It was extremely late, and it had been a long day.
Jonathan and Bill had flown back home earlier that evening, the girls were in their rooms, and Jennifer’s father had finally retired to his suite for the evening.
When they had occasion to be in the same place with each other, it was their habit to sit together and talk before turning in for the night. They hadn’t seen each other since right before dinner. Jennifer was writing in her journal when Pat poked her head in the door. Just about finished, she gestured for Pat to come in and have a seat while she completed the last sentence of her entry.
“So what was up with the Squirt this evening?” Pat asked when Jennifer stopped writing and placed her pen inside the book. “How come you two didn’t make it back down to eat with us?”
Jennifer lay the journal down in her lap. “To put it in J.J.’s terms,” she began her answer. “she had “issues” this evening.”
“Not the kind you’re thinking of. These were in her heart instead of her stomach. It seems the love bug is taking its first nips at our little girl.”
“Tommy or Teddy?”
“Aw, damn!” Pat exclaimed quietly. “I was hoping it would be Tommy when it happened for her. I had my money on him. I like that boy.”
“I wouldn’t take my bet off the table just yet if I were you.” Jennifer advised. “It’s early in the game. Sometimes a person can’t always see what’s right in her face. Besides, Tommy isn’t ready for her anyway, and she’s not ready for anything. She’s so confused and so funny with it.”
“Still resisting the call, huh?”
“Trying to, but the hormones are talking loudly. Teddy seems like a very nice boy, and she’s attracted to good manners and charm in a guy; that much, I have taken note of in my child. I recognize that tendency. She got that one straight from me. I love a nice man with lots of charisma, and a hint of mischief in him.”
“Like I don’t know that. Hell, he’s been with you for the last twenty-five years.”
Ignoring the comment, Jennifer continued, “I can see his father in him. Teddy Sr. had very nice, straightforward ways. Both he and Phil did. You missed it at breakfast the other day when he came over with his brother. Teddy Sr. is a very handsome, distinguished, successful man now. He told me that he’s thinking of running for political office. I told you that he asked about you more than once.”
“I guess he did.” Pat confidently replied. “We were hot and heavy at one time, off and on, and once you go Pat…”
“I wouldn’t know.” Jennifer laughed at her friend’s smugness. “All I’m saying is that he asked where you were and if you were coming over. He seemed very disappointed when I told him that I wasn’t expecting you that morning.”
Pat waved her hand. “In another time and place, maybe. That was eons ago and it was strictly lust. I’m where I want and need to be. His brother still have the hots for you after all this time? I hear he’s still single.”
“If he did, Phil didn’t let me know anything about it. In fact, he almost literally didn’t say a word to me.”
“Probably still too scared to speak to beautiful, unattainable Jennifer Edwards.” Pat grinned. “Still too shy to approach his dream girl.”
“And too close to home.” Jennifer added. “You know what my rule was. Not on the same coast, preferably, not on the same continent.”
Pat smiled at the memory. That was a principle to which Jennifer had strictly adhered all of her dating life, even in her choice of husband. Met him in London and even though he was an American, he lived on the opposite coast. Nobody ever really knew Jennifer’s personal business unless she let them know, and only she and, occasionally their friend, Marcia, had been so privileged. Discretion had always been her method of operation. All other stories were either conjecture or just pure fabrication.
So what did you have to tell J.J. about her situation?”
“Not a whole lot. What was there to say? I mostly let her talk to me. It would be different, more pressing, if the boy was right here with her, but he’s not. Now if that were the case, from the things she was telling me, I might be reaching for the chastity belt. There is definitely some smoke there. I just explained to her that I thought she was too young yet to be exclusively or sexually involved with anyone. She claimed that she wasn’t thinking along those lines, but I let her know that in those situations, it isn’t always the brain that does the thinking . Thankfully, he’s in Massachusetts and in a week or so, she’ll be back in LA.”
Pat sat forward. “What the hell was she doing with him, Jen? Not J.J., too! I thought it was just my girl.”
“Apparently J.J. did her share.” Jennifer replied matter-of-factly.
She sat slightly forward as well; gesturing with her hands as she continued to speak. “Okay, you know that I caught sight of her and Teddy kissing out on the Quad when I stopped by Gresham on Sunday evening, right?”
“Well, it seems she and Teddy got a couple more good ones in after that, before we left town. She even got dressed and went down to met with him early this morning before he went to work out at the stables. She said they got clinched up on the side of Waverly. Said it felt good to her. “Too good.” Was what she actually said.”
Pat was awed. “She told you all that?! She told you it felt good? Damn! Wonder if he has it like his father did at that age?”
Jennifer continued, waving her hand at Pat’s speculation. She found Pat’s shocked reaction amusing. It took a lot to shock Pat.
“I just asked her what did she feel when they were together like that, just to see if she was doing what she wanted or if it was what she thought she was supposed to do.” Jennifer finally answered, calmly shrugging her shoulders. “That’s what she told me. She’s not at all inhibited about talking to me about things like that. I do like that about her, although she sometimes tells me more than I really want to know. It’s like ‘talking about the weather’ for her; you remember saying that about her not too long ago?”
“Yeah, but damn, with your mother?”
Jennifer didn’t reply right away. When she did, her words got Pat’s immediate attention.
“How would we know, you and I?”
Pat felt for a moment as if she’d been slapped, but that was Jennifer’s power as a person and as a writer, and she was well acquainted with it. When she chose to speak her most private thoughts, which were rare occurrences, in just a few words she could make a person feel exactly what she was feeling or what she wanted them to feel. As her longtime friend and the personal editor of a lot of her published work, Pat was aware of the significance of what Jennifer was saying to her. It was an invitation of sorts, and a very exclusive one at that.
“You’ve been thinking about her, haven’t you, Jen?” She tentatively asked, hoping that her instincts were right.
“It’s been happening a lot this year, Pat, as things have happened with J.J. It’s been happening an awful lot on this trip. More than it has in a very long time. Since shortly after we arrived at Gresham Hall for the reunion, it’s almost as if she’s forcing herself on me, making me pay attention. It’s gotten even stronger today in this short time that we’ve been here at Briarwood. I was talking to J.J. this evening and she had her head in my lap, you know how she does, and I could suddenly see myself in that same- my head in her…” Rubbing her forehead, she quietly admitted. “I’ve been having flashbacks all day.”
After a few moments, she took the journal from her lap and placed in on the night table. Then she looked back to Pat who sat in the other chair on the other side of the bed watching her with concern. She laughed a quiet, self-conscious laugh.. “I know that sounds crazy.”
“No it doesn’t.” Pat assured her in the hope that she would continue. “Just sounds to me like you need to deal with some old business.”
“I know that we’ve never really talked about it a lot, but do you ever think about your mother, Pat?”
It was Pat’s turn to go quiet. There was a pause before she answered.
“Not a lot, Jen. I know that probably sounds bad, but I was younger than you were when my mother died, and I wasn’t raised by her or my father when she was alive. I had a nanny and then a governess. My parents frequently traveled without me, leaving me in their care, so I really didn’t get to know my mother that well at all. I wasn’t connected to her or to anyone. That’s why I gave Rick so much hell when we were in school. He couldn’t all of a sudden assume the role of being my father once I was twelve. It was too late by then. The only person I ever connected to was my grandmother. Once she was gone, and it was just me and my father, I was finished with all that Hamilton family dysfunctional drama. Now you can ask me if I think about her. She’s the one I missed and that I still miss to this day.”
“When you think about your grandmother, do you see her face? Do you remember in your mind what her face looked like?”
Pat closed her eyes for a moment, and then decided to take another track when she actually heard what was contained in Jennifer’s question.
“Jen, can’t you still see your mother’s face in your mind?”
Jennifer slowly shook her head in answer making Pat sigh mentally with relief in choosing to hold back on relating that it was recalling her grandmother’s kind eyes, words, and her smile that encouraged her to keep going during the rougher times throughout the years. Jennifer looked almost ashamed at the admission, evoking such a sympathetic response in Pat’s heart that she at first felt obliged to get up, go to her and hug her. Instead, she remained seated to try to continue the discussion before Jennifer shut down on her as past experience told her she was likely to do at any moment.
“What about when you look at Sabrina?” She asked. “They were identical twins. That doesn’t help?”
“As strange as it might sound, they never looked alike to me.” Jennifer answered, shaking her head again. “I mean, even as a little girl, I knew that they were sisters and that they were twins, but I never got them confused. I don’t ever remember them looking alike to me or mistaking one for the other. I don’t know what it was, but I always knew my mother from Sabrina. Their voices were always a bit different. Maybe that was how I differentiated, I don’t know. I haven’t been able to form a picture of her for a while now. It was like that all through school. She would float back to me every now and then once I had the baby and off and on throughout her life, but lately I can’t see her face at all.”
Jennifer turned and gave Pat that look that let her know that she was speaking from her heart. “Pat, do you think that after I’m gone that J.J. will forget my face?”
Pat was stunned by the question. There was no way. It was such an abrupt departure from Jennifer’s generally strong self-confident, self-assured persona, especially as it related to her daughter. To Pat, it was an astounding revelation of Jennifer’s true vulnerability. She felt that Jennifer was such a strong presence in that girl’s life that it was shocking that a thing like that would even cross her mind. Didn’t she know how J.J. viewed her and felt about her?
“Jennifer, I honestly doubt that.” She answered with a certainty that spoke from her heart. “I have never in my life seen anybody like the two of you, and that’s no lie. You have the best relationship with your daughter that I have ever seen, and I’m not just saying that because you’re my friend. For somebody who never wanted a kid, and then had one to sneak up on you like she did, you have done a fantastic job of bonding with that little girl. You did it from day one, I think even before. She loves you and she totally respects and admires you. J.J.’s a good kid because of you. Let’s face it, Jonathan’s a wonderful man and a great father, but you are the reason why she’s got character, a conscience, and morals. That girl has the personality and will of two or three kids. Without you to check her she would have steamrolled him. You know that girl can do no wrong in her father’s eyes. He would have just given in to her demands, indulged her vices, and by now she’d have been thinking that the whole damned world was her litter box or that life was some sort of crap table with her playing the role of croupier.”
Pat’s words were so true. Even though Jonathan did occasionally have to come on strong with her about a few things over the years, J.J. had always been able to wrap her father around her little finger, and secretly she loved the way that he doted upon her and made her feel so special. But it had always been her role to keep things in balance; to make Jonathan back off and to make sure that J.J. stepped confidently up to the plate. She was proud of the well-rounded girl that J.J. was becoming, despite some of her carefree, unconventional, mischievous ways. The latter qualities in her daughter were the most delightful ones, and it often bothered her that she couldn’t let J.J. know how much she actually appreciated them in her. But, somebody had to be the heavy to keep the girl from running amuck. She had loved and revered her own mother, just as Pat said J.J. felt about her, yet her mother’s face seemed to be gone from her memory just the same.
Pat continued. “I mean, come on, what teenaged girl do you know who trusts her mother enough to tell her that she’s been kissing some boy she just met? More than once, at that! And then what mother do you know who wouldn’t freak out over it? No, the two of you just sit and talk about it, like it’s-” Pat threw up her hands. “Like it’s the weather!”
Jennifer smiled at that reference.
“Well, there’s no sense being unrealistic about it, Pat. She’s a normal, healthy, popular, and fairly attractive young girl. Things are going to come her way, and she’s going to react to them. Eventually she is going to become intimate with a young man. At least I hope he’s fairly young, if she is at the time. There’s simply no telling with her. She’s adventurous by nature, and if I just tell her to not do a thing without explaining what it is and why she shouldn’t bother with it, that’s going to be the first thing she tries. It’s her nature. Pa tried to keep me fenced in as if not exposing me to things was going to keep me from finding out about them. Every chance I got to be free, I took. You and I, both took them every time they came our way. I couldn’t wait to find out about all the things he seemed to hold taboo. Once I finally was on my own, and I didn’t have to sneak around or worry about him any more, I tried it all and ended up making a lot of dumb mistakes that I wouldn’t have had to make trying to find out about boys and girls and men and women and all the stuff in between if someone had just been more up front with me.”
“Didn’t we both make some? It’s a good thing we had each other to bounce things off of.”
“Yes, it was. It’s for sure we weren’t listening to anyone else at the time. At least we could compare notes and decide what was worth trying again and what we needed to leave alone. Remember when I ended up spending that year with Sabrina when I studied at the Sorbonne? She came and stayed in that apartment with me? I learned enough from her that year to sustain me the rest of my days.”
“Yes, you said that you’d had enough of feeling around in the dark, so to speak. Your Aunt Sabrina is a card, Jen. The Joker. The one that can do anything and get over on anybody.”
“So true.” Jennifer agreed. “That she is, but she’s a realist of the highest order. J.J. is one as well. I found out early with J.J. that it was better to just show her how things were supposed to be properly done and what can happen if they weren’t, than if I just told her to leave something alone and didn’t bother to explain the consequences. It started with me telling her and showing her what electric sockets were for and how to use them, and things just kind of went from there.”
“Interesting analogy.” Pat observed.
“You have a perpetually filthy mind, Patricia Hamilton.”
