Feeling as if during the night her head had somehow gotten wedged in a slowly tightening vise, Jennifer woke in agony. She lie there trying to recall what she had done to make her feel so badly, afraid to open her eyes for fear of finding some deranged sadist standing by her bed, slowly winding the vise handle, compressing her skull. Gradually the memory of the night before came to her.
“Ohhhhh, God,” She prayed. “Give me strength, puh-leeese.”
Little by little she eased herself into a sitting position and opened her eyes. When she did, her blurred vision didn’t quite keep up with the movement of her head from the pillow, and a wave of nausea instantly washed over her.
“Damn.” She whispered woefully, clutching her stomach with one hand. It had been quite some time since she had awakened feeling like this.
A steaming cup of coffee and two aspirins fuzzily appeared under her nose. “Here, sweetie.” Pat’s voice called softly, soothingly. “Drink these down right now before you try to stand up. I’ve taken mine already.”
Jennifer took the cup and attempted to blow on the liquid inside, but the slight pressure from that action caused a blinding pain to instantly shoot through her head.
“Take the cup back, Pat.” She pleaded, her hands shaking. “I can’t even hold the cup.”
Pat stopped fluffing Jennifer’s pillows, and took it back from her. “Lie back, Jen” She urged. “We’ll try it again in a few minutes.”
The phone rang, and Jennifer moaned. “Oh, God!” in agony as she dropped back onto the pillows, and pressed the top one up around her ears to muffle the sound. “Pleeeease, make it stop.” She begged.
“Hello, Jonathan!” Pat greeted the caller after racing over to pick up. “How’s it going?”
Immediately, at the sound of her husband’s name, Jennifer’s hand came up frantically waving to stop Pat from handing her the phone.
“Um, she can’t come to the phone right now, Jonathan …” Pat informed him. “Yep, that’s right, you’ve got it… Um-hum, at death’s door, seeing the light, and just about ready to cross over to the other side…. as soon as she gets a shower and some coffee in her…. okay, I’ll be sure to tell her….bye.”
“He says to tell you that he loves you,” Pat reported softly. “And that he knows you and bourbon have never really gotten along. At least not on the same terms as he and I.”
J.J. was awakened by the sound of her cell phone chiming Beethoven’s Minuet in G. As she reached for it on the night table, she could see the clock. It was 6:52 A.M. Who in the world would be calling her at that hour of the morning on a Saturday ?
She checked the number on the display, before she answered it.
“Daddy?” She said into the phone.
“Hello, Sweetheart. Aren’t you up yet?”
“Of course not. How come you’re up so early? Unless we have a track meet or practice, I don’t see you on Saturday until after nine.”
“I miss you and your mother. Couldn’t sleep all that well. How’s it going? Still want me to come for you?”
“No, Daddy. Everything’s fine now. It worked out, and I ended up having a pretty nice evening. I’m going riding later this morning wi-, with someone who goes to school up here.”
“How are things between you and Marnie?”
“We’re fine. It all blew over.”
“Your mother? Did you get that situation squared away?”
“I haven’t seen or talked to her, Daddy. Not since I last talked to you over Instant Messenger. Did you get to talk to her?
“For a minute. You haven’t seen her?”
“No. I’m sure you know that she and Aunt Pat are at the Gresham Inn. They were supposed to come here for the movie, but we didn’t see them at the theatre, so we left and came back to the room. They didn’t come to the last function which was held downstairs either. So, I didn’t see or talk to her any more. But Aunt Pat came by last night and checked on us. When I asked her about my mother, she told me that she was out.”
She thought she heard her father chuckle, but figuring it must be one of their many inside jokes, she let it pass without comment. Instead, she asked him,
“When you talked to her, did she say anything about me and what I did, or should I say, didn’t do yesterday?”
“I think she started to, but then she changed the subject.”
J.J. exhaled. If her mother hadn’t shared it with her father, it was still an in-house matter and would be handled as such. When her father got included in the picture, that was her mother’s way of saying she’d truly had enough. She resolved to try to keep her nose clean and cooperate for the rest of her time at Gresham Hall.
“I’ll call her after my shower, Daddy. But then again, I’ll see her at breakfast, so I’ll wait and talk to her then.”
“You do that, J.J., and you have a good day. I’ll talk to you later this afternoon.”
“Okay, Daddy. You do the same. Hug Third for me!”
She clicked off and put the phone back.
A small voice spoke to her from the bed diagonal to hers, “J.J., you are so lucky to have a father like that. He calls you. You call him. You talk like two people who like each other. He seems so nice.” J.J. could see Dee lying propped up on one elbow watching her.
“He is just that nice.” Marnie yawned from her side “She got lucky with both her parents. Her mother can be scary sometimes, but it’s usually for our own good when she is.”
“I know I’m pretty blessed in that department.” J.J. admitted, sitting up and pushing back the covers. “But thanks, both of you for saying so.”
There was a knock on the bathroom door, and Madison stepped sleepily into the room holding the handset to a cordless phone.
“J.J., it’s for you. ‘S Teddy. He said he needs to talk to you. I told him I thought you were still asleep. He said you wouldn’t be. I guess the boy has radar or something; I see you’re up. Here.”
She handed J.J. the phone and dragged back out through the bathroom.
“Hi, it’s me, Teddy. Look, skip the breakfast and come ride with me now. I’ll bring something for us to eat. I have to go out to the country with the foreman later this morning, and I won’t get back until this afternoon for the ice cream thing. If we don’t go now, we won’t be able to go riding at all. Pleeeease, J.J.” He pleaded. “Say you’ll come now.”
Marnie was sitting up, waving her hands to get her attention, “Go, dammit!” She was whisper-yelling. “He is so hot, and you know you love riding horses. Go! I’ll cover for you!”
J.J. wondered at how Marnie could hear the conversation from over there on her side of the room. Talk about radar, when boys were involved, Marnie could zero in on a target like nobody else she knew. For her part, J.J. had been very much looking forward to seeing the horses. Outside of music and electronics, riding was at the top of the list of her favorite things to do, and was something that she didn’t get to do as often as she would like. But she really didn’t want to disappoint her mother yet another time.
“I don’t know Teddy,” She wavered, once again straddling the fence. “I really need to make one function with my mother.”
“You’ll be at the presentation later when she speaks,” Marnie interjected, “And you’ll be there with her for the Ice Cream Social. Go! It’s the only chance you’ll have to ride while you’re here.” Marnie tilted her head to the side, raised an eyebrow, and pointed her finger across to her, challenging her, “It’s not like you to not take a shot when opportunity knocks, J.”
Finally, after wavering a few seconds, she cast her freshly-made resolution to the winds, and hopped off the fence to the other side, “Okay, Teddy. Give me thirty minutes and I’ll be down. Where should I meet you?”
“Go down the back steps, and come out the side door.” He directed her. “I’ll meet you there.”
She hung up and looked over at Marnie. “I am really pushing it this weekend, aren’t I?”
“Yeah,” Marnie agreed, smiling at her.
“But you only go around once.” Dee concluded. “And like your Dad told you last night, the bottom line is you love your mother and she loves you, and that will last. Teddy and that horse are here and now. What is it those ads for Nike athletic shoes say? Just Do It, girl.”
“Pat, I’m not going to make breakfast.” Jennifer miserably conceded from her bed. “Go ahead without me so that you can check on the girls. We haven’t spoken to them since last evening, and that’s not good.”
Pat, hearing her, came back into the main room from the bathroom. “Not feeling any better?” She asked.
“Some, but I don’t want to see any food. I’ll just stay here, rest, and get myself together for the program this afternoon. I’ll be alright. You know those girls are probably over there on The Quad doing whatever they please.”
“No they’re not. I saw them last night.”
“You saw them? When?” Jennifer asked, removing the arm from over her eyes and squinting through the daylight at Pat.
“I went over there while you were asleep.” Pat answered as she smoothed Jennifer’s blanket. “They were right where we left them.”
Jennifer eyed her skeptically, “Why did you have to go over there? Where was I that I don’t know about it?”
“You were in Never, Never Land, and I chose to go. I couldn’t sleep, and I knew that we hadn’t checked on them, so I took it upon myself to go over there.”
“Why didn’t you just call?”
“Why are you giving me the third degree, Jennifer? I said they were fine. You worry too much. J.J. and Marnie know how far to take a thing. Well- at least J.J. does. Relax. Get some rest. I’ll be back right after breakfast so that we can go over our notes. You know, it’s good that we finished first in our class. All we have to do is speak. That left the grunt work, all that setting up and running around, for the rest of them. See you in a bit, Jen.”
As Pat closed the door, the Dean’s words played back in her mind, “You always did play fast and loose with the truth, Patricia.”
“To quote J.J.” Pat thought to herself as she rang for the elevator, “Whatever.”
After showering and getting dressed, J.J. had the thought that she needed to call her mother to let her know that she wouldn’t be at breakfast that morning. However, with her hand on the phone, she began having second thoughts. What if her mother said that she couldn’t go? Her mother knew of her affinity for horses; she loved them as well. But in light of her absences from the events on the day before, and knowing Jennifer Hart’s conviction that breakfast was the most important meal of the day, in calling her, she ran the risk of being told that she couldn’t go. However, she reasoned to herself, if she didn’t put it out there to her for confirmation, she couldn’t be shut down by her, and if she went, she wouldn’t be disobeying if she had never been told that she couldn’t go.
J.J. released the phone, told Dee and Marnie that she would see them later, and headed out, easing down the back stairs to the lower level. At the foot, she found herself right at the door leading to the outside. When she opened it, there stood Teddy, beaming happily.
The phone rang, and at the sound, Jennifer thought she would jump out of her skin. Rolling over, ready to swear that she was feeling the contents of her head sloshing around with the movement, she picked up.
“Jennifer Hart speaking.”
“Good morning, darling. This is your father.”
Her back automatically straightened upon hearing Stephen Edwards’ voice, as if he could see the condition she was in, and would know the reason for it.
“Pa? How are you?”
“I’m just fine, Jennifer. I was calling to see how you and Justine were doing this weekend at your alma mater. I see that our Justine has made friends already.”
“You do? I mean, we’re fine, Pa. Has J.J. called you?”
“No, actually Dean Marchand called me last evening when she couldn’t reach you. Didn’t either of them tell you?”
“Well, no, Pa. I haven’t spoken with either of them. I went to bed rather early last night. I must have been asleep and didn’t hear the phone when the Dean called. Was there a problem with J.J.?”
“No darling, no problem. Justine was simply seeking permission to sit out front with a friend late last evening, and since Mrs. Smythe couldn’t contact you to gain permission, she called the Dean. The Dean then called me when she wasn’t able to reach you either. You don’t sleep that hard, Jennifer. Where were you and Patricia that you had that child there all alone not knowing how to get in touch with you? And why is it that Dean Marchand hadn’t been introduced to my grandchild by that time? You’d been there for an entire day. It’s not like you to be negligent, Jennifer. But when you and Patricia get together it’s just like old times. Here I am, once again, having to make a call.”
Jennifer rubbed her forehead, unable to believe that her father was chastising her in that manner, as if she were sixteen. And about J.J., no less. Wasn’t J.J. her child? But then, she washis child. What in the world was going on? The effects of that liquor she and Pat had consumed the night before had left her unable to think clearly or to effectively deal with her father’s stern reproach.
“I’ll take care of it, Pa.” Was all that she could say.
“I know that you will, darling- And post haste. I’ll talk with you later.”
Completely awake and way more alert at that point, there would be no more rest for the weary and hung over. Jennifer clicked off, and got up wondering how Pat and Jonathan did it. They both could put it away all night, yet they never seemed to have the hangovers she got when she tried it. She also wondered what would make the Dean call her father and not Jonathan if she hadn’t been able to reach her about J.J. And had she been that far under that she couldn’t hear the phone? Where had Pat been? Probably asleep as well. Pat and J.J. slept like the dead. A bomb could go off next to either of them, and they wouldn’t wake up once they were all the way under.
Suddenly recalling her promise to introduce J.J. to the Dean during breakfast that morning, she pulled herself into the shower to try to make it on time. If the Dean called her father again about that… Why was she still calling him after all this time, anyway?… and why were they both so concerned about her meeting J.J.?
As they approached the stables, J.J. figured that Teddy must have had great faith in his powers of persuasion, or he could sense that her love of horses would override her sense of duty and responsibility. Tied off at the rail, he had two sleek Morgans completely outfitted and waiting to go. Right off, she fell in love with Babette, the one he informed her she would be riding. Knowing that they had a limited amount of time within which to operate, he swiftly gave her a leg up, and then mounted his own horse.
“We’ll take the back way, out to the foot of Lookout Pointe. It’s just over that hill and around the bend” He told her, pointing off into the distance before them. “We can have breakfast there.”
“You’re the man.” She said. “This is your country, I’m just visiting. Show me the way.”
Clicking his tongue, he took off and she easily fell in alongside him, impressing Teddy completely with her confidence and poise and cementing his conviction that she was in no way Wesley Singleton’s girl.
Pat entered the dining hall after having stood around outside for a bit chatting with friends. She had seen Marnie and Dee go in with four other girls. They waved to her when they saw her, but seemed in a hurry, and hadn’t stopped to speak. Although she was ready to go in with them when they had arrived, she continued to stand outside making idle chatter, while actually waiting for J.J.
When ten more minutes had passed, and J.J. still hadn’t come over, Pat deduced that once again, her godchild was missing in action. That was when she went inside with the intention of finding Marnie and breaking her down.
“Okay, so where’s your buddy this morning?” She asked as she took the seat next to Marnie at the table.
“She’s having breakfast somewhere else.” Marnie answered, quickly following her response with a long, slow swallow of orange juice.
Pat turned toward her and waited her out. When Marnie finally had no choice but to put the glass down, Pat spoke quietly, but firmly, “Don’t mess around and become a statistic this morning, Marnie. I’m nursing a serious closet hangover and I am not in the mood. Talk to me and talk to me now.”
“You don’t look hung over.” Marnie observed, looking her up and down. “You hold yours pretty good. When my mother has a hang-”
Hearing the definite threat in Pat’s voice, Marnie quickly fessed up. “She went riding with Teddy. She was coming here at first, honest. But then Teddy had to be somewhere later, and he really wanted her to see the horses before he left. You know how much J. loves to ride. For real, she really had every intention of coming here, but if she didn’t go with him then, they wouldn’t have been able to go at all.”
For the first time ever, Pat found herself annoyed with J.J., and she determined that she was going to let her know it. As far as J.J. knew, her mother would have been at the breakfast looking for her, and once again she would have been disappointed by her unexpected absence. Pat had never knowingly allowed anyone to hurt Jennifer. They had always looked out for each other, and anyone crossing that line they had long ago drawn around themselves, was handled with dispatch. In this situation, J.J. Hart, Jennifer’s only child, would be no exception, in fact she would be held in higher stead since Jennifer was her mother. The time had come for a heart-to-heart with her beloved, but short-sighted godchild.
“Where’s J.J.?” Almost like an echo to her thoughts, the question was posed from behind her, and Pat closed her eyes at the sound of the all-too-familiar and unexpected voice. It was Jennifer, rushing in to take a seat.
Pat looked over at her as she got settled, checking to see how she was. No one would know. She was perfectly put together and appeared to be holding her own. She had always been good at assuming disguises and putting on whatever face she wanted the world to see. The mask of wellness she was wearing that morning was a winner. Only her eyes gave her away, and one had to look closely at them to see that anything was amiss.
“I didn’t think you were coming.” Pat answered smoothly, casually. “So I let her go riding with one of the boys from Brookfield instead. She met him yesterday. I’m sorry, Jen. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Is this the same boy that she was out with last night when you told me you chose to go over there to check on them?”
“Yes.” Pat went ahead and admitted without hesitation despite her surprise. “His name is Teddy. He grooms the horses here at Gresham. Smythe vouched for him. I wouldn’t have let her go this morning if I had any idea that you would be here.”
All the time, Pat was wondering, “How did she know all that?” It was as Jennifer had ESP when it came to J.J. Frequently, J.J. complained that her mother always seemed to know or to somehow find out when she had gotten into something or had done something she shouldn’t have done.
Jennifer, in the meantime, gave herself a mental pat on the back. She hadn’t known for sure with whom it was that J.J. had asked permission to be out, but she assumed right off that it hadn’t been a girl. J.J. wouldn’t have stopped to ask permission to go out if she had been with a girl. Unwittingly, Pat had confirmed that her superior mother’s intuition, as it applied to her own child, hadn’t been impaired by the previous evening’s imbibing.
“You had no way of knowing.” Jennifer answered as she placed her napkin in her lap and swallowed the two aspirins in her hand down with some coffee. “I trust your judgment with her. I didn’t know that I was coming until the last minute myself. And do I have a story to tell you about the wake-up call I just got before coming over here. I would not be here right now if it weren’t for that.”
On Pat’s other side, listening to her covering for J.J. in the way she had, Marnie could clearly see J.J. had been thoughtless; they both had been thoughtless that morning, and how badly J.J.’s mother would have felt if Pat hadn’t done that for her. Pat had been covering for all of them the entire time.
When J.J. got back, and they were together once again in the room, they would have to sit down and talk.
The Dean was enjoying her morning constitutional: standing on her second floor rear screened sun porch, taking in the grounds of Gresham Hall, and gazing out to the stables. Some mornings she went down and rode for a while before donning the mantle of Dean for the day. This morning, there was the alumni breakfast, so there would not be time even if she had felt so inclined. She was looking forward to being there, and to finally meeting Stephen’s elusive granddaughter.
It was actually Stephen who had the first stable built for the school over forty years ago, and it was he who sent the first five horses. He had it done right after Jennifer arrived to accommodate his daughter’s lifelong passion for riding, and to ensure her comfort during her stay. Jennifer had grown up with horses, and it was the one important aspect of her life over which he felt he had control of it not being taken away from her. The stable and the horses had proven so popular with the girls, many of them from Virginia and other areas of horse country, that other patrons had quickly come along contributing to its expansion and upkeep, so that it was presently a major component of the Gresham Hall/Brookfield recreational programs.
Stephen never wanted Jennifer to know that he had done that specifically for her. It was just one of many things he had done for her and for the school during her years there, and beyond, that he never wanted her to know anything about.
Unable to reach Jennifer that previous evening, she hadn’t hesitated to call her father. Stephen had given her leave to do so when he had phoned her earlier in the week to say that Justine would be attending the reunion with her mother, and when the opportunity presented itself, she hadn’t hesitated to take him up on it. Later, it dawned on her that the girl did have a father of her own whom she could have contacted, but it was Stephen to whom she wanted to speak. Thinking on it later, she quietly admonished herself for feeling and acting like a silly schoolgirl at the thought of him. It was the reaction she had always experienced when it came to him, even at present, despite their decidedly advanced ages. She figured that it would likely always be that way.
Stephen, she had come to know, stayed up late most nights in his study reading or listening to music, and he had been right there by the phone when she rang him. Recalling his long-ago rigidity regarding Jennifer and the opposite sex when she had been Justine’s age, she hadn’t mentioned that it was a boy with whom his granddaughter wanted to sit out front and hold conversation.
Normally she would have nixed that request herself, but since Justine was going to be outside with Teddy, she had made a rare exception. He was a good boy, one whom she had gotten to know pretty well, and whose parents she had known since they were teens themselves. His mother had attended Gresham Hall, and his father had been a Brookfield boy as well. During her years as an educator, she found that she was drawn to more “challenging” children, those arriving with personalities firmly in place and in possession of plenty of nerve. He fit the bill absolutely, which was the main reason he was in summer sessions at Brookfield and working mornings at Gresham Hall in the stables.
When told that Miss Smythe would be monitoring her, Stephen readily consented, but he had been puzzled as to Jennifer’s absence in the situation. It wasn’t like her, he said, to be out of touch when it came to Justine, but he concluded that with Patricia in the picture anything was likely. That made the Dean smile. Stephen always tended to lay the blame for the things that happened with those two on Jennifer’s association with Patricia, but she was well aware that Jennifer had been no angel herself. As girls those two had worked in tandem, and judging by the strong sisterly aura she observed radiating from them at the previous day’s reception, they probably still did. Whatever mischief they had been into the night before that put them out of reach, they were in it together, equally sharing the blame.
Two young people came into her view from below, a boy and a girl, walking quickly, almost running across the back green headed for the stables. She could see that it was Teddy with Justine in tow. Shortly after they disappeared around back of the building, she saw them return, riding off together, racing over the first hill. He was a master horseman, and she was right beside him, looking as gracefully skilled as her mother once looked when she went out riding on those early mornings before her classes. Dean Marchand sighed, recalling that she had watched Jennifer from that same second floor porch many, many years before.
As the children disappeared from view, the Dean guessed that her meeting with Justine Hart would have to be put off until still later, but it would have to take place sooner or later before they all left on Sunday.
“Teddy!” J.J. exclaimed. “I don’t think I can walk on it, but I have to get back! I have to be there for the Dean’s presentation this afternoon!”
She had painfully rolled over and was seated on the ground, still in the spot where she had fallen after stepping into a hole camouflaged by the dried grass that covered it.
Teddy had taken her to the place on the bluff where he said a Brookfield alumni had allegedly fallen to his death after trying to make out with one of Gresham Hall’s alumni at one of the reunions years ago, before they had both been born. He had joked that Brookfield boys had been falling for Gresham Hall girls for years, his parents included. J.J. had been more interested in the vista to be seen from the bluff. Totally taken by the beauty of it, she had taken that fatal step, her foot dipping and twisting unexpectedly into the gap causing her to lose her balance and lurch forward awkwardly. Attempting to right herself and regain her footing, she instead dropped to the ground, caught off guard by the sudden shooting pain. Slightly ahead of her at the time, pointing out the city of Boston off in the distance below them, Teddy heard her cry out, and immediately come to her aid. Her foot now rested in his lap as he anxiously examined her rapidly swelling ankle.
“I see that you can move it, so I don’t think it’s broken, but I do think you sprained it something terrible, J.” He observed after rolling back her sock. “I don’t think we should take your shoe off. Damn! I left my cell. If I had it, we could call someone to come for you. I never seem to have that thing when I need it!”
“That’s okay!” She said. “Help me up. I can ride back. It’ll be okay. I’ll soak it when we get back to the house, and I’ll be alright.”
Teddy slowly shook his head in uncertainty, attempted to touch her ankle again, and was further dismayed when she flinched and shuddered in pain. “I don’t know J.J. I don’t think you should ride. This looks kinda bad. But I don’t want to leave you here by yourself while I go get help, either.”
“I can ride, Teddy. Just help me up. Please. Just help me up and it’ll be okay; I promise you. I have to get back for my mother’s speech and you have to meet the foreman. Come on.”
She gingerly moved her foot from his lap, and got in position to try to stand. Holding her under the arms, Teddy slowly, carefully helped her up and watched her as she bravely tried to hide the pain he knew she had to be feeling. As she used her good leg to get a leg up, he pushed, balanced, and assisted her in maneuvering into place atop Babette, marveling at her surprising strength.
“Are you going to make it, J.J.?” He asked while mounting his own horse, keeping his eye on her. “Are you sure you’re going to be okay?”
“I’m fine, Teddy.” She answered gamely. “Let’s just get back.” Unable to put her injured foot into that stirrup, she prayed for help in concentrating on staying balanced and not the pain.
“We’ll just take it easy then.” He said. “We’ll get there when we get there.”
Marnie paced nervously, alternating between checking her watch and peering out of the window. J.J.’s mother had called twice since they had been back from breakfast, and still J.J. hadn’t returned.
“Where in the hell is that girl?” She muttered. “She should be back by now. Breakfast has been over for almost an hour. The Duchess is calling here and everything. If she comes over here…”
Dee, too, stood at the window looking out onto The Quad at the mothers and daughters milling about below. She didn’t know J.J. well enough to know her habits, but from what she had heard about J.J.’s mother, she didn’t sound like someone who would be pushed too many times. J.J. had been pushing ever since she arrived. It probably would not be long before Jennifer Hart showed up.
Just as she finished that thought, the door opened and in came Miss Smythe followed by a man who carried J.J. in his arms. Teddy entered the room behind all of them. Both Dee and Marnie ran over to J.J.’s bed where Miss Smythe directed the man to place her. Marnie quickly realized that Miss Smythe was carrying J.J.’s shoe. That was when she noticed J.J.’s bare swollen foot.
“Oh my God!” she cried. “What happened to you! I knew something was wrong; you were taking too long to get back. Your mother has called here twice looking for you!”
“What did you tell her?” J.J. asked, wincing as she was placed on the bed. She reached underneath her and removed her cell phone from her back pocket, causing Teddy’s eyes to widen with surprise.
“That you were still out of the room.” Marnie answered. “But I’m not so sure how much she bought it. Any minute now I expect her to bust up in here. J., what did you do to yourself?”
Madison and Dakota ran into the room from the bathroom. “What happened?” Asked Madison. “We were downstairs in the dining room, and we saw them carrying you across The Green! What did you do?”
“It’s nothing.” J.J. answered as she lay back, then grimaced as Miss Smythe raised her foot to put pillows under it. “I just fell and twisted my ankle a bit.”
“A bit!?” Exclaimed Dakota. “I’d say a lot, J.J.”
The man grabbed Teddy roughly by the back of his collar and began pulling him from the room. “I’m sorry about this, Miss.” The man said to J.J. And then he turned to Miss Smythe. “I’ll handle this one. He had no business taking her out without telling me.”
“It wasn’t his fault.” J.J. pleaded to both adults present. “I wanted to go, and I didn’t fall from the horse. I was walking and just wasn’t looking where I was going. Don’t punish Teddy. I really wanted to go. I called and asked him to take me riding, and he only did it because I bugged him so much about it.”
The man looked to Miss Smythe who nodded at him. He let Teddy go, but pushed him in front of him toward the door just the same.
“I’ll call you later, J!” Teddy called behind himself to her, catching her eyes with his own grateful ones.
Miss Smythe reached for the phone, but J.J. reached out and held onto her hand, the one which held the handset.
“Please don’t call my mother, Miss Smythe.” She pleaded. “Let me just soak it or something. I don’t want her to know. She’ll be all worried and everything, and she has that speech to make this afternoon. I don’t want her missing her marks.” With her eyes brimming, she begged, “Pleeeease.”
“You have to be checked out, Miss Hart. You could very well have a hairline fracture. That ankle and foot are very badly swollen. There’s no way that I can let you go untreated.”
J.J. looked down at her foot and then up at Marnie who stood by her side.
