Close to the Hart: Part One

A health crisis threatens, but ultimately serves to define and confirm the Hart family’s bonds.

PLEASE NOTE:  This story contains scenes which may not be suitable for all readers. If you are offended by material of a sexually explicit nature, please do not proceed

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“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage, to know
who we are and where we come from.  Without this enriching knowledge, there is
a hollow yearning.
No matter what our attainments in life, there is a vacuum and emptiness and a
most disquieting loneliness.”
     ~ Alex Haley~

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 Part One

The nurse’s station buzzed with heightened activity, everyone rushing about, talking in fevered whispers. It was almost always busy in the ER, but the last patient to come in stirred things up considerably.

“He didn’t have any identification or anything on him to say who he was. If he had been brought in alone, he might have been a definite John Doe. It’s a good thing the airport radioed ahead.”

“She had all of his I.D. with her. The ambulance technicians said she wasn’t giving up anything about who he was, and that the only information they could get out of her concerned his physical symptoms. It wasn’t until she got here that she told anybody who he was. As far as she was concerned, all they didn’t have on him before they got him into that ambulance, it was just too bad.”

“How old is she?”

“I thought she was older, but Doctor Samuels says when he talked to the personal physician in LA, he found out she’s only sixteen. She wasn’t talking about herself either. After he told me that, I could see it in her face she was young, but from the way she carried herself, I wouldn’t have known.”

“With her background, she’s probably been trained drilled on what to do and how to act in an emergency.”

“Well, she sure handled her business. They say when he got sick up there, she was the one who contacted the airport tower to report the emergency and to request landing clearance. She brought that plane they were in down all by herself, and saw to him getting here. When they made the airport, he was pretty sick, but she was as cool as a little cucumber. By the time they got through triage, she had already contacted his private physician on her own. That’s how his doctor ended up contacting us before we could get to him.”

“Where’s the kid now?”

“Samuels took her to the private area in case the press gets wind of it.”

“With somebody that prominent in a town like this, it’s bound to leak out.”

“That’s probably why the girl wasn’t talking.”

“And what of his wife?”

“She’s being flown in from San Francisco. Someone just called to say she was on her way.”

“Anybody get the girl’s name?”

The head nurse checked the admittance chart on her clipboard. “It says, ‘Brought in by daughter, J.J. Hart’. I think I’ll go check on her, make sure she’s comfortable.”

“I don’t know, Edna. That girl didn’t look to be any too receptive to very much comforting when she was out here.”

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Jennifer had just finished signing the last contract, and was waiting for Marcia to return from the outer office with her copies of the originals when her cell phone vibrated in the breast pocket of her blazer. Checking the display, she saw it was her daughter trying to reach her. She clicked in.

“Hi, Sweetie. Don’t tell me you and your father made it home already? I thought I would be there before the two of you.”

No, Mom. We’re not home.

“J.J., is something wrong? You sound funny.”

It’s Daddy.

“What’s happened? What’s the matter with your father, J.J.?”

I don’t really know. He’s not feeling well. We’re at the hospital. They’re checking him out now.

“At the hospital? Running tests for what? Tell me what happened.”

He just wasn’t feeling well, Mom. The doctors have him. They’re taking care of him, don’t worry.

“Where are you? Where are both of you? Are you in LA, or are you still in Colorado?”

We were on our way home from the ranch, but we had to make an emergency landing when he got sick.

“An emergency landing? J.J. are you all right?”

Mom, I’m fine. Right now I just need to know exactly where you are. I already contacted Uncle Marcus at Hart to code Daddy in. I spoke to Liz, and told her I needed to get you here. She said she’s arranging for a car to come for you to take you to the airport there. They’ll have a chartered plane gassed up and ready to bring you here, and when you arrive, a helicopter will be at the airport to bring you to us here at the hospital. It’s all being set up as I’m speaking o you. I just need to know exactly where to have Liz send the car. Are you at Aunt Marcia’s office or her house?

“Have the car sent to Marcia’s office. Do you need the address?”

No, it’s programmed into my phone. The car is as good as on it’s way, Mom.

“J.J., you haven’t said. To where am I being flown?”

Vegas. We had to land at McCarren.

“Tell me, J.J., and don’t you dare try to cover for him. Was your father flying that plane ill? Who else was with you? And are you really okay?”

He wasn’t flying at all. It was just Daddy and me, and I’m fine. I have to go so I can call Liz back  to tell her where to send the car. I’ll see you when you get here.

J.J. clicked off without saying goodbye, leaving Jennifer hanging and stunned. For several more seconds, she remained seated with the silent  phone pressed tightly to her ear. Numbed by the entire content of the conversation, all of what J.J. said needed time to sink in. She was finally clicking off herself when Marcia returned to the office, fanning in her hands the copies she had gone to make .

“You’re all set, Jen,” she announced, “and we are done. Look, we can have lunch at Marco’s before your flight back to LA. You’ve got time. I had Janice make reservations for us, so they’d save us a table. They’re usually packed at this time of the day.”

“I- I can’t Marcia,” Jennifer answered, having barely heard what was said to her.

Slowly standing, she began to gather her things while lining things up in her head, compartmentalizing, pushing back Jonathan and the fright associated with his situation away from the matters at hand. “I have to be ready. I’m going to have to go.”

It flashed like a warning beacon in her mind that refused to be turned off- J.J. had been purposely vague, but if she felt she had to code Marcus Borland into her father’s position, whatever was going on with Jonathan had to be bad. She wouldn’t have done that otherwise. Jonathan hadn’t mentioned to her that he had J.J. given the code, but if he trusted J.J. with something that important, then he also instructed her under what dire circumstances she was to use it.

“Jen, you’ve gone white as a sheet.” Marcia put the papers down on her desk and slowly crossed the room to where she stood. “What’s happened. What was that call about?”

“It was J.J, Marci. She called to tell me Jonathan took sick as they were on their way back from the ranch. She said they had to make an emergency landing in Vegas, and she was calling to get my location so she could have a car come for me to take me to the airport.”

Moving and feeling like a robot, Jennifer continued to go through the motions of sorting her papers and to placing them into folders to go into her briefcase. “Let me have those copies,” she said, concentrating on controlling her movements to keep Marcia from catching any physical manifestations of how much her spitit was shaking.

“Jen?”

She felt how intently Marcia watched her as she reached out with the papers she had requested of her. “Jen, what did J.J. say was wrong with him?”

Dropping her eyes to the briefcase, sliding the papers into the folder they need to be in, Jennifer answered, forccing her voice to sound light and even. “She didn’t say. She was avoiding telling me anything beyond that he was ill. She did mention, however, that he wasn’t flying the plane at the time.”

Marcia rocked back as if stunned and tilted her head. “Then who- ” She held up a hand. “Hold on. Jen, do you mean to tell me- Didn’t you tell me just the two of them had flown out there? Just the two of them were on board?”

“Yes,” Jennifer said as she snapped her case shut and then walked over to the window to look down to the street for the car. “J.J. had to have been flying them in. She had to have brought them down.”

“I always knew that little girl had a lot of nerve,” Marcia said as she joined her at the window, “and was just like Jonathan in her ways. She’s always been quick, and super smart, but I have to say, this news knocks me out. You’ve never mentioned anything about it. Did you know she could fly, Jen?”

“I suspected it,” Jennifer admitted. “I just hadn’t confirmed it or reconciled it in my mind. Until now.”

Marcia placed a hand on her shoulder. “That is one heck of a daughter you and Jonathan have.”

Jennifer, her gaze still fixed on the ground below, nodded again, silently acknowledging her friend’s observation.

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Having excused herself from the bustle and busyness downstairs, finally cloistered in her private study, Sister Mary Anastasia sat down and closed her eyes. Her lips trembled as she silently recited the prayers that had been coming of their own accord ever since she hung up the phone in her office. Justine’s message had shaken her to her core. She crossed herself and then leaned forward to rest her elbows on her desk, massaging the deep creases in her forehead with the fingers of both hands.

Had she been allowed to live so long for this?  They could not have been brought so far together for this.

          Jonathan. My-

With her eyes still closed, she could see him as he had been.

He was called Charlie back then, but he had always been Jonathan to her. There he was, standing before her awaiting his fate. His shirt nearly torn off his back, his knickers and socks dusty from where he had been scuffling. That tousled mop of thick chestnut hair that he hated having cut, fell down into those distinctive blue eyes that looked so directly at her from that impish, apple cheeked face.

“Another fight, Jonathan. That is the second shirt you’ve ruined this week.”

“I’m sorry, Sister, about the shirt.”

“The shirt? Jonathan, aren’t you sorry about the fighting?”

“No, Ma’am.”

“No?”

 “Petey had it coming. Somebody has to stick up for the little guys. I told him to pick on somebody his own size. He did, so I had to fight him.”

“Jonathan, what happened to turn the other cheek?”

“That only works in storybooks. It don’t work in real life. You turn the other cheek, and you just get punched in that one, too. I would punch a guy in his if he turned it to me. People will run all over you if they think they can. I had to let him know.”

Doesn’t, Jonathan, and you know  I have taught you better than that. Fisticuffs doesn’t solve anything.”

“I bet you Petey thinks twice before he messes with the little guys -or me- again.”

“You understand that I’m going to have to punish you again, don’t you?”

“It’s okay, Sister. If that’s what you gotta do, that’s what you gotta do. Petey had it coming, and I did what I had to do. But, I messed up my clothes when you told me not to, so I guess now I have it coming to me, too.”

Even as a little boy, he possessed such a strong character and so much personality. He never knew how much it hurt her to have to take the ruler to him for the sake of appearances.

His own child was just like him.

“I just called to tell you my Daddy is sick. I’m at the hospital with him now. My mother is on her way. He might not like it that I called you, but I’ll worry about that later. I thought you would want to know. I thought you should know.”

Despite her headstrong ways, that girl of his had a lot of character and a strong personality, as well. And as it had been with Jonathan, she alone dealt with Justine when the occasion called for such action.

Jonathan was never sick, aside from that attack of appendicitis before Jennifer and long before Justine, and the head colds he would get from where he still refused to wear a hat when the weather turned cool.

Slowly rocking back in her chair, she turned it around to look out of the window behind her. Gleaming in the distance were those magnificent towers her Jonathan built.

Like her, he was made of the good stuff, the kind of gristle and mettle that one hardly saw any more in younger people. For him, this had to only be a minor setback. Perhaps it was His way of getting that boy to be still and listen to Him for once. She had given it her best effort, but Jonathan wasn’t big on church, and for a time, he even had a thing about prayer. It had to be His way of slowing him down enough to hear something He had to say. After all, if the mountain wouldn’t come ….

She had accepted her own calling as a very young girl; raised in religion, it had never been her habit to question His will. She had always faithfully gone wherever He guided her feet. She always followed through on whatever He led her hands to do. When He came to her and told her to keep the boy, even though she had already taken her vows; that was what she had done. It hadn’t always been easy, but never once had she regretted it.

When later, He told her it was time to let him go, it nearly killed her to obey. She reluctantly turned Jonathan over to those more capable, rough, but entirely trustworthy male hands. She released him to Max, and with him, Jonathan had grown into an admirable man.

Of all the many children who had come and gone over all those years, no other had ever been so precious or so special. She had been hard on him, far harder than on any of the others, but it was what she had to be. It was the only way. At age fifteen, he left Mission Street, and went on with his life, but he never completely left her, and he had never forgotten from where he had come. When he finally found the one woman with whom he chose to share his life, his first order of personal business when he returned to Los Angeles had been to bring Jennifer to meet her.

He made a wonderful life for himself. With Jennifer, he finally achieved that traditional family of his own for which he had so longed as a boy. Through Jonathan, her life and the lives of countless other children had been enriched.

It had been completely out of character for his Justine to phone her. Under the circumstances, it was a significant gesture. Justine was not fond of her, of that she was aware, but that, too, was by design. Even so, in the clutch, the girl set aside her personal feelings to do what she felt was best for her father.

“I thought you should know in case you might want to pray for him.”

Beyond the verbal reasons she had given for phoning, Justine had a far more ulterior motive for picking up that phone. If her beloved father was in trouble, little manipulator that she could be, she would turn to the person she felt had the most direct line to the One best able to help him out of it. Early on it was apparent that despite her personal disregard for her, Justine clearly picked up the “in” an elderly nun probably likely maintained with the Lord.

“Sister Anastasia makes me sick. She’s so old, she’s on a first name basis with God- the Father. When he was making the world, after he got through hooking up the circuitry and everything, God turns around, points, and goes, “Hit that, right there.” Sister Anastasia goes, “No problem”, throws the switch, and that’s how we got light down here.”

She had just turned eight. the little impertinent scamp.

After overhearing her as she stood outside the door, she had been too outdone at the time to take that Hart to task. The girl was every bit the quick-witted, cheeky rascal her father had been.

If it weren’t for Jennifer….

Waiting until the ensuing naughty laughter of Justine’s audience died down some, she had reentered the Catechism classroom, her presence immediately generating sudden, guilty silence. A pair of eyes as blue and just as direct as her predecessors’ closely watched her as she moved to her place at the front of the classroom. If she hadn’t heard her saying it, there would have been no way to tell from the girl’s face that she had done anything out of the way in her absence. She was just like her father had been, a mischievous, naughty, totally engaging rascal of a child.

Catechism classes hadn’t been the same since she stopped coming all those years ago. In her entire teaching career, Justine had been only the second student to drop out that she did not try to talk into returning.

The first had been her father.

In a roundabout way, Justine’s call said that despite their prickly relationship; she trusted in her, and that was good. That was very good. Justine, like Jonathan, did not trust or believe easily. But somehow the girl knew exactly with whom she could place her father’s spiritual welfare, and in that, she was quite right.

Reaching inside the thick folds of the front of her habit, she extracted from between her breasts, a  heart-shaped gold locket. She had worn it about her neck from the beginning, but never had it been adornment, the scripted letter once etched into the casing now worn smooth. The necklace was an essential element of her being, as essential as her Rosary, as breathing, as essential as the beating of her own heart.

Pressing the tiny button at the top of it with her thumb, the locket sprang open in the palm of her hand, and she gazed down at the handsome, dark haired young man in the bomber jacket on the one side and at the very little boy with the then blonde bowl haircut, dressed in a sailor suit on the other. The child’s bright eyes and wide smile mirrored that of the young man’s.

It was to the child’s picture that Sister Anastasia pressed the kiss. She hadn’t asked for him, but he had come, and there safe with her he had remained. It simply could not be that he would be taken from her. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way. It was not the natural order.

“But your will be done,” she whispered as tears clouded her eyes.

She made that oral declaration; however, the inner hope still strongly surged, entreating that it be His will to take her instead.

Pressing the locket closed and moving it back into its customary place of concealment, she reached for her handkerchief and thoroughly dried her eyes. It wouldn’t do for anyone to detect her pain or her distress. It was too personal, She did not allow others to see her weaknesses. She was an old woman, but proud, and fiercely guarding her privacy, a way of life.

Composed once more, she eased herself up from the chair.

Prayers would be better heard in the chapel, closer to His throne. Justine was counting upon her, and evidently, after years of being self-sufficient, Jonathan once again needed her.

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Having made one last call, J.J. clicked off her cell. She wasn’t really sure if she was supposed to be using it in the hospital, but that last contact had to be made. Sitting down in the chair, it struck her hard how profoundly alone she was in that private waiting room. She closed her eyes, sat back, and pressed her boot clad feet hard to the floor to stave off the apprehension and panic attempting to rise up and overtake her ever since that door had closed behind the doctor who had ushered her in there.

To occupy her mind, she went over all the things she was supposed to have done. All the required, necessary calls had been made, and all the pertinent information had been given to the proper parties. She flew her father in safely, and the doctors had him back there, hopefully helping him. Her mother was on her way.

Now it was time for the hard part. She had to stand strong on her own. Her father would expect her to do that. Her mother would need for her to do that.

Her father.

Daddy.  

So sick.

She had done everything she could think of to help him in an effort to get him home and to his own doctor, but he had been just too sick to take him all the way back to LA. Everything he ever taught her about flying emergencies had come right to her, and she had followed through.

But all the while, he was in that seat next to her, sweating and shaking. He said his chest hurt and the pain was going up into his neck and down into his left arm and hand. He had to have been in severe pain; he never complained about not feeling well. It had to have been his heart.

After making him put the aspirin she kept with her for cramps, under his tongue, she had to force herself to block him out. At that point, it became more important for her to get that plane out of the air and to make sure help would be there when they arrived at McCarren, the closest airport that had given her clearance to come in. The decision to come down had been hers, and he hadn’t questioned it.

It seemed almost ironic the Las Vegas airport was where the two of them ended up.

Before that, they had been at the ranch. Her father had purchased some horses and wanted to go up and see them for himself. Her mother was in San Francisco on business to meet with Marcia, her old friend, who was also her literary agent. When given the choice, she opted to accompany her father. Aunt Marcia was nice, but she wasn’t Aunt Pat. A visit to New York to see Aunt Pat was worth giving up horses and open spaces for. Traveling to see Aunt Marcia was not. School would be starting in a little over a week, and once that happened, she would then be focusing her attentions on her studies. The mini-vacation, mostly spent riding and running, had been most welcome.

But looking back on it, ever since they left Los Angeles, Daddy seemed a little off his game. On the night before their departure, Roxie, the ranch foreperson, came up to the main house to have dinner with them. He made his famous five-alarm chili, which she and Roxie loved, and it was Roxie who first commented on his color. He had become sort of pale underneath his summer tan; the normal rosy blush gone from his cheeks. He had also been quieter than normal, too, acting sort of tired, which was so unusual for him, especially at the ranch.

Then again, he was coming off some rather intense business meetings which had taken place on the two days before they arrived. There was also that mess with Wesley Singleton that went on all summer. It came to its dramatic head the previous weekend, but the ending she got the feeling was less than satisfactory for her father. She strongly sensed he still wasn’t quite finished with it.

At the time, she surmised all of that could account for her father’s lack of energy. In hindsight, the entire past six months, and the drama he had been put through, had probably been working on him the whole time. Thinking back on it, she realized he had been a bit sluggish ever since her mother left them at home that past Tuesday morning.

She flew the two of them to the ranch, while her father dozed most of the way. His being confident enough of her skills and abilities to relax in that manner was gratifying to her, but it got her attention because he usually relaxed like that on the way back from places, not on the way to them.

On the afternoon before, he declined her invitation to go riding, saying he neede to go over some things he brought with him. She left him sitting on the hammock. He spent time out on the paddock earlier in the day, working the horses, but he stopped and went in, going into his room and staying there with the door closed for a while. She assumed he was on the phone, and whatever he had been into, he was going to finish while she rode so he could spend time with her when she returned.

When she got back, however, he was still in the hammock, but he was lying down, and he had fallen asleep. That wasn’t at all like him. Unless he had jet lag, Daddy never fell asleep like that during the day. He might lie down on the couch to read or close his eyes while listening to music, but he never went completely to sleep. They had only traveled from California to Colorado, so that ruled out any possibility of jet lag.

He didn’t sleep very long out on the porch, but shortly after, when he came in, he mentioned having a slight case of indigestion. He took some antacids, and seemed to feel better after that, eating two bowls of the chili and playing several winning hands of poker before turning in later that evening. He even brought up that Uncle Bill and Aunt Pat were in Reno for a few days, and maybe they could fly up and see them for a couple of hours before returning to LA.

