The Reunion: Part One

A three day reunion at Jennifer’s alma mater, Gresham Hall reinforces old friendships, ushers in new relationships, alters perceptions, and shapes perspectives.

Friday

“It’s just a weekend. What can happen in one weekend?”

That was Jennifer Hart’s first waking thought that early Friday morning.

The second was of the owner of those sparkling blue eyes whom she found gazing lazily down upon her when she finally opened her own. He was propped on one elbow and smiling that infectious smile of his, a shock of  thick, silver streaked chestnut hair falling boyishly across his brow. As far as she was concerned, that was the best sight to which she could wake on any morning. When she reached for him, he came to her, covering her body with his own.

“Good morning, my darling.” He greeted her. “May I?”

“Again?” She laughed. “Jonathan, I cannot believe you!”

The previous evening had been spent doing what he appeared to be desirous of starting up once more. The years had gone by, and they might have gotten older, but that hadn’t stopped or slowed a thing in that department for him, and there would certainly be no complaints coming from her about his skills or his appetite for making love. It was as good, if not better, than it had been at the start, and she still adored everything about him and what he could make her feel.

“Again,” He whispered into her ear. “and again, and again, and again.  I love you, and I’m going to miss you so much while you’re gone this weekend. I never get enough of you.”

As those luscious lips headed for hers, she allowed him full access to that for which he had so nicely asked. An entire weekend without his touch. It wasn’t something she was looking forward to, but she had promised Pat.

As their connection was made, “I hope you never do.” Was her last coherent whisper for a time.

______________________________________________________________

A while later, waking with her head resting on his chest, Jennifer could see by the clock on the night table on his side of the bed that it was time for them to get up. But his arms were wrapped securely around her as he lie sleeping peacefully on his back. She was reluctant to leave that warm, secure embrace, and she had to force herself to get up.

“Jonathan,” She finally called softly, hating to wake him. “It’s time. The girls will already be up, and I need to make sure that they have everything together.”

He moaned his displeasure at having to release her, but he did, and she slid across the satin sheets to grab her robe and get up.

“I’m not so sure that I’m ready for this.” She remarked as she went around the bed to go to the bathroom. He was getting up himself.

“Why?” He asked. “You’re not still dwelling on that thing with that Beebe guy, are you? That wasn’t your fault, Jennifer. He drugged me and tried to attack you. When I came to your defense, he fell over the embankment when he swung on me. You know all that.”

“I know, Jonathan. That’s not what I’m talking about at all.”

“Then why wouldn’t you be looking forward to seeing your friends and your colleagues after all this time? Evidently they want to see you. You haven’t gone to one of your reunions since that last time, and that was before J.J. was born. I think this mother-daughter weekend idea is great. I really enjoyed the weekend my college fraternity sponsored last spring during the kids’ break. J.J. and I had a ball.”

Jennifer stopped in her tracks just as she got around to his side, and gave him the eye.

“Jonathan, I guess you did. Your fraternity function was held in Las Vegas and it was supposed to be a father and son weekend. But, characteristically, you did what you wanted to do, and you took your daughter. You put her up in a penthouse suite at the top of the Bellagio, and I know you spoiled her rotten the entire time. It did not and it has not escaped my attention that as much as J.J. tells me about her adventures, she never gave me as much as a smidgen of a detail about that particular weekend except to purr drowsily, as I was talking to her after you brought her home, that her Daddy was the greatest right before she fell asleep. Then she proceeded to continue to sleep for almost twenty-four hours straight. And I seem to recall that you didn’t find that the least bit strange at all, her sleeping like that.”

He looked away, and she could see the wheels of guilty, but happy, recollection turning in his head, the resulting naughty twinkle in his eye, and the sly smile playing at his lips.

“Like I said,” He replied quietly. “We had a ball.”

At the same time, he and Jennifer both had the thought: “J.J. knows what not to tell.”

He was picturing their daughter as she brought that plane in for a silky smooth landing in Vegas and the elated expression she sported on her lightly freckled face the entire time that they had been there. In appearance, she was fast becoming a younger version of her mother: simply gorgeous, with his rambunctious, risk-taking, gambler’s heart. Consequently she had been right at home in Sin City. Whenever they went out, he made sure that she stayed right by his side at every moment, his presence keeping the sons of his frat brothers at arm’s length. That strategy also prevented her from slipping off from him and going to get dressed up to make herself look older so she could try her luck at one of the tables or to get away with sidling up to a slot machine.

Lord help both of them if she had managed to get to one of those things, and had gotten on a roll. It would have been real hard for him to be Daddy then, in that situation….

Jennifer would surely have been scandalized over some of the other things that they managed to get into that weekend, especially the poker party he allowed J.J. to throw in the suite that last night.

She had been the only girl there, and he had looked on with fatherly protectiveness and enormous pride as she fleeced everybody present, the men and as well as the boys. She cleaned out everybody except him. He hadn’t played against her. He knew better. J.J. was wicked with a deck of cards in her hands and a table full of patsies naively  underestimating her. Instead, he played it smart. He bankrolled her, and stayed the silent partner.

Later, after everyone was gone, and they were alone together, she reimbursed him his original investment. Then she insisted that they split her harvest from the game 40/60. She got the 60, of course. It was good business; she had done the work. Normally the split would have been 20/80, but she said that she cut him some slack because he was her Daddy.

They had never had so much fun together; he couldn’t wait until she was legal. When her time came, J.J. Hart was going to be a force with which to be reckoned on the Vegas strip. That girl certainly knew how to have a good time.

Looking back up to Jennifer who was still there looking down at him with those eyes, he reached out and took her by the hand to pull her onto his lap. Wrapping his arms around her once more, he hugged her close to him, where he liked having her.

“Listen, it’ll be fine. I want you to just relax and enjoy yourself. J.J. and Marnie are seasoned travelers, and they know full well what you expect of them.”

“An entire weekend with Incorrigible and Company.” Jennifer sighed heavily. “The last time I took the two of them out of town together with me was to that Writer’s Conference in New York last year. That time, you were able to come and rescue me, and Pat was left to suffer their antics. I’m not sure, but I think they got on her nerves so badly that she cut them loose to go off on their own for a time. I never could get any of them to tell me what went on with them while I was with you for those two days. This time, you won’t be there to get me out of it.”

“I told you I’d go, but you insisted that it just be you and J.J. It was for a week, the last time they were off with you. It’s just a weekend this time. And it’s a prep school function with women and girls. What can possibly happen in one weekend at a prep school?”

He was trying to sound reassuring, but they both knew that with J.J. and Marnie, that was anybody’s guess.

______________________________________________________________

“So, J., what’s this place like?” Marnie asked as she inspected her suitcase one last time before closing and locking it.

J.J. zipped her suit bag which was hanging on the closet door. “I don’t know. This is the first time she’s ever taken me to her prep school. She doesn’t usually go to the Gresham Hall reunions. Daddy told me she had some kind of bad experience at one a long time ago and she hasn’t attended a reunion since then.”

“What made her go this time?”

“This is the first time the Alumni Association is doing the mother-daughter thing. She said something about the Dean, but she was talking to Daddy, so I wasn’t paying a lot of attention. All of their graduating class is invited, and those who have daughters are supposed to bring them. She and Aunt Pat were both first seats in their graduating class, so they are the invited keynote speakers. They’re also among the most distinguished Gresham alumni. Since my mother has to be there, and I’m her daughter, I got roped in too. Since Aunt Pat doesn’t have kids, she’s adopting you for the weekend.”

“I know it’s really just to keep you company, but that’s okay by me.” Marnie grinned. “Your Aunt Pat is my girl. I had a blast at her place last summer. You remember?”

J.J. smiled back at her. “Yeah, I especially remember when she put us out for the day. Remember the doorman, Ivan? He was so cool. He covered for us and snuck us in when we were late getting back, making out to Aunt Pat like we had been down there in the front with him all that time.”

“It’s a wonder those old stiffs on the board in her building didn’t put her out after we left.” Marnie laughed.

“I wish we were going to New York this time instead of Massachusetts.” J.J. sighed wistfully. “I’m not really looking forward to this trip.”

“Why not? It should be fun to see where your mother and your aunt went to school, and what it was like.”

J.J. wrapped her headphones around her neck and stuck the CD player down in her carry-on bag. “I just don’t think I’m going to like this place.” She said. “It sounds like prolonged lockdown to me. I’m afraid I’m going to end up miserable. My mother even had her dorky uniform cleaned to wear. She says that they all have to wear them tomorrow. ”

“Those of them that can still fit into them, you mean.” Marnie replied. “I think it’s great that your mother and Pat still can. I bet a whole lot of those uniforms were keeping seamstresses busy all week letting them out. Keep an open mind, J. The place will be whatever we make it.”

Both girls exchanged knowing glances and nodded. When they were together, most situations did indeed become what they made of them. They gathered their bags and headed out of the bedroom.

______________________________________________________________

Patricia Hamilton had arrived at Logan International early. After securing a cup of coffee at Starbucks and a newspaper at the bookstore, she took a seat near the gate to read and reflect while waiting to hear an announcement of the flight for which she waited. Jennifer and the girls had flown commercial this time rather than having Jonathan fly them out or having his personal jet deliver them. Despite Jonathan’s protestations, Jennifer didn’t want him to do that for this trip.

For Pat, it was interesting to watch the way that Jennifer managed and maneuvered the details of her daughter’s life to ensure that J.J. remained grounded and unspoiled despite their enormous wealth and Jonathan’s generosity. He would do anything for either of them; Jennifer and J.J. being the only family he had. With J.J. his only known blood relation in the world, there didn’t seem to be any limits to what he would do for her. She was his link to posterity and he doted on the girl without hesitation or reservation. It was Jennifer who consistently provided the balance. She worked hard to keep J.J. focused and her priorities straight. So far, it seemed that she had been pretty successful. J.J. Hart was turning out to be an intelligent, well-rounded, well-adjusted young person, an interesting and complex individual all her own.

Pat was certain, though, all of that aside, that Jennifer had booked into first class on that domestic flight. The staying grounded aspect only went so far. Jennifer, despite what she was doing with J.J., remained herself champagne and caviar all the way. She had always been, even when she was a wild, tomboyish teenager, much like her daughter. That was one fundamental difference in the two of them. J.J. didn’t give a damn. She ate and drank whatever life presented to her.

And that Marnie. That was another individual, and a clever one, but the well-adjusted part was still questionable. Marnie tended to be a little too well-adjusted at times, often successfully working people and situations to suit her liking. Pat was nuts about her anyway. The kid was a spitfire and Pat felt that if she could have designed a child for herself, Marnie would have been the prototype, which had been her main reason for inviting her to Massachusetts for the reunion weekend. Watching J.J. and Marnie operate together brought back memories of her and Jennifer’s teenage years, only the two of them hadn’t functioned under the same caliber of watchful eyes that stayed focused on J.J. and Marnie. Those two could be nerve-wrecking, but they were so much fun. Jennifer was the only who could consistently reign them in.

At J.J.’s birthday party a couple of months back, Pat noticed that Jennifer had begun to monitor and check Marnie almost as closely as she did J.J. That was an unusual and interesting development. Jennifer had never shown much interest in children in general. As a teenager, she flatly refused baby-sitting jobs no matter what they paid. As a happily married woman, she had worried tremendously throughout her totally unexpected pregnancy about accepting her own baby who, as was expected, turned out to be her only child. As a doting, loving mother, she had never gotten too closely involved with any of J.J.’s multitude of assorted friends aside from Marnie. Marnie’s own mother was a wealthy social butterfly, quite young and quite wrapped up in her own life, which left her little time for her daughter. As a result, Marnie ended up spending a lot of her time with J.J. and her parents. Over the years it seemed that Marnie Benson had been making an impressive inroad on Jennifer Hart’s emotions. The thought made Pat smile to herself. That said a lot about that little girl, and it was turning out to be a good thing, for both of them.

Pat recalled how Jennifer hadn’t come to a reunion in nearly twenty years, not since the year that she and Jonathan attended together, and Jennifer had the unfortunate encounter with Ford Beebe. It seemed to Pat that in all her years of knowing her, some man or another was falling into unrequited love with Jennifer, with some of them trying to press themselves on her against her will, much like Ford had tried to do at that reunion. It wasn’t hard to understand, she had always been the total package, but Jennifer disliked the unwanted attention it drew to her. It was a good thing that Jonathan came along in her life when he did. By that time, the situation had really taken its toll on her. He and the magical relationship that developed between them had been her savior.

From what she was hearing from Los Angeles recently, the same things were beginning to happen to J.J., but Jennifer was right there for her. Maybe it wouldn’t be such so hard on J.J. as it had been on her mother. She was being adequately prepared to handle it, where her mother had faced it on her own. There would be no boarding schools for J.J. Hart, at least not until college. Jennifer had insisted from the beginning that her daughter would be raised by her parents, and even more specifically, by her, which was how it had been all of J.J.’s life.

Jennifer had only consented to come the reunion this year because of the mother-daughter theme. The fact that she had been invited to speak meant nothing to her in the beginning, and it had taken some mighty fast talking to get her to change her mind. Pat had waged a relentless coast-to-coast campaign, finally breaking Jennifer down just a week or so before the reunion weekend, using J.J. as the trump card: it would be a positive experience for her. Just thinking about all the talking she had to do to get Jennifer there made Pat sigh with exhaustion and relief over that cup of coffee. Her best friend could be awfully stubborn, but she had prevailed over that iron will, and had gotten Marnie as an extra added bonus.

Their flight arrived on time, the announcement was made, and the plane would soon be pulling into the gate. Pat quickly swallowed the last of the contents of her cup and tossed it, along with the half-read newspaper into the trash can. Then she took a position off to the side of the rail so as to be right there to greet her party when they deplaned.

______________________________________________________________

“Looks like the penitentiary.” Marnie remarked from the back seat as Pat pulled the car though the massive iron gates and into the long drive leading up to the imposing stone building of the Main Hall. The bronze plate on the front gate, and the ornate lettering carved into the solid stone of the building itself designated this place as Gresham Hall Preparatory School for Girls.

“Just like Juvenile Hall or something.” J.J. remarked, switching her CD player off and taking the headphones from her ears as she peered out of the window from the seat behind her mother. “Remember when our Business Law class took us to the Juvenile lockup to see it? It gave me the creeps the whole time we were there.”

Jennifer turned her head just enough to say, “It was probably a flashback to a previous life. Hush, the both of you. Start your cutting up, and it will be a prison for you two.”

J.J. looked over to Marnie, pointing as she mouthed, “Watch it! I’m not getting locked down over you!”

Marnie mouthed back, “You just keep your nose clean!”

Checking her face in the mirror on her compact, Jennifer could see them both silently gesturing back and forth.

“Little clowns.” She thought to herself.

As Pat drove, Jennifer viewed the grounds. Not a lot had changed. The same academic buildings were in the same places.  There were some newer buildings way off in the area of The Green. Up in front, it was still all wonderfully old, staid, and solid. The grounds were still meticulously maintained and breathtaking. And she still got that same  feeling in the pit of her stomach that being there always brought to her, even though it had been over forty years since she last attended school there, and twenty since she’d last stepped foot onto the campus.

That empty feeling reassured her that her decision to not send J.J. away to a private boarding school like this one, as Pa tried to get her to do when J.J. turned twelve and began going through her more difficult phase, had been a sound one. There was no way that she could do to J.J. what she felt had been done to her at the time, abandoned her to be raised by strangers. Considering the trials that J.J. had recently faced in her young life, and the degree to which she had could have been permanently affected by them, the superior facilities and the quality education offered at Gresham Hall could not have compensated for the love, the nurturing, and the guidance of her parents, especially her mother. At that moment, as those thoughts passed through her mind, Jennifer wanted to reach back behind her to take her daughter’s hand and hold it securely in her own.

J.J., in the meantime, was trying to picture her mother being driven up the same driveway to that imposing edifice. She tried to put herself in her mother’s place, and feel what that must have been like.

After that first time, Pa didn’t bring her himself for the start of school. Her mother had told her that he was usually traveling with his work, and that he would have his car and driver deliver her. J.J. watched the back of her mother’s head, and the side of her face that was visible to her as she turned to look out of the window. Trying to read her eye, she wondered what she was thinking, and what it must have been like for her to know that inside those buildings there wouldn’t be any one person waiting for her who really knew her and loved her, who wasn’t being paid to pay attention to her. At home in Los Angeles, when she went to school each day, she knew that she could count on either her mother, or sometimes her father, being at the curb to start her school day and to end it.

Thinking about that caused her to realize how she took that part of her life for granted, and how at times it even got on her nerves that they kept her so close. For security reasons, they had never allowed her to ride the bus with the other kids, or catch rides with her friends to and from school. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Not being able to see her father, and especially her mother on a regular basis would make her want to run away from a place like the one before her to get back home. College wasn’t too far off, and if things went as she planned, she would be there in Massachusetts again. She wondered how she would handle that when the time came. Maybe she would be more ready to make the break then. Most likely, that first year she would be accumulating some serious Frequent Flyer Miles, or Daddy would be   making quite a few cross country flights in Valentine.

“Isn’t there a boys school somewhere near here?” Marnie asked, eyeing with dismay all the females they were passing.

“Yep,” Pat answered with a smile before Jennifer could stop her. “Brookfield is right down that road we just came in on. Needless to say, that was one well-traveled road.”

Marnie’s face reflected her eager anticipation.

At the same time, both Jennifer and J.J. rolled their eyes.

______________________________________________________________

“With how many other girls?!” J.J. asked incredulously, stopping in the upstairs hall to pull Marnie back by the arm to her.

Marnie leaned into her to whisper back, “She said there are four girls.”

“In one bedroom!?”

The house mother had been ushering them to the quarters that supposedly had been where her mother and Aunt Pat had spent their high school years before they were split up at the beginning of the eleventh grade. They were  in Waverly House, one of the four huge Tudor style homes on The Quad where the upperclassmen of Gresham Hall were housed during the regular school year. The freshmen, sophomores, and the lower school girls lived in the dorms over on The Green which looked like modern apartment buildings. At the time that Jennifer and Pat went to school there, only the most affluent students resided in the four houses. Everyone else lived in the row house dorms which had since been torn down and replaced by the current, more contemporary structures.

J.J. had been thrown for a loop when her mother informed her in the car that she and Marnie would be remaining on campus while she and Pat would be taking a room in town at the Gresham Inn. All the girls attending the reunion with their mothers were to be housed there in the four houses. Waverly House would hold the youngest of the daughters that weekend. Anticipating regimentation, and unaccustomed to living so closely with people she didn’t know, J.J. had been inwardly livid at that turn of events. But she knew that she couldn’t let on about how she felt, and holding it in made things worse. Acting ill-mannered in front of her mother’s old friends, to whom she’d just been introduced, and embarrassing her as a result would be courting certain disaster. There was an entire weekend through which she still had to get. So instead of arguing, something she would never do anyway, or acting as annoyed as she was feeling; she bit her tongue and went along with the valet when he came to meet the car and take their bags. She tried to be pleasant when the house mother, Miss Smythe greeted them at the door after Pat and Jennifer left them at the curb.

