Principles: Part Three

Day One: Tuesday

 Before dawn….

Like finishing and closing a deeply satisfying novel, Jonathan faded from sleep into gradual wakefulness. Eyes not yet open to the world, his mind clicked into gear preserving and saving fading watercolor images from the night before.

“Darling?”

He reached for the unseen source of that one-word question.

Soft. Warm. Right there. Most reassuringly beside him.  “Was I snoring?”

“No.” Her hand caressed his shoulder, its touch transmitting her concern. “You were just sort of restless.”

“Did I wake you with it? I’m sorry if I did.”

“You didn’t wake me; I was already up. You know I always sleep more lightly when there’s a big day ahead.”

When her fingers lightly brushed at the hair fallen across his brow, he opened his eyes. It was still too dark to see much more than her form, but she was there. Right there.

“Bad dream?”

He shook his head. “No. A nice one, actually- well, it turned out nicely in the end. In fact, I didn’t want to wake from it, but then when I did, you were here. That more than made up for the dream ending too soon.”

“’You’re sweet.” She draped an arm over his torso and spoke close to his ear. “Care to share the dream with me?”

“You sure? It’s kind of long.”

“I’ve got time.”

She slid over to align her body with his, got settled, and rested her head on his chest. He thread his fingers into her sleep-tousled hair and closed his eyes again to retrieve the details.

“I was in London. Actually Max and I were, on that Kingsford Motors business I was trying to keep under wraps until the transaction went through. I was ducking a persistent lady reporter, so I left the suite and went down to the hotel bar to have a drink and get myself together. I wound up seated next to an extraordinary set of eyes. Turned out they belonged to a most charming and attractive woman with an equally extraordinary pair of long, shapely legs, not to mention a really cute tush that was hard for me to miss even though it was dressed in a strictly-business skirt.”

“Hound.”

He smiled at both the vivid memory of the alluring woman and at his alluring wife’s assessment of his behavior. “Call me what you want; I’m consistent with it. Even in my dreams, I know what I’m attracted to in a woman.

“Anyway, she initially gave me a fake name, but she later told me her real name, which suited her much better than ‘Louise’. Turned out she was the reporter I had been trying to get away from, which was why she had initially given me that other name.”

He felt her smile of recognition before she softly confirmed, “Our story.”

“Yes, but with some twists.”

“Then this should be very interesting.”

“We’ll see. For starters, in the dream, I didn’t have jet lag the first night we went out. In the dream, we made love the first time I took you up to the penthouse.”

“Was it good? After all, we didn’t really know each other that well at that point. We’d only been acquainted a few hours, and I was… well,… a little impaired.”

“You were drunk, but are you kidding? It was still us. But as for the dream, we went to my place after a night out eating, drinking, and dancing. We ended up in the bedroom.”

“You led me in there.”

“You went willingly.”

“Thought you said I was drunk”

“You weren’t that drunk.  Anyway, we talked, got relaxed, had a couple of drinks, just like before, but this time instead of me falling asleep and you leaving, we wound up making love. Afterward, we talked some more and got to know a little more about each other, laughed, drank more champagne, and made more love until we both finally fell asleep. You drifted off before me. I was holding you in my arms when I went, but when I woke the next morning, you were gone. The rose was on the pillow just like before, but it was yellow in my dream, not red like the one you left when we hadn’t made love.”

She snickered. “But you thought we had.

“I can still see that look on your face when I told you nothing happened, and you realized it hadn’t. Suave, debonair, lady’s man, Jonathan Hart had charmed the girl to his room, but had fallen asleep and allowed her to get away without his having sampled her.” She was laughing by this time. “I will never, ever forget your dumbfounded expression. Priceless.”

“Are you going to let me finish? It’s been a couple decades, and you still haven’t let that go.”

“I’ve got to tell you, darling,” she said, wiping at her eyes, “it’s a fair bet I never will.”

“Let me continue, will you, before this gets away from me.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll behave.”  She snuggled against him again and patted his chest. “Go on, baby.”

“I don’t remember all the fine details, but I swear I can still feel waking up and not being able to find you. You weren’t in the bedroom or the bathroom, or as it turned out, anywhere in the suite.

“Max had stayed out all night, but was back that morning sitting in the front room smoking a cigar and reading the paper when I came out of the bedroom, just like he was the first time you spent the night with me. In the dream, though, he had no idea I had anyone in the room with me. He said he hadn’t seen anyone come out of my room, hadn’t noticed any sign of anyone else having been there in the suite. He accused me of having had too much to drink.”

“Why? Because women didn’t normally run off from you?” she teased.

“No, Jennifer Justine Edwards. More likely it was because I didn’t normally mix business with pleasure, and it wasn’t my habit to bring women home with me at all.”

“I see. Easier for you to leave if you went home with them, rather than trying to get them to go once you finished with them, huh?”

“Are you going to listen, or are you going to lie there asking a bunch of irritating questions?”

“Easy there, big fella,” she said, smoothing his chest hair, “Sorry, Jonathan Charles Hart. I’ll lie here, hush, and listen. Do proceed.”

“I tried phoning your room- no answer. Went to your hotel, but you were checked out. I tracked down the news service you were working with- no luck. No sign of you, and not a peep from you.

“I had to get back to the States to complete the business transaction, so I flew out of London tense and distracted because I couldn’t get you off my mind, which wasn’t like me at all. I have always been able to separate my personal life from business. I could tell this was a real different sort of situation than any I’d ever encountered.

“I had the thought maybe I had done something to offend you, and that was why you left and why you hadn’t gotten in touch, but I couldn’t think of anything I might have done or said. I tried to be angry about it, thinking maybe I had simply been a hit and run for you. After all, I had only just met you, and I didn’t know how you operated along those lines-

She bristled. “Well, I certainly didn’t do “hit and runs”, as you call them-”

And he stroked the back of her neck to calm her while he continued the story. “- but I couldn’t get you out of my head no matter how hard I tried. I started looking for you on this side of the Atlantic. I remembered you told me you had an apartment in Manhattan, so I put my people on tracing you to it.”

“Your people? Oh, I know they found me.”

“They found where you lived. I flew to New York and went to your apartment. You weren’t there, but for some reason, Pat was. You know how dreams don’t always make sense, and you can never quite be sure of the passage of time in them? I don’t know how much time had gone by, but it was cold when I arrived in New York. Snow on the ground, which I’m not real fond of, ice, and of course, Pat wouldn’t tell me anything once I made it to your place. Called me a stalker. Was rude.”

Jennifer chuckled. “That would be Pat. She’s who sent me to London to find and interview you in the first place. Back then, she was in and out of my place more than I was.”

“I know. You’ve told me. But at that point in the dream, I shouldn’t have had a clue about who she was, but it seemed like I was already acquainted with her; I called her by name. And like it actually happened when we first met, I could feel her checking me out; only in the dream she was more focused on protecting you, not on feeling me out- or up, as the case might have been.”

“Jonathan.”

“I’m no fool. Pat gave me the eye that day she met us at the door of your apartment after we came from your father’s place. My butt warmed up in the dream just like it did in real life the first time I felt her eyeing it. And you call me a hound.

“In the dream, though, she knew something about what I was trying to find out; I could tell, but she wasn’t letting me in on it. I kept asking her if you had shared anything with her about why you left me the way you did. But she just said she couldn’t tell me anything that had to do with you, and that I should just go back to California. That you would contact me if you wanted to get in touch. I left, but I was not happy with her at all.”

