J.J.’s Journal: Part Eleven

November 21, 2001

Wednesday

11:52 P.M.

Can somebody please tell me how it is that I always manage to be where I shouldn’t be at the exact time that I shouldn’t be there, seeing things that I shouldn’t be seeing? Even when I’m not trying to be nosy, when I’m in the bed and minding my own business, something will happen that has me ending up with my nose stuck smack where it shouldn’t be. Then I wind up having to worry about something that isn’t even my business to begin with.

I swear, sometimes I can be the biggest victim of circumstance. We came here for Pat’s wedding. Now we don’t even know where she and Uncle Bill are. I think my grandmother might be pissed off at not being invited, but she’s coming anyway. She’s all over this place; I can feel her. Even stronger than the last time I was here.

After all, Grandmama, it is your house, and after all this time, I’m sure you consider Aunt Pat to be one of your girls, too- and Marnie. I don’t blame you for crashing the gate on this wedding. I would, too, in your place. And, like I said, it is your place.

Would you please, if you can, keep an eye on Aunt Pat. I think she’s sick, and if she is, she’s scared, and she doesn’t know what to do. In a funny kind of way, she can be kind of like a man when it comes to things like that. You know how guys whine, get all weak and scary and stuff when they’re sick? Like Daddy did that time.

And if you can, shoot me a vibe or something about how you feel about Dean Marchand being on the grounds permanently. That way, I can know how I should feel about it.

Good night and much love,

Justine

_________________________________________________________

November 29, 2001

Thursday

10:43 PM

Wow, it’s been  a week! This is the longest gap of time I’ve ever had in my journals. I never go this long without writing something down, but like with everything, there is always a first time. I am going to make sure this is the very last time unless it’s completely outside my control, like I’m unconscious or dead or something. If it’s just a hand thing keeping me from writing, I’ll record what I’m thinking and write it down later or use voice recognition to type it electronically until times get better. There is sooooooooo much I need to say, that I need to put down in here, my brain feels like its swollen to the point of splitting at its seams, but I don’t think brains have seams, just creases and dips. Even my creases and dips are filled out.

We’re back home, finally. Seems I’ve been away years rather than a little over a week. No matter where I go, or how good a time I’ve had while I’ve been away, there is nothing like coming home to my own house, my own room, and my own bed. There is so much I have to tell; I haven’t written since before the wedding. There simply wasn’t time to stop and get it all down. I only managed that last tidbit on the 21st when I was on the run and very tired.

We got back from Maryland early today, but Marnie and I had a lot of running around to do not to mention unpacking, so I’m just now sitting down to write. We had to right away go up to the school to turn in the work we did while we were out and to get the work we missed from Monday and Tuesday so we could get started on it for going back for real tomorrow. We hadn’t planned to stay as long as we did, but we ran into a couple of people who wanted to talk, so we hung out a little and got caught up on what’s been happening here. It seems Kendra and Percy have broken up again, but that’s a story for another time. It’s likely only temporary anyway. Those two have broken up and gone back together more times than any other couple I know. They’ve been doing that since junior high. Even if they end up marrying other people down the line, they’ll probably cheat with each other. Even when they’re old and in the nursing home, they’ll still be caught up in drama with each other.

Somehow that seems kind of romantic to me. Probably because it’s supposed to be dysfunctional and wrong. Dysfunctional and wrong is always a lot more interesting.

We had to drop off and pick up clothes at the dry cleaner. Then, once we got home, we checked in with Aunt Pat in the guest house to see if she needed anything. She didn’t. She has Uncle Bill to wait on her now, so that takes some of it off us. All she wanted was for us to come over here and get our schoolwork done, so that’s what we’ve been doing all evening. I just finished up what I had to do for tomorrow. Now I have to get busy in here. It’s going to take me some time to get all of this out of me. Good thing my mother had the foresight to get two more books for me when I filled up that last one. This year has been a doozy, and I’ve only been sixteen for six months.

I wrote that last entry when I was at Pa’s. It was our first night there, and I had just come from checking on Marnie and her nightlight- at Aunt Pat’s phoned-in request, when I spotted Daddy taking my mother around to the back hall where the doors to my grandmother’s bedroom are.

At that point, Aunt Pat was AWOL- I’ll go into that later. She was missing, wouldn’t let me ask her where she was when I picked up her call, but in her mind it was okay for her to phone up and order me around. She cut me off before I could even get started to tell me to go see if Marnie had the light on and if she did, to tell her she better turn it off. Marnie didn’t have the light on.

I had told Daddy earlier in the day that Pa had taken the wall down he had put over my grandmother’s bedroom doors, but my mother wasn’t aware of it at the time I saw him taking her around there.

For some reason, it scared me to see him do that with her. Well, maybe not scared me, but it made me very nervous for her. By that time, she had so much going on in her life, I wasn’t sure if she was ready for what she was about to see- the doors to her mother’s bedroom again for the first time in decades. For me, running into them like I did, they were new and fascinating. My mother had seen them before, had gone through them before, but for a very long time she’d put them so far up and away in her mind that she didn’t even remember they or the room itself existed. When those doors closed on her for the last time, it was for an absolutely devastating reason. Then she lost them figuratively, literally, and completely when Pa covered them up with the wall.

So weird him doing that. When I stop to think about what must have been going through his mind and his heart at the time. How messed up he must have been while he still had a little girl to take care of all by himself. Whenever I think about that too much, I almost want to cry for both of them. But I’m getting off track.

Back to where I was.

Aunt Pat has her tests tomorrow, but since she didn’t bring the topic up when she and Uncle Bill came over for dinner with us tonight, we didn’t say anything about it either. Marnie and I didn’t discuss it when we came upstairs afterward, but I figure Aunt Pat’s probably a little nervous about them. Dr. Kate is overseeing her exams, so Aunt Pat will be in good hands between her and Uncle Bill. Marnie and I will be in our classes. I’d like to go with them to the hospital, but I know Aunt Pat won’t let us; we’ve missed too much school. If the Duchess was here, she wouldn’t let us go with them either. Before she left, I promised her I’d do what I was supposed to, and I keep my promises, including trying to remember to take the stupid vitamins she found out I hadn’t been being consistent with. (It wasn’t on purpose. I swear, I just kept forgetting.)

Marnie’s in her room now. Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill are out in the guest house. Marie is downstairs, doing something in the kitchen, like always. I’m in here in my room on my own, so I’m going to try and get caught up some in this journal before I fall asleep.

I don’t know where to start, so I guess I’ll go back to where I left off, which is right where we are now basically, wondering about Aunt Pat. We do know now that it’s something with her breast. It seems she flaked out so badly because cancer runs in her family. Her mother and father died sort of early from different forms of the disease, and so did her paternal grandmother. I guess that’s enough to make a person suspect they’re doomed when odd issues come up, especially if you’re never sick otherwise and you’re from a place where breast cancer seems to happen at higher rates than other areas of the country. I did some research on it tonight, and it seems that there are two schools of thought about it. Some studies have shown a higher concentration of breast cancer cases in Long Island, and some think the case studies are BS. When I got finished, I realized I didn’t know any more about it than I did going in, and bottom line, it really didn’t matter because I’m only concerned about my Aunt Pat and what’s going on with her. Statistics, studies, genetics, and the big picture don’t mean diddly-squat when it comes down to that one somebody I care a whole lot about.

It’s weird, though. When I first got to New York, she was kind of gaunt and sickly in appearance to me. Not a whole lot, but I could tell the difference. She’d lost some weight, and she’s already thin to begin with. My friend, Charmaine, calls it “very rich white lady thin”. I had to laugh when she said it. I probably should have been offended, but the description was too on point. Like the time she said, “Even the white ladies in the office are scared of your mother, J.”

That girl comes up with some stuff to make her points. She is going to be one heck of a writer.

It’s true, my mother doesn’t play around when it comes to me, school, and me acting right when I’m there. The office ladies know it, the teachers, the counselor, and the administrators know it, and so do all my friends.

But I digress.

By the time Aunt Pat made it to Maryland for her wedding, she was looking a whole lot more like her usual self. Her color was back, and it appeared she’d picked up a couple of pounds in those few days she and Uncle Bill were missing from us, but together. Of course, by then, they were already married and were only in Maryland going through the motions for Pa. And my mother and father.

I think Uncle Bill going to find her like he did, and then insisting that Aunt Pat marry him before he let her tell him what was wrong made all the difference to her. She didn’t come out and say she was, but I bet she was scared to tell him there was something wrong with her. Telling him would have been claiming it for herself, and that might have made her want to back out of getting married to him. She would never want to be sick and maybe dependent on anyone; that’s not her. Then, too, maybe she was scared he wouldn’t want to marry her if she told him she was sick. After all, he had one wife to get sick on him and die. Maybe she thought he would be gun shy about trying it again.

I think when he let her know she really could count on him no matter what, that made her feel a whole lot better about things.

But I’m just speculating here. We’ll know more for sure about everything after tomorrow. I’m just glad they’re here with us, they’re married, and they have each other. My mother, I’m certain is on her trip still worried about her girl, but I guess that’s as it should be. I would be if it was Marnie. Hell, I am, and it’s my aunt. But my mother is going to have to get used to not being the only one Aunt Pat has to turn to. She has a husband now. My Daddy will help balance that out for my mother. He’ll find a way to take her mind off what’s going on here. Of that, I’m certain, too.

Also for the record, even though they got married by a judge the Wednesday before, Aunt Pat had to come back to Maryland and get married by a preacher that Saturday. Pa was already unhappy that it wasn’t a priest standing up there; he said he could have snagged one for her if she would have come to him about it. In Pa’s eyes, getting married by a judge is as bad as shacking up with somebody- not legitimate at all. She knew better. She might be all high and mighty in the business world, but in Maryland, she is just one of Pa’s girls, and therefore, subject to his approval, or worse, his disapproval, which can be quite heavy to drag around with when he puts it on you.

I have a very good family, and I love them very much, every single one. Even the ones I’ve never met in person.

I left off on the last entry- actually I fell asleep- talking about my grandmother. It’s so weird. I find myself talking to and about her a lot these days, even though I’ve never, ever met the lady. She’d been gone for decades by the time I showed up, but lately it’s like she’s all over and around me. It’s crazy. I’m usually  pretty practical, like if I didn’t see it, it didn’t happen; if I can’t touch it, it isn’t there, but this thing with my grandmother is real different. I wouldn’t be able to explain it anywhere but here, and I’m having trouble doing it here. Things happen that tell me in no uncertain terms that she’s been assigned to my case. She finds ways to put herself- or her daughter- in my immediate universe when she, or sometimes I- although I wouldn’t admit that at the time for anything- feel the need for an intervention of some kind. My grandmother’s presence was so strong at Pa’s this time, I swear there were moments I almost expected to turn a corner and run smack into her.

Pa said he took down the wall he had put up over the doors to her bedroom because he’d reached a place where he realized it wasn’t fair that he closed her memories in like that. He put her portraits and photos back in the house, too. He also put back some of her stuff, her artifacts- art work, knick-knacks, etc. I think in doing that, he freed up her spirit. I’m not a good enough writer to describe what I mean by that, but in essence it boils down to I understand why Pa never remarried and how my mother turned out like she did even though she hasn’t had an in-person mother since she was twelve. The best way I can put it is I think it would kind of be like that for me and Daddy. He would probably never remarry. He might even close down like Pa did, although I don’t think he’d take it to the extreme that Pa did; I wouldn’t let him. But I do think Mrs. Edwards and her daughter would be hard acts for another woman to follow, for sure impossible to replace. As for leaving me, my mother might be gone in person, but she would still have her hand on the rudder of my vessel until, like she constantly says, I’m eighteen when she’ll consider me officially grown. By that time, she’ll have so deeply seared her brand into my hide everybody will right away know to whom I belong, and I won’t ever be able to stray too far from where I’m supposed to be, just like my grandmother did with her.

For some reason, Suzanne is sick of sitting on the sidelines at Briarwood, and you can bet “her Justine” is not going to ask her why she’s suddenly decided to get in the game. I’m going with her flow.

Like I said, I have very good family and I love them, every single interesting one of them, especially that one I’ve never met in person.

Well, it’s late, and I have a long day ahead of me. I’m starting to ramble and repeat myself. I think I’d better sign off here and pick this back up tomorrow.

Goodnight,

J.

_________________________________________________________

November 29, 2001

Thursday

6:12 AM

I know good and well she has a fully functional internal international clock, if not a working external mechanical clock, wristwatch, or something. Come to think of it, I believe it’s the same time where she is as it is here at home. Why in the world would Jennifer Hart call me at 6:00 in the morning to tell me to have a good day???? I would be having one if she’d have let me sleep for another thirty minutes and get up at my regular time. Now I’m going to be cranky and wired all day. I HATE for somebody to wake me up before I come to on my own. I’d rather get up by the alarm clock than have somebody talking to me first thing. It was all I could do to not tell her about herself.

I bet she was laughing, thinking that was funny. Of all people, she knows how I am in the morning. Yeah, right. She’s in Antigua, living it up with Daddy in Aunt Pat’s villa on the beach; I’m here trying to get every Z I can before I have to get up and go to school, and she’s playing on the phone, talking all cheery and perky about vitamins and junk. I have a good mind to “forget” today. too.

But then, seeing as how I forgot for real until late yesterday… and I’ve been kind of sporadic ever since she and I parted company… and I’d gotten in trouble with her for forgetting before that. And with Marie after….

This next cycle is going to be a doozy. Good my mother won’t be here so I can suffer in silence without having to hear it from her about the meds, or the lack thereof, and my “persistent negligence”.

Anyway. I’m awake now. I guess I need to go ahead, get up, and just do this.

I have to pee so bad. Need to leave that late night Coke alone. You can sneak and do stuff just because your parents aren’t around to tell you not to, but in the end, it’s you who winds up paying for it.

Later,

J.

 

1:15 PM

Opted to come to the library rather than go to the cafe for lunch with the crew. Not hungry, and was feeling a little overwhelmed and crowded, so I thought it best to take a moment or two for myself when the opportunity came around. Too many people talking to and at me for all the serious stuff I need to get done, not to mention all the things in my head that I need to process. Marnie can hold it down at the lunch table; she’s been away longer than I have. People are all over her, trying to find out about her adventures in New York, her new hairdo, her father, and all of that. She likes and needs that kind of attention. Not me. It just makes me antsy and irritable to have people on me like that, and I’ve been kind of edgy all day.

Been thinking about Aunt Pat. I want so bad to phone her, but she said not to. Said for us to keep our minds on us and on getting caught up at school. I hope and pray that lump of hers is just a lump. She told me that it’s somewhat painful when I asked her what it felt like. Believe it or not, that could be a good sign. From what I’ve read, cancer usually just slips up on a person. It doesn’t normally come with pain, just an odd knot where there hadn’t been one before. But then again, Aunt Pat’s family has a history of cancer, and genetics play a powerful part in a person’s physical makeup and the path her health may take. That’s what’s made Aunt Pat so skittish about it all. I’m glad Uncle Bill handled her the way he did. She needed to know he’d be there for her, whatever the case may be.

On that genetic note, I worry about my mother’s heart- and my own down the line- because of Pa and his coronary issues. There’s also my great-grandfather on my mother’s side; he died of a sudden massive heart attack. And then I don’t know what I’m supposed to be concerned about with Daddy because he doesn’t know his health history, which in turn makes things kind of one-sided for me. I catch a lot of colds like he does. What else might I have going on because he does, because his parent(s) did or because their parents did?

There I go again, diverting into another line of thought. It’s not about me, is it?

Aunt Pat had breakfast with us this morning before we left. She came over on the pretense of lighting a fire under us about trying anything while she’s having her tests and/or in the event she might be under the weather after them, but I know she really came for Marnie. Not to make her act right, but by acting her normal bossy self letting Marnie know that she was okay so Marnie wouldn’t be stressing so much over her during the school day.

But I’ll bet anything Marnie has probably been fingering her cell all day just like I have. Since I haven’t been back to my locker since I got here, I haven’t seen her. Thinking about it, I probably should have sought Marnie out just to check on how she’s doing. Well, as far as I know, she hasn’t tried to find me, and she hasn’t snuck and texted me, so I guess she must be pretty much all right.

Uncle Bill doesn’t say much, but he must be a mess on the inside with the knowing and not knowing. With his first wife, her getting sick didn’t go well. He must really love Aunt Pat to put himself in line to chance something like that again, especially since in this instance, he was aware going in that there was a problem.

But it’s not going to go that way for him this time. I just know it. Daddy always says to trust my first mind and go with my strongest hunches because they’re usually the right way to go. I’m putting all my trust in this one.

I’m still kind of tired. It’s hard to come down from the kind of high I’ve been on for the last couple of weeks and return to the mundane.

Well, there goes the bell. I guess I better stop here, get focused, and head to class.

Until tonight,

3:52 PM

Quick break before I head into the gym for weight training and to run some laps because being away like I have, both exercise and this journal have been neglected.

This afternoon in her Civics class, Marnie got her letter of invitation to go on the annual Junior-Senior DC field trip. She came to the locker after last period, slamming her stuff and mad as hell about it because it was Ms. Calvin who gave her the letter. She hates Ms. Calvin.

Every year, the top Civics and Econ students get selected by their teachers to go on this trip. It’s supposed to be an honor to be picked for it. There’s a first night semi-formal reception with dignitaries, exclusive tours to places tourists aren’t normally allowed entry into, special events, and all of that. I got picked to go, but for once my parents let me opt out. Going on that trip would interfere with some of my obligations and commitments here and it happens around the same time as Teddy’s prom, so I’ll be busy with getting ready for that. With my grandfather living in Maryland and being pretty well connected, and my father having a major technology hub there, I’ve been to DC a million times and met lots of important people. Politics, posturing, and peacocking aren’t my things anyway, so the Duchess signed off on the paperwork when I got it last month indicating that I wouldn’t be attending. Marnie thought she had gotten out of it because she was in New York at the time the invitees were announced, and at the time she didn’t know if she would be back, but it seems Ms. Calvin saved her a spot just in case. I knew Marnie should have been in line for an invite, but like her, I thought she’d gotten left off the list, too, because she wasn’t here. Imagine our surprise.

Marnie is so pissed off. It’s almost funny. In fact, I had to strain to keep from laughing while she was cussing and carrying on at the locker. If I had so much as smirked, she would have killed me.

She swears it’s a setup and that Ms. Calvin is just trying to maneuver it so she can goad Marnie into going off on her, and they can get into it. Then Marnie winds up getting booted off the trip and suspended from school once she’s forced to fly back home on her own in disgrace. She says she’s not saying anything to anyone about the trip, and she’s not giving the permission note to anybody. I tried to tell her what a mistake that was; I reminded her about how it went for us when we tried to do that earlier this year with that FACS class project with the dolls, but she told me to kiss a certain part of her anatomy that I have no intention of putting my head, face, much less my lips anywhere near, but that Pat will put her whole foot IN once she finds out that Marnie held out on her.

And Pat will find out. It won’t be me that tells her; I’m no rat. I just know it’s going to happen. It always does.

9:47 PM

We didn’t get home until late. It was well after 7:00 when we came through the gate. Hector and Philly also stayed after school. Hector had math tutoring and Philly worked out with us in the gym, so I was going to get a ride in from them to keep Marnie from having to wait for me. But Marnie wound up staying, too, hanging out in the library with Brit, Tiff, and some other people who were working on assignments for their Lit classes. Marnie went ahead and used the time to get her homework out of the way. I really think she didn’t want to come back here by herself. Truth told, I didn’t want her to either.

As it turns out, it didn’t matter. We don’t know any more now about what was going on here than we did before we left this morning.

Phone ringing. BB

J.

11:10 PM

That was my mother on the phone earlier. I had buzzed her when my classes were over, just to let her know I was okay, but I forgot to hit her back to actually talk with her. I had only signaled her before. She isn’t big on texting, especially when it’s between the two of us, she’s out of town, and we haven’t spoken voice-wise (is that a real term??). I could tell she really wanted to know about Aunt Pat and how she made out with her tests, but she didn’t come right out and say that was what she wanted. Even if she had, I’m not supposed to say anything to her about that. Aunt Pat told my mother not to think about that while she and Daddy were on their honeymoon, and to not ask me or Marnie about her and the tests.

I don’t know how fair that is of Aunt Pat to expect my mother not to be worried over her. First of all, that’s how my mother is. If there’s something wrong with someone she cares about, she’s going to be obsessing over the person. It’s unreasonable to think she can put the person out of her mind just because the person told her to. Considering this time, it’s Aunt Pat she’s being asked to put out of her mind, it’s downright crazy. It’s not going to happen at all. If it was me, and Marnie was the one having issues and telling me not to worry, it wouldn’t happen no matter if I said I wouldn’t worry a million times. I’d still be thinking about it and stressing over what was going on that I wasn’t being kept in the loop about. It was like that when my mother was sick those times. She said for me not to worry, but I did anyway. Couldn’t help it. Wasn’t within my control.

But she didn’t come out and say that was what she wanted to know, and I didn’t go there. She did ask about how school went, and the vitamins, of course. For once, I could say that I did what I was supposed to do- today. Marie was all over it anyway, so how could I not? I do better with that when I’m home, especially if my mother isn’t here because Marie will have the bottles sitting right next to my glass of juice at breakfast. I’m also willing to bet she counts the pills to make sure I’m at least removing them from the container. The woman is like a second mother when it comes to keeping me, my behavior, and my health in line.

When I phoned Marie from school to tell her we’d be late getting home so she wouldn’t hold dinner for us, she was the one who told me that Uncle Bill and Aunt Pat hadn’t yet gotten in from the hospital. When Marnie and I did make it in, Marie had our dinner waiting for us anyway. We had counted on heating up leftovers, or maybe ordering in, so it was a nice surprise to find we didn’t have to do either one. Uncle Bill and Aunt Pat were back by then, but Marie said they had already eaten and gone over to the guest house. Marnie asked how Aunt Pat was, and Marie said she seemed okay.

Marie would say that, though. That’s how she is. She’s not going to upset either of us kids by saying Aunt Pat looked tired as hell, or that she appeared scared, or anything negative along those lines. When Marie left us alone, we at first said as soon as we got finished eating, we would go upstairs and call over to the guest house. Marnie wanted to actually go over there, but I thought it would be better if we called. To go over there would be like rolling up on someone, and that might not be the best thing to do given who we were talking about and the possible circumstances.

However, it worked out that we didn’t have to do either. Uncle Bill came to us. His visit should have relieved me, but it didn’t. Instead it’s had the opposite affect, thus my sitting here, awake and writing instead of asleep behind the long day I’ve had. We were still eating when Uncle Bill came in, so he sat down with us and had a slice of cake with the coffee Marie fixed for him.

