Close to the Hart: Part Four

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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This part of the story references scenes and details from stories just previous to this one, particularly “Passages”, and specifically Jennifer’s dream sequence in Part Ten.

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“I found her asleep on the ground.”

“That girl. I see she’s still falling asleep anywhere. But she has got to be tired; she hasn’t been resting well since she’s been with us, although she wouldn’t admit it to me when I directly asked her about it.”

“Slipping out for midnight swims?”

“You know about that? She’s under the impression she sneaks out to do it.”

“Our child takes delight in operating under the notion she’s putting one over on somebody. I’ve been aware for a couple of years now she does that when it’s warm enough.”

“She’s been kind of quiet with us since she arrived in Reno. Spent a lot of time outside by herself or playing the piano when she was inside, again- by herself.”

“Well, she didn’t say a word to me all the way back up to the house. She just rode next to me, looking straight ahead almost like she was in shock or something. I don’t think she felt well. When we got to the house, I offered to take her horse in so that she could go get cleaned up for dinner. She handed him off to me without so much as one syllable and still not looking to me. I took the horses back, went in to get ready myself, but when I went to her room to check on her, she was lying across her bed in her robe, fast asleep again. She’s so pale.”

“Did she seem angry?”

“I didn’t sense anger. She was just kind of- flat, I guess, for lack of a better word.  Do you know if she’s been taking her iron?”

“I’m sorry. I forgot to ask her about that.”

“That’s okay, it’s her responsibility to do that. She knows what happens when she doesn’t. I already know that she hasn’t been eating well; Clara told me when I called. Occasionally, if she hasn’t done the things she’s supposed to do, being anemic like she is; it just wipes her out. I wanted her to eat tonight, but I wound up just covering her up and leaving her on the bed.”

“Just what you need, both of them sick.”

Pat and Bill had come back to the villa from having seen Jonathan at the hospital. They were sitting with Jennifer on the patio, where Mathilda had served their dinner that evening. While Jennifer and Pat were discussing J.J., Bill took his cell out and checked it. Then he put it back into his jacket pocket.

“Classic.” He said. “Just keep an eye on her. She’ll come around. I told you, she’s been through a helluva lot for a kid.”

Pat stirred idly at her after-dinner coffee. “It just seems so strange. It was her choice to come back here. She wanted so badly to talk with you. She seemed perfectly ready to do so when I last spoke with her. That was why she didn’t come to the hospital with me. She said that she wanted to talk with you alone.”

Jennifer shook her head. “Not one word. When I found her, she was face down in the grass, mumbling in her sleep. But once she recognized I was there, that was it. She went completely silent, not even hello.”

“Give her some time and some room.” Bill continued to advise. “I know what I’m talking about. Besides, there’s someone else who could use your attention. And just so you know, I told him that you’re going to be owed a vacation big-time when this is done.”

Jennifer smiled at that. “That’s what Pa said when I talked with him earlier. He invited Jonathan, J.J., and me to Briarwood when Jonathan is released. I told him that I’d think about it, but I don’t know if I’m ready for that just yet. When this is over, and everything is all back to normal, that will be vacation enough for me. Will you two be staying the night?”

Pat answered. “No. Bill’s already arranged for us to go back to Reno tonight. We’re going to the ranch, packing up, and then we’re going on to Los Angeles.”

“Los Angeles? Why are you going there? One of you have business there or something?”

“Um-hmm, Bill and I have family business on Willow Pond. We’ve talked about it and decided that once you get through with the Squirt, she needs to go home. She’s got school real soon, and it will do her good to get back into familiar surroundings, her regular routine, and her friends. You send her home when you’re ready, and we’ll be there to see after her.”

“And of course, there’s Marnie and that car to consider.” Bill cut in. “Pat can hardly wait to get hold of that.”

“When Jonathan is released,” Pat continued after rolling her eyes at Bill’s comment. “Which, if things continue to improve, shouldn’t be too long from now, you and he need to go away for a few days so that you both can rest. I’ve already set it up with Marie for the three of us. You’ll have to decide what you and the big fella are going to do. Briarwood or wherever, but we do not want you two in Los Angeles with us.”

Running a hand through her hair, Jennifer considered the proposition, Then she reached for Pat’s hand to squeeze it.

“You are so bossy, Patricia. You’re always trying to run things.”

“Always have been bossy. The fact that I’m so effective at running a show is one of those things you love about me, and you know it, Edwards.”

Bill stood up from the table. “Well, since we’ve got that settled, I have a couple of phone calls to make before we get out of here. You ladies please excuse me.”

Pulling his cell from his pocket, he started back toward the house. When he slid the door closed behind him, Jennifer turned back to Pat.

“So how was Jonathan when you saw him, really?”

“He looked okay. Joking around and being adorable, like always. I could tell that he was kind of tired, though- not quite himself. That could be because they’ve got him on such strict bed rest. That kind of wears me out, too. I need to be up and around even when I don’t feel my best. I get lethargic and mentally sluggish when I’m made to be too still.”

“Probably.” Jennifer agreed. “He isn’t used to being made to be so still and to do so many things against his will. Did he ask after J.J.?”

“No, not really. He knows she’s all right. We told him right away that she was with you.”

Pat had earlier decided, should she ask after him, not to mention to Jennifer that Jonathan had personally spoken with J.J. by phone and verified for himself how she was. After all, that tidbit had come from J.J., and was most likely meant for her to keep in confidence. While they had been with him, Jonathan hadn’t said a word about having escaped from his room or phoning J.J.

“Did he mention about seeing Dr. Chase, the psychologist?” Jennifer asked.

“Now he did say to us that you sent in Chase, “the shrink”, he called him, to pick his brain.”

“Did he seem upset about it?”

“No, he mentioned it, but didn’t offer any commentary on the visit. You know he probably didn’t tell the man anything. I can just see him toying with Dr. Chase like some big old tomcat playing with a little rubber mouse.”

Jennifer quietly laughed at the mental picture and then she looked over at Pat.

“Pat, remember I said that J.J. was talking in her sleep?”

“Yes.”

“Finding her on the ground like that scared me at first; I thought she had fallen from the horse. I was calling to her, but she was still face down at the time. I got down next to her. That was when I realized that she was just asleep, and that she didn’t know I was there. She said, “Mommy.” She hasn’t called me that since she was in kindergarten.”

“And?” Pat shrugged. “So?”

“Then she said that I didn’t know where she was, and that I didn’t care. She said that I only cared about her father.”

“You said that she was asleep. She was probably dreaming, Jen.”

“Dreams often reveal our real, our innermost thoughts, Pat. Maybe she does feel that way. You think? Maybe that’s why she ran away from me.”

This time it was Pat who reached for Jennifer’s hand, stopping her from twisting her ring around her finger.

“You’re just going to have to talk to her, Jen. Maybe there is something she hasn’t told you. Maybe she is harboring some deep seated resentment that the two of you need to hash out. J. is a very perceptive child. Who knows what mistaken notion she may have picked up without anyone knowing. Whatever it is, the two of you are going have to sit down and talk about it.”

“I guess.” Jennifer quietly conceded. “You’re right about her being perceptive, and she is only a child.”

“Jennifer, no matter what, you need to understand- from me- that you are the best mother that kid could possibly have come to. I know you had your doubts in the beginning, but you have been wonderful with and for her. Whatever is going on with J.J., whatever she tells you or doesn’t tell you, the bottom line is you love her and she definitely loves you. Hell, Jen, maybe she wasn’t even talking about you when she said it.  Maybe she was, like I said, just dreaming. She’s tired, she’s completely worn out physically and mentally. On top of all that, I think she might have PMS, too.”

Maybe,” Jennifer sighed. “Maybe, maybe. Well, since it doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to have that talk with my daughter right away, I guess I need to get over to the hospital and see to my other charge. Now this should be one interesting visit.”

“What are you going to tell him about the Squirt? He knows that she’s back in Vegas and that you came back here so that the two of you could talk. He’s going to want to know the outcome. He’s not going to rest well any more until he’s satisfied that you two have settled your differences.”

“I’ll just tell him she was asleep when I got back.” Jennifer answered. “And she was still asleep when I left.”

“That’s pretty slick, Edwards.” Pat nodded. “I thought it was my role to play fast and loose with the truth.”

It was Jennifer’s turn to shrug. “It’s not like it’s a total lie. And since it’s my role to make sure that my husband stays nice and calm so that he can get out of there, it will have to do for the time being. He never will get it together if he has any inkling that his baby is around here acting like a zoned-out little zombie.”

When she stood, Pat did, too.

“Bill and I will likely be gone when you get back, Jen. If you aren’t here, I’ll check in on J. before we leave. I’ll make sure she’s okay and that she doesn’t need anything, and I’ll let her know where you went, as if she won’t be able to guess.”

Jennifer reached out to hug Pat, a gesture Pat heartily returned. “Our J.J.’s a pretty lucky girl, isn’t she? We didn’t have a mother between us. She has two, the natural one and the one sent to her by some higher order.”

“Yep, I believe she was born lucky, Jen, just like her old man.”

Pat leaned back to look Jennifer in the face while maintaining the embrace. “But it’s all relative. Only we can see that; she can’t. She can only go by her own experiences and her perceptions. Talk to her about what she said to you, and see what she tells you. Then, if there’s anything to it; reassure her. Nobody in this world loves her like you do. J.J. hasn’t had to go through what we did. But by going through it like we did, we know what to do for her. We do those things in the way that we do them because, old girl,  you and I do know.”

“That we do, old girl.” Jennifer agreed, hugging Pat again. “That we do.”

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It was almost time to make the trip to the hospital to assume his duties for the evening. Although he had just taken a shower, strong anticipatory apprehension had his fresh clothes feeling sticky and uncomfortable. Despite the apartment being quiet and peaceful, soothing jazz playing in the background, every single nerve in his body was standing on end. Even though he had been compelled to do it, he regretted going out to that villa. It had been wrong to do that. All the way around it had been wrong, and he feared that one action would come back to haunt him, maybe ruin him.

Calling ahead to check on his chief patient, he found out that Hart was improved physically, and a lot more alert and active than he had been past days. He had been asleep for a good while that afternoon, which probably meant that he wouldn’t be all that sleepy that night. Just the thought of Jonathan Hart awake, observant, checking him out with that direct, constantly assessing stare was almost enough to make him feign illness and call off from work.  It was too soon. He wasn’t anywhere near ready to face Hart at rest, with no pain or anything else to divert his attention

It was all a mixture of emotions, both personal and professional. With that man, it was impossible to remain completely objective. If there had been some way to do it without having to explain it to Samuels or anybody else, he should have begged off taking on this one. But then again, realistically speaking, he wouldn’t have missed out on the opportunity to be that close to him again for anything in the world.

In the hall closet mirror, he checked himself one more time. Keeping up a neat, professional appearance was important to him. He was young, and he dressed the part, but at the same time, he wanted to inspire confidence. In his field of practice, his relative youth sometimes worked against that. A lot of hard work and sacrifice had gone into getting where he was, but it was where he had long wanted to be. It was his hope that his knowledge, his skills, and a mature demeanor would counteract the lack of trust in his abilities that a baby face might evoke. A patient should be able to trust in the physician’s skills and integrity. As far as he was concerned, a real man should also strive to be perceived in that way.

The fat, white Siamese cat reflected in the mirror as she padded up behind him, distracted him from his thoughts. She brushed one time against his ankle, then sat up and tapped at his shin with one of her dainty black feet. He bent down with the intention of just petting her, but after she made it clear that she wanted more, he ended up with the cat in his arms.

“You are so spoiled.” He told the animal as it brushed its cheek against his. “Miss your mommy?”

As if she understood what he said, the cat pressed herself against his chest. He continued to stroke her as he walked with her over to the living room sofa and sat down.

“She’s in the mountains, probably upset with me because I couldn’t go with her.” He explained as the tiny rough tongue licked the hand that smoothed her fur. “She didn’t like that I couldn’t.”

The cat had moved in with him along with his live-in fiancée who had yet to return from that trip to the mountains that they were both supposed to have taken. When he got called in at the last minute, it was disappointing that they wouldn’t be going together. They didn’t get to spend a lot of weekends together. She almost decided to stay behind herself. But not wanting her to miss out on doing what she wanted just because he wasn’t able to accompany her, he talked her into going on with the others. As a doctor’s wife, she might as well keep to that life of her own that she had before she met him. Even if he wasn’t a doctor, he had long ago decided that any woman coming into his life would have to have her own program going. She was an airline stewardess, aspiring to be a travel writer. Her work kept her busy, too, which was perfect for a man who maintained as erratic a schedule as he.

That cat was the first real pet he’d ever had. As she purred her satisfaction with the job he was doing on her underbelly, he thought about that little pampered dog with the odd name that he had fallen in love with all those years ago. It slept on that big bed with him for those few nights that he had been a guest in its home.

He thought again of J.J. Hart and wondered if that big room was now hers. That villa was only a stopover for her. How many other places did she call home? She looked quite natural in the saddle. How many other horses did that one girl have? J.J. Hart probably got everything she thought she wanted.

Sheila, his fiancée, wasn’t sure about the idea of having children. Even though he was a just kid himself at the time, he could recall strongly sensing that Hart’s wife wasn’t sure about children either as she stood in that bedroom doorway, watching as her husband invited a strange little boy who arrived to them in the middle of the night, out of no where, to become a part of their household. After telling him a story about a lost prince being found by some nice people, Hart asked him directly if he would like to stay with them. He had looked past Hart to his wife, and answered that he would, but that he missed his mother, which he did. His wife looked as if she were just fine with that.

It was she who looked for and found his mother. It was she who was with him when his mother came back for him, and it was she who handed him off to her. Mrs. Hart was pretty, and she was nice enough, but even as a kid, he could tell that at that time, she didn’t feel what her husband and the old guy, Max, felt for him. They wanted a kid; she did not, at least not on a permanent basis. He went back home to his own mother, whom he really did genuinely love and miss. Although the invitation to visit if and whenever he wanted had been extended, he never went back to that big house, that dog, or to that man. On that day, he ceased to be who, up until that time, he thought he was. Twenty years later, at times, he still felt he’d lost a part of himself that day.

Since then, there had been other men in his mother’s life, but never a father for him, only a brother and a sister for him to look after and try to keep on track. In him, they did have a father. He had been the only one left out in the cold.

J.J. Hart had a father. It wasn’t artificial; he’d checked. She wasn’t adopted, as if anybody looking at her couldn’t tell that. She was his natural child, conceived with a woman he obviously loved. It had taken a few years, but the man finally got a kid of his own. Evidently, his wife felt differently about having kids when the child was her own. How could she help it? She had to want the child when the child she got was with a man like Jonathan Hart.

He could still picture J.J., looking at him with her father’s eyes, living the life that having his blood entitled her to live. He could still see Jonathan Hart as he desperately tried to make everyone around him leave him alone way early that morning. When he was brought back to the room from where he’d escaped, Hart was burning up with fever and nearly unconscious with the resulting dizziness, but he did everything he could to keep from letting himself be medically treated. He wanted to be left alone to come back to himself on his own. What a tough man. Even a heavy dose of sleeping meds hadn’t knocked him down.

He remembered that day at the zoo, when his mother came back to him, and how Hart beat the hell out of Vince, his biological father, when he showed up and tried to pull something else dumb. That was another thing he had not forgotten from that time long ago. Jonathan Hart fought with Vince and knocked him out cold for using him in a way that no real father would have done. Like he was fighting another man for trying to harm his son.

It wasn’t his fault that it had all been a lie. The first nine years of his life had been a complete and total lie. What would have happened had he said he wanted to stay? How different would things have been?

Instead, it had all been a major disappointment and a huge embarrassment, especially when he was old enough to understand all of the unsavory ramifications he could have had on Hart’s young marriage. For that, he had to give Mrs. Hart her due. Knowing what he now knew about women, that was a heck of thing to have put them through, especially her. Even when reading that note his mother sent with him, she never once acted like she was angry about her husband’s alleged indiscretion, at least not that he could recall, now that he knew what it had all been about.

           Let it go, John. It’s water under the bridge.

But he had never been able to let go of it. He had forgiven, but he had never forgotten any of it. The memories, the let-down, the sense of not being complete, had always been there even though he never talked about them or the incident to anyone except his mother and that doctor. Even then, they did most of the talking.

Sheila wanted to travel and to write; children didn’t figure well into that. Because he was a physician, because he already had two he was helping to raise, and because of his own private hurt, he wasn’t sure if he wanted any of his own either. But if a child did happen to somehow come his way, naturally or otherwise, he had a leg up. He understood what it took to be a good, a true father, and he would be one.

Depositing the cat back down onto the carpet, he went to kitchen to make sure that she had enough food and water to last through the night. Sheila would be back in a day, and she would see to the cat’s needs in the event that he hadn’t made it back to the apartment by that time. Being a doctor, his schedule subject to the needs of his patients, his time was not his own. Being that his patient was Jonathan Hart and that this was a long-awaited opportunity, one couldn’t tell what might happen that would keep him from getting back as planned.

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“I know this isn’t all you’re going to eat, Mr. Hart.”

Jonathan cast a chilly gaze to the woman who stood over him. a hand on one hip while looking at a chart she held in the other. Her words as well as her tone indicated her disapproval of what was left on the dinner tray pushed to the side of his bed. He hoped that his eyes indicated to her the part of his anatomy he was inviting her to kiss.

“I’m seeing here that you didn’t eat much lunch either, Mr. Hart.” she went on. “You’ve got another dose of antibiotics to take, and they may make you sick on the stomach if you haven’t adequately eaten.”

           Not me, they won’t.

Many, many years before, Anastasia issued to him the instruction that if he didn’t have anything positive to say on a topic, he shouldn’t say anything at all. He turned his face away from the nurse without oral comment.

She, too, said nothing more. Papers rattled a bit, the clamp on her clip board snapped, the table holding what was left of his dinner, rolled; and then her soft-soled footsteps exited the room completely. He hoped Dietary would get there soon to take that tray away. It needed to be gone before Jennifer arrived. He hadn’t seen her all day, but he had no doubt that before night was done, she would be making an appearance, and the last thing he needed was for her to show up and start fussing about his not eating. He didn’t want her upset any more than she had to already be, and besides, he didn’t really feel like hearing it.

How much longer?

It felt as if he had been there forever. Four days, and this was the third that he hadn’t seen his child. They had spoken together once since that first night, but a phone conversation wasn’t the same as actually laying eyes on her. Pat and Bill hadn’t said as much, but he sensed something wasn’t right with J.J. Her conspicuous absence had been explained by telling him that she’d stayed back to meet with Jennifer. Jennifer had been there at the hospital to see him, but since he was sleeping, he was told that she had gone back to meet with J.J. That made sense, but his gut was telling him that there was something more to all of that.

There was something more to a few things, and being imprisoned like he was, he was outside the loop, an unusual and uncomfortable place for him to be. Why had Pat been surprised to see Bill? Why didn’t they enter the room together? Hadn’t they come down to the hospital together? Pat was in the room by herself at first. She thought that he was asleep, but he had been awake from the time she sat down next to him. Thinking at first that she was Jennifer, he remained still, fully intending to cop a sneak feel on her leg. Good thing he waited.  Pat wore a distinctive perfume that, for him, was synonymous with her person. Right in the nick of time, it wafted over into his nostrils, thereby saving his hide. Sick or not, Pat would have clubbed him senseless with that purse of hers for something like that.

It had been a full week since he’d slept next to, in the bed with, his wife. She had come down every day to see him, staying longer than rules said she could, but that did nothing to ease the pain of missing her. Jennifer’s presence in his life filled voids, eliminated self-doubts, and settled his mind when it was uneasy. Reaching for her and holding her in the night soothed him, sending him back to sleep when intrusive, mildly disturbing thoughts would wake him and try to keep him from doing otherwise.

In the past, when Jennifer’s world was right, when J.J.’s troubled waters were made smooth, he could find peace for himself. This time things had been different.

Since her recent visit to her father’s place that summer and reuniting with the memories of her late mother, he could detect in Jennifer, a deeper measure of inner tranquility. She was no longer agitated and tense when speaking of or being spoken to about her mother. Working with her mother’s manuscripts found in the guest house attic, although she still didn’t do it a lot, she more freely offered glimpses into her childhood and into her interactions with the heretofore elusive Suzanne Edwards.

J.J. had been through so many things, mentally, physically, and emotionally in the past twelve months. Both he and Jennifer had seen her through them. She had also grown up a lot, right before his eyes. Her getting older brought with it a lot of anxiety and some unforeseen problems, but those were his issues, not hers.

Issues–  J.J.’s word, not his, but effectively descriptive of certain troublesome aspects of life.

Before he broke completely down, he struggled to give the appearance of being fine. He hadn’t said anything to anyone, but lately he had not  been. The mental stuff started right after the visit to Briarwood and got a lot worse right after that night on the bluff with Wesley Singleton. Physically, it had been downhill ever since.

He could have killed him. He wanted to kill him. His secret hope had been that Wesley would do something to take it there. In his opinion, guys like Wesley weren’t cured. They could be deterred, they could be diverted, but sooner or later, they tried it again. Sometimes they were satisfied to try it on some other woman, but more often than not, it was that one he wanted, and he would not be stopped until he had her. It was about control, and it wouldn’t stop until the object he wanted to dominate was subjugated, or he was done away with. No girl, no woman deserved that. If he had a say in it, neither of his would be bothered with that from anyone. They were his. He didn’t do it, and he’d be damned if anyone else would.

