Perspectives and Preliminaries
With the phone to her ear, she closed her eyes and counted to ten before responding to the question.
“This is Jennifer Hart, and no you may not speak to J.J. on this line. She has her own line. Please call her back on that number.”
The male voice on the other end continued to plead, and Jennifer, though irritated, listened to it.
“Just hold on,” she finally said as J.J. happened to come down the back staircase near her desk, thumbing through a reference book from the upstairs library.
“Justine Hart, I am sick of taking your calls. Since when am I your social secretary? The kids are saying your voice message box is full, so your line is automatically switching them over to mine. Would you do something about this situation, please?”
“Okay, okay, Mom,” J.J. answered, stopping but not looking up from the pages of the book. “I just haven’t had time. I’m trying to finish this assignment first. I’ll check my messages as soon as I’m finished, I promise.”
“You could always just press the button, delete them, and start from scratch,” Jennifer suggested, holding handset out to her. “Here, you have a call. It’s long distance.”
“I can’t just erase them without listening to them first.” J.J. rolled her eyes as she took the phone. “Some of them might be important.”
She switched to an unmistakably seductive tone and purred, “This is J.J. Hart. Talk dirty to me, darling.”
When her mother gasped, J.J. choked back a laugh. Then she wrinkled her nose, stuck out her tongue, and grinned mischievously at her.
Listening for a moment to catch the voice, J.J. then squealed in delight, “Juan Carlos, mi buen amigo! Que’ pasa, baby!”
Turning away from her mother, she continued her conversation in animated Spanish.
Jennifer, who had gone back to the computer screen, stopped to reach for a document she needed and found herself having to sit back impatiently. J.J. had her back to her, and was now leaned casually against her desk as she chatted with her Latin caller. That huge reference book she had been using now lay directly on top of the papers upon which she had been working before taking J.J.’s call.
She discreetly cleared her throat, “Ahem.”
When that got no response, she poked her daughter’s backside with the eraser end of her pencil. Startled, J.J. whipped around to meet the disapproving face on the other side of the desk, and then looked down to the pencil pointed at the book. Interpreting the silent message, J.J. picked it up and turned back around.
“Juan,” she said into the phone. “The situation’s become a bit grim where I am right now. Stay by the phone. I’ll hit you right back.”
Turning around, she reached past her mother and hung up.
“Thank you for the use of your line,” She said as dry-sounding as she could make it.
“You’re quite welcomed,” answered her mother in an equally arid tone, “and don’t be on that phone all evening with Juan. It is long distance, you know.”
As J.J. moved away from her going to the front stairs to return to the second floor, she added, “And clear out that voice message box! Because I promise you, I’m hanging up on the next one who calls here and mistakes me for “J to the Second Power”!”
Jennifer went back to her work for a moment and then stopped to sit back again, smiling to herself when she realized what had just transpired.
J.J. could easily have gotten that book and returned to her room from the back hall upstairs without ever having left the second floor. Instead she chose to get the book, come down the stairs to pass through where she was working, only to return right back to the second floor via the front stairs.
It had always been that way with her.
No matter where she happened to be or what the circumstances were that separated them, J.J. would only stay away for so long. After a time, she would manage to show up again in some form- in person, by email, a phone call- just to check in, and then she would continue on her way or go on with whatever she had been doing. As a very little girl, there were many days that J.J. would fall asleep lying on the floor as she looked at her books or played quietly next to her while she would be working at that same desk. A quiet child at the time, J.J. never disrupted her from her endeavors; she only wanted to be close; to make sure that her mother was still there.
Although her daughter probably wasn’t aware of it yet, the being connected thing was true for her also, As nerve-wrecking a girl as J.J. could be at times, Jennifer found that she couldn’t do without her. When J.J. was away on vacation with her aunt in France or with her godmother in New York, no matter how busy she got, that mischievous grin and that ponytail would be lurking in the recesses of her mind. It was most enjoyable to be able to watch her at those times that she didn’t know she was being watched. She was such a rascal and had so much personality.
In the beginning, she had been so worried about being able to love someone other than Jonathan. They had been childless together for many years before J.J. came to them. But, she hadn’t counted on the gratification that would come from her child loving her to the extent it seemed she did. With every day that passed, she was finding more and more to admire, and more to be amused as well as concerned about with the very interesting Justine Hart.
Folding her arms behind her head, Jennifer reflected upon how good it felt to know that her teenaged daughter actually enjoyed being close to her. Other mothers she knew went head-to-head constantly with their daughters. That included J.J.’s friend Marnie and her mother, who seemed always to be at odds with one another.
From Jennifer’s perspective, as far as maturity went, the two of them weren’t that far apart. Having had to mediate a couple of their disputes, Jennifer sometimes felt that she had three daughters instead of the one. Marnie was practically running that end of Willow Pond Drive. That was not the case at 3100 Willow Pond Road. She and J.J. didn’t always see eye-to-eye, and J.J. took every opportunity that presented itself to try to bend the rules laid out for her, but there was no question of who was in the driver’s seat there. The passenger, however, did frequently have to be reminded of her role in the vehicle.
The fact that her child was turning sixteen in a few days just brought it closer to home that it wouldn’t be very long before J.J. would be out and on her own. The thought made her heart ache, and she wasn’t always sure that she was going to be ready let her go when the time came. In the past few months, as J.J. had been repeatedly demonstrating her strong ability to adeptly handle her own affairs and to make solid decisions, she had been gradually trying to loosen a few of the strings. It was not an easy process. In the sixteen years of her life, that one child had moved totally into her heart and set up a permanent brick and mortar residence.
“So how many people are on the guest list now, J.J.?” Jonathan Hart asked his daughter as they had dinner.
They were eating a little later this evening because he had been late getting in from the office. Jennifer had Marie wait the meal for him so they could all eat together. He had been delayed by some last minute thing that ended up not panning out anyway. He was glad they waited for him. He enjoyed being with the two of them at the end of a busy day.
” I know there’s probably close to five hundred people by now. How many continents do you figure are going to be represented?”
“Daddy,” J.J. smiledsaid with a smile. “There’s not that many people and only five continents: North and South America, Asia, Africa, and of course, Europe. Maybe a hundred, a hundred twenty-five guests at best.”
Jonathan’s eyes widened. “Kids?” He put his fork down. “How many of these hundred twenty-five kids from five continents are boys?”
She laughed at his horrified facial expression.
“I didn’t stop to divvy up how many boys and how many girls, Daddy. They’re just all my friends. Besides this is a banner year for me. I’ll be sweet sixteen finally. I thought I was going to be fifteen forever. This has been a year I’ll never forget.”
A knowing smile played at Jonathan and Jennifer’s lips and parental angst pulled at both their hearts. Year fifteen had indeed been a full year for them all. Many things had happened to J.J. to alter and shape her perspectives and to challenge and fortify her already strong spirit. But she had persevered and grown from all of it.
They all had.
Jonathan was also fully aware that J.J. Hart was extremely popular. She had friends all over the globe which her monthly phone bill clearly represented, especially guy friends. She frequently entertained male guests on the basketball court, the tennis court, and around the pool. They weren’t suitors as far as she was concerned, they were just the guys. Boys always turned out in droves for her parties. Entire athletic teams of boys; starters, second string, reserves, and Junior Varsity; they were all known to show.
This party was to be her Sweet Sixteen blowout. J.J. had quickly nixed her mother’s suggestion of and plans for a formal Country Club affair this year. She opted instead to go for her usual pool party adopting new house rules to suit her ‘advanced’ age:
“And don’t forget, Daddy, this year you have to stay in the house. I’m not a baby any more. There will be plenty of security out there with me so you don’t have to feel obligated to patrol. My mother says that she’ll stay in too and keep you company. Aunt Pat, Uncle Bill, and all your poker buddies will be here so you won’t be lonely at all.”
“It’s my house,” he said sullenly picking up his fork and playing with his food. “I don’t see why I have to stay inside.”
“Because you promised,” J.J. reminded him.
As if he suddenly remembered something, Jonathan looked up from his plate to J.J. “Is Sidney coming?”
Jennifer looked up at him, her own eyes twinkling with amusement.
“Of course, Daddy. He’s one of my favorite people.”
Jonathan lowered his head and took a deep breath before he spoke. “Do me a favor, baby. Ask him to not wear the sequined Speedo this time.” He heard Jennifer stifle a chuckle.
“Daddy, you know how Sidney likes to stand out in a crowd. If I did that, it would be like clipping a butterfly’s wings. If he isn’t bothered about wearing it, why should it bother you to see him do it? You really need to loosen up. You aren’t usually this uptight about things.”
“There aren’t that many Sidneys in my life,” he admitted.
How would he explain Sidney to the poker crowd inside the house that night? How would he explain him to his best friend, Bill?
Then J.J. turned to her mother. “Guess what! Juan Carlos is going to be in the States the week of my party. He’ll be visiting his uncle in Anaheim. He’s going to drive in with his cousin Ramon to be at the party. They’re going to stay overnight in Wesley’s parents’ guest house. Wesley, Beau, and Ollie will all be in Los Angeles that weekend. They’re all coming too. Isn’t that great!”
“Just peachy,” Jennifer said, thinking of the noise, the cars, the loud music, the gyrating bodies cavorting around the pool, and having to deal with Jonathan’s usual fatherly paranoia.
To his credit, he seemed to be trying hard to mask his feelings along those lines lately, but for him that protective reaction was as natural as the blue in his eyes. There was as much chance of his really relaxing about his daughter’s sweet sixteen party as there was of changing the blue to brown. She could not convince him there was no need to worry at this time. Their daughter had no use for boys other than amusing companions and easy marks at the card table.
With each successive year J.J.’s parties had risen to another level. Jonathan had doubled this year’s security presence for the evening. Despite the large turnouts for her affairs, there had never been any serious problems in the past, but he was not one to take chances when it came to his home and his child. And since he had been forbidden to venture out himself, he really was not going to take any. She sensed that he had another Ace up his sleeve along those lines. One way or another, Jonathan Hart was going to be a presence at that gathering on that Saturday night.
“I think I’m going to be glad that I had that dress code posted on those invitations that you sent out,” Jennifer continued. “Any party given by you with “Escapade” as its theme needs to have the limitations posted right up front.”
J.J. sighed. “Really Mom, was that really necessary? None of my friends are all that raunchy. That was just overkill in my estimation. That and the insistence that “Each guest must arrive with his or her own invitation to be admitted by security” note on the bottom in red ink.”
“I’m just not having it.” Jennifer coolly advised. “One invitation per carload of kids just isn’t going to cut it this year. I believe that some of your friends just pick up people on their way here. They show up looking like hoodlums, hookers, and gangsters, and I could swear some are street people. And you don’t care. The more the merrier as far as you’re concerned. Timmons says that it takes until August for the lawn to recover from your May parties. I just cannot see why you insist on having a casual pool party for your once in a lifetime Sweet Sixteen party. This is your debut. I should think that you would want to dress up for that occasion.”
“Oh,” J.J. grinned, nodding her head. “I’m dressing up and debuting, alright. Got my outfit all worked out and it will get society’s attention, believe me. And besides, if I had the party at the Country Club, all of my friends wouldn’t be able to come. A lot of them can’t afford all of that pomp and circumstance that you like. I want everybody to be able to be comfortable, and to have a good time. They can do that here without worrying too much about anything. On my turf everybody is the same.”
Jonathan had to smile his appreciation at that comment. While the idea of the party itself made him anxious, he liked that quality in his girl: her heart encompassed everyone. Despite all of his relative fame, his money, and his good fortune; a part of him never forgot what it was like to be a poor kid standing on the outside of everything looking in.