“She’s right, J.” Marnie confirmed. “That needs to be looked at. You run track, and if it’s messed up bad, then it needs to be looked at professionally so that it heals right.”
Dee nodded silently in agreement from where she was seated on J.J.’s footboard.
J.J. took the phone from Miss Smythe and punched in a number.
“Hi, Daddy.” She said weakly, trying not to cry. “I’m in trouble again.”
“What now, J.J.? Do we need to go ahead and fire up Valentine to fly up there right now? You just aren’t going to make it at Prep School, are you? Not even for a weekend visit.”
“Daddy, it’s not that kind of trouble. I’m hurt. Physically. It’s my ankle.”
“What happened?” He could detect in her voice the tears she was holding back. That made his heart sink and his pressure instantly rise. It had to be bad; J.J. didn’t sweat over small things. “How did it happen? Where’s your mother?”
“I was out on the bluff, and I accidentally stepped into a hole. I twisted it. I guess it’s pretty bad because it’s all swollen and so is my foot. My mother and Aunt Pat have gone back to the hotel, so they don’t know anything about it yet. They just got me back into our room. I called you because I don’t want my mother to know. She has that speech to make, and I don’t want her to miss that. If she finds out that I’m hurt, she’ll want to take me to the hospital and then she’ll miss out on what she came here to do. Miss Smythe wants to have my ankle looked at, so will you talk to her? She’s right here.”
“Yes. Let me speak to her.”
There was a brief conversation, and listening to Ms. Smythe speak, J.J. made note for the first time that the woman had the same accent as her grandfather, only it wasn’t as pronounced as his. Miss Smythe handed her back the phone.
“Yes, Daddy.” She said.
“I’ve okayed everything with Miss Smythe. You do whatever she tells you to do, do you understand? I don’t care if you don’t like it. You have to preserve that ankle if you want to continue to run, and that means following the instructions you’re given to the letter. Am I coming in loud and clear?”
“Yes, I understand.” But she really just wanted to break down and cry. The only time that he laid down the law with her was when things were dead serious.
“I mean it, J.J.” He continued. “No cutting corners or looking for loopholes on this one. Do what they say, and hang in there, baby. They’ll fix you up. Miss Smythe says that your ankle hasn’t started to change colors, so it most likely isn’t a break, and that’s good. If it comes down to that, your mother will understand about your not being there at the presentation once she knows what happened.”
“Don’t call her, okay? Just let her think I skipped out on it like I have everything else. I don’t want her to be worried.”
“If you do it that way, you know that she’s going to be extremely angry with you.”
“That’s alright. She’ll hide being mad from everybody while she’s working. She’ll put that off, and do what she has to do, then she’ll come and chew me out afterward. I can deal with that. But she can’t hide worry. Being worried about me will make her not do well when she’s on the podium, if she even goes at all. I know that about her.”
“I’ll leave that up to you, but it is probably going to come down to you missing it. It sounds like you need to stay put.”
“I’ll do whatever they tell me. Daddy, thank you for everything. I’ll talk to you later. Bye.”
And she hung up from him.
She had chosen to miss everything before this, and now it appeared that she was going to be forced to miss the most important event of all. It was a once in a lifetime event, and because she had been willful and impulsive her entire time there at Gresham Hall, she wouldn’t be there to share her mother’s and Pat’s shining moment that afternoon either. She felt it when Marnie put her hand on her shoulder. Reaching up to take her hand, they laced fingers and held tight.
Mrs. Smythe made two quick calls, and then she told her that the campus physician was dropping everything and driving up to see her. She would be there just as soon as she could get there. Marnie, Dee, Dakota, and Madison she told to go and let her be so that she could tend to J.J. She instructed Marnie and Dee to take everything they would need for the reception over into the other room so that they wouldn’t be in the way of the doctor when she came. On their way out of the room, Dakota and Madison squeezed J.J.’s hand sympathetically in passing.
“At least you won’t have to wear the damned uniform.” Marnie whispered to J.J., trying to lighten the moment.
The idea of the doctor coming making her nervous, J.J. turned to Miss Smythe and asked, “What do you think is going to happen with me? What am I to do while they’re gone?”
“Not to worry. You will be right here with me.” Miss Smythe answered. “Doing whatever the doctor tells you. Now let’s get you out of those clothes and into your gown so that you’ll be ready when she gets here. Most likely I’m going to have to cut you out of those fancy jeans to get them over that foot.”
“Aw, man…” J.J. complained. “I just got these right before we left.”
The woman decisively reached down and pulled the “Born to be Wild” tee shirt over J.J.’s head. “You, Missy,” She said. “Are probably not going anywhere, except maybe to the confines of the infirmary, for a while.”
Pat waited until Jennifer finished fussing about J.J., and had gone into the bathroom, before she hurried to the phone to call up #1 Waverly. She wasn’t surprised when once again it was Marnie who answered even though that time she had entered the number for the phone assigned to the room rather than calling up J.J.’s cell.
“Did J.J. make it back yet?” Pat whispered right off.
“Yes, she’s back.” Was the answer she received, but she could hear hesitation in Marnie’s voice.
“It’s about time. Put her on the phone.”
“She’s not in a position to talk, and that’s no B.S. this time. I’m not playing around. She’s here, but she really can’t come to the phone.”
“And just why can’t she?”
“I can’t tell you that, Aunt Pat. She doesn’t want me to say anything.” Was Marnie’s desperate sounding entreaty, the last sentence delivered in a whisper. “Please just trust me. She can’t come to the phone right now. I promise I’ll have her to call you right back.”
Pat was undeterred. “Tell me what’s going on, Marnie. If you don’t tell me this minute, I swear to God, I’m sending Jennifer over there, and you don’t want that, I promise you. She is fired up about you two, and all she needs is one more reason.”
“I didn’t even do anything.” Marnie whined. Then there was a pause, and Pat could hear the phone being jostled, several anxious voices in the background, including Miss Smythe’s; and then finally it was J.J. who spoke to her, her voice sounding strained.
“It’s me, Aunt Pat. I’m here. I’m sorry that I didn’t ask first, I know that I should have, but I went riding with Teddy this morning. I couldn’t resist when I found out about the horses. I’m back now. I know my mother called here looking for me, but I guess time got away from me again.”
“So why is it that you don’t want me to know why you can’t come to the phone? What are you doing? What is it you’re into? What is it you don’t want to say?”
“It’s nothing, really. I was just sort of tied up at the moment, but I’ve got it worked out now. No need for anybody to worry.”
“J.J., dammit! You’ve been slipping around going off on your own, doing your own thing the whole time we’ve been here, and I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit. You’re making your mother angry, and you’re hurting her as well. That’s something you know I’m not tolerating, not even from you. What ever is going on with you, if you don’t want to talk to me about it, fix it- NOW! And then you had better get your act together for the remainder of this visit, or I’ll know the reason why. Do you hear me?”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Was the humble reply.
Pat quickly put down the phone just as the bathroom door was opening, and Jennifer entered the room again.
“Were you on the phone?” She asked. “I thought I heard you talking. You weren’t talking to me, were you?”
“That was J.J. She just wanted to let you know that she was back. She was just saying that she’s sorry she missed you at breakfast, as well as your calls. She said that she was gone so long because time got away from her since she was out on that horse.”
“Now that’s something I can understand and forgive, I guess.” Jennifer said from inside the closet. “She and I both love horses and riding, but do you realize that I haven’t seen her in almost twenty-four hours. I thought the whole idea of us being here was that we were supposed to be here together?”
Pat shuffled the papers that were in front of her on the table. “Well, it’s for sure that you’ll see her at the presentation.” She said. ‘Let’s go over these notes one last time.”
A good while later, bundled up in her robe, once again resting on top of her bed, J.J. sat looking down at her heavily bandaged and propped ankle and foot. She was tired and she felt helpless. She had been examined earlier by the doctor who insisted upon x-rays even though her initial feelings had been that there was too much swelling to tell anything. After being transported to the infirmary, and the x-rays attempted, the doctor’s opinion had been confirmed. There was nothing that could be done at the moment. Everything would have to wait until Monday.
Dr. Irvine wanted her to remain in the infirmary under the care of the nurses there, but J.J. had been able to talk her into allowing her to return to the room. She told them that everyone concerned might fare better if she were among friends who understood her, would assist her with her needs, and help keep her spirits up. The doctor allowed it only after speaking with her father and Miss Smythe and on the condition that she remain immobile except for visits to the bathroom. Even then she would have to call for assistance. J.J. guessed she could count upon Marnie and the other girls, if need be, for that, although she hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
All of it had been accomplished through calls to her father who issued his instructions and granted his permission for the examinations and tests over the phone. Her mother and Pat had been left completely out of the loop. Her mother had phoned again, but Marnie had successfully fielded the call.
Now they were all over at the auditorium getting ready for the Dean’s presentation. Even Miss Smythe had been talked into going over there. She stopped in before leaving to say that she had left instructions with the housekeeping staff to look in on her, and that she could contact them if she needed anything. But the only thing she needed was to get over to that auditorium, and it didn’t look as if that was going to happen.
The phone rang, and she picked up expecting to hear her father’s voice. It had been some time since she’d last heard from him.
“Hey J. This is Teddy. I was just calling to check up on you. I’m back from transporting that horse to the farm with the foreman. He laid all into me after we left your room for “continuing the curse and letting a pretty Gresham girl sucker me into things”. Thanks for getting my back on that one. Oh yeah, and real nice move not letting me know about your cell so I could call somebody to help us. Why did you do that?”
“I told you, I didn’t want you to call anybody. I wanted us to get back on our own, so I just kept it to myself. And just so you know for future reference should I ever get you into a jam like that again, I never go anywhere without a cell phone. Getting your back was the least I could do for you after all you did to help me. I could tell that man was gunning for you, and you needed an assist. I was glad to go there, and to tell a little fib to get you off that hook. ”
You are a slick one. How’re you feeling?”
“I feel rotten right now, but not about my ankle. That still hurts of course, but I can deal with that. I just wanted so badly to go to the presentation, but they say I have to stay here; that I can’t be up and moving around. It’s only my ankle that’s hurt, not all of me, but they won’t let me get out of bed. I really, really, really wanted to see my mother and my aunt speak. I know my mother is expecting me to be there. She’ll be so hurt if I’m not. She doesn’t know what happened. I only told my father.”
“He’s all the way in Los Angeles! Your mother is right here. Why didn’t you tell her?”
“She and I have issues about that sort of thing, and it’s a long story. We can be sort of complicated, she and I, but for me it’s all about looking out for her. When I see you, I’ll tell you about it.”
“I feel so bad about you not being there. I know you were worried about not going when it first happened. I feel like it’s all my fault for taking you out there. If I hadn’t asked you, it never would have happened.”
“Don’t feel like that. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. Even if I had been looking where I was going, it probably still would have happened. It was just one of those things, Teddy. Fate, even.”
“You know, J.J.,” He said thoughtfully. “I may have an idea. Is Smythe gone?”
“Yes, she went over there already. She didn’t want to at first, but I made her. She was getting on my nerves being all over me, hovering and everything.”
“You game for whatever I come up with?”
“You’ve got a definite thing for skulking around, don’t you? Lucky for you I’m always game for a good caper.”
“Sit tight, then. I’ll be there shortly.”
“How else am I going to sit, Teddy?” She grinned in happy anticipation. “I’ll be right here, just chillin’.”
The sound from the auditorium indicated that it was filling, and Pat watched from a seat at the end of the table as Jennifer continued to stand, peeking out from behind the edge of the heavy closed curtains. They had spent the first few minutes after their arrival meeting the other speakers for the day, including the mayor and the president of the school’s board. Then they had gone off to themselves to go over their notes one more time. Pat knew that Jennifer still wasn’t feeling one hundred percent herself, and that scouring the gathering crowd looking for J.J. increased her level of discomfort.
“You don’t see her yet, Jen?” Pat asked, already aware of the answer.
“No. I can see Marnie out there sitting with a bunch of other girls. I mean, I guess she’s with them; they’re all talking together. But, I don’t see J.J. anywhere. Marnie looks so cute in her uniform. I think she’s hiked that skirt up some, though. I know her sizes, and I didn’t order it that short.”
Jennifer released the curtain to lean back to speak to Pat. “J.J. has a thing about uniforms. She hates wearing them. You don’t think the uniform is going to cause her to skip this too, do you?”
“I can’t see her doing that, Jen. She’s awfully proud of you. I doubt that she’d find anything else more intriguing than watching you speak to an audience, or that she would let something like having to wear a uniform come between the two of you. She’ll be here. She might show up in jeans, a tee shirt, and some boots, but she’ll show up just the same. Come sit down and relax. She’s coming.”
Jennifer went back to peering out. “Then why isn’t she here yet?” She asked.
Pat could hear the disappointment in her friend’s voice, and it made her want to get up to go find J.J. and throttle her. It was so out of character for her to act this way toward her mother. What in the world could she be into that would make her disappoint Jennifer so many times? Certainly it couldn’t be that boy. But then again, he was awfully handsome, and J.J. was growing up. And she was her mother’s daughter.
“Well girls, we’re just about ready.” announced Eva Taylor, who had coordinated the presentation and who up until that moment been arranging things back there with them. “I just got word that the Dean has just arrived, and everyone else on the dais is here.” She noticed Jennifer peeking out front. “Watching your baby, Jen? She’s really something. A real stunner, and so smart.”
“Um-hum.” Jennifer absently answered. “Thanks.”
“Come on, Jen.” Pat urged, getting up, taking her by the arm and pulling her away. “She’ll make it. I know she will. Come on and take your seat. The Dean’s on her way back here.”
“Pat, my head is still killing me. The Dean had better not ask me one thing about J.J. I got out of there as fast as I could this morning after breakfast. I thought sure she was going to call me over there to her and ask where she was. You’d think that after forty years that one lady wouldn’t make me so nervous. I always had the feeling that she didn’t really care for me, and that she was always looking for a reason to bring me down a peg. That’s how I feel now; like she’s trying to use J.J.’s absences against me. What did I ever do to her?”
“Well, we did get on her nerves a lot even though that was a long time ago. And it’s funny you should say that about her not liking you. I always got the feeling that she did like you, a lot more than she liked me, but that she just had higher expectations for you. She was always calling you out and saying that your father expected better from you. I guess she got to know him pretty well from all those times she had to call him on us. We all knew that Rick Hamilton didn’t expect a thing out of me. Hell, he was the main reason I was like I was. Look, we get through this today with her, and this is it. She goes her way, we go ours, and Gresham Hall is a memory. A fond memory because here is where we met each other.”
Pat put her arm around Jennifer’s shoulders and gave her a squeeze. Jennifer gratefully returned the gesture.
This time J.J. wasn’t startled when the bathroom door eased open and Teddy tentatively stuck his head in, looking around. Seeing her sitting there alone in the room on the bed, he came all the way in. He was dressed in his Brookfield day uniform, complete with long tan morning coat and striped tie. His thick, curly brown hair which was still damp from his shower, was neatly brushed back from his face. The crisp preppy appearance was a far cry from how he had appeared on the night before or early that morning. To J.J.’s eyes, he looked almost dashing.
“My goodness, Teddy.” She smiled. “You sure clean up well!”
He immediately blushed at her appreciative comment, but his attention was more strongly drawn to her injured ankle and foot.
“You sure you’re up for this?” He asked, suddenly unsure himself if he should try to work the plan with her in that condition. He didn’t think he could bear it if she somehow hurt it again.
“Teddy, if I didn’t think I’d get caught at it, I’d walk all the way over there on it to get there. I have to be there. I cannot let my mother down on this.”
“Okay, let’s do it, then. I’ve got everything in place.”
“Do me a favor first, Teddy, please. Go in that closet and get me that plastic clothes bag that’s hanging up with my name on it.”
He went into the closet to which she was pointing, and located the designated bag. “Ahhh” He sighed. “The Gresham Hall designer ensemble.”
When he emerged, carrying the uniform on its hanger, he saw that she was unfastening her robe, and he abruptly stepped back into the closet, averting his eyes.
Seeing him do that, she laughed, “It’s okay, silly. I’m not stripping. Hand me the blouse, the tie and the jacket.”
Still inside the closet, he opened the bag, and removed the requested items. Carrying them in his hand, and shielding his eyes with the other, he felt his way out and around to the side of her bed.
“You can open your eyes, Teddy. Thank you for being considerate, but I’m pretty decent under this robe.”
When he moved his hand and tentatively opened his eyes, he saw that along with that smile, she was wearing a demure, lacy sleeveless gown over which she quickly slipped the blouse. She buttoned it all the way up, and then tied the string tie at the neck.
“Help me on with this.” She said about the jacket.
Once the jacket was on, she asked for her hairbrush which was just out of her reach on the night table. He watched as she took her hair down and quickly brushed and smoothed it only to pull it back up into the ponytail which she took in hand and brushed out.
“How come you don’t wear you hair down?” He asked. “You have really pretty hair.”
“Just too much of it to leave loose, though.” She answered. Then as she finally secured the band which held it all neatly in place, she declared, “I’m ready.”
He leaned down to her, wrapping his arm around her back.
“Put your arm around my neck.” He told her.
She slid her arm around his shoulders and held on. Thinking that he was going to help her stand up, she was shocked when he lifted her completely up out of the bed and carried her in his arms.
“Teddy!” She squealed. “You can’t carry me!”
“I’m doing it, aren’t I? If I can handle horses two at a time, surely I can carry one fairly skinny girl. You’re as light as a feather. Just work with me here.”
She reached down with her free hand and adjusted her long gown so that it covered her legs. “And just so you know, I’m slender, not skinny.” She told him. “There is a difference.”
“You just watch out for your foot.” He said as he turned them toward the bathroom. “Since you’ve now got it fixed where I can’t watch your slender legs. We’re going through Maddy’s room. It’s right at the back steps. I’ll be watching where we’re going, so you keep a look out for the staff. With Smythe gone, though, they’re probably all goofing off back in the kitchen.”
Exiting through the bathroom into Madison and Dakota’s room, stealing out of that door, and down the stairs; they made it to the side door undetected. Just a few steps outside sat a car that had been driven across the lawn of The Quad right up to the house. Josh was behind the wheel with the motor running, and Frank was outside the car holding the back door open.
“If they catch you, you guys are gonna get killed.” J.J. laughed as Teddy bent to slide her into the back seat.
“Yeah, but they do have to catch us first.” Said Frank, peering in at her over Teddy’s shoulder. “What’s up, J.?”
“My spirits are now.” She answered as she slowly scooted in backwards to lean against the other door, wincing some while dragging her ankle, and then again when Teddy slid in and eased her foot into his lap. Frank closed the door behind him and hopped in up front. He tossed a small quilt over the seat to Teddy.
“My Gran made that and sent it to me.” He said. “I never had a use for it ’til now. I brought it for J.J. to use just in case it’s cool up there. You can keep it. A little gift from me.”
As Josh pulled off, she reached out and patted him on the back of the head.
“You boys are the greatest.” She sighed.
Thanks to Teddy, his friends, and she was sure, her own Grandma Suzanne who always looked out for her; she was going to make it to her mother after all.
Most everyone was seated, and the auditorium was full of alumni and their offspring. Marnie sat conversing with Dee and the other girls, but her mind was on J.J., left behind and all alone in that room. At first she hadn’t planned to come to the presentation herself, wanting to stay behind to help J.J. They had always been two for one when it came to trouble, but J.J. had insisted upon her leaving, saying that at least one of them needed to be there for representation- and explanation when it came to that.
Even though she had been gifted with the strong ability to competently do several things at a time, Marnie could not get her mind off her friend, and she found it hard to focus on the conversation. She was worrying, trying to talk, and looking around herself wondering how this was all going to fly with Jennifer Hart and Pat Hamilton who were still in the dark about J.J.’s accident and her condition. When it hit the fan about J.J. once again being AWOL, it was she who would be on the front line with them. Mrs. Hart, she knew would probably go ballistic at that point, and Pat would be close behind her. Dealing with her own hard-partying mother over the years, Marnie had come to recognize a hangover when she saw one, and the Duchess had been trying to hide one hell of a good one at breakfast. Pat had just come right on out and admitted that she had one. Mrs. H. and Pat, she figured, must really have tied one on at the Gresham Inn, or wherever they had been on the night before when they didn’t show up for the alumni functions.
The mental picture of J.J.’s refined mother knocking them back to the point of intoxication and subsequent hangover momentarily amused her.
If J.J. were there, Marnie knew that she would probably have opted to sit in the balcony despite the fact that the daughters had been assigned to the section in which she was presently seated. That was how J.J. was about things: liking the unexpected, doing the unexpected thing, knowing how to do the right things but going about them in the most unexpected ways.
Facing sideways in her seat, holding a two-way conversation between Dakota sitting next to her and Dee sitting behind her, Marnie shifted her gaze for a moment to the balcony to picture her friend waving down to her.
She had to blink in disbelief.
She blinked again to be sure.
There she was in the flesh, grinning her brightest, most mischievous grin and waving a small wave with her fingers. J.J. was up there in the dark balcony flanked by Teddy, Josh, and Frank. Behind her, moving in the shadows, Marnie could see that she was surrounded by several other boys dressed in Brookfield Prep School uniforms. Marnie beamed and discreetly waved back mouthing, “How in the hell?”
J.J. gestured to Frank and Josh. Then she took Teddy’s hand and held it up while she pointed to him, mouthing, “My hero!”
The other girls in their immediate group took notice of Marnie’s eyes looking up and followed her gaze. J.J. waved and then gave them the signal to play it cool and turn around, which they all did. Marnie sat back in her seat, crossed her legs, and breathed a sigh of relief.
If J.J. Hart didn’t give Teddy that damned kiss he asked her for on the previous evening, she would go ahead and give it to him herself.
“Are you comfortable, lady?” Teddy asked, watching J.J. wave to her girlfriends below.
At his request, one of the guys had brought a folding chair, normally used for camping, that came with an attached, elevated foot rest. He had placed J.J. into it after she had been carefully carried from the car up to the balcony of the Gresham Hall Theatre. The chair had been lined up sideways with the wall and the railing, so she could peek right over and see everything. The little quilt had been spread over her legs and bare feet to keep the injured one from getting a draft. Then Teddy had taken the seat directly, protectively behind her.
They were surrounded by Teddy’s ‘brothers’ from Brookfield who had planned to come for the ice cream social later in the day, but instead altered their plans after getting word from Teddy to meet him. They arrived early to assist him with “Wesley’s” girl. Almost all of the guys had one of those pictures of her in their wallets, they all had made donations to the Mission Street Fund, and they had all been anxious to meet this J.J. Hart person. It hadn’t taken them any time to get dressed and to get over there.
Upon his arrival back at Brookfield the prior evening, Teddy made sure to discuss with his floor mates his doubts about the validity of Wesley’s claims, and to “wax poetic” himself about the actual, very real person the Mission Street Pin-up girl turned out to be. Wesley had graduated that previous spring, and had gone home for the summer, but the guys utilized the power of the internet to fire off a series of emails to him in Los Angeles letting him know that the cat was out of the bag about his alleged romance. While that was going on, Teddy had simply lain on his back, his arms folded behind his head, staring at the ceiling while picturing the air being let out of that prevaricating windbag, Wesley.
J.J. wasn’t anybody’s girl except her own, and that was a good thing.
Anticipating a dry, irrelevant, dull time watching the Gresham Dean’s presentation, the guys had not come to the balcony empty handed. They were working on the two twelve packs of ice cold Cokes, and someone had thought to bring chips and pretzels as well as two large plastic bowls to put them in to keep the bags from rattling.
“It doesn’t get any better than this, Teddy.” J.J. smiled at him in answer. “Thanks to you, I’m here for my mother and my aunt. There’s a party getting started, I’m in good company up here, and I’ve got my girls down there. What more can I ask for? It was looking a little bleak there for a minute, and then you came along. In fact, you’ve done that twice since I’ve been here..”
“How does your ankle feel?”
“I haven’t thought about it. You don’t feel pain when you’re dancing on cloud nine.”
She turned back around to view the beautifully decorated dais just as the house lights went down and the pianist began to play. The honored guests and alumni entered the stage from both sides and took their places. Her heart filled as she noticed that her mother and Pat walked on together and stopped at the first two seats right next to the podium. They had been placed closer than the Mayor of Gresham or the president of the Board of Governors for the school. Both of them were, as usual, impeccably dressed, and appeared poised and confident. J.J. thought to herself that they were really something, and just looking at them, she was enormously proud of them.
She noticed that the first two places on the other side of the podium had been left empty. The first, she assumed would be for the Dean when she was brought out. Eva Taylor delivered the greetings, introduced everyone on the dais, and then introduced the Dean, who was escorted out from the back by the Dean of Brookfield. Everyone was on their feet, including the boys upstairs with her, and they gave her a standing ovation. She was escorted to her seat, the first one on Ms. Taylor’s right. Then everyone took their seats.
That left J.J. wondering for whom that other seat had been reserved and why the person wasn’t in place at that point.
As she sat on the dais, Jennifer’s eyes scoured the section of the auditorium which held the younger girls, looking for that one familiar red head. She could see Marnie, and J.J. should have been right in there somewhere near her. It was unbelievable that she wasn’t. What was going on with her that she kept skipping out on everything?
True enough, J.J. hadn’t been that enthused about coming to Gresham Hall for the reunion, but she had always enjoyed traveling with her. Spending time together on the road or in the sky, visiting different places in the States and abroad was something to which they both still looked forward to doing while J.J. was out of school for the summer. This situation with her was almost like that last reunion she attended, the time when Jonathan had accompanied her. He kept skipping out on the events, too. But that time it turned out that he had been drugged by Ford Beebe and hypnotized into staying away, so that hadn’t been within his control. The final result of that episode, Ford’s death, had kept her away until this year, the year that she could come and spend the time with her daughter. What was the story on J.J.? Pat had spoken with her, and assured her that J.J. would be there. She must have told Pat that she would be, but she wasn’t. J.J. didn’t normally outright lie, so where could she be? Had that boy she met so captured her attention?
Overwhelmed by the unhappiness and disappointment she felt over her daughter’s behavior, compounded by the lingering effects of her earlier physical affliction, Jennifer began to tune out.
She had been so lost in her thoughts that she almost didn’t feel it when Pat nudged her to get her up on her feet.