“Because I know how much you do not like being told what to do.”

“In a dream or otherwise,” he affirmed, “So I just kept looking. You’d mentioned to me a little about your father, so I gave the Investigations department what I had, and they were able to find out exactly who and where he was, but something told me to save him for use as a very last resort.”

In agreement, she tapped him with her index finger. “Probably a wise move on your part.”

“Yeah, well, fathers can be real touchy when it comes to other males of the species making inquiries into a daughter’s whereabouts.”

You would know.”

“Yep. Come to think of it, a drop of that subconscious might have seeped into the dream and been what influenced my decision to table Stephen. It turned out to be a wiser decision than I thought, given the dream’s outcome. But then I also remembered you talking about your aunt in the south of France. You’d told me her name, that the two of you were very close, and that you often spent time with her there.”

“Your Investigations team again?”

“Who else? They located her and her phone number. This time, I went with it but decided to just call. My luck has always been better with older ladies, but France was too far to go only to get the cold shoulder should Sabrina wind up not coming through with the goods when I got there. Seemed like it took me a while to work up the nerve to pick up the phone to do it, but by then I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, my concentration was off-”

“Ooh, Jonathan, you had it real bad for me.”

He cut his eyes down to her upturned, grinning face.

“I’d tell you not to get full of yourself, but, hell, I really did. I remember asking myself why I couldn’t let the matter drop, why I couldn’t get you out of my head. Seemed like forever that I’d been looking for you. Just lying here talking about it, the anxiety and frustration I was going through seems so real.

“I finally rang Sabrina. Her maid picked up, and tried to give me a hard time because I had the forethought not to give my name. I figured if the two of you were as close as you mentioned, then you might have told Sabrina to deny knowing where you were, too, should I call inquiring about you. So I made out to Chloe that I needed to speak with Sabrina immediately about an urgent confidential business matter. Sabrina comes to the phone and to my surprise, without me saying a word to her, simply says, ‘Your urgent business is here with me, Monsieur Hart. You may come and attend to it. If you hurry, I can insure the package will be here when you arrive.’ ”

Jennifer laughed at Jonathan’s rendition of her aunt’s strong accent. “Good old Aunt Sabrina. She always did have the best intuition when it came to me. She knows what secrets not to keep.”

“I was in the first jet I could schedule to fly out of Los Angeles and straight into Rivesaltes. I didn’t want to waste a moment flying into some other airport and having to catch a train and then hire a car into Perpignan. I was worried that a girl who could take off and hide as well as you had, and was as well-connected as I found you to be, could move pretty fast if she felt she had to. I didn’t want you getting wind of my coming and taking off on me before I could make it there. I wanted to get to the bottom of why were avoiding me.”

“How could you be sure Sabrina wasn’t going to let the cat out of the bag about your being headed my way?”

“Just a hunch, but one of my strong ones that I would have been a fool not to follow. From the way she didn’t ask me anything when she came to the phone, and she already knew who I was, it sounded as if Sabrina really wanted me to come despite what you might have told her. I took a taxi from the airport out to the house, cursing that damned last long hill that took forever get to the top of. Chloe let me in, and Sabrina was in the front hall. I recognized who she was without Chloe saying- that family resemblance is really something. Sabrina took me through to that back terrace she favors, the one overlooking the sea, then she pointed out to the beach, saying you were down there, but I’d have to find you.”

“Did you at least stop to take your shoes and socks off when you came down? Or roll up your trouser legs?”

“Now that you mention it, I don’t think so. I guess that was one of those details that didn’t matter in the dream. I just remember walking through the people down there, looking for you.

“When we first met, it was late summer, but now it was like springtime and it seemed a long while later than that summer, like forever. Even in my sleep, it seemed like I’d been looking for you forever. I remember being tired and getting fearful. I prayed your Aunt wasn’t playing a joke on me, sending me down there on a wild goose chase so you could slip away again.”

“Now why would she call you all the way to France to do that to you? Sabrina loves you, and she isn’t like that. If she didn’t want you to come, she would have told you that when you phoned her from the States.”

“Jennifer, it was a dream. Plus, I’d just met her, remember? She didn’t know me from a stray tomcat. All I’m thinking is how females stick together at times, particularly when they feel the guy has done something wrong.”

“But you said you didn’t think you had done anything to me.”

“Dreams aren’t logical. Women aren’t either sometimes.”

Her head popped up. “Oh, well I guess I should just get up from here, so I can leave this story where it is and go on about my illogical business.”

“Easy, Red,” he urged, pressing her back down to this chest, “just let me finish.”

“Hmph. And I’m ‘Red’ now, too?” she grumbled. “You really need to cut to the resolution on this one, buster.”

“Okay, so I’m walking and walking, looking all around for you, trying not to bump into or trip over anybody while I’m doing it. Then, I saw the legs.

“I had only spent one evening with them, but in that short time, they and I had become quite intimately acquainted. The woman they were attached to was wearing this huge straw hat, so I couldn’t see her face or even make out her profile from where I was, but the legs and the way my heart started hammering inside my chest told me it was you. I made it to your side and called your name. You looked up at me from your book, lowered your sunglasses and said, ‘So, you finally figured it out’.”

“Figured what out?”

He shrugged. “You said it; I have no idea what you meant. I didn’t ask, and you didn’t explain. But that was when I realized you weren’t alone. On your other side was a baby playing in the sand with a pail and shovel.”

“Girl or a boy?”

“A girl, wearing a big hat like yours, like the ones you used to put on J.J. when she was little to keep the sun off her neck and shoulders. She was real little, like maybe only a year or so old, if that. When you and I were together that night in London, you told me you’d never been married, and you didn’t have any children, so I’m standing there in the middle of my happiness at having finally found you, wondering whose child you were watching. I didn’t figure Sabrina for having a little one like that.

“The baby had her back to me when I first noticed her, but when you spoke to me, she turned around. She looked up and then smiled like she recognized me and was happy to see me, but strangely not surprised I was there. I immediately noticed her strong resemblance to you and your aunt, only-”

“Her eyes,” Jennifer quietly surmised.

“Yes. That face, those blue eyes, together with the time frame- they told me she had to be ours. The connection I felt between that baby and me in that moment she turned around and smiled, I felt it like the first moment I saw her in real life. I can still feel it.”

“And Sabrina so readily giving me away when you called, had to have been another strong clue,” Jennifer concluded. “If I came to her with a baby whose father I wasn’t divulging, she wouldn’t have pressed me on it. But once she dug into it on her own and found out it was you, she would have been all over me about it. I can just hear her fussing, telling me what a mistake I was making. How I needed to let my baby’s father know about his daughter. How I was cheating that baby out of her handsome, not to mention wealthy, papa. How I was cheating you out of knowing your child. She has always been big on family.”

The truth of Sabrina’s supposed words had him holding Jennifer even closer, as if reassuring his heart she was truly there. His voice strained through the strong surge of angst.

“I am so glad things worked out the way they did in reality, the details and the sequence of events.”

“Me, too,” she said. “The kind of man you are and loving you as I do, I can’t imagine not telling you I was carrying your child or keeping it from you that she existed once she was born. In fact, that was clearly a dream you were having. Even if it had happened like that for us, and I did panic, run off, and maintained a low profile once I realized I was pregnant, it’s for sure I would have called you up once she was born and that Hart personality started revealing itself. Justine Jennifer is definitely a ‘two-parents in the household child’.”

