The throbbing in her ankle woke her, but it was the soft crying that got J.J.’s attention. It wasn’t quite daybreak, so the night light was still on, giving the room a dim and warm yellow glow. Sitting up, she first looked across at Marnie, but Marnie’s face was turned toward her. The sobbing wasn’t coming from her; she was still fast asleep. The sound came from the other corner.
“Dee,” She called softly, not wanting to wake Marnie. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, J.J., go back to sleep.”
“Why are you crying over there?”
“I’m not crying.” The other girl sniffed. “I just have sinus.”
“You liar.” J.J. retorted. “I know crying when I hear it. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I told you I have sinus. Go back to sleep, J.J. You’ve got your flight out today.”
“That’s not for hours, and besides, I’m up now. Once I’m up, I’m up. Come on, tell me what’s wrong.”
Really, J. It’s nothing. Please lay back down. You need your rest even if you can’t go back to sleep. I’ll try not to bother you with my runny nose any more.”
“You’re no bother.” J.J. told her as she pulled the pillows up behind her back so that she could sit up and recline on them.
Dee was no bother, but she had an idea what was bothering her.
Jennifer crept to the door of their room trying not to waken Jonathan. He was deeply asleep, tired from the stress of the previous day’s events, and from the delicious, but draining activities of his night. She had gotten up, and hurriedly put on her riding gear in the bathroom. Then she wrote him a quick note, which she left on her pillow along with one of the roses from the vase on the table.
It was very early, just after daybreak, but she wanted so badly to get a ride in before going over to meet with her father. Despite having been with Jonathan all night, his physical closeness normally enough to relax her, she had awakened feeling the same tension of the night before. It was her hope that the diversion would help her unwind some in time to meet with her father at Waverly House for breakfast. She couldn’t understand her reluctance to hear what he had to say. She wasn’t a child in trouble any more, but she was feeling the same uneasiness in the pit of her stomach as she had when she was a girl anticipating having to face him with bad news. Only she didn’t have any bad news for him. Perhaps he had some for her. She didn’t want to think about it.
Since their arrival on the previous Friday for the Gresham Hall Reunion, she had been looking forward to getting out to the stables. But Friday afternoon’s activities had not allowed time for it, and Friday evening’s bourbon had slowed her up considerably on Saturday morning, causing her to miss that prime opportunity. Saturday afternoon and evening had been tied up with necessary, and then desirable business, but she would not be deterred this morning.
Finally ready, she eased open the door just enough to slowly tiptoe backward out of the room and into the hall, gently closing it behind her.
As the lock clicked, Pat’s voice startled her, making her jump.
“Well damn, it took you long enough to get out here.”
Jennifer whipped around, her eyes wide, her hand to her breast.
“Pat! You scared the life out of me! What in the world are you doing out here?”
She was standing in the hall at the railing which looked down onto the atrium of the Gresham Inn. Casually leaned against a supporting pillar with her arms crossed, Pat was clearly dressed to go riding herself.
Jennifer came over to lean against the railing to face her. “Well?” She asked, crossing her own arms.
“I was waiting for you.” Pat answered. “I thought you’d never come out of that room. I started to just go ahead and knock on the door. Just go ahead and break up whatever the hell was keeping you in there, but I didn’t want to wake Bill with the noise. I figured with Jonathan here, you two were already up… well that he was, anyway.”
She stopped, looked Jennifer up and down, and then nodded as she continued.
“I knew you’d be on some horse’s back the first thing in the morning, Edwards. You didn’t get the chance Friday when we got here, and you were way too wasted yesterday morning to do it. So I figured you’d be going for it at first light this morning.”
Taking Jennifer by the upper arm, she started them toward the elevator.
“Right next door.” She winked conspiratorially. “Just like prom night, wouldn’t you say?”
Jennifer looked skeptical. “As I recall it, I wasn’t anywhere near as satisfied the next morning. Personally, if I’d have known, I would have waited for the right one instead of trying to make it a rite of passage. I didn’t do it again for another two years behind that awful time. What did you want with me?”
“Get back to the subject at hand, Pat. What did you want with me?”
“I need to talk to you.” Pat answered, reluctantly leaving her friend’s astonishing revelation unaddressed. “Badly.”
“About Bill and you?”
Pat nodded as she pushed the ‘down’ button.
Standing on the second floor rear porch, the Dean watched Jennifer and Pat striding across the green to the stables. They moved almost in synch with each other, both of them tall and lean. Even from that far a distance, the affection they shared was evident. Jennifer was talking and gesturing with her hands as she had always done. Patricia, the more raucous of the two, was laughing at whatever it was she was saying.
Halfway across, they briefly draped arms around each others’ shoulders as they walked, and that made the Dean smile. There was nothing like having a good friend with whom to walk through life.
“I see my girls are going out to engage in their favorite pastime.” Stephen remarked as he stepped up and stood by her side to watch them as well. She had been so engrossed in watching the women who had once been girls crossing that same stretch of land, that she hadn’t heard him come out of the door, or even sensed his presence until he spoke.
She looked up at him. Like her, he was still dressed in his robe, which pleased her personally, but that she thought was a bit casual for him. He puffed on his pipe instead of a cigar, and she noticed that his face looked a bit pale, his cheeks not quite as ruddy as they normally appeared. But it was very early yet, so she surmised that perhaps he wasn’t quite himself yet.
“They’re a joy to watch, Stephen.” She said, deciding not to comment on his physical appearance. “You know, there was a time when I would have seen them walking out there early in the morning like that, and I would have been breaking my neck to get down there to see where they were going.”
“Aren’t you as concerned now, Aggie?” He teased. “It’s still Jennifer and Patricia.”
“No, not any more.” She smiled contentedly. “They are women now. Two fine women who have completely proven themselves. And there isn’t anything that anyone needs to protect them from any more. They’ve done it all. Jennifer’s baby is older now than she was herself when she first came here.”
He took a drag off his pipe. “Now it’s that baby who’s coming of age.” He remarked.
“Why does she go to public school, Stephen? I can understand Jennifer and her husband not sending her to boarding school, but with their money and position, why do they allow her to attend school with just anyone?”
“I didn’t understand it myself at first, Aggie. I had the same thoughts as you, but I believe it’s Jonathan who insisted upon it. With his background, he has a naturally more accepting perspective which I’ve come to find is what he wishes for Justine. And it’s a special program into which she’s been enrolled, a more challenging one, so she’s with a more select group of children. She’s none the worse for it. I think it’s even strengthened her character, to tell you the truth about it. She’s very different from her mother. Jennifer was so pretty at sixteen that she simply frightened me. I didn’t know how to address it and the boys being interested in her. I now know that I kept her too close because of it. Justine is even prettier, and even though the times are so different now, with things so much more lax and all, I don’t worry about her as much as I did Jennifer. The fact that she has her mother, I believe has made all the difference for Justine when she’s out in the world. She has more confidence in herself than Jennifer had. You’ll see at breakfast.”
He put his pipe back to his lips and they stood in silence until they saw Jennifer and Pat emerge from the stable to ride off over the first hill. She took his hand. It felt clammy and she thought she could feel it trembling, but he hadn’t sounded any differently. He didn’t seem to be otherwise changed. Concluding that it was just his age, or perhaps her own hand that was nervously reacting to his touch, she didn’t ask him about it.
They went back into the house to get dressed for breakfast.
It surprised Teddy when J.J.’s mother and aunt walked into the stables. It was so early, he figured they would have still been sleeping. He had just arrived himself and had started on cleaning out the first stall when they came in asking him to pick out two horses for them. They were going to ride out to the Edge, they said.
He selected King, his personal favorite, for J.J.’s aunt, but there was no other horse for Mrs. Hart than Babette, the horse that J.J. had ridden the morning before. She was sleek and gracefully elegant, just like J.J. and her mother.
And just like J.J., he found both of the women there in the stable that morning to be deceptively strong and capable. As he helped them make ready to ride to the very end of the campus grounds, he could see that they knew just what to do and how, especially Mrs. Hart. She had approached Babette, speaking gently to her and patting her down to relax her and get her used to her voice. J.J. had done that same thing the previous morning. In fact, watching her mother, he was very much reminded of J.J. and wondered how she had gotten on with that injured ankle during the night.
He was amused when J.J.’s mother asked the horse if she was going to be as nice to her as she had been to J.J. Evidently, J.J. had mentioned Babette to her mother. He had been raised among horsewomen, and he loved the type, especially when they didn’t normally look the part.
Standing at the stable door watching them go over the first hill, it caught him off guard when his uncle approached him from behind, clamping his hand on his shoulder, saying “Leave that girl be, boy.”
Teddy could see that he was watching the two women as well. His uncle continued to speak.
“Her mother was the Ritz. No getting close to her at all. Nobody around here get anywhere near first base with Jennifer Edwards, now Jennifer Hart. She was the Ritz, boy. Top shelf and off limits. No doubt her daughter is too. She’s a pretty one, just like her mother was. Leave her be, Teddy. Girls like them rip your heart out.”
“You liked her mother, Uncle Phil?”
“Who didn’t? Your father was crazy about Pat, and he dated her. Jennifer was too rich for my blood in every way there was, but yeah, I liked her. Liked her a lot. She was the Ritz. So pretty and a lot of fun, but nobody around here got anywhere with her past some good conversation.”
“She didn’t date?” Teddy asked, suddenly highly interested and rapidly lining up what he was saying with the things J.J. had told him about herself the day before. He liked it when things added up, when puzzles came together.
“Not anybody here at school. We were all crazy about her and Pat. They were best friends and where you saw one, the other was close by- except on dates. Pat would go out with some of us sometimes, but not Jennifer. She kept herself to herself. For dances she’d come alone or with her friends, and for the proms, she always had a date from somewhere else, somebody who nobody else really knew. She even went to the senior prom with a foreign exchange student. Local guys got to thinking she was just snobbish when it came to that. They still liked her, but they stopped asking her out. I always thought she was just being discreet, and that she had a lot of class to try to keep her private life private. Guys do tend to talk, you know… Just the prettiest smile in the world and the nicest ways… I guess that’s why Beebe ended up like he did. Tried hypnotizing her old man into taking himself out at that reunion, but instead ended up taking that header off Lookout Pointe himself. That was twenty years ago, but I remember it like yesterday. All those years had gone past, and he still had it bad for her. Poor joker. This is the first time Jennifer’s been back. I see she’s still a looker.”
He put his arm around Teddy’s shoulder to lead him back into the stable. “Forget about J.J., boy. Jennifer’s girl is most likely a ritzy heartbreaker too. I could see it all over her, and her all over you, when I was carrying her up to her room. Just like her mother. She’s going back home today and that’ll be it. You get on back to work now. Keep your mind on your books and on working hard. J.J. Hart is top shelf and out of reach.”
Pitching clean hay into the stall he’d started on earlier, Teddy’s mind was whirling. So Mrs. Hart had been the Gresham girl that guy, Ford Beebe, had been after on Lookout Pointe where he ended up losing out with her and on his life. J.J. didn’t seem to know that. He figured that J.J.’s folks probably hadn’t ever told her about that, seeing as how it happened before she had been born. Realizing that, he was sorry that he’d brought it up with her, trying to shock and impress her with the story. J.J. had been neither shocked nor impressed, and that had impressed him. Maybe there was something to the Brookfield/Gresham curse. His own father had married two Gresham girls and was divorced from both of them. Ford Beebe had died over his love for a Gresham girl. J.J. had almost broken her ankle while she was there with him, a Brookfield boy.
But, he continued to reason with himself, his friend, Ollie Jackson’s folks were still married and they were a Brookfield/Gresham couple. He knew of at least three others of his Gresham brothers whose parents had been students at both schools and were still together. And J.J. Hart, after all was not really a Gresham girl. She went to school in Los Angeles, and a public school at that. She might be the “Ritz”, as his uncle had repeatedly said about her and her mother, but she didn’t seem at all ritzy.
Late the night before, he’d done his homework, and had spoken with his father about the Harts. Her parents, his father reported were indeed well-heeled. Consequently J.J. lived quite well and moved in impressive company out there in Bel Air, California. She might be “top shelf”, but she came off as just her delightful self, like she said was all she wanted to be.
She would be leaving Gresham Hall that afternoon.
He began working faster so that he could get a free moment in to phone her before breakfast.
“So, what did you want to talk to me about?”
Jennifer and Pat sat on one of the benches that had been built long ago onto the deck at the lake’s shore. It was the area that they called “the Edge” because it was as far as the campus extended in that direction. It had always served as the place in which one of them could find the other in times of trouble, or as the place where they came when they just wanted to talk together without an audience.
“It’s happening.” Pat said in answer to Jennifer’s question. “He’s asking me to make a commitment.”
“And you said…?”
Pat ran her hands through her hair, pulling it back from her face. “I told him the truth. He told me that he wants us to be together. So do I. But he doesn’t want to come to New York, and I don’t want to leave my business and move to Nevada. I told him that I didn’t. Bill isn’t an ‘apartment in the city’ kind of man, and I’m not a Wilderness Jane. I mean, I could probably take it for the weekend or something, but I like the big city, lights, the smell of printer’s ink, the hum of computers, working with people and personalities.”
“Is he talking marriage?”
Pat looked confused. “You know, he didn’t say anything about that. But then again, I didn’t give him the chance to say anything about it. I kind of, you know,” She gestured with a twisty wave of her hand. “I sort of changed the subject, if you get my meaning.”
Jennifer smiled. “I get your meaning, you shameless tramp. How many times did you do it with him last night anyway? Did you get any sleep at all? No wonder the poor man was still asleep this morning. You’ve worn him out.”
“Hell, Jen, how many times did you? I see you were sneaking out alone like you were trying not to wake some tired somebody up yourself.”
“You had a head start on me, so I know you did it more times.”
“Yeah, but you had some pretty intense issues to work out: J.J.’s attitude, her ankle, your father and the Dean. And we are too old for this line of conversation.”
“Speak for yourself.” Quipped Jennifer with a wry smile.
What’s with that anyway, your father and the Dean? You talk to him yet?”
“No.” Jennifer answered softly, suddenly ashamed of making her father sit and wait for her, not going to him, and then remembering that voice calling her “Jenny” and telling her that it was time to get up. “When I finally got back to the Dean’s last night, he had gone up to bed. I didn’t want to disturb him. He’d had such a long day that I knew he was tired. But back to your situation.”
“Last night!” Pat exclaimed, not to be diverted from the subject. “I thought you were going over there yesterday after you saw Eva? What happened?”
“I just changed my mind, that’s all. When I was talking with Eva, we went to the Archives Room and I found out some things. I went back to talk with Jonathan about them. It was late when we got finished talking.”
She didn’t want to admit to Pat not wanting to hear what her father had to say to her. That would be a whole other conversation, one for which she didn’t have any answers or explanations.
“Talking to Jonathan, my ass. Jennifer! You need to get back there and speak with your father. This thing with Bill and me can wait. I don’t even know what I want you to say to me. I guess I just needed to let you know where this thing is right now. But it’s more important at the moment that you see Stephen. Let’s go. We’ve got to get the horses back, then drive over to the Inn and get dressed, and then get back to Waverly for breakfast. You and I can talk later. You and your father need to talk ASAP.”
Reaching for Pat’s hand and taking it, Jennifer made her sit back down from where she had started to stand. Pat had always been the impulsive one, she the voice of reason.
“Just let me tell you this before we go, Pat. Bill is a marrying kind of man even if he didn’t mention it to you yesterday. It’s been years since he’s been married, but if he’s been with you all this time, I’m willing to bet that’s where his thoughts are right now about you. When I met Jonathan, it only took an evening with him to know that it was right. You, of all people, know first hand that I walked away from everything in New York to be with him in Los Angeles. I left my home, my work, and my life. I didn’t even have clothes other than what I had taken to London, but I didn’t care. I was with the man I loved and for me, his world became my world. I’m not saying that would work for you, but you’ve had sixteen years to know if you love the man or not.”
“Jen, I wouldn’t tell this to anybody except you. Do you know that for the last six years, he’s been the only one?”
