Secrets: Part Three

Several days went by before the resulting furor died down. The actual incident at the mall avoided making the papers, but the whispers of shock and outrage within the exclusive communities surrounding Willow Pond were persistent and wide ranging. With the necessary constant shaking of the societal sheets, many other indiscretions and heretofore untold stories were revealed. It seemed every time one thing was brought forward, something else was uncovered. How it had gone on so long, and to such an extent, was confounding so say the least about it.

During that time, Jonathan and Jennifer despaired as they watched J.J. withdraw even deeper into herself. Despite their gentle, but persistent efforts to reach her, she simply would not discuss anything with them. She said she was finished with it, but they understood, as any good parent would, it was likely not finished with her.

Because of their liberal interpretation of the directive given J.J. concerning her going to the mall on that fateful day, J.J. and Marnie both found themselves on a week-long house arrest. Tommy too, went down. It came to light that he had borrowed his mother’s new car, but unfortunately for him, he neglected to let her in on the arrangement. His intentions had been honorable, but his mother ‘borrowed’ his motorcycle and parked it in her garage for a week, leaving Tommy at the mercy of public transportation and the kindness of his friends to get to and from work. He, too, was placed on lockdown for anything else going on outside of the house.

Keeping the kids in was meant to be punishment for their foolhardy, and in the girls’ case, disobedient behavior. It also served to keep all of them out of the harsh limelight for a while.  None of the parents involved wanted anyone other than the authorities who needed to know asking them unnecessary questions or dredging the details back up with them.

Marnie, for her part, didn’t mind talking.  She was outraged and offended by it all and glad to have it out in the open. She had been there before with a stepfather, and the offense and hurt was still raw with her. Tommy could only tell as much as he knew, and in general, he wasn’t one for talking. For her part, J.J. hated having to say anything about it. When she did have to talk, she insisted on her mother being present with her. Her anxiety caused Jennifer worry and Jonathan was hurt that his daughter seemed to be pushing him away, although he understood her lingering embarrassment.

J.J. was spending more and more time in her bedroom. It remained that way once her punishment ended. She could either be found on her bed reading, at her computer on her desk, or in her sitting room listening to music or quietly playing her keyboard. Her friends called and came by for her, but she wasn’t seeing very many people, and she turned down requests to go out. Eventually, as the days progressed, even Tommy and Marnie were excluded from her world.

Seeking counseling for her was out. The child refused to go no matter how much her mother tried to get her to see her reasoning. J.J. insisted there was nothing wrong with her that time wouldn’t fix on its own. Jennifer stopped short of resorting to telling her that she was thinking of seeing Dr. Chase to manage her own anger inflamed by that incident in their lives. Along with everyone else who was witness to it, she had frightened herself with her calculated, potentially lethal reaction to Baker that day. She wasn’t the least bit sorry about what she did, she was only sorry that J.J. had been witness to it, and she wanted to get a better handle on the rage she still felt.

Finally, two days before J.J. was scheduled to leave for her annual trip to her great-aunt Sabrina’s in France, Jennifer had gotten up during the night to check on her as she often did during times of trouble. She found J.J. sitting up in her bed in the dark. She was choking, crying into the pillow on her lap, trying not to be heard as she frantically tried to catch her breath. Going in to her, Jennifer held her in her arms trying desperately to calm her, to get her to breathe, and then once she had her quiet, to tell her what was wrong.

The only answers she could get from her between breaths that night were “I don’t know, I’m so tired, and my chest hurts so bad.”

Then, after she was able to calm down once again and relax, J.J. fell asleep in her arms.

A thorough physical the next day turned up nothing. Dr. Kendall, aware that her stubborn young patient would probably not respond well to professional therapy, suggested taking her away. According to the doctor, J.J. was having something akin to anxiety attacks. The decision was made to postpone the trip to France, and to bring her up to the mountains instead.