Four of us in one room!” J.J. whispered in disbelief, grabbing Marnie by the arm. “This is going to be like some kind of weird sleepover with complete strangers. I’m telling you, Marnie, the other two they’ve got in there with us had better turn out to be cool. If not, I’m acting up. I swear it. I don’t pretend.”

“Is there a problem, ladies?” Miss Smythe asked, noticing that her two new young charges were no longer right behind her.

“No, Ma’am.” J.J. answered primly as she and Marnie resumed following her. “None whatsoever.”

Yet.

Miss Smythe opened the door to the second floor bedroom in which she had been instructed to place Jennifer Edwards’ daughter and Patricia Hamilton’s niece. She couldn’t help but notice how much the taller girl looked like her mother had looked at her age, and how she had that same somewhat defiant lift to her chin and that same “keep your distance” air about her. The demeanor had been a defense mechanism in Jennifer. It seemed a bit more genuine in this girl.

There were four beds in the very large, well-appointed room. Over one of the the beds hung several unframed pencil drawings which immediately caught J.J.’s attention, reminding her of her artist friend, Tommy whom she already missed. Someone resided in that room, she concluded, in more than just a weekend capacity. Across two of the other beds lay plastic clothing bags with “J. Hart” and “M. Benson” written on them.

“You girls will need to hang those up.” Miss Smythe instructed. “They’re what you’ll be wearing for Dean’s presentation tomorrow. Each of you has your own closet, and the chest next to your bed is yours to use. Your bathroom is right through here.”

She crossed the room and opened a door. “You girls in this room share this bathroom with the four other girls in the room next to yours. The bathroom is between your two rooms. Put your things away, girls, and store your bags in the closet as well. You are to report to The Quad in an hour for the Dean’s Reception. You’ll need to arrive at three o’clock sharp. Do not be late.”

J.J. and Marnie looked first to the beds and then to each other.

Inside the clothing bags were uniforms identical to the “dorky” one that Jennifer had sent out to be cleaned.

When Miss Smythe exited the room, J.J. dropped face down onto the bed in despair. Eight girls and one bathroom. Uniforms. Receptions. Be on time. Mom in a hotel, her in a dorm. This was definitely panning out to be the very stiff, formal, preppy weekend she predicted it would be.

“At least there’s some boys down the road.” She heard Marnie say.

______________________________________________________________

“Jen, you think J.J.’s agonizing over the uniform?” Pat asked as she watched Jennifer unpack. She had arrived the night before and was already settled into their double in the old Gresham Inn.

“Probably.” Jennifer answered. “But it’s not going to kill her. I might if she isn’t properly in it when she’s supposed to be. Watch and see if she doesn’t try to get out of wearing that tie and the knee socks.”

Pat poured herself a glass of ice water. “Don’t forget the penny loafers. You should have told her about it, Jen. You should have told her about that, and the room, and the roommates. She wasn’t prepared for that, and it was cold of you to spring it on her like you did.”

“Why? I would just have had to listen to her grumble and pout all last week. Or I would have been dealing with her whining, and then Jonathan trying to wheedle me into allowing her to stay home with him. I know she wasn’t all that crazy about coming in the first place, and hearing about any of that beforehand would really have made her dig her heels in. I told you, I was right there at home for that sleepover she gave a couple of weeks ago, and between her and Jonathan, what started out as four girls coming over to watch movies overnight quickly turned into a full-fledged pool party, in every sense of the word, right before my eyes. By nine o’clock, Jonathan and J.J. had the house full of people. Teenagers and their fathers were coming out of the woodwork. The hell if I was going to leave the two of them unsupervised for a whole weekend. In the summer too? By the time I got back, my house would be a Harrah’s Casino franchise. You know Jonathan knows all the right people to make that happen, and J.J. would be right there in the thick of things, thinking she’d died and gone to heaven.”

Pat sputtered with laughter, nearly spitting her drink across the room. Jennifer continued.

“She’s right where she needs to be so she can gain some perspective.”

“About what?” Pat asked, wiping her chin.

“She complains that I’m too tight on her. That we keep her too close sometimes. I think it will do her some good to see how well she has it at home compared to what might have been.”

“Why are you so hard on her still, Jennifer?” Pat inquired. “J.J. is turning out just fine. She does a lot of what she does just to make you proud of her. I believe she knows how well she has it. She’s the most well-adjusted, level-headed kid I’ve ever met.”

“I know that she’s doing well, Pat. Sometimes I really would like to let up on her some, but one of us has to keep her on track. Jonathan is perfectly happy with her if she just walks into the same room he’s in. I know she’s a good girl. I just want her to be able to see things from all angles. I think it would do her some good to see what her life could have been like under different circumstances. Not every parent in our financial or social position would have allowed her to experience some of the things that we’ve allowed. My father certainly didn’t do that with me, and he still fights me at times over the things we do with J.J. If it weren’t for Jonathan insisting upon her having certain experiences, she probably wouldn’t have either. I would have done with her what was done with me, aside from sending her away. And besides-,”

Jennifer stopped filling a drawer to look up at Pat with one eyebrow raised, “If I have to be here this weekend, why should my little darling be off gallivanting happily around Los Angeles in my absence? I was here for six years. It’s just one weekend for her, and at least she does have her mother right here with her for the duration.”

______________________________________________________________

Dean Agnes Marchand watched from her window as the women and girls began to gather below on The Quad for her reception, which was to be held shortly that afternoon. Coming away from the window, she checked herself in the mirror, and she figured she looked pretty good for having spent fifty years as Headmistress and then Dean of that prestigious institution.

This would be her last reception, and the summer term would be her last term as well; she was finally retiring. Although her faculties remained sharp and she was generally in excellent health, her energy was beginning to flag somewhat. She was tired. That all good things had to come to an end, was the thought she had as she studied her polished, stately reflection. At eighty, she had outlasted all of her contemporaries. The times in general had changed drastically, not necessarily for the good in her estimation, and she wasn’t ready to change with them. It was her moment to step down.

The Edwards girl had come this year, after all. She was glad of that. There was speculation that she wouldn’t. Although she had been generous with her donations to the Alumni fund, Jennifer Edwards hadn’t been back to Gresham Hall in person since that Brookfield boy’s unfortunate accident that year that she had come with her husband. Why that fool Beebe thought he could come between Jennifer and the man who had won her heart, she had never understood. If Ford Beebe had truly known her, he would have realized that the man who finally won Jennifer’s heart, would have it forever, of that the Dean was sure.

For Dean Marchand, Jennifer’s graduating class had been special to her for several reasons. That group of girls had become freshmen during her first term as Dean, and they had gone on to be the first class that she saw through to graduation in the capacity of Dean. While she was Headmistress of the lower school, before becoming Dean of the institution, Jennifer Edwards and Patricia Hamilton had quickly come to her personal attention via their negative attitudes, iron wills, and their outrageous antics. They had been twelve years old, and from the start, Patricia was blatantly boy-crazy and Jennifer had already taken up smoking cigarettes, as well as the cigars she pilfered from her father. But those were only two of the multitude of difficulties and transgressions that she had dealt with in association with them during their stay.

Both girls had come to Gresham Hall as intelligent but extremely angry and confused motherless little girls who feared little, and tried everything. In a very brief time they grew into intelligent, angry, fearless, beautiful, and headstrong teenagers who persistently tried to bend and test the rules while excelling academically. She had never seen anything like them. They stayed in trouble in their house, on The Quad, on The Green, even in the Chapel, but they were serious and extremely gifted in the classroom, in the entire academic arena, for that matter. They were both excellent writers who ruled the student publications on campus, and who were both published professionally before their senior year of high school.

Graduating with equally high honors, they had been co-valedictorians, and it had been she who placed their Honor Society mantels over their shoulders at the ceremony. Despite her relief at having finally ended her tour of duty with them, it was she who tearfully handed them their well-earned Phi Beta Kappa Keys, strangely sad to see them go.

Even though, during their lower and upper school years there, she had been forced to hand down some serious penalties to those two, including a couple of suspensions, forty years later they remained etched in her mind and close to her heart. Especially Stephen’s only child, Jennifer, who had never in that time let her get as close to her as she would like to have been or as Stephen had hoped. Patricia had eventually opened up some to her, in fact they still talked occasionally, but Jennifer made it up in her mind that nobody could replace her mother, and that had been it with her. Despite her efforts to help and to foster a relationship with her, Jennifer stubbornly made her own way. Consequently, all Dean Marchand could do was watch over her for her father’s sake. That girl had been his world. Now Jennifer had a daughter of her own, and reportedly she was there at the reunion with her. Jennifer’s child’s name was Justine, but Stephen said that her parents called her, “J.J.”.

Taking her cane in hand, Dean Marchand rang for her personal assistant to come and help in gathering the things that she would need for the reception. Heading slowly, steadily for the door of her room, she wondered if this J.J. was anything like her mother had been.

______________________________________________________________

Having put her things away, J.J. sat on the side of the bed reading the printed itinerary for the weekend which lie on the table next to her. Skimming it, she quickly realized that most of their time at Gresham Hall had been carefully scripted for them. After the reception that day, they would be having dinner in the main Dining Hall. After dinner, there was the alumni movie in the theatre. When the movie was over, there would be a mother-daughter social hour on the lower levels of each of the houses. On the itinerary it was called a ‘Mix and Mingle’. Then they would have to report back to their rooms for the evening. It would start all over again in the morning with breakfast at nine, the planned activities would continue on through the day into the evening. They would leave on Sunday morning.

Looking around,  J.J. noticed that there was no television or stereo equipment in the room. But there was a computer with a modem and speakers, and she did have her CD’s with her. At least there was that.

“I wonder if they lock us in at night.” She mused aloud to Marnie who was hanging the last of her dresses in the closet.

“I don’t know.” Marnie answered. “But I see where tomorrow, after the presentations to the Dean, we have an ice cream social with the summer term boys from Brookfield. They’re coming here by invitation for this event. What are you going to wear to for it?”

J.J. eyed Marnie in disbelief. “You’re liking this, aren’t you? Ice cream social? Since when, Marn?”

Marnie looked guiltily across the room “It’s not so bad, J. This is a beautiful room, and the grounds are lovely. I liked that there were valets to take our bags, a house mother, receptions, and stuff. Yeah, J. I guess I kinda do. The big building that you first see when you come in does look like a prison, but the rest looks like a college or something. I think I like it.”

A funk had been descending upon J.J. like a heavy woolen cloak in the heat of a steamy August afternoon. It’s weight and the resulting discomfort had been increasing steadily, fouling her mood from the time that the car turned into the driveway.

She suddenly jumped up from the bed to announce, “I want to go home.” Crossing the room to go over to the computer on the desk, she sat down in front of it and declared, “I don’t know who this belongs to, but I’m emailing my Daddy this minute to come get me.”

Hearing that, Marnie rushed across the room behind her.

“Wait J.!” She pleaded, pushing J.J.’s hands from the keyboard. “You’ve only been here half an hour. You haven’t given it a chance at all. Think of how your mother would feel if she knew you were doing that. And if you go, then I’ll have to go home with you!”

Before J.J. could respond to that, there was a knock at the door and then it opened. Miss Smythe was there with her hand still gripping the knob as she fussed at an angry brunette girl who looked to be about their age. She stood before Miss Smythe with her arms crossed, glaring at her. Suddenly, while she was still talking to her, the girl turned from her and stormed into the room flinging herself across the bed in the opposite corner from J.J.’s bed. It was the bed with the drawings hanging taped to the wall over it.

“This is Denise, girls.” Miss Smythe announced in way of introduction. “When she finishes her tantrum, I’m sure she’ll be polite enough to introduce herself. There will just be the three of you in this room this weekend. Denise here keeps up enough turmoil for two girls.”

Miss Smythe closed the door, leaving J.J. and Marnie staring at the third bed and its occupant. After a moment, J.J. turned back to the computer and began furiously tapping the keys, earnestly punching in her email information.

“I’m contacting my Daddy, Marn. I don’t care what you say. I’m getting out of here.”

“Ask him if you can have company when he comes for you.” Came a muffled voice from the third bed. “I am as sick as hell of this place, my classes, and these people.”

J.J. stopped typing, and swiveled around in the chair, eyeing the girl on the bed.

“Hey Denise,” She called. “Look, I’m J.J. Hart. This is my friend, Marnie Benson. What’s up with you?”

Denise slowly sat up and pushed her hair out of her eyes. There was something in the red-headed girl’s assertive tone that caught her attention.

“I’m Dee, not Denise. Dee Winston” She replied. “And what’s up with you? You just got here and you’re already emailing somebody to spring you. I’ve been stuck here all year.”

“Bad vibes.” J.J. answered. “I just want out. I can tell when a place isn’t for me, and this is not. Why’ve you been here all year? Why didn’t you go home for the summer?”

“I flunked stupid math and science, so they’re making me go to summer sessions. My folks don’t care that I’m here. That just means that they can cruise the Caribbean or do whatever they want without having to be bothered with me. They’d rather pay the money to keep me here. I hate this place. I hate the people, I hate the food, I hate the walls, I hate all of it!”

Dee flung herself back down onto the bed. When she did, the dust ruffle flipped up and stuck, revealing among the other assortment of items stuffed under there, a pair of running shoes.

“So do you get to see the Brookfield boys?” Marnie asked, seemingly unconcerned by Dee’s frustration. “Do they come down often? Do they have to have permission to be here?”

Spinning around, this time to Marnie, astounded by her friend’s persistence and indifference, J.J. asked irritably, “Do you ever think about anything other than boys?”

To stop Marnie from butting in before she finished what she had to say, she held up her hand. “That’s all you’ve been talking about. Is that what gets you up in the morning?”

Marnie put her hands on her hips and rocked her head to answer, “Damn straight, J. I like boys, and you should too. They like you now, but they won’t keep liking you if you keep turning them down all the time like you do. There’s a whole school of males down the street and you don’t give a rat’s ass about it. I’m not saying that you have to be a skank or anything like that; I know you’re not, but you could at least act interested sometimes!”

J.J. was stunned into silence at Marnie’s uncharacteristic outburst at her.

“Some of them are cool, and yeah, they come down here.” Dee said into the covers of her bed. “But some of them only come down here looking for one thing, and they’re not getting that from me.”

“It’s good to know that they at least come down here, then.” Marnie said as she flounced to the door, stopping to check herself in the mirror. “I’m going down onto The Quad, J. Are you coming?”

“In a minute.” J.J. answered, a little put off and still slightly incensed by the manner in which Marnie had spoken to her. “You go ahead. I’ll be along. I want to redo my hair.”

And she needed a big dose of her Daddy.

“You don’t mind if I use this, do you?” She asked over her shoulder.

“It belongs to the room.” Dee answered. “Not to me.”

Turning back to the computer, J.J. booted up the Internet and went to her screen to check to see if her father was online.

He was. She sent him an Instant Message:

“Hi Daddy, what are you doing?”

“I’m at work looking at some files.”

“I hate it here already, and I haven’t been here an hour.”

“I figured you probably wouldn’t like it, but hang in there for your mother’s sake.”

“I will, but I sure wish you were here with me.”

“I am. Just close your eyes, and you’ll see me. That’s what I’ll be doing when I’m missing you and your mother. Be patient. It might turn out to not be so bad after all.”

“Thanks, Daddy. I’ll try. I love you.”

“I love you, too, baby. Talk to you later.”

J.J. didn’t realize Dee had gotten up and had been standing over her shoulder, reading what she was typing until she heard her ask, “Is that really your father or your cover name for your boyfriend?”

She shut down the screen and spun around in the chair. “That’s very rude. And not that it’s any of your business, but that was my father. If you had been paying attention to what you read instead of skimming to snoop, you would have been able to tell I was actually talking to my father. I don’t have, and I don’t want a boyfriend, undercover or otherwise. I get tired of telling people that.”

“No need to get snippy.” Dee sniffed, turning away suddenly to smooth the rumpled covers on her bed. “Besides, it’s the first I’ve heard of it. I just met you, remember?”

J.J. could see that the other girl’s face had turned red, and her shoulders had become bowed. She immediately felt badly about being so abrupt with her, having forgotten that she’d been told how intimidating she could be at times.

“Did you do those drawings of those kids?” She asked in an effort to smooth things over.

“Now who’s being nosy?” Dee snapped back at her without turning around.

J.J. got up and went to the mirror. Looking at herself, she decided that her hair didn’t need redoing after all. The ponytail was holding up just fine. Marnie had quickly changed into a dress for the reception. J.J. determined that the white jeans, the sleeveless top, and the white boots she had on would do. She didn’t feel like changing and certainly not into a dress or a skirt. The heck with that.

“Look, I’m sorry for going off on you. Are you coming to the reception?” She asked Dee who was back to sitting on the side of her bed.

“What for?” Dee answered sullenly. “It’s a mother-daughter reception and my mother isn’t here. Besides I hate the Dean and all the teachers here.”

“Suit yourself.” J.J. said, going out of the door.

Just before she closed it, she offered, “If you change your mind, I’ll be on the Quad having an equally miserable time, I’m sure.”

______________________________________________________________

Marnie had already come down and was standing with Pat who was introducing her to their friends as her niece. Jennifer alternated between watching Marnie reveling in her new role, exchanging pleasantries, and scanning The Quad for J.J., wondering what was taking her so long to surface. She was eager to introduce her only child to her former classmates. Many of them had never met her, and as quiet as she kept it, she was really quite proud of J.J.’s intelligence, her accomplishments, her self-confidence, her poise in public, as well as her emerging beauty.

Finally she spotted her.

She was sauntering slowly down the walkway, dressed in the same pants, top, and boots that she had worn in on their flight. She was neat, and of course she was quite striking, but for some reason, Jennifer found the lack of urgency in her step, and the casual outfit annoying. The first thing she did when she was close enough, was to pull J.J. to the side to ask in a hushed tone, “Where were you, and why aren’t you in a dress?”

Irritated at being confronted in such a manner, and already in a putrid humor, J.J. answered, “I was up in the room, but I’m here now, and I’m on time! Besides, you didn’t say I had to wear a dress.” All the while hoping that her mother couldn’t hear in her voice the aggravation she was feeling.

“It’s a reception, Justine! Do I have to tell you what to put on for a reception?”

The word, “Evidently” tap danced its way to the tip of J.J.’s tongue, but she bit it back.

“I wasn’t thinking.” Was what ended up coming out of her mouth. “Do you want me to go and change?”

“There isn’t time now.” Jennifer whispered, her eyes reflecting her exasperation, then taking her by the hand she said, “Just come on with me and let me introduce you around.”

But J.J. stood fast, which caused Jennifer to be yanked backward a bit when she attempted to quickly walk off with her daughter in tow. She turned back around to face J.J. to see what the problem was.

The blue eyes looking back at her had gone cold.

“You don’t have to introduce me to anyone if I’m shaming you.” J.J. said to her.

Jennifer was taken aback by the tone of her voice, as well as the look on her face. Narrowing her own eyes, she asked, “What did you say?”

“I said,” J.J. repeated with deliberation. “that if I’m shaming you with what I have on, you don’t have to bother introducing me to anyone. I can just go back to that room and stay there.”

Jennifer walked her even farther away from the group in which she had been standing. She knew that Pat had to be watching them and wondering.