“Oh, my God! A record! If you’ve been going on one man for that long, it’s love, Pat, and the location thing will work itself out. I thought I heard it in your voice the other night. You’ve never sounded like that to me before. After what you just told me- it’s love, dear girl.”
Pat squeezed Jennifer’s hand. “If you say it, my friend, then I believe it. You waited for it, held out for it, and you knew it when it came to you. I vividly recall being stuck with packing all your shit to send to you when you just up and left like you did, remember?”
“What I remember, Patricia, is that you gladly volunteered to send me my things so that you could take over my closet and my bedroom after you moved into my apartment, where you continue to squat to this day. And I never did get my sable back. I still haven’t forgotten about that.
“You had the better place, Edwards. I had been coveting that apartment since day one when you took me with you to look at it. If I hadn’t been locked into that lease I was in, I would have beaten you to the punch in whipping out a check to make a deposit on it myself that day. When you called and told me you were getting married and were going to be living in LA, hell, that was my ticket. I was in. I dared that damned board to not approve my application when your lease was up. When they went co-op, that’s exactly why I bought it cash money so that there would be no second guessing or misunderstandings. It is mine for now and for always. When I’m dead and gone, it’s J.J.’s, and with that, it’ll probably be Marnie’s too. Can’t you just see the two of them setting Manhattan on its ear?”
“One of their absolutely fabulous parties, dah-ling” Jennifer drawled mimicking Pat’s New York accent. “And the board will put their little tails right out on the sidewalk.”
“Yeah,” Pat had to laugh. “Then that’ll be Marnie’s excuse to curse them flat out, and for J.J. to go into litigating the hell out of them. It’ll make all the papers. They’ll wish they had left those two alone. And speaking of that damned coat, you didn’t need a sable out in California. That’s why I kept it. That, and the fact that it was so fine. Don’t worry, it got put to real good use during my New York winters. Still has your initials in it even though I’ve had it restyled twice. It’s my favorite.”
“If it could talk, I’m sure it could tell some tales about you and some of your New York winter late night dates when there was nothing between you and that coat.” Jennifer insinuated, to which Pat responded with a wink and a raised eyebrow, “Like you never did anything risqué’, Jen. You forget, I’m the only one who knows the things you used to do before Jonathan. Well, me and the people you did them to. I believe that’s why you bought the damned thing in the first place. And if I’m recalling correctly, didn’t Jonathan buy you another sable shortly after he married you? I’m guessing it’s seen some pretty heavy action too.”
They exchanged a knowing look.
“I was no where near the loose woman you were.” Jennifer averred. “You did whatever. How many times did I get caught in the middle of trying to cover for you and your stuff?”
“No. You were just a great big tease, which was ten times worse. What about that weekend before you married Jonathan? When you told him you were going home to visit your father?”
“We vowed never to speak of that weekend again, Patricia.”
“I’m just saying…”
Pat stood and pulled Jennifer up onto her feet. “Let’s get you back. J.J.’s probably giving Smythe hell about not letting her out of the bed. She’s going to need help in the shower, and you know J.J.’s not going for an audience in the shower. She’s not having anyone, not another female anyway, in there with her.”
Jennifer patted Babette and then untied her from the hitching post. “I found out that Teddy had been up in the room with her and helped her to get dressed in the uniform, and then he carried her in his arms down the stairs and out of there. After I checked with her to see if she had panties on under that nightgown, I told that little Jezebel that she’d better not be having any kind of audience anywhere any more when she’s not properly dressed as long as she’s still living with me.”
“Was she wearing any panties, Jen?” Pat asked in a whisper.
“I’m happy to report that she said she was.”
“You sure? You know how she is.”
“I didn’t check for myself. J.J. is a lot of things, Pat, but she’s not a liar. That’s the only reason that I’m fairly sure that she was.”
“Because you know she didn’t have to be wearing any. She doesn’t care about that sort of thing as long as her stuff is covered. I found that out for sure at her birthday party when I didn’t see panty lines in those seriously tight pants she wore and I had the nerve to ask her about it.” Said Pat as she took her seat on King’s back. “But not to worry. Smythe’s a woman. Now if it was that junior Teddy Bear who you say resembles his father, or certainly that gorgeous Tommy trying to assist her with her shower, you might have a bit of a problem. If she’s the girl I think she is, she’d be more likely to take a shot at letting one of them help her than Smythe. Hey Jen, when the time comes, you think we might have to look into getting her a sable of her own, or should I just pass down that one you left with me to her?”
“Hush, Pat.” Jennifer chuckled, riding off with Pat following closely behind.
It wasn’t true of J.J. for the moment, Jennifer was thinking to herself, but she knew that with her daughter being the free spirit and independent thinker that she was in that department, there was no telling what kinds of things she might do when it did come to pass with her.
But whenever it happened with her, even if she was still living at home, she hoped that J.J. would bring it to her first….And leave the sable out of it for a while.
When the phone rang, Jonathan was first surprised to wake and find Jennifer gone; a note and a rose on her pillow where her pretty, sleeping head should have been. The rose brought back a long ago fond memory of another morning when he woke up to find her gone and a rose left behind in her place. This time he was certain it meant what he thought it meant then.
When he picked up, he was further surprised to find Stephen Edwards on the other end asking after his daughter so early in the morning.
“She’s gone out, Stephen.” He told his father-in-law as he skimmed the note which he held to the nightlight to better read it in the dim morning light filtering into the room from behind the heavy curtains. “But I expect her back at any moment. She stopped in to see you last evening, but you’d already gone up.”
“It’s just as well that she isn’t there, Jonathan.’ Stephen answered. “I wouldn’t want her worried this morning. My boy, may I impose upon you? Would you come over and help an old man get dressed for breakfast? I’m feeling a little tired and without Walter here to give me a hand, I feel I’m going to require some assistance this morning.”
Jonathan was alarmed at the strain he thought he could hear in his father-in-law’s voice. He pushed the covers back, and got up. “Sure Stephen.” He said as he headed for the bathroom. “Give me a few minutes. I’ll be right there.”
With the doctor’s and Miss Smythe’s help, J.J. balanced herself on her good foot and the crutches Dr. Irvine brought with her to the room.
“Who would have thought.” She huffed, trying to get a feel for them. “Me, J.J. Hart, on crutches.”
“Well, you can get your shower now since you won’t let me help you do anything else.” Miss Smythe fretted. She turned to Dr. Irvine. “She’s been a terror. Insists on hobbling around on one foot trying to do things by herself. I let her brush her teeth and wash her face, but I was not sanctioning her getting into that shower without my being there with her.”
Marnie and Dee looked on in amusement. They were in the process of getting ready for breakfast, and in the meantime, had been being entertained by Miss Smythe and J.J. going back and forth until Dr. Irvine arrived after being summoned by Miss Smythe. She had removed the bandages, examined J.J.’s still-swollen ankle, and then helped her stand using the crutches.
“I can take care of myself.” J.J. insisted. “I don’t need anybody giving me a shower.”
Dr. Irvine assessed her stubborn young patient. “You’re going to need help in that wet shower. I don’t want you in there by yourself on one bare foot and crutches. If you slip, you cannot use that other foot to catch yourself and you’ll do more injury to yourself. Do you want me to go in with you? After all, I am a doctor, Justine. I’ve seen everything.”
J.J. lifted her chin stubbornly and shook her head. “No, thank you. If that’s how it has to be, I’ll just be dirty today.”
As if on cue, there came quick knock, the door opened, and in walked Pat and Jennifer who’d stopped in to check on J.J. and Marnie after returning the horses and before going back to the Gresham Inn to get dressed for breakfast.
Jennifer quickly took stock of the scene before her, noticing Marnie and Dee take a couple of very subtle steps backward when they saw her come into the room. They moved away from where they had been standing with everyone else in the room, all of them around J.J. who was propped up on a pair of crutches. She could tell by the set of J.J.’s jaw and the position of her chin that there had been trouble. Pat, standing behind Jennifer, caught Marnie’s eye and she nodded ever so slightly at her to confirm it.
“Is there a problem, ladies?” Jennifer inquired, placing her hands on her hips and her eyes on her child.
Dr. Irvine approached her, extending her hand. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Mrs. Hart. I’m Dr. Irvine and I treated Justine’s injury yesterday.” The women shook hands and the doctor continued, explaining the situation. “I spoke with your husband several times yesterday. He seems like a very pleasant man although I have yet to meet him in person. He certainly loves his child.”
Jennifer nodded in greeting, her eyes still locked on J.J. “Too much so sometimes.”
The doctor nodded as well, as if she understood that statement completely.
“We’ve been trying to explain to Justine that she needs assistance in the shower, but she’s adamant that she can do it herself. I don’t advise it, Mrs. Hart. She just got the crutches moments ago, and she hasn’t had enough experience on them to be maneuvering on them in water, but she won’t let anyone go in and assist her. Miss Smythe has offered, I offered, she won’t let us. She says that she’d rather go without a shower.”
Pat lowered her head, knowing what was coming. J.J. eyed Jennifer who approached her while addressing the doctor, “I agree with you totally, Dr. Irvine.”
At the bed, she bent down and gathered J.J.’s clothing which had been laid out there. “Let’s go, sister.” She said pushing J.J. in the shoulder with her fingers indicating that she should start toward the bathroom.
“Awww Mom!” J.J. tried to stand fast and protest. “You can’t do this. I’m sixteen years old! I’m too big and too old for you to do this to me. I promise you, I can do it by myself!”
Her mother held up one finger to silence her. “Just go on in there.” She said quietly. “You don’t have anything I haven’t seen. In fact, I am the reason you have what you have. I’ve seen all of it, and I want what I gave you kept clean. You are neither too big nor too old for me to do anything I like with you. Maybe you don’t want anybody else in there with you, but I dare you to tell me I can’t go. Hop! I’ve told you about being obstinate and troublesome.”
J.J. slowly hobbled toward the bathroom door. “But I wasn’t trying to be obstinate and troublesome. I just didn’t wa-”
“Hush, I told you.” Jennifer admonished her before closing the door behind them.
Over the drone of the running water, the others on the outside could hear the sound of Jennifer’s voice as she continued to scold her daughter. Marnie and Pat shared a knowing look. The bathroom door suddenly opened again, and Jennifer stuck her head out stuffing a tiny black denim skirt and a small, print top of made of some type of sheer, slinky material into Pat’s nearby hands.
“Give me that blue linen sundress in that closet, Marnie.” She ordered, pointing in the respective direction.
Marnie ran to J.J.’s closet and returned with the requested item on a hanger.
The whining, “Awwwwww, Mom, no!” sounded from inside the bathroom as Jennifer closed the door again, saying to the upset unseen party inside, “You know full well that today is Sunday, and that it’s dresses on Sunday morning. Nothing’s changed because we’re not at home. You just hush, and do as I say.”
To Pat’s complete amusement, Marnie fell backward on her bed laughing to the point of tears. Dee, over at the window laughing at Marnie as well as at J.J.’s predicament, stopped suddenly to announce, “Hey, there’s an ambulance coming onto the quad.”
Pat and Marnie raced for the windows to watch as the truck drove over the curb to pull right up to the porch of the Dean’s residence.
Dr. Irvine didn’t go to the windows. On instinct, she instead hurried for the door and went through it.
From her side of the table, Pat watched as J.J. moved the food around on her plate even though she hadn’t lifted the fork to her mouth one time. With her hair pulled back from her face and held behind her head with a clamp, the rest flowing down her back, and in that blue dress Jennifer made her wear, she was very pretty. But Pat could tell that she was very upset and nervous.
“J.J., try to eat something.” She urged. “Your not eating isn’t going to make anything better.”
“I’m really not hungry, Aunt Pat. I really can’t eat anything right now.”
“At least drink the juice, then.”
Like a robot, J.J. lifted the glass to her lips, took a sip and set it back on the table.
Breakfast, which was supposed to have been a happy goodbye affair in the dining room of Waverly for those occupants leaving the reunion to return home that day, turned into a somber meal for the girls in Suites #1 and 2. Madison and Dakota weren’t scheduled to leave until later that evening when their mother returned from an overnight trip into Boston. Along with J.J., Marnie, and Dee, they were all seated at the table with Pat, who stayed behind after Jennifer was summoned to the Dean’s residence by Dr. Irvine.
The ambulance Dee had seen from the window had come for J.J.’s grandfather.
“I wish I knew something.” J.J. said quietly. “I wish I could have gone with them. With this stupid ankle, I couldn’t …”
Marnie piped up. “Even if your ankle wasn’t hurt, the Duchess wouldn’t have let you go, J. You’d still be right here. And you know she’d be mad if she knew you weren’t eating breakfast. Go ahead and try. Your mother’s got her hands full with worrying about your grandfather. Your ankle is already messed up. Don’t go not eating and getting sick, and then giving her something else to worry about.”
Swallowing a forkful of the eggs she’d let get cold, J.J. turned to Pat. “He’s got that bad heart, Aunt Pat. Do you think that’s what it was?”
“Probably, J.J.” Pat answered matter-of-factly, knowing that J.J. counted upon her for honesty. “He did quite a bit yesterday that he doesn’t normally do. But he’s come through some very tough things before. Don’t go counting him out yet. It might just be that he overdid it.”
“I’m not counting him out, but I am scared for him. And for my mother. He’s all she has left.”
Madison reached across the table and placed her hand on top of J.J.’s to hold it.
“What about your father?” She suggested. “And she’s got you, too, J.”
“And don’t forget your Great-Aunt Sabrina.” Pat reminded her.
At the mention of Sabrina, J.J. turned to Pat with a look in her blue eyes that Pat didn’t recognize, which made her think that perhaps she had made a mistake in mentioning Sabrina. She was acutely aware that J.J.’s grandfather and aunt weren’t on speaking terms, but she couldn’t immediately see where mentioning her in the context of her mother would be a problem for J.J.
J.J. pushed back from the table and pulled herself up, reaching for the crutches which leaned against the wall next to her chair.
“Excuse me.” She said as she maneuvered them under her arms, and then used one hand to push her loose hair back behind her shoulders. “I’m going back up to the room.”
And with that she started off in the direction of the elevator without another word, leaving Pat to wonder if it really was something she’d said.
Jonathan sat in the waiting room with Jennifer who was seated next to him, but bent over with her face in her hands. Whatever it was she was feeling, (he suspected it was guilt) it was between her and her father. That was a very tight space where he had always felt he didn’t fit. What was between them was theirs. He didn’t think they always understood it for what it was, but it was very real and observable for those on the other side.
She was feeling badly, and he knew that she was despairing about the night before. About that, there was nothing he could do to make it better for her, which automatically made things worse for him. Feeling helpless, he ran his hand down her back as a gesture of support. Letting her know that he was there for her was all that he could think of to do.
Just as he and Jennifer had a bond that was impenetrable by any outside force, Jennifer and Stephen had history which only they shared, and it bound them together, father and daughter, closer than even he and J.J. With his own daughter, their time spent alone together still contained and revolved around Jennifer. But Stephen and Jennifer had been completely alone after her mother’s death. It had just been the two of them even though they were apart a great deal of the time. As time healed them, and they grew closer emotionally and in spirit, they eventually meshed. Even at present, Stephen remained, symbolically, her imperious father, and she, quite literally, his doting daughter; and they had become very important parts of each other.
His first meeting with Stephen had been daunting to say the least. The man was set to dislike him from the outset based upon the whirlwind courtship, and his lack of pedigree. As far as her father was concerned, Jennifer Justine Edwards was supposed to marry a man from her social station in life: prince, a baron or an earl; the son of a statesman, or a son of some old-money pillar of European or East Coast United States society. Instead she had met and much too quickly fallen in love with a self-made, new money orphan from the Mission District of San Francisco, California.
It also didn’t help that the old man was aware that his precious Jennifer had been sharing a penthouse suite in London with him for a week when she should have returned to her apartment and her job in New York. When she got around to telling her father that she wasn’t returning to New York right away as he expected, and that she was planning to be married; he demanded that she bring “that impertinent boy” she’d met to Maryland immediately to see him.