“I talked to Russell Thomas today.” He said, talking to J.J. “He’s sending a crew over from the visual imaging division to take the pictures for you at the party.”
J.J. winked at him in appreciation. “Good looking out, Daddy.”
Russell Thomas, a new division head in the Hart Industries family, was his latest addition to the stable of young executives he was developing within the company to take it into the new millennium. When he made up his mind that he was ready to step down as acting CEO, he wanted to be confident that he was leaving things in capable hands. From what he had seen so far with Russell’s handling of that division, his hunch in the young man’s abilities had a been solid one.
He had also given Russell another assignment to complete for the night of the party just for his own peace of mind. It was an assignment to which J.J. didn’t need to be made privy. She’d have a fit if she knew, but if she wanted a party without parental presence, that was how it was going to be.
Marie, the housekeeper, came into the kitchen from the pantry carrying a clipboard. “Mrs. Hart, I just finished making all the arrangements with the caterers for the party. All of that’s in order. They’re going to send someone over with the contracts for you to sign in the morning.”
“Thank you, and did you make sure to order the bicarbonate for Mr. Hart?” Jennifer asked her, giving Jonathan a sidelong glance.
At J.J.’s junk food laden galas, it never failed that he would sneak around and pig out. Well before the end of the evening she usually found herself doctoring on him after he had made himself totally ill with indigestion.
“Two boxes, Mrs. Hart.” Answered Marie. “One for upstairs and one for downstairs.”
“I’m sure that we’ll probably be needing them both.”
He shook his head, feeling totally outnumbered by the females in his residence.
Patricia Hamilton sat at her desk deeply engrossed in a piece that she was proofreading. As the owner of the publishing firm, normally she would have delegated this kind of job down to an editor. But this was one of her best friend’s pieces, and nobody worked with that writer except for her. Although she hadn’t intended to read it all the way through in one sitting, once she sat down, it immediately grabbed her total attention and kept her riveted to the chair and the desk.
When the phone rang her first thought was to let the machine take it, but at the last minute she glanced over to the caller I.D. Immediately recognizing the number, she was glad that she had taken the time to look up. Her goddaughter, her best friend’s child was on the line.
“J.J.!” She exclaimed. “How are you, Squirt?”
“Just fine, Aunt Pat, and you?” Came the cheery voice all the way from California to New York. “Right now I’m just swamped with homework that I’m trying to get out of the way before my party because I don’t want anything hanging over my head for that weekend.”
“Seems like a smart move to me. How’s your mother?”
“Sweating me like always, but she’s fine. She was all over me about the phone earlier, but we got it worked out.”
“You two always do. And your cute father?”
“Still cute.” J.J. laughed.
What can I do for you, my darling?”
“I was just wondering if you were able to get my package?”
“Yep, I picked it up myself this afternoon. J.J., I sure hope you sent me the exact numbers. It looks like they really needed to be exact.”
“Aunt Pat, I am absolutely sure. Nothing’s changed since I emailed you. I knew that you could take care of that in New York.”
“Your mother could have had it done in L.A., but after I saw what you wanted, I realized why you bypassed her.”
Pat smiled into the phone picturing J.J. lying in the dark, staring at the ceiling, working the plan out in her head; lining up the right people for the completion of this mission.
“You know perfectly well that if The Duchess knew anything about this, I would have been shot down before I got started.” J.J. explained. “If she had her way- well, we won’t even go there. You’re a lifesaver, Auntie; I was so worried about pulling this off on time. A definite must-have for the party.”
Pat could just envision J.J.’s excited smile on her end of the phone line.
J.J. continued, “I took care of everything else here just like you told me. I made all the calls. Everything is in place. When will you get in?”
“My plane gets in at nine on Saturday morning, in plenty of time to finish lining things up for your party plans. Who’s coming to the airport for me?”
“Not Daddy. He’ll be tied up. Uncle Bill will be here, though. I talked to him earlier tonight.” She coyly added, “He asked about you; wanted to know what time you were getting here. What’s up with that, Aunt Pat? Fill a girl in.”
Pat was looking forward to spending that weekend in the company of the Harts as well as with Jonathan’s aviator friend, Bill McDowell. Her goddaughter’s curiosity was amusing. Bill’s curiosity was also intriguing, as always.
“What did he ask you about me?”
“He just wanted to know what time your flight got in. He’s flying in himself on Friday night- in one of his own planes at that. Daddy has already lined up his hangar. Want I should sendhim to the airport by himself for you? I know something is up and you just aren’t telling me. Why are you doing me like that? I tell you everything.”
“You know way too much for your age as it is, little girl.” Pat laughed. “Way, way too much.”
If only she knew it all, Pat thought. A full disclosure would stop her young, inquisitive, frisky heart cold.
“I can’t wait to see you.” J.J. said to her in closing. “Good night and thanks for everything, Aunt Pat. I’m sure that it’s going to all turn out great.”
“Until then, J.”
Pat hung up.
She went back to the piece for a moment. Jennifer had been writing since high school, but she seemed to just keep getting better. She was the master at getting people to open up and talk to her. Finally, putting her blue pencil down, she sat back to rest her eyes. Closing them, she crossed her arms, and reminisced on her dear friend.
She and Jennifer had started out their friendship as twelve-year-old motherless girls sent to boarding school by their grieving fathers who didn’t have any idea of what to do with them. Her own mother had died two years before of pneumonia and her father had placed her with her maternal grandmother. When her grandmother died, he sent her to Boston to school where she met Jennifer Edwards whose mother had been killed in an auto accident the previous spring. They clicked right away.
She was the wild, reckless one. Jennifer, quieter and more calculating, was the organizer. Between the two of them, their residence was always on report. They were continually in trouble, but each fall there was a waiting list of girls hoping to get assigned to their house. Even after they were eventually split up at age sixteen, their respective residences were the places to be housed if one wanted to have a good time. Jennifer Edwards and Patricia Hamilton were the bane of Gresham Preparatory School for Girls.
Their fathers were constantly getting calls from the fed-up Headmistress, and in turn they got calls from their fathers who issued threats. Richard Hamilton wasn’t too much of a problem, but a call, and even more so, a house visit from Stephen Edwards would cause them both to straighten up- at least until they were sure that either he wasn’t actually coming or he was back in the air on his flight to wherever he had come from in the world to chastise Jennifer and charm the Headmistress into not expelling them.
They were both very attractive girls, but it was Jennifer who was the absolute beauty; so naturally pretty that even other females would notice it right away. She had such a warm, generous nature that she just drew people to her, especially the guys. Pat sensed that it was Jennifer’s stunning good looks more than her behavior that caused Mr. Edwards to be so stern with her. He was forever warning her off boys, sending her drab clothing to wear, and wrote the headmistress that he did not want her venturing off-campus or wearing make-up at all when she was on campus.
He need not have worried about most of it. Jennifer was not boy-crazy, preferred a natural look, and very few people were actually allowed inside her innermost circle. There was a part of her that she did not share with everyone, evidently even with her father. Pat was gratified to be one of the chosen few who truly knew her. In fact, away at school, she had been the only one. But he was out of luck with that venturing-off thing. Both of them were footloose and adventurous and every chance they got they stole away from school.
At home in Maryland, Mr. Edwards discouraged Jennifer from dating or from keeping male company while she was in high school. As a result, Jennifer, who really wasn’t that interested in boys in general anyway and who highly resented her father’s rigidity, took every opportunity she could to do other things that would drive him crazy. Rick Hamilton, her own father, had given rise to her anger with his forever absent, and/or skirt-chasing ways, so she went right along with Jennifer for the wild, rebellious ride.
They smoked, got caught, and got suspended. They held late night card parties, sneaked off campus to shop for the stylish attire that Jennifer preferred to wear, missed curfews, and just generally had a hell of a good time. Despite getting into all that mischief, and eventually getting suspended twice, they still managed to graduate as co-valedictorians of their class, both of them earning Phi Beta Kappa Keys much to the chagrin of their administrators.
It wasn’t until after high school graduation, during that summer spent in Europe, that Jennifer began to come into bloom. Out from under the direct jurisdiction of her strict father, Jennifer just took off. When they returned to the States that fall, they attended Vassar together, began partying all over the eastern seaboard, and traveled all over the world at every opportunity that came their way. They had friends on every continent, it seemed, except Antarctica where if they had gone there, Jennifer would have made friends with the penguins.
Jennifer broke hearts all over the world because men would fall in love with her, but she declined to get involved with anyone seriously. The few times that she did try to open up, it seemed that it was she who came away with the injured heart. Men wanted her, but they wanted to rope her in, tie her down and box her up. With Jennifer that simply was not going to be.
Then came that final experience in Australia with Jennifer and that Elliott Manning. The relationship itself was volatile from the start, and she had tried to warn Jennifer to break it off, to no avail. Jennifer had been attracted to Elliot’s swarthy good looks and his adventurous, fiery nature. He owned a game preserve and Jennifer, a lifelong animal lover, found that she reveled in the atmosphere and the rugged lifestyle.
He wanted desperately to marry her, but at the time she didn’t want to be anyone’s wife. After a while, it he began trying to force her into it, buying her a ring and trying to keeping her isolated on that preserve of his. Her original reason for being in Australia was to write. To maintain her focus, she declined to live with him full time at his compound, instead choosing to keep a small apartment of her own in Sydney. Her independence had always been important to her, but it seemed to be a serious threat to him. Elliott soon began following her everywhere, and once she returned the the States, mostly to get away from him, he phoned her relentlessly. Pat always had the feeling that he was having her followed also.
Finally, one morning Jennifer called up to say that she was flying to Sydney to have it out with Elliott once and for all. Jennifer operated like that. She had no fear of traveling the world on her own. Begging to be allowed to go with her, Jennifer refused her offer saying that she could handle him herself.
Jennifer never spoke of any of the details of that visit, but when she returned to New York, it was evident that something had gone terribly wrong. It was almost as if her spirit had been broken. For nearly three months, Jennifer rarely left her apartment. It took an intervention by herself and their other close friend, Marcia to bring her out of it. With their encouragement and support, she gradually went back to her writing, but she was never quite the same. She became more cautious and reserved in her carriage. It was then that the Jennifer she presently showed to most of the world began to emerge. She resumed her life and her travels, but whatever ugliness had gone down in Australia, it altered her forever.
Then one afternoon in early August of that same year, a call came from London. It was Jennifer, who was supposed to be on assignment over there. She had gone over to secure an interview with an American businessman. She had only been in London a week, but she was calling to tell her that she was going to marry. It turned out that Mr. Right just happened to be that American businessman, the Jonathan Hart of Los Angeles, California, an extremely handsome, ultra-wealthy, very well-known man-about-town.
Just the week before, prior to her leaving, they had been sitting around in Jennifer’s huge Manhattan apartment, both depressed at the state of their lives and drowning their sorrows in a fifth of vodka. Jennifer had sworn off exclusive relationships with men forever that night. That night marked six months since the visit to Elliot Manning. The fallout from that episode seemed to have, directly and indirectly, tainted both their perceptions of men and future relationships. Then suddenly there Jen was in London, engaged to a man whom she had only known for two days. At the time, even though she did not know Jonathan Hart, Pat felt that she could completely understand his falling in love with her friend. Smart, beautiful, sexy, classy and personable; Jennifer Edwards was someone special indeed.