“What’s wrong with you?” She demanded. J.J. was normally never deliberately disrespectful of her, and certainly not in public.

Nothing’s wrong.” J.J. answered, not quite sure what it was that was so irritating to her, but feeling it intensely just the same. “I just don’t want you to have to be embarrassed by my acting common or anything in front of your friends.”

“What’s gotten into you, J.J.? What makes you think I would be embarrassed by you?”

“Well you did cut right into me, Mom.”

Jennifer, hearing what she said, had to admit to herself that she had done that.

“Alright, it’s true that I would rather that you’d worn a dress, but you didn’t, and no, I didn’t tell you to. There really isn’t time for you to change, and I don’t know that I’d ask you to change even if there were enough time. But, why are you in such a bad mood? I could see it all over you as you were coming down the walk. And furthermore, why are you taking it out on me?”

That was a good question. Her mother really hadn’t done anything to her to cause how she was feeling, and J.J. suddenly felt overwhelmingly remorseful.

What was it about being in this Gresham Hall place that had her feeling so conflicted? What was it about being there that made her snap at her mother in that way? At that poor unhappy girl up in the room the manner that she had? Even she and Marnie seemed to be beginning to go at it. She hadn’t been there an hour.

Slowly, remorsefully J.J. slid her arms around her mother’s neck, lay her head on her shoulder, and closed her eyes.

“I don’t know, Mom. I guess I just plain don’t like this place. That’s all I can tell you. I really don’t know why this is happening or why I’m feeling so wretched. I haven’t been here long enough for there to be an actual reason. I just know that I feel it in my gut, and it’s not a good feeling. I’m sorry.”

Jennifer held her for a moment, and as she did she felt an old, but familiar clammy feeling run through her, one she hadn’t felt in years. She recalled that she had been angry and aggravated those forty-odd years ago when Pa left her there in that same room all by herself, and it hadn’t taken her all that long to feel it either. That mood lasted all through lower and upper school, but it served to fuel and fire her desire to succeed and get out of there, along with her need to seek her own retribution against all who held her there. Payback had taken the form of misbehavior on her part. She understood that now, but at the time she had just been so angry, so angry about everything.

“It’s alright.” Jennifer whispered reassuringly to her, taking J.J.’s hand once again. “Let’s go meet the girls now. Just keep in mind that on Sunday, it’s all over, and we get to go home. When that time comes, you and I will be going out of here just like we came here- together. I’m probably asking for trouble saying this to you, but just be yourself, J.J. It’s alright.”

When she heard the quick giggle at that, it made her feel better about the situation.

As they had been talking together, J.J. had taken note of her mother’s polished appearance. She really was something. Always together, always beautiful, always on point. Maybe one day… but then again, that might be too much to hope for… and way too much work.

When they turned to rejoin the group, Jennifer could see Pat’s eyes searching hers. She nodded to let her know that everything was fine. People would just have to take her as she was.

______________________________________________________________

Entering the circle of her mother’s friends and their daughters, J.J. immediately spotted two familiar faces, Georgette Singleton and Midge Jackson. They were mothers of two of her friends from home, Wesley Singleton and Ollie Jackson. Neither of them had daughters, but they had been in the same graduating class at Gresham Hall as her mother. J.J. noticed right off Mrs. Singleton looking down somewhat disapprovingly at her jeans. Then she cringed when the woman loudly announced that she hoped one day, at some future reunion, that she could introduce her as her daughter-in-law, her son Wesley’s wife.

Out of the corner of her eye, J.J. saw Marnie’s mouth fly open, and she felt it on both sides as her mother and her Aunt Pat discreetly pinched her at the waist to remind her to keep a poker face at that comment. In her mind, she made a mental note, with an asterisk behind it, to bring it up for discussion later with all of them.

J.J. also kept a straight face as her mother introduced her to her high school friends with the silly names. There was Goofy, who was actually Evangelonne (Eva) Taylor, a high ranking emissary representing the U.S. missions at the United Nations in France. When she addressed Ms. Taylor in French, J.J. could see her mother proudly watching her. Angela Taylor, Ms. Taylor’s daughter lived and went to college in France. Both of them complimented her on her diction. Of course she had good diction; she had only been speaking French all of her life. She’d learned it from her mother who taught it to her by speaking mostly French to her from the time she was born. The frequent conversations and summer visits with Aunt Sabrina hadn’t hurt either. In fact, those latter things had added plenty of color to her working French vocabulary considerably over the years.

There was Happy and her daughters, Bunny and Missy. Then there was Muffy, aka that snooty Margaret Findlay, who was a member of their Country Club at home along with her equally pretentious daughter, Liz. J.J. was glad that Liz was going to be staying in one of the other houses during their stay. Muffy and Liz were not her cup of tea; they truly played the Beverly Hills role, making sure that everyone knew who they were, who they knew, and where they resided. But that moment did shed some light on her mother’s rarely discussed past. Muffy called her mother, “Jinxie” right in front of her and everybody there.

“You didn’t tell me about that.” J.J whispered once she was back by her mother’s side. “Jinxie, huh?”

“Actually it was Jinks, and if you repeat it to anybody after we leave here,” Jennifer whispered back in warning. “You’ll find yourself at home, alone in your room, with no phone, no music, no computer or technology of any kind, and no jeans or shorts for the rest of the summer. You think you’ve been on lockdown before, repeat it to your father and you’ll find out what lockdown really is. Especially if you repeat it to your father.”

“You mean he doesn’t know?” J.J. asked in wonder, breaking into a huge smile and rubbing her hands together. “Oh man, this might be so worth that lockdown!”

At that moment, the Dean and her assistant emerged from the home on The Quad that served as her residence. She stepped out on the porch and waved regally to everyone. J.J.’s was immediately reminded of the time that she was in London with her mother who had taken her along while she worked on a story. They had been in the right place to see the Queen ride by in her car waving her patent wave as she passed.

The band began to play as the Dean came down her stairs, and the women and girls came to attention. Marnie had worked her way back to J.J.’s side. Jennifer and Pat stood behind them.

“Is that the Dean?” Marnie whispered up to Pat. “I thought you said she was all tough and everything. She’s too old to be all that tough.”

“She wasn’t always that old.” Pat whispered back. “And in her day she was plenty tough and pretty scary. You can trust me on that one, I should know.”

“And just how is it that you should know?” J.J. pointedly asked. “First hand experience?”

“Don’t be so nosy.” Jennifer answered quickly, before Pat could say anything more. “Hush now and pay attention.”

Acutely aware that her mother had cut her off  just as she had picked up the scent of scandal, J.J.’s radar had already shifted into operation. From her mother’s reaction, she sensed there must be some really good stories that needed telling.

When the Dean was seated on the lawn, and the alumni had gone to hold hands in the circle they formed around her to sing the school song, Marnie leaned in to J.J to ask, “You think they’re holding out on us?”

“The Duchess did cut me off kind of quick.” J.J. whispered back. “As if she wanted to shut Aunt Pat up in a hurry.”

“I noticed that, too. I wonder if it has anything to do with them and some juicy stories about those boys at Brookfield.”

Shaking her head over Marnie’s one-track mind, and smiling to herself over the nature of the secrets her mother and Aunt Pat probably had between them, J.J. shifted her focus back to the alumni activity. When she did, the Dean seemed to be looking right at her.

______________________________________________________________

As she inspected the group of women standing and singing around her, there they were, Jennifer Edwards and Patricia Hamilton, holding hands, standing right together, like always. They were still excellent-looking women. They had both led very successful, event-filled lives, and that fact was reflected in their attire and their vital, healthy appearances. The rapport between them was so strong that she could feel it radiating from them. It made her happy just to look upon them, and she might have been taken them for sisters had she not known better. There was nothing better than an enduring friendship.

Dean Marchand was seated at an angle where she could see past Jennifer. Beyond her was a young girl dressed all in white who had to be her daughter. From the distance, she looked very much like Jennifer had appeared all those years ago: tall, tastefully lean, but shapely just the same. She had her arms crossed and was standing with her long legs apart as she looked on at the women in the circle. She appeared very poised and self-assured. Stephen said that she would know her right off, and if that was her, he was correct. She was the only girl that she could see wearing pants, and with that long red “horse’s tail”, as he had called it, blowing behind her head in the soft breeze she looked every bit the maverick her grandfather always said she was.

______________________________________________________________

Halfway through the singing of the school song, J.J. suddenly turned to Marnie and said, “Tell my mother that I’ll be down for dinner.”

“J., she’s going to have your head if you aren’t down here at the end of that song to meet the Dean when they get finished singing it.” Marnie warned. “You know she’s going to want to introduce you to her.”

“I’ve got something else to do.”

Marnie watched as J.J. walked off in the direction of Waverly House. The Duchess, still in the circle with her back to them, didn’t see it when she left.

______________________________________________________________

Unable to get Dee off her mind, J.J. returned to the room where the girl was still lying across the bed. She appeared to be sleeping, but J.J. sat down on her bed next to her anyway.

“So what do you do around here for fun?” She asked.

“Try not to die of boredom.” Was the answer from the covers.

“I’m serious. I was bored to tears out there myself, and I want to do something. Everybody else is out there singing and acting all stiff, trying to impress each other. Let’s do something. Show me around. This is a big place. There’s got to be a lot to see.”

Dee sat up and J.J. could see her checking her out. She understood that. It was something she would do to someone she didn’t really know.

“You for real?” Dee asked.

“I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t.”

“I thought your mother was out there. I’ve heard about her. Isn’t she one of the big wheels?”

“Whatever.” J.J. answered with a wave of her hand. “We have an understanding. I saw running shoes under your bed. Do you run for real or do you just wear the shoes?”

“I run.” Dee asserted with a smug smile. “Track. I love it!”

“Me too! Let’s get dressed and go out on the track. I thought there might be one and I brought my stuff in case I got the chance.”

They hurriedly changed into their running gear and left the room.

______________________________________________________________

“Marnie, where did she say that she was going?” Jennifer asked, throwing up her hands in frustration, her eyes searching the area. “She just got down here!”

Marnie tossed her hair and smoothed her dress in preparation for meeting the Dean. “I don’t know, Mrs. H. She just said that she had something to do, and then she walked off. She said to tell you that she would be back for dinner, though.”

“Jen, don’t be angry.” Pat said, placing her hand on Jennifer’s shoulder, realizing how much it irritated her when J.J. wasn’t in place or switched plans without letting her know. “You know she wouldn’t have done that without good reason. Maybe she wasn’t feeling well and just didn’t want to worry you. I could see that she was out of sorts when she came down earlier. Come on, let’s just go pay our respects to the old girl, and then we can go check on J.J.”

“She’d better have an awfully good excuse for this when I catch up to her.” Jennifer muttered.

______________________________________________________________

J.J. jogged with Dee across campus to the Main Hall, that imposing building which greeted them on their arrival that morning. There was something there that Dee wanted her to see.

Pulling open the heavy oak doors, they stepped into a cavernous foyer.

“Come through here.” Dee said, going ahead of J.J. and motioning with her hand for her to follow.

They went through another set of doors and J.J. found that they were in a huge formal-looking corridor, both sides of which were lined with pictures of young women: the Distinguished Alumni of Gresham Hall. Walking slowly down the middle, J.J.’s eyes alternated from one side to the other. She was immediately fascinated by the assorted faces of the women who as girls once walked the cobbled floor upon which she trod, who had most likely been unaware that one day their faces and their accomplishments would be displayed there for all to see and admire.

“There’s your mother.” Dee stopped and pointed up above their heads. “See, Jennifer Edwards. Our journalism teacher went to school here, and she refers to her a lot. Miss Smythe, the house mother told me that your mother and her best friend used to live in the same room we’re in, and she told me that you were coming with them this weekend. I came over here and found your mother’s picture. Even though I had already heard of her, since you guys were coming, I wanted to see what she looked like. When I first saw you in the room today, I knew right away you were her kid. You look a lot like her.”

Looking up, J.J.’s heart filled with pride.

There she was.

Jennifer Justine Edwards 

Class of 1962

Magna Cum Laude

Phi Beta Kappa

Class Co-Valedictorian

National Honor Society

Internationally Acclaimed Author and Journalist

And right next to her,

Patricia Rose Hamilton

Class of 1962

Magna Cum Laude

Phi Beta Kappa

 Class Co-Valedictorian

 National Honor Society

 Founder, Hamilton House Publishing, Inc., New York

“That must feel pretty good.” J.J. heard Dee say.

“What must?” She asked, breaking her gaze from the pictures back to Dee.

“Having a famous mother. With her picture up there and all. I hear your father is pretty well-known, too. Jonathan Hart. Hart Industries out of Los Angeles, California.”

“It’s okay.” J.J. answered, turning just a bit red. It still wasn’t a subject she was comfortable discussing with anyone.

“It’s no big deal. To me they’re just my folks. Let’s go. I’m ready for a good run.” She tagged Dee on the arm. “How fast are you?”

J.J. took off for the door, at first catching Dee off guard. But, she quickly recovered and shot out after J.J. calling, “Fast enough to catch you!”

______________________________________________________________

They were halfway through the main course before J.J. slipped silently into the empty seat next to her mother. She was impeccably dressed in the Vera Wang after-five that her mother had selected for the occasion before they left home, and she had stylishly twisted her hair into a long French braid down her back. Pat and Marnie gave her a quick warning look and then averted their eyes. J.J. bit her lip and took a deep breath, knowing full well that she had messed up.

“I’m sorry I’m late.” She said in apology. “Time got away from me.”

Too angry to look directly at her, Jennifer asked icily, “What made you bother to come at all?”

“I thought you would want me to.” J.J. answered, bristling a bit at her mother’s stoniness. “I said I was sorry.”

“Saying that you’re sorry doesn’t fix everything, Justine.” Jennifer coolly advised. “We’ll discuss it later.”

Thinking that maybe if she knew, if she could explain it to her; she wouldn’t be so mad, J.J. ventured, “Aren’t you going to ask me where I was, or what I was doing?”

“It doesn’t matter, Justine. You weren’t where you were supposed to be.”

“Yes I was.” J.J. answered quietly, but defiantly.

The tone of her voice drew Pat’s attention, and caused Marnie to stiffen in her seat and focus even more closely on the plate in front of her. They both held their breath.

Jennifer slowly turned, counting all the while in her head, to look over at her daughter. J.J. was looking down into her lap at her hands, and she was twisting that emerald ring nervously around her finger.

“You weren’t with me, so how can you say that you’ve been where you were supposed to be?” Jennifer furiously, but discreetly whispered. “You just left the reception without saying a word to me, and you’ve been missing ever since. I came looking for you, but nobody knew where you were. Now you show up late for dinner expecting someone to have to go out of their way to get you something to eat even though everyone else has been served.”

“No I don’t, and no they won’t.” J.J. said quietly as she reached out to push back from the table and stood up. She cast her gaze upon all of them, one at a time, stopping to look directly at her mother.

“I’m not hungry. Please excuse me.”

She pushed in her chair and walked away.

Jennifer snatched her napkin from her lap, and tossed it onto the table in preparation to get up, but Pat placed her hand over hers to stop her.

“Let her go, Jen. She’s got an agenda and this isn’t it. Let her work it out.”

She could clearly see the hurt, outrage, and confusion in Jennifer’s eyes.

Pat recognized that J.J. looked the part, but she wasn’t like the other girls in that room, not like any of them; she was special. She stood apart. She always had, from most other children, all of her life. There was something very different about her. J.J. was multifaceted, so much like both her mother and her father that Pat could see why Jonathan called her his diamond, and she had been born old. The more advanced in actual age she became, the more apparent it was that the best of both of Jonathan and Jennifer had been bestowed upon that one child, including a double helping of obstinacy. It was also apparent to Pat that as wise as she was, and as fine a mother as she was, Jennifer was much too close to J.J. to see her for what she was becoming or how good a job she was doing with her. Nor could she see how much J.J. loved, respected, and admired her. But Pat could see it and fully appreciate it.

“This isn’t her thing, Jen, and she doesn’t have the patience to just sit here and pretend. She tried. That’s what she was doing when she came down here. She was trying to please you. Whatever she’s into, it’s more comfortable, and meaningful for her and that’s what she needs to do, even if it means not going along what you want her to do. It must be important to her if she’s forgoing you, Jen. She doesn’t love anybody on earth like she loves you. Let her be. It’ll work itself out. You’ll see.”

After a moment, Jennifer sat back in silence. Still upset and unable to continue her meal, she moved the plate away from her.

Marnie continued to eat, well aware that J.J. was probably off doing Social Work with that girl up in their room. While everyone was gathered around the Dean having punch and cookies out on the Quad during the reception, she had spied the two of them in the far distance racing like the wind across the campus. Apparently they were both runners; she had seen the shoes under Dee’s bed too. They were doing what they liked to do, probably what they both needed to do.

But no way was she getting caught up with them, and getting locked down. She had every intention of going to that ice cream social with the guys. This time, she would be the one to play by the rules. J.J. and Dee might not care, but there was too much at stake for her to be getting out of line.

______________________________________________________________

She opened the computer, jumped on her email, and opened the messenger.

“Daddy, are you there? Are you busy?”

“I’m here. I was hoping to hear back from you.”

“I’m messing up royally. I went running instead of staying at the Dean’s reception, so I missed meeting the Dean. Then I got busy and missed part of dinner. My mother is so mad at me now that she wouldn’t listen to me when I wanted to tell her why. I hate it here. I wish could come home, but now I can’t.”

“Why can’t you? Not that I think you should, or that I would come and get you.”

“There’s somebody here who needs me- not my mother- but a girl who’s here for summer session. She’s here staying in this room by herself because she flunked math and science and her parents made her stay while everybody else is home for vacation. She’s a runner, so we went running to clear our heads. When we came back, we started  working on her assignments. Then I started setting her up on my interactive tutoring website where she can let me know what she needs, and I can set up stuff to help her with her lessons when I get back home. That’s why I lost track of time and was so late for dinner.”

“J.J., what exactly is the problem with you and Gresham Hall that you are having to “clear your head” so soon? Why didn’t you just let your mother know what you were doing from the beginning?”

” Daddy, everybody here is so fake. It’s even gotten to Marnie. She’s gone all prim and proper on me. My mother is being fake too. I think she just wants me with her this weekend to show me off. I tried to play it like she wanted at the reception, but I just couldn’t go through with it. I did try, but it just wasn’t for me. When I finally made it to dinner, I had even put on a dress and had taken my hair down just to please her. You know I didn’t do that to please myself. I apologized to her for being late, but she still acted all snotty to me, and she wouldn’t listen to me. So then I got mad and left the table before I lost it. I know she’s really got to be on the warpath now, and I’m pretty sure she’s going to come after me for being disrespectful. I expect her up here any minute now, so if I should suddenly click off, you’ll know what happened. Just go ahead and call the coroner to pick up the body.”

“She’s not going to do anything that extreme. For one thing, she won’t want to do the time. For another, prison outfits and the food they serve in the joint wouldn’t suit her. Seriously J.J., your mother is very proud of you, with good reason, so she probably did want the Dean to see what a fine daughter she has. That’s not being fake; if you stop and think about it, that’s being very real. She has no idea what you’re into. If she knew, she probably wouldn’t be so upset. I believe she would think that much more of you. Right now, it’s just a matter of a lack of communication between the two of you.”