Picturing the boy’s agonized face as he stood before him, those drugs in his system nearly twisting his heart right out of his chest, the only emotion he could feel for him was disgust. Wesley was essentially just a kid, and usually he was able to forgive a young person his transgressions and lapses in judgment. Most of the time, he felt that those transgression were the result of some flaw in their upbringing. This time, however, even though that was the likely cause of Wesley’s problems; he didn’t care. For some reason, it had always been different with Wesley. He had always, inexplicably and quietly, disliked him.

When the kids were little, it was Wesley’s arrogance and his dismissal of J.J. as a female athlete that got on his nerves. Objectively speaking, from the time she was a small girl, J.J. was good, superior even, to kids in her age range at most sports that involved a ball of any kind. But Wesley would shoo her off for being a girl and for being almost three years younger than he, which would hurt her feelings. Then, as J.J. got older, and her body became more feminine in its appearance, Wesley did an abrupt about-face. Where he once rejected her and pushed her away, he began inviting her into his circles and trying to insinuate himself into hers.

He told himself that he didn’t like the boy because of that hormone-driven switch-up and because of the age difference between he and J.J., but there was more to it than that. It always had been. He just hadn’t been able to put his finger on the specific source of his aversion. Once Wesley started getting carried away, acting as if he were obsessed with J.J., it was became objectionable to him on a fatherly level. But, on an even deeper, more personal plane, it was almost infuriating. Wesley’s pushing, prodding, and attempts at prying into J.J.’s affairs, stoked the embers of that smoldering inner rage which over time he had learned  to manage.

As a kid, it came out when fighting, particularly when fighting on behalf those who couldn’t fight for themselves, or when he was forced to physically defend his own honor and/or dignity. To be respected had always been important to him. He fought a lot and he’d fought hard as a kid, which got him into frequent trouble with Anastasia. She would spank him with that ruler of hers each time, but he got the feeling that those spankings were a matter of form. When she had to do it, they only hurt because he sensed they upset her more than they affected him. Spankings didn’t matter to him. By the time one was being administered, he had already soundly made his point with the offending party. The punishment was to be expected, and was duly accepted as routine, simply cause and expected effect.

It would feel so good, so liberating to fight. He rarely lost, and to win took the edge off anything Anastasia could dish out. He was no bully; he wouldn’t seek fights or start them, but beating the crap out of someone who needed it seemed to make something wrong in him become right. It settled some old score in his soul, even though he didn’t know the nature of the war being raged.

As he grew into his teens, because he had so solidly established himself when he was younger, he found that he didn’t have to physically fight as often. Franco told him it would be that way, and he had been right about that. He switched then to using his mind to assert himself. Employing his innate intelligence, cunning, and his natural charm to his advantage, brought almost as much inner satisfaction as he once derived from the use of his talented fists. But when pushed to become physical, that savage fury would surge forth so powerfully that it took everything in him, and sometimes two or three other people, to stop it from getting all the way out. As a grown man, when it happened, which was increasingly infrequent, only Jennifer’s voice or the knowledge of her presence could make it stop. Although she had seen it, it wasn’t something he liked for her to witness in him.

But J.J. knew it was there in him. She told him so. She said that she could see it in him, and her fears of his reaction were why she held off telling him that Wesley had been the cause of her and Chase almost getting hit by that car while riding on Chase’s motorcycle or of Wesley’s drug use. She also said that it existed inside of her, and he knew that to be true. It had come out in her once when she had been much younger. J.J. was private about her personal life, and very protective of Jennifer in public. That incident had been precipitated by a careless remark made about her mother, and it took several adults to pull that little girl off that offending party. In watching her grow and develop over the years, he found that she had channeled hers into her athletics. He could see it when she swam competitively, played tennis, and when she ran track. In her, it was fierce and explosive, but she used it as her fuel. Smart girl. It had to go somewhere so that it didn’t get control over her.

But his nearly got control over him that night on the bluff. It had been building ever since J.J. first confided in him of Wesley bothering her, and it peaked when that boy came toward him with that gun in his hand. If those drugs in Wesley’s system hadn’t dropped him, he most assuredly would have. Someone had been looking out for him that night. They had been looking out for that boy, as well.

Squeezing his eyes shut, closing out Anastasia’s face, which of late seemed to strangely stay before him, he fitfully tried to erase those unintelligible marks being scratched onto that dusty mental slate.

Jennifer’s recent experiences with recovering her memories of her mother and the emotional fallout from that night on the bluff, left him weakened and vulnerable. They had him tentatively tapping into places that he hadn’t gone for decades. Lying there in that hospital room, alone, with nothing to do for all those days, uncertain about the fate of his future, those nagging thoughts about his cloudy past annoyed and plagued him like they used to years ago, before Max and certainly before Jennifer.

          “Don’t you ever wonder, Daddy?”

He told her that he didn’t, but of course he did. The speculation had been put away for years, but once she came into his life, looking at her, watching her adventurous, risk-taking spirit take shape, he was forced to wonder from whom they had both come.

“Don’t you want to know? I would. I would want to know that I once had a daddy like you.”

But what if-

Just as Anastasia once shut him down about it, he shut Jennifer down and then J.J. The unfairness of not being allowed to know used to make him angry with Anastasia just as he was sure it did with J.J. But whatever it was, for him it had become old news.

           …archived information… irrelevant to the present….

If he ever really wanted to know, he could find out; but he didn’t. In spite of being left in the dark about his past, life had turned out just fine. He no longer wanted to know for himself. He had everything he needed, and all of what he ever thought he wanted. Why attempt to crack open what might turn out to be Pandora’s Box? One had to be careful what one asked for.

But why was this heart thing happening with him now? So, it wasn’t his actual heart, but it was something acting upon his heart, both physically and emotionally. What could it be? Whether he wanted to admit it or not, it couldn’t all be physical. It wasn’t just some freak, unnamed virus. It had to have started somewhere. If the virus had been lying dormant, something had to stir up the germs, and most likely that somewhere was in his head.

“…Jonathan…. Stress kills… you know and believe that. But it’s not just something that happens to other people. No matter how strong you think you might have become over the years, it can happen to you, too.”

It had to be stress, but what was the catalyst for such a strong, physical reaction to something he dealt with in healthy doses every day of his life? Why, after all this time, were those things, those old dreams and that ancient junk so strongly crossing his mind? Who or what was pressing at him so hard now?

           J.J.?

She was still wondering about her Daddy. Surely she still wanted to know from where he had come, and thereby from whom she had originated. She had always been good with puzzles. When she was little, she used to obsess over putting them together, not wanting to stop to even eat, going back and sitting there until she had that last piece in place. At sixteen, J.J. Hart had an inquiring mind like her mother’s, a tenacity much like his, and evidently, a will much stronger than both of theirs combined. At Briarwood that summer, she had expressed to him her interest in her maternal grandmother, and he had worried about her and what she might do to find out about her while they were there. It worked out, however, that her grandmother came to her. But his situation was different, so much more remote and mysterious. And, he had a strong feeling, potentially disturbing.

“It was a good thing you were there for her, Jonathan. There’s no telling what might have happened… that boy, high on those drugs, and carrying a gun and all… who can say what his actual intentions were?”

Although he didn’t personally subscribe to the practice of psychology, Dr. Chase had struck some kind of super sensitive nerve in bringing up J.J., Wesley, and that gun.

           J.J.

She had gotten past Wesley. He hardly made a ripple in her day, but the boy made a dent in his.

           J.J. ….

…so very, very, very precious to her Daddy. He’d only gotten one, and that one came equipped with everything he’d prayed for and then some….

…smart, strong, athletic, well-adjusted, and pretty, to boot… only one… that precious one….

… and I’ll be goddamned if-

“Hi.”

Her lips and her whisper brushed against his cheek, instantly easing that dull pressure trying to work up the strength to cut off his breathing.

Reaching, placing both hands to her cheeks, without opening his tightly closed eyes, he pressed his lips to Jennifer’s and held her there.

____________________________________________________________

Pat was seated on the opposite end of the couch from Bill, silently tapping her chin with her finger. He watched her as she did so, waiting for her response. Finally she looked up from her lap, over to him.

“I don’t know if I’d say anything to Jennifer about it. She has enough to deal with right now. Something like that would only worry her more.”

“That’s what I told August.” Bill replied. “In my heart, I believe there’s a logical explanation for all of it, but-”

“- one can’t be too sure.” Pat said, completing his sentence and her own thoughts on the matter. “What do you think it’s about, Bill? Why would a young man be so interested in Jonathan and J.J.?”

“Well, if it was J.J. by herself, it would be obvious, but both of them…” He shrugged. “You know me, Pat. I’m not a speculative man when it comes to details. I deal in facts, figures, and what I can see before my eyes, Woulda, coulda, shoulda, and might be don’t work for me. I don’t like what I’ve seen or what I’ve heard that others have seen. I’m nervous about that doctor being in charge of Jonathan’s care. Hell, as far as that goes, his life.”

Pat sat back and folded her arms, swinging that one foot the way she did when she was working on something in her head.

“Bill, my instincts are telling me it’s something else. I don’t think it’s sinister.”

“Then what the hell business did he have coming out here? What business did he have checking out J.J. like he’s been? Seems awfully funny he’s been digging so deeply into their affairs, and then all of a sudden he turns up out here, checking out J.”

“Maybe the checking out J.J. thing was just coincidence. I mean, how could he know she would be out there? As big as this place is, how would he have known just where she would be and when? I think his running into the Squirt was just chance.”

“Still, Pat. He was here.”

“His truck was.”

“He was in the damned truck, and you know it. And there’s still the other things.”

“I know, I know. Bill, you have to look at it from the perspective that you are. Jonathan’s your friend, and he trusts you to look out for his family while he can’t. I don’t blame you for being skeptical about everything. I just don’t want you all jumping to unnecessary conclusions. For some reason, I just can’t believe that this young man, who for the first nine years of his life thought he was his son, would do anything to hurt the man who would be his father. I mean, God forbid, should something actually happen, it could easily be traced back to him, including their history, which could be viewed as a motive of sorts. He’s Jonathan’s doctor, which means he’s a smart boy. Surely he has to realize that.”

“Well there’s some reason for all of this. None of it sits well with me. Why’d he change his name? Where’s he been all this time? What does he make of all that he missed out on? Philips went out of his way to pull this address. That was deliberate, and it was dead wrong. Security said that they couldn’t actually see who was in the truck, but I know it was him. August thinks Jonathan should at least know who he’s dealing with, even if he isn’t told the rest of it right now.”

With a tilt of her head, Pat put it to Bill. “And just what makes you all so sure that he doesn’t know who Philips is? Jonathan has been in that hospital for going on four nights now. Even at his worse, Jonathan is always observant.

Bill nodded. “Yeah, you do have a point, there. And he doesn’t always let folks in on what he observes.”

 

Around the corner, unseen in the darkened hallway, J.J. peeled herself from the wall and tiptoed back to her room, grateful for the thick carpeting in that area of the house. Once inside, the door slowly and silently pushed back closed, she lay down on the bed from which she had only a short while ago arisen. She had gone out of the room with the intention of looking for her mother, but had been sidetracked by the conversation into which she almost walked.

Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill had been talking about that young doctor, that Dr. Philips, the one who came on at night. Daddy’s son? Changed his name? What in the world was that all about? Was that why he was looking at her so funny that night in the hall? That afternoon in the hospital lobby?

Was he in that truck that was slowly going by the fence earlier, the one that sent her back toward the inside to keep from being stared at? Why would Dr. Philips want to know where they were living? And if Daddy was in the hospital, what reason would he have for coming out there to the villa? Uncle Bill and Mr. Lamb were concerned about him caring for Daddy. Had Dr. Philips done something to him? Did they think he might do something to him? And why would he want to do something to him?

Sitting up, she snatched off her robe with the impulsive intention of getting dressed and phoning for a taxi to take her over to that hospital. Then, just as suddenly, it dawned on her that taking off wouldn’t work again. This time she would be operating around Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill, and judging from the nature of what they were saying and Mr. Lamb’s being in on the case, Hart security was probably now watching the place along with the Becketts’ people. More than likely they were all watching even more closely than normal because they knew she was there and that she had gotten away before.

          Locked down, once again.

According to what she had overheard, her parents were unaware of the situation, whatever the situation was. Being born so late in the game, she had missed out on so much that went on with them before they got her. She had to be half Dr. Philip’s age. That would make him older than her parent’s marriage. Who was his mother? One thing she knew for fact was that Jennifer Hart only had one child, and J.J. was it.

What could that be all about? What was the story behind it? What happened to let the boy know that he wasn’t Daddy’s son? Or was he? Was there a chance that he could be? Who could she ask? Nobody. Not without giving herself away.

Of course he wasn’t Daddy’s son. He couldn’t be, could he? Did her mother know about him? She couldn’t possibly know. Aunt Pat said that telling her would only worry her more. Telling her what exactly? Aunt Pat didn’t think there was anything sinister to it. What if she was wrong? She wasn’t wrong very often, but what if-?

What was going on? Everything was so crazy. Nothing was right.

After a whole day of rehearsing in her head what she wanted to say, she hadn’t been able to say word one to her mother when they were finally back together. Her mother found her lying on the ground. As far back as she could remember, she had always liked stretching out in the grass, but it was something her mother didn’t really like for her to do. At least she had lain in the shade this time  and not out in the sun, where she preferred, where it was truly a forbidden act.

When her mother woke her, although she couldn’t recall the specific details, she knew she’d been interrupted from a disturbing dream about her. By that time, the cramps from hell had descended upon her, totally fouling her already tenuous disposition. And having taken a double dose of that pain medicine, trying unsuccessfully to ward off the cramps before leaving the house to go riding, she found herself rendered slightly nauseous, lethargic, stupid, and therefore, speechless. Her mother had to think she was being petulant and insolent, or at the very least, temporarily insane. She couldn’t tell her what she’d done with the medicine. If she had, then her mother would know that she hadn’t been doing what she was supposed to have been doing for herself during the month. She disliked having to take vitamins and those pills, so she’d conveniently forgotten about them after they got back from Briarwood. She had been warned against trying to play catch up when, due to her own negligence, the symptoms began to appear.

“J.J., you have to be proactive with this. It won’t do to try to be reactive. By then it will be too late, and it’s not healthy to your system to do it that way.”

There was that to deal with and now this new thing with Daddy, whatever it was.

Her head spun, and her stomach gripped and twisted as if in the jaws of some industrial strength vise. She hadn’t done the right things for herself, and for that, she was paying the price. In the dimness, she the glowing white numbers on the clock said it was early evening. Since her mother wasn’t out there with her godparents, J.J. figured she must have gone down to the hospital. From what Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill were out there talking about, it sounded as if she wasn’t there in the house.

           Wait. Hold on! Uncle Bill?

Where had he come from? When had he gotten there?

So used to seeing them together that summer, the sudden realization that his being out there in the front room with Aunt Pat wasn’t quite right, was almost a shock.

           How long was I asleep, after all?

Uncle Bill hadn’t left Reno with her and Aunt Pat; he hadn’t been home when they left. Had he been in Vegas all the time, or did he come once he read the note Aunt Pat left for him or once Clara let him know? If he was there in Vegas all along, did Aunt Pat know he was and just hadn’t said?

Lying down again, J.J. rolled over on her stomach, hoping to suppress some of the pain. If Jennifer Hart was with her husband, there was no telling how long she would be gone. Maybe by the time she got back, she’d have it together enough to speak with her. But then, how could she look her in the eye, knowing what she knew about this last thing with Daddy.

Nosiness, even accidental nosiness, wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. How many times had she had to remind herself of that? The older she was getting, the more and more that was proving to be true.

Face down, she burrowed her head into the pillow.

           Crazy, crazy crazy.

Everything turned upside down, inside out-

          just plain crazy.

____________________________________________________________

Bent down, practically pulled into the bed to return Jonathan’s kiss, Jennifer was disturbed by the message she thought she sensed behind its urgency. It tugged at her instincts, making her want climb in and lie down next to him to hold him. Instead, all she could do was drag the chair over and sit down as close to him as possible when he finally released her.

When she did sit down, he didn’t look to her right away. Instead, still lying on his back, he kept his eyes closed, and for the first few moments, which seemed more like long minutes, they were motionless and silent. Finally she reached for his hand, closing hers around it.

“Jonathan, are you all right?”

He finally turned his face to her to look at her, and he smiled.

“I’m feeling a lot better today, especially since you’re here. And you? How is J.J.?”

“I’m fine.” she answered. “I was here earlier, but you were sleeping so I went back.”

“I know. Pat told me. She and Bill were here a while ago, and she told me that you went back to Becketts’ place to see to J.J. How is she? Have you talked and cleared the air between the two of you?”

“No, she was asleep when I got there. She was asleep when I left to come here.”

Then she had to concentrate to keep from appearing as uncomfortable as his searching eyes were making her feel. Finally, either he bought the act, or he decided not to deal with it. He sighed and turned his head away from her so that he was looking up at the ceiling again. She hadn’t felt him do it, but she realized that he had reversed their hands so that he was holding hers in his.

“I miss you.” he said. “And I miss J.J. I think I’m going to ask to be released from here. I’ll do better if I’m at home. I can’t rest here.”

“Why? What’s the matter? All you’ve done since you’ve been here is rest.”

“Jennifer, there’s a difference in being made to lie down and in actually resting. I think too much here. My family is displaced and in discord. I need to be home.”

“Jonathan, don’t you worry about us. We’ll be fine. I can and I will take care of that part of it.”

“I can’t do anything here. They won’t let me, and there’s not enough here to occupy my mind. I’m thinking all the time about different things, and it’s wearing me out. I could turn it all off and sleep if I was at home.”

“Jonathan.”

“Yes.”

“May I ask what you’ve been thinking about?”

He didn’t answer her right away. Instead, his eyes locked on her face. When he did speak, his voice was hushed, much quieter than it had been.

“You think what’s wrong with me is in my head, too, don’t you? That’s why you sent for Chase to come and see me, isn’t it?”

“No, I don’t think it’s all in your head. Nobody else does either.” She leaned in to him. “Are you angry with me for doing that? For calling in Dr. Chase?”

Using his free hand, he reached across and placed it against her cheek. “No, Jennifer. If it were anyone else who had done that, I might have been angry. I’m not angry with you. I know that you love me. I know that you only did that because you thought it would help me.”

“Did it?”

He shrugged his shoulders and looked away, but didn’t reply.

“Jonathan, please be patient. Stay until they officially release you. We have to be sure-”

“Jennifer, I-”

“Jonathan, I couldn’t stand it if you checked yourself out of here, it turned out to be too soon, and something bad happened to you. I’m not J.J. I’m not strong like she is. I wouldn’t be able to handle that like she did. You’re always strong for both of us. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you.”

Releasing her hand, he sat up, reached out for her, and held her to him. It felt good to be in his arms, even in that limited way. She lay her head in his lap. She was tired, and it was difficult to hold back the hot tears that stung at her eyes

“Since you’re asking me not to,” he said. “I won’t ask. I’ll hang on in here. Maybe it won’t be too much longer. Samuels said the fever broke. My temp is near normal. I do feel better”

“But you’re still having those pains. And you still aren’t eating.”

She saw it when he rolled his eyes at that tray over by the door, then his hand massaged her upper back and neck. Once again, she fought the urge to crawl in under the covers and squeeze in next to him in his sickbed. She knew that if she did, in moments, she’d be soundly asleep, but at least she would be in his arms again.

“When they come, the pains aren’t as severe as they were, and they don’t come that often.” he said. “And you’re wrong, you know.”

“Wrong about what?”

“About yourself. You are where J.J. gets being so strong from. And so smart. You are why she could handle herself like she did. The two of you are extremely calm and strong in a crisis, and I am very lucky to have both of you in my life.” Then he changed the subject completely. “Guess who I got flowers from today?”

Without raising her head, she asked, “Who?”

She accepted the diversion, even though she would have much rather continued to focus the discussion on him. Apparently he didn’t.

“My daughter, her friends. And my son.”

That was when she picked up her head to look into his face. “I’m familiar with your daughter. I can guess which friends. But your son?”

“All the way from Barcelona, Spain.” he grinned.

“Tommy.” she surmised, turning around to the direction in which he was pointing.

“The flowers and cards were all here when I woke up, but I didn’t notice them among the others until after Pat and Bill left. I was allowed to get up to go to the bathroom- under Nurse Ratched’s watchful eye- and-”

“Nurse Ratched?” she snickered. “From “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?”

“I could swear it’s the same woman, Darling, and the same setting. They sicced the vets on me because she claimed to Samuels that I was running over the younger ones.”

“You probably were.”

“Any way, I was on my way to the hit the head and-”

“Jonathan!”

“- to use it when I noticed the new bouquets. Yellow roses, of course, from my girl. Red ones from Marnie and the twins. That mixed bouquet is from from Teddy and his father. And the mixed carnations are from my boy. J.J. sent me a note, telling me to behave and to not act ugly because it would only lead to lockdown; she was right. Chase said he arranged to have ‘his boy’ put twenty on a sure thing for me at Santa Anita-”

“Jonathan how is it that a seventeen year old child has a “boy” at Santa Anita to take his bets for him? And why are you sanctioning him in it?”