He smiled, picturing in his mind sitting in his office and getting that out-of-the-blue call: “You have a child, and she is a handful. Get here,” from her mother, the woman he had fallen in love with after one night in London and couldn’t get out of his mind.

Or his heart.

… first thing I could fly to wherever they were….

“So Jonathan,” she said, cutting into his reverie, “how did the dream end up? Did I ever tell you why I left?  It couldn’t have been because I was pregnant; I wouldn’t have known that at the time I left you in the hotel.”

“I don’t know. I woke up at the point where J.J. smiled at me, and I was realizing she was my baby with you.”

“The baby was J.J. in the dream?”

“Of course. I just told you I realized the child was my baby with you. Who else would the kid have been?”

Her laugh came softly. “You do have a point. Blue eyes, red hair, sand engineer early on- now scholar, pilot, car thief, tomboy, wanderer. Multi-lingual angel one minute, urban scamp the next-“

“Al-l-l-l-l-ll those things, and the other love of my life because of them.  Jennifer, tell me something. In those first days, did you ever think about taking off? Or calling things off? I’m talking about in London when things were moving so fast? Did you ever get scared or nervous that you were making a mistake?”

She shook her head. “Did you?”

“I didn’t. I know a sure thing when I run into it. But I asked you the question.”

“Well, by the time we did make love that first time, you and I had already committed our lives to each other. We had decided to marry, so I was pretty sure about what I was doing, too, and sure about with whom I was doing it.”

“Oh, yeah,” he leered into the crown of russet curls under his chin. “You certainly knew what you were doing, and the lucky guy you were doing it with was beyond impressed. The dream only seconds that. If I hadn’t asked you to marry me before, I certainly would have after.”

She nudged him with her elbow hard enough to catch him off guard and get a surprised grunt for her effort. “Don’t be filthy. What I meant was I was sure I loved you; I was sure of you, sure of us.”

“Well, that’s good to know, but I gotta tell you, that other thing was a deal-maker, too.”

She slid out of his arms and back onto her side of the bed to lie on her stomach where she used her arms to prop her body and speak to him face to face.

“Jonathan, maybe if it had happened with us the way it did in your dream, I might have had the thought in the night that we were moving too fast and been tempted to bolt. I do admit to having had moments in those early days where I was a little nervous about the upcoming changes in our lives changing us, but I soon found that change isn’t always a bad or negative thing. Even way down the line when the change really was the result of a child coming into our picture, I found that change can be fulfilling if one embraces it, especially if I was going through said change with you.

“You know, it’s funny, too, how when the rose on the pillow was yellow, we ended up with a little girl who favors yellow roses and who showed up at the end of your long quest in search of the woman who had run off from you after our first and only night spent together. The woman who wound up being the mother of your child.”

“Crazy,” he mused aloud. “And to think, the baby is seventeen today. Wonder if that has anything to do with my having that dream?”

“Who knows?” she said, “But it’s for sure you have been an excellent father to her for all of those seventeen years.”

He smoothed an appreciative hand along her arm. “God, I’m glad I found you and got you back.”

“You said you woke up; how do you know we got back together?”

“You’re here aren’t you? And the baby girl with the red hair and blue eyes is across the hall.”

“But not such a baby any more. I’m happy you thought me worth looking for, even if it was just a dream. It reminds me of something you once told me.”

“It does? What was that?”

“You said to me once any trip that ends up here, with us together, can’t be all bad. I guess that goes for dream journeys, too.”

“I prefer my reality.” He pushed her over, onto her back. “Do you still have time?”

“For you?”

He rolled over and straddled her. “Yeah, me.”

“Always,” she whispered into this ear as he nuzzled through her hair to get to her neck. “After all, you did spend all night looking for me, and-“

“And I’d still be thrashing around in my sleep, looking for you if I hadn’t found you.”

“- and you do have to spend the next few days looking out for that girl we made between us.”

He left off nibbling her earlobe to raise his head enough to see into her face. “You trying to spoil the mood bringing that prom thing up?”

“No. Just reminding you it’s still a package deal.”

“Oh, well, I’m okay with that,” he said as he resumed working loose and pushing up the nightgown twisted and bunched around her body. “-but right now I’m only interested in you. This part of the package deal I am definitely up for. Like you said earlier, I’ve got it bad for you, Red.”

When she lifted her hips enough to allow him to cup her bare ‘tush’, he used his knee to part those long, shapely legs.

“That’s two “Reds’, Jonathan Hart,” he heard her warn, “Boy, you have got it coming.”

He smiled as he pushed his pajama bottoms out of his way and readied himself. “Give it to me, then. I can take it.”

“Ummmm, oh yesssss,” she purred beneath him, “that’s what I was hoping you’d do.”

___________________________________________________________

J.J. spent most of her night restless and agitated.

After tossing and turning for what seemed eons, forced to accept that sleep was not to be, she tried reading, then writing. When neither worked to ease her tension or to tire her, she had gotten up, switched into some exercise gear, and crept down to the gym where she closed herself off and put in some fast, but hard time on the treadmill and the elliptical.

Returned to her bedroom a short time later, sweaty and physically exhausted, she took a steamy, hot shower in the hope of it relaxing her enough to be able to lie back down and get in a few winks.

However, after making it back into the bed, she found her mind still too engaged to hope for even a quick nap. Resigned to wakefulness, she rose again and got dressed for traveling even though it wasn’t yet daylight outside and the flight was hours away.

Today was her birthday. In a few hours, she would be officially seventeen.

She spent some time at her desk, surfing the net, learning more about the city where she would be spending the next few days. She had visited Boston a few times in the past, but that had been with her parents, going to the places they needed or wanted to go or where they opted to take her. This time would be different. It would be her, Teddy, and possibly his friends, going to the places teenagers liked to go. An entirely different perspective.

And all on their own.

As first light peeked through the shutter slats, she got up to open them all the way and took a seat in the bay window, arranging one of the big decorater pillows there to allow her to slouch her back against the window frame in comfort.

It was unusual, the undercurrent of anxiety over this trip. It was as she told Tina; she wasn’t the excitable type when it came to traveling or to new experiences. She looked forward to them, enjoyed having new things happen, loved seeing and learning new things, but she wasn’t one to get worked up over the idea of going somewhere.

But this time it was different because for the first time, she and Teddy Baxter would be together, alone, and on his turf rather than neutral ground or in spaces and places that were hers.

They met at her mother’s lower and upper school alma mater, Gresham Hall Preparatory School for Girls in a small town in Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. Teddy and a couple of his friends from Brookfield, the brother school located down the main road, had somehow gotten in and joined her, Marnie, and the other visiting girls for an impromptu party in a bedroom of one of the upper school residences. It had been a mother-daughter reunion, but for her, that weekend turned out to be a significant page turned in her life, the start of a chapter that introduced a new character who was proving to be a major player in the current plot line.

But did she really want that?

Teddy’s spontaneity, his sunny demeanor, not to mention his good looks and considerable talent, had drawn him to her. Their like propensities for risk-taking, as well as their mutual desire to do their own things and go their own ways whenever possible, had further brought them to each other. His invitation to the prom and his first kiss had come on their second day together at Gresham Hall. Her immediate and oddly natural acceptance of both, in retrospect, puzzled even her.