J.J. and the guys had leaned back into the darkness of the balcony, and had gone silent to not be noticed by those below. After easing the top off a Coke, Teddy handed it to her and then offered her the bowl of pretzels from which she extracted a few and placed them in her lap. They sat comfortably watching the formalities as each of the speakers stood to pay tribute to the Dean, her accomplishments during her tenure, and to her contributions to that fine institution of learning, Gresham Hall. J.J., however, was intently watching her mother, aware that she had to be scrutinizing the audience, looking for her. She knew that she had to be disappointed in her, and that knowledge brought about that hot/cold/ clammy/ twisting feeling in the pit of her stomach that she detested. It was almost better to have her mother be angry with her. In fact, that was better.
There was a rustling behind her, the sound of seats being exchanged. She turned around to silence whoever it was that was moving, only to find her father seated where Teddy had been and next to him, where Josh had been sitting, was her Uncle Bill McDowell, both of them with their fingers to their lips, shushing her. The two ousted boys were retreating to seats higher up.
“What are you two doing here?” She couldn’t help but whisper in happy surprise. “Daddy, where did you come from? Uncle Bill?!”
“It’s a surprise for the Dean, your mother and Pat.” Jonathan answered. “What are you doing here? I thought I told you to stay put in that bed in your room after I allowed you to leave the infirmary.”
Bill tugged her ponytail. “How you feeing, Beautiful?” He asked.
She smiled sweetly at both of them and turned back toward the stage.
Jonathan could only shake his head when Bill poked him in the ribs about J.J. ignoring both their questions.
Having come up there to sit on their own to keep from being seen by Jennifer or Pat after their arrival, both of them had been surprised by the all-male presence in the balcony, and even more so by the sight of their girl in front of first row, center. Ejecting the two boys closest to her from their seats, they noted the festive atmosphere, and helped themselves to sodas disregarding the boys’ surprised, questioning faces.
Jonathan, upon making Teddy get up, took special note of how well J.J. seemed to have been accommodated, with the chair, the quilt, and the drink. Although he was mildly irritated that in being her relentlessly fresh self, she had ignored his directive and was out of the bed; he was pleased that since she had come, she had chosen to wear the uniform. He knew that she had done both those things out of love and respect for her mother. The bond between the two of them fascinated him and even in their more intense moments it had always made given him a contented, satisfied feeling in his heart to watch them interact. Jennifer had it under control, J.J. was paying attention, and they had been so good for each other.
They were everything to him.
He leaned forward and raised the quilt from J.J.’s feet. A quick visual inspection of the injured ankle also revealed the lacy hem of the nightgown she wore as a skirt. Replacing the quilt, he shook his head and sat back, giving up hope. His daughter was every bit the shameless Bohemian her mother often declared her to be. As much as he hated facing the reality, he understood that to be one of the major qualities that made her so attractive to the opposite sex. How in the world had she gotten up there to that balcony in that half dressed state with all those boys? With the way that ankle looked, there was no way that she could have walked up on her own. And once she was up there, that all male group had protectively surrounded her, obviously catering to her every need as if she were royalty. It was evident that just like her mother she would be forever bewitching and charming the males in her life.
Even though she couldn’t see him, J.J. could feel her father’s movements down by her feet, and recognized that he was probably very concerned about her injury. She couldn’t imagine that he had come all that way to see about her unless the doctor had said something to him about it that she hadn’t said to her in the infirmary. What other reason could there be for his presence? He said that it was a surprise for her mother. Jennifer Hart would definitely be surprised.
She remained faced forward, looking down on the proceedings, not wanting to read whatever his eyes might reveal about the situation. She didn’t want to know what he thought about her ankle or her attire (or lack thereof) at that particular moment. There would be plenty of time left later in the day to get chewed out about the entire mess.
Eva Taylor was on the podium speaking of the positive changes that had come about at Gresham Hall during the Dean’s time there. She said that many of those changes and improvements had been facilitated by the forethought and generosity of the many benefactors whose time and resources the Dean had persuaded them to invest in the school and its students. One of those benefactors, she said, was present as a surprise to the Dean and others in their midst.
Eva said that the Alumni Association had recently discovered that one of the most generous patrons over the years had been one of the Dean’s lifelong friends. She said that he had continued to support Gresham Hall and its programs although his daughter had graduated with her a number of years ago. She laughingly declined to mention how many years.
Then she introduced the gentleman: Mr. Stephen Harrison Edwards of Hillhaven, Maryland.
J.J. sat up and sprang forward toward the railing so fast that Jonathan was compelled to reach out for her to keep her from going over as the pretzels in her lap rained down on the girls seated below.
At the same time as a few started squeals came from the rear of the auditorium, Pat’s head snapped in the direction of the Dean as she heard Jennifer’s father’s name. She slowly rose to her feet to watch as Stephen Edwards himself was escorted from behind the curtain by Georgette Singleton and Midge Jackson.
A second or two later, when his name finally registered with her, Jennifer whispered, “Pa? Here? I just spoke with him this morning. I don’t believe it!”
Stephen Edwards walked slowly, but proudly and erectly, onto the stage aided by his ornately carved ebony cane. When he reached her, he slipped his cane under his arm, and took the Dean by her hands to kiss her on both cheeks, smiling one of his rare, but engaging smiles.
“My good friend.” He said to her.
Then, still holding her hands, he looked past her to Jennifer and winked. “Hello, my darling daughter. Are you surprised to see your old man?” He nodded amiably in their direction, simply saying, “Patricia”, to Pat in fond acknowledgement. Pat had to nudge Jennifer who until that moment, sat stunned and frozen to her seat.
Once she was up, they both went to him and hugged him together.
“How did you get here?” Jennifer asked him while they were still enclosed in his embrace. “You haven’t left Briarwood in ages.”
“On the wings of two angels. They swooped down from the sky and scooped me up from my backyard.” He answered. He was looking out toward the audience which was now on its feet and clapping, but he was gazing above the peoples’ heads.
Following her father’s eyes up to the balcony, Jennifer was further surprised to see Jonathan and Bill standing at the rail. Peeking out between them was that face for which she had been so anxiously searching.
The family circle was more complete than she could ever have hoped.
They all returned to their places on the dais with Stephen taking the empty seat next to the Dean, this time leaving Jennifer with the questions.
J.J. had been delivered back to the suite, only this time at her father’s direction, and under Miss Smythe’s watchful eye. As soon the guys drove her up to the house, and Teddy had her safely back on the bed, Miss Smythe put him out of the room with the warning that he had better not return unless it was cleared through her and via the front door. Marnie and Dee moved quietly about the room, preparing to get changed into outfits for the ice cream social and trying to be inconspicuous. J.J. was silent as Miss Smythe carefully propped her foot and then helped her remove the portion of the uniform that she had worn over to the auditorium.
“You know you really are a piece of work, Justine Hart.” Miss Smythe fussed as she put the clothing on a hanger. “You remind me so much of someone else who once occupied this room. She too went about things in whatever way suited her no matter what others thought of her. ”
“My mother?” J.J. quietly ventured to ask.
“Just never you mind.” The woman answered. “You’ve got one coming, but not from me. The rest of them went on to the Dean’s house, but your mother is on her way here. She told me so herself.”
J.J. looked apprehensively to Marnie. They both knew that the zero hour was most likely on its way.
Miss Smythe went into the closet with her clothing, and came back out to pull the bed covers over J.J. which had been folded back before her arrival.
“You won’t be making the ice cream social with the others today. That’s too bad. It will be a very nice affair, with the boys coming down and all.” She tugged the covers up to J.J.’s waist and then stood back with her hands on her hips. “But I guess you’ve had your time with the boys today. Imagine, him up here and then spiriting you away in your night clothes without so much as a by-your-leave, and then you shacking up with all them boys in the loft.”
“I had on most of the uniform and I wasn’t “shacked up”, like you say.” J.J. tried to explain. “I was just sitting up there watching the presentation. I didn’t even know that all of them would be up there like that. And besides, what was the harm in my sitting up there as long as I was being a lady the whole time, which I was- totally- and they were all being absolute gentlemen.”
“Whatever you say, Miss Hart.” Answered Miss Smythe calmly, not bothering to debate the issue as she moved the pillows behind J.J.’s head to better support her in sitting up. “You can take the technicalities of the situation up with your mother when she gets here.”
There was a knock at the door, and before anyone could get to it to answer it, Jennifer Edwards Hart herself stepped into the room. She stopped and stood just inside the door, silently taking the room and all of them in.
For the longest moment, to the girls there, especially to J.J. and Marnie who had frozen in place; in her slim designer suit and Fendi pumps, with her hair pulled up into a business-like French Roll, The Duchess seemed at least seven stylish feet tall.
“Uh, we’ll just be going next door.” Marnie finally said, pushing up with her fingers on Dee’s chin to close her open mouth as she remained in place gaping in dumbfounded silence at the woman whose picture she had seen, but who seemed larger, prettier, more polished, and much scarier in real life.
So caught up was she, that she stumbled a bit when Marnie pulled her by the arm from the room into the bathroom, saying, “We’ll just go and leave you two alone.”
“That would be best.” Jennifer coolly advised as she placed her purse on the desk.
Crossing her arms and turning to catch and hold J.J.’s fearful gaze with her own no nonsense one, she slowly approached the occupied bed.
J.J., for her part, had no doubt that the zero hour had indeed finally arrived.
“I’m leaving too, Mrs. Hart.” Miss Smythe said as she began going toward the bedroom door. “If you need anything, you know how to reach me.”
“Yes, I do, and thank you.”
When they heard the door close behind Miss Smythe, Jennifer raised her finger to her lips, signaling J.J. to keep quiet. Easing over to the bathroom door, she suddenly gripped the knob, twisted it, and quickly snatched it open. Marnie fell heavily into the room from where she had been inside the bathroom leaning against the door, eavesdropping. She came to rest at Jennifer’s feet.
Without a word exchanged between them, Marnie quickly got up, gathered herself along with her dignity, and tossing her hair, she walked back through the door Jennifer held open for her. It wasn’t until she had gone through the bathroom to the other side and closed that door behind herself that Jennifer returned to J.J.’s bedside.
She picked up the small quilt that lay on top of the covers and looked it over carefully as J.J continued to watch her.
“Where did this come from?” Jennifer finally asked.
“Frank’s grandmother made it. He gave it to me to keep my ankle warm while I was up in the balcony.”
Jennifer then pulled back the bedcovers to expose J.J.’s injured ankle to examine it for herself. It was still quite swollen under the bandaging. The only thing that kept her alarm at bay at the sight of it was the fact that she knew that J.J. was very sturdily built, and that Jonathan had informed her of the injury and let her know that the campus doctor didn’t think it was broken.
“Does it hurt a lot?” She finally asked after a few moments’ visual inspection, and upon hearing J.J. suck in her breath when she pressed the skin of her foot with her fingers to feel if it was hot to the touch.
J.J. shook her head. When her mother, who was still checking out her ankle and hadn’t seen her response, looked to her for an oral answer, she replied, “Not a lot.”
“Tell me what happened.” Jennifer directed as she covered the ankle again and then sat down on the side of the bed.
She spoke softly, but J.J. could see the pucker of annoyance in her mother’s forehead, and she could read it in her eyes. Without hesitation, she cautiously began her explanation .
“I was walking on the bluff beneath Lookout Pointe with Teddy, and I fell.”
“Elaborate.” Jennifer demanded.
J.J. continued, knowing that the story she was trying to tell was going to have to be fleshed out considerably for the internationally acclaimed, award-winning journalist sitting next to her, well within reach of her throat.
“Well, we went riding and he took me out there, and was showing me some morbid death scene or something. He was telling me something about some guy having fallen down there or something a long time ago.”
She thought she saw her mother stiffen, but she kept going just the same.
“I wasn’t really paying attention to him. I was busy checking out the sights in the distance, trying to figure out what all of it was. I wasn’t looking where I was going, I accidentally stepped into a hole, and I fell funny and twisted it.”
“I’m not talking about just your ankle. I’m talking about you. What’s happened with you that you’ve been so distant toward me since we’ve been here. I thought we came here to be together. Mother and daughter, was what I thought theme was supposed to be.”
A little startled at first by the question, then with her heart twisting at what she suddenly realized had to be how her mother must have been viewing things, and how she must have been made to feel to have asked her that, J.J. hung her head.
“It wasn’t about you.” She admitted.
“If it wasn’t me, J.J., then what was it?”
Taking a deep breath, J.J. answered her at length.
“I really didn’t know you would see it that way. It was just that right away, I hated this place and all it seemed to stand for, so I just went and did other stuff. I didn’t think it would be that big a deal at first, you know, like at the reception. Before I came down to you, I had met Dee up here, and at the time, she was upset with Miss Smythe about something that happened in one of her classes. When Marnie and I came down to the reception, that left Dee up here by herself feeling all bad, and I kept thinking about her. So I left there and came back up here to talk to her. I found out that she’s here because she flunked the subjects that I’m the best at. I also found out that she was basically lonely; her family is all away on vacation, so I decided to keep her company instead of going back to the reception. You had your friends, and Aunt Pat and Marnie; she didn’t have anybody. I really didn’t think it would make that much difference to you if I was there or not. I mean, I know you cared, but I just thought I’d do better helping her. So, I spent the time with Dee, running. It turns out that she runs track too. She took me to that Alumni Hall where all the pictures are. I was so proud to see you and Aunt Pat up there on that wall. That was better than any old reception. We came back to the room and spent some time getting her to show me what she didn’t understand in math and science class. She draws really well, so she showed me some of the things she’s done for her portfolio. Then I had the idea to set up a website with some links to my tutoring site that I use with people I work with at school, and to places on the web where she could go for help in those subjects so that she could pass her summer courses. That’s what made me so late for dinner. I get so caught up when I’m doing stuff like that on the computer that I lose track of time. I knew I was really jammed up with you by then, but I didn’t want to miss dinner with you altogether so I got dressed and came anyway, even though I was late.”
“But then you didn’t stay.” Jennifer interjected accusingly. “You just got up and left, quite rudely I might add.”
“You were so mad at me by then.” J.J. answered quietly. “I wanted to tell you then what I just told you, but you were too mad to listen.” She dropped her head even farther. “Then I got mad at you for being so mad at me and not letting me explain, and about having to be here in this stuffy old place with all these rules and schedules, that I just got up and left. I know that I shouldn’t have, but I did. I’m sorry I was rude.”
Not letting up on her, Jennifer continued, “Then you left here at night with a boy. Is that why Pat came here last night? Was she looking for you?”
J.J. rolled her eyes, but she knew that she had to keep going.
“Yes. But I hadn’t gone anywhere. I was right out front talking to Teddy, the boy I went riding with this morning. I even came in and asked Miss Smythe’s permission to stay out there and talk to him. She tried to call you to ask what you thought about it, but she couldn’t get you. So she called the Dean, and then the Dean called back to say that it was okay. I guess she called Daddy or something. Then later Aunt Pat happened to call here to check on us, but Marnie didn’t know where I had gone. See, I told her I was going downstairs to look for you and Aunt Pat at the Mix and Mingle, but when you weren’t there, I went outside with Teddy and we sat in the- we sat out front and talked to each other. When I didn’t come back up, and Aunt Pat called, Marnie couldn’t find me anywhere in the house downstairs where I said I was going. She didn’t know where I was, and she knows how much you hate that, so she panicked and just hung up on Aunt Pat. That’s when Aunt Pat got in a cab and came over here to find out where I was. I saw her when she came on the Quad in the cab, and that’s when I came in the house. I didn’t know any of what was going on, I just came in to see why she was there. Miss Smythe vouched for me with Aunt Pat.”
“This Teddy, how did you meet him?”
There was a nervous hesitation, and a heavy sigh before J.J. answered, “Well, I hadn’t eaten-”
“You shouldn’t have huffed your little tail out of the dining hall like you did.”
“-and I said I was hungry. Madison, the girl next door, made a call and Teddy came over to bring us some pizza when we came back from the theatre last night. You see, after we didn’t see you or Aunt Pat at the theatre, all of us came back up here: Marnie, Dee, the girls in the other room, and me.”
“Mrs. Smythe wouldn’t have let a boy bring pizza to you girls at night without you having cleared it with her first. And even then he wouldn’t have gotten past the vestibule. And even at that, you wouldn’t have been the one to answer the door.” Jennifer determined, rapidly putting things together. “Things haven’t changed that much, I know. So how did he get to meet you personally?”
“Come on, Mom.” J.J. whined. “That would make me out to be a snitch. Don’t make me say.”
“Snitch or no, for your own sake, you’d better say.” Jennifer warned.
Sighing heavily again, J.J. answered. “I honestly don’t know how he did it, but he snuck in with two of his friends and brought it in here to us. Since I’m being made to tell, I guess might as well just go ahead and spill it all. We had a party.”
Jennifer closed her eyes and shook her head over Jonathan’s child, the perpetual party animal…any time, any place…
Hesitating until her mother looked up again, J.J. sheepishly continued when she opened her eyes, .
“Most of the girls up here in all the rooms came, and Teddy and the guys stayed too. With the Mix and Mingle going on downstairs, nobody was the wiser. The boys kept a low profile by going back and forth, from room to room just in case a grownup came in.”
“Was Frank one of the boys who came with Teddy?” Jennifer asked, holding up the small quilt.
J.J. simply nodded, and continued on, “After a while, I thought I had better get up and go downstairs to go see if you had come. I didn’t want to miss out on everything with you, but you weren’t down there. That’s when Teddy somehow showed up at the front door. He made out like he had just come by, and he asked me to come and sit outside and talk with him. He actually wanted me to go down to the stables with him to go riding last night, but I didn’t go. It was too dark. I wasn’t scared to ride in the dark or anything , but I figured it wouldn’t be too wise a move since I didn’t know him all that well.”
“I’ll credit you one on that decision.” Said Jennifer. “So who did you bother to ask this morning if you could go? You certainly didn’t phone to ask me.”
While J.J. had been talking, Jennifer recalled that Pat told her that she had granted J.J. permission to go riding that morning, but there had been no call from J.J. before Pat left. Furthermore, when Pat left to go to breakfast, she had accidentally left her cell phone behind on the table in the room at the Gresham Inn, and it hadn’t rung once during that time. If J.J. hadn’t come to breakfast, when had Pat spoken with J.J. to tell her she could go anywhere? Jennifer reflected that ever since J.J. had been in the world, Pat had always gone out of her way to keep that girl’s fanny out of the fires she so frequently backed into. Her friend’s manipulations of the truth concerning the events of the night before and earlier that morning did not surprise her.
Jennifer’s suspicions about the situation were confirmed by the barely audible “Nobody” that was offered in answer.
“Excuse me?” She said, holding her hand to her ear
J.J. looked up at her mother and spoke more clearly. “I said that I didn’t ask anybody.”
“And why is that? You know better than to take off on your own, especially in a place with which you aren’t familiar. How many times have we been over this, Justine?”
“I know, Mom. I do know that, but I don’t get to ride that often. I love horses, and I really wanted to go riding this morning. They were soooo beautiful. You would have loved Babette. She was so gentle and sweet, and I was afraid that after all I had skipped out on yesterday, you wouldn’t let me go if I asked you. I figured if I didn’t ask, you couldn’t say no, and if you hadn’t said no then I wouldn’t be disobeying you or anything. I thought I could just go off with him for a little bit, get back, make it to the presentation, and everything would be all right. I didn’t count on getting hurt like this.”
“I’m quite sure that you didn’t, but God has a way of slowing us down so that we can more clearly see what we need to see, doesn’t he, Miss Hart?”
“Yeah,” J.J. admitted. “I guess she does.”
Caught off guard, Jennifer almost lost it and smiled, but she managed to hold it back, noting to herself once again that J.J. was every bit her father’s child: a quick mind and a glib tongue.
“So why was it so important for you to get to the presentation this afternoon? I mean, you didn’t seem to think any of the rest of it was such a big deal.”
“Don’t make me say, Mom. You know why.”
“So, tell me anyway.”
J.J. lifted her chin and tipped her head sassily, while impishly eyeing her mother. “Because I wanted to hear Aunt Pat speak.”
When her mother gasped and looked taken aback, she grinned, and added, “And I wouldn’t let you down on that for the world. I wanted to be there if I didn’t make it to anything else. After seeing your picture in Alumni Hall, I wouldn’t have missed being there to see you address your class for anything. I was so scared that I wouldn’t make it after I hurt my ankle and couldn’t walk, but Teddy called me up with a plan to get me there. He came over and snuck up here again. I got dressed in as much of the uniform as I could, and then he carried me down the back stairs and out to the car. Mom, it was so slick; just like a bank heist or something that you see on television or at the movies! They had the car pulled right up to the side door. Josh was the getaway driver, and Frank was the lookout. The guys put me in the car and drove me over to the auditorium and then Teddy carried me up all the way up to the balcony so that nobody would notice that I was hurt and get the word to you before you could speak. All of the girls staying in Waverly who knew about it had been told to keep it quiet until after the program.”
J.J. had to stop and catch her breath before continuing. She reached out to take her mother’s hand in both of hers before she spoke again. She spoke in earnest.
“I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings or to disregard you. I know I should have told you that I was hurt, but I just didn’t want you to know about it right then. I didn’t tell you so that you wouldn’t worry and mess up or miss your speech. My being hurt would have broken your focus. I know you and I know how much you worry about me. You were great up there, you know. I like what you said about the Dean having a positive influence on you even though she was so rough on you. I’m going to ask you later why she had to be so rough on you, but that’s for another time. But I do know first hand just how that is. It really does work to have somebody in your life who you know you can’t buffalo your way past or run all over when you feel like just doing whatever. You know, somebody who’ll call you out when you’re wrong, no matter what. I was wrong. I know that. I’ve been handling things wrong from the beginning, and I really am sorry about making you feel bad. I didn’t see it like that. I absolutely did not mean to give you the impression that I didn’t want to be with you personally, but you should know that about me by now. I love being anywhere with you. After my ankle got hurt, I just didn’t want you to worry about me until you had to. I know it made you mad that I did that, but that was how it had to be.”
A pained, exasperated look crossed Jennifer’s face as she reversed the hold J.J. had on her hand to take her daughter’s two hands in her own.
“How many times have I told you about bringing the heavier things to me and about letting me be the mother?” She fussed.
“Mom, it wasn’t that heavy. It really wasn’t that big a deal. It had already happened; I was already hurt, and telling you wasn’t going to fix my ankle. I wouldn’t have fixed anything. And besides, my Daddy was helping me handle it. And-” She said holding up her index finger for emphasis. “Getting hurt got me out of wearing those dorky penny loafers and those knee socks. I would have just plain died… people would have been taking pictures…” J.J. grimaced and shuddered, repulsed by the thought of the rest of her casually eclectic crew at home seeing her in that preppy get-up. Tommy and Deon, especially, would never have let her live it down. Marnie could pull something like that off, but not her.
“Not to mention the skirt.” Jennifer reminded her. “J.J., your father was appalled to see what you had on up in that balcony. Now, I know you and I know your habits. You had on that full length nightgown and I know how you are. Please tell me you were wearing panties under it.”
J.J.’s jaw dropped. “Of course I had some on, Mom!! I had to go to the infirmary and get examined and junk, didn’t I? I didn’t know what was coming with all that. My gown might have scrunched up, and somebody might have seen. I only go without underwear like that at home in my room, and you wouldn’t have known about it then if you hadn’t asked me that time. I do have some sense of decorum, you know.”
She stopped for just a second and that devilish look crossed her face before she asked, “But, what if I hadn’t had any on? What could I have done about it? If I didn’t have any panties on before he got here, how could I have put some on with Teddy in the room? I want you to know that I wouldn’t have let that stop me from going. I was determined to be there. I would just have had to go without. The long gown would have kept me covered up, so there was nothing to worry about on that end, so to speak. But, for real, I was fully dressed down there already. My cat is not for public viewing.”
“Okay, my vagina, Mom. My bottom, my private parts, my secret place, my bum, whatever. The good stuff is not for show and there’s still nothing to tell.”
Once again, Jennifer briefly closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. Just as Pat had said, with J.J. it was like talking about the weather. And completely mortifying as well.
“I just had to ask.” She said after a time, recovering enough to eye her child skeptically while resisting the urge to snatch up the gown and check for herself.
J.J. leaned in closer to her mother and wrinkled her nose.
“Hey Mom, wasn’t it cool how Daddy and Uncle Bill came to bring Pa like that? How surprised were you? Pa hasn’t left Briarwood since he started having that trouble with his heart. I bet he only left the estate this time because it was Daddy who came for him. That says a lot about his trust in Daddy, doesn’t it? So now you know about Uncle Bill and Aunt Pat? Isn’t that great? They looked so glad to see each other when he went up on the stage with her. And how about Pa and the Dean? Did you know they were friends all that time? Do you think they’re going to hook up?”
“You ask far too many questions and you ask them much too quickly.” Jennifer answered arranging the covers to hide any traces of the amusement she felt at listening to how J.J. had so smoothly segued the uncomfortable conversation they had been having away from herself, into more neutral, more pleasant territories. “It was very nice of your father and Uncle Bill to bring Pa. I think that if Pat and Bill make each other happy, then I am happy for them. No, I did not know that my father and the Dean were personal friends, and my father is far too old to be “hooking up” as you say, with anybody.”
“Nobody is too old to want to be happy, Mom.”
Jennifer ran her hand along the high, heavy oak, attractively timeworn headboard of J.J.’s bed. “I used to sleep in this same bed.” She remarked. “It was old way back then. I wonder how old it actually is.”
The telephone rang, and J.J. picked up. She spoke into it for a moment, and then handed the phone a bit nervously to her mother. “It’s for you.” She said.
Jennifer took it, seemed surprised at first by the caller, listened, and then after a few minutes, said, “I think that will be alright. Give us about twenty minutes.” Then she hung up.
She turned back to J.J., giving her ‘the look’, and then told her, “Your new friend, Teddy will be here for you in twenty minutes. He wants to take you downstairs so that you can watch the ice cream social from the windows of the common room. The boys are going to be playing soccer on the Green, and he says that you’ll be able to see the game from there as well.”
J.J. looked surprised. “Okay. I know I’m going out on a limb here and I’m definitely talking too much saying this,” she said holding her hand up. “But I just have to go here. I cannot believe you’re actually going to let me go!”
She watched as her mother got up and went into the closet, only to come back out with her long robe which she helped her into after pulling back the covers.
“Nobody is too young to want to be happy either, I guess.” Jennifer said, pulling a sleeve up onto J.J.’s shoulder. “Besides, you’ve been doing whatever you’ve wanted to the whole trip thus far. Why change the pattern now?”