He had accompanied Jennifer to her father’s estate knowing that Stephen Edwards couldn’t help but surmise that they had been together and gotten to know each other in every sense of the word. Although Jennifer was completely grown at the time, and had been living away from home since she graduated from high school, and technically long before that, Stephen hadn’t been too pleased to come face-to-face with the man whom he knew had been sleeping with his daughter, without benefit of marriage, the entire week before, even if he was planning to marry her.
Compounding that was the fact that they had only known each other for little more than that week. It had almost been love at first sight for both of them. That made him wonder what he’d do if J.J. were to put that kind of call in to him one day. How accepting would he be of her choice for a mate if she’d known him for such a short length of time? Hell, for that matter, if she’d known him all of her life?
Despite the serious situation at hand, it almost made him laugh when he recalled his conversation with J.J. on the previous evening. He remembered her telling him about having to explain herself and her behavior to Jennifer when she angrily descended upon #1 Waverly after the Dean’s presentation. J.J. told him that she had to get around to thanking God that evening for her gift of gab and her silver tongue. He could still see his child sitting there, shaking her head with relief and saying as she fanned herself, “Daddy, you just don’t know. I was talking fast…”
J.J. had inherited that gift for smooth talking and charming people into seeing things her way from him. It was a skill that he had consciously honed from childhood, and it had stood him in good stead throughout his life. That weekend in Maryland with Jennifer’s father had given his considerable skills a thorough workout. The task of winning Stephen Edwards over had been monumental. The man had put up one hell of a fight, grilling him about his background, his education, his finances, his company’s prospects, his plans for the future, his plans for his life with Jennifer, and on and on. But in the end, by the time he left Jennifer with her father that Sunday evening, he and her father parted shaking hands having reached an amicable truce. With Stephen’s blessing he went on to marry the love of his life, and ended up with a pretty decent father-in-law in the bargain. The alliance was sanctioned in spades when their union produced a child, that last minute girl of theirs, the one Stephen refused to recognize as J.J. She had always been ‘Justine’ to her grandfather. He only deviated from her given name when he was referring to her as a ‘maverick’.
Jonathan inwardly smiled. That, she definitely was.
Jennifer hadn’t said a word since speaking with the people in Admitting to give them her father’s pertinent information. They had been fortunate to have Dr. Irvine nearby at the time. It gave Jennifer some peace of mind to have a physician right there. The doctor had been able to clear some hurdles for them before Stephen’s arrival at the hospital which expedited his processing, not that an elderly man with a heart condition would have been kept waiting very long.
Reaching inside his coat, Jonathan checked his breast pocket. The envelope was still there. Stephen had given it to him at the Dean’s residence shortly after he got there that morning to help him get dressed. When he arrived in the bedroom, Stephen was seated at the desk in his robe. He looked tired, his skin pallid. When he didn’t get up upon seeing him at the door, Jonathan knew that something was terribly wrong. Stephen Edwards had unfailingly impeccable manners, and if he had been feeling anywhere near well, he would have at least risen to shake his hand in greeting. Instead, he invited him in with a wave of his hand and told him to come have a seat in the other chair near the desk. When he was close enough to him to notice it, Jonathan could see that his hands were shaking.
The sealed envelope had been on the desk, and he handed it to him telling him to put it in his jacket pocket. He must have felt something bad coming on because his instructions to him were that it was to be given to Jennifer in the event that something happened to him. It would, he said, explain to her what it was that he hadn’t had a chance to say to her in person on the night before. Moments later, he collapsed and Jonathan had been there to catch him before he fell to the floor and to keep him from perhaps striking his head on the sharp corner of the desk in the process, which he likely would have done from the position in which he had been seated.
That terrifying thought made him reach out and pull Jennifer up from the position she was in to hold her to him. “Come on, darling.” He urged. “Lean on me, and try not to worry. He’ll be alright, I’m sure of it.”
“I should have gone.” She whispered.
Years before, as a little boy, the nuns at the orphanage had told him that if he was a good boy and he prayed every night, God would see to him having all the things that he wanted in life. He had tried to be very good every day, helping out around the orphanage grounds, minding the nuns, and doing his best in school. Every night and every morning he prayed for a family, someone to let him be a part of their lives. When he turned twelve, and still no one had come for him to help him celebrate that birthday, he turned his back on the nun’s teachings, on prayer, and on God.
It took three years and heaps of anger-fueled trouble before he met Max who, seeing potential for great things in him, removed him from the orphanage and became his guardian. Max took him in, and helped him put his life in order. He made him go to school, taught him the value of money, and guided the hustler in him to more positive avenues. It was another fifteen years before he met Jennifer, and his actual life began. Ten more years passed before the only thing he wanted in his life, that he still lacked at that time, to come to him: a child of his own to whom he could be the father he never had.
J.J. Hart was his daughter. It always sounded so good resounding inside his head. His own beautiful girl.
The day that Jennifer spent trying to give birth to his baby; the fourteen agonizing hours where all he could do was watch as she labored mightily to push that new life into the world was the day that he realized that he had actually internalized everything the nuns had taught him as a boy. Having come to consider himself the ruler of his own world and the master of his own fate, the lack of control over that situation was something with which he was unused to dealing. Although they had made that baby together, Jennifer was alone in that final struggle. In all their time together, she had never been in a spot out of which he hadn’t been able to help her. Sitting there with her in the labor room, he had been terrified, and felt completely useless.
Desperate for assistance in getting them through it, he went into the hospital chapel, entering a house of worship to pray for the first time, of his own volition, since he was twelve years old. He got down on his knees and pleaded in earnest to the God in whom he thought he had lost faith, to send his beloved wife back to him safely, and if he saw fit, to allow him that child as well.
Both things had happened. Jennifer came through her task alive and well, and so had their baby: a tiny redhead with blue eyes.
Later, holding his infant daughter for the first time, her hair still matted with the fluids from her mother’s body, he realized with a sudden blinding clarity that all the things that he had prayed for as a boy had finally come to pass. It just hadn’t happened within the time frame and in the way that he thought they should happen.
Life had been good. Very good. He still didn’t do church, not really seeing the point if, as the nuns said, God was everywhere. His easy spirit, his contented nature, and waking each morning with the woman circled within his arm, confirmed that line of thought for him every day. Prayers of thanks for all he’d been given were his waking thoughts, they came from him while seated at his desk in his office looking at Jennifer and J.J.’s pictures there, they were sent out into the dark at night while he could feel Jennifer’s body and could hear her softly breathing next to him. The entire world was his church, and he was thankful for all he that had received, the bad times as well as the good.
He’d been given so much that he didn’t bother God too often asking for things. Most things, most problems, he tried to take care of on his own, and for the most part correcting those things were within his power. But this situation was not. He figured that maybe just this one time The Man Upstairs wouldn’t mind a request from him.
As he wrapped Jennifer in both his arms and closed his eyes, he buried his face in her hair and began to pray for Stephen, for them, for J.J., for Bill and Pat and the decisions Bill told him they faced, and for all the people who were there with them that weekend in Gresham; as well as for that eccentric, but loveable individual in France, all of whom made up his family and his life.
J.J. sat on the bed with her ankle once again bandaged and propped on the pillows while she thumbed through the yearbook checking for any more pages that she might need to bookmark for Dee to make copies of for her. Frank’s grandmother’s quilt was over her legs which were bare since her mother had insisted upon her wearing that dress when she was there earlier. In a bit, she’d get up and change into a pair of shorts and a tee shirt.
Thinking about her own dress made her recall that even though she and Marnie had worn those Gresham Hall uniforms to the Dean’s presentation, her mother and Pat had not. According to her mother, they were supposed to do so. All the other alumni wore them, even Eva Taylor and Georgette Singleton. They had all looked foolish in them, especially with the knee socks and penny loafers, and she was glad that her mother and Pat had elected not to do so. She hoped it was because they hadn’t felt like it. J.J. thrived on sentiments such as those. The rebellious thought made her smile to herself as she continued to study the pages in the yearbook. Still anxious about her grandfather, she was feeling a little better after having come up from the dining room to be by herself a while ago. Looking at the pictures alone and in the light of day was proving to be an interesting endeavor.
There were several pictures of her mother and Pat in the book. Evidently they had maintained a very active campus life during their senior year of high school. Skimming through the pages she found that both of them had their work published in major magazines during that year. Pat had an article she wrote reviewing a performance of the Boston Symphony published in the New Yorker, and her mother had done a piece for National Geographic about her winter break trip with her father to Morocco to study ancient art forms, complete with photos she had taken.
Those were two new revelations for her. They were achievements neither of them had ever mentioned to her. They had always done great things, but they were usually only brought up in passing, as if they were every day accomplishments that anyone could have pulled off. J.J. wondered how they could be so cavalier about having had such great adventures, and once again she wished that her mother were more open with her about her past.
She hadn’t realized that her mother traveled with her own father as extensively as the article in the yearbook mentioned that she had. She’d always assumed that her mother had been stuck at Gresham Hall during the school year, or stashed away at Briarwood during her vacations. Morocco with Pa; it must have been fascinating to have been to so many far-away places with just her father. She had traveled extensively alone with her mother, but most of the time when she went with her father, her mother was along as well. The few times that she and her had gone out of the country alone together had been marvelous. The last trip, the one to Vegas had been the absolute best. Some details of their trips together, like the flying and some things they did, couldn’t always be discussed with her mother. She would never understand or approve, but it was just as well. Her mother didn’t always tell her everything either.
It wasn’t that she was secretive. Jennifer Hart was a generous storehouse of knowledge and wisdom which for J.J. was concrete evidence of her vast experiences in the world and with life. But she wasn’t always voluntarily forthcoming with the details. She found that if she specifically asked for it, she could easily get the information she sought. The problem lie in her own reluctance to ask. For some reason, it had always felt funny to ask her mother about herself. Where some mothers would relate their past experiences to what might be going on with their daughters in the present, when the two of them talked or she had a problem or had gotten into trouble, her own mother tended to focus upon her and whatever they were dealing with at the moment. So J.J. normally relied on old pictures, stories someone might tell, newspaper or magazine articles, bits of information that came her way, and upon inference to put the pieces of that fascinating person, her mother, together.
Her father’s past was less intriguing to her. He too seldom spoke of his childhood, but she felt that was because it pained him, which hurt her as well. The only thing she really wanted from him was for him to want to know who his parents were. He said that he didn’t; that he no longer cared, so she didn’t press. But she’d made up her mind that when she was grown, she going to try to find out who her paternal grandparents had been without letting him know.
With her father, it wasn’t just that she was curious about him. She also felt that she needed to know his ancestry for medical reasons. She strongly resembled her mother, but felt more in tune physically and mentally with her father. She felt that along with the color of his eyes, her athleticism and her generally strong constitution were what she had inherited most from him. In Health and Biology classes, she had learned that internal, as well as external, physical attributes were passed down from both parents and often skipped generations. She planned to have children one day, and for their sakes, as well as her own, she felt it was important to know her medical history on both sides of the family.
That thought made her wonder if she and/or her mother might inherit her grandfather’s heart problems. Her mother was getting older, but she was still pretty active, working out every day, and she still jogged regularly, making her father do the same. They both looked very good for their ages, but they’d had her late and she was an only child…
She went back to the book to block out any other thoughts along that line.
A great deal of time had been spent looking at the book the previous night, and sitting there alone perusing it, what had been nagging at her about the pictures of her mother in that book became apparent. It was the eyes. In the pictures, her mother had sad eyes. She smiled a lot, but her eyes were not happy. J.J. intimately knew the many moods of her mother’s eyes. They were her earliest memories of her, and they had always spoken volumes to her.
She flipped back to the section where the senior pictures were. Ahead of the alphabetical photographs of the graduating class of 1962, the two valedictorians had special side-by-side pages featuring a large black and white single bust shot picture of each girl and a brief biographical sketch. Jennifer Edwards and Patricia Hamilton had been the only co-valedictorians in the history of Gresham Hall. J.J. figured that when they saw it could be, they had gone about setting it up to end up that way. That’s how they were; they were equally smart, equally talented, and they didn’t compete against each other. She admired their long-standing professional partnership and personal friendship.
J.J. stopped flipping the pages and read both biographies once again. Pat’s sketch mentioned her father’s and her mother’s name, and noted that her mother was deceased. Her own mother’s sketch only mentioned Stephen Edwards and that he was an art dealer from Hillhaven, Maryland. There was nothing written in there about her grandmother. As young as she was, J.J. knew why: as far as Jennifer Edwards had been concerned, that was nobody’s business. J.J. totally understood that sentiment. Suzanne Edwards had been her mother’s mother alone and her daughter had kept her to herself for herself. In her shoes, J.J. felt that she would probably have done the same. Heck, even though her mother was still living, to some extent, she did do that. She didn’t share too much with others, outside of Marnie, about her relationship with her mother. Jennifer Hart was her mother- alone.
She went back to her mother’s photograph and studied her face, focusing on her eyes. Placing her hand over the smile, she wasn’t surprised to see that the photo changed. It was almost as if there were two different pictures: one happy and the other, with the smile covered: unhappy; to J.J., almost heartbreakingly so.
Once, in an adventurous mood, she had doctored on a photograph of her mother and grandfather together. Using a program on her computer, she age-accelerated a picture of her late grandmother, and then merged it with the first picture to see what they would have looked like as a family had her grandmother lived. The finished product had come out so lifelike that she had printed it out and kept it for herself, deriving a strange secret comfort from looking at it.
Then one morning, while her mother was in her room with her going through her desk drawer in search of a pen she’d sent her there to look for, she came upon the picture. When she pulled it out, she first looked amazed. J.J., frozen in place on the bed having forgotten that she’d stashed the picture in that drawer for safe-keeping, sat watching her mother’s shocked face with dismay. When she dropped down into the desk chair and began to cry, J.J. felt as if she wanted to die. Instead, she jumped up and hurried to her side to apologize.
What she didn’t know was that the tears were tears of joy and surprise. Her mother liked the picture, and when she hugged her to tell her that, J.J. remembered breaking down and crying as well.
That memory made her lay her head back on the pillows for a moment and smile. That had been one of their Kodak moments. There had been quite a few of them in her lifetime. How had her mother grown up and turned out so well without her own mother? She felt like she would have been a real head case without Jennifer Justine Edwards Hart being such an integral part of hers for all of her sixteen years.
She concluded that those eyes in the photo on her lap had probably stayed that way until her mother met her father. Jennifer Hart’s eyes danced when she was with Jonathan Hart, but a person had to know her. Those subtle changes weren’t really apparent unless a person knew her very well.
Jennifer and Jonathan Hart had apparently made big differences in each other’s lives. Her Aunt Sabrina had told her that several times, Pat had said as much on more than one occasion, and she saw it for herself every day. They pretty much made her glad that they were her parents. She wondered if her grandparents made each other happy as her mother and father seemed to do. She wished for the millionth time that she could meet her grandmother, that she could talk with her, and know what she had been like. Aunt Sabrina was her identical twin, but her mother once told her that she didn’t remember them ever looking alike to her. And everybody who had known them said that they didn’t act alike at all. What kind of lady had her grandmother been that she would be attracted to somebody like Pa? He was her grandfather and she loved him, but he was, after all, Pa. She couldn’t even see him loosen up enough to have a girlfriend. Maybe, she thought, he had been different as a young man. Maybe he became so uptight after her grandmother died.
Even though she was usually pretty happy in general and she liked her own blue eyes, J.J. wondered what changes might come her own way down the line that could alter the look in them. Would any man ever make her as happy as her father made her mother? Would some man come along to do things that would make her sad? What kind of man would be her first lover? What sort of man would the father of her children be? Would she ever allow any man to matter that much that any of those things would be relevant?
And what in the world was happening with her grandfather? She figured it would probably be a while before anybody called with any news. Whatever happened, she was ready to bank on she and Marnie not leaving Gresham Hall that evening. If Pa wasn’t well enough to leave Boston General, then the Harts wouldn’t be leaving Massachusetts. That part of it was not a problem. In fact, that part of it was okay. She didn’t want to speculate on any other scenarios. The anticipated pain was too raw, too real.