In the past it had proven to be a good healing place for them following a crisis. They were praying for the same results this time too. It was definitely not the time for them to be apart; for J.J. to be away from them. She needed her parents, and they needed for her to come back to them.

________________________________________________

Jonathan lay in the twilight staring at the log rafters that made up the ceiling of their bedroom in the cabin watching the stars through the skylight. Jennifer slept soundly in his arms. The clean air and the calm up there had been good for both of them. After getting J.J. to bed the previous night, they had gone out for a walk into the woods where the healing began under the moonlit sky on a blanket spread atop a bed of sweet-smelling pine needles.

Returning to the cabin, they continued, spending the late evening and early morning making love, compensating for time lost in the days behind them.

Because of J.J. showing up at the mall, thereby letting the cat out of the bag about him informing her of the contents of the note, Jennifer had put him on lockdown for a week too. Or was it called ‘lockout’ when it happened to him? Whatever it was called, he figured he suffered a worse fate than any of the kids.

He ran his hands through that red hair he so loved as he lay thinking about everything. He was still somewhat angry inside.

To think that son of a bitch actually came to my home. Spoke to my kid.

Marie had informed him that Allen Baker had come to the house to have some papers faxed over, but at the time he thought she meant Baker Sr. When he called the father to ask about the papers, which never arrived, the man acted as if he didn’t know anything about it. But, looking back on it, the man did seem to get nervous, saying his son was handling most of the financial matters these days and it must have been him who came to the house.

Then he asked an oddly alarming question: had anyone else been at home with J.J. at the time? What was Baker Sr. afraid of, and what had been Baker Jr.’s intent if Marie hadn’t made her presence known?

That was the point at which he first got Arnold Zayle, his chief investigator, looking into Junior’s background.

Baker Jr., it turned out, had past problems with maintaining his boundaries with young girls going back to his college days, problems which had been swept under the rug by his father’s powerful lawyers. This recent inquiry into his affairs revealed that he had begun trying to entice several of the girls at the club, and those he had been successful with had all been coerced in one way or another into keeping quiet about it, just as had been done with J.J.

It was further revealed that the tennis pro, Slater, had been doing his share of dirt as well. He was doing the play for pay thing with the some of the women and girls in the form of private lessons. When Junior caught him in bed with his sister, Angelique, that was his opportunity to turn his attentions to J.J. and use Slater to get it done.

Through Slater’s ability to get in and out of the school via his position as assistant tennis coach, he had been able to slip those notes into J.J.’s locker and arrange for different couriers to deliver the presents from Junior to the school’s main office.

A few dollars slipped to the club photographer, who had little to do during the week except do Junior’s bidding, took care of the pictures being taken of Jennifer as well as the clandestine ones of J.J. And when Hart Industries’ Visual Imaging people went out to check the women’s dressing room, Russell Thomas, the division head who opted to do the job himself, found three running cameras in the ceiling above the tiles. The dust on them revealed they had been there for some time.

Russell and the representatives from Hart as well as the Los Angeles police department had removed the machines and brought them to him with the film intact, stating they would leave the tapes with him for review since they had gotten a confession from Junior that he had arranged for their placement. Arguing with the police, Russell Thomas would let no one see the tapes until he got them to his boss, an act for which Jonathan was grateful. Jonathan kept the tapes himself. Nobody needed to see those until it was time. It was bad enough that the ones of Jennifer and J.J. were being used as evidence in the charges he was bringing against Junior, Slater, the photographer, and anybody else the investigation turned up. There was going to be hell to pay.

The thought that women and girls, including his wife and daughter had been caught on tape without their knowledge and that nobody really knew what was being done with the film or the stills sickened him. Who would have thought something like that could or would happen in an exclusive Country Club in Bel Air? He felt he should have known. His argument with Jennifer over J.J. attending public school when she wanted to keep her in that private academy had been the quality of an institution depended upon the people within that institution. That philosophy held very true in this situation. Even though he knew he had no reason to suspect anything, he still felt as if he had let his guard down, and it made him feel guilty that those he loved most had been hurt by it.