But that morning as they prepared to leave, even though he was pretending to be fine, to her eyes he looked worse. Roxie must have noticed it too, though. She asked him how he was feeling, and that was when he admitted he thought he might be getting a bug.

Wanting to believe her father, she hadn’t fought him when he dismissed Roxie’s suggestion that they stay over until he felt better. He told Roxie he would be all right once he got home to his wife. Jennifer Hart was supposed to be there when they got back, and no matter what was wrong with him, J.J. Hart knew being back with her mother would be a shot in the arm for him. He made no mention of diverting to Reno. Instead, he seemed pretty anxious to get home.

She had missed every single sign, and she was sick with it.

The call she made to her mother had been the most difficult one she had ever had to make in her life. But there was no way he could let her hear that Jonathan Hart was ill from anyone else. As they had been speaking and she had been carefully choosing her words to tell her the things that she had to tell her while trying not to panic her, she could almost see her mother’s face turning that pasty color it could turn when she was ill herself or just before she got really angry. Her tone had been pretty calm, almost surprisingly matter-of-fact, but J.J. could tell  her mother had been forcing it. Jennifer Hart would certainly be frightened, sick, and maybe even angry, about this situation.

On top of everything else, she now knew about the flying. What a way for her to find out. But that was a worry for later.

“God, please don’t let me have been too late getting him here,” J.J. prayed aloud, the pointed toes of her boots involuntarily tapping with suppressed anxiety. “Please let him be okay. For her- who am I trying to kid? For me, too.”

She pushed her face into the soft black leather jacket folded across her knees. It was her father’s. Deeply inhaling, his comfortingly familiar scent seemed to infuse her with renewed strength. With her index finger, she blindly traced his nickname, “Valentine,” embroidered onto the front left breast. His given name was sewn inside, and because of that, she had taken it off him before she let anyone onto that plane. She had removed everything from his pockets and all of his jewelry from his person, including his wedding band and the distinctive signet ring he always wore on his right pinkie finger. It was what he told her to do if anything ever happened to him when they were together.

“Nobody needs to know any more about us than you tell them, J.J. That could be dangerous for us, mostly for you if I’m incapacitated. You stay in control of the situation. Don’t let anybody get the upper hand on us. I’ll be counting on you to look out for me.”

It was if he knew this day might come.

As she had been collecting his things, she had been fighting to stay in control of her emotions. Pushing, tugging, and pulling at his heavy, largely unresponsive body to empty his pockets and to remove all the items to put them away, she had been beating back the threatening panic and fear. He had been in too much pain to help her, and that in itself, witnessing it, had been terrifying. Her father was the man and normally he looked out for her, but suddenly, there she was, in charge of looking out for him.

Reaching into her own jacket, the one that was a match for the jacket on her lap, she pulled out her father’s signet ring, his wedding ring, and his wallet from her pocket. The wedding ring, she slipped into the zipper section of his wallet, which she put back into her pocket with the rest of his things which she also zipped shut. She then sat up all the way up and placed the signet ring on his chain which was around her own neck and hidden down inside her shirt.

Then she dropped her face back down into her father’s jacket to be close to him again.

Just a week before, she had been dancing with him and he had kissed her on the forehead. Just the night before, he was standing at the fence watching her on the paddock as she helped work the horses. He called her over to him to tell her how proud he was of the very capable, well-rounded girl he was raising.

She had done everything she knew to do. The last thing she told him before they took him away from her was how much she loved him before kissing him on the forehead.

There was nothing else left to do now but wait.

“Excuse me.” A voice said. “Is there anything I can do for you, sweetheart? May I get you something to eat? To drink?”

J.J. initially bristled at the cloying tone of the unseen person who was evidently taking her for a helpless child. But then, before raising her head from the jacket on her lap, she reminded herself that the woman was probably only doing her job, trying to be helpful. She couldn’t possibly know.

She looked up to find a nurse, an older lady, standing half inside the partially opened door.

“No, thank you.” She said, immediately grateful for her strong basic training in deferring to her elders.

It had been so deeply ingrained within her that it had become part of her personal behavioral expectations. She would have been very embarrassed had she come off sounding rude to the woman.

“I would just like to know if you can you tell me anything about my father yet.” She added.

“Not yet, dear.” The woman weakly smiled. “They’re trying to get him stabilized, and then he’s going to have to have some tests, like we told you before. Right now they’re just making him as comfortable as possible, trying to get him to relax. Is someone coming to be with you until your mother arrives?”

“I’ll be fine.” J.J. said as she put her head back down. “Thank you for asking.”

Watching her from the door, the nurse wanted to offer a bit more reassurance. She could see that despite her outward maturity and stoic demeanor, that was just a little girl over there on the other side of the room. The experience had to have been extremely frightening and upsetting to her.

She had been in the ambulance with her father as he was being transported from the airport to the hospital. The technicians reported that she had been closely monitoring everything they did to him, not once averting her eyes from them as her father was administered oxygen, as an EKG was started on him, or even when the needle was inserted into him to start the intravenous unit. When the nitro glycerin tablet had been placed under his tongue, she demanded to know what it was and what it was meant to do. When that action was repeated a few minutes later, she immediately wanted to know why.

She had to be terrified, but there was a definite air about her that said that she didn’t want anyone to come close, and apparently, just as had been reported; J.J. Hart was not seeking any outside comforting. The vibrations radiating from her out toward that door, were a strong mixture of both self-reliance and defensiveness, and for that moment at least, it seemed impenetrable. Miss Hart had been right there with her father the entire way, and whatever she was trying not to let anybody see, it had to be awfully hard for her over there by herself.

But the nature of her profession was making it impossible for the nurse to just leave without making a final offer.

“Well, if you find you need anything, you come right through this door and you ask any one of us out there, okay?”

J.J. spoke without lifting her head, murmuring, “Thank you.” from the damp folds of the quilted lining of her father’s jacket.

________________________________________________________

Although Marcia had repeatedly offered to accompany her, Jennifer had turned her down. The car Liz ordered, arrived about fifteen minutes after J.J. had so abruptly hung up, and she been whisked right to the airport. Once there, she was immediately escorted onto the private plane that was waiting to take her to Las Vegas.

It wasn’t until the pilots had secured themselves in the cockpit, the plane was taxiing down the runway, and she was finally alone in the cabin that she allowed herself to feel. She was going to need time alone to get herself together before dealing with whatever was waiting for her in Nevada.

It was one of her greatest fears come true, and it had to be pretty bad. If it had been anything less, J.J. would have specifically said. Whatever had taken Jonathan out had to have been something that would have totally incapacitated him. He was a very fit man for his age, but constantly racing as he did upon that high speed treadmill that was his life, it was inevitable that something would eventually have to give, so it had to be his heart.

It had to be Jonathan’s heart. He moved all time. When he wasn’t moving, he was thinking of what needed to be done when he got moving again. Many were the nights that she might wake and find him lying there, staring at the ceiling. She could almost see his mind going, whizzing along at a mile a minute, formulating his next plan, his next merger, his and J.J.’s next scheme. Nobody could multi-task mentally and physically like he could. Whether working or playing, he gave his all . Everything he did, those things he enjoyed doing; he did with abandon.

So sweet, so kind, so generous. So charming, intelligent, funny, and sensitive. No man had ever loved her entire person as unconditionally as he loved her. Before him, she hadn’t loved. Only he had won her over in the manner and to the degree that he had. Only him, and there would never be another.

And then his daughter. The two of them. Jonathan Hart and his J.J. She and he.

Everything they did, all the things he had secretly taught her to do, were done with the same sweet, reckless abandon. They thought they were so slick. How could she not know? If he knew how, she knew how. It had always been like that. They had been as thick as thieves from the start, and he had been schooling her all of her life.

Both of them up there. Flying together. Totally trusting each other.

What if he hadn’t taught her….    What if J.J. hadn’t known how….  What if J.J. hadn’t been…

We interrupt this program with breaking news…. Jonathan Hart, CEO of the multi-national conglomerate, Hart Industries and his daughter, J.J. Hart….”

“My God,” she whispered into the fist pressed against her lips.

________________________________________________________

As he left ER5, Dr. Samuels used the tissue he snatched from the box on the counter to mop the nervous perspiration from his forehead. This case  was panning out to be a lot rougher than it had to be.

Despite the pain he was in and the precariousness of his situation, once he had been somewhat stabilized, Jonathan Hart was proving to be a very difficult patient. He seemed to believe that what he had was only indigestion which would pass if they would just leave him alone. Without a doubt, the man was going to have to be admitted, but to the best of his limited ability, he was fighting it tooth and nail.

Talk about being in denial.

He’d seen it before in typically healthy, active men who suddenly found themselves knocked off their feet. That type of individual didn’t know how to be sick, and didn’t know how to admit to being afraid of being sick. For a man in Hart’s position, someone who normally did the shot-calling, it had to be very difficult to not be in charge of his own situation. Hart was used to winning. It had to be very hard for him to be behind an eight ball that large.

“He’s going to be a hard one to deal with. His physician, Leonard Michaels in LA said that he might be.” He said to the Head nurse who was at the front desk when he got there. He handed the chart he had been carrying off to her. “He said that the girl would probably be difficult, too, in this situation. I’d better see to her. I’ll bring her up to the Unit to wait for her mother while they’re transporting him. I know she has to be worried and wondering what’s going on.”

When he returned to the private waiting room where he’d left her, the girl was up, her back to the door, staring out of the windows. At the sound of the door opening, she turned around.

“Hi.” He said. But he was thrown off a bit by the look she gave him. It actually stopped him in his tracks in the doorway.

It was an impatient, almost angry glare, and he was ready to swear that he could feel it repelling him.

“My father.” She said. “Is he going to be all right?”

“Well, we’re admitting him, and we’re in the process of moving him to a room. I’ve come to get you, Miss Hart. I’m going to take you upstairs to that unit to wait for your mother.”

“You didn’t answer my question.” She said, folding her arms and not moving from the spot in which she had been standing. “What’s wrong with him, and is he going to be all right? Did my father have a heart attack?”

“We’re not sure at this point, but we-”

“Why aren’t you sure? If you don’t know what’s going on yet, then where are you moving him to and why? Will I  be able to see him?”

Taken even further aback by her tone and her forcefulness in relation to her youth, for a moment Dr. Samuels didn’t really know what to say. She was coming off a lot older, but in reality, she was a child. The information she was requesting about her father was reserved for his wife. But that girl on the other side of the room was coming at him like a woman rather than a young girl, a daughter.

“We’ve eased some of his discomfort, and we’ve done some of the preliminary work,” He felt forced to offer. “But we have to take him upstairs to get him ready so that we can run the proper tests to determine exactly what’s going on. We’re having a hard time getting him to let us treat him back there. He doesn’t want to do anything we need him to do. We only just got him quiet. He won’t let us give him anything to help him rest.”

That was when she finally smiled a small smile, and he could see her relax somewhat, but she didn’t verbally respond to it. It wasn’t until then that she moved, going to the chair to pick up what turned out to be two jackets.

“Where are you taking me?” She finally asked.

“Up to the Coronary Care Unit. There’s a more comfortable room up there where you can wait for your mother. It’s designed for longer waits.”

She nodded as she came toward him. “So it is his heart. I thought it was.”

“He told us you gave him aspirin. That was very wise of you if you thought it was his heart. Where did you learn that?”

“I read a lot.” She answered as she passed him to go through the door he was holding open. “I read all kinds of things everywhere, so I really don’t remember exactly where I learned it. It might have been in health class at school. It might have even been something I saw on TV. I should tell you, though, my father is not going to act right until my mother gets here. There’s no sense in you all trying to get him to rest or to sleep before she arrives, if that’s what you’re trying to get him to do. He won’t until he sees her. He has a very strong will, especially when it comes to her.”

________________________________________________________

Jonathan was close to panic, a feeling he really wasn’t accustomed to experiencing. In fact, he could only recall having felt it twice before; sitting with Jennifer as she labored with J.J. and earlier that year when he got the call that J.J. and Tommy had been kidnapped. He had been in some tight spots before in his life, but as he anxiously lie there, tethered to that pole with the bags of who-knew-what hanging from it, and hooked up a machine whose every annoying bleep made him want to jump out of his own skin; he felt helpless. He was boxed in by circumstance, and for the first time, unable to make an effort on his own to get himself out of the jam he was in. Lying still and being silent was doing all that he could comfortably do. He had been admitted to the hospital, and they had gotten him up to this other room, but he still didn’t know for sure what was going on. If it was serious, like he suspected it might be; he didn’t want to know.

If only Jennifer would get there.

He’d told them that they shouldn’t touch him any more. He’d asked them not to say anything else to him. He let them know that if they wanted him to cooperate, they needed to just let him lie there until he could get his wind back and get his feet underneath him again. Out loud, he’d said to himself that all he needed was some bicarbonate, a couple of hours of quiet, and then he would be back to himself again. He had always been lucky. Maybe, if they would just leave him alone for a while and let him get it together, he could get up, grab his kid, and walk the hell out of there. In private, he knew that there was much more to it. For the moment, he was concentrating on not bothering anyone, and he had told them in no uncertain terms to not ask him to do anything more than that.

Out of a very deep fear that he didn’t want to face, he was doing everything he could to stay alert until Jennifer got there. They wanted him to rest, but there was no way that he was going to sleep or let them give him anything to make him sleep until he saw her face one more time. Once he had done that, whoever could do whatever they wanted with him. He hadn’t said as much to any of them, but that was the way that was going to be.

Utterly humiliated by all that had happened, he kept his eyes closed most of the time to block out the faces that looked into his. It was difficult to tell who was actually there for him, and who was just there to see Jonathan Hart. He felt completely exposed. It was the kind of out-of-his-control situation he detested, and it left him feeling completely helpless. All that day, it seemed he had suffered one public indignity after another, and he didn’t know how much more he could take.

He hadn’t been feeling well for a few days, but hoping that it would pass, or that he could get home and maybe slip off on his own to see his personal physician if it persisted; he hadn’t said anything to anyone about it. Actually, he hadn’t even really claimed it to himself. He had always been capable and strong and able to take care of himself. When he did become ill, he had always been quick to recover. The one time before that he had been seriously ill, the time with the appendicitis; despite being in severe pain, he had driven himself to the hospital. Then there had been that other time when he had been temporarily blinded by that chemical purposely poured into the pool. But he had been a lot younger when those things happened, and Jennifer had been right there with him that last time.

This time, though, it was a much more serious thing, and although he had tried denying it; he knew it. This time, he had to be flown in by his own child who had seen for herself how sick he was. Once they got there, she had conducted his affairs because he had been too ill to see to himself. He had been helped out of his clothes by strangers because he had been too weak and in too much pain to do it for himself. Throughout the entire ordeal, he couldn’t tell which was worse, the helplessness, the pain, or the fear brought about by the pain. He was supposed to be the one to play the part of the hero. Instead, his daughter had taken on the role.

But she had done it well, and he had never been more proud of her. Now he worried because he knew that wherever they had her, she would be worrying about him. He was anxious about her being out there on her own, being J.J. Hart, without him or her mother to protect her. The doctors had assured him that she was in a secure area, but that was of little comfort to him. They wouldn’t let her come to him, so he hadn’t seen her since they had arrived. He didn’t know the layout of the hospital or the personnel, and neither did J.J. For the time being, they were both exposed, she even more so than he, and that was making him even more nervous. How was he supposed to rest knowing that?

He didn’t have his watch. Just as she had been instructed to do, J.J. had stripped him clean of all personal effects, and there was no clock to be seen in the room. The machines that were keeping track of him were behind and over his head, so if they were also keeping the time, he couldn’t see them. It was impossible to know how long he had been there, but it seemed like hours. Again J.J. made her way into his mind.

The girl was impatient, suspicious, and cautious. In the ambulance, he couldn’t see her, but he could hear her questioning the technicians’ every move. She had been right up on everything, curt- actually borderline rude- in her requests to have things explained to her. That enquiring mind wanted to know exactly what was being done to her Daddy, and he wasn’t surprised that she had succeeded in being told.

In that she was like him. She was forceful, and she was going to look out for her people. But, she had inherited some behavioral qualities from Jennifer, as well. The strongest of those was how cool and methodical she became under pressure. Jennifer was like that. She rarely panicked, at least not outwardly, in an emergency. To the contrary, she seemed to slow and go into an almost mechanical mode, taking things step-by-step, her actions deliberate, coherent, and logical. Apparently, J.J. had that same ability. At sixteen, she had handled herself like a seasoned pilot and like a mature adult. Without her, they wouldn’t have made it that afternoon. It was for sure that in the shape he had been at that time, he would have had great difficulty getting them down safely.

He had ceased struggling against it, so he wasn’t in as much pain as he had been. But looking around himself, all he could think was, “You are really in some deep sh– this time, Valentine.”

________________________________________________________

“Mrs. Hart, we’re making our final descent into Las Vegas, and we’ve been cleared for landing. We’re told that the chopper is already on the pad, waiting for you. We’ll get your bags off, and you can be on your way.”

“Thank you.” Jennifer said into the intercom, and then she sat back.

Anxiously gripping the arm rests of her seat, she continued to block out the worst case scenarios that had been doggedly trying to plant themselves into her fertile writer’s mind.

But she wasn’t having it. Wasn’t buying a cent of it. She couldn’t afford to. Two sets of blue eyes would be taking their cue from her once she arrived at that hospital, and it would not do for her to be looking as frightened as she felt.

________________________________________________________

Jonathan could hear people moving about in the room. I hushed movements, they kept coming and going, but he kept his eyes closed, hoping they would think him asleep and leave him alone. Shutting everything out, and closing up inside himself in that way also served to make him feel less exposed.

Whatever was wrong with him, it had him feeling nauseous and so worn out. It was getting better, though, since he was being still. He had been told that the problem was with his heart; he had already suspected that to be the case, but nothing more specific than that had been determined. At least it hadn’t been revealed to him, if it had.

Lying there, he was telling himself that this couldn’t be how it was supposed to happen. He and Jennifer hadn’t had enough time together. J.J. was still a little girl. Yes, he had been older when she came to him, but he always hoped to live at least long enough to see her graduate high school.

It had to be serious. His life had passed before his eyes a few times while in ER and in that room. Wasn’t that what happened when a person was cashing out?

Whenever he recalled being a boy, he found he could only remember so far back, probably not past ages five or six, and Anastasia always loomed large in those scenes. Father Franco, and then later on, Max, figured in as well. All three of them were very strong characters who had played vital roles in his life. Anastasia of the sharp tongue, and quick hand, he had seen through her early on. Father Franco, with his secret female “friend” and the gambling. Probably not the best priest in the world, but a hell of a human being. The life lessons that man had taught… between he and Max, another real man.

But strangely, the clearest, fullest, most unforced flashbacks of his life only went back as far as when Jennifer entered the picture. That made a lot of sense. Despite all of the experiences and the material successes, he hadn’t felt truly fulfilled and whole until she came along. She had been the biggest of the missing pieces in the puzzle of his life.

Whenever he thought back to the beginning, in his mind he saw her eyes. They had been the first thing he noticed about her. They remained her finest feature. Then her hair, that smile, and those legs. That girl had the best legs.

As he lie there, the music that was her laughter played in his head. Her velvety whispers tickled the ivories of his spine. To look at her, nobody would know the real woman she was. Only he knew. Only they knew what really went on inside the heart of the other.

J.J. had to have been the one to call her mother. She wouldn’t have let anyone else do that before she did. It hurt him to have put J.J. through all of that and to imagine how Jennifer had to be feeling and going through at the moment; both of them away from her, J.J. out there alone and him in physical trouble.