The phone in the room rang.
“Hey, J. It’s me. I heard about your grandfather being sick. I’m really sorry about that. Are your folks still at the hospital? How’s your ankle this morning?”
“Hi, Teddy. Yeah, they’re still gone. I haven’t heard anything back from them yet, but thank you for thinking of us. My ankle’s okay. I’ve got it propped up. They’ve got me on crutches, so at least I can get up when I feel like it.”
“Feel like company?”
“Yeah, me. But just for a little while. I know you have a lot on your mind.”
“I’m okay. I could use the diversion. You coming through the front door or what?”
Madison had mentioned earlier that she thought he might stop in to say goodbye to them, and she and Dakota had left a window in their room slightly cracked in case he should choose his usual, more favored route.
“Or what.” J.J. laughed lightly. “I’ll be right here where you last saw me. Smythe wouldn’t let you up here if you came through the front door.”
He chuckled. “In a minute then.”
She hung up with her mind shifting to her friend at home, Tommy, and wishing that was there with her. Somehow that boy always managed to turn up or to call when bad things happened for her and she needed support or cheering up. It was as if he had some sort of sixth sense for those types of things. Even though she would never tell him as much, just his presence usually made her feel better when the going got rough. He had always had that ability. But since Tommy wasn’t there, Teddy would have to do.
She’d only known him less than two days, but he seemed to have a rather comforting aura too.
“We’ll go up and check on her.” Marnie said to Pat as she stood at the car door. Pat was leaving Gresham Hall to return to the Inn and to Bill who had called her cell and was waiting for her at the Inn. They were going over to the hospital to be with J.J.’s parents. “She’ll be okay. She bounces back quick.”
“Call me if not.” Pat instructed as she started the car. “I’ll check back with you two in a little while, and let you know what I know.”
Marnie returned to the curb where Madison and Dakota stood waiting for her. They watched Pat pull away, go down the drive, and turn onto the main road that would take her to the front gate.
“We’re not going upstairs right now, are we?” Asked Dakota, looking to Marnie and Madison.
They shook their heads.
“As soon as Dee gets back down here with the book.” Said Marnie. “We have work to do.”
Madison nodded. “That’ll give J.J. some space. I think she needs it.”
Dakota pulled her wallet from her purse. Opening it, she pulled out a plastic card and held it up for the other two to see.
“Well if we’re going to do the yearbook, I got plenty of uses left on my copy card.” She announced. “We should be able to get things done in the library without too much of a hitch.”
“Will there be anything else, Dean Marchand?” Margaret, the Dean’s assistant, asked as she made ready to leave the room after helping the Dean get dressed.
“No, Margaret. I’ll be fine.” The Dean answered as she took a seat in the chair by the front window that looked out onto the Quad. “I’ll just sit here until I hear from someone at the hospital.”
“You haven’t eaten.” The other woman said. “I’ll bring you something up.”
“Thank you.” The Dean answered even though food was the farthest thing on her mind.
Having gone down to take coffee before returning to her room to get dressed for breakfast with the girls at Waverly House, their mothers and Stephen, she had been downstairs when Jennifer’s husband arrived.. She had been surprised to see Jonathan Hart come through the door when the housekeeper answered it, and even more surprised when he told her that he had been summoned by Stephen. Even though she had noticed symptoms of it earlier when they were together out on the porch, Stephen hadn’t voiced anything to her about not feeling well. His last words to her had been that he was going into his room to get dressed for breakfast. But, she did recall that he had suggested they use her golf cart to go over rather than walking that morning as they had the previous evening.
Shortly after he had gone up to Stephen’s room, Jonathan Hart was calling over the second floor banister for someone to summon an ambulance.
The shock, the excitement, and the anxiety produced by the situation had left her exhausted and fearful. The look in Jennifer’s eyes when she arrived after being summoned by her husband had been heartrending, and that had drained her even more. She was grateful that Dr. Irvine had come over before her, and was there to offer her some assurances when she did get there. By the time Jennifer arrived, her father had been moved to the ambulance. She rode to the hospital in it with him followed by her husband in their car.
Since she hadn’t been dressed at the time, she conveniently remained behind. Lying her head back on the reclining chair in which she sat, she knew that she couldn’t have taken the stress of being there. Just the thought of Stephen being ill was making it hard for her to breathe. It was taking a conscious effort. She knew of his heart condition, and that he had a pacemaker implanted in his chest to help with his heartbeat, but he had always sounded so healthy and so vital when she spoke with him by phone.
Just as things seemed to be coming together for them, it looked like, once again, it wasn’t going to be. That forced a rare tear from her eye which she quickly wiped away, admonishing herself for being selfish. Stephen Edwards, after all, had no connection to her. Any tears shed should be saved for Jennifer and her daughter who would be losing a devoted father and grandfather should he not pull through. And Gresham Hall would be losing a most generous benefactor.
She prayed for him a moment.
Should Stephen Edwards not come out of this, she would be losing the only man she ever loved.
“Do three copies of the cigarette picture.” J.J. instructed Dee who had come to the room to retrieve the yearbook. “Right now I can’t think about what I want to do with them. But when things are right again, I know I can put them to good use.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to come?” Dee asked. “We can go slow and wait for you. You need the air.”
J.J. shook her head and waved her off. “No, you guys go ahead. I don’t really feel like it. I’m just going to stay up here and rest. She held up the CD player that was lying on the bed next to her.” Probably just listen to my music.”
She noticed that Dee didn’t leave right away, sort of hesitating like she wanted to say something.
“What’s the matter, Dee?”
After another moment’s hesitation, Dee sat down on the side of J.J.’s bed, carefully avoiding her ankle. “I gotta say something.” She said. “I hope you understand and that you don’t get mad at me.”
“What is it?” J.J. asked with a tilt of her head. “Why would I get mad at you?”
Dee started slowly. “Well, I just want to tell you… I’m really sorry your grandfather is sick. I hope he’ll be okay and everything, but-”
“But, I hope you have to stay for a few more days, like so he can rest and get stronger or something. I’m so sorry that it was a bad thing that made it happen, but I’m glad that something might keep you here a little while longer. I like having you here. You make it fun.”
J.J. sat forward and gestured to her ankle. “With all the trouble I’ve caused, my mother and Aunt Pat all up here on us and everything, you want me to stay? Is that why you were crying this morning?”
Dee slowly nodded. “You and Marnie have been the most fun I’ve had in a long time. Seems like I’ve known you a lot longer than I have. Me, Maddy and Dakota were all talking about it. You two would fit in real well here. I wasn’t ready for you to leave. Maddy and Dakota will be going home today too. The time went by too fast. I was going to be here all alone again. Believe me, I don’t want anything to happen to your grandfather, but I hope you end up staying for a few more days. I hate that you hurt your ankle too, but that’s been part of the excitement and the fun. Then when your mother came in here those two times, I know it wasn’t all that great for you, but it sure was funny for the rest of us.”
J.J. was amused by the thought of what must have gone on with the others while she had been being raked over the coals by her mother. “Yeah, that was truly entertainment, I’m sure, for you guys. I might have gotten a good laugh out of it myself if I hadn’t been the one it was happening to at the time. The Duchess can be a mess when she’s mad at me. You see how I’m looking right now? This dress? This hair? If Jennifer Hart had her way, this is how I’d be looking all the time- like Alice in Wonderland or somebody. It wouldn’t just be when she’s had it up to there with J.J. Hart. I could not believe she came in here and did all that to me this morning. I thought I was going to die of shame.”
“It was so funny when she was doing your hair and you were all mad and red in the face about it. She was all calm, and you couldn’t say anything about it.”
“I knew better.” J.J. confirmed Dee’s observation. “I knew I was getting off light.”
“Like she said, J. She’s your mother. She’s seen all of you before and she can do what she wants with you. Look at you, she’s got you all shiny and smelling good. You look really pretty with your hair like that, and that shade of blue is your color.”
“Whatever.” J.J. responded with a wave of her hand. ” My mother is a stone cold trip.”
“Yeah well, she might be a trip, and you might have thought you were going to die while you had to show her your behind this morning, but at least you know she cares.” Dee replied. “Ask me how many calls I’ve gotten from my family this weekend. Go on, ask me.”
“You go on.” J.J. answered her, avoiding the question to which she already knew the answer. “And get those copies done. I’ll see you guys later. And you need to get back here soon so you can study some more. I probably will be here a while longer, so I can help you more with that math. Go.” She reached out and pushed Dee.
Dee hopped up. Taking the book, she started for the door. When she got to it, she opened it and turned to give J.J. a thumbs up, a gesture which J.J. happily returned. It felt good to know that she had made someone else feel better about their situation. Someone had already done that for her, and she knew how that felt.
Just as Dee went out of the bedroom door, the door to the bathroom opened and Teddy stuck his head around it. When he saw that she was alone, he approached J.J’s bed, stood next to her, and produced a small bunch of wildflowers from behind his back.
“To make you smile.” He said.
At the same time, she noticed that his hair was damp and he smelled as if he’d just showered. Dressed once again in jeans and a tee shirt, she could see that he was really quite handsome no matter what he had on or what state he happened to be in at the time.
“Teddy,” She said as she looked up at him. “I want you to know that my mother would kill me dead if she knew I was up here with a boy in my bedroom again.” She said as she took the flowers from him and held them to her nose. “She called me a harlot the last time.”
“What do you mean, again? She knows I was up here with you alone yesterday?” Teddy asked in astonishment.
That detail had conveniently been left unmentioned when he’d met J.J.’s mother on the previous afternoon.
“And she knows about the night before- that you guys snuck up here, about the pizza and the party, and about you and me being outside together all late and everything. She’s excellent with piecing together clues and details, and dragging stuff out of me is her specialty.”
When she could see the confused and slightly horrified expression his face had taken on, she expanded upon her explanation.
“Okay, Teddy, you be her. Go figure. How else would I have gotten out of here to go the presentation unless somebody strong had carried me out? I couldn’t have walked, and I didn’t have the crutches at that point, so there was no other way. Then when you came up here with the wheelchair, I’m sure she picked up on the fact that you seemed to know your way around pretty well- knew exactly which room to come to when you got off the elevator. You didn’t ask for directions when you talked to her, did you?”
Teddy realized that he hadn’t, and that all she said was adding up.
“And she still let me see you yesterday when I called, J.J.?”
“I just told her the truth about everything, and she knows that she can trust me to do that and to be a lady- most of the time. She was cool with it for the most part, after I broke it all down to her. My mother knows me and she knows how things tend to get away from me at times even though I don’t mean for them to. She tends to not really freak out too much any more about that sort of thing. I think she’s getting used to it. She doesn’t like it, and she lets me know that she doesn’t like it, but she doesn’t get real bent out of shape about these kinds of things if I can make her see what really happened and that I meant well at the outset.”
“Okay, but does she know that you put your uniform on while I was up here, too?” He asked as he dropped into the chair next to her bed, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand.
He was watching her face, and he couldn’t believe how calm, how casual she was being about it. He also noticed how pretty she was in that blue dress and he wished that her legs weren’t covered by that quilt. Even with her damaged ankle, he just knew that she had to have good legs. Everything else about her was so good.
J.J. continued, “She figured that out on her own when she was making me talk about all the other stuff. That’s the point at which I got called a harlot. One way or another, Teddy, she always finds out everything I do. We keep it real, she and I; she insists upon it, and I gave up fighting her on it a long time ago. It’s easier to just be up front when she asks me things. I told you, I have a real good mother. Frustratingly thorough, a little scary at times, but definitely good.”
“I guess I should be glad it wasn’t your old man who found out all of that.” He concluded. “From the looks of him yesterday, he would probably have shot me by now, and hung me up on the Quad to warn off the other guys like they used to do in the olden days.”
“Probably.” J.J. smiled. “I have a real good father too, but anal when it comes to me, just like I told you. And for your information, since he’s not a kangaroo and I’m not a joey, he’s not my “old man”, Teddy; he’s my father.”
Even wrapped in Jonathan’s arms, Jennifer still felt anxious. The thoughts wildly whirled around in her head. Pa was old. What if he didn’t make it? She should have gone to him when he called for her. But she couldn’t go to him then. Why couldn’t she? It wasn’t often that she’d had to call upon him, but when she did, he always responded. Why hadn’t she done the same for him this time?
In the ambulance, her father had been so pale and still. She hadn’t tried to speak to him, and he hadn’t said one word or even opened his eyes while the paramedics busily communicated with the hospital and worked feverishly over him.
As she sat helplessly by, not sure if he knew she was there, all kinds of negative thoughts and memories tried to force their way to the front of her mind, demanding that she entertain them. She managed to push them back, flatly refusing to deal with them at that time. That was something that she had always been able to do. But, with each passing year, the struggle to keep the ones most deeply stored silent grew more and more difficult. Situations like this one made it almost impossible. She buried her head deeper into Jonathan’s chest, inhaling deeply, taking in his familiar, comforting scent.
She felt it when he rested his head on top of hers, and she heard him when he whispered, “Dear God…”
If Jonathan was in prayer, then she knew things were likely to turn out in Pa’s favor. Jonathan was his own man in every sense of the word. Not a church-going man, she knew him to have a strong personal belief system that sustained him. It was his own private, direct line to his higher power. For him, middle men were a largely unnecessary nuisance, and he side stepped them every chance he got to make his way directly to the source. That, for her, explained his cavalier attitude toward church, and organized religion in general. He didn’t disrespect it or disparage anyone for their own beliefs; he simply had little use for any of it himself.
Although she maintained her own religious practices throughout the marriage, and saw to J.J. doing likewise for the time being, she could see that their daughter would probably eventually be falling in with her father when she was old enough to do what she wanted. They were a lot alike in their thinking, and whether she agreed with them or not, she had to deeply respect their strong tendency toward independent thought and actions.
None of them had ever spoken of it, but she knew that Jonathan realized that her father looked down on him in the beginning because of his background. She didn’t consider her father to be an absolute snob, but he did have very high standards, a rigid sense of order, and his expectations for her future had indeed been lofty. Most of the men her father knew her to date had been affluent and from notable backgrounds. Jonathan had been affluent, but he had no family for Pa to research. He’d had to take her fiancée’ on his presence and his word alone.
But not once had Jonathan acted defensively or had he come away from being his affable, engaging self no matter how difficult her father tried to be. Stephen Edwards could be intimidating, but Jonathan had been a fascinating model of charisma and poise. That first weekend in Maryland, as she watched the two most important men in her life interact, solidified her love and admiration for both of them. Jonathan, she found, was a completely honest and decent man who could hold his own, and in the end, despite all of his initial misgivings, even her father had to relent and admit that she appeared to have made a good choice for a husband.
Over the ensuing years, Pa and Jonathan hadn’t always seen eye-to-eye on things, especially when it came to J.J.’s upbringing and education, but Jonathan had never backed down from his positions, letting his father-in-law know that he was J.J.’s father and the master of his own household. But at the same time he always displayed a respectful deference to his father-in-law as the patriarch of their family. How he managed to continually pull it off when Pa was most definitely yanking his chain was an enigma to her.
The way that Jonathan could charm and win over the most difficult of people was like sport with him, and he, a prime athlete. He could even do it with her, in fact, he did it with her all the time, just as he had from the very first moment their eyes met that afternoon in London. J.J. could do it to her too, only it was vitally important that she not let J.J. know that she had that power with her. That girl needed to be wary of someone in her life, and it obviously wasn’t ever going to be her father. J.J. played that grown man like a fiddle, a fiddle she’d been strumming since the hour she was born. Even Dr. Irvine could see it, and she had never met him; had just observed their interactions and could tell it. Pa was just as taken with her. Miss Smythe said that he’d walked all the way over to Waverly House from the Dean’s residence just to see her.
Jennifer realized that he had gone there after she took so long to come to him. He had called for her and she didn’t go. A wave of remorse suddenly washed over her, and she felt as if she were drowning in it.