“Same way I had one at that age. It can be done. It’s not like he can go to the window himself, and why should he miss out on opportunity because of his age? If you’re good, you’re good, and Chase is good. Where there’s will and a gift….”

He shrugged his shoulders to complete the thought, and then continued with his list.

“Marnie sent me three kisses. Chance wanted to know if I had a moustache and beard yet, and how you liked it, if I did. Both Teddys told me to hang tough, and Tommy sent me a note, telling me to “Give ’em hell” because I’m “nobody’s punk” and “punking somebody else” is the only way I’ll get better. Do my kids know me or what?”

“Or what.” she laughed as she lay her head back down on his lap. “You’ve got kids who love you all over Los Angeles, the United States, and the world. You’re like a modern-day Pied Piper. You touch their lives, they fall under your spell, and then they follow you anywhere.”

Because her head was down, Jennifer didn’t see the expression that crossed Jonathan’s face at her last comment to him. As his fingers combed through her hair, the soothing gesture lowering her elevated stress level, she closed her eyes and tried not the dwell on the things he hadn’t said and the odd tweak of annoyance she felt in his not having said them.

Above her, he closed his eyes and savored the silken strands between his fingers, his restlessness dissipating, much like that of a petulant child comforted by rubbing the satiny edge of his security blanket. The comparison did not escape him, and it shamed him- a little. He couldn’t that it was what he needed.

           As long as I’m the only one who knows ….

Absorbed in each other, neither of them noticed when upon almost walking in on them together like that, Dr. Philips stopped just outside the door and tip-toed backward into the hall.

____________________________________________________________

Once the elevator doors opened on the fourth floor, after politely excusing himself to the people standing in front of him, August Lamb exited. Before getting on, he had switched his security tag, which allowed him to move through the hospital without being stopped for a cardboard visitor’s pass. The evening shift, with whom he hadn’t had much interaction, was moving into place on the fourth floor and for the time being, he wished to just blend in.

He took note that despite not being dressed as uniformed hospital personnel, nobody looked up to check what his status might be or to ask where he was headed as he passed the desk. At the end of the main hall, he turned the corner, and from there he was slightly surprised to see young Dr. Philips standing in the hall, across from the door to Jonathan’s room. The doctor looked to be consulting a chart he carried in his hand, but August could tell he was standing at an angle that allowed him to check out whatever was going on in the room without being seen by its occupants.

Leisurely walking in that direction, the visitor’s pass sticking out of his blazer pocket in plain view, when he passed him, he nodded to the doctor in casual, polit greeting, and then made a quick assessment of the situation at hand.

Inside the private room, Jennifer Hart was seated with her back to the door, facing her husband, who he could not fully see for the partially open door. Passing by his original destination, the storeroom door, he continued down that hall and entered the stairwell that would take him down one flight where he could safely use his phone. He couldn’t tell, from the little he could see inside that room when he went past it, if J.J. Hart was in there with her mother. He needed to verify with Bill her exact whereabouts and, once he did that, to instruct his staff, at the villa or the hospital, to act accordingly.

____________________________________________________________

After getting the technical things out of the way, Dr. Samuels swiveled away from the charts and print-outs in front of them to focus his attention on his promising protégé.

“So what do you make of Jonathan Hart, the man, seeing as how you’ve interacted with the more interesting side of him?”

“Well,” Dr. Philips began, smiling at Dr. Samuel’s emphasis on that one word, interesting. “I’ve found him to be a pretty remarkable guy all the way around. As to what do I make of him, I’d have to say that he’s pretty strong for an ill man of his age.”

“You would know.” Dr. Samuels grinned. “You’ve had more than one physical encounter with him.”  “And sick or not, I’m told he nearly kicked your young tail.”

“I was just holding back, is all, deferring to my elders.” Dr. Philips blushed, apparently at the teasing, but more so from the discomfort Dr. Samuels’ ribbing was stirring up within him. “I didn’t want him to hurt himself, but I didn’t want to hurt him either. I just restrained him.”

“Get to talk to him at all?”

“Not really. He’s usually asleep, or I guess, pretending to be. He prefers his solitude, I think. Unless he’s in distress, he’s pretty quiet at night, so there’s not that much to do with him except now, I guess, to make sure that he doesn’t escape any more from the room. I’m really sorry about that, Dr. Samuels. I had no idea he would try, or even be physically able to do something like that.”

“He’s a determined fellow. A man of strong will. He’s used to being able to do whatever he wants to do. You’re learning that there’s a specific psychology to heart medicine, as there is with all areas of the medical field. That incident was just another of those lessons. Only experience can teach you to anticipate such things. You notice how his disposition changes when his wife is here?”

“Yes.”

“What does that tell you about him?”

“That he loves her?”

“More than that.”

“That he needs her around him?”

“About him, I said. What can you glean about his personality from that?”

Dr. Philips thought on it, shrugged, and then shook his head. “I just get that he loves and needs her. What else could I read into that about a man like him? He’s got everything else.”

Dr. Samuels patted Dr. Philips knee in a paternal manner, and got up from his chair.

“Just keep watching and learning, son. The whole thing’s a learning process. I have to go. The wife’s got people coming in this evening and she’s called three times already, warning me about being late. I promised I wouldn’t be unless some emergency came up. So far, so good, so I’m getting on out of here before one does. I hope it stays quiet around here. Maybe Hart will decide to stay put tonight and take it easy on you. He’s had one episode today while the psychologist was here, but his fever broke right after. He’s been pretty quiet since.”

“Why a psychologist?”

“That was Mrs. Hart’s doing. Apparently, it worked some.” Looking down at the younger doctor, Dr. Samuels tapped the side of his head. “There’s a definite psychology to marriage, too. The lady knows her man- quite well. You would do well to take lessons. I think she’s in there making things easier for you tonight.”

Standing to shake his mentor’s hand, Dr. Phillips had to laugh at that. “I hope mine lasts as long, and I sure hope you’re right about her making it easier for me. I don’t know how much more of fighting him off I can take.”

And for some reason, he worried again about his trip out to the villa.

____________________________________________________________

“We are really going to have to compensate these two.” Jennifer thought to herself about Simon, and his wife, Mathilda, as he held the rear door of the car open to allow her to get in.

She wanted to phone for a taxi to keep from being a bother, but Jonathan, having already anticipated her, warned against it. He would worry, he said, if she did otherwise. He made her promise that she would call Simon, and so she did. Not long after the close of visiting hours, after about the third time she was reminded that her time was up, she’d phoned to say that she was ready to return to the villa, and that she would be waiting in the lobby. But Mathilda informed her that Simon had already left and he was already there in front of the hospital, waiting for her to come down.

With the Becketts gone to New York, it would have been down-time for the couple had Jonathan not become ill, he and J.J. not flown into Vegas, and Jim Beckett hadn’t so graciously offered his home to them. Instead, Simon and Mathilda had unfailingly seen to her needs, the needs of her unexpected guests, as well as put up with J.J.’s antics. While she was on the phone, Mathilda let her know that J.J. had not gotten back up, and that since she hadn’t, she hadn’t eaten. She wanted to know if she should hold something out for them.

Giving in to  her fatigue, Jennifer lay her head back on the headrest and closed her eyes. Simon even had soft music playing in the rear of the car for her.

            Wagner. So thoughtful. How could he have known?

She pulled her cell from her purse and switched it on. There was a voice message waiting from Pat, saying that she and Bill had left for the airport to make the return flight to Reno, and that when she checked in on her, J.J. had still been sleeping. That was definitely odd. If J.J. slept during the day, she was usually up by nightfall, and she would have difficulty going back to sleep at her normal time. For her to have gone so early and to have remained asleep wasn’t normal at all.

          But then, what’s normal?

The last half hour of her visit with Jonathan had been abnormally quiet. If they had been at home, it might have been one of those times when they were both in bed, reading or she was at her desk, writing and he was lying on the couch, listening to his music. It wouldn’t have been where they were both just sitting next to each other, holding hands, saying and doing nothing. But that was how it had been after they talked about his flowers. In their silence, they both drifted off to their separate islands, thinking their separate thoughts.

Dr. Samuels had been fairly non-committal about Jonathan’s release date. For sure, it wouldn’t be the next day, but it might be soon after if things continued to go as well as they were. They intended to keep him quiet and unburdened for the duration. What they didn’t understand was that it was that quiet and lack of burden that was adding to his distress. Jonathan thrived on distractions. Unlike most busy people who prayed for a blank screen, he needed to have things going on in his life and in his mind.

“I can’t do anything. They won’t let me, and there’s not enough here to occupy my mind. I’m thinking all the time about different things, and it’s wearing me out.”

He wouldn’t tell her what had been on his mind. He wouldn’t say if Dr. Chase said anything that was of any help to him. She knew from her talk with Dr. Chase that he had been in pain earlier, but when the two of them had been together that evening, Jonathan hadn’t mentioned that to her at all..

           Typical of him. Downright typical.

That was what he did when he didn’t want to worry her.

Sliding her hand into her pocket, she removed a wadded piece of tissue, which she held in the palm of her hand for a moment.

          Incorrigible, too.

Her intention had been to leave him the cord to the tape recorder, figuring the batteries would be soon playing out. While he had been in the bathroom, which he insisted on doing while she was there to keep the nurse from having to come in and see to him, she pulled the machine out of his drawer to put the cord in the pocket. That was where she found those pills. He did that all the time and thought nobody knew.

What was he thinking in not taking what was prescribed for him at that hospital? How did he ever expect to get better? But somehow, he was. Lady Luck was always on that man’s side, aiding and abetting him… empowering him.

Unfolding the tissue, she lowered the window a bit, held it up and let the passing wind take the five various colored tablets. After letting the window up again, she discarded the tissue and put her head back, closing her eyes once more.

So what was Jonathan thinking about that would upset her? That introspection, that drawing back, was what he did when he wasn’t sure of himself, and being unsure was an extremely uncomfortable place for her husband. Being stuck in that hospital and not being well had to have him feeling defenseless. In his valiant effort to appear strong and capable, he was shutting her out, as he had been little by little of late. He didn’t know he was doing it, but it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair, and she didn’t deserve it.

           He knows he can trust me. He knows he can lean on me. So….

So why didn’t he? But he had always been that way and it wasn’t likely to change. An old dog couldn’t be taught new tricks. Him, she figured, she couldn’t do anything about except to wait him out.

But now that other one, the young one, that one who was so much like him, but who was still malleable… putty-like….

           Oh yes, Johnny, Jr., your mommy knows exactly where you are….

In her mind, she envisioned that pony tail, that freckled nose, those rosy, silent lips, her blue eyes and that vacant, distant look they could effect when she wanted them to…

          … trying to take control, just like Ms. Grimsley said she did… just like Johnny, Sr. ….

She folded her arms and resolutely crossed one leg over the other.

           …your mommy is on her way, and if it takes all night, little girl, so be it….

____________________________________________________________

The light abruptly flashed on in her face, blinding her even though her eyes weren’t open.

“J.J.”

Befuddled by heavy sleep and extremely irritated, J.J. flipped over, away from the light, and snatched the covers up to her ears.

“Oh no you don’t.” She heard as the comforter was yanked from her grip and the hand to her shoulder pulled her back toward the brightness. “Get up.”

“Huh?”

“You heard me, young lady. Get up. Go to the bathroom, wash your face and wake up fully, do whatever else you need to do, and then meet me in my room.”

“Huh?”

“You heard what I said.”

When the door closed, J.J. sat up, hand pressed to her heart, trying to make sure that she hadn’t been dreaming, even though she knew full well she wasn’t and that was why her heart was trying to jump out of her chest the way that it was.

____________________________________________________________

“Mr. Hart, I have your meds for this evening.”

He took them and the little cup of water from the nurse without comment.  As soon as he was sure she was gone, he fished the pills out, and reached down into the drawer for the cassette recorder. His breath caught when he found the cord inside the pocket, and not what should have been.

“Damn.”

She knew, but she hadn’t said a word about it.  Jennifer had never been one to nag or fuss very much, at least not out loud.

He put the cassette back into the drawer. There was no way he could listen to her voice, telling him to cooperate while they both knew that he wasn’t. The pills, he pushed inside his pillow case. He’d get rid of those on his next trip to the rest room.

No sleeping pills. No crutches. When his body was ready for him to sleep, he would. Until then, he’d have to deal with whatever.

____________________________________________________________

J.J. took her time in the bathroom, making sure that she took care of everything in the event it was a while before she made it back- if she made it back.

She let the water run until icy cold, splashed her face with it to wake all the way up, and then toweled off. As a last minute gesture, she took her sleep-rumpled hair down. She parted it on the side and brushed it out, pulling it behind her ears to keep it back from her face.

She checked herself out in the mirror.

     Don’t even try it, J. The demure look is not going to get you over with her on this one.  Just go with the norm.

And she brushed it all back up into the ponytail from which she had taken it.

The hairstyle isn’t going to make one bit of difference. You are totally, completely through this time.

Assessing her appearance one more time, pinching at her pale cheeks in an attempt to draw some color into them, she retied the belt to her robe and took a deep breath.

 Sure hope I can talk this time… Daddy’s son- … no, no, don’t go there. You aren’t supposed to know about that. Neither is she.

She switched off the bathroom light and started out for the bedroom door, sure that making the trip to her mother’s bedroom would be like taking that final walk from death row to that last little room up at San Quentin.

… not going down like some little punk for her, though. I was wrong, but I wasn’t the only one who was wrong…  she ought not try to push me too hard when she gets me in there…

… I have issues, so she might not want to go there with me too deeply ….

______________________________________________________

Jennifer came back into the bedroom from the bathroom, fresh from a quick shower and now dressed for bed, she found on the small table by the patio doors, two place settings, a steaming teapot, and a large covered tray. Once again, she was reminded of Max and then of Marie. She laughed to herself at the thought it was the former, no doubt channeling those instructions the latter issued long distance. Having eaten her dinner before going to see Jonathan, she wasn’t hungry, but vigilant Mathilda, like Marie at home, would e aware that at the very least, J.J. would need to eat.

While she stood before the mirror, brushing her hair, the knock sounded for which she was waiting . She stopped what she was doing to go and personally admit her guest.

On the other side of the door stood J.J., freshly scrubbed and avoiding looking directly at her. Following the hand that ushered her inside, J.J. entered, saying nothing, her eyes focused straight ahead of her.

Jennifer pointed to the table while closing the door behind her daughter. “Sit down and eat.”

Then she returned to the mirror and her hair.

Standing in the middle of the room, oddly wooden in posture, her hands at her sides, J.J. finally spoke. “I’m not very hungry.”

“I don’t think I asked you if you were.”

J.J. went over to the table and sat down. Still in the mirror, Jennifer could see her reflected in the glass as at first she sat there with her hands in her lap. After a moment or two, she poured herself a cup of whatever was in the pot and took a sip.

“Did you want some tea?” J.J. asked without turning around.

“I see the cat doesn’t have your tongue, after all. Or did he bring it back to you while I was gone to see your father this evening?”

J.J. didn’t reply to that, but Jennifer watched her as she reached across, took up the other cup and poured into it. Then she placed it back on table, across from where she sat.

Finished with her hair, as well as assessing her child’s defensive body language and tone, Jennifer took the hairbrush over to the dressing table and put it away. From there she walked over and sat down across from J.J.

On the tray was a porcelain tureen, a half loaf of diagonally cut French bread, butter, and some fresh fruit. J.J. took a slice of the bread and a small bunch of the white grapes. Jennifer ladled a hefty serving of the soup into a bowl and set it front of J.J.

“You need to eat,” she said, taking a sip of tea J.J. poured for her.

“I can’t. I’ll do it later, if you want, but right now I just can’t.”

“Why can’t you?”

“Come on, Mom.” J.J. finally raised her eyes, looking across the table at her in thinly veiled annoyance. “We both know why I’m in here. Can we just get this over with? Please? I’ll eat after.”

Quickly checking her out while fighting the urge to address J.J.’s impertinence, Jennifer noted the tinge of purplish-red under J.J.’s eyes, and the absence of rosiness to her cheeks which made her freckles even more prominent. The girl appeared to be tired, or more like worn out.

“What’s wrong with you, J.J.? Are you feeling sick? Have you been taking your vitamins?”

J.J. turned her face down and away.

“Answer me. I asked you if you were feeling sick.”

“Not a lot.”

“Are you feeling badly at all?”

“Not as much as when we were outside earlier, when you found me under the trees. I was pretty sick then. I’m better now.”

“And you were so sick and sleepy earlier because you haven’t been taking your vitamins and consequently you’ve double-dosed on that pain medication?”

J.J. didn’t answer.

“Well? Did you? Look, Justine Hart, you might as well know this from the start. You are going to talk to me. We can do it now or we can drag this out all night, but you and I are not leaving this room until we get everything out in the open. Did you take more of those pills than you should have?”

Jennifer stopped, took a deep breath and held up one hand. “Look, forget that, I already know the answer. How many did you take?”

“Four.” J.J. sighed. “Not all together, but in less time than I’m supposed to. I felt it starting. I thought I could catch it and make it not hurt so bad.”

Aggravated, Jennifer brought the palm of her hand down onto the table top. “Haven’t I told you about doing that?” The slam came more forcefully than she intended, and the sudden move as well as the sound startled J.J. into shocked jump in the chair.

Leaning in toward her, Jennifer continued, “You don’t take the vitamins to build your system up like you should during the month, then you get sick and want to take last minute actions. You cannot do things like this, J.J. You’re going to fool around and poison yourself. That was very irresponsible. I guess I need to go back to monitoring what you do, issuing your vitamins with your meals and standing over you to watch you take them as if you were six rather than sixteen.”

“No, you don’t. I’m no baby. I just forgot, that’s all. We’ve been away and stuff, and I just forgot.”

Even though she was trying to appear defiant, Jennifer noticed those long, thin fingers down in J.J.’s lap fitfully twisting that emerald ring, and how those blue eyes were doing everything they could to keep from meeting hers. Instantly, she was reminded of a similar blue-eyed performance.

…if you aren’t your father’s child…. both of you, disregarding the set rules, trying to make your own as you go along… both of you thinking you’re so slick, and not fooling me a moment… both of you so damned stubborn and silent ….

… but out of you, little one, I am not having it … not a bit of it….

She stood up and went around the table where she tugged once at the sleeve of J.J.’s robe. “Come on, here.”

J.J. looked up to her in confusion, but after a moment’s hesitation, she stood and followed when led toward the bed.

“Get in,” Jennifer ordered.

J.J. took off her robe and did as she was told.

“Don’t get too comfortable.”

Jennifer removed her own robe as she walked around the bed to the other side. “You and I have a lot of ground to cover this evening, and I intend for us to go over every single inch of it. I brought us over here because I don’t want you suffering any more than you’ve already set yourself up to do.”

________________________________________________________

After his last conversation with Bill, August Lamb found himself alone again in his quandary. It was clear what needed to be done, but he didn’t know if he should do it. He and Bill agreed that Hart needed to be told. Marcus, Stanley, and Arnold all thought he needed to be made aware, but the situation was like that old children’s story- who wanted to put the bell on the cat?

Without a doubt, he was the one who would have to do it, and it wasn’t the doing it that bothered him. It was what Jonathan would do with the information once he had it. For sure the man didn’t need any added stress or worry. He definitely didn’t need to be upset, which he most certainly would be if it got to him that J.J. was being checked out in the way she had been, and that the place his wife and child were staying was being cased, as well.

Having peeked in on him from the other room a couple of times, he could see that Hart was a bit more pleasant when the nurse came in to give him his medication for the evening. On the second check, Hart was resting, but not asleep. That cooperative and serene manner could be attributed to it not having been too long since Mrs. Hart had left for the evening. He  was always better when she was there or had recently been there.

Bill’s advice had been to leave Mrs. Hart out of it completely. After all, she had the girl with her. There was plenty of security at the villa, and there would be plenty of eyes at the hospital should she bring J.J. there to see her father.

Bill said Pat picked up on the same thing that had already crossed his own mind. What if Jonathan already suspected or knew who his doctor was, but nobody else brought it to his attention? How would that look? Although there was no real reason for Hart security to initially have suspected the young doctor was anyone other than who he said he was, they had been trained to search backgrounds thoroughly. It was automatic that they would check out the people in whose hands the CEO’s well-being was placed

Maybe it would be enough to just let him know who Dr. Philips really was. That way, even if he suspected, he would at least know that they were on top of that much of it. Did he really need to be let in on the rest?

But then, what if something did happen, and he found out everyone knew what was going on except him?

Jonathan Hart would have to be told.

Dr. Chase had been called back to Los Angeles before they had a chance to sit down and talk about the situation, about Hart, Dr Philips, both of them or what the doc’s problem might be. The latest report showed the computer searching slowed some, but then there was still the matter of that truck showing up out at the villa.

Jonathan would have to be told, and August Lamb shook his head at having to be the one to have to do it.

____________________________________________________________

“I guess it would be best for us to start at the beginning,” Jennifer said after a taut, uncomfortable stretch of silence.

She was on one side of the king bed. J.J. had positioned herself at the edge of the other. Both of them propped up by pillows, the physical space between felt like miles.