Had J.J. been forced to tell her about flying the plane?

He fought hard against it, but he could feel himself beginning to drift off. He was floating.

Back in London, near Tower Bridge.

With her.

He could not believe she agreed to marry him just like that. After all, she had been quite angry with him when he last saw her, as she was being driven away in the back of a police car. Redhead that she was, he had been prepared to talk and talk and talk until she would at least pretend to listen to him. But it turned out that his hunch about her had been correct. The message she sent by leaving that rose on the pillow of his bed had been read correctly: she loved him as he loved her. He hadn’t had to do very much talking at all to get her to see it his way. She called him crazy, questioned her father’s reaction to such a sudden move on her part, but then she said she would.

Putty. Girl putty. But the best kind.

That evening, after a day spent riding behind Max in the carriage, shopping, talking, getting to know each other… their second time together in that bedroom… went straight there once they got in …that time he hadn’t fallen asleep.

She allowed him to take all that hair down from that French roll he didn’t care for… too frigid-looking, too restrained.

By that time, he could tell that she was anything but….

… thick and wavy… red/ bronze/ gold, it framed her face, complimenting those sexy freckles he didn’t notice were sprinkled across her nose, like they were all over the rest of her body, until the next morning….

She allowed him to kiss her, touch her… unbutton her blouse… slowly… silk with mother of pearl buttons… slowly between kisses… the bra underneath had been a coral color… expensive, lacy, pretty…each cup full to the brim of her … slow, sweet kisses…on… between….

When she dropped that skirt and those French panties that matched the bra, and he could see her and those long, long legs of hers, all the way from hip to ankle…

…the first time she went… she didn’t look the part, but looks had truly deceived in that case. Her doing that to him should have landed him then where he currently was…

The first time she let him go… like heaven down there…

…the first time they… together… all night long… slept a little, and then again the next morning.

They rested most of the next day, went out that evening, and then started all over again once they got back to the suite.

Max had briefly pulled him to the side to tell him that he should have been ashamed about being so intimate with her so soon. But then, behind a sly grin, he broke down and admitted he understood completely why he wasn’t. She was the one, he said. They had both fallen in love with Jennifer, and she had become an integral part of them right off the bat.

The wedding ceremony six weeks later had been only been a formality; their souls were married at that first kiss they shared on that ferry. She fit and filled every empty, lonely inch of him in just that short span of time. Those eyes. Right then he was sure that she was the one.

The wedding night spent in the little Napa Valley inn that was now theirs… so beautiful… never wanted it to end… it hadn’t….

The squeezing, pressing sensation building in his chest, suddenly peaked, shooting pain up into his neck, the side of his face, and racing down into his shoulder and upper left arm. Its sharpness abruptly choked him. It had eased up for a time, but there it was again.

Somebody groaned and that stupid machine began beeping like crazy.

“Mr. Hart?”

          Damn. Leave me alone.

He could hear his name being called, but it made him mad. He couldn’t, and didn’t want to answer. He wanted to stay in that good, warm, familiar place with Jennifer and Max.

“Mr. Hart?

           I’ve got it. Leave me be, please. Just-

“Jonathan?”

He opened his eyes, and she was there. Really there, and other than the worried frown puckering her brow, still so beautiful.

________________________________________________________

When her mother left her, in a fit of irate disbelief, J.J. dropped down on the couch, her arms tightly folded across her chest.

What the hell did they mean that she couldn’t go see her father? What did they mean by saying they didn’t want him to get too excited? If that was the case, then Jennifer Hart, not J.J. Hart should have been the one made to stay in the waiting room. Jennifer Hart was the one who did all the stuff with him that would make his heart beat too hard and his blood pressure rise, not J.J.

How was the woman just going to waltz into town, listen to that bald-headed doctor, and then co-sign onto what he said, telling her to stay put in that room? Why hadn’t her mother come to her defense and insisted that she be allowed to see her own father?

Didn’t they know that if it hadn’t been for her he might not be back there for anybody to see?

She had been there all day, all by herself, worrying and waiting, and they weren’t going to let her see him? What if something happened to him in the night? What if the tomorrow they promised her didn’t come?

How did they expect her to leave there without seeing him for herself? Didn’t anybody care how she felt? Wasn’t anybody even going to ask?

Jennifer Edwards should know better.

What if something happened to him? It would be just like with her mother and her grandmother, and the hell if that was going to be. J.J. Hart wasn’t about to leave that hospital without speaking to her father in person, Hart to Hart.

And Jennifer Hart, of all people, should know that.

____________________________________________________________

“I understand you’ve been very uncooperative.” Jennifer said, raking the hair back from Jonathan’s forehead with her fingers, once everyone was gone from the room.

After Jonathan had been checked over and the information the machines were recording had been briefly reviewed by the appropriate personnel, she had asked to be left alone with him for a few minutes. She hadn’t seen him in over three days, and she wasn’t about to share that reunion with strangers. The room in which they had placed him on the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit had windows on all sides, and although there were curtains that could be drawn or pulled back, she knew what those windows had to be doing to him emotionally. He was not a man who liked being the center of attention. The grip he had on her hand was tight.

“I hate this.” He said in a desperate whisper. “I want to go home.”

“How do you feel now?”

“Like hell, but not as bad as I did when I first got here. Just the same, I want to go.”

“From what I understand, you’ll probably have to be here a few days, Jonathan, so you may as well get used to the idea. Dr. Samuels explained to me that there are a battery of tests they have to run to see exactly what’s going on.”

“What did they tell you is wrong with me. I know you asked.”

“They weren’t sure. They haven’t ruled out a heart attack. They aren’t really sure what it is, and since you haven’t been acting so nice- Dr. Samuels didn’t want to say anything to me until he’s run the tests that will definitively tell him. Be patient, Jonathan. Try to work with them. They’re here to help you.”

“I just feel so helpless. Like I’m at everybody and everything’s mercy. I hate feeling like this, Jennifer. Honestly, I do.”

“I know you do. But it’s what has to be until they find out exactly what’s wrong. Jonathan, the doctor tells me that he doubts this happened to you all of a sudden. It’s probably been coming on for a while, and you should have had some warning. You haven’t said anything to me about not feeling well. When you called me last night, were you feeling badly then? You didn’t say anything to me about that when you were telling me all those other things that were on your mind.”

“The other things I had to say to you were more important.” He tried to naughtily smile. “I missed having you near me. Talking about it was the best I could do at the time.”

She raised that one eyebrow to him as he smirked up at her.

He was so pale and looked so weak to her, but obviously that spirit of his was still strong, which was heartening.

“I wish we were in LA.” He said. “If I have to be pinned down like this, I wish I was on my own turf with my own people. I wish Leonard was treating me.”

“Dr. Samuels told me that he’s in regular contact with Leonard.” Jennifer said. “He assured me that nothing would be done to or with you that Leonard wasn’t consulted upon first. Don’t worry about that. Dr. Samuels told me that he and a Dr. Philips will be seeing to you exclusively around the clock. One of them will be attending to you at all times, so you won’t be seeing a parade of different staff physicians. Both of them are cardiologists, the best on tap here. They’re going to find out what’s going on, and they’re going to get you back on your feet. Then we can see about getting home when it’s time for that to happen. Until then, we all need for you to do what they ask of you.”

“They talk too much around here. A lot of unnecessary conversation. They’ve been poking and prodding at me all day. I feel like a lab rat or somebody’s science experiment. How long are they going to let you stay here with me?”

She shook her head. “Not long. This is the ICU. I can only stay in here with you for fifteen minutes on the hour.”

“Fifteen minutes!” He raised his head, in a move to sit forward, but she placed her hand to his shoulder to ease him back.

“They want you to be quiet and to rest as much as possible. It’s the most important thing you can do right now. They feel that if I’m here, you’ll be talking or concerned about me, and that’ll keep you edgy. It’s vital that you rest, and that you EAT what they give you, Jonathan, without complaint, no matter how bland it might be. I was told that you wouldn’t take anything at lunchtime.”

“Hospital food. Cream-of-freaking-Wheat, might as well be gruel. I ate better than that as a kid in the orphanage. Water with nothing in it except maybe ice, damn lime Jell-O, and crap. So boring. I don’t want that sh-”

“Jonathan!”

“I’m sorry. I’ll try next time, but I can’t promise. Have you seen, J.J.? Did you talk to her? Is she okay?”

She leaned on the rail and with her free hand her fingers gently smoothed his brow.

“She’s fine. Just worried about you and the foul attitude that she was sure you would be in. I think she’s developed one herself after the doctor told her that she wouldn’t be able to come back here to see you. He would only allow one of us, so you know which one of us that was going to be.”

“That wasn’t very fair. I don’t blame her for being upset.”

“Tomorrow, they said.”

He frowned in disappointment, and not wanting him to be more upset that he was, she hurried to further explain it to him.” They want you to rest, Darling. The fewer visitors right now, the better.”

“She is not a visitor. She’s my daughter, and I want to see her.”

“Tomorrow morning, I promise you. First thing.”

His sour facial expression clearly said that the answer didn’t satisfy him, but there wasn’t anything to be done about it. It had been doctor’s orders.

She continued to update him on what was going on in the world outside that room, which was where she knew he would appreciate having his attention diverted.

“J.J.’s fighting it, she’s been a rock; but she’s tired and worn out herself. That, too, isn’t helping her disposition any. I spoke with Marcus and Stanley; they had me on conference. They said that they’ll take care of all those loose ends from the meetings. They assured me that you needn’t worry about anything at Hart; they have it covered, and they want you to concentrate on getting better. I told them to try to keep it within the executive circle for now. I knew that you wouldn’t want it out there that you were ill until we knew more about it.

Oh, and Jimmy called me, too. He’s in New York, but he got word that you were here, and he’s arranged for us to use his villa during our stay. It’s closer to here. He’s put his staff on alert, and he put his car and driver at our disposal, too. I took him up on it. That will make things a lot easier for me. I’ll tell you, I wasn’t looking forward to booking into your suite at the Bellagio with J.J. Hart in tow. It’s across town, and it would have warranted my sleeping with one eye open to keep her from slipping off downstairs to the casino. You know she asked me right off if that was where we would be staying. You might be sick, and she might be worried over you, but you can bet it’s crossed her slick little mind at least once how she could work out getting at least one shot at the casino or the strip. With George managing things there, he would have been aiding and abetting her in it, just like you.”

That last thing made him smile, and she kissed him. His lips were dry and hot, and that sent her own heart racing again with worry.

“I’m going to miss you again tonight.” He whispered. “We’ve been apart since Tuesday morning. Here it is all the way to Saturday. Hell of a way for us to get back together, isn’t it?”

“Shhhh. We have the rest of our lives for that. You just rest and get better. That’s what’s important right now.”

She could feel his hold on her hand grow even tighter as he pulled it to bring her closer to him.

“You and me, Jennifer. That’s what’s important all the time. Over everything else, that’s all I care about. You and me. Without that, there wouldn’t be anything else. I want like everything to be back with you and J.J.”

“Then concentrate on doing the things that are going to get you there. Do what they tell you, try not to be aggravated by what they have you do. Eat what they feed you, even if it isn’t five-alarm chili.”

“I see J.J. ratted me out.”

“If it’s any consolation to you, she didn’t give you up easily. I had to work some to break her down. Two bowls? Jonathan, honestly. Once I do have you back home, you can bet-”

He raised his arm to reach behind her head, and brought her face down to his to kiss her again.

“Once I am back home.” He hoarsely grimaced over the frantic sound the machine was making, and through the sudden alarmed stiffening he had to have felt in her body caused by both his face and the beeping. “You can bet.”

Dr. Samuels hastily entered the room with two nurses behind him. He approached the bed, checking the largest monitor behind his patient.

“Mrs. Hart. I’m afraid that I’m going to have to cut this visit short. Mr. Hart needs his rest. He’s got a big day ahead of him, and we need him as stable and relaxed as possible for it. I hope you’ve been able to convince him to work with us.”

She reluctantly pulled back from Jonathan and stood over him, rubbing his cheek with her hand.

“I think we’ve come to some level of understanding.” She answered as she read the heartrending message his eyes were sending to her.

“I have to collect our daughter and get her to a shower and some food.” She said as she bent again to kiss Jonathan’s forehead. “I’ll call to check on you later, and then I’ll see you first thing in the morning.”

To Dr. Samuels she said, “I want to be here while his tests are being run. I trust that won’t be a problem for anyone, will it?”

“I don’t think so, Mrs. Hart.” The doctor answered, still consulting the machines and their respective read-outs.

He could hear in the tone of her voice, though, that it wouldn’t have mattered to her if anyone did have a problem with her being there. Despite her pretty face and delicate, refined appearance; he could tell that she was playing for keeps. She would be there bright and early to see to her husband, regardless of how anyone else felt about it. He could also see that the fifteen minute rule might have to be waived with her. Leonard in LA said that she would be a force to be reckoned with when it came to her husband’s welfare. Hart was a powerful, wealthy man, and was the sort of peacock feather that any woman might want to keep in her hat. But in talking with her earlier, and in just those few moments of watching them together, he could tell that they were very genuine. In the brief time that she had been there, Hart’s whole demeanor had changed. Where he had been rigid, uncooperative, and forbidding a short time before, he had softened and seemed much more approachable.

“Good.” She answered as she removed her hand from Jonathan’s, reassuringly patting his cheek before completely breaking her physical contact with him. “I’ll see you in the morning, Darling.”

He nodded, and she could feel his eyes on her as she crossed the room to the door. In the doorway, she turned back to mouth, “I love you.” and to blow him a kiss. He pretended to catch it, held up his fist to show her he had it, and then closed his eyes. Her own heart seized up as if it were going to split in two. That last action on his part had been to let her go without watching her do it.

In the hall, far enough away that she couldn’t possibly be seen by him, hand to her mouth, she had to stop and gather herself.

He was afraid, and because of that, so was she.

____________________________________________________________

When her mother left her in the bedroom to which she had been assigned in Mr. Beckett’s villa, J.J. refrained from slamming the door behind her, but she did stick out her tongue at her after it had clicked closed.

Even though she had taken care of it on her own, she was still very angry with her mother for trying to shut her out at the hospital as she had done. Sneaking around to her father’s room had been the right thing to do even if she did end up getting spotted by that other doctor. No way would she have been able to get to any sleep that night without having seen him for herself. Talking to him had been even more comforting.

After waiting a reasonable amount of time, she had taken a side hall and then felt her way back around the opposite entrance of the cardiac unit, where she managed to position herself around a blind corner of the hall where she knew her father’s room to be. As luck would have it, it wasn’t long before her mother emerged for the room directly across from the desk. She was glad that she hesitated a couple more minutes after seeing her go up the hall before making her move. Right behind her mother, that bald doctor and two nurses also came out and crossed the hall to go into a small room behind the desk. Crouched down low, she quickly scuttled along the wall to the door, and slipped inside.

He was lying in that really plain, sterile smelling room with windows all around him. Forget about whatever else might have been wrong with him, the presence of those windows alone had to be dragging him down. He was hooked up to all types of fascinating machines that were graphing, and beeping, and humming his information out to the world. She hadn’t had time to check them out, but if she was afforded a second chance at it, they would definitely be getting the once over. He had his eyes closed and he looked way too small, fragile, and pale, not like her father at all. It made her want to cry.

Creeping up to his side, almost afraid to say anything to him for fear of shocking and subsequently further injuring him, she waited until she got close to finally whisper, “Daddy.”

Not startled at all, he simply smiled before he opened his eyes. “I knew you would.” He said.

Then, shaking his head, he reached out for her with his good hand and hugged her. “You’re on the lam aren’t you?”

“I had to.” She whispered. “They wouldn’t let me come. So, I just said, “The hell with that.” and I snuck and came anyway.”

“What have I told you about saying, “hell” like that. J.J.?”

“You said it would become a habit, but that’s just how mad I am, Daddy. It’s way beyond just regular mad. It’s that hellish kind of mad. They wouldn’t tell me anything. They wouldn’t let me see you. I’ve been out there, waiting all day, and now they want to try and treat me like some little kid. It isn’t fair. Daddy, I didn’t come here to worry you with all that, but it really isn’t fair how they’re trying to do me, my mother included.”

“Take it easy, J.J. Everybody’s on edge about all this. Life’s not fair all the time.” He pulled her to him again and kissed her cheek. “But I’m glad you came. I wanted to tell you how very proud I am of you and to thank you for all you did.”

“No thanks needed. I only did what you’ve taught me to do. I should be thanking you for teaching me and trusting in me to get the job done. I’m just glad that we made it okay. How are you doing? What are they saying?”

“I’m feeling okay, and they haven’t said anything much. I have to confess, though, I haven’t really been listening. I want out.”

“They have to fix you first, Daddy. And remember what you used to tell me when I would get into trouble with my mother for covering my ears up when she was trying to tell me stuff I didn’t want to hear?”

“What was that?”

“The message doesn’t change just because you choose to not hear it.”

“J.J., you were so little when you used to do that. You can remember that far back?

“I remember the important things, Daddy.”

“Then I assume you still have my wallet? I guess you’ve clipped me pretty good in all this time.”

“Clipped you? Daddy please. You had exactly two singles in your pocket, and three fives, a single, and some change in your wallet. I have more cash than that in just the back pocket of my jeans. You should consider clipping me. But yeah, I have your wallet. I have all your things right here.”

She patted her jacket pocket. It was underneath his jacket, which she wearing on top of hers.

“That’s my girl. I know who to count on.”

At that point, she had pulled away from him to go around the bed and across the room to a closed door. “Is this the bathroom?”

“I think so.” He answered.

And her face reddened at recalling having seen for herself the reason why he didn’t know if that was the bathroom or not. So many tubes. He couldn’t have gotten up out of that bed if he wanted to; he was literally attached to it.

She had gone in, leaving the door open, making a show of washing her hands. Then she came back out and returned to the side of his bed, leaning in over the rail to him.

“I’d better go.”

“What was on your hands, J.J.?”

“Nothing. Just have to cover myself, Daddy, that’s all. I’m out. I’ll see you in the morning, I guess. If they end up letting me.”

She kissed him. He squeezed her hand. Then checking and seeing that the desk was again unattended; she left the way she came. Turning that corner so quickly, she ended up running right up on a man wearing a lab coat with a name badge that announced he was, “Dr. J. Phillips”. He stopped directly in her path, staring oddly at her.

“J.J. Hart, I presume.” He finally smiled.

She stopped short, mildly surprised at being called out, but said nothing in response.

“I’d know that face anywhere.” He said. “Did you get to see your father?”

Still she said nothing.

“I told Samuels he was wrong to keep you out of there. I was on your side. How’s he doing? I was just on my way to see him.”

“Excuse me.” Was all she managed to utter as she stepped around him and kept going.

But she could feel him watching her all the way until she turned that other corner that led back to the waiting room.

Her mother had been in the hall outside the waiting room, looking up and down the corridor. It was apparent that she was looking for her. When asked where she had gone, the answer had been, “To wash my hands.”

One should always take care to keep oneself covered.

They hadn’t said much of anything to each other since then. On the way home, she had given her mother all of her father’s things, his wallet with the wedding ring inside, his bracelet, the other things that had been in his pockets- everything except his chain and signet ring that were still around her neck. Those two things she would be keeping with her until she gave them back to him herself. She’d kept his jacket with her in that room, too.