“And the guys have always loved me for it, especially my latest one.”
“Your best one.”
“Your father gave us his blessing at dinner, Jen. I wish you and the Squirt had been there. It was a beautiful moment.”
“If Pa says it’s alright, then Bill’s the right one for sure. As soon as you come to terms about where to live, it will all be settled.”
“We already have, Jen. Bill wants to buy old man Farrell out.”
“Farrell? That’s great. I didn’t know that he was interested in selling. You’ll be here, pretty close to Pa.”
“Your father sent us to see him this evening. It seems that Farrell has been looking for a buyer for some time, but he’s been hanging on waiting for the right one. He wouldn’t sell to just anyone; says that too many people in the area depend upon him for his services. Bill loves the horses and land. Since he’s turning the aviation business over to Peter, he is looking forward to doing the things he enjoys, being outside and doing his own thing. We didn’t know it at the time, but Stephen sent us over there with a letter of introduction, and Bill and Marnie fell in love with the place.”
Jennifer looked up at Pat who had stood and begun to pull her robe around her. “Bill and Marnie?”
Pat laughed. “Marnie was with us when we went over there. She’s picked out her room already.”
Jennifer shook her head at the mental picture. “Her room? I think that girl wants to belong to you, Pat.”
“You know I wouldn’t mind having her. She’s a pip.”
“And so are you. You two are good for each other. Talk about a kid loving and admiring someone.”
Pat blushed and didn’t offer comment on Jennifer’s observation. Instead she went on talking about her and Bill’s new home.
“I’ve always thought Farrell had a beautiful place. While Bill’s busy there, that will allow me to be in the city during the week. I’ll commute here on the weekends, or when I’m not working, or when I just need to be with my husband. God, ‘my husband’, that sounds so good. Of course, I’m going to keep the apartment, and he’s going to keep the place in Nevada as well for when we come to that part of the country. In a couple of years I think I’ll be ready to scale back and let some of the younger ones take care of the everyday things at Hamilton House, and I’ll take a less hands-on position. Bill seems agreeable to that.”
Pat had walked over to the door and stopped, looking back to say, “Remind me, too, that I have something to show you in the morning. I meant to bring it with me, but I left it in my room.”
“What is it?”
“You’ll get a kick out of it.” Pat answered. “Once you see it, we can decide what to do about it.”
“What’s up, J.?” He yawned into the phone. She woke him, but she didn’t care.
“What time is it?”
“In the morning? What are you doing up?”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“Does your mother know you’re on the phone, J? She’s not real fond of your timing.”
“Tommy, please. She’s unconscious right about now. Daddy’s back there in LA with you, so she doesn’t have him to deal with. She’s had a full day today, and she’s got an even fuller one tomorrow what with having to meet with contractors, landscapers, and all that, not to mention getting me to my physical therapy session. Besides, there’s no phone console with a red light to rat me out in the room she’s in, so right now, she’s probably so far under that she doesn’t even know I’m alive. And anyway, I need to talk.”
“Why does something have to be wrong? Can’t I just want to talk to you?”
“I can hear it in your voice. I always know when something is wrong with you. What’s up? Spill it, girl.”
“Boy, I told you nothing’s wrong. I just couldn’t sleep. So I just thought I’d rock your world by letting you hear my voice for a while.”
“You fool nobody, but I’m not going to waste my time pressing you about it. What do you want to talk to me about?”
“What’s going on there?”
“Nothing. Just about everybody’s gone from here, except me. Deon and Charmaine went home to the Islands to see their family for a couple of weeks. Hector and Philly are in Atlantic City with their father working a concert. I flew to San Diego this morning with Mr. Borland. He had business and he let me go with him to sit in. And Marnie’s with you. She off lockdown yet, J.?”
“Yeah, Aunt Pat let her off. She told Marnie to get the next hickey in a less conspicuous place.”
“Your Aunt Pat is a trip, J. She and Marnie were made for each other. I saw Chase and Chance at the Marina yesterday. They asked when you were coming home. I told them about your grandfather and your ankle. Chase said he was going to call you.”
“He did. I talked to him before I went to bed tonight. He called me on his cell. They were sailing, headed out to Catalina with their father, they said”
“That’s what Chase told me they were gearing up for yesterday when I saw them. Guess who else I saw.”
“Wesley? How in the world did you two cross paths?”
“It’s a funny thing. I was coming out of the Towers with your father tonight. It was real late. I knew your dad was coming in, so I waited around for him with Mr. Borland because he phoned ahead to say he was stopping into his office to get his messages before heading for home. He had just gotten back, and we were talking about some stuff. He had parked out front, so I walked him down to his car, and he drove me into the structure to get the bike. Then as I was riding the bike out, there Wesley was sitting there, right by the garage door. I could see him before he actually saw me. In fact, he almost didn’t see me. I think he was actually watching for your father’s car.”
“For what, I wonder?”
“My guess is to see if you were back, and if you were in it with him.”
“How did he even know Daddy was back? Did Daddy see him?”
“I don’t know. Like always, it’s hard to tell what your father sees and doesn’t see. When he does see me, Wes starts waving at me, like we’re old pals or something, I guess to try to make it look like something else in case your father did see him or recognized the car. J.J., when you do come home, you watch your back with that character. I’m not crazy about him in the first place, but I’m not liking this latest thing at all. If I’m right about him, J., he has to be watching for you like that every day, all the time if he didn’t know when your father was coming home. That means he’s checking out places where he thinks you might be. That’s sort of sick.”
“Did you talk to Wesley? Did you ask him why he was there?”
“No, as soon as your father pulled out behind me, he pulled off.”
“I mean it, J. Don’t let yourself get boxed in by him at your Country Club, in his car, at your house- anywhere. I really think you should tell your dad about it. But you won’t do that because you think you can take care of everything yourself.”
“I’m telling you, if he starts with you, and I get wind of it, I’ll kick his ass. You’ll just have to be mad at me about it. You say it’s not fair for me to fight people because I have such a physical advantage over them, so I’ve held back, even when I’ve been provoked. But I’m not having you go through that stuff again. His arrogant, superior, Ivy League ass, I will kick- with pleasure. I’ve been waiting a while for a good enough reason, and you’re the best one I can think of.”
“It won’t come to that, I’m sure. Maybe it was just coincidence that he was there.”
“Yeah, and I’m four-eleven and weigh ninety-five pounds.”
“Tommy, I want to ask you something.”
“Look now, don’t ask me a whole lot of questions about it, okay? Just answer me.”
“Tommy, what does it feel like to make love?”
“You heard me. I told you not to ask questions.”
“I wouldn’t know, J. I’ve never made love. I’ve only ever had sex. I wasn’t in love with the girls I did it with. There’s a big difference, I think. Why? You met somebody you’re thinking of doing it with? What’s his name?”
“Forget you, Tommy. No, I’m not thinking about doing it yet. I was just wondering what it felt like, that’s all.”
“Well, you’re old enough to be wondering, I guess.”
“Oh, like you’re so much older than me, Tommy Steele. Like you’re all grown or something. It’s only a year, and not quite that.”
“For all practical purposes, I’m a whole year older than you, and a whole lot more experienced than you, J.J. Hart. And to answer your nasty, hot little question, I don’t know what it feels like for a girl, but I will tell you this much, J.”
“Wait. You’re too young and you’re not ready for all that.”
“How do you know what I am?”
“Because I know guys, but more importantly I know you. For guys, it’s not so important, but for a girl, especially a girl like you, a girl who respects herself, the first time ought to be special. It ought to be right, and you aren’t ready for that kind of giving right now.”
“What do you mean, I’m not ready? I have all the right parts, Tommy. It looks to me like all systems could be ‘go’.”
“Well, yeah, you definitely do have all the right stuff-”
“The right stuff? How come you’re looking at me like that, Tommy? You know I don’t want you looking at me like that. I’ve told you about-”
“I’m only human, J. It’s kind of hard not to notice-”
“I’ve told you time and time again, Tommy, I’m not one of your ‘things’. Don’t be-”
“- and from the outside, it does appear everything is in working order, but I’m not talking about just being physically ready. For girls, most girls, it’s a psychological thing as well as physical. Guys our age, and some older ones too are just mostly in it for the physical part: the fun, the feel, and the release. That’s why some girls get so devastated when they find out later the guy was just screwing them, that it wasn’t about love or caring on his part. Just wait, J.”
“I didn’t say I was actually going to go out and do anything.”
“If you’re asking questions about it, then it’s on your mind. I don’t care what your lips are telling me. Do like I said, and wait a while.”
“Stuff can be on my mind. That doesn’t mean I’m going to just run and act it all out. Just jump on the first guy to come along.”
“I’m sure you wouldn’t, but still, J., wait. Put it off until you’re older. Wait until you’re sure the guy is the one you won’t regret having given something so precious. You won’t ever be able to get that first time back once it’s gone. Come to think of it, I believe you told me that once, the part about not being able to take it back if the person pisses you off, and you don’t want him to have it any more.”
“Yeah, that would be me who said that.”
“Then listen to yourself and hang on. You’re real special and you deserve the best. When that time comes, you deserve a real man, not some sneak sex in the back of a car fumbling around with some ignorant, horny boy.”
“Are you talking about yourself, Tommy? Are you trying to tell me something? Are you thinking that you’re that real man?”
“No, actually I’m pretty much the ignorant, horny boy in the back seat. It won’t be me, for sure. Your father will not be blowing holes in me with that Smith and Wesson he carries because he caught me like that with you. Your mother either, for that matter, now that I think about it. Seriously, though J., all I’m saying is when it happens for you, make sure he’s the one you want to share that memory with for the rest of your life. I sort of blew it, myself. Sometimes I wish I had waited. When I think about who I was with the first time, I can’t believe I did that with her. What was I thinking?”
“Yeah, well I told you she was a skank. The problem there was your brain wasn’t doing the thinking at the time. When I tried to tell you to wait, you didn’t want to hear it. You just went for it anyway when she got you in that garage . You were lucky you didn’t get the clap at fourteen.”
“Actually it was thirteen and three-quarters, and you kill me with calling it “clap”. You just lump all V.D.’s into one category.”
“I read that term somewhere, and it just cracked me up. “Clap” has become my umbrella term for all the stuff you can get from doing it with just anybody; jumping into the muck without having your boots on. Besides, when I call it that, everybody in our crew picks up on exactly what I mean. I don’t hear any of you asking for clarification.”
“You’re a mess, J.”
“A mess? That’s twice I’ve been told that about myself in less than twenty-four hours. Well, look, Tommy, I think I’m getting sleepy now. When you talk to your grandmother, tell her I said hello and that I miss her. Your mother, too.”
“Fee asked about you yesterday, wanted to know how her Nieta’s ankle was coming along. I’ll let her know what you said. Hey, look here, tell me something. How come you always get so sleepy when you talk to me? Should I be insulted? Am I that boring? ”
“No Silly, I just get comfortable with you. You make me relax. No pretense, no fronting, no trying to impress. I can just be me, and you are always just you. We can talk about things, and you don’t lie and tell me things because you think that’s what I want to hear. You tell me what I need to know. And I don’t have to be afraid to tell you things for fear you’ll think less of me. How’d you get so smart about girls anyway, Tommy? All that psychological stuff?”
“From dealing with them, messing over some of them and feeling bad about it later, my mother, your father, talk shows, and running with you all these years, J.J. Hart.”
“Good night, Tommy. Thank you for talking to me- about everything.”
“One question before you turn in.”
“Were you listening to what I said?”
“I heard every word.”
“About Wesley, and sex, and waiting, and everything?”
“Yes, Thomas. About Wesley, sex, waiting, and everything. I heard you, boy.”
“Just checking, girl. Good night, J.”
“Good night, Tommy.”
Jennifer crept away from J.J.’s door without a sound. That girl was a total mess. Discussing sex with a boy in the middle of the night. She needed a good tongue-lashing, but what good would that do? She would only do it again should the need arise. That was just how J.J. and Tommy operated. As far as she was concerned, all bets were still on when it came to those two. And what exactly was it about Wesley that J.J. had heard every word Tommy said?
She had already peeked in on Marnie who was already asleep, and it had been her intention to do the same with J.J. She remembered that the windows in that room had been open when they were together in there talking earlier. J.J. enjoyed the natural country breeze in comparison to the air conditioning upon which she’d been raised in Los Angeles. The rural night air had turned cool, and she knew that J.J. had a tendency to crawl out from under the covers in her sleep. She was just going to peek in to make sure that she was secure, warm, and comfortable.
But from what she’d overheard while standing there, it seemed someone else had taken care of it for her.
It had been a long day, first piloting the flight from Massachusetts to Maryland, spending the day at Briarwood, and enduring another flight, this one cross country, to arrive at home late that night. The past few days had fully exercised a range of emotions, from anxiety to elation, to passion and ecstasy, to contentment and back to anxiety, a bit of loneliness, and then finally, exhaustion.
Jonathan crawled into bed, pulling up the covers, bringing Jennifer’s pillow over to his side. As he added it to his own, he inhaled her comfortingly soft scent and immediately felt that familiar longing for her presence surging through his system He hated when she was away from him, especially at night.