Others in their immediate circle were skeptical of her decision, especially some of Jennifer’s former stateside beaus, but Pat was dead certain that it had to be real. Jennifer was not one to just jump into anything, especially not marriage. She had never been one to claim to be in love with anyone, ever. That had been another point of serious contention between her and Elliott. She wouldn’t say those words to him, and he could not handle it.
For her to verbalize that she was in love with a man, especially one she had known for that short a period of time clearly meant either one of two things; the sex was beyond excellent or Jonathan Hart was truly the one. Unashamed of her sexuality, Jennifer had always contended that good sex was out there if one knew where to look; but once located, a girl did not have to marry it. The guy who was man enough to get her say “I do” had to be all of that and then some.
They married the following month and spent the next ten years all over the globe, doing exciting things and loving each other intensely. Every time she saw them, she could tell that Jonathan and Jennifer were made for each other.
Then, ten years into her marriage with her magic man, Jennifer discovered that she was pregnant. Of the two of them, Jennifer was the one who had never been interested in having children. Pat had been the one to desire a husband and family, but an emergency hysterectomy after suffering a miscarriage ended that dream as well as a brief early marriage. Jennifer nursed her through that crisis. They had always been there for each other.
But when Jennifer called to whine about how scared she was of her relationship with Jonathan changing if they had a child to raise, Pat found she had to count to control her anger, and to keep from cursing Jennifer all the way out. Instead she just mildly cursed her to get her to see how privileged she actually was to be the only woman in the world to bear Jonathan Hart’s only child. That had been the only time in their friendship that she thought of Jennifer as being selfish. She could tell that the man wanted a child and even more, he needed a child; he had no other blood relatives. It was for certain that he would support her in raising that baby in every way possible, just as he always had with anything else that she had done.
That day Jennifer had gotten no sympathy from her, in fact what she told her was to grow the hell up.
Early on, it was apparent that J.J. Hart was going to be intelligent, as well as rambunctious and headstrong, but for her the latter was by nature, not rebellion. It was so funny to watch how tight Jennifer held the reins on that girl considering what she knew about her friend’s past. J.J. was no where near as wild and full of nerve as her mother had been at her age, and it amused her to no end that J.J.’s perception of her mother was so different from what really lie beneath that cultivated elegance, that polished veneer. When J.J. sent her that picture of herself, the one with the cigar, she had nearly choked herself with laughter. She was immediately reminded of how Jennifer had looked at fifteen, playing cards and sitting in the open window smoking the fine cigars that she pilfered from her father’s den when she went home on breaks.
Pat looked over at that picture, which she kept on her desk. J.J.’s back was to the camera and her bomber jacket said “INCORRIGIBLE” across the back. Her hair was up in the ponytail and she held the smoking panatela almost to her lips which pursed just like her mother’s lips. It was for certain that Jennifer could not have seen that particular set of pictures because J.J. was still living at home in L.A., and had not been bundled up and shipped off to that convent school in the Swiss Alps where her mother frequently threatened to send her.
After all her initial, ultimately unnecessary trepidation, it turned out that Jennifer had given birth to a daughter who revered her. And in turn, she had been bestowed with a wonderful goddaughter whom Jennifer readily shared with her. Any time that she invited J.J. to spend time with her in New York, as long as it didn’t interfere with school, Jennifer allowed her to come. A few times, while she and Jonathan traveled together to have some time alone she sent J.J. to spend quality time with her “Aunt Pat”. There had even been a couple of occasions where J.J. sheepishly arrived on her doorstep after having trod one time too many on her mother’s last viable nerve.
When J.J. visited, they would eat at all the best restaurants. She would take J.J. to her business establishment on Fifth Avenue, Hamilton House Publishing, where she would meet and interact with her and her mother’s literary friends. They would visit the various museums and the theatre districts, stay up all night, talk about everything, laugh and just be girls. But all the while that she would be there with her, J.J. never failed to get up in the morning or go to bed at night without calling or emailing her mother to say good morning or good night. Jonathan was such a cute, caring Daddy. He could be counted on to call or email several times a day. And of course Jennifer would be checking in, making her clandestine inquiries: “No I don’t need to speak to her. I’m just seeing to Jonathan’s incorrigible child.” Jennifer wasn’t fooling a soul. That little girl had a stranglehold on her mother’s heart.
There weren’t too many years left before J.J. would be leaving the nest for good. Until then, Pat had long ago decided that she was going continue to indulge her all she could. Jennifer, ‘The Duchess’, as J.J. and her friend Marnie referred to her, was going to have a royal fit when she saw the special request package she was bringing J.J. for her birthday. By the time she did get wind of it, there wouldn’t be a thing she could do about it.
Pat sat forward and got back to her work. She could hardly wait for the weekend to come so that she could get to Los Angeles to be with her friends.
And to meet up with that handsome hunk, Bill McDowell once again.
Russell Thomas sat in the front room of the beach house that he was renting from the Harts until his own beach front house was finished. His was being built a few miles down on this same stretch. It wouldn’t be as grand, but it was a house on the beach just the same, a dream come true.
He was sorting camera equipment. Jonathan Hart had called him earlier in the week seeking to hire one of his crews to come out and take pictures and set up video cameras at his daughter’s Sweet Sixteen party on their estate.
Hire a crew? No way.
It was directly because of the Harts that his life had been so transformed in such a short time.
A year ago he had been a lowly staff photographer for a franchise photography studio. A series of events involving Mrs. Hart and the Hart’s daughter, J.J., had led to his becoming the director of a division of Hart Industries, the visual imaging division.
He had met J.J. Hart during picture day at her school a year ago. Due to the somewhat unorthodox nature of the poses and the props J.J. had chosen to use, Mrs. Hart had contacted his boss, the former owner of the photography franchise, to complain. It worked out that his boss and Mrs. Hart were old acquaintances. Meeting her once again obviously ignited the old man’s passions, and he attempted to abduct, and subsequently attack her at a ball she was giving last spring. Thanks to J.J. he had been in the right place to stop him.
Mr. Hart seized the LA franchise in exchange for not pressing charges against her attacker, and had handed it over to him. Not long after that, under circumstances that were never completely explained to him, it seemed that Hart Industries acquired the entire national operation from the original owner, and Mr. Hart had also turned all of that over to him. Now, at twenty-eight, he was successfully running a national division of a multi-national corporation.
For the past year, he had been a devoted student of Jonathan Hart. So much had been learned, and life was indeed becoming exciting. He was traveling, networking with real heavyweights, and had expanded the business into the film making industry, and into security, which were areas into which he had always wanted to go. Now, things were going so well that he was living in a beautiful home on the beach, albeit a rented one at present.
There had been several offers to buy the home from the Harts, but Mr. Hart refused to part with it. This was where he and his wife had lived while their present home in Bel Air was being rebuilt after it had been leveled by a devastating fire. Mrs. Hart had spent her pregnancy with their daughter in this home. The Harts owned several properties around the world, but the beach house and the Bel Air estate were two properties that Jonathan Hart said that he would never part with in his lifetime; both places were too special to him. One day they would pass to J.J., and she could do with them what she liked, but until then, they would remain in the family.
J.J. Hart. What a cute, smart, interesting kid.
She had been the catalyst for all of his good fortune. It was because of her “special’ school pictures and her level-headedness that all of this had come about for him. She was something else. It had been quite a while since he’d seen her, but there was nobody else in the world that he would allow to take the pictures for her Sweet Sixteen party other than himself. He was going to head the crew for that job himself. The photographs taken and the video filmed would be his gift to the birthday girl and her parents.
Her father spoke of her often to him, and he had seen some recent pictures of her in his office in the Hart Industries Towers when he had occasion to visit him there. His wife was a beauty and his daughter was her spitting image. But like any good photographer, Russell knew that even though good pictures could speak a thousand words, there was nothing like the real thing. He was really looking forward to seeing that fascinating and funny J.J. Hart again on her special night.
“I don’t know why you invite all of them,” Marnie fussed as she lay across J.J.’s bed watching her best friend brush her hair up into the ponytail. “They just all show off and try to outdo each other to get your attention. And you don’t give a rat’s ass about any of them.”
“I like all of them, and you know the guys would be offended if I left any of them out,” J.J. answered. “I haven’t said anything to anybody to lead them to believe that I would give any one of them the time of day over the other, so their fighting is their business. Besides, they never actually fight. Compete, show off, yeah, they do that. But when they do, they make bets and I get to hold the money. Then I get my ten percent off the top no matter who wins.”
Marnie had to laugh. Her best friend was the consummate bookie. J.J. always thought in terms of whether or not the odds were in her favor before she would do a thing.
“You know Wesley is going to come trying to talk you into being his girl, J.J. He’s been hinting at it in his emails all year. What are you going to do about that?”
“Same thing I always do. Be pleasant and ignore him.”
“What about Tommy? Wesley is jealous of your relationship with Tommy. And Tommy gets irritated with Wesley over his snotty attitude. How do you intend to handle that? Tommy’s a big guy and he’s quiet, but I don’t think he’s going to be tolerating too much more of Wesley’s crap. I can see Tommy teeing off on Wesley’s head. And what about Juan Carlos? He’s coming across the damned border, for Pete’s sake. You know Juan’s coming trying to get next to you. Does he know about Wesley liking you? Is he going to start tripping when he sees you dancing with Tommy?”
“I’m not going to ‘handle’ any of that.” J.J. answered putting on her Dodger’s cap and pulling her ponytail through the back. “Their disputes are their problem. They’ll just have to work that out for themselves. I get along with all of them and I’m just giving the party. I don’t know why the others are so paranoid about Tommy. He’s not like that about them. I’m not anybody’s girl and I don’t intend to be any time soon.”
Marnie rolled over and shot J.J. a look, which she couldn’t see because her back was to her. Rolling once again onto her back, she shook her head over J.J.’s short-sightedness. Why guys wasted their time liking her and arguing over her was a mystery. It was all for nothing anyway. They could beat each other’s brains out, and J.J. wouldn’t give a damn. She played by her own rules, by her own clock, and for her it just must not be the right time.
“You’re not going to look like that forever, J.J. Hart.” Marnie warned. “Me, myself, I’m planning to be tied up with Wesley’s cute friend, Beau all night. These are the best years of our lives. I’m concentrating my efforts. If me and Beau come up missing at any time during the party, don’t let anybody near the gazebo. That boy gives the best kisses.”
“Speak for yourself.” J.J. advised as she checked herself in the mirror. “I figure I can last at least into my twenties. I’ll wait. I’ve seen what rushing it can do. I’m going to spend time with everyone there, male and female. I’m just out for a good time.” She turned from the mirror to face Marnie. “And you need to slow your roll before you get yourself into something that you can’t get out of. Stay out in the open where other people can see you. Remember, he’s way older than you. Forget the gazebo.”
Reaching out her hand, she pulled Marnie up from the bed. “Let’s go before The Duchess changes her mind about taking us. I have to have that body suit I saw and she said that she would take me to get it if I hurried up. It matches perfectly so it’s a must to complete my outfit for the party tomorrow.”
“Decided against going for the bustier?” Marnie asked as she gave herself a final check in the mirror. “Why won’t you tell me what you’re planning to wear?”
“It’s a secret. Nobody knows but me. You know, Marnie, my mother must have been anticipating me. I was just sitting there on the couch looking at her new Victoria’s Secret catalog, and there were some really sexy bustiers on the page. My mother passes by and out of the blue goes, “Don’t even think about it.” She starts talking about how I have “too much up top” for that.”
J.J. smiled and wrinkled her nose mischievously. “She said that something like that pushing my boobs up would give my father heart failure for real and she wasn’t ready to be a widow.”