Although she would rather have stayed in their familiar suite in Las Vegas proper, the villa outside the city limits was very nice. Her parents had stayed there before, but she hadn’t.

The sprawling main house was all on one floor. The rooms were very large with high ceilings and lots of windows that looked out to the desert in the front, and in the rear, to the Becketts’ covered pool, the outbuildings and their land beyond the main house. There were lots of amenities, including a networked computer system which she had been told she was free to use. It all had a good feel.

Simon, the husband part of the couple who kept the house for the Becketts, had seen to her and her father’s bags being brought from the airport to the house and unpacked. Then he had picked her and her mother up from the hospital. When they arrived, his wife, Matilda had already cooked for them, and seen to their rooms being ready.

It was now dark now, but it was still relatively early and very warm outside. She wanted to go for a swim after dinner, but her mother insisted that she get a shower instead and get to bed. They had to get up early, she said, and there would be a lot to do. She was tired, but she didn’t like how she was being ordered about by her mother whom it seemed was in some sort of uptight snit.

Maybe she was mad about the flying. If she was, why didn’t she just say that?

Whatever it was, she’d better get over it, because if she didn’t, it was going to be on. Jennifer Hart wasn’t the only one close to the edge. Jonathan Hart didn’t belong to only her. When it came down to it, she was actually closer to him than her mother was. It was J.J. Hart who had his blood in her veins, not Jennifer Edwards.

Trying to keep her from her father…. she had her nerve… she needed to check herself before-

To cool off, she climbed over into the shower she had been running.

It wasn’t until she finally crawled over into the bed that she thought again about that younger doctor, the blonde one, the one who had been trying to cozy up to her in the hall at the hospital. What the hell had his problem been?

Then, at the thought of her father sitting in the seat next to her in so much pain and how scared she had been for him, the tears welled up again. She thought of him lying there in that hospital bed, sick and hooked up to all that stuff.

When she left him, they hadn’t said good night, see you later, goodbye, or anything. For everybody’s sake, she hoped nothing happened in the night to keep her from seeing him in the morning.

Another someone in their family with heart trouble. First Pa. Now Daddy. Both sides of the family. The odds had suddenly doubled, and not in her favor.

She turned off the light and pressed her face into the pillows, hoping that Sister Anastasia had handled her business. Even though it wasn’t Sunday, she had done her part in that little chapel she found just outside the waiting room of the cardiac unit.

____________________________________________________________

After nearly colliding with that teenager in the hallway, Dr. Phillips continued on to his office.  He wasn’t in any real hurry to go over into the patient’s room. In fact, he was actually a little nervous about it. There wasn’t any real rush. It wasn’t as if there was that much that was going to be done for him that evening other than feeding him and allowing him to rest. He was just there to monitor Mr. Hart’s condition for the balance of the evening, and to intervene in the event there was another crisis.

Judging by what he could see of the man’s vital statistics as they appeared before him on the computer screen, as long as he was resting, that didn’t seem very likely to happen.

He thought again about the girl, and was amused by her evasiveness. She hadn’t admitted to being who he thought she was, although with that face there was little doubt of it. But then, what more could be expected of a kid with a man like that for a father?

There had already been several calls from the media to the floor requesting confirmation of his admittance and information about his condition. Security measures had already been put into place to insure Mr. Hart’s safety and privacy. Had it been anyone else for whom those things were being done, he might have been irritated by it. As a young man who had worked very hard by the sweat of his brow to get where he was, he detested the automatic deference afforded to people whose only distinction in life was the fact that they had a lot of money.

But, in his book, this case was most definitely different.

Although it was supposed to have been his weekend off, he would have still officially been on call to Samuels. Most of the time being on call on the weekend was just a matter of form, and normally he didn’t hear from Samuels. But this time, on the one weekend he planned to spend the day hiking with his fiancée and a group of their friends, Samuels had phoned to say that he would be needing him to assist with a wealthy, prominent patient out of Los Angeles who had been admitted as an cardiac emergency. The patient’s private physician was a personal friend of Samuels, and because of that and his money, he assumed that meant that the guy was probably going to be getting the red carpet treatment.

Initially, he had been very resentful of having his plans usurped to instead be called in to kiss the behind of yet another overfed, overweight, overindulged fat cat. Another plutocrat who hadn’t taken care of himself all of his life, who, at the last minute, finally ended up dragging his ass in, begging for help with his hopelessly clogged arteries and sluggish, swollen heart. It happened all the time in that neck of the woods, and it grated on his nerves at how much the powers that be at the hospital bent over backwards for anybody with a fat wallet, a big name, or half a position.

In all fairness though, the good donations had to come from somewhere, he guessed.

But when told exactly who the patient was with whom he would be working, he instantly changed his clothes, his plans, and his attitude. Then he hightailed it over to the hospital.

He could not believe his good fortune. He never thought it would happen like this. The girl had shocked him, but things couldn’t have worked out better.

He put the paperwork back in the folder from which he had taken it and clicked off  from that screen on the computer. Then he called out to the nurses’ station to get a current status report. It was reported to him that the patient in #1C had eaten a little and had finally gone to sleep.

“Good.” He thought. As long as Hart  was resting comfortably, there still was no rush to get there. He didn’t think he had ever been so nervous in his life.

____________________________________________________________

“Myocardial ischemia”

Jennifer carefully typed the words into her laptop and pressed “Search”.

Sitting on the bed with the computer, she scanned the first list of headings that popped up, but she hesitated to open any one of them.

That was the term Dr. Samuels had used to tentatively describe Jonathan’s condition; A lack of oxygen to his heart muscle. Neither he nor Leonard would say for certain whether or not Jonathan had suffered a mild heart attack as a result of it, or what had been the cause of his problems. But with the symptoms he was exhibiting, if he hadn’t had a heart attack already, that couldn’t be ruled out as being the next thing in line for him.

It had been a while since she’d been that kind of afraid, the type that made her feel removed from everything else going on around her. Not since the kidnapping. The look Jonathan had given her before she’d left him alone in that room had nearly torn her apart. He had only given her that look one other time.

Years before, he had been kidnapped as well. Walking in on a robbery of an art gallery in Paris, he was taken hostage to allow the robbers to escape. As they were driving away with him in the back of their car, he had turned to look out of the rear window to her. With his eyes, he’d said, “If I never see you again in this life, always remember that I love you.”

With those same blue eyes, he had said it again that night. In Paris, he had been afraid of dying and being parted from her. He was afraid that night at the hospital. But this time, she sensed, it wasn’t the possibility of dying that frightened him. This time he was afraid of living.

Finally deciding that she had enough on her mind without researching information that would only add to her worries, she X’ed out of the search screen she had called up. Then she shut the computer down  and moved it from her legs, placing it on the table next to the bed. She lie back on the pillows, her mind still on her husband.

To the world, she was sure that Jonathan Hart appeared to be the archetypal alpha male. Diplomatically assertive, blessed with striking good looks which age had only refined, and his easy-going charm; all of it made him highly attractive to the opposite sex. He was a natural leader, and fiercely protective of all he considered to be his, particularly the females in his “pack”. Confident, and strong of mind, body, and will, his entire persona reflected those attributes.

As independent a woman as she had always considered herself to be before meeting him, she had been completely mystified by how quickly and completely she had been drawn to and enchanted by him. Almost twenty-six years ago, she had reluctantly traveled to London to get a story for Pat’s friend, Brooks, and to forget about men for a while. When she returned to the States, not only did she have the story, she had a fiancée to whom, mind, body and soul, she was already married.

And she was completely at the mercy of those beautiful blue eyes.

Jonathan Hart had always been able to do whatever he wanted to do and achieve whatever he set out to achieve, and he had done those things well. Quite well. He hadn’t said it out loud, but she understood what she had seen in his eyes when he was lying there looking at her. He was afraid of living and not being whole- for her.

It was a couple of years into the marriage before she recognized that it was that underlying current of vulnerability within him that totally endeared him to her. Despite his confident demeanor and his enormous popularity in the world, not too many people had been allowed to get close enough to him to know that about him. Because it also existed within her, she had come to realize it in him. Max had known and spoken to her of it when Jonathan had shut down one too many times in the beginning of the marriage, having one of his inexplicable, quiet, dark periods where he closed everybody out while he dealt with a problem he was having. That part of him had caused a few problems between them in the early years, but eventually he learned to trust and to open up, if only to her.

Anastasia knew him better than anyone. She knew a lot that she wasn’t saying. But both she and Jonathan had made it plain early on that there were places that nobody was allowed to go.

But J.J. Hart was going to push; she could feel it. Sooner or later, she was going to push the issue. With this latest development, that was likely to be coming sooner rather than later.

J.J. was intensely interested in genetics, particularly her own. She was fascinated by her strong physical likeness to the maternal side of her family, in contrast to the blue eyes and temperament she had inherited from her father. Like her mother and her other maternal female ancestors, J.J. was anemic. Her maternal grandfather had heart problems. Now her father seemed to have them. That had to have her wondering about herself and her own chances of developing the same issues.

J.J. didn’t like it that she didn’t know about that other side of her bloodline, and she didn’t like it at all that nobody seemed interested in finding out about her paternal lineage for her sake. She had ceased talking or asking about it, but as her mother, she knew that meant that J.J. Hart was only sitting in idle on the matter. With this latest crisis, at any time, she could be shifting into gear and turning the wheel to come at it from another direction. It was all over her face when she turned up after going missing from the waiting room right before they left the hospital.

In the car on the way to the villa, J.J. had handed over Jonathan’s personal effects, minus his neck chain and his signet ring, two items she had probably never seen her father without. As they were getting out of the car, and J.J. leaned back in to get her father’s jacket, her blouse shifted to reveal that Jonathan’s chain was underneath it, around her neck. No doubt she was still holding onto that ring as well.

With her arm across her eyes, Jennifer sighed and pictured that silver cigarette lighter she still had of her late mother’s that was hidden away in her lingerie drawer at home. She didn’t remember doing it, but she had to have lifted it from her mother’s bedroom some time right after her passing. It had been with her since the Stateside funeral service, and it went with her to France for the burial. When she was sent to boarding school shortly after that, she took it with her. Twelve at the time, it had been with her ever since. She wondered if her father had ever missed it. If he had, in all those years, he had never asked after it.

She completely understood her daughter’s actions.

But she didn’t know if she would have the strength and patience her father had shown to her if J.J. became as obstinate and difficult in this emergency as she had the potential to be. J.J. had a bond with her father that she had not had with her own at that age. This was Jonathan Hart who was in trouble, and both of them deeply loved him. J.J. didn’t have a lot of experience with being set to the side as she might have to be in the next couple of days. Only one of them could see to him, and no matter what ideas J.J. might have about it; she wasn’t the one who could do that.

To avoid a confrontation that evening, she had tabled asking J.J. about flying the plane or speaking on any of the details of that flight. J.J. seemed closed to any sort of discussion, and not really being up for one herself, she’d left her alone. At the hospital, with Jonathan, it hadn’t been the time to broach the topic with him either, but it would have to be discussed. Since it was out in the open, she would have to tell both of them exactly how she felt.

J.J. had been very upset about not being allowed to see her father. At the time, she had been so anxious to see him herself that she hadn’t really stopped to consider that J.J. had been the one to get him there and that she had been waiting all day to see him. The hospital staff wouldn’t have told her anything much about his condition, and it occurred to her that on the way home, J.J. hadn’t even asked. The girl was angry without a doubt.

When she urged J.J. to rest after their tensely quiet dinner, rather than going swimming as she wanted, it had been with the intention of her getting an adequate amount of rest so that she wouldn’t be irritable while waiting around alone at the hospital the next day while her father underwent his tests. By the time they parted at her bedroom door earlier, she could feel the smoldering resentment radiating from her daughter.

In hindsight, her not insisting that J.J. be allowed to spend a few minutes with her father hadn’t been a good move. It must have seemed a very selfish move to J.J. What if-

No, that hadn’t been very wise at all. It was probably too late to try to make it right by her.

The whole thing was a war waiting to happen.

Switching off the light, pulling up the covers, and rolling over onto her side, she imagined as she had the past few nights, Jonathan’s arms around her. From the very beginning, he had done that with her, and he was the only man she had allowed to hold her so closely for so long. Before him,  she preferred to be released to sleep on her own. If she stayed the night, which was rare with the exception of that one other man, she would be up early and ready to go the next morning, not wanting to give her partner the impression that he had any lasting hold on her.

After all their years together, she now had a bit of difficulty dropping off at night without being in Jonathan’s arms to do so. Most of those times he would be holding her in the afterglow of having made love, both their bodies moist and cooling, their limbs still entwined. It had been five nights since she’d last been with him. In that area, they had always been perfectly matched and very fortunate that there had never been any lack of desire or dysfunction on either of their parts. Through disagreements, business distractions, the birth of their child; even as they were getting older, their physical attraction to each other remained strong. They knew that to be a blessing and were thankful for it.

For her, there had been some others, a very long time ago. Good ones as far as physical partners went, but none as wholly satisfying as Jonathan. He was the total package: all man, a big, powerful, but gentle man. A perfect lover, a supportive life partner, a good father, and a wonderful person.

His fingers laced in hers, his hot kisses on her face and neck, her body moving in rhythm with his, his with hers, meeting him, answering his call….

A week ago to the day, they had been dancing together at the country club, and she had sung to him. He loved it when she did that. In college, she’d sung with a campus band and had been part of a theatre troupe, but the desire to write and to travel had been stronger than her aspirations to perform. These days, aside from a few community theatre projects for charity, she mostly performed for that audience of one.

“Please, please,” she prayed. “Just send me back the person. He and I will work around whatever else might be- or not be.”

The sudden sound of a splash in the pool right outside her windows startled her, and she sat up. Getting out of the bed, grabbing Jonathans’ robe to put on over his pajama top which she was also wearing, she went to check it out. Through the sliding glass door, she could see the slim figure of her daughter bob up out of the water. Raising her arms, J.J. propelled herself forward. Her athletic form skimmed lithely across the lamp-lit surface, the ripples radiating from her movement forming a V, like an arrow, as she aimed herself in that direction from the opposite end of the huge pool. At the edge closest to her windows, she dove, bobbed up again and stopped. Staring toward the sliding door, as if to make sure she was there, J.J. appeared to deliberately look her in the eye. Then she turned her back completely, dove again and darted away.

Standing and watching her, but not in the mood to address any of it, Jennifer finally turned from the glass, removed the robe, and got back into the bed.

When she closed her eyes she could see J.J. at the controls of that plane, and Jonathan proudly sitting next to her, instructing her, allowing her to do it. She had suspected as much over the years, but to be confronted with the reality of it and of their having kept it from her was something altogether different. What kind of child had she given birth to? However had that little girl gotten her ailing father down safely, without panicking, without falling apart? She was only sixteen- only three months worth of sixteen, at that. Aside from being tired and irritable, J.J. hadn’t seemed the least bit ruffled. How could Jonathan have trusted her to do that? Both of them, together. Why hadn’t he said anything about feeling ill? Why were both of them like they were?

Didn’t they know? Didn’t they stop at any time and realize?

And J.J. had the nerve to be angry with her.

It was indeed a war waiting to happen.

Enduring a brief but intense bout of restlessness, deciding that sleep wouldn’t be soon in coming, she sat up and switched back on the light. For her own peace of mind, and for the peace of mind of another, she needed to check on Jonathan. After all, she told him that she would, and the other party to whom she had spoken earlier, was most likely still awake as well, praying for an update.

____________________________________________________________

For the moment, Dr. Philips could only go as far as the door of the room. He stood there observing his sleeping patient, who it seemed, hadn’t changed a whole lot since the last time that he’d seen him. He hadn’t forgotten. He would have known him anywhere. He wondered if Hart would remember.

“Dr. Phillips.” A voice quietly called from the nurse’s station behind him. “You have a call. It’s Mrs. Hart.”

____________________________________________________________

Sister Anastasia hung up the phone and immediately eased her body down to the floor to kneel next to her bed. Crossing herself, she folded her hands and bent her head. Jennifer said that he was sleeping, and that so far his condition seemed more stable. She was such a good girl for him. Next to herself, Jonathan couldn’t have done better than Jennifer when it came to having someone in his life to love and to care for him.

The night would tell. She prayed that it be His will that the night to be good to him.

To all of them.

____________________________________________________________

Something bad was happening. Everything was so loud, things were shaking and moving all the wrong ways. He was being held too tightly, the hands were hurting him. He was trying so hard to make it stop, but he couldn’t.

Why was he looking over at himself ?

He was so big and so strong. Why couldn’t he make it stop? He could if the hands would let him go. He struggled to get free from those arms, but they were holding him so tightly.

How was it that he looking at himself? How could he be outside himself, looking at himself?

“Mr. Hart.”

Everything went black. He couldn’t move, and it was so hard to breathe, like shards of glass lined his throat and something heavy pressed on his chest. He heard himself groan as he exhaled through the pain that woke him. “What the hell-”

“Mr. Hart, it’s all right.”

Strong hands, male hands pinned his shoulders back to the bed.

“Let me go. I’m okay.” He demanded, but it sounded to his ears more like a wounded moan.

The lights were bright on the other side of his eyelids, but he didn’t want to open his eyes. He didn’t want whoever was holding him down into see his. He didn’t like being subdued in that manner and he didn’t like not being in a position to fight back, even if it wasn’t a real fight. “You can let me go. I’m fine.”

“You sure?” The concerned male voice asked. “Don’t want you to knock loose any of this stuff we’ve got you hooked up to. You could hurt yourself.”

“Can’t you just take it all out and leave me alone?”

“I can leave you alone if you’re sure you’re okay, but I can’t take it out just yet. We’ll see about that after your tests tomorrow morning.”

“I’m okay. Please. Just let me be.”

The hands released him, but still he didn’t open his eyes.

“If you need anything, Mr. Hart, anything at all, I’m Dr. Philips. Just ask for me.”

“I will. Thank you. I will. I’ll be all right.”

He could hear the doctor leave, and he could tell when the lights were dimmed again.

It had been a long time since he’d had that crazy dream. It usually came to him when he was stressed out over something. It had been coming to him as far back as he could remember, and he was sure, that it was something left over from his other life, the one that had left him behind. While asleep and experiencing it, he would be terrified. But as soon as he woke from it, the details would fade out and elude him. They always had, but most assuredly, he would know when he’d had that dream; the desolate feelings it left behind were uniquely associated with it.

Once he left Mission Street, it didn’t come as often. As he grew older, the occurrences grew less frequent. But as a young child, he would sometimes wake to find that he had been crying in his sleep from it. Ashamed, he would rush to cover his head and to wipe his face with the sheets; to get himself back together before one of the fellows could see him. Other boys sometimes cried at night, weaker boys, and he would go to them and comfort them when they did. But as a kid, nobody got to see him cry. That recurring dream was something he had never shared with anyone, not even Jennifer. That was his own little skeleton in his own private, hidden away closet.

What could have triggered it this time? Was it whatever was wrong with him? Or could it be the other way around?

That last thought worried him a little. If that was the case, he wasn’t in control of it. That would mean that it was working on him on its own, and there was no way to tell how long that had been going on. Whatever that dream was about, if it was based on anything real; it had to have happened well over fifty years ago. So why was it still hanging around in his head, tapping him on the shoulder, intruding on his present life after all that time? That theory didn’t make sense. Why was he where he was and flat on his back, for real? What in the world was happening to him?

Finally easing open his eyes, he could see that those curtains were still drawn over the windows on either side of him, and over the windows that looked to the outside. But before him was that huge window that looked out into the hall and that allowed people to look in at him.