How had Stephen lived on? How had he coped for over forty years?
J.J. came to mind. He wanted her back home as well. She had been gone from Willow Pond too long that summer. She’d spent two weeks in France right before she and her mother and Marnie left for the reunion. Before that, there had been the trouble with her being stalked, and as a result, she had retreated to her room and inside herself for a while. She had been away from him too long. He missed her.
But, something would have to be done about Wesley once she did get back home. Neither Jennifer nor J.J. had said anything to him about it, but he could sense that there was an escalating problem with that boy. There had been several small signs earlier that summer of J.J.’s growing irritation with him.
Although she had known him and they had been friends all of her life, she didn’t seem as eager to have him around as she had been in the past. Wesley, much to his own growing fatherly irritation, used to be one of J.J.’s regulars. When she was at home during the summer, she almost always had company over or was off somewhere with friends. Many of those friends where male. But this summer, although the parade of boys in general hadn’t slowed, she seemed reluctant to have Wesley over or to be in his presence when they happened to be together in other settings. When she was with him, it was never just him alone. There always seemed to be someone else conveniently present with her whenever he was there. He couldn’t be sure if that were by coincidence or design, but he suspected it was the latter.
At the Country Club, if they were both visiting at the same time, Wesley’s eyes seemed to follow her constantly. It wasn’t just a look of admiration. It was more like he was monitoring her movements. He would appear to be mildly annoyed by J.J.’s popularity with the other young men there. Once, he had overheard Wesley questioning another boy about his interest in J.J. It disturbed him at the time, but he filed the incident for future reference and said nothing about having heard anything to anyone.
Earlier that night had been the second time that he had seen him lingering outside the Hart Towers. He had also seen him there on the day that J.J. was actually supposed to return from France the previous month. A side trip to Paris with her mother had delayed their return by a day, but Wesley would not have known that. J.J. had not been communicating with him very much. She had been erasing his voice messages from her answering machine and deleting his email messages from her computer without listening to or reading them in their entirety. He had witnessed those actions on her part with his own eyes.
And he had not been fooled by Wesley’s attempt to make it look like his being there earlier that evening was coincidental by waving at Tommy. Tommy and Wesley had never been friends. J.J. had alluded to there being some bad blood between them. And even though Tommy, with whom he had been spending an increasing amount of time of late, had never said anything to him against Wesley, the rival young male posturing between them whenever they happened to be together spoke volumes.
But more importantly than any of that, he had also witnessed a change in Jennifer’s attitude toward Wesley. At one time she seemed to support, almost promote, J.J.’s friendship with him. Of late he’d noticed that she covertly maintained a silent surveillance on the two young people whenever they were together in her presence. If they were out at the pool at home, he noticed that she would take quick trips to the window to peer out. At the club, she was careful to keep J.J. within her eyesight when Wesley was with her. He had begun to sense strong disapproval on her part even though she never intervened in J.J. and Wesley’s interactions. She had never said anything against him, and he knew that to ask her about it would only result in a round of her skillful, but maddening evasiveness. Jennifer almost never negated or interfered with any of J.J.’s relationships, male or female, nor did she allow him to do so. The fact that she seemed to have a problem with this one sent up a huge flare for him.
This would be a wait and watch situation, but he would not be waiting or watching too long. J.J. would not be going through any of that again. His instincts were telling him that there was trouble brewing. All he needed was a bit more solid evidence.
When that happened, the problem would be handled with dispatch. Jennifer had suffered through something before they met. Although he wasn’t sure what it had been with her, she had said enough little things over the years for him to be able to deduce that it had been bad. If he had anything to do with it, J.J. would not have to endure harassment in any form from a guy. She had her father right there with her twenty-four seven, and he would literally be Johnny-on-the-Spot in that instance. As long as he was her father, and he had any inkling that something was amiss, he would take whatever steps necessary to stop, even erase that kind of problem in her life, whether she wanted him to interfere or not.
As he began drifting off to sleep, he had Jennifer on his mind.
Whatever was going on, he mused, Wesley really needed to hope it got handled by him and not by J.J.’s mother.
Jennifer Hart had proven herself to be a terrifyingly cunning, and potentially deadly tigress when it came to defending that one female cub of hers. She had been swift, deliberate, and nearly fatal in taking on J.J.’s stalker.
He never wanted to see that side of her again.
Waking very early, J.J made it downstairs, she thought, before anyone else. Opting to go it without the crutch, she limped slowly out of the room to the elevator, holding onto the walls for support as much as she could. As she crossed the hall, she noticed that the doors to her mother’s, Pat’s, and Marnie’s rooms were still closed. Her grandfather’s doors were around another corner, so she couldn’t be sure if he was still upstairs or not.
Arriving on the first floor, she stepped out into the small hall and then went around to the main hall to the foyer where she stood to look around herself at her grandfather’s home.
Above her head was a massive crystal chandelier that her mother once told her was handmade and had come all the way from France. It had been a wedding gift from her grandmother’s parents, Henri and Simone Roussel. The double entry doors in front of her were solid oak and the doorframes bore the carved brier rose theme that repeated throughout the house. Above those doors was a wooden shield bearing the Edwards family crest. Directly behind her, facing anyone entering the house, was a large rectangular mirror with an ornately carved solid gold frame. It was an antique, another wedding gift, but from her other great-grandparents, Stephen and Emily Harrison Edwards. It had been made in England.
To her right was the rarely used living room. Where there had been no flowers the day before, large sprays graced the two sofa tables that morning. She knew that Walter had arranged to have that done that for her mother. She liked having fresh flowers in the rooms when she was staying there, just like she did at home on Willow Pond.
Slightly behind her, to the left was the parlor where they gathered before meals, and from both the living room and that parlor, one could reach the formal dining room which was located sort of in the middle of that side of the house. To her right was the wide staircase which spiraled gracefully past a series of three huge rectangular stained glass windows to the second floor. Underneath that staircase were three more sets of doors. One led to a hall which contained a powder room and continued back to the kitchen, the mud room, the pantries, and the butler’s quarters.
The second one, a set of closed double doors, were to the music room. It was a large room that housed the enormous ebony Steinway concert grand piano which she loved to play when she was visiting there. The room had been converted years ago to be acoustically sound just to accommodate that finely tuned instrument which produced, as far as J.J. was concerned, the purest of tones. Her grandfather told her that he had purchased it in Germany as a 30th birthday gift for her grandmother, and that it had been shipped in pieces to the United States. He was full of stories like that, but not stories specifically about her grandmother. He skimmed past her most of the time.
Sometimes while she was in that room, hours would go by without her being aware of it. Time and the outside world just seemed to fade away whenever she immersed herself in her music, especially when she closed those doors and played that piano. She wondered if her grandmother ever felt that way when she played piano in there. Her grandmother had only had two years to enjoy her present. J.J. already had put that much together, but she wondered what kind of music her grandmother really liked to play? Did she play what she liked on her piano, or did she play what people thought she should play?
The last door, the one farthest to the right, was the entrance to her grandfather’s study.
That room fascinated her. It was her grandfather’s hallowed ground, and one was only admitted by invitation. Even then, she felt like she was invading his private space if she lingered there too long. When she was inside, she was always careful to wait for his permission to explore before she touched anything.
Throughout his long life, her grandfather had been everywhere. That room contained so much evidence of his extensive travels that the times that she had been in there, she felt as if she could have stayed for days on end, just reading, looking, discovering, studying, and learning. There were pictures, masks, statuettes, busts, photographs, plaques, books, certificates, and papers; an endless treasure trove of artifacts. Her mother’s Phi Beta Kappa Key was displayed in a small glass cabinet in that room, and copies of her four diplomas and many of her awards were displayed right alongside her father’s. Both of them had been scholars.
When they were together in that room her mother always made her observe the, “Don’t Touch” policy, even though her respect for her grandfather made her mother saying that to her unnecessary. Never would she have gone into his things without permission. His stern countenance had always inspired her high regard for him and for his privacy.
When she was younger, even though he had never done anything to harm her, or said anything harsh or hurtful to her, she had preferred to spend as little time in his presence as possible. Since she had gotten older, those feelings had mellowed somewhat, and as she had come to know herself better, she began to see him differently as well. Also, now that she was older, when he invited her into his study he encouraged her to explore at will, and he took the time to answer her questions and to explain to her about the things contained therein. She loved it, but it seemed she could never get enough time in there to do and see and say all that she wanted.
A large painting of her parents on their wedding day hung over the fireplace in the study. Her grandfather had taken one of their wedding photographs and had an artist friend of his render it in oil. It was her favorite of all the many paintings in the house.
It could be viewed from the door of the study, and she decided that she wanted to start her day by taking a peek at it. Upon reaching the door, she was surprised to find her grandfather already seated at his desk, leaned back in his chair with one leg crossed over the other, his bifocals perched on the bridge of his nose as he perused the New York Times.
“Good morning, Justine.” He greeted her over his glasses. “You’re up early. Are you supposed to be walking without those crutches?”
“Good morning, Pa.” She answered. “I can put my weight on my foot, and they told me that I could use one crutch for balance as long as I needed it. I probably should still have it this morning, but I don’t like it. I really want to get back on my feet as soon as possible.”
“You can’t rush things like that; they come in their own time.” Stephen Edwards patted the seat of the hassock next to his chair. “Come sit with me for a minute or two.”
She took the seat he offered, and immediately her eyes focused upon the large painting over the mantle piece.
Her father had been quite debonaire that day in his dove gray morning suit. His hair had been darker then, all brown, and it was a lot longer. She liked how it curled past the collar of his shirt, like Tommy’s and Teddy’s did at present. Her mother had been exquisitely lovely in an ivory, off shoulder gown with a low cut bodice that showed off her cleavage. She had pulled her hair up for her wedding day and her long neck and good shoulders had been on display. Looking at that picture, J.J. was feeling glad that she looked so much like her mother, including the cleavage- especially the cleavage.
The long train of the dress had been brought around from behind and draped so that it flowed elegantly down the three stairs in front of her. The color of the dress had been flattering to her mother’s fair skin and auburn hair, but it also made J.J. wonder if she had been making some sort of statement in choosing ivory over plain white. From what she had come to understand about her mother and her viewpoints, it would have been like her to do that. One day she’d ask her about it.
She like the painting because they both looked so happy in it and in the original photograph, which was on one of the bookshelves in the great room at home. Even though she knew it was impossible for it to have happened that way, when looking at their wedding pictures, she always wished that she could have been there to see the ceremony for herself.
“You like that picture a lot, don’t you?” She heard her grandfather ask. “I notice that you spend a lot of time looking at it whenever you’re in here.”
“I like the people in it.” She answered.
Turning around from the picture to look up at him, she found that he had placed his paper in his lap and was folding his glasses to put them in his shirt pocket.
She asked, “Would you have let her get married at eighteen, Pa?”
Stephen Edwards appeared slightly taken aback. “Now that’s a question. I see someone’s been filling you in on the family history. You haven’t been left totally in the dark.”
Not quite sure what he meant by that, J.J. remained silent, waiting for him to finish what he started and for him to answer her.
“No, Justine, I would not have let her get married at eighteen even though her mother married me at that age. I almost didn’t let her marry your father at twenty-nine.”
“How come, Pa?”
“At the time, when she first told me about him I thought she could do better. Your mother knew all sorts of powerful, successful, wealthy, men. She was well-traveled, very well-educated, intelligent, and pretty. She could have had her pick of anyone, anywhere. I always thought she that if she married, she’d end up with an English or a French gentleman and live with him in Europe where she spent so much of her time. But I was wrong, Justine. Very wrong about the whole thing.”
“I don’t think you could have stopped that with her and Daddy anyway, Pa. I think that was meant to happen. If you look at the way it happened, you see that it had to be fate or something.”
“You’re a very astute girl, Justine. That is why I didn’t try to stop them. That and the fact that I could tell after talking with him that he was a good man, that he was right for her, and that he was determined to marry her. I could tell that he was only talking with me as a matter of form. But, he sold me on himself completely. And you’re right. It wouldn’t have mattered what I said. They were deeply in love by the time they came to me to discuss getting married, and that was all there was to it. Now what brought that question about this morning?”
“I just was wondering, that’s all. If I might, may I ask you why you wouldn’t have? Let her get married at eighteen, I mean.”
Her grandfather seemed to be searching her face before he answered her. His doing that made her a bit nervous. She often caught him staring at her when he thought she wasn’t looking, and it always brought about that same uncomfortable reaction in her whenever she happened to catch him doing it. Consequently, she always approached him a bit tentatively. They had never talked about anything before like they were talking about that morning, and she wondered if she might be treading in dangerous waters. She was pleasantly surprised when he began to explain it to her rather than scolding her for being ‘impertinent’.
“She was younger than her mother was at eighteen. She wasn’t ready for marriage. Besides, your mother wasn’t even dating.”
“At eighteen!” J.J. exclaimed in mock disbelief. “She wasn’t dating? Why not?”
