Justine was joined by her mother, who rode up from behind her. Jennifer, ever agile, jumped down to join her daughter at the top of that hill. They stood together there talking, arms around each other’s shoulders, looking, from that distance, very much alike .
In his mind he saw three women; past, present, and future. He envisioned them as he wished they could have been.
As he knew they finally were.
Thrice blessed during his passage of time. Who could ask for more in one lifetime?
He turned from the window to go to the phone and quickly make his calls.
Very shortly, for the first time in a long time, his entire family would be sitting down to take a meal together, and he wanted to be on time.