“So what do I do? She won’t listen to me.”

“Just keep being true to yourself. It will all work itself out. The bottom line is you love your mother and she loves you. The rest won’t last, but that will. I know that you understand about bottom lines.”

“Yes, I do, thanks to Jonathan Hart. I love you again, Daddy. I’m going to get changed to go to the movie. If she hasn’t come up here and taken me out by then, maybe she’ll let me sit next to her in the theatre. Maybe she’ll have calmed down and I can tell her. If you talk to her tonight, please don’t let on that I’ve contacted you about any of this. That might make things worse.”

“I won’t say a word. Go ahead, Sweetheart. Make it to the movie, and be on time. Sit next to her. She can’t stay mad at either one of us for very long. We’re much too cute and way too loveable. I miss you. Have a good night. I’ll talk with you in the morning.

  XXX”

“Do you and your father go back and forth like that all the time?” J.J. heard Dee ask.

Once again, Dee had been standing and reading over her shoulder.

“Yeah,” J.J. answered, giving up on trying to impress manners upon that girl. “He’s a really great guy on top of being a great father. He gives good advice, especially on how to handle my mother when I’ve messed up with her, like now.”

She got up and began removing the dress she had on. Picking up the shoes that she had angrily kicked off across the room when she had come in from dinner and slammed the door behind herself, she took it all to the closet.

“I think that’s just awesome.” Dee responded, watching J.J. move around the room while she took a seat in the middle of her bed. She was dressed in her robe and slippers having showered after their run, and she had been sketching a picture from a magazine. “I barely talk to my father. He’s an executive for one of the major oil companies, so he travels a lot. My mother doesn’t work, but she travels a lot too. I have a sister and a brother, but they go to college, and they’re in Europe on vacation now, so that leaves me pretty much on my own.”

J.J. poked her head out of the closet. “How often do you talk to your mother?”

“About once or twice a week since I’ve been here this summer, or more if Miss Smythe calls her for something I’ve done.”

“What’s Miss Smythe like?”

“She’s okay most of the time, but she can be nosy, and she should have gotten a life a long time ago. She’s been here since your mother went here, you know. This place is all she does.”

J.J. ducked back into the closet thinking how much she would miss her parents if she couldn’t talk to them when she felt like it or when she needed to talk to someone she could trust. It hurt a lot just thinking of that moment in the dining hall when she couldn’t talk to her mother with her sitting right there. How had her mother ever made it with no mother anywhere to call upon? The frustration and anger of her own situation, and the thought of her mother’s past plight suddenly, inexplicably brought tears to her eyes, and just as quickly, she wiped them away.

At that point, Marnie burst into the room, slamming the door behind her. Her eyes scanned the room, and Dee, knowing right off for whom she was looking, pointed to the closet by J.J.’s bed.

“Your ass is fried, J.!” Marnie breathlessly called out as she plopped down on the side of her bed and kicked off her shoes. “You better be glad Pat had your back. The Duchess was on her way up out of her chair right behind you when you left the table. She was loaded for bear and she was going to fill your butt full of buckshot. Pat calmed her down before she could get all the way up, but she’s still smoky mad. You better have your behind at that theatre tonight, or I think you’re going to be toast for real- burnt toast. Your Daddy won’t even be able to identify the corpse.”

“Who’s the Duchess?” Dee wanted to know.

“J.J.’s mother, Jennifer Hart. She can be a real trip when she’s mad, and she was as mad as hell when J. got there late, and left that table like that.”

“I told her to go ahead on over there.” Dee said, looking up from her sketch. “J.J. was here helping me with my math work, and then she was on the computer. I knew she was going to get into trouble for not being there.”

J.J. stumbled out of the closet, trying to step into a fresh pair of jeans and talk at the same time.

“My mother knows me.” She stated confidently. “She gets mad about the things I do, but then we talk, and it gets okay again. It’ll be fine. Take that Sunday-go-to-meeting dress off and get changed, Marnie. Dee, get some hanging-out clothes on. You’re going with us to the theatre. No more being in here by yourself as long as we’re here this weekend.”

In her mind, however, J.J. was thanking the heavens for good old Aunt Pat. As she had stormed out of the dining room and across the campus, she half-expected to be ambushed from behind, decapitated, and read the riot act afterward.

There was a knock at the door. J.J. froze in place, one leg half-in her pants, picturing her coolly enraged mother on the other side, excusing everyone else from the room, and then closing her up in there alone with her. She thought her chest was going to explode from where heart had seized up. But when Dee jumped up to answer it, it was just Miss Smythe threatening that the next time that door slammed she was locking them in for the night. J.J. forcibly exhaled, wiped her brow, and finished putting on her jeans.

When Ms. Smythe closed the door again, Marnie grimaced and stuck her tongue out.

All three girls got dressed for the movie, and Dee made sure to slam the door on their way out.

______________________________________________________________

Having sent Marnie back to Waverly House after dinner to get changed for the movie, Jennifer and Pat were waylaid from making their own swift departure by several former classmates who hadn’t had the opportunity to catch up to them before dinner. They spent several minutes in a spirited exchange of memories before they could break away and try to make it to the car to go back to the hotel to change.

“Jennifer Edwards.” A familiar aristocratic sounding voice hailed from behind just before they reached the door leading to the outside from the dining hall.

Turning in that direction, the Dean herself was ambling slowly toward them, leaning on her cane. Even though they were both grown women, Jennifer and Pat found themselves looking to each other to see who had done what.

“She called you.” Pat whispered accusingly. “Not me.”

They stopped for the dignified old woman over whom they both now towered, respectfully waiting for her.

“Yes, Ma’am.” Jennifer answered when Dean Marchand was close enough to hear her.

“I wanted to ask you, Jennifer, when am I to meet that daughter of yours?” The woman asked. “I haven’t yet, you know. I’ve met the other girls, but it seems as if your daughter is making herself rather scarce. She wasn’t at dinner tonight. I hope nothing’s wrong.”

“No, Dean Marchand.” Jennifer answered praying that her face wasn’t turning red the way it used to when she had been called on the carpet in the past; like J.J.’s did when she called her on things. “There’s no trouble. She’s just been occupied with…” Jennifer looked to Pat for help, but she shrugged her shoulders and looked away, forcing her to stammer, “…with- with something since she’s been here. She’ll be at breakfast in the morning, Dean Marchand, and I’ll be sure to bring her to you then.”

“Patricia.” The Dean said, suddenly turning her attention from Jennifer to Pat. “And I wanted to ask you something, too. I don’t recall your having any siblings. From where did you acquire a niece? I didn’t want to ask you at the time, what with the audience we had this afternoon.”

“J-J-Jennifer and I are like sisters. Justine is like a niece to me.” Pat answered quickly, instinctively knowing to turn J.J. into Justine, but in her nervousness, completely forgetting about having introduced Marnie to the Dean as her niece.

“Patricia, I’m speaking of the little brunette you brought to me this afternoon. Jennifer’s daughter is a tall redhead.”

“Ohhhh, you’re talking about Marnie! She’s Justine’s best friend, Dean Marchand, and since they’re like sisters, she’s like my niece too.”

Like your niece…I see. Patricia, I’ve told you about that lying and embellishing you do. You always did play fast and loose with the truth.”

Dean Marchand went back to Jennifer. “I’ll be expecting to see you and your daughter at breakfast tomorrow morning- together, Jennifer. Unless she’s doing to you what you used to do to your poor father- running you in circles.”

Then she smiled a maddeningly all-knowing wry smile. “Good night, girls. I shan’t be at the movies this evening. I need my beauty rest. It’s been a very long, taxing day.”

The Dean turned and slowly walked away, leaving both women staring and speechless behind her.

“Bitch.” Pat remarked quietly when she thought the older woman was far enough away to be out of earshot. “Here we are, fully grown, extremely accomplished women; and she still thinks she can talk to us and bully us like that. And we just stood here and let her get away with it!”

“Bloody, crusty old crone.” Jennifer seconded as she watched the woman’s back., borrowing her father’s Welsh accent, one which the Dean shared. “What does she know about Pa? She had her nerve bringing him into this. And how does she know what J.J. looks like? I’ve seen so little of her today, I barely know what J.J. looks like. And why is she so interested in meeting J.J.? This is the limit. Pat, as angry as that girl has made me today, I’ve got a good mind to go over to Waverly and kick that door in, just to see the look on their little faces when I come through it. I bet that would shake things up over there and have those two sassy hussies running for the bathroom like only I can. I cannot believe that girl has gotten me in deep with the Dean!”

Jennifer walked off, still talking. “To hell with the movie. Let’s go. I need a shower and a drink more than I need people in my face talking about by-gone days and asking me irritating questions about my incorrigible child. I cannot believe this!”

Pat followed Jennifer out of the door, shaking with laughter. J.J.’s antics and that brief encounter with the Dean had her girlfriend reverting back. Dean Marchand had hit an old, long-buried nerve bringing Mr. Edwards into the picture like she had. J.J. had unearthed it, but the Dean had been the one to step on it. Jennifer Edwards, the bane of Waverly House, Suite#1 on The Quad of Gresham Hall Preparatory School for Girls was peeking out of Jennifer Hart’s refined persona.

______________________________________________________________

“How do you get to the balcony?” J.J. asked Dee as they entered the Gresham Hall Theatre with Marnie and all the other mothers and daughters that were gathering for the evening’s presentation of clips from the productions done by the alumni during their years at Gresham.

“Why the balcony?” Dee inquired, at the same time pointing to a set of carpeted stairs off in a darkened corner of the lobby. There was a velvet rope across them, blocking them off.

“She’s got a thing for balconies.” Marnie answered. “It’s not like she goes up there to do anything interesting. When she goes to the movies with a boy she sits on the main floor. Everybody else heads for the balcony to get busy.”

“Where I’m supposed to sit when I’m with a boy.” J.J. shot back as they headed for the staircase while trying not to be noticed. “Unlike some people who constantly push it. One day you’re going to get your little self hemmed up with somebody and really be sorry, I keep trying to tell you. You’re too small for the stunts you pull.”

“I just like the balcony at theatres.” J.J. continued, speaking to Dee. “You can see the production, the theatre design, and the people as they’re watching the production. Some theatres are so beautifully constructed too, and I like watching the people almost as much as the movie. If my mother and Pat are here already, then we’ll come back down and sit with them. If not, we can stay up there and mess around until they get here. From up there, we’ll be able to see them when they come in.”

Watching to be sure that no one was looking, they slipped under the rope and up the stairs.

______________________________________________________________

Jennifer was well into her second bourbon on the rocks when she emerged from the bathroom, her wet hair wrapped in a Turkish towel, her body swathed in the thick terry cloth robe provided by the Gresham Inn. Pat lay on her back on her bed dressed in an identical robe. Her eyes were closed, and to all appearances, she had dozed off. Jennifer took a seat on the side of her bed, plugged in the hair dryer, and began to lotion her legs and arms as she spoke in hushed, seductive tones into the phone pinned between her ear and her shoulder.

“Of course, I miss you, darling” She cooed. “…. your daughter? She has been a real lit- well we’ll talk about her later. Right now I just want to talk to you….. I’ve already told you how much I mish-miss you…..(small laugh)…..Just a little bourbon, that’s all….. I wish you were here too…. You always say that about me. I don’t ever feel any differently, but you always say I get silly….. yes, I just stepped out of the shower….. not much, just a robe….. no, I’m not wearing any shoes….. yes, my hair is still wet…..”

She pulled the towel from her hair and shook it out.

“… the peach soap you like so much….. I’m sitting on the bed….. sitting, darling…..wel-l-l-l-l-l, since I tend to not be that much of a lady when I’m dressed like this and you’re anywhere around, a good time could really be being had by all if…..  there’s nothing under the robe. I wish you were…”

“Jen, would you please tell him you have to go.” Pat’s voice called, aborting Jennifer’s flight of fancy.

Looking across the room at the other bed, Pat hadn’t shifted positions, and her eyes were still closed. Just her mouth was moving.

“I’m not asleep,” She said. “And the hell if I’m going to be over here all by myself listening to your erotic phone tête-à-tête all night. You know you’re not going to share him, or get any tonight yourself for that matter, so hang up. It’s just plain selfish of you to be over there doing that where I can hear it.”

“Jonathan, Pat’s getting all jealous and hot. I’ll have to go.” She blew Pat a kiss. “That’s from Jonathan. He says he loves you too.”

“Tell him I said “good night”, and just hang the hell up. You two have been married far too long to still be having phone sex. It doesn’t take much to heat me up, and listening to you does not help. I’m not into self-pleasure, at least not with an audience- a female audience.”

“Bye, Sweetie.” Jennifer cooed sexily. “She’s losing it. I may call you back to finish this later if certain parties drift off. They’ve been drinking bourbon like an alcoholic fish most of the evening, so it may not be too long before they pass out.”

“I can drink you under the table, Edwards. I always could.” Pat got up and went to the bar to pour herself yet another.

Jennifer sent Jonathan a kiss over the air waves and told him good night. Then she clicked off, telling Pat, “You make me sick. It was just getting  good.”

Pat took her drink and lay back down on her bed, propping herself up on the pillows. “Yeah, good for you, maybe. Jen, for real, do you know just how blessed you are with him?”

“Oh, yesss, Patricia” Jennifer sighed, closing her eyes with the “yes” while lying back on the bed to smooth her damp hair with the towel. “That I do know.”

Turning to look directly at Pat, she shared with her thoughts that were normally much too private for her to tell anyone, anyone except that one particular friend.

“Pat, you know, sometimes I wake up during the night, when he’s still sleeping, and I can see him there. I lie there looking at him wondering if I’ll ever stop loving him. It’s been over twenty-five years, and I’ll be thinking that it can’t go on forever like this, can it? But it does. It’s been so wonderful. I’m as in love with that man as I was the day I met him; as I was the day I called you to tell you I was marrying him. When he touches me, it’s like it was the first time he ever touched me. He is really the best part of my life, Pat. This might sound maudlin, but I love him so much that I hope I die first because I can’t imagine continuing my life without him. What I really hope is that we go together. I really do.”

Pat smiled as she listened, knowing that every word Jennifer spoke was true, and that Jonathan Hart couldn’t have happened to a better person. As a young woman, Jennifer had been largely dissatisfied and unhappy in her love life, especially in those six months before she met him. Men wanted her as a possession or as a wife and mother to their children. She would not be kept, and she wanted it all, minus the children and marriage was negotiable. Then, there he was, in London, sweeping her off her feet and into their most wonderful life. With him, Jennifer had definitely grabbed the brass ring.

She and Jennifer had been friends for years, for the better part of their lives, ever since they were very young girls. A lesser woman might have been jealous, but Pat had never been anything but happy for her friend, and grateful to that handsome, gentle, congenial hunk, Jonathan. From the beginning, once they finally met, he accepted her completely, and had always respected her role as Jennifer’s good friend and confidante. She had been supremely honored when they asked her to be godmother to their precious last-minute child. They had insisted that she be present as it was being written into both their wills shortly after J.J’s birth that if something happened to the two of them, J.J. was to be be raised by her; that was how much they trusted her, and she was grateful to them for that.

“You were such a huge slut on that one.” She teased. “I remember when you called me. You had only known the man three damned days, and you had already slept with him the day before that. I was beyond shocked. I could not believe that you had done that. Not you, of all people!”

“Yes, I did do that.” Jennifer brazenly declared. “Several times by the time I came up for air and called you on that third day, and it was soooo good. I would have done it with Jonathan that very first night we met if he hadn’t fallen asleep before I could get undressed. He was so cute the next morning. I almost wish you had been there to see it. I left him that rose, so he thought we had made love the night before and that he had been so very fantastic. He was standing there waiting for me to say something about it. The look on his face when I told him that he had fallen asleep instead was priceless. I’ll never forget that look. But, after that first time we really did get together, I saw what he meant. We went at it all night, from one end of the bed to the other and back. We did it on the floor, the shower, the terrace. Poor Max. I’ve often wondered what he must have thought of me. He was right there in the suite with us, poor soul. He’d fix our meals and bring them in to us, and at first I’d be so embarrassed. Of course, Jonathan, had no shame about it, and after a while, I didn’t care either. I loved Jonathan more than I valued my dignity at that point. I was totally gone. It had never been like that for me before him.”

“That he wasn’t too hard on the eyes didn’t hurt anything either, did it?”

“No it didn’t. That was a pleasant bonus. But it’s for sure he was hard enough in the place he needed to be.” Jennifer sighed naughtily at the memory. “Oh, my…”

Pat watched her friend’s face with glee. It tickled her that nobody, except her and perhaps Jonathan, really got to see this raunchier side of Jennifer. She tended to keep her classier, more elegant guard up with people. But when they got together, that shield came down and she was likely to say and do anything.

Pat had a sudden thought.

“Jen, I sure hope J.J. didn’t inherit that particular trait from either of you two. God help her if she got it from both of you. If that’s the case, you’re going to have hell on your hands when the urges kick in, old girl.”

“I’ll just put her on the pill, and keep the condom drawer stocked.” Jennifer answered calmly. “She knows what to do with both of them and all the reasons why she needs to do it. The groundwork has been laid, and that foundation is solid. We’ve been talking about it since she discovered the difference between boys and girls that summer in France at Aunt Sabrina’s when she was three. At the beach in front of the entire world, for Christ’s sake… They’re standing there, swimsuits in the sand, as naked as you please, and the little fella has a hard-on. I only turned my back a second. How she managed to wriggle out of that suit and why, I’ll never know. They were both only three years old, Pat!!  I knew right then I had my work cut out for me.”

The memory caused Jennifer to get up to refill her glass and Pat to crack up with laughter.

Jennifer continued to speak from the bar.

“But on the more serious side, I’d very much like for J.J. to be older when it happens for her, at least eighteen and after she’s out of high school. Knowing her, I think she probably will be older. She’s adamant that she isn’t ready for sex right now, and she’s pretty mature and serious about that part of her life, very much in control. She’s had a couple of pretty good scares this past year that have taught her some things about the sexual dynamics between females and males that I never could have done in just talking with her. J.J. tends to keep most boys at arm’s length for right now. She still doesn’t really date much, just fun things like skating, boating, a movie, or other things that can be done during the day. Normally she and her friends do things in groups if they go out at night. When she does go out alone with a boy, she’s home within whatever limits we set for her. Typically, she’ll be at the wire, but she stays in bounds. It wouldn’t be J.J. if she wasn’t pushing it.”

“What about Tommy?” Pat queried. “Any changes in that situation? At the risk of sounding like some kind of pedophile, that boy was looking awfully sexy when I was there for her birthday. Just as big and buff, and handsome as they come. I think that quiet gentleness he has about him in contrast to his size is so becoming. If I had been sixteen that night, he would definitely have gotten my number at the party. Hell, I would have written it in both his hands.”

“You always were forward.”

“But I always had a date, and a cute one at that. But getting back to J.J. and Tommy, they did appear to be mighty comfortable out there dancing with each other to me. They seem to have a kind of positive connection that you don’t see between a boy and girl their age that don’t date each other.”