She didn’t want him to know it, but she was already aware that her mother hadn’t been allowed to date until she graduated high school. What she wanted was to hear the real story straight from her grandfather’s mouth and from his point of view.
“I didn’t allow her to date until she finished upper school.” He confirmed. “I wanted her to focus on her studies, not boys. She was brilliant, but girls sometimes choose boys over having brains. I didn’t want her to do that. Life is too short. I wanted her to get to know herself, find out what she wanted to do with her life, and to fully develop herself and her talents first. Your mother was a good daughter. She did as I asked, and she waited.”
J.J. turned back to the picture feeling more confused than ever.
If her grandmother had been married at eighteen, why had her grandfather been so strict about her mother dating? And if her mother had been raised so strictly, then why was she so casual and relaxed in dealing with those matters with her? It would make more sense if she were as rigid a parent in that area as her father had been with her. After all, Jennifer Hart was a stickler about school, getting good grades, and staying focused on priorities, too. Certainly she would want her daughter to choose to be smart over being interested in boys and dating. Instead she spoke to her about those things as if it were a natural course that her life would take, which of course she understood that it was.
It all made her wonder. If her grandmother had lived, might things have been much different for her mother as she was growing up? Certainly she wouldn’t have gone away to boarding school, or would she? Had her grandmother been more like her mother? How opposite from Aunt Sabrina? What had she really been like and how had she impacted the lives of Pa and her mother?
Why wouldn’t anyone say?
She turned back to face her grandfather who was still looking thoughtfully at her, and what she saw in that instant almost knocked her from the stool. It wasn’t until that precise moment that she realized that his eyes and her mother’s eyes were exactly the same. It wasn’t just the color, which she already knew that they shared. Sitting there and making herself block out the rest of his face while concentrating on just his eyes, she could see that they were the same: the same shade, same intensity, the same ability to elicit the truth. Not having had a lot of up-close contact with her grandfather, nor the maturity to spot it prior to that moment, she had never really noticed it before then.
“Well?” He asked. “Was there anything else that you wanted to ask me about that?”
It was a prime opportunity, and he seemed to want to talk. The question was just forming itself in her head when her mother appeared in the door, carrying the crutch that should have come down the stairs with her.
“Good morning, you two.” She greeted them. “When I didn’t find you in your rooms, I thought you might be together.”
She came over and kissed her father’s cheek as she handed J.J. the crutch.
“Don’t rush it, Sweetie.” Jennifer advised as she stood over her. “Give yourself time to get it together. All good things come in their own time. Just let them happen in their natural order. You can’t rush them.”
And J.J. smiled upon hearing her mother say almost the exact same thing her grandfather had said to her.
Jennifer stopped and looked at both of them sitting there together. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”
Stephen Edwards again looked questioningly to his granddaughter.
“No,” J.J. answered. “You aren’t interrupting. We were just talking. I was just about to get up and go see Rosa and maybe try to see what’s for breakfast before she runs me out of her kitchen for being nosey.”
She pulled herself up from the hassock and leaned on the crutch to stand.
In the meantime, Jennifer took her father’s hand.
“Well, why don’t the two of us go out to the paddock until breakfast.” She said. “You told me you wanted me to go out there with you yesterday, but we never got the chance.”
“That’s due to no fault of mine.” Stephen informed her as he rose from his chair. “I kept up my end of the bargain and rested as you insisted. I understand that you went off with your husband and forgot all about your poor, old, ailing father. I waited for you, you know.”
Instantly recalling her conversations with her mother and with Teddy and Tommy, as well as her last thoughts before falling asleep in the wee hours of that morning, J.J. walked out behind her blushing mother and her smirking grandfather wondering if in her comment to her, her mother was talking about her ankle, something else, or both.
Watching them together, it was funny seeing her mother being the one getting mentally worked over for once. She could tell that Pa was doing a number on her. Maybe Stephen Edwards could read his daughter in the same way that Jennifer Edwards Hart seemed to be able to read hers.
One thing was for sure: talking with her grandfather about her grandmother would have to wait until another time. But seeing as how her time there at Briarwood was limited, she knew that there wouldn’t be a whole lot more opportunities for which to wait.
The knocking on the bedroom door woke Jonathan from his dream.
“Mr. Hart.” He could hear Marie, the housekeeper, calling for him through the haze. “I have your breakfast ready. Don’t forget that you have that meeting this morning.”
The dream had been so real. He realized that with his one arm he was cradling Jennifer’s pillow close to him and that his other hand was clenched so tightly that he could feel his fingernails digging into his palm.
Pushing the pillow away and flexing his fingers as he rubbed his eyes with the other hand and sat up, he called out for Marie to come in.
“Good morning!” She greeted him as she came in carrying a dish-filled tray. “I thought with Mrs. Hart away that you might oversleep, so I brought your breakfast up to you to help you get up.”
She was followed into the room by Third, J.J.’s dog, who hopped up on the bed as if Marie were bringing up his breakfast as well. The dog was much like his young mistress in that certain things happened only when Jennifer wasn’t present. When she was gone, all bets were off when it came to both of their behavior. Third would never have jumped up on the bed following a tray of food if Jennifer had been in the bed with him. J.J. and that dog played him like a fiddle- and he had no problem with either of them.
Scratching the floppy, fuzzy ears, he told the dog, “You’re going to get me in big trouble, you know.”
“Don’t worry.” Laughed Marie. “I won’t tell. I’m sure he won’t say anything, and there won’t be one hair anywhere to give you two away when Mrs. Hart gets home, I promise. Eat up. That Stanley’s already called here twice to make sure that you were going to make it.”
“Marcus is there.” Jonathan said as he happily checked over the fare she’d placed before him. They were all his favorites. “I’m only showing up as a formality.”
Marie was pleased as she noticed his obvious delight at the menu she’d chosen for him. She knew how much he despaired when his family was away, especially his pretty wife, and she catered to his likings during those times. Mr. Hart was a good man and she had always admired him very much. For all of his wealth and power he was always personable, down-to-earth, and considerate. His loving, protective relationship, first with his wife, and then with their daughter, had only further endeared him to her.
“Well, he’s called too.” She let him know. “Evidently they feel like they can’t do whatever it is that needs doing without your face in the place. I’ll be back to pick all that up later. Let’s go, Boy” She clicked her tongue for Third to follow her.
When the dog appeared to be reluctant to leave, Jonathan gave him a little push to ease him toward the edge of the bed. “Go on, Boy. If I start feeding you from my plate, you’ll never go. Then when Jennifer gets back, you’ll be telling on me by sitting there and begging from her plate as if you haven’t been taught any better.”
Third jumped down and followed Marie out of the door, which she closed behind her. When they were gone, Jonathan moved the tray of food from his lap and placed it onto the bed beside him. Even though he was hungry, he needed to stretch his body and to figure out that dream first. Normally, he didn’t remember his dreams upon waking, but that one seemed to remain etched on his brain. Closing his eyes, he could clearly recall the final details.
He had been in a hospital delivery room with a woman who was in the process of having a baby. Somehow, even in his sleep, he could sense that the woman wasn’t Jennifer. But he was holding her hand, just has he’d sat with Jennifer sixteen years before, holding her hand in his. And just like when he had been in that delivery room with Jennifer, he had been unable to look into the woman’s face, unable to stomach the silent pain that she was feeling, the pain that was being reflected in her features and in her breathing.
Doctor Kendall, Jennifer’s longtime physician, was in attendance, seated at the foot of the bed, coaching the woman. She looked up from her work and told him to come to see his baby being born, just as she had done with J.J. Reluctantly, he released the woman’s hand and walked to the end of the bed getting there just in time to see the baby’s head crowning. It had hair, dark with fluids, but obviously red, hair.
“Push.” Kate urged.
The woman did, and after a moment or two, a tiny head emerged. A few more pushes, and some gentle pulling and turning brought forth the tiny shoulders, and two more made it evident that the baby was a girl. He had recognized the face immediately. It was J.J.’s face; the same little face that had emerged from Jennifer’s body. That was a moment that he would never forget as long as he lived. In that very first instant of her life, J.J. had clearly resembled her mother. It was J.J. in his dream, of that he was certain. In his dream he had felt the same elation as he had that day. The baby was born alive and apparently healthy, and it was a girl, just as he had been praying for their child to be. The only thing that remained to cement his joy was to check on his wife. To congratulate her. To tell her how much he loved her.
But the woman in the dream hadn’t been his wife. She resembled Jennifer, but she was much younger than Jennifer had been when she delivered J.J., with slightly darker complexion and a more pastoral appearance, as if she spent a lot of time outdoors. Her hair was very long and very thick like J.J.’s. was at present, and her eyes were closed.
Even though he was sure it wasn’t her, he softly called, “Jennifer” to her.
She opened her eyes, and they weren’t Jennifer’s eyes. They were hazel colored, not brown, and the look in them was different. She looked up at him and smiled a benevolent, understanding smile, one much older than her obvious youthful years. Her appearance had been oddly, very deeply, disturbing to him. When he looked past her, he saw that Jennifer was standing there, on the other side of the bed, holding in her arms that baby that he had seen come from the other woman’s body.
The woman said to him, her words delivered in French, “Take good care of her, Jonathan. She’s my gift, and she deserves someone like you.”
Opening his eyes once again, he lie there for a few moments wondering why Suzanne Edwards was so much on their minds those past few days. He was fairly sure that it had been his mother-in-law in that dream. She had been the one having the baby.
Bringing his stinging hand to his face to look at it, he could see that the marks from his fingernails digging into his skin were still evident in his palm, just as the marks from Jennifer’s nails had remained in his palm for days after J.J.’s birth from where she squeezed it during her labor .
The woman in the dream had told him to take care of “her”, that “she” was her gift. To whom? From whom? And he wondered if she meant that he should take care of Jennifer, J.J., or both of them. In a way, Suzanne had given birth to both of them, and he was suddenly struck by how much J.J. looked like the woman in his dream. He realized with blinding clarity that was what had been so disturbing to him when the woman opened her eyes. Being a lifelong, sun-worshipping California girl, J.J. was darker than her mother. She had all that hair and had light colored eyes in contrast to Jennifer’s dark eyes.
At the reunion, Jennifer had awakened that night, startled by a message from someone calling her “Jenny” saying that it was time to wake up. Jennifer’s mother seemed to be wanting to wake up everyone.
Him, she didn’t have to worry about. Taking care of either Jennifer or J.J. wasn’t something that he had to be told or reminded to do. That came as naturally for him as breathing.
He had always thought of both of them as gifts to his life, and he had thanked God many times for them, and praised Stephen for the fine job that he had done in completing the raising of his daughter on his own. But he had never before considered that more immediate source of their being on earth. He didn’t know what he had done to deserve them, but he was happy that Suzanne Edwards seemed to feel that he did.
Picking up his breakfast to eat it before it got cold, he had to smile to himself.
He hadn’t looked at it like that before. Now there was a middleman- middlewoman- that obviously wasn’t going to be sidestepped, and whom he couldn’t have done without.
J.J. was in the music room when Marnie caught up to her.
“J.! I’ve been looking for you everywhere! Why didn’t you wake me up?”
J.J. stopped her scale practice to look up at Marnie. “I got up early, too early for you. You like to sleep later than me.” Then she noticed the agitated look on Marnie’s face. “What’s up?”
“I can’t find the pictures.”
“The scrapbook pictures. The copies we made and stuff. They’re gone! I just noticed it this morning. I was going to look at them again for a laugh and that’s when I noticed that they were all gone. All the pages, J. Gone!”
“When did you see them last?” J.J. asked as Marnie nervously paced.
“Right before I got trapped in that closet. You had been looking at them right before your father took you to the clinic. That’s the last time that I saw them, and if the Duchess and Pat see them, we’re toast.”
“Um-hmmm, I know.” J.J. agreed, nodding her head. “Aunt Pat said that she had been in there looking for you. How much do you want to bet that she’s got them? I think we’ve been ‘jacked for our pictures, Marn.”
“Oh gee, you think?” Marnie asked sarcastically. “So, what do we do about it?”
Walter came to the door. “Miss J.J., Miss Marnie. Good morning. It’s time for breakfast.”
“Good morning and thank you, Walter.” J.J. said in acknowledgement. “We’ll be right in.”
As soon as he was gone, she turned back to Marnie. “Look, no panicking. We just play it cool, and act like nothing’s wrong. We’re in deep, but four can play at this game.”
Jennifer had just returned to her room from being out on the paddock with her father. She was tidying herself for breakfast, which was going to be served soon. Pat stuck her head in the door.
“Jen, where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you to get back.”
“I was outside with Pa.” She answered. “What’s going on?”
Pat stepped inside carrying large sheets of paper. They could have been galleys.
“I’m not proofing anything this morning, Pat.” She warned. “I have too much on my plate as it is. I’ll be reading and signing contracts and having things moved all day. If I get too tied up, I may need you to supervise J.J.’s physical therapy session for me.”
“Whatever you need me to do, Jen. That’s why I opted to stay. These aren’t galleys, though.” Pat closed the door and sat down at the desk. “Remember I told you last night that I had something to show you? Get over here and take a look. You won’t believe the nerve.”