What was it about that boy?

Since that time, which had only been the summer before but felt much longer, they kept up regular contact, and he had since traveled to see her on three separate occasions. Twice in Maryland when she was there visiting her grandfather, and once to Los Angeles on business with his father. He would be back in Los Angeles for her birthday party, but that would be after her trip to Boston to accompany him to his prom.

The prom. A whole night out with a boy. That boy. Sanctioned and legal, but….

Her mother seemed pretty calm and okay about it, but Daddy….

Who could tell about him?

He hadn’t said anything negative to her about it. He made out like he was on board with it all, but he wasn’t completely; she could tell. He got sort of uptight whenever the subject came up. It was subtle in him, but very real when it happened. She had been his daughter long enough to tell when a thing was on his nerves. The two of them, often accused of playing it close when it came to their troubles or their darker emotions, had always been in that kind of synch with each other.

Her mother explained his uneasiness over boys being attracted to her as being natural and normal for a father, that it didn’t have anything to do with his belief in her or her ability to handle herself, but….

Why was it he trusted in her enough to let her ride off on a horse on her own at only four or five, drive a golf cart with him riding shotgun at seven? Why did he think her smart and discerning enough to teach her to pick a lock and disarm a security system- to know when and why to do it- at nine? Drive a golf cart and the Jeep around the ranch by herself at twelve? To fly a jet at sixteen- and save both their lives, but couldn’t trust her enough to stay out with a boy without compromising herself?

What if doing it with Teddy was what she wanted to do? She didn’t, but what if? Whose business was it?

And why did that have to be an issue at all? Just because a male and a female enjoyed each other’s company, it didn’t mean they were jumping into the sack the first chance they got to be alone.

But if they did, whose business would it be other than the two people involved as long as they both agreed to it?

But then, there was the matter of that hotel room on reserve.

And the possible change in plans upon which she had only recently been consulted.

But, if she was a boy, a son, would Daddy be so paranoid and weirded-out about him going on a prom date? Or having a hotel room? Or switching up plans at the last minute? Would he be telling his son not to do it, or would he be slipping the boy a box of condoms so he could be careful and protected while he was “being a boy” with his date?

If that was the case, if that was all there was to it- the careful and protected thing- why wouldn’t Daddy do that for his daughter who would only be doing what the would-be son would have been sanctioned to do? Not that she wanted her father to do that for her- or for him to even be aware of that part of her life, but didn’t condoms protect the girl in the same way they did the boy if the concern was only about an unplanned, too-soon pregnancy or preventing a bout of clap or worse?

And why was she tripping out so badly herself over all of it? None of that applied to her.

Did it?

But then, too, there was also that phone call she had gotten the other night from Madison and Dee, friends she made while at the Gresham Hall reunion with whom she kept in touch. That certainly hadn’t eased her uncharacteristic edginess.

But it had heightened the anticipation some. That part of things she could easily handle, if it came to that.

The dog, which had been curled up on the bed throughout her restless night, woke, raised his fuzzy head, and looked to pillows for her.

She patted her thighs. “Hey, boy. Here I am.”

Third jumped down and came to her, hopping into her lap and curling up again.

She patted his soft, curly side and lay her head back into the pillow again, thinking how even though he was still frisky and spry, Third was nine going on ten. She got him right before she turned seven.

Time was certainly doing its thing with both of them.

Every now and then she found herself wishing she could go back to being that little girl, back before body hair, periods, PMS, anemia, high school, horny boys, iffy situations, and all the complications those things brought that so quickly and completely altered her existence. In comparison, life before puberty looked pretty easy, although, she had to admit, she wasn’t so far removed from that kid she used to be to forget living hadn’t always been such a piece of cake back then either.

It’s all relative, I guess. And, if I’m honest about it, I really do like having good boobs.

And the prom was a done deal. It wasn’t like she could turn back time or renege on accepting the invite. The dress designed, done up, fitted, and bagged for travel. Shoes, accessories, rest of the luggage, everything and all of it packed up and good to go. Flight time scheduled, hotel suite booked. Nothing left for her to do except do it.

Head to Boston, that is; not do it. I might be seventeen, but I’m not a senior in high school yet.

My goodness, I’m tired. Wish I could….

___________________________________________________________

“Justine Hart, what are doing asleep in this window?”

Having gone to J.J.’s bedroom with the intention of getting J.J. out of bed so she could get washed and dressed and to make sure she was finished packing, it surprised Jennifer to find her fully dressed but sitting in the window. That J.J. didn’t move when she came in, called her name, or when the dog popped up and jumped down out of her lap further dismayed her.

Alarmed, she felt her daughter’s forehead. “J.J., wake up. Are you feeling all right?”

Instinctively, J.J.’s hand rose to block hers, but Jennifer brushed it down, shifting to checking out J.J.’s cheeks and neck.

“Mo-om, I’m fine, honestly,” J.J. fussed as she fully wakened and squirmed to get away.

Jennifer used J.J.’s shoulder to hold her in place. “I know you are not trying to fight me.”

J.J. immediately settled down and allowed her to take hold of her chin to check her eyes and then her face.

“Are you kidding, Mom? Fight you? I have more sense than that. We both know that’s a no win situation. Been there, done that, still twitching from it.”

“You better believe it.

Satisfied J.J. was physically all right, Jennifer left her alone. Released, J.J. sat forward to pull the pillow from behind her, and began fluffing it back out as she clarified her situation.

“I got up early to make sure I had myself together, and wound up with some extra time on my hands. I sat down here to look out of the window, and I guess I just dozed off. That’s all that was. You don’t have to stress over me.”

Jennifer left her sitting in the window to go over to the bed where she began inspecting the open suitcase on it. She picked up a sweater that looked as if it had been added at the last minute

“Do I need to remind you that I am the mother, Justine Hart? You, the daughter, do not tell me what to do. Did you pack your vitamins and your iron pills?”

“I was going to, after I took them with my breakfast.”

She could feel J.J.’s eyes on her back. “And you can just straighten out that face, young lady,” she said, sure the reminder had drawn out the usual ugly in her child that any mention of meds typically generated. “I don’t care how much you don’t like taking those pills; they are what your system needs. The way your body has been put through the ringer in recent days, and will be further tested in the days to come, you can’t afford that passive-aggressive backsliding you try to disguise as forgetfulness.”

As true as her words might be, they were never what J.J. Hart wanted to hear.

Your daddy’s child all the way when it comes to that.

She was refolding the sweater when she felt J.J. right behind her, close enough to kiss her cheek, and whisper, “Good morning to you, too, mommy dearest.”

Instantly catching the reference and the innuendo behind it, she whipped around, and for a second or two, stunned amber and mischievous azure locked.

But the impish look on J.J.’s face caused amber to crumble first. To save some semblance of face, Jennifer turned away on the pretense of tucking the sweater back into the suitcase before turning back around to her daughter who was still standing there, looking absolutely incorrigible.

“You are such an impudent mess,” was the only thing she could think of to say to that girl who indeed, in too many ways, was definitely her father’s child. The smile that thought generated slipped onto her lips of its own volition.

“But always remember, I am your impudent mess,” J.J. said in confirmation of her victory as she sat down on the bed, “so you’re obligated to love me.”

“That’s why I stay on you the way I do.”