She and Marnie laughed. Then she continued, “So I guess I’ll just have to save the bustier action for when I move out and you and me are partying all over the east and west coasts on our own.”
Both girls high-fived each other.
As they left the bedroom, Marnie happily clutched her own father’s American Express Card to her breast.
“Shopping with the The Duchess on Rodeo with my daddy’s guilty-conscience-sorry-I-don’t-see-you-more-often credit card!” She sighed dreamily. “What better way to spend an afternoon?”
“Personally, I’d rather be flying with my Daddy than be out shopping.” J.J. said in reply. “But I simply must have that body suit. Now when we get there, remember your part. As soon as I get ready to pay, you divert her. Don’t let me down, Marnie.”
The girls rushed down the stairs to meet Jennifer Hart.
The worried calls from his right hand, Marcus Borland, began coming in as soon as he arrived in his office. The timing could not have been worse for a major problem to arise that would require his personal attention over the weekend. Jonathan could feel a major tension headache coming on. The next day was J.J.’s party and there was no way that he was going to be away from home with over a hundred teenagers on the grounds. He sat at his desk with his forehead in his hands.
The intercom buzzed.
“Yes.” He answered after pushing the button to respond.
“Mr. Hart. It’s Mr. Borland again.”
“Damn!” He exclaimed to himself before picking up.
He could not believe this. Marcus knew how important tomorrow night was to him. Normally he could count on him to run interference for him. What the hell was his problem this time?
“Jonathan, I’m sorry. I keep talking to this Watenabe guy, but he says that he won’t deal with anyone but you, and it has to be tomorrow night because he’s out of the country for three months after that.”
“Then I guess it just won’t be.” Jonathan declared. “I will not miss my daughter’s Sweet Sixteen party for any reason!”
“You might want to rethink that, Jonathan. It’s a deal you might regret letting get by you. You know I’d handle it, but our friend just won’t work with me.”
“Keep at it, Marcus and get back to me.”
Jonathan knew that the deal on the table was a good one, but nothing came before his family, not even Hart Industries. The businessman in him hated to let the deal go by, but the father in him valued the time with his daughter more. Luck was always on his side, time was not. J.J. was getting older and time with her was growing shorter and more precious every day. This business thing would have to work its own way out.
“Wesley!” Georgette Singleton called to her son, “Would you hurry up and get out to that guest house! I can hear that music all the way up here and I don’t want those boys tearing anything up out there. Tell them I said to turn that music down when you get out there. And don’t you guys be up all night on that telephone or playing those video games either.”
Wesley rolled his eyes as he packed his things into an overnight bag. He and his weekend guests were spending the night in his parents’ guest house. They had all come in from school to attend J.J. Hart’s Sweet Sixteen party. It was to be the teenage social event of the season.
There were four guys waiting for him out there. First, there was his best friend and schoolmate, Beau Harris from North Carolina. This would be Beau’s second time attending one of J.J.’s parties. He’d had such a good time at her party last year that he vowed any time J.J. was giving a party, he would be there- invited or not. He also had an on-off thing going with her friend, Marnie.
Ollie was out there, too. He went boarding school in Massachusetts with them also. Ollie’s mother had gone to school with his and J.J.’s mothers. All their parents were good friends, and consequently, as their children, they had all known each other all of their lives.
Juan Carlos had flown in from Argentina. He had an uncle who lived in Anaheim who was a business acquaintance of his father. J.J. and Juan Carlos met when she was in Argentina with her parents on business. He and his cousin, Ramon had driven into L.A. from Anaheim for the party and they were staying with him in Bel Air to be closer to the Hart estate, or ‘Party Central’ as it was being referred to these days. Those two would drive back to Anaheim on Sunday afternoon. Wesley knew that Juan was fond of J.J.; a little too fond as far as he was concerned. He hadn’t said anything to Juan about how he felt about J.J., but he would if it came to that. It was bad enough that Tommy Steele was going to be there.
As he brushed his hair, Wesley wondered if J.J. and Tommy were any closer than they had been when he was home the last time. Tommy had the home court advantage because he and J.J. went to school together every day here in L.A., and it appeared that they were very good friends.
How could she like Tommy? For one thing, they were from two different worlds. His mother worked for Hart Industries. Her father was Hart Industries. Tommy hadn’t traveled like they had, his mother didn’t have the money that their parents had; they seemed to be just so different socially. He could see Tommy being attracted to J.J., but J.J. to Tommy? No way. What could Tommy do for her? What did he have to offer to her? Tommy rode a motorcycle to get around, and he never seemed to have much to say when they were all together. What could a girl like her possibly see in him?
He, on the other hand would be able to court and entertain her in the style to which she was accustomed. She was used to the best of everything, and he had what it took to get the best of everything for her to keep her happy.
The last time that he was home, however, he thought that he detected something developing between them. But since then, she hadn’t said anything along those lines in the emails that they sent back and forth throughout the year. J.J. was funny like that, though. There was a part of her that she kept to herself. It was rare that she discussed personal matters, which would probably encompass who she might be seeing. Lately she hadn’t had much to say at all except that she was swamped with schoolwork and hadn’t had much time to email back.
She was nearly three years younger than he, but there were times that it felt like it was she who was older. She was nothing like other girls, and for him none of the others measured up to her. She wasn’t silly or into regular girlish things. J.J. was smart, involved, and she was interesting. She did unusual things like fly planes, develop and operate sound systems, took computers apart and put them back together. She was very well read, and was hot to look at as well, In short, she was who he wanted and he was determined that at some point they were going to be together.
Tomorrow night, he would be pulling out all the stops and Tommy Steele, Juan Carlos Herrera, and whoever else thought they might have designs on her had better just get out of the way. That included her father. There wasn’t as much difference between 16 and 18 as there had been between 15 and 18.
Wesley put the hairbrush into his bag and called out to his mother and father that he was leaving. He started out for the guest house wondering if Mr. Hart still wore that shoulder holster under his clothes, and if so, would he be packing it the night of the party?
Bill McDowell answered the knock on door of the guest house. He was just getting settled in. It was his goddaughter, J.J.
“Hey Uncle Bill, my mother said for me to bring this out here to you.”
She carried in a silver wine bucket containing a bottle wrapped in a towel.
“She got went down and got this from the cellar herself, so you know its good.”
J.J. set the things down on the coffee table and extracted the bottle to unwrap it. “Dom Perignon, some year.” She shrugged her shoulders, and turned around to face him. “She said that you would know what to do with this and when. Of course, you already know that there’s ice in the icemaker.”
She set the champagne down next to the bucket and turned back to him.
“I know there’s something more behind all that she told me to say, but I’ve got too much on my plate right now to try to decipher it. But when I get time, I am going to be working it all out. Somebody is holding out on me, and that’s not going to fly. We’re still on for going to pick up Aunt Pat in the morning, right?”
“You’re in charge of this operation. Your Dad get in yet?”
“Nope. He’s still all tied up at Hart. I know he’s got to be real mad by now. He just hates it when business cuts into his private time.”
“But he’ll get over it.” She said going to the door. “He always does. You know how he is. He’ll come out here with you when he gets home, have a drink, and then he’ll loosen up. I’ll see you in the A.M. Aunt Pat’s flight gets in at nine. Don’t forget and be ready to get there on time. She doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”
“You and your Aunt Pat are so bossy!” He laughed. “I got it. Good night.”
She went out closing the door behind her. He looked over at the wine bucket and the bottle of champagne. It was one of their best. Jennifer was on to them, he could tell by that message she sent out there by that little scamp of hers.
He peeked out of the window and watched J.J. as she walked back to the main house. She looked like Jennifer, but she had her father’s aura; confident, like she owned the world. His buddy, Valentine had it all. Jennifer was everything that Jonathan needed in a woman. When she came into his life, it was as if all the pieces just came together for him. Then once he and Jennifer had that girl, that was it. J.J. was the icing on their wedding cake. A wonderful mix of both her parents, and her own person at the same time, she was a joy to watch grow up.
He’d had two grown sons. His oldest, T.J., had followed him and Jonathan into aviation. Some years ago, he had been killed on a training mission while serving in the Air Force. He could see the same spirit of adventure in J.J. that was in her father. She was flying also, although it was supposed to be a big secret from Jennifer. Bill suspected that she already knew.
Jennifer was smart, as well as a wise woman. He had the feeling that she knew a lot that she just didn’t let on about. Like this thing between him and Pat. She never said a word to him about it, but he had been pretty sure for a while that she knew. The wine she sent by J.J. was one of Pat’s favorites. If Pat was staying in the main house this weekend, why would Jennifer send her favorite champagne out there to the guest house with him? Jennifer was definitely on to them.
Yes J.J., we’ll be at that airport bright and early. You’re turning sixteen and that marks sixteen years that your godmother and I have been the best kind of friends.
This was going to be a weekend to remember.
Jennifer breezed through the bedroom from the bathroom. Jonathan was already in the bed looking at a book, trying to take his mind off his wretched late night at the office and that last urgent call that he had gotten from Marcus before coming upstairs less than an hour ago. He looked up from his book as she passed. She was wearing a filmy black peignoir, leaving her freshly scrubbed floral scent on the air.
She went out of the room into the hall and he could hear her speaking in a tone that let him know that she was fussing at J.J. about something. The indicator light was on for that phone line, which told him what the issue most likely was between them; J.J. had been on the phone all day it seemed. Her excitement made him smile. It wasn’t every day that a girl turned sixteen, especially not his girl. Tomorrow was the big day.
Jennifer came back into the room and closed the door behind her. He lay his book down on the table next to him.
“I have never met anyone who can talk on the phone like that child can.” She commented as she removed the robe to the set.
The gown was cut low in the front and it was sleek, hugging her bosom and her lean, shapely frame. When she turned away from him to drape the robe on the fainting couch, he could see that it also showed off her well-toned back and molded to her still-firm backside.
His daughter might be sixteen, he thought, but her mother was still a ten. And her daddy still liked what he saw.
She came to bed continuing to complain. “She’ll hang up from one person and be speed dialing on to the next, switching from one language to another because you know she knows people all over the glo-”
He stopped her tirade with a kiss and held her there until he felt her relax completely in his arms.
“Stop it.” He whispered when he had her attention. When she again attempted to speak, he placed his finger to her lips. “Shhhhhh.”
At this point he had her lying back on the pillows. He looked down on her and smiled his appreciation of the sight. That thick, wavy hair he so loved was fanned out behind her head, her face was now flushed and her eyes were closed. She responded so naturally to his touch and that served to further fuel his passion for her. They still slept on satin and the fabric was becoming to her sensuous, silky nature. Without makeup, the freckles across her nose and cheeks, which she disliked but he adored, were quite evident. He kissed them.
“Leave her on the other side of that door for the time being, Jennifer.” He whispered between his attentions to her face. “I only want you in here with me right now.” He softly kissed her neck, just behind her ear taking the time to gently run his tongue along the sensitive skin in that spot. He felt her writhe against him. He looked down on her again. “You are so lovely.”
Smiling up at him, she brushed his lips with hers. “You’re not so hard on the eyes yourself.”
She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him down into another kiss, this one slow and passionate, one that was surely the bridge to the next level of their mutual desire.
The phone rang.
“Let her get it.” He said into her neck and hair as he ran his hand along her side, pulling her closer to him to inch up the gown. “She knows how to get rid of people.”
When he had it high enough, he skillfully maneuvered his knee between her legs. So soft and so pliant was she, he marveled at how quickly she was able to arouse him and with such intensity. It was all he could do to hold back to keep from rushing into ravaging her completely.