Jennifer breached the impasse. “J.J., how long have you been flying?”

“What did Daddy tell you?”

Jennifer closed her eyes, lay her head back, and counted to ten. When she recovered, she spoke slowly, concentrating on not sounding as aggravated as her daughter’s attempt at evasion made her.

“Justine, let me tell you something. I’m tired, I’m more than a little bit annoyed, and I am not in the mood to play cat and mouse with you tonight. You and I are the only ones in this room. When I ask you a question, answer me. I will answer you if or when you ask a question of me. But this is between us this evening, an A-B conversation- no middlemen or outside parties, no game playing. It doesn’t matter about anyone else in this world right now, not even your father. Am I understood?”

“Yes.”

“Now again, how long have you been flying?”

“I’ve been studying as long as I can remember. I started actually flying right before I turned twelve.”

“Have you flown alone?”

“No. Daddy won’t let me yet. He mostly always flies with me.”

“Do you fly often?”

“Most every time Daddy takes me up.”

“Even when the two of you are traveling? Not just for practice on Saturdays?”

“Yes. That’s practical experience, part of teaching me to read instruments. He trusts me, and I don’t let him down. Daddy is a very good teacher. He’s taught me well. He says I’m a natural.”

“Are you licensed?”

“No. Not yet. Daddy said- well- no, not yet.”

“Do you think it was right not to tell me what you two were doing?”

J.J. hesitated, and when she did, Jennifer quickly called her on it.

“I asked you a question.”

“I’m considering it,” J.J. quietly replied. Then she said, “Yes, I think it was right not to tell you.”

Taken aback, Jennifer sprang forward and whipped around to J.J. “You do? You think it was fine for you and your father to sneak around behind my back?”

“No,” J.J. said, slowly shaking her head, “not to sneak around behind your back. That wasn’t right, but it was right not to tell you about my learning to fly. I would never have learned if we told you. If you knew at the beginning, you wouldn’t have let Daddy teach me. You would have been talking about how dangerous it was; how I was too young and stuff. We didn’t tell you, and I now have four years training under my belt.

Ever since I was real little, I’ve loved planes, and I’ve wanted to learn to fly. Daddy knew it, so he taught me, and when he thought I was old enough, he let me do it. We just didn’t tell you about it.” At this point, J.J. sat forward, too. “I wanted to learn, Mom, but I didn’t want you to be upset with us. And  didn’t want to have to be mad at you or to resent you for not letting me, which I would have if you had stopped us.”

“So, what if something had happened, J.J., while you and your father were up there?”

“You always knew when we were flying, you just didn’t know it was me who was doing it. Something could have happened, regardless, even if it was Daddy at the controls. It would have been the same thing, the outcome, I mean. It’s a chance you take, just like when you get behind the wheel of your car. You never know what’s going to happen when you take off, but you don’t think about it. You just get in and drive where you have to go. You take your chances. I’m not scared to take those kind of chances. Neither is Daddy. Neither are you, for that matter, but for some reason, you never want to let me take them.”

Unprepared for such a logical response, Jennifer didn’t have a ready reply. They both lie back again and were quiet for a time. Then, once again, it was she who broke the silence.

“I never got a chance to thank you.”

“Thank me for what?” J.J. asked.

“For getting my husband down safely for me.”

“That isn’t necessary. I was just doing what I’d been taught to do. He was sick. It was what had to be done.”

“For your Daddy?”

J.J. sighed heavily, and Jennifer felt it when the neck snaked. “For all of us, Mom. And who’s playing games now, trying to push somebody’s buttons?”

“Touché.” Jennifer allowed. “Let me be straightforward with you then. I am grateful to you. You performed admirably, and you were right in saying if it weren’t for you, I might not have my husband-”

J.J. cut in, “I shouldn’t have said that to you. I said it in anger, and I’m sorry. But I wanted you to understand it was a good thing Daddy taught me what he taught me. You might not have liked what we did, but it worked out. Because of him, he made it to where he needed to be.”

“I got that, but I need to ask you something else.”

“Yes?”

“Why do you always emphasize that you are your father’s only child? That he is your father? You said it me at the hospital. You said it to me in this note.” She picked up the folded paper from the night table and held it up between two fingers.

J.J. eyes went to the paper in her mother’s hand and then directly to her mother’s face.

“Because I am,” she said. “I’m all he has in terms of a blood relative. I-, I’m, I’ve been extremely proud of that.”

“Well, J.J., the reason I ask you is I heard you say that on several occasions, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it.”

Jennifer put the note back, and turned around to J.J.

“Does it ever occur to you that you’re my only child, as well? Does it ever occur to you that you are all I have, too?  Yes, I have Pa and Aunt Sabrina, but they are my past. You are all I have to send into the future. You are all there is of me, all that will be left of me when I’m gone, just like with your father. Are you not proud to be my only child? Does any of that occur to you-ever? ”

J.J. sank back against the pillows as if forced into them by the weight of the question. The expression on her face told Jennifer it was probably the first time J.J. had been made to examine herself from that perspective.

“Well, does it, J.J.?” she asked after a moment.

“I- I- I guess because of Pa and Aunt Sabrina, it never really did. I mean, not out loud like that. I’m proud of you, too. I mean, I know I’m an only child, both of yours, but because of Daddy being an orphan and all, it just seemed-”

When it appeared J.J. might not continue, Jennifer urged her on.

“Seemed? Seemed like what?”

But instead of finishing her reply, J.J. abruptly turned her entire body away and lie completely down, drawing herself up into a ball. Leaning across the chasm between them, Jennifer reached over and pulled her by the shoulder. Ignoring the determined resistance she met in doing so, she continued her efforts until she had J.J. facing her again.

“Look at me, Justine,” she said to the girl with the tightly closed eyes. Then she shook her just enough to get her attention and to let her know she meant business. “Look at me, I said. It seemed what?”

J.J. opened her eyes, but cast them down to the sheet beneath her to mumble, “Like I was more important to him than I was to you. He didn’t have anybody except Max, then you came, and then he got me. You’ve always had somebody, some relatives. He didn’t.”

“How can you say you’re more important to your father than you are to me? Have I done something to give you that impression?”

“No, but-”

Releasing her hold on J.J.’s shoulder, Jennifer sat up and returned to her side of the bed.  She took a moment to straighten and smooth the covers before quietly asking, “J.J., why did you leave me like you did?”

“It wasn’t about you. I didn’t leave you; I left the situation.”

“Then what made you leave the situation? You were so angry at the hospital that day. Despite what you say,  you were angry with me. Why was that?”

“I wasn’t ang-”

“J.J., don’t. Don’t deny it. You were. You know full well you were. Now I want you to tell me why. You’ve had more than enough time to analyze your feelings. You have rolled things over in your mind more than once in all the time we’ve been apart. Now you talk to me.”

“I don’t know.”

“I think you do. Tell me.”

“I don’t want to talk about that. It doesn’t matter. When I tried to call you to talk to you, you wouldn’t answer me. It’s just as well. I probably wouldn’t have made sense, and I don’t think you would understand if I had, anyway.”

“I do want to talk about it. It does matter. I’m here and ready to listen now; it’s evident all is not well. So, why don’t you try me.”

J.J. sat up and faced Jennifer with folded arms.

“All right. I left because there wasn’t anything else that I could do. I got him there to the hospital where he could be helped. The doctors and other medical personnel took over. Then you came, and you took over. What else could I do? Nobody would let me do anything or tell me anything. It was on you. You had to see to him. He’s your husband. I’m just his kid. I was in the way, so I got out of the way.”

“Who said you were in the way?”

“Nobody had to say it. I’m not stupid. It was obvious.”

“So what was with all the aggression that morning in the hospital?”

J.J. bristling even further, sniffed and tossed her head.

“I said that I don’t know. Maybe it was PMS or something. I don’t know.”

“And I still say that you do know, Justine Hart. Don’t make excuses. It doesn’t become you. You’re not a coward. You speak up any other time. Speak up now.”

At the word, coward, J.J. glowered down at Jennifer who by now lie on her side, leaned on one elbow, that one eyebrow raised in question and challenge at her.

“Go on, J.J. Hart,” she goaded, “spit it out. We’re talking here. We’re clearing the air. Say what you need to say. It wasn’t PMS. It wasn’t just because you thought you were in the way. You were angry with me specifically. Why?”

J.J. flipped back the covers. “Just forget it. If I speak my mind, you’ll just get mad, tell me I’m wrong, and we’ll be fighting again. I don’t feel like that tonight.”

She threw her legs over the side, making ready to get up. “I’m tired. I’m going back to my room.”

But before she could rise to do so, Jennifer clamped a hand to one shoulder, catching J.J. off guard, forcing her backward and down until she had the girl flat on her back.

“We are forgetting nothing, Justine,” she declared, looking down into J.J.’s startled face. “I’m calling the shots this time. I told you when we started this that we are not leaving this room until it’s out. We includes you and me. Now you tell me what’s on your mind, and you tell me right now. Unless you do want to fight.”

J.J. glared up at her and in those eyes gone smoky Montana blue, Jennifer saw J.J.’s frustration at being morally unable to fight back due to her intrinsic respect for her mother and her outrage at being forced to knuckle under to someone else, even if that someone else was her mother.

“Because you didn’t want me there,” J.J. spat up at her. “You never wanted me. You didn’t want me when you got me, and it seemed to me you didn’t want me there when Daddy got sick. I was in your way then, just like I must be most of the time. Even though I got him down okay and got him to the proper help, you came right in grilling me about what we did and what we ate at the ranch, then you kicked me to the side and made me stay in that room, wouldn’t even let me see him. After that,  you left me behind the next day to go see him. That’s why I left you.”

J.J. tried to jerk loose at that point, but Jennifer maintained her position over her, her hands securely pinning J.J.’s shoulders to the mattress as she continued to stare down into her face.

“And tell me, my little love, how is it you know so much about me and what I wanted when I got you, as you say?”

When J.J. tried to turn her face away, appearing as if she regretted what she said, Jennifer released one shoulder, immediately replacing it with her knee. She used the free hand to turn J.J.’s face back to its former position. She held it there, forcing J.J. to look up at her.

“Get it out. How is it that you know what I wanted, I asked you?”

“I just know.”

“And I know everything you do, Justine Jennifer Hart. You cannot lie to me. You cannot fool me. You cannot skate past the truth this time; I won’t let you. You want to be so grown, speak nastily, flounce out as you please, take planes in anger to fly away from your mother. You want to be a woman with a woman, J.J. Hart? Be a woman now and face up to it. Tell me what you know, and how it is that you know.”

By this time, the hand still holding onto J.J.’s face trembled uncontrollably, as did J.J.’s entire body. Irate, aggravated tears welled in both sets of eyes. J.J. attempted to turn away again, but Jennifer’s strong hold on her wouldn’t allow it. In the struggle, Jonathan’s chain about J.J.’s neck had worked its way out of her nightgown, the ring attached wedged next to J.J.’s cheek, right where they both could see it.

“Tell me, Justine,” Jennifer urged in a softer and less intense tone as she felt the rigidity in the body beneath her begin to dissipate, “You can tell me anything, no matter how bad it is. You know you can.”

J.J. finally answered, “I- I- I read- I read your journal,” her voice, like her spirit, reduced to a whisper. “It was a long time ago. I was little. It was wrong, but I did it. You trusted me not to do it, but I sneaked and did it anyway one night when you weren’t home. You said in it that Daddy always wanted me, but you didn’t. That was what you wrote, Mom. It was in your own words, in your handwriting. That’s what you said. That’s how I know. I’m sorry.”

When J.J.’s trembling gave way to suppressed, body-wracking sobs, Jennifer released her. Moving from her knees, she sat down and reached for J.J. When J.J. tried to twist away to hide her tears, she forcefully wrapped her arms around her and tightly held her to keep her close. Then she broke down and cried, as well.

_____________________________________________________________

It turned out Jonathan was actually sleeping when August Lamb finally went into his room to speak with him. For a moment, through the slight opening in the door separating their two rooms, he watched him, glad that he was resting and hoping it meant it wouldn’t be long before his release.

He wondered, too, if it was a natural sleep that had Hart looking so peaceful and relaxed, or if it was one artificially induced by medication. He settled on it being a natural sleep. If Jonathan had opted out of taking sleeping pills at the onset, when he had been much sicker and much more in need of rest, it stood to reason he wasn’t taking them now that he was feeling better.

They could give him all the meds they wanted, Lamb smiled to himself, and stand over him as long as they wanted, if Hart decided not to swallow them, they wouldn’t be going down his throat. That choir boy face of his and gentlemanly charm, had always gotten him over, even when dealing with the toughest, most resistant adversaries. Either they were thrown off their marks by it or they overestimated their own advantage over it. Whatever the case, Hart did what he wanted to do, and he usually got away with it.

Since the subject at hand wasn’t something he was willing to wake Jonathan up over, Lamb decided to wait and to just keep an eye on the doctor instead.

Just as he was about to completely shut the door again, the doctor entered the room.

_____________________________________________________________

… is that the alarm? It can’t be… we just went to bed….

“Jonathan”

…Hmmm?

…all warm and soft, pressed up against me… smells so good…. must want it again, and who am I to turn such a sexy woman down?

…Ohhh, I love it when you wake me in the middle of the night….

… the alarm… again… it can’t be….

She must have set it so that we could do this. Oh, how I love this girl…..

…huh?… pulling away from me? Why is she pulling back… never pulls back… never in the night ….

“No-o-o-o, not that! It’s the intercom. Somebody’s down at the gate. Answer it, will you? Please?”

…. at the gate?  … in the middle of the night?

“It’s me.”

A kid.

… a kid wanting to come in… in the middle of the night?

“Who are you?”

… haven’t heard that voice in a while…

“Max, are you down at the gate?”

“No, I’m in the kitchen.”

…a long while… a very long while… still miss that voice….

“Are you lost, son?”

“No!”

“What do you want?”

“To come in!”

“Max, go down and take care of that, will you?”

“Sure, Mr. H.”

… what I wouldn’t give… never be another one like him….

… too late for a kid to be out at night… I must be dreaming… let me check with her…

“What would a kid be doing out at this time of night?”

“I don’t know, it’s too late to be selling Cub Scout cookies.”

Cub Scout coo-? …Jeez, Jennifer….

… don’t have the first clue about kids. Brownies and Girl Scouts sell cookies, not Cub or Boy Scouts… girls not boys… maybe it’s good we don’t have any of our own…

… a little boy… a bright-eyed, not-a-bit-shy, blonde boy with a note saying that he belongs to me…

…not mine, but Jennifer’s reading the note just the same, saying that the kid is mine…

…no way… don’t feel it… can’t be… I would know my kid….

…not mine, but the kid obviously thinks so, even named for me… but definitely not mine….

… a girl with Jennifer, not a boy with Connie… don’t know Connie… never slept with a Connie… beyond careful with everyone else within the boy’s age range… let my guard down with Jennifer only….

Max put the boy to bed.. Jennifer takes the girl up to bed… the girl is hers… ours…  not the boy….

… one baby in the world, the one with Jennifer not Connie… my only is named Justine, not Jonathan….

…a princess, not a prince….

…about you and me….

“You mean that you’re not really my father?”… “If you were my father, you never would’ve  waited so long to see me. Not you.”

… damned right… if I were your father, you would have been with me… like I should have been wi-….

Jonathan…

… you’ve been bothering me, annoying me, making me think… holding me down…

“Didn’t do so good today.”

…you’re the kid, not me…

“I’m not crying, Dad.”

…good boy… crying doesn’t change anything….

… you’re not mine, but I won’t let anyone hurt you… just like I wouldn’t any kid in my life….

…they know me… they know how I am… kids know they can trust me….

Jonathan…

J.J. is mine… felt it from the moment I knew of her… that one is mine….

… in the middle of the night… out of no where with a note….

…a rickety. cold airplane… in the middle of the night.. left at the gates with people I didn’t know….

…we… always in the night…  us…

… you don’t let me hurt… in the night…

Jonathan….

Anastasia….

John.

… in the middle of the night… out of no where with a note….

_______________________________________________________

“Shhh. Hush,” Jennifer urged after a time, rocking J.J. in her arms. “Sweetie, you’re going to have to stop crying. I won’t be able to stop until you do.”

She reached behind, to the night table, for a handful of tissues some of which she urged upon J.J. who lie weeping with her head against her chest. It seemed she had been holding J.J. a lot lately. One thing after another bombarding her, all three of them. She was grateful to have been there for her in those times, glad she had cracked through this last particular barrier, and glad that J.J. had stopped resisting her.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” J.J. said, her voice raspy from crying and still breaking. “I’m sorry for everything. I’m sorry for leaving you when I ran away to Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill. I’m sorry for sneaking behind your back to fly. I’m sorry for saying things that hurt your feelings. I’m sorry I made a problem between you and Daddy. And I’m so sorry I read your book. I’m so, so sorry for that. I won’t ever do anything like that again. I promise.”

“I know you won’t. You’ve been carrying that around a long time haven’t you, J.J.? About four years now, isn’t it?”

J.J. stopped wiping at her eyes and looked up. “You knew?”

“J.J., I always knew what you did.”

“How? I was careful. I put it right back, just like you had it.”

“Not just like I had it. I knew; I have my ways of knowing. I keep telling you, I can almost always sense when you’ve done something you shouldn’t have. I may not have the particulars, but I can feel when something isn’t right with you.”

“Then why didn’t you say? Why didn’t you fuss at me or something? Why didn’t you get after me?”

“I could see in your eyes in the days that followed that you were being punished enough by your own conscience.”

She wiped at the tears still flowing down J.J.’s cheeks with the tissue she had  used on her own face. “Why didn’t you come to me if you had doubts about my feelings for you?”

“I couldn’t. I had been so stupid and nosy. You had explained to me about journals and privacy, but I didn’t listen. After I read it, I wanted to ask you about it, but I couldn’t. If I had, then you would have known what I did. So, how could I ask you? If I had asked you anything about it, you would have known that I betrayed your trust. I thought I had it worked out, and that I had put it behind me, but I guess I hadn’t.”

“Like I told you, J.J, I was already aware. I didn’t need to say anything to you about what you did. I didn’t have to fuss at you; it  had already been taken care of in terms of the lesson you had to learn. Just like I knew you did that, I know that you haven’t done it since then, and that I can trust you to not do it again. We’ve come through a lot together in these last few years; I thought you realized how much you mean to me. In fact, I had forgiven and completely forgotten all about your doing that until something you said to me earlier today. I’ve puzzled over it ever since. That indiscretion on your part came back to me when I was in the car coming home tonight, and I immediately understood what you meant by what you said.”

By now, J.J., a lot more calm, had moved back to the pillows where she started, but she moved them in closer. She turned over onto her stomach and propped herself up on her elbows.

“What did I say?” J.J. asked. “I don’t remember talking to you earlier. I was so shaky-scared about you being mad at me and that you would find out that I was sick on top of everything else, I couldn’t even talk to you. It was so weird to have you show up out there after not talking to you or seeing you in what seemed like forever and after parting on such bad terms.”

Jennifer looked down at her with a questioning eye.

“You don’t remember saying to me that I didn’t care about you? That I only cared about Daddy. That when he got sick in the plane, you only brought him down for me?”

“No. When did I say that?”

“When I found you under the trees.”

J.J. looked confused. “I remember dreaming something about you. It was bad, I think; I could vaguely feel it was a bad, scary kind of dream, but I don’t remember exactly what the dream was about. I was feeling pretty lousy around that time. I really don’t remember saying that at all.”

“That’s okay about that.  But listen, do you remember us talking about how our minds sometimes block things out to protect us from hurt? We were either in the passage or up in the guest house attic at Briarwood, and you said to me how it’s funny how our minds work? You were referring to how I had forgotten so much from my childhood.”

J.J. nodded.

“You were obviously talking in your sleep today when you said it, but you were voicing something that has been on your mind. Something that you’ve probably tried to block out. I need to know, J.J. Do you ever feel that way sometimes? That I don’t care about you?”

J.J. shook her head.

“Not consciously, I don’t. You’re tough sometimes, but I understand why that is. Sometimes you make me mad, but I still know you care. But, if I’m being completely honest, I do worry at times that I get in your way. I have thought about how it had to be a lot easier for you before you had me. I’m aware that yours and Daddy’s life changed  whole lot when I was born, especially yours. I worry a little sometimes that I get on your nerves because of how I am. ”

“And how are you?”

“More like Daddy and less like you.”

“But, J.J., I love your father.”

“Yeah, for a husband or a lover maybe. In your case, and a lov-”

When her mouth fell open; J.J. left off and barreled past that. “-but I’m sure you didn’t think you’d get Daddy for a daughter. I think sometimes you wish you had somebody who was more feminine, like you. You know, a girl who doesn’t talk so much, or ask so many questions, be so loud or have attitudes and so many issues; who wasn’t so out there or likely to fight like I am, or who gets into things so much, or who likes to do the kind of stuff that I do.”

Jennifer smiled and tugged a little at that lovely ponytail. It made J.J. smile for the first time since she entered the bedroom.

“Whether you realize it or not, Justine, you are more like me than you recognize. You’re curious- no you’re nosy- like me. You’re a quick study and a good student, like me. You can be difficult and demanding, like me. You speak your mind, like me, and you’ll fight when you have to. So will I. You’ve always looked like me. You are an awful lot like your daddy, but you’re not all your daddy. You got a lot of you from both of us, but the best part of you is just you, and that’s the part I love the most. Don’t you believe that?”