When the robe was on, she took J.J.’s chin firmly in her hand and lifted her face to make her look at her as she delivered a warning, “But let me tell you something, you little harlot, the next time you change clothes in front of a boy, you had better be over eighteen and not still living at home with me. Do you hear me, Justine Hart?”
“But I didn’t- All I did was-” Then feeling like she’d better not push it, she conceded. “Yes Ma’am, I hear you.”
Jennifer released her hold on J.J.’s face and stood watching her as she tied her robe and pulled at the tiny lace bow of her gown so that it fluffed out and showed at her neck.
“I think I want to wear my hair down, Mom.” She said. “Will you help me with it?”
“You little blue-eyed Bohemian.” Jennifer thought to herself as reached around to pull the band from her daughter’s hair.
Pat’s jokingly delivered concerns about J.J.’s possible potential sexual tendencies repeated themselves as she worked on J.J.’s hair. With her hair down, J.J. took on a softer, more feminine air which made her awfully attractive, and Jennifer felt that J.J. was becoming more aware of that fact. She’d begun to notice that there were very specific people and very specific occasions for which J.J. voluntarily wore her hair down. Mostly she did it for going to church, or to please her grandfather when she was in his company, and at times she took it down for her friend, Tommy. And there was already some pretty serious speculation about where that situation might be headed. If J.J. was taking her hair down for a meeting with him, Jennifer was even more curious to meet this Teddy fellow than ever.
The girl constantly did wrong things, but she usually did them for what she felt were the right reasons. Jennifer wondered how in the world she was supposed to stay angry with a girl like her. The initial fury she’d felt with her over her disappearing acts had been rapidly dissipating from the time that J.J. began explaining her absence from the reception. Furthermore, she had recently come to the full understanding that there was nothing she could do to change J.J.’s trying to protect her from worry. It had begun when she was quite small and over the years, that hadn’t changed a bit. She was growing up, maturing, and would probably always try to protect her from worrying about her, and would likely continue to be unorthodox in her approach to life all of her days. As her mother, Jennifer guessed that all she could do with J.J. was continue to love her and to love everything about her. Like Jonathan, there was simply no other way to take her.
“Hey, Mom.” J.J. called up to her breaking through her thoughts, as she stood over her brushing out the long, shiny, thick hair, “Where did you go last night? Aunt Pat said that you were out when she came over here last night, and that’s why you didn’t come over here looking for me yourself. Did you have fun hanging out? Were you with your girls from back in the day? Did you all go out to a club?”
“That’s for me to know.” Was Jennifer’s spoken answer. “And sure as hell for you not to find out.” Was the mental one. Back in the day, indeed. She realized at that moment that her head was still dully throbbing in the background of everything else that was going on.
J.J.’s words to her about her grandfather played back as well: “Nobody is too old to want to be happy.”
But with Dean Marchand, of all people? Just how far and how deep did those old roots go?
And was she grown enough, mature enough, generous enough to graciously accept the situation, whatever it was?
“Aggie, I cannot believe that Jennifer hasn’t gotten around to introducing her to you yet.”
“I don’t think Jennifer’s to blame, Stephen. I haven’t seen very much of the girl at all since they arrived, and I don’t think Jennifer has either. I’ve only just managed to catch fleeting glimpses of her. However, I would have known her even if you hadn’t told me what to look for; she’s so much like your Jennifer. Since her injury this morning, Justine’s been occupied with the doctor and tests and such. I was happy to hear from Dr. Irvine that her father was handling things with that. I wanted to be sure that she was getting the best care, and my sister said that Justine was adamant that her mother not be told of it. I’m certain that with you here, I’ll be meeting her soon enough, though I’m anxious to see if what you say about her is true.”
Dean Marchand and Stephen Edwards were seated in the front room of her residence enjoying their pre-dinner drinks after returning from the program where she had been presented with a solid gold diamond encrusted watch, and two tickets for an Alaskan cruise to be taken immediately after the summer session ended, as well as many personal tokens of gratitude from that special group of girls. However, as satisfactory as all of that had been, none of it meant as much to her as the man seated across from her and his most gracious offer, made he said to continue their many years of friendship.
Although he had aged considerably, the superior intelligence and keen, dry wit which was characteristic of Stephen’s nature still danced in his eyes as he watched the young people gathering on the Quad in preparation for the ice cream social and the soccer game.
“Justine will surely miss being out there.” He mused quietly. “She’s quite the social butterfly, you know, which most likely explains why you haven’t seen more of her thus far. Quite independent and easily popular, my granddaughter. Jennifer often tells me of the parade of children that have come into her and Jonathan’s lives via their lively child. For her birthdays they’ve always indulged her with these shamelessly elaborate parties where their estate is overrun by her plethora of friends. I understand that her very best friend, a girl called Marnie, has accompanied her here to the reunion. They’ve known each other practically all their lives, those two.”
Dean Marchand nodded. “Her, I’ve met. I can tell that Jennifer has a strong influence on her, and that Patricia seems to have taken quite a fancy to her. I got the impression that little Marnie and our Patricia are both cut from the same bolt of cloth. Very polite and engaging as long as your eye is on them, but once they’ve detected that you’re no longer watching….”
Stephen chuckled. “That Patricia. She was a maddening handful but I loved her from the first for so loving my daughter and for being such a devoted companion, however incorrigible she might have been. Then I came to love her for that incorrigibility itself. I’m fairly sure that, genetics aside, she and Jennifer are the main reason I no longer have hair. Patricia hasn’t changed much over the years either. I’ve closely followed her rise in the literary world. Her business practices mirror her personality. She was and remains unafraid to make life know that it has to do her bidding, and not the other way around.”
“Stephen,” Dean Marchand called to him in a way that drew his attention. “Have you spoken with Jennifer about the arrangement?”
He looked uncomfortable as he slowly turned to answer her. “No,” He admitted. “But I’ve sent Jonathan over to Waverly to fetch her. He’ll take over for her over there with Justine, and then I’ll speak with her when she arrives back here. It’s been such a long time, Agnes, but still I’m nervous about upsetting her. She’s long been a grown woman with her own life. Surely she won’t have a problem with this, don’t you think?”
“What I think, Stephen, is that you should have told her about us, our friendship, and about all the things that have come about here at Gresham because of you; of the people you’ve helped in trying to help her, and how you did these things out of your love for her. I don’t think she’s ever understood why you sent her away from you, and here to this place in particular. Since you’re asking me what I think, what I think is you should have told her all of that. But there’s nothing to be done about any of it now except to inform her of your plans and let the chips fall where they may. You deserve to be happy in your remaining years. You deserve to do things the way that you want to do them. You’ve been a good father to her, and it’s as you’ve said, Jennifer is a grown woman with her own happy life. You have more than earned the right to one on your own terms as well.”
And so had she.
“So how long did you have this planned?” J.J. asked her father as they sat together. “As nosy as I usually am, I didn’t pick up a hint of a clue that you would be flying up here.”
“I am the master of stealth and guile.” He smiled at her. “Keep that in mind. With the wonder of the cell phone, your Daddy can be anywhere when you’re talking to him, so watch the things you do. You are learning at my knee, remember?”
“But I’m getting pretty good at the stealth and guile thing, though, right?” She nodded. “And you don’t happen to be the parent who could be anywhere on the cell that I keep my nose clean for when I’m out in public. Your other half is the one who gives me heart palpitations. My ticker just started back to beating regularly a few minutes ago. It skipped a couple when she showed up in the room after the program. I knew she was fit to be tied. I almost couldn’t breathe when I saw her come through the door; didn’t even feel the ankle any more.” She waved her hand, fanning herself at the memory. “Daddy, you just don’t know… I was talking fast…”
“I see you survived,” He chuckled. “And it looks to me like you’ve been granted a reprieve. Judging by her disposition when she left me to come over here to you, I expected to find you in solitary, lashed to the bed.”
“You?” J.J. turned to look at him. “Think about how I felt! I was floored when she told Teddy that I could sit down here with him. When I say my prayers tonight, I have got to thank somebody up there for this gift of gab that I’ve been given. I was able to articulate it to her in a way that she could see what I was saying. But you can bet, I was sweating bullets the entire time, especially about the nightgown thing when she brought it up.”
Jonathan just shook his head. He had planned to reprimand her on that himself and on ignoring his telling her to stay in bed, but one look at that face and after listening to her amusing account of her tense meeting with her mother, like always, he broke down completely into mush. He was left wondering how one little girl could so lift his spirits and fill his heart with just that smile. It was probably the fact that she was the ultimate symbol of what he and Jennifer had accomplished together; J.J. was their only child, a living symbol of his union with her. With her hair down like it was, she looked so much like that woman he loved with his entire being. But J.J.’s eyes, the brilliant blue coloring and the way she used them, seemed to significantly alter the resemblance for him. Depending upon the situation, those eyes gave her a more disarmingly feminine countenance than even her mother, and at other times they could be downright steely, just like his own.
After he, Pat, Jennifer and Bill escorted Stephen and the Dean back to her residence after the program, Pat and Bill had gone off on their own. He had seen to the two elderly people getting settled and comfortable, while Jennifer went over to Waverly House to check on and chastise J.J. She had been pretty aggravated at not having been told of J.J.’s injury until after the program. By that time, he, Bill and the boys had seen to J.J. being taken out of the balcony and transported with Miss Smythe back over to her room in the house before Jennifer could make it up there. Jennifer was angry enough with J.J. at that point to have said anything to her, and he did not want their daughter embarrassed in front of her peers, no matter how much she might have deserved a dose of her mother’s wrath.
On the plane, while coming over, Stephen had briefly consulted with him about his future plans in an effort to get his opinion of Jennifer’s reaction. Jonathan had been intrigued by Stephen’s unusual apprehension, it was almost as if he were afraid of his own daughter. Since her mother’s passing, Jennifer, they both knew, had never been faced with a situation like this one. In his mind, Jonathan thought that what Stephen was proposing was a good thing for all concerned. But as well as he felt he knew his wife, having been an orphan himself for as long as he could remember, he didn’t feel like he had the background for familial interactions that was probably necessary to make a proper call on it. His advice to Stephen had been to talk with her, put his cards on the table, and see what resulted. Jennifer had always been considerate, kind, and generous. It was hard for him to imagine her being otherwise, but then again, she was her daddy’s girl, and she had been his only one for well over forty years. Since that moment, he had tried to picture himself in that position with J.J., but the thought of life without Jennifer had been too painful to even begin to imagine what he would do about J.J. Stephen Edwards had to be up for sainthood.
He arrived at Waverly House just as the elevator opened on the first floor and he had been surprised when Jennifer stepped out followed by J.J. being pushed in a wheelchair by Teddy. The sight of his ever-moving, agile, athletic daughter confined to a wheelchair made his breath catch for a moment. He had to remind himself that it was for the best, and that it was only temporary.
Having been previously introduced to Teddy, he felt there was no further need for formalities. He simply relieved the boy of the wheelchair, and dismissed him to the Quad to attend the ice cream social which had already begun. Letting Jennifer know that her father wanted to see her, he had wheeled J.J. into the common room where they sat talking.
“Daddy, were you mad at me for going off this morning without asking?” She asked.
“I can’t say I was mad about it, but you really should have asked. It probably wouldn’t have changed what happened unless your mother had told you that you couldn’t go and you had gone to breakfast instead. But you know that you should have gotten permission before you just took off like that. Using that loophole theory again?”
She nodded. “Don’t ask, don’t tell. You know how it goes, but believe me, I’m paying for it.” She said, gesturing down to her foot which was supported by the leg lift on the wheelchair. “How long do you think I’ll be laid up? Did Dr. Irvine tell you anything?”
“You’ll be down for at least a week.” He answered. “That’s why you’re going to Maryland from here to stay at your grandfather’s for that week.”
J.J.’s eyes grew wide in disbelief.
“To Briarwood? To Pa’s! Why? How come I can’t just go home?” She reached out and grabbed her father’s arm. “I real-l-l-ly don’t want to go there. My summer is getting all used up, Daddy. Can’t I just go home and be sick in the company of my friends? I’ll rest. I’ll listen. I’ll do what I’m supposed to do. I promise.”
“No, you won’t.” He asserted firmly. “I know you. At your grandfather’s, there’s nothing for you to do except do what you’re supposed to do. I’ve already arranged for more tests on Monday and for a physical therapist to come out and work with you during the week.”
“Awwwwww, Daddy!” She whined.
He continued, “No Tommy, no Charmaine, Deon, or Nikki; no Philly and Hector, no constantly ringing telephone, no trying to limp down to the pool, no tennis or basketball courts, no Chance or Chase and that car that they’ll try to prop you up in to have you all around LA while I’m at work or as soon as your mother steps away for a moment; no chasing after Third, no sneaking up and down the steps hopping on one foot, no trying to skate before you’re ready- none of that. That ankle will have a chance to heal properly without further injury from you so that you’ll be ready for track in the fall when school starts back. Like you said, you don’t have that long.”
J.J., ever astute, picked up on an omission. “You didn’t say no Marnie. What’s the story on Marnie?”
He had to chuckle. She was always so sharp, and that tickled him to no end. “If she wants to,” He answered. “She can go with you to your grandfather’s for the week. Your mother will have to shop for more things for you, and I’m sure that Marnie won’t mind going with her and picking up a few things for herself to make do until you two get back home next Sunday.”
“I guess I won’t die all the way, then. Marnie’s going to Pa’s whether she wants to or not. It’s two for one and she knows it. She owes me from the sleepover anyway. She got me way in Dutch on that one, calling all those people up and inviting them over. Wait! Is my mother is going to be there at Briarwood too?”
“If everything works out like I think it will.”
“Everything like what?” She asked, diverted from whining about her mother’s extremely attentive presence with her being physically unable to escape when she felt the need to get out from under it.
“Wait and watch.” He answered.
The cell phone rang, and Pat rolled away from Bill’s warm body to answer it.
Before he and Jonathan flew out of Nevada where Jonathan had flown in to pick him up, Bill had been lucky enough to book the last unoccupied room at the Gresham Inn. It just happened to be the one next to the room she and Jennifer had shared the night before. Leaving Jennifer, Jonathan, Stephen and the Dean on the walkway leading up to the Dean’s residence, they had wasted no time in breaking it in.
It was Jennifer was calling.
“Where are you?”
Pat yawned and stretched, causing Bill to stir beside her. She patted his cheek gently and he smiled in his sleep.
“I’m where you would be if your father wasn’t here and J.J. hadn’t gone and gotten herself busted up.” She answered, speaking softly not wanting to wake Bill. “Have you had a chance to talk to Stephen and find out what’s going on?”
“No, not yet. I just left Waverly.”
Listen, I had a thought after I left you. Maybe you should get with Eva first. She’s the class historian, and she’s the one who mentioned at the program about finding the things out about that he had done for Gresham. Maybe she can shed some light on what’s been going on between him and the Dean as well. You know how close mouthed and discreet she is. If she found out anything about them while she was doing her other research, she’d be keeping it to herself. She wouldn’t breathe a word of it to anyone, but she’d tell you if you asked. Whatever she might be able to tell you about any of it will at least give you some frame of reference to work with and maybe validate your perceptions when you go to talk to him. I know it’s hit you between the eyes to know that they were personal friends. You don’t think-”
“I don’t know what to think.” Jennifer quickly concluded. “Go see Eva, hmmmm,… that might not be a bad idea. I was just on my way to see my father when I phoned you; he’s sent for me, you know. I think he wants to tell me something. But in light of what you just said, I think I’ll make a little side trip over to Wimberly House first. Eva’s probably still over there with Angela. That’s where she was headed after the presentation. It might be that he just wants to talk, but I probably do need to be prepared for whatever might be on his mind. But listen Pat, what I really called you for was to give you the latest scoop I’ve come across.”
Immediately interested, Pat sat up. “What is it?”
She had never been one to turn down a good story or a ripe piece of gossip, especially when it came from a reliable source. Jennifer never told tales out of school. When she passed a story along, she had checked it out and knew it to be the real thing.
“Did you happen to pay much attention to J.J.’s little friend, Teddy, last night?”
Pat thought about it. “No.” She finally answered. “I was too damned mad at Marnie, too wound up about J.J., and too full of that bourbon at the time to focus on anybody other than my intended targets. What about him?”
“I met him today. His name is Theodore Martin Baxter, a Brookfield boy. He happens also to be a Theodore Junior. That would make his father, Theodore Martin Baxter, Senior, wouldn’t you think?”
“Oh, shit.” Pat whispered.
“Oh, yes. His father went to Brookfield. He was in the class ahead of us. Editor of the Brookfield Press, class president, captain of the football team, and all around gorgeous hunk. You know, just like your “Teddy Bear” Baxter. You remember, Prom Night Teddy Bear Baxter? In and Out of the Window at Will, Teddy Bear Baxter?”
Pat covered her mouth. “Oh no, Jen, say it isn’t so.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Patty. I’ve done my homework- quickly and thoroughly, like always. It seems that my daughter’s handsome little friend is the son of the man who has your cherry in his back pocket. Isn’t it a small world, Patricia? I told you then about doing domestic guys. Me, I went for the import. He at least had the good manners to go back home to London and not turn back up in any closet of mine. Your skeletons are rattling, Pat. Can’t you just hear them? …just crying, calling for you to let them out to meet J.J.”
Pat could almost see Jennifer smiling that huge, teasing smile on the other end of the telephone. “I know you didn’t say anything to the Squirt about it, did you?” She inquired, almost pleading.
“That’s not my style.” Jennifer assured her. “That’s the kind of thing you and J.J. do. It’s still our little secret, but it’s a hum dinger of a secret, isn’t it? Now, when J.J.’s a little older, all bets might have to be off on this one. I don’t think I’ll be able to help it, this is just too good. I really hope I can hold out that long.”
“Yeah, well, you just better be glad that J.J.’s gotten herself laid up with that bum ankle.” Pat declared, planning to go for payback. “If Junior’s anywhere near as smooth and sexy as his father was, you’d have to be worried about her being laid up somewhere with him before the weekend played itself out.”
“Not to worry. J.J.’s father is here.” Jennifer countered. “It turns out he and Pa had planned to be here all along. Jonathan and Bill had arranged to get Pa here for the Dean. But what were they thinking when they said they hadn’t planned to stay overnight until J.J. called to say that she was hurt? Like we would have let them go back just like that. Can you believe my father staying overnight at the Dean’s residence?”
“Where’s he going to sleep over there?” Pat asked. “My God, aren’t they both in their eighties?”
“I don’t want to think about it.” Jennifer answered, shuddering at the thought that forced its way into her mind..
“Has Jonathan gone over to Waverly to see J.J. yet? Hey, what if he goes over there and finds her sitting with Teddy who’s sneaked in again? I know he sneaks in, just like his father used to do.”
“Please,” Jennifer scoffed. “Jonathan’s there, the boy was too, legitimately so, but Jonathan’s already put him out of Waverly. As soon as he got there and saw Teddy there with J.J., he sent him back outdoors to the Quad. If the young man had any plans, bum ankle or no, innocent or otherwise, Jonathan has squashed all of that for the time being. ”
“Well, I’m just saying, Jennifer, judging from the way things were looking, her being missing time and again, that scenario was not outside the realm of possibility, I don’t care how mature and reserved you say she is. Sometimes it’s more than any girl’s will can take. Hell, I should know. And speaking of that, I have to go now, Jennifer. I have things and a big handsome man to do.” Pat stopped and sighed. “I’ll just be damned. Do I have some rotten luck or what? If this doesn’t beat all…”
Jennifer laughed. “I’ll get back to you later, I guess, after I talk with Pa. That is, if you’re still conscious or have any voice left by then.”
Stephen Edwards sat alone in the Dean’s front room sipping from a glass of wine while continuing to watch the young people out on the Quad, and enjoying a rare cigar. It pleased him that Agnes allowed him that indulgence without fussing over him about his health. She had gone in to see how dinner was coming along in the kitchen, and to allow him privacy with Jennifer once she arrived.
As always, he was looking forward to talking with her even though the subject matter at hand gave him pause for concern. Although she called several times a week and visited several times a year, he didn’t get to see his daughter nearly as often as he would have liked. His heart condition had severely limited his ability to travel anywhere, and her hectic schedule and lifestyle dictated to the frequency of her visits to Maryland. Any time he got to spend with her face-to-face was good time.
Jennifer. He loved her so.
As Agnes reminded him, he hadn’t ever told her about his nearly lifelong friendship with Agnes Marchand, even after all the years that she had been gone from the campus of Gresham Hall. He had never explained to her his reasons for sending her there even though he knew that for years she had harbored an intense, deep-seated anger toward him for doing so. As a boy, he had been reared in an atmosphere where children were to be seen and not heard, where explanations weren’t necessary, and what an adult decreed was how it went for the child. Jennifer had, in many, many ways shown him the folly in that line of thinking. Over the years, she had gradually changed his perception of her as his child. He had come to regard her as a person unto herself, separate from him, long before she became an adult, which is what he discovered her mother had begun from infancy raising her to be. But still he had never told her why things were what they were. Old habits were hard to break.
She had been his all. There had been others before her who were interested in him, but as a young man, pursuing life had taken precedence over romance. The closest he had come to even being a little more than fond of a girl had been Agnes Marchand, but she too had chosen to follow her dreams rather than her heart.
After Suzanne, there had been no one to come along who even came close to what she had been to him.
They had met in Paris, and actually it was her sister, Sabrina, whom he’d met first. Their school had brought a group of girls over to visit the Louvre, where he happened to have been assigned to complete a bit of research. He was just returned from a tour of duty, and was relishing the peace of working at a desk in the small room off a main hall. Drawn by something, he looked up to find a most captivating pair of hazel-coloured eyes peeking in at him from the open doorway. They belonged to a pretty, rosy cheeked, freckled face that was topped off by a mane of thick, dark red hair.
She smiled and waved in at him when their eyes met. He had been forced to smile back, knowing that she was just a young school girl, much too young to be flirting with him, but amusing still in her brazen coquettishness. Suddenly, she was joined by an identical face, an identical head of thick, red hair that also reached to her waist. Quite obviously this was her sister, who began scolding her for her behavior.
“I’m sorry.” She apologized to him from the doorway. “For my sister. She is much too bold for her own good.”
“I know what I like,” The first one retorted before she was pulled away. “and unlike you, I am not afraid to say as much.”
That had been his first encounter with the Roussel twins.
His second had been two days later on his way home to his apartment after a day’s work at the museum. He had just exited the building when he came upon one of the girls sitting on the front steps. At the time, he hadn’t been able to tell which one; he hadn’t gotten either of their names, but she looked so upset that he stopped to see if he could be of assistance.
After introducing himself to her, she told him that she was Suzanne Simone Roussel, and she couldn’t find her sister, Sabrina. They were held accountable for each other by their parents, she told him, and she couldn’t go home without her. Thinking that Sabrina had stolen away to come to the museum for a return visit with him, Suzanne had come there looking for her. She had arrived too late, and the doors had been closed for the day, so she had taken a seat on the stairs to think which was where he had found her.
They talked, and she told him about herself. She and her sister were sixteen and as he clearly could see, identical twins. They were from the south of France, in Paris on an educational holiday with their school. Their parents had come along as chaperones, and they were all residing in one of the local hotels. They would be in Paris for a week.
When he asked her if she had any idea where else Sabrina might have gone, she said that she didn’t, but she recalled that a man had stopped her at a point when she hadn’t been with Sabrina on their earlier museum visit, the one when they’d first met. He said that he was an artist and that he wanted her to sit for him. He had offered her a large sum of money to do so, but he wanted to paint her in the nude. Suspecting him of more sinister intent, she had turned him down. But when she told her sister of it, Sabrina determined that she would go in her place and wouldn’t be talked out of it. Sabrina, Suzanne said, had always been the fearless, adventurous, impetuous one.
From her pocket, she pulled a card the artist had given her, in case she changed her mind. It contained the name and address of the man. Being unfamiliar with Paris, she had no idea where to look. But he did. Not only did he know the address; he knew the artist. He was a serious painter with an eye for spotting interesting women as subjects for his work. The Roussel girls, in their fiery, rosy beauty, looked somewhat older than sixteen if one weren’t looking closely, and Suzanne with her refined, reserved manner, seemed much older than the more casual, flirtatious, outgoing Sabrina.
Together they had gone to the artist’s loft, where indeed, they found Sabrina sitting, to his great embarrassment, in all her glory for the portrait. Even though he disapproved of what she was doing, every day after that Stephen, having found out what time her sittings were, would linger outside the loft waiting with Suzanne for Sabrina to emerge. When she did, he would question her about what happened inside. Was it more than just painting that was going on?
Sabrina had been amused and touched by his concern, but she assured him that despite her comfort at sitting in the nude to be painted, she was still a “good” girl otherwise and would remain so until she decided to be otherwise. For some reason, he believed that she was and would. As young as she had been, Sabrina was quite self-assured.
It had been Sabrina who initially drew his attention, but in the end it was Suzanne to whom he found himself drawn. In those late afternoons waiting with her for her sister, he had come to greatly enjoy her company. He was twenty-one, and she was just sixteen, but almost overnight he found himself totally taken with her. She was intelligent, and quite mature beyond her years in her outlook on life. He found her deep, loving concern for her minutes-younger sister endearing. Their father, a wealthy landowner, was big on education and fond of traveling with his wife and daughters, and as a result Suzanne had been quite worldly in her perspectives, which suited him perfectly. There was a gentleness about her, a very feminine softness, while at the same time, he could sense her personal strength and confidence. In a very short time after that first real meeting, she and Sabrina; although they were identical to most eyes, became very different people in his.
It was on their fourth meeting that Suzanne invited him to meet her father in the lobby of the hotel in which her family had been staying during their visit. She had told her father that she had met someone, someone older, and he had urged her to bring her young man to see him. The realization that she was not a girl to lie or to sneak around behind her father’s back with an older young man furthered his regard for her. Henri Roussel, in his wisdom, did not try to discourage the relationship despite the disparity in their ages. By that time, he and Suzanne were both deeply enamored of each other, and Henri’s disapproval probably wouldn’t have stopped anything.
But the older man did take him aside that evening, after sending his daughter up to their suite, and he let him know in no uncertain terms that if he found out that his daughter had been compromised in any way, he would just, plainly and simply, kill him.
It would be some years later before he found out that Simone Roussel, the girls’ equally lovely mother, was ten years younger than her husband, and they too had met when she was rather young.