The intercom buzzed. They ignored it as she whispered to him exactly what she wanted him to do, and his body immediately responded even further. He didn’t think that was physically possible, but it happened just the same. Damn, she was good.
He caught one of the gown’s straps between his fingers and slid it from her shoulder following the strap with kisses. The buzzer sounded again, this time more insistently.
Irritated, he reached back to push the button without turning his attentions from Jennifer.
“What is it?” He fairly growled.
“Daddy, it’s for you. It’s Uncle Marcus. I told him I thought you’d gone to bed, but he said that it was urgent. Sorry.”
“Goddammit.” He muttered as he released the intercom button and then reluctantly released Jennifer. “This better be damned important.”
“I mean every syllable of every word.” He vowed as he rolled over.
As he picked up, he noticed the light for J.J.’s line quickly flash back on. That girl was definitely his, he noted to himself; she seized every opportunity she got.
Since it was his practice to not bring business into their bedroom, he carried the handset into the hall and closed the door behind him. The conversation was lengthy and distressing and to his dismay, when he returned, Jennifer was lying on her side with the light off, facing away from him. He assumed that she had gotten tired of waiting and had fallen asleep. Nothing it seemed, was working out.
He eased into bed and moved into his usual place behind her trying not to wake her as he got settled under the covers. Expecting to feel the silkiness of her gown when he put his arm around her and placed the flat of his palm to her belly, he instead found the silkiness of her skin; she was completely naked.
“What took you so long?” She asked drowsily. “The ship is just about docked at port.”
“You couldn’t have set sail without the Captain anyway.” He answered as he quickly slipped out of his pajama bottoms, his ardor rushing back so quickly that he was almost dizzy with it. “And as Captain, I may end up tying Marcus to the yardarm.”
“It can and will wait.”
She turned over so that she was lying on her side facing him. In the moonlight he could see her dreamy, closed-eyed, languid smile.
“Now where were we?” He reached down behind her knee to take her long leg in his hand to place it on top of his hip. Moving his hand to the small of her back to hold her, he pushed himself slowly inside her, relishing the low moan of satisfaction, “Oh yessss, darling!” he received in return, as well as the familiar tight, wet heat that caressed and pulled at him.
When she sent her tongue in search of his, the circuit was completed. Hart Industries, Marcus Borland, and their difficult business associate could all wait. J.J. Hart was turning sixteen tomorrow, and her daddy was loving her mother tonight.
Tommy Steele lay across his bed listening to CD’s. It was late and he knew that he should probably have been asleep, but he had a lot on his mind. Tomorrow night was J.J.’s party and as much as he knew he had to and wanted to be there for her, he really was not looking forward to dealing with that prep school fathead, Wesley Singleton. Something about that guy made him want to break him in two. He rolled over onto his back to ponder it.
It was as if Wesley had some sort of deep-seated complex when it came to him and J.J. being good friends, and it was all so unnecessary. They were just friends, nothing more. True, they spent time together, had experienced some things together, and were very fond of each other, but that was all there was to it. She was not going to let it be anything more. Everything about J.J. said “Be my friend, enjoy my company, but don’t crowd me.”
Recently he happened to be standing over her shoulder as they talked in the computer lab at school when she opened her email. There had to be at least five messages from Wesley. J.J. just sighed and deleted them without reading or mentioning them. Turning away, he acted like he hadn’t seen what she’d done.
If Wesley thought that coming on strong with J.J. was going to win her over, he had another, rather disappointing thought coming. That could be explained to him if he would just ease up and be less defensive about things. He was going about it it all wrong. But then, Wesley would probably just think that he was trying to keep her for himself if he tried explaining that to him. Why should he help that stiff out anyway? He would never do the same for him if the shoe was on the other foot.
Besides, J.J. would never be kept, in any sense of the word.
Wesley, he felt, was also a snob, in a low-key sort of way. It was clear to him that Wesley thought that a guy like him didn’t have any business associating with J.J. seeing as how they came from such different backgrounds and walks of life. Wesley implied in his manner and his words that he had the upper hand because he went to private school and his people had money, like hers did. Whether he knew it or not, flaunting that superior attitude and his parent’s affluence were things that were going to make him lose the battle for J.J.’s heart for sure. She did not appreciate that sort of showing off in anyone. The field was level for her, all things and all people being equal.
Not that there was any battle to be fought. They could slug it out until they were both bloody and half-dead, and it would all be for nothing. The bottom line was J.J. would be making the call on who won her affections- when she felt like it- and so far she hadn’t said anything to anybody at any time- not even to him.
He reached under the bed, grabbing the handle of his portfolio to pull it out. Dragging it onto the bed with him, he unfastened the buckles and folded it open. He dug under the still life pastel sketches completed for class, and the cityscapes he loved to do on his own, to pull out his absolute favorites; the “Justine Etchings”, as he secretly called them.
They were clipped together and there were many of them in all sizes, going back to when J.J. was eleven. He had them stacked and dated in descending order, from the most recent one which he had done on the campus earlier in the school year as she sat and read some dead poet’s work to him, down to the very first one he ever did of her, which he had drawn before he even knew her name. He saw her for first time when she caught his eye one day in the park as she pitched a hardball to her father. He had been immediately intrigued by her. At first, he was just walking by thinking that she was a boy, but just as he was going past, she took off her baseball cap to wipe her brow, and a long red ponytail spilled out from where she had it wrapped on top of her head. He had never seen a girl who could send a hardball like she could.
When they finally met in school, they became immediate good friends and had remained so ever since. J.J. Hart was still fascinating, unpredictable, unconventional, and a lot of fun.
Right from the beginning, there was something about that girl that called to him. He had been drawing all of his life, but she was by far, his favorite subject. He found her flowing red hair and ice blue eyes to be magnificent. As he flipped through them, those two features were predominant in every one of the sketches. She didn’t wear her hair down often but, even though she hated doing it, she would take it down for him if he asked her to when he was drawing. Having her hair down seemed to change her whole persona. She would somehow softly morph from J.J. into Justine. Whenever her hair was loose, the male artist in him wanted so badly to put his hands in it, to just close his eyes and feel its texture between his fingers.
But at this point he knew that wasn’t possible. He didn’t feel that she would allow that type of invasion of her personal space, and he respected her enough to not force the issue. With J.J., it wasn’t just a sexual or physical attraction for him. Even though she was definitely nice to look at, it went beyond that. He just hadn’t quite figured out what it was yet.
It was midnight. Maybe they could sneak one in.
He picked up the phone and hit speed dial. She wouldn’t be asleep. She’d be in the bed, under the covers, reading by that book light she kept hidden under her pillow to keep her mother off her back about getting enough rest.
It rang once.
“J.J. Hart. My time; your dime. What’s shakin’?”
“Hey girl, what’re you reading?”
“Who told you I was reading, Tommy? What, are you psychic now? You think you know everything.”
“What are you doing then?”
There was a slight hesitation and then a soft giggle. “I’m reading. I’m reading Hemingway.”
“You’re too deep for me, J.J. I do good just reading the directions on a soup can.”
She laughed. He loved her laugh. “You’re just a big old lazy boy, but I like you still. I’ll just keep reading to you. Maybe you’ll get something by osmosis.”
“You do that. I like when you read to me.”
“You don’t even listen when I do. You’re usually too busy drawing.”
“I hear everything that you say, J.”
“You ready for the party?”
He could hear her excited smile. J.J. gave the best parties. That one negative thought suddenly returned.
“Yeah, but look,” He declared. “I don’t feel like dealing with your boy, Wesley. I’m going kick the snot out of him this time if he starts with me, J. I’m just letting you know so that there won’t be any hard feelings when I set it off at your party. You know I don’t ever say anything to him, but he always wants to eye me, and get his little digs in every chance he gets.”
“Tommy, Tommy, Tommy. I expect more out of you than that. Ignore him. You know how he is. He’s just intimidated by you, that’s all.”
“Yeah, and he’s got the serious hots for you.”
“You have to feel inferior to the other person to be jealous of them.” He replied. “You know that you and me aren’t cut like that. We’ve been taught better to know that.”
The line clicked and he heard J.J. whisper, “Shoot!” just before the familiar voice broke in on them.
“J.J. Hart, what is it going to take? Am I going to have to come in there and snatch the line out of the wall and bring the entire thing in here with me?”
“It wasn’t my fault this time.” J.J. hurried to explain. “This call came to me. I had to pick up. It would have been rude not to.”
“Not another word past goodnight.”
“Good night, Mom and you too, Tommy. I’ll see-”
“I said not another word.”
“Good night, J. Goodnight, Mrs. Hart.”
“Good night, Tommy. Now hang up both of you.” Her mother said. “I’ll wait.”
“Can you hang up first, Mom and then I prom-”
“I said that I’ll wait, Justine.”
He disconnected, amused at the interaction between his friend and her scary mother. Not too many people rattled Tommy Steele, but Jennifer Hart did. There was something about her that made him nervous whenever he was in her physical presence. That time she caught the two of them kissing in the gazebo when they were little… even though he was just twelve when it happened, when she showed up, he thought he was headed straight for the cardiac arrest unit of the nearest hospital. J.J. never let him forget how he ran off and left her that day to face her mother alone. That time they skipped school and she caught them together in the coffee house….
Their timing had been off on that phone call; it had been made way too early. After one a.m., they usually could get a decent conversation in, especially on a Friday night like this. Mr. and Mrs. Hart went to bed early on Fridays if they were home.
When they weren’t at home, it was just whatever for J.J. and the phone until they got back.
He put the sketches away and slid the portfolio back under the bed. Then he turned off the light.
Forget Wesley Singleton. He had the hots for her, the girl, and that was very different from what they had. No matter what, he and J.J. would always be, at the very least, friends. Nothing could come between the trust that came with that. That was enough for him. She would probably end up with some upper crust guy once she went off to college and even if Wesley did somehow luck up and marry her one day, J.J. would still be his friend. That was how it was with them, and that was how it would always be.
Rolling over, pulling the blankets with him, he confidently went to sleep.
Part Two: Preliminaries
J.J. opened her eyes early to the realization that she was sixteen. The sun was already shining brightly through the slats on her window blinds.
Sweet sixteen years old. No longer a kid and nearer to being an adult. She felt so good, and there was so much to be done to make the night perfect for everyone.
Jennifer woke when she heard the intercom buzz and she felt Jonathan move to answer it. J.J. was on the other end.
“Daddy, it’s Uncle Marcus again.” She reported. “Is he being a pain or what?”
“Or what.” Jonathan answered drowsily. “Okay. I have it.”
He rolled back over to kiss her sweetly on the back of the neck and run his hand down her torso. Then he got up from the bed and pulled on his robe. Taking the handset, he went out into the hall.
Whenever he wasn’t in it with her, that California king bed felt huge and forlorn. It wasn’t a place in which she wanted to be. Jennifer pulled herself up and went to the bathroom to get her shower. Pat would be getting in at nine, and after that, so would the caterers, and everyone else who needed to get set up.
There was so much to be done to make her daughter’s Sweet Sixteen a night to remember.
Pat walked down the busy concourse seeking a familiar face. Not seeing any one she recognized right off, she continued walking and made her way down to the Baggage Claim to retrieve her luggage while she waited for someone to come for her. Upon entering the area, the first thing she saw was big, handsome Bill McDowell wearing the widest smile and offering an outstretched hand.
“What’s with the handshake, Bill?” She asked taking his hand and tilting her head questioningly, surprised that he didn’t at least hug her.