“Yes, if you’re saying it like that, I do. You don’t tell me lies. I can say that for sure about you.”

“J.J., let me tell you a story and set the record straight.”

After readjusting the pillows behind her and the covers over her, Jennifer lie back and folded her hands over her midsection. J.J., in anticipation, moved even closer.

“It is true, J.J., that I didn’t think I wanted children. Growing up, I didn’t have brothers or sisters. My few cousins were mostly way older, very distant cousins who I rarely saw, and with whom I rarely interacted. As a child, I was raised largely in an adult world. After my mother’s passing, I grew up mostly on my own at school with people my own age. I went on to college, I worked and I traveled mostly on my own. By the time I met your father, I was a pretty independent woman. I thought I had carved out a life and a career for myself, and that I had ruled out marriage and children. But then, you know the story of how quickly he changed my mind about marriage.”

“We won’t go there this time,”J.J. said and followed it with a wink.

“I think it’s best.” Jennifer agreed, trying not to smile at the impish face next to her, letting her have that second small dig.

“Before we married, your father and I talked about having children, and of course, we told each where we stood on the subject. I think he was a little disappointed that I wasn’t as sold on the idea as he, but we decided to table the matter and spend those first few years with just each other, no kids. We wanted our lives to be one adventure after another, and it was. We worked, we traveled at will, and we had all these marvelous, crazy experiences into which we just kind of fell at times. Admittedly, it was a nice, sort of carefree life.

We were busy, and he didn’t pressure me about having a baby; he understood I wasn’t crazy about the idea. But, like I wrote and you read, I knew that your father wanted a child. So after those first five wonderful years, I figured, if it happened, it happened. I loved him so much, and I wanted him to have a child of his own. I was sure he would be a good father if I happened to come up short in the mothering role, so, I stopped taking the pill and tried to give nature an opportunity to take her course.

At that point, I was thirty-four, thirty-five, and my mind was open to the idea. But after so many years went by, and no baby came, I became convinced that I couldn’t have children. I had grown comfortable with that reality and even more so with my life. I didn’t go back on the pill because I thought I couldn’t get pregnant.

Then we found out that Max was so ill. Right after he passed away, your father and I took that long trip to Montreal that Max sent us on as a parting gift. We were gone almost two months. I came back not feeling like myself. I had missed a period, but that was no big deal. I thought it was the distress or something that caused me to miss. I’d done that before.”

J.J. sat up a little and grinned. “You guys made me in Montreal? Sailing on the Saint Lawrence. Awww, that’s so romantic.”

“Hush, child,” Jennifer reluctantly smiled. “Let me finish.”

“Okay.” J.J. rested her head back on her folded hands.

“I’d missed, but unlike the other times, this time I was tired, kind of irritable, and I was sleepy a lot. Naps have never been my thing, but I found myself taking one, sometimes two a day. I missed another period, and that wasn’t normal. I waited a week or two to see if it was just late. When it still hadn’t come, and I was dragging even more,  I went to see Kate to find out what was wrong. That’s when I found out that I was very, very pregnant. I was shocked, and, J.J., I was very, very scared.”

By this time, J.J. was lying on her side, enthralled by the story.

“You were scared, Mom? I scared you?”

“Yes, J.J., I was. My entire world as I knew it up to that point was being rocked by the idea of having a baby so late in my life. Babies change things. Everybody fears change to some extent, and a baby at forty, for a footloose, self-sufficient woman like me, was a huge, sudden change-”

“You were thirty-nine. You always say forty, but you turned forty after I was born.”

“Sweetie, keep living, and you will come to find that there is absolutely no difference between thirty-nine and forty when you’re talking about being pregnant at that age, especially a first time, out-of-nowhere pregnancy.”

“I’m having my kids way earlier than that.”

Jennifer looked down at J.J.. “Kids, with an ‘S’?”

J.J. nodded.

“You will be out of your teens, right?”

“And out of your house.”

They both chuckled. Jennifer reached for J.J. to have her come even closer so she could put an arm around her.

“J.J., it wasn’t you I didn’t want. It was the changes I thought would devastate my life by bringing a baby into it, that I didn’t want. I was terrified throughout the entire pregnancy, all the way up to the moment you left my body. When I heard you cry that first time, it sent chills up my spine. I panicked, unable to imagine what I was going to do with a baby. After all, I never even really babysat for anybody’s baby. Any kids I’d dealt with up to that time had been far from being infants. Even with those, I had the assurance that at some point they’d be going back to their folks, not staying on permanently.

But I’ll tell you, my baby, from the second I had you in my arms that first time, you were mine. It’s different when the child is your own. It hit me all of a sudden that you were mine forever, and I was your mother- forever. I cannot begin to describe to you how precious you were to me at that moment. Believe me, J.J., that sentiment has only grown from there. Not one day of your life have I regretted having you in mine.”

“For real, Mom?”

“For real, J.J. You’ve turned out to be yet another adventure for me. Once I accepted the idea that a baby was going to be, I prayed it be a girl. If I had to have a baby, I wanted it to be a girl. Pat did, too, and we got one. Of course, you are a little different from the girl I envisioned as being mine while I was carrying you. But, my little tomboy-slash-would-be harlot, even at your worst, your most incorrigible, your most sassy and nasty, even when I’m saying out loud that I’d give you up for free to the first gypsy who showed up the door, you can believe that to be an outright lie. I’d whip anybody’s ass for trying to take you from me or for harming you in any way, and you witnessed firsthand how true that is.”

“A-s-s?” J.J. sucked in her breath after spelling it out and then drew a hand to her mouth in mock surprise. “First the thing at the mall. Now this. You really are shaping up to be my kind of girl.”

She twisted around to look up into her mother’s face. “I thought sure you going to kick mine a few minutes ago.”

“You’re not out of the woods yet. I have a few more things to go over with you. You try getting sassy with me again.”

“You can be sure I’ll keep that in mind. But nah, you wouldn’t whip ass, Mom. You’re far too much of a lady. After somebody pushed your “bitch button” like that, you’d just hold a gun to the person’s head and threaten them until they broke down and peed on themselves.

But you’d make them say, ‘Yes, Jennifer’, to you first, wouldn’t you?”

When she did that nodding thing with her head to support what she was saying, and raised that single Edwards eyebrow, Jennifer could only manage to stutter, “G-girl!”, in surprise before she collapsed in embarrassed laughter, taking a mischievously grinning J.J. Hart down into the pillows with her.

_____________________________________________________________

Standing bedside, looking over the data on the print-out that the wireless monitor attached to Hart’s chest was communicating to the computer by the door, Dr. Philips took a moment to visually assess his sleeping patient.

His color was much better. According to the printout, he was coming along nicely. It was good to see him genuinely resting. The nearly imperceptible movements of his eyes under his closed eyelids told him the man was dreaming.

“What in the world does a man who has everything dream about?” he wondered aloud. “What kinds of things does he think about? Big, giant, extraordinary things, I’ll bet- like himself.”

He went back to the print-out, checking it over one more time. He needed to make a copy of it to put with the rest of his research.

When he looked back down from the paper he held in his hand to his patient, it almost shocked him out of his shoes to find those eyes, closed in slumber just moments before, open and looking directly up into his.

_____________________________________________________________

“Mom, what exactly is wrong with Daddy?” J.J. asked from where she sat at the table, trying, at her mother’s insistence, to down some of the soup that had been left in the tureen. That which her mother put into the bowl for her earlier had since gone cold.

“When I was in Reno with her, Aunt Pat said that it wasn’t exactly his heart. She told me that they found out that he didn’t have a heart attack, and that he doesn’t have heart disease. I’m glad of that.”

Jennifer was still sitting up in the bed.

“It’s a combination of things, J.J. He has a virus of some kind. That virus inflamed his heart muscle, which was the major cause of his pain. But it was also found that your father has some scarring of the valves to his heart, which was also a complication.”

J.J. took the slice of bread from between her teeth before she could bite into it. “Why is he scarred like that? Is that a potentially bad problem for his heart?”

“Well, the scarring seems to have come from some childhood illness he may have had. He’s had it all this time without any problems. He didn’t even know that he had it.”

“Rheumatic fever?”

“How do you know that?”

“I read it somewhere. Maybe in Biology class or something. Is that what they think Daddy had?”

“Yes. It scars the valves to the heart, narrowing them.”

“Yeah, and the effects don’t show up for years sometimes. Usually it doesn’t affect the person, and it isn’t discovered until something else crops up.”

“I see you’ve done your homework.” Jennifer said, admiring her daughter’s broad knowledge base.

“Not homework. It just interested me for some reason when I came across it. Did Daddy remember having it? How did you all find out? I know his childhood records are sealed.”

“How do you know about his records, J.J.?”

“Daddy told me. I was younger, and I was bugging him about not knowing about his parents or where he was born or anything. That’s when he told me. But I think I made him mad. He kind of snapped at me. I didn’t ask him any more about it after that.”

Like always, that deep pang of sympathetic hurt at the thought of Jonathan’s bleak childhood and his missing past, twisted Jennifer’s heart. Losing her own mother so young and being the only child of a physically absentee father, she understood the emptiness and loneliness.

Not knowing at all, was that feeling more desolate than having known and lost, or having but not having?

Listening to J.J.’s account of her interaction with Jonathan, she wondered what went through his mind when his child asked him those kinds of questions. Jonathan’s love for J.J. was boundless. He was rarely annoyed by anything she did or said. Had he really been angry with her that day, or had J.J. unintentionally touched him in a painful place?

“So?” she heard J.J. say, drawing her back from her own introspection.

“So, what?”

“So, how did you find out that he had Rheumatic Fever as a kid?”

“We didn’t really find out. I called Anastasia and asked her about it. She could remember your father being very sick as a little boy. She said that he exhibited the symptoms that I was told Rheumatic Fever might generate. What Dr. Samuels could see going on in his chest was a typical residual effect of it. We’re just assuming.”

“Is the scarring really bad?”

“Dr. Samuels says that it isn’t. It’s just that combined with everything else, it didn’t help.”

“Hey, Mom.”

“Yes.”

“Have you ever asked Sister Anastasia about Daddy? I bet she knows the real deal.”

“If she knows, J.J., she can’t say for some reason. Those records are sealed from everyone.”

“I think that sucks.”

“What have I told you about using that term?”

“Then it bites.”

“J.J. Hart!”

“Okay. They might not be a nice terms to use, but that is just what that situation does, and you know it. A person should be able to find out about themselves. I mean, it’s not like it isn’t their business. It is their business.”

“It’s done to protect the privacy of the parents in most cases. There are probably other reasons why a person’s records would be sealed in that manner. Sometimes when children go into orphanages or end up as wards of the state, the state wants the kids to make a new start. To make a clean break. So they send them off with adoptive parents and no past so that they can all go on from the point where their new lives began.”

“That’s artificial pie-in-the-sky. That doesn’t erase the past or the effects of the past.”

A bunch of grapes in her hand, J.J. returned to the bed. With one hand, she pulled up the covers while she offered her mother some of the grapes with the other.

“Does it?” J.J. continued. “It’s kind of like when I was little and I used to cover my ears to block you out when you would be fussing at me, so that I couldn’t hear you. Then you would get mad and make me take a nap, and then you’d rat me out to Daddy over it when he got home from work.”

“Rat you out?”

“Yeah, but then I would rat you out to him right back. He would act like he was listening to me when I was telling him stuff you did, and I always thought, in fact I truly hoped, that he was going to get after you good for being mean to me. It took me awhile to realize that he was only humoring me.”

Pinching off some of the grapes that were offered, Jennifer chuckled, “Go on with what you were saying.”, while she pictured that pony-tailed, raspy voiced little girl sitting on her husband’s knee, “ratting” her mother out, and the look that was probably on his face while the story was being told.

“Well,” J.J. went on. “He explained to me that covering my ears was wrong and useless because the message wouldn’t change just because I chose not to listen to it. In the same way, the past doesn’t go away just because somebody closes it up in an envelope. It’s still there. Just like in Daddy’s chest, the past is still there and it’s come right back to bug him. What if Sister Anastasia hadn’t been around to tell you about his being sick? Would they have had to operate on him or something to find out about the valve thing? Would they have performed some unnecessary procedure to find out what was causing the scarring?”

Jennifer was stunned by J.J.’s astute observation. She turned to study the girl next to her.

Where did I get you from? Out the mouth of babes…

J.J. wiggled around until she ended up with her head in her mothers’ lap, her face toward the ceiling.

“Mom?”

“Hmm?

“If you hadn’t had a baby yourself, and you knew that Daddy wanted one, do you think you might have eventually adopted one?”

“Honestly speaking, J.J., no, I don’t think so. I love you because you are mine. You were meant to be, and one of the things that makes you special to me, and that makes raising you so interesting is the fact that you are your father’s child and of course, mine. I don’t think I would have wanted to do it otherwise.

“I have one more for you.”

“What’s that?”

“What if Daddy already had a child when you met him? It was his, but with someone else. Would you have married him, feeling the way that you did about having children?”

When she didn’t answer right away, J.J. tilted her head up to see into her face. Jennifer, realizing that J.J. was waiting for an answer, looked down to her.

“I don’t know. You’ve got me on that one, J.J. I’ve never considered that scenario. Tell me something. How do you manage to think up these kinds of questions?”

“They just come to me.” J.J. shrugged. “Sometimes I just stumble up on them.”

_____________________________________________________________

He had been so completely unprepared for meeting those eyes in that way for the first time in over twenty years, that doing so had nearly stopped his heart. For him, the moment had been like that very first night as he stood at the bottom of that huge staircase, looking up at him. This time their positions had been reversed, but the man was still larger than life.

He had no real idea how long he had been being studied. Had Hart really been asleep the whole time? Their verbal exchange had been brief.

“Good evening, Mr. Hart. You’re looking much better tonight.”

“Thank you. I’m feeling a lot better.”

“Things look very good so far. Is there anything I can get for you? Do you have any questions?”

“No. Thank you. I’m fine.

And then he got out of there. Being in his presence had been disturbing. Talking with him, nearly suffocating.

Had Hart recognized who he was? But then, how could he? The last time, he had only been a kid and Hart a grown man. Now they were both men. Surely with the life Hart led, being who he was, he didn’t even remember any of it or him.

He hoped he wasn’t recognized; he didn’t want to be recognized. It had been fine, blending into the background of life as he had all those years, anonymously studying the man from afar.

If only it hadn’t been a lie…

There would have been real footsteps in which he could have followed. If it hadn’t been a lie… it could have been him on the back of that big, black horse. No, he would have been in Los Angeles, filling his father’s shoes so that he could rest.

He wondered if J.J. Hart knew how lucky she was? She probably didn’t have a care in the world. Probably thought she owned it.

What if Hart found out about that? What if he found out that he’d been out to where his family was staying? How could that be explained?

He wondered if J.J. saw him. She couldn’t have. She’d seen the truck, but she couldn’t see through the tinted windows. And then, trucks and cars probably passed through there all the time. She wouldn’t think anything of his one truck, would she?

Should it come to light, how could he explain any of it in a way that would make sense to anybody? Maybe Hart hadn’t made a connection at all, and nothing would come of any of it. How could anything come of it? Maybe he was just being paranoid.

Who could possibly know what he did on his own time with public records?

His heart pounding in his chest like an industrial-sized piston, he stopped in the ward records’ office to file Hart’s data after adding his notations, and from there he hustled around to his break room. Hot, flushed, and sweaty from the rush of anxiety and uncertainty, he wanted to splash some cold water on his face and to take a few minutes alone to breathe and get himself back together. It was shaping up to be a long night. The shift couldn’t be over fast enough to suit him.

Arriving at the room, he fumbled through the many keys on his ring to find the one to fit the lock, which suddenly seemed to either be too small or moving around on its own as he struggled with his shaky hand to get the key into it. In aggravation, he shoved away the cleaning cart left too close to the jamb by a worker. It was crowding him, making his task harder. When finally the door opened, he quickly pushed his way inside.

_____________________________________________________________

“Well now, I have a few more questions for you, J.J. Hart.”

With J.J.’s head in her lap, Jennifer idly stroked her hair.

“Okay.”

“When did your father authorize you to deliver his proxy code?”

“Right before we left home this last time. We went down to his office and had my voiceprint done and everything. He said that he thought I was old enough and responsible enough, and that we never could tell what might happen that I might have to do that for him. Kinda weird, things happening like they did, isn’t it?”

“Um-hmmm. When I asked you if you had your pilot’s license, you started to tell me something about it, and then you stopped. Why was that?”

“What?”

“What, my foot, Justine Hart. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t stall. You have been flying for four years, putting in I know, far more than enough hours than needed to get your license. If you’ve been flying with your very thorough father all this time, you have to be quite capable, which you’ve proven yourself to be. Why don’t you have your license?”

Sighing, J.J. gave in.

“Daddy said, and I agreed, that we shouldn’t press our luck. We figured if you didn’t want me to have a car until I was seventeen, you might get mad if I was licensed to fly a plane before then. It was bad enough that I knew how to fly, but we thought it would be worse in the event we got caught, if you found out I had a pilot’s license before seventeen. Were we right?”

J.J. twisted around slightly, toward Jennifer to look up into her face.

“But look, Mom, since you’re going to let me have my driver’s license now, can I get my pilot’s license, too, since you know about the flying? Or am I pressing my luck here?”

“You’re definitely pressing, but never you mind about that right now. Let’s move on to a larger issue.”

“What’s that?” J.J. asked, turning back around to lie flat on her back.

“J.J., what made you hop a plane, alone, to Reno? I can understand your being angry at thinking that I was shutting you out. I could see it if you got upset over it and came back to the villa to sulk. But you came back here, got a plane ticket, and kept going. What possessed you to do that?”

When J.J. didn’t answer, Jennifer continued to probe.

“We may have our differences, you and I. You may not like the things I tell you. You may disagree with the things I don’t allow you to do. I might even make you extremely angry at times, in fact, I know that I do. But the one thing that I do know about you, J.J., is that you love me, and you don’t like to purposely upset me. As sure as I know that my name is Jennifer Edwards Hart, I know that to be true. You’re very aware of how much it upsets me to not know where you are, yet you took off without letting me know anything. Sweetie, tell me, what was going on with you that day? It was more than mere anger.”

Still J.J. said nothing. Out of the corner of her eyes, Jennifer could see those fidgeting fingers at work.

“I said, it was more than anger, wasn’t it, Justine?”

J.J. finally nodded.

“Tell me what happened.”

J.J.’s spoke slowly, her voice, soft, nearly inaudible.

“Mom, have you ever been in a scary situation where it wasn’t until everything was over that you got really scared? It was all over and you realized that even though everything worked out in the end, it didn’t have to have turned out that way. It could have been a disaster? Somebody could have died, maybe even you?”

“Yes, J.J., I have.” Jennifer answered, shutting down a white hot flash of instantaneous flashback panic to focus on the subject at hand. “Talk to me.”

“Like I said, it wasn’t until everything was over. I could feel something coming down on me when you and I were having dinner together that night. I was so mad at you, but it was something beyond that. When you left me by myself in that bedroom, that was when I really started weirding out. My hands got all shaky. I started feeling nauseous. In my mind,  I kept going over what happened. I kept thinking about what could have happened. About Daddy being so grey and sick. I didn’t dare try to sleep. It got so bad that I felt like I had to get out of there. I went to take a swim to get it together.”

“So that’s why you were out there in the pool?”

“Yes. I had to. It was like, I wanted to come to you, but I was too mad at you, and I figured you had your own problems what with worrying about Daddy and all. So, I ended up just swimming down toward your room. It was as if I needed to be close to you, but I didn’t want to bother you in your room. I got to that end, and I saw you watching me. I knew you would be mad at me for disobeying you, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to see you. It was like I needed to.”

“When you saw me there, why didn’t you come in to me then?”

“I was too angry, and I didn’t have it all worked out at that point. I was still in the wired-up stage, and you were probably thinking that I was just defying you; so that mix wouldn’t have done us any good. We would have ended up in worse shape than we were. Then the next day, when I got up, and you had left me- I don’t know. It was as if I couldn’t take any more; any more of what, I don’t know. But by the time I got to the hospital, and those nurses said I had to go to the waiting room, there was yet another something standing between me and you and Daddy. I just couldn’t handle it. Daddy was so sick. You were worried about him. I couldn’t help the cause. I just got out of Dodge.”

“Oh, J.J.” Jennifer whispered in gradual understanding, reaching  for and taking her hand to squeeze it. “I didn’t know you were feeling like that.”

“It’s okay. It was for the best. To cut to the chase, Mom. I was scared, that’s all there is to it. Daddy says we shouldn’t claim fear, but I think fear claimed me that time. I’d never seen Daddy like that. I’ve never had to be that much in charge. It was either me and him or cave in to the fear, and he and I weren’t going down like that. I did what I had to do, but afterward, when it was done ….