He told us Aunt Pat had undergone a whole battery of tests and was over in the guest house asleep. I guess the stress of it all had gotten to her. He said she hadn’t been expecting to be put through so much, but she’d been a brick, hadn’t fussed or acted up through any of it. I didn’t say it to him, but that’s a flashing sign that she had to have been petrified. My Aunt Pat would cuss out Archangel Gabriel if he got on her nerves, doing something to her that she didn’t want done. In general, doctors and lawyers don’t rank that high with her. Not being in control of what was going on concerning her medically had to have been real hard on her, and keeping quiet about it even harder. No wonder she was so exhausted afterward.

Uncle Bill said it was because of her family’s medical history that Dr. Kate ordered every test appropriate to her be run. He figured Dr. Kate decided to do it that way because it was her one time shot at having Aunt Pat in that captive position. She’d traveled across the country on her trust in Dr. Kate, so I guess Dr. Kate wants to do a totally thorough job of checking her out so everything possible could be ruled in or out. Like getting the whole picture, I guess, rather then concentrating on one section and maybe missing something developing elsewhere that’s only making a problem in that one section.

He said Aunt Pat asked that her consultation be held off until all the results are back and everything has been looked at, calculated, and summed up. She doesn’t want stuff coming back to her piecemeal. I’d do it that way, too. I wouldn’t want to get my hopes up one day only to have them shot down the next. Phone me up and have me come in when it’s all said and done, then I can get the whole bottom line at one time. Uncle Bill said it would probably be the first of next week before everything is back.

So, we’ll be around here, nervous and walking on eggshells for the weekend. That’s not a prospect I look forward to, but I’ll deal with it when I get there- or it gets to me.

When Uncle Bill left, I asked Marnie why she didn’t give him the note about the trip. I was thinking he might have been a better one to explain her case to given Aunt Pat’s current state. He’s a very good listener and might have cut her some slack if she’d presented her case reasonably. Probably because she didn’t think of it like that and missed a primo opportunity to get out of going, she told me to kiss her behind (not the word she used) again and repeated that she wasn’t giving “ANYONE” the note.

I didn’t even react. In my mind, I just said, “Keep playing with that piranha and see what happens.”

I wasn’t going to waste any more breath on her over that topic. After all, I’m in the clear about the trip. She isn’t.

Sleep beckons.

Good night

J.

_________________________________________________________

November 30, 2001

Friday

4:57 AM

Can’t sleep.

At least I can’t stay asleep. I go, and then I wake up. I toss and turn, drop off, and then wake back up again. This is the third time I’ve done it. I have to be up for real in a little over an hour, so there’s no sense in trying to go back now. By the time I go under, the alarm clock will yank me back to the surface. The heck with it. It’s too early to get dressed, so I might as well use this time to write.

So glad it’s Friday. One day to make and then I can chill for a couple of days. Christmas break cannot get here fast enough. Tahoe, here I come.

Speaking of Tahoe, last night, Mrs. Barnett called down here to check on us. Chase and Chance are back at school in San Francisco, so with her own kids away, I guess Mrs. B. needed another nest to keep an eye on. And then too, no doubt my mother put a bug in her ear that I was home without her, so I would need checking on to keep me on point. I don’t mind really. Mrs. B, is my girl. She’s been in my life all of my life. She says I’m the daughter she never had.

She and Mr. Barnett are both the same age as my mother, and they didn’t have kids until they were older, too. The difference with their situation was that Mrs. Barnett had three miscarriages before she had Chase and Chance. She said when she got pregnant with them, she had to stay in bed with her feet elevated higher than her head for almost the entire time they were inside her. Then they wound up being born almost a month before they were supposed to and had to be in an incubator for the first couple of weeks of their lives, and they couldn’t come home for almost a month, but when they did, she thought she’d died and gone to heaven. All her life, she said, she dreamed of being a mother.

She said she named the first boy “Chase” because she got him chasing her dream to be a mother, and she named the second boy “Chance” because he was her against the odds, backup chance at motherhood. Then she let Mr. Barnett give both of them his first name, Charlton, for their middle name. Mr. Barnett goes by “Chuck”, though, not Charlton, which is fitting because he looks and acts more like “Chuck”, cute for an older man and a lot of fun. When Mrs. B. first told me the story about Chase and Chance and how it turned out with them, I remember feeling so happy for her, even though I wasn’t even born when she was going through all of that. We were on the boat that day, and she had the best smile talking about how things turned out.

My daddy’s middle name is Charles, but he went by “Charlie” as a kid. Glad he gave it up. He’s more of a Jonathan than a Charlie. Max was right; Jonathan is classier than Charlie, which makes it fit him to a tee. All class all the time.

See, that’s how I can tell I’m tired and should really be asleep; my mind is all over the place. Now where was I headed before I veered off the road? Oh, yeah, Tahoe and the daughter Mrs. Barnett never had.

She looks out for me a lot. When I was real little, she used to babysit me sometimes when my parents had to go out or something. I’ve always hung out with their family on the boats and on trips. Every year we go to their place in Tahoe during the time we’re off from school for Christmas vacation. When Marnie and I became such good friends, the twins and their parents got to know Marnie, too, and a few years ago, she started going on the Tahoe trip with us. The Barnetts get a kick out of Marnie, but since it looks like Chance and Marnie have this thing going now, Mrs. B. has gotten real vigilant about keeping herself between those two. I guess she realizes it wouldn’t do any good to try and break them up, so she doesn’t try, but she’s not having them hooking up for real on her watch, either.

Mrs. B. asked Marnie tonight if she was going to be home for the trip this year. Marnie said she wasn’t sure. It really depends on how her father is doing and what her grandmother will want her to do. I think Ms. B. is hoping Marnie doesn’t go. That way, she won’t have to run so much interference or work so hard to keep up with what’s going on. With just me with them, she won’t have it so bad. There’s no chance of me hooking up with anybody, for sure not with anyone I consider to be a brother, namely Chase. He’s my ace, but that’s all he is to me. Quiet as it’s kept, sometimes that’s better when it comes to boys. Chase and I can talk about things and not have junk in the way. He and I are both kind of private with our personal stuff, but we have always been able to talk things out with each other and tell each other what’s on our minds.

Speaking of being all of something to me. Well not all, and certainly not all to me, but an interesting part of my life, Teddy has been on my mind. In fact, that’s what woke me up this last time. That boy was allllllll up in my head, trying to work his way into one of my dreams. I don’t know what it is about him that clicks with me, and why the click gets so much louder when we’re together. All I can say about that is it’s probably a very good thing we live on opposite sides of the country, and that we don’t see each other in person that often. I think I’d be a real head case if we did. As it stands, it’s got me all knotted up and confused,  and in reality, I haven’t known him all that long. I like him, I really like him, but I don’t want him for a boyfriend. He’s definitely sexy and cute and appealing, but I don’t want to sleep with him or with any boy right now. When he’s not in my immediate presence, it’s just fine if we only talk. But when we’re together, I’m all messed up inside.

He kisses sooooo good. And he smells so good. And I love dancing close with him. And talking with him. He’s a lot of fun. And so nice. Very talented and quite interesting. There’s something about him that’s kind of vulnerable and sensitive, but at the same time, he’s strong and all guy. And really, really sexy and cute. Oh my, my, my….

             … and she fans herself as she falls back onto her pillows, wilting in the sudden musk-laden onrush of ‘the vapors’.

Other than stressing over Uncle Bill and Aunt Pat being on the lam for most of the time we were in Maryland, I had such a good time there. When Teddy arrived, I found out he had brought Duncan Sinclair with him, and that made things even better.

My mother always says I’m as bad as Aunt Sabrina with the eclectic/eccentric crew I attract. Whatever. I just like people, and the more there is to find out about them, the better. It’s really good when someone doesn’t turn out to be anything like they first appear. I hadn’t seen Duncan in a couple of years, so it was a good thing Marnie had prepared me. I first ran into him in New York, and he’d gone Goth. Straight up Edward Scissorhands when we walked up on each other in the lobby. I’d been prepped, but I was still a little shocked at first by how much he’d changed from the guy I had in my head. Yes, a couple of years had gone by, and at our age, you expect taller, wider, more mature, but extreme emo, complete with black eyeliner and fingernail polish on a guy, can kind of catch a girl off guard.

Needless to say, I was beyond grateful for this gift I have of being able to play out-of-the-way things off. I wound up skipping out with him to a coffee spot up the street, and from that point on, he kept developing into one of the most intriguing people I’ve run into in a long time. Not that I’m interested in him on a personal level, like boy-girl, but he is somebody I’ve added to my phone under “friend” and “network”, and who I will be keeping up with.

People ask me all the time what I think I want to do in the future, what I want to be when I grow up. Some people, those who don’t really know me, assume I won’t do much of anything because I won’t have to financially. On the real, I probably won’t have to, but that’s not me, and it’s not what I come from. All the people who matter in my life have or had their own agendas and livelihoods. They have worked at something. Nobody was/is a ‘layabout’ as my people would put it. But being with the elders and friends I was with this past weekend, made me feel kind of aimless and behind.

It came out in conversations that Duncan is already an artist, an entrepreneur, a curator, and a promoter. It turned out he owned that coffee house he took me to, as well as another one in the Village. Teddy is a singer, an actor, a director; he knows he wants to work in those areas for his future, and he’s working it out already. Hanging with Aunt Pat, Marnie is going to hone those leadership, organizational, and promotional skills of hers and end up either running somebody’s political career, or their company, or she’ll be spearheading her own campaigns or companies. Maybe it is time I started firming up some of these vague pipe dreams of mine. Whatever I do, I’m sure it will be Hart-related, if not Hart altogether. My father has started something that another Hart will need to keep going. And seeing as how it’s just him and me….

But that’s another track, too.

I wonder if Aunt Pat is out in the guest house pretending to sleep so Uncle Bill won’t worry much about her. Or maybe she really is asleep because having him next to her makes it easier for her to forget to worry.

Maybe that’s what I need, a cushion or filter of some kind to quiet or block out the worry. As much as I might not want to acknowledge it, that’s the bottom line on this inability to sleep. I so want her to be all right again.

It’s close to time to get up, but I do need to try and get a little sleep, or at least a little bit of doze. I am going to be an absolute wreck in a few days. As sure as my name is Justine Hart, I can feel it coming on. If overdosing on the vitamins would help at this point, I’d go downstairs right now and drop the ones I’ve missed in a heartbeat, but past experience has taught me doing that only makes things worse. I might hate taking those things, and I admit it’s rebellion on my part that I “forget”, but it’s like the Duchess always tells me, one has to take care of the future in the present. Since I haven’t done that too well for the past couple of weeks, and there have been a couple of lightheaded spells in that time, I can tell my future that’s coming up in the next few days is going to be rough.

Until later on today,

J.

 

8:57 AM

I like having Lit first period. It kind of eases me into the rest of the day since this class comes pretty easily, and I don’t have to pay such close attention. Most people take a lot of notes, so Cushing can’t tell that I’m really writing in my journal, not taking notes. Normally I don’t have to take that many for this class, so I can afford to drift off some or multitask.

In Lit classes, what I don’t get, I can always go to the Duchess for a fill-in or some clarification. She knows all this stuff, and even if it’s something she doesn’t have in the front of her mind, all she has to do is read over what I bring her and then she can launch right into what I’m supposed to do with it. Every now and then, though, she throws me for a loop, talking about, “I think you can figure this out for yourself if you give it a little more thought.”

And it’s on the tip of my tongue to say, “If I wanted to figure it out myself, I wouldn’t have come down here to you for the condensed version”, but of course I don’t go there. I might be in search of an easy answer at the moment, but I’m not that clueless; I never know when I’ll have to go back to the well. Mess with the well, and it won’t only be dry the next time, it’ll be boarded over and completely inaccessible.

Wonder what she’s up to? And Daddy. I texted both of them to say good morning, but I haven’t heard back from either of them yet.

Yeah, right. I wonder why. On an official honeymoon and all… the last thing on her mind is phoning a daughter she left in capable hands….

Ms. Calvin came to our hall before Homeroom this morning to find Marnie and ask her about the permission slip, but on the way in, Marnie had stopped by the library to return a book she’d checked out, so she hadn’t made it to the lockers yet. Calvin was headed for me, but then Mr. Lockridge walked up saying something to her, cutting her off from me, so I didn’t have to hustle to come up with a way to answer her without outright lying- I wasn’t ratting out my girl. Instead, I used the opportunity to get myself out of Dodge. I had already put the phone down in my bag, and I only had a couple of minutes to get to class, so I didn’t get a chance to text Marnie to tell her to be on the lookout. Marnie has Calvin second period. Let her handle her own business, tell her own lies. She’s way better at that sort of thing than I am.

Aunt Pat didn’t come to breakfast. Uncle Bill didn’t either. That’s not real out of the ordinary that they didn’t, but I would have thought she’d have come over this morning since we didn’t see her or talk to her at all last night.

And like always, I’m probably thinking way too much and putting too much into nothing. Back to Edgar Allan, see what he and the bird are up to.

Poe’s a lot more interesting since I found out he had substance abuse issues.

Later,

J.

 

1:22 PM

In study hall. Even though I’m not assigned to study hall this period, Mr. Goggins doesn’t mind me coming here as long as I sign in for accounting purposes, and I don’t get on his nerves.

I should be at lunch, but I skipped out again. I told the crew I had some stuff to get caught up on, which wasn’t quite untrue. I’ve got this low grade headache that’s been on my nerves all morning, which the cafe noise was only going to make worse. Plus I do have to get caught up in here.

I’ll bet that’s why I have this headache. My brain needs a real good purging. The thoughts that aren’t backed up are pinging all over the place, and it’s hard for me to concentrate on any one thing, so while I can right now, I’m going to open the gate and let it all go wherever for this little bit of time.

Pa.

I hate that it’s taken me this long to realize how much my grandfather means to me. I absolutely, truly love him. I’m always feeling like I was born too late, and when I can finally fully appreciate just what I actually have in way of a family, they’ll all be gone, and there won’t be anybody left to understand or to share anything with me.

When I was real little, my grandfather was kind of scary and mean to me. I don’t mean that to say he was unkind to me in any way, he was always nice. Well as nice as a staid, stiff upper lip guy from Wales, currently living on the starchy east coast of the States can be to a rambunctious little California girl who just happens to be his only grandchild. Compared to my father, who was (is) always fun, and nice, and nurturing, Pa was just old, and grumpy, and no fun at all. I didn’t understand at the time that people have different ways of doing things. It took getting older for me to see that my grandfather cares a lot about me and that there’s a whole lot more to him than just the “bald headed old b——” that Aunt Sabrina had made him out to be. I had to grow up some to see that his occasional less than complimentary comments to my parents about my upbringing and education were his way of showing his concern for me as a whole. As misguided as some of his views about me might have been, they were genuine- from his heart, and he meant well. When I look at what he was saying from the perspective he was viewing me, I can understand his concern.

My grandfather comes from a different culture and a different period in time which dictates to how he sees his progeny should be conducting themselves. That doesn’t make him wrong; it just makes him who he is. I don’t need to be offended by it and neither do my parents. To their credit, my mother and father have always been wise enough to respect Pa’s views and not go off on him about voicing them, but at the same time keep to their own position about how I should be raised. I think I’m doing okay so far even though I still get the “incorrigible” assessment from my mother every now and then.

Quiet as it’s kept, that last thing has become sort of a badge of honor for me when it comes from her. In my mind, I can see her shaking her head and closing her eyes as she saying it. Love it.

For most of my life, Pa has been plagued by his heart condition, and that also kind of defined him for me. There didn’t seem to be a lot he could do. In light of things I’ve learned in the past few months, I’m wondering now if he couldn’t do or didn’t want to do. Maybe he’s been kind of depressed all this time and maybe that’s why my mother wound up in boarding school in the States by herself while he traveled all over the globe. Maybe he traveled and worked so hard so he could get over my grandmother getting killed in that accident while not letting his daughter see that more negative side of him. I can see my grandfather needing to appear strong and as if he had it all together in his daughter’s eyes.

I’ve been thinking a whole lot about that ever since it was revealed to me. So bizarre. To close my grandmother’s bedroom completely off like he did after she died seemed beyond extreme to me, like something out of Stephen King or maybe even Poe. Putting all her things away, hiding all her belongings inside the walls of the house seems like he was trying to keep what he had left of her all to himself in places that only he would be able to access. That whole scenario gets me, the mystery behind his motives. He told my mother he did it to spare her, but she told me she stopped living at Briarwood once she went away to school. She said in the beginning, she’d would come home to Briarwood only on her breaks from school. But then Pa closed the house down, and neither of them came there any more at all. After that, my mother would go to or with Pa wherever he happened to be or wherever he needed to go when she had breaks from school. So, I guess my question is why put all the stuff away and out of sight at Briarwood if they weren’t even living there to look at it?

Maybe Pa originally planned for he and my mother to stay on in the house, but in the end, he found he just couldn’t do it.

Whatever the case, on this last visit, my grandfather and the house had undergone a transformation. He looked so good, better than I’ve ever seen him, and he was moving around so well. He smiled a lot, which is something for Stephen Edwards, man of the perpetual poker face. The look in his eye was different, happier, warmer. I could see something in them I hadn’t ever seen before. Or maybe, through them, I was seeing for the first time somebody I hadn’t seen before.

That portrait of my grandmother and my mother that’s so much like the one we have here at home of my mother and me, he had it taken down from the guest house attic wall and hung over the living room fireplace in the main house. He brought some of the other artwork out from the passage and put it back inside the house, including the oil of my grandmother and her horse, as well as some of my grandmother’s things. There’s even a set of candlesticks in the front hall that Aunt Sabrina has a similar set at Maison Roussel in France. I called her while I was at Pa’s and asked her about them. She told me my great-grandmother had given the set I saw at Pa’s to my grandparents for a housewarming present. They had been handed down to my great-grandmother, so that makes the ones at Pa’s heirlooms. Many of the pieces I’d never seen until this last visit also appeared to be antiques. Beautiful ones. My grandmother had good taste. I see where my mother gets it from.

I thought at first Pa was looking so much better because Dean Marchand is living on the grounds now. She’s cute for an old lady, she’s very smart, and in a strange way, kind of cool when you get to talk to her some. When I found out last summer that Pa and Dean Marchand had been friends since they were kids in Wales, I felt a little better about him having stuck my mother in boarding school so he could take off. Learning that he’d left her with someone he personally trusted, leaving his suddenly motherless kid behind didn’t seem so random or as callous as it always has to me. All the time my mother was at Gresham Hall, she never knew her father was good friends with the Dean of the school and that the Dean had been personally entrusted to look after her.

It’s so cool and classy how Pa and the Dean were able to keep that on the low all this time. The fact that they knew each other, and anything more that might have gone on between them, wasn’t anybody’s business but theirs. Bottom line, being kept in the dark about them while she was there, kept my mother from feeling spied upon by the Dean or that she should expect preferential treatment from anyone.

At Briarwood last weekend, I at first got nervous thinking that Pa and Dean Marchand had hooked up romantically. After all, even though they’re both real old, they’re both single. He’s a man, she’s a woman, they’re there on the grounds together, and like I said, she does have some redeeming and attractive features. After being with them for a meal or two, I kind of moved to thinking that maybe the Dean had designs on Pa, and in response, he was peacocking and glamming up for her because he sensed she might. Like a guy of any age, that had to make him feel good that a woman was checking him out like that.

By the time I left there, though, I’d reached the conclusion that they’re just friends. If something deeper than that is going on between them, I’ll be surprised should it come to light. They’ve had all these years since my grandmother has been gone to get together if that was what they were going to do. After all, they’d known each other since they were kids.

And again, whose to say they didn’t hook up once or twice back in the day, when they were younger and he was back and forth at the school seeing to his daughter?

Now wouldn’t that be something if it came to light?

Enough, J. This may be your private book, but you’re bouncing around in uncharted and dangerous waters.

My head is hurting pretty bad. I can’t wait until the end of last period. I have to drop off some papers for Daria at St. Augustine, but from there I think I’m holing up for the weekend. Marnie wants to hang out tonight, but I’m thinking I want to stay in and chill. I haven’t been out of the loop as long as she has, so my need to get back into the swing of things isn’t as pressing as hers.

We’ll see how that part of it plays out.

3:23 PM

I’m up in the sound booth where I can see what’s going on down in the band room, but I can’t hear anything. I still have the headache, so I asked to come up here for the period. I didn’t tell Mr. Washington I didn’t feel good; I just said I had a composition to work on that I needed a quiet place to do that in, so he let me close up here. And I am composing, just not music. When I write, it kind of takes my mind off the physical, and I have a lot more of this day to try and get through to be giving in right now to what ails me, so on I push.

I have missed Marnie so much, even more than I realized.

~M~

J,

Where were you during lunch? You could have told a person you had other plans. Two days in a row? If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was me.

So, why was Sara Lennox sitting by us, at the table in the corner, in full-blown Goth, using a wee-gee board on a bunch of other sickos, trying to predict when they would die? And why were they all paying her ass for the forecast? I could not believe it.

We scooted our table over. You know Charmaine doesn’t play that “heathen and pagan mess”, and I’m of the opinion that shit can rub off on you if you aren’t careful. I have enough drama going on without picking up something else on accident. I mean, who wants to know that? Why would they even play with it? Like I need that kind of madness in my life right now. I’m nosy, but I don’t need a heads-up that that, thank you very much.

I’m telling you, if Duncan has returned to the dark side when I get back to New York, I’m cutting him cold. I wasn’t into that eyeliner and nail polish he was wearing anyway. I don’t care if it was black. He’s a guy.

You missed it. Kendra got Percy good. She got into the ala carte line with Calvin Lockridge, then sat down and had lunch with him. Just her and him. They were looking like they were working on Math, but you know she was just messing with Percy’s head. Percy was at our table, practically foaming at the mouth, all jealous and mad. Serves him right for pushing up on Sherita. He was trying to tell us it wasn’t like that when Kendra caught them together, but we all know that’s exactly what it was. He’s a hound, and that’s what hounds do- try to get their hump on with whoever they can.

We still going to St. Augustine after school? Philly said you were looking pale and grim in Lit class. You okay?

I’ll be at the lockers after 6th. I’ll try to get with you there. Text if you need to touch base sooner.

M.E.

I had to tape this note of hers in my journal. It’s the first one she’s written to me since she’s been back.

I have a lot of her notes stashed in my journals from over the years. She writes good ones and she can write a lot in a snatch of time. Her notes always sound just like she talks- fast and all over the place, but they can be so funny and sometimes touching. Only Marnie Elaine writes on-the-fly girlfriend notes on stationery. Everybody else just rips a sheet of looseleaf paper out of a notebook, uses the back of a handout, or tears the edge off something to scribble what they have to say, fold it, and deliver it. Not Marnie. She actually shops for and keeps special notepads to write her notes on. They’re usually monogrammed.