With his knowledge of and background in technology, he was aware of what could happen with pictures like those. There were a lot of twisted people in the world who would pay dearly to load an internet site up with them. He wanted to puke. Instead he held Jennifer closer to him and listened as she sighed in her sleep at his touch. The natural fit of her body with his comforted him. His love and passion for her soothed his soul.

She had been scary too. Never had he seen her in that mode. For sure he thought that Junior was a goner. Jennifer was fiercely protective of J.J. and he had definitely chosen the wrong little girl with which to try to dally, especially in that way. She had said aloud that the gun wasn’t loaded, but when she gave it to him, and he instinctively went to check it as he did with any gun before putting it away, every single chamber had a bullet in it. It was her gun, which meant that she had to have loaded it herself before leaving the house; since the time that J.J. began walking, she never kept loaded guns laying around.  He was certain that the only thing that kept her from pulling that trigger was hearing J.J.’s voice, and that Jennifer told that lie for J.J.’s sake.

Would she really have shot Junior that afternoon on that bench in the mall? Her wrath that day went beyond J.J. and the situation at hand, and she stayed angry for days after that, keeping herself between J.J. and anyone wanting to talk with her about it, including him to an extent. What the hell was it in her that drove her in that way?

Watching the softly beautiful person lying on his chest, it was hard to believe that she was the same coldly enraged woman who, as the result of pressing the barrel of a gun into the temple of a grown man just days before, had left bruises on the man’s face as if she had pistol whipped him.

Jennifer hadn’t relaxed completely since that time until the night before out in the woods. This same woman who made love like an angel, had demons that both frightened and fascinated him. One day she was going to have to tell him what it was all about. He felt that she had gotten close to letting them go a couple of times, but she had been unsuccessful in releasing them completely. There was something there that she hadn’t been able to let out. That element of his wife’s nature made him all the more determined to purge their daughter of poisons that occasionally invaded her system. Before they went home to Bel Air, J.J. was going to have to let it go.

________________________________________________

J.J. woke with that tight feeling in her chest. At those times, she was always glad to wake and find Third there on the bed with her. Holding on to him seemed to make her feel better. She sat up, gathered the little dog in her arms, and tried to concentrate on breathing evenly.

How long would this last? Everything was all over. Daddy had taken care of it. Why wouldn’t the other stuff go away? Why couldn’t she feel better? It had been like this last year when her mother had gotten hurt by that man at the ball. Why did things affect her so deeply like this? Why couldn’t she get past it? She was so strong about other things, why not this?

It was good to be in the mountains. The air was different up there. It was clearer, cleaner, and the pine made it smell so good. In LA she rarely heard birds unless she purposely stopped to listen. When they were up at the cabin, it was so quiet that the birds woke her up from her sleep some mornings.

Feeling better physically after a few minutes of concentrating on getting past it, she got up and went to the window to look out at the morning which threatened, but hadn’t quite gotten there yet. Then, hearing the horses out back, seemingly calling to her, she decided to get dressed and go out.

________________________________________________

Jonathan found her just where he thought she would be; sitting under their tree looking out over the rim to the impending sunrise. Sam, her horse was tied off nearby and Third was sitting with her. When he rode up, she looked up at him and smiled. He couldn’t get over how she looked so much like her mother.

“Good morning, Daddy.” She said when he came to sit next to her on the blanket. She scooted over some so that he could lean back on the tree with her and put his arm around her shoulders.

“Good morning to you.” He answered, happy that she allowed him to get that close to her. He had the fleeting thought that she might not. “Why are you up so early?”

“Couldn’t sleep. I think the birds were too loud. Where’s my mother this morning?”

“She was still asleep. She must have been tired.”

“I bet.” J.J. thought to herself. One would think that he would be too.