Jennifer slid the suitcase over some to make room to sit down next to J.J. “Because I do love you. And no, it hasn’t slipped ‘mommy dearest’s’ mind.” She leaned in and returned the kiss she’d gotten. “Happy birthday, sweetie.”

J.J. lowered her head, reddened a little, and smiled. “Thank you, Mom.”

Seventeen was getting up there in age, but that one would always be her mother’s “sweetie” because, as Jonathan often reminded her, J.J. so enjoyed the role. But there was something else going on with her. She felt it when she came into the room and found her sleeping in the window. She sensed it when J.J. sat down on the bed. It wasn’t unexpected. J.J. was facing an eventful couple of days.

With a finger to her chin Jennifer lifted her face and turned it toward her own. “Are you sure you’re all right? Is there something on your mind that you want to talk about? You were kind of quiet when you got in from running last night. In fact, I came up twice before going to bed, and I saw your light under your door, but didn’t see or hear from you again. And you don’t fool me. I can tell from looking at you that despite your nap over there in the window, you haven’t had much sleep.”

She wasn’t surprised when J.J. laid her head on her shoulder, a diversionary tactic she employed when she wasn’t ready to be forthcoming, which also made the move disconcerting.

“I do have some things I’m working with,” she admitted, “but the main course isn’t done yet. Nothing’s ready to be served up.”

There was no sense in pushing just yet. If it was important or troubling to her, J.J. would give it up, whatever it was, when she was ready.

“But you will invite me to the table when it’s done, won’t you?”

“Mom, you know your reservation has already been made if it turns out there’s something worth your sitting down to.”

“Good then.”

Besides they had a full day- a full couple of days in front of them. And it was J.J.’s birthday. Whatever it was could wait- at least for now.

She checked the night table clock for the time. It was going on seven. Seventeen years before, she had been in the final hours of her labor with the intelligent, complex, interesting young woman sitting next to her. The last part of Jonathan’s dream of the night before, where he found the two of them sitting together in the sand, flashed in her mind.

But it was time to get this day started. She gently bumped J.J. to get her to sit back up. Then she stood and took her by the hand.

“Come on. It looks like you have everything covered up here. You pack almost as efficiently as I do; I don’t know why I still feel the need to check behind you.”

She started toward the bedroom door. “Let’s get downstairs to breakfast. I left your father over in the bedroom. Now him, I will probably have to come back up and hurry along. We have a plane to catch in a little while, and I don’t want him rushing the driver through morning traffic to make the slot for our takeoff.”

“He’ll make sure we get there on time,” J.J. assured her as she allowed herself to be ushered into the hall, “and safely. My daddy’s got it like that.”

He does,” Jennifer thought as J.J. preceded her down the stairs. “And you do, too. Just like him.”

___________________________________________________________

Jonathan made a last minute check of his appearance, then left the bathroom and returned to the bedroom where he zipped closed the suitcases Jennifer had left open on the bed.

The dream was still on his mind, the details of it and the possible meaning or perhaps, meanings behind it. A practical man, for whom dreams typically served as little more than seeds for waking action or simply benign entertainment when he remembered them at all, he wasn’t sure how to take this one, nor could he figure out why it was sticking with him in the sensory way it was.

What was with still feeling the anxiety of finding the pillow next to him empty? And the almost telepathic, maybe psychic exchange between him and that smiling baby sitting at Jennifer’s knee in the sand, that connection he found he couldn’t adequately put into words when he tried to describe it to Jennifer?

That feeling he had been carrying around ever since that prom invitation was made known to him?

Maybe even before that.

It had to do with J.J. and something about her that was beginning to make him uneasy. Something subtle emerging in her personality that gave him pause for concern. She was still the clever, sweet, precious girl she had always been, still very much her Daddy’s girl, but without a doubt she was growing up and striding confidently into her own.

Confidently.

Seventeen.

Taking up his watch from the nightstand and strapping it on, he noticed it was going on seven. At that time, seventeen years before, after a half day at home and almost fourteen hours at the hospital, Jennifer was entering the final stages of her labor with his baby. He had been right there with her the entire time, but by dawn that morning, only holding on by a thread. He recalled sweating a river as he prayed for her pain to end and for their child to hurry up and make its way out of her body and into the world so she could rest.

Then he thought of Jennifer in the dream, going through that all alone. Without him. And he left out of all of it.

With a quick shake of the head, he shifted gears and went back to the suitcases, which he moved from the bed to the floor for their driver to pick up from the hall and take down to the car when it arrived.

He opened the door in time to see Jennifer and J.J. pass by on their way to the stairs and to catch J.J. tell her mother that her Daddy, “Had it like that.”

He hadn’t caught what came before to make her say that, but in light of what the dream said could have been, it felt so good to have been her daddy from her first breath and for her to feel that way about him all those years later.

The three Harts were a package deal, and he and Jennifer were accompanying their daughter to Boston for her first important social experience.

Together.

___________________________________________________________

Later Tuesday morning….

What’s up, J. Where are you?

“At the airport, in the lounge area, waiting for Daddy and Jack to finish up the paperwork so we can board by ten-thirty.”

Good, I was trying to catch you before you turned your phone off. Daddy and Jack? Say, I thought you told me Teddy’s dad was taking care of the flight and the hotel. I thought you guys were flying commercial.

“Nah, I thought I told you. In the end, Mr. Baxter only had to take care of the hotel. He wanted to take cover of all our expenses, but you know Daddy and planes; he decided he wanted to be in control of that part of the trip. Daddy didn’t want to fly commercial. Not enough latitude for him as far as decisions go, and he didn’t want to deal with security lines and all of that. Plus there was my gown to consider. If we flew commercial, it couldn’t go onboard even in first class. My mother didn’t want it stuffed into a standard airline bag and be possibly manhandled by baggage carriers. Where are you, Marn?”

At the hotel, but down in the lobby. We’re waiting for the shuttle to take us to the Lincoln Memorial and other sightseeing stuff. That’s today’s agenda.

“Umh, sounds boring. So, what kind of night did you have? Pat catch you having phone sex?”

Not me, but she did catch Ramona.

“No! Ramona? Ramona D’Moana has a boyfriend? A boyfriend like that?”

Apparently. Who would have thought? I told you Pat set it up for us to have adjoining rooms so me and Ramona would have adult supervision at night, no matter which room we were in. J., I still can’t believe Pat came here on her own, and that she hooked this up just so I wouldn’t get in trouble. I love me some Pat.

“I know you do. She loves you, too, as evidenced by her being there. So now, I’m guessing you and Ramona have a personal chaperone for the whole trip.”

Well, if it wasn’t real clear we had one before, it is now, after last night. It’s all Ramona’s fault.

“So, tell me real quick what happened.”

Okay. See, Ramona came up early to turn in, and she was supposed to be in the other room asleep.  I hung out with Charmaine and some of the others at the pool until we had to come up to our rooms at nine according to trip rules. To keep from waking Ramona up, I went into the room with Pat to take my shower. When I turned the water off to get out, I thought I could hear Pat talking to somebody, so I peeked out of the bathroom to see what was up. She was coming back in from the other room with a phone and a charger in her hand. She was still fussing all loud about somebody being hot and nobody getting knocked up by electronic osmosis on her watch. I knew it couldn’t be me because I had been in the shower- and all by myself in it. She was mad as hell. She made me to give up my phone, too, when I came in from the bathroom, talking about she wasn’t having it. I was too scared at that point to ask what she wasn’t having. I just did what she said, dried my hair, and took my behind to bed.