In her mind she could see her father and the Dean slowly walking together on the Quad, both of them aided by those ornately carved ebony canes they used for support. As she pictured those walking sticks at the presentation on the previous day she seemed to recall them being very much alike.
Pa himself had remained alone all those years. What had he done for companionship? He had been a fairly young widower, and he had traveled all over the world. Maybe he had female friends overseas. After all, that had been her philosophy for years- imports. Never date near home. That kept private things private.
She could understand, even appreciate, his not remarrying, but she had never even known him to date anyone at home or abroad. He had always just been her Pa whenever they were together. When she was younger, she was glad of that. There was nobody else with whom she had to compete for his attention and affections, and most certainly no one could replace the one he’d lost. As she’d grown older and become more involved in her own life, she hadn’t thought a whole lot about what he might be lacking in his.
Now to find out that he had known the Dean all that time. Was that why he sent her to Gresham Hall rather than to some other boarding school? Was there an underlying reason beyond that?
What was it he wanted to tell her? Was it about Dean Marchand as she suspected? Whatever it was, why hadn’t she wanted to hear what he was trying to tell her?
Would she ever hear anything he had to say to her again? Would he leave too without saying goodbye? The chance had been there this time, but had she missed it?
“It’s going to be alright.” She heard Jonathan say as he wiped away the tears that she hadn’t felt coursing down her cheeks with a gentle brush of his hand.
Bill paced the lobby of the Gresham Inn waiting for Pat to arrive with the car to take them to the hospital to be with Jonathan and Jennifer. He had tried sitting and waiting for her, but that hadn’t worked at all. Worrying about Jennifer’s father’s condition, he had shifted and squirmed like a small child, crossing and uncrossing his arms and his legs until he’d driven himself to distraction. He got up, went to the window to watch for Pat, and began to pace nervously.
It had been his intention to ask her the night before, but words had failed him. Then the question of where to live came up, and that dilemma made him hesitate even more. She was east coast, he was west coast. She was uptown, he was big country. She was champagne, dinner parties, and bright lights. He was beer, barbeque, and wide open spaces. What to do? What to do? Then Pat had turned on her considerable charms once again, and that had been the end of it, for that night anyway.
He woke with it all facing him once again that morning. Finding her pillow empty, and the room devoid of her presence; that achingly torturous longing he felt for her when she wasn’t with him told him what he needed to do above everything.
Damn, that girl was good. In all ways she was good. Good to him and good for him. Just plain good. Too good to let get away from him. Stephen Edwards had waited until the last minute, and depending upon the outcome of the day’s events, he might have missed the boat. That wasn’t going to be the case with him and Pat. This was his last shot, the last one he was willing to take, and he knew it was the right shot. Pat knew it too.
He stopped pacing and with his nervous hands pushed down in his pockets to keep them still, he waited for her.
When the car pulled up into the drive in front of the building, he went out to meet it. She was getting out to come inside, and he gestured for her to get back in behind the wheel. Opening the passenger door, he got in, immediately leaning over to take her firmly by her shoulders with both hands, and pressed his lips to hers.
“Just marry me, dammit.” He demanded when he ended the kiss. “We’ll work the other bullshit out later.”
Startled and a bit stunned, she managed to stammer, “Y-Y-Yeah, okay.” She gulped, swallowed, and tried to catch her breath before she was able to force out, “Sure. Whatever the hell you say.”
Teddy returned to the room from where he had gone into the bathroom upon hearing the knock at the door.
“Have some lunch.” J.J. offered from the tray on the rolling table before her. One of the housekeepers had come up and brought it to her after she declined the phone invitation to come down. She wasn’t ready for Teddy to leave which he would have had to do it she had chosen to go to the dining room.
“No, you eat.” He said. “I’ll eat later.”
“I’m not hungry.” She answered as she pushed it away from her. “I won’t be able to eat until I hear about my grandfather. I have butterflies and food is the last thing I want.”
He picked up her sandwich and bit into it. “Turkey, I love it!”
She watched as he heartily and quickly devoured everything on the tray, including the large slice of chocolate cake, in random order. “Didn’t you eat breakfast?” She finally asked as he finished the last of her soup.
He looked sheepishly up from the bowl to her. “No. I didn’t. Can you tell?”
“How come you didn’t? Don’t they let the lowly stable hands eat? Don’t they even give you crusts of bread? Some lukewarm water?”
He could tell from the twinkle in her eyes that she was teasing, and he had to laugh.
“No Miss Hart. Actually, it was your mother who got me cut off for taking you out and letting you get hurt. She came out to the stable and raised all kinds of hell and now I can’t eat for a week.”
J.J. gasped, and she then caught the twinkle in his eye. “No, she didn’t.” She surmised from the grin he was trying to hide. “She would never do that to anybody. Except me, maybe. She’d cut me off because she knows she can.”
“No, she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t even do you like that. Your mother’s a real lady, J.” said Teddy as he wiped his mouth with her napkin. “And so are you. I didn’t eat because I hurried to get my work done so that I could come and see you.”
“Yeah, and I gotta tell you. I like your hair down like that. You should wear it down more often.”
When she suddenly turned red and looked away, he hurried to apologize for embarrassing her. “I’m sorry, J.J. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. Maybe I should go now.”
Before she could say anything to that, there was another knock at the door.
Teddy quickly rolled the tray back around so that it was in front of her and dove for the bathroom door, closing it behind him.
After getting past her bout of feeling sorry for herself, Dean Marchand remembered that Jennifer’s daughter was over at Waverly House alone. The injured child was probably worried sick about her grandfather’s condition. She still wanted to meet her, and she wanted to reassure her that someone was thinking about her while her parents were occupied at the hospital. After driving her golf cart over, she stopped in on the first floor and greeted the remaining girls and their mothers who were just starting lunch in the dining room. Then, after finding out from Miss Smythe that Justine had opted to eat alone in her room, she proceeded on to the elevator which took her to the second floor.
Stopping outside the closed door of Suite #1, she thought she could hear voices on the inside.
After knocking and experiencing a slightly longer than expected hesitation, a feminine voice answered, “Come in.”
The girl was seated on the bed, and she was wiping her mouth with a napkin, her empty lunch dishes on the tray in front of her. Her bed was directly in the path of the sun’s rays which beamed through the room’s large bay window, and they were picking up the highlights in her dark red hair which seemed to spark when she finally slowly looked up. Agnes Marchand thought her own heart would stop.
Justine Hart, with her light-colored eyes in stark contrast to that hair and the dark lashes which hooded them, was the living image of the young woman she’d met over fifty years ago on the mall with Stephen in Washington, D.C. She seemed a little taken aback to see her standing there, and she sat wide-eyed, studying her with the same silent, penetrating, investigative quality as Suzanne Roussel Edwards had possessed so long ago. That same waterfall of long, thick, wavy hair, which was styled just as her grandmother’s had appeared that day, framed her pretty face with its flushed cheeks. She could finally, clearly see what Stephen had told her so many times: even though she looked very much like Jennifer, to anyone who had ever met Suzanne, Justine was even more her grandmother in appearance than she was her mother. Agnes Marchand prided herself on never forgetting a face, and Suzanne Edwards’ face was one she would never forget.
“Good afternoon, Dean Marchand.” The girl said to her in greeting, pushing the tray table away from her to allow her to come right up to the side of the bed. Then she sat forward and extended her hand. “I am Justine Jennifer Hart, and I am very pleased to finally meet you. Forgive me if I don’t stand up, and come to you, but that would take too monumental an effort and you’d have to wait too long for me to do it. I don’t quite have the hang of those crutches yet. By the time I got it together, you’d be over here already.”
Dean Marchand, impressed by her good manners, as well as her apparent good humor, clasped the slender young hand in both of hers. “And I am pleased to finally meet you, young lady. You’ve been keeping to your own devices since you’ve been here, I see. Don’t worry about standing up. I’ll sit down and then we’ll be even.”
Releasing her, she took a seat in the leather chair next to the bed noting that it was warm, as if someone had just gotten up from it.
“I haven’t seen much of you this weekend. I heard about your injury, of course. Your grandfather and I came over to see you yesterday, but we found you asleep. I thought I’d better come see you today on my own if we were ever to meet. I just wanted to see how you’re doing. How’s that ankle?”
The bunch of wild flowers lying on the night table did not escape her attention either. She picked them up and stuck them down in the half-finished glass of water on the lunch tray.
“No sense in having someone bring you flowers if you’re just going to let them wilt right away.” She commented offhandedly as she arranged them to stand evenly.
J.J. once again blushed mightily, this time at the Dean’s observations and the veiled message behind the last one. “My ankle’s okay, Dean Marchand.” She answered weakly. Actually, the ankle was throbbing, and her heart was racing like crazy.
As she tried to keep from displaying any amusement at that unspoken admission of guilt which tinted Justine’s face, Dean Marchand wondered if it was coincidence or just divine providence that delivered those two generations of mischievous Edwards girls into her particular hands for safe keeping. Looking into the intelligent blue eyes cautiously fixed upon her, she was reminded of the times another pair of similarly shaped, intelligent eyes stared back at her. Only those had been brown, and the look in them had been angry, defiant, and unhappy. The present ones were simply a girl’s eyes; just wondering, questioning, relatively innocent eyes.
Perhaps Jennifer’s and Justine’s being under her care at Gresham Hall was more a case of a mother’s undying love, continuing vigilance, and a sign of her trust. For the latter, if that were the case, Agnes Marchand was grateful. If that were so, then her mission had been fulfilled, and everything hadn’t been for naught after all.
Pat and Bill had been there with them for some time when the doctor who met the ambulance upon Stephen’s arrival emerged from behind the double doors. All four of them rose anxiously to their feet.
“Mrs. Hart, Mr. Hart” He said as he extended his hand to Jennifer. “I’m happy to tell you that we have Mr. Edwards stabilized and we’re in the process of moving him into a private room. It was dehydration.”
“Will he be alright?” She asked anxiously.
“His electrolytes had gotten to a dangerously low level for a man his age.” The doctor answered. “Which is what caused his weakened condition. But he should be fine.”
Jennifer exhaled in relief as Jonathan moved his arm from around her to take her hand.
“What could have brought it on?” He asked, hoping that flying with him and the subsequent excitement and stress of the previous day’s events hadn’t been the reason.
He had been skeptical about bringing him when Stephen called to ask him to do it, but he had sounded almost desperate to be there for the Dean and to see Jennifer and J.J. Stephen rarely asked anything of them, so he had felt obligated to do that for him.
“It happens rather easily in the elderly, Mr. Hart. The system is more delicate and can get out of balance quickly. And, I have to add, it’s not helped by smoking and not drinking enoughplain water. I say that because Mr. Edwards was back there trying to give me a hard time about the nature of his fluid intake and how he’d earned the right to do whatever he pleased.”
Exasperated, Jennifer just hung her head and tapped her foot. The others chuckled.
“Can’t get a good man down, Beautiful.” Bill offered to Jennifer. “Your father is one helluva good man.”
The doctor continued, “We’re going to keep him here for forty-eight hours to pump some potassium into him to get his count back up. Then, if all is well after that time, you will be able to take him back home.”
“May we see him?” Jennifer asked, clutching Jonathan’s hand feeling him squeeze hers in return.
“As soon as we get him settled, someone will come for you and you can go up to see him then.” The doctor answered. “He’s been asking for you. It shouldn’t be too long.”
When the doctor returned behind the doors, a collective sigh of relief was breathed by the group.
“Thank you.” Jennifer said quietly. “All of you for being here for Pa and me. I don’t know what I’d do without any of you.” Then she looked directly at Bill and Pat who stood before her and Jonathan, holding hands. “It seems as if you two have been with us all this year through our difficult times. We couldn’t have two better friends. J.J. couldn’t have two better god parents than the two of you.”
Bill smiled and hugged Pat to him. “And the two shall become one, Jennifer, Valentine. We’re getting married. She’s going to let me make an honest woman of her.”
“I don’t know about all of that.” Quipped Jennifer despite her happiness at what must have been a recent turn of events. “That might be a real stretch.”
“Oh, let’s not go there, Edwards.” Pat warned. “I’ve got some rather choice anecdotes of my own that I’ve saved up for just such an occasion.”
“And I’d like to hear some of those.” Interjected Jonathan with a mischievous grin. “Every time I think I know all there is about Jennifer Edwards, I find there’s even more to this fascinating creature, my wife.”
“But it couldn’t happen to two nicer people.” Jennifer cut in quickly, releasing Jonathan to give Pat a hearty hug, whispering in her ear, “Congratulations, dear girl. You deserve someone like him, and he, you. And if you say one more word…”
“So, Justine, tell me about yourself.” Dean Marchand encouraged as she sat back in the chair, crossing her legs.
“What would you like to know about me exactly?” J.J. asked while frantically wondering what exactly brought the Dean up to the room at that precise moment and whether or not Teddy had been able to make a clean getaway.
“Tell me about your school. I understand you go to public school, and that you do well there.”
“I do okay. School’s fun. I used to go to private, but I like public better. Well, at least the school I attend, I like better.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, I like it because it’s a special program, and even though it’s exclusive, it doesn’t exclude people based on how much money their parents have or don’t have. The programs are geared to special interests and talents or achievement which are the things that should matter in educating someone, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think a quality education should be limited to only the people who can afford it. There are a lot of fine people who wouldn’t get to reach their full potential if it weren’t for programs like the one at my school. I’m fortunate in that my parents can afford to send me anywhere, but then I would be limited to getting to know only one group of people. This way I get to know all kinds of people, and they get to know me. Without programs like the kind I’m in, that wouldn’t happen. That’s how the world gets so polarized.”
Dean Marchand, listening closely with her finger to her chin, was impressed by the answer. She nodded slowly and said, “Tell me about this accident of yours yesterday, Justine. I saw you when you were leaving with Teddy Baxter yesterday morning to go to the stables.”
Where had she been that she could see that, J.J. wondered. And if she’d seen that, what else had she seen?
The Dean nodded again in response. “I understand that you hadn’t cleared it with your mother.”
“No ma’am, I didn’t.” J.J. went ahead and admitted. “I love horses, and I just wanted to go riding. I had pulled a few stunts on Friday after we got here, and I was afraid my mother would tell me no if I asked her. I figured she was already kind of mad at me over the things I’d already done, so I didn’t ask. That way, she couldn’t say no to me.”
J.J. hoped that this wasn’t going to turn into a chewing-out session. There was nothing she hated worse than when other people, outside people who didn’t really know her, tried to parent her. She had a mother and a father for that, and she didn’t need or want another mother.
To her surprise, the Dean’s response was, “Your mother was like that, too. If she wanted to do something, she just did it and dealt with the consequences later. Once, in a moment of utter frustration with her and her attitude, I asked her why punishments didn’t seem to faze her. You know what she told me?”
“No.” J.J. answered breathlessly, totally drawn into that enlightening tidbit from her mother’s past. “What did she say?”
“She had the nerve to tell me that she didn’t care about consequences once she had already done what it was that she wanted to do.”
“Good way to look at it.” J.J. thought to herself, impressed with that logic. “You go, Mom. Once it’s done, it’s done.”
Aloud, she said, “I can see the sense in that. If it’s something a person really wants to do, then the consequences don’t really mean much if the mission was accomplished. You’ve already done what you wanted to do.”
“Like mother and Patricia, like daughter .” Thought Dean Marchand. That shiny little apple had evidently fallen right at the base of those two trees.
“Was yesterday morning’s escapade worth hurting your ankle, Justine?” She asked.
J.J. thought for a moment before she answered. When she did, she took her time, wording things ever so carefully.
“The way I figure it, Dean Marchand, it had to be. I mean, hurting my ankle must have been something that was supposed to happen. When you really look at the situation, you see that I didn’t hurt it in the process of riding the horse. I got hurt when I was off the horse, just walking around. That could have happened anywhere. It could have happened on my way to breakfast if I hadn’t chosen to go riding. But then, I wouldn’t have gotten to ride Babette, would I? I would have hurt my ankle and then never got to go riding while I was here.” She stopped and nodded thoughtfully. Then she looked directly at the woman next to her. “Yes. To answer your question, it was definitely worth it.”