Coming to the desk to peer over Pat’s shoulder, Jennifer could see that there were pictures cleverly and artistically affixed to the sheets of paper. Some were photo copies and some were scans, but they were all pictures of her and of Pat which had been mixed in with some of J.J. and Marnie. Some had been taken at the reunion. But the others, the photocopies, had come from their high school yearbook. Evidently, someone had taken a lot of time and put a lot of thought into the pictures of they’d taken of themselves. Several of the girls’ pictures had apparently been posed to be pointing at their yearbook pictures and had been taken with the digital camera to coincide with the yearbook pictures. Captions had been affixed to each set of pictures: “Homegirls”, “A Prep School Hottie”, “Aunt Pat in Hunk Heaven”, “Does My Daddy Know about This Guy???”,etc.
“Looks like the ‘Picture It’ program got a good workout, huh?” Pat surmised as Jennifer looked on.
Jennifer flipped quietly through the colorful pages as Pat sat watching her face. When she stopped at the one from the yearbook on which Eva Taylor had drawn the prison bars and the lit, smoking cigarette into Jennifer’s hand, Pat sat back and paid particular attention to Jennifer’s facial expression.
The Dean had been raking both of them over the coals for sneaking off campus to go have one of Jennifer’s outfits altered in Boston. They had missed the last bus, and had to be rescued by Teddy Baxter, Sr., who had a car and who was always up for a caper with them. The Dean didn’t know about that part of the escapade. She had caught them after Teddy had dropped them off, well after curfew, as they were trying to ease back on campus. Eva had been taking yearbook pictures that day, and managed to take that one while she was standing in the hall outside of the Dean’s office. Before publishing it in the yearbook as a last minute addition, which kept Jennifer from editing it out, she had altered it, adding the bars and the cigarette. In the picture the Dean was on the telephone. She had been talking to Stephen Edwards at the time, telling it all.
That copy of that yearbook picture had been placed inside the red cutout of an apple which was hanging from an elaborately well-drawn tree. The infamous picture of J.J., a lit cigar held between her long fingers, an impish grin on her polished lips had been placed inside an apple shape, but was lying on the ground under the tree. Of course, the caption under her picture read, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”, but across the top of their picture with the Dean, the words “You’ve been BUSTED!” had been carefully affixed in bold, black, block letters. Underneath it in smaller letters was another caption, “And headed for LOCKDOWN.”
“Well, I’ll be damned.” Jennifer whispered. “They are good, and they have the nerve to be trying to get creative with it. These kids know how to do entirely too many things with computers these days. I remember my father wouldn’t let me go riding for the rest of that semester after Dean Marchand told on us that time. Where’d you get this?”
“Do you recall my telling you that Marnie came up missing yesterday, and then she magically reappeared? This was on the bed in her room when I was in her room looking for her. Jen, they left it lying right out on the bed. That’s amateurs for you. I swiped it while I was in there so you could see it. Thought you might find it interesting.”
“You were right.” Jennifer answered. “It’s really quite interesting.”
She slid open the top drawer to the desk and placed the sheets inside. “Busted, indeed.” She muttered. “We’ll just see who’s headed for lockdown. They don’t know who they’re fooling with, do they?”
Pat stood up and smoothed her pants. “Evidently, not, Edwards.” She concurred. “They spent a few minutes at Gresham Hall and completely lost their minds. They don’t know a thing about messing with the original girls out of Waverly One.”
Jennifer went back to the mirror and coolly continued brushing her hair. “So, you know what to do when we get downstairs with them, right?”
“We know nothing.” Pat answered.
The intercom buzzed and Jennifer pressed the button. “Yes?”
“Mrs. Hart, breakfast is ready.” A voice informed them.
“We’ll be right down.” Jennifer responded.
Turning to Pat, she co-signed the plan: “Right. We know absolutely nothing about anything. Wait for them to tip their little hands. They’ve probably missed the book by now. J.J. has likely put the pieces together, and she realizes that you had to have taken it. They’re panicking right about now knowing that we must have it. They’ll crack.”
“One way or the other.” Pat nodded in agreement. “On their own…, or after a little friendly persuasion.”
Jennifer patted her on the back. “And I know how friendly you can be.”
Stephen Edwards looked from Jennifer to Pat, and from Pat to the two girls seated across the breakfast table from them. All four were strangely silent. The tension in the room could be cut with a knife. He noticed that although Jennifer and Pat would cast glances at the girls, the girls were watching their plates, avoiding all eye contact with them and each other.
It went on like that until he couldn’t take it any more.
“All right.” He loudly announced, startling everyone to attention. “What is going on here? What is the problem?”
“There’s no problem, Pa.” Jennifer calmly answered, continuing to eat.
Stephen shook his head and set his fork down onto his plate. “No. Something is definitely wrong, and I want to know what it is this minute. One of you is going to tell me something.”
He looked to J.J. “Justine?”
Marnie looked over at J.J. who stiffened slightly but remained silent with her eyes focused on her plate. After a few taut moments went by, and J.J. still hadn’t said anything, Marnie suddenly reached out and pointed directly at Pat. “Our pictures got stolen out of my room, Mr. Edwards! Aunt Pat took them! She took them out right of my room yesterday while I was in the closet!”
Aghast at Marnie’s unexpected outburst, J.J.’s eyes became as large as saucers.
“Oh, that’s playing it real cool, Marnie.” She thought to herself.
Steadfast in her position to not be the one to let the cat out of the bag, she struggled to remain focused on her plate while tapping Marnie’s sandal with her good foot.
Marnie, at that point, was not to be stopped.
“Well she did, J. You know she did!” She cried. “You might not want to say anything about it, but I will.”
Jennifer was watching her with a stunned look, completely taken aback by the girl’s nerve and lack of respect for her elder.
Pat, however, jumped right on the bandwagon. “How do you know?” She goaded Marnie, rocking her head for emphasis. “Did you see me do it? ”
Jennifer looked from Marnie over to Pat, unable to believe that her fully-grown, internationally acclaimed media mogul friend was going head-to-head with that tiny teenager across the table from them.
“Nobody except you could have done it.” Marnie brazenly accused as she stood, hands on her hips, leaned over the table toward Pat.
Pat jumped up from her chair and leaned across the table toward Marnie. “Prove it!” She challenged.
Jennifer pulled Pat’s arm to bring her back. “That’s being very adult, Patricia.” She whispered. “Nice example you’re setting here. What happened to letting them tip their hand?”
J.J. smiled to herself as she moved some food around with her fork. The hand had been tipped, alright, but it wasn’t one of theirs. She was pleased that her hunch had been correct about where the pictures had gone. With Pat’s actions and her mother’s words, it had been properly moved and seconded that she had good instincts and solid deductive reasoning skills, just like her father.
“Jennifer, Patricia, do you have something that belongs to these girls?” Stephen asked. “Marnie, Justine, what kind of pictures are they?”
“Just the pictures we too- got at the reunion, Pa.” J.J. answered sweetly. “We were making a scrapbook as a keepsake. I don’t know where the pages could have gone. They were in Marnie’s room before I went to the clinic yesterday with my father. I left them on her bed. She couldn’t seem to find them when she got up this morning. They must have come up missing yesterday afternoon. She would have seen them if they had still been on the bed yesterday evening.”
Stephen looked to Jennifer who was watching her daughter through narrowed, suspicious eyes.
Jennifer was taking note of J.J.’s clever and careful use of language. She never lied; she just made her words suit the situation and her purposes in an effort to tailor what she said just in case someone might try to challenge her statements later. She also noticed how J.J. had carefully. diplomatically, avoided specifically accusing anyone, and it occurred to her that the girl would make a hell of an attorney one day, should she choose to go that route.
“Yes, Mr. Edwards.” Marnie continued, pouting theatrically, crossing her arms defiantly while staring Pat down. “They were in my room, and then they were gone. Aunt Pat was the only one that I know of who came in there besides J.J.”
J.J. could feel her mother’s eyes searing into the top of her head as she continued to look down into her plate. She had decided to graciously allow Marnie to take center stage in this drama. That girl was pure entertainment when she got on a roll, and she had nerves of steel when it came to getting something started. Marnie could get away with pulling that kind of scene. She knew that she never could have pulled that off. And when the punishment came down for being impudent, Marnie would be on her own. J.J. had already determined that she would steer clear of that possibility by letting her buddy take the wheel on that trip.
Crossing her own arms and continuing to challenge Marnie’s story, unable to let it go despite Jennifer’s foot on top of hers, Pat inquired, “Did you see me in there?”
“You told me yourself that you came in there.” Marnie countered, beginning to sound as if she wanted to cry. “We worked hard on our pictures. You didn’t have to take them. All you had to do was ask. We would have let you see them.”
“I just bet you would have.” Jennifer mumbled under her breath. “You should get an Oscar for this one.”
Stephen heard her. “Jennifer? Do you know what’s going on here? Do you know where their pictures are?”
At first there was no response from her.
“Yes, I know where they are, Pa. We have them. They’re in my room.”
Pat dropped down into her chair and spun around to her in disgust. “Jen!”
“I want to see them.” Stephen demanded. “I would like to see what all this fuss is about.”
J.J. and Marnie looked to each other with sudden dread. Marnie sat down. They hadn’t counted on that.
“Yeah,” Pat said, suddenly nodding with glee at the surprised expressions on their faces. “I’ll go get the pictures, Jen. Let your father see what they did and what talented little photographers, artists and writers they can be. They don’t go a school for gifted kids for nothing. Excuse me for a moment.”
She pushed back from the table, got up, and it seemed she was gone an eternity. J.J. kicked Marnie under the table causing Marnie to mouth an obscenity while eyeing her sharply. Jennifer’s steady, accusing gaze had them both stewing as she slowly sipped her coffee.
Stephen sat observing them all, amused by the dynamics between them. It was like having two daughters and two granddaughters, one set volatile and animated, the other reserved, but calculating. It was as if Jennifer and Patricia’s teenaged antics had been cloned and brought to the present in the form of his granddaughter and her best friend, and he wasn’t tipping his hand to any of them. Whatever the girls were into, the two women deserved it. In his book, turnabout was fair play, and it was their turn to deal with the impudence and mischief. Maintaining his sober expression, he continued his meal until Pat returned with the pages in question.
She put the sheets on the table before him and looked smugly at J.J. and Marnie who sat with bowed heads. He wiped his hands on the napkin in his lap, and then took his time to leaf through them. A couple of the pages, he set off to the side. When he got to the last one, the one with the bars and the cigarette drawn on it, he seemed to study it for a long time. Then he slipped it underneath the ones he had separated from the stack.
In the meantime, Pat had returned to her seat next to Jennifer.
Stephen picked up one of the selected pages and held it up for them to see. It was a picture of Pat and Jennifer in their swim suits when they had been on the swim team at Gresham Hall. It had been labeled “Simply Scandalous!” Pictures of Marnie and J.J. had been affixed to either side of it and they appeared to be pointing to the larger picture. Water, palm trees, and several young guys cut out of a sports magazine had been added to the page, courtesy of Dee, their new artist friend at Gresham Hall. They had carefully chosen young men with leering expressions on their faces.
“This is very well done.” Stephen said, sounding as if he were assessing a serious work of art. “However you girls could have done a better job of centering the focus picture.”
Pat’s mouth fell open.
He lay that one back on the table and picked up the next page which he also held it up for them.
It was the picture of Pat posing with Teddy’s father as the yearbook’s “Class Couple”. A picture of J.J. and Marnie accompanied it. They had their hands to their cheeks and their mouths open as if in surprise. Another colorful caption had been assigned to the bottom of the page: “Who knew?!?”
“Isn’t this the boy, Patricia,” Stephen began, sounding as if he were reminiscing. “That you were caught in the loft with that time when Jennifer nearly set the stable afire? I believe you were smoking a Camel while you were playing the role of lookout, weren’t you, Darling?” He asked, looking directly to Jennifer. “Or was it one of my cigars? You know, the ones that you used to filch on your visits home? I seem to recall that you enjoyed those as well at the time.”
“Still does.” J.J. thought to herself. Then she quickly placed her hand to her mouth to be sure that she had just thought it, and that the thought hadn’t passed her lips.
Jennifer and Pat looked away while J.J. and Marnie looked to Stephen in amazement. The irony of the turn of events was astounding. He picked up that last picture.
“I would say that this one pretty much sums up both of your social careers at Gresham Hall, wouldn’t you?”
He turned it around for all of them to see. It stayed exposed just long enough to totally humiliate the women, and to thoroughly amuse the children before he put it back with all the other pictures in the pile. He stacked them all neatly and passed the whole package to Marnie.
“You girls will have lots of good memories.” He stated benevolently. “Patricia will take you into town this afternoon to have it bound for you, Marnie. She knows all the local printers.” He looked to Pat. “Right?”
“Right.” She reluctantly murmured.
“Justine, I want you to go down and help your mother supervise getting the guest house ready to be cleared out. Take your crutch. That’s too far for you to walk without it. The packers are coming and the furniture’s being picked up later this afternoon to go to storage. Before he left, your father told me that he arranged for the physical therapist to come here from now on. I’ll send the person down there to you when he or she gets here.”