“In the room with Pat?”

Yeah, I wasn’t going in there with Ramona and getting caught talking to her. I wasn’t sure what happened, but I knew she had done something to piss Pat off. I’m scared of Pat when she’s mad. She gave us the phones back this morning, but she said we have to check them in every night at ten.

“You’re going to have to let Chance know he’ll have to get his fix from somebody else for the time being.”

What he better do is tie a knot in it until I can get back to him. If I find out he’s- I’m off track. Let me finish telling you about Ramona before the bus gets here.

“My bad. Go ahead.”

Well, anyway, Ramona gave me the whole story this morning at breakfast. She said Pat walked in on her over there in the dark, under the covers talking filthy shit to her boyfriend when she was supposed to be in the room asleep all early and everything. She said she was embarrassed as hell when Pat rolled up and snatched the cover off her. She wasn’t sure how long Pat had been there or how much she had heard. I almost died laughing when she was describing what happened.

“So now you’re the good one.”

For now. Happy birthday, J. I know you’re not celebrating ‘til the weekend, but today’s your day. That’s mostly what I called to tell you. We’re the same age again. But you’re not a senior in high school yet. Keep that in mind while you’re in Boston hanging out all night with your boy.

“Thank you for the happy birthday. But, who died and made you my mother?”

Can’t fill those shoes, girl. The Duchess’s feet are way bigger than mine, and she’d kill me for even thinking about trying to get into those Prada pumps. I’m just saying, for the sake of our being girls, don’t get hemmed up and let your guard down.

“Sounds funny coming from you.”

I know, right. It’s usually the other way around, isn’t it? But I had to say it. You and Teddy have a kind of weird dynamic. You don’t like boys that much, but it’s different with him. You two have a tendency to move kind of fast on things when you’re together. I mean, look how you guys ended up promming together.

” ‘Promming’? Is that a word?”

Don’t be funny. You know what I mean. You and Teddy are like magnets to each other, and you both like to engage in risky business.

“Not the kind you’re alluding to. At least not me.”

You just haven’t gotten there yet, but things have a tendency to change, and change fast when it comes to you. And don’t try to deny it; I’ve seen it for myself. Tommy’s not here to slow your roll, so I’m stepping in for him. And let’s not forget, I’m your elder. I’ve been seventeen two months longer than you. I’m telling you, J., don’t do anything you’ll regret.

“And I should be telling you-like I’d be telling Tommy- to mind your own business. But we are girls; whether I choose to hear you or not, you’re always coming from a good place when it comes to giving me advice. Thanks for caring, Marn, and thanks for my morning laugh. Tell Ramona I said to just behave from here on out, and she should be okay. Aunt Pat barks loud, but she’s not a biter. Heck, on the low, if she was doing it right when Aunt Pat walked in on her and heard what she was saying, and she was that pissed about it afterward, Ramona probably won some cool points with her.”

That’s exactly what I told her. Hell, if I’m honest about it, Ramona got awarded a few from me, too. Who knew the girl had it in her? I went ahead and penciled her in as all right with me. Look, J., have fun, but don’t do anything crazy. I mean it. Well… nothing crazy that you might be sorry about later because it can’t be reversed.

When J.J. clicked off from Marnie, she put the phone away and sat back to consider the exchange.

Funny, Marnie dispensing the ‘slow your roll’ advice this time, and funny again that Marnie observed that ‘change fast’ element to her relationship with Teddy. He had endeared himself to her more quickly than most people, particularly boys, were typically able to do. And she had taken to him and trusted him a lot more quickly and easily than she was inclined to do with people she just met, especially boys. It was indeed odd how she didn’t mind being separated by distance from Teddy most of the time, but the separation didn’t seem to matter once they got together again in person. She might try hard to play it down, but she could not deny the strong mental and physical attraction between them.

Where the hell is Tommy when I need him?

He would know exactly what to tell her. The sound of his voice was what she needed to hear. Calm, firm, and candid, Tommy would be coming from that objective male perspective she needed. She might not listen on the surface, but his messages had a tendency to stay in her mind despite her best efforts to sometimes shake the words off.

She looked up from her spot on the couch over to her mother seated at a bistro table on the other side of the room. Eyeglasses on the end of her nose, she was reading and making notes on something in the leather portfolio she used for her clips and her writing in progress.

The Duchess.

Like always, her mother offered to be there for her when she was ready. She, too, had a voice and left messages that lingered. She could also be candid, brutally so, at times. Past conversations with her proved she paid attention to things she didn’t always speak on right away. Or perhaps, that she didn’t speak on at all?

 Maybe it isn’t Tommy I need this time.

Her father came out of the business office and went straight to that bistro table. He said something to her mother, and as he spoke, slid an arm around her shoulders. Her mother said something back to him, they both laughed, and then he quick-kissed her. They always seemed to have something going on between them.

He turned around to her on the couch and gestured that it was time to board.

J.J. grabbed her carry-on and got up, still thinking things over.

I’m seventeen; maybe it’s time I start relying more on me and my own judgment.

“You ready?” her father asked when she joined them. He was waiting for her mother to finish closing her papers inside the folder and gather the rest of her things.

“I think so,” she said, and she averted her eyes when her mother’s flitted up to her face.

Her father held the door open as she and her mother went through to get to the plane.

Symbolic?

In her heart, it kind of felt like leaving the familiar to enter another, a brand new, dimension.

Mentally, J.J. crossed herself, silently praying she had it as together as she might need for the nights to come.

________________________________________________________

Tuesday Evening….

Jennifer hung up her dinner dress and exchanged it for a pair of slacks and an oversized pullover sweater.

More physically relaxed, she slipped into some flats and quickly brushed out her hair, the entire time, her thoughts on her husband. He had been unusually quiet on the short walk back from the restaurant and on the elevator ride up back to the suite.

Jonathan was never exceptionally talkative in social settings, especially with so many new faces present, but when he went silent, as he did once they parted from the other family, and particularly since it was the two of them alone together, it definitely went outside the norm. From him, inactivity of the tongue typically indicated a lot going on in his mind.

On her way back up the hall from the bedroom, she saw him standing at the floor-to-ceiling living room windows where he appeared to be staring out to the darkness. Tie discarded on the chair beside him, drink in hand, jazz softly playing through the sound system, with his back to her he looked the picture of contemplative contentment.

Contemplative, perhaps, but content?

She knew better.

A  tulip of cognac awaited her on the coffee table. As she picked it up, she noticed J.J.’s prom invitation was also there. Why that was fleetingly crossed her mind as she walked over to join him.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?”

He continued to stare out to the night and the twinkling lights of the harbor below. “Yes, it is. Baxter, Sr. did an excellent job with this reservation. Great suite. Very roomy.” He held up his glass, “Excellent in-room amenities,” and used it to gesture to the window. “Lovely night view.”

“Bear has always been a class act. He thought it the least he could do what with the three of us having to cross the country for his son’s prom.”

“His son has extraordinary taste,” he said before bringing the glass to his lips. “Hope the good judgment he’s been displaying so far holds up.”

She ignored the veiled warning, pretty sure Teddy, Jr. being out with J.J. wasn’t the main thing that had her husband at the window.

He switched the conversation. “You talk with Marnie at all today?