She was pleasantly relieved when Dean Marchand smiled at her instead of chastising her. The woman looked almost like she wanted to laugh.
“What?” J.J. asked. “Did I say something funny?”
“No,” The Dean finally chuckled. “Your logic amuses me.”
She would never have gotten that much conversation out of Jennifer at that age. Jennifer would have shut down and shut her out. In Justine’s place, she would have sat up in that room on that bed with her injured ankle not saying anything to anyone except the other girls around her. For the longest time, Jennifer had kept most adult women at arm’s length except for the most rudimentary interactions, those which she couldn’t avoid. It wasn’t until the last few months before her graduation that they were able to have a real conversation, and that had been a somewhat generic talk about what she planned to do beyond high school.
“It didn’t really amuse my mother yesterday.” J.J. recalled aloud. “Now I’m thinking maybe she was just having flashbacks. Was she happy at all when she was here, Dean Marchand?”
“What makes you ask that?” Was the question the Dean asked after having to take a second to recover from the directness of it.
“I get the feeling that she wasn’t most of the time. I mean how could she be? She didn’t have a mother any more. She didn’t have Pa most of the time. There weren’t any brothers or sisters anywhere, and her favorite aunt was thousands of miles away. I know that I wouldn’t have been very happy here, even with my best friend in the same room like she had. Even for this one visit, with my best friend with me, I wasn’t happy in the beginning. The best part of being here for me this weekend has been that I came here with my mother. Even though I wasn’t with her a lot, I knew that she was close enough for me to call for her if I wanted to and that when it was time to go home, we were going home together. After I had been here a bit, and I met some of the people, my friend and I finally started having a good time. But, I don’t think I’d like it here if I hadn’t come here with my people. Even when my mother ended up coming to the room after she got totally fed up with me, and I thought she was going to have my head, and I was so scared I almost wet my pants; I was still glad that I had a mother to do that. She didn’t have her mother, no matter what the situation was. My mother wasn’t happy here, was she?”
“I don’t think so Justine. But, I think it was just what you said. She missed her mother more than she disliked being here. I believe she made the best of it, though. That was her strongest point. She worked with the situation, got what she needed from it, and went away with the best of it.”
J.J. understood that. In her mother’s place, she wouldn’t have been happy either, but she knew that no matter where she was in the universe, alive or otherwise, her own mother would have wanted her to do exactly that: take the best and leave the rest. And she would have been there trying to please the Duchess and make her proud even in spirit.
That was probably what her mother had been thinking about her own mother all those years she spent at Gresham Hall. Perhaps that was how she got through it with no mother.
“Dean Marchand, were you there when they took my grandfather away this morning?”
“Yes, my dear.”
“Do you think he’ll be alright? Was my mother okay?”
“Your grandfather is in good hands, and so is your mother. Your father was with her.”
If they had each other, J.J. thought, then they were all in the best possible hands.
Her cell phone rang and she picked it up from the night table.
“Hi, J.J. It’s Daddy. I was just calling to let you know that the doctor has told us that your grandfather is going to be fine. I knew you’d want to know.”
“Thanks for calling me! That’s so great to hear! I am so relieved. I was worried about him. How’s my mother? Is she with him?”
“Your mother is fine now since she’s gotten that news. She’s with Bill and Pat. They’re going to let her go up and see him in just a little bit.”
“Did they say what was wrong with him? Can he come home soon?”
The doctor says that he was dehydrated. They’re going to keep him here a couple of days to fix him up. I have some other good news for you, but it will have to wait until we see you.”
“Why are you doing that? You know I can’t wait. Daddy, tell me now.”
“No, you’ll just have to suffer and wait. I also wanted to tell you that it looks as though we won’t be going home tonight. I’ve gone ahead and cancelled our flight plan. I’ll call the Dean and make arrangements for you and Marnie to be transported to the Gresham Inn to stay with us. You girls get packed. When we’re all together, we’ll tell you the other news then.”
“Hey wait, Daddy! We want to stay here while Pa gets better. Dean Marchand is right here with me. Ask her if it’s okay if we stay.”
“I wish you’d make up your mind. I thought you wanted to get out of there. Now you want to stay at Gresham Hall?”
“Yesssss! Pleeease. Here, ask her.”
She handed the phone to the Dean.
After a brief conversation in which she granted her consent, the Dean handed the phone back to her.
“Here.” She said. “He’s hung up, and I don’t know how to turn that thing off. I guess I’ll have two more on the rolls.”
She eased herself up from the chair.
“And since you are now officially on my roster, Miss Justine Jennifer Hart, we do not allow boys in the Suites here at Gresham Hall. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Ma’am.” J.J. answered without attempting to dispute the accusation. The old lady looked like she had her finger on the pulse of the campus, and that she must have a clue about what had been going on. “Thank you for letting us stay here.”
“You can thank your mother for raising such a delightful daughter.” The Dean said as she walked to the door. “I’ll let Miss Smythe know that she has two more for dinner.”
As she took a final look at the girl who smiled at her from the bed, Agnes Marchand could once again see that young woman with the lovely smile on the mall that day. She knew that if she could see her and be made to feel what Justine had her feeling, Stephen had to be profoundly affected by his grandchild’s presence. Justine left her wondering if Suzanne Edwards had been anything like her granddaughter in demeanor and personality, and if so, she could see why Stephen had been so taken with her. The two of them together, Stephen and Justine, had to be interesting to watch in action. He spoke so lovingly of her when they talked. From the look of things, she might get that chance to see them interact for herself after all. Justine Hart was apparently the product of two nurturing parents, a doting father and a mother who knew what it was like to be without her mother. And she had a grandfather who loved everything about her even if he did think she was a bit too “maverick” for a girl of her “social position”.
When the door closed, J.J. lay her head back on the pillows, talking to the Dean in her head:
“You may not allow boys up here in the suites, Dean Marchand, but it’s not always about what’s allowed. Stuff just happens. And once they happen, the consequences don’t mean much. My mother told you that a long time ago. What part of that didn’t you understand? Besides, you have to get caught first.” Then she laughed to herself, tickled by her own impertinence and strangely enough, no longer nervous about her and Teddy’s close call.
She was glad that things had worked out with Pa. He was old, but he was made of tough stuff. She was also happy that she’d finally met the Dean, which seemed to have been a pressing issue with her mother and with Pa. She hoped she’d made a good impression with her, and that she had kept most of the commonness under wraps. Maybe she could win back a few points with the Duchess if she got a good report from the Dean.
What was the other news her father said that he had for her? What could that be about? He was so wrong for teasing her by not telling her what it was right away.
With them staying over, there would also be more time to spend with Dee, not to mention with Teddy. It was too bad that Madison and Dakota weren’t staying longer. They would all have to keep in touch and try to hook up again some time.
The longer she stayed at Gresham Hall, the more it seemed she learned about herself through learning about her mother. After talking with the Dean, it appeared that some of the attitudes and positions she held that she’d assumed were unique to her, had actually been handed down a generation, maybe two if Aunt Sabrina was taken into account.
But, if her mother had been so “absolutely incorrigible” at one time, why did she hold it so hard against her for being that way? It would seem that she’d understand how it was with her better than it seemed she did. If Jennifer Edwards once smoked cigarettes, did whatever she wanted to do, and told the Dean off to boot, why was she so hard on her daughter about her behavior and her quick tongue? Justine Hart hadn’t ever been caught smoking or getting smart with authority figures, and if she had, her mother would have strung her up by her heels. But why? Why did her mother hold her to a higher standard than she had observed herself as a teenager?
That was a conversation that would have to be worked out in her head before broaching it, and gradually eased into when she brought it up with her mother. She wouldn’t be able to just jump right into that one with Jennifer Hart. The snooping element to how she’d found things out would be revealed if she did it that way, and that would be more trouble to have to try to get out of. Indeed, the subject would have to be entered into with finesse, without going into all the whys and hows.
Perhaps allowing one of those copies of the cigarette picture from the yearbook to just happen to turn up on her desk, the glove compartment of her car, or somewhere….
And then there remained the problem of how to break it to Marnie that she had elected for the two of them to continue on at an all-girls’ boarding school in the heart of rural Gresham Township, rather than moving into a comfy inn near stores, shops, restaurants, and the city proper for the next few days.
She finally resolved that she would just have to use the Brookfield boys as the hook. Marnie would be game for any situation that included boys.
On the other side of the bathroom door, Teddy could hardly contain himself.
The Dean might be a little old lady, but she was still a powerful force with which to be reckoned on the Gresham and Brookfield campuses. She was given a wide berth by the students in both places. Getting caught in a Gresham Hall Suite with a girl would be the death knell for his academic career at Brookfield. Getting caught red-handed in the room with J.J. Hart by Dean Marchand and/or Jonathan Hart would mean death, period. His body ached from how still he had been while standing frozen in place to keep from making a sound and drawing the Dean’s attention.
But listening at the door, he heard J.J. hold her own with Dean Marchand. The girl was insightful, smart, nervy, pretty AND it seemed she was going to be staying for a few more days. It sounded like the Dean suspected she’d had company, but J.J. had never wavered, never caved at all.
What a girl! He wanted to go out and give her a high-five for a job well-done.
What the hell, like J.J. said, if the mission was worth it, the heck with the consequences. Who minded getting put on punishment if there were good memories to cherish while one was doing the time? Like the stable hand and summer school thing with him. He’d had a such a good time during the school year that working and studying that summer weren’t that bad. He was still snickering over some of the things that had gone down. And since the consequences had afforded him the opportunity to meet that girl on the other side of the door, spending his summer in the stables and in the classroom weren’t such bad things at all.
Not wanting to wear out his welcome with J.J., and with the Dean traveling between floors, he was free to finally make his exit.
The four girls rushed through the front door of Waverly house.
“Ooh, I can smell it!” exclaimed Dakota. “They’re having lunch and we’re missing it. I’m starved!”
Madison made a face. “You know how Miss Smythe is about being late for meals. She might not let us eat.”
“I’m hungry too.” Said Marnie. “I would hate to have to cuss her out, but I will. My whole personality goes bad when I’m hungry. I’ll slip and cuss her out, the Duchess will get word of it, and then I’ll go on lockdown. That could all be avoided by her not giving us a hard time about eating.”
“She’s gonna give us a hard time.” Dee advised them all. “She lives for giving people a hard time.”
Madison looked around to Marnie. “J.J.’s mother can put you on punishment like that? How can she get away with that? She’s not your mother.”
“Hell, she can get away with it because she can.” Marnie said as she headed for the stairs. “My mother and I don’t always get along. I hate to say it, but my mother’s sort of immature, so we get into it a lot about some of the things she does. One time, J.J.’s mother put me and my mother on punishment when we’d had one of our fights. I called myself running away from home and I had my mother’s gardener to take me down to J.’s house. My mother came after me. When she showed up, we got to arguing and stuff in the Harts’ front room, and Mrs. H. ended up breaking it up. She got all over my mother for letting me talk to her like I did. Afterward, she made me stay at their house in the guest room with no phone and no TV, and she made my mother go home. Then she wouldn’t let her come back down and see me for a week. Picture it, she told my own mother that she couldn’t see me or talk to me-called it a “cooling off” period- and my mother went for it! Too scared to do otherwise, and I wasn’t about to argue with J.’s mother over it either. When the Duchess got through with us, me and my mother were almost glad to see each other again.”
“Where was J.J. while you were on punishment at her house?” Asked Dakota. “Did she sneak you food and her cell phone and stuff? Seems like something she would do.”
They were at the foot of the staircase, and had completely stopped. Dee, Dakota, and Madison were thoroughly spellbound by the story.
“That’s the deep part. She would have if she had been there. But, in my anger I had forgotten that J.J. had left to go out of town the day before when I went running away all mad and everything to her house. She wasn’t even there, but I was- on punishment. So, yes, to answer your question, Maddy, J.J.’s mother can do that. Needless to say, I give Mrs. Hart all of her room. Dakota, you go smooth out Smythe. She likes you. We’ll take the pictures up to J.J. and be right back. Don’t let her give you a hard time. Tell her that she doesn’t want me to have to handle it. It won’t be pretty.”
Dakota headed for the dining room while Marnie and Dee started up to the second floor. Madison walked a few stairs behind marveling at that tiny person in front of her. She had never met anyone with so much personality packed into such a little body, and she was so funny. And then there was her friend up in the room, J.J. She had never met anyone with the charm and magnetism that she possessed. Too bad those two hadn’t been sent to boarding school. Waverly House would be rocking every night.
Marnie was still fussing, “I’ve been being J.J.’s little flunky ever since her unfortunate mishap yesterday. Then all next week I gotta be with her at her grandfather’s dull-assed place. The only good thing about it is she’ll be there. but then there’s the horses and the cute stable guys too. J. owes me real big. I had my damned weekend all lined up. Josh had asked me to-”
They turned the corner and walked right up on Dean Marchand standing at the elevator door.
“Good afternoon Madison, Marnie, Denise.” She greeted each of them, impressing Marnie with having remembered her name. “Have you girls been to lunch? I didn’t see you when I was down there.”
“No Ma’am.” Answered Madison. “We just got back. We were at the library.”
“Studying.” Added Dee.
“Research.” Nodded Marnie, pointing to the envelope. “I’d just like to say, Dean Marchand, that Gresham Hall has very fine facilities for that sort of thing. Much better than we have at our school.”
The Dean studied the petite pixie-like girl before her. After a moment, she asked, “Do you attend the same school as Justine, Marnie, out there in Los Angeles?”
“Yes, Ma’am. We’re both in the gifted curriculum.”
The elevator door opened. “Um-hum.” The Dean summed up. “Well, my chariot awaits. You girls have a good afternoon.”
And she got in thinking that Marnie was most likely enrolled in the Gifted and Cute Little Liar’s with Nasty Mouths Program at that public school in Los Angeles; the same program her apparent mentor, Patricia Hamilton, should have been registered for as a teenager.
And that slick Madison and angry, under-achieving Denise weren’t too far off the mark themselves.
The girls stood there until the door of the elevator completely closed before they moved on.
“Bet she came to see J.” Madison observed as they continued to #1. “And if she did, I wonder why she wants to get with J.J. so badly.”
“Probably because of J.’s grandfather and her being friends.” Marnie surmised. “Maybe the Dean has the hots for him.”
Dee voiced her sudden thought. “I sure hope Teddy wasn’t in there when she came up. You know he’s probably been back. I think he’s getting it bad for J.J.”
Marnie made an exasperated face. “If he is, he’s just wasting his time on that girl. She is not on that page yet. Cute guys crawl out of everywhere trying to get her attention. Our friend, Tommy, has all the girls wanting him. You know the type, big, cute, sensitive, nice. I’m pretty sure he likes her, and she likes him, but no go right now, no matter how hard I push.” Marnie stopped walking and declared, “Now, you two know for fact that I was no where around. I shouldn’t be blamed in any way, shape, form, or fashion.”
They had reached the closed door of #1.
“But if he was up here, and they did get caught, you watch and see.” After switching the large envelope she carried to her left hand, Marnie turned to face the other two girls. She then held up her right hand as if she were testifying. “As sure as my name is Marnie Elaine Benson, I’m going on lockdown with her. If we’re together- at school, at home, wherever- and something jumps off with one of us- it’s two for damned one every time, no matter what.”
He heard, “Stephen, it’s time.”
His first waking thought was of Jennifer.
“Time for what?” He murmured in response.
“It’s time to get up, Stephen.”
That was certainly Jennifer calling to him. Jennifer never called him anything other than “Pa.” She’d tried “Dad” for a short while as she’d gotten older, left home for good, and thought she was too sophisticated for her old pet name for him. He had been secretly gratified when she went back to it. Through it all, he had remained her Papa. To her and to Justine he was just plain “Pa”.
But that first voice woke him some mornings. When it did, the following day would usually be a good one once he got past the disappointment of not finding the owner lying there next to him.
“I’m here, Pa.” He heard his daughter say, and when he opened his eyes, her smiling face was the first thing he saw. It was what he wanted to see.