“It’s a funny thing, Pat.” Jennifer answered, returning to her bed, but at the last minute choosing to sit in the big chair next to it. “I almost don’t think he would do it with her right now even if she wanted to. I feel like he might be the one to make them wait, if you can believe that.”

“I think I can, Jen.” Pat agreed, nodding her head to emphasize it. “I spent a lot of time that night just watching things. I watched him at the party before and after you and Jonathan left, and I know exactly what you’re saying. I noticed that he has a way of keeping his eye on her. When he’s wasn’t with her, which he really didn’t spend a lot of time at the party with her, I could see him looking out for her. Like for instance, when Georgette’s boy, Wesley, kept trying to get close to her, and it was getting on her nerves, I could see Tommy watching that from the other side of the yard. He didn’t do or say anything. It wasn’t like he was jealous; it wasn’t that kind of eye. It was as if he wanted to protect her, and he wanted to be ready to step in if it came to that. Midge’s boy, Ollie, was doing the same thing, but it was a different thing with Tommy. I think she’s pretty special to him. He’d want to protect her, so yes, what you said makes sense.”

“It’s a rather peculiar relationship.” Jennifer went on to explain. “I’ve been keeping an eye on them, myself, for some time waiting to see what developed. They have done some things that would have been ideal situations for that kind of an encounter, but it’s not like that with them. I told you about how I caught them skipping school, and that time she got out of school early, but didn’t tell me to pick her up and they went hanging out all day together. They could have been anywhere doing anything; nobody knew where they were, but they ended up going to lunch, a movie, and doing other harmless things out in the open. And I told you about how she slipped him into the guest house to spend the night after his mother locked him out that night. She’ll go to the mat for that boy, even with me. And he, in turn, with her. They spend a good deal of time together, they talk all the time, and they’re close, but I still don’t get the sense that they’re at that place yet. He absolutely treats her like a lady; every now and then, even like one of the boys. J.J.’s such an innocent about a lot of things, and I think he senses that and respects it. His grandmother, Fee, has her eye on it too. We talk often. Real nice lady, very wise. She and Jonathan have come together and are managing Tommy’s inheritance and his holdings from his late father.”

“She’s sticking to her decision to not tell him until he’s twenty-four?”

“That’s what she says. You know, Pat, I’ve given that some thought, too, and I think it’s more than her not wanting him ruined by the money. I thought at first that she should tell him, so that he could be eased into it gradually and not have it foisted upon him all of a sudden. She’s sort of, I guess, clairvoyant, for lack of a better description. But she knows things, she tells me that she can see things, and I think she feels that if Tommy knew about the money, it might change or intensify his feelings for J.J. in some way.”

“Right now, he doesn’t think he can afford her, so in his mind she’s out of his league.” Pat surmised. “That makes sense. Smart move on Fee’s part. When you and Jonathan were away on your cruise, and Bill and I were there with J.J., I asked her where Tommy was because he hadn’t been around. She told me that Fee and his mother were keeping him busy at home. Jennifer, that boy didn’t get to come by one time while you were away.”

“J.J. told me that too.” Jennifer smiled. ” She said they figured it out after a couple of days that Fee wasn’t taking any chances. But there was nothing to worry about. Tommy knows Jonathan very well, and as much as he might like J.J., I don’t think the boy has a death wish. She says that he’s leery of me, as well. She wasn’t going to do anything like that with him anyway, and it’s not like he isn’t getting his fair share of female ‘attention’. J.J. advises him on his sex life, you know.”

“She advises him on his chicks on the side? I’ve heard everything now.”

“They’re not on the side, Pat. Remember, J.J. says she and Tommy are just friends. He dates other girls, and she doesn’t seem to care about it as long as he wears a condom when he has sex. I want you to know that’s the advice she told me she gave him.”

Pat gasped. Jennifer calmly sipped and continued, taking amused note of Pat’s rare display of astonishment.

“You heard what I said. That was the point at which I thought I had heard everything, too. He doesn’t appear to be bothered by her having so many male friends. I guess he really doesn’t have a choice. She has boatloads of them and they’re always around. The guys just love her. That J.J. is something else, Pat. Every time I think I have her figured out, she gets a little older, a little smarter, a little more complex. She’s so interesting, and she constantly keeps me going. I just wish I knew what was going on with her today. I know there’s probably something legitimate to it, but we were both too angry to explore it at the end.”

Jennifer flipped on the dryer and began running it through her hair quickly smoothing that curls that were forming as her hair started to air-dry.

Pat topped off Jennifer’s drink and then her own. She brought her glass to her lips, and stopped to ask, “Did you hear that cow Georgette say that about J.J. being Wesley’s wife one day? I thought J.J. was going to bust a gut for sure. I wanted to slap that woman for saying that in front of everyone and embarrassing her like that.”

“I heard her, and I didn’t appreciate it either.” Jennifer called over the noise of the dryer. “J.J.’s told me that Ollie is concerned about Wesley’s fixation on her. Ollie told her to let me know. I don’t know what it’s all about, and I don’t know what ideas Georgette is feeding her son, but there will be no arranged marriages. Not with my child, and if Georgette knows what’s good for her, she’ll check her son before I do. I won’t be kind about it if the ball ends up in my court. We’ve been down that road, and I scared myself with how much I love that girl and how far I’ll go to protect her.”

Jennifer looked over to Pat again, switched off the dryer, and then quietly admitted, “Even I didn’t know it was like that for me, Pat. I loaded that gun myself before we left home to go meet with him, and I had actually come to the conclusion that I was going to kill Allen Baker. Thinking back on it, I can’t believe I did that. But I did. I was going to blow that man’s head off for stalking and terrifying my little girl like that.” Pausing a moment, her voice dropped dramatically, “You should have seen her, Pat. You wouldn’t have known her. She was a mess. She was so nervous and so quiet. She couldn’t sleep and she began having these panic attacks, and nightmares. J.J. has never been afraid of anything, but he had her a basket case. We knew something was wrong, but she wouldn’t say. She wouldn’t tell us. She didn’t even call you, she was just that frightened. Every time I think about her like that I get so angry.”

She wiped the sudden tears from her eyes and took a long drink from the glass before continuing. “If J.J. hadn’t been there watching me, and said what she said to me, I know that I really would have done it. I didn’t think I had it in me to ever hurt anyone.”

Pat watched Jennifer, who had lay her head back on the pillows and closed her eyes as if talking about it had made her tired. She, too, was sure that Jennifer would have followed through if J.J. hadn’t stopped her. That incident with J.J. had to have brought back some old issues, and it brought them much too close to Jennifer’s surface.

“She’s your child, Jen. You do what you have to do to protect your child. I probably would have reacted in the same way. Even though, I didn’t give birth to her, I consider her to be mine, too.”  Thinking on it, Pat advised, “Maybe you should go ahead and talk to Georgette about that situation with Wesley before it becomes an incident.”

“I was going to, but J.J. doesn’t want me to right now. She said she only told me about it as an F.Y.I., but that she wants to handle it herself for the moment. But trust me, whether I say anything to him or not, I will be monitoring it and him closely. I’m not having it again. She’s the only one I have, Pat and I’m here. I’m right here, and it’s for me to look out for her until she leaves me to go off on her own. And hopefully, once she does leave me, she won’t make the mistakes I made because she went into a thing blindly. She’ll make mistakes, but they won’t be because she didn’t know any better.”

Pat asked, “Has working on that article with the girls helped you any, you know, with dealing with it?”

Jennifer answered, “I’m not as angry as I was, but it’s made me even more determined than ever to protect my daughter’s self-esteem. He and the tennis pro at the club were having sex a few of those girls, and the repercussions have been devastating to some of them and to their parents. The writing has been very difficult, but it has to be done. J.J. asked me to do it, and I’m determined to see it through. Pat, I only have one shot at doing it right. I didn’t ask for her, but she came to me just the same, and I wouldn’t give her back now for anything. I won’t have her afraid or ashamed to be herself, to be a woman.”

Jennifer hesitated, which made Pat look over to her again. She was still lying back with her eyes closed.

Finally after seemingly gathering her thoughts, Jennifer continued, saying, “I can’t put into words how much I love her and want to keep her from harm. I know that I can’t and that I shouldn’t try to save her from everything, but that unnecessary stuff, like grown men lusting after her and hassling her about it, and young boys trying to push themselves on her, that will not be as long as she’s with me. When she decides to have a male in her personal life or to have sex with someone, even if it’s tomorrow, I want it to be her choice and her choice alone. I want her to understand that she doesn’t have to cave in to someone else’s demands or desires.”

Both women were quiet for a time.

Then Pat, mellowed by the warm liquid flowing through her veins, called across the room, “Hey Jen, tell me story.”

“Not that again.” Jennifer had to laugh. “You always make me do that.”

“You never did tell me about that trip J.J. sent you on for her birthday.” Pat pouted. You’re not holding out on me, are you? Tell me about it.”

“It was simply lovely.” Jennifer answered, sounding as if she didn’t plan to expand upon it. “You helped set it up. You know where we went.”

“Oh no, girlfriend.” Pat declared as she sat up. “This is me you’re talking to. You’re not getting off that easily. I did have a hand in putting that cruise together, I admit, but you still owe me a story. And I know how well you can tell a story.”

“Since we’re on the subject, I think you owe me a story, too, Patricia Rose Hamilton. It would seem that you’ve been holding out on me for a lot longer time than I’ve been allegedly holding out on you. You need to talk to me about you and Bill McDowell.”

“You first.” Pat said, blushing. “I asked you first. I just wanna know, did you see daylight at all? Was your reason for staying over an extra two days actually just to recover so J.J. wouldn’t see you walking funny?”

Despite Pat’s bluntness, and her slight embarrassment over it, Jennifer had to laugh.

“You are such a big-mouthed, no-holds-barred tramp. You are the only one in the entire universe who has the nerve to ask me such things, and to talk to me like you do. And then I don’t make it any better. I go ahead and answer you. Yes, we saw the light of day. We visited the islands, we went shopping, we ate dinner on the deck at sunset, and everything.”

“And you are the only person I would let get away with calling me a tramp, even if it is gospel truth. Look, we knew each other when we were as pure as the driven snow. On prom night, I was in the next hotel room doing the same thing you were doing when we gave it up that first time. We’ve known each other through all the men, the successes, the joys, and the pains. We are sisters in spirit, and if you can’t tell your sister these things, who in the hell can you tell? Remember how we used to do in college, Jen? Let’s do it right.”

“Yours or mine?”

Pat crossed the room and they both lie down on Jennifer’s bed.

“Just like those nights at the apartment when there was a good, hot story to tell and a bottle of bourbon between us.” Jennifer reminisced. “You had the best stories.”

“But ever since you’ve been with that damned sexy Jonathan, I think yours top any I could ever tell.”

Jennifer shook her head. “I don’t know about that. You’ve got some fast explaining to do about this Bill thing. I am too outdone about that. And I don’t want a cheap, pulp paperback. I want a first edition, hardcover novel. That Bill looks like he can f- … I still can’t say that word.”

Both women burst out laughing, and Jennifer hid her face in her hands.

______________________________________________________________

“Where could they be?” J.J. wondered aloud as she peered over the railing down onto the gathering crowd on the main floor. “It’s not like my mother to be late for a performance. She likes to be in her seat so she doesn’t have to crawl over anyone, and she sits center so nobody arriving late is crawling over her.”

“Maybe she’s mad at you and she’s not coming.” Marnie offered. “Maybe she’s paying you back for not being at the reception or at dinner like you were supposed to be.”

J.J. sat back. That could very well be. She hoped that wasn’t the case, but it could very well be. It wasn’t like her mother to stoop to her level and go for payback. But then it wasn’t like her to not be where she was supposed to be either. Hadn’t she gotten all over her about that earlier?

“Let’s wait a few more minutes.” She said. “They had to go change after dinner just like we did. It probably takes them longer, doing makeup and all that stuff, so they might just be running late.”

The three girls were sitting together in the front row of the dark balcony when they were soon joined by another group of girls. They were the girls from the room on the other side of the bathroom from them.

“Hey,” One of them whispered. “Which one of you was playing the slamming music in your room?”

“Why?” Dee asked. “How’d you guys get up here?”

“We got up here the same way you did, we came up when nobody was looking. We saw you, and when we got the chance, we followed you. We didn’t want to be down there either.”

One of the others piped up, “We’re tired of this scene. This isn’t anything new for us. We heard the music from your room, and thought we could at least come over and listen with you. I am so bored.”

J.J. turned around to see who was talking. All four were very casually dressed in jeans and tee shirts, just as they were, looking as if they were in need of some fun. Two of them were tall blondes who looked very much alike.

“You play cards?” J.J. asked.

“Like fiends.” One of the blondes answered. “Poker, gin, spades, you name it.”

“J.J. immediately smiled and stuck out her hand. “I’m J.J. Hart, this is Marnie and this is Dee.”

“We already know Dee. We go to school here with her during the regular term. She’s our next door neighbor.” The taller blonde informed them, pushing Dee playfully in the shoulder. “Heard you got incarcerated for the summer. I told you to study or get to cheating or something back in February.”

Looking back to J.J. and Marnie, she introduced herself and the others. “I’m Madison, this is Tish, and Lea, and this here” She pulled the other blonde girl to her. “is my younger sister Dakota. I’m seventeen, she’s sixteen. We have  two other sisters, Savannah and Georgia, but they’re working and couldn’t get off this weekend. And yes, our parents were idiots for naming us what they did.”

The girls all laughed and exchanged ages and handshakes in greeting. Madison and Lea were the oldest at seventeen. Everyone else was sixteen.

Marnie peered back over the railing. “I still don’t see them, J.”

“Look you guys, we’re blowing this movie thing off, and going back.” Madison said. “Our mother is down there with her girlfriends from way back. She won’t miss us. We actually just came over here to find you all to see if we could get some CD’s from you or if we could come over later. Our mom took all of our music this morning when we slipped up and let her hear one with some profanity on it.”

“Yeah.” agreed Dakota. “We play them all the time at home, but here she won’t let us. She says she wasn’t going to have us embarrassing her in front of her friends and the Dean at this reunion. Now all of a sudden she wants to start playing the conscientious mother role. The housekeeper at home doesn’t care what we play.”

J.J. stood up. “Let’s all go back. Come on to our room. I have the CD’s, Dee’s computer has decent speakers, and I have some cards. I never leave home without music and at least one deck of cards.”

“We brought our boom box.” Dakota offered. “And it has mega-bass. Mom didn’t take that. We’ll bring it over to your room.”

“That’ll work even better.” J.J. nodded, feeling her evening falling comfortably into place. Playing cards and hanging out beat a movie any day.

Marnie suddenly grabbed J.J. by the arm to anxiously whisper. “Look, your mother is already hot with you. Are we getting into something that I could go on lockdown over? I told you, I’m going to that social with those boys tomorrow hook or crook. As it is I’m beginning to go into withdrawal fooling around with all these females. I need to see some guys.”

J.J. stared her down for a moment; the girl was unbelievable. Finally she reversed the hold Marnie had on her arm and pulled her along as she moved down the row of empty seats with the others. “Just come on. I’m already in deep with the Duchess. I might as well go all the way, and if I go, you’re going with me. It’s always been two for one. We’re not changing the rules for Gresham Hall or some knot-head, prep school boys.”

The girls left the balcony, crept down the stairs, and exited the theatre. Darting across the dim campus, they returned to Waverly House keeping an eye out for Miss Smythe as they entered, who as luck would have it, was nowhere to be seen. After securing the necessary equipment, they all ended up in Suite #1, and this time nobody slammed the door.

______________________________________________________________

Jennifer, having finished drying her hair, lay on her back with her drink in her hand. Pat was next to her on her stomach. She was listening intently as Jennifer related to her the story of the gift J.J. had given her and Jonathan for her sixteenth birthday, a three day Pacific cruise down the southern California coast.

“Jonathan was so sick that first night. J.J. had caused him so much distress, with those fake phone calls and meetings all week which she’d employed to set him up. By the time Stanley and Marcus called him down to the office that night of the party, he was fit to be tied. That stress combined with the spices from those chili dogs he slipped around behind my back to consume at her party gave him some serious indigestion. It had to be the worst case he’s had in a long time. By the time we boarded Cecil’s yacht, he was in agony. I was frightened and thought at first that he needed to go into emergency, but he refused, like you know he would. I asked the captain to not take us too far off from shore that first night just in case he did need to get off the ship in a hurry.

I had to feed him bicarbonate, and massage his back to move the gas up and out until my arms hurt like everything. It took me the rest of the night to get him feeling better. By that time, he’d relaxed and gone to sleep. I was so angry with him for doing that to himself that if I hadn’t thought he was dying, I would have wrung his neck myself. I’m telling you, if I’m not watching him, Pat, he’ll eat any kind of junk he can get his hands on, knowing full well what it does to him. So essentially, that first night was pretty much a bust. That’s another reason why I say we need to leave this earth at the same time; he needs somebody who loves him to keep an eye on him.”

“Okay, okay, you got him well. Cut to the lean meat, Jen. You always want to build all this background. I’ve told you about that. I edit that extraneous shit out of your writing all the time. Just tell the story.”

Jennifer got up to refresh her drink.

“Why don’t you just go ahead and bring the bottle and the ice bucket over here, Jen? It’ll save us the trips going back and forth.”

Jennifer held the bottle up to the light on her way back. “We may have to send out for another. We’ve put a serious dent in this one.”

“There’s another in my carry-on.” Pat offered. “I anticipated this.”

“Good girl.” Jennifer said, mussing Pat’s brunette head as she sat back down next to her to continue the story.

“I wound up sleeping in the next morning. I guess I was pretty tired from setting up J.J.’s party, and then worrying with Jonathan the night before. It was about noon when I finally woke, and I hated that. When I sleep late, I feel as if I’ve wasted so much of my day, and there we were on vacation. But Pat, there’s nothing like waking up looking out onto the ocean. It’s so peaceful and serene.”

“Remember that cruise we took for our twenty-first birthdays?” Pat cut in. “Peaceful and serene, my ass.”

“Shhhh!” Jennifer snickered, putting her finger to her lips. “We promised we wouldn’t speak of that cruise again.”

“We had a helluva time, though, didn’t we?”

They leaned into each other, laughing naughtily. “Yeah, we did,” Jennifer agreed, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes. “We could tell some stories, couldn’t we? Remember that bullfighter we almost went to blows over in Mexico?”

“Do I?!” Pat cried. “Girl, I can still see see those buns! And after all that fighting we did, he ended up going off with Marcia instead of either one of us.”

“Um-hum,” Jennifer laughed. “Then she came back and said he wasn’t even any good. That’s what she deserved for trying to sample everything. We would at least use some discretion. I felt sorry for her, though, on that one. Nothing’s worse than when the package looks good-”

Pat finished her sentence, “-but the contents aren’t shit.”

They both snickered at the memory of Marcia’s disgust, and her description of the bullfighter’s less than adequate physical equipment.

“Marcia always was the one for the hands-on experiences, so to speak.”

“And she had a knack for being so graphic about it. What was that she said he had?”