I guess instead of having one of those panic things, my fear came out in the wrong things I did afterward. When I left here, I started to just go home to LA, but I changed my mind and went to Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill, I think, because that’s where you and Daddy have always told me to go when I had trouble. It turned out that was the right place for me to be. Uncle Bill explained some things to me about flight reactions. That made some things clearer to me. Aunt Pat didn’t fuss a whole lot, like I expected she might. She just talked to me, and made me see some things about myself that I hadn’t seen. And Clara, well Clara is just the bomb when it comes to laying something on the line in a nice way. Being there with them gave me a quiet chance to objectively think things through. To think about me, you, and Daddy, and how things were and are.”

“Pat told me that you asked to come back.”

“I did. I was ready at that point. I had been away long enough. It felt like I had been gone forever. I knew that in coming back, I would have to face the music, but that was all right. I did the crime, so if there was time to be done, I figured I’d just have to do it. I knew I had screwed up big-time with you when you wouldn’t take my calls. The only way to fix it was to come back and face you.”

“And how did that make you feel? My not taking your calls?”

“Like you must have felt when your mother went away. Only I had the assurance that at some point, my mother could and would answer me. I knew that I could go home, so to speak, and find you there even if you were mad as he- heck when I got there. I don’t know how you did it, not having your mother on the other end. I do love you, Mom, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I was worried some that I would be in your way, as confused and scared like I was. I was worried that you didn’t want me there. You didn’t need to be dealing with that extra drama from me at that time.”

“What have I told you about letting me be the mother? I was hurt by how you just took off on me. But even with that, it was killing me to not take your calls. I picked up the phone a few times to call you, but I thought you needed to appreciate what it felt like to not be answered. Just for the record, if you hadn’t come here to me today, I was coming there to you this evening- unannounced.

J.J. I am your mother. I’m proud of that, and I want to do my best by you. I’m always here for you, whether I’m angry or not, or you’re angry or not. Even if we fight tooth and nail, you need to let me know what’s on your mind when something is bothering you.

Sweetie, don’t be so angry or hurt that you don’t reach out. I don’t care who it is that’s made you feel that way. Speak on it. Speak on the things that bother you. Don’t bottle them up and hold them inside. You have a tendency to not seek help with your problems, but some things will be bigger than you, J.J. Like your father, you’re plenty tough, but stress will eat you alive if you let it. So will anger. With anger, a lot of times, you’ll find that it’s usually the result of a lack of communication between you and the person with whom you’re angry.”

“Like this time with us?”

“Yes, just like this time with us.”

“What about you and Daddy? Are you mad at him?

“For getting sick? J.J., why would I be angry with him for getting sick?”

“No. For the chili- you know, eating a lot of spicy stuff all the time that he knows is going to make him sick. For not telling you about me and him and the flying? For not telling you that he didn’t feel well. He hasn’t for a while, you know. I think he’s stressed out about the Wesley thing, and stress can bring on illness. I read that someplace, too. You know, I think Daddy probably got sick over not being able to kick the cra- I mean, get with Wesley the way that he wanted to. He was smoky mad over that, I could tell. Any time he calls in his lawy-”

“J.J. Hart, what have I told you about getting into our affairs?”

Despite or perhaps because of her daughter’s dead-on assessment of Jonathan’s behavior and condition, Jennifer found that she could only check J.J. about her outspokenness. But J.J., true to her nature, didn’t let up.

“I’m not getting into your affair. I’m just hoping that you take your own good advice. It could help you out as well as that guy that we both love. That kind of stress is not a good thing.”

Above J.J.’s head, Jennifer rolled her eyes. Smoothing that precociously wise teenaged forehead one more time, she patted her cheek, then shifted to raise J.J. from her lap.

“We need to get some sleep if we’re going to go see your father in the morning.”

“Hey, Mom.”

“Yes.”

“I know you say that I think I’m grown and everything, but I was wondering…”

“Wondering what?”

“…if it would it be okay if I stayed in here with you tonight, you know, since this isn’t your bed at home?”

Immediately curious, but afraid of being told, Jennifer decided not to ask what difference it made to her about the bed.

“If you like.” she answered, smiling to herself as she turned over to switch off the light. “Good night, Justine.”

… you naughty minx… what goes around, my little love… what goes around….

J.J. lie down and got settled in under the covers.

“Good night, Mommy.” Jennifer heard her say.

_____________________________________________________________

Just before dropping off to sleep, J.J. felt something on her neck. It took only a second for it to register that it was her mother’s fingers slipping themselves under the chain around her neck. They held it for a moment, sliding themselves along the links. Then they left the chain to smooth themselves over her cheek, past her ear, and glide over her hair.

With her own fingers, she reached up and caught them before they could leave her completely, and for a moment, both hands tightly embraced. Then they let go.

She pressed her face into the pillow to silently release that last bit of poison.

_____________________________________________________________

The doctor’s agitated appearance, as he rushed past him in the hall, did not escape August Lamb’s notice. He had remained at that adjoining door until he saw Hart open his eyes. That was before the doctor saw him do it. Not wanting his ever observant boss to catch sight of him, inadvertently alerting the doctor to his presence, he had closed the door and left the room. Judging by the doctor’s disconcerted behavior once he got to the door of his own private room, Lamb figured the two sets of eyes must have finally made contact.

He continued to push the dry mop, working his way down the corridor outside of the room where Dr. Philips went to rest and study his notes during down times on his shift, and from where he would be paged if he were needed for anything.

Passing the smaller satellite nurses’ station without drawing anyone’s attention and reaching the other end of the corridor, Lamb hooked his mop back onto the cart which he’d left by the doctor’s door. There, he hesitated. He wanted badly to just confront the doctor with what he had on him, but he thought that might be playing his hand too soon. He decided to wait and follow his first mind.

Pulling a clean rag from the back pocket of the Housekeeping overalls he was wearing and spraying the rag with antibacterial cleaning fluid, he went through the motions of wiping down the door and the frame. As he pushed the cart up the hall, he wiped at the assistance railing along the wall, inconspicuously making his way around to that supply room and back to Jonathan Hart.

_____________________________________________________________

Closed inside his room, Dr. Philips dropped, exhausted with relief, into the worn armchair, and it was a few minutes before his breathing and his heart rate returned to something resembling normal. As the crippling anxiety dissolved, it was replaced by shame mixed with a bit of trepidation. He could never have predicted that he would have handled it so badly. The reunion definitely wasn’t what he had expected it to be. As Hart was getting better, he was getting worse. For all those years, there had only been a face, some pictures that didn’t speak, stories in which he didn’t have to play a part, and he had been satisfied with that for that time. But now there was the flesh and blood man himself, and it was just too much, too soon. He wasn’t ready.

He got up and went over to that locked drawer that was assigned to him, where he kept his personal things in that communal room. Unlocking it, he wasn’t very worried about being bothered by any other doctors. He was the only one who came there at that time of the night. Most of the other, more veteran doctors had their own offices in the hospital to which they retired when they had time and wanted to get away from it all for a while. The younger residents considered him their senior, so they tended to leave the room to him when he was on shift. He too, would have his own hospital office one day, but not there in Vegas. When this last major leg of his training was over, he hoped to move to California to set up practice… and to be closer. But now there was J.J. to consider. She kind of took some of the shine off things.

From the drawer, he pulled out the nearly overstuffed file folder and poured its contents onto the counter top. There were newspaper clippings, pictures, internet printouts; all things he had run across while spending long hours on the late shift at the hospital. It was how he had occupied his time when he couldn’t sleep or he had the random idle moment. There was even more at home. It needed cataloging, but he was still lacking information about the early life.

There in front of him was a newspaper article he’d clipped from an event that had taken place earlier that year. Picking it up, he could see the words and the smiling man in the tuxedo, but the gist of the article was already imprinted on his mind. Hart had come to Las Vegas with his college fraternity for a reunion in conjunction with a charity event he was spearheading. The article said that it was supposed to have been a father and son reunion, but Hart had brought his daughter. Although he had been following Hart’s life from afar, and knew that he’d since had a child with his wife, this was the first time that the reality of his relationship with the girl had been drummed home to him. A father and son event, and he’d brought his daughter. J.J. Hart was obviously more than just a daughter to her father, she was part of him, and that was why he brought her with him.

When he found out that Hart was there, he’d gone down to the casino/hotel where he and his group were staying, hoping against hope, waiting around like some lovesick groupie, to catch a glimpse of him. The waiting around had paid off. Although he had been some distance away, he saw when Hart exited the hotel with a young girl by his side. Hart, he would have known anywhere. The girl, from that distance, was slim and tall and vaguely reminded him of Mrs. Hart. The two of them were talking together, laughing. He put his arm around her, and he opened the door of the limousine, himself, to allow her to get in first. Like a princess into her carriage. His princess.

The article about him had been written completely in third person. The reporter wrote that although he was gracious and polite, Hart declined an interview; he didn’t give them. Aside from her name, J.J., there was no information given or pictures included in that article of his daughter. Up to that time, he had been happy for her relative anonymity. If he didn’t know what she looked like, he didn’t have to admit to her existence, so he had dismissed her- until he saw her in the flesh, and then there was no more denying her reality.

He was glad he was on shift at night, after visiting hours, when there was little chance of coming up on her again. He made a point of not being out and about if he happened to be at the hospital during the day. He didn’t want to run into her again. Her, he definitely wanted to keep at a distance.

_____________________________________________________________

Not sure what to think or what to make of what had just gone down, August lamb closed the door that separated his room from Jonathan Hart’s. Knotted up by exhaustion and anxiety, once the door was shut, he leaned back against it for a few moments to exhale and to get himself back together.

He had told Hart everything. From the doctor’s true identity and what had been found out about him, the internet searches, to the doctor’s suspected trip out to the villa. Hart hadn’t said anything. He’d lain there, listening closely but wearing that poker face he assumed when he was taking in important details on a subject. Even when told that information about J.J. was being culled, and that J.J. had been out in the open when the suspect truck showed up out at the Beckett Place, Jonathan hadn’t said a word. Aside from thanking him for being on top of things and for getting the information to him, he hadn’t made the first comment.

Lamb could hear the dismissal in Hart’s “thank you”, and that was when he returned to that room.

Unfastening the overalls into which he had changed to be better able to move around and hear things in the hall and at the nurses’ stations without being detected, he wondered what was going through both men’s minds.

Why was the doctor so interested in Hart after all this time, and why did Hart appear so disinterested and unconcerned? There could be any number of reasons, positive, or negative, why Philips would be fascinated by a man he once believed was his father; it was the negative ones that worried him. There were any number of reasons why Hart didn’t react to the news, and all of them were worrisome.

Sitting down at the table with his briefcase, he unlocked it and took out the folder with all the documents sent from Zale back at Hart. He sifted through them for a while, trying to make sense of things, trying to come up with a scenario, a reason, attempting to put himself in Dr. Philips’ shoes. If his intent was to harm someone, why?

Hart hadn’t done anything to harm him. In fact, Hart had come up $20,000. short in fooling around with Philips’ mother and snatching him back from dangerous hands.

Why the interest in J.J.? Jealousy? Twisted situations as a kid sometimes yielded twisted adults. That was the thing that kept going through his mind, setting off all kinds of alarms. There was just no sure way to tell what it was all about.

When his eyes lit upon the clock radio on the nightstand, he was surprised by the passage of time. Roughly thirty minutes had gone by when he looked up again from the papers before him. It seemed to him that he had just sat down. Out of what had become habit, he got up and went to the door to check on the next room. Taking his time, trying not to make any noise, he cracked it open.

“Oh, hell!” streaked through his mind. “It’s on me this time.”

Hart’s bathroom door was open and the light inside was off. His bed was empty.

He sifted through the pictures, the newspaper and magazine articles and the clippings. He perused the company’s impressive stock reports and statistics. He neatly stacked the search engine results, and again he wished that he had the entire picture. The picture he had put together of J.J. Hart’s life was more complete than that of her father. But then too, J.J. was a whole lot younger, so there had been a lot less to find. There was a whole other part to her father that didn’t seem to exist, at least not on paper or in cyberspace. He wondered if she knew, and if she didn’t, if it bothered her to not know.

Probably not, he figured. After all, she had the actual flesh and blood man all to herself.

For a few moments, Dr. Philips sat upright on the stool at the counter, staring at a picture of a younger Jonathan Hart as he competed in some sailing event in which he had taken part and won.

What he wouldn’t give to know what Hart had been like as a boy. Was he a smart kid? Did he have lots of friends? How did he feel about not having parents? Did not having a father bother him? Or a mother? How had he coped? Who were his heroes? How had he become such a winner at the game of life?

Sitting forward, resting on his elbow, chin in his hand, the doctor continued mulling things over.

He had never forgotten Jonathan Hart and what it had been like to meet him. He had also never forgotten what it felt like to have to admit to himself that the man couldn’t have been his father, and that it had all been a lie. It had only been for the first nine years. Twenty-one more had passed since then. Why couldn’t he let it go?

“Because it hurts too much.” he whispered to himself. “And I’m not finished yet.”

A knock sounded at the door, which brought him out of his reverie. He wasn’t startled by someone coming to the door; it happened. Normally, he got paged if he was wanted or needed, but occasionally someone walked down if what they wanted wasn’t so important. Not bothering to put anything away, figuring he’d just answer a question and send the person on his or her way, he got up to answer the knock.

For the second time that night, his heart was nearly jolted into stopping by those piercing blue eyes.

Although she was tired, after lying there for a time, Jennifer found herself unable to fall off to sleep. Once she was sure that J.J. was all the way under, she got up, pulled on her robe, and slipped out onto the patio right outside her room. Settling herself in one of the chaise lounges, she first took in the stars, appreciating their rural clarity as they sparkled against the India ink sky. Then, lowering her gaze, she fixed it upon the shimmering water of the pool, picturing J.J. as she battled her demons on that first night. Now that she understood what that had been all about and recalling her vexation with her daughter that night, it shamed her. As well as she thought she knew J.J., she had completely misread that cue.

It had been a long four days since the onset of his crisis, but Jonathan appeared to be on the mend, and for that she was grateful. She had been so afraid, for him and for herself. If something had happened…

She would have to have lived on, if only for that child who lie sleeping inside, but what an otherwise empty existence it would have been once J.J. was out and gone. Jonathan was her life, reason for the child’s existence, her one and the only. There hadn’t been another since him, and there would never be another like him for her, ever.

Closing her eyes, she lie back and relaxed. Closing out the present, she let her mind drift to wherever it wanted to take her. It took her back to France to when she’d taken J.J. with her to Perpignan on that quest to regain her sanity after that bad bout of post-partum depression. It had been a frighteningly strange, but enlightening time.

Her Aunt Sabrina had always entertained guests in the evenings. Sabrina knew interesting people from everywhere it seemed, and many of them, knowing of her after dinner open-door policy, would stop in unannounced to see her. Having grown up spending part of her summers with Sabrina, living with her for a year in Paris, and then visiting her off and on as an adult, she was familiar with many of her aunt’s friends and they with her. Through those evening visits, she had developed many lasting relationships of her own among her aunt’s friends.

It was toward the end of her two weeks there with J.J., on one of those evenings when the large house seemed overrun with people. She had stolen away from her aunt and her guests to go up to see to J.J. Sabrina had been limiting her time and her contact with J.J., insisting upon their arrival that she wean her, rest, and take personal time for herself. Sabrina and the nurse she hired had been taking primary care of J.J. Although she went along with the setup, and the break had done her some good, she hadn’t been altogether comfortable with it.

When she got to the baby’s room, the nurse was changing her. After she had J.J. all cleaned up, the nurse turned the baby over to her.

“Sweet little girl.” the woman said, placing J.J. in her arms, securing the blanket around her. “So happy and good. She loves her mama.”

Which it seemed J.J. did. She was an infant, just shy of four months old, but the bond had already been firmly established. She was no longer breast feeding, but for a good while after, as soon as she was held close to it, J.J. instinctively turned her face into her mother’s bosom.

At the time, she hadn’t recognized that insistence, on J.J.’s part, to have things go her way as a precursor of things to come.

Even at that very young age, it was clear that J.J. was bright and was going to be quick. When spoken to, she smiled and clearly responded to the speaker through her body language. Her bright eyes followed everything going on around her. When placed on her tummy, she could easily lift her head, and was already attempting to turn over to be better able to see around herself.

Just plain nosy from the start.

But when they were alone together and she would talk to her, J.J. would grow still and watch her mother’s face intently as if she were taking in and understanding every word spoken to her. Baby talk was out; it wasn’t allowed. It was her intention that J.J. Hart grow up well-spoken and multilingual. When interacting with the baby, she and Sabrina would alternate between English and French .

The nurse, off on some other errand, had left them alone in the nursery. She was sitting with J.J., singing her to sleep with a song her aunt had taught to her many years before.

Do you like going to the zoo?

   Aimes-tu aller au zoo?

Let¹s see all of the animals!

   Allons voir tous les animaux!

Lots of things for us to do!

   Beaucoup de choses à faire ensemble!

Lots to see at the zoo!

   Beaucoup de choses à voir au zoo!

Lions and tigers,

monkeys swinging through the air;

elephants and baboons,

I hope there are animals everywhere!

   Des lions et des tigres,

   des singes qui se balancent en l¹air,

   des éléphants et des babouins,

   des animaux partout, j¹espère.

Alligators, crocodiles,

leopards and snakes;

I¹m not afraid because

I have got what it takes.

   Des alligators, des crocodiles,

   des léopards et des serpents

   Je n¹ai peur de rien,

   car je suis confiant(e).

Zebras and giraffes,

big gorillas and bears;

lots of animals at the zoo.

Every day I should be there.

   Des zèbres et des girafes,

   des gros gorilles et des ours;

   Il y a beaucoup d¹animaux au zoo,

   j¹aimerais y aller tous les jours.

“Hello, Jennifer. I see you still have great love for the animals.”

In the doorway stood Bertrand Sommer, a longtime friend of her aunt’s. It had been several years since the last time she’d seen him. He was older naturally, but like a lot of men as they aged, he was more distinguished and still quite handsome. Born in France, he had been reared in London. As an adult, he had returned to France where he became a wealthy businessman.

He came into the room and stood over her as she held the baby, looking down at both of them.

“Sabrina told me that you might be here when I couldn’t find you downstairs” he said, reaching down to pull the blanket back to better see the baby’s face. “I’d heard you had a child. Your daughter has your features.”

Astonished at his being there after so long an absence from her life, all she could do was look up at him.  Eighteen years her senior, she first met him during her visit to her aunt the summer she was sixteen. He was well-traveled, and in talking with her- out of politeness at the time, she was sure- he found that for a young lady of her years, she was, too. Despite the gap in their ages, they discovered a strong rapport and similar interests. Subsequently, every summer after that, he would make it his business to come down to Sabrina’s to spend time with her at least once during her two week stays.

It was during that twentieth year spent living with Sabrina in Paris, where he also made his home, that he became her lover. Bertrand had been good to and for her; together, they had been very good. He was sophisticated, well-educated, and entertaining. She was smart, old beyond her years, and eager to learn all that he had to offer her mind, her spirit, and her body. As an adult, finally out from under her father’s rule, she had been free to accept those offerings. Even after that year of study at the Sorbonne was up and she returned to the States, for the next few years they continued to correspond and to get together from time to time, whenever they happened to be in the same places around the world.

“Well. aren’t you going to speak to me?” he asked.

Embarrassed by the realization that indeed she was staring and hadn’t spoken, she blushed and then smiled.

“I’m sorry. I’m just so surprised to see you. It’s been a long while.”

“Since we parted in Vienna.” He said. “May I hold her?”

As far as she knew at that time, Bertrand wasn’t married and didn’t have children. When they had been together, he’d maintained that he didn’t think he wanted either. “Marrying and or having children changes things between a man and a woman.”, he had said, and for a while, she had been in agreement with him.

“Do you know how?” she asked him. “To hold a baby?”

“I admit my ignorance.” he said, holding out his arms, but gazing at her. “However, I know that you will show me the proper way to do it.”

She stood and placed the baby in his arms, positioning his hands in the right places to support her. As she did, she was aware of his eyes remaining on her. Standing so close to him, his pleasantly familiar sandalwood-like scent called up warmly sensual images of times past when she had been young and carefree and he had been her muse in that.

“Careful.” she said when he finally had it right. “She’s sleepy.”

He looked down at the baby he held, lightly brushing the thumb of the hand which cradled her head over her fine curls. She could see J.J. blinking, fighting slumber to get a good look at him.

“She must have his eyes.” he murmured. “I was a fool to let you get away from me. She should have been ours.”

“You sent me away from you. Remember?”

He raised his eyes from the baby’s to hers, and then he turned away completely.

She watched as he carried J.J. over to the bassinette and gingerly lay her down as though she were the most delicate porcelain doll. He tucked the blanket around her, ducked his head under the hood to kiss her, and then he stood over her a while longer.

“Does your husband know how fortunate he is?” Bertrand asked, still gazing down at her baby.

Looking on from behind, she didn’t answer. It wasn’t a question to which she could respond. Only Jonathan could have, and he wasn’t there.

A short while later, as together they strolled the shore below Sabrina’s house, the Mediterranean  lapped at their bare feet as they admired the celestial masterpiece over their heads. They talked and laughed over old times and old adventures, and brought each other up to speed on what was happening in their respective lives.