That walk they took the night before, after they thought she had gone to sleep, had lasted a mighty long time. She heard them leave, and she hadn’t been able go to sleep until she heard them come back in. The whole time that they were gone, she sat there in the window watching for them, and she thought they’d never make it back. Why had her Daddy taken a blanket with him to just take her mother for a walk?

Yeah, right.

Smiling a small naughty, knowing smile at the thought, she leaned into her Daddy’s chest as Third crawled onto her lap.

After a time, he asked her, “What’s going on with you these days, J.J.?”

She didn’t answer right away, but “Nothing.” Was her first response.

“There is something. Stop telling us that it’s nothing. You’re making yourself sick like you did last year after your mother got hurt. You need to talk about it and you can tell me. I’m a very good listener and I am your father. I want to know and I want to know now.”

A few seconds later, fully aware that she wasn’t dealing with her mother and that he came to find her with the purpose of talking, she knew that they probably weren’t going to be leaving the mountains or maybe even that rim until she did. She quietly, reluctantly admitted, “I just can’t get it together. I can’t get back on track, Daddy. I try, but I just can’t seem to do it.”

Just admitting to that out loud made her feel a little lighter. Maybe he was where she needed to take it this time. He was so much fun most of the time that she tended to sometimes forget just how emotionally strong he was and how much help he could be.

“J.J., if I were to ask you what the main thing is that bothers you about all of this, without giving it a whole lot of thought; off the top of your head, what would you say that it was?”

“How do you know who to trust?” Was her immediate response. “I don’t know who to trust outside of you and my mother. People let you down so much when you put yourself out there. I hate that, it happens all the time, and I don’t think I can deal with it any more. Even people you think you know, you find out that they can’t be trusted. I find myself always wondering about who’s going to try something next. It’s easier if I just keep to myself. I see now why you don’t do interviews and stuff. They just open you up to more people who you can’t trust. My life was cool until my pictures got published in the papers. Mr. Baker had my newspaper pictures. I bet that’s what set him off.”

Jonathan understood the feeling, but it surprised him that she was experiencing it so early and to such an intense degree. He had felt it as a child, but he had grown up with no parents and nobody to really count upon but himself. J.J. had a plethora of support, he and Jennifer had been careful about her exposure, but still things had happened that evidently were eroding the sense of security that her support systems should have provided. She was getting older. She would be exposed to more as time went on, and she needed to understand that the only person one could really count upon all the time was self. She had to believe in herself.

“You have to take people with a grain of salt, sweetheart.” He told her. “You can’t cut yourself off because of a few idiots. Those pictures only played a small part in it, if any part at all. The man was sick and he was sick long before those pictures were published. Being who you are, you are going to have people wanting to take your pictures for publication. If your life plays out the way I think it will, you’re going to be asked to do interviews. It’s inevitable. I give interviews, but only to those whom I choose to give them. I do that because people write what they see like they see it, and that might not necessarily be how it really is. I prefer that people get to know the real me and what I stand for, and leave the writing about it alone. But if I trust the interviewer, like if it were your mother for instance, I’d go ahead and do it. I’ve done a few where I liked the outcome. I admit you’ve had some pretty rough experiences in the last couple of years, but you can’t just shut down at sixteen because of them. There’s too much of your life left in front of you to start shutting down. Let me say it so you can understand it. Look, this is still the first quarter for you. You’ve got this one to finish and three more to go. You’re not caving in and giving the game to the other side already, are you?”

She looked up at the twinkling blue eyes intently watching her and smiled. “Since you put it in those terms, I guess not. I’m no quitter. I’m good at what I do, and I can play that game. You and me, we go till the final buzzer and even then we go for the three point shot in the final moments if that’s what it takes to win the game.”

He smiled back. Now that was his girl talking.

Tapping her index finger against his chest, she said to him, “Now Daddy, I want to ask you a question that I want you to answer without a lot of thought. It’s something that’s been bugging me too. Actually there are two questions.”

“Go.” He said.