“A cocktail wiener, I think it was.” Pat recalled. “She sent me her latest in that series of filthy romance novels she writes under that pseudonym. It was so hot. She said that she sent you one too.”

“I got it.” Jennifer answered. “I read it and got it out of my house before J.J. could get her hands on it. I sent it to Perpignan to Aunt Sabrina in a plain brown wrapper. She gets a kick out of dirty books.”

“Oh well, then, J.J.’ll read it next summer. She told me that Sabrina lets her read whatever she wants and she’s got that whole erotic library.”

Jennifer shuddered at the thought of J.J. spending a lazy summer afternoon in Sabrina’s study. But, then again, she had done as much as a girl and come away alright for the experience.

“Hey Jen,” Pat piped up. “Maybe when J.J.’s grown, we should write a book. You know, change our names to protect the innocent and all that.”

“It would be a best-seller, that’s for sure.” Jennifer concurred. “Probably would set a bookstore or two on fire to boot. But that nosey J.J. would figure out it was us in the stories. She’d get hold of the book, read something into one of the characters, figure out it was us, and then she’d ride us for the rest of our lives about it. She’d never let us live it down. I have gone out of my way to hone this carefully crafted, pristine, upright image for her eyes over the years, and I’m not about to let go of that.”

“Go ahead with the story, Jen.” Pat chuckled. “You just don’t know.”

“Well, after I woke up, Jonathan brought me breakfast in bed. He came down to the stateroom dressed in a steward’s uniform, trying to make up to me for the night before. He’s so cute when he knows he’s made a mess of things, and he thinks I’m angry with him. He tries so hard to get back on my good side, even though most of the time I’m not even upset with him any more. I have a very hard time staying angry with him or with J.J., but I don’t let them know that. It’s more fun to watch them sweat. Needless to say, that breakfast in bed turned into something much more physical. After all, I did have to tip him, didn’t I?. When I came to again, we were anchored off Baja .”

“That lowly steward knocked you out cold like that?”

Just like that. We don’t get too many opportunities for that kind of creativity at home any more, Pat. You know, where you don’t have to worry about who can hear you.”

“What about the crew? Weren’t you worried about them hearing you?”

“What about them? They didn’t know me and after that cruise, I would never see them again, unlike my teenaged daughter who’s as inquisitive as they come, and who I have to look in the eye later.

“Speaking of that, I have to tell you, Jen. She is very much aware of what you and Jonathan do when you’re alone together, you know. She’s known since she was about eleven or twelve years old.”

Jennifer looked down at Pat. “I know that she knows, but what has she said to you? The two of you share entirely too much. I’m going to start limiting her time and her calls to you”

“No, you won’t. You love me too much. J.J. first let me know that she knew when you’d sent her to me one of those times that she was giving you the blues. She was still upset about it when she arrived in New York, and in the car coming from the airport, I asked her jokingly what she had done to get put out. She proceeded to admit to me that she had been being nerve-wrecking, even though it wasn’t on purpose, but that she thought the real reason you were getting rid of her was just so you and her Daddy could “do it” in peace. Those were her exact words, I swear it. I’m pretty sure she was about eleven at the time.”

“What’d you say? You did reprimand her for being impertinent and getting into my business, didn’t you?”

“What the hell could I say to her, Jen? I couldn’t even talk; my breath was pretty much cut off at that point. And besides, I figured she was probably right. I just went past it. I  took her for some ice cream, fixed myself a stiff one when we got back to the apartment, postponed any dates I might have had lined up, and spent the weekend showing her a good time. The hell if she was getting the goods on me like she had them on you. She’s always been pretty matter-of-fact about that kind of thing. Just says what she has to say and keeps on going, like she’s talking about the weather or something. I’m pretty sure that she and Marnie have seen some things at your house. I thought I picked up on a little something they were saying that last time they were with me, but I didn’t want to go there too deeply. Ignorance really is bliss in some situations, and that was one of them. J.J. just blows me away at times, even though I try to act like I’m not phased by what she says when I’m with her. If she isn’t every bit your Aunt Sabrina, I don’t know who is, Jennifer. She has spent too many summers hanging out in Perpignan playing the little Bohemian.”

Jennifer poured the last of the bourbon in that bottle into her glass.

“She isn’t playing at it, Pat. That’s no act. Get that other bottle out of your bag. Forget the Mix and Mingle at Waverly. To hell with the girls. Let Smythe deal with them tonight. It’s going to be a long night right here.”

______________________________________________________________

The music was playing, and the bathroom doors were open so that the girls could go back and forth between the two bedrooms. A card game was in session on the floor involving J.J., Madison, and Dee. Marnie was on the phone talking long distance, and the other three girls were on the unoccupied bed playing Monopoly.

J.J. suddenly looked over her cards to announce, “You know what? I am so hungry! I was wondering why I was feeling like this, and it’s just dawned on me that I haven’t eaten anything since breakfast!”

“I’m sure the dining hall kitchen’s closed.” said Dee. “I mean, I know how to get in, or I could go downstairs and raid the fridge, but in either case, Miss Smythe might catch me. I’m already on her hit list for earlier today when I went off on my science teacher and got sent to her. She’ll send me to the Dean if I do anything else tonight. The Dean has it out for me too.”

“You need to eat, J.J., if you haven’t eaten since breakfast.” Madison stated. “We’ll go to Plan B. That’s what we do when we can’t get things done ourselves. Plan B went to summer session too.” She called across the room, “Hey Marnie, I’m going to need that phone for a minute!”

Marnie ended her call telling J.J. that Philly and Charmaine sent their regards, and handed the receiver over to Madison who immediately began pressing the buttons with the thumb of one hand while still manipulating her cards in her other.  She spoke into it, and then asked across to J.J., “Is pizza alright?”

“Sounds real good to me.” J.J. answered looking around. The others nodded in agreement. “No black olives, no anchovies.” She added. “And some soda. How’s it going to get here?”

Madison and Dakota exchanged knowing looks. Handing the phone back to Marnie who had crawled onto her bed to sit on the side of it, Madison said with a wave of her hand, “We have our ways. Don’t worry about it. It’ll get here. We won’t even have to pay for it.”

There was a knock at the door, and Miss Smythe stuck her head in. Taking a quick head count, she was satisfied that she could see all the girls from both rooms.

“I heard the music.” She said. “So I came up to check. Why aren’t you girls at the movie?”

“We were there for a bit.” Dakota smiled sweetly. “We just decided to come back here and get acquainted with each other.”

“That’s real nice.” Miss Smythe observed. “Do your mothers know that you’ve come back?”

“It’s taken care of.” Dakota answered in her same pleasant tone, batting her baby blue eyes.
Miss Smythe nodded. “Don’t forget to come down to the lobby for the Mix and Mingle. People will be coming back here after the movie.” She closed the door and went back out.

“Nice job, Baby Sister.” Madison beamed. “She just eats you up. Now that she knows where we all are, she won’t be back for a while to check. Our moms can come up here if they want us that badly. My guess is they’ll be too tired after all the stuff they’ve had to do today.”

Dakota got up from the Monopoly game saying that she would be right back. She went out through the bathroom, and returned a few moments later just in time to take her turn.

“Too smooth.” J.J. complimented the sisters while high-fiving Marnie against whose legs she was now leaning. “I am like, so impressed.” She threw down her cards, declaring. “Gin!”

She sat back again briefly wondering what degree of irate Jennifer Hart would reached by the time she arrived there after the movie for the evening’s function. Probably she would be fiery mad, like she could get after being pushed too far, and if so, her mother wouldn’t be too tired to let her know it.

J.J. figured it was a pretty sure thing that she was in for, at minimum, a serious tongue-lashing; at max, a move to the Gresham Inn with her mother. After all, she had ditched the reception, the dinner, and the movie; and it appeared that she would be doing the same thing with the Mix and Mingle, too, if that pizza showed up around that same time. It was certainthat would not go over too well with the Duchess on top of everything else, and a royal visit would be a last minute addition to the itinerary at that point. Aunt Pat could save her only so many times.

J.J. looked up from her thoughts just in time to see Dee add her discards to the pile on the floor, and catch her eye. She smiled at her, mouthing “Thank you!”.

J.J. winked back. That part of her day had turned out all right. Dee was feeling a lot better about things than when they first met earlier that afternoon.

Picking up the cards, making ready to shuffle them, J.J. handed them off to Madison to cut. It was her turn to deal the next hand. Nah, she wouldn’t be making the Mix and Mingle. She didn’t feel like it. She hadn’t felt like it all day. Playing cards and talking amongst old and new friends, that was more her speed. Jennifer Hart would be as mad as hell about that, but oh well, c’est la vie!

______________________________________________________________

The Dean had come in after dinner, changed, and had gotten ready for bed. After reviewing her schedule for the next day’s activities with her assistant, she had retired to her bedroom and to her bed. She lay for a time, trying to read, but thoughts of her day and of what might have been kept interrupting her concentration.

Finally she put the book down, lay back, and closed her eyes.

She hadn’t set eyes on Jennifer in person in years, but she had followed her career and her doings relatively closely on her own and through her father. Seeing her in person that afternoon, it was amazing how kind time had been to that girl. She seemed to only get better and more beautiful. If things had been different, Jennifer might have been her daughter.

But they hadn’t been different.

She and Stephen Edwards had grown up together as good friends, and she had always quietly, secretly loved him. As a young schoolboy he had been fascinating. They had both been brilliant students, but he nursed a fierce longing to travel far away from their small Welsh village. Constantly reading to feed his curiosity about history, his conversations often centered around far off places and the intriguing things one might find in them. He determined that as soon as he became a man he would set off see the world.

Having grown up the eldest of seven siblings, over which she was often left in charge, Agnes Marchand thought she had made her choice, career over marriage and children of her own. She had let Stephen move on with his life without letting him know how she felt about him. True to his word, when he turned eighteen, he went off to war, and that had been the beginning of his working toward fulfilling his dreams. He had gotten involved with recovering artifacts stolen by the Nazis in Germany, and a career as an art historian and historical scholar had taken off from there.

By the time she realized that she’d made a mistake in going to work in London, letting him go to France without letting him know her heart, he had left Europe entirely for America. She didn’t know it at the time, but things between them would never be what she wanted them to be. She had lost her chance at what might have been, that which she would never know if it could have been.

From that time on, Stephen Edwards led the life of which he had so often spoken as a boy, moving from place to place, studying extensively on several continents, working with museums and galleries around the world. He would write to her from time to time of his endeavors in one remote, exotic, romantic location or another. As she began to increasingly look forward to his letters, she gradually began to see that his lifestyle was becoming appealing to her as well.

Then the letters stopped. Suddenly her coveted position at that prestigious finishing school in London didn’t seem so important or stimulating any more. Stephen had been in France when she last heard from him, but she had gotten word from a mutual acquaintance that he had gone to America. In the absence of his correspondence, she determined to go there to find him. America was the land of opportunity, and it was there, with him, she felt she would find her happiness. She was ready to change her life, hopefully by his side, and they could then travel the world together.

She accepted a similar position with a private school in Baltimore, just to sustain herself until she had her affairs in order. Maryland was the state in which she’d found out that Stephen was residing for the time while he worked with the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C. Through various sources she learned that he had come into his trust, and that he was building a home on several acres of  lush countryside in a small town where he planned to raise horses, another of his passions. What her sources neglected to tell her was that he was building the home for his new, very young traveling companion, his French bride, Suzanne.

That knowledge crushed her. Bright, ambitious, pretty Agnes Marchand had always been able to achieve anything she put her mind to all of her life. But that one thing that she had traveled across an ocean to have was evidently going to be unattainable. That fact was even further impressed upon her that day that they met by chance on the Mall in Washington. She had been escorting a group of young ladies to visit the capitol. He was there, for once, on holiday not business.

He had been happy and surprised to see her, introducing her to his beautiful flame haired wife, who was visibly pregnant with what he joyfully told her was their first child. He was still working with museums and galleries around the world and by the nature of his work, was still traveling frequently. He said that he was becoming less enchanted with it since it would be taking him away from his growing family much more than he liked. Suzanne would no longer be able to accompany him as she had in the past, what with the baby, the house and all, so he would be forced to go it alone. He had gone on to tell her how happy and at peace he had become with a wife, and then a child on the way. Although he would be away quite often, knowing that they would be there at the end of his journeys, eagerly awaiting his return would make it all worthwhile.

Suzanne hadn’t said much that day; at the time, she instead stood quietly as she and Stephen talked, but watching her with very direct hazel-colored eyes. Dean Marchand vividly recalled that she was radiantly lovely, and despite her youth; she was just nineteen, she gave off a strong air of poise and confidence. Suzanne Edwards appeared very much in love with her husband that day, and he with her. They made a striking couple. She had always remembered her face, especially her eyes, and that she had an unusually beautiful smile.

After that one time, however, she never saw Stephen’s wife in the flesh again.

Shortly after that meeting, she had taken the position at Gresham Hall where she dedicated her life to the education and upbringing of young women. She and Stephen had remained friends, writing infrequently, occasionally talking on the phone, taking a lunch or two over the next few years when he happened to be in Boston, but he never knew. She never let him know that he had been the only man she ever wanted.

Then one late afternoon came that call from Stephen. Suzanne, he said, was dead; killed instantly by a drunk driver passed out at the wheel sending his car careening head-on into hers. She had been on her way home from taking their daughter, Jennifer, to school one morning. He was distraught at losing her and at losing their unborn child. She had just learned that after twelve years, they were to have a second child. The pregnancy had been so new, he said, that they hadn’t shared it with Jennifer. He was dealing with all of that, as well as finding himself at a complete loss as to what to do with his daughter.

The girl had been raised largely by her mother while he continued to travel with his work. What he discovered after Susan’s passing was that even though he was her father, and he loved her, he really didn’t know Jennifer and she didn’t really know him. With her mother gone, the girl had shut down on him and closed him out. She had taken to leaving the house on her horse early in the mornings, staying away for almost entire days at a time. At dusk, he would often have to go looking for her. She wouldn’t talk to him about it at all. He and his daughter were worlds apart in the same house.

He had finally come to the conclusion that in order for him to survive it all, he needed to get back to his work. The girl’s aunt, Suzanne’s identical twin in France, wanted her niece sent to her. She wanted to finish raising her, but Stephen felt that his unattached sister-in-law’s free and easy lifestyle wasn’t stable enough for his child on an everyday basis. Feeling that it would be better for Jennifer to be grounded in one place and closer to home, rather than traipsing around the world with him, he wanted to send her to Gresham Hall and to her: someone he felt he could trust. It was the only way, he said, that he could leave her. And leaving her was the only way that he could survive for her.

And so, Jennifer had come. Thin, quiet, coltish, morose, but brilliant and studious like her father; she didn’t let anyone get close to her; anyone that is except that wild, motherless Patricia Hamilton. How those two ever clicked defied her understanding, but they did in a big way, and they had probably been the saving grace of each other while they drove their teachers and caretakers crazy. The only positive thing about their behavior was that when things got too bad, Stephen, being the only one who could settle them down, would make the time to fly in from wherever he was in the world to see about his only child.

Patricia’s inattentive father had no control over her whatsoever, so Stephen, recognizing that she and Jennifer tended to bounce off each other, took to not holding his tongue with her either. He began treating Patricia like his own when it came to their academics and their behavior. After a call or a visit from him, the two girls would be better for a bit, and then things would gradually start up again. She would then either be forced to contact him or send for him to come visit them once again.

It was always good to talk with him or get a visit from him even under those circumstances. With age and his varied global experiences, over the years he became increasingly handsome and debonair; a true gentleman in every sense of the word. His expectations for his daughter were extremely high, and he let her know those expectations in no uncertain terms. Jennifer gave him what he wanted academically, but she did as she pleased with the rest. Patricia, being indirectly raised by Stephen as well, through Jennifer’s upbringing, followed suit.

During his daughter’s stay at Gresham Hall, the friendship with Stephen had grown stronger, returning to how it had been when they were young and before his marriage to Suzanne. It was her unspoken hope that the relationship would finally evolve into something more serious, but over time it slowly became obvious that Stephen had no interest in rekindling his love life with anyone. His life was his daughter and his work. There would be no more wives, no more women taking a serious part in his existence. It couldn’t be. Jennifer had been too badly affected by her mother’s sudden death, and he was willing to forfeit his own personal happiness to not further affect hers.

Over dinner one night, when he’d stayed over on one of his trips home to reprimand Jennifer and Patricia, he told her in the course of a casual conversation that he knew that Jennifer would not be accepting of another woman in his life at that time. He was prepared to do what needed to be done to insure her happiness. He said that she had lost enough.

There was an inarguable validity to what he said. Any woman interested in Stephen would have to deal with his daughter, and she had been a handful. By the time of that conversation, Jennifer had been at Gresham Hall for three years, and even though she was quite popular and had many friends, still she remained extremely closed and private when it came to her personal life.

Stephen had been stern and sometimes overly strict with her, but he compensated for that by spending as much time with her as he could. Her sudden, great beauty unnerved him, and he wanted her kept close when she was at school. Like her mother, she was quite alluring, and he could see that in her. Any time that she was free from school, she traveled with him. He transferred to her his love of travel, and he taught her all about people, places, customs, and other subjects far outside the Gresham Hall curriculum. It was through her travels with her father that Jennifer discovered her aptitude for linguistics. By the time she was seventeen, she had been all over the world with him, and was fluent in several foreign languages. Eventually, Jennifer and Stephen had managed to form a strong, loving bond.

At the commencement ceremony, where she and Patricia shared the Valedictorian’s duties, having both finished first in their class, Jennifer closed her portion of the speech thanking God for leaving her in the hands of such a wonderful, loving, demanding father when he decided to call her mother home with him. She said that it was God’s infinite wisdom and divine intervention that allowed her to get to know her father for the fine man that he was. That day Stephen had openly wept tears of joy and pride .

Stephen Edwards had indeed been diligent, noble, and patient, but as far as Dean Agnes Marchand was concerned, he had also been a martyr for his child.

She put her book away, turned off the lamp, and rolled over on her side, preparing to drift off for the night. She wondered if Jennifer realized all of that. Probably not. No child could ever realize the full extent of the sacrifices a parent made in his or her life for a beloved offspring’s sake. She wondered if Jennifer’s daughter was as remote, stubborn, maddening, mischievous, brilliant, and fascinating as she had been.

During the very brief time that Justine pensively sat at dinner after popping in shamefully late, and then when storming out shortly after that; even from the considerable distance between their two seats, Justine Jennifer Hart certainly looked to her very much like Jennifer Justine Edwards had once looked.

Stephen disagreed with that.

______________________________________________________________

J.J. was startled when three boys nonchalantly walked into the room from the bathroom carrying two pizza boxes and several bottles of Coke as if they belonged there.

“Okay, Maddy.” The first boy, the tallest one announced in a lowered tone. “Here’s your food. Now who do I get my kiss from in here for risking running into old lady Smythe to sneak it up here to you at this time of night? You know it’s too early for this.”

Marnie jumped. “Where the hell did you all come from?” She blurted out, startled as well, but more pleasantly so.

The five regulars in the room began to laugh, seemingly not finding the presence of the boys to be anything out of the ordinary.