Passers-by, non essential personnel, gawkers; people he didn’t know, and who didn’t know him well enough to be watching him do something as personal as sleep. And whom he didn’t trust enough to be letting his guard all the way down. Who out there might be leaking things to the press? How was a guy supposed to relax and rest even if he did manage to drop off to sleep?

It was a good thing he believed in keeping himself covered, too. Jennifer said that his people were in place, and that reality was of some comfort to him.

To shut it all out, he closed his eyes again, and tried to imagine Jennifer lying next to him. Her head on his chest, his chin nestled in her hair, her heart beating in time with his. She was playing in the hair on his chest and one leg was draped over his thigh, her knee playfully teasing him there.

His hand cupped her fanny through her filmy nightgown… she didn’t always wear panties to bed….

When he could feel that strong corresponding awakening in his middle extremity, he relaxed some. A small smile replaced the frown that had been pulling at his face since the doctor’s departure. With his good hand, he rumpled the covers over it a bit to keep from being obvious.

That was still working. Things couldn’t be too bad.

____________________________________________________________

Sluggish and disoriented, J.J. knew  right off without looking at the clock that it was much later than her normal waking time. As soon as she opened her eyes, she could see that her cell was flashing on the night table, demanding her immediate attention. There were probably a million calls in the queue, waiting to be answered. She hadn’t returned any from the night before, and out of all her friends, she had only phoned Marnie and Teddy to tell them where she was and what had happened, urging Marnie to keep it to herself for the time being. For a moment, she thought about Tommy and how he needed to know what was up. But there was no way to get to him. That boy truly needed to check in soon before he really made her mad.

Picking up the phone, she entered the code to look through the list of her most recently missed calls.

Teddy.

Marnie.

Chase.

Teddy.

Marnie.

Marnie.

She put the phone back down.

After her shower and after blowing out the hard crimps she could feel had formed in her hair from where she had braided it while it was still wet after coming in from the pool on the night before, she would return the calls to Marnie and Teddy. They would both be anxious to know more about her father.

           Daddy!

Flinging back the covers, she jumped up, made up the bed, and dashed into the bathroom.

A short while later, cleaned up and dressed to leave, she ventured out of her room and down the hall to the room her mother was using. Her bed was made, and there was no sign of her.

Figuring her for being in the dining room having her breakfast, she headed off in that direction. There was no one in the dining room and a lone place setting was on the table. On her way back to the kitchen, she was met in the hall by Mathilda.

“Good morning, Miss Hart,” the woman greeted her. “Are you hungry? I’ve kept your breakfast warm for you.”

“Good morning. I am a little hungry. Is my mother going to eat as well?”

“Your mother has already eaten.” Mathilda answered. “She’s eaten, and she’s already left for the hospital to see to your father. She said to tell you that she knew that you were tired after staying up so late last night, and that was why she allowed you to sleep. She wants you to eat, and then she’s arranged for Simon to take you over to the hospital. You sit down. I’ll get your breakfast.”

           I wish she hadn’t done that. What’s more, she’s going to wish she hadn’t.

“Okay, thank you,” she said to Mathilda,

She turned around and went back to the dining room, taking her place at the table to wait for her food to be brought in to her.

No matter what she told Mathilda to tell her, leaving her behind had been her mother’s way of punishing her for defying her by going swimming on the night before.

Jennifer shouldn’t have done it that way. It wasn’t right and it wasn’t fair- and it was not going to fly. It had only been a day, but more and more it was feeling like she was being cut out of the picture, and she didn’t care for the feeling at all.

           And I’m not having it.

____________________________________________________________

He drank the juice, but he wanted coffee. They said because of the caffeine, it was off limits for now. There wasn’t even any tea on the tray, just water- plain water, and he’d had enough of that. The rest of it, he pushed away from him. None of it looked appetizing. No salt, sugar, or seasonings of any kind. And anyway, he wasn’t hungry.

They wouldn’t let him get up, not even to shower or use the restroom. ‘Not until after the tests’, they said.

The nurse had come in and helped him clean him up, and the other thing was being handled automatically. How much more mortifying could it all get?

Samuels had already been in, trying to make polite conversation, talking about the upcoming tests and asking about his night, but he hadn’t been in the mood. He did the best he could with cordial, but he really had not been in the mood. Samuels, most likely picking up on that, hadn’t lingered long.

Lying back onto the pillows, he smoothed his hair and then ran his hand along the line of his jaw and chin.

           Stubble

He needed a shave. The nurse had offered while she was there, but the hell if that was going to be. When Jennifer arrived, she could help him get set up. He would take care of it himself.

His own chief of security had been in to see him already that morning. August Lamb was in charge of security systems and procedure at Hart, but when it came to watching over him and the Hart family, over the years the man had made that his individual responsibility. On his own, he had flown in to personally see to the proper measures being taken to ensure the CEO’s safety while he was “incarcerated” there at the hospital. As soon as he heard of his falling ill, Lamb dispatched several of their own people to work with hospital personnel, but he had come himself to check out the layout of the land. According to him, for the most part it was so far so good.

When Jennifer got there, he would have her to get in touch with Stanley to be sure Lamb was compensated for his efforts. Lamb wouldn’t request it on his own, but nobody worked or gave up their personal time for Jonathan Hart for free.

Better able to check his surroundings than he had been on the day before, could see there wasn’t even a goddamn phone in the room for him to use. No television. No radio. No newspaper- forget about a racing form. No bar. Just strange people walking by, looking in on him as if he were some sort of zoo exhibit. If he hadn’t ever before, he now truly understood Jennifer’s strong opposition to caging wild animals. If he didn’t know better, he had died and gone to hell, and everybody was just too scared to tell him what happened.

It was only having seen and talked to Jennifer on the night before that assured him that wasn’t so. Jennifer would never have visited him in hell. She’d have rung him up from heaven to ream him out over doing the things she warned him about and finally landing himself somewhere away from her for eternity.

But now, that J.J.; she’d be right there with her Daddy, flying, racing, sneaking drinks and smokes as if he didn’t know, playing cards, placing bets and gambling; telling him to hang up the phone and hurry up back to the game.

“Come on, Daddy, while the table’s still hot! You can call her back later. She’ll still be fussing when you do.”

He recalled that time when J.J. was very small and Jennifer had left her home with him while she ran an errand. He was reading and listening to music while J.J. was playing with something on the floor. He left his rum and coke on the coffee table to cross the room and change the tape playing on the stereo. When he turned back around, J.J. was at the table with his drink tipped all the way up, draining it. By the time he made it back to her, she was holding out the empty glass to him, grinning and smacking her lips, telling him, “Ummmm, good. Want more, Da-da.”

There hadn’t been a whole lot left in the glass, but nervous as to what effect the alcohol might have on her innocent system, he rushed to call Kate, the doctor who had delivered J.J. and who was also their personal friend. She calmed him down and chastised him for being a careless male and for letting that baby outmaneuver him. Then she advised him that it probably wasn’t going to do anything more to her than make her a little tipsy and perhaps sleepy. She said that if she went to sleep, she might be a bit irritable when she woke up. A baby hangover, she told him.

He swore Kate to secrecy and promised to be more careful in the future.

When Jennifer got home, J.J. was indeed asleep- essentially knocked out. She had been amazed that he had gotten J.J. to take a second nap, as she had just gotten up from one when she left. Of course, he refrained from elaborating upon his technique with her. Thank God, there was no way for her to have the least clue that her baby daughter was actually up there sleeping one off. There would have been fiery red hell to pay for that.

When J.J. finally woke up again, she was back to herself, not one sign of a hangover and none the wiser that it was Daddy’s drink that had taken her down for the count.

Although at the time it hadn’t been funny at all, that memory had him chuckling to himself as he sat there on that bed recalling it. Talk about a kid being tailor-made for somebody. Tough as nails, nerves of steel, quick, smart, and a cast iron gut, just like her old man.

Thinking about his daughter and his current situation made him think about himself in way that he didn’t often stop to do any more. Who was it that he-

“Well, it’s good to see you smiling.”

Jennifer entered the room carrying his overnight bag. She was a most welcome sight, but he was slightly disappointed that she had chosen to wear pants that morning. She kissed him, and quickly drew back her face from his. “You need a shave, Buster.”

“I only have one hand.” He said, complete with his most pitiful look. “You’ll have to help me.”

“I guess I remember how from that time you fell off your horse, sprained your wrist, and thought you were going to grow a moustache and beard on the sly.” She said as she set the bag down and turned around to check his breakfast tray. “I don’t care if we were at the cabin. We both knew that was not going to be.”

Watching her lift the lids on the plates, he braced himself for what he knew was coming.

“Jonathan, you haven’t eaten a thing!”

Without a word, she left the room. A few minutes later, she was back removing his shaving gear from the bag.

“Let’s get you cleaned up. They’re going to bring you another tray of breakfast, a warm one, and I’m going to sit right here with you while you eat all of it.”

He didn’t say anything to that. There was no sense in arguing with her on the food issue.

She came back to the side of the bed, moving the tray of cold food to the counter, and then using that rolling table to get the shaving gear set up. Her back was to him, and he took that opportunity to take her in from head to foot, stopping more than once to appreciate her backside, the sight of which caused him to ask, “How did you sleep last night?”

She turned around, pushing the table so that it was over his lap, and in front of him. Then she raised the head of the bed so that he could see into the mirror she had propped before him.

“I should be asking you that.” She said. “I slept fine once I dozed off. It took me a little while since you weren’t there with me.”

“I was there.” He smiled. “You didn’t feel me?”

“Not like I wanted to.” She smiled back. “I see you’re feeling better today.”

“Since you came through the door. Where’s J.J.? I thought she was coming with you this morning. Are they still doing that one at a time thing, because if so, I want to know why.”

“She was sleeping, darling. I didn’t want to wake her.”

Jennifer was speaking from the bathroom where she had gone to run water into the small plastic basin she found in the cabinet by his bed.

It was surprising to him that J.J. hadn’t gotten up to come see him after being so miffed at being held back from it on the previous evening. But then again, she had been through quite a bit on that day before. She probably did need the rest.

“She have a rough night or something?” He asked.

“Or something.” Jennifer remarked as she returned to his side.

There was an acerbic ‘something’ in her tone, but he decided not to pursue it. Whatever might be going on between them, it wasn’t like he could do anything about it in the position he was in. Normally Jennifer and J.J. got along reasonably well; J.J. tended to mind her mother, but then, none of what was happening was normal. His being seriously ill wasn’t something they had done before, and they were all fairly stressed out in their own ways.

He closed his eyes as Jennifer moistened his face with a warm towel to prep his skin for shaving. Her touch felt so good, there and in his heart.

She was his wife. J.J. was his daughter. He loved them both. He just hoped that Jennifer understood how much J.J. wasn’t such a little girl any more. She was a girl with strong feelings, strong convictions, and a highly evolved sense of fair play. In addition to that, she was every bit the redhead her mother was, and being a lot younger, much more volatile.

At that moment, there was nothing he wanted more than to have his life back as it had been before.

____________________________________________________________

“Would you like for me to come in with you, Miss? Make sure that you get in to your folks all right?”

J.J. slid off the seat and out of the door that Simon was graciously holding open for her.

“No, no that’s okay.” She answered. “I’m sure that I’ll be all right on my own. Thank you.”

And she hurried away from her driver in his uniform and chauffeur’s cap and that conspicuous black  limousine-like Lincoln Continental  in which he had transported her to the busy front of the hospital. Her cheeks and ears were stinging as she passed by people who turned and/or craned their necks to see who had emerged from the car. As she made her way to the doors, J.J. wondered how celebrities put up with the constant scrutiny. She abhorred that kind of attention, especially when she was alone like that. It was easier to take when one or both of her parents were with her absorbing most of the glare of the spotlight. Daddy said that since she was getting older, she needed to get used to it, but she didn’t think she ever would.

In the lobby, on her way to the desk to secure a visitor’s pass as the large sign clearly said she needed to do, she found herself flanked on both sides by two men who fell into step with her and began firing questions at her.

“Say, aren’t you Jonathan Hart’s daughter, J.J,?”

“Is it true that you were the one flying the plane while he was having a heart attack?”

“Where was your mother while all of this was going on? Why wasn’t she with the two of you?”

“Is it true that your father-”

“May I ask-

Before she could bristle at the disturbing and intrusive questions, specifically the implications she thought she heard in the questions about her parents, an arm protectively wrapped itself around her shoulders, pulling her away. The two men were grabbed and hustled away from her by other men who seemed to come out of nowhere. Before she could react to being handled, she had been whisked around a quiet corner to the front of the bank of elevators. Separating herself from her unknown savior, she came face to face with that same Dr. Philips from the night before.

“Hi.” He smiled. “Sorry about that. They can be like vultures. We get a lot of celebrities, and the press hangs around here like ambulance chasing lawyers.”

“Thanks for the assist.” She said. “I guess I owe you one. I am J.J. Hart.”

He was still smiling. “I know. You look just like your mother.”

She was just about to ask him how he happened to be there in the lobby, when another man’s voice called from behind her,

“J.J., are you all right?”

She turned around to find Mr. Lamb from Hart approaching, his normally smooth and relaxed sepia face anxious and tight. Surprised to see him, she was nonetheless relieved, for herself and for her father, that he was there.

“I’m sorry about that.” He was saying. “We weren’t expecting you.”

“I’m fine.” She answered him, regretting how apologetic he was being over something that wasn’t the least bit his fault. “I didn’t call ahead to say that I was coming like I should have. I wasn’t expecting that either. Or for you or the guys to be here, but I guess I should have anticipated all of it. Dr. Philips here was looking out for me, too.”

She turned back around to introduce the doctor to her father’s chief security officer, but strangely, just as suddenly as Dr. Philips had appeared, he was gone.

Confused, she turned back to Mr. Lamb. “He was right here a second ago.”

The elevator doors slid open. Mr. Lamb, his ever-searching eyes first checking the interior of the elevator car and then their immediate surrounding, ushered her inside, telling her, “I was on my way back to LA, but I’ll personally see you upstairs first.”

____________________________________________________________

“Mr. Hart, I think we might be able to release you from a couple of your shackles later on this afternoon.” Dr. Samuels was saying from where he was perched on a stool a the counter that ran along that front window to the room. “We’ll need to get you up on your feet for a few minutes. Get that blood circulating again and exercise your legs. See how you do moving around.”

“I like the sound of that.” Jonathan answered. “I’m telling you, this is the longest stretch I’ve done in a bed in the last twenty-five years, at least that I’ve done in a bed by myself.”

Jennifer immediately reddened. “Jonathan, honestly.” She whispered.

“I’m serious.” He insisted.” It isn’t any fun at all to be in the bed by yourself for this long.”

“Well, I see you’re in a much better humor today.” The doctor smiled.

“Yesterday I wasn’t so sure I was going to be here today. And then, too,” Jonathan reached through the rail to stroke Jennifer’s hair as she sat in the chair beneath and beside him. “I’m in better company. I tend to not do as well when I’m on my own in prickly situations. I’m not sick often enough to know how to do it all that well.”

He reached for Jennifer’s hand, and she wound her fingers in his. From the tightness with which she was held him, he regretted having joked about not making it in her presence.

The doctor had a folder spread open on the counter before him. He was consulting the papers inside as he spoke.

“I happy to say that so far, that your blood work looks pretty good. Your cholesterol is up a bit, as is your pressure. We might need to adjust your diet some.”

“I wish you had waited to tell me that.” Jonathan mumbled loud enough to cut the doctor off. “When we were alone. That’s all she needed to hear.” He added, tipping his head in Jennifer’s direction.

Jennifer cut her eyes over to him and merely nodded, confirming to Jonathan what he already knew: it would be a good while before he saw another chili dog again, if ever.

“Right now that’s not anything to really worry about, I don’t think. In a man of your age in your business position, Mr. Hart, some elevation is to be expected in those areas. You seem pretty fit. Do you work out? Exercise regularly?”

“Exercise is a required activity with this woman. She makes us all keep fit.” Jonathan answered. “But workouts- now those are optional, and a whole lot more fun.”

Jennifer sighed and dropped her embarrassed forehead into the hand that Jonathan wasn’t holding.

The doctor, trying not to laugh, continued. “You’re looking much better today physically than you did yesterday. Your color is a lot better. The readings we’ve done so far have been largely positive. The other tests you’ll be taking will tell us more about what’s actually going on in your chest. Do cardiac problems tend to run in your family? Do or did either of your parents have a history of any heart disease? Any siblings with it?”

“I wouldn’t know.” Jonathan answered, taking note of Jennifer’s slight straightening of the spine upon hearing the question. “I never knew my parents or of any of my relatives. I don’t have any siblings that I know of. I was raised as an orphan.”

“I- I’m sorry,” The doctor stammered in blushing embarrassment, flipping through the papers in the folder in front of him. “I didn’t see anything to that effect in-”

“It’s all right.” Jonathan quickly assured him. “You probably don’t have that information in whatever they sent you from LA. It doesn’t bother me to speak of it. No, I’m afraid that I don’t have any medical history other than what you see in the flesh front of you.”

“Let’s take another track then. I know that a man like you probably deals with a lot of tension and pressure in his life every day, but have you undergone any undue stress lately? Anything out of the ordinary? Have you had occasion to be extremely angry, more angry than what you would consider usual?” Dr. Samuels turned on the stool, holding up his hand. “Mind you, I’m not fishing for details, I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on. You met Dr. Philips last night?”

“He was here.” Jonathan answered, still holding onto Jennifer’s hand. “I can’t say that I met him. I was half asleep.”

“He’s noted here that you slept most the night, but that you had some sort of episode that resulted in pain.”

Jennifer turned all the way around to Jonathan. “Darling?”

Jonathan shook his head. “It wasn’t anything. Probably gas or something. What did he write in there about it?”

“He seemed to think you were having a dream or a nightmare to which you had a strong reaction. You had to be restrained.”

“It wasn’t anything.” Jonathan repeated. “I think the pain just caught me off guard and startled me awake. He was holding onto me to keep me from pulling one of these gizmos out by mistake.”

The doctor wanted to continue his interview, but look on Mrs. Hart’s face and the tone of Hart’s voice said that it might be too stressful and/or futile to do so. She was looking at Hart. but Hart had turned his attention to the ceiling.

He finished his notes, closed the folder, and got up from the stool. “The nurses will be in to take some of that loose so that we can take you down the hall for the tests.” He said.

“Thank you.” Jennifer answered when Jonathan didn’t say anything at all.

____________________________________________________________

At the nurses’ station on the Cardiac ICU, where she went after Mr. Lamb saw her as far as the elevator, J.J. was told that her mother was in with her father, and that only one of them could be in the room with him at a time. She would have to go to the waiting room, and someone would let her mother know that she was there so that they could exchange places.

She had been waiting a few minutes when her mother joined her there. They were the only people present at the time.

“I see you made it.” Jennifer said as she sat down on the couch. ” I thought you would call to let me know when you were on your way. Did you have any problems downstairs?”

“I didn’t think of calling until I got here.” J.J. answered from where she stood across the room, turning away from where she had been looking out of the windows. “There were a few reporters but Mr. Lamb happened to be down there at the time. I thought you said that I could see Daddy first thing. You left without me.”

“You were sleeping, J.J. I thought you needed your rest. You had quite a day yesterday.”

“You made it sound like you would get me up. You specifically made me go to bed so that I could get up early.”

“And I noticed that you didn’t go.”