After their week in Paris was over, (and Sabrina had finished her secret sitting) Suzanne and the Roussel family returned to Perpignan where they had a large home and acres of land where the girls and their parents raised the horses they so loved. Despite the distance and his continuing travels around the world, the romance continued. He went to see Suzanne as often as he could, and they corresponded by letter almost daily.
As soon as Suzanne was graduated from school, much to her father’s relief, they were married in a lavish ceremony on the family’s estate. Their wedding night was still a precious memory for him. He had been her first lover, and he could still recall the tender moments spent that night with her in his arms.
For the next year, almost two, they traveled the world together as he worked in the galleries, and she continued her education. She studied languages, and was fluent in several. After a time, they decided to take part of his trust and part of her father’s endowment to her to build a home. They made the decision to build it in America. They wanted a place of their own to which they could always come when they were done with a journey. Suzanne wanted room to raise horses, and he needed to be close to Washington, D.C. with his work, so they purchased several lush acres in a small town in the state of Maryland upon which to build.
The main house and the stables were just about complete when Suzanne discovered that she was pregnant. For her, the nesting instinct took over and she told him that she wanted to remain home to have the baby and to raise it. It was her desire for their American child to have roots, neighbors, friends, one school, family- the sensibility of which he could clearly see, although he would miss the company of his lovely, exciting partner. As a child, he had been raised in that secure manner, and he wanted the same for his child, but for him the work he was doing in the world had to continue.
Their daughter was born in their new home while he was away in Italy. She had come earlier than they had anticipated, catching him off schedule. Her birth had been difficult, so much so that the doctor speculated that there would be no other children. It was regretful, but it was a situation that he could accept. As long as they had that one baby, he was content that with his frequent absences the youthful Suzanne would not be tied to a house full of children.
When he finally arrived in Maryland, racing across an ocean to get there as quickly as he could, he fully expected to find a sickly baby and an exhausted, ill wife. Instead he came home to little Jennifer Justine Edwards who was tiny, but healthy, safe, and secure in the capable hands of her just-turned-twenty-year-old mother. Despite the difficult labor and delivery, by the time he made it back to American soil, Suzanne was once again on her feet and caring for her own child, leaving the nurse he hired for her with very little to do.
She remained an excellent mother. He provided her with household, kitchen, and personal help so she could be free to care for Jennifer and to do the things she enjoyed doing. No matter where he had to be in the world, he could rest with the assurance that his child was being well cared for by the woman he loved, the woman who just happened to be the child’s mother. For the next twelve years, Jennifer would be their only child and the apple of Suzanne’s (and Sabrina’s) eye.
In appearance everything about her was Suzanne, including the freckles, coloring, and the long, thick red hair, but she had inherited his expressive brown eyes. Suzanne, a fashionable young woman herself, always kept Jennifer immaculately dressed in beautiful French or otherwise European outfits sent to her via Sabrina, who was enjoying being the toast of Paris while maintaining her principle residence in Perpignan.
Shortly after she started walking, Suzanne started Jennifer riding horses. By age three, she was entering equestrian events, and at age five she won her first ribbon. She danced the ballet, played piano, enjoyed singing in the school’s choir, and was a star pupil academically. She swam and excelled in team sports, although her mother tended to try to play down that interest in her. Suzanne often took her to plays, concerts, and operas, which they both enjoyed immensely. When he came home from his travels, his daughter would be eagerly waiting to show him her numerous trophies and awards earned for her many talents and successful efforts, and to tell him of her travels to New York, Washington, Virginia, and places along the east coast with her mother. Every time he went away and came back, she had grown some physically and mentally. As time passed, he could see that even though she tended to sometimes be a little tomboyish in her interests, under her mother’s guidance, Jennifer was growing up to be a fine, genteel, intelligent young lady.
Then, when Jennifer had just turned twelve, Suzanne called him in London to tell him that she was pregnant again. It had been nothing short of a happy miracle that another child was coming after all that time. Instantly he had hoped for a son. He loved his daughter, but every man wanted a son, he’d felt at the time. They decided to wait and tell Jennifer about the baby when they were together, when he was home again.
He had only been back from London one day. The next night they would take Jennifer to dinner and they would tell her about her new brother or sister.
It never happened.
Suzanne had been killed early the next morning on her way back home from taking Jennifer to school, something she insisted upon doing every day even though the school bus would have picked her up and dropped her off at the end of the driveway. Neither he nor Jennifer got to say goodbye to her. Years later, Jennifer told him that when her mother had dropped her off at school, she got out of the car telling her that she would see her later. He had been asleep, recovering from his trip abroad, when they left that morning, and he remembered her kissing him saying that she would be right back. He had always been grateful for having made love with her the night before. With her being newly pregnant, he had been hesitant to do so, but she had insisted that all would be fine. He remembered it to be one of their most wondrous times together.
He never told Jennifer about the baby. There had been no need to add to her sorrow and loss.
There were difficult days leading up to and following Suzanne’s funeral. Actually, there had been two services; one held in Hillhaven for the many friends they had accumulated in their years in the States. Then he and Jennifer had accompanied her body back to Perpignan where Suzanne’s life was celebrated in a graveside ceremony which had been lovingly coordinated by Sabrina. Finally, she was buried in a small cemetery next to their parents who had passed on a few years before.
During that visit, his decades-old stand-off with Sabrina had come about. It started with his not wanting Jennifer to attend that service at the cemetery, thinking it would be too painful and confusing for such a young girl. Sabrina, on the other hand, insisted that Jennifer needed to see exactly where her mother was being laid to rest. They had argued bitterly over it, and it had been Jennifer who finally settled it for them. She walked into the room taking Sabrina by the hand to stand next to her as if they were a united front. She boldly informed him that she was going to see the place in which they would be leaving her mother for the very last time. It wasn’t until then that he realized Jennifer understood that death was final.
As he sat that day looking at the two of them together, he knew that he could not leave Jennifer with Sabrina as he had been tempted to do. Sabrina looked far too much like Suzanne, which left Jennifer looking far too much like Sabrina. He and Jennifer needed to make the clean break physically as well as emotionally. Jennifer was comfortable with Sabrina and they would have been a great source of comfort to each other, but together, even though it might not have been intentional, they would have shut him out completely.
To further his decision, he realized that however much they looked alike, Sabrina was nothing like Suzanne in disposition. Suzanne had been grounded and content with her role as his wife and mother to their child while she continued to pursue her own interests. Sabrina was wealthy, beautiful, and happily unencumbered. She harbored no plans to ever marry or bear children. Jennifer, she’d stated over the years, was all the child she needed, and monogamy, she often asserted, had not been not designed for her. He considered his hedonistic sister-in-law to be a basically decent person, but she was far too unconventional a woman for the times and for his liking. Far too much so to be raising his Jennifer on an every day basis. His wish was for Jennifer to grow up to be the type of woman her mother had been.
And so, much to Sabrina’s loudly voiced disapproval, and to Jennifer’s supreme disappointment, he took his daughter back to the States with him when he returned home.
From that day to the present, Sabrina had never spoken to him directly. She had retained her grudge even though he continued to allow Jennifer to communicate freely with her and to visit her for two weeks every summer just as she had done when her mother had been living. As far as he was concerned, it was just as well that Sabrina removed herself from his life. It was bad enough that Jennifer looked so much like her mother. To have to look upon and interact with Sabrina on a regular basis would have been more than he could bear. Sabrina’s continuing disdain for him over the years in the matter of Jennifer had actually turned into a great convenience.
His initial plan had been to quit working all over the world and remain in the States to raise his child. He made plans to shut down his interests around the globe and to concentrate his attentions on his operations in Washington, D.C. What he hadn’t counted upon was Jennifer wanting nothing to do with him. What she desired was what she could never have again, her mother. She stopped eating, she stopped talking, and she acted as if she heard nothing that was said to her. She also stopped going to school. He would take her in the mornings, but she wouldn’t stay, somehow managing to slip away and make her way back home to hide in the stables until the school officials would alert him to her absence, or one of the stable hands would find her and come to tell him that she was there.
Despite talking to her, warning her, and even going so far as threatening her, he couldn’t get her to do anything. No matter how early he rose on the weekends, she would already be gone, off riding the grounds on her horse, Sweet Sue. She would stay away for hours at a time, often until he came looking for her. In two weeks time, after their return from France, she was as thin as a rail, sallow, and stubbornly silent. Then she took to sleeping for long periods of time. It was depression and he was desperate to help her, but he didn’t how to go about it. He had no knowledge of what to do with a little girl, a little girl who would soon be a young woman, a little girl who wouldn’t talk to him, a little girl so hauntingly like her mother. It was as if the biological connection was that was left between them.
Finally, at his wit’s end, he called upon his old friend, Agnes Marchand who was head mistress at a prestigious girls’ school in Massachusetts.
“Stephen, hasn’t she come yet?” Agnes had stuck her head into the door to where he still sat alone in front of the window with his drink and his cigar.
“No, but I imagine she couldn’t just tear herself away from Jonathan right off.” He answered, wondering himself what else it could be that might be keeping her. She almost never made him wait for anything when they were anywhere together. “They’re still so much in love. She’ll be along presently, I’m sure.”
“I’m going up to get changed. You feel free to make yourself at home.” She offered before ducking back out.
He settled down into his chair and eased back into his thoughts.
“How ever did you find all of these things?” Jennifer asked Eva as she sat across from her at a small corner table in the Gresham Hall archives room in the basement of the Main Hall where Eva had brought them after leaving Wimberly House.
“Copious research” Eva smiled. “You and I were-”
“-famous for it” Jennifer smiled back. “I never would have known. I never once suspected.”
Piled in front of her were documents, envelopes of receipts, old ledgers, pictures- all of which dated back over a span of over forty years, most of it before records had begun to be kept by computers.
“You didn’t have a reason to, Jennifer.” Eva said as she watched her friend sift through the papers, many of them yellowed with age. “As far as you knew, this was just the place where you got sent to go to school. I wouldn’t have known either if I hadn’t had to do the research to find out what all Dean Marchand had contributed to the school for my speech at the retirement presentation. That’s when I found out the things about your father and your husband. You are connected to two really special guys, Jen.”
Jennifer nodded. She had always known that Jonathan was generous and thoughtful, so what Eva had found out about him had not really surprised her. But all the things about Pa. Why hadn’t he ever said anything?
All those years spent in anger…
He had known Dean Marchand almost all of his life, and yet he hadn’t said a word to her about it in all those years . Why hadn’t he told her? All those years, Dean Marchand knew exactly whose daughter she was. Yet she had never let on either. And Miss Smythe. Although she, her father, and the Dean all shared the same accent and speech patterns, and as astute as she was in that area, it had never occurred to her to even question it.
The stables, the infirmary, the houses, the lower school and underclass dorms, the mainframe, the intranet system, the computers and all technical equipment… nobody had said anything. It had all just been done. Why?
What was it her father wanted to say to her now?
Whatever it was, and despite all she was learning, she wasn’t sure that she was ready to hear it.
With her father gone, having stated that he was tired and returning to the inn, J.J. maneuvered the wheelchair over to the window in order to be able to lean on the sill to watch the soccer game in progress on the lawn outside. Off on the other side, where she couldn’t see out to, she could hear the jazz band performing. On her side, Josh and Frank were playing in the game, but she didn’t see Teddy. Marnie was sitting at a nearby picnic table with Madison, Dee and the others, as well as several of the Brookfield boys, but as she swung one bare leg to the beat of the music, her eyes were focused on the male action on the field. Marnie Benson was on the scent and J.J. figured Josh was her intended target for the evening. All of them outside would be having their dinner catered on the lawn and dessert would be the ice cream.
The windows were closed because of the air conditioning, so it wasn’t as if she could even talk to anybody. She could see out, but they couldn’t see in to her. She wanted to be with them, especially with the live band, but she knew that was out of the question. Her father had told her to stay put, and this time she would. The ankle was throbbing, the way injuries did as night approached, and that made her want to keep still.
Realizing how tired she was behind everything that had happened that day, she propped her elbow on the padded arm of the chair, slumped down a bit, and rested her cheek in her hand to drift off to sleep.
She was just about gone when she heard a newly familiar voice ask through the haze, “Aren’t you going to eat before you get taken up to bed? I don’t want you hungry like last night.”
Opening her eyes and looking up, she found Teddy standing over her carrying a huge covered dinner tray.
“Since you couldn’t come out to dinner, I brought dinner in to you. I saw your father leave, so I knew the coast was clear.”
“I swear you have some genie in you, Teddy!” She happily cried. “You just keep popping up out of no where.”
Then she leaned over the arm of the chair to peer down at his feet.
“What are you looking at?” He asked, looking down too.
“I’m looking for the puff of smoke that should be coming up from around and under your feet. How come you aren’t playing out there on the Green? I was watching the game, but I didn’t see you. You look like you play.”
“I do play.” He said as he set the tray on the table and came to get her to wheel her over to it. “But I wasn’t going out there this afternoon and getting all sweaty. Then I wouldn’t have been able to come in here and have dinner with you. I just waited your Dad out, then I came in and talked Miss Smythe into letting me come in and keep you company. She said we had to leave the door open, though What’s that all about?”
“You know how they think.” J.J. said taking the cover off their food and handing him his place setting. “Like because we’re teenagers, all we think about is closing up with each other and jumping each other’s bones.” She caught herself, and then looked up at him realizing that he might not know how to take her. “I’m sorry. I can be awfully blunt. It’s just not in my nature to beat around the bush about things.”
He laughed. “You’re okay with me, J.J. I like people who cut to the chase.”
“Then you’ll be crazy about me.” She told him.
Still watching out of the window at the young people on the Quad, Stephen’s mind drifted back once again to those long ago days.
He had reluctantly enrolled Jennifer in Gresham Hall after bringing her to tour the campus. By that time, she had stopped speaking to him or acknowledging his presence at all. She had been a tiny thing with a will of iron, and she had been so angry with the world. At Agnes’ gentle urging, he signed the paperwork and left her sitting on the side of a bed in the best suite of one of the finest residences on the campus, #1 Waverly House. He got back to the car and broke down in tears as his gentleman’s gentleman, Walter drove him back to Hillhaven, where they shut down the house and left for an extended stay in Europe.
His little family had fallen apart.
For the next three months, the remainder of the school year, Jennifer refused his calls and would not answer his letters. The only news he had of her came from Agnes, who said that she was academically gifted, but remained quiet and withdrawn with the adults around her. She had, however, again according to Agnes, fit in well with her peers in Waverly and in her classes, particularly with one Patricia Rose Hamilton of the Southampton, NY Hamiltons. He was glad of that. Surely a girl from that background would be a positive influence on his own.
At the end of the term, he arrived to pick her up to take her home for the summer. Actually, his plan had been to take her to London and then to Cairo with him during the summer months. But she was so cold and defiantly distant that the first leg of the trip, London, had been miserable. He ended up sending her on to Perpignan to spend the rest of the time with Sabrina.
He called, he wrote and while there, Jennifer would take his calls and answer his letters, but he could tell from her terseness and brevity, and from her refusal to speak English, that she was only communicating with him at Sabrina’s urging.
Finally, toward the end of that first summer, he received a letter in his office in Cairo. It was written in Sabrina’s hand on her distinctive stationery. Opening it, he found the most profound message of his life.
Although she was fairly fluent in the language, Sabrina had rarely spoken English with him, and he had never seen her write it. However, she had written that message clearly and precisely, in her best English, as if she wanted no misunderstanding, and for nothing at all to be lost in the interpretation:
“You said you were taking her home to be with you because you were her father. So why is my niece able to be bossing you?
Be her father and make her pay mind to you, or give her forever to me. Your weak behavior is making her a brat (bad girl?) with you. My sister would not appreciate what you are letting her do with you. The choice and the challenge are for you if you are a man enough to accept them.
Who is the adult? You or Jennifer? My beautiful sister is dead. I regret you have no wife, but you have still a little daughter.
Grow a spine, you selfish bastard. You weep for Suzanne and let Jennifer do bad things because you are sad. You must raise your daughter. You are her father and she is to listen to you, not to tell you what is she not going to do. She is a confused, sad girl who has lost her mother. She needs her father now to be a strong man.
She needs you more than before to be her Papa now.
God bless you,
Her Papa. That was how she took to calling him, “Pa”. He had always been her Papa. When had he stopped?
Immediately upon reading that note, he phoned Perpignan and instructed Sabrina’s housekeeper to pack Jennifer’s things, and he flew out the next day to fetch her. He arrived to find her alone in her room at Sabrina’s house, stone-faced and rigid.
Without a word, he walked up to her, gathered her in his arms and held her there in a way that he hadn’t done since she had been very small. He held on to her through her struggling to get away from him until she tired, went limp in his arms, and began to sob in rage and sorrow.
It was the first time that he had known her to cry in all the time that her mother had been gone. It was certainly the first time that she had cried with him, the first time that she let him know how she truly felt about what had happened.
She screamed that she hated the drunk who killed her mother, and that she hated him for not being the one to die. He was gone all the time anyway, she screamed at him through her tears. Her mother had been the one to be there with her all of her life. She wanted her mother back.
While still holding on tightly to her, he told her that he knew that she hated him, and that he would give up his own life if he thought it would bring her mother back to her, but it wouldn’t. She was gone from them, and despite how she felt about him, he still loved her. He told her that they were all each other had, and that they would just have to make do. There was no way to change what had happened. They had to work with what was.
He looked up to at that point to find Sabrina standing in the doorway watching them, looking so frightfully like Suzanne that he was at first startled. She was nodding her head like Suzanne would have done to let him know that he was doing just fine. Then she turned and left the door, and he didn’t see her again. She kept to her room until they were gone.
In the ensuing years, when she came to America to visit, Sabrina would go directly to see Jennifer at school, or in New York, Los Angeles, or wherever she was in the States. When he was in France, he never looked her up or called. At Christmas and on their birthdays, they exchanged cards. He would send her pictures of Jennifer as she was growing up, but that had been the extent of their communication for all those many years. Since that day in the bedroom, he had only seen Sabrina in the flesh one other time. That was when she attended Jennifer’s wedding. Even then, although they put on cordial faces for the public, they hadn’t exchanged a single word. Except for the time spent in the church, where they sat side-by-side, and for the pictures that were taken, they maintained their respectful distances from one another.
But he had always kept that note Sabrina had written to him in his billfold. It was now worn and taped in several places from where it had begun to tear in the folds, but still he carried it. Despite their stand-off, he would be forever grateful to her for her intervention. That had been an entirely selfless act on her part. It would have been quite easy for her to try to talk him into leaving Jennifer with her. She was very fond of her and would have gladly taken her in to raise her in France, and with the state of affairs being what they had been, he might have done it had she not challenged him in that manner. Despite all of what he saw as her flaws, he knew Sabrina to have a good and decent heart.
That had been the beginning of the healing between he and Jennifer, and it took a few more years before that bond of mutual trust and respect they had come to share was firmly established. His hope had been that his old and dear friend, Agnes, and Jennifer might bond in some way, but it had never happened. Jennifer would never again see another woman in her life as a mother figure, not even Sabrina.
It was a strange thing to watch it unfold before him a second time, and it was gratifying to know their closeness, but he could see the same thing developing with his granddaughter. Should something, God forbid, ever happen to Jennifer, he doubted that Justine would ever accept a surrogate of any sort. Like her mother, Justine would be finished with that part of her life, and she would go on to finish raising herself upon the foundation which her own mother, Jennifer, had begun.
Jennifer’s second school year at Gresham Hall brought about the solidifying of her friendship with Patricia. Patricia’s family was old money, but very negligent in terms of nurturing and guiding her. Her mother was deceased and her playboy father was frequently absent. She was wild, and Jennifer reveled in it. Together they were outrageous. Agnes frequently had to call to report their behavior to him. Sometimes she’d even had to go so far as to send for him.
She suspended them the time she caught Jennifer smoking- his cigars, no less, in the window of their room in Waverly House. Jennifer had the window open, allowing the smoke to be drawn outside, while inadvertently drawing Agnes’ attention at the same time as she took her evening walk on the Quad. Then there was the time he had to fly in from Barcelona when Patricia was caught necking in the stables with a Gresham Hall boy while Jennifer acted as lookout. She had nearly set the stable afire when she accidentally dropped the cigarette she had been smoking into a pile of straw when she saw the Dean coming. While trying to alert Patricia and her friend, she hadn’t quite been able to stomp the butt all the way out and the straw began to quickly smolder. It took the three culprits and Agnes to put it out.
Agnes had been unable to contact Patricia’s father for that one, and that had been the beginning of his having to check on two “daughters”. When they returned from their banishment, Jennifer and Patricia had stable duty for the rest of that term.
There had been a second suspension, the time they practically blew up the chemistry lab. The resulting fire had damaged much of the equipment in the room, and he and Patricia’s father were required to pay for it all. He’d “punished” Jennifer by making her stay with him that summer and working rather than traveling to be with Sabrina as he had been allowing her to do every summer. On top of that, he told her that she would have to sever her friendship with Patricia. There had been far too much trouble in those four years.
That hadn’t worked out too well on any front. That was the summer that he had to be all over the world, and Jennifer was right with him, but enjoying every moment. Traveling together had been the major element to facilitate bringing them together. It seemed his passion for far-off places had been reborn in his child. He loved showing and teaching her things, and much to his satisfaction, she was an extremely quick study and an able, eager globetrotter. Like him, she was a meticulous researcher, often helping him dig through files and archives for information he sought. They soon discovered that she was a prodigy with languages, an ability she must have inherited from her mother. After a short time, she was so adept that she was translating several different languages for him and his work in the galleries.
The year that Jennifer and Pat were sixteen, their junior year, Agnes arranged at the beginning of the fall semester for Patricia to be moved across the Quad to Wimberly House. He sent Jennifer back to school, strictly forbidding her to have anything to do with Patricia. A week into that first semester, he’d called Agnes to check on the situation. She dutifully reported that she had looked out of her window that first day to see the two of them run to each other and heartily embrace in the middle of the Quad, only to walk off together arm-in-arm. Later that same night, she had personally broken up a hair, nails, and card party in Waverly where Pat and the ‘good’ girls from Wimberly, Midge and Georgette, had sneaked across the Quad to join Jennifer, Eva, and their girls in Suite #1.
It had been a losing proposition from the start. Switching roomies, switching houses; none of it had helped. They simply corrupted everyone with whom they came into contact. For the rest of their time at Gresham, Wimberly and Waverly Houses were the places to be for the students, and the places to raid for the staff.
Agnes had tried her best, and he was grateful for the watchful eye she kept on Jennifer over those six years. Agnes Marchand, although Jennifer never took to her as he would have liked, did manage to gain her attention and respect, and she had gotten her ear; which was what she needed, a fact to which she had alluded in her speech earlier that afternoon in the auditorium. She kept both Jennifer and Patricia on track academically, if not socially, never allowing them to neglect their studies in any way, and it had paid off. She had even imported a personal monitor for Jennifer, once it was established that she would be in attendance. She’d sent to Wales for her younger half-sister, Belinda Smythe, whom she installed in Waverly as house mother, but specifically as an extra set of eyes and nurturing hands for Jennifer. He sometimes got the feeling that Belinda Smythe had been corrupted to some extent as well, seeing and not seeing some things when it came to Jennifer and Patricia. He was fairly certain that there were plenty of in-house secrets that had never been revealed to him or to Agnes, but Belinda never seemed to let things go too far on her watch without either handling it herself or reporting them.
Jennifer and Patricia had arrived at Gresham Hall as lost and confused little girls, and they had gone on from there to become successful, accomplished women. He felt that he owed a debt of gratitude that would never be paid in full. What he was proposing was his attempt to give back some of what had been given. Those two, Agnes and Belinda, would be taken care of for the rest of their days.
He hoped that when Jennifer got there, she would be able to see it that way when he let her know what was on his mind.
“J.J., may I ask you something? Promise you won’t get mad at me?”
Teddy had waited until J.J. finished the last of her dinner and had placed her napkin on the table before he worked up the nerve to pose the question that had been eating at him since they’d sat outside talking the night before.
“I guess I owe you big.” She sighed in anticipation of his asking something uncomfortable. “You’ve been nothing but good to me ever since I met you. So go ahead, shoot.”
He wiped his mouth with his napkin and then began gathering their dishes to place them back on the tray.
“I want to ask you about Wesley.” He said and he immediately saw her almost imperceptibly stiffen. If he hadn’t been watching her for that reaction, he might have missed it.
She looked up at him. “Before I answer you, I need to ask you something.”
“Why do you want to know?” She asked.
He smiled. She was one cagey girl.
“Because he’s said all these things about you, about how you and him are practically engaged.”
“Yeah, how his folks and your folks belong to the same country club and how everybody thinks you’d make a good couple and everything. But after talking with you and being out with you; you don’t seem like his type at all. You’re nothing like I thought you would be after hearing him spout off.”
“So what were you thinking about what I would be like? What were you expecting me to be?”
“That you’d be some really pretty, but really top-drawer snooty California socialite. We’ve heard volumes about all the money your folks have, and all the things you get to do, and the places you’ve been, but after meeting you, I’ve come to the conclusion that he had to be lying about all that. I just can’t see you, the real person that you are, with him.”
“Is that the only reason you want to know?”
He leaned forward in his chair, clasping his hands in front of him. “J.J., no strings, no hidden agendas. I’m just trying to make sense of things, that’s all. I don’t like it when things don’t add up, so I end up having to do the math. You seem so interesting; I haven’t known you long at all, but I like your style already, and I want to know all about you.”
She leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes. He couldn’t help but marvel at how pretty she was, especially with all that hair loose and hanging down the back of the chair and all over her shoulders. He couldn’t think of any girl he had ever met with so much hair. For a moment, Rapunzel came to mind.
Folding her hands on her lap, she seemed to contemplate his question for a minute or so; and when she finally spoke, she kept her eyes closed.
“I don’t know what he’s told you, Teddy, but Wesley is someone I’ve known all my life. He’s older than me, which you already know, so he’s known me since I was a baby. Our mothers went here to Gresham Hall together and stayed on the Quad. When I was little, he didn’t like me much and he would push me away. I used to pester him about letting me play ball and tennis with him and the other boys at the club and stuff. I was really very good but he would never let me play just because I was a girl. When I got to be like thirteen or so, he started in on me at my birthday party, again just because I was a girl. He’s liked me for a while, and he’s basically okay with me, but no, I’m not his girl. He has wanted me to be, but I’m not at that place in my life. Wesley just has a hard time taking no for an answer, but I’m afraid that he’s going to have to accept it in my case. As we’ve gotten older, and I’ve gotten to know myself better, I’ve come to understand that he isn’t my type and he probably won’t ever be. Lately I try to avoid him as much as I can so that he can’t get the idea that I’m leading him on or anything. Actually, I’m hoping that he’ll get over it and leave me be. I really don’t know why he pursues me. Everybody who knows me, knows that I don’t date anybody at all exclusively yet, so it’s nothing personal. I go out with guys occasionally, but I’m not serious about anyone.”