The night had been unusually humid and sticky, but she found being with him as comfortable and easy as it had been years before. Bertrand was as charming and interesting a man as ever. From the time they first met, even though she’d been very young and at that point in her life most males made her nervous; with him, she’d always been comfortable. He’d always treated her like a person of worth and intelligence, not like an empty-headed school girl with only a pretty face and a nubile body to her credit. That was one of the things that made him so attractive to her. From Sabrina and being with him, she had learned much about the real world and about real life. It was through him that she truly began to cherish and to enjoy being a woman. He hadn’t been her first, but he had been her first real man, the type of whom Sabrina had spoken. Although she had never been in love with him, she had been quite fond of him, and appreciative of his kind and thoughtful attentions to her.

They stopped at a large rock and sat down on it to admire the view. When he took her hand, her first inclination had been to pull it back, but for some reason she hadn’t.

“It’s so good seeing you again, Jennifer. It’s been far too long.”

“Well, you’ve been busy. I’ve been busy. I live in the States. You live here. But, I agree. It is good.”

“Jennifer.”

“Yes?”

“I want to ask you something.”

The tone his voice had taken stirred something deep with her. A warning was what she felt, but it was one she chose to ignore.

“Certainly. Ask me anything. I’ll answer if I can.”

He leaned in and pressed his lips to her cheek. Intrigued and at the same time, chagrined by the charge of heat his touch ignited in that place that it shouldn’t have, still she hadn’t pulled away.

“Are you truly satisfied? Have you done the things that you told me you wanted to do?”

“Yes, I am. And I’m still doing those things I told you that I was going to do. I intend to keep doing them and to keep learning- all of my life.”

“Jennifer, I know that I sent you away from me.”

“You said that it would be for the best, and you were right.”

“I know that you are married and that you have a new baby. Sabrina has told me of your happiness and fulfillment with your husband and your life. I have been happy for you, which is why I stayed away all these years when I knew that you were here. But, I could no longer do that. I knew that you would be leaving soon, and I had to come. Since I have seen you and spent time tonight with you again, I have to ask.”

“Ask me what?” Fairly sure what the question was going to be, she found herself nervous and anxious with the anticipation.

“I am wondering if you would consider…”

“Consider what?”

“Consider coming home with me tonight.”

Her not answering him right away must have compelled him to further explain himself.

“Jennifer, you are so beautiful. Even more so than when I saw you last. It tore my heart out to send you away from me all those years ago, but you were so young with so much ahead of you to do that I had already done. With me, you were stalling, putting things off. Since then, I have watched you from afar. You grew, you blossomed.  Now I see you in the flesh. You are complete- a true and accomplished woman. Just once more in my lifetime, Jennifer, for just one night, I would like to be with you, to experience the finished you.”

It had been months since she’d last made love, and she was ready. It had been on her mind as the days had been winding down until Jonathan’s arrival. Bertrand had been an excellent lover, but with him and all that came with him, something had been missing. She’d found that elusive something with the man who became her husband.

The hand Bertrand held that night was the left one, and in massaging her fingers between his, the ring which Jonathan had given to her, shifted, gaining her attention. She removed her hand from Bertrand’s and stood.

“I’m sorry.” she said, slowly shaking her head. “I can’t. I really can’t.”

“Gone American on me, Jennifer? Married to one man. No lovers? Don’t you remember what I told you about married women.”

“I am American, Bert.”

She placed her hands on his shoulders which put them face to face, his lips invitingly in line with hers.

“But even more than that, I love my husband. My making love with you would hurt that. I would never do anything to hurt Jonathan.”

“What he does not know, Jennifer, will not affect him. I certainly won’t be telling him about it. No strings, here. Just two people who once enjoyed each other so much, spending a final night together. Tell me that you don’t remember how good we were.”

His desire and his sincerity steamily radiating up to her, she indeed remembered, and it made her sad for him. There was nothing she could do to help him. What he was asking of her wasn’t something she could give to him. Where she had once been able to make those kinds of divisions in her personal life, the undeniable longings his entreaty evoked within her weren’t meant for him. Her heart and her intimate affections now belonged solely to another.

“I would know what I did.” she replied. “And I think Jonathan would know, too. We’re like that with each other. Bertrand, I do remember how good we were, but those days are gone. I also remember you telling me that a married woman should always take a lover to keep her excited and exciting. Do you remember telling me that?”

“Yes.” he nodded. “And?”

“Well, when you sent me away from you that last time, for a while I kind of wandered around on my own, lost and confused. I didn’t take my time, like you encouraged me to do. I rushed into things, trying to fill the void I thought had been left by you. I made some messes, but because of them, I did grow up. I guess in working through all of that, I wound up finally finding and opening the door to the grand prize. You see, my husband is also my lover. He is exciting, and he keeps me excited. You’re a fine man, Bertrand Sommer, and I’m very flattered by your request of this older lady when I know you are free and can probably still have your pick of any young girl. But I can’t do this for you.”

“Not an ‘older lady’ by anyone’s measure. You are a mature, extremely desirable woman, believe me. But Jennifer, keep in mind that a woman sometimes becomes boring after she has a child. In turn, she becomes fed up with her mate’s boredom, and the two can grow apart.”

“Then, if I follow what you’re saying, if that child up at the house had been ours, you would have become bored with me, and I with you, right? We wouldn’t have been anyway, right?”

Bertrand smiled, but sheepishly this time. “Touché, Jennifer. My own words, uttered by the most intelligent, exciting woman I have ever met, come back to bite me. Your Jonathan is indeed a fortunate man.”

Bending down to him, her hands still on his shoulders, she kissed him on both cheeks.

“Thank you. And I am fortunate that you came along in my life at the time that you did. If you hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been in the right place at the right time in the right frame of mind to receive and appreciate the man I fell in love with. And whether you know it or not, you’ve come to me once again in the right place, at the right time. I’m grateful for the things you taught me then and now.”

“Pity I am such a good instructor.” he sighed.

When they returned to the house together, her calves and feet sandy, her shoes in her hand, he barefoot with his pants legs rolled up, Sabrina shot them both an uncharacteristic startled look; but she and her aunt never spoke on what transpired. Sabrina was aware of their past intimate relationship, but she hadn’t asked about what went on between them that night, and she hadn’t volunteered anything to Sabrina.

When he was gone, Bertrand’s words remained with her, “A woman sometimes becomes boring after she has a child.”

Once Jonathan returned for her and J.J., and they made it back to the States as a family, she endeavored even harder to follow her first mind: to keep the parenting and the love affair two separate entities. At times, things necessarily overlapped, but because they had remained lovers, the strong magic between them prevailed. Jonathan could still make her heart beat erratically just by entering a room, whispering next to her hear, or by taking her hand at an unexpected moment.  The vibrations she got from him said that he loved, needed, and still strongly desired her. J.J. was worried that she had made a problem between them. Somehow, J.J.’s problems seemed to draw her and Jonathan together more closely.

She was sure it would work out that way this time, too, even though Jonathan was, so far, keeping his distance in terms of what was on his mind and his heart.

Their daughter was so astute; she was very much attuned to her parents, particularly her mother. J.J. had picked up on the undercurrent of irritation she carried within her as a result of Jonathan’s reticence despite his illness. His crust would be a lot more resistant than J.J.’s. had been, but he, too, would have to let her in. Love would have to win out, for both their sakes.

Opening her eyes once more to the pool glistening under that present starry sky, she sent off a prayer that when all of what was happening was done, things would be even stronger between them.

Yawning and stretching, feeling a bit more relaxed than when she first came out, she pulled herself up from the chaise and went back inside to try to sleep.

_____________________________________________________________

“Mr. Hart!”

Dr. Philips’ face and the tips of his ears caught fire and his legs were molten rubber when he found himself faced by the bathrobe-clad man at his door.

“Jonathan.” the man said in greeting.

“It’s John now, Mr. Hart.”

“It’ll always be Jonathan to me.”

When Hart stood upright from where he was leaned against the door jamb, he took a step back. Hart wasn’t unusually tall, about 6 feet, but his unexpected presence made for a formidable presence. Overhead lighting in the hall glinted off the silver that now streaked his dark hair as those eyes bore down on him, shrinking him increasingly by the moment. Once again, he was that little boy at the bottom of the staircase.

With one hand in the pocket of his robe, Hart extended the other. “It’s good to see you again.”

Dr. Philips took the hand being offered and hoped the man couldn’t feel it shaking. “I- If you needed me sir, I would have come to you. You aren’t supposed to be up and walking around like this. How-”

Jonathan Hart reached out and wrapped his arm over his shoulder, turning him around so they were standing side by side.

“I feel a lot better. I couldn’t get to sleep after being out of it most of the afternoon, so I decided to take a stroll. You know, get my strength up. Besides, I wanted to speak with you in private.”

“In private?”

“Yes. It’s been a long time, son.”

They started back into the room, the door spring-closing behind them.

_____________________________________________________________

… that child is going to give me a stroke… ever since her monthly checked in a year ago  she’s been increasingly crazy….

…at least she’s regular, more regular, so far, than I ever was….

… shower wasn’t as relaxing as I hoped… the steam didn’t help… chest still hurts, still can’t breathe easily… there’s something more to this… call Kate in the morning and get checked out… can do it now that Jonathan’s gone… didn’t want to worry him….

… better check on that little minx before I go to bed… she’s been far too quiet and distant all day… not a good sign….

… she’s on those damned skates, and I know it… when I catch up to her, I’m going to kill her… when Jonathan gets home from New York, he’ll be childless, and I’ll be up on charges… I cannot believe this girl…

…I’m going to wring that little chicken neck of hers when I catch up to her….

…God, please don’t let anything happen to my baby…she’s only fourteen, she doesn’t know what could… she doesn’t know…  please, let me get to her first….

… there she is… oh, you can run, Justine Hart, but you cannot hide… I am your mother, and better I hurt you before someone else does it… I brought you into this world, and I’m going to keep you from being taken out of it….

… drop and roll into those bushes if you want to, little girl… you can’t hide from me….

…thank you, Jesus, for letting me find her and for letting her be all right….

I don’t care if it’s two days from now, Justine Jennifer Hart, don’t you come out of this room until I come for you, do you hear me? I said, do… you… hear… me?

“Yes, Ma’am. I hear you.”

You’d just better.

…brassy little heifer… cannot believe she had the nerve to still be defiant… she runs away to go a party, I have to come out of the house in the dark of night, get into the car to go and fetch her back here, and I’m getting attitude….

…gotta give her credit, though, she’s as mean and nervy as I ever was… they say what goes around….

…if I felt better, I’d have really given her what for…

…good thing Jonathan wasn’t here… but she wouldn’t have pulled that stunt if he had been. He’s easy, but she knows how far to go with him….

… it’s said that God looks out for fools and babies… she’s the baby… that must make me the fool because if I felt better, I’d be in there tanning her little hide…  she’d call the child abuse hotline, and I’d be up on charges….

…must have been looking out for me, too….

… thank you for keeping an eye on this child you sent to me, Lord… and on Jonathan…

…and on me….

… My God, I think I’m dying… my head and chest hurt so badly… can’t breathe, chest burning… dizzy…  first thing, call Kate… so dizzy… I’ll just lie down for a while… that’s it, lie down and catch your breath…

…sleep….

__________________________________________________________

“So how long have you known?” Dr. Philips asked after Hart crossed the room and planted himself in the worn armchair by the bed.

Nervously, he tried not to look at the papers on the counter while he wondered if Hart had noticed them on his way in. He was afraid that going over to try to gather them up and put them back into the folder and then the drawer would draw Hart’s attention to them, if he hadn’t already taken note of them.

The man, who’d wasted no time in getting comfortable, sat with one leg crossed over the other and both hands in the pocket of his thick terrycloth robe, His initials were embroidered on the lapel, white against the royal red. On his feet were expensive soft leather house shoes, one dangling casually from the foot of the crossed leg. Even though he was supposed to be just another patient on the Cardiac Unit, just looking at him, it was evident that he was anything but.

“I’ve had my suspicions since the first night.” he said. “Something in your voice and then the way that you were so concerned about me hurting myself as opposed to disrupting the readings and thereby disturbing the work you all were doing. For a minute, the name change kind of threw me .”

Bile and shame boiled up from the doctor’s gut, burning his throat and reddening his face. He looked down to the floor.

“My name not good enough for you?” Hart asked.

Dr. Philips shook his head, but couldn’t speak.

“Well, son?”

“I’m not your son.” the younger man mumbled. “So how could I carry your name?”

“I wasn’t complaining about your having it. Did I tell you that I wanted it back?”

“No sir, but then, you were too much a gentleman to say something like that.”

“No I wasn’t and I’m still not. I would have told your mother to change it if that was what I wanted to happen. I’m sure you know that I have enough lawyers to have seen to it if that was what I wanted. So, you took your mother’s maiden name, rather than Vince’s.”

That last thing drawing his attention, Dr. Philips looked up. His mother’s last name at the time of their meeting had been Hampton, the same as his father’s even though they were never officially married.

“How’d you know that?”

“I have my ways.”

And again Dr. Philips anguished over that open folder on the counter, as well as what else Hart might know.

Hart’s gaze was like being bathed by floodlights, like he was an inmate trying to steal away. And just like that inmate caught by that light while trying to take flight, there was nowhere to run, no where to hide.

“I see that you’ve done well for yourself.” Hart said.

“I’ve done okay.” the doctor admitted.

“You’ve worked hard, and it’s paying off.”

“I’ve done okay.” he repeated.

“You started from scratch. “Hart continued. “Sort of behind the eight ball, so to speak, when you consider the trick that was played on you.”

Dr. Philips didn’t know what to say to that, so he didn’t say anything. The topic hurt, pricking at sore, unhealed places. From the tone of his voice, it sounded as if Hart was leading up to something, and the doctor inwardly cringed, afraid to think of what that something might be.

“Kind of a nasty thing, isn’t it? To think you’re one thing and then to find out that you’ve been lied to, that you really aren’t who or what you thought you were. To feel like you aren’t really anything.”

“Huh?” was all Dr. Philips could manage through his mounting tension.

“Well,” Hart sat forward, clasping his hands in front of him. “I just figure, for years you had this picture of who your old man was. Your mother showing you pictures of him, articles about him, telling you that you were named for him, that he was an important man who traveled a lot and was too busy to come see you, but that one day he would. It gave you something to hope for.”

To keep from being skewered by the stabbing truth of Hart’s words and his intense, focused expression, Dr. Philips got up, stuffed his nervous hands down into the pockets of his lab coat, and began to pace- as much as he could manage in the small room- as if by doing so he could dodge Hart’s direct hits.

“It’s hard when you find out that the people who say they love you don’t or won’t tell the truth, isn’t it?”

“Mr. Hart-” the doctor pleaded.

“It’s Jonathan. We’re two men talking now. Not little boy to a man he thought was his father.”

“I- I- I couldn’t possibly call you Jonathan.”

“Why? Don’t like the name any more?”

“No, I loved- like- the name. It’s just that…”

“Just that what?”

There were no words, at least not any that would form at that moment to answer that question. Once again, the younger man could find no where to look, except to the floor beneath his feet.

“I think you should go back to your room.” he mumbled in desperation. “You really shouldn’t be here.”

“Why? Am I that sick?”

“No, you-”

There was a long, painful pause when words failed him once more.

It was Hart who ended the silence. “I’m what?”

He didn’t answer. He couldn’t. He couldn’t come up with a reason to get himself out of the man’s presence since the chance of the floor opening up was nil. They were too close to each other. It was too soon. It wasn’t supposed to have happened this way.

Still staring at the commercial carpeting under their feet, crazily, he found himself wondering what Hart’s flooring at home was like. Could he tell when things were middle of the road, and was he offended by it? By the ragged chair in which he was sitting? Did those things matter to him? Did he look down on them? Surely, living in constant luxury like he did on a daily basis, moving and shaking among moneyed heavyweights like himself, he had to make those kinds of comparisons. He had to consider some things beneath him. And some people.

He felt as if he’d memorized every weave and color of the fibers that made up the pattern in the carpeting by the time he finally found the nerve to look up.

Hart was slumped over in the chair, his hand to his chest. His legs were no longer crossed, and it was clear that he was in distress.

_____________________________________________________________

Back in security mode, his badge prominently displayed on the lapel of his blazer, August Lamb did not ask permission before bypassing the people at the desk of the main nurses’ station, to poke his head in the room that the doctors used. There were a couple other physicians in there, but not the one for whom he was looking.

“May I help you?” the head shift nurse asked, her irritation quite clear at having her space intruded upon.

“Security.” he said in explanation when he didn’t see who he was looking for in the room.

He came out, holding out his lapel so that she and everyone else could see his badge while he continued looking all around himself. “Where’s Dr. Philips?”

“He’s probably out on the Unit.” the nurse answered. “With a patient. Is there a problem?”

“I’m not sure.” Lamb answered as he walked off, pulling his radio from his inside pocket.

_____________________________________________________________

He’d gotten Hart to the bed and forced him to lie back. Then he lifted his legs, which were hanging over the side, and moved them onto the bed as well.

According to the charts, what appeared was happening, shouldn’t have been, but the man was gasping for breath and going to blue just as he had before. In his mind, he was baffled by it. Untying Hart’s robe, he snatched open the pajama top he wore to get to the monitoring device still strapped to his chest. He knew that he’d have to work quickly because as soon as Hart could get in half a decent breath, he’d be fighting again, and this episode aside, he was in a lot better physical condition than the other times.

In a position between sitting and kneeling, Dr. Philips hunched over beside Hart’s contorting body and attempted to loosen the straps fastening the device to the man’s chest.

_____________________________________________________________

“He has to have gone to the room.” August Lamb concluded to the small, quickly assembled group of Hart and hospital security when they didn’t find Jonathan Hart around by the bank of phones on his floor or any of the ones directly above or below. Nor was he down in the lobby, trying to make a break for home.

“Gotta be.” one of the other men concluded. “Nobody’s seen the doc out on the floor or anywhere.”

Lamb led the way as they progressed toward the room into which he’d seen the doctor go. Using the sub master key the head of hospital security had provided to him, he threw open the door and was pushed inside by the anxious group behind him.

_____________________________________________________________

Startled, Dr. Philips looked around for a second, saw uniforms and such filling the room behind him, but he went right back to focusing on his struggling patient. Hart was going blue and from touch, his body temperature seemed to be elevating.

A pair of hands gripped him by the upper arms and yanked him away from the bed. Twisting, trying to pull himself out of the grip that held him and to return to Hart, Dr. Philips made ready to slug his way out of the grasp of the one restraining him. To his surprise, and apparently to that of the others, as he was abruptly pulled away from him, Hart had opened his eyes and followed, sitting up.

“Hold it!” the man demanded, miraculously recovered and holding up both hands, . “What the hell? Let him go, August.”

“What the hell?” The other man, who evidently was August, questioned as he maintained his ultra-tight hold on his arms.

Too astonished by all that was going on, the doctor had stopped struggling against his restrainer and, in surprise and confusion, had turned back toward Hart.

“I’ve been looking for you everywhere.” the man named August said. “I find you in here with him, looking like he’s about to strangle you, and you’re asking me, ‘What the hell’?”

The color in Hart’s face was going from pale and bluish to bright embarrassed red, He gathered his robe around him and sat all the way up, easily swinging his legs back over the side of the bed.

“Let him go, August.” he said. “You stay, but send your backup on it’s way.”  He removed the loosened monitor from his body and held it out to the doctor. “It isn’t going to tell you anything much, John. I just needed to get your attention.”

_____________________________________________________________

… alone, frightened, feeling as if something were missing…

…disoriented, confused by tall, arched windows  nearly floor to ceiling, heavy curtains…a rag doll on the pillow in the place where….

… this isn’t home…

…Briarwood ….

…the scent of burning wood and the crackling sound of logs in a fireplace… comforting as she turned the corner from the main hall into the back hall…

…flickering lights dancing on the wall opposite the open door….

…back and forth, forth and back… the cane bottomed chair before the glowing fireplace slowly rocked in that regal bedroom….

…ivory, teal…stately…

…burgundy, gold, purple…rich cherry wood furnishings,  fresh flowers…

…definitely plush, but comfortable….

“Mama?”

“Jenny? Why are you not sleeping as I told you to do? You must get your rest.”

“I woke, and I wanted to see you.”

“Come to me, then Jennifer.”

… her mother’s hand, the long, graceful fingers beckoned to her…

“Since you are here, I have something for you.”

… standing over her… her mother was holding a baby, its face covered by a white blanket edged in pink ribbon with pink tassels on each corner….

“Mama, whose child is that?”

… those hazel eyes, so wise and deep… that wonderful face… so missed….

… all that red hair, now laced with silver, gathered in a long, thick braid on her shoulder….

“She is yours, my Jenny.”

… reaching down into her mother’s arms, pulling the blanket from the sleeping child’s face… wispy red hair, the Roussel forehead, hairline, and nose, rosy cheeks…

…and Roussel lips… a mouth… complete….

“My baby, Mama?”

“Yours, my love. And your Jonathan’s.”

“Jonathan will love her. She will love Jonathan.”

“What about you, Jenny? Will you love her?”

“Always and forever, if she’s mine with Jonathan. What’s mine is his, what is his is mine. We will accept her with our entire hearts.”

“And she will love you. You must always give her what she needs, my Jenny. She will be what you want her to be in the end because she hears you, although it appears she sleeps. She is whole now, and she is truly yours. Take her, Cherie, I must go back.”