“I wasn’t tired. It didn’t matter what time I went to bed. Whatever time you came for me, I would have gotten up to go see my father. But you didn’t come for me. You just went off and left without me. So, like what, are you here now so that I can see him for a lousy couple of minutes?”

Jennifer scrutinized J.J. closely, trying to get a read on her. Taken aback by the girl’s unusually caustic speech and demeanor, she crossed her legs, her arms, and sat back to brace herself.

“I don’t think I like your tone, J.J.”

“My tone?”

“Your tone. I think you need to check it. I understand you might be upset about things as they stand, but I haven’t done anything to you. I’ve only tried to do what I thought was best for you. In fact, it is I who probably should be upset- with you.”

“With me?” J.J. countered, folding her own arms. “Upset with me?” She sucked her teeth, snaked her neck, and rolled her eyes. “Can I go see my Daddy now?”

She asked in a manner that loudly said, “Forget you” to her mother’s ears.

Jennifer, slightly stunned,  continued to observe the entire insolent performance, but chose to answer the question without addressing the impudence.

“They’re getting him ready to go for some tests. I’m sorry, but you won’t be able to go to him until after. It shouldn’t take too long. You can go to him right after they get him back into his room.”

“You mean to tell me  I still have to wait to see my own father?”

“It’s just until after he finishes his tests. Then you’ll be able to go in. We didn’t know you were-”

You wouldn’t let me see him last night-”

“J.J., I’m sorry about that. I made a-”

“You aren’t sorry. You meant that. And then you purposely didn’t get me up this morning so I could come early enough to see him-

“J.J.”

“And now I get here, and I still have to wait? It’s been since yesterday. You haven’t even told me how he is. You want him all to yourself. Why are you doing this?”

“J.J. that decision to not allow you to see him last night wasn’t made by me.”

“Yeah, but you backed that doctor up when he said it. You didn’t speak up for me. You didn’t even suggest it. You just went right along with what he said. I had been out here, waiting all that time.”

“And I’ve been trying to tell you that I-

“Stay here. Eat. Don’t swim. Go to bed. Wait. Why are you always trying to rule me? Why do I always have to do things your way? How come only you seem to know what’s best for me? Why do you treat me like some little kid with no opinion and no ability to make decisions for myself?”

Jennifer, her own ire rapidly escalating, consciously downshifted to count to ten before responding through clenched teeth, “Because I am your mother, Justine Hart, and I don’t think what you’ve said is true, and you know it isn’t. I’ve never downplayed your intelligence, although right now I am questioning your judgment. I am going to tell you one more time, you need to check your nasty attitude and your tone when you talk to me because I’m warning you-”

“And Jonathan Hart is my father.” J.J. loudly declared. “I am his daughter, his only child, and you are keeping us apart on purpose because you’re mad at us- or maybe it’s just me. Either way, it isn’t right you’re doing that. It isn’t fair. I don’t care if you’re mad. He’s my father, the only one I have. Yeah, he was your husband first, I know that, but you might not even have a husband  right now if I hadn’t-”

As Jennifer gasped, J.J. caught herself. She covered her mouth with her hand when her mother abruptly stood up from the couch.

“Mrs. Hart.” A woman’s voice spoke from the door. “We’ve just about finished. Will your daughter be coming down for a moment before we take him for his tests?”

“Just one moment.” Jennifer said, turning away from J.J. She held up one index finger to the woman.  “A moment.”

When she turned back, J.J. had her cell to her ear.

“Hello Simon.” She was saying. “I’m ready to be picked up, if you don’t mind. No, but it’s okay. My mother will be staying to see to my father. Thank you.”

She stuck the phone down into her purse. Then she took the roundabout way to come from the windows back to the door.

“Give Daddy my regards.” She coldly directed from the doorway.

Jennifer, her eyes following J.J. as made her way around the room, asked, “And just where do you think you’re going?”

“Back to the Becketts’ place. Daddy has to have his tests. They want you down there with him, and I don’t feel like waiting. I’ve done that already. It’s demeaning, nobody cares, and I’m tired of it. Look, I’m really sorry for what I said to you, but I’m still going.”

And she left.

Stunned, astounded, and outraged by the exchange, Jennifer froze in place for moment. Quickly recovering, she hurried around the couch and into the hall to try to catch J.J., but the elevator doors were sliding shut, and the girl was no where to be seen.

Ducking into a nearby restroom, she took a moment to regroup, wipe the angry tears from her eyes and regain her composure. For the time being, she would say nothing to Jonathan about what gone down between her and J.J. He had his tests to undergo, and he didn’t need to be upset for them.

Taking a deep breath, assuming her most calm persona, she went back out into the hall and started for Jonathan’s room.

____________________________________________________________

The girl had been back a couple of hours. When Simon returned with her, she had wordlessly gone straight to her room and closed the door. Simon hadn’t even made it back to the house from taking her before she was calling to have him come back to get her. He said that she seemed a little upset when he got back to the hospital to pick her up, but that she hadn’t said anything to him other than she was sorry for the turnaround and to thank him for transporting her once he had her back at the villa. Mathilda had been surprised when she came back through the door with him. Since her arrival on the evening before, the girl hadn’t said very much. But she and Simon concluded that was probably to be expected considering the circumstances of her being there.

Assuming that she had gone to lie down and had fallen asleep, Mathilda hadn’t bothered her, figuring to herself, “Poor little thing. She’s been through so much with her father being sick and both her parents away. She has to be worried and lonely.”

But now it was well past time for lunch, and having raised two children of her own, not to mention having helped with the Beckett’s now-grown children, she knew that teenagers needed to eat regularly. She had been waiting for Miss J.J. to come out on her own to eat, but since she hadn’t surfaced, Mathilda decided to take a tray in to her and to wake her up if necessary so as not to have her ability to sleep later on that night compromised.

Knocking at the door of the room with her free hand, she waited for an answer. When none came, she turned the knob and poked her head in. She could see no one in the room. Wanting to make sure that she wasn’t just missing seeing her, she stepped inside and set the tray down on the desk. The bathroom door and the closet door were open. Apparently the child wasn’t in either place, but she called to her anyway.

“Miss J.J.?”

She went back out into the hall, looking up and down and called for her again. Again there was no answer. Thinking that maybe Miss J.J. had gotten up from her nap and gone outside for a swim and she just hadn’t seen her pass through, Mathilda went around to the pool. The water was calm and the tiles were dry. The sun was high in the sky and it was blazingly hot. There was no sign of anyone having been out there at all.

Becoming more anxious, her steps coming more quickly, Mathilda reentered the house via the patio doors that led into the bedroom that Mrs. Hart was using, thinking that maybe the child had gone there to lie on her mother’s bed. If she were upset, that seemed like something a young girl might do. But she wasn’t on the bed and the room was just as it had been when she had come in to clean and found that Mrs. Hart had already taken care of it. She passed through the room and was almost at the door when she noticed the folded sheet of paper propped against the lamp on the table next to the bed.

Picking it up, the first thing she noticed was the word, “Mom”. Her own maternal instinct immediately kicked in, setting off alarms as she folded it open to skim the handwritten contents.

____________________________________________________________

Jennifer sat in the lounge, waiting to be called back into Jonathan’s room. He was finally finished with all of his tests for the day, but the doctor wanted to examine him and to reconnect him to the monitors that would be recording his cardiac functions for at least the next twenty-four hours. Then, if all went well, he would be moved to a private room to stay another 24 to 48 hours, off the machines, for observation.

He had been none too happy about having to stay. Thinking about him caused her to slowly shake her head in wonder. How that man could possibly think he was going to be going home that evening was beyond her. Even though he was more like himself than he had been on the day before, he was still not as well as he needed to be; he was unsteady on his feet and he was still experiencing some discomfort in his chest. Heart attack had been ruled out, and for that she was somewhat calmed, but it still remained to be positively determined exactly what it was that was causing his problems.

She wanted to phone Mathilda and check on J.J. again. It had been some time since her last call.  Cell phones weren’t allowed to be used or even to be switched on in that part of the hospital, and the pay phones were way on the other end of the hall. The queue of calls in her cell had to be a mile long. Earlier when she checked on J.J., right after her impertinent departure, Matilda said that Simon had just gotten her back to the villa, and that she had gone directly into her room.

Probably to sulk, she figured. What in the world could have gotten into that girl? It had her worried.

As drained as she was from all it- Jonathan’s sudden illness and her daughter’s orneriness- whatever had gotten into J.J. Hart had better have worked its way out by the time her mother made it back to the villa from the hospital that evening. That child must have been suffering from temporary insanity or something to have come at her in the way that she had earlier. When she entered the room, she sensed something on the air. She had been anticipating some degree of negativity on J.J.’s part, and she thought she was mentally braced for it. But she found herself unprepared for its fierce intensity.

Even with that, though, she could tell that J.J. was aware that she had crossed the line. The little minx had had enough sense to skirt her way around and out of that room without coming anywhere near her mother. That had been a very wise move on her part. Jonathan’s child wasn’t all the way crazy.

She gently massaged her temple with the fingers of one hand. It had been one thing after another since the spring of the year. It began with finding out that an old friend had made an unsuccessful play for her husband while still grinning in her face as if nothing had gone down. There was J.J.’s kidnapping, and her being stalked- twice as it finally turned out. Article after assignment after article came her way. She still enjoyed her work, in fact, it was almost therapeutic to research or to sit down and just write.

There was the book she secretly wrote on a whim that was currently up for an award. The difficult article she wrote with J.J. and the other girls had been picked up by a major woman’s magazine and might result in her having to do some PR work on the subject matter. The magazine would probably want J.J. in on that, and if so, Jonathan and J.J. would be resisting that tooth and nail. J.J. didn’t like the spotlight, and Jonathan didn’t like it for her.

There was always something going on at Hart in which she would find herself involved. She and Jonathan had always supported each other’s work.

The Gresham Hall reunion earlier that summer had opened up a whole new avenue of discovery. It was there that she found out about her father’s very old friendship with Dean Marchand and Ms. Smythe. She finally understood the real reasons behind her having been shipped off to boarding school after her mother’s death. Then came her father’s brief, but serious physical setback. He had been hospitalized for a few days, took another few to regain his strength, but seemed to be back to himself now that the Dean and Miss Smythe were living in his guest house.

Pat had become engaged to Bill after they finally put it out in the open about their sixteen year clandestine relationship. She was happy for both of them. It couldn’t have worked out any better if she had engineered it herself.

And that last visit to her childhood home, Briarwood, where so much had been revealed to her, had reunited her with her late mother. Suzanne Edwards had been in her head ever since, after not being there for decades. It was good. It was comforting. It was her secret. She hadn’t said anything to anyone about it.

J.J.’s “friendship” with that wandering little rogue, Teddy, had been the next item on the agenda. The two of them met at the reunion where J.J. wound up injuring herself doing something she shouldn’t have been doing while out with Teddy one morning. Despite her being largely immobile, they still managed to spend a good deal of time together and had gotten to know each other pretty well. He even managed to slip into her room to see her on more than one occasion.

From the reunion, the boy made his way to Maryland where they had gone to spend time while Pa recuperated. J.J. ended up being hospitalized for a few days after further damaging the injury sustained at the reunion. Teddy showed up there to see her. Once she returned home to LA, Teddy found a way to get to her there, too. Although J.J. wasn’t completely owning up to it, she was as taken with him as he was with her. He had gone home as just her friend, neither of them wanting to commit to a long distance boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. They were so cute trying to say goodbye when the time came for him to leave to go back home. It was puppy love at its finest. Perhaps that was contributing to J.J.’s erratic behavior, as well.

Jonathan had been a rock through all of it, and they had both been hanging in there, shoulder to shoulder just like always. Except in this last thing with Wesley. That episode, Jonathan didn’t seem to be handling so well at all. He had never really liked Wesley, which in itself wasn’t like him. Jonathan, for the most part, rarely expressed a dislike for anyone without apparent just cause, especially not a child. He was very good with young people. They were drawn to him, and he to them.

But after finding out that Wesley was annoying J.J., Jonathan’s negative feelings seemed to intensify, and he had begun even more closely monitoring the situation. When he learned that  J.J. and Chase had almost been killed while riding a motorcycle as they tried elude Wesley who was following them in a car, he seemed to become almost obsessed with protecting J.J. from the boy. In those days right before it all ended, he could often either be found on the phone with security or sitting off by himself, darkly preoccupied. Since the night of the country club dance when everything had come to such a terrifying climax, Jonathan hadn’t really been himself. He seemed to be brooding, having moments of deeply quiet introspection into which he didn’t invite her. She hadn’t seen him like that in years.

Even though he hadn’t articulated it to her, she had the feeling that the end of the Wesley episode had been anti-climactic for her husband. He hadn’t really talked much about it at all, but she could tell that he was still not at peace with it. It was one of those rare things that she had the feeling she shouldn’t  press him about.

In hindsight, she thought as she sat there mulling it over, maybe she should have. He never did answer the doctor’s question about any recent undue stress in his life. Or any recent anger. As close as they were and as open as they tried to keep the lines of communication, she’d kept things back from him about herself, and she didn’t always tell him things that J.J. brought to her. In turn, she knew that he had some secret places as well. He and J.J. definitely had some things they were holding back from her.

He had to realize that that she now knew about J.J.’s flying. It was no longer a secret on any level. She had gotten  a few concerned calls about the incident being reported on the local news at home. But he hadn’t brought it up, and because of his condition, neither had she. The thought of what might have been still frightened and upset her.

So much to deal with.

It was nearly time for dinner. She made up her mind that she would stay and see to Jonathan eating, and then she would have Simon come for her. With some amusement, she thought of how Jonathan had talked the doctor into lifting the fifteen minute per hour visiting rule for her. She’d always said that man could sell snow in Siberia.

And then she thought of how she hadn’t told him that J.J. had been there and left. He asked after her, and was under the impression that she just hadn’t come down to see him yet, but that she would be there later. Sitting there, she wasn’t sure what she would tell him when she got back into the room with him, visiting hours ended, and J.J. still hadn’t come.

In their anger, neither she nor J.J. had considered him. Mentally, she chastised herself for letting her own anger get the best of her. She had been the adult in that room, and she should have known better than to let that girl get away like that. Anger had always been her greatest personal shortcoming; it clouded her thinking. In her lifetime it had been the cause of years of pain, the reason behind some bad decisions, and the source of one most disastrous situation which in its ugliness finally taught her to temper it. J.J., too, would have to learn to do that with that fiery temper of hers, but hopefully that would happen without such a drastic lesson.

“Mrs. Hart, you have a phone call at the desk.” A nurse standing in the doorway said, slicing cleanly through her reverie. “The caller says that it’s urgent.”

At the desk, the nurse pressed the blinking button on the pad and handed her the receiver. Conscious of being right outside Jonathan’s room, Jennifer kept her voice low, not sure what news she was going to hear.

Jennifer Hart.

Jen.

Pat?

Yes, Pat. Listen, what in the world is going on?

With who? Jonathan?

No. With you and J.J.

Why? Has she called you? What did she say?

Yes, she called me. She rings me up and goes, “Aunt Pat, are you still in Reno?” I go, “Yes.” She goes, “For how long?” I tell her, “Till next Wednesday.” She hangs up without saying goodbye. I try to call her back, but she doesn’t pick up. So, I figure she’ll call me back if she really wants something. Well, she did. Two hours later, she’s on the phone telling me to pick her up at the airport.

At the airport! Pat, she’s in Reno?

You heard me. I just got in from picking her little ass up. Had her luggage and everything with her. She got off the plane trying to play it off, but she’s a basket case, Jen. Said she had a big fight with you, then she broke down and cried all the way here. Bill’s in there with her now.

She cried in front of you and Bill?

Yes, she did, so you know she’s hurting. He is so good with her. I’ve never seen this side of him.

Oh, Pat, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean for you two to get caught up in this.

When you had her, I was caught up in it. Bill’s her godfather, so he is too. We wouldn’t have let it be any other way.

She and I did have a bit of a row here at the hospital. I was told that she’s been very defensive since this whole thing started. I didn’t make things any better after I got here. I don’t know what to say or do about that child. I can’t believe she’s done a runner like that. How did she get a ticket? Wait, she had Jonathan’s wallet last night. Did she have an E-ticket when she got to you? Don’t tell me-

Nope. I asked that same question. I thought she might have gotten him for one of his credit cards, too while she had his stuff yesterday. I had her to check in her purse and all of her money to me just in case she didn’t like what I might say to her, and she got it into her head to run again. It turns out she did have an E-ticket, but the credit card I’m looking at here in my hand is an American Express embossed with the name Justine J. Hart. She said Jonathan, “her Daddy”, gave it to her for emergencies. She said she got back from you, ordered the ticket with the card, and printed it out. Then she called for a taxi, snuck out on the housekeepers, and hightailed it here to me. You have to give her credit, though. At least she didn’t go home to LA, Jen. She could have, you know, where it would have been just Marie to look after her, Marnie, and that car. J.J. did have enough sense to come here to me.

Pat, I don’t know what to do. I can’t just leave Jonathan and come get her. I hate to ask you and Bill to bring her to back here to me after I told you that you didn’t have to come about Jonathan.

You do nothing except stay there with your husband. I just called to let you know where she was and to get your perspective on the problem. But don’t worry about that right now. We have her. She’ll be fine here with us. I think she needs to be away from all that, for now anyway. Also, it’s better for you. You can concentrate on Jonathan without having to worry about her. You’ve got your hands full with just him. How is the big guy, anyway?

(Deep sigh) He was doing better. I don’t know how he’s going to be when I tell him what’s happened.

Well, I’d advise you to just go ahead and tell him, Jen, and let the chips fall where they may. Hell, it’s not like he’s isn’t in the right place if it ends up making him sick. It’ll be worse if you hide it, and it comes out later. Tell him what happened, and that she’s with us. You know how to talk to him and how to make him understand that it’s probably for the best right now. Tell him I said not to worry about anything. We’ll bring her home when you say, and then we can sort it all out when he’s back on his feet.

Thanks, Pat. Maybe I should talk to her before I hang up.

I don’t think so, Jen. She’s still pretty upset. Wait a while. You take care of Jonathan. I’ll take care of our girl. That’s why you have me in your life. I know that you would have done it for me if it had panned out.

I love you, old girl. I’d better call Mathilda, the housekeeper at the villa where we’re staying. The last time I talked to her, she thought J.J. was there, resting in her room. She’ll discover that J.J.’s gone, and she’ll be panicking.

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see a hand gesturing to her, holding up the receiver to another phone.

I have to go, Pat. It looks like I have another call on another phone. I bet it’s Mathilda trying to tell me about J.J. I cannot believe that girl.

It’s all right, Jen. At least now we’re sure that she knows how to book a flight. Look, Jen, you concentrate on Jonathan. And look out for yourself, as well. I’m serious. I know you. Make sure that you rest, too. Bill and I will see to the baby, so you know that you don’t need to worry about her. Maybe this happened for some reason other than her just being a teenaged brat.

Maybe so. Thanks so much. I’ll check back with you later, Pat.

Hanging up the one phone, Jennifer put Mathilda at ease on the other. She hung up from that call, and looked over in time to catch a man in a lab coat intently watching her through the glass window of an inner office behind the desk. He abruptly broke off his scrutiny when he noticed her looking at him. After almost a lifetime of it, she was used to men’s stares, but that one appeared to be rather young to be so interested in her.