“No, she didn’t call me, but I didn’t expect she would. I haven’t had time to phone her, but she’s with Pat, which absolutely negates the need for either of us to touch base. J.J said she spoke with her, though, and I did talk with Pat a minute while we were at the airport. She was in the lobby with the rest of the group waiting for the shuttle to pick them up. She said all was well. But then, she would say that no matter what was going on. If it were otherwise, she would handle it herself, and I would be none the wiser. MIss Marnie Elaine is in very good hands.”

“Pat hasn’t mentioned Marnie saying what was bugging her? What had her crying so hard when she saw Pat was there in the room waiting for her?”

“She didn’t say, but then I didn’t ask, either. If Marnie is going to confide in anyone, it will be Pat, and Pat will let me in on it if it’s something she feels I need to know. They have been pretty busy so far; there probably hasn’t been much time for that kind of talk.”

It had been a pleasant surprise to get the call from Pat the previous afternoon saying she was with Marnie on the field trip. Without their knowledge, Pat set it up through the Guidance Counselor and Ms. Calvin to chaperone once she learned there might be a problem with Marnie and the choice of roommate. Through Pat’s vast network of contacts, several more points of interest and exclusive events had been added to the itinerary. Marnie wouldn’t have much time to dwell on whatever it was that might be a problem for her.

“Pat is very good people,” Jonathan said, using an arm around her waist to bring her to him. “With her in D.C., I can rest a whole lot easier about that one.”

The brandy and his arm warming her insides, she lay her head on his shoulder. “Penny for your real thoughts, Mr. Hart.”

He finally looked to her. “My real thoughts?”

“Give it up, Jonathan. I can tell. Something is bothering you. It isn’t Marnie you’re really that concerned over.”

He went back to gazing out the window. “Now why does something have to be bothering me? Can’t I just be savoring the moment?”

“Because I watched you through dinner and on the way back here. I have loved you, lived with you, and been married to you long enough to recognize the signs. You’re might be savoring that view, but you’re thinking about something else. ”

His soft chuckle confirmed for her that she was on the money, and that he knew she was.

With the arm still around her, he turned and walked them over to the couch where she sat down while he polished off the last of his drink before joining her. She watched, waiting for him to say something as he took his time, laying his head back on his folded arms.

“So, how do you think dinner went?” was the question he finally posed.

Her husband, the perpetual hustler, attempting a peep at her hand before placing his own face up on the table. This time she chuckled. It was that subtle emphasis she heard on “you”.

“There you go with the statement dressed up like a question,” she said as she lightly poked a finger into his chest. “First tell me what you thought.”

Still reclined with his head back, he spoke with his eyes closed.

“Food was good.”

“Jonathan, you know good and well that is not what I’m talking about.”

He unfolded his arms and then slowly sat up. “Alright, alright.  So what’s your take on the Baxter family’s dynamics?”

“You first, I said.”

“Okay. What’s your take on the mother?”

“What’s yours?”

He rolled his eyes at her, but she stood her ground, silently waiting for his counter.

“Did you find her as obnoxious as I did?” he asked.

“I thought she might be nervous.”

Jonathan tipped his head as if considering it. “That could have been. I think it was more that she was intimidated by you.”

Her hand shot to her chest. “By me? What did I do?”

Jonathan pulled that hand away to hold it in his own to elaborate. “It wasn’t anything you did. I believe it was more who you are, your appearance. You are quite a presence, you know. Then, there’s your daughter. For some reason, I got the impression the two of you in the flesh weren’t quite what she expected.”

“I don’t understand. What do you think she expected? What are you basing this impression on?”

“I don’t know. She just seemed sort of taken aback at first, and then she spent the rest of the time trying not to be noticeable about it.”

Jennifer sat back to consider what he said compared to what she had experienced earlier that evening.

Chief among her husband’s many life and survival skills was his power of observation and his ability to “read” people, so she had no doubt there was some merit to what he said.

Dinner had been a slightly odd affair, an underlying persistent twinge of tension permeating the surface congenial atmosphere. That hint of strain, to some extent, had been anticipated. Teddy’s parents were divorced and were only together in that restaurant setting so the two families could meet. His mother and his half-sister had flown in from West Virginia and New York respectively. They would be staying in Boston overnight to see Teddy and his date off to the prom the next evening.

She and Teddy Sr. went way back to their boarding school days. From a previous visit, Jonathan and J.J. were already acquainted him. But it was their first time meeting, Helena, Teddy’s mother and Victoria, Teddy Sr.’s oldest daughter, his child from his first marriage. His other two daughters, children with Helena along with Teddy, Jr., were away at college. Facing difficult finals, neither of the younger girls could get away for the occasion.

The only thing that really stood out to her from that evening’s dinner meeting was how much Helena talked. She seemed compelled to fill every gap in the conversation with a quip, a dropped name, or a directive to Teddy, Jr. about her expectations for her part in his prom details.

Had she really been the reason Helena talked so much?

For her own part, she had been too focused on the other people at the table to pay much attention to Teddy’s mother. Teddy, Sr. and Victoria appeared a little uncomfortable. Teddy, Jr. did his best to remain respectful although it was clear his mother was embarrassing him. J.J. and Jonathan had been their usual pleasant, but more quiet and watchful selves throughout the meal. Victoria made the attempt to make things better for Teddy by engaging him and J.J. in conversation about school, Teddy’s upcoming graduation, and their plans for the next night.

“Why would my being there intimidate Helena?” she asked aloud.

“I told you, you are a presence on your own, but backed up by your look-alike daughter, that’s something to behold, and I live with the two of you every day. When I’m being objective about it- well, as objective as I can be, even I can see what head-turners the two of you are. I checked Helena out when we entered the restaurant, and they were all there up front waiting for us. I was behind the two of you, and I saw how her eyes went right to you and then to J.J.”

“Was that a bad thing?”

“Not for me, it wasn’t. I’m thinking Teddy Jr. may have thrown his mother’s plans a monkey wrench in choosing his own date for his prom. You heard Helena slip it in that she thought he was going to take that other girl from Gresham Hall, her friend’s daughter.”

“I did hear that. I thought it a little rude with J.J. sitting there and all, but just like my child, it didn’t seem to faze her. I could see her sitting there, thinking, ‘I’m the one he chose to take’. Teddy appeared more ruffled by his mother bringing that up; did you notice he didn’t eat very much at all tonight? Bear seemed bothered by it, too. I don’t think he appreciated her putting Teddy on the spot like that. Social engineer, a little?”

“Maybe,” Jonathan mused. “It didn’t matter if that was her intention because Jr. wasn’t having it. He gets a few points from me and, I think, from his Dad for being his own man on the matter. It threw Helena, too, when the servers brought out that birthday cake for J.J. that Jr. arranged. His mother was not prepared for that.”

Jennifer smiled at the recollection. J.J., who generally begged off that kind of public attention, had been surprised and tickled by the gesture, even more so, when she cut through the butter cream frosting and found the cake to be chocolate, her favorite.

“Maybe Helena was just nervous,” she said. “She could be a very nice lady. Some people act outside themselves when they’re nervous.”

But Jonathan remained standing on that other avenue. “I think Helena arrived in Boston prepared to play Queen Bee, but then she met you in the flesh, was taken aback, and for some reason switched to trying to impress you.”

Not making sense of it herself, but unable to dismiss Jonathan’s assessment of the evening’s interactions, Jennifer could only shrug with the dismissive thought, “So be it.”