Jennifer looked so much like he imagined her mother would have looked had she lived. Justine was so much like her grandmother had been. Since this evidently hadn’t been his time to join her mother as he first suspected, he was happy to find Jennifer there with him.
“How are you feeling?” She asked.
He looked around himself and realized that he was in a different hospital room than before. He began to recall having felt ill and Jonathan being with him, then being surrounded by doctors and medical equipment. “I feel fine now that you’re finally here.” He answered. “Where’s Jonathan?”
“He, Bill, and Pat went back to the inn. I stayed here to wait for you. He wanted to go over to Gresham to check on J.J. and Marnie, and to have a look at J.J.’s ankle. He hadn’t seen her today.
As she answered, he could feel that she was holding his hand.
“He’s a good man and a good father. I’m glad that you’re here, darling.” He said. Then he noticed that he was hooked up to an intravenous unit. “What’s this they’re putting into me?”
“Fluids, Pa. It contains potassium which is what your body is lacking. You have to be careful and make sure that you get enough fluids. The doctor told us that you’re dehydrated and that’s why you got so weak and fell ill. He also suggested that you eat a banana a day to help with your potassium level.”
The doctor’s words came back to him, incensing him once again. “I hate bananas, and I get enough fluids! I told him that. Why is he persisting in that line of conversation?”
Jennifer shook her head at her father’s stubbornness. “He’s not talking about scotch and bourbon, Pa. He’s talking about water, just plain water, maybe orange juice. And he says that smoking doesn’t help the situation.”
“Jennifer, I’ve told you time and time again. Life is not worth living if one can’t do the things that make one happy. I’m eighty years old, and if smoking hasn’t gotten me by now, it won’t. If something does by chance happen to creep up on me, then so be it. And I don’t drink orange juice unless there’s some vodka in it. I’m not about to change my habits at this stage of the game. Whatever happens, just happens. I’ve had a good, long, largely satisfying life. ”
“Don’t talk like that, Pa.” Jennifer earnestly plead.
He had always been blunt, very cut-and-dried, saying exactly what was on his mind, but she hated when he brought up the possibility of his leaving her. He had done it when the problems with his heart began. He’d talked of it again when his comings and goings had been so severely curtailed by the limitations his heart condition placed upon him. It took her breath away to listen to him say that after the scare she had just had with him.
“You have to face it, darling. I’m an old man, not in the best of health, and it could happen any time. When my time comes, please know that I’ll be going in peace and be happy for me. I’m satisfied that I’ve done the best I could. Every time I look at you, I know that to be true. I’m so proud of you. Which leads me to what I wanted to speak with you about.”
Her heart filled with a sudden inexplicable dread. “Not now, Pa. You need your rest. We can talk about it later.”
“Now, Jennifer.” He demanded. “We’ll talk now. You’ve made me put it off long enough, and I’ll determine when I need to rest. You need to listen and tell me what you think. I need to know how you feel about what I’d like to do.”
He was gripping her hand, so she couldn’t let go like she wanted to. What she wanted to do was get up and walk, to just place her hands over her ears like J.J. did when she was little, and she didn’t want to hear what was being said to her.
But she was no longer a child, and it was time to hear whatever it was her father wanted to say to her. “Jenny,” She thought to herself. “It is time to wake up.”
J.J. was on the phone, but she clicked off and hung up when they came in. “Did you have any trouble getting all the copies?” She asked.
“Nah,” Marnie answered with a wave of her hand. “We got them done without a hitch. Saw Dean Marchand getting on the elevator when we got up here, though.” Marnie said, taking a seat on the side of J.J.’s bed and handing her the envelope.
Madison dropped down into the chair at J.J.’s bedside. “Was she in here with you?”
“Yeah, ” J.J. answered. “She almost caught Teddy. He had come up to see me. He brought me these flowers and ate up all my lunch. I think she suspects he was here, but she can’t prove anything. You know that I didn’t let on.”
“So what did Old Girl want?” Marnie asked as she watched J.J. open the envelope and begin to go through the pictures. As she examined each one, the familiar mischievously amused look was coming to life on her face, wrinkling her freckled nose.
At the copies of the picture of her mother with the drawn cigarette, J.J. smiled her widest smile, as she answered, “She said that she just wanted to meet me, but it seemed like she was looking for something else.”
“Like what?” All three of the others chimed together, then laughing at having the same thought at the same time.
“I don’t know.” J.J. answered. “It just seemed to me like she was looking for something. You know, like it something more than just me she was trying to see.”
Marnie got up, dismissing J.J.’s claims with, “You’re always reading something into a situation. She just wanted to meet you because of your grandfather, speaking of whom-”
“He’s good. Daddy called. He said Pa was dehydrated. He’s going to have to be in the hospital for a couple of days or so to get better.”
Dee looked up hopefully from where she was taking off her shoes while seated on the side of her bed across the room.
“So, what happens with us?” Marnie asked warily as she continued to move to her side of the room. “I know we’re not leaving Massachusetts, but we are moving into the Gresham Inn, right? You know, with room service, our own room, and cable TV? We’ve done our time here, right?”
“Well, no.” J.J. slowly began. “Not quite. I told Daddy we’d stay here at Gresham Hall until Pa got better. Dean Marchand okayed it.”
“Yessssss!!!!” Dee jumped up from the bed. Madison reached for the phone while Marnie dropped down into a sitting position onto her bed.
“What the hell were you thinking, J?!” She cried. “Here we are, paroled and everything, and you get us sent back up the river. I thought you were the one who was so ready to go! What about your x-rays, your therapy?”
J.J. continued to go through the copies of the pictures, calmly ignoring Marnie’s irritation. “We’re staying. Get used to it. I can get that stuff you mentioned done right here. Dee needs more tutoring. And keep in mind, Marnie Elaine, Josh is still in summer sessions at Brookfield.”
“Oh, yeah!” Marnie whispered to herself, suddenly confronted with that pleasant fact. “Come to think of it, he sure is. Good looking out, J. I didn’t think you schemed along those lines. I take it you weren’t ready to leave Teddy yet either, huh? You could have, you know. He’s already gotten his kiss.”
J.J.’s head snapped in Marnie’s direction. “What?”
Marnie nodded devilishly. “Yep. Got it when you were asleep last night. He picked you up from the wheelchair when we got you up here, and he put you in the bed. Then he kissed you right smack on the lips. I think he even slipped you some tongue.”
J.J. calmly shook her head. “No, he didn’t, Marnie. He’s a gentleman. He wouldn’t have done that. A kiss on the cheek maybe.” She knew that Marnie was goading her, like always, and she wasn’t falling for it.
Marnie persisted. “Gentlemen have tongues, too, J.J. Hart. Like snakes, and I could have sworn that I saw his dart out.”
Dee sputtered with laughter. “Quit Marnie. You know you’re lying.” She turned to J.J. “He did kiss you, but only on the cheek. He said you owed him.”
“And that was just fine.” J.J. answered, much to Marnie’s open-mouthed surprise.
Madison hung up the phone. “We’re staying too. I told our mother we wanted to stay and she’s calling the Dean. She says she’s going to stay on in Boston with the friends she’s visiting. They were all going out on the boat. Now she can go and they can stay out as long as they like. Dakota will die, but she’ll get past it too. This is too good a group to split up just yet.”
Dakota stuck her head in the door. “Smythe says that if we’re eating, we had better be there in five minutes because she’s shutting it down after that. Fair warning: she’s got a major attitude.”
J.J. reached out for her crutches and Madison, seeing her do that handed them to her and helped her up. “You going down with us?” She asked as she assisted J.J. with getting them under her arms.
“Yeah, my grandfather is going to be okay, so I’m hungry now. I told you Teddy ate my lunch.”
“So what are you going to tell Smythe?” Dee asked. “How are you going to explain eating twice?”
“I’ll just tell her I eat more when I’m stressed-out.” J.J. answered. “That ought to do it.”
“We’re staying over another two days.” Madison informed Dakota. When Dakota opened her mouth as if she wanted to protest, Madison quickly filled her in on why.
“Oh well, if that’s the reason, then I’m okay with that.” Dakota relented as she held open the door to allow J.J. to pass through. ” In a way I was hoping that it wouldn’t end so soon. We can work on J.J.’s new scrapbook/yearbook together.”
“Me too.” Agreed Dee. “I’m glad all of you are staying.”
“Yeah, this has been a lot of fun.” Marnie concurred as she slammed the door hard behind them.
“Have you been wondering why I never told you about my friendship with Dean Marchand?” Stephen asked Jennifer who was raising his bed to allow him to comfortably sit up to talk with her.
“It did cross my mind.”
“I know you.” He laughed quietly. “It’s more than crossed your mind. You wanted to throttle me, didn’t you?”
Jennifer took her seat back by her father’s side. He was still pale and fragile-looking, and he was right. She did want to shake him and let him know how angry and confused she was feeling. But he was her father, and her respect for him and his position in her life kept her emotions at bay.
“No, Pa. I just want to know why you didn’t tell me. Why in all this time, you haven’t said.”
“In the beginning,” He said. “You didn’t need to know. You were just a little girl, and I didn’t know how you would take another woman being in my life, even if she was just my friend. I wasn’t sure if you could differentiate and I didn’t want you to think that I was trying to supply you with a mother figure. I wasn’t. It wasn’t my intention to do that at all, and I didn’t want you thinking that. But I had to do something with you. You wouldn’t go to school. You wouldn’t communicate with me, and I didn’t know how to get to you, or what I was going to do with myself. I didn’t want you traipsing the world with me, but I couldn’t leave you with just anyone. When Agnes suggested that I take a look at Gresham Hall, I found that it was the ideal place, and she the ideal person. I knew that you would be safe, and that you would be well-educated. I didn’t, however, anticipate your anger. I didn’t know that one little girl could be so angry.”
“I wasn’t angry, Pa.”
“Don’t lie, Jennifer. It isn’t becoming.”
“I thought you’d left me behind.” She softly admitted. “My mother was gone forever, and I thought both of you had left me behind.”
It was the first time that either of them had heard those words spoken, and behind them they were quiet for a time.
Finally Stephen whispered hoarsely, “Never, darling.”
She looked up to him, and even though his face was old, his eyes remained as they had always been, deep brown and riveting in their ability to express his feelings to her.
“You were with me every minute of every one of my days.” He continued after clearing his voice. “Agnes kept me abreast of your activities during the times that I couldn’t see you for myself. It seems that you kept yourself rather busy.”
She was forced to laugh in mild embarrassment. “I’m sorry, Pa. Things just happened.”
“So you’ve told me. On so many occasions.”
“My God, I sounded like J.J., just then.” She laughed another small laugh. “I didn’t know you had a direct pipeline at the time.”
“Which was another reason that I didn’t tell you about Agnes and me. Despite the mischief you got into, I wanted you to be yourself. I didn’t want you thinking that you could lean on Agnes because she was my friend, and I didn’t want you thinking that I had put you there so that she could keep tabs on you, even though I guess that’s what it amounted to in the end. What I wanted was what happened: for you to stand up on your own and become the woman your mother had started. She had put down a solid foundation, and you went on to finish what she started. She would be so proud of you, Jennifer. When I think of all she missed with you, with you and Jonathan, and then Justine….”
It tore at Jennifer’s heart to see the tears well up in her father’s eyes. He had always been such a strong man.
“Then, when you were older,” He continued. “There just didn’t seem to be any need. You had pretty much put Gresham Hall behind you. As the cliché goes, it just never came up- until now.”
Admitting her anger with her father seemed to open the floodgates. As he spoke, the stored-away memories were suddenly coming back like lightning flashes.
She was a little girl again, her father was at her classroom door… he said her mother was gone… people at the house, all over her mother’s house, the phone ringing constantly… they were in church… facing a casket with its lid closed … her mother’s picture was placed on top of it… she’d worn white gloves and Pa held her hand through the entire ceremony… she couldn’t feel his touch, and she was glad of it… He never cried. And because he hadn’t cried, neither did she.
Feeling faint, and to keep from passing out, she leaned forward to lay her head down on her father’s legs .
With her eyes closed, she could hear him and Sabrina downstairs arguing about her even though she had her hands to her ears… telling him she was going to cemetery even though she was afraid of confronting him and the finality of death…the mahogany casket being lowered into the ground and the overwhelming desire to go with it… her father still didn’t cry, Sabrina didn’t cry, and so neither did she….
“Do you forgive me, Jennifer?” She heard him ask as he stroked her hair.
“There’s nothing to forgive, Pa.” She was too drained to lift her head, so she answered him lying down, trying to recover from the barrage of images. “You did the best you knew how to do. You did all the right things by me. I came to know that you loved me, and that was really all that mattered to me anyway.”
“When I go, Jennifer-”
“Please don’t talk about that.” She begged as she hugged his legs. “I can’t bear it right now.”
“You’ll have to, my darling. This must be said. When I go, Jennifer, I’m leaving everything other than your share of the Edwards’ trust to Justine.”
“I don’t care, Pa.”
“You will be executor of her estate until she’s twenty-two or graduated from college, whichever comes first.”
“Whatever you say, Pa.”
“But I want to bring Agnes to Briarwood, Jennifer. That’s what I wanted to tell you.”
Jennifer raised her head to look at him.
“What are you saying?” She asked. “You’re bringing her there to live with you?”
“She and her sister, Belinda Smythe. Since they’re retiring, they were planning to return to England, but all of their family is spread out or gone on. They have no one left in our old village. Their lives are here. We’ve known each other almost all of our lives, and Agnes has been a very dear and trusted friend. She getting on, just as I am. I’m indebted to her and to her sister for the peace of mind they were able to afford me while you were in their care. I’m indebted to Agnes for her continuing friendship all these years.”
“So you’re marrying her out of gratitude. Do you love her?”
Stephen, despite his weakened condition, sat forward.
“Marrying her? Love her?” He asked, looking into his daughter’s tortured face. “Is that why you didn’t come talk to me when I called for you? Is that what you were thinking?” He chuckled and slowly shook his head. You are a true romantic, Jennifer Justine. Just like your mother.”
Jennifer watched him in confusion as he lay back on the pillows and closed his eyes still chuckling softly to himself.
The phone rang.
“Do you want me to get it, Pa?” She asked.
“It has to be for you.” He answered. “Who knows I’m here?”
Jennifer picked up and spoke into it. When she stood and brought the receiver to him, he noticed the light dancing in her eyes.
“It is for you, Pa.” She said.
He was irritated at having to take a call. “Who is it? Tell them to call back. I want to rest.”
“You have to take this one.” She insisted, placing the phone to his ear. “It’s a once in a lifetime call.”
“Hello” He said without trying to hide the annoyance he felt.
“So, you were going to try to leave without saying goodbye to me, too? That is rude of you. This is why I not speak to you forever.”
He sat up again at the sound of that voice he hadn’t heard in over forty years. “Sabrina!?” He cried.
“I shouldn’t be feeding any of you.” Miss Smythe complained as the four remaining girls sat eating at the center table while the housekeepers cleaned up the other tables around them. “You regular girls know the rules, and you should have informed the new one. Justine, I’m skeptical about that story you gave me. I just want you to know that you aren’t fooling anyone. That tale you spun has some basis in logic, but I sense there’s an element of scandal to it. I haven’t been a house mother for all these years to not be able to recognize when a girl is trying to pull the wool over my eyes. But I also know when ignorance is bliss.”
As they continued their meal in silence, listening to her they all had the same thought at the same time: “Whatever.”
The door chimes sounded, and a few minutes later, J.J. and Marnie caught the jovial, familiar voice of the person headed their way.
“Certainly we can accommodate you for lunch.” Miss Smythe was saying pleasantly. “The girls just sat down themselves.”
Marnie took mental note of the change in Miss Smythe’s attitude. The man was working his charms and she could hear old lady Smythe falling victim to his crinkly blue eyes.
“Mind if I join you ladies?” Jonathan asked as he entered the dining room.
“Mind if I grin when you do?” J.J. beamed up to him. “Hey, Daddy! I didn’t expect to see you so soon.”