They both nodded.
The housekeepers came in to begin to clear. Since the four of them all had their heads down, averting their eyes from each other, their minds awash with all kinds of thoughts; none of them saw the merry twinkle in Stephen Edward’s eyes as he struggled to keep from laughing.
Despite his illness having been the cause of it, he loved having them there. Jennifer was in a silent snit. Justine was petrified about it, and Marnie and Pat were a row waiting to happen.
His girls. They were all so cute, and so much fun!
Having returned directly to the music room directly after breakfast, closing the doors behind them, Marnie and J.J. high-fived each other and dropped down into the high-backed side chairs. Hands over their mouths, they laughed themselves to the point of tears.
“Marnie, you are so crazy, girl!” J.J. said when she could catch her breath. “I knew you had a screw loose, but for you to go there with Aunt Pat like that- I thought she was going to kill you. You know you could have given me some advance warning.”
Marnie had to catch her own breath before she could respond.
“There wasn’t any time to warn you.” She wheezed. “I had to just go for it right at that moment. Pat’s been my girl for years. We’re made out of the same stuff, J. I knew she couldn’t take being confronted like that. I knew that if I went there, she would go right with me, and the jig would be up. She gets off on stuff like that. So do I. I’ve seen her in her office with people who piss her off. She cuts them right off at the knees. I want to be just like her when I grow up. She just didn’t know that your grandfather was going to side with us. The Duchess was so through! Did you see her face? Mr. Edwards is the man, J.!”
“That shocked me, too.” J.J. admitted. “I thought sure that we were dead when Pa saw the book. Did you hear that thing he said about Aunt Pat and Teddy’s dad being in the loft? Wonder what they were up there doing?”
“Yeah, I heard it, and don’t be dense all your life, J. What the hell do you think they were doing up there? Homework? At the very least, he was probably up there giving her a hickey. And with the Duchess playing the lookout role? Can’t you just see her standing there, leaning against the door, smoking a cigarette? And he said it was one of those strong Camels at that. They have definitely been holding out on us. Sounds like your grandfather must have caught hell with them. And your mother has the nerve to complain about you- and me.”
“No wonder he turned it around on them.”
Both girls looked to each other, then the book, and fell back on the chairs, choking with muffled laughter once more. But when the doors suddenly swung open and Pat stepped in like an angry gunslinger entering a Dodge City saloon, they abruptly stopped.
“Get packed.” She ordered, speaking to Marnie.
“Packed?” Marnie asked tentatively.
“Road trip.” Pat answered. “Me and you, Sister. New York. I already called your mother. She said I could take you wherever the hell I wanted. Said she trusts me.”
“Me too, Aunt Pat?” J.J. hopefully ventured. No way did she want to be left there alone with the Duchess.
“Nope. Not this time, Squirt. Your ankle has an appointment with the physical therapist this afternoon, and your ass has an appointment with Jennifer’s foot.”
She snapped her fingers at Marnie. “Let’s go. The chopper will be here in an hour for us. I just got a call, and I have an emergency meeting to make. You’re going with me. We have business to handle. Get your little funky book there and bring it. We’re going to get it bound alright.”
As Marnie passed her on her way out of the room, clutching the pages to her breast, Pat spoke to the back of her head. “Just me and you, honey- all alone- in New York-my stomping ground. We’ll see who stole what.”
Marnie looked back with apprehensive eyes to J.J. who shrugged her shoulders helplessly.
She had her own problems. There was the Duchess, her reprimands as well as perhaps her foot to contend with, on her own, at some point in the near future.
She sat down at the piano and began running the minor scales over and over and over.
When his cell phone vibrated on his desk, Jonathan put the documents down that he had been going over all day, reached for it and checked the display. The number inside brought a smile to his face.
“Hi, Sweetheart. How’s it going?”
Hi, Daddy. Not so good. I messed up again. My mother’s not speaking to me.
“What happened this time?”
It’s a long story, but she’s as mad as hell.
“Don’t say ‘hell’ like that, J.J. It’s becoming a habit.”
Well, that’s how mad she is at me, and you know for a fact that when she’s mad, that’s exactly what it feels like. I wish you were here so you could talk to her and help me out. How’s it going with you?
“I miss you and your mother, otherwise I’m fine. Long meeting today, another one tomorrow. Your dog is at home looking for you. I think he thinks you’ve been gone long enough. What happened between you and your mother?”
She’ll tell you, I’m sure. But the condensed version is me and Marnie found some old yearbook pictures when we were at Gresham Hall and we made a joke scrapbook. Aunt Pat found the book and took it from us and showed it to my mother and to Pa. Pa wasn’t mad about it. He took it back from them, and gave it back to us, but I guess she didn’t like what we did. Aunt Pat had to leave. She took Marnie to New York with her for the day, but they ended up having to stay over, so they’re still gone. She wouldn’t let Marnie talk to me on the phone. When I called her, Aunt Pat answered and said that Marnie wasn’t taking any calls from me or anybody else today. It turned out she had Marnie’s cell in her pocket at the time. So now I’m just here, talking to nobody until I called you.
“The old ‘divide and conquer’ thing, huh?”
Yeah, I guess so. My mother and I worked out in the guest house all day, helping to get the old furniture and stuff cataloged and moved out. The house is completely empty now so the painters, plasterers, and remodeling people can get started. The work begins on it tomorrow. All the time that we were out there, and at dinner tonight, she didn’t say one word to me; she just made notes to me when she needed me to do something in the guest house. I hate when she does that, Daddy, goes all quiet like that. I always wish she would just go ahead and scream at me, or beat me, or something, and get it over with.
“You know she’s not going to do that. You’ll just have to wait her out.”
When are you coming back to Briarwood?
“The day after tomorrow. Look, tell me something, is there anything I should know about Wesley?”
“He’s called here several times for you. More times than I’m comfortable with. He’s taken to calling the house phone instead of your line. Marie mentioned it to me.”
I don’t think she cares a lot for Wesley in the first place, so his calling would get on her nerves. He always does that when he can’t get my line or my voice message box is full, which it probably is after all this time. It’s no big deal.
“Is he emailing you like that too?”
“Has he called you since you’ve been there?”
No, but I don’t think he knows the number here.
“Is he calling your cell phone like that?”
He’s called my cell a couple of times, but I wasn’t with the phone when he did. When I saw his number in the memory, I didn’t feel like talking at the time, so I haven’t called him back yet. That’s probably why he keeps calling there. I’ll call him back later.
“J.J., you’d tell me if there was a problem, wouldn’t you?”
Of course, I would, if I thought it was that deep.
“Sometimes the water is deeper than it appears from the shore, baby.”
I’m finding that out with my mother. I took things too far, and I think I struck some sort of nerve in her. I hope I haven’t hurt her feelings. Call her for me, Daddy, and talk to her. See where her head is.
“Nope. You did it. You have to fix it. You know what you have to do, don’t you?”
Go to her?
What if she doesn’t want to hear it?
“Then wait her out. She’ll come around.”
Well, you know her better than I do. I’ll try anything at this point because the silent treatment is killing me. I guess I’ll be going. Don’t eat too much junk food, Daddy. You know how it does you, and my mother isn’t there to fuss at you and make it all better.
“I know, I know. I love you, Sweetheart. Good luck.”
Thanks. I love you too. Good night.
He clicked off thinking when he did talk with Jennifer later that evening, he’d have to tell her. J.J. was getting older and wiser. At the moment, she cared a great deal about Jennifer’s opinion of her and about being in her good graces. But, the time would soon be coming when she would finally figure her mother out, and she would no longer be so concerned about being punished by the silent treatment.
If J.J. figured it out that she was being emotionally blackmailed by her mother’s silence into doing her bidding, she would cease to care whether or not her mother talked to her; she might even come to prefer the silence. He was thinking that Jennifer needed to be careful, and that she really needed to stop playing head games with the girl. He felt what she and J.J. had together was too precious to risk with that kind of foolishness. As much as he hated to admit it, their daughter was no longer a baby. In fact, he could see every passing day fast moving her away from being a bright young girl to being an intelligent young woman.
He put his signature to the final paper, placed it in his desk drawer, and locked it. Hitting the intercom button, he let Liz know that he was leaving for the evening. Then he grabbed his suit jacket and his keys. Turning off the office lights, he left for home and another night without his family.
Ending the signal, J.J. lay the phone down on her desk. She changed out of the dress she had put on for dinner back into the jeans and tee shirt she’d had on earlier. Quickly pulling her hair out of the braid that she had laced down her back, sitting in front of the mirror of her dressing table, she brushed it back up into the ponytail. Then, feeling like herself once again, she sat back and sighed a sigh of relaxation. There was nothing like chilling out after a good steak and potato dinner.
The digital camera was right by her hand. She picked it up and switched it over to review the pictures inside once again. Stopping at the good one of Teddy, she smiled. He was so handsome and so very, very nice.
Her mother had said, when they talked the night before about Teddy and the things they had done at the reunion, that it was normal for a girl her age to have those kinds of feelings about a boy. She said that what a person chose to do with those feelings was what was most important.
In a way, she wished that she was back at Gresham Hall, with her parents in their place and she in hers, doing pretty much what she wanted to do and calling her own shots. She wouldn’t have to worry about those she loved finding out about the things she chose to do and disapproving of them right away, and she wouldn’t have to deal with the resultant snotty attitudes, having to walk around certain people on eggshells, or the threat of being locked down. She could just live her life without so many restraints on her nature or worrying about someone being disappointed in her because she didn’t see things her way.
Continuing to study Teddy’s picture, she recalled the sweet, but titillating moments of their time together. Remembering them was enjoyable, but at the same time, a little unsettling. The barrage of multiple sensations those thoughts sent through her had her feeling giddy, but a little nervous and confused too.
Finally, she concluded that Tommy and her mother had probably been right about her not being ready for all of that. But, it was big fun to think about it, though. Just thinking about it couldn’t hurt anything, could it?
Reluctantly, she also had to conclude that it was probably best that she wasn’t so far away from her mother just yet either… even if she was downstairs being an A-number-one, first-class, top-of-the-line snotty bit-.
Heading as fast as she could for her bed, she dove onto it, switched on her CD player and clamped the headphones tightly over her ears to drown everything out.
Going in to talk to her mother would have to wait until later… when they were both in a better mood.
Hanging up from his now nightly talk with his sister-in-law, Stephen Edwards could hear his daughter’s footfalls as she was coming down the front stairs.
“Jennifer.” He called out to her.
A few moments later, she appeared in the door of the study. “Yes, Pa.”
“Are you busy?” He asked.
“No. I was just on my way to the library to get a book.”
He pointed to the other chair, the one next to him, “Darling, sit with me a while.”
She came into the room and sat down. Stephen didn’t speak right away. He took the opportunity to take stock of his only child.
She had changed from her dinner dress into a sleeveless navy blue silk shirt and navy blue summer slacks. The color was good on her. He marveled at how attractive a woman she continued to be, and how much she resembled her mother. He was sure that had she lived, Suzanne would have aged just as beautifully and gracefully.
Since the time that she first brought Jonathan home, he could sense the serenity that settled over her when she was with him. It was an inner peace which had eluded her until the time she met and married him. He could see that the same restlessness existed in Justine, but unlike Jennifer, in her it was by nature, and not the result of unfortunate circumstance.
Like the inherent restlessness in him, with which illness had put his body out of rhythm, Justine’s might never be stilled. So, he had seen to it that she would have to means the satisfy her longings to be free to roam the world when the proper time came for her. The thought gave him great inner satisfaction.
As he was studying her, he could see that Jennifer was watching him. He liked that she had inherited that one trait, his eyes, from him, especially since it seemed that they were the only physical trait she had taken. He recalled a time when those same eyes had frightened, even humiliated him. She had been a powerful child, and he had nearly surrendered the uphill battle of wills to her several times many years ago. He was glad that he hadn’t given up the struggle. It took years, but he had won, and she had gone on to become successful, settled, responsible, and happy; a good, even devoted, daughter in every sense of the word. He knew that Jennifer probably didn’t realize it, but she had already won the battle with that maverick child of hers, Justine. It was now time for her to put her weapons down and enter into friendly negotiations with her child. He decided to take an indirect road to broach the subject.
“Did you and Justine go up to the attic when you were out at the guest house?”
“No. I saw no need to. I never knew that it was used for anything. I never went up there, I never allowed J.J. up there, and I assumed that you didn’t go, seeing as how it’s been closed up so long. It’s always been locked ever since I could remember. Why? Was there something up there that you wanted taken out by the movers?”
“No, I don’t think so. I just thought about it and wondered. I knew that you had cleared out everything else. It’s been so long, just as you said. I hardly remembered anything that was out there until I came out there this afternoon. Not to worry. Most likely Agnes and Belinda won’t need to use the attic. There’s plenty of storage space on the main floor. I can always have someone go up and take out what’s up there if they find that they do want to use it.”
“You were very quiet at dinner this evening, Jennifer.”
“I guess I was a little worn out, Pa. It’s been a long day.”