“Meet Plan B.” Madison explained between giggles. “We call the guys in when we can’t get a job done ourselves. The Brookfield boys have a little more freedom of movement than we do here at Gresham. Meet Josh, Frank, and Teddy. They’re our knights in shining armor from up the road. Guys this is Marnie and-”

“Oh, I know her.” The one named Teddy said, having immediately focused upon J.J. sitting down on the floor. “I’d know that ponytail and hairline anywhere. That’s the Mission Street Foundation poster girl, Miss J.J. Hart, the sweetheart of Brookfield. You didn’t tell me you were housing a celebrity up here, Maddy!”

He was that tallest one. “I’ll take my kiss from you, lady.” He said talking to J.J. “You owe me for this pizza in my hands and for the hefty donations I sent your way last year.”

“I don’t think so.” J.J. answered from the floor, blushing some because she couldn’t help but be intrigued by his knowing her. “I don’t do kisses, especially not to boys I don’t know. Just tell me how much I owe you in dollars. That, I can handle. What are you talking about, a celebrity?”

Teddy handed the pizzas to Madison who had gotten up, and he reached into his back pocket, pulling out his wallet. Flipping it open, he extracted a photograph which he held up for all to see. It was the school picture that J.J. had taken the previous year where she had been holding a lit cigar while wearing her bomber jacket with the word “INCORRIGIBLE” spelled out on the back of it in glittering gold letters. It was a computer scan from the series of pictures that Marnie had promoted and sold to raise money for the Mission Street Orphanage. The other two boys pulled two other similar shots from the series out of their wallets and held them up as well.

J.J. turned beet red, and had to laugh despite her embarrassment, while Marnie beamed proudly behind her.

“I told you they were a winner, J.!” She crowed, punching the air with her fist. “Coast-to-damned-coast. Am I good, or what!”

“Are you guys in the habit of carrying around pictures of girls you don’t know?” J.J. asked, highly amused and still smiling despite not being quite sure if she should be gratified or mortified.

“We do when she’s as pretty as you.” said Teddy, gallantly holding out his hand to her. “I’m pleased to finally meet you, Miss J.J. Hart. I’m Theodore- Teddy- Baxter. Now I’m not a stranger to you any more. You have a very lovely smile. It’s no wonder Wesley waxes so poetic over you.”

The mention of Wesley talking about her to his school friends made her suddenly uncomfortable, but J.J. graciously took the hand he offered anyway.

“It’s nice to meet you too.” She said. “And even though we’ve now been properly introduced, I’m still not kissing you, but I thank you for your generosity to Mission Street. The money helps some really nice kids be able to do some really great things. But, right now I’m just really, really hungry, so I’m going to eat some of that pizza you brought. You can put it on my tab- my money tab.”

The other boys introduced themselves to her and to Marnie, and J.J. got up to go wash her hands.

As she did, she could feel Teddy’s eyes on her back. He was handsome and seemed nice, but the fact that Wesley had spoken to him about her made her uneasy for some reason.

Dee had gone into her closet, and she emerged with paper plates, napkins, and cups, which she handed out. Then she went over to put the inside lock on the bedroom door.

“We locked your door in your room after we came in the window of your room, Maddy.” Josh let them know. “Old lady Smythe will have to knock if she shows up. That’ll give us time to clear out through either room no matter where she shows up first.” He turned the music up a notch on the boom box.

“You guys have thought of everything!” J.J. observed, highly impressed with the operation as she came back into the room from the bathroom. “You do this often? How did you guys get on campus? Furthermore, how did you get up here on the second floor?”

“We do it when we have to.” Dakota answered. “And you have to be prepared for anything around here.” She added, gesturing to the paper goods.

“And if we told you how we got in here,” Frank said between around his mouthful of pizza. “We’d have to kill all of you afterward. That’s a definite secret. Strictly top drawer classified.”

“We really don’t ask any questions.” Madison said. “We never have. One night I desperately needed help with my term paper. The computer in our room crashed, Dee and two other people were on hers, and my paper was due the next day. I called Teddy up all hysterical and everything, and he was up here in no time flat. Scared the hell out of Dee and her girls. He came in through their window that night.”

Dee chuckled at the memory. Her roommates had been scandalized in the beginning, but by the end of the term, they had taken to leaving the window slightly open to facilitate his comings and goings.

“Maddy calls me, but she had the window in her room closed, so I had to come through here. Then I messed around and got locked in that night.” Teddy grinned naughtily. “I didn’t have the timing down pat at the time, and I was here too long with Maddy trying to get it back up-”

He blushed as titters of laughter abruptly broke out around the room.

“He means we were trying to get the computer back up, all of you with the dirty minds.” Madison stated in clarification.

“Thanks, Maddy.” Teddy said, his face still red. He continued, “I was forced to stay with up here with all these girls that night.”

Dakota raised her hands. “Hold it! Let’s clear that up for J.J. and Marnie, too. He slept on the floor, and we all took turns sleeping in shifts to make sure that he stayed his butt on the floor.”

“No lie.” Dee affirmed. “If he had gotten up off that floor, even to go to the bathroom, we were ready for him.” She reached in and pulled a miniature baseball bat from under her bed and swung it around.

“That’s not the story you told us, Ted.” Frank said slyly, winking at the girls.

“This is too much for me.” J.J. declared. “And that’s saying something. It’s just as well that I don’t know how you get in here. That way, if we get caught tonight, I won’t be lying when I say I don’t know anything about  any of it.”

Everybody laughed.

“So very smooth.” crooned Marnie, high-fiving J.J. “I am so loving this turn of events. We go to public school, and it’s no where near this live.”

She could see that Josh was checking her out, and she adjusted her posture to give him a clear view of her petite frame.

“Me, too.” J.J. agreed, biting into a hot slice of pizza, letting her eyes roll up into her head. She had been so famished, when she made her first swallow, it felt like it was going down to the bottom of her feet .

“Whoever doesn’t have greasy hands yet,” She instructed. “Slide in Pink, and let’s get this party started.”

If they got caught, the Duchess would surely have her head on a sharpened stick over this and compounded with everything else she’d done (or hadn’t done) that day, Marnie was probably right about her father not being able to identify the body. But it would be a death worth dying. It didn’t get any better than this. Good food, good music, good people, and some cards. Perhaps Gresham Hall wasn’t such a grim place after all.

As she and Marnie began to bounce in synchronized West Coast public school movement to the music from the requested CD, much to the entertainment of their prep school counterparts, she wondered where her mother was, and why she hadn’t heard from her.

______________________________________________________________

“So where did you go ashore?” Pat asked. “Did you make all the stops we planned for you?”

“Well, we didn’t quite make them all. There were times that we didn’t even know that we had stopped. I mean, we really just rested a lot. I know you think all we do is make love, but honestly, that wasn’t what it was. We just really had a chance to enjoy each other’s company without phones ringing, pagers going off, messengers bringing over papers, running to this meeting and that meeting, worrying about what time to pick J.J. up or drop her off, deadlines, etc., etc. I never realize how much we run until we get a chance to stop for a bit. The best part of what you, Bill, and J.J. did for us was to give us time together alone. That was the most precious part of that gift. We just slept, and talked, and ate, and took walks, and sometimes we just sat on deck and held hands and rested.”

“I have to tell you, Jen. That was your kid who did that. When she called me with the idea, that was the first thing out of her mouth. She said that she had thought a long time about giving you two a gift for her birthday, and the only thing that she could think of that you didn’t have was time for each other alone. It took off from there, but I think it’s great that J.J. realizes how much you two mean to each other and that she has such a high regard for your relationship outside of being her parents. She’s something else, Jen. A real lady. She has a unique ability to stand back and see a thing for what it is that’s beyond her sixteen years.”

Jennifer smiled quietly, but didn’t say anything for a while. She and J.J. both had that ability, only she didn’t always have it when it came to J.J. and J.J. didn’t always have it when it came to herself.

She slowly realized what Pat had been trying to tell her all evening: that in her efforts to weed out the things in J.J.’s nature that she thought might cause her trouble down the line, she sometimes failed to see her strengths and the part of her that was nothing like either her or Jonathan. She was growing up, becoming her own person, and perhaps that person was beginning to gel into someone who wouldn’t need so much monitoring soon. She was most definitely one who would be going her own way, as she had all that day.

But J.J. still had that problem with seeing how she fit into the grand scheme of things, how she so strongly affected others, how the things she did often left a very lasting impression on those around her. That part of her personality was still worrisome for her mother, but as time had gone by, it was looking as if that was something that wouldn’t really ever change. It was part of that selflessness aspect of J.J.’s nature. In her lifelong struggle to just be “normal”, she tended to  underestimate herself. Jennifer lie there for a moment wondering how one broke it to a girl who was so exceptional in every sense of the word that she would never be the plain Jane she strived so hard to be- ever- she would never be.

“Now about Bill McDowell.” Pat volunteered out of the blue, rolling over on her side to face her friend. “We have been lovers since the day that J.J. was Christened.”

Jennifer sat up, wide-eyed. “Well, I’ll be damned, Pat! That was sixteen years ago! You’re only just now telling me? I thought we didn’t keep secrets!”

“Are you angry?” Pat asked earnestly. “Please don’t be angry, Jen.”

Stunned, Jennifer got up and began to pace. “I’m not angry. I just don’t understand. I tell you everything. Why didn’t you say anything? Were you ever going to tell me if I hadn’t asked?”

“First of all, you don’t tell me everything, Jen. You’ve held some things back, but I respected your privacy and didn’t ask you about them. I figured you’d either tell me or you wouldn’t. And if you didn’t, you had your reasons.”

She looked up and could see Jennifer had blanched at her words. She felt badly about putting it out there, but that had to be said. Whatever happened to her in Australia with Elliot that six months before she met Jonathan, after all the years that had gone by, it still hurt that she hadn’t trusted her enough to share it with her. However bad or painful or horrible it had been, she had wanted so desperately to help, but Jennifer would never say what happened. She had just closed up and even after all that time it was still inside her, manifesting itself in an ardent protectiveness over her daughter.

“But that wasn’t why I didn’t tell you, Jen. I wouldn’t hold anything against you. I didn’t say anything because it started out as just lust. I was hot for him, he was hot for me, and we went to bed together. I didn’t want to tell you that I was screwing Jonathan’s best friend just for the hell of it; just because I was hot for his body. I mean, I know I’ve done that before, and it hasn’t mattered. That’s just me, but not with a friend of your husband. I figured it would just be a one night stand, or at best, a hit or miss kind of thing and that would be it. But over the years, it’s continued. We’d run into each other and we’d do it. He’d be in town, we’d meet and do it. We enjoyed each other physically. But every time we got together the emotional feelings would get stronger and stronger, and we found that we liked each other a lot as people. We started joking that J.J.’s godparents ought to get closer in the event that we had to raise her. It’s eventually grown into a real, a vital friendship, but lately, I think it’s becoming a real relationship. Jen, that scares the hell out of me. I like Bill as a man.”

Immediately Jennifer forgot her confusion and frustration with Pat, and returned to the bed to sit down.

“Why?” She asked. “Bill is a fine man, and you deserve someone like him. Knowing you like I do, I think he’s got to be good for you. Pat, you’ve been on your own for all these years. Why would loving him scare you? It’s not like after sixteen years together, you don’t know him.”

“That’s just it. I do know him, and I don’t want things to change. We’ve been happy just as we are, with him in Nevada, and me in New York. With him at McDowell Aviation with his son, Peter, and me at Hamilton House with my people. I see him when I see him. He sees me when he sees me. It’s been working so well. Now we seem to be getting even closer than ever. I miss him and want him when he isn’t there. It wasn’t like that before. He’s saying the same things about me. I have a confession to make to you. When we stayed at your house with J.J. after her party when you and Jonathan left, I didn’t stay in the house with her. I stayed in the guest house with Bill. At first, I tried to sneak and do go out there when I thought she might be asleep, but I knew that little snoop had to have caught on about it. So, I just broke down and told her where I would be and that if she needed me to call out there.”

“And she hasn’t said a word about it.”

“I asked her not to.”

“And Bill paid her not to.” Jennifer asserted, pursing her lips and nodding her head. “I saw him slip her some money when you two were leaving. She just grinned like the Cheshire Cat and went on up to her room with the bill rolled up tight in her hand. And just so you know, I have a confession to make too. I already knew about it. I saw you slipping out to the guest house when you and Bill came and stayed with us during that time that J.J. and Tommy had gotten kidnapped. I just didn’t know at the time that it was such old news.”

It was Pat’s turn to go wide-eyed. “Then why didn’t you say anything?”

“Because,” Jennifer smiled in answer. “I am your friend. I figured you’d tell me or you wouldn’t, and if you didn’t, you had your reasons.”

Pat sat up, and put her one hand on top of Jennifer’s which rested on the bed. Jennifer put her other hand on top of hers, and Pat finished the stack. “We are quite the pair, aren’t we?” She said.

“Yes we are, Patty. We are two very lucky women. We’ve had good people, good times, good lives, and we’ve had each other.”

“And lots and lots of booze.” Pat chuckled, reaching for the half empty second bottle, the one that she had taken from her bag. “We are going to be hung over like hell in the morning, and we have a speech to make in front of a crowd of people.”

“We’d better go to bed.” Jennifer suggested, reaching for the phone.

“If you’re calling Jonathan back, can you at least wait until you hear me snoring?” chided Pat as she crossed the room to go to her bed.

“I’m just calling the girls, Patricia. I bet they’re wondering where we were tonight. I know J.J.’s probably looking for me since we didn’t show up at the movie or the Mix and Mingle.”

“If I know J.J., Jennifer, she’s met some kids, and she and Marnie aren’t giving a rat’s ass about us. J.J. probably didn’t go to either one of the events herself. And if she did go, once she found out that you weren’t there, she was out of there like a shot. Hang up and give that girl some room. She can’t go too far or get too much going over at Waverly with Warden Smythe on the prowl.”

“I guess you’re right.” Jennifer sighed as she put the receiver back in it’s cradle. “I’m probably too drunk to hold a decent conversation with her anyway, and a person has to be at full capacity to deal effectively with her.”

Feeling a little warm and and a tad dizzy, she lie back on the bed in her robe with the intention of letting her head clear and then getting back up to put on her pajamas.

It would be morning before she woke again.

______________________________________________________________

Purely as a matter of form, J.J. decided to go downstairs. She eased down the carpeted stairs to the first floor where many of the alumni and their daughters who were sharing Waverly house were gathered after the movie for conversation and light refreshments. Marnie, otherwise occupied, felt that she had fulfilled her obligations by attending the reception and dinner. J.J. figured she at least owed her mother an appearance at the Mix and Mingle even though it had been difficult to tear herself away from the fun upstairs. It seemed that her overall perception of prep school kids had been just that, a perception. She was actually having fun. Full from the pizza and soda she’d consumed in the room with the others, she concentrated her efforts on looking for her mother and Pat.

It was immediately apparent that they weren’t there. Her mother was tall and striking, and she stood out in a crowd. Pat was also tall, and she tended to draw a crowd. If they had been there, they would have been the center of a large group of people. Everyone down there was milling about or in small groups, sitting or standing to talk. Still, after not seeing them in the large front hall, she went into the parlor, the dining room, the small sitting room, and even the room that was used as a lounge just to be sure. There were plenty of people there, but not her mother or her Aunt Pat. She couldn’t believe that they hadn’t come or at least called to let her know that they weren’t going to be there.

How inconsiderate of them!

It was summertime. Maybe they were outside.

Heading for the door, she decided to go out and check.

“J.J., where’s your mother?” A voice called out. It was Eva Taylor. “Is Patricia here?”

She was across the room, and not wanting to yell back- it was bad form in public- she shrugged her shoulders to indicate that she didn’t know. As she opened the door, she was startled to find Teddy standing there just about to use the knocker.

“What-” She stepped back a bit, in surprise.

He winked conspiratorially at her. “Good evening, Miss Hart.” He said, much louder than necessary. “Is Mrs. Smythe in?”

“I don’t know where she is.” J.J. answered, the puzzlement sounding in her voice and showing on her face.

“I don’t think she’d mind if you sat with me on the porch for a bit.” He announced after he didn’t spot the woman in question in the foyer.

He took J.J. by the hand, and pulled her gently out of the door onto the porch. Then he reached in and closed it behind her. When he turned back around, she was standing with her hands on her hips, looking at him.

“What are you?” She asked. “A genie or something? You just keep popping up out of nowhere. I left you upstairs.”

“Yeah, I know.” He smiled. “They were up there talking about stuff they like to do, and your friend said that you like horses. I came to see if you wanted to go for a quick ride.”

Instantly intrigued, she asked, “There’re horses here, Teddy?”

“Bunches. Beautiful ones. I should know. I’m their groom and chief stable flunky for the summer. It’s my penance for being such a clown during the regular term. The administrators and my parents thought they were punishing me. They just didn’t know. I love the smell of hay and horse shit in the morning. I was raised on a horse farm in Virginia until I came to Brookfield in the ninth grade.”

J.J., caught off guard, had to laugh at the hay comment.

“I love to ride.” She told him. “But I don’t know about riding right now, Teddy. It’s too dark and I don’t know the layout of the area.”

“I know the area. I wouldn’t let anything happen to you.”

J.J. thought on it. She was high up on the fence, straddling it, a leg on each side. “I would like to see them.” She admitted. “Could I trust you to be a gentleman? I mean, I don’t really know you.”

Pretending to take off a cap, Teddy bowed a deep bow, humbly, from the waist in front of her. “I promise you, I am completely trustworthy. My intentions are totally honorable.” He stood upright and grinned impishly. “So, are you game?”

“I’ll tell you what.” She said, tapping her chin, having made her decision. “You can come by after breakfast and take me around to the stables tomorrow morning. Maybe we can get a quick ride in then. I would hate to go out to the stables tonight, see them and not be able to ride. How long can you stay over here?”

“As long as you’ll stay out here with me.” He answered. “Just like I get in and out of here, I get in and out of Brookfield.”

“What about your friends that came with you?”

He waved his hand to dismiss them. “They’re on their own.”

J.J. sat down on the step and held out her hand to him. “Then why don’t we just sit here and get to know each other.”

As much as she wanted to see those horses, she knew better than to go off by herself in the night with a boy she had just met. Even if her instincts were telling her that he could be trusted, it just wasn’t a good move. Those same horses would be there in the light of day. He had proven himself far too good a sneak to be totally trusting of  him right off the bat, no matter how nice he seemed to be. Jennifer Hart wasn’t raising a complete fool.

Wherever she was.

______________________________________________________________

When Pat woke again, the clock on the nightstand read 10:07 P.M. Across the room, she could see Jennifer fast asleep on top of the covers, still dressed in her robe and her slippers.

“You never could stay awake after a drunkfest.” She smiled as she got up to go to her aid.

After removing Jennifer’s slippers and raising her one leg back onto the bed from where it hung over the side as if she’d passed out, Pat covered her with the blanket that was folded at the foot of her bed. She was down for the count.

“You’ll be paying for this in the morning, Jen.” She thought to herself as she looked down on her comatose friend. “I sure hope J.J. has her nose back in joint by that time. It won’t do for her to still be attitudinal with the kind of killer hangover you’ll be sporting.” Then she turned off that bedside lamp.