He nodded slightly toward where the baggage was going around on the ramp. J.J. stood there with her back to them watching the carousel. Pat shook her head in amusement. Her goddaughter stood with her hands in the back pockets of her tight jeans. She wore a matching short denim jacket, boots and that ponytail. She looked so much like Jennifer had looked at her age.
“Hey Squirt!” She called out. “Happy birthday! Do you know what you’re looking for?”
J.J. turned suddenly at the sound of her voice. “Yeah, the best Louis Vuitton to come off.” She grinned as she waved. “What else do you and my mother carry?”
She went back to watching for the bags.
Pat took Bill’s hand and squeezed it. “This will do for now. She informed him. “But you do know that you’ll have to come better than this, later.”
“And harder.” He answered, keeping a protective eye on J.J., but casting a fleeting, lusty glance at Pat. “But I’ll leave that totally up to you.”
“I think that’s something we can both look forward to then.” She smiled naughtily. “Is everything all set?”
“Everything is in place. We were just waiting for you to get here.”
Russell walked the grounds of Willow Pond, the Hart estate, watching the activity as things were being put into place for the party to be held that evening. In the middle of the flurry of activity, a sort of soundstage was actually being constructed not too far from the pool. The Harts were certainly pulling out all the stops for their baby girl.
He wanted to see where things would be and to scope out the best places for the stationary video cameras to be situated. Mr. Hart had ordered video surveillance cameras set up as well. He and Hart security would be monitoring things from the dining room of the main house. Surveillance cameras had been strategically placed throughout the rear grounds by his people during the night in addition to the ones that usually monitored the estate. Mr. Hart was leaving nothing to chance.
Looking all around himself, the grounds of Jonathan Hart’s home were beautifully overwhelming. He had been inside the main house a few times in the past year, and had driven through the front grounds in his coming and goings, but this was his first opportunity to really see the rear. It was unreal that one man could own so much land and property. Backing up to the estate was a breathtaking azure panorama of mountains. Russell reflected that it had to be a wonderful feeling to wake up every morning knowing that you have accomplished so much in one relatively short lifetime.
“Good morning, Russell!”
The voice belonged to Jennifer Hart who was walking toward him, coming up from behind. He had never seen her so casually dressed, and never the first thing in the morning.
Dressed in a plain, button-down fitted white cotton shirt and jeans, with her hair pulled up like J.J. wore hers, she appeared fresh-faced and much younger than he suspected her to be. Every time he saw her, she was different and she just seemed to keep getting better. The kid was every bit her mother. Mrs. Hart had to be at least twenty-five years his senior, but why was he feeling the same twinge of arousal he felt when viewing a beautiful woman his own age? An eternal babe was what she was, he thought to himself as she smiled her dazzling smile and extended her hand to him. She would probably still be sexy at ninety, and Mr. Hart would still be just as crazy about her.
“Good morning, Mrs. Hart. It’s so good to see you again.”
“Thank you, Russell. I just wanted to let you know that I’m having the pool house set up for you and your group tonight. You can house all your equipment and your personal things there. I’m having it stocked with refreshments, drinks…” She threw up her hands as if she couldn’t remember what she wanted to say. “Forgive me, I’m on overload.” She sighed. “I’m sorry, but whatever you find you need, if it isn’t there, you’ll let me know, won’t you?”
“I’m sure we’ll be fine, Mrs. Hart.” He answered. “I just really wanted to make sure that the surveillance cameras are where Mr. H. wants them.”
“Unfortunately Jonathan got called away on business the first thing this morning, which is highly unusual for a Saturday, but I did see him come out here before he left. He seemed to be looking things over. He didn’t say anything to me before he left about any changes needing to be made with what your guys have already done.”
He hadn’t said anything to her about what was going on at the office either, but she could tell that it was troubling to him. In all their years together she could probably easily name the times that he left home on a Saturday specifically on business. That was especially true of his life since they had J.J. His Saturday mornings and afternoons were usually reserved for her.
Russell watched her face as she spoke. He had never noticed the freckles before. J.J. was just like her. The cute freckles had been one of the first things he’d noticed about J.J. that day that he took her pictures at school. For both of them, they were a charming touch. He also noticed her concern at the mention of her husband working on a Saturday.
“Well, Mrs. Hart, you have my cell and my pager numbers. If he does need anything done or changed before tonight, just let me know and I’ll get them taken care of in time for the party.”
“Thanks Russell. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to push on. J.J. left with her godfather to pick up my friend from the airport and they have yet to get back. I cannot imagine where else they could have gone, but it doesn’t take this long to go to the airport and get back. That leaves everything on me for the moment. If you find that you need me before you leave, just stop up at the house.
“I will, Mrs. Hart, but I think everything is pretty much set.”
As she walked away, he watched her . He was aware that J.J.’s parents had her relatively late in their lives. If she was sixteen, her mother had to be over fifty, but those jeans hugging those hips didn’t say that. Jonathan Hart was a fortunate man indeed. A loving, beautiful, gracious wife, all of this, and that cute little J.J. for a daughter. The guy had it made.
It seemed as if she had been racing around all day. From the time that her feet first touched the floor that morning, J.J. had been involved in making ready for the party. Now it was coming up to post time.
She had gotten her shower, lotioned her skin, powdered, perfumed, and had the ponytail brushed and fluffed to perfection. The fit of the new body suit was excellent as she checked it in the mirror. It was a plain powder blue Lycra tank that hugged her slender, curvy frame. The built-in bra snugly held and lifted that full bosom, of which she was so proud, just tastefully enough at the low neckline, she hoped, to get past her mother’s scrutiny. This was not the one that she had originally shown her mother at the boutique. The other one had a higher neckline and showed less of her back and was not so high-cut at the bottom. Checking it out from behind, it stopped short of being cut like a thong. At the last minute, Marnie had created the necessary diversion with the selection of a pretty, ultra sexy black teddy. As her mother turned to look at it and subsequently order Marnie to put it back, she had been able to make the switch at the counter as she paid for it.
On the bed was the box her Aunt Pat had brought to her from New York. Lifting off the top, and pulling back the tissue, she extracted its contents. She stood in front of the mirror to pull on the custom-tailored, butter-soft powder blue leather pants. They fit every inch of her exactly, from the low slung waist, across her shapely hips, and down each curve of her long legs all the way to her slender ankles. Sewn dramatically into the side seams of each outside pant leg were long suede fringes.
She zipped the pants, and strung a silver chain link belt about her hips on top of them. Assessing the finished product in the mirror, she turned to see herself from all possible angles in the three-way mirror. Then she spun and twisted to watch how the fringes moved with her. Finally, she stopped, put her hands on her hips and winked at her own reflection in ultimate satisfaction.
“Yeah.” She nodded, whispering to herself. “That’s the ticket.”
She was just about ready.
Going to the dresser to retrieve it, she bent to slip a silver with inlaid coral and turquoise ring on one of her bare, meticulously manicured toes which had been polished a sparkly, iridescent blue. Standing upright again, she wiggled them and smiled. She felt good. She felt pretty. She felt sweet sixteen.
Her door eased open. It was Pat.
“They fit?” She asked.
J.J. turned. “Yep! Come look!”
When Pat came in, she could see that indeed they were fitting every inch of her goddaughter’s lower body. J.J. had sent her exact measurements and those pants were exact.
“Jeez, J.” Pat exclaimed, turning her by the shoulders to see her from all perspectives. “You are stacked to be a little girl. Hold on, where’s the panty lines I should be seeing as tight as these jokers are?”
J.J. looked sheepishly at her and almost imperceptibly shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “Why ask?”
Pat rolled her eyes wondering why indeed she had asked.
“Where did you get the idea for the fringe?”
“When we went to Janet Jackson’s concert.” J.J. answered, taking her hand and pulling her to an autographed framed picture on her wall. She pointed to it as she continued. “See, she had some. My friend Philly’s dad owns a sound studio and he did some of the sound work for her concert when she appeared here. He got us all backstage passes and we got to meet her. Hers were white suede, and they were so fine, I just had to have some. Hers are fancier though. She had them on then and I fell in love with them. I just didn’t want the fringes across the butt like hers had and I didn’t want the sparkly stuff either. Just the fringes.” She twisted to show Pat how they moved. “Isn’t that slick?”
Pat had to smile watching her. “I’m glad that you opted out of the bustier. You could have worn that even better than she is in that picture, and yours are real.”
J.J. smiled at that.
Suddenly J.J. looked a little concerned. “Think my mother is going to be mad, Aunt Pat? The pants are awfully tight. Is this top too low cut?”
“Why do you want to worry about it now, J.?” Pat asked casually as she slid her hand into her pants pocket. “It’s a little late for that. But to answer you, no, I don’t think so. You look cute to me. But,”
She handed J.J. the photograph that she pulled out of her pocket. “If Jennifer does start acting up, just show this to her.”
J.J.’s eyes grew wide and her jaw dropped. “Whoa! Is this my mother!?”
The girl in the picture had her back to the camera, her hands were on her hips, and her long legs were spread apart as she stood looking seductively back over her shoulder at the camera from under a cowboy hat. She wore a short buckskin jacket with long fringes across the back and down the sleeves. The very tight buckskin bell bottomed pants laced up the back. There were suede fringes on the side seams of her pants as well. Her hair was pulled up into a short, thick, sassy ponytail.
Pat watched J.J. with the picture. “You probably won’t need to use it.” She said. “But just in case, you’ll have it for ammunition.”
J.J. continued to stare at it, stunned that her elegant, classy mother had ever dressed like this at any age. Now, even when her mother went out riding, her gear was top of the line and tastefully refined.
“What kind of top was she wearing under that jacket, Aunt Pat?”
“Her black bra. The jacket had two buttons that fastened in the front and that was all she wore under it. Even I was scandalized that day.”
“Oh, but I’m the one who’s incorrigible.” J.J. nodded, truly taken aback. “Look at the laces on the butt part of her pants. Wish I had thought of that with these. Those are so cool. How old was she in this picture?”
“Sixteen. That’s why I gave it to you. We were in Kentucky for a horse show with my dad. The guy was supposed to be photographing the horses. Instead, well, you see what he was looking at.”
“Did Pa know about this outfit she had on? I thought he made her wear ugly stuff all the time.”
“Are you kidding, J? Of course he didn’t know. She bought that herself. And as far your mother wearing the plain stuff he sent, no way. She would take the clothes your grandfather sent her and have this guy we knew who was studying fashion design to rework it all for her. He would shorten, nip, tuck, hem, change the buttons, whatever she wanted done. That’s how he got his start in the industry. He did those pants you’re wearing tonight. Fontaine was tickled about doing a job for the second generation.”
“You’re talking about ‘Fontaine’s on Fifth’ in New York!?” J.J. exclaimed in surprise. “I’ve met him. He still does some of my mother’s things now.”
“He’s the one. Your mother gave him his business start when we he got out of design school, but it all really began for him when he was redoing her clothes while we were in high school in Boston. We went to a fashion show and she saw some of his work that he had entered into the competition; she liked clothes even way back then. She met him and asked him about doing some things for her. We would slip away from school and go up to his place in the city to drop everything off. Then we’d sneak back the next weekend, and he would have miracles worked by the time we got there. Wouldn’t charge your mother a dime. Said that she was his best advertising, and she really was. People were always complimenting her on her taste and asking her who her seamstress was. Little did they know that it was a guy, well, sort of. Your Pa was none the wiser. Jennifer’s helped a lot of people get started that way.”
J.J. beamed at the picture and the story. The revelations about her mother had been incredible. So, Jennifer Justine Edwards had been a little sneak too in her day. Justine Jennifer Hart loved it. She also liked hearing about her mother’s philanthropy and generosity.