She had stuck this one in the vents of my locker where I found it when I went there after study hall. I didn’t open it until I got to class. I had to put my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing out loud when I read the part about Sara. Sara is a little weird, but I think a lot of that dark and gloomy she does is for effect. It’s her way of getting attention, of being popular in a sort of backdoor way. She’s into art; blown glass is her specialty. I’ve watched her work and I’ve bought a couple of her pieces at the craft shows. Gifted is an understatement when it comes to her and her creations. Like with Duncan, the dark doesn’t seep through her fingers into her work and gives even more validity to that ‘for effect’ thing I mentioned.

“Wee-gee” board. First order of business, let my girl know it’s spelled ‘Ouija’. She’ll cuss at me for correcting her, but I’d hate for her to be spelling it that way for anyone other than me. Marnie does not like to be caught wrong or appearing unintelligent in public. Let that happen, and I might get cussed out worse for not telling her it was wrong when the private opportunity presented itself.

I sure hope Kendra isn’t leading Calvin on to get back at  Percy. Calvin likes Kendra, and Kendra knows it, but like I said before, Kendra and Percy go back and forth. Kendra really does care for Percy, but Percy is like most boys our age, immature. Plus, he wants to sleep with Kendra, but Kendra isn’t ready for that, so I think that’s why he messes around with other girls- to make Kendra jealous to the point she changes her mind or to luck up on somebody who’ll give him some. I’d hate to see Calvin get hurt getting caught up in the ongoing saga of Kendra and Percy. Calvin’s a nice guy, and I’m aware of at least three other girls who would go out with him in a heartbeat. Maybe Kendra really could benefit by going out with someone else for a while. And Percy, too. Sometimes the best way to find out what you truly want is to be made to do without for a while something you have but have begun to take for granted.

I repeat, I am so okay with Teddy being where he is and with me being where I am for the time being. There is only so much drama that can come up over the phone or online.

I wonder how Tommy is doing? Still haven’t heard from him.

Waiting for the bell. This is my last class of the day. I have all my stuff packed, and I’m sitting right by the door. At the first ping, I’ll be out of here like somebody shot me out of a cannon. It feels like there’s a little man beating the inside front of my skull with a  rubber mallet, and he’s heavy-handed with it.

Pale. Philly noticed I was. I hope Aunt Pat doesn’t; she’ll shut me down for sure, like she did last summer when I got hurt and she made me stay in the house, in the bed. I may not feel like going anywhere tonight, but it’ll be a problem for real if the decision to stay in isn’t mine.

Later.

11:52 PM

Had to hurry to get this entry started before midnight. I have this weird thing about not letting midnight catch me if I’ve said I was going to come back to finish off what I had to say for the day. I don’t like leaving loose ends, and that’s a loose end of the highest order for me.

Both of us, Marnie and I, ended up staying in tonight. On the way home from taking the papers to Daria for her to fill out I told Marnie I didn’t feel like going anywhere. There were a couple of parties tonight, and with having been away so long, I figured Marnie for wanting to get back on the circuit. Wrong. I was getting settled in front of the TV with a coke and some chips in Daddy’s chair in the downstairs den when she came in dressed in her nightgown and putting cream on her face. She said she was exhausted and needed to take the night off. Maybe tomorrow, she said.

I think she’s worried about Aunt Pat. I was, too, a little. And I think what Uncle Bill said slowed Marnie up some, as well.

I’ll come back to that. Let me go back to where I left off.

We got out of school, and I was finally able to get to the drug store to pick up some ibruprophen for my headache. Marnie wanted to take me straight home because she said I looked kind of bad, and I had some pills at home, but I had promised Daria I was coming by. What I had to give her couldn’t be put off. So I dropped a couple tabs with some Fiji, and the pain eased up enough for me to at least continue to function.

Daria was still in last period when we got there, so we signed in and waited by her classroom door until the bell rang. She had on a pair of the earrings I gave her. They looked cute on her, but I didn’t say anything about them. She doesn’t like that kind of attention, but she did try to cop an attitude with me about my putting the screws to her about filling out that paperwork for the Jr. Honor Society. She’s been invited to join because her grades and service points qualify her for it. Being in it in Junior High will serve her well down the line, but she didn’t want to do go through with it because she thinks it’s for nerds and geeks. I told her to stop buying into that immature, jr. high idea that it’s cool to be stupid. A lot of people get into that kind of thinking until it becomes habit. Then when they’re Freshman in high school, and it really counts, they don’t know how to change up. They goof off that first year, realize how much they’ve messed up, and spend the rest of high school trying to make up for lost time that is almost impossible to get back. I told her if she stops and thinks about it, it’s mostly the so-called geeks and nerds who wind up running everything in the world because they’re the ones who put the time into being smart and paying attention to what’s really going on.

On the low, I think her real reason for not wanting to do it is because the other kids in her grade who got invited (7th), and the eighth graders who have already been inducted aren’t residential like she is. By that I mean, they’re the kids of parents who pay tuition and come from more affluent backgrounds. She’s the only residential 7th grader who made the cut. Even though she has the grades, it’s my belief she feels she won’t fit in with the others.

A lot of the kids who are residential feel kind of isolated and different. Despite efforts to make sure everyone feels included, the kids in residence tend to hang together. In reality, they are different because they either don’t have or don’t live with their parents, but the feeling different is mostly because some of the kids who aren’t residential make fun of them or look down on them. It isn’t overt; the kids do it on the sly. The big push at the academy, and in schools in general these days, is to downplay people’s status and to push acceptance of everyone as equals regardless of their ethnicity, home situations, etc., but on the real, bigotry, snobbishness, and pecking orders still exist, just maybe not on the immediate, obvious surface. I see it because even though I’m older, I’m still a kid, and I know how that goes. It’s like with bullying; the school or whatever can institute all the programs they want to teach kids not to be bullies, but it’s still going to happen. It just won’t be where somebody who might address it can see it to put a stop to it. If it’s in a person to be a bully, then they’re going to seek their opportunity to be one. It’s the nature of some people to have to feel superior to someone else and to act on that need. The residential kids at the academy tend to get the worst of that need, which is one reason Daria can be kind of aggressive and defensive at times. She never knows where the next nasty poke is going to come from, so she’s always ready to strike back when it does. Kind of like that coiled rattler in the brush. If you leave it alone, it’s all good, but if you mess with it or happen to encroach upon it’s territory, on purpose or accidentally, it’s on.

Daddy says it was like that for him when he was growing up in San Francisco. He said some of the kids from intact, tuition-paying families treated the orphan kids like white trash because their tuition got paid through donations and they only had charity hand-me-downs and stuff to wear. Daddy doesn’t say a whole lot about how that made him feel, but what I hear in what he does tell me makes me hurt so much for him. When I let myself think about what it must have been like for my father, I want to fight somebody myself. Daddy said he used to keep a chip on his shoulder a lot of the time, and he fought a lot because of it. I would have, too.

Talking with him about his experiences has helped me a lot in understanding where Daria might have been coming from when I first met her, and she was trying to be all over my nerves. I don’t know her whole story, but from what I do know, I can say that in her twelve years, she’s lived through far more than I have in sixteen. Probably more than a lot of grown people have. For her to have survived so much drama and still be doing well enough in school to earn this honor is a big deal. No way was I not going to do all I could do to help her understand that. The earrings were the primer. That coat seem to have taken because today she was a bit more receptive to what I had to say. In the end, what I said stuck, and we got the paperwork done.

Marnie and I sat there with her, well I did because she and Marnie don’t quite see eye to eye yet- Daria thinks Marnie’s stuck-up, and Marnie thinks Daria is a brat- until Daria had everything filled out. Where an adult had to sign, she was going to have to get Sister Anastasia to do that. My plan was for me and Marnie to cut out of there and let Daria do that on her own, but just my luck, who should come into the common room with us? Cane, nasty disposition, and all, Sister A swished in and came right over to where we were. I don’t know what it is about me that she finds so much fault with, but she always manages to single out some aspect of my being to pick at. Today it was how pale I was, and how I better not be allowing myself to get sick so my mother has to cut short her vacation and come back home because, “You and I both know good mother that Jennifer is, that is exactly what she would do if she got word you were ill.”

Something about the way she looks at me isn’t normal, like she can see something in me that even I don’t know is there.

But still, what-ev-errrrrrrr., old lady. I’d have gotten smart with her out loud if it weren’t for her having an in with God AND the Duchess. Hell or lockdown, neither potential end result appeals to me.

I mumbled something about feeling okay and then Marnie and I got the hell out of there. Daria gave me a look that said she understood why we were cutting it short; she’s not real fond of Sister A either. The look from Daria made me feel better about the hole I bit through my tongue in the effort to keep it inside my mouth. If I had gone off on the Sister, my mother would surely have come home for that. She’d have beamed up into my room like Captain Kirk off Star Trek, the original version, just so she could get with me about being rude, not even asking me what Sister A might have said or done to make me be “rude” to her. It wouldn’t have mattered to my mother if Sister A cussed me all the way out without provocation; it would just be, “What did you do that made Sister Anastasia cuss you all the way out? You know better than to upset her.”

Upset her? What about me? I said I hadn’t provoked her. I’ll tell you, life is so not fair when you aren’t in position to call the shots. When you can’t say what’s on your mind, and you can’t ask the questions you want and need to ask.

Thank goodness things got better once we left St. Augustine. For me, at least.

Uncle Bill was here in the house waiting for us when we got home. He said Aunt Pat was still across the way, lying down. We asked if she was sick, and was that why she was sleeping so much. We still haven’t seen or heard from her. I’d question if she was really out there if I wasn’t so sure she wouldn’t leave Marnie and me here without her or the Duchess somewhere on the grounds. Uncle Bill told us she was okay, just very tired. He said it wasn’t often Aunt Pat got to totally leave everything to someone else and shut it all the way down. I read from his tone and his body language that he was referring to himself. I guess that is a big shift for her. For most of her life, she’s had to take care of herself and everything else, and she’d gotten pretty good at it. For her to feel comfortable about turning it over to him like that says a lot about him and how she feels about him. My Aunt Pat is really married to my Uncle Bill. It’s still a little hard to believe, but a very nice reality. Two heavyweights together. I guess they can get each other’s backs.

But then he said the real reason he was there was that the school had called- about Marnie.

Now, normally I’d have found some reason to excuse myself at that point, to get out of the line of fire since I wasn’t part of the battle, but this time it wasn’t my mother or Aunt Pat with the bead drawn on my girl. It was Uncle Bill. I took a chance and stayed to see how things would play out with the new set of dynamics- Marnie getting read by Uncle Bill.

Long story short, Marnie’s going on the trip.

Uncle Bill is the man. He went at it from the angle that Marnie is an example to her brothers. Point of fact, her brothers, particularly Kyle, think she’s all that and a big bag of chips. Kyle is more scared of having to deal with Marnie than he is of their father, Uncle Bill, or Aunt Pat. Uncle Bill said to Marnie it’s not fear of Marnie that keeps Kyle in line, it’s his fear of letting her down or more, not keeping up with her.

That was deep, and when pointed out like that, it’s probably very true. Marnie and Kyle are close. Like most little kids, he can be a sticky green booger at times, but when it gets down to the wire, whatever play Marnie calls, Kyle eventually follows suit. He might grumble about doing it, hesitate some, too, but he almost always does what she tells him.

By the time he sat down to talk with Marnie, Uncle Bill had already spoken to Marnie’s mother and father AND the grandmother, and they all want her to go, particularly her grandmother who is very politically connected. Then Uncle Bill threw in that not going would be an insult to the committee that took the time to select Marnie and to hold a spot for her even when it wasn’t clear she would be here to take it. It came out they were going to arrange to send her from New York to meet the group in D.C. if she wasn’t physically back in school by the time the group left, how about that?

But the real clincher was when Uncle Bill asked Marnie why she was letting someone she says she can’t stand- Ms. Calvin- keep her from getting what she rightfully earned. When he said that, both of us, Marnie and me, looked at each other. At the same time we both saw that was exactly what Marnie was doing.

Marnie is a natural leader and organizer, a take-charge kind of person. I might have math and science covered, but that girl is a wiz at Econ and government and at running things. When we had to learn Robert’s Rules for debate, she had them down before anybody, and she could/can execute them like nobody’s business. Don’t get it twisted at a meeting; she will call a person out, citing the exact specifics of the breach. For her to not go on that D.C. trip just because she doesn’t like Ms. Calvin would be wrong on too many levels.

To tell the truth, I wonder sometimes if Ms. Calvin really does have it out for Marnie, or if she just keeps it going with Marnie as a way of keeping Marnie on point.

See, Marnie is very popular, and most of the teachers like her so much that a lot of them let her get away with stuff and let her slide because she’s cute, she takes initiative, and she’s basically a very good student aside from her potty mouth, being hot and fast with boys, and her occasional anger management issues. But Ms. Calvin is the one teacher who calls Marnie out the most on those last two things. Marnie has had her for a teacher twice since we’ve been in high school, and twice she’s gotten top grades in Ms. Calvin’s classes in spite of how they frequently fall out with each other on a personal level.

Perhaps a bit of that reverse psychology going on there?

In the end, Uncle Bill signed the paperwork and told her to turn it in as soon as she got to school. He didn’t even fuss at her about not giving them to him when she was supposed to, and it turned out that he’d left Aunt Pat out of the mix. That girl is so lucky. Aunt Pat would have eaten her alive. She gave us a smidge of Hell about having held out the paperwork from my parents when we had that doll project earlier this year, and she wasn’t even a part of that.

There wasn’t any dinner cooked for us when we got home because Marie thought we were going out like we told her we were. With Aunt Pat down for the count, Uncle Bill hadn’t had her cook for them either, so the kitchen was closed. Marnie and I decided to order in Chinese. She called out to the guest house to see if Uncle Bill wanted anything. He jumped right on the bandwagon, adding some stuff to the list for him and Aunt Pat. When the food arrived, Uncle Bill had come back over here, and he paid for all of it. I was going to put it on Daddy’s account, but Uncle Bill had his card out before I could. He is the absolute man.

Have to use the facilities.

BB.

___________________________________________________________

November 31, 2001

Saturday

3:51 AM

Handled my business, came back in here, took a call from Teddy, and fell asleep. Not on him. I only do that on Tommy. I told Teddy I was getting sleepy, clicked off from him, and then rolled over. I just woke back up, and it will be a while before I can go back, so…

Last summer, I fell asleep one time on Teddy while I was talking to him outside by the pool. That boy called out the cavalry. He got hold of Marnie, and Marnie rallied the troops when she couldn’t find me in the house. I had taken the dog for a walk, and sat down by the pool to take Teddy’s call. I was still out by the pool, asleep in the chaise when Daddy finally found me and Third. He woke me up and brought us back in. I’d have woken up and come in on my own eventually. That was the day I hurt my eye and my head and had to take those prescription pain meds, so I wasn’t completely on my game, but the dog had to go out, and I was the one he came to with his needs.

Now, if that had been Tommy on the phone with me when I dozed off, he would have just hung up and went to bed because he knows I do that sometimes when we’re talking at night. Thinking about it, though, I’m not so sure how good a thing that is. I mean, for all Tommy would have known, the Killer could have gotten in here, had his hand over my mouth to keep me from screaming while he’s getting with me on this end. Tommy would be over there on his end assuming I just fell asleep. He’d hang up and go to bed, leaving me to fend for myself with a maniac.

Tommy is the only one who can talk me to sleep like that, though. Like I said, I was on some for real pain meds, the prescription-from-the-Emergency-Room kind, the time I fell asleep on the phone with Teddy.

I miss that boy a lot. Tommy, I mean.

Marnie asked me about him while we were sitting around in the den tonight. She was wondering what it would be like to be in an immersion program like the one Tommy is in, where a person gets thrown into another environment and culture and is pretty much cut off from the life and people they knew. Marnie wondered if Tommy will be the same when he comes back home.

He won’t be, but I hope we’ll still be friends. You can’t go through something that drastic and stay the same. When you think about it, you’re not the same person from one day to the next in your regular environment. Everything that happens, everything you see and do, everything you take in changes you in some way.

Marnie mentioned right after we ate this evening, that she talked with her father. She said he sounded pretty upbeat. He was laughing about some pictures the little fellas sent to him from Texas. Brett and Mikey are learning to ride and work the horses. They’re doing some of everything out there on Marnie’s grandmother’s ranch and seem to be thriving. Their mother is there, staying in one of the houses on the family compound, but it’s not going well with her She doesn’t fit in with the rest of Marnie’s people, and she hasn’t been up to Boston to see Marnie’s father in a while. “Too fragile”, is how Marnie’s grandmother puts it. We figure that really means too drunk. Sad.

On the way home from Maryland, we stopped in Boston so Marnie could see her father before she came all the way back here. Looks like Marnie’s mother has taken over the wife role completely, and I think Mr. Benson likes it that way. Strange how that is. They couldn’t stand each other before he got hurt. Maybe it was she who couldn’t stand him, but not the other way around. After all, he was the one who left her, and he left to take up with another woman, which would have given Marnie’s mother a reason. I don’t ever remember Mr. Benson saying anything negative about Marnie’s mother, although she raked him every chance she got with anyone who would listen or happened to be in earshot. Even when Marnie went through that nasty thing with the last stepfather, Mr. Benson didn’t talk bad about his ex-wife or about her choice of husband(s); he simply lawyered up and had them handle that situation. Either the stepfather had to go, or he was taking Maureen to court to get full custody of Marnie. Maureen got rid of the husband, but in the end, Marnie wound up leaving on her own to go live with her father because she said she realized he took better care of her.

Now Mr. Benson can’t take care of Marnie or of any of his kids.

Marnie won’t see her father again until the Christmas break. In a couple of weeks, if he’s still strong enough, Mr. Benson is being moved to a facility in Texas to be closer to his family, so Marnie says she’s decided to spend Christmas in Texas with him, her brothers and the rest of her relatives there, including her mother’s people who live close by. Marnie’s family is huge. A lot of steps and halves, but it’s to the point where that doesn’t even matter any more. They’re all family.

If Mr. Benson hasn’t been moved by Christmas, Marnie will end up going to go to Boston for a couple of days to spend time with him and her mother. From there, she’ll fly to New York to spend a couple of days with Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill, if he’s there, before she comes back here in time for school to start back.

I hate Marnie’s not going to Tahoe with us this year. I almost don’t want to go myself since she’s not going. Almost. Hanging out with the twins’ family in Tahoe is too much fun to miss when I don’t really have to. By then, Marnie and I will probably need a little time away from each other. We get along fine right now, but too much familiarity can breed contempt, and that’s not a sentiment I want breeding inside me for my girl. I’m flexible, but I’m hardwired for solo.

Anyway. Getting back to Mr. Benson and the visit to him.

I thought I had prepped myself for the rehabilitation center, which turned out to be a much more pleasant place than I anticipated. No antiseptic/pissy smell or sour-looking nurses or suspect-looking attendants. (Am I stereotyping???) The lobby was actually like being in a nice hotel. I knew Mr. Benson was supposed to be pretty bad, but once we got to his suite, I quickly realized I hadn’t done a enough good job of steeling myself. I hope he couldn’t see the shock I felt. I could tell he was a little uneasy with me seeing him like that.

I hurt so bad for him. He’s gotten so small, and he looks so old. It’s only been a couple of months, and he’s not all that big a man to begin with, but he’s lost so much weight that it makes him look as if he’s aged thirty years. He was putting up a good front for us, but there wasn’t any light in eyes. Not like it used to be. That was the thing that I always associated with Marnie’s dad, his firecracker energy and how that trait showed up most in his eyes. It was weird seeing him so still and strapped in that chair like that; they even had his head strapped so he could sit up. As I’m writing, I can see him in my mind. Makes me shudder, I’m telling you. In a the blink of an eye, your entire life as you know it can switch up on you completely.

Mr. Benson’s accident was caused by a drunk like my grandmother’s was. I hate that my grandmother died, but I’m told it was on impact and she probably never knew what hit her. From the pictures I’ve seen of her and from what I’ve been told of her, she was a vital and energetic person, too. I think if she had ended up like Marnie’s father, she wouldn’t have had any light in her eyes either. I know it’s not my call, but I think God made the right call. My grandmother went to a better place.

Marnie was real quiet after the visit. Her mother wasn’t there while were, so Marnie didn’t get to see her. I thought that was a little odd, but I’ve found that I can’t base other people’s relationships with their parents on mine. I don’t know if Marnie’s spoken to her mother since we’ve been home; I don’t ask any more. I’m tired of getting cut off about it. I figure she’ll let me in when she’s ready. In the meantime, I’ll leave the,” but she’s your mother; you should call her,” work to my mother and Aunt Pat.

Speaking of my mother, I didn’t talk with her today. I sent her a text to say good morning. She texted me back wayyyyyyyyyyy after I texted her to tell me to stop texting in class. Wonder what took her so long to get back to me? It was almost night when I got her message.

It must be real good.

Kinda glad she didn’t call, though. When we have talked, we both tap dance around the subject of Aunt Pat. My mother wants to be let in on what’s going on, but I really don’t have anything good to tell her. I think it would worry her more to know how much Aunt Pat’s been keeping to herself. I want my mother to enjoy her trip, but Aunt Pat is going to be on her mind no matter how hard she might try to put that off to the side. That’s how it is when you love someone and you’re worried about them. That’s how it’s been for me over my mother worrying about Aunt Pat. I try to put it out of my mind and think of other things, but with me, it’s the two of them.

I cannot believe this dog has jumped up on my bed, acting like he wants to go out. It’s the dead of night and it’s cold out. Just because he sees I’m up and writing, all of a sudden he has to go. I know he’s getting old, and his bladder probably isn’t what it used to be, but like I said, it’s the dead of night.

Third has lost his ever-loving –

BB

11:53 AM

Back. It took a while longer than I thought it would.

By the time I made it back in from taking the dog out, I was spent, mentally and emotionally. All I could do was fall over into the bed.

When I took him out, I wasn’t sure what Third had to do, and since I didn’t think to take the pooper-scooper with me until I was all the way out of the door with him, I had to walk him away from the house. I couldn’t risk him dropping a load somewhere near the patio, which was as far as I originally planned to take him- as far as his leash could reach without my having to leave the top step.

It was cold out, but I had put on my long, terry robe, and I put on a hoodie on top of that. I had the hood up, too, so at least I wasn’t out there shivering. Winter here isn’t as harsh as at Pa’s, but I don’t like anything below 70. For that matter, I pretty much dislike winter in any form.