The thought of J.J. made her get her cell from the table and take it into the bathroom where she closed the door behind her and then speed dialed J.J.’s phone. She was a little surprised when it was Marnie who answered.

“What’s up?” Was the greeting she received.

“You tell me.” whispered Pat. “Why are you answering J.J.’s phone? Where’s she, and what’s all that noise in the background?”

“That’s a whole lot of questions, Aunt Pat. Which one do you want me to answer first?”

“Marnie, I don’t give a damn!” Pat whispered in exasperation. “Pick one!”

“How about I’m answering J.J.’s phone because she’s not here. That covers two of them.”

“Where is she?” Pat inquired, straining to hear Marnie over the noise and trying to keep her voice low at the same time. “And turn that music down. I can barely hear you.”

That was a far cry from the Gresham Hall of their day. By that time of night, Smythe would have them on lights out, and they would be using the flashlights to read, to see each other, and to get things done. But then again that had been many, many years ago. Then too, it was probably different, more relaxed, during the summer sessions.

“I don’t know.” Marnie answered. “She went downstairs a while ago to meet her mother and you at the Mix and Mingle and she didn’t come back. I thought she was with the two of you. Hey! Where are you, come to think of it?”

“Don’t worry about where I am.” Pat hissed. “Run downstairs and see if you see her. If you do, put her on this phone.”

“Okay, I’ll go down and I’ll have her call you right back.”

“No you won’t.” Pat said quickly. ” I’ll hold. You just go do what I said, and I don’t want any crap.”

It seemed like an eternity before Marnie returned, breathless and talking fast, to the phone.

“Aunt Pat, she’s like, um, kinda tied up and couldn’t get to the phone this minute. I, um, I didn’t want to keep you waiting so, I’ll like have her call you right back when she’s, um like, not tied up any more, okay?” and the phone clicked off.

“Marnie! Marnie? Oh, hel-l-l-l no, you did not hang up on me!” Pat snatched the phone from her ear and stared in disbelief at the “disconnected” message on the display .

Her next call was to the desk to order a taxi. She had consumed far too much bourbon to get behind the wheel of her car, but she wasn’t impaired enough to have not noticed Marnie’s weak attempt at a quick snow job. Whatever was going on, it would be better handled by her than by Jennifer at this point. If Jeneifer had to drag up and get dressed to go and see about them in her condition, there would be some serious hell raised in #1 Waverly.

Pat crept back into the bedroom and slipped into the outfit  she had thrown across the chair earlier, an action for which she had been chastised in vain by Jennifer. Years of being single, footloose and fancy free made her an expert on being prepared. There was always a quick outfit at the ready, and she was more than adept at dressing in the dark and making hasty exits. It was like riding a bike; one never forgot how. When one needed to do it, it was automatic. Grabbing her purse, she tiptoed from the room easing the door closed behind her to go wait downstairs for the cab. As she stood at the window to watch for it, she could just picture the flurry of activity in that first suite at Waverly House. If J.J. Hart and Marnie Benson were up to something, they’d better have it worked out by the time she got there. …And that little Marnie had a major reaming coming for hanging up on her.

______________________________________________________________

Marnie clicked off the cell and looked around the room as if J.J. would magically appear if she looked hard enough.

“Did J.J. say where she was going?” She anxiously asked the assortment of teenagers in the room with her and Dee.

Both rooms were now occupied, full teenaged girls drawn first to the music and then to the fun. The two boys who remained were reveling at being in the minority and in their midst.

“She said she was going to see if her mother made it.” Madison answered from where she was still playing cards on the floor.

Where there had been three girls playing for points earlier, five girls now played, and there were several dollar bills in the pot in middle of the floor. “Isn’t she back yet?”

“Do you see or hear her in here?” Marnie rhetorically asked, throwing up her hands. “That was her Aunt on the phone looking for her. I couldn’t find her downstairs, so I panicked and I hung up on her. God help us if she’s told J.J.’s mother that I did that, and that J.J. didn’t make it to the phone. Her mother freaks when she’s not where she’s supposed to be, especially at night. Oh my God, they’re probably on their way over here. I’ve got to find J.!”

“Where’s Teddy?” Dee asked. “Is he in the other room?”

Marnie jumped off the bed and ran through the bathroom. “He’s gone too!” they heard her yell.

______________________________________________________________

“I never thought this day would turn out like this.” J.J. observed.

“How come?” Teddy asked as he watched the wistful expression on her face which was softly bathed in the light the from the gas lamps.

“It started out so horribly. When I first got here, I was feeling all tense and boxed in. I didn’t like the atmosphere. I thought everybody here was going to be all stuffy and snotty acting. They had our day all mapped out for us, and I hate that kind of thing. I found out that we’ve got to wear those stupid uniforms tomorrow, and I just wanted to die. I missed all the events I was supposed to attend with my mother, and I’m pretty sure she’s mad at me. Tonight she didn’t come to the movie or to the last event here at the house, and I know that’s because she was paying me back. She hasn’t called here once. She and my aunt are staying at the Gresham Inn, and it isn’t like my mother to not call and check on me, especially with us being out of town and separated like this. I didn’t call her because I didn’t want to hear her fussing at me. I was feeling so badly about being here, and then I met Dee and we found out that we had some things in common. Then I met Madison and Dakota and their friends, including you. Even Miss Smythe turned out to not be the stick figure I thought she was. I’m finding out that it’s all what you make it.”

“I’m glad you’re feeling better, J.J. You don’t seem like the type of person who would stay down too long.”

She smiled at that. Laying her head back on the cushion of the swing, she closed her eyes as he slowly rocked the two of them. They had moved from the porch to the covered gazebo out on the front lawn. It was a lot like the one in her backyard where she spent so much of her reflection time.

“What are you thinking about?” She heard him ask.

“How none of this has been what I thought it would be.” Was her answer. “How life is so good tonight.”

“So what about me?” Teddy asked. “Am I what you thought I was at first?”

J.J., turning her head and opening one eye, studied him for a moment. “The jury’s still out.” She answered.

______________________________________________________________

After Marnie notified the assembled of the possible impending visit by J.J.’s mother and aunt, the two rooms emptied quickly. The visiting girls retired to their respective suites, and the two boys went back out of the window through which they had earlier arrived with the promise that they would call back to say if Teddy was in his room back at school or not.

“We aren’t going to be able to do too much looking around for her.” Dee advised Marnie. “We’re pretty much shut down after ten and we’re supposed to be in our rooms by eleven. It’s a quarter to eleven now.”

Eleven?!” Marnie exclaimed. “And what do you do all closed up in a room after eleven?”

“You’re supposed to be getting your things ready for the next day, studying, getting ready for bed, stuff like that.”

Marnie, determined to find her friend before Pat and the Duchess stormed the beach, headed for the door talking over her shoulder, “Well, I’m going to go take another quick peek around. It’s not like J.J. to go off on her own without telling somebody, or to go off with a boy she doesn’t know that well, period. If she’s with Teddy, she’s going to be somewhere out in the open. I just didn’t have time to look that well before.”

“Wait. Let me go look for her.” Dee advised. “I know more about where to look. You stay here and clean up. We don’t want to let Smythe know that she’s not up here and that we don’t know where she is. She’ll have an all points bulletin out for her and that would bring in the Dean, and we definitely do not want her down here until we know that J.J. isn’t here for real. And if any of them show up, we don’t want them to know that we had a party of any kind.”

______________________________________________________________

After showing her alumni card at the front gate, Pat directed the driver to take her onto The Quad. On the way, she rang J.J.’s cell. Once again it was Marnie who answered that phone.

“I’m not even going to ask.” Pat said upon hearing Marnie’s voice. “Just come downstairs and let me in.”

And this time it was she who hung up first.

______________________________________________________________

Marnie raced around the room tidying up and cursing J.J. Where in the hell had she taken off to? It was so unlike her to just be missing in action like that. Could she possibly have broken down and gone off with Teddy? He was awfully cute, and he had been the type she liked: tall, dark, and rugged looking. Thinking about it, Teddy put Marnie in mind of Tommy back at home, and Tommy was the epitome of J.J.’s type.

Madison came in from the bathroom. “Hear anything from J.J. yet?” She asked, watching Marnie race around to pick up around the room. She pitched in, straightening up the bed that hadn’t been assigned to anyone.

“No.” Marnie answered. “Dee went to go look for her. Her aunt just called again. They’re on their way up here from the main gate. Our asses are finished if Dee doesn’t find her before they get here. J.J.’s mother can be a trip, and she will be one for real if that girl isn’t in this room when she gets up here.” Marnie stopped to fan herself. “I think I’m going to have a heart attack! I have to go downstairs and let them in.”

“Go ahead on down.” Said Madison. “I’ll finish up here. Calm down. J.J. seems pretty level-headed. I’m sure she’s handled her business. If she’s with Teddy, she’s in good hands. He’s a straight-up nice guy even if he is the best sneak on two campuses.”

“I sure as hell hope you’re right.” sighed Marnie as she checked her appearance in the mirror before going down. “I’m all messed up over this. Usually if one of us is missing, and there’s a boy missing too, I’m the one whose ass everybody is looking for, not J.”

Satisfied that all was in place, Marnie took a deep breath to steel herself, and headed out of the room.

______________________________________________________________

From where they were sitting, they could see the taxi as it came up the long drive onto the quad.

“Wonder who that is coming in so late?” Teddy said aloud. “The girls have to be in by eleven on the weekends. We guys get to stay out until twelve.”

“What kind of junk is that?” J.J. asked in outrage. “Why do the guys get to stay out an hour later?”

Teddy shrugged. “I don’t know. It works out for us guys, so I don’t question it.”

J.J. folded her arms. “Humph! They better be glad I don’t go to school here. There would be some noise made about that if I was staying here. I hate things like that.” She checked her watch. “I was told eleven-thirty was the cut-off. I wish I had known about that difference being made at that time. I would have rocked the boat then.”

“You a feminist, Miss J.J.?” Teddy asked with a sly smile noting that she was plenty pretty as she was getting worked up.

“Not necessarily a feminist. I just believe in things being equal for everybody. How old are you, Teddy?”

“I’m seventeen.”

“Does that rule apply to all the girls?”

“No, just to the juniors and seniors.” He answered. “The younger girls have to be in at nine on the weekends. So do the younger boys. The junior and senior boys have the twelve o’clock weekend curfew. The girls have eleven.”

“That’s a load of crap.” J.J. sniffed. She had been watching the taxi the whole time and when it stopped at the curb, she was surprised to see her Aunt Pat climb out of it.

“Hey, Teddy. That’s my Aunt. Let’s go see what she wants.” She said. “Let me put my shoes back on.”

Teddy watched as she slipped her feet into her gym shoes and bent over to tie them up. Wesley was right. She was some girl. He also was a big liar. No way was she his girl.

J.J. hadn’t mentioned him one time in their conversation. In fact, she looked kind of pained any time his name came up. She was much too cerebral a girl for a guy like Wesley. He preferred a more vacuous, passive type. At school, bragging with their friends, he had made the claim that this girl at home, J.J., hung on his every word, and followed him wherever he went when he was in LA. Teddy could see that the girl sitting next to him  would eat a guy like Wesley alive and spit him a mile. In that short time with her, he had come to appreciate that J.J. Hart  had her own mind and that she used it.

It was a mighty good thing that she was going back to Los Angeles in a couple of days. If she were there on a regular basis, she would be a definite distraction to him, and if he was going to get into MIT next year, he could do without that particular type of excitement in his life during the school year.

But he would be there the first thing in the morning to take her riding.

______________________________________________________________

Pat used the door knocker one time, and the door itself swung open. There stood Marnie looking small and frightened.

“Hey.” she said weakly in greeting.

“Hey, my ass.” Pat responded, one hand on her hip. “I owe you one. Where in the hell is-”

She was cut off by Mrs. Smythe, who came to the door fussing.

“You are not to open that door at night for anyone, young lady! I told you girls that this morning.”

She stopped her tirade upon seeing Pat standing there on the other side. “Oh hello, Miss Hamilton!” She said sheepishly, laughing nervously. “We just don’t want the girls answering the door at night. You know how it is.”

“Yes, I do.” Pat said as she stepped inside. “I told her to meet me and let me in. I wasn’t thinking when I told her to do that. That’s my fault, and I apologize. Miss Smythe, I think my niece might be missing. Has this one shared that with you?”

Pat looked to Marnie who she noticed kept looking past her and the still open door out onto the porch. “What are you looking for?” She finally asked, annoyed by the girl’s lack of attention to her.

“J.J.’s mother.” Marnie answered, still looking past her in what Pat finally recognized was dread. “Didn’t she come with you?”

“Oh, you’re scared of her, but not of me?”

“Pretty much.” Marnie answered, still looking.

At just that moment, J.J. came up the porch stairs with Teddy. Pat watched as she politely shook his hand, and told him goodnight before coming into the house.

“Hey Aunt Pat.” J.J. said casually. “What are you doing here at this time of the night? Where’s my mother?”

“Your niece, as you can see, is fine.” Said Miss Smythe. “She’s been out front talking with our Teddy from Brookfield. He came up to check on the horses, and met Justine. Then she came in and asked me if it would be alright for her to stay out there with him for a while. Since I was going to be up for a time helping the staff straighten after this evening’s Mix and Mingle I could keep an eye on her. We tried to call Mrs. Hart to see if it was alright, but when we couldn’t get an answer at the cell number she left, I contacted the Dean who said she would contact someone. She called me back to okay it for her to be out there until I went up. I told Justine to come in by 11:30 if I hadn’t come for her before then. The curfew is normally 11:00, but I extended it a half hour since she was responsible enough to come in and let me know where she was. I was just coming to get her when you knocked.”

“Am I in trouble or something?” J.J. asked, looking in confusion from Pat to Marnie to Miss Smythe.

Right then all their attention was drawn to Dee as she ran swiftly from the doorway under the staircase and headed up the stairs, taking them two at a time. Seconds later, she could be seen peeking down with wide eyes between the spindles at the top. Miss Smythe gestured with her finger for her to come back down.

Shaking her head, Pat observed, “I can see things haven’t changed much around here, have they?”

When Dee joined them, Pat asked Miss Smythe, “Do you mind if I have a chat with these three for a moment up in the room. If you will, would you please tell that cab driver to continue to keep the meter running for me? I won’t be long.”

“Girlfriend Lesson Number One.” Pat announced solemnly to the three girls seated around the room listening closely to her as she sat on the bed with Marnie. “You always know where the other is. One girlfriend does not leave without telling the other where she’s going, or at least where you intend to go; who you’re with and a number where you can be reached if that’s applicable. J.J., you kept leaving and none of us knew where you had gone. We know you and we were pretty sure that you were okay, but that’s not how that’s done. I’m glad that you checked with Miss Smythe, though, before you went out of here with that boy. That was responsible of you, but you should have let Marnie know as well.”

J.J. nodded in understanding.

“And you.” She said, pointing to Marnie. “You tried to sell me a load of B.S. on the phone, and then you had the nerve to hang up on me. I know you’re crazy, and I know why you did it, so I forgive you; but what if J.J. had really been missing?”

Marnie hung her head. Pat stuck her finger under her chin and lifted it  to look at her. “I applaud your looking out for your girlfriend. But there’s a time to get the other one’s back, and there’s a time to speak up. Eleven o’clock at night and you can’t find somebody is the time to speak up. Just think next time, okay?”

“Okay.” Marnie quietly agreed.

She pointed to Dee. “You, too.” She said. “They’ve got you roped into their antics, I see, so I’m talking to you too.”

Dee nodded.

“How come my mother’s not here?” J.J. asked. “I would think that if I was missing, she’d be the one to be here.”

“Yeah,” chimed Marnie. “Where’s she? I expected her to come in here busting the door down when she found out that we didn’t know where J.J. was.”

“You guys got lucky.” Pat stood and made ready to go. “She was out for the evening, so you got me instead.”

Her former investigative reporter’s eyes scanned the room. It was looking too lived in for the girls to only have been there one day. Why were there so many paper plates and  pizza boxes in that tied-up garbage bag near the door? The room smelled hot, too, as if there had been a lot more people in there than just Dee and Marnie. She recognized the signs and the smell of an impromptu party.

Sitting there, a flood of memories of times spent in that room rushed over her. J.J. was over sitting in the bay window with one knee drawn up to her chin. Looking at her, Pat could see Jennifer seated in that same window long ago, striking that same pose, but she would be smoking a cigarette or one of those cigars she had ripped off from her father. They would have towels stuck under the door and the window open to hide the smell and to suck out the smoke.

Eventually they had gotten caught and suspended for three days by the Dean anyway.

“Good night, girls.” She said as she took her leave. “No parties and no boys in through the windows.”

When the door clicked closed, Marnie snickered, “Too damned late for that. So J.J., where did you go with Teddy? I could see right off he was your type, all Tommy-like and everything. I knew you had to have some low-life skeezer in you somewhere, girl!”

“Who’s Tommy?” Asked Dee.

“I didn’t go anywhere.” J.J. retorted. “I was right outside the front door on the lawn, if you had bothered to check thoroughly before you panicked, ran, and hung up on Aunt Pat like an insane person. You’re lucky my mother was gone. How dead would we have been if she had come over here? And for your information, there’s not an ounce of skeezer or tramp in me. You’ve got that market cornered. I saw you flashing leg and posing for Josh with your shameless hussy self. Tommy’s my friend back home, Dee.”

“And he is so fine.” Marnie crowed, undeterred by J.J.’s assessment of her or her behavior. “J.J. won’t give him the time of day. Keeps talking about he’s just a friend. You keep on, Miss Hart and he’s going to just be somebody else’s friend. See how you feel about that.”

“Whatever.” Was J.J.’s offhand reply.

On the other side of the door, her ear pressed to the wood, Pat laughed. Nothing changed. It just got recycled to the next generation.

When she got back down on the first floor, Miss Smythe was in the foyer.

“Good night.” She said as she shook the older woman’s hand. “Thank you for looking out for J.J.”

“You know, it’s funny, Miss Hamilton.” Miss Smythe smiled. “You and her mother were my first girls. Now Justine is one of my last. I’m retiring at the end of this term. Justine is so much like her mother.” They walked together to the door. “She’s self reliant, and a little stubborn, but quite smart and polite.”

“And very much her own person, as well.” Said Pat, squeezing the other woman’s hand once again before heading out to her waiting taxi.

In the car, being taken back to the Gresham Inn, Pat recalled the first time she ever saw J.J.

She had flown in a few days after she was born. When she arrived,  J.J. and her mother were both in the nursery at Willow Pond, and J.J. had been lying awake in her mother’s arms. She had come into the room behind them, and could see J.J. over her mother’s shoulder.  Unaware of her presence at that moment, Jennifer had been talking quietly to her baby as if the infant could understand her. Even though she couldn’t hear what Jennifer was actually saying to her, Pat recalled being struck by how that tiny baby’s eyes seemed so focused on her mother’s face, as if she were paying close attention to her and understood every word.

The bond was forming then, and through everything, it remained strongly in place. Despite the things she did, J.J., she could tell, was still paying close attention to her mother.

Continue on to next story

 

 

 

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