A sigh of relief escaped from Teddy’s lungs before he could catch it, and he earnestly hoped that she hadn’t heard it.
“Why is that?” he asked when he could get it together. “Is there any particular reason? Are your parents strict about that or something?”
She chuckled. “My father gets a little anal about it at times.”
“Yeah,” Teddy agreed. “I’ve already checked that out. He doesn’t want anybody too close to you. He and his friend moved me and Josh out of the way up in the balcony. They just came up there and took over. They took our drinks, our seats, the bowl of pretzels, everything. Who was the guy with him, J.?”
“My godfather.” J.J. laughed. “Daddy’s best friend. His name is Bill McDowell. He owns McDowell Aviation and he came with Daddy to see my Aunt Pat. They’re an item.”
“What about your mother? Is she funny about it. I couldn’t get a fix on her when I came up there to your room and you introduced us. She can eye a guy pretty hard, though. I think she was sizing me up. You look like your mother, but you’ve got eyes like your father.”
“My eyes are just blue like his.”
“You look at people like he does. Like you can see through them. That was the first thing I noticed about him up in that balcony, his eyes and that they were like yours. I knew right off he had to be your father.”
He noticed that she smiled a little at that.
“Now my mother,” J.J. continued in answer to his earlier question. “She’s kind of okay about that sort of thing. My mother probably wouldn’t mind a whole lot, I don’t think, if I decided that I wanted to casually date some one person on a regular basis. She doesn’t get as bent out of shape as Daddy, and she mostly lets me make my own decisions on that. It’s mostly just me who’s the hold up. I personally don’t want to be bothered with the stuff that goes with being involved with someone on that level. I just want to be me right now, not be somebody else’s girl. And I don’t know enough about what I want for me to be imposing myself and my needs on somebody else. When you get into dating and all of that, you have to be at least some of what the other person wants or needs you to be. I just don’t feel like that. I’m not ready for all of that.”
He had been listening to her in wonder. “Aren’t you just sixteen?” He asked. “You said your birthday was in May?”
She nodded, eyes still closed.
“Then how’d you get so smart and so sure of yourself at such a young age?”
A contented smile played at her lips, as she answered him as honestly as she could.
“I’m not always as sure about J.J. Hart as I might sound,” She said to him, “But I am certain of one thing. I’ve got a good mother and a good father. That makes all the difference in the world.”
Early Saturday Evening
Jonathan, having had a full day himself, left J.J. to hail a taxi to take him to the Gresham Inn where he retired to Jennifer’s room. He had flown from LA to Maryland early that morning after picking up Bill in Nevada. Then he had been on the phone off and on all morning with Miss Smythe and Dr. Irvine, as well as the doctor and the physical therapist in Maryland that Dr. Irvine had arranged for J.J. to see the next week. Bill had flown them into Boston from Maryland while he sat and talked with Jennifer’s father about his plans.
Too tired to get completely undressed, he took off his shirt and shoes and lay back on the bed hoping to catch a brief nap. Normally, he didn’t rest during the day like that, but it hadn’t exactly been a normal day, and with Jennifer and J.J. away from him, he hadn’t slept that well the night before. He had just begun to doze off when he heard the lock being activated. He was pleasantly surprised to open his eyes and see Jennifer enter the room.
He rolled over and propped himself up on one elbow to ask. “”You back already? I thought you’d be over at the Dean’s talking with your father most of the evening.”
“No.” She answered as she put her purse and her folder with her notes from the presentation on the table. “I ended up not going to see him after all. I went to see Eva, and then I came here instead.”
Jonathan sat all the way up. “You didn’t go see your father after he specifically sent for you? Taking lessons in absenteeism from your own daughter?”
Reluctantly, she had to smile as she turned toward him. “I guess I didn’t see it like that,” She admitted. “But I see that I can count on you to point it out to me that way, though.”
Crossing the room to go to him, she began unbuttoning the jacket to the navy blue suit she wore. “What are you doing back here?” She asked when she sat down on the side of the bed next to him. “I thought you’d still be with J.J. or with Bill and Pat having dinner.”
“Were you hoping I wouldn’t be here or something?” He asked as he moved her hands aside to finish the job of unfastening her jacket and then removing it from her arms.
“Of course not.” She laughed quietly as she bent down to kiss the tip of his nose. “There’s no better place for me to run into you than the bedroom, and after all these years, you know that.”
“You know it.” He smiled and had to lick his suddenly parched lips as he took in her ample cleavage which peeked out at him over the lacy bra she had worn under the jacket.
“I spoke with J.J.” He said. “And it seems that Bill and Pat had plans other than dinner, and those plans didn’t include a third party. At least not this particular third party. I don’t swing in that direction.”
“You’d better not.” She responded, playfully pushing him back onto the pillows and taking her jacket from him.
He watched her go to the closet to hang it up, and he could tell that she was tense. He wondered if it was the idea of talking with her father or having to fuss at J.J. that had her upset.
After stepping out of the skirt, she hung it up as well. She came out of the closet and slid down the half slip, tossing it onto the chair before coming back to the bed in her bra and panties to lie down with him. He wrapped her up securely in his arms and felt her relax somewhat as she told him, “I’m so glad you’re here in Gresham.”
“Were you really surprised?” He asked. “It’s hard for us to put one over on you. I didn’t even let J.J. in on it this time, even though I’ve talked with her a couple of times since you left.”
I couldn’t believe it when I saw Pa walk out onto that stage, and I really couldn’t believe seeing you and Bill up in the balcony with that rascal of a daughter of yours. Pa looks so well.” She twisted around so that she was facing him and snuggled back down in his arms. “I wasn’t looking forward to a weekend without this.”
She pressed her face to his chest as he buried his nose in her hair, inhaling the familiar citrus/floral smell of it.
“Me neither.” He admitted. “I’m sorry J.J. got herself hurt, but I’m happy to be staying over with you because of it. How’s your head?”
“My head?” She asked, craning her neck to look up at him.
“Pat said that you were in pretty bad shape this morning when I called. When you told me last night that you had gotten into the bourbon, I knew this would happen. I don’t know why you insist on drinking with Pat. Her gut is lined in cast iron, yours is made of velvet. You can’t do it the way that she can, and you know it. Even a little of that stuff does you in.”
“It was fun while it was going down, though.” She sighed. “I’m okay. In light of all the surprises today, I’ve pretty much pushed it to the back, I guess.”
She could feel his smile in the way that he held her to him.
“What did J.J. have to say about spending her week on the mend at Briarwood?” She asked.
“She was none too pleased, but I let her know that she didn’t have a choice. She felt better when I told her that Marnie could go too.”
Jennifer moaned. “A whole week with those two. You told me it would just be a weekend when I left home yesterday.”
“I could take Marnie back with me when I fly out tomorrow.” He said. “But I think she would be better off in Maryland with you and J.J. When I called her mother to ask her about it, I didn’t like what she said.”
“What was it she said?”
“It seems she’s flying out to Texas tonight, and she’ll be there a week. She said that Marnie could come home if she wanted to; the help would be there with her, or she could stay with us and go to Maryland. It sounded as if she hadn’t even let Marnie know that she was leaving and she wasn’t really concerned about her being at home alone for a week. I don’t like the idea of Marnie going home and not finding her mother there, and then her being in LA alone like that, without her mother there or us. That’s why I’d appreciate it if you’d take her on to Maryland and keep her with you.”
Jennifer squirmed in mild dissatisfaction. “When did I get two children, Jonathan? I only gave birth to one, that I recall. It’s as if I’m the one who’s raising Marnie, and she only goes home to her mother on visits.”
“When J.J. went to kindergarten and met Marnie, we picked up a cursing five-year-old. You are the best thing that could have happened to that girl, Jennifer and you know it. Think of what she could be like by now.”
“She’d be a cursing, hot-tailed sixteen-year-old, with a trail of young men a mile long.” Jennifer answered. “I guess you do have a point.”
“Nature has a way of making sure that the right people end up in the places and positions where they’re most needed.” He said quietly as he played in her hair.
“So, Jennifer, was that the latest young man that I’m going to have to light a fire under about J.J. Hart?” He asked in reference to Teddy. “When I think that she’s only sixteen, and this is only the beginning…Let’s see, there’s Tommy, Wesley, Deon, Sidney, Chase, Chance, maybe Ollie, now this character.”
“Sidney’s gay, Jonathan. He doesn’t count. Deon, Chance, and Ollie are definitely just friends, and the rest of that first group are at arm’s length with J.J for the time being. As far as Teddy’s concerned, we’re leaving tomorrow. There won’t be that much time or reason for you to get the fire lit.”
“It won’t be over.” He answered matter-of-factly. “That’s one that’s going to continue coast to coast, you mark my words. That boy knows horses and he likes to ride them, just like our daughter. He carried J.J. in his arms up and down flights of stairs- more than once, and she let him get close enough to do it. Then he did the ultimate: he came back and met you, her mother- on his own- in order to get back with her. A guy doesn’t do all that, especially voluntarily meet the girl’s mother, for no reason. I never, ever went to meet the girl’s mother on my own. That one there is gone, I know it. And I also noticed that she had her hair down when I left her. She do that for him? She doesn’t even do that for me.”
Jennifer said nothing, and he knew not to pursue it any farther. They still didn’t see things eye-to-eye on the matter of J.J. and the opposite sex, and so they had come to a cordial impasse, both of them knowing when to let the matter drop.
“Tell me why you didn’t go see your father.” He said to change the subject. “Did you at least call him to let you know that you weren’t coming? You know he’s sitting there still waiting for you, if you didn’t.”
The thought of her elderly father sitting in the window waiting and looking out onto the Quad for her stirred her heart. Moving Jonathan’s arms from her, she rolled over to the phone and dialed the Dean’s residence, telling whoever it was who answered the phone to inform her father that she had been delayed and would be coming by later that evening instead.
Then she rolled back over to Jonathan. “I can’t believe I did that. I should have called him. I guess I’m on overload. Thank you for saying something.” She lay her head on his chest once more. “I was really hoping to talk to you first.”
“About how wonderful and how horrible you are.”
“Oh, now that should be a conversation.” He smiled. “Just how is it that I’m horrible?”
“First of all, you have evidently known about J.J. since it happened this morning, but nobody told me about it until way into the afternoon, and not until after you got here. The two of you try to keep things from me all the time, and I don’t like it one bit.”
“And you and J.J. tell me everything, I take it.” He countered.
“Jonathan, the things we don’t tell you are things we take care of on our own without worrying you. They’re usually girl-things, mother-daughter things.”
“So it was a father-daughter thing this time, and we didn’t want to worry you. It got handled. At the time, J.J. didn’t think you needed to know, so she called her Daddy and her Daddy took care of it long distance.”
“Her Daddy.” Jennifer huffed. “More like her personal wad of putty.”
“And happy to be it.” He smiled as he bent to kiss her forehead. “That’s my girl, just like you’re your Daddy’s girl. He was probably pretty pliant in your hands as well.”
“I was never able to manipulate my father the way that J.J. does you.”
“I bet Stephen would see it differently, but on to the good part. You said that I was wonderful, too. What’s that about?”
“It’s about pc’s, laptops, mainframes, wiring, internet connections, software, etc., etc., all courtesy of Hart Technologies, your personal division of Hart Industries. What can you tell me about that?”
When he didn’t say anything, she looked up to see his face. “Well?”
“What’s to say?” He answered, shrugging his shoulders. “It needed to be done, so I had it done. That was years ago.”
“Who approached you with the idea? How did you even know that it needed doing, all the way out there on the west coast like you are? Was it Pa? And who financed it all?”
He held her closer and kissed her again on the forehead. “It’s done, Jennifer. It’s not your concern. I take care of Mission Street in the manner that I do because I’m grateful for all that it gave to me as a boy. I’m also grateful to Gresham Hall and to your father for taking such good care of you until fate could put you in the same place as me that day in London. Let’s face it, as much as we might not have liked having to be in either of those places, neither of us would likely be who we are if it hadn’t been for those two institutions. Your father is a good man. Every time I look at you, I can see that. I don’t know that I would have done as well with J.J. if I had been faced with raising her on my own when she was twelve. Do you remember what she was like when she was twelve? Mighty rough little patch, that was. She’s only just beginning to get her sanity back.”
“Jonathan, you would have been fine. You’re a different kind of father than Pa was. You have always been hands-on. You’ve always been right there for her every day of her life, and the two of you have always had such a strong, positive relationship despite the fact that you let her run all over you. Pa and I had to get to know each other after my mother…..left…..died. It was very different with us. He was like a stranger to me at first. I remember that so vividly now.. that I’m… talking about it.” He noticed that her voice had taken on a sound of wonder.
He lifted her from him and rolled over on his side so that they could see each other’s faces. Jennifer rarely spoke of her mother, and almost never talked about anything connected to her mother’s death. He could hear the difficulty she was having in speaking of it then, but any opening she gave on that subject, he gently took, knowing that at those rare times that she did open up, she was at a point where she needed to talk about it.
“Jennifer, the times were different.” He began. “Your parents were traditionalists of the highest order. He went out and worked. She stayed home and raised the child. Their roles were black and white. There wasn’t any blending. You and I, we’ve always done it together. I couldn’t have done it any other way, personally. As good as you are with J.J., I need to be right in there, if not for her, then for myself. But all of that aside, you know that your father has always loved you.”
“But I spent so many years being angry with him. At times, even though I’m know that I’ve moved past it, I can still feel it. I felt it when we drove onto the grounds yesterday, and I felt it when I was in my old room with J.J. earlier today. Why didn’t he tell me?”
“Tell you what?”
“Tell me about all the things he’d done? About his relationship with Dean Marchand? I never knew until today that he knew her personally and that they came from the same village in Wales. I never knew until today that Miss Smythe is her sister, well half-sister, but family just the same. She was in the same house with me all those years and I never knew that she knew my father. Were you aware of the things that Pa’s done at Gresham? Jonathan, there were no stables before I came here. I assumed the school put them in. But I found out today that Pa had them built. The new dorms for the lower school and the underclassmen, Pa arranged to have them built. He’s personally subsidized the upkeep on Waverly and Wimberly Houses. I found out that he even sent for Miss Smythe to come over from Wales, and that he supplements her salary to this day. Why didn’t he tell me any of that?”
“Like I told you, he’s a traditionalist. You are his child. Granted. you’re his full grown child now, but he’s still more grown than you and in his mind, he didn’t have to tell you any of that. It wasn’t your business. He was doing what he wanted to do for whatever reasons he had for doing them, and it wasn’t your concern. Like with me, I have no need to tell J.J. about the computer labs at her school, and I’m not nearly the stiff-neck that your father is about things. I had my reasons for doing what I did, and he had his. Go past his not telling you, Jennifer, and think about what his underlying motivation was for doing them. Think about what your own motivation is for supporting the causes that you support. Why do you take up the time you take with Marnie? And beyond that, consider why you’re so interested in J.J.’s friend, Charmaine and her writing.”
When her mouth fell open at that latter question, he winked. “I’ve been watching you with Charmaine; I’ve seen you looking over her shoulder while she’s working with J.J. on an article for the school paper, talking with her about her pieces in progress. I’ve seen you reading her columns in the school paper when J.J. brings them home. She’s talented isn’t she? Her grandmother may not be able to send her to that college in Atlanta that she speaks of unless some things fall into place, right?”
Slipping his fingers under her chin and lifting her face to kiss her, he asked afterward. “Are things going to fall into place for that talented little writer, Jennifer? And why would you do that? What’s your underlying motivation? Who is the reason why Charmaine is part of your universe? Why haven’t you talked about what you’ve been doing with that? Are you planning to share that with J.J.? What about how you’ve been working with her cousin, Nikki when she comes by and shows you her poetry she’s written?”
With her face turning very red at his making that part of the situation crystal clear for her with those most graphic examples, she whispered, “Touche’.”
“But Jonathan,” She continued after a moment. “I still don’t understand his not telling me about the Dean. And what is it he wants to talk to me about so badly? He said as much to me after the presentation, and then he sent you to Waverly to get me. You flew over with him. Did he say anything to you about it? Why is he really here? Is it something about her and him?”
As she was speaking, he could feel her agitation.
“Why is it making you so crazy?” He asked, a little unnerved by her reaction. “Why didn’t you just go over there and hear what he had to say?”
“I don’t know. I just didn’t. Didn’t he tell you anything on the plane on the way over?”
“You’ll have to speak with your father about that.” Jonathan finally answered as he gently rubbed the skin in the middle of her back. He had reached around and unfastened her bra after he finished unpinning her hair from the French roll she had been wearing and pulling it down with his fingers to her shoulders where he preferred it. “But not right now.”
“Later.” She agreed with a knowing smile when he pulled the lacy garment away from her body to drop it and the hairpins onto the floor behind him, and then took her face in his hands.
He could relax her, she could ease him into sleep, and they would both be ready for the remainder of their Saturday evening.
When Miss Smythe came in to briefly check on Teddy, J.J., and her ankle, they had finished eating and had cleared the dishes from the table. On her way back out, she took the dish-filled tray with her, letting them know that she would be back shortly to take J.J. upstairs.
“But it’s not even dark outside yet.” J.J. mumbled irritably. “What a gyp!.”
“Feel like some ice cream, J.?” He asked in an attempt to keep her spirits from flagging while they still had time to talk. “I’ll go and get some for us if you do.”
“None for me,” She answered. “I’m stuffed for now. But you can go ahead and get some for you if you want it.”
“I can wait. I’m pretty stuffed too. Dinner was great.”
He scooted his chair around so that he was closer to her.
“Yeah, it was pretty good.” She agreed. “But then, I’m not ever too picky about what I eat. I hate cauliflower, though. Makes me sick to look at it. Hey Teddy, we’ve talked about me, but you haven’t said much about yourself. Tell me about you, about your folks.”
“Well, ” He began, sitting back and crossing his legs. “I’m the youngest of four kids. I have three sisters, two are in college and my oldest sister just graduated from college. She’s working on Wall Street this summer. She’s real smart. Actually, she’s my half sister. My mother is my father’s second wife and he had the rest of us with her. I was a last minute kid. My dad jokes about it a lot saying that he only got a son because I decided to catch the last train out of baby heaven and slid in at the last minute, just under the wire.”
“You too?” J.J. laughed. “I’m an only child, and my parents had been married ten years before they worked up on me. My mother told me that it was three months before she figured out it wasn’t the flu. Now I ask you, how clueless is that? She rocked her head, grinned a wide, mischievous grin and held up her hands. “Imagine, if you will, her shock. Here I be!”
They both laughed, and then Teddy picked up his tale again.
“I used to live on our horse farm in Virginia until my parents got divorced three years ago. Now I live here, but in Boston with my father. He’s an investment banker, and he and my uncle manage the stables here. That’s who carried you upstairs this morning.”
“-is my uncle. That’s why he snatched me all up in my collar this morning for taking you out and letting you get hurt.
“You didn’t let me get hurt. I just fell. That guy, he’s your uncle? I wondered why he had his hands all over you. I guess family can get away with that sort of thing.”
“Yeah, well. He’s a pretty good guy so I let him, and I guess I sorta deserved it for not letting him know that I was taking you out this morning.”
“I’m sorry about your parents being divorced, Teddy. That must be rough.”
“It’s not so bad.” He admitted. “It’s a lot better than listening to them fight all the time. At least now they get along better. I used to have a lot of trouble with my stomach before they got divorced, but since they broke up, it’s gone away. My parents now think it was stress, related to the tension in our house. They sent me to Brookfield in the ninth grade and they got divorced and I got better. I decided to live in Boston with my dad because it’s closer to school. Usually I go home to Virginia in the summer and spend time with my mother, but this year I got caught doing too much stuff in school and in the dorms. I let my grades slide a little too, so my uncle made me stay here in Gresham with him to get my grade point average back up. I take three classes during the week, and I tend to the horses the rest of the time. Now I’m glad he made me stay this summer since I got to finally meet you, the Mission Street Girl.”
She smiled. “Go on with the story, silly.”
“Well, I already told you both of my parents used to go to school here, but they weren’t in the same class. My father is older than my mother. He and my uncle were in the same graduating class as your mother and your aunt. My uncle says that they used to rule this campus; that there was never a dull moment with the two of them.”
Suddenly highly intrigued, “With who?” J.J. inquired as she leaned in toward him for clarification.
“Your mother and your aunt.” Teddy explained. “My uncle told me that him and my dad and their friends used to sneak over here all the time just to get with them. He said that they were the prettiest and smartest girls here. They knew everybody on this campus and on the Brookfield campus, and they knew how to party to boot. He said they knew all the hang out spots in town, on campus, everything. He told me that they got in trouble all the time, but they were still able to pull off the books. They were always getting awards and getting on the Dean’s nerves at the same time. Even the professors over at Brookfield used to hold your mother and your aunt over the boys’ heads, talking about them in class. The professors knew the guys were coming over here to see them, and they would yell at them about how if they, meaning the boys, couldn’t goof off and keep their grades up the way your mother and your aunt could, then they needed to just focus on one thing or the other; they said that some people were going to be needed to run the country, some folks would be needed to take care of the country, and some folks would be needed to fill up the prisons that were being built and that they could make their own choices. According to my uncle, they were legendary and a bunch of them made up their minds that they’d risk the prison option if it meant they could hang out with those two.”
J.J. leaned back in the chair with a satisfied smile on her face. So, it was hereditary after all, and not just from the paternal side of the family. No wonder her mother anticipated her moves a lot of times. She’d invented some of them. The Duchess certainly had some nerve.
“What about you, J.J.? I know you said that you go to public school. How did that come about? With your parents and your grandfather being who they are, I’m surprised they didn’t send you here.”
She shook her head. “No way. According to what you just told me about my mother and Aunt Pat, that would just have been history repeating itself if I was here. Think about it, Teddy. What was I doing when you first met me? Playing cards, and that was a friendly game only because I didn’t know everybody that well at the time. Normally, I only play for money. If we play tonight, it will definitely be table stakes. What was happening up in that room last night right before we left? A party, that’s what. That’s how it is with me, Teddy. I wouldn’t act right without constant adult supervision. I need to have my mother in my life on a daily basis right now. She’s my check and balance until I get it together and can do it on my own. And where I go, Marnie goes, so we would just be all over the place turning Miss Smythe’s hair snow white instead of steel gray with my card parties and Marnie’s male entourage. I bet if you look out of that window right now, Marnie is sitting out there in that little dress she left here in, with her legs crossed in the middle of a group of boys.” She tapped him and pointed toward the window. “Go look. See for yourself.”
He got up and went to the window. “Yep.” He confirmed with a smile. “And Josh has a ring side seat.”
“She was priming him last night, and she always gets the one she aims for.” J.J. nodded even though he was still looking out of the window. “When you see Josh later, tell him to not get too happy. Marnie goes through guys like somebody with a cold goes through tissues. But once they start acting interested, she’s finished with them. I think it’s the chase that gets her going. Once they’re caught, she loses interest.”
Teddy returned to his seat. “She’s a cutie, but I want to finish hearing about you.”
“Where was I? Oh yeah, I used to go to private school, but my father wanted me to be more exposed to all kinds of people, and he wanted me to be challenged more academically, so he sent me to a public school that has a specific criteria for admittance, and all these standards that have to be maintained in order for us to stay in either of the two programs. One is based on academics and the other is based on specific interests or talents. I’m in the academic program, and partially in the Talented program.”
“I figured you for a scholar. What’s your talent?”
“Music. I play piano and keyboard, but I- this is going to sound weird- but I have an ear for sound. I can’t describe it, but I’m into creating and enhancing sounds, you know, like laying tracks, putting the music together, making things sound better, clearer, working in the sound booth… it’s hard to tell you, to describe… You’d have to see me do it. I hear things, I guess, differently than most people.”
“I know that you’re into dee-jaying. Ollie told me that you’re really good at it. I think I understand what you’re talking about. Doesn’t Tommy go there too, to your school, I mean?”
He saw that slight stiffening in her posture occur again at the mention of her friend’s name, and he hoped that he hadn’t probed too deeply, but he just had to know more.
Narrowing her eyes, she asked warily, “Wesley does an awful lot of talking, doesn’t he?”
“Yes he does, and it can be safely said that he can’t stand Tommy. Mentioned him a lot after he got back to school in May. He was talking about having gone home for your birthday party, and how he almost got into it with him over you. I listened to him talk and I could see right through him. Ollie told me later that Tommy’s really a pretty good guy. I had figured that much out from the way that Wes kept going on about what a low-life he was. I read it between the lines that Tommy probably was going to take him out at the party.”
J.J. didn’t say anything to that, and when he noticed it, he apologized. “I’m sorry. Look, I talk too much myself. I didn’t mean to get into your business. You’re just so interesting to me, and it’s like I said, I want to know about you and your world from you, not from Wesley.”
She softened and reached out to pat his hand.
“It’s okay, Teddy. It’s not you. I just don’t understand Wesley any more. He used to be one of my favorite people, but he’s changed so much in a year. I used to really enjoy his company and I would look forward to him coming home for the summer and to him coming over to see me on his breaks, but lately… He’s even making Ollie antsy. Wes never really cared for Tommy and me being friends because Tommy doesn’t live in Bel Air with us and his mother works for my father’s company. He doesn’t understand me, and that my friends come from everywhere. I don’t limit myself to Bel Air and Beverly Hills and the like. I just like people, and I literally have friends around the world and from all walks of life. But Wesley’s animosity toward Tommy, it’s one-sided. Tommy doesn’t dislike Wesley. He doesn’t say a whole lot about it, but he dislikes the way that Wes treats him whenever they’re around each other. Tommy just mostly ignores him and hardly ever says anything to him in rebuttal, and I think Wes takes that for humility or fear or something. I don’t know what might have happened between them at my party, if indeed anything did happen. If it did, I know that Wesley probably provoked Tommy. And yes, to answer you, Tommy and I go to the same school. He’s in the drafting program. He’s an artist, but he’s heavily into architecture and computer aided drafting. He likes building things and fixing things. He’s very talented in that area. You’d like him, Teddy. In fact, you remind me a lot of him. He’s very nice, very thoughtful and considerate, and a lot of fun, just like you.”