“What’s bugging my mother, I mean other than this thing with me, and two, do you think she was really going to shoot Junior? I know she told a fib about that gun being loaded. She wouldn’t bother to carry a gun and pull it on somebody unless it had bullets in it, and I know that she was as mad as hell. She wasn’t just mad about that, was she? It went beyond that didn’t it?”

“I thought you said just two questions. J.J., to answer you honestly, I believe your mother has some baggage she’s carrying from her past and yes, I think if you hadn’t been there, she might have done that.”

He turned to make sure that he was looking at her. “I’m not a very religious man, you know that. But I do believe in God. I really think God put you there at that moment to stop her. You got punished by your mother because of it, but I really, really think you were supposed to be there to save her from herself.”

He also knew that there was no sense in sugar coating it. J.J. Hart was his daughter and she saw right through bullshit, just like he did. In the ensuing days, he had given it much thought and he believed in his heart that was what transpired in that incident. There was a reason that he and Jennifer had been sent that particular little girl at the particular time in their lives that she arrived to them. Every day more and more was being revealed to them through her.

“J.J.”

“Yes, Daddy.”

“What did you think about that? That thing with your mother.”

“Pulling that gun on Mr. Baker like that?”

“Yes.”

“She scared me, but I understood why she did it. She loves me. I’m her only child and I’m a girl. Those are important things to her and she won’t have them messed over. She’s like that, and I know it. Don’t worry. I’m not scarred for life or anything, Daddy. I’m not that impressionable. I never have been.”

He hugged her to him with the arm that was still around her. She was truly his girl.

J.J. could feel the knot easing in her chest. She realized that she deeply loved her father, even more than she knew she did. Even though she wasn’t always comfortable sharing everything with him, he could be always be trusted to tell her the truth. She already knew the answers to those questions she asked him about her mother; she just needed for him to confirm them for her. If he had said anything else, trying to spare her feelings or treat her like a kid who couldn’t handle it, she would have been disappointed. He hadn’t let her down. He never did. He respected her mind and her judgment. In turn, she respected his. They were still kindred spirits.

Her mother, it went without saying, was the girl. She had lied about the gun being loaded for her sake, J.J. knew that, but she also knew that it was a necessary untruth for that moment. She probably needed to convince her own self that it wasn’t loaded at that point in time. That moment had played and replayed itself in her mind in the days following. She was glad that her mother hadn’t followed through with it all the way, but strangely, almost perversely, J.J. was extremely proud of her for having done it that way. It was a reaction that she wouldn’t have expected from her mother in a million years, but for some reason that she couldn’t understand, it was titillating, exciting, and it affirmed something about her mother that she needed to see for herself. She didn’t understand it, she hadn’t quite worked it all out in her head, but she knew that in some weird sort of way it cemented her opinion of her and of their relationship. She deeply loved her mother too. To put it in Daddy’s terms, the woman had balls. She wasn’t a boy, but J.J. knew that she had balls too.

“Daddy.”

“Hmmm?”

“She had me down all the way didn’t she?”

“Yeah, I have to give it to her. She had you all the way, from cap and ponytail to running shoes.”

“From what Marnie said, it went even deeper than that.”

“J.J., what is it with you girls wearing the men’s boxers? What statement is that supposed to be making?”

“It’s just something you have to do, Daddy. Gives your pants that good sag. Then you kinda blouse them up over the waistband so they show at the top. If you get too hot, you can take your sweats off and just wear the boxers like shorts. Don’t worry, I wear panties under mine. They’re kinda comfortable, too, when you sleep in them.”

“If you say so, baby.” He answered, fanning himself with the bandana from his back pocket. That was just a little too much information.

“Are you mad at Tommy for borrowing his mother’s car? He’s worried that you’re mad at him.”

“He stole the car, J.J. He didn’t borrow it. Now, what do you think about whether I’m mad about it or not?”

“He was in a hurry, Daddy, and he just forgot to ask her, that’s all. You can’t steal your own mother’s car. Mrs. Steele overreacted putting him on lockdown and taking his bike away like that.”