Winter is like I imagine death to be. Coming at the end of everything else. Stark, bleak, isolating, way too quiet. Cold weather seems to generate this weird kind of quiet, like I imagine being in a soundproof, padded cell would be or a coffin with the lid closed. No echo or carry at all, no matter what you do to try to make some noise. It’s just you and whatever is going on with you at that moment. Like being in a box. A cold one. A crypt.

Dang, talk about morose.

Moving on.

Spring and summer are my favorite seasons. Fall is pretty, but it makes me a little sad when it comes around. Fall signals that summer is gone, and winter is on its way. Leaves and flowers reach their potential, blaze, and then slowly wither, fall, and get blown or swept away. Certain types of grass turn yellow and go dormant. People have to wear more clothes to keep warm. School starts back and my days become more dictated than they were in the two months before. That means less time to relax. Less time to chill and do the things I really want to do. More drama because I’m forced to deal with more people. More tension and the potential for foul moods, mine and other people’s. In the summer, I travel a lot, and when I’m home, I can choose to cut myself off and pull back for a minute or two when I feel like I’m going bad or need some space and alone-time.

But I’m wandering off the path again.

Of course, being that it was an odd time for Third and me to be out, and he could probably sense and thus, resent my reluctance to be there with him, Third took his sweet time finding something to lift his leg on. When he’d done it two or three times, I tried to head back, but he wasn’t having it. He pulled at the leash and made me take him into the grass. Right, I’m in house shoes, and he wants to go into the grass, but what choice do I have at that point?

He starts grazing, snatching at and eating the stuff like he’s some kind of billy goat, which told me we were going to be a while longer. Grass is a stomach soother/laxative for my pooch. He ate Chinese with us tonight, and that doesn’t always agree with him. I tried to tell him to leave it alone, but he insisted, and pestered Marnie, who is a sucker for him. I didn’t give his pampered behind any of mine. Seeing as how Marnie’s the reason he got some, she should have been the one out there in the yard with him in the middle of the night, not me. Third is like Daddy; eats things he knows will bind him up just because they taste good, winds up having to pay the price for it later, and drags other people into the misery. Daddy takes my mother with him. Third latches onto me.

But if he had waited on Marnie to take him out, he’d have been in big trouble for crapping or puking in the house. Generally speaking, Marnie doesn’t walk around outside in the dark, and surely she wouldn’t go out by herself at night to walk a dog. Meet some boy, maybe, but not walk a dog.

Anyway, I’m standing there, hood all up on my head, trying to keep warm while Third does his thing, and just as I sense something out of the norm, I hear right behind me, “What in the hell are you two doing out here?”

I almost crapped my own self. It was Aunt Pat. She scared me so bad, I had to catch myself from asking her what the hell she was doing out there. I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of her in two days, and she appears out of no where, in the backyard, on the other side of the house from the guest house, in the middle of the night. I swear I almost cussed; she scared me so bad. I never let my guard down like that, but I guess because I was home, I wasn’t as alert. She was standing there in a hat, her coat, some pajama pants, and slippers with socks. The hat and the socks told me she hadn’t just come to find me. She had been out there a while.

When I asked her where she was headed in the dark, and where she had been all this time, she shrugged and said she was, “Stretching her legs and getting some fresh air.”

There were a million things I wanted to say and to ask, but I didn’t do either. It didn’t feel like a right time for talking.

It must not have been because she didn’t say anything else while we waited for Third to finish  harking up the Chinese food, which was good because the birds will get that. If it had come out of the other end, I would have had to go turd hunting first thing this morning.

Aunt Pat walked us to the house and up the back stairs. When we got to my room, she kept on down the hall to Marnie’s room. I stood there and watched her open Marnie’s door, look in, and close it back. When Aunt Pat turned  around, she caught me still standing there in the doorway. She came back and told me I should go to bed and stay there. Then she told Third to hold his bodily functions until morning so I could get my rest. I opened my mouth to ask her if she was okay and perhaps work my way into several other questions I want to ask her, but she sort of shouldered me into the room and pointed to the bed. By that time, I was too tired to argue, and it was pretty clear she wouldn’t have answered me anyway.

She stayed until I got into the bed. When she left, all she said was, “Sleep tight, Squirt.”

What was she doing out back like that?. It’s not unusual for her to take walks in the cold. She sometimes walks in Central Park in winter or goes up on the open part of  the roof of her building; she says it’s invigorating and stimulates her mind, but I’ve never known her to do that at night. Then again, she’s here, on our grounds, not in Central Park. This is a bit more insulated and secure. Wonder if Uncle Bill knew she was out there?

I don’t have a clue what is up with my godmother-aunt, but I sure hope it passes soon. I’m not used to Pat acting weird. She’s one of the strongest, most matter-of-fact, sane, and logical people I know. If someone like her starts slipping, we all need to look out.

I’m going to straighten my bedroom and the sitting room some this morning. Marnie wants to go out for lunch, but I’m pretty sure she’s going to try and squeeze some shopping in on me, too. I’ll let her. She has lost time to make up.

I haven’t told her about running into Aunt Pat or about Aunt Pat checking in on her. I don’t think I’m supposed to.

3:56 PM

At LaScala.

Marnie and I ended up hooking up with Tiff and Britt, and we all had lunch here. Then all of them wanted to go shopping. Since Marnie had the other two for company, I opted out. They left me here while they troll the Beverly Center for a while. They’ll scoop me up on their way back. I’m just fine with that. I did all the shopping I need to do when I was in New York. Picked up a real nice pair of boots the Duchess has yet to see that I charged to Daddy’s card because he said to do that if I saw something I liked. She’ll be talking to him about I didn’t need another pair of boots, and it’ll be all I can do to not tell her she has her nerve with that whole wall of shoes and boots she has.

This is not my top favorite place to eat- nowhere near the bottom either-  but they do serve a great salad that is enough for two or three people to share, which is what Marnie and I usually do. Salads aren’t normally my thing, but I need to eat a little better since I’m up for the monster period. Had another twinge of headache again late this morning that I managed to ward off with lunch. I think I just needed that iron infusion.

One of the best reasons I have for coming here is it’s a good place to shut down and off. The wait staff knows my family real well, so they don’t get an attitude when I linger a long time, writing or reading while I eat. They give me a table in the corner, and leave me be for the most part.

My mother comes here to write sometimes, and I think they have the idea I might be a writer like her when I’m older, so they don’t bother me. What they don’t realize is most of the time when I am writing, I’m only getting caught up in my journal- like I am now. Besides, my Daddy, who has the staff at many fine establishments breaking their necks to seat him at their tables, taught me to tip real good. That also keeps attitudes in check.

My mother likes to change her physical locations when she’s writing. She says switching up venues helps her with perspectives, stimulates new ideas, etc., so somewhere along the way, I gave it a try, and found I like doing that, too. It works. I’m getting in the habit of not leaving home any more without some kind of tablet to jot down things I want to keep track of to write more extensively about in my journal later. If I’m traveling out of town, the journal definitely goes with me. I’m not a good storyteller like my mother is and her mother was, but I do like to keep track of my days, and it helps sometimes to work my thoughts out on paper. It’s fun to time-travel back in my journals to when I was younger and see how stupid I was and how much I have changed in my thinking and my ways. Truthfully, it shames me to see how selfish, immature, and thoughtless I used to be. I don’t know how anybody put up with me in my junior high days. I was a Grade A jackass back then. A pure, through and through brat. But that’s what journaling is for. You have a better chance of fixing something if you can see for yourself how and where and how badly it’s broken.

Maybe one day my journals will be a source of family history for my grandchildren like my grandmother’s may one day be for me. When my mother discovered her mother’s journals in the attic of the guest house at Pa’s, she read them and then she gave me permission to read them, too, but I couldn’t bring myself to get too far into them. Seemed too intrusive. I mean, I have never even met the woman; I didn’t feel I had the right then, and I still don’t. When I’m older, and there’s a little more distance between all of us and I really want to know more, I’ll try it again. For the moment, I’ve had my fill of snooping into someone else’s personal writing. Got burned badly by it the one time I did it.

It took a while for me to get that guilt out of my system, or rather for my mother to squeeze it out of me. As many times as I’ve written about it and thought about it, that incident between her and me in Vegas is still pretty fresh. As long as I live, I don’t think I’ll ever forget that night. It ranks right up- or down- there with that other really bad night we had a few years ago. In Vegas, I found out for sure my mother is a lot stronger than she appears. I kind of knew that, but I found out she can be more physical- and a lot meaner- than I figured her. Anybody else yanking on me and trying to pin me like that, we would have had to go a couple of rounds, but when it’s serious, Jen doesn’t play, particularly not about or with her only child.  Thank havens her only child was blessed with a real good feel for when it’s time to cut her losses, particularly when her mother is involved.

I think about her in that restroom at the club last summer, first standing on a commode in a stall trying to sneak up on me like I would do somebody I was trying to get the drop on. Then her telling off Mrs. Singleton about trying to get into my business and about trying to hit on my daddy. She was so angry and mean, and I was so proud of her. I never could get the real story out of my mother about  Mrs. Singleton and Daddy, but I’m sure that my hunch was what it was. That night went into my journal for posterity, too. Let the great-great grandkids try to figure Wesley’s nosy, stuck up, trifling, and apparently clueless mother out. Talk about a family in crisis.

Then there’s the matter of Aunt Pat’s desk. Ever since my mother learned I had skills, she’s been all over me about not using them for evil. But as soon as it suited her purposes, she was all over me, talking about, “Get to work.” That was yet another one of those unforgettable moments. That whole trip was unforgettable. There’s so much, I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to get it all down.

So hard to believe that I broke into my Aunt Pat’s desk. Marnie, me, and the Duchess in together on a B&E. That was the start of the craziness- in New York, at least. My very first bonafide break and enter, and I committed it at my mother’s request. That episode could have been made into a TV movie, a good one.

They had a bachelorette party for Aunt Pat at some club in New York, and during the course of it Aunt Pat took off. My mother came back to the apartment, where Marnie and I were, looking for Aunt Pat. When she wasn’t there, my mother made me break into Aunt Pat’s desk in an effort to get a line on what might be going on with Aunt Pat that would make her run away like she had. Earlier, I had told my mother that I’d caught Aunt Pat looking at a letter that she stuffed and locked in that drawer when she realized I was standing there, looking at her with it. I don’t know what the letter said, but when my mother read it, she made a face and a comment that let me and Marnie know it wasn’t good news.

Jen is my mother, and I’ve always loved her, but as I’m getting older, she has definitely moved into that “acquired taste” category. Acquired tastes, I’m finding, are far more satisfying than something I’ve liked or enjoyed all along. I can remember when I once didn’t care for the acquired thing as much as I’ve grown to enjoy it, and that makes me appreciate it even more. Like cantaloupe and honeydew melon, for instance. Couldn’t stand them as a kid, but now I find myself wondering what took me so long to realize how good, sweet, and refreshing they actually are, especially when it’s hot outside and I’m parched. The same applies to the Duchess. She can be bossy and strict, and she can get on every nerve I have at times, but I’m glad somebody up there sent me to her, even if it was last minute and unannounced. We’ve gotten over that part of it. She made me get over it. Maybe I’m an acquired taste for her, too. At least I hope so.

Since I’m on the acquired tastes track, and I’m kind of streaming thought here, Pa phoned me before we left the house. He was checking in on me to see if I was “behaving myself and minding Marie, Aunt Pat, and Uncle Bill”. Like I would admit to him if I wasn’t. And like I have a choice about what mode of behavior to be in. I act up, and either I get it from one of them on the spot, him from long distance if somebody decides to tell on me, or I get it from my parents when they get back. Or I get it from all of them, on the spot, long distance, and down the line. Bad “form” as Pa calls it, has never been tolerated in my family, not even by Daddy. As many times as I’ve tried to get the bar lowered over the years, I can speak with authority on the futility of such attempts. The repercussions made it so not worth continuing the pursuit. I’ve given up, for the most part, and have instead decided to hold off on all that until I’m eighteen and out of the house. Then, I either won’t care about it any more, or I’ll be busting the gates of Hell wide open and starting a coup.

I had such a good time at Pa’s on this last visit, and that had a lot to do with him. In recent years, I have discovered that my grandfather is a very interesting person. He makes me think all the time. Either we’re talking, and he says something that I have to roll over in my mind before I can reply, or he does something that makes me wonder about him. Seems like every time I’m with him lately, I discover another side to him that I never knew existed, that I never would have suspected existed. I’m finding I need to open my eyes and my mind in order to really see and try to understand a whole lot of things. I thought last summer at Pa’s was eye-opening and bizarre. This last visit was just as weird, but on another kind of level. A different kind of complicated and stressful, but somehow not as dark as last summer’s visit was.

Pa had been sick and was just getting over it when I was with him last summer, so he was still sort of fragile back then. For most of my life, I’ve viewed him as old and unwell. He was in his mid-sixties when I was born, so by the time I was old enough for him to form a place in my mind, he was probably close to seventy, which is real old to a little kid. The gap between us was huge. Then he started having heart problems, which made him crankier than ever in my eyes, so I kept my distance from him even more.

Then I was in the eighth grade, headed for a third- maybe fourth- detention, and my mother was sick of me. She sent me to him for a wake-up call, and I think to keep herself off the evening news. That visit turned out to be the wake-up call Pa and I both needed. Instead of him making Briarwood the Alcatraz she wanted him to, we had the best visit ever. We talked, really talked, for the first time without anyone else around us. He didn’t have to pretend to be all starchy and proper, and I didn’t have to mind my manners any more than I should have to for an elder. He listened to what I had to say about my problems, and I heard what he said to me about doing the right things by the people who love me. It was a turning point in our relationship, and in a way, my life. Ever since then, I look forward to my visits to Briarwood where I used to almost get sick at having to go there. I think I’m going to ask to go to him during the February break next year. It will be cold in Maryland, but I’ll be inside with my grandfather most of the time, so the weather won’t matter much.

This last time, he was coming in from a walk when he met Daddy and me at the car when we arrived. He had on a sharp leather jacket with matching gloves and slouch hat, his riding boots, and that ebony cane of his which he wasn’t really using. In fact, he had it tucked under his arm like he was only carrying it out of habit. Last summer he didn’t take very many steps without leaning on it. It made me so happy to see my grandfather looking like that. I started feeling like I didn’t have to worry so much about running out of time to be with him.

That was when I had that first thought that he and Dean Marchand had hooked up romantically. Because of that, I was prepared to really dislike her. I have checked off ‘territorial’ on my personal character trait inventory while I was at Pa’s this time. I always kind of felt like I might be, but my initial feelings about Dean Marchand and then a conversation I had with Betsy about our parents kind of finalized that for me. I’ll go there later.

Anyway, back to Pa.

Aside from trying to go off on me in the wedding car when I told him Aunt Pat was getting married at her house and not at the chapel, I don’t think his temper flared up once while we were there, and that’s saying something for my grandfather who is known for his rather volatile tendencies. I have Dean Marchand to thank for calming him down on the way to the wedding. By then, I had already penciled her in as okay, but she got inked in for real when she did that. I was impressed with how well and how quickly he followed her order to leave me alone. Stephen Edwards also isn’t one to be quieted once he gets started, but he got off me as soon as she told him to. I find Dean Agnes Marchand quite interesting on a lot of levels. She’s one I’ll be keeping an eye on.

My grandfather treated me, the rest of the family, and my friends so well. He was worried over Aunt Pat, I could tell, but he didn’t let that mess with his overall mood. It was like he set that off to a side he thought the rest of us couldn’t see so we could have a pleasant time in his space, which we certainly did. He even let Duncan spend the night at Briarwood to work on the dollhouse. That’s another story. So is the ceremony.

Marnie’s ringtone. I take it she’s on her way. Nope, in the lot. Gotta go.

7:27 PM

On my way out of the door for the evening. We have to be gone by 8:00- house rule.

“If you’re not on your way by 8:00, then you must not be planning to go anywhere.”

How many times have I heard that and broken my neck to abide by it? It only took one time for the Duchess to send me back upstairs because I hadn’t made it out the door before time for me to realize she was serious about that. According to her, if I haven’t left by 8:00, I’m not giving myself enough time to make to where I’m going and have enough of a good time, thus setting myself up for missing curfew and getting stuck on a prolonged lockdown. She says setting a time for me to be gone is her way of keeping me out of trouble, and it’s also a rule she and Aunt Pat have and keep to in common. We haven’t seen her in the time we’ve been back here, and Uncle Bill answered the phone when Marnie called to tell them we were going out for the evening, but I’m sure Aunt Pat is somewhere over in the guest house peeking to see what time we leave and is ready to flag us in if the car starts up a second past post time.

Whatever. I’m dressed and have been ready to go for a while, but Marnie’s across the hall putting on makeup and what have you. She tried on about six outfits before she worked up on one she liked. I told her not to come back over here one more time to show me anything except her purse and car keys. She needs to come on.

We’re picking up Tiff and Britt before heading farther up into the Hills. Issy Hawthorne is having a party tonight in her parents’ guest house. Issy is a horse’s behind, but she gives the bomb parties. There will be enough other people there to keep some distance between Issy and me. She and I have talked some since last summer, and we came to the agreement that Wesley isn’t worth fighting over- like I was fighting over him in the first place, but I didn’t go there with her because it wasn’t a battle worth fighting. I really don’t care about her or Wesley or what they do together. I consider the matter between she and I closed. After all, Wesley’s a druggie, Issy was a fool for humping the druggie, and I’m still J.J.Hart, unattached, uncompromised for the time being), and loving it.

I did; however, make it clear to Miss Hawthorne that I wasn’t going to be any more bitches out of her mouth. The next time, if there is ever one, she won’t get off as easy as she did the last time. It won’t be about a ruined outfit and hairdo and some humiliation. Next time, I will kick her behind for real, no shame on my part or doubt in my mind.

I’ll also be avoiding the inevitable that’s bound to be lit up at the party, smoking up people’s hair and clothes, but I can’t say the same if somebody’s got some liquid refreshment of the adult kind. I’m not driving, I don’t have school tomorrow, and I’m not going to church since Sister Mary Jennifer is in Antigua getting her own drink and swerve on.

Then again, I may abstain from all of it for the sake of keeping the peace within myself. I can do without the added, self-induced drama brought on by a pesky bout of guilty conscience.

Speaking of my mother, she phoned while I was getting dressed. For her to call just then, I’m thinking it probably all of a sudden hit her that it was Saturday here, and I’d be in the streets come night time. She had to make sure she got that hand on me before I could cut out of here, even if it was only symbolically and the imprint she left was a mental one.

Wonder if that’s why I second-guessed the Hennessey a minute ago????  God and the Duchess certainly do move in mysterious ways.

She said she and Daddy had been out sailing all day. I sure wish I was with them. I could use some sand and sun. She told me she found a little boutique on one of their stops and saw some cute handmade leather sandals that she picked up for me. My personal shopper; leave it my mother to be in the stores on her honeymoon, but I’m glad she thought of me. I bet the shoes are sweet; she has excellent taste in shoes, heck in everything, which is why she’s on a honeymoon after being married over a quarter century to the same nice guy. It’s only been a few days, but I miss them an awful lot already.

Let me go get this girl before she fools around and gets us stuck in the house for the night.

BB

___________________________________________________________

December 1, 2001

Sunday

2:33 AM

Back home. Showered and in the bed. Glad tomorrow is Sunday, and I don’t have to get up, but I wish we were still on holiday break so I wouldn’t be forced to do Monday morning either.

We went to Issy’s, and the party was all that, as usual. Of course, Issy’s dress was too tight and short, but that’s the look she likes. Couple of minor celebrities made an appearance. Rum and weed were plentiful, but I didn’t indulge. I don’t know how Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne let all that go on right under their noses, but who am I to say? About mid-way through, I went outside to get some air, and saw two people out behind the shrubs. One of them was on their knees in front of the other one, head bobbing back and forth, but I didn’t look too long. I took myself right back into the guest house with the booze, cigarette, and weed haze. I didn’t want to know who it was out there getting it on because I wasn’t ready to leave the party just then, and I didn’t want to have to be all uncomfortable, avoiding eye contact and whatnot, should I run up on them later on in the evening. Way out of my league.

I know none of that kind of action would happen here at the Harts’ house. I have the bomb parties, too, but there’s only so far we can take a thing here. Booze and weed are definitely outside the parameters set by this kid’s parents. Even if somebody I tried it, my father would be all over it. He had security cameras trained on my last birthday party. I thought it was to monitor fights or drinking or something like that, but in light of the bushes thing at Issy’s, I think Daddy had a lot more in mind that could happen. Booze, drugs, illicit behavior at one of my parties on these grounds, security picking up on something like a blow job being given, I can’t even imagine the fallout from that. One thing’s for sure, that would definitely be my LAST party held here.

Something like that going on in this house and on these grounds by me would be flat-out disrespectful, too. A swig here or there off one of somebody’s drink left lying around, cigar puff here or there, but no weed toking or illegal drug taking will I be doing under my their roof. They aint havin’ it, and I’m not doing it. Sex? Please. Not this kid. Not here. Not any time soon anyway.

We wound up leaving the party earlier than planned because Tiff was getting on everyone’s nerves b—-ing and moaning about Ollie.

Marnie and I were going to spend the night at the Landers’ house so Britt and Marnie could do an intervention on Tiff. I said Britt and Marnie because I wasn’t going to be bothered, just like I was trying not to hear it at the party. I had already told Tiff what I thought she should do when she asked me last fall about keeping up her relationship with Ollie once he left for school.

We called Aunt Pat to ask her if it was going to be all right to stay over at the Landers’ house. Uncle Bill picked up, so I asked him, but he told me to hold on. Then he came back to the phone and said he was quoting Aunt Pat: “Tell them to bring all their asses here and spend the night. That way I know where they really are- not where they say they are- spending the night.”

So Tiff and Britt are staying here. They’re all downstairs in their jammies in the den.  I told them I had some things I had to do up here, which I did. I took the shower and got in the bed. I’m not about to sit around talking about something I’ve already said with the same person I’ve already said it to. And it’s not bad form. Marnie lives here now; she’s hosting down there with them. It’s those kinds of situations that have me giving a person “the rough side of my tongue”, as the Duchess puts it. I do get irritated with situations where the remedy seems obvious, but the person in it refuses to see reason.

Tiff still goes with Ollie, but Ollie is at Stanford. When Ollie’s in school, he’s focused on his studies. Tiff is a senior, but it’s high school, and there’s a big difference in the two places. Right now I’m taking an advanced placement course in math so I don’t have to take it when I get to college. I can absolutely, positively confirm that the work is harder and more time consuming than even an advanced content class. Now multiply that by the five classes he’s taking. Being that this is his first year at Stanford, Ollie simply doesn’t have time to pay the kind of attention to Tiff that Tiff wants him to pay to her.