“Jennifer, why are you treating Justine like you are tonight?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” She answered, but he noticed that she looked away from him.
“Don’t you love her?”
Her head snapped back around to face him. “Whatever do you mean? Of course I love her. She’s my child!”
“Then why aren’t you speaking to her? You went all through dinner without saying a word to her. When I came out to the guest house this afternoon, even though she was right there with you, you didn’t say one word to her the entire time that I was there.”
“If you noticed, she didn’t say anything to me either.”
“Maybe she was reading something in your manner. Perhaps she was too afraid to say anything to you.”
Maybe we just didn’t have anything to say to each other at the time, Pa.”
“I think she wants to talk to you, Jennifer.”
“What she wants is to be a clown, Pa.”
“And you were never one, I take it.”
She was silent behind that as he knew that she would be. She would always go silent when he would call her on things she’d done.
“The girl was just having fun, Jennifer. She discovered some things about you and Patricia, and it amused her. She was just making merry with it. Why does it upset you so?”
For the longest, she said nothing. Then she admitted in a near whisper, “I don’t know. It just does. It bothers me that she would poke fun at her mother. It’s as if she doesn’t appreciate… Sometimes, she doesn’t… She keeps things… I don’t know, Pa.”
It was Stephen’s turn to look over at her in surprise. “Is that what you think she was doing? Making fun of you?”
“Well, wasn’t she? She does things sometimes that make me wonder if she understands what it would be like- ”
Stephen reached out and took her hand.
“My Darling, she loves you. And you’re right, she doesn’t know what it’s like. Only you do. Justine has always had you in her life, and she doesn’t mean to, but she takes it for granted that you are always going to be there. Children do that. She can’t see and appreciate having or not having a mother in the way that you do. But that doesn’t diminish her respect, her love, her admiration, and her appreciation of you. I see that in her every time that I’m with her. She loves you, but she just isn’t you, Jennifer. She’s who she is because of you, and Jonathan, of course. It’s her sense of security that allows her to poke fun. She knows that you’ll still be there and you’ll still love her when it’s all said and done. You will, won’t you?”
“Of course, I will. I do. She’s just so exasperating at times, Pa. It’s as if I have to be on my toes twenty-four hours a day just to stay one step ahead of her. It doesn’t help that everyone in the world finds my daughter so charming. She even has you and Jonathan completely hoodwinked and bamboozled.”
He snickered softly at Jennifer’s observation.
“No, she doesn’t. I know full well that she’s a clown. Jonathan does, too. She and Marnie were hilarious this morning. But so were you and Patricia. Jonathan and I, we just take Justine and love for who she is. It’s not our job to do otherwise. I believe that in her estimation, we don’t serve any other role in her life except to appreciate her for who she is, and to offer a word of wisdom here and there. For anything more, she’s only looking to you. I don’t think Justine really would be accepting of it from anyone else, except maybe Patricia, and even that would only go so far. You were very much like that as a child. It’s why you had such a hard time afterward.
It’s you who does the shaping and molding with that child, and you’ve done an excellent job of it. But Jennifer, it’s time for you to ease up some. Don’t overdo it. Don’t push her away by being so hard and humorless when it really isn’t necessary. I know about that, and I know what comes of it. If what she did bothers you, talk to her. Tell her how you feel, and then be done with it. Your mother was taken away from you, and you couldn’t talk to her. She was gone completely from your life. Don’t be right here, living and breathing in the same space as your daughter, but not talking to her. Time is too precious, much too short, and we don’t control this short bit of time that we’re given.”
She could only nod.
Even though it wasn’t what she wanted to hear, everything he said hit home. Pat had alluded to the same in a conversation they’d had at the reunion, but the message was loud and very clear coming from her father. But she couldn’t speak on the other thing with him. Not even after all those years. She abruptly stood up before he tried to continue.
“I’ll go up to her.” She said. “Thank you, Pa.”
He pointed to his pipe and lighter on the table between them. She picked up the pipe and handed it to him. Then taking the lighter in hand, she lit it for him.
“I remember.” She smiled.
“I seem to recall that one of my pipes came up missing once too.” He insinuated. “One of my favorite meerschaums. But I guess you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”
She continued to smile and placed the lighter back on the table. “I’ll be back down to check on you in a bit.” She said, patting his cheek before leaving the room.
He watched her go.
She always did fall silent when he called her on a thing.
Her unspoken agitation at his mention of her mother had not escaped his attention either.
Jennifer knocked at J.J.’s door, and when there was no response from inside, she cracked it to peek in. She could see that her CD player, headphones and an open book were on the rumpled bed, and her crutch was leaned against the footboard. It appeared as if she were somewhere nearby and was coming right back.
“J.J.?” She called for her, thinking that she might be in the bathroom or in the closet.
There was no answer. She called for her again. “J.J., are you in here?” Again there was no response.
Figuring that she must have left and used the rear stairs or the elevator to go down to the kitchen to be with Rosa and Walter, whom she adored, or that she had ventured outside, Jennifer closed the door and left to go to her own room thinking about J.J. being out and about, putting all her weight on that recovering ankle. It would be swollen in the morning and that would be one more thing over which she would have to worry.
She was tired from all the day’s constant business, J.J. and Marnie’s antics, and from her conversation with father. The work would be starting on the guest house beginning the next day. In an effort to have the house ready to accommodate the Dean and her sister when they arrived the next month, everything was being expedited. Roofers, plumbers, and landscapers would be descending upon Briarwood at first light. After the roof was done, the construction work and painting on the inside as well as the outside would begin. Just the thought of having organized it all in such a short time was draining.
Even though she still wasn’t sure how she felt about Dean Marchand as a person, for her father’s sake, she wanted her to at least be comfortable. He really didn’t ask much of her. Putting the house in order for his old friends was the least she could do for him.
Entering her room, she threw herself across her bed, immediately missing Jonathan and his touch. A shower and the book she had selected before coming up were in order. Afterward, she’d call him and see how his meeting went.
Marie met Jonathan at the door, and took his jacket and briefcase.
“I have your dinner waiting, Mr. Hart.”
“Thanks, Marie.” He answered, taking the mail from the tray by the front door and heading for the kitchen. “Did Mrs. Hart call?”
“No, she didn’t, but someone else did, and it bothers me some.”
“Oh?” Jonathan stopped in his tracks. “Who’s that?”
Marie looked uncomfortable. “I hope I’m doing the right thing in telling you this, but I just have a feeling that it’s something I should let you in on. I hope J.J. doesn’t get upset about me saying.”
“Don’t worry about J.J. I trust your judgment. Who are we talking about here?”
“Wesley, Mr. Hart. He’s been calling her machine constantly. I heard it again today when I was up there dusting. I didn’t think anything of it. All the kids have been calling. But lately he’s taken to calling the house phone, too, even more regularly, saying that her machine is full.”
“That’s probably true.” Jonathan observed. “She doesn’t usually exercise her remote option to retrieve her messages when she’s away. She usually just waits until she gets back to listen to them, and they do tend to overflow.”
“I know that, Mr. Hart. But most of the kids just quit calling when the message says that the box is full. But not Wesley. He clicks over to the option of accessing the house line. I asked him if there was any message he wanted me to get to her. I thought maybe it was something urgent since he’s been calling so often. He then wanted me to give him the number to where she was. When I wouldn’t do that or tell him where she was, he seemed to get a bit upset, telling me how I knew that he was an old family friend, and that he didn’t think that you or her mother would mind him having the number. I told him again that I would call J.J. and let her know that he had called, and that she would call him back. He seemed to accept that when he could see that I wasn’t going to give him the number. But then he asked me if I knew when she would be back from her trip. I cut the conversation off at that point and hung up. But I’ve been bothered by it ever since. I didn’t call J.J. to let her know about his calling. I thought I’d wait and tell you first to see what you thought about it. I know how J.J. is, and I hope I’m not overstepping myself with her in telling you this. I just thought you should know. She’s just getting over that last thing. I don’t want to see her going through anything like that again.”
Jonathan patted Marie reassuringly on her shoulder. “Like I said, I trust your judgment absolutely when it comes to her. You’ve known her all of her life; as far as that goes, since before that. J.J. is a smart girl, but she’s only sixteen. She can’t be expected to pick up on the seriousness of situations in the way that we do. As far as she’s concerned Wesley is her friend, even if he is being a little aggressive. She can’t see too far beyond that.”
He turned around and started back toward the front stairs.
“I’ll be right down.” He said over his shoulder. “You can go ahead and get set up. I just need to check something.”
He went straight up to J.J.’s bedroom. It was an invasion of her privacy, but he was more than willing to risk whatever repercussions there might be from her and/or from Jennifer. Enough was enough. J.J. wasn’t talking and he needed to know. She might not be able to see beyond it, but he could. It might turn out to be nothing, just some misguided young man’s overzealous quest for his daughter’s attention, but he wasn’t willing to take that chance. It didn’t feel right, and he had always been a guy who went with his hunches.
Sitting on the side of J.J.’s bed, he played back her voice messages, skipping past most of them, but listening carefully to the ones from Wesley.
Marnie had been with Pat all afternoon watching her wheel and deal.
Upon their arrival at the Hamilton House Publishers Building, after being dropped off by Pat’s car and driver, they had been met in the lobby by her personal secretary. Dora Withers began right away briefing Pat on the upcoming executive board meeting while ushering them to the private elevator that would take them directly to Pat’s office on the top floor. Once there, Pat moved Marnie’s confiscated cell phone from her pocket to her purse, making a point of letting her see her do it while telling her to make herself comfortable- as comfortable as she thought she could be without a phone.
Marnie wandered around checking everything out while Pat got ready for her meeting.
Pat’s office had always been a intriguing place for her. One could actually set up housekeeping in Pat’s office suite. As far as Marnie was concerned, Pat’s office even beat out Mr. Hart’s for size and creature comforts. Besides her main meeting room, there was her personal lounge complete with a suite of furniture, and a fully outfitted media center with televisions and other video equipment all around the room. She knew that was so that Pat could see and work with the news on several channels from all around the world. There was a library, a dressing room which contained an entire closet of outfits to accommodate Pat’s frequent need to change quickly for various occasions as they came up. There was also a full bathroom and a small kitchen with a fully stocked wet bar.
When it came time for the meeting for which they had come, Pat took her with her to sit in and to keep her off the phone:
“You will not be calling J.J. in Maryland, or any of your other host of fellow future inmates in Los Angeles on my dime.” She stated. “Or we’ll see who’s headed for lockdown.”
“Thirty-five cents, minimum.” Marnie casually countered. “For a phone call. Fifty cents in most places. I thought you kept up with the times.”
Since that meeting with her executive staff, Pat had been going non-stop. She had been on and off the phone, had been issuing directives, and had read several memos and emailed responses to all of them. Two vendors had been personally cursed out, and she had just given Dora permission to tell a supplier to go straight to hell with making her wait for her order. Either he delivered the goods on time, or he could kiss her ass and the order goodbye.
Marnie was thoroughly impressed with all of it.
“What are you grinning at?” Pat asked when she finally slowed down enough to notice Marnie watching her from the couch. “Why aren’t you in there watching television or eating or something?”
“It’s more entertaining watching you. You are the bomb, Aunt Pat. My absolute hero.”
“Yeah well, I still owe you an ass kicking too, you know.” Pat warned. “Don’t be trying to brown-nose me. I haven’t forgotten. I sent your little book to my binder.”
“Thanks, and I haven’t forgotten about what you said. No brown-nosing intended. I mean what I said.”
Pat tilted her head and looked at Marnie quizzically.
“Tell me something, Marnie. How come you aren’t afraid of me? I pride myself on striking fear in the hearts of my fellow men. You teed off on me this morning like a grown person wouldn’t have. I threaten you now and you just sit there. Normally folks are ducking and running for cover when I threaten them like I’ve been threatening you all day.”
Marnie tilted her head in return.
“Do you want me to be afraid of you? If so, I gotta tell you, you’re wasting your time. It won’t happen. You make me nervous sometimes, but you don’t scare me. Very few people do. In fact, it’s usually the other way around.”
Pat had to break down and laugh. “You, my dear, have true leadership potential. But now Jennifer does scare you?”
Marnie waved her hand. “That’s another chapter entirely, different subject, another page. I give her all of her room. She scares me. Her, and I don’t like dark places. Don’t ask me why she scares me. I don’t know why. She’s never done anything bad to me, at least nothing that I didn’t have coming. I just know that she makes me back up sometimes. A lot of the time. I have to give Mrs. H. her credit for that. ”
“It’s okay.” Pat answered as she leaned back in her chair. “We all need to fear at least one somebody in our lives, I guess. Jennifer’s father did it for me. My own father was just tarmac, as far as I was concerned, and I took off on him every chance I got. But now if Mr. Edwards said for us to stop acting up, I did. At least until I was sure that he was gone.”
Snickering at the mental picture, Marnie got up and went over to Pat’s desk where she pulled the chair from in front of it to sit next to her.