“Mr. Hart is waiting for you..” The nurse behind the desk said to her after she thanked her for the use of the telephones. “He sent word that we should to let you know that. Is he always so bossy and so charming at the same time? He was out of it  and sort of grumpy yesterday, but today he’s got everyone up here in love with him.”

“More like spoiled and used to getting his way.” Jennifer slowly smiled. “Don’t indulge him. It just makes him worse. In fact, you might want to make a little sign to that effect and hang it on his bed.”

Leaving laughter behind her, she crossed the hall, lining up in her head the words that she would use to break the news to Jonathan about his errant child.

____________________________________________________________

Embarrassed at being caught by Jennifer Hart as he watched her from inside the office, Dr. Philips tried not to be as obvious looking again, taking inventory of her as she left the desk to return to her husband who was housed in the room across the hall.

Even if he hadn’t been interested in seeing how she looked, even if he didn’t already have an idea; she would have been hard to not notice. An interesting looking woman, tall and slim with shiny, thick red hair, an engaging manner, and a soft smile, he could tell by her polished complexion, fine clothing, accessories, and her carriage that she was expensive. But then a man like Hart could easily afford the maintenance on a woman like that. Evidently, she was also fairly ageless. He knew firsthand that those warm, very expressive eyes he could see through the glass as she interacted with the nurses, could certainly melt the heart of any male of any age if they were focused on him just so. It was also heartening to know and to see that there were still some relationships that remained strong and that lasted over time.

Her look-alike daughter, he assumed, must resemble her when she had been a girl. But J.J., as she was called, had different eyes. Different color. Different expression- or general lack thereof- more like her father’s.

She was young, but in his second encounter with her, this time when he was returning from his jog and he happened upon her in the lobby as she was being ambushed by reporters; he was able to sense that she was a scrapper of the highest order.  From the look on her face and the set of her shoulders and chin, he could tell that she was getting ready to let them have it. He wondered what would have happened down there if he hadn’t pulled her away or security hadn’t moved the men away from her. He chuckled to himself as he resolved that the smart money would have been on her. From what he knew of her, J.J. Hart had to be very smart and resourceful; she seemed very self-assured. He figured her father had to be proud to have a child like her for his own .

He was still feeling too nervous about him to interact one-on-one with him. That would have to happen sooner or later, probably sooner, but he felt he could wait on that. Hart never opened his eyes on the night before, and he was glad of that. It startled him when the man began thrashing about in his sleep while he was there checking the monitor recordings, and it was a good thing that despite his long hospital hours, he worked out, and kept fit. Hart was in the hospital with a suspected cardiac problem, and he was years older, but he had been quite strong and could have done himself quite a bit of damage if he hadn’t been able to restrain, then assure him. If Hart had been at his best, he might have even gotten in a couple of good ones. He had the weight, reach, and experience advantage, and the man’s reputation for toughness preceded him.

The notes left by Samuels and the nurses assigned to Hart said that he was in a better humor today and a lot less pain. That was understandable seeing as how he’d been at rest for over twenty-four hours. The arrival of Mrs. Hart had probably been the contributing factor in his change of mood. There was something that Samuels had seen as a result of those tests. It was something that fit right in with Hart’s age and background, and if what was showing up panned out in his personal history, it made the pieces to what was presently going on with him fall into place.

____________________________________________________________

“I cannot tell you how much I hate being hooked up to all this mess.”  Jonathan fussed as Jennifer reentered the room. “I mean, I love technology; it’s been my bread and butter. Some of Hart Industries components are probably running it, but what can they possibly be hoping to find that hasn’t already turned up? J.J. hasn’t made it down yet?”

When she didn’t answer right away, he continued, “Did you call to see where she was and when she was coming while you were out there? I could see you were on the phone.”

Jennifer pulled the chair she had been sitting in earlier back over to his bed, and turned it so that it was facing him. Then she sat down, sighing heavily.

“I’m afraid she’s not coming at all, Jonathan.”

“Why?” He sat forward slightly, turning to face her. “What’s happened? Is something wrong? She sick or something?”

Wearily rubbing at her forehead again, she answered him.

“She’s been here and gone. Simon brought her down earlier. She arrived just as you were getting set up to go for your tests. They let me know that she was here as soon as I stepped out of the room from you, so I went down to meet her. I didn’t want to tell you then. I didn’t want you to be upset for the tests. She left before you were done.”

“Left? Without coming to see me? You’re leaving something out, Jennifer. There’s a gap there. What happened that I would be upset about and that would cause her to leave without ever coming in here?”

“Well, we had sort of a disagreement while we were together in the lounge. Well, not really a disagreement- more like she came at me and I reacted to her. She was angry and very bitter about not being allowed to see you last night and about my having left her this morning. I only wanted her to rest. I had already made arrangements for Simon to bring her whenever she woke, but she saw it differently.”

“J.J. came at you? Angry? Bitter? She argued with you, and then walked out? Call her up and tell her to have Simon bring her down here now. I mean it. I don’t care if I am in here. Call her up. She knows better than that. I want her brought down here. Call her now, Jennifer. If I had a phone….”

“I can’t, Jonathan.”

Despite her attempts at hiding it, looking closely, he could see the distress in his wife’s face. Something was terribly wrong, and Jennifer didn’t want to tell him. But he needed to know. If J.J. and Jennifer were fighting, it was serious. J.J. knew better than to be disrespectful, especially to her mother. Disrespect was something he did not tolerate. But J.J. wouldn’t “go after” her mother as a mere matter of form. As he suspected, and as Jennifer had indicated, J.J. was most likely harboring some strong resentment about not being allowed to come see him on the night before. His hope had been that she had resolved that for herself when she had come around there on her own. Evidently, she hadn’t.

“So, why can’t you call her, Jennifer?”

“Because she’s gone, Jonathan. She left here, got back to the villa, packed, and flew to Reno to be with Pat and Bill. That was Pat I was talking with when you saw me on the phone.. She rang to tell me that J.J. was there; she had just picked her up. They’re going to keep her there for us until you get out of here.”

He lay his head back, and this time it was he who heaved the heavy sigh.

“I take it you didn’t send her to Reno. I’m assuming that she skipped out on her own.”

“On the American Express card you gave her for emergencies without telling me that you had done that.”

“Damn.” He cursed to himself.

Once again, J.J. Hart had gotten him into hot water right along with herself. He prayed that Jennifer didn’t bring up the flying. That would have been too much on his plate at that time. In all that time, she had to know. For a moment, he couldn’t say anything.

Then he quietly admitted, “I didn’t think it was a big deal. She’s always been responsible with her finances. These days she’s getting around a whole lot more. I just thought that if she was ever out and short on cash, she could have that to use rather than going to the ATM, which can be dangerous. It was time for me to renew mine, so I just had one issued in her name, too. We honestly weren’t trying to slip one past you this time. You have to know that I didn’t think she’d use it to do anything like this. I wouldn’t have given it to her if I had.”

For her part, listening to him, Jennifer wanted to scream. J.J. was sixteen and impulsive. Yes, she was generally responsible. Yes, she handled money well. Yes, she was generally a good child, but she was sixteen, dammit! And clever and smart and as fearless as hell. Lots of kids her age had credit cards at their disposal, Marnie had a purse full, but it wasn’t always a good thing. Sixteen-year-olds did things, and they didn’t always think about the things they did. Just as their daughter had not- or perhaps had.

There was no real way to tell what was going though that child’s mind after all she’d been put through, and nobody had taken, or really had, the time or energy to ask her about it. Just as she had predicted, J.J. hadn’t taken well at all to being left on the sidelines. Instead, she had taken herself completely out of the game and away from them. Maybe not so impulsive a move after all.

J.J. Hart had to have put some thought and some planning into this last escapade of hers to pull it off as well as she had. She was a very quick study, and it wasn’t like she hadn’t had plenty of example to follow when it came to working a plan.

That thought only made it worse. More than anything, she wanted to just scream- at him, to him, and for him- for herself. But if she did, he would never understand any of it. He would only be hurt and/or blame himself for having upset her, and now was not the time. She loved him too much, and he meant too well. It wasn’t his fault. He loved that child, and that was just how he and J.J. were, had always been, and would probably always be, and like always; she found herself stuck somewhere in the middle of the two of them.

“Jennifer, are you angry with me?” She heard him ask.

“No, darling.” She lied. “Just worried about her and about you.”

He reached down through the rail for her hand, and she reached up to take it and hold it.

“With Bill and Pat, she’s in good hands, too.” She assured him. “Pat said to leave her there until you get out of here. J.J. will be fine with them.”

His eyes were searching her face. “I’m so sorry about all of this. I don’t want you worried about J.J. or about me either” He said. “I know that none of this is easy on you. They’ll find out what’s going on, fix me up, and we’ll both go get her, okay?”

She nodded.

“She’s a hell of a kid, though, isn’t she?” He said, and she couldn’t help but see the light of pride in his blue eyes.

The girl had gotten mad, run off, and flown on her own to Reno from Vegas, no less, with not so much as a by-your-leave from anyone, and he was proud of her for doing it. She could not believe him.

“You have to admit, she’s got guts.” He nearly grinned.

“Yes, she is.” She conceded. “And yes she has.”

But J.J. Hart’s mother was a hell of a woman, with lots of gut, too, and when she caught up to that little narrow-hipped, too-grown, pony-tailed, quick tongued, red head with the seriously nasty attitude….

“You wouldn’t even have a husband…” Indeed. “You wouldn’t have a daddy, or a life for that matter….”

Across the hall, the two doctors were conferring. After a few minutes, Dr. Samuels started over.

____________________________________________________________

He wasn’t required to be there on the floor so early, and even though he wanted to maintain his low profile for a while longer, he found that he couldn’t stay away. He wanted to know everything there was to know about that man who was his patient. The file before him and the computer screen were a treasure trove of physical information, but they didn’t say the things he really wanted to find out. His extensive research into Hart’s background had only gone so far before it abruptly stopped. Stonewalled at a certain point, it was as if he hadn’t really existed at all until he became a young man in the Navy. But everything he had discovered about him since that time had been fascinating and quite admirable. It was also heartening to know and to see that there were some personal relationships that remained strong and that lasted.

That Hart had been raised an orphan in a private religious orphanage in the earlier part of his life hadn’t been of much help in the informational quest. Nothing detailed could be pulled up about those years in the biographical information available to the public, no matter what resources he attempted to employ.

After carefully studying the test results which had come back at that point, and after  reviewing some things he had recently studied, he could see that there was one thing that might be an interesting key to his early physical past. Hart would have been a kid during the time that the initial episode would have been a problem, and as an orphan, it stood to reason that he would have been the type of child in which it might not have been properly diagnosed or treated. It wasn’t unusual for the residual effects to take so long to surface, if that were the underlying problem. According to Hart’s records, his life hadn’t been hampered by it thus far, but as he aged, it was probably beginning to rear its head.

Samuels was on his way to talk to with Hart. In the meantime, he needed to get some shut eye. After all, he was the night shift, and there was no telling what opportunities the night would bring for which he would need to be wide awake.

____________________________________________________________

When her Uncle Bill finally left her, thoroughly exhausted, J.J. lie down across the bed. Despite the fact that she was nervous to the point of nausea, anticipating what her mother was going to do or say to her about what she’d done once she caught up to her; she was still convinced that it was for the best.

She was J.J. Hart, and she couldn’t let on. She had run, and that hadn’t been right, but it was what needed to happen at that time. No matter what it looked like, it hadn’t been running just for the sake of getting away from anything or anyone. It was simply the best thing to do for all concerned.

And she was still secretly exhilarated and proud of herself for having done it all on her own. Her hope was that the note she left for her mother would kind of smooth things over some.

Closing her eyes, using the pillowcase to wipe at the tears one last time, she thought of her father in that hospital, and then of Uncle Bill and Aunt Pat. The two of them came to the airport to get her when she called, and neither of them made a big deal about her crying, even though it embarrassed her to no end to not be able to hold it back like she normally was able to do. When Aunt Pat asked what was wrong, the only thing she could tell her was that she’d fought with her mother, and she was sorry about it.

She really was sorry, but everything about what had transpired since the day before hurt so badly.

Next to her mother and father, there were no two better people in the world than Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill. Her parents made a wise choice in selecting them as her godparents. It was excellent that they were getting married. Even if they didn’t marry, it was still excellent that they were lovers and friends. They made a good couple, almost as good as the Harts. As she had the chance to be alone with them that day, watching them as they interacted with each other and with her, she could see that they were already married. As they spoke with her, she could tell hat she had made the right choice to come to them.

Aunt Pat hadn’t said that she did, but she had to have called Jennifer Hart. It was odd that her mother hadn’t demanded that she be put on the phone. That must mean that she was as mad as hell. Rule #1 had been broken big time.

So very tired, even though it was still daylight out, when her stomach stopped flipping, J.J. gave in and allowed sleep to take her.

____________________________________________________________

“Sister Anastasia.” The young lay worker said as she stood at the open door of the Mother Superior’s study. “You have a phone call. It’s Jennifer Hart.”

It was the call for which she had been sitting and waiting most of the day.

“Thank you.” She answered, hesitating to pick up until the young woman left and her footsteps were sounding farther down the hall.

Jennifer, you have good news for me?

Some, Sister. Jonathan’s doing much better today. It turns out that he didn’t have a heart attack, but there’s still some concern. I’ve called because I have to ask you something. I know that there’s only so much you can tell me, but still I have to ask.

If you think I can help, Jennifer. But you know what I’ve told you about digging.

I’m not digging. I need to know this for his sake. Sister, did Jonathan ever have rheumatic fever as a child?

Rheumatic fever?

It’s very important. They’re trying not to do exploratory surgery, but they may have to if there aren’t any other answers. If he had that as a child, it would answer some of the questions they have. They asked Jonathan, but he said that he couldn’t remember ever having it, but it seems there’s a lot that he doesn’t remember or that he chooses not to remember about that time in his life. If he was very small when he had it, it’s quite likely that he wouldn’t remember. You’re the only one who would know. Please, now I need to know.

Anastasia sat back in her chair, the phone still to her ear, remembering, considering her response.

Are you there, Sister?

“Yes, Jennifer, I’m here.”

Sister, please, this is Jonathan we’re talking about. You love him. I love him. Please tell me what you know.

“What are the symptoms? Did the doctor say?”

He mentioned them to us, but I looked them up myself to be sure, so that I could tell you. The information I got says that it starts with a throat infection, so he would have had a sore throat maybe, then there’s a high fever and aching, swollen joints. It’s also accompanied by a rash of some sort. The rash is supposed to be a characteristic of this type of ailment.

Hesitating again, then earnestly hoping that she wasn’t committing a sin, Anastasia finally answered, speaking slowly, measuring her words.

“When he came to us, he was very ill. A very little boy, and quite sick. We were a poor parish then. Some of us had some nurses’ training, but we couldn’t afford to send for a doctor. We didn’t know if what he had was catching, so we couldn’t put him in with the other children. I took him, and he and I closed up in my room away from everyone else. I was  young then and strong. I nursed him back to health myself. It was just he and I, no doctor, so there was no diagnosis of his affliction. I don’t know if it was this rheumatic fever that you mention, but he did suffer from a high temperature, and he had the swelling that you mentioned. It was in his knees. And Jennifer, he did have a strange rash over his nose, his chest, and his abdomen.”

Sister, it’s not a common disease in this country, not even for those times. You said that he had it when he came to you. Can you tell me from where he came when he arrived to you?

“No, Jennifer, that I cannot tell you. Jonathan’s records were sealed, and they remain sealed. This fever, what is its significance to what is happening with him now?”

 It seems that it damages the valves of the heart, but that damage doesn’t show up for years. The extent of it depends upon its frequency of reoccurrence. How many times did he have those kinds of symptoms?

“Just the one time. After he was well from that, he rarely got sick again. He grew into a strong boy. In school and in the neighborhood, he played football and basketball. He wrestled and rough housed, fought. There were never any health problems. He just got head colds sometimes, like he gets now. There was nothing like that ever again. We fed him well, kept him clean, warm and dry. We didn’t have much, but we did the best that we could with the children.”

 I know you did, Anastasia. It’s good he only had it once. That makes things a lot better for him. Thank you so much for the information.

“Do you think it will help him?

I’m sure it will help the doctor to help him.

“Jennifer, if you tell the doctor, he will know that you asked me, and that may make him angry. I don’t want that for you. I’ll call the hospital myself tomorrow and speak with the doctor. I will tell him myself, just as a suggestion, as if I thought it might help. Jonathan must suspect you or Justine have called to let me know he was ill, but he won’t know for sure ou asked about me about him. If I call, you won’t be caught up in it. I’ll act as if I am volunteering the information. Jonathan won’t dare say anything to me about it. He might suspect some coincidence, but he won’t ask you about it because he knows that you’ll tell me.

I really don’t care if it makes him angry or not, it’s more important to me the doctors have the correct information to help him get well. But I do thank you, Sister. I appreciate your doing that for us. The doctor may need some additional information that you might be able to provide, if you’re at liberty to do so. You can use the number I left with the secretary in the business office. That’s the doctor’s direct number. I won’t keep you any longer.

“One more thing, Jennifer, before you go. What is this I hear of Justine flying airplanes? It was on the news here.”

I’m afraid you’ll have to ask Jonathan about that when you see him. I had nothing to do with it. I’m as surprised as anyone.

“How is Justine behind all of this? She is very close to her father. They are very much alike in spirit.”

You aren’t telling me anything I don’t already know, Sister. I guess you could say she’s as well as could be expected in the situation. She has her own way of bouncing back from adversity.

“I should have expected Jonathan was flying with that girl. He is just plain silly about her. Aren’t you glad you didn’t have a boy with him, Jennifer?”

And what difference do you think that would have made?

The truth in that question made Anastasia laugh a rare belly laugh. “I guess you have a point. Good night, Jennifer, and thank you.”

Thank me?

“Thank you for coming into his life, and for loving him as you do. He has the best partner in the world in you, and the best mother for his child. You look out for both of them, and the two of them certainly need you. I know they are a handful for you.”

I love them. For the most part, it’s easy to do that with both of them. Thank you for the nice compliment, Sister, and for your help. 

Hanging up from Anastasia, Jennifer picked up the note from the table by her bed. Looking it over one more time, once more resisting the urge to pick up the phone, she folded it and put it in the breast pocket of her robe.

Saying, “Sorry” couldn’t fix every wrong, and J.J. had moved herself into the position she was in.

Removing her robe, Jennifer once again climbed into bed without her husband or the benefit of his touch. The Egyptian cotton sheets that met her body felt cold against her skin and uninviting to her person.

Pulling the comforter up and bringing the pillow that should have been Jonathan’s in to her, she lie there, holding it and thinking. As harsh as it seemed and as difficult a thing as it would be to do, it was time that J.J. Hart learned what being left alone really felt like.

____________________________________________________________

August Lamb was uneasy. He was back at home in LA, but edgy and unable to sleep, he had finally given up on trying. As he sat in his living room, nursing the drink he’d fixed to calm his nerves, he couldn’t get his mind off Jonathan Hart, his boss who was also his friend. Alone in the night with his thoughts, he mulled over it all over.

The relationship went way back, having first met right after they were newly enlisted in the Navy. Despite the rampant racial segregation of those times, Jonathan Hart had never been one afraid to cross color lines. Charming, funny, and friendly; everybody liked him, and he seemed to like everybody regardless of race, social status, or creed. For him, those types of artificial barriers didn’t appear to exist, in fact, nothing seemed to keep him back from where he wanted to go. He had a way about him that allowed him to fit in anywhere and with anyone.