She’s mad because he doesn’t call her enough, and he doesn’t have a lot of time to talk when she calls him, which she does- a lot. Prom, graduation, and commencement parties are coming up for her in the spring, and she’s excited about that, but she’s upset that Ollie isn’t all worked up about it with her.

I tried to tell her he’s not like that. Ollie wasn’t worked up about his own social events when he was a high school senior. I remember his mother had to practically hire somebody to be his escort at his prom and he was stag at his graduation party because he didn’t care about going to go to the prom, and he didn’t want the party. All Ollie was concerned about was where he ranked in his graduating class and getting into Stanford.

Back then, in appearance, he was the epitome of nerd. If you looked up the word “nerd” in the dictionary, his picture was right there as the illustration. He’s come a long way since the Marnie makeover last summer. Even I didn’t know he had such nice eyes behind those dorky horn-rimmed glasses he used to wear before he got the contacts, and I’ve known Ollie all my life. I hadn’t noticed his build before either, but out of the Dockers and in some nice jeans and a tee shirt, that’s also not too bad. Little thin and a tad short in height for my tastes. But he’s got good shoulders, and the hiney is quite tight and fit in a pair of Speedo swim trunks.

Before the Marnie makeover and before he left to go to school, I thought I was noticing a change in Ollie. Like he had gained some confidence or something. I think that might have had a lot to do with his kicking the crap out of Wesley and breaking off that friendship. Wesley and Ollie used to be joined at the hip, but Wes tended to dominate and kind of bully Ollie, who was a lot more quiet and withdrawn than Wes. After the split, Ollie started talking more, branching out and wanting to hang out more with a wider circle of friends, and then he hooked up with Tiff. That really brought him out. He was smiling and laughing more often where before you hardly noticed him most of the time. Ollie has always been a nice person, but he mostly kept to the background, so people tended to overlook him. It seemed like once Marnie started working with him on his wardrobe, it gave his personality a booster shot, too.

But when he left for school in this fall, and Tiff started acting paranoid about the separation, I advised her to break it off with him, or to at least cool it down some because they were going to be in two different places, literally and figuratively, and they both needed to concentrate on school. On the real, Ollie was starting college where he’d be on his own for the first time. He’d be hanging out with his college friends, some of them girls who are more sophisticated, and shall we say, “experienced” than Tiff while Tiff was going to be here worrying about all that.

Just like she is now since she didn’t take me up on the advice. Practically neurotic with it.

So as far as I’m concerned, Tiff is on her own with that drama. She, and Marnie, and Britt can talk about it till daylight as far as I’m concerned. I’m staying out of it. Ticked me off totally at the party when every time I tried to move away from Tiff and all that noise, she kept seeking me out to get my opinion. For what? She wasn’t going to listen. All she wants is someone to sympathize with her whining about wanting Ollie, how and when she wants him, and I’m not the one for that. If she’s not careful, what’s going to happen is she’s going to mess around and get on his nerves, and then he’s going to quit her because she’s made herself a distraction to him. Then she’ll really be ready to die.

Tiff is one of those girls who likes a guy with good husband potential. As if that matters when you’re still in high school and your parents expect you to go to college and get a degree. It’s not like it was back in the day when a girl got married right out of high school or went to college for the purpose of getting a husband. Anything could change in all that time between high school and college. Why tie your boat to one pier now? There will be a whole lot of ports and some really good piers along the way, I’m sure.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m being cold-hearted on the matter because I’m getting cramps and I’m irritable with it. Maybe I’m not understanding enough about how relationships go. Maybe when you really like someone it isn’t that easy to shut it down or take a temporary leave because the two of you are in different locales and places in your lives.

Maybe I’m the one who’s got the issues.

I simply cannot get my head around being that caught up in a guy. For a minute, I was questioning that about me, thinking something might be wrong with my wiring. Seems like everybody is boy crazy but me, well me and Charmaine. It’s going to take one helluva guy to get with Charmaine. She’s worse than I am because she has set standards already- has to be smart, nice-looking, a gentleman, go to church, be college-bound, etc. Me, I just don’t care about having an exclusive boyfriend period. I haven’t formed any requirements- well, a good butt would be nice. And a sense of humor, maybe. But the thought of having an exclusive relationship with a boy makes me nervous and kind of claustrophobic. My mother says I feel that way because it’s not my time yet. She says when it happens for me like that, I’ll know it and be all right with it. My hope is it waits until I’m better able to handle things like that. Right now, I can’t see myself caring enough to be stressing over any one boy, where he is, and what or who he’s doing. Most of the time, it’s all I can do to keep up with me. Like with Teddy, he’s cute and all, but I’m just fine with us seeing each other when we do.

And occasionally seeing him in my dreams.

Wonder if he ever sees me in his? If so, I sure hope he’s not getting any ideas about his prom or anything.

If they’re still down there in the den, hashing it out, I won’t know anything about it until Marnie fills me in tomorrow. Marnie likes that kind of thing. She knows how to talk to people who have problems, particularly man or relationship problems in general. I don’t have a clue on the man thing, and I don’t want one.

Tired.

Good night,

3:27 PM

I cannot believe it. The Duchess isn’t home, and I went to church. WTH????

My bad- blasphemy of the highest order, but God is aware that my cylinders aren’t operating at max. Cramps, headache, irritable, and starting to sweat with it all on top of the worry I’ve been suppressing, worry that I now think is at the root of my physical problems. I’m writing to take my mind off of it.

I wound up dropping off to sleep around 3 or so this morning, so I was looking forward to sleeping in. But no, Marnie busts into the room, shaking me like she was crazy, talking about, “Get up, so we can go to church.”

Marnie? To church? And nobody was making us go? Marnie, who knows me and my sleeping habits better than any of my friends, was waking me up for that?

But it only took a couple of seconds after I came to all the way for me to realize how serious she had to have been about getting there. I didn’t even ask what church, but then it could only have been mine. Marnie’s Baptist on the books, but she’s been going with us to St. Augustine for a couple of years now, since my mother started making her go on a semi-regular basis just so she could get some church. Up until then, Marnie would be somewhere asleep on Sunday mornings. I still laugh when I recall Marnie trying to tell my mother she wasn’t Catholic, and my mother fussing back at her that “Mattress Baptist” was not a denomination and that God didn’t care which religious chapter she belonged to as long as she showed up for some of the meetings.

Tiff and Britt were still here, so we all went. It’s come as you are for the services at St. Augustine, so outfits weren’t a problem for Tiff and Brit since going to church was unexpected and last minute. I put on a skirt like I normally do. Not because I have to, my mother doesn’t care as long as I look nice in what I have on, but I like to keep Sister A off me. Turned out to be a fortuitous move on my part today, but I’ll get there.

We arrived a little late, so we sat in the back to not draw attention to ourselves. We had been there a few minutes when I noticed Marnie sit up like she was seeing something out of the way. I followed her alert and saw that she had spotted Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill seated in the middle section, several rows in front of us. We’d left here so fast that I didn’t even notice their car wasn’t parked outside the guest house. I guess Marnie was staring so hard Aunt Pat felt it. She turned around and looked right at us, and for some reason, something in her face went all through me. I can’t describe what I saw, but whatever it was- I don’t have the words.

Chalk it up to hormones, I guess. I found out when I got up this morning that I had checked in for the month. Or to my being more tired than I thought I was from the trip and school, but I almost lost it right there in church in front of everybody. It was so crazy, a potential meltdown happening to me all of a sudden like that. It was so out of the blue; I had to jerk my head away from looking at Marnie and Aunt Pat and try to focus on Father Kennard and what he was saying so I could will the water to stay inside my eye sockets. I still don’t know what he was saying; I was so keyed in on not letting anyone see me cry or fall apart.  Aunt Pat was in church today because she was on the same mission as Marnie. And me. Without any of us having said a word to the other, we were all on the same wavelength about how serious this is with Aunt Pat.

Shortly before the service ended, I left the sanctuary on the pretense of using the restroom. I didn’t go to the restroom, though. Instead, I shot over to the small chapel where I thought I could be alone for a few to get a private word in. I was still kind of shook up from that freak crying threat I’d had. Plus, for some reason, I didn’t want to talk to Aunt Pat once the service ended. Something about that night she walked up on me outside, and the vibe I got from her, left me with an uneasiness I’ve never before felt about being with her. It’s like if I keep her at a distance, it doesn’t hurt so bad or something.

Anyway, I go in there. Since everyone was supposed to be in the main service at that time, it was empty- exactly like I needed at that moment- and dark, like it usually is. Some votive candles were still burning from where people had lit them before going into Mass. I like how light through the stained glass windows in the apse reflects off the white marble statue of St. Augustine. Very pretty and very serene. The chapel is one of my secret favorite places to be by myself; it ranks up there with our gazebo out back.

So I find a spot, kneel down, close my eyes, and make the connection I need to make. I was on my way back from the prayer when I felt somebody slide onto the kneeler with me. It was Sister Anastasia. Scared the mess out of me. I had to hold back from saying that to her. I guess I’m on menstrual edge; it’s like that with me. Everything is heightened or intensified when I’m on. Lights seem brighter, noises get louder; I get all edgy and kind of jumpy. It was the second time in recent memory that someone has crept up on me, maybe the third if I count Marnie walking up on me in the closet at Pa’s. Or maybe the fourth if I add in finding my mother sitting in the chair when we came out of that closet and Marnie got caught cursing like Aunt Sabrina’s parrot, Richelieu. That I didn’t hear Sister A. coming says I am definitely not operating on all cylinders, and I obviously haven’t been for a minute.

Sister A. didn’t say anything to me at first. She went right into praying, head bowed with her hands pressed together, her fingers pointed straight up to heaven the way she taught us to do when we were little, that she said the big kids thought they were too cool to do, so they prayed with their fingers laced together in a ball.

Guess I’ve turned into a too-cool big kid.

Actually, if I’m being truthful here, I attempted to become one shortly after Sister A said that to us because that’s how I was back then: “Oppositional solely for the sake of it”, according to the Duchess when Sister A told on me about not keeping my fingers pointed up.

Whatever.

For some reason, even though I had already handled my business, I stayed down there until she crossed herself, indicating she had finished hers. Then she started to get up, using my arm for leverage. When she sat down on the pew instead of heading out, she kept her hold on me which made me have to sit down, too. She patted my arm before she let go of me completely, and says, “I’m so happy to see you here even though your mother is away.”

No mention of her being happy about my being there with Daddy away, but then she’s well aware of how that is. She raised him.

Then she told me she was proud of me for bringing my friends, like I was recruiting or something rather than we were just all in the same place when Marnie made the decision for us, but I didn’t go there. I didn’t say anything.

I’m sure I was looking like a ventriloquist’s dummy, sans ventriloquist, but she was so close to me. Like face-to-face, and she was all in mine. All I could focus on were her eyes. They really are the same blue as Daddy’s and mine, and she does have the same crinkling at the corners as Daddy- a whole lot more, but somehow the same. Then too, I always try to say as little to her as possible to keep from having anything coming out of my mouth be misinterpreted or misconstrued. I usually let her do the talking. But then she asked me if I was scared for Aunt Pat.

My mind kicked right into overdrive. How did she know about Aunt Pat? Did she really know about Aunt Pat, or was she feeling me out? Does she talk with my mother that much and that often? Had she spoken to Aunt Pat? Why would Aunt Pat tell her business to Sister A? Do they have something going that I’m not aware of? I mean, Aunt Pat is acquainted with Sister A, of course, but like that???

It surprised even me, though, when I heard myself say, “Yes.”

Funny how you never know what’s going on behind the scenes until it kind of slaps you in the face. My mother and Sister do talk, but how often and how deep is their relationship? I’ve never thought about that much. Do they talk daily? What do they discuss? Just how well do they know each other? Sister A. thinks very highly of my mother; of that I am aware, but how exactly does my mother feel about Sister? Does she confide in her? And what about Aunt Pat? How well does she know Sister A.? Well enough to have confided her problems to her? And how exactly did Sister A. and I end up in the chapel together at a time we should have both been in the sanctuary? Church wasn’t over when I left, and it couldn’t have been over when she showed up in the chapel with me. Had she followed me in there? If so, does that mean she had been watching me all the time? If so, why? What is it about me, aside from being Jonathan’s daughter, that keeps putting her in my square? Is it because I am his daughter, or is there more to it than that? Or beyond that?

I don’t ever admit to being scared out loud, except maybe to my parents, even when I’m absolutely terrified. Like when I called Sister A. last summer when Daddy got sick. I told her he was sick and in the hospital, and I asked her to pray for him, but I didn’t say to her I was scared for him at the time.

What in the world made me admit to Sister  A that I was scared for Aunt Pat? That thing about her eyes? Am I being overly sensitive and paranoid due to my estrogen overload?

Then she took my hand and told me she was proud of me for having faith and putting it where it belonged, AND for not wearing jeans to church in the absence of my mother. As if I would do that in her presence; that would be the same thing as trying it with my mother. Worse because I did it, got caught, made Sister tell on me yet another time, and I chose to do it when, “You knew I wasn’t here to send your narrow tail back up those stairs to properly dress for church.”

I don’t know what that encounter with Sister A was all about, but I’m adding it to the rest of the strange, but profound experiences I’ve had this year.

The service was over by the time she and I came out of the chapel and went our separate ways. I saw Daria out there in the front hall with some of the other girls who are in residence. I don’t think she saw me, but I noticed she had on another pair of the earrings I bought her. They looked cute on her, too, a lot better than the straws from the broom, and she had her hair done up nicely. I’m glad she’s taking some interest in her appearance. Kids can be so cruel, and Daria doesn’t need anybody picking at her for things she can’t help. She’s so smart, a true wiz at math, but when you’re twelve or any of those early teens, how smart you are sometimes can’t overcome being different, not having the right clothes, shoes, accessories, etc. Stupid, but that’s how it is before you get mature enough to understand how superficial all that stuff is, and instead embrace who and what you are inside.

The girls were in the lot, looking for me. Marnie said Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill said they were going for a ride and would be home later. They were already gone by the time I made it outside. Just as well because I didn’t need to see Aunt Pat right then. Marnie didn’t say much on the way home. In fact, it was a silent ride. We dropped off Tiff and Britt before we came back here.

I came straight up to my room and went right into the bathroom. I closed the door, turned on the shower, and just let go. I’d been holding it in all that time. I don’t know how long I was in there crying, but when I came out, I was spent; all I could do was drag it to my bed. I wound up falling asleep and not waking up until after lunch. While we were gone to church, Marie had gotten back from her weekend visit to her sister’s place. I’m told she had lunch waiting for us, but nobody woke me up to get any. When I finally did make it downstairs after I got back up, Marie explained that she had told Marnie to let me sleep. She fixed me some of her awesome chicken soup that she’d made for lunch to hold me over until dinner.

I’ve figured it out that she keeps up with my cycles on her calendar just like my mother does. Because of that, she had a line on what was up with me, which is why she left me alone and let me sleep. I get like this when I don’t do right by my meds, but that’s only the physical. What I hope nobody around here knows or can tell is how scared I am. I’m so, so scared and now that I’ve had the time to process it, I realize I’ve been this scared for a while. I’m sure that’s affecting how I feel physically, as well.

God, please let Aunt Pat be all right. Please, please, please don’t take her yet. It’s so selfish, I know it is, but I need her in my life a while longer. Marnie also really needs her right now. My mother would be so devastated. And Uncle Bill, too. And Daddy will be sick over all of it.

It’s like we keep getting tested with Aunt Pat. Like God’s saying, “I’m going to give you all a taste of what you’ll be missing if I call her home to me.”

We’ve already had practice at it. First, almost losing her on September 11, then her taking off on all of us in New York, and being missing all those days while we were in Maryland. Now this last monkey wrench in the mix. My gut tells me she’s going to be all right, just like the other times, but I know it’s not my gut that makes the calls on these kinds of things. It would be horrible to get let down in the end on something like this, so I’m not putting a lot of stock in hunches this time. All I can do is keep a good thought, put up my best poker face front, and pray. Pray a lot. Since I don’t bug God that often, worrying him with the stuff I can handle on my own, I think he cues in when it’s me coming to him with the things I can’t. I sure hope he’s listening to me on this one. I would never waste his time on something petty or trivial. I can’t handle even the thought of Aunt Pat being that kind of sick. I promise, if she’s spared this time, I’m going to stop taking things for granted because the good things in my life do not have to be.

And right here, right now, I also promise I will not miss one day of the stupid vitamins next month. My head, stomach, back, and thighs hurt so bad. I’ve had the soup, and I put some crackers on top of that, so now I’m going in the bathroom to drug up. Then I’m going to lie down some more for a while. My homework is all done, I’ve studied, and I have my clothes lined up, so I don’t have any of that to worry about. Got my days mapped out for all the stuff I have to do, but that’s down the road. Maybe if I rest now, the meds will go to work faster, and I’ll feel better quicker.

Or I’ll lapse into a coma and won’t know or care how bad I feel.

Later,

8:36 PM

Well, sleep was not to be. I didn’t even get to take the pain medication, but I am feeling a little bit better. The first day of my period is always the worst. Tomorrow should have me back to something closer to normal.

Actually, I was on my way into the bathroom to drug myself silly when the phone rang. The Duchess might be on a honeymoon, but she’s still on my case. It was her, wanting to know how I was feeling. I asked her how could she be enjoying her honeymoon for stopping every few minutes to phone or text to check on me. I was like, “I mean, what’s your groom going to think of you for not paying total attention to him?”

She comes right back at me with, “Justine Hart, my groom is my groom, and you are not be concerned with that. That’s for me to deal with, and I think I have proven that I can do that quite well without your intervention or inquisition, thank you.”

But it’s me who gets called out all the time for being sassy and flip. Apple-tree in full effect.

Then, like she sensed where I had been on way to and why at the time that she called, she warned me about overdosing on the meds on this end while she’s away from me on that end. She said she figured I’d started, and she was aware I hadn’t done what I was supposed to when I was supposed to, so I needed to just go ahead and suffer for being “relentlessly irresponsible” with my health. I didn’t even bother with the “I just forget” argument.

Now, I have to ask, what sixteen year old girl’s mother keeps up with her this much? I declare the woman either has a state-of-the-art, built-in radar system when it comes to me, or there is really something up with my cosmos, and there are unseen entities at play. No matter if she’s standing right next to me, upstairs when I’m downstairs, or we’re thousands of miles away from each other, my mother always seems to key in on when and/or how she needs to roll up on me in one way or another. I could never be one of those girls who’s six months pregnant before her mother finds out. In my situation, on the night I decided to do it with some guy, Jennifer Hart would be on the couch waiting for me to get home so she could inform me, as I came through the door, of how knocked up I was.

But then, she was about three months pregnant with me before she figured it out. Maybe that’s why she’s all over me in that area; if I snuck one in on her once, there’s the chance of it happening again in some way, and she’s not getting caught slipping again, particularly with it happening to me. I’ve given my initial entrance into the world some thought, and I’ve concluded that the signs had to have been there, but she didn’t recognize them for what they were. I’m thinking she’d gone so long in her life and had been married so long without getting pregnant that she got lulled into thinking it wouldn’t happen which lead to denial on her part when it did. She probably thought any changes she might have noticed in herself were due to something else. After all, there was a lot going on back then.

When I get pregnant, I don’t intend to be as old as my mother was, so I’ll probably recognize right off when I get that way. Besides, I’ll be calling that shot- so to speak- so I will be actively looking for the signs that his ‘shot’ took.

Whatever the case, she doesn’t have to worry about the pregnant part with me for a good while. To get pregnant, you have to have actual sex of some kind. The closest I’ve gotten to that is kissing. From what I’ve read and heard, one has to do a bit more than that to end up with a bun in the oven. I don’t even know where the switch is on my oven, and since I’m not that into “cooking” at this point, I’m not in a hurry to find out how to turn the “eye” on.

Speaking of being turned on, well sort of,  right after I talked to my mother, who by the way did not ask about Aunt Pat- Teddy called. He was in Boston, in the middle of a break from one of his rehearsals. He didn’t want anything, just to talk for a few. I thought it was sweet that he thought to call me on his break. I love the sound of his voice and his laugh.

I kind of regret not taking the chance and going to see him doing his thing when I had the opportunity. It worked out that it was best I backed out of going. It wasn’t the right thing to do; too many things could have gone wrong. Then the results of getting caught taking an unauthorized private plane ride to Boston from Manhattan would have made going so not worth it, since Daddy coincidentally (or not, if I consider the cosmos one more time) turned up right where I was trying to slip off to. (Dangling participle, but it’s my book.)  But chickening out on my own plan made me feel that much more under thumb and tied down there. I know I’m only sixteen, but sometimes I feel so smothered.

I swear, I can hardly wait to get to the place in my life where I will be able to take off when I want and do what I want, or not, solely because it’s what I want. I would like to have seen Teddy working on his project and then hung out in Boston for a while with him, getting to know his friends and the places he likes to go. There is so much I don’t know about him. Seems like every time we get together, I learn more about who he is and what he’s all about, but we’re always so rushed when we’re together. It’s a strange thing; he’s probably one of the few people I’ve met in my life that I liked right off the bat. Most of the time, it takes me a minute to let a person in, especially males. I’ll be cordial, but I normally don’t let people too close up on me until I’m very sure they’re okay. How it was okay with him so soon, I don’t  know, but it surely was. It was like that with Tommy and me, too, but we were a whole lot younger when we met. I’m finding the older I get, the stronger my defense mechanisms seems to be getting.

I am sure of one thing; Teddy can sing. He’d sent me some recordings he’d done, so I was aware of his talent. That’s how I came up with the idea of our collaborating on the number we put together for my godparents’ and parents’ weddings. I had originally planned for us to sing, “At Last” for Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill, but when Daddy let me know that he planned to surprise my mother at Aunt Pat’s wedding with asking her to renew their wedding vows, I made a last minute switch-up to “Now”. That song, while it was my parents’ wedding song seemed applicable to both parties. Teddy didn’t stumble with the last minute change. It turned out he already knew the words, so he listened to the instrumental I’d recorded with the band at school that Hector mastered for us, and once we got together, we just wrapped our voices right around each other’s.

My mother cried when we were singing to them. I nearly cried with her for being so happy that it turned out as well as it did. I was still kind of suffering from that cold I caught when I was in New York, and “Now” is not an easy song to sing under the best of conditions, but Teddy carried the two of us. We got a standing ovation, which felt good.