She sat back, closed her eyes, and sighed. “When I eat a lot, I get so sleepy.”
He sat watching her, admiring how her dark lashes delicately fanned out on her rosy freckled cheeks, and he could feel Wesley Singleton’s pain. But Wesley might as well face it. J.J. Hart would never be his girl. She was way too much girl for him.
It was also a very good thing for him that J.J. Hart would be leaving Gresham Hall the next day. She was way too much girl for him to have too close around himself every day as well.
“Stephen, Margaret says that was Jennifer on the phone. She’s been delayed, and she says that she’ll stop in later.”
Stephen stubbed out his cigar in the ashtray on the table next to him and sighed. “Well, with Jonathan here, I know what’s delayed her.”
He reached out and took Agnes’ hand in his where she had come to stand next to his chair. “I declare, Aggie.” He said. “I don’t know how it is that those two managed to have only that one child. I should think that they would have had a house full with the way they go at it. Now I’m no prude, I know what people do and enjoy when they’re in love, but I don’t mind telling you, I’ve been embarrassed more than once on their visits to me. Like rabbits, Aggie, I declare. I often wonder what their poor child might have seen or heard over the years.”
Squeezing each other’s hands, and sharing a look, they both had to laugh.
“Do you feel like a walk, Aggie? We can go over to Waverly and I can introduce Justine to you myself. I really want you to meet her, and I’d like to check up on her myself anyway. She and I haven’t really had a chance to talk in person. I did speak with her briefly by phone while Jennifer was over there with her. Since she can’t come to me, I guess her old grandfather will just have to go to her.”
“I think I’d like that, Stephen.” Agnes answered, handing him his cane. “Just let me call for my sweater and we can be off.”
Madison and Frank rushed into the common room where J.J. and Teddy sat talking. As she passed Teddy, Madison ran her hand quickly through his hair and said, “I thought I’d find you in here with my girl when I hadn’t seen you outside all afternoon. She asleep?
She grabbed the remote from the table as Frank went over to the cabinet and swung open the doors to reveal the widescreen television inside.
“So, how many times has Smythe been in here making sure you two aren’t doing anything out of the way?” He asked as he recessed the open doors into the cabinet casing.
“What are you two doing?” Teddy asking looking from Madison to Frank and then back to Madison.
“Teddy, you know what time it is.” Madison answered, pushing him in the shoulder with one hand, while pointing the remote to the television with the other. “J.J.’s got you slipping.”
“I thought with the function going on outside, that we weren’t going there today.” Teddy reasoned.
J.J., hearing their voices, came back from her near-doze. “What’s up?” She asked as she sat up and rubbed her eyes with her fist.
“Nothing, sweetie.” Madison answered as she took a seat on the couch and pushed the buttons on the remote to find her desired channel. “It’s just time for our program. How’s that ankle?”
“I’m okay.” J.J. watched the screen whiz through stations until it stopped. “The Cartoon Network??”
“Heck yeah!” said Frank as he took the seat on the opposite end of the couch from Madison. “Inspector Gadget. He’s our boy.”
J.J. looked to Teddy who shrugged. “It’s an addiction.” He offered in explanation. “It could be something worse: weed, crack, booze, speed, sex; we’re into Inspector Gadget and the Looney Tunes.”
“Don’t forget the Tex Avery cartoons!” Called Frank. “They’re the best!”
Madison chimed in, “Inspector Gadget has his own website, J. I know you’re into all that. Check it out some time. It’s www.inspectorgadget.net. We have our own discussion group and everything. There’s a Tex Avery site too. Flattened cartoon dog right on the opening page, www.texavery.com.”
“You won’t hear me saying anything against it.” J.J. guiltily smiled. “I’m in the closet with it myself. I just LOVE Inspector Gadget and all those old cartoons they used to make before they had to take all the mindless violence, carnage, and mayhem out of them. I just don’t talk about it. I sneak and watch them when I’m alone in my room. I wouldn’t tell any of my crew at home that I do it. They’d never let me live it down. Inspector Gadget reminds me a little of my father- always coming up with something or some way to get himself out of a jam.”
“You’d be surprised, J., at how many people watch cartoons and don’t want to admit to it.” Teddy said. “Probably some of those same friends you have at home.”
She settled back in the chair as the familiar theme music began to play and the show came on. Probably Tommy, she thought to herself. She could just see him sitting there with his big self, hunched over a bowl of cereal watching Bugs Bunny, the Road Runner, or Droopy on the kitchen television or lying across his bed laughing at a good Tex Avery. He could be silly like that at times. She’d have to check into that once she got home, break him down, make him admit…
A few minutes later, they were all joined by Dakota, Josh, and Marnie and Dee who brought J.J. and Teddy ice cream.
“I hate you can’t come out and play.” Marnie leaned down and whispered in J.J.’s ear. “But I see he came in to play with you. He sure is fine, J. Having a good time? You give him that kiss yet? I got mine.” She raised her eyebrows three quick times for emphasis.
J.J. accepted the dish of ice cream, but pushed Marnie away from her, after whispering, “Little slut!” in her ear.
Before too long, there was a roomful of teenagers who had wandered in from the Quad into the common room. They sat on the chairs, the couches, at the table and were strewn on the floor eating ice cream and watching the cartoons on the television, while talking and laughing.
After a while, Teddy moved the ice cream dish from J.J.’s lap. He leaned in after moving her head from resting in her hand to let her finish her nap on his arm.
Bill watched Pat as she sat on the side of the bed drying herself after her shower. He sat admiring the arch of her graceful back and how her short dark hair came to that fetching point at the nape of her long neck. It was amazing to him how good she looked for her age, not to mention how agile she still was. Her intelligence and self-confidence made her even more sensuous to him. He had always been attracted to quick-witted, independent, feisty women, and that one had captivated him from the start with her decidedly New York attitude and that persistently tart tongue.
“So what did Jennifer have to say when you told her about you and me?” He asked.
She turned her head to look back at him. “How do you know we even talked about that?”
“Yes.” She admitted with sly smile as she went back to what she had been doing. “She already knew.”
He had to smile himself at that admission. “I kinda figured she did.”
“It seems she saw us going out to the guest house on one of those nights that we stayed with her and Jonathan while the Squirt and her friend, Tommy, were missing last spring.”
“And she never let on. She’s something else, Pat. A real lady. What about J.J.? Had J.J. said anything to her about us being in the guest house while we were supposed to be baby-sitting her for her birthday?”
“Hell no.” Pat laughed. “You greased her sweaty little palm quite adequately. She wouldn’t have told that anyway. She’s got way too much integrity, and being in the know about something that her mother wasn’t in on was right up her alley. She loves secrets.”
Pat wrapped herself in the large towel and scooted over to be next to him. “Hey Bill, what’s the deal on the Dean and Mr. Edwards? Jennifer and I didn’t have a clue that they knew each other outside of their Gresham Hall connection. It sort of blew Jennifer away. Did he say anything?”
Bill shrugged his shoulders. “You know how Stephen is. He’s so, you know, so stiff and old school. He wouldn’t share too much of it if it was something really personal. I flew us here from his place, and he and Jonathan talked, but I don’t know what was said. I had my eyes on the road.”
“Jennifer called while you were asleep and said that he had sent for her. He said he wanted to talk with her. Do you think he’s got plans with the Dean? They’re both single and she’s retiring, so they’ll both be free to do what they want.”
“How the hell much can they do at eighty-whatever, Pat, even if they might want to?”
“I don’t know about you.” She said, running her fingers through his hair. “But I fully intend to do what I can for as long as I can.”
“Not everyone has your stamina, Patricia.” He winked. “What if they do get together? How do you think Jennifer will take it? I mean after all, the man has been single for decades.”
Pat scratched her own damp hair. “I can’t say, Bill. She’s hard to figure out when it comes to that. She’s never really talked a lot about her mother, her father getting involved with anyone else, or any of that, not even with me. She’s kept that part of her life pretty private. I get the impression that she’s rarely discussed any of it with Jonathan and almost nothing with J.J. beyond what J. might have asked her about her grandmother. Jennifer’s got some issues with the Dean, but it’s probably mostly just old bullshit from when we were kids here in school. The Dean rode her pretty hard. Now I see why, I mean Jennifer was her good friend’s kid. But I don’t think it’s anything on a personal level with Jennifer. I don’t think she ever let herself get to know the Dean as anything beyond a school administrator. I’m probably closer to her than Jennifer. She and I do talk on occasion. Jennifer hasn’t been back here in over twenty years. She wouldn’t have come this time if I hadn’t done some damned fast, hard talking.”
“You are the one for that.”
“She doesn’t spook often or easily, but she was mighty nervous when we left the auditorium this afternoon. Of course some of that had to do with finding out that J.J. had been hurt.”
“Jennifer will work it out, whatever it is.” Bill concluded, reaching out for Pat who came to him to lie her head on his shoulder. “I’m glad I came. It’ll give us a chance to talk.”
“Don’t play stupid. You know what I’m saying. What are we going to do about us? I don’t want to be without you any more. Whenever I’m with you, I don’t want to leave. It gets worse and it gets harder to do every time.”
Pat, feeling her anxiety rising, closed her eyes. “I don’t want to be without you either, but I don’t want to leave New York and my business. I’m not ready to give that up yet. I know that I can’t have it all, but all is what I want.”
“Well, I’ll tell you, I can gladly turn McDowell over to Peter.” Bill speculated, sounding as if he was working things out in his head. “He’s been ready to take it on, and I’m tired as hell of business every day anyway. I’ve been good and tired for a while now- just been going through the motions. It’s all about computers these days, and even though I know a lot more than I used to, it’s just not my thing. That’s Peter’s world. I know that you love the city, but I really don’t think I can live in Manhattan.”
“No Bill, Manhattan is definitely not you.”
“Then we have some logistics problems to work out.” He said. “Because whatever happens, I’m not living the rest of my life without you in it.”
She couldn’t picture big Bill McDowell being comfortable in an apartment, no matter how many rooms it had or how spacious they were. He liked the outdoors and being able to tramp about in fields and woods. She enjoyed that too, but she definitely wouldn’t make it way out in the sticks of rural Nevada every day.
There had to be some happy medium.
She lay silently in Bill’s arms wondering why the love of one good man had always been such a difficult thing to fit into her life.
Walking slowly along the paved sidewalk that connected the houses on the Quad, Dean Marchand and Stephen Edwards took pleasure in watching the young people and the alumni enjoying the social event still in progress. The boys had come down from Brookfield to meet with the younger girls in attendance. This being the class of ’62, the youngest girls were in their mid to late teens, and they were fewer in number, creating a feeding frenzy of sorts among the boys. The elderly couple strolling together with the aid of their walking canes were amused by the antics of the some of the boys who were earnestly competing against each other on the grass for the attentions of the visiting girls.
A soccer ball rolled across their path, abruptly stopping them, and a youth dressed in a Brookfield soccer uniform ran to retrieve it.
“Good evening, Dean Marchand.” He said politely with a nod of his head after stopping the ball with his feet.
“Good evening, Peter.” She answered before he kicked it and ran back off.
“You’re a wonder.” Stephen marveled as they resumed their walk.
“What makes you say that?” She asked, looking up at the considerably taller man.
“You always did know the students names on both campuses. I remember that from when I used to visit here to see Jennifer. You could always call them by name.”
She chuckled. “It’s an old deeply-ingrained habit, Stephen. I’m good at associations. I commit faces to memory and associate them with their names right away. I don’t ever forget a face. And then too, I must get to know the boys. There are only certain ones who make it a habit to come here regularly enough for me to get to know them, and know them I do.”
“Yes, that you did.” It was his turn to chuckle. “You knew that one who was in the loft with Patricia that time that you sent for me to come.”
“Your Jennifer nearly burned the whole stable down. I think both of them having to come down from that loft to help stomp out the fire from that cigarette was that was the only thing that preserved Patricia’s purity that night.”
“His name was Theodore, was it not?” Stephen recalled.
The Dean thought for a moment. “Come to think of it, that was Theodore that night! Now that, I didn’t remember. Fancy you recalling it after all this time.”
“That was the one time that I came close to putting my hands on Jennifer.” Said Stephen. “She was absolutely incorrigible, and she and Patricia were completely loyal to one another.”
“Patricia had quite a few admirers in those days.” The Dean recalled. “It was Theodore Baxter, to whom I’ve become rather close since that time. He ended up escorting Patricia to her senior prom, and I remember Jennifer went with that boy from London, who was here on loan to Brookfield’s vocal music program. Nigel- something. I didn’t know him all that well. She wouldn’t go with any of the regular Brookfield boys who I knew.”
“Armbrister.” Stephen filled in. “Nigel Armbrister was his name. I met his parents in London after he came back home and Jennifer started at Vassar.”
” You have a sound memory too, Stephen. You know, it’s that same Theodore who manages the financial affairs associated with the stables now. His brother runs the stables, and Theodore’s son presently attends Brookfield. I believe the boy is in the class ahead of your Justine. He’ll be a senior next term, in the fall.”
She decided not to mention that Justine and Teddy had already met, especially in light of his recollection of Teddy’s father’s dalliance with Patricia. She didn’t know if he was aware of the circumstances surrounding his granddaughter’s injury, and she certainly wasn’t going to be the one to reveal them to him.
“Justine will be a junior.” Stephen said taking the Dean’s arm as she stepped up onto the walkway leading up to Waverly House. “She’s a National Honor Society officer at her school, and she’s first in her class, you know. Just like her mother.”
The Dean could hear the pride in his voice. She was impressed that as far removed as Stephen was from Justine logistically, as well as in terms of her rearing, he was cognizant of her school activities and her ranking. Education had been his priority as a schoolboy himself. It had been of utmost importance to him as father to Jennifer, sometimes even more so than her behavior, and apparently it was just as important to him in his role as grandfather to Justine. His intelligence and love for learning had certainly been passed down to the generations who followed him.
He stepped up behind her, and continued to talk as they approached the house.
“So this Teddy is a year ahead of her. He’ll graduate at the end of the next term. Time goes by so quickly. I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday when I was coming here to this same house for Jennifer. However, most of the times it would be under far less pleasant circumstances.”
“Did they give her pain medicine or something at the infirmary?” Madison asked as she stood before J.J.’s wheelchair watching her sleep, her head propped up on Teddy’s arm. “Hey Marnie, is this typical? She’s out like a light.”
Marnie got up from her seat next to Josh on the couch and came over.
“She doesn’t take too much medicine,” Marnie answered. “So I doubt that she took anything at the pharmacy for an ankle injury. She just sleeps hard. Once she’s out, she’s out. She’s been through a lot today too. I mean, you have to consider, she went riding without permission, fell, busted up her ankle, had to go for ex-rays, snuck out with Teddy, got caught in the balcony by her father up there while she was dressed in a nightgown and surrounded by a bunch of boys, most likely she got her ass chewed out by her mother- I haven’t had a chance to go there with her yet to confirm it; that’s a helluva day for one girl, even for J. She’s probably just whipped. We should take her up so she can be comfortable.”
By this time, Dee and Dakota had come over as well.
“With the wheelchair, we can get her up on the elevator without having to wake her up.” Dakota suggested while she adjusted the quilt over J.J.’s foot.
“You’re gonna need somebody to get her up out of the chair once you get her to the room.” Whispered Teddy, continuing to let J.J. sleep on his arm. “Sleeping like this, she’s going to be dead weight trying to lift her.”
“Think we should go get Miss Smythe?” Dakota asked.
“We don’t need her.” Dee asserted. “We can do this by ourselves. You’ve been being her hero all day, Teddy. No need in you stopping now. Let’s go.”
A few minutes later, the five ambulatory teenagers pressed themselves into the elevator escorting the one in the wheelchair, still sleeping soundly, to her room.
Dean Marchand saw no reason for stopping to let anyone know that they had arrived, after all, she was the Dean and could go anywhere she liked on campus. She and Stephen entered the foyer of Waverly House and upon hearing the youthful voices emanating from the common room, she and Stephen stopped there first to see if Justine was there. They found a roomful of teens eating ice cream and watching television. Upon seeing her in the doorway some waved and others called out their greetings. A couple of the boys looked surprised to see her, but that wasn’t out of the ordinary. She recognized them as two of the regulars, and they’d had previous dealings with her over their frequent visits to Waverly.
“Boys in Waverly House?” Stephen asked as they turned away. “I thought this was a girls’ only prep school.”
“The times have changed some, Stephen.” The Dean answered. “We allow the boys to come over during the day during the summer sessions and on special occasions such as this. I know most of them anyway, and they are only allowed as far as the common room here, and they have to be out of the house entirely by eight P.M. Belinda keeps a pretty tight rein on things here. We’ve never had any problems.”
“I don’t know how comfortable I would have been with that arrangement in Jennifer’s time.” Stephen said skeptically. “Or how I would feel about it if Justine were in attendance. Young people sometimes have a way of making their own arrangements despite how diligent we try to be.”
They walked to the elevator, still not having seen Miss Smythe, but nodding to the one of the housekeepers who was dusting in the front hall.
“We’re going up to Number One, Sarah.” The Dean advised the woman. “Please let Miss Smythe know that Mr. Edwards and I are here and that we’re going up to see his granddaughter.”
The housekeeper nodded in acknowledgment.
“Get her arm out of that other sleeve.” Marnie instructed Madison as she began to pull J.J.’s robe off after untying it and making sure that she was decent under it.
Madison removed J.J.’s other arm from the garment. “This girl sleeps like the dead.” She remarked as she pushed J.J’s limp body into a more upright position. “You sure she’s not unconscious?”
Marnie stood back looking down on her sleeping friend. “Nah, that’s just how she is when she’s tired.” She reached around to gather J.J.’s hair in both hands, then she twisted it over one shoulder to get it out of the way. “When we were little,” She remarked as she worked with the braid, “She had this tree house in her back yard, and she would fall asleep up there and make her folks have to come find her. If I was over to their house visiting, I would leave her up there, and I could tell them where she was. But if I wasn’t, like I had gone home or something, they were on their own until it occurred to them that might be where she was. J. could never hear them calling her if she was completely under.”
Both girls straightened J.J.’s gown, making sure that it was pulled it all the way down over her legs.
“You can come over here now.” Marnie called to Teddy who had been sent to the other side of the room until they had J.J. together. “She’s ready.”
He came over and bent over J.J., getting into position to lift her from the wheelchair.
“And don’t be trying to cop any cheap feels either.” Marnie warned. “I’ve got my eyes on you. Watch your hands around her butt.”
Teddy shook his head and smiled. “You girls always think somebody’s on the make. I don’t have to even get near her fanny.” He said. “Not all us guys are perverts. And anyway, a sleeping girl is not my style. I like a little more fight, a bit more challenge when I’m trying to cop a feel.”
Madison popped him lightly on the arm. “Just pick the girl up and get it over with so we can get you out of here before we all get caught. The scandal would kill our mothers, what with their old friends being here this weekend and all.”
Dee pulled the covers back on the bed.
Teddy bent down and gently lifted J.J. from the chair. Marnie wheeled it out of the way, and he placed her on the bed. She winced just a little in her sleep as Dee adjusted the pillows she had arranged to put under her injured ankle to keep it elevated.
“I think somebody’s coming.” Dakota whispered anxiously from her spot near the closed door where she had been on sentry duty. “Get Teddy out of here!”
Madison snatched him by the arm and started pulling him toward the bathroom.
He pulled back. “Hold on! Hold on!” He cried in a hushed voice.
He turned and went back over to the bed. Then he bent down and kissed J.J. quickly on the cheek before Madison could snatch him by the arm again. “Come on, you idiot!” She scolded him. “You’re going to get caught!”
“She owed me that!” He explained as she punched him in the arm before pushing him toward the bathroom. “And I’m getting tired of you physically abusing me, Maddy! You’ve been beating on me ever since we came up here.”
“I am going to kick your ass all the way if you get us caught!” She warned as she pushed him into the bathroom and closed the door on him.
Marnie, standing over J.J., making sure that her covers were straight, noticed with mild satisfaction that J.J. softly smiled in her sleep when Teddy kissed her.
Dee and Madison were a blur of activity behind her as a knock sounded at the door.
“Miss Hart was down here.” Miss Smythe remarked, tapping her chin with slight confusion upon being told that the Dean and her guest had taken the elevator to the second floor in search of Mr. Edwards’ granddaughter. “She was in the common room with that Brookfield boy.”
She had been informed of the Dean’s arrival once she returned inside after seeing to the caterers for whom she was responsible, on the rear grounds of Waverly House. Leaving the housekeeper in the front hall, she went to go check the Common Room for herself. It was time for Justine to go upstairs to rest anyway.
Once she got there, however, rather than finding the two teens she had left sitting there, she instead discovered several more had taken their place, and that none of them were any of the ones she expected. With the sudden thought that there was only one place anyone could have taken Justine dressed in the manner that she was, who would be needed to get her there, and who else was on their way up there, she raced for the staircase.
After knocking a the door of #1, Stephen Edwards and the Dean were escorted inside by the girl who normally occupied the suite.
“Good evening, Denise.” The Dean said in greeting to Dee. “I’d like for you to meet Mr. Edwards, this is Justine’s grandfather. Is she here with you?”
“It’s very nice to meet you, Mr. Edwards.” Dee said as she politely offered her hand to the elderly gentleman standing slightly behind the Dean. “Yes Ma’am, J.J- Justine’s here, but she’s asleep. Please come in.”
Inside the room, the adults found soft music playing and three girls sitting on the floor around a Monopoly game which they appeared to be quietly playing.
They introduced themselves, and Stephen greeted them all, stopping at Marnie.
“Little Marnie, I haven’t seen you in ages.” He remarked. “Not since you were a very small girl. However, I hear of you all the time from Jennifer and Justine. I feel like you might as well be my grandchild too. I guess I’ll have the company of both my granddaughters next week since you’ll be coming to stay with me at Briarwood with Justine and her mother.”
Marnie’s immediate thought was, “Nobody told me anything about that.” as dread filled her heart at the idea of an entire week with Jennifer Hart’s father. That was like being with the Duchess for a week to the second power. But she managed to politely answer, “I suppose you will, Sir. It’s good to see you again.” while shaking his hand and fighting the strong desire to wake J.J. the hell up and find out what in the world he was talking about.
Stephen and the Dean walked over to J.J.’s bed where she was still deeply asleep.
“She’s just like her mother, Stephen.” The Dean whispered in an effort to not wake her as she looked down on the sleeping girl, while at the same time greatly admiring her pretty features.
“Not with her eyes open.” Stephen countered. “And not when she’s in movement. You’ll have to see her when she’s awake. She sleeps very soundly, so it will be a while before she comes to again.”
Just then, the door to the room opened and Miss Smythe hurried in with a distressed look on her face. She quickly assessed the situation, noticing that the girls inside seemed to have everything under control, almost too much so, and that J.J. was there, asleep, and in the bed. Then she relaxed.
“I just came up to check on the girls.” She explained with a small nervous laugh. “I just wanted to make sure that Miss Hart was comfortable.”
“She’s fine.” Stephen said. “Thank you for taking such good care of her. I’m sorry she’s been such a bother to you with her going off and getting hurt as she did. I’m sure that her mother has reprimanded her soundly for having done that. Jennifer doesn’t tolerate any nonsense from her.”
“Thank you, Mr. Edwards. But she’s really been no trouble. And it’s just so amazing how much she resembles her mother.”
The Dean looked up at Stephen and her expression conveyed her satisfaction at having been seconded on J.J.’s resemblance to her mother. Stephen silently shook his head in disagreement.
All the time she was talking, in the back of Miss Smythe’s mind, she was wondering what those girls had done with that boy. She was sure he had to have been the one to lift that girl from that wheelchair and into that bed. J.J. Hart was as tall or perhaps even a bit taller than the other girls in that room and she would have been much to unwieldy for them to handle, even as a group.
“We’d better go and leave these children to themselves.” The Dean advised. “I guess our meeting, Justine’s and mine, will have to wait until breakfast in the morning. I’ll be taking breakfast here, so we’ll all be together then.”
When the door closed behind the adults, the remaining young occupants of the room went limp as noodles with relief.
“Damn, that was close.” Marnie quietly exclaimed. “My heart is really getting a workout this weekend fooling around with J.J. and her people. That was her mother’s father.”
“I thought so,” Dee remarked. “Both of them had me feeling the same degree of fear factor.”
“That’s the ticket!” Marnie suddenly exclaimed, pointing at Dee. “Fear factor. That’s exactly what J.J.’s mother brings out in me. I never could put it into words, but that’s it exactly. Nobody in the world can do it to me like she does. I guess you didn’t flunk Lit class, did you?”
Dee grinned. “Nope, I can read, write, and I can draw. Just can’t count, and science sucks big time. Hey Marnie, did you notice Mrs. Hart’s suit when she was up here? Harve’ Benard?”
Marnie smiled broadly. “Okay, so now you see why we call J.J.’s mother the Duchess. She’s sharp like that all the time, head to toe, even when she’s just chillin’ out. You’re alright with me, girl.” She gave Dee a high five. “Can recognize who strikes fear in the hearts of men and knows a good suit by designer when you see one. You’ve got your priorities straight as far as I can see. The hell with math and science. They do suck.
“I second all of that that.” Dakota added, high-fiving both Dee and Marnie. “You do not need math and science to know who designed what and if it looks good or not.”
Madison got up and went to the bathroom door to let Teddy know that the coast was clear.
But the bathroom was empty and after checking the other bedroom, she discovered that he was no where to be found.
Jonathan watched Jennifer as she slept next to him. The room was dim save for the warm glow from the night light next to her side of the bed, which had been activated by the slowly dissipating light of day. They had both fallen asleep after having made love, but fatherly concern had invaded his slumber, awakening him before her. Had they been at home on Willow Pond, that would have been his cue to trek across the hall to peek in on J.J. His waking thought had been to phone her, but the room’s telephone was over on Jennifer’s side and he didn’t want to wake her in reaching for it. Getting up to get his cell from the table across the room would have disturbed her as well. So he remained, lying silent and still, by her side admiring her long slender body twisted sexily in the sheets..