Pat checked her over one last time. “Have a good time tonight, Squirt.” she advised her. “Try to behave like a lady, but if you find that’s too difficult, try not to get caught being you. Okay?”
She hugged J.J. to her. “You’d better get across the hall. Your mother is waiting to do your makeup, and some of your guests have already started to arrive.”
J.J. returned the hug. “Thanks for seeing to the pants, Aunt Pat, and for everything else you’ve done for me to get ready for tonight.”
Briefly feeling for a spot to keep the picture on her while she went in to her mother, she had to give it up. There were no pockets in the pants and everything else was fitted to the nines. J.J. finally ended up sliding it under one of her pillows.
“I don’t have anywhere to keep it on me right now, but trust me, I’ll come in here and get it in a heartbeat if she starts up with me.” She looked up at Pat and smiled. “I am ready to rumble tonight!”
They turned off the light and left the bedroom.
Jennifer left the two outfits laid out in Jonathan’s dressing room. They would come up and get into them later on.
She and Jonathan hadn’t had a moment together since they got out of the bed. There hadn’t been much time spent with Pat either.
Jonathan had been gone most of the morning and afternoon. His day started early that morning with that call from Marcus which appeared to have turned out to be another exercise in frustration for him. He didn’t share the details with her, but she could tell by his creased brow that things hadn’t gone well.
Once Bill got back from picking Pat up from the airport, he needed Jonathan to help him with something related to his plane out at the airport. Pat had been on conference calls for a good part of the afternoon. The caterers, the security from Hart and Bel Air, and the constantly ringing telephone had her attention for most of the day. J.J. had been some help, but she had gone into her room over an hour ago to get ready.
Now Jonathan and Bill were closed up in the dining room helping to set up the monitors for the surveillance cameras. Pat was most likely across the hall giving J.J. final instructions on how to pull things off this evening without getting caught. J.J. was her heart and mischief was their specialty, which easily explained why ‘Aunt’ Pat was one of J.J.’s favorite people on earth. Between Pat and Jonathan, it was a wonder that J.J. had not become an insufferable brat or was not currently doing hard time in Juvenile Hall for racketeering.
She could hear Andre, the sound man that J.J. used for her parties and school dances getting tuned up out back. The vibrations from his adjustments on the speakers and amplifiers could be felt as well. The sounds eminating from them were clearer and louder than ever. Evidently J.J. Hart had been to work on the outside house speakers.
As she looked out of the window, she could see that cars were beginning to pull in. Soon the whole front drive would be lined with cars and motorcycles. The thought of motorcycles brought Tommy to mind, and with Tommy came the image of Wesley. She knew that both of them, two very different boys from very different backgrounds, had feelings for J.J.
She smiled to herself at the thought that her daughter remained so oblivious to it all. Now sixteen, J.J. had never had a crush on anyone as far as she knew, but the girl was certainly stirring up things between those two, as she did with most boys she met. She was a favorite at the Country Club, but she didn’t give anyone there a second glance either. J.J. simply could not comprehend the effect that she had on the opposite sex, and sometimes as her mother, that worried her.
Now she was waiting for J.J. to come to her for finishing touches and a final inspection. This year, Miss Justine adamantly insisted upon choosing her own outfit for the party without her assistance. Although they thought they were pulling a fast one at the boutique the other day, it had not escaped her attention when Marnie ran interference for J.J. who switched off the body suit that she had shown her for another, more skimpy one, just as she was going up to pay for it. She went ahead and let those two think that they had gotten away with it. Why not? They were sixteen and thought they knew everything. But what they did not know was that she and Pat had cornered the market on slipping around as a teenagers themselves forty years ago. They had co-written and published the reference book that J.J. and Marnie were just discovering.
What was this little imp going to be wearing when she sashayed in there? It was an absolute certainty that it was going to be something totally unexpected. Although, they did not share the same taste in clothes, J.J. was definitely beginning to develop her own unique style: laid back, tailored, original, and occasionally outside the box.
When the knock came to the door Jennifer involuntarily held her breath.
“It’s me, Mom.”
Jennifer took a seat at her desk and crossed her legs. Bracing herself, she took a deep breath and called out, “Come on.”
The door opened and in stepped J.J. Hart, as avant-garde as she had predicted, only with fringe all the way down those long legs.
J.J. stopped and stood just inside the door and watched nervously as she was surveyed and assessed from the top of her head down to her twinkling bare toes and back again.
“Come here.” Jennifer finally said to her after a few quiet moments. “I see you went for the Bohemian look tonight.”
J.J. walked over to her. She had to suppress a knowing smile as her mother immediately turned her around to check the seat of her pants.
“No, Mom, mine don’t lace up.” She thought to herself. “Only yours did.”
“Could Fontaine have gotten these any tighter?” Her mother asked, checking out the seat and actually secretly admiring the exact fit.
J.J. was surprised at the mention of the designer. “How did you know?”
She realized that her mother was smart, perceptive, and was into clothes and designers, but did the lady know everything?
“These have New York written all over them. Nobody but Fontaine could have done these up,” She answered. “And nobody but your Aunt Pat would indulge you like this. She paid a fortune for these, I know.”
J.J. felt her mother’s finger go underneath the shoulder strap of the body suit to snap the elasticity of it against her skin. “And I don’t know why you try me,” She said. “But this is not the body suit that you showed me at the store. You and Marnie think you’re so clever. I saw you make the switch.” She tightly pinched J.J.’s bottom through the soft leather of the pants. “Is this a thong?”
Turning back around to face her, J.J. looked into her mother’s eyes. They were still brown, so she couldn’t be too upset about it.
“I never can fool you. I don’t know why I try any more either. No, it’s not a real thong. It’s just cut high and no I don’t have on any…, well,… Are you mad about it?”
“No, I guess not. Not really. But I do wish that you would have trusted me enough to ask me.”
“But if I had asked you, you might have said that I couldn’t have it. It was too much of a long shot to take that kind of risk.”
Jennifer eyed her from the chair. Her daughter, the bookmaker.
She reached up and pulled up on the neckline of the body suit. The girl had some rack to be only sixteen- to have just turned sixteen.
“What if after I saw it, I made you go in there and change out of it? Then what were you going to do? Did you have a Plan B?”
Totally thrown for a loop, with no backup plan in place, J.J. earnestly implored, “But you aren’t going to do that, are you? Please say that you aren’t!” She was whining and clutching her mother’s hand at this point. “It looks sooooo good with these pants. You know that it does, Mom!”
Jennifer reluctantly smiled, watching her daughter’s anxious, pleading little face. “I just should, to teach you a lesson about trying to get past me. You are so irredeemable, Justine Hart, but the outfit’s not so bad, I guess, since you’re going to be entertaining at home.”
J.J. relaxed and the thought quickly crossed her mind, “Like you were never like me, Mother. The incorrigibility is genetic and you know it.”
Jennifer got up from her chair and gently pushed J.J. in front of her moving her toward the dressing room.
“Let’s get you finished up for your grand entrance.” She said.
As J.J. walked in front of her, she watched her from behind. With that long, thick hair, that tiny waist, those pants hugging her slim hips, the fringes dancing merrily with each barefoot step she took; the child was treacherous. She was sexy without even consciously trying to be.
It was for certain that Jonathan Hart was going to be on a monitor all night with his pretty teenaged daughter prancing around outside barefoot and dressed in this getup.
Jonathan adjusted the focus on the monitor that was trained on the left front driveway. As he did, he caught sight of Wesley Singleton getting out of his mother’s Cadillac with several other boys. Although he recognized several of the others, it was Wesley upon whom he fixed his attention.
Wesley was getting to be a handsome, blonde boy. If he wanted to live to be a handsome blonde man, he had better watch himself around J.J. As far as her father was concerned, she was still too young and inexperienced for him to be so interested in her,
“Say Valentine, isn’t that Singleton’s boy there?” Bill had been standing and looking over his shoulder, watching him and the Hart security team work.
Several men were at different monitors that had been placed in the room for the night. They all had two-way radios and would be keeping in touch all night as they monitored the guests and the activities on the estate. Instructions had been given to keep the doors to this room closed to keep J.J. from knowing that her father had his eyes on what was happening outside even if he wasn’t allowed out there.
“Yeah, that’s him.” Jonathan answered without taking his eyes off the screen. “Came all the way from school in Massachusetts just to be at J.J.’s party. He’s had a crush on her since he was fifteen and she had just turned thirteen. He’s eighteen going on nineteen now, and he’s still hanging around.”
“She’s a very lovely girl, Jonathan.” Bill said, watching the screen too. “And she’s growing up. J.J.’s developing the same drawing power as her mother. The guys are bound to be attracted to her.”
“Attracted is one thing. Keeping their lives is another.” Jonathan used the remote to make the camera follow Wesley as he moved within its range in the front yard. “I think he has it bad for her.”
“Does J.J. like him?”
“According to Jennifer and from what I can see, she’s not really into guys on that level yet. I hope she stays that way for a while.”
Jonathan turned in his chair to look up at Bill. “You know,” he said. “You have a baby, a little girl, and you’re so happy you don’t think so much about this kind of thing until it starts to happen. I’m having a real hard time because both Jennifer and J.J. are especially sensitive about what they see as double standards being applied to girls. But I can’t help how I feel, Bill. That’s my daughter, and I know how teenage boys are. Things just aren’t the same for girls as they are for boys. That’s all there is to it.”
Bill placed his hand on Jonathan’s shoulder. He didn’t have daughters, and judging from the pained look on his friend’s face, it was probably the best thing that could have happened for him.
“You can only be true to yourself, buddy.” He said. “If that’s how you feel, then that’s how you feel. You’re entitled. You know that you and Jennifer aren’t always going to see eye-to-eye on that. You’re coming at it from two totally different perspectives. But you’ve both done a swell job with that kid so far. Don’t worry about it. J.J. makes her own calls on everything else. She will when it comes to boys too.”
Jonathan turned back around in the chair and went back to work on the monitor. “I guess you’re right. She does have her own mind.”
He patted the spot under his left shoulder. “But in the meantime, I’m keeping my little friend here on hand for backup.”
Russell Thomas pulled up to the gates of Willow Pond to be met by Hart security who recognized him and waved him in. Just inside the gate, one of the men flagged him down. He pulled over, and the man stuck his head in the passenger window.
“Mr. Hart wants you to stop up at the house.” He said. “You’re going to park your car over at the pool house so that it will be more convenient for you. I’ll ride up with you and see to the car getting parked after I drop you off at the main house. Some of your team is already up at the pool house.”
The man climbed in. He left Russell and his camera at the front door where he was admitted by the housekeeper, Marie.
The house was brightly lit and abuzz with activity, in stark contrast to the casual serenity he normally found when he had occasion to visit. The great room held several adults who were seated on the couches before the fireplace and at the bar, talking and having drinks. There was a card game in progress at a table off to the side. Soft music played in the background. It was a picture perfect setting for a nice evening.
Marie was just about to escort him to a set of double-doors just off the main staircase, when voices at the top of the stairs drew his attention. Descending from above was J.J. followed by her mother and another woman.
The girl was resplendent, dressed in powder blue, which was a stunning compliment to her dark red hair and peachy skin. The soft color if her outfit somehow seemed to reinforce her youth and innocence. Instinctively, he stopped in his tracks and snapped her picture just as she reached the landing above, which turned the staircase at that point to face her toward him and the lens. She was barefoot with a shiny silver toe ring on one of her glittering polished toes, and she was wearing the funkiest pair of fringed leather pants that he had ever seen.
It all said, “I am the one and only J.J. Hart.”