Teddy is so talented, and seems so confident of his abilities. When we first met, he told me that he wanted to go into theatre in some way, but that he was afraid to say so to his father. Then, at the beginning of this school year, Teddy’s father called him in for a heart-to-heart about Teddy’s plans for his future since he’ll be graduating in the spring and starting college in the fall. Teddy said he reluctantly laid it out for his dad that he wasn’t interested in going into the family business, and was stunned when father gave him the okay to pursue his own interests. Teddy had confided in me that even though his father hadn’t missed one of his performances and was aware of his abilities, he thought his father would still want him to join their family’s accounting, brokering, and financial management firm. Being the only son, he thought his father would expect him to step into his shoes, and he didn’t want to disappoint him. It turned out as a that as a young man, Mr. Baxter set aside his own dreams to please his father. Teddy’s dad said his father never asked him what he wanted to do, and he never spoke up to him about what he really wanted to do. He told Teddy that even though he came to enjoy the financial work, he wanted his own son to pursue his own interests. Besides, Teddy says his oldest sister, Victoria seems better suited to that line of work, and their father appears to be grooming her for taking a spot on the board. She has a degree in finance, and according to Teddy, is very sharp in that field.

I’m glad he’s already getting opportunities to develop his considerable abilities.

At Brookfield and at Gresham Hall, they do a lot of rigorous, but interesting assignments, kind of like people usually do for college. Take, for instance, Teddy’s production for his senior project. At his school, the seniors have to complete some kind of extended public service project, or in some way show that they’ve mastered the concepts they have been studying, as well as display leadership skills in their field of study. Teddy’s covering all of his bases with the play he’s written, is producing, and directing.

The academic program I’m in here is supposed to be accelerated and prestigious, and it is challenging, but all we have to do to graduate is have a passing GPA, take and pass all the required courses, get our service credit, and make a decent score on an exit test. Seems pale in comparison and a little lame when it comes to getting a person ready for real life. In real life, you have to do more than make grades and pass a test to be successful. And what if you’re not a good test taker? How many people who would have been an asset to the field they were trying to enter, didn’t make it because they couldn’t pass a pencil to paper test?

But then, maybe if I knew what I really wanted to do with my life, I wouldn’t be thinking so much that the grass is greener over so many other fences.

On that academic note, after I hung up from Teddy, Marnie came in agitated and needing to talk. Her brother, Kyle, had called her all upset because the word is that with their  father possibly returning to Texas, their grandmother is thinking it would be best for Kyle to be pulled out of Brookfield to go to school in Texas. Since Marnie is back here in Los Angeles for a while, Kyle would be out east by himself if their father leaves the rehab center in Boston. The grandmother wants Kyle to be with his father, brothers, and the rest of  their family, but Kyle, like Marnie, doesn’t want to go to Texas to live. He likes it where he is.

Kyle has made friends, and Teddy says he’s gotten comfortable with his surroundings. Marnie is upset at the idea of him being uprooted and made to start over in yet another new place. It’s bad enough he left the school he’d been in since first grade, not to mention all of his friends, when he left Los Angeles for Brookfield last fall. Marnie says that his first academic and conduct reports were very good despite the work being harder and his schedule more regimented than the school he attended in Brentwood, not to mention being away from his family for the first time. Teddy always says how well Kyle’s adjusted and how much he seems to enjoy being there, which makes it real easy for Teddy to mentor him.

Teddy hasn’t said anything about this, but Marnie and I get the impression that Kyle’s pretty popular with the little girls, which is probably another reason he doesn’t want to leave. He’s a sixth grader, but a seventh grade Gresham Hall girl wanted to take him to the seventh and eighth grade combined schools dance last month. Kyle has only been enrolled at Brookfield since the start of this school year, so how does the girl even know him well enough to ask him out? It’s not like they’re in the same classes together or anything. The two schools are down the road from each other, and down the road translates into a walk of a mile or so. You almost never hear of an upperclassman asking someone in the lowest grade at that level to go out, particularly in those middle grades.

It turned out Kyle wasn’t allowed to go to the dance, but Marnie said she was proud of him for getting asked even though she had fussed at him about being fast and hot and getting too involved with girls. She said she told him today that he better not let his grades slide or his a– would be back in Texas because his progress is the strongest leg she has to stand on in coming to his defense.

Marnie wanted to go over to talk with Pat and Bill to see how they felt about Kyle staying on at Brookfield. She plans to use them as leverage if they agree to keep up with Kyle as they have been. But they didn’t come back here right after church, and once they did get back, they went straight to the guest house. I tried to get her to go over there, but Marnie didn’t want to intrude. It’s weird that Aunt Pat has put this much distance between herself and Marnie, but we both, Marnie and me, agreed there must be a strong reason for it. Marnie was a little nervous that she’d done something to make Aunt Pat stay away, but I tried to reassure her that it’s not about her. I hope she believed me.

I do, however, think it’s a bit rude of Aunt Pat to do that to Marnie. Me, she can do that way. I understand she has issues, but Marnie doesn’t know her as well as I do, and Marnie needs her in a different way than I do.

I didn’t say to Marnie that I thought Aunt Pat was over there scared and trying very hard to cope. If that is the case, Aunt Pat would not want us to witness her doing either. She really wouldn’t want Marnie to see her as anything but her usual invincible self because Marnie counts on her to be that person all the time. If that’s why she’s distancing herself, she’s underestimating Marnie. My diminutive friend has a pretty strong set of shoulders. She’s young, and she’s small, but she understands how to distribute weight so that it balances out for her to effectively carry it.

I think it would be a good thing for Kyle to stay at Brookfield, too. He can become his own person outside of the drama that’s sure to be found at his grandmother’s compound. The stepmother is there, and she still has problems. She naturally favors Brett and Mikey over Kyle because they’re hers, but she tends to mistreat Kyle. I’m told she can be verbally abusive to everyone around her when she’s lit up, but she’s especially hard on Kyle when she’s drunk. If Marnie’s father is there, that might bring Marnie’s mother into the picture, and that’s another element to add to the potential chaos.

Kyle has a strained, at best, long-distance relationship with his own mother, and right now his father isn’t in a position to actively advocate for him. If Kyle’s going to be on his own, he might as well be that all the way. He’s just a little kid right now, but he won’t always be. Might as well get up and at ’em right out of the gate. At boarding school, he can concentrate on himself. He’ll be forced to make his own decisions, manage his own time, and forge his own relationships. He won’t have to worry about starting over in another new school or have his life hyper-managed by a well-meaning, but sort of overbearing grandmother.

That’s one of the main reasons Marnie is so against going to Texas herself. Her father’s mother, her “Big Grandma”, is her favorite grandmother, but Lillian Benson Sanders runs her estate and everybody on it. Marnie’s father is Ms. Lillian’s only natural child, Her first husband, Marnie’s real grandfather, died when Marnie’s father was three. She married her current husband when her son was almost five. Mr. Sanders’ wife had died in childbirth, and he brought that child to the marriage along with his other two kids who were two and just turned four. According to the story, they had been good friends from way back, so them getting married just seven months after Mr. Sanders wife died seemed more like a practical thing to do rather than the scandal it might have been under other circumstances. Down the line, they had another child between them, Marnie’s Uncle Tripp. The Sanders raised all five kids as one blended family. When you go there on the compound to visit, it’s hard to follow who’s who. You can’t tell Ms. Lillian or Grandad isn’t the natural parent to anyone. Then, too, it really doesn’t matter. It’s Uncle or Aunt whoever or cousin so-and so. The words “step” or “half” don’t come up except in family history stories.

Marnie’s favorite cousin, Roach, is the only other female grandchild. She’s three years older than Marnie, and her name is really Rochelle. She used to spell her nickname “Roche” until the grandmother found a couple of burnt papers in her room from where she’d been in there smoking weed. The grandmother changed the spelling to its less fashionable form, and Rochelle, thinking that was kind of cool, just went with it. When Roach first went off to college, she didn’t handle the freedom too well. She was wild, partied like crazy, skipped classes, hung out, and everything to the point she ended up on academic probation at the end of her very first semester. The story she told us about how she cleaned up her act had me on the floor laughing.

First of all, Marnie’s grandmother does not fool around when it comes to school. Things can get kind of complicated at times with all those people living on the grounds, but craziness aside, in their family, school is a priority. There’s a trust set up for college tuitions, and the grandparents administer that trust, so anybody who wants to further pursue that academic path after high school has to tow the line the way they say it needs to be towed.

Roach said one morning she drug herself home from having been out all night, in and out of frat parties. She was hung over, still slightly buzzed, and looked like something the cat had dragged home, taken behind the couch, and played with a while longer before it cut her loose. She opened the door to her dorm room and walked in on her grandmother sitting there, waiting for her. Apparently, Ms. Lillian had been there a while; she had fixed herself something to eat, was drinking one of Roach’s smuggled in wine coolers, and was watching her soap opera on Roach’s TV.

Ms. Lillian got all over Roach and told her she had one semester to “Put the liquor away, stub out the joints, close your date book and your legs, and get your nose in your books” (shades of Aunt Pat) or she was going to make her come back home and go to community college. And she’d have to commute to do that. No more staying on campus, no more being in charge of her own life.

Needless to say, Roach sobered up and got her act together in a hurry. That was four years ago. Next spring, she’s on tap to graduate- with honors. Rochelle is one of those half-cousins, but I wouldn’t have known it if Marnie hadn’t given me the inside track. The two of them certainly don’t make any issue of it. She’s come here to Los Angeles to visit Marnie a few times, and I really got to like her. She and Marnie are kind of like Bets and me, but the age gap isn’t as wide with them.

I can see the Duchess rolling up on me like that if I was away at college, and she got wind that I was cutting up. She doesn’t mess around when it comes to school either. But then, neither do I, so it wouldn’t go down like that for me. She would show up if she wasn’t hearing from me often enough and she sensed something was going on that I wasn’t sharing that I should be sharing. Or if she “just happened to be in the neighborhood”, when in reality she was trying to see for herself what I’m into since I’m no longer under eighteen and completely hers. Like I wouldn’t quickly adjust my activities for her visit.

Betsy’s told me several stories about the Duchess turning up at inopportune moments when she was in high school and college. Betsy’s mother died when she was real young, so she was raised for the most part by her father. Consequently, she was a little overindulged and on the wild side back in the day, especially once she came into her trust. My mother took it upon herself to keep her little cousin in line. She’s the reason Bets wound up getting sent to Gresham Hall. Bets says my mother is the reason she’s still here on earth, living and breathing.

I like that. I hope I can be like that for somebody one day. That useful or as helpful to someone, I mean.

I think back to my mother’s class reunion last summer, and I’m wondering. It was a mother-daughter event, but all alumni could come whether they had a daughter or not. Betsy didn’t attend because at the time, she was out of the country. I didn’t think much of it then, but I’ve since found out about Alex, her “male companion” at the wedding this past weekend. His home in Munich, and Bets was in Germany. I’ll bet that’s where she was and who she was with. When my mother gets home, I’ll have to work in that random question about where Bets was specifically last summer.

If it turns out she was with him, I don’t blame her at all for skipping the reunion. He seems like a keeper.  Smart, accomplished, handsome, and I like how he was with Betsy. I liked him. For a scientist, he has a very warm and inviting aura. I could see in his eyes that he enjoys Betsy’s company. But then, how could he not? She’s also smart, accomplished, and  she’s very cute. She’s always upbeat and she’s interested in just about everything. Bets must like them tall. He stands about two heads over her. Some guys like a woman with some meat on her bones, and apparently he likes it like that. When he wasn’t dancing close with her, he was at the table with her, talking, laughing, and holding hands with her.

I got a quick shot at him alone when Bets went to the ladies’ room, and Dean Marchand and Ms. Smythe were out on the floor dancing with Pa and Uncle Benjamin.

Off topic, but my grandfather is real smooth on his feet. I’ve known him for sixteen years, but last weekend was the very first time I’d ever seen Pa dance. Okay, back to my conversation with Dr. Alexander Reisch.

I learned Alex is a Ph.D. He’s on consult with museums around the world, but he does the greater bulk of his work with the Deutsches in Munich and the Smithsonian here in the States. I fell in love with his accent. The German male accent is so sexy and charming to my ears. In talking with him that little bit of time, it became very apparent that Bets does a whole lot of talking to Alex about me. I had to keep bringing the conversation back around to him when he kept trying to take it there about me. Because of that, Betsy managed to make it back before I could work my way into anything personal about the two of them. I bet she had her panties pulled up crooked for breaking her neck to get back to him to keep any one of us in the family from getting to him and into their business. She scooped him right on up from the table and away from me.

That was when I picked up on my mother giving me the eye from her seat at the wedding table. I guess she had been honed in on me the whole time I was with Alex. I was so into what was I trying to get out of him that I didn’t even feel her eyes on me like I normally would. When I looked at her, she mouths, “No shame nosy magpie” real slowly and articulately to me so I could read her lips from where I was. I accepted the label without protest.

People shouldn’t hold out on me. Bets tried to slip that one in when all she had to was give me a heads up that she had a man, and he was going to be her guest at the wedding. It was bad enough that I didn’t know Uncle Benjamin and Ms. Smythe were an item until I almost choked over it at lunch when that tidbit fell from her lips while she was talking with Pa. Oh well, I got in as much as I could with Alex, but don’t think I’ve completely erased Bets from my planner. It’s not over. And don’t think I didn’t see it when the Duchess and her girl were grilling Bets while I was on the dance floor with Daddy. When my mother gets home, that’s another thing I’ll be sliding up next to her about, trying to get as much as I can out of her before she figures out that’s what I’m doing.

But I’m glad Bets has a nice guy in her life. She deserves it. Wonder if they’ll get married? And if they do, will they live here in the States or in Germany? Or will they maintain both homes since he’s in the States a lot and Bets is sort of tied to here? If they get married, will they have a baby? Or will they just remain friends? With benefits, I hope. That last one works for me. I doubt Bets would have a baby without benefit of marriage. She’s the headmistress of a girls’ school; that wouldn’t look so good, but she could discreetly have a lover and a love life that was completely her own business. If she is going to do any of that other stuff, she better get a move on. She’s not getting any younger.

It was a blast being with her.  We had talked by phone from time to time, but we hadn’t seen each other in person for a couple of years. We’ve both been busy, and never seemed to be in the same places at the same time. Every time I’m with her, though, it’s like we’ve never been apart. Aside from the things I already mentioned, I found out this time that she had never been in Pa’s house before last weekend. She also told me about how my mother started looking out for her right after Aunt Rebecca died, and that she’s always looked up to my mother. Between the lines of the more general things we talk about, there are glimpses of my cousin’s past personal experiences. Some of them weren’t so good, but she uses what she’s gone through to try to keep me on the right path. I always come away from our more serious conversations with a depth of understanding that a directive or demand could never have made. I have yet to see her work in a classroom with some students, but I bet she’s a fantastic teacher. She has always been great with me.

And it’s funny how she’s so short to me now. I must have at least four or five inches on her now in height. Of course that makes no difference about who’s in charge. I think I’ve always appreciated and gotten along with Bets because she has always treated me like a person, not like just some little kid. And what happens with Bets has always stayed with Bets. When I was little, that aspect of our relationship kept me out of what could have been very hot water on several occasions. Bets and Aunt Pat have that keeping-it-in-house thing in common, and I love them all the more for it.

Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill didn’t come over for dinner tonight, but Uncle Bill did phone to see if we needed anything. I told him we were fine. We have Marie here with us if something does come up that an adult needs to handle.

Lots more to say, but I’m kind of tired of writing. I feel like I need to get up and move around some. Been lying down and around all day. Think I’ll go for a run. No, it’s nippy out, and that might make these cramps worse. I’m overdue for workout. I’ll go down to the gym instead, run the elliptical and the treadmill for a while.

10: 49 PM

  • Backpack in order.
  • Clothes laid out.
  • Phones on charge.
  • Body showered and hair washed/dried.
  • Alarm set.
  • Pen in hand.

I’m in the bed and should be asleep, but I want to get some more written while it’s all still kind of fresh on my mind.

I left off earlier saying I was going downstairs to work out. Never even made it to the gym door. I wound up in the den again, curled up in Daddy’s chair, watching the classic movie channel on TV and going through picture albums.

After we ate dinner, Marnie went over to Tiff and Britt’s for a while to hang out with them and some other girls they had over. Tessa Falconi is back from her trip to Sicily, and had pictures to show us. She has some seriously cute Italian cousins, male of course. Marnie tried to get me to go with her over to Tiff and Brit’s, but I begged off. She knew I wasn’t feeling all that well, so she didn’t press me too hard about not going.

This is an area where Marnie and I are definitely different. Both of us are pretty wound up about Aunt Pat. We didn’t really talk a whole lot about us going to church and all today when we really didn’t have to. I know that Marnie’s way of dealing with things like this is to keep busy and stay in the mix so she can put whatever it is out of her mind. When I’m stressed, I prefer to be by myself, preferably closed off someplace quiet so I can either think, write about the problem, or attempt to block it out, or at least get it to be quiet for a while, by getting caught up in something mindless. There was a classic gangster marathon on TV today. No way was I going anywhere that I had to get dressed for and be bothered with people when I could just be by myself and continue to veg with the back-in-the-day criminals.

James Cagney, George Raft, Edward G. Robinson, Paul Muni- it doesn’t get any better. I love old black and white movies. I stayed in the den all evening until I came up here.

I also love looking at photos. For me, picture albums are sort of like a visual/mental journal, a story in picture form. You can see yourself at twelve in that dorky sweater and skirt outfit your mother made you wear, and recall what was going through your mind that kept you from grinning and saying, “Cheese!”, for that photo that has you locked for all eternity looking stupid and irritated about looking stupid.

I so remember being twelve, thirteen and thereabouts. Talk about psycho. Those years between like twelve and a half and almost fifteen were the worst period of my life so far. I never want to be that age again, and I feel sorry for girls who currently are. I keep a soft place for them in my heart. I went through so many physical changes at that time, and I was always so mixed up in the head. My body ached. I had that Osgood-Slatter thing in my knees when I was in the eighth grade and had to sit out of track for the season. I couldn’t think straight, had no judgment or impulse control whatsoever, and I stayed in trouble. “Lockdown” should have been my middle name. I thought everyone was against me, and nobody wanted me to have any fun.  Thank goodness I had people all around me who loved me enough to not let me have my way or give in to me because they were sick of dealing with me and had the patience to put up with me until times got better. I know quite a few girls who made bad mistakes, trying to be too grown, not listening, and doing all the wrong things when they in their early teens, who now that they’re older are still trying to live down the reps and the problems they made for themselves when they were so young, hardheaded, clueless, and silly.

Since I was talking about photographs and speaking of being silly, when we were in New York last week, Marnie and I got caught up in some truth or dare foolishness as the result of one the albums Marnie ran up on in Aunt Pat’s study. What we did had the potential to get us shot to the moon without a rocket, parachutes, or safety nets, but I think the other complications that came up afterward made what we did not so important in the grand scheme of things. Our being in the cold storage vault, taking pictures of ourselves half-naked while wrapped up in Aunt Pat’s furs seems to have taken a back seat to Aunt Pat taking it on the lam from her party, her and Uncle Bill being missing for a while, their car accident, and everything else.

I had left Marnie’s camera in a spot where it must have somehow raised my mother’s suspicions. With her having shown up at the apartment, making a pit stop in search of Aunt Pat, I still can’t figure out what it was about that camera that made her decide to take it up from us, but she did. Then, the next day, Marnie managed to snatch it back from her while she and my mother were together at Aunt Pat’s other house. Marnie brought the camera to me, but when I went to get the memory card out that had the pictures of us on it, the slot was empty. My mother has that card, and I know she’s seen what’s on it because she’s alluded to it, rather jabbed me with it, a couple of times in conversation since then. But I’m thinking by now she’s likely forgotten about dealing with us over it. With the serious matters that have come to light since then, she has to have more important things on her mind.

We’re in the clear.

At least I hope we are.

In that photo album that got it all started, there were some pictures of my mother that, according to the album, she’d taken as a fund raising effort. They were also supposed to have been advertising for a line of synthetic fur coats called White Fury. I’ve never heard of the brand, but the coats in the pictures were very nice. Looked almost like the real thing, which she no longer wears. My mother isn’t one to take that kind of advantage of her looks, not in a commercial way like that, but I can see her posing for those photos for the sake of a good cause. She’s all about good causes, particularly where animals and kids are involved.

I have to give it to her, those sure were some verrrrry nice shots. Sexy, but tasteful. The Duchess had it going on. When Marnie and I were playing around with the camera, posing with Aunt Pat’s coats, I mimicked some of the poses, removing some of my clothes and my bra so I looked naked under the coat like my mother did in hers. I got carried away at one point and started singing “Santa Baby” while Marnie shot video of me doing it. I hope she didn’t catch the part where I told Santa to “hurry down the chimney tonight”. If she did, I’ve got a whole lot of explaining to do because she’ll know doggone well I got the real meaning behind that line. Fortunate, at least in this sense, that  things worked out like they did because I should be good and dead now.

But that got me thinking about the time I took those pictures at school that wound up causing so much trouble. I had all my clothes on in those, but I caught hell for them just the same. Now that could have been due to the lit cigar I was holding in a couple of the shots, but I’m still questioning how what I did was worse than what she did. We both took the photos for charitable purposes- hers was animals; mine was needy kids. Could the difference have been that I was fifteen and snuck to do mine on picture day at school, and she was grown and took hers at a legitimate photo shoot? Yeah, I guess that could be what it was.

The Duchess took initial offense to mine because she thought I had done them in an attempt to be grown or to be funny. Once I was able to hold her off from her choking the life out of me and explain to her my real reasons and how much we were able to raise for the Foundation because of them, she was better about it. Before that, she was going to have Russell’s head in a bed of crispy romaine on a shiny silver platter after she got through dealing with me. But in the course of talking to me about that, she did say to me about not trading on my looks. That’s one of those things that’s stuck with me. Things worked out well for Russell, but the resulting crazy incident at the ball will always stay with me. Even though I try to push the bad part of it to the back of my memory bank, what my mother said about maintaining my personal integrity remains at the forefront of my thinking.

Another one of those times that stays etched on my mind was the time she caught me in the gazebo with Tommy. It was the start of my insane period. I often wonder what she thought when she first saw us, with our twelve-year-old selves pressed together like that. It was probably something like, “What the-?” I can just hear it shooting through her mind followed by some very bad words. She knows a bunch of languages, but she can cuss rather fluently, too, if the situation calls for it, and I’m sure that one did.

What I remember most about that day is her taking me upstairs to her room, being scared to death about what she was going to do to me, and the whole thing winding up with her only talking to me, telling me that in my lifetime I’d have to be careful about people. She said I’d come across those who would act as if they like me, when all they really want is to be with me because of what I look like or who’s daughter I happen to be, and that is so true.  I was already kind of aware of it by the time she told that to me, but to hear her say it confirmed as fact what I was sensing. Not to say I’m all that in the looks department, but events in my life, particularly some more recent ones, have shown me there are those jokers who would latch themselves to me for reasons that don’t have anything to do with who I really am.