In his reverie, he contemplated several things. First was his admiration for Stephen Edwards. That was one spirited, mean old man, but underneath that tough, leathery exterior, he had come to realize, existed a warm inner nature and a heart of gold. After Suzanne’s death, Jennifer had probably been the only person in his life who had been able to penetrate that suit of armor he tended to wear for the rest of the world, and that he pretended to wear with her. She knew and had told him a long time ago that imperious emperor had no clothes.
In their years together, he had never come to regard Stephen as anything more personal than Jennifer’s father, his father-in-law, and his daughter’s grandfather. However, it was through his association with the Edwards family that he had achieved the satisfaction and sense of belonging that came with being part of a good family. They were the essential life elements which had eluded him in the years before Jennifer. Before her, he’d achieved success, made lots of money, dated all kinds of women, traveled the word, but it wasn’t until they were married that he stopped feeling as if he were on the outside of life looking in.
Stephen had never been very demonstrative toward Jennifer in terms of displays of affection, but he had communicative eyes when it came to his daughter, and they were always easy to read; Jennifer had the same expressiveness to her eyes. Her father’s visage lit up when she was in his presence. His eyes warmed when he spoke of or with her. They reflected his joy and pride in her many accomplishments, and they filled at those times that it was apparent that he was seeing Suzanne in her. That began happening more noticeably often once J.J. came into all their lives.
He reminisced that there had been times where, as an outside party observing Stephen as he watched J.J. and Jennifer interact, he could see that after all the time that had gone by, his father-in-law still missed his wife terribly. It was a wound that would never heal. Looking at Jennifer lying there, he could empathize. Losing Jennifer would be the end of him despite still having J.J. He wasn’t sure that he could force himself to go on without his wife as Stephen had done for Jennifer’s sake.
It crossed his mind from time to time over the years, as it was at that moment, to wonder what his mother-in-law must have been like. He knew that Jennifer looked like her, and that she had been an intelligent, capable young woman, but that was as much as he knew. Neither Jennifer nor her father spoke much of her voluntarily, and out of respect for them and their privacy, he had never asked. Even Sabrina rarely spoke of her, and when she did, it was in reference to how sorry she was that J.J. and Suzanne had missed out on meeting each other in life. However, both Stephen and Sabrina had more than once alluded to the fact that J.J. had qualities like her grandmother. By not having ever met her, he couldn’t be sure if they were actually seeing Suzanne in her, or if it was just something they wanted to see because she was her grandmother’s only descendent.
J.J. was the only descendent. On all sides of the family, J.J. was the only one.
If things played out in natural progression, there would come a time when J.J. would be all alone in the world. He wondered if she had ever reflected on that. Almost as soon as he had that thought, he knew that she had considered it. It would be like J.J. to think about things like that realistically. It was one of the qualities that he admired in his daughter: she was a pragmatist. She had never been one to fantasize or pretend like most children.
In the very beginning, he had been a little disappointed that she never believed in Santa Claus. As a very tiny girl, of two or three, he’d watched her as she listened to Jennifer’s Christmas stories with a skeptical look on her little face. Then when he tried to play Santa for her, she called him “silly Daddy” for trying to fool her with that Kris Kringle costume. She’d pulled the beard down, laughed at him, and given him a kiss.
At Macy’s, she’d embarrassed Jennifer to no end the year that she took her to have her picture made with the Easter Bunny. J.J. went up to take her turn on the Bunny’s lap. He greeted her and then she proceeded to answer him, speaking into the gap at his neck, where the bunny’s head separated from the body, to ask the guy inside if he was hot in that get-up. That was the year that she was four.
Prime, front row seats at a Sesame Street show had been a complete waste. Jennifer had come home with five-year-old J.J. in tow, totally disgusted at having sat through the performance surrounded by a theatre full of energized toddlers and frenzied pre-schoolers and kindergarteners who stood on the seats happily singing, dancing, and clapping their appreciation, while her own child sat quietly on her lap, telling her that if she looked really closely at the eyes of the characters on stage, she could see the people inside the costumes. It had been all he could do to not laugh at the situation in Jennifer’s frustrated presence, but that was the last time that J.J. went to a children’s performance of that kind with either of them.
When she lost her first baby tooth and the tooth fairy left money under her pillow, J.J. got up the next morning and arrived at the breakfast table with it, nonchalantly thanking them for the donation. Peter Pan, Peter Rabbit, Peter and the Wolf, it was all the same to J.J., a figment of someone’s overactive imagination. She enjoyed the stories, but never bought into them, not one iota. Kindergarten story time had been an unusual adventure in preschool cynicism for her teachers. They took to allowing J.J. to read the books her mother sent with her, on her own, away from the group, during story time to keep her from converting every one else in the class to her line of practical thinking.
That girl was a realist from the top of her head to the bottom of her feet, so she probably had it figured out that she would be alone in the world at some point in her future. That was probably why she formed such strong friendships and why she surrounded herself with well-grounded, like-minded people. She had little tolerance for shallow, pretentious individuals, and those were the people she put to the side. Her mother was that way, only Jennifer was more subtle about it. People almost never realized that Jennifer had moved on until she wasn’t there any more. With J.J., there was no doubt. She wasn’t rude, she just wasn’t there from the start.
Jennifer’s aunt, her mother’s twin, Sabrina was also a realist. Right off, he had fallen in love with that easygoing character when he met her the night before he and Jennifer were married. She infiltrated his bachelor party, and wound up staying for the entire thing. Strangely enough, the guys in attendance were crazy about her. She drank like a fish, swore like a sailor, and played cards like a demon. Even though she had hung tough with them that night, at the wedding the next day she sat in the place that would have been Jennifer’s mother’s looking like a million attractive bucks. She and Stephen had still been engaged in their ongoing silent feud, but they had risen somewhat above it for that one day. Even though they had been cordial to each other in fulfilling their duties for Jennifer’s sake, not one word was exchanged between them at any point.
Sabrina didn’t give a damn what others thought of her. She lived her life to the fullest, to the max. Speaking of Max, there had always the feeling between he and Jennifer that Sabrina and Max had gotten together on one of their early trips to France to visit her in Perpignan. It was never discussed, but the gut feeling was there. They had all spent the nights at her house, and Max would be looking mighty suspect in the mornings. Sabrina had definitely been Max’s type, and being male, he had been hers. Back in those days with Max, whenever she would phone from France to speak with her niece, if Max picked up, it would be a while before he turned the call over to Jennifer. Even at present, on the high side of seventy, Sabrina maintained several, he and Jennifer suspected, amorous relationships with her gentlemen friends.
Although he loved Sabrina dearly, he could understand Stephen not allowing her to raise Jennifer after her mother’s death. Jennifer was a different type of woman from her aunt. The free and easy lifestyle Sabrina maintained would not have suited Jennifer’s sensibilities. She was more sensitive, more private with her thoughts and feelings. But for some reason he could see that Sabrina was good for J.J. As much as it scared him to admit it, there was a lot of Sabrina in his daughter and every summer at the end of her two week visits, he would be chomping at the bit, ready to get in the plane to go retrieve her. It wouldn’t just be that he missed her, it was that he knew that J.J. was doing whatever she wanted, which suited her perfectly. He noticed that lately, within the past couple of years, J.J. and Jennifer never talked much with him about J.J.’s visits to Perpignan, which confirmed his belief that Sabrina and J.J. were too good for each other.
It startled him when Jennifer suddenly raised her head from the pillow as if something woke her. She immediately looked to him, and her eyes were frightened, confused.
“What’s wrong, darling?” He asked as he switched on the lamp on his side of the bed.
She was even more tangled in the covers, and she began to struggle to get free. He could see that she was disoriented.
“Wait.” He said calmly to her while he helped her get loose. “Just wait.”
When she was completely situated and more awake, she turned over on her back and asked sleepily, “What time is it?”
He checked the clock. “It’s a quarter to eight.”
“Yes.” He answered, thinking that she must have been pretty far under.
It had been quite good, even better than usual, and if his mind hadn’t been on J.J. and everything else, he might still have been asleep himself.
“Did you call me, or say something to me?” She asked, sounding as confused as she had looked upon waking.
“I didn’t say a thing. Jennifer, are you alright?”
“I don’t know.” She answered. “Someone was calling me, telling me it was time to get up. But they were calling me, “Jenny”. Nobody calls me… It couldn’t have been you. You never call me that… nobody has ever, except…” She abruptly pulled the covers away from her body and sat up. “I need to go see my father.” She said. “Now.”
She rushed into the bathroom.
“Do you want me to drive you?” He called to her hoping that she could hear him over the water she was running in the shower. “I can go over to Waverly and check on J.J. while you go see your father.”
“Suit yourself.” Was her answer. “Maybe we can find something to eat once I get finished talking with Pa. I’m starved.”
Out in the bedroom, he smiled. She usually was famished after making love. Between them, a whole lot of energy still got expended in their sessions. He could eat a horse himself.
When J.J. woke again, the room was quiet and dark. She was alone, but the bathroom door was open and she could hear voices coming from the other room. Her ankle was throbbing and she realized that she had somehow in her sleep moved it from on top of the pillows where it should have been propped. Swallowing the pain and stiffness, she moved it back in place and lay back on the pillows afterward to catch her breath, wondering how she came to be in the bed. The last thing she remembered was sitting, eating ice cream, and talking with Teddy in the Common Room.
Despite her injury and the trouble she had narrowly missed getting herself out of, she was glad she had come to Gresham Hall with her mother. It turned out to be a fun experience. She had learned some amusing, enlightening things about her mother and Pat, a few things about her old friends had been put into perspective, and she had met some delightful new friends. She wondered if Teddy was in the room next door. In a way, she hoped not. She didn’t want him to get into any trouble, but at the same time, she actually did want to see him again. She enjoyed his company and was truly sorry that she was laid up like she was. She really would have liked spending the day riding with him, and to have gotten up the next morning to get a ride in before it was time to leave.
To leave. They would be leaving, but going to Briarwood instead of home. She loved Pa, but she didn’t like the idea of spending a whole week at his place with an injury that would keep her sidelined and off her horse. Triple J. was back at Briarwood from racing in Virginia, and there was nothing better than taking him out to the flat fields and racing him across that plain. That wouldn’t be happening this trip unless her mother took him out, which she most likely would do. Her mother was going to be making her do what she was supposed to do, and just as her father had said, there would be no distractions. Well, at least Marnie was going. She wondered if anybody had let Marnie in on that particular detail yet.
She reached over and clicked on her cell to punch in a number.
“Hey, Tommy, it’s me, J.J. What’s up with you?”
“Hey J.! Are you back? I thought you weren’t coming back until tomorrow.”
“I’m still in Massachusetts. But I’m not coming home tomorrow, after all. I’m going from here to my grandfather’s for a week.”
“To Maryland? Why?”
“I hurt my ankle. Twisted it kind of bad, and I have to see a doctor there. Daddy wants me to stay there until its better. He thinks that I won’t do right at home.”
“He’s got your number, J. You wouldn’t. You’d be slipping around, trying to walk on it. I know you, too. You’ve got to take care of that ankle, girl. That’s your ticket to fame, those long legs and those fast feet. You said you were going out for All-City next term, so rest up. This will all be here whenever you make it back.”
“I hate I’m not coming home. Summer goes by so fast as it is. Now I’m going to be laid up for part of it, and I’m not even going to be able to see my friends. At least at home you all could come by and keep me company. Now I’m going to be all by myself, except for Marnie. She has to go with me.”
“Then it shouldn’t be all that bad with Marnie there with you. That’s going to be just like when you’re at home. Quit crying and whining, girl. It’s for the best. So, like, are the preppy guys all trying to get next to you since I’m not in the picture, J.J. Hart?”
“I’ve met some people, and it’s been fun. And boys try to talk to me even when you’re in the picture, Tommy Steele. You don’t scare anybody off. But I still wish I was coming home. How’s the group? What are you guys doing this weekend?”
“I haven’t seen anybody. Deon and Hector took some girls to the movies last night. I didn’t do anything. I worked yesterday at Hart and then I came home and crashed. I worked on the bike today, and that’s about it. I did have go to lunch with my Grandmother at her club at the Marina today.”
“Ooh Tommy! Lunch at the marina. That play last week. The art showing the week before that. Sounds like your Grandma Fee is setting you up for hobnobbing with the hoi-polloi.”
“Whatever, J. She brought up going to Stanford again, too.”
“So, what did you say?”
“I told her again that I’m enlisting in the Navy. My mother can’t afford to send me to college. She’d have to mortgage the house or something. And even if she could send me, I wouldn’t want her to. She needs to take care of herself. The Navy can take care of me when the time comes.”
“It sounds to me like your grandmother wants to finance it. And what about scholarships?”
“I already told you. I don’t want my grandmother’s money, and I can’t count on a scholarship. Look, did you call me up to fight with me, or what?”
“No Tommy. I didn’t call you up to fight. I’m sorry. I just wish you’d consider all the angles before you decide on signing up for the Navy, that’s all. Okay, back to what we were talking about. So what are you telling me? The girls aren’t all over you since I’m not in the picture, Thomas Jordan Steele?”
All he could do was laugh at that. Leave it to her to turn a thing back on him.
“Well, I guess I’ll see you when I see you, Tommy.”
“I guess so, J. Keep the cards shuffled, and I’ll buzz your cell tomorrow some time.”
“You do that. Talk to you later.”
She clicked off and put the phone down.
Lying there in the dark, J.J. thought about her mother and that room. The bed she was in was the same antique bed that her mother had slept in when she was in attendance at Gresham Hall. She wondered what her mother thought about when was lying there in the dark, and if she got into trouble just because she was having a good time like she did, or because, like Dee, she didn’t want to be there. Her mother didn’t talk a lot about her childhood or what it was like for her growing up. When she did say anything about it, she usually spoke about things in general, not about how she felt or what she went through. J.J. wished that she would, but she felt that it wouldn’t be proper to press, even though her mother always encouraged her to tell her all the whys, what-fors, and to talk to her about how she felt about things when they had their talks. The thought of her mother not being anywhere that she could reach her gave her the creeps. How had she done it?
She had complained about having to go to Briarwood for a week. She had disliked the idea of being there at Gresham Hall for the weekend. Suddenly she felt selfish.
Her mother had been there for six years, and she couldn’t go home until Pa said that she could. Pa would be overseas and relatively unavailable most of the time. There was no mother to whom her mother could turn. Her mother had been there all alone except for Aunt Pat, who also pretty much had nobody.
She, on the other hand, had her mother, her father, her grandfather, Aunt Pat, Uncle Bill, AND Marnie there with her for that one weekend. Then, her mother and Marnie would be there with her for the following week at Briarwood, not to mention Pa himself. When that week was up, she would go home- with her mother- to her house and her father, her room, her dog, her friends, and her life in Los Angeles. She also knew that if she made enough noise about it, she was sure that she could talk her father out of that trip to Briarwood if she wanted to.
But she didn’t want to. It wasn’t that deep. She would make the best of it, and get back on both feet so that when she did get home she would be ready to get back to her summer.
She called out, “Hey, can somebody in there come and either help me into the bathroom, or bring me a bed pan? I really have to go!”
Madison and Marnie appeared at the door, switching on the lights. They were quickly joined by Dee and Dakota. The other two roommates had gone home after the presentation that afternoon.
“It’s about time you woke up.” Madison said to her as she sat up. “We thought you were out for the night. We’ve got something to show you. We were waiting for you to get up.”
“How did I get up here?” J.J. asked. “Miss Smythe? I feel like I’ve been asleep for a week. I must have really been out.
“We wheeled you up here.” Answered Marnie with raised eyebrows and a mischievous smile. “But Teddy undressed you and put you to bed.”
When J.J. looked a bit shocked, Dakota piped up. “No he didn’t. He just lifted you out of the wheelchair and put you in the bed. We did the rest. Marnie, you are so bad!”
“Whatever.” Was Marnie’s reply. “But he is cute. He could put me to bed, and I would like it.”
J.J. rolled her eyes and then simply summed her up, “Tramp.”
Madison, who was as tall as J.J., leaned down to let J.J. put her arm around her neck as Dee assisted in getting her up, while telling her, “We almost got caught with Teddy in here when your grandfather came up here with the Dean. We cut that real close.”
“My grandfather and the Dean? Why were they here?” J.J. asked as she hopped slowly on one foot toward the bathroom with the others’ assistance.
Madison made an exasperated face. “Your grandfather came to see you, of course. He said that he wanted to talk to you since he hadn’t had the chance to see you at the presentation. By the time it was over, the boys had gotten you out of the balcony to bring you back here. The Dean had come over here with him. So like, what are they, a couple or something?”
“Just friends, I think.” J.J. answered. “I really don’t know much about it.”
And even if she did, it wasn’t something she would discuss with anyone.
They had her inside the bathroom. “You can leave me now.” She directed them with a wave of her hand as she balanced herself against the sink. “I don’t need an audience. I’ll call you when I’m finished.”
As they went out, J.J. could hear Marnie talking to the others as she closed the door: “You know, J. is my girl and all. We do everything together, and I’d do anything for her. But I never thought I’d be putting off going for a ride with a boy so that I could take care of her, or that I’d be taking her to the toilet. The things you do for your friends.”
It was Madison’s voice she heard in response, “You didn’t need to be going off with Josh in his car anyway.”
The next voice was Dee’s: “Yeah, because I would not have covered for you if J.J.’s mother had come back up in here asking where you went. She looks like she doesn’t play. So you could just go right ahead and blame me for her showing up on Lookout Point looking out for you and Josh huddled up and making out in his car. If she asked me, I’d have given her the license plate, make, color, year, the whole entire shot.”
“And I wouldn’t have blamed you a bit if you did.” That was Marnie. “Hell, I’ve sold J. out a couple of times to her mother when she had me backed up in a corner.”
The mental picture of the Duchess hemming Dee up to make her confess, and then Marnie getting caught acting grown, as her mother put it, with Josh at Lookout Point made J.J. chuckle to herself.
What Marnie said about their relationship made her think about all the nice things her new friend, Teddy Baxter had done for her in the short time that she’d known him.
And she wondered what the girls had to show her.
When Bill got up and went into the bathroom, Pat took the opportunity to phone into the room next door. She needed to talk to Jennifer, to tell her what was going on, to ask her opinion. There was no answer.
Where in the hell was she?
She got ready to dial her cell, but hung up when Bill came back into the room with a smile on his face and the unmistakable look of lust in his eyes.
“Ready for round three?” He asked as he pulled her up by the arms from the bed into his arms. As he did, the towel in which she had been loosely wrapped fell away.
“Are you?” She asked.
“I can go all night with you, Patricia.” He answered with a hint of challenge.
Pat felt the swell of heat rising from her thighs into all the proper places.
Talking to Jennifer about the future would definitely have to wait at least until the morning.
Stephen and the Dean sat in the front room talking until it began to grow dark outside. The conversation had dwindled to a comfortable silence. He had begun to grow tired some time ago; their walk to and from Waverly House having worn him down. But, after having taken dinner with Agnes and Belinda, he remained sitting up after their return, to wait for Jennifer. He wanted to speak with her before going up for the night.
It gradually became quiet out on the Quad. Having exerted himself with the walk over to Waverly, and his full stomach from his meal, he grew increasingly sleepy. Still Jennifer hadn’t come. He’d called Justine’s room right after dinner, but she had been still sleeping, according to Marnie.
Finally he told Agnes, “I think I’m going to retire for the night. I’ve had a fuller day today than I’ve had in some time, and I still haven’t spoken with my girls. I don’t know what could have happened to Jennifer. It isn’t like her to not do what she’s told me she was going to do.”
“She’s probably still coming Stephen.” Agnes replied, trying to make him wait just a little while longer.
She didn’t want him to go to bed as disappointed as he seemed. “If she told you that she was coming, I’m sure that she intends to do so.”
But he pushed himself forward anyway, and used his cane to stand all the way up. “I’m tired, Agnes. I’m going up. Jennifer and I will just have to get together in the morning. I don’t know that I have the energy left now for the conversation I planned to have with her anyway.”
“I’m anxious to meet your Justine in person, Stephen.” Agnes smiled as she got up from her chair, making ready to walk with him to the elevator. “I’m so curious to see if I can see what you say is there.”
He took her hand and squeezed it. “That’s something else for Sunday, as well, Aggie. We have a lot to look forward to tomorrow, don’t we?”
“Yes, that we do, my old friend.” She agreed. “Tomorrow and the rest of our days.”
Jonathan had waited in the car at the curb in front of the Dean’s residence while Jennifer went alone to meet with her father, and he wasn’t going to pull off until he was sure that Jennifer was inside the house. It surprised him when she turned away from the door and walked back to the car. He was a bit disappointed too. Whatever was going on in her head concerning her and her father, it was upsetting to her and that was a problem for him. He could tell that she was having trouble with it no matter how hard she was trying to act as if she wasn’t. And she’d had some sort of disturbing dream that evening, that was confusing and upsetting to her, but either she wouldn’t or couldn’t talk about it. He knew that it was all somehow connected to her late mother, but he didn’t have any idea how it was connected. Being in this place seemed to bring long put-away things back to the forefront in her.
“What happened?” He asked as she slid into the passenger’s seat after opening the door.
“He’s already gone up for the night.” She answered.
“Why didn’t you just go up to him in his room? He wouldn’t have minded. He’d probably have been pleased to see you. You know he stays up half the night. He probably wasn’t asleep.”
“It can wait.” She sighed. “I asked Margaret to let him know that I had come and that I would see him at breakfast in the morning at Waverly House with J.J.”
Jonathan looked over at her, trying to read her, but her eyes were downcast, looking into her lap. Her body, however was tense once again. “Are you alright? Jennifer, what is it about all of this that bothers you? It’s your father who wants to speak with you, not some stranger. What’s the problem?”
“I don’t know.” She answered, the confusion sounding in her voice. “I really don’t.”
“Is it that you don’t want to hear what he has to say? Is it because he might want to talk about himself and Dean Marchand?”
She suddenly looked up at him, and he could see that there was smoke in her eyes. “Why didn’t he tell me?” She asked, almost as if she were demanding an answer. “What can he possibly want to tell me now?”
Suddenly sorry that he asked, Jonathan had to try to move them away from it for the time being. Whatever it was, it was stoking an old fire within his wife, and he didn’t understand any of it. He wasn’t sure that she did either. All he could surmise was that it had to do with her mother. She’d told him a long time ago that only her mother called her “Jenny”, the name she’d heard in her dream.
“Whatever it is, Darling.” He said, taking her hand to reassure her. “It will wait until tomorrow when you catch up with your father. It’ll get taken care of then. Let’s go find something to eat tonight. I know you’re hungry. So am I.”
“What about stopping in to check on J.J.?” She asked.
“Where’s she going?” He laughed. “She’s been seriously slowed down for the rest of this trip. Couldn’t run off if she wanted to. And with her down, Marnie is going to be right there, anchored somewhere close by her side. That’s how they operate.”
“You sound very sure of yourself, Jonathan.”
“I know my girls, Jennifer. It’s you and me tonight. We’ll see them first thing Sunday morning.”
And they drove off headed for downtown Boston.
“Where’d you guys find this thing?” J.J. laughed as she leafed through the yearbook of the Gresham Hall class of 1962. She was back in the bed flanked by Dee and Marnie. “Look at the hair-dos! The clothes!”
“While you were sleeping, we went up to the attic library where they archive all the yearbooks. There’s your mom.” Dee pointed to a picture of a girl with a pencil to her lips, sitting at a desk surrounded by papers.
J.J. nodded. “Nothing’s changed. That’s how she looks at home all the time now: chewing an eraser off a pencil, then fussing about how none of her pencils ever have erasers, surrounded by books and papers, except now there’s a computer and computers discs all over as well.”
“Go to the “Most Likely To” section.” Directed Marnie. “I couldn’t believe it.”
J.J. flipped through.
The Most Likely to Succeed girls were her mother and Pat. The girl Most Likely to Win a Beauty Contest was her mother. But there were gag categories as well, and Most Likely to End Up in the Penitentiary were her mother and Pat. There was a picture of them looking as if they were being chastised by the Dean in her office, and the picture had been placed behind bars that were secured by a huge lock. Someone had drawn the bars and the lock over the picture before printing it in the book.
“Look real close at your mother.” Urged Marnie.
Peering at the picture, scrutinizing it carefully, J.J. saw that someone had drawn a cigarette in her mother’s hand, which was behind her back, and they had made tiny smoke rings come from it.
“Oh my God!” J.J. hooted. “I have seen it all! Is there a copy machine here, Dee? I MUST have a copy of this shot!”
Marnie was in tears. “I know you would die when you saw that one, J.! They must have been true hellions for everybody to know it like that and for them to make the yearbook in that capacity. They are definitely holding out on us. There’s another one you need to see.”
Marnie licked her thumb and quickly turned a few pages, “Gresham/Brookfield Class couple.” She said when she stopped, pointing with her index finger. “Looky there.”
J.J. recognized the girl right off, but she had to read the caption in order for her mind to process it. When she did, she was thrown for a loop. The class couple were Patricia R. Hamilton and Theodore M. Baxter. She looked up at Dee.
Dee nodded. “Teddy’s father.” Madison and Dakota were nodding too.
Instantly giddy, J.J. began to bounce excitedly, completely forgetting, but instantly painfully reminded, about her injured ankle. “Teddy told me this afternoon that his uncle and his father knew them.” She confirmed. “He told me that his uncle said the two of them were on the wild when they went to school here. And my mother has the nerve to talk about me.”
Reading on, the yearbook went on to say that the two of them would attend the senior prom together. J.J. lay back on the pillows wishing that she could walk and handle her own business. She would have copies made of every bit of ammunition she could find in that book before midnight.
“God has a way of slowing us down.” Her mother had said to her just earlier that day. She sat back up. “Dee, you got any paper in here?”
Her mother had also told her that when God closed one door, he opened another; where there was a will there was a way.
J.J. Hart had the will and a way.
“What kind?” Dee asked as she slid off the bed.
“Any kind.” J.J. answered. “I just need to mark the pages that I need copies of.”
“What are you planning?” Marnie asked. She could almost see the devious wheels furiously turning in her friend’s head.
“I don’t know yet.” J.J. answered as she began to tear the sheet of paper Dee handed her into little strips. “But I want these pictures just the same. I’ve got the concrete goods on the Duchess and her girl. Tomorrow somebody is going to get roasted, and for once it won’t be me.”
“Hey J.” Marnie said, sounding as if she had just remembered something. “What’s this about me going to Briarwood with you tomorrow? Nobody asked me if I wanted to go.”
“Two for one, Marn.” J.J. answered as she marked her pages. “You know the rules.”