Having trained as an amateur boxer before enlisting in the Navy, Lamb almost immediately found a protective niche once he was on the inside. It was those superior pugilistic abilities that first drew he and Hart together. In the service, boxing seemed to be one of those things that blurred the color lines if a fighter was good, and he had been good. Putting all of his money on him to win one night, Hart won for himself a huge purse which he then parlayed into starting his own undercover bookmaking enterprise. A regular at all the bouts, it wasn’t too long before he sold his business to another regular, BillMcDowell, and somehow managed to finagle his way into working inside the ring, in his corner.

Soon after that, Hart took over as his manager, skillfully guiding their camp to several championships. It was through the training and the matches that they really got to know one another. During down times, they would talk at length about their lives, their dreams and their aspirations. Hart would listen intently to his stories about his girl back home and his huge family up north, and in turn, he would be regaled by Hart’s colorful tales of his risqué adventures in San Francisco, and of his curmudgeonly guardian, Max, whom he always credited with having saved his life.

Back then, it had been difficult for a black man, who came from very little, to cultivate any dreams he might have had. But Hart was a man with vision. “Stick with me.” He would often say when they talked. Jonathan Hart had big plans, and even way back then, it was evident that he was a guy who was going places.

Eventually Hart and his good friend,McDowell were accepted into the pilot training program, while he was shipped out to sea.

When their tours of duty were over, they parted ways. Hart andMcDowell returned to the west coast from which they had come. He went back up north to look for work while actually hoping to  revive his boxing career. One day, when he arrived home from a long day spent cleaning floors in a meat packing plant, he found an envelope waiting for him. Inside was a note from Jonathan Hart.

That envelope turned out to be the passport to his future.

Hart had tracked him down, sent him a train ticket and a check to cover his moving expenses, and asked if he would come work with him in setting up a security team for the new business he was in the process of starting. That was a request that did not have to made more than once.

Traveling from Chicago to Los Angeles, he had been with Jonathan Hart, protecting him and his business through its evolution from Hart Electronics, to Hart Technologies, and when he went public, finally the multi-national Hart Industries.

Hart sent him to school where he earned an advanced degree in criminal justice. Security systems had become his area of expertise, and he had forged a considerable reputation in the field. In his official capacity as Hart Industries Security Chief, he had been all around the world, but protecting Hart and his family had always been his personal priority. Jonathan Hart was a man he genuinely liked and admired. All of the things he had done, had been accomplished from scratch, and through his phenomenal success, he remained a man of great integrity. As he moved up in the world, Hart reached back and brought many others right along with him. He had personally trained, molded and developed many of the top people within the corporation.

Hart was a member of his wedding party when he brought his long time girl friend from Chicago to LA to marry her. Being the lone white guy in the group hadn’t deterred him. Like always, Hart fit right in.

When Hart all of a sudden fell in love with the woman whom he decided to make his wife, the invitation to be a part of his wedding party had been issued and the gesture had been gratefully returned. At first he feared feeling like a fish out of water in the midst of Hart’s and his wealthy fiancée’s powerful white family and their friends, but that wasn’t the case. Between BillMcDowell, Max, the diverse mix of the Hart employees present, and Hart himself, he had been at home. That was especially true once the big poker game got started in a back room of the reception hall.

It didn’t take very long for them to get found out. The beautiful bride, upon finding herself suddenly alone with the guests, pushed her way past the sentry placed at the door. Inside the room, around the table, she discovered him, the best man: Max, BillMcDowell, and even her own father. She caught the groom red-handed as he stood over them all, trying to deal a quick hand.

With one look, that redhead had Jonathan Hart dropping the cards and leaving the more than generous bet behind that he’d only just placed on the table. As soon as he was gone, it was scooped up by Max and divvyed between himself and Mr. Edwards. Max didn’t want to see it go to waste, and Edwards said that since his son-in-law couldn’t play, he knew he’d like for them to have it. Hart’s being drug out of that room was, and had remained over the years, a guaranteed hoot when someone brought it up.

When his children were born, Hart had been on hand to celebrate with him. When J.J. finally came to the Harts, the entire corporation celebrated, but the two of them had gone off to a storeroom to share a pint and a private cigar. Familiar with Hart’s bleak background, he could appreciate the man’s boundless devotion to his family, and so, long ago, he determined that no harm would come to the Harts on his watch if it was within his power to keep that from happening.

The cell phone suddenly vibrated on the table, jarring him back to the present. Ever since Hart had fallen ill, it seemed to have taken on a life of its own . The calls just kept coming. Checking the display, he determined from the number that the one currently vying for his attention could wait.

Even if he could sleep, that phone wasn’t going to let him do it for very long. The situation in Las Vegas had him too antsy anyway. He didn’t like the feeling.

All of his instincts were telling him that Jonathan Hart’s night doctor bore watching. There was something about him. He hadn’t met with that one when he had been in Vegas, but this Dr. Philips had been digging too far and for too long into Hart’s past. How did he so conveniently manage to turn up in the lobby at just the right time to rescue J.J. from those reporters?

When the commotion got his attention and he happened to catch sight of J.J. being whisked around that corner by someone who wasn’t one of his men, his heart had almost stopped. By the time he made it around to where she was, the person, she said it was Dr. Philips, was gone. Where had he gone so fast, and why had he been so quick to get out of there?

A cursory, routine background check, completed on the two doctors treating Hart in that emergency situation, had unearthed Phillips’ unique sideline snooping into Hart’s past. What was he looking for, and why was he seeking personal, non-medical details? The research revealed that he had been digging for a long time, long before the present crisis, years before J.J. set that plane down in Vegas with her ill father onboard. Finding that out about him piqued Arnold Zale’s investigative curiosity, and without being told, Lamb knew that Zale had already begun digging deeper into the young doctor’s past. At any time he was expecting another report.

J.J. Hart. What a girl.

She and her father had kept it under their hats, but he’d figured her for flying the Piper. They did things like that all the time without letting anybody in on it, but being in security, it was his job to know or to at least suspect. There was no way that girl was going up so often with her father for all those years, that Hart hadn’t taught her how to fly that plane. The man doted on her. J.J. was young, but she was smart and game for anything, just like her Dad. He had not, however, figured her for flying that much larger twin engine, but that was what he found parked out at McCarren when he had gone out there with the Becketts’ driver to retrieve the Harts’ personal belongings from the plane.

He would be willing to bet anything that she could fly the corporate jet, too. That made him wonder if Mrs. Hart had known, before it all came to a head, that J.J. was flying. Being closer to the family and cognizant of their general interpersonal dynamics, he was aware that Mrs. Hart didn’t always see eye to eye with her husband when it came to  J.J. In comparison to her husband, Mrs. Hart tended to be a bit more cautious and reserved, which sometimes led to differences of opinion between them over their child. J.J. was a lot like her father. The fact that she was a girl made her even more interesting.

What a girl. No doubt, she was privileged, but beyond that she was special on her own. There was never any telling with her.

When the call came that she had gotten past the private security at the villa and had taken off on her own for Reno, he was deeply troubled. Hart security had been installed at the hospital to watch over her and her parents while they were there. He wanted them planted at the estate, too, but he had been assured that Becketts’ people had the villa covered.

It turned out that they didn’t, and he had given them hell about it. They actually stood and watched J.J. get into a taxi, never once questioning why the chauffeur wasn’t transporting her to wherever she was going. It had been a major embarrassment for them, and a major breach in terms of J.J.’s personal safety. Not having followed his own first mind, and insisting upon putting a couple of their own people out there, was a serious frustration for him. The Harts hadn’t blamed him or them, but he considered it a serious security break just the same.

J.J. could be very slick. When she suspected that she might be being watched, on those rare occasions that it happened she was these days, she was known to go to great lengths to try to outmaneuver her father’s efforts to keep tabs on her. But she rarely got past the Hart team- at least not for very long.

That afternoon, however, she had gotten over on everyone. He could just see her and that ponytail leaving that house, playing it cool, confident and perfectly at ease to throw anyone off  who might watching. Didn’t the suitcase rolling behind her and the purse on her shoulder tell them anything?

He had since spoken with BillMcDowell, who was J.J.’s godfather, in Reno. He assured him that she was there to stay. At that juncture, he said, there would be no more running. He and J.J.’s godmother, Pat Hamilton would take good care of her. He’d had occasion to meet Ms. Hamilton several times over the years, and like Bill, she was a no nonsense person when it came to taking care of business. No doubt J.J. Hart was in a better place up there with them than she was in Vegas.

AtMcDowell’s ranch there were horses, a piano, computers, a pool, and all sorts of other things to keep her occupied. There was also Clara,McDowell’s longtime housekeeper, a pleasant Caribbean woman, who was also an excellent cook. J.J. Hart loved to eat. With all of that and all of them, J.J. wouldn’t be bored or frustrated, and with her needs attended to, her mother could focus on her husband.

Word had gotten back to him of the nasty blow-up between J.J. and her mother. That was very unusual. Jennifer Hart was probably the only person in the universe who commanded J.J.’s complete attention and obedience. She and her mother probably didn’t even realize it, but her father had skillfully cultivated that respect and deference in J.J. over the years. It was probably the only thing he totally insisted upon with her. If word got back to him about J.J.’s insolence toward her mother, she’d be in sizzling hot water with her father, no matter how ill he might be. Perhaps that was why she had taken off.

J.J.’s running away like that had been a highly irregular move. She had always been sort of different: precocious, assertive, observant, and headstrong, but she wasn’t a runner. If anything, she was a kid who, under most circumstances, could be counted upon to stay and fight or to work out a problem rather than run from one.

But then Jonathan Hart’s being ill was also very much out of the ordinary, so who could predict what the fallout might be?

As far back as he could remember, outside of common colds from which he quickly recovered, he couldn’t ever recall a time that the man had been sick. His being down was throwing everything out of whack. He prayed that whatever it was, it wasn’t something that couldn’t be fixed.

“Daddy, don’t you think you should come to bed?”

He turned from the window to find his youngest daughter standing behind him, watching him. She was dressed in her nightgown, and concern played on her young face. Like J.J. Hart, she was the image of her own mother, but his daughter’s mother was deceased. In another week, she would be going back up to college where she lived on campus during the school year, leaving him alone in that rambling house which working for Jonathan Hart had allowed him to afford. His other three children were grown, with their own families, and were scattered across the country. In that brief moment, his heart was heavy at the thought of how much he would miss her, and of how much he missed her mother. It had only been two years, but it seemed she’d been gone a lot longer than that. Maybe when she graduated, he’d downsize to a condo or something to make the walls be a little closer.

Getting up from the couch and walking over to her, he put his arm around her shoulders, sighing, “I guess so. I couldn’t sleep, but maybe I can now.”

“Worried about Mr. Hart?”

“And Mrs. Hart and J.J.”

“They’re in the best possible hands with you. That’s why he chose you for the job, Daddy.”

“I guess.” He answered.

That inquisitive doctor once again crossing his mind, he was once again bothered. He realized that his concerns might amount to nothing. Perhaps it was nothing more than a young man interested in an older, self-made, extremely wealthy man, studying how he had achieved all that he had.

But then again, one could never be too sure.

Leaving his daughter at her bedroom door, he kissed her on the forehead and told her good night. Slowly making his way back to his own room, he was thinking that first thing in the morning, he’d get back with Zale down at the Towers, and see if he had found anything else on young Dr. Philips. If he had to, he’d put Stanley Frieson on it. He didn’t want to have to go there, but nobody was the mole Stanley could be when it came to digging for the most evasive details.

Sleep wouldn’t come easily that night, or perhaps for the nights to come. He would be restless until Hart was safely back in LA.

____________________________________________________________

With Jennifer gone and nothing at all to distract him, Jonathan lie there with his eyes closed to keep the room from becoming any more the vacuum that it was. It had almost been better the night before when he was feeling too ill to really care very much about his surroundings. More alert and more in control of his emotions, the current idleness was almost too much to take. He was not a man accustomed to not being able to do anything. It was great when lying about was his choice, but this situation was not one of his choosing.

To make matters worse, being there kept him from being an active participant in his family life. Jennifer and J.J. were at odds. J.J. had actually taken off on her own to Reno, and Jennifer, although she had been playing it cool on the surface, was seething underneath. Not being with her, he couldn’t read her. While she was with him at the hospital, he hadn’t been able to see past her game face. A genius at assuming disguises, phony accents, and personas; she had no trouble pulling the appropriate visage out of the bag to suit her immediate purposes or to mask her true feelings at times. To properly interpret her real mood, he needed to observe her body language at length and in action. Maybe then he would be able to ascertain if her anger was over J.J., with him, or perhaps both of them. Admittedly, both he and J.J. probably had it coming.

There was the flying, a huge secret they had kept from her; J.J.’s insolent behavior, the charge card he had given J.J. which she had utilized to make her escape, and the escape itself. In his current condition, Jennifer wouldn’t vent her feelings about any of it to him, but there was nothing keeping her from letting J.J. know.

Nothing and nobody. The best thing J.J. could do would be to stand behind Pat. Besides him, Pat was the only hope the child had should Jennifer catch up to her on this one.

Boy, the crap was truly piling up in front of the fan. All Jennifer had to do was switch it on, and it would go flying for real. Maybe it was a good thing that he was sick after all; that would buy him some time. It was a good thing, too, that J.J. was four hundred miles away. She too, could be hard to read, and if she was volatile enough to go after her mother once, there wasn’t any way to gauge where things might go if they got started back up again. Maybe J.J. would come from behind Pat on her own.

For the first time that day, he began to feel that tightening in his chest. It quickened his breathing, making that machine over his head step up its actions.

What in the world could possibly have gotten into that girl?

It was completely out of character for her to do any of what he’d heard she had done. She didn’t always see eye-to-eye with her mother, but it wasn’t like her to argue with Jennifer. Unfortunately, however, like her mother, she had a tendency toward being hot tempered. At times, she could also be quick-tongued and flip. Despite that, being deliberately disrespectful and argumentative were not her style. Running away definitely wasn’t like her. She hadn’t tried anything like that since the time she was fourteen and Jennifer caught her one night trying to sneak off to a sleepover being held at Marnie’s house.

In their entire time as father and daughter, that had been the only time he had come close to spanking J.J. That entire period, roughly between ages twelve to close to fifteen, had been a difficult patch for all of them. It wasn’t until Jennifer took seriously ill right after catching J.J. on that back road that night that J.J. turned the corner and started back to being the sweet child she had always been and currently was.

As he lie there thinking about it, he recognized that the only times that J.J. ever really angered him were times that she did things that caused Jennifer unnecessary worry or distress. But then, some of Jennifer’s concerns over J.J., were of her own making. Jennifer, by nature, was a much more cautious person than either he or their daughter, and sometimes he got the impression that she still secretly harbored some expectations for J.J. that J.J. would never be able to achieve. J.J. simply was not of the same school of thought as her mother. Despite her, privileged upbringing, J.J.’s down-to-earth, global perspectives and methods of operation aligned themselves more closely with her father’s.

He thought again of that time Jennifer was so sick. He had been away in New York on business, and it was J.J. who found her mother in the bedroom that morning, burning up from fever and nearly unconscious. Even though she had only been fourteen, it was she who phoned the doctor and took care of her mother until the ambulance got there and he made it home to them.

For days after that, while Jennifer was in the hospital, J.J. was quiet and withdrawn, so much so that the school counselor pulled her out of class to talk with her. That had been a huge mistake on the counselor’s part. After J.J. gave the woman a piece of her mind for attempting to pry into her affairs and then refused to speak any further with her, he ended up having to go and get her from school.

For a couple of days after that, she remained at home, spending long hours alone in her room, not even talking to him. She would go with him to the hospital to visit her mother, but there was the sense that he was forcing her; that J.J. didn’t really want to go, but didn’t know how to say that she didn’t. Once she was at the hospital and in the room, Jennifer almost had to make J.J. talk to her. It was an inexplicable reaction for them at the time, but it was more than evident that J.J. did not want to be there. Recalling it, he could still see what he thought was panic in her eyes. It wasn’t until Jennifer was back at home that J.J. relaxed and was more like herself.

She’d had a similar reaction when Jennifer was attacked by an old acquaintance, Andy Seagren, the year before at the Mission Street Ball. He attempted to kidnap her, and to subdue her; he’d drugged her. The kidnap attempt had been unsuccessful, but the chemical he used on her caused Jennifer to be quite ill for some time after. Although J.J. hadn’t witnessed the actual altercation between Seagren and her mother, she blamed herself for what happened. A series of events that started with a prank involving J.J.’s school pictures were what put Seagren back into Jennifer’s life.

That time, J.J. was so despondent that she became physically ill, and he thought that he was going to end up having to have her hospitalized. She was irritable, severely depressed to the point of being sick to her stomach and unable to eat or sleep properly. Although Jennifer insisted on recovering at home, J.J. wouldn’t go anywhere near her without being made to do so.

Aside from the appendicitis attack a long time ago, he had never been sick. Not that he could recall. Not even as a kid. Dr. Samuels had asked about his ever having rheumatic fever as a child. Other kids got sick, but he never did. Sure, he’d had chicken pox, measles, mumps- the normal kid stuff, but not just plain sick. Never. Since Jennifer, he’d had some injuries, had even been kidnapped and shot once, but not sick. Ever.

It hit him hard.

J.J. had been the one with him when he had become ill. It was she who took care of him until the proper help could get to him. Unlike the time with her mother, in that scenario she had done it on a much larger scale. That one had literally been a life or death thing- for both of them.

For all of them.

“Aw, geez” He quietly moaned as the sudden realization washed over him. He hadn’t ever been sick before for J.J. to have experienced it, but she had come through.

If it took him that long to see it; J.J. probably didn’t have a clue.

She had run all right, but it wasn’t what it looked like. She had lashed out at her mother, but that wasn’t what it appeared to be on the surface either.

One thing he knew for certain about J.J. was that when she was acting up, behaving completely out of the ordinary, there was always a definite underlying, concrete reason. One just had to look hard enough and/or wait long enough for the cause to surface. As far as J.J. was concerned, in those situations where she had come through for them in an emergency, she had just been doing what she was supposed to do. But she would have no way of realizing that just because the incident itself was over, that wasn’t the end of it for her. The thing with him and the plane wasn’t even the beginning of this one. She had been through so much before even that, and as private as she was with her feelings, there was no real way to tell how, or even if, she had dealt with any of it.

And in their like-mindedness, what had they unintentionally put Jennifer through?

Her imagination was probably in overdrive. Alone at the villa, trying to sleep, without either of them there with her, she had to be envisioning worst case scenario after worst case scenario. Hanging around with him, getting dragged into the things he got them into; she had also been put to the test many times over their years together.

Had he and J.J. finally taken things too far? They were so much alike; loving, but failing to take into account how much meant they to and were were loved by others.

What if J.J. had panicked and hadn’t been able to successfully get the plane down? After all, despite her considerable skill, she was still just a sixteen-year-old kid, and he hadn’t been in any condition to help her.

Jennifer loved both of them. They hadn’t been fair to her. It hadn’t been done on purpose, but just the same, that’s how it would have been.

What if something had happened to that plane that J.J. had taken off on to get to Reno? Nobody would have known where she was or what had happened to her until the flight manifest was posted, and then…

           Oh, God.

When the dull pain menacing him, suddenly arched, abruptly seizing and clamping off his windpipe, the resultant involuntary groan was loud, even to his ears.

Continue to Part Two

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