My mother said I should be careful about who I give my kisses to, but I’m sure underneath the word “kisses”, she was referring to a whole lot more. That’s how she is. Sometimes she lays it all right out there in the open so I don’t have to guess about what she means, and other times she leaves it up to me to put the pieces together. Speaking of putting pieces together, I have gone completely off the track from talking about what I should be. Here goes.

We went to Maryland for Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill’s wedding. Unbeknownst to my mother, we were also there to witness her and Daddy renew their wedding vows.

Daddy had come to me a few weeks before to let me know what he planned to do as a surprise for my mother while we were there. It was going to be a separate little ceremony just for our family that would take place after my godparent’s wedding, but when he let Aunt Pat in on it, she insisted upon combining the two. It worked out because by the time the real deal came down, it turned out to be a double vow renewal ceremony.

Daddy and I hung out together a lot in the time before we left home for the holiday, planning the music selections, setting up the design for my mother’s ring, etc. We decided on a pinkie ring because there’s no altering that wedding ring of hers. Gorgeous to the max, and she wouldn’t have let us no matter what tale we might have come up with to get it off her hand long enough. For my part, I’d do stuff in school, go down to Hart after school, shop with Daddy, the whole nine yards. It was so much fun working with him and keeping her in the dark about all of it.

We found out Aunt Pat’s weirding out before the ceremony was because it turns out she was sick. Of course, we didn’t know she was, but we all suspected something negative was up with her. She’d lost weight, and she wasn’t acting like herself. Both were out of the ordinary for Aunt Pat. She’s one of those people who can be best described as consistent, or better yet, constant. She’s always the same degree of slim, always the same kind of confident and steady, always edgy and strictly upper crust New Yawk. Before now, I would never have described anything about her as flaky, but if I didn’t know her better than I do, that would have been the word I would have used to describe her while we were there. Since I do know her, the word that kept running though my mind was ‘scared’, and because of that, it was making me scared. I’m still scared.

She ran away from her bachelorette party at the club in Manhattan that my mother and their friends had taken her to for a bachelorette party. I’m thinking (actually hoping) it was a strip club, but that hasn’t been verified-yet, and my mother had to go looking for her in the dead of night. That’s how the camera got taken. She made me break into Aunt Pat’s desk to get a letter I happened to walk up on Aunt Pat reading and that she hid in the desk when she saw I was there.

I still cannot believe my mother ordered me to commit a B&E. And on Aunt Pat’s desk drawer, of all places. All my life she’s been on me about keeping my nose out of other people’s business, warning me about snooping and eavesdropping, but there she was ordering me to, “Fix it so she can’t tell that anyone went in it. I know you know how.”

I did it, though. I was too scared on too many levels not to. The Duchess was not playing, on just as many levels.

She took a look at that letter, and then she was out of there in pursuit of her girl, telling Marnie and me if she and Aunt Pat weren’t back, we should get on the plane the next day and head for Maryland as planned, but without them.

Turns out she found Aunt Pat at her Long Island estate that I never even knew she had, and that I still need to ask her about. When Uncle Bill decided to go there to find Aunt Pat the next morning after my mother went, he took Marnie with him while Daddy and I went to Pa in Maryland.

Off topic, but I have to admit, I’m still a little put out that Marnie’s been to Aunt Pat’s other house, and I haven’t. After all, I’m the real godchild/ niece. But that’s for later, too.

Betsy came to Maryland with Uncle Benjamin for the wedding, and she was there with me at Pa’s when Teddy showed up with Duncan. I was happy to see Teddy, and surprised and pleased to see Duncan. When I was in New York, Duncan told me he would be spending the holiday by himself since his parents were out of the country. It made me kind of sad for him to hear that, although it didn’t seem to bother him much. I was glad he came to be with friends for the weekend, although I later found out he wouldn’t have been on idle time had he stayed home. Duncan owns and runs two coffee houses, one of which he took me to when I slipped out with him for an espresso. He never told me the place was his; I guess it didn’t come up when we were talking. I didn’t find that tidbit out until we were all having lunch with Pa. Turns out Pa is familiar with Duncan’s parents, who are big on the art brokering scene, like Pa.

Uncle Bill wound up sending my mother and Marnie back to New York for their stuff and arranged for them to head on to Maryland from there. He stayed in New York with Aunt Pat. That was on a Wednesday. We wouldn’t see them again until the wedding on the following Saturday. In that time, they had gone ahead and gotten married by a judge. Uncle Bill wouldn’t let Aunt Pat tell him what was wrong with her until after they were husband and wife. That’s commitment for real, I guess. When you consider he was a long time widower who lost his first wife to illness, that was a heck of chance for him to take.

Uncle Bill and Aunt Pat were on their way to the airport to finally come to Maryland when they got into a car accident on the freeway. It had been snowy and cold. They hit a patch of ice and spun out. The car wound up on its side in a ditch. They weren’t hurt, but they were jostled and jerked around pretty hard which left them stiff and sore. The car, on the other hand, was totaled. Because of all that, they wound up having to spend the night in a hospital for observation.

Billy and Tom went to them when Uncle Bill called Billy to let him in on what happened. Since they weren’t really injured and were only being kept in the medical facility for safety reasons, Uncle Bill told them not to say anything to anybody else about the car accident because he and Aunt Pat didn’t want to worry anyone any more than they had with their absence. The rest of us didn’t know any of this because once the guys skipped out, they stopped communicating, too. Everyone assumed that being young and male, and it being the holiday, they were just somewhere hanging out with girls or something, but all the time I had the feeling it was more than that. I had concluded that Aunt Pat was missing in the first place because she didn’t want to answer any questions from my mother. She was afraid my mother would break her down, and she was too scared about what was going on to put it into words, to give the problem a voice. I don’t believe in claiming negativity either. Kind of like if it’s not addressed or acknowledged, it doesn’t exist, or it loses power. If anybody was going to get through Aunt Pat’s thick crust against her will it was going to be Jennifer Hart. There’s nobody better for that kind of action, of that I am a first-hand witness. So Aunt Pat kept it moving in any direction that was away from my mother until she got backed up to the wall by everything and there was no where left to go.

Some people might think it selfish of Aunt Pat to behave the way she has and currently is, but I think I totally understand. When you’re struggling with something, and you don’t know enough about what it is to worry someone else with it, you do what you have to do to cope. In the meantime, you depend on other peoples’ understanding and the strength of the relationships you’ve built with those you love and who love you to carry you until you’re able to do better about yourself. You see, having faith doesn’t only apply to religion and religious things, but I guess it’s still kind of spiritual however you use it.

I so hope everything turns out all right for her, or if it’s not all right, I hope it’s something that can be fixed without devastating her. As strong as she appears to be, I get the feeling that might be a front with my Aunt Pat. She’s like that strong character in a book that the author gives the reader glimpses of her frailties, but the other characters in the story don’t recognize those traits for what they are.

My mother kept it moving, too, except she used her energy to make sure everything was in order for whenever Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill showed up. Every time doubt tried to creep up on me about them making it in time, it got wiped out by my mother. Everything she did and said told me it was all going to be okay in the end. As far as the wedding went, it worked out better than okay. We get past this final hurdle tomorrow without tripping too hard, and I’ll breathe a whole lot more like normal because my heart won’t be clogging my throat like it has been.

All the while we were waiting to see what was going to happen with my godparents and their wedding, and I was taking cues from my mother, I kept my eyes on Daddy, too. He doesn’t like it when my mother is upset, especially if it’s some other person who’s upsetting her. Being that this time it was Aunt Pat, I’m sure he didn’t really know how to play it. He couldn’t get angry because then my mother would have gone on the defensive, taking up for Aunt Pat. He couldn’t lawyer up or do anything he might normally do when someone is bothering one of us; it wasn’t that kind of situation. All he could do was what he often tells me to do when things aren’t in my control- wait it out, then grab hold of the first ring that comes my way that will allow me swing to the inside of whatever it is and get a solid foothold to go at the problem. That’s just what he did.

He cut out with Cordelia when she was on her way to take Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill their wedding clothes. She thought she was sneaking out to do it, but Daddy saw her as she was trying to get out without being seen. Aunt Pat had called her from the hotel they checked into once she and Uncle Bill were released from the hospital early that Saturday morning, and they had made it to Maryland. Billy had flown all of them from New York to Maryland on the plane Uncle Bill bought for Aunt Pat as a wedding present.

Off topic again here, but talk about state of the art. We flew home to LA on the new plane. Uncle Bill had it outfitted completely for her. He said the 911 scare he had with her made him come up with the idea. Aunt Pat flies all the time, but she typically does a lot of helicopters and jump flights when she has to make her quicker moves. Uncle Bill decided a publisher operating on the scale she does should have her own plane. She’ll be commuting a lot between New York, Maryland, and Reno where they have their homes, Boston where Kyle is, and I guess Los Angeles, too, to visit us, so now she’ll have her own wings to do that. We had private pilots on board to bring us all home this time, so I didn’t get the chance to even sit in the cockpit, but the first opportunity that comes my way, I’m flying that bird.

Anyway, it’s the day of their wedding, like less than an hour before the wedding, and key people are missing. Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill hadn’t turned up yet. Then figure in Billy and Tom, who had gone missing the day before. By the time I got to Aunt Pat’s with Pa, the Dean, Ms. Smythe, Marnie was at the door, dragging me into the parlor to tell me that Daddy and Cordelia were gone, too. I didn’t even want to see my mother at that point. She’s not someone you want to hang around with when she’s stressed or aggravated, and I figured her for being both. Nothing gets on her nerves more than people not being where they’re supposed to be, and this time it was Daddy who had taken it on the lam.

I might not have wanted to see her, but she came and found me and Marnie. Busted in on us in the parlor as Marnie was filling me in. I just knew she was going to let both of us have it between the eyes with both barrels, but she didn’t. She just told us she didn’t need us adding to her frustration. Neither of us were going to do that. Marnie was in the wedding so she had to stay close. I was going to do my part by making sure my end of things was shored up and good to go. While Marnie stayed with my mother so she could line up with the rest of the wedding party when it was time, Teddy and I went out back to the reception tent to check on the sound system and the music. I was pretty sure Daddy had the equipment hooked up right, but I needed to be sure there wouldn’t be any glitches whatsoever. There weren’t. Everything ran as smooth as silk. It was Hart and Hart technology at its finest, even if I must say so myself.

There is so much to this story, and it’s getting late. I’ll probably never get it all down on paper. Seems like I’ve been writing forever about this one week in my life, but the more I write, the more I see happened in such a short span of time. The bottom line is, there is a lot of craziness and a lot of love in my family along with some very good examples of hanging in there. But I’m tired now, and I need my rest. I’ve hung in there long enough for one day.

Headed upstairs to take care of some basic needs, and then I’m going to bed.

Good night,

J.

___________________________________________________________

December 2, 2001

Monday

3:57 AM

I may have to pretend to be sick later on this morning because I haven’t had a moment’s sleep. Been wide awake, tossing and turning, and thinking about everything and anything ever since I came upstairs. I won’t be in any condition to sit through my classes. I’ll be irritable and cranky to the max. Can’t stop thinking about what the grownups idiotically keep telling me to keep off my mind; it’s a perfect recipe for my getting detention, if not suspended, for telling someone where to go, or worse, snapping up a teacher for saying the wrong thing to me at the wrong time.

I’m a nervous wreck. A straight-up mess, and I don’t know what to do about it. The two people I might turn to for help in this situation happen to be the situation this time, so where does that leave me?

Right where I am. Sleep deprived with a stomachache that’s not entirely due to menstrual cramps and inadequate preventative health efforts on my part.

Sometimes I wish I was six again when everyone else handled things, school was mostly about reading, writing, playing and singing. My body parts were still in the pre-formed dormant stage. When you’re little like that, people don’t  allow you to be in the loop. They keep stuff from you to protect you from what you might not understand. Then you get older, and while you might appreciate finally being considered mature enough to comprehend and handle certain things, it’s still a lot to deal with emotionally. Sometimes too much.

God, please let Aunt Pat be okay. Please work it so the doctors give her some news that’s workable.

Grandmama, can you wrap me up in your arms for a little while, so I can get some rest?

And wrap my mother up, too, because I know she’s lying there trying to make my daddy think she’s all right when she’s not.

Wonder if Aunt Pat’s asleep? Since I’m up, think I’ll go check on Marnie.

Later, J.

8:25 AM

I never did get back to sleep this morning. Way too much on my mind. Each notion was up there doing its own thing, and I didn’t get a lick of rest. This is going to be a long, long day.

When I went to check on Marnie, she was awake, actually reading a book. A sleazy romance novel, but a book just the same. We started talking about not being able to sleep, which led to talking about other stuff, and the next thing we knew, her alarm went off to get her up for school. So now we’re both in our first period classes, all worn out and looking like raccoons around the eyes.

On the way in, we scored some coffee in an effort to perk up, then I came in here to Lit and  got Kimmee Wang to switch seats with me so I could be in the back today. We’re still on Poe, so I’m zoning for this period.  I’ve got Edgar Allen and the symbolism associated with him pretty much down pat. What I don’t have, I can figure out later. It’s not like I can concentrate on something like that right now anyway.

Speaking of symbolism- and switching over to a channel with less static- one of the major threads running through all these random thoughts of mine has been that doll house. I’m thinking it’s hugely symbolic, too.

Until last summer, my mother’s old doll house sat hidden away in my grandfather’s home, just like a whole lot of things from the past, since shortly after the accident that killed my grandmother. When my grandfather lost his wife, he closed off and stashed away from his immediate sight all his wife’s personal belongings, including her daughter who he sent away to boarding school. To have that kind of cut and dry reaction, he must have really loved my grandmother. I figure it had to hurt him tremendously to be constantly reminded of her by a girl who looked a whole lot like her, even if that girl was also his daughter.

Wonder if it would be like that for Daddy if something happened to my mother …. Would my face, my presence, cause him the kind of pain that would make him put me away from him?

Why go there? …like I would agree to that if he tried it. Talk about being hell on her father’s hands….

He knows better….

When my grandfather decided to hit the road and bury himself in his work, he put his daughter and all of  her stuff far away from him, too.

For a long time, I always thought it kind of mean of him to have done those things. But lately, I have come to understand that people do what they have to do to get over the rough places. If they want to survive, that is. Pa had to survive, if only for his kid. I can see him making up his mind to do just that. He is definitely a man who believes in living up to commitments and in finding and fulfilling ones purpose. He would have considered raising my mother to adulthood his purpose, even if he did do it long distance.

After my mother spent those days in the attic of the guest house last summer, she is a whole lot better about things as they relate to her own mother, and so is Pa. My mother mentions her mother to me more often now, where before I practically had to squeeze her like a grape to get anything out of her along those lines. I’d almost gotten to a place where I was afraid to try to make her talk about my grandmother because it seemed make her so uncomfortable. Then, it would hurt me when she’d say she didn’t remember things. I believed she was telling the truth when she’d tell me about not remembering. After all, she was only twelve when her mother died. But that didn’t change my wanting to know about my grandmother. With daddy not having parents, I started feeling very cheated in the grandparent/ family history department. Lately, though, so many things seem to be coming back to my mother that she shares with me when they do.

But, back to the dollhouse.

When I got to Pa’s house this time, I found that along with all the other stuff I’ve mentioned he’d done to the house, he had the dollhouse brought down (up?) to the solarium. In the light of day, its age and abandonment were a lot more obvious. The paint had faded and was flaking in places. The nameplate over the front door had tarnished. The whole thing looked pretty shabby, a lot like something you’d see on DYI where the potential for a good rehab is there. And like all the stuff that’s gone on with our family’s past, on my mother’s side at least, that’s just what it turned out to be.

On Monday, after my parents, my godparents, and everyone else left Maryland, and I was alone with Pa, he and I sat down to talk. I asked him what made him bring the dollhouse down and why he had all the repair supplies in the room with it. I was curious about what made him anticipate someone working on it that weekend. Or if maybe he had planned to work on it himself after we were gone. By that time, I had learned that my grandfather was a skilled artisan in the woodworking field, so it stood to reason that he could have done that for himself to work on it, and we just took it for granted that all that stuff was for us. But then, why all the aprons and gloves?

Pa confirmed that he planned the whole thing to be a project to keep us kids busy while the adults took care of their business. He said he expected that unsupervised, we would make a huge mess. He planned to oversee the job as we went and to help us along, or for us to make a project for him to work on once we were gone.

But Pa had no idea that Duncan Sinclair would be showing up, and taking charge the way he did. Pa was so impressed with the job all us kids wound up doing. We refinished the furniture for the dollhouse as well as refurbished the exterior and interior; however, I use the word “we” loosely. Duncan did the major part of the painting and detailing of the house itself. At one point, Pa came in and helped him. The rest of us just followed Duncan’s lead. We didn’t even watch the game on Thanksgiving. Now that’s saying something for getting engrossed in what you’re doing.

What makes the whole thing symbolic for me is that Pa told me the main reason he brought the dollhouse down to the main house again was because of me. I recall when we were together last summer asking him to bring the painting of my grandmother and her horse down to the music room, which he did, but I don’t remember talking to him about the dollhouse. Maybe I did, but it caught me off guard to run up on it in my favorite room at Pa’s when I was showing Teddy, Duncan, and Betsy around. It was the bringing the past in to hook up with the present, and the two merging to prep for the future.

For me. The future of the Edwards family will be my children, should I have any.

And I do plan to have children. One day… and the Harts will go on, as well.

Through me.

Deep.

That’s the bell. My life is being dictated to by bells. Like a boxing match. Gotta make it through the next round, and then we’ll see what happens from there.

J.

1:10 PM

It’s definitely not good for me to be walking around, trying to function in this setting, as sleep-deprived as I am. At the moment, I’m not walking around, and I’m not in class trying to function. Had to clock out for a bit. I’m by myself at a back table in the library when I should be at lunch.

I’m not at all hungry, and right now I’m irritated on top of having been irritable in the first place. What I should have done, when Grimsley approached me at my locker, was ask her if I could go home. But then, if I had asked, and she called home to get clearance to release me, that would have opened up a whole other can of worms, and I have never been a fan of worms.

I feel kind of bad about the exchange. She was only doing her job, and I wasn’t really nasty about it; I try not to be that way to anyone even if that is how I really feel, but I particularly try not to be that way to adults. However, Ms. Grimsley should know better by now. I am not Marnie, and I don’t do school counseling.

Ever since Mr. Benson’s accident, and especially since Marnie has been back from New York, the teachers- except Calvin, of course- and other staff have been handling her with kid gloves. That’s fine because Marnie is the kind of person who needs that.  When she left for New York last semester, it was because she wanted to be closer to her father and her brother for a while, not to mention she felt she needed the kind of attention Aunt Pat could pay to her. Since Marnie planned to be gone only temporarily, Grimsley made all kinds of arrangements with the school and the school district to let Marnie be a commuter student so she could maintain her academic status. After her grades slid some during that bad time with her perv stepfather, Marnie’s worked real hard and made her way back into the top ten. Nobody wanted her to jeopardize that. I thought it a very nice thing for Grimsley to have arranged. She didn’t have to. I doubt there are many students she would have gone to those kinds of lengths for, but she’s well aware of all of Marnie’s “special circumstances”.

Grimsley has been our counselor since we were in the sixth grade. She moved up to high school when we did, so she has established some strong relationships with a lot of her counselees, Marnie in particular. She and I get on okay; I have nothing at all against her. She’s actually a very nice, very caring and sincere lady, but I don’t, have never, needed her counseling me on a personal level. I thought I’d made that clear to her way back when, but every now and then, she slips and tries it. Like a little while ago.

I’m at the locker, had just got out of third period, when she walked up to me wanting to know how I was “holding up”. I said I was fine, which I was as far as it concerned her, having no idea at first precisely what she was talking about. It has a tendency to show in my face when I’m physically off, so I thought initially that was what she was alluding to. Then she goes, “I know you’re worried over your aunt.”

I shut it down right there. I told her I was fine, and left it there. I guess she got the hint and shut her side of it down, too. She didn’t even make her usual offer of my coming to her open door if I felt the need. She knew I wasn’t coming. She just patted my shoulder and told me she was just checking. Then she went back up the hall.

Whatever.

When Tommy and I got kidnapped that time, Grimsley called us in once we got back to school. She was trying to feel around and see if we were traumatized or anything by our experience. Neither of us were, so neither of us availed ourselves of her services. She was fishing for details about what happened, but we weren’t going there. The matter had been handled within our families, and as far as anyone else went, it was over by that time. She could read the rest in the paper or get it from Marnie, who I’m sure filled her in on as much as she knew. As for Tommy, he hadn’t gotten over that experience with Milini. I’m talking about that time when he got caught up in her pregnancy, and he was trying to help her out by letting people think he was the father of her baby when they both knew he wasn’t. At first, Grimsley let him have it about getting her pregnant, then, when the truth came out, she got with him about taking the rap when it wasn’t his to take and jeopardizing his reputation. As a result, when the kidnapping thing came around, Tommy didn’t have a whole lot to say to Grimsley about anything. As a rule, he’s not much of a talker, particularly to adults about his problems. He wasn’t about to tell her anything much, and neither am I. For me, it’s just how I am.

I still don’t quite understand Tommy having done that for Mil. He tried to make it make sense to me, and I defended him to others when I had to, but if I was a boy, in his place, I’d have left Milini hanging, especially if I was sure I wasn’t the one who knocked her up. Tommy only got me off of him about it when he told me in confidence that he was only going along with it because he felt sorry for her AND he knew he wasn’t the daddy because she would have been about ready to have the baby had it been his; it had been months since he’d screwed her. I told him it’s one thing to be nice or to be sympathetic, but quite another to admit to something that could get you killed. His mother was about to do just that to him, too, before it all came to light that he’d been covering for Milini, who had no idea whose baby it was because she had wound up getting raped by several guys when she went off with one guy she didn’t really know. Tommy had already committed himself to helping her by the time I got to him, so he went along with it until the bottom fell out- real bad choice of words- until she told the truth about everything after she miscarried the baby.

I’m shuddering here. That was such a scary incident. I will never forget that as long as I live. Still can’t go into that stall in the locker room. My mother said I couldn’t possibly have seen a baby in that toilet; it would have been too small to see with just my eyes, but I will swear on a stack of Bibles until the day I die that I did see the little form of one in all that blood in that commode.

If I had been dating anyone when that went down, and we had been anywhere close to thinking about having sex, that day would have put me completely off the idea. My boyfriend would have died of a severe case of blue balls fooling around waiting for me to make good on any promise I might have made before that happened because he wouldn’t have been getting anything here afterward. Hell, as it was, I wasn’t thinking about having sex at all at that time, and I think Milini’s situation and the fallout from it pushed even the inkling of a notion about getting into any serious/sexual relationships even farther away from me. Too much opportunity for dire, life-altering consequences on way too many levels for a girl. Messed up reputation, broken trusts, too much negative impact on the present, not to mention the future.