He bent down, kissed her cheek and asked, “How’s that ankle today?”
“Better.” She answered. “How’s Pa?”
“I’m sure he’s going to be fine. I left your mother with him. The rest of us came back, and I dropped your godparents at the inn. Then I came by here to check on you and your partner in crime.” He reached out and mussed Marnie’s hair. “Staying out of trouble, young lady? Cursed anyone today?”
“Hey, Mr. H.” Marnie said in greeting. She liked that he recognized and didn’t seem to hold her strong suits against her. In fact, it seemed like he got a kick out of them.
J.J. introduced her father to the other three girls, and he took a chair from one of the other tables to move it to theirs. While his back was turned, Marnie noticed the look on Dakota’s face.
“Close your mouth, girl.” She whispered. “He’s good and taken, and much too old for you.”
“I can look if I want to. Custom tailored suit, oh my!” Dakota whispered. “He’s my type: tall, wealthy, and fine. ”
J.J., catching the tail end of the exchange, smiled to herself. Yes, she knew her father was all of that, especially the “fine” part.
Early Sunday Evening
“Don’t you have something better to do than hang around with a crippled girl?” J.J. asked Teddy after propping her crutches against one of the support beams of the gazebo. “I can’t do anything except sit, and you’ve been over here more than you’ve been at Brookfield the last couple of days.”
“I like spending time with interesting people.” He answered. “And I wanted to apologize for embarrassing you earlier. But you really did look pretty with your hair down like that. I meant it.”
“I wasn’t embarrassed. So, are you saying that I’m not pretty now?” She grinned as she swung her customary ponytail.
She had changed from the dress into a pair of shorts and a tee shirt and put her hair back up after dinner in anticipation of spending an evening up in the room with the girls. They had all been pleasantly surprised when several of the Brookfield boys came by to see them. Josh and Marnie had gone for a walk, and the others were on the tennis courts. She and Teddy had taken seats in the gazebo, which was the farthest she had gone on the crutches.
“You just look different with your hair up than you do with it down, that’s all.” He answered.
“Safe answer.” She nodded. “I like a man who knows how to hedge a bet. I see you brought your math book. Got homework?”
“Yeah, I got two formulas that I need help with. Dee tells me you’re a math wiz. Help me out, why don’t you?”
He moved in closer to her and opened the book across both their laps. Pointing out the problem he needed help with, they sat with their heads together for a few moments while she explained it.
When she looked up to ask him, “Do you understand now how it goes?” They found themselves face to face.
“Yeah, I do. It’s like this.” He whispered as he leaned in to kiss her. She met his lips with her own, and they didn’t feel it when the math book slid to the wooden floor.
They also didn’t see the white Cadillac which had stopped short at the curb just outside the wrought iron fence of the Quad.
Jennifer could not believe her eyes.
Right there in front of the entire world, for Christ’s sake and with only one good foot. She knew that Pat would get be getting a real kick out of it if she were there. She’d be crowing about how J.J. was on crutches and was still reeling them in, and would be trying to defend her goddaughter’s wanton behavior in public at the same time.
J.J. Hart had one coming, acting common by being out in the open like that. And it was for sure that Teddy Bear Baxter Jr. would not be acquiring any more fruit for his family’s coffers from their particular orchard any time soon. Not if J.J. Hart’s mother had anything to do with it.
She drove off without stopping in on J.J. and Marnie as she had planned. She was more convinced than ever that someone was constantly putting her in the right places at the right times to keep her on top of the activities in which that little girl of theirs happened to become engaged- so to speak.
Late Sunday Evening
“So he’s putting them in the guest house.” Jonathan said aloud. “That’s what he wanted to tell you?”
“Yes.” Jennifer called back from inside the bathroom. “He’s moving them onto the estate, and he wanted to know what I thought about it in the event that they outlive him. He’s giving them a home for life even though he’s leaving the estate to J.J. Since I’ll be managing her affairs in the event of Pa’s demise, he wanted me to know about the arrangement in advance to see if I had any objections.”
“What did he think? That you would put them out once he was gone?”
“Crone. She stayed on me all the time.” Jennifer muttered as she came out of the bathroom, brushing her hair. “She’d better be glad she’s Pa’s friend. She would have to worry if it was left solely up to me. She’d be on the first thing smoking on her way back to Wales.”
“So, how do you really feel about her?” He smiled. It amused him to hear her speak in such a way about a former educator in her life. It was so out of character for her to speak ill of anyone.
She sat down next to him in her robe and continued to brush her hair. “Pa laughed when he realized that I thought he was going to marry her.” She stopped and looked back to Jonathan. “You know, he told me that he made up his mind a long time ago that he’d never remarry. He said that he’s never found anyone who came close to my mother. He told me that he never even looked for anyone else to be a part of his life because he knew that he’d never love like that again. The emptiness is heartbreaking, but the sentiment is just lovely.”
She noticed the look in Jonathan’s eyes. It was the look he got when the wheels in his head were turning. “What are you thinking, Jonathan? I know something’s on your mind.”
“I’m thinking,” He said. “That your father may not be in love with the Dean, but she’s in love with him.”
“What?” Jennifer asked with narrowed eyes.
Jonathan was rarely wrong about that sort of thing, but the Dean? In love with her father?
“I’ve been thinking about it. He talked to me about them and their history when we were together on the plane.”
“Oh, now you say something!” She exclaimed. “I was going crazy last night. I knew that he had to have told you something, but you wouldn’t say anything about what he’d said to you.”
Without changing his contemplative tone, Jonathan continued, “You needed to speak with him first before I added my two cents. He needed to open the door to you before I could come in.”
When she nodded her understanding, he went on with the story.
“He told me that they had been friends since childhood. She was the oldest child and when she was very young, her mother died. She assumed the duties of running the household and raising her brothers until her father remarried. Other children were born, and in the end there were only the two girls, she and Belinda. They were expected to help take care of the house and the other children. Agnes continued going to school while she did all of this. She was determined to be a teacher. She and your father were top students in their class. When she graduated, she got a scholarship to go off to college, and that’s what she did. But then the stepmother died which left Belinda in charge of the house and the boys. Their father took her out of school so that she could manage the house and the boys. In rebellion, she ran off and married some guy from their village just to get away. By that time Agnes had come to the States. She found out from a mutual friend that the man was abusing Belinda, and she and your father sent for her. Actually your father went and got her, and he sent her to her sister. That was about the time that you came to Gresham. They installed her in Gresham to be with you.”
“Pa and the Dean sent for her to get her out of an abusive situation? My father went for her?” Jennifer asked, amazed by how much she didn’t know about her father or the actual personality of the Dean.
“That’s what he told me. But I got to thinking. When he left Europe, Agnes was in London. He said that they kept in touch mainly because she wrote to him regularly. She seemed to always know where he was in the world, and he enjoyed the correspondence from someone at home. When he came to America, he said that she showed up shortly thereafter. But by that time, he had a wife, your mother. Even so, they still kept in touch. I watched her this morning before you got there. She was so quietly concerned about him, so upset. I thought they might have to take her as well. I know he’s her longtime friend, but Jennifer, it was more than that with her. I think she’s been in love with him all this time, and he knew. He just couldn’t do anything about it. That’s why he’s been so generous toward her and the school. That was all he had to give back to her.”
Jennifer was suddenly aggravated with her father. “So that would mean that he used her affection for him to get her to look after me?”
“What it meant, Jennifer,” Jonathan countered to calm her rising ire. “Was that in return for her love, he trusted her with his greatest treasure. He knew that her feelings for him would ensure her taking care of you when he couldn’t. I don’t know anyone that I would trust with my daughter like that. Not even Pat, as fond as I am of her. I could never leave J.J. like he had to leave you. Do you know how grateful he has to be to her that he could trust her like that? Look how well you turned out. Do you realize how much you meant to her being his daughter? You have been lucky in love all your life, lady.”
She understood his saying that knowing how long it took for him to find love in his life, but he didn’t know all there was to know. “Not all my life, Jonathan.” She said as she lay down alongside him. “There was a time when I didn’t think I’d ever find anyone to love me.”
She suddenly felt badly for the Dean and the situation she had been in for most of her life. She couldn’t begin to imagine loving Jonathan and not being able to have him, or to not have him love her in return. And she’d be damned if she would have watched his kid by another woman for him. The Dean had to be a very special person. She felt badly for having said that about her earlier. Dean Agnes Marchand would have a comfortable, well-appointed place to live for the rest of her life, and it would be her personal tribute to a fine lady and her sister.
Jonathan took Jennifer in his arms and held her close. There were dark places inside his wife, he knew, but he couldn’t imagine anyone not falling in love with her. And he really couldn’t understand anyone not wanting to do right by her, even though he knew that hadn’t always been the case in her life. He had been witness to it on more than one occasion himself even after they were married, one instance being on their last trip to a Gresham reunion.
He spoke his mind, “I still find it very hard to believe that some guy hadn’t snapped you up before I found you.”
“It wasn’t for a lack of trying. Lots of guys were interested.” She sighed. “But I could never get it right until I met you. I hope Bill and Pat can work things out. Did they call yet?”
“They probably haven’t gotten to the house yet, and if they did, I’m sure that we’re the farthest things from their minds. It was good of Pat to volunteer to go on to your father’s to get things started with refurbishing the guest house.”
“She and Bill had some talking to do, and anyway, Pat knows Dean Marchand better than I do, so she’ll be the better person to start setting things up the way the Dean would like them. I can finish up once Pa gets better and we get him back home. I can get with the Dean and find out what touches she’d like. I’m happy that Pa will have friends right there on the grounds with whom he can visit. That’ll give him a reason to get out and walk and do things. And Belinda, being so much younger can kind of see to them both.”
Jonathan kissed the top of her head. “You’re a good, smart, and generous woman, Jennifer Hart.”
She smiled up to him. “Not so good and generous. I can’t say how happy I would have been if he really wanted to move her into my mother’s house. Even after all these years, I’m glad that I didn’t have to wrestle with that reality.”
Jonathan laughed. “I can’t begin to imagine trying to move another woman into J.J.’s mother’s house. How much stink would she raise about that? The poor woman wouldn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell. In fact, the woman would think she was a snowball in hell by the time J.J. got done working her over. No amount of reasoning on my part would stop her. It would probably be like that with J.J. even if it was years later, just like with you.”
“We’ve been properly raised.” Jennifer thought to herself. “One to a customer, and not in our mother’s homes. I would have to haunt Willow Pond myself on that one. Give J.J. an assist.”
“J.J. is going to be a wealthy young woman.” Jonathan observed. “At twenty-two, she’ll have her own estate on the other side of the country from us.”
The thought of her growing up and being away from them saddened him for a moment.
“She will be,” Jennifer agreed. “But she doesn’t need to know about Pa’s bequest to her until the time comes for her to know. Let her stay a little girl for a while longer. When the time does come, she’ll be away from us, but so will her parties. They’ll be an east coast problem, and she’ll be financially able to foot the bills for them herself, won’t she?”
“At the point that she gets that first bill.” He laughed. “I’ll bet she’ll start scaling them back to less epic proportions. How long did your father end up talking to Sabrina?”
“It seemed like forever. Listening to them, you would never have known that they hadn’t spoken for so long or that they had ever been angry with each other. I think they were both glad to have done with it. He went to sleep right afterward. I think he was relieved that one more loose end in his life is securely tied up.”
Jonathan smiled at the thought. “He has his granddaughter to thank for that. Calling Sabrina never crossed my mind, but it evidently crossed hers. J.J. told me that she called her when it first happened and she called her again after I told her that he was going to be alright. I bet that daughter of mine changes her phone habits, too, when she starts paying her own phone bills.”
Jennifer had a sudden recollection. “Darling, you wait right here. I’m going to take my shower and slip into something more comfortable. I’ll be right back.”
“I’ll be waiting.” He smiled as she got up. “Hopefully, I’ll be slipping into something myself a little later.”
She blew him a kiss, and he didn’t see it when she eased her cell phone into her robe pocket as she passed the table on her way back to the bathroom.
J.J. was just about asleep when her cell went off. Annoyed at being disturbed, she reached for it, switched it on, and put it to her ear without checking the caller I.D.
“J.J. Hart. This better be good.”
“Oh, it is good. What is this thing you have for gazebos?”
J.J. sat straight up at the sound of her mother’s voice and upon hearing the question she was asking. She could also hear water running in the background.
“Huh?” She replied, for lack of a better response.
“Huh, my foot, Justine Hart. I was there this afternoon. I saw you and Teddy.”
“Don’t ‘what’ me. You know what I’m talking about.”
“Where were you?”
“Don’t worry about where I was. I saw you, and I saw what you were doing right out in the open for everyone else to see what you were doing with him. You need proof? You had on a white tee shirt, powder blue shorts and your hair was back up in the ponytail. He had on a white tee shirt and blue jeans. Are you convinced that I was there or do you need more ? Do I need to provide you with the exact positions of your heads?”
“No. That’s enough.” J.J. weakly conceded . “We only did it once.”
Across from her, in the other bed, she saw Marnie rise up in the glow from the nightlight. “Did what? You only did what once?” She asked.
J.J. held up her hand to silence her.
“You know that I’m not finished with this, don’t you?”
“If he’s been paying you more visits over there in that room, you tell him I said to cut it out. I’m not having it. Do you hear me?”
“You don’t want me to tell him, do you?”
“So, can he kiss?”
J.J. was taken aback, but she answered. “Yes, Ma’am”
“Did you like it this time?”
“Then you know what it’s like, and you’re done with it, right?”
For the moment anyway, J.J. thought to herself. Tomorrow was another day.
“I’ll be over in the morning. We’ll talk then. I love you, J.J. Despite everything else, you are still and always my sweet girl.”
“I love you, too, Mom. Good night.”
J.J. clicked off and she could see Marnie’s wide eyes staring at her from across the room. “What did she catch you doing, J.?”
“Kissing Teddy in the gazebo.” J.J. answered as she snuggled back down into the covers.
“How does she do it?” Marnie asked as she lie back down herself. “She catches your ass every time. I bet when you have sex for the first time she’ll know about that too.”
“I’d probably tell her about that anyway.”
From the other two corners, three other heads popped up; Dee in one bed, and Madison and Dakota in the other.
“You’d tell your mother if you were having sex?” Dee asked, incredulous at such an admission.
It was Marnie who answered. “J. and her mother have something that most mothers and daughters don’t have. You have to see them to believe them. Mrs. H. doesn’t hold anything back from J. In turn, J. doesn’t have to cover stuff up- most of the time.”
“Not stuff like that, anyway.” J.J. sighed.
“You’re a lucky stiff.” remarked Dakota in awe.
“Really.” Agreed Madison. “If you and your mother have it like that.”
J.J. had heard enough, and she was still sleepy. “Good night, guys.” She called out. She had a meeting to make in the morning.
Her mother was coming over first thing, and they would talk. J.J. knew that she would get roasted for kissing Teddy in public and at school like that, but it wouldn’t be for just kissing him. Her mother understood human nature things like that, and she trusted her to know how far to take a thing. She liked that she could trust her mother to trust her judgment. Since she did not want Jennifer Hart talking to Teddy, she would have to take care of that other matter first thing as well.
Her godparents came to mind and she wondered where they would end up living once they were married. The conference call had been surprising and fun. It was her very first one. Love couldn’t have happened to two nicer people, and she looked forward to being able to visit both of them at the same time.
She drifted off to sleep content in the knowledge that she had a good mother, and that her grandmother had to have been a good mother too even if she hadn’t had her daughter for as long a time.
Jennifer was getting drowsy. Her body was spooned inside Jonathan’s, and his arm was wrapped securely around her. It was going to be that sweet sleep that always came to her after making love with that man behind her. There was nothing between them and as sleep gradually overtook her, she could feel herself melting into him.
Just as she was in that place where one releases consciousness to float off into the warm clouds of slumber, she heard a faintly soothing voice say to her, “Rest now, Jenny. You’ve done well for now, my sweet girl.”
The voice had a French accent.
A lot could happen in one weekend.
It had been some weekend.