“J.J., answer me this. Why didn’t he ‘borrow’ the little old Tercel? Why did he go out there and ‘borrow’ his mother’s brand new Lexus if he just had to ‘borrow’ something without asking? And if you don’t think that’s stealing, I’ll tell you what, J.J. You get in a hurry and you go out there and ‘borrow’ your mother’s car under those same circumstances and see if the police don’t pull you over for car theft before you get down to the gate. Lockdown at home won’t be an option open to you. Then guess who’ll be down at the precinct bailing you out and catching hell because, once again, it will be all my fault that you do things like that. I owe you one for this last thing.”

J.J. grinned up at him. “Sorry Daddy, and no, I don’t think I’ll be trying that one. I see your point.”

They were quiet for a minute before J.J. observed, “My mother made Mr. Baker pee on himself. Did you see that?”

Jonathan, caught blindsided, exclaimed, “She scared the hell out of him, J.J.! That happens.”

“Come on Daddy, you know you wanted to laugh. The cops were all disgusted and stuff. Did you see when they were arguing with each other about whose car to put him in?”

Jonathan tried, he honestly tried, but one look at his daughter’s mischievous face looking up to his, that crinkled freckled nose, and he lost it. They both cracked up.

When he could catch his breath, he gasped, “It really could have been a lot worse, given the circumstances he was under!” While wiping the tears of mirth from his eyes as J.J. wiped her cheeks.

She piped up, “Well, then they really would have had something to be arguing about. They would have had to leave the windows down, put newspapers down on the seat, and then they would have been fighting over who would have had to ride back there with him to keep him from getting out of the open window.”

“The body check once they got him down to the precinct…” He choked.

They howled again, collapsing into each other.

“Your mother would have a fit if she could hear us!” He whispered between breaths.

J.J. wheezed back, “She’d be telling us that we’re “so absolutely incorrigible”.” mimicking her mother, as she wiped her eyes. “Oh God, my side hurts so bad.”

They both doubled over, cramping with laughter once more.

From her spot on the path a few feet back, but close enough to hear them, Jennifer shook her head. The two of them were beyond hope or help. They played off of and thoroughly ruined each other. She was on her own with the two of them. She knew it from the start when he had that Dodgers cap made for her to wear when she came home for the first time from the hospital. He placed it backward on her little head, and told her that she looked like her ‘daddy’s girl’ with it on like that. She was only two days old. It hadn’t gotten any better in all that time.

Amused and satisfied that the worst of it was behind them, she turned her horse and went back to the cabin leaving those two to themselves and their impish, absolutely incorrigible tears.

Once they finally composed themselves, J.J. and Jonathan sat leaning shoulder to shoulder in contented, peaceful silence, father and daughter and dog until the sun completely cleared the horizon. Charges had been pressed, and the law would take its course. Watching her father’s handsome profile as he stared out into the distance, J.J. could see the wheels turning in his head. Hart Industries, she was sure, would be acquiring another interest; Baker Financial was toast, and that was as it should be. Her father, generally an affable, fair-minded man, exacted his own brand of deadly retribution when someone hurt his family, and he knew how to hit where it hurt most.

She admired that quality in him. For her, it was a rather attractive quality in a man. She patted his knee. He took her hand in his and held it.

When they left the rim, she could breathe like herself, like J.J. Hart, once again.

________________________________________________________

-Finale-

Jennifer had been last minute shopping for J.J. all morning.

As soon as they got back from their stay at the cabin, J.J. let them know that she was ready to leave for France. She said that with her punishment, and then their unscheduled trip to the mountains, she had a lot of lost time for which she had to make up. She was ready to move on with her life, and she wanted them to do the same. Jennifer was more than happy to accommodate her. J.J.’s coming back somehow brought her back to herself as well.