I remember my mother coming into my room that day to ask me if I was having sex. Another one of our Kodak moments.

While she was waiting for me in the car after school that afternoon, she had heard some girls, a couple of them my friends, talking about a boy and a girl doing it. After she heard my name get dropped in the course of their conversation, my mother jumped to the wrong conclusion and panicked . The Duchess was in that chair, poised and ready to wring my neck if I had given somebody some and had people discussing my business, all common and everything, on the public streets.

Please.

After I got over the shock of how bluntly she put confronted me, I told her, when I get ready to do it, she’ll be among the first to know about it because she will have been the one who took me to get the exam and the script for the pill I’ll be on. And when I do the deed, whoever he is will be wearing a condom. Maybe a couple of them. My mother tried to get me on the pill earlier this year to make my periods and the cramps not be so excruciating and to help me with my anemia, but I turned her down. I don’t like meds in the first place. And then who knows how much resolve I’d have if the stakes weren’t so high? And the guy was really cute. And sexy. And nice. With nice eyes. And a tight butt.

How in the world did I get on this track? Trying to avoid thinking/writing about the obvious, I guess. Funny the places the mind can wander off to when it’s not focused on one thing.

Aunt Pat and Uncle Bill should be at her consultation about now. I want to phone them so badly. When we left for school this morning, we just texted Uncle Bill rather than call over to the guest house like we normally do. Then we blew the horn as we went past. Neither one of us wanted to phone, not like Aunt Pat was going to answer the phone anyway. We didn’t want to bother either of them. On the low, for me it was just too tense at that point in time for even “Good morning” in words.

Why can’t life be simple? Don’t get me wrong; I love a bit of excitement just as much as the next person. In fact, according to my mother, Daddy and I like it a bit more than the norm, but why does there always have to be something to come along that cinches up the details every time things are going well? I’m told it’s the hard places that make a person appreciate the good things they have in life, but seeing as how I wasn’t making any negative noise about what I currently have…. It was all good as far as I was concerned.

Now this.

It’s going to work out. I just know it is. At least I hope so much that it does.

I remember when I went to Aunt Pat on the night I got home after being kidnapped. I couldn’t sleep because Tommy was still gone, and my mother was acting so funny toward me. At the time I couldn’t see that last thing was because my mother was recovering from being so scared about not knowing where I was or what was happening with me while I was AWOL. She weirds completely out when it’s me who’s missing. I’m sure most mothers do, but it’s an unusually strange reaction with her. She can’t take that at all when it’s me. I went to Aunt Pat for clarification, and she put it all into perspective for me. Nobody can clear p things like that for me like Aunt Pat, except of course, my mother, but in that instance, my mother was the one with the issues.

Aunt Pat was essentially like, “It’s her problem. Go to sleep.” Period.

Then, when my mother showed up in the bedroom with Aunt Pat and me, Aunt Pat nice-nasty told her to get her act together when it came to how she was treating me; I had been traumatized enough without having to come home to a distant-acting mother.

I wasn’t supposed to hear that part; I was supposed to be asleep by that time, but I wasn’t. I was on my side of the bed cracking up and trying not to shake with it. I love it when somebody gets with my mother, and she has to listen because they’re right. It’s usually Pa or Aunt Pat doing it when it happens. Sometimes it’s Daddy, but for some reason it’s not as much fun on the very rare occasion that he’s the one who has to do it, and I’m around to hear it.

There was also last summer, when I went to Aunt Pat when Daddy got sick, and he and I had to land in Las Vegas to get him some help. Once she got there from San Francisco, my mother got on my nerves, which were already kind of bad, so I ran away from her to Aunt Pat. Aunt Pat didn’t try to make it better that time, but she and Uncle Bill did help me get myself together and to better understand what was going on with me. I was more of a mess that I realized I was. I thought I was only angry with my mother, but it went a lot deeper. I was scared as hell, and typical for me, I didn’t want to admit it- not even to myself that time. Aunt Pat, even though she let me have it for being short-sighted on some things, was there for me. She let me get my drink on so I could get some sleep, and then she accompanied me back to the firing line, propped me up in front of the double barrel, and left me there to fend for myself. She hoped I’d survive the shots. I did. Barely.

I wish Aunt Pat would let me be there for her.

But then, maybe in her own way, she is letting me. After all, she did come here to Los Angeles for her tests, and she did opt to stay at our house with me after sending my parents away. In leaving me on my own, she is trusting me to do the right things, and Marnie. So far, we have. That has to be a comfort to her.

Maybe….

I don’t know. It’s time for the bell. Just as well because along with being out of time, I’m out of thoughts.  Three classes to go, then two meetings to attend. This day is panning out to be just as long as I thought it would be. I hope I make it without a meltdown.

BB (Hopefully with something good to say.)

3:55 PM

Bored, but agitated. Have a couple minutes down-time to use up.

About to leave Band. We had a very good session today, but my heart wasn’t in it. Even Mr. Washington commented to me- privately because he’d never call me out in front of everyone; that isn’t his style, at least not with me- that my head didn’t seem to be there today.  Without going into detail, I confirmed that for him. I told him I had a lot on my mind that didn’t have anything to do with school, but that had no doubt affected my playing. He said my work wasn’t bad; it just wasn’t me. Funny how he could hear that, but I guess that’s why he’s the master at what he does. It makes sense that the music that comes through a person would definitely reflect ones mood. Like with art. But then, instrumental music is art, isn’t it? Just painting in another medium with another kind of brush.

Mr. Washington told me he understood, and, since I’m usually on my game better than I was this afternoon, that he’d let me slide. Is that a correctly written sentence? It’s my journal, what the hell.

On to these two meetings when I get out of here- Honor Society and team captains’ and managers’ meeting with the Head Coach and the Athletic Director. I hope they don’t hold us too long in either one. Marnie’s a part of both groups, so that will put us together for a while before we go home. We can compare notes, see how each other is holding up. I haven’t seen her much since we got here this morning. Just in passing, and we weren’t talking about anything significant when we did see each other, although I’m sure our minds have been stuck on the same wavelength. Sure wish I could call home, find out what’s up, and get this knot out of my stomach, but I can’t, and I probably wouldn’t if I could. Not sure if I really want to know.

I’m so tired, but wound up tight at the same time.

Odd. Haven’t heard from my mother all day, not even a good morning text, which is way out of the ordinary for her. I texted her this morning, like always, but not even a feeler of any kind back from her or daddy. But somehow that doesn’t surprise me. She’s likely feeling the same way as me right about now, and he’s busy keeping an eye out for and on her. They probably figure I’m in good hands, and with school, and being a kid and all, I’m okay.

Yeah, right.

There’s the bell. Round seven.

Later.

5:57 P.M. (Sent to myself via phone and written into book at 9:44 PM)

Just got word. Marnie is a basket case. Need to go see to her.

9:48 PM

The torture is over.

As far as anybody can tell right now from the test results, Aunt Pat is going to be all right after all.

Turns out the lump is actually a cyst, and Dr. Kendall says the tests don’t show any malignancy. It can be drained, but with Aunt Pat’s family history with cancer, Dr. Kendall is recommending that the entire thing be removed. That procedure would involve a relatively minor surgery that won’t require hospitalization beyond the actual operation and a short time in recovery to make sure her system is stable before releasing her to complete the healing at home. Aunt Pat said as much as she hates hospitals and as much as she detests the idea of going under the knife, she agrees with Dr. Kendall about not taking any chances.

I quote, “The damn thing isn’t paying any rent to be in there; it didn’t sign a lease of any kind and wasn’t approved by any sit board I sit on, so it has to get the hell out. I don’t suffer squatters.”

No free rides when you move with Pat Hamilton. Everybody and everything has to pull their own weight.

Despite her telling us she was having surgery, we had to laugh at what she said about it. It was so Aunt Pat, and that in itself was such a relief.

Marnie and I got the news she was okay while we were in the athletic committee meeting. It came as a text from Aunt Pat, and all it said was, “You’re not rid of me yet. Come straight home,” stroked in abbreviated text language. Aunt Pat can fire off a message from that Blackberry of hers quicker than any old person I know. With one thumb, no less.

On some levels, I’m happy that my people are technologically savvy. Most of my friends’ parents haven’t bought into texting yet; they still have flip phones or even analogs in some cases. You want to tell them to just go ahead and put the house phone in their pocket or purse. Their kids have to wait for or make actual phone calls to their parents, or they have to wait for a chance to get to a computer to check their emails before they can get some news or send any. Both f my parents, Aunt Pat, and Uncle Bill all work in fields that require they stay current. As far as that goes, Daddy is the field, so we all get to be cutting edge. But that cutting edge thing does have a negative side. I’ll go into that a little farther down the page.

We’re sitting next to each other in the meeting, we get the text, and both of us check our phones at the same time. Me, I breathe a sigh of relief, realizing at just that moment how severely stressed I had been all day. It was like somebody suddenly releasing their pinch hold on a balloon being blown up to the point of just about bursting.

Marnie, on the other hand, jumped up and ran out of the room. That stopped Coach Rogers in mid-sentence of what he was saying to everybody in the meeting.

I could feel everyone in the room looking at us when I ran out behind Marnie. I didn’t see her when I got in the hall, so I figured her for being in the girls’ restroom up the way, but she wasn’t. Something told me to come back and check the one in the teacher’s lounge next door. Sure enough, that’s where she went- somewhere we could both get killed or get some real detention for being caught in, even if it was after school.

She had the door locked and the water running, but I could hear her. It sounded like she was coughing, or, I thought, maybe throwing up. I knocked on the door and called for her. She tried telling me through the door she was okay and to just go back. I told her I wasn’t going anywhere without her, and that she need not make me kick the door in. She knew I would do just that, so she let me in.

It was bizarre. Marnie was in there, sitting on the commode, fully clothed, but doing this funny kind of crying, choking, and laughing at the same time thing. I had never seen her do that before, and I didn’t know what to make of it. In fact, she was scaring me with it.

Was she scared? Angry? Upset? Happy? Losing her mind? What? I had to ask her several times what in the world was going on. I mean, I understood that getting the text should have been a huge relief for her, but was it? At that point, I couldn’t tell at all, and I didn’t know what to do for my friend.

Go figure. Pat is my godmother, but she might as well be Marnie’s real aunt; their relationship is running just that deep these days. In fact, I believe Marnie might have been more pent up and anxious over Pat than I was. But then I have to consider that along the way I have had the benefit of writing my thoughts and worries down, getting them out somewhat, as opposed to Marnie, who was walking around trying to make it seem to everybody like everything was okay in her world. I’ve said it before, Marn has small shoulders, but there is an awful lot riding on them. She makes it seem like her family stuff, the thing with her and her mother, her father’s health,  and all of that isn’t a burden on her, but a reaction like the one I saw her have today tells me that things might be a whole lot heavier for her than I suspected, or perhaps more than she even realizes herself.

Kind of reminded me of those attacks I was having earlier this year after going through a couple of bad incidents. Dr. Kendall felt they were stress related. She suggested counseling, but you know I wasn’t going for that. I never knew what those episodes were, but they started all of a sudden, and they went away on their own. I’d start breathing hard, then choking up until I almost couldn’t breathe and felt like I wanted to pass out. I don’t have them any more, and I haven’t once wondered where they went. After I got back from Vegas that time Daddy got sick, Dr. Kendall called to check on me, and she asked me if I’d had one of the attacks during the emergency. That was when I realized I hadn’t had one up there on that plane or during any of the crazy time I was trying to get Daddy to help.

Kind of scared me to think what might have happened if I had. Probably scared Dr. Kendall, too. But that was when I was certain I had gotten my mojo back.

I have suggested more than once to Marnie, particularly after she went through that bad patch with her last stepfather, that keeping a journal might be a good thing for her, too, but she shot that right down. She said she couldn’t do it because 1.) she doesn’t like that kind of writing that much, 2.) it would take up too much of her time, and she’d feel bad if she started journaling but didn’t follow through with keeping it up, and 3.) she doesn’t see the sense in telling on herself or bearing her own witness.

You have to know Marnie to go, “Yeah, okay,” once you got to #3 because that one would totally make sense to you if you really knew my girl.

All I could think to do for her in that restroom was squeeze onto the commode with her and hug her to me until she calmed down- and hope the water stayed down there in the bowl where it was. Both of us on the same toilet and all. One of those things you’d only do with your girl that you bring up later and laugh about.

I feel sorry for boys sometimes. They’re too macho to hug, much less sit on the same commode to comfort their boy. Girls can be messy, backstabbing, and dramatic at times, but I think we do a lot better job of supporting each other when we’re sincere about it.

After she couldn’t get me to go out and leave her alone like she kept trying to get me to do at first, Marnie broke down and admitted to me that she didn’t know what was happening to her. She couldn’t understand why she was crying and melting down when she was actually as happy and relieved as she could be to have gotten that good news. Then I think she got embarrassed for herself because she stopped talking about the matter at hand, stiffened up, and very quietly asked me if I would please just leave her alone for a few minutes so she could get herself together. One of us, she said, needed to be in the meeting to take notes on what was going on because it wasn’t like we could count on Hector or DeVaughn, his team manager to take any decent notes for us and the girls’ track team to have.

“Hell, neither one of them can spell worth a damn. Or write a sentence anybody could make sense of on the first pass.” – Marnie

I remember that first time Hector tried to get me to proof one of his Lit papers.

“the monkey paw”, scrawled exactly like that- in manuscript like a second grader- just as big as you please at the top of the paper. I didn’t read any farther than that. The paper was due the next period, not enough time to even pull out the defribbulator pads. The paper had already coded, pupils fixed and dilated, skin cool to the touch. Hector had waited way too late seek the kind of rescue attempt he needed for that mess. All I could do was break it to him gently that the best thing he could do with it at that point was turn it in and get the ‘F’ he probably got.

I never asked him how he made out on it, and he never said. But the next time he needed that kind of service, he had a twenty dollar bill in his hand, and he gave me a lot more lead time.

I got back to the meeting room, and everyone wanted to know if Marnie was all right. For once, I was wishing Grimsley was somewhere around so I could have sent her in to check on and talk with Marnie, but she had left right after the earlier Honor Society meeting. I don’t even remember what I said to answer everyone, but the meeting resumed, and I stayed until the end. Marnie never did come back to the room. When the meeting was over, I had to gather up her notepad and pens and her tote bag that she left, along with all my stuff. Quite a load that was.

She was in the car when I got out there, motor running and ready to go, asking me what took me so long. Wasn’t she the one who told me to go back and make sure I got the notes so we’d know what was going on? Did I not have to lug her crap and mine to the car? Did she even thank me for getting her crap?

Nevertheless, I didn’t say anything. I knew her nerves were bad, and she was itching to get home to Pat. And so was I.

For the first time in days, Aunt Pat was in the house when we got home. She was by herself, working on my mother’s PC in the great room. Now I don’t know if it was because I hadn’t seen her since that night out in the yard, or because I was so happy about the content of the text message, but she looked so good to me. She appeared rested, at peace, happy. Well as happy as she can look. Aunt Pat has a more “amused” expression than she does one that could be called “happy”. To be honest, the word “happy” doesn’t really fit her in any sense. I can’t really describe it, but somehow, Aunt Pat is more of an amused person than happy.

At any rate, she told us to put our stuff away, get settled and then come back down to talk with her. The whole time, she never got up from the computer and never really stopped doing what she was doing. I was happy to see her looking and acting like herself again, but it did dawn on me for a moment that she was working on what was supposed to have been her honeymoon.

So, of course we hurried up and did what we had to do to get back down there to her.

Aunt Pat was still on the computer when we made it back to the great room, but she told us to go ahead and sit on the couch; she’d talk to us while she finished up what she was doing. She said it was something she’d been putting off that couldn’t wait any longer. Aunt Pat is a master multi-tasker, and if she had some things to get caught up on, it made sense that she might be behind on them, so it didn’t seem the least bit out of place for her to handle filling us in the way that she was. That was how and when she told us about the lump being a cyst, about the outpatient surgery, and all of that.

With Aunt Pat at the desk, facing the back of the couch Marnie and I were sitting on, Aunt Pat couldn’t see me shoot off the text I sent my mother. I just said, “It’s all good,” because the Duchess would get precisely what I meant by that. And she did because she hit me right back with, “Thank you, my sweet girl.”

I love when she calls me that.

Off track some here, but I don’t want to lose the train of thought. It wasn’t like I really broke a rule or didn’t follow a directive in sending that message. Aunt Pat told my mother not to be bugging her or us about her. She did not say I couldn’t pass a message on to my mother. And it wasn’t like I came out and said. What I typed could have been taken many kinds of ways, could have meant anything. I mean, anything can be “all good”. But there was no way I was leaving the Duchess hanging on such an important news bulletin. Now she can go on and truly enjoy the rest of her trip with her husband.

I know my mother. As sure as my name is Justine Jennifer Hart, Jennifer Justine Edwards Hart has been worried and anxious over what those test results would reveal. How could she not be? It wouldn’t have been fair to have left her completely in the dark about it all when she didn’t have to be. It’s easy to say the words, “Don’t worry,” to somebody, but it’s a whole other thing to get the person being asked not to worry to quit doing it. It’s not going to happen, and it’s really not going to happen with Jen over someone she cares so much about.

Then, too, for once, my mother doesn’t have a leg to stand on if she tries to come at me for having broken any rules, if indeed what I did counts as that. After all, she made me commit a B and E on my godmother, her best friend, for her. All I did was pass on some classified information that it wasn’t exactly specified as classified coming from me. We both, my mother and I, thought we were justified in the actions we took. It would be best if she just left my text to be yet another one of those things that remains just between us.

Okay, back to where I was.

We asked when they were doing the surgery, and Aunt Pat she was scheduled for Wednesday of this week. The operation is slated for 8:45 AM. Marnie and I will be in school- again she wouldn’t let us miss classes to go with her and Uncle Bill- but barring any unforeseen delays or complications, they should be back by the time we make it home from school. Dr. Kendall told her that she’d have to take it easy and limit the use of her arm on that side for a couple of days. Because of that, she and Uncle Bill will be moving into this house with us so we can help out if Aunt Pat needs it.

She goes, “Since I’m older, it may take me a little longer than the doctor projects to get back to full speed.”

That remark kind of caught me off guard, but a little while later, I got what she was really saying. (Set up)

Then I hear a click and the panel over the LCD projector in the cabinet slides back while the screen over the fireplace starts to roll down from the ceiling. Marnie and I look at each other, trying to figure out what’s going on. Aunt Pat doesn’t say a word. She’s still over there tapping on the computer. It wasn’t until, “The Stripper,” starts blaring from the surround sound that I got a clue, that was confirmed by the probably eight foot image of my half-naked self wrapped up in Aunt Pat’s sable fading into focus on the screen.

Cutting edge.

Photo shopped, retouched, the whole nine yards. The woman had put together a movie with the shots Marnie and I took in the cold storage closet at Aunt Pat’s apartment. My mother must have passed to Aunt Pat that memory card I had hoped was forgotten before she left town. I could have died. Just straight-up seized and expired right there on that couch.

But I look to that doggoned Marnie, and she is over there grinning like an idiot at the images of herself. Like she was proud of it. WTH????

I have to give it to Aunt Pat. She’s old, but she has some mad editing skills. I had no idea.

We must have had 35-40 stills on that card, and then that video Marnie shot of me singing, “Santa Baby”, which Aunt Pat had gone and dubbed Eartha Kitt’s version over my voice. That video would have been genius had it not been designed at my expense. I was soooooooooooo glad my mother wasn’t at home to see it. She would have had a fit if she had seen what I was doing with those furs. By the time it got to the end, I was watching through the tiny gaps between the fingers of both hands that I had up to my eyes. Mortified is not the word.

So, to cut to the chase, we’re shut down for the rest of the week and the weekend. Not for playing in the cold storage or for messing around with the furs, but for, “losing our cool and being sloppy” with the evidence. Marnie tried to get out of it by selling me out, talking about it was me who left the camera lying around, but Aunt Pat told her to just hush because Marnie knows good and well it’s two for one “in this type of B.S.”

Which it certainly is. I did lose my cool and get sloppy. Very unlike me, but then the Duchess was involved, so all regular bets were off. She is the only person on earth who can rattle me like that. But I guess that’s as it should be. Who else but a girl’s mother? Even a slick somebody like me. I’m never as slick with my mother as I make the attempt to be. Catches me slipping every time.

But for real, I don’t mind. I’d rather be stuck here at Aunt Pat’s beck and call than sitting around crying, worrying, and agonizing over what we could have been facing. I’m sure Aunt Pat is going to make herself be a royal pain because she said she’s sending Uncle Bill to Reno to take care of some business he was trying to avoid in an effort to be here fore her. She claims he’s hovering, and it’s getting on her nerves, so as soon as it’s clear she’s out of the woods and on the mend, she’s putting him on a plane to give them both a break.

I think she just doesn’t want him to see her in any pain or struggling in any way. In my mind, the jury is still out on if he really goes anywhere after her surgery. She may be underestimating him. After all, they are newlyweds, and don’t know each other that well yet, at least not as actual man and wife. She may not be as much in charge as she’s used to being or thinks she is. Uncle Bill is one of those quiet storms that kind of creeps up a person.

And speaking of man and wife, I’ll be glad when my parents get back home. I’m glad they’re off having some time alone together, but I could really use a hug from my Daddy and a good conversation with my mother. There is so much I want to ask her about this past weekend, and to talk with her about in general. Some time this weekend, I still want to get with Aunt Pat to find out more about her Long Island house and why she’s never told me about it or taken me there.

I sure hope Aunt Pat doesn’t show my mother that movie she made of Marnie and me. I’m fairly certain my mother has probably already seen all the pictures and the video (jeeezzzz!!!!) since she saw fit to give that memory card to Aunt Pat, but Aunt Pat’s enhancements might reignite a fire in the Duchess that may have petered out some by now.

Looking at things in that light, maybe I’ll put off having any in-depth conversations with my mother once she does show back up. She probably has a lot she wants to ask me that I don’t want to have to deal with.

I think I’m going to sleep pretty well tonight. Better get it in before the Duchess does make it back home because I’m more than likely fried for real once that happens. Forget reigniting her fire; I’m not fooling myself with thinking it died down. She hasn’t forgotten. Not my mother. Not about me when I was somewhere acting common, and she knows about it, even if I was inside a closet doing it.

Whatever. I’ll deal with that and her when it happens.

It really is all good.

Really.

Good night,

J.

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Continue to Ages Seventeen and Eighteen 

 

 

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