… her mother stood up from the chair, kissed the baby’s forehead, and then pushed the child into her arms, close to her bosom… immediately the baby turned to her and relaxed against her, as if she knew….

“She loves you, Jenny.”

“I know, Mama.”

“Come”

…led over to the high, four poster bed, she was directed to lie down…

…on her side, she fitted the still slumbering baby into the curve of her body….

“Sleep, my sweet, Jenny. ”

…she felt it when her mother bent to kiss her cheek… heard her whisper in her ear….

“When Jonathan comes, tell him how you feel, but be kind with your words. He loves you; he doesn’t mean to make it cold and dark for you. He just doesn’t know that he does this thing sometimes.

I am leaving now, but I am never gone. When you look at Justine, when you listen to her voice, you will know that I have been within you always, as I am in her; and with both of you, I always will be. You are my girls, always in my heart.”

___________________________________________________________

“So Mr. Hart, you faked me out.” Dr. Philips surmised. “You’re very convincing. You had me completely fooled.”

After introducing him to August Lamb, and waiting until the room was clear with the exception of just the three of them, Jonathan had returned to the chair. Lamb was on the stool, the papers still spread out behind him on the counter, and the doctor had dropped, dejectedly, to sit on the side of the bed. Jonathan could tell from that youngest man’s body language that he was done and that he was only waiting for the final curtain to come down.

“I’ve had lots of practice in these last few days.  he said in response. “I’m sorry about the act, but I wanted to see where your priorities were. I needed to see who and what you were really about, and if you knew. I see that you do know.”

Dr. Philips looked up from the floor. “I don’t think I understand what you mean, sir.”

“Let’s get something straight right off the bat, John. I’m not “sir” here. I can be Jonathan. I can be Mr. Hart. I can be whatever makes you comfortable, but I’m not “sir”. That makes me uncomfortable. Understand?”

“All right. But I still don’t know what you mean by what you said.”

Jonathan sat back, crossed his legs, and laced his fingers across his abdomen.

“Well, certain things have come to light and have been brought to my attention. In my position, I have to have people look out for me and for my family. It’s an unfortunate fact of my life. Now, I think I know what’s going on, but my friend here,” he gestured to Lamb. “is nervous about them. Mr. Lamb is my friend and he’s also head of security for Hart Industries, and since I happened to be Hart…”

He stopped and shrugged his shoulders. “I did what I did because I needed to see for myself if you’d help me or hurt me when we were all by ourselves, with no one to be witness to whatever went on between us.”

A perplexed look had been forming on Dr. Philips face as Jonathan explained his actions. By the completion of his last sentence, the doctor’s eyes had gone wide.

“Why would I hurt you? I’d never hurt you. I’m a doctor. I took an oath, and besides, I-”

Cocking his head to the side, Jonathan urged him to complete his sentence. “-and you, what?”

“I-, I’m here to help you.” was the murmured finish.

“Then tell me, John- look, I’m just going to go on and cut to the chase here and get it done so that we can move on. What’s with all the searching and digging into my personal life and my business affairs?”

For emphasis, Lamb reached behind himself and held up a couple of cut-out pictures of Hart in one hand and a clipping from a magazine in the other.

The doctor’s face went crimson at the sight, then he looked down to the floor again. Jonathan gestured for Lamb to put the things back where he had gotten them. Then he uncrossed his legs and leaned in toward Dr. Philips.

“Talk to me, Jonathan.” he said to the man he was envisioning as that little hurt boy sitting on the side of the bed in what was once a guest room of his home, but was now J.J.’s room.

All that was missing from the tableau was Freeway, Sr., to whom the child was desperately clinging. Instead, he was now nervously wringing his apparently talented hands.

“I just need to know from you what’s going on. I know that you don’t mean me any harm. I never thought you did. You had ample opportunity if that were the case.”

Turning his head away, Dr. Philips answered, “It’s so embarrassing.”

“Tell me anyway, and then I’ll let you in on something about me.”

“Can we be alone?” Dr. Philips asked, raising his head a bit, looking past Jonathan to Lamb.

Jonathan turned to Lamb, who mouthed his disapproval. Jonathan, however, disregarded it.

“You can leave us.” he said. “We’ll be okay.”

“All right.” Lamb said after getting up. “But I’ll be right outside this door. You aren’t talking me any farther away from here than that. I’m not going to be left dealing with Mrs. Hart on my own should something end up happening to you.”

That last statement, delivered more in the tone of a threat, had been directed to Dr. Philips.

Waving to Lamb in mild amusement, Jonathan waited until the door was completely closed again before he turned back around.

“All right, John. It’s just us. Look at me. Talk to me.”

For the first time, the young man looked directly at him. Jonathan saw and felt in his gut the young man’s misery and shame as he forced himself to speak.

“I’ve never forgotten you, Mr. Hart. Ever. You were right when you said about how my mother used to talk to me about you back when I thought you really were my father. I was so proud. Even though I’d never met you, I thought all that time that I had a father somewhere who was a good, decent, important man, and that when he got a minute, he’d come see me. She made it sound so good that it didn’t matter that you weren’t ever around. I’d told all my friends about you. Then when I finally did get to meet you, the experience was awesome. I don’t mean the house and all of that. That was nice, but it was you, finally meeting you. I was so nervous, but so happy at the same time, that I was finally going to be with my dad. What a simple little sap I was.”

When he lowered his head again, Jonathan reached out and placed a hand of encouragement on the young man’s arm. “Go on.”

“You probably don’t even remember any of this, but the day I figured out that you couldn’t be my father- the day I found out who my real father was and what he was…”

Dr. Philips hesitated for a moment, before whispering, “I wanted to die that night when my mother got me home. She told me everything. She tried to explain to me why she did it, that she was trying to spare me from knowing about my real father taking off on me and what a low life loser he was, but at the time, I didn’t want to hear it. All I knew was, she lied to me. For a long time after we went back to Chicago, I was so humiliated and so angry with her that she did that to me.”

As he listened, Jonathan could feel his chest tightening, but it wasn’t that recent type of pain from which he had been suffering. It was an older, deeper hurt, one that he thought he’d put way away from him. In response, his fingers involuntarily squeezed the other man’s arm, upon which his hand still rested.

“She finally took me for some counseling, and it was suggested that I be allowed to change my name as a first step to “forming my own identity”. I wasn’t your son, but in my mind, I wanted to continue to be even though I was supposed to be making a break. I figured you’d never know.”

“So you went to John.” Jonathan summed up.

Dr. Philips nodded. “I was little, but I figured one day, you’d have a kid of your own, and you’d want to give your name to the one to whom it rightfully belonged. The name, Jonathan Hart, Jr. wasn’t mine to have.”

“But I know that you know that I wound up having a daughter. Why the searching on her? Why the visit to the villa? Another kind of man might read something else into that. In fact, on another day, given another set of circumstances, I might.”

The doctor, apparently reading what he meant and coming to a sudden realization of what that could have looked like, stiffened and spoke with wide, frightened eyes.

“Honestly, Mr. Hart, my only intention- my only reason was- I just wanted to see what a real kid of yours would have been like. I just wanted to see how your own kid lived. Honest!.”

His body slumped again and his head lowered. “You see, even though you aren’t my father, I’ve always- this is so stupid.”

With tears forming in his eyes, the young man turned his head. “I feel like an idiot sitting here.”

Jonathan leaned in closer and moved his hand up to the doctor’s shoulder.

“Come on, John. Don’t quit on me now.”

“It’s dumb.”

“But I want to know. I need to understand. Tell me.”

Dr. Philips raised his head again and looked Jonathan in the eye.

“You see.” he said. “In my mind. I’ve kept you as my father. I would pretend to myself that you were, and everything I did, I did with the thought in mind of how proud you would be of me if I were your son. I pressed to do well in school, thinking of what you might say or think, if you knew. I played football in high school, and I was pretty good at it. I pretended that you were in the stands at every game, and when I made All-City, I made out to myself that you were there at the awards banquet.

Mr. Hart, my mother has been unsuccessfully married twice since then. I think she was attempting to try to put a father figure into my life, but she didn’t know I already had one. I never told her what I was doing. It was through you that I was able to overlook my asshole stepfathers. I knew that even though they weren’t your kids, you would want me to look out for my brother and my sister and see to them doing the right things, so I that’s what I did. I’ve seen that you’ve done that in your life with kids who aren’t any relation to you at all. I’ve been studying you and reading about you because it kept the image kind of strong for me. I found out that you didn’t have any parents at all when you were a kid, and I wondered how you coped, how you made it through so well.

Then I met your real kid, your daughter.”

Jonathan sat back. “You’ve actually met J.J.?”

“Twice.” the doctor admitted. “Like I said and you seem to already know, from my research and things, I knew that you had a daughter. But it wasn’t until I actually ran into her that I wanted to know more about her. In my head, I wanted to remain your only. But after actually meeting her, I just wanted to see if she was like I thought she might be. That’s why I was looking her up. That’s all that was.”

“And what did you think?”

“She’s everything I would have thought your kid would be. I know she’s smart and accomplished, and that she’s got a lot of nerve. The first time I met her, we literally just about ran into each other. She was sneaking around the corner after coming out of your room that first night you were admitted. When I heard they were keeping her out, I tried to tell Samuels that she would need to see you for her own peace of mind, but he blew me off. Like her being a kid didn’t matter. But I knew better. Just like I thought she would, she did it on her own, anyway. I knew that it hadn’t mattered to her what Samuels said. It was what I would have done in her place.

The second time, was in the lobby. She was by herself and I guess she was on her way up to see you, but some reporters cut her off. They were all up in her face trying to ask her questions about you and your wife. I could swear she was puffing up to give them hell like I would have done, if I had been her. I saw it happening, and I managed to get her away from them. The first time, she wouldn’t talk to me, but that time, she introduced herself to me and was more friendly. But then I saw your security guy coming. I wasn’t ready for that, so I got out of there before he could see me with her.”

Jonathan, tickled by the depiction given of J.J., had to chuckle. That was her all the way, stealthy and close-mouthed like him, a scrapper like her mother. But he’d also heard that last thing the doctor said.

“What do you mean when you say that you weren’t ready?”

“See, I always thought that with us living so far apart that we wouldn’t run into each other until I was a surgeon with my own thriving practice, maybe chief of Cardiology or something else important or noteworthy. I’d have a nice house, maybe a family, be well-connected. I’d have put both my sister and my brother through school. Then, actually when, because I always planned that we’d meet again, I’d have something to show you, something to tell you. You’d be proud of me because-”

The doctor hesitated again, as if searching for words or as if he didn’t want to speak the ones he had in mind.

Jonathan urged him on. “Because what, John?”

“Because I did like you, Jonathan. I would have made something out of nothing.”

Jonathan sighed and smiled. Then he got up and went over to the bed to sit down next to young Jonathan.

“Son,” he said. “Your first mistake in all of this is that you and I have never been nothings. If we had been, then what would we have had to work with? We had to be something to start out. It didn’t matter about from whom we came. We came here as somebody; our job was to work with what we were given. And you’re right, you’ve done what I did. You’ve worked hard. You’ve stayed the course. You’ve found someone with whom to place your trust and hopes and upon whom you chose to model yourself. You’re reaching back and bringing others along with you, setting examples and teaching the way that things should be done, which is really what it’s all about; sharing the blessings you’ve been given.

However you’ve chosen to do it, it’s working. You’re getting it done. If using me worked for you, I’m grateful to have been there for you, if only on paper. I wish you would have taken us up on our offer of the open door, but that might not have been within your control.

I’ll tell you something, Jonathan, you might think that I did, but I’ve never forgotten you either. I can still remember that night you turned up at my door, and I can remember how much it hurt to send you back to your mother, even though that was the only thing to do at that time. You belonged with her, not with me and Mrs. Hart.”

“I don’t think Mrs. Hart would have been very crazy about my staying anyway.”

Jonathan smiled. “She would have been all right with it if you’d stayed. It might have taken her some getting used to it, but she loves me. and she would have loved you because of me. That’s how we are.”

“I’ve seen Mrs. Hart, too, since you’ve been here.” Dr. Philips said. “She’s still very pretty and crazy about you. A lot of marriages don’t last as long as yours has. You’re a fortunate man all the way around. I know now that you hadn’t been married to her all that long when my mother and Vince pulled that junk on you. That could have been horrible for you two.”

Jonathan shrugged it off.

“I picked a good one. She’s very special; it would take more than that. She knows me, and she saw right through it. I had to wait a while for her to come into my life, but once she and I got together, we both knew it was for keeps. But getting back to what I was saying, despite your mother’s predicament forcing her to put you in so much danger, she loved you and wanted you with her. Believe it or not, John, I actually kind of regretted not being your real father. Back then, you reminded me so much of myself. I wish I could have been what you needed and wanted me to be. But, you were a step ahead of me. You, at least, had a mother. In that, I was happy for you.”

“Yeah.” the doctor grinned a bit, nodding in agreement. “I do have that. We’ve had our differences over the years. I can’t say that I don’t still harbor a bit of resentment, but I’ve come to understand that she’s human. She had me too young. Then she made some poor decisions, but whatever she did, she did it with the purpose of trying to make things better. She did the best that she could. Through it all, despite her missteps, she’s been my greatest real-life support. Mr. Hart?”

“Yes.”

“When it was suggested that I change my name, I decided to call myself John Hart Philips. I didn’t want any part of Vince, my real father, at least not any more than I had to have, so I did take my mother’s maiden name. But I wanted to stay close to you, if only in mind and spirit. They tried to talk me out of it, but I held my ground. It was what I wanted. I hope you’re not offended. I mean, by any of this. I really meant you and your family no harm or dishonor.”

“No offense taken, son. I never thought you did. I just needed to know what was on your mind so that I can put my people at ease and get them off high alert. Now I have a confession to make to you.”

“What’s that?”

“Remember my telling you that I had an inkling that I knew who you were that first night?”

“Yes, si- ah, yes?”

“I lied. It was more than an inkling. I’ve known all along. I pretended to not know you because I didn’t want you to remember who I was.”

“Why in the world would you want that?”

“Because when I first came here, I thought I had developed heart trouble. I just knew that I had heart disease or something. I thought I’d had a heart attack and that I was going to be permanently disabled. I’ve never had trouble like that. I’m never really ill, and to be stuck in here like I was had me scared shitless. I didn’t want you to know me like that. I wanted you to remember me for the man I was, not some weak, pathetic, sickly old man who you had to help to the toilet. I pretended to not know you in the hope that you wouldn’t recall me. It was only when I got the news of what you had been doing that I had to come to you to find out what was really going on. Lamb was ready to have your head.”

“Oh, my God!” the doctor cried, genuinely smiling for the very first time. “You mean to tell me that here I am, ducking and dodging you to keep you from peeping me out, and you’re nearly kicking my butt to keep me off you so I wouldn’t recognize you. Now what do you make of that?”

“Two jackasses.” Jonathan grinned. “Like father, like son?”

“And just for the record, Dad, even if you had heart disease, you’d still be far too much of a man to be weak, pathetic, or sickly. You were down for the count that first night, the jury was still out on what was wrong with you, but you had me breathing hard and sweating trying to hold you down in that bed.”

“You know it.” Jonathan winked and mischievously grinned. “I’d have kicked your ass if I’d have been all the way on my game.”

He stood and straightened his robe. Then he reached his hand down to pull the younger man up.

“Come on, young Jon, and walk me back to my room. We have to straighten out that guy standing on the other side of that door, and I’ll need you to get me past the nurses’ station. I lucked up, and nobody happened to be out there when I came down here, but they’re bound to be looking for me by now. Then you and I have a lot of catching up to do of our own. You’ve got a lot to fill me in on.”

Dr. Philips audibly exhaled, still smiling, but more easily and genuinely. Jonathan could almost feel the young man’s relief, and wondered if part of what he felt was relief of his own.

“Hold on.” the doctor said, pulling back and holding up his hand. “Just wait.”

He reached over, picked up the telephone, and pressed a button before speaking again.

“I’m wheeling you back. I do not want Samuels all over my case when he gets here in the morning because I let you do anything out of the way tonight. He knows about your previous escape on my watch. He says you’ve been trying to call your own shots the whole time you’ve been up here. I know you want to be cut loose soon. You won’t be if he finds out you’ve been out and about again. Let’s do this the right way- for once.”

Then he held his hand over the receiver. “Say, we don’t have to mention to anybody about me going out to your-”

“I don’t know anything about anything.” was the answer he received.

Jonathan was at the counter, looking over the clippings and things, sliding them back into the folder from where they’d come.  “I’m just in here consulting privately with my physician.”

By the time Transportation arrived, the folder was locked away inside the drawer.

Jonathan was taken, via wheelchair, back to his room by August Lamb of Hart security. As they passed the nurses’ station, Dr. John Philips calmed the frantic nurses, who’d only just discovered they had a missing patient. They were alarmed, then embarrassed to see that it was he who was escorting said chronically errant patient back to his room. Jonathan, making eye contact with the head night nurse, winked at her in passing.

John Hart Philips saw to Jonathan Hart getting back into bed. For what remained of the night, way into the early hours of the next morning, they talked together.

_____________________________________________________________

… look at that, she has his blue eyes… she’s my baby… mine… forever… for keeps….

… my God….

…I sure hope you know what you’re getting yourself into, little girl….

“She knows you’re her mommy, Jennifer, and she’s hungry.”

…hungry? Give her what? From who? From me? ….

… I’m your mommy … if you say so, Kate, we’ll give it a shot ….

…well, would you look at that… who would have thought?… me, Jennifer Edwards Hart…with a baby of her own…taking care of her, feeding her… like this….

“You have to be the only woman in the world to be worried about being knocked up by Jonathan Hart, and you’re his wife, for Christ’s sake!”

… that Pat… what would I have done without her in my life?… we, us…without her in our lives?….

… look at him… looking at us… he’s crying… happy crying… about us….

Cozily wrapped in a gauzy blanket of contentment, Jennifer came to a slow, almost reluctant wakefulness. For a moment, not feeling Jonathan’s arm over her, she was befuddled by her deep sense of satisfaction. In her heart, she felt his physical absence, but it didn’t seem to matter as much as it had in recent days. Drowsily recalling exactly where he was and where she was; her disorientation dissipating, she opened her eyes.

In the weak light of the emerging new day she could see J.J. lying next to her, soundly sleeping, her face turned in her direction. The ponytail flowed from behind her head, over her cheek and shoulder, with the ends of it curling across the sheets.

She rolled one thick lock around her finger.

…all this lovely hair as opposed to how you started out… and you don’t give a rat’s behind about it…

…your grandmother, my mother, didn’t either… a braid or bunched up on top of her head… you and this ponytail….

For a time she lie there, thinking about the eyes behind the closed lids.

...who would have thought when he first looked at me that day in London with those eyes of his that the moment would eventually result in you… us… here and now….

… and another pair of eyes just as blue, just as mesmerizing … a smile and a style just as private yet captivating….

Studying the girl’s features, she marveled at their peacefulness as opposed to the anger and torment reflected in them not so long before. The older she was getting, the more interesting a person that child was becoming. The more J.J. brought to her, the more she learned about herself.

J.J.’s revelation about having read that journal had been another of those burdens lifted that she didn’t realize she was carrying until it was gone. The painful memory of it filed away completely, like so many others had been.

           “… artificial pie-in-the-sky… doesn’t erase the past or the effects of the past.”

           No, my little love, forgetting doesn’t….

It hadn’t only been J.J.’s secret; it had been hers as well, and now that it was out and over with, things were a lot clearer, the bond even more certain. If J.J. could release a pain so old, shameful, and deep, did that mean she would more readily do so with other weighty matters in the future?

           Perhaps.

Lessening that tendency in her toward holding things in was a work in progress. At the very least, this last thing would certainly be another step toward making it a little bit easier for her.

…  young, innocent, yet so old and so wise… a paradox, if I ever met one in person…changing me into another sort of person, someone I’d never thought I’d be ….

“He is your Jonathan, but he is my Daddy.”

…yes, I am your mother, and you are definitely your Daddy’s incorrigible issue….

Reaching out, she feather-traced J.J.’s lips with her finger.

… you can always talk to me, little girl… I’ll always listen…always… whatever… forever….

“…she is whole….”

… and so am I….

“… and she is truly yours….”

Things were making a whole lot more sense.

           … Mama, it took you long enough to make your point… Thank you….

Raising herself on one arm, she leaned over and kissed J.J.’s forehead. Then she lie back down.

“… Jonathan … tell him how you feel… be kind with your words. He loves you…”

           Jonathan Hart … my heart

“… he doesn’t mean to make it cold and dark for you. He just doesn’t know that he does this thing sometimes.”

She closed her eyes.

“…the past doesn’t go away just because somebody closes it up in an envelope. It’s still there. Just like in Daddy’s chest, the past is still there and it’s come right back to bug him.”

           …go back to sleep, both of you….

Another battle most likely in the offing.

… you speak your mind… and you fight when you have to …

           …yes, I do.

To effectively deal with that larger source of Hart-ache, the one with the more deeply ingrained “issues” and habits,  would require a sharp mind,  strong resolve, and every moment of rest she could possibly get.

Jonathan’s well being was at stake, so all safe bets were off. Once J.J. was safely tucked away at home and out of the line of fire, the war of wills between the remaining Harts might just have to get down and dirty.

Continue to Part Five

 

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