For some reason, J.J begged off going shopping with her when she left this morning, saying that she had some things that she needed to take care of at home. Now, as she pulled around into the front of the house, she could see that the driveway was lined with cars. What was going on?

Inside the house were several girls and their mothers. Jennifer recognized them as girls from the school, the community and the Country Club. Even Marnie AND her mother were there. They were all sitting in the great room talking as Marie and J.J. served coffee and soft drinks.

“Hey Mom!” J.J. called as she came in. Handing her tray of snacks off to Marnie, she ran over to help her with the packages. “We were waiting for you.”

“What’s going on?” Jennifer asked as she and J.J. put the bags and boxes down in the foyer and J.J. took her hand to walk her into the room.

Everyone got quiet.

“Everybody, you all know my mother. Mom, I think you know everybody. For those who might not, this is my mother, Jennifer Edwards Hart, and she’s our journalist. She’s also a lady who has had to learn to take care of herself in her life. She’s going to help us out.”

Jennifer looked at J.J., confused, whispering, “What are you doing? What’s this about?”

J.J. sat her down in the one empty side chair.

“Everybody here was involved in some way in this mess that been happening.” She explained, looking just a little uncomfortable. “I called everybody that I knew about, and they called other people that I didn’t know about, and we all agreed to meet here to talk about it. We’ve been kicking it and we came to the conclusion that we need to tell our stories. We need to put it all out there so that other girls who might get caught up won’t think that they are the only ones that this has ever happened to, and that they can’t tell anybody. It’s embarrassing, and we know it won’t be easy to talk about it, but it happened to us and we’re in it together. We want you to write our story. Nobody needs to keep those kinds of secrets, Mom. They make you sick if you hold on to them too long. It will be our way of letting go.”

There was a general hum of consensus, but Jennifer couldn’t hear what was being said. She was too busy looking into the eyes of her beautiful, insightful daughter who seemed to be looking down into her soul trying to tell her something.

She then looked around the room at all the faces looking to her. There was indeed a story that needed to be told. If they were willing to tell it, she would write it. She nodded. “Alright. We’ll do it.”

J.J. reached down, and took her hand.

“Thanks, Mom. I knew that you’d do it. It’ll help everybody concerned. You’ll write it so that it will speak to people’s minds. Maybe the story will help some other girls. Maybe if some guy sees how much what he does hurts people, it’ll make him think and maybe stop him from doing it again. Maybe just talking about it will help us. But the story needs to be done. You’re the one to do it.”

Jennifer pulled J.J. to her, thankful one more time that her hardheaded rascal-child had been there to keep her from crossing that line from which she would not have been able to return.

“Yes my darling, I think it will help everybody concerned, just as you’ve said.” She leaned into J.J.’s ear. “I’m so proud of you for arranging for this.”

J.J. leaned back to speak quietly near her ear. “Some people don’t have the help that I have in my life. You’ve held your own for a long time. It had to have been hard for you by yourself like that. With all the support that I have, it’s still so hard for me sometimes. I’m learning to hold my own, from Daddy and from you. I’m real proud of you too- for a lot of reasons. If it’s you doing the interviewing for us, then I can open up with the others like I know that I need to do. I trust you.”

She leaned all the way in to kiss her mother’s cheek and whisper in her ear. “This time you get to be my sweet girl “

Patting J.J.’s back and then gently pushing her off before she made her lose it, Jennifer got up, going to her desk for a note pad, a pen, and a quick tissue.

J.J. left her, taking her place in the room amidst the other girls, seated next to Marnie on the floor pillows by the coffee table. They were chatting with, of all people, poor little Angie Baker, who in helping the authorities with J.J. ended up having to give up her own host of embarrassing secrets.

When she turned from the desk and saw that, Jennifer’s heart filled. Her daughter was some piece of work; J.J. didn’t believe in leaving anyone out. This story might be a difficult one to write, and a difficult one for the girls to tell, but it would be an important one for young women- all women- everywhere.

Some secrets were not meant to be kept.

End

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