Upon being caught unaware by the flash, she looked down to the foot of the stairs at him with eyes even bluer than he remembered and gave him the same dazzling smile as her mother’s; only hers carried that subtle hint of youthful mischief that distinguished the two.
“Russell!” She exclaimed as she ran the rest of the way down to him. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you. I always seem to miss you when you come here!”
She hugged him quickly about the neck and gave him a peck on the cheek before releasing him. “I missed you!”
As always, it seemed, she caught him off guard. This time, way off guard. She smelled so good, she looked older, and she was stunning.
Her mother and the other woman had reached the bottom of the stairs as well at this point. J.J. reached back and pulled them to her.
“Russell,” She said excitedly. “Take my picture with my mother and my godmother. This is Patricia Hamilton- my Aunt Pat. Aunt Pat this is Russell Thomas, you know, I told you about him.”
To greet the woman to whom he was being introduced, Russell had to tell himself to tear his gaze from J.J. He could not believe his eyes and his powerful rush of emotions. She was no longer that cute little girl he remembered her to be or truly needed her to be. It suddenly came to him that he still hadn’t said one word.
“Nice to meet you.” He managed to utter without stammering as he met Ms. Hamilton’s eyes which were watching him intently. He took her outstretched hand. “As J.J. said, I’m Russell Thomas. I’m her photographer for the evening.”
“So I gathered.” Pat answered with a bemused smile. “Take some nice ones for my godchild to remember her special evening by.”
He greeted J.J.’s mother for the second time that day and then took a few shots of the three of them on the stairs. At that point, he realized that Marie was still standing nearby waiting to take him into the other room. “I’d better go and see Mr. Hart.” He said and allowed Marie to take him inside.
“Why is Daddy in there?” J.J. asked starting to crane her neck to try to see inside the door that Russell was going through. The dining room was rarely used for anything other than very formal dinners. “Why does he want to see Russell in there?”
Jennifer quickly took her arm and led her toward the great room. “Come and say hello to the people in here who came to see you before you go outside to your guests.”
Pat followed them slowly with her hands clasped behind her back. She was watching J.J. and contemplating Russell’s strong reaction to her just then. By the nature of their work as journalists, she and Jennifer spent most of their lives in observation mode. Jennifer, however, tended to internalize rather than speak on the things she might have seen. Pat could only wonder if what she knew she had seen within those few moments at the foot of the stairs had registered with her friend.
Tommy roared up to Willow Pond on the Harley and showed his invitation although the Bel Air Security officers on the gate recognized him on sight and waved him in. After all of his years of coming here to visit, first on his bicycle, and more recently on the motorcycle, Tommy Steele was almost as familiar in these parts to Bel Air Security as J.J. Hart. He knew many of the officers on patrol by name, and they knew and liked him.
As he crossed the bridge over the pond in front of the main house, he could see the growing line of cars and bikes lining the driveway. The collection of vehicles was representative of J.J.’s vast eclectic mix of friends and acquaintances. There were Mercedes, Porsches, Volvos, and BMW’s; as well as an assortment of domestic cars parked as well as pulling up and dropping kids off. Mixed in with those were a few nondescript jalopies. There were some motorcycles from a huge top of the line Harley down to a couple of small Honda scooters. Behind the house, artificial light illuminated the sky and music could be heard playing .
He assumed that J.J. must not have made her appearance as yet. One it was too early. She never came down until an hour or more after her parties were scheduled to start and two, if she was anywhere outside she would have the music thumping loud enough to be heard down at the gates. She was the sound wizard and knew just what to do to achieve the maximum effect. The Harts’ immediate neighbors, even though they were at least a three quarters of a mile away in any direction, conveniently arranged to be away on the night of J.J.’s party each year.
He was waved into an open space up near the house by man whom he recognized as being from Hart private security. Leaned against a silver Cadillac parked nearby, talking to some other guys was Wesley Singleton. Tommy pulled in to park. When he removed his helmet, the security man heartily clapped him on the back and greeted him.
“What’s going on, Tommy? Long time no see.”
Tommy reached out to shake his hand. The man was Mr. Hart’s chief of security. Tommy had gotten to know him from his time spent with Mr. Hart while working in his office, and from a time that he and J.J. had some trouble at school that required Hart security’s assistance.
“I’m doing okay, Mr. Lamb.” He answered. “It has been a while.”
“Still wrestling? Staying out of trouble?”
“I’m trying to on both counts.” Tommy smiled as he shook out his thick, long black hair and then unfastened a long white box from the bike.
“See you came ready to make the lady happy.” Mr. Lamb said, nodding to the box with the large red ribbon. “That ought to do it. She likes the little touches. Miss Hart has most everything else.”
“Yeah, I know. She’s sort of hard to buy for, but then again, not really, if you know her.” Tommy stood upright. “I look alright? I hate to get dressed up too much.”
Mr. Lamb took stock of the big, handsome boy before him simply dressed in all black with a heavy silver chain about his neck. Tommy was a good, solid kid. J.J. Hart could do far worse even if he didn’t have their money.
“You look just fine, son.” He said. “I think Miss Hart would be happy to see you even if you showed up wrapped in a Navajo blanket.”
The man’s words made him feel good. Only lately had the idea of the Harts’ wealth become a bit uncomfortable for him. Tommy looked up in time to see that Wesley was watching him, and that he quickly looked away when their eyes briefly met. It wasn’t going to be easy tonight. He could already tell. He would try to keep as far away from this character as possible.
Marcus Borland was sweating bullets. Jonathan was going to kill him or fire him, or the stress of all of this was going to take him out before Jonathan could do either one. Jonathan hadn’t said too much through all of this negotiating, but that was his way. He tended to take an observational position, allowing him to do most of the talking, only stepping in if necessary. It took an awful lot to make him lose it, but that was just the trouble. It wasn’t ever a sure thing as to what was going to push him over or when it was going to happen. It didn’t happen often, but the thought of it happening was terrifying in itself. One thing was for sure; the man did not like it at all when business interfered with his time with his family.
He thought sure that it would happen this morning when Jonathan got all the way to the office only to find that the other party wasn’t going to make it. He sounded as if he was still asleep when J.J. got him to the phone this morning. It was early when he called, and the man had probably still been in bed with his wife. Having to get up from a warm bed with Jennifer in it, and later finding out that it had been for nothing would make any otherwise rational man want to do somebody in.
But a promise was a promise, and Marcus Borland was a man of his word. That was one of the main reasons that he had been the front man in conducting his boss’s business for so long.
Reluctantly picking up the phone, he placed the call to Jonathan Hart.
He sure hoped that this thing worked out in the end. If it didn’t, he’d be out with his resume in hand pounding the pavement on Monday morning.
“Jonathan, Bill.” Pat stuck her head into the dining room. “Jennifer says for you two to come on. J.J.’s about to go outside.”
The two men followed her out into the foyer where they could see J.J. standing near the baby grand with her mother. Some of the other adults in the great room stood with them, however the poker game continued at the table behind them. Jonathan noticed that J.J. had positioned herself to be able to see over Hershel Gray’s shoulder, and she was casting fleeting glances into his hand as she continued to hold conversation with those around her. Always the little card shark, he knew that she was most likely working out in her head what she would be doing with those cards if she were in his place.
When somebody moved and he could clearly see what she was wearing, Jonathan took a stutter step. He had never seen those pants before and could that top be any lower or tighter on her? Reaching out for Pat who was a few steps ahead of him, he caught her by the arm and drew her back to him.
“You do that?” He asked, gesturing with his head toward J.J.
“No.” She answered, whispering conspiratorially, her face near his ear. “You and Jennifer did. Don’t you remember? J.J. was probably one of your best acorns. One day she’s going to figure out why I call her Squirt.”
He looked down at her with a raised eyebrow. She forced back a smile at his exasperated expression.
“Don’t be cute. You know I’m talking about those pants. I know Jennifer didn’t do that.”
“Of course I did it. What’s a godmother for if not to drop in, ruin the hell out of the kid, and then go back home?”
“I know that you’ve already been in to her and given her a refresher course in corruption.” He whispered. “Where’s her shoes?”
“Shoes would ruin the overall effect. Don’t you have any fashion sense, Jonathan, or do you look so put together most of the time because Jennifer lays your clothes out for you at night?”
While they were talking, Bill had gone under the stairs to the cubby. He pulled out a large box and then came to join the family circle.
J.J. turned to her father when he finally came into the room with Pat.
“Well Daddy, what do you think?” She asked as she rotated slowly on one heel for him to see her outfit. He made note that tonight she was wearing a trace of makeup.
“I think,” He answered. “that I’m awfully glad that your party is here at home. I wouldn’t want you too far out of my eyesight in that.”
“Oh, Daddy.” She laughed with everyone else. She came over to give him a kiss.
Those pants and that top fit entirely too well in his estimation. Even he didn’t know she had all of that. It was scary, but he dared not say anything about it. If Jennifer had approved it thus far, it must be alright. She would have shut it down before it even made it down the stairs if it hadn’t passed muster with her. She had excellent judgment which he trusted in most of the time when it came to their daughter.
“You have a good time tonight.” He said to her after he returned her kiss. “But not too good.”
God, where did the time go? It seemed just yesterday that she was a little warm, sweet-smelling ball asleep on his chest while he lay resting on the couch.
Bill handed her the box that he had carried into the room. “Here’s a little something to finish that outfit off.” He told her. “Happy birthday, Beautiful.”
She handed the box to her mother to hold for her while she opened it. Inside was a powder blue cowboy hat with an silver and turquoise studded hatband to match her accessories.
“Yesssss!” She squealed with delight, instantly recalling her mother’s picture upstairs under her pillow. “This is perfect! Thank you! It’s éjàI, isn-!”
She caught herself as Pat’s eyes met hers and immediately calmed down. Perching it securely over her ponytail, it was indeed the perfect finishing touch.
“But how did you know the right color and everything, Uncle Bill?” She narrowed her eyes and looked at both her godparents who happened to standing very close to each other. “This isn’t looking real right to me, but that’ll have wait until later when I have more time to deal with it. You two have some explaining to do. Daddy, may I see your cell for a second?”
Jonathan unclipped his phone from his belt.
“Who could you possibly be calling now?” He asked as he handed it off to her. “Everybody you know anywhere is here.”
She gave him the look, and quickly punched in a number. “This is it.” Was all she said into it before ending the signal and handing it back to him. “Thanks.”
A couple of seconds later the house was rocked by the opening chords of “Escapade” by her favorite vocal artist, Janet Jackson.
“My theme music for the night.” She explained simply as she gyrated to the side door. “Good night all! I am out!”
With that she bounced, to the driving beat, through the door to enter the yard and her night of nights.
The four of them went to the window seat to watch as J.J., her arms raised above her rocking head, those fringes swinging with each gyration of her rolling hips, was greeted by her many guests. Andre’s voice boomed over the mike, “All hail the birthday girl!” and a cheer of “What’s Up, J!” was sent out to her from the crowd.
She danced out into the sea of young people in the backyard who were all moving, forming a line in rhythm to the music, making J.J. take her place at the head of the line. They snaked around the pool in front of the stage where Andre was working the sound booth. Camera flashes came from all sides of her. Some even came from above where one photographer was on scaffolding above the stage and another was in one of the trees taking pictures. Apparently Russell had it covered from top to bottom.
Laughing, Jonathan and Jennifer reached for and found each other’s hands. They laced fingers and held tight. Their child was Sweet Sixteen and out there having the time of her life; the young life good fortune had allowed them to share with her.
The phone began to ring.