“My father is tarmac, too.” She said. “But he is good for a credit card or two, or some ready cash when I need it. He gives me stuff to make up for not being there for me in person a lot of the time. Especially after that trouble with my mother’s husband bothering me and junk before she cut him loose and divorced him. It used to get on my nerves that my father he did me like that, but I’ve learned to live with it. That’s just how it is and how it’s going to be. So, I just make it work for me now. Keeps me in the clothes I like, and it’s going to get me into the car I want.”
Marnie leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms to continue, “Hey, I also liked how you handled that supplier. You know he was just holding out to see what you were going to do. He probably has two or three irons in the fire and he can’t cook you all at once. So, if he can get one of you to wait, he can try to make two or three deals at once.”
Pat sat up and stared Marnie down in amazement. “That’s exactly what was going on. How’d you know that?”
Shrugging her shoulders, Marnie answered. “It just makes sense. I’d try it if I thought I could get away with it.”
Continuing to study her, Pat ventured to ask a question that had been lurking in the back of her mind since the previous spring.
“Let me ask you something, Marnie.” She said. “Were you the one who had the other set of invitations made up for J.J.’s party so that all those extra people could get in?”
“I plead the Fifth.” Marnie answered, averting her eyes.
“Relax.” Pat said to her. “It’s just us. It’s over and done with. I just want to know for me.”
Looking to Pat, she asked, “You won’t let on to Mrs. H.?”
“Nahhh. Like I said, it’s over and done with. It’s just been on my mind. I had my suspicions when Jennifer commented that it seemed like there were a lot more people at the party than were invited. Come on, level with me.”
“Okay. It was me.” Marnie admitted. “I know people who can get things like that done. The phony ones didn’t have the Hart watermark, but I knew the guards wouldn’t be looking that closely. Especially since it was night.”
Pat, slightly awed, continued to study the girl next to her. When she had it put together, she ventured, “And they weren’t free, were they?”
Marnie shook her head, confirming Pat’s hunch. “Twenty dollars a pop. Fifty to the more affluent. I charged according to ability to pay. It was the Democratic way.”
“Marnie Benson!” Pat cried. “Kids paid that kind of money just to get into J.J.’s birthday party? How many did you actually sell?”
Sighing, Marnie admitted. “Fifteen at twenty and the rest for fifty. I sold all fifty of the bootleg invites I ordered when it was all said and done.”
Quickly doing the math in her head, Pat fairly screamed, “You made two thousand bucks on invitations to J.J.’s party!! “Was J.J. in on it?”
“Two thousand fifty.” Marnie corrected her. “And J. turned a blind eye to it. Her mother was pressing her to have a completed guest list because she said that only people on the list with invitations could get in, and she was only going to order so many invitations- no extras for J.J. to be handing out at the last minute. After her mother ordered the invitations, J. realized that she had left quite a few people off, and she was feeling all bad about it. So I said I could fix that. She knew that I could, but she didn’t want to get into trouble over it. She went right into that thing she says about ignorance being bliss, and that she wanted no part of it, but that I could do what I wanted. So I did. J.J.’s parties are pretty popular. Everybody wants in. She was okay with it once I pulled it off successfully.”
“So I see.” Pat remained almost dumfounded. “What did you do with the money? Go shopping?”
Appalled, Marnie shook her head again. “Of course not. Anything we do like that goes to the Mission Street Foundation Student Fund. We have our own account. Stanley Frieson at Hart maintains it for us. I deposited the funds into my account and wrote the check, minus my expenses, of course. He deposited my check into the Fund.”
“Of course, you drew a little interest on the balance in the meantime.” Pat observed.
“Hey, a girl’s gotta get a little something for her efforts, doesn’t she?” Marnie shrugged. “The party ended up being the bomb. They just keep getting better every year.”
“You have a definite future in marketing.” Pat said, poking Marnie in the arm with her finger. “How about coming to New York next summer and interning here?”
“For real! You’re not just bullshi- kidding me, are you?”
“I mean it. You come and spend a couple of months working with me and my marketing and public relations teams. You can stay with me during the week and we can go out to the country with Bill on the weekends, or I can send you home, whichever you want. I think I smell printer’s ink on you.”
“Is J. coming too?”
“I don’t think so. You two will be seventeen next year, and I think J.J.’s father is going to be having her spend more time at Hart.”
Marnie nodded in understanding, then grinning as she shook Pat’s hand, she told her, “It’s a deal.” Then her face grew serious as she sat forward in the chair. “Can I ask you a big favor?”
“Yes you may ask me a favor.” Pat corrected her.
“Can, may, whatever. Since you have my cell to keep me from calling J.-”
“-Or anybody else.”
“-Would you go in your purse and check my display to see if my brother called? And if he did, can- may I call him back? We talk every day, and I didn’t talk to him at all before we left this morning.”
Hearing that request, Pat remembered Marnie telling Bill in the car about that situation. She immediately reached under her desk to pull out her purse from where she had stuffed it upon her arrival. A bit ashamed at having kept Marnie from fulfilling that most important responsibility which she had assumed on her own, she handed it to her.
“Call him regardless.” She said. “And when you get finished, we’ll go out and get something to eat and head home. We’ll sleep in tomorrow morning and then get on back to Maryland in the afternoon. I called already to let them know that we were staying over once I knew that I wouldn’t finish until late here.”
Marnie nodded again as she pressed the button to check her messages. J.J. had called once, and Kyle had called twice after that.
Jennifer hung up from Jonathan feeling strangely disturbed by the conversation, which was a more than unusual reaction to any interaction between the two of them. His tone that night had been ominous, as if he had a lot on his mind. After all of their years together, she knew when he was onto something or when something was eating at him, but she had also learned that it was best to wait for him to reveal it than it was for her to try to pry it out of him. He had talked a lot about J.J. that evening, which was also an unusual conversation for them to have when they were away from each other. During those times that they were apart, the conversation might start with their daughter, but it usually quickly moved way away from that topic. During that night’s conversation, it was evident that for some reason, J.J. was on his mind.
It had been irritating to hear him say the same thing that her father had said to her earlier; that essentially, she needed to lighten up on J.J. But as much as she hated to admit it, she felt they might right. After all, the girl was a straight A student, first in her class, basically pretty responsible, generous and conscientious to a fault, and seemingly on the right page with boys and her sexuality. And it did seem that J.J. valued her mother’s advice and assistance with her concerns, and her opinion of her as a person over anyone else’s.
What more could a mother ask of her daughter? What more could she ask of sixteen-year-old J.J. Hart?
As she thought about what Jonathan had said about “head games” and J.J. figuring her out, and once she realized how late it had gotten, she also realized that J.J. hadn’t sought her out. Normally, when she shut down on her like she had, with all the quiet time that had passed; J.J. would have come dragging back, her little tail between her legs, apologizing and begging her forgiveness. But thus far, there hadn’t been one peep from her.
Had J.J. figured it out like Jonathan said that she would? Had she come to that place in her life where it didn’t matter this time?
Rolling off the bed and pulling on her robe, Jennifer left her room to walk down the hall to J.J.’s door. She knocked and then opened it. Everything was just as it had been when she had been in there earlier. The CD player and headphones were still on the bed. The open book was still in the same spot, and the crutch was still leaned against the footboard. Nothing appeared changed, as if she hadn’t returned to the room since the last time that she’d come to check on her. She stepped inside and called for her.
Peeking into the bathroom and then going in, she checked the shower and the water closet, but J.J. wasn’t there. The closet door was open, but the light was off. Poking her head inside, it was evident that she wasn’t in there either. Where could she be? It had been almost two hours since she’d last checked the room.
It wasn’t feeling right.
Going to the night table, Jennifer picked up the house phone and called downstairs. Rosa, Walter’s wife picked up.
“No Ma’am, she’s not down here.” She said. “I haven’t seen her since dinner. Let me check with Walter, though. Just one moment.”
There was a brief hesitation before the woman returned to report, “Walter hasn’t seen her either. He’s been in with Mr. Edwards most of the evening. He said that Miss Justine hasn’t been down at all.”
“Thank you.” Jennifer answered as she sat down on the side of the bed.
As she did, she saw that J.J.’s cell phone was on the night table. That indicated that she had to be somewhere nearby. J.J. never went too far without one of her phones.
Picking it up, she checked the last number in the display. It was a Massachusetts area code number, but the party had called her; she hadn’t phoned out to that number. When she pressed the last number redial button and put the phone to her ear, she was startled when it was Jonathan who answered the phone.
Hi, Sweetheart. Did you get it straight with your mother yet?”
“This is her mother, Jonathan, and I see you two are still in cahoots. I’m looking for her. I can’t find her right now, and I was just checking her phone for a clue to her whereabouts. I started to hang up when I heard your voice, but I realized you would see the number, start wondering and just call back.”
“And you were right. What do you mean you can’t find her? How long has she been missing?”
“I don’t really know that she’s actually missing, but I haven’t seen her for at least a couple of hours. I’m sure she’s here somewhere. I’m going to get dressed and go outside. Maybe she’s out at the stables.”
“Isn’t it dark there? Why would she be out at the stables in the dark?”
“You know how she is. Sometimes she gets a notion to do something, and that’s what she does. The actual time she does a thing is not a relevant factor for her.”
“Did you check the music room?”
“Jonathan, I would hear her playing if she was in there.’
“What I’m saying is maybe she fell asleep on the couch in there. She falls asleep anywhere.”
“She wouldn’t fall asleep in there. She’d be too into playing her music to go to sleep. Besides I told you, Rosa said she hasn’t seen her. J.J. would surely have gone into the kitchen to bug her for cookies or a slice of cake if she had been down there at any time.”
“Maybe she’s closed up with your father in his study.”
“I don’t think so. Walter says he has been with Pa most of the evening, and she hasn’t been down there with him. Rosa told me she hasn’t been seen on the first floor since dinner. Jonathan, you don’t think she’d do something silly because she was angry with me for being upset with her, do you?”
“She’s not the runaway type, but she is the type to go off alone and get herself in a jam. When she called me earlier, she was a little down about you not talking to her. She might have gone off to think about things, and she’s got that bum ankle. Did she take the crutch?”
“No, it’s here.”’
“Then go ahead and get dressed, Darling. Call me back right away if you don’t locate her. I can get out of there in no time.”
“Just wait until you hear from me, Jonathan. I know you, too. You’re the type who’ll be here before we determine that you need to be.”
“Johnny-on-the Spot, that’s me. Call me back, Jennifer. I’ll be waiting to hear from you one way or the other.”
“I will, Darling.”
She hung up, went to her room to change, and was soon on her way down the back staircase so as not to alarm her father who she assumed was in his study up front. But, as luck would have it, he was in the kitchen and took note of her breeches and boots right away.
“So late, Jennifer?” he asked over the cup of tea he was sipping while seated at the table.
Fighting to keep her voice even although her heart was trying to race, she answered, “I just thought I’d take a walk out onto the paddock, Pa. And if the urge struck, maybe I’d take Legs out for an evening stroll.”
“The old boy would like that.” Stephen smiled. “I haven’t ridden him in it seems like forever.”
Behind her father, she could see Walter and Rosa peering at her with troubled, questioning eyes. None of them wanted Stephen Edwards to know that his granddaughter wasn’t where she should be.
Groggy from being awakened in the night, Pat went into the guest bedroom, turned on the lamp next to the bed, and roused Marnie from her sleep.
“Marnie, get up.” She called, shaking her gently by the shoulder. “Come on. Wake up. I need to ask you something.”
Marnie stirred and then slowly sat up, rubbing her eyes. “What? What’d I do now?”
“Put the guilt complex on hold.” Pat fussed. “This is important. Did you talk to J.J. at all after we left Briarwood?”
When her eyes could finally focus, Marnie could see that Pat was holding a phone to her ear, evidently speaking so that whoever was on the other end could hear what they were saying to each other.
“No. How could I? You wouldn’t let me anywhere near a phone. You took my cell, then you said that if I touched a phone in here, you had it set up so that I’d get electrocuted. I took you at your word.”
She could hear the unmistakable sound of J.J.’s mother’s voice coming from the receiver Pat held to her ear.
“Did J.J. seem upset or angry when we left her grandfather’s house this afternoon?” Pat asked, evidently repeating what was being asked of her.
“No. She was just nervous about her mother, that’s all. She wasn’t mad or anything like that. Just nervous. What’s wrong?”
Pat repeated what Marnie said into the phone before answering her.
“They can’t find her. Her mother has looked everywhere. Inside, outside. She’s missing. She’s been gone since right after dinner. You think she might have run off to keep from having to face Jennifer?”
“I don’t think so,” Marnie answered, shaking her head slowly. “In fact, I know so. First of all, J.J. wouldn’t do that to her mother. She tried it that one time a couple of years ago, and Mrs. H. tracked her down and got so sick right after. She told me she would never do that again, and I know that she meant it. Secondly how far could she go on that ankle? She’s slow on the crutches, and she can barely walk without them. And where would she go? That place is huge. You don’t just walk away.”
As Pat again repeated her words into the phone, Marnie mulled over the situation for a moment. Then as the thought came to her, and she went wide-eyed with the realization, she forgot herself completely.
“Awww hell, Aunt Pat! I’ll bet that crazy girl has gone into that damned closet all by herself!”