“What did you make of Victoria, Jonathan?” she asked, eager to hear what he had to say about Teddy’s oldest sister.

“Smart girl, as far as I can tell. She’s well spoken, seems pleasant, and she’s got to be sharp- working on Wall Street and helping run her family’s business like she does as young as she is. One thing is for sure. She, her father, and her brother are a united front. It seems Helena Baxter was operating on her own tonight.”

Jennifer realized she sensed that subtle divide in Teddy’s family while with them, but she hadn’t picked it apart the way Jonathan had. She dismissed it as family dynamic, nothing more; leave it to him to have analyzed the dinner meeting with the Baxters to the -nth degree.

She leaned forward to pick up the prom invitation from the table. “Why is this here?”

“It was in my jacket,” he said. “When I went back into the cabin to check to see if we had everything before they put the plane away, I spotted it on the table, and I thought you’d left it. You had it in your folder, taunting me with it yesterday. I forgot about it being in my jacket until I got back here tonight and felt it in the breast pocket.”

“Must be J.J.’s,” she mused aloud. “Teddy sent two of them, one addressed to her and one to us. I guess he was covering all his bases, giving you your proper respect.”

Jonathan smiled a little. “He’d better.”

Jr.’s no fool, she thought. A little butter to somewhat soften that big piece of hardtack.

“So what time did you tell Teddy to have her back?” she asked.

“I didn’t. I thought you would give her a time to have Teddy bring her back.”

“Well,” he said with a sigh, crossing his arms and closing his eyes, “She’s seventeen now. I guess it is time she makes some of her own calls on that sort of thing. After all, tomorrow she’ll be gone with him all night.”

She kept her eyes on him, sensing his simmering agitation and waiting to see if he would continue.

A few minutes later, he wiped at his forehead and admitted, “Sweetheart, I am not going to get much sleep at all on this trip.”

She slipped her hand inside his open shirt collar to gently rub his chest. “Darling, you will if you go ahead and accept you’re not in control of what she chooses to do. And even more so if you allow yourself to realize she comes from a very solid foundation; she thinks and operates a whole lot like the best role model she could have had.”

“That’s role models, in the plural. And if you were speaking of me being the model for how she operates, I’ve got to tell you; I’m standing over there at the window only just realizing that’s the part of all this that has me nervous.”

_______________________________________________________

The pleasant, warm late afternoon turned into a pleasant, but rather chilly evening. Hanging out with Teddy in his car was a blast. He took her to some of his favorite spots in Boston including his father’s building. They went to Teddy’s favorite coffee house, a Dunkin Donuts shop, where they met a couple of his friends who had stopped in on their way back up to school. He also took her to  the community theatre where his senior project production would make its debut in two weeks. Friends with the owner of the venue, Teddy had been given a key which he happened to have with him. So although the building was officially closed for the evening, he was able to take her inside to show her around.

J.J. smiled to herself recalling how his face lit up as he talked about his play and how animated he became when showing her the sets and describing how they would be used on the night of the performance. Duncan Sinclair and crew had done a fantastic job. She always found the levels of other people’s creativity fascinating.

Then she laughed thinking about when Teddy brought up how smoothly he played it off  the Thanksgiving week past when her father showed up in that very theatre, paying him an impromptu visit while he was in town calling on Marnie’s father at the physical rehab facility. It was the same day she and Marnie made plans to sneak off on a plane with Duncan to fly in to see Teddy, but got cold feet at the last minute. Teddy said he almost died when he turned around and saw her father and her Uncle Bill striding down the right side aisle. He said he had to call all his acting skills into play to not let either of the older men see him sweat when he was actually about to faint at what might have been. They both laughed to the point of tears at how completely freaked out they all had been over what didn’t happen- she and Marnie getting caught hanging out in Boston when they should have been shopping up on Fifth Avenue in New York.

Had she and Marnie followed through and  gotten busted being so out of place, and lived behind it, she certainly would not have been in Boston at the moment for the purpose of attending a prom with Teddy Baxter. Daddy would have used that as his trump card for calling the whole thing off. She never would have been able to talk her way out of that one with Jonathan Hart. Despite the Duchess’s assertions to the contrary, he didn’t spoil her that much. Truth told, he had never really been all that soft on her- at least not about those things that really mattered.

And poor Teddy would have had to take whatever Jonathan Hart dished out to him. The boy would probably only just be regaining consciousness while still holed up in the rehab center Marnie’s dad spent time in before being transferred to the one in Texas.  And it wouldn’t even have been Teddy’s fault. He played no part in their decision to come to see him; it was her and Marnie’s intention to surprise him. Teddy didn’t know anything about their plans until Duncan showed up at the theatre, letting him know about it and warning him he had spotted her father and Uncle Bill in town.

But Daddy would not have been hearing any of it. He would have lowered the boom on everybody involved in that caper. Direct or indirect implication would not have been a matter for consideration for him at all fin that scenario.

Whew! Still makes me sweat just thinking about it.

After she and Teddy left the playhouse and theatre district altogether, they went over to the Common to walk around a bit. She found herself glad she resisted her mother’s suggestion of wearing a skirt to dinner, but grateful she listened to her about taking a jacket along in case Teddy wanted to take her out after they ate. Of course he asked her out, and of course she agreed to go. How could she not?

Like always, it was something altogether different when she was with Teddy in person as opposed to how she felt about him when two thousand miles separated them….

A birthday cake, just for me. How sweet and so very thoughtful.

 … when he wasn’t there to actually kiss her as opposed to imagining him doing it.

His smile.  All that soft, curly hair.  Those eyes.  His laugh. And so, so nice.

Ummmmm, actually kissing him….

Then, with the thought that naked and under a hot shower was not the best place to be while thinking the thoughts she was thinking, she shut down the showerhead and jets and got out.

Toweled off, lotioned up, and in her nightgown, she sat down at the vanity where she unwrapped and untucked the twisted bun at the top of her head. She took it down to separate in preparation for brushing it out. She hadn’t bothered with her hair since a good washing and more would be done the next day, along with everything else the Duchess had lined up to get her ready for prom night.

At the time, it didn’t look as though the comment Teddy’s mother made about him not taking the other girl registered with the Duchess, but it was for sure she heard it. Jennifer Hart had the ability to play things off like that, but she was not going to be caught slipping- or let her daughter get caught short either.

Wonder what was up with Mrs. Baxter? What point was she trying to make? Why did she remind me so much of Wesley’s mother?

Without a doubt, it was going to be the “the works” for J.J. Hart in the morning.

And as the Duchess’ daughter, she was just fine with that. Getting caught short wasn’t J.J. Hart’s method of operation either.

Teddy had been none too pleased with his mother’s overly animated behavior at dinner. His older sister and his dad didn’t seem too happy with the woman either. Alone in the car with him, once he vented to her, she said everything she could to get Teddy to see his mother had probably just been nervous, but from what he said, she could tell Teddy’s mother had deeply embarrassed him. It took some doing on his part and little while for him to unwind and loosen back up to his usual cheerful self.

Maybe his mother being a trip is the real reason he opted to live with his father when his parents split up.

She didn’t know who to feel the worse for, Teddy or his mother.

In the course of talking together that night, Teddy said it wasn’t so much the prom he was looking forward to. He was more anticipating having so much time to spend with her, them being together, out on the town and completely on their own for once.

A whole night together… out and about….

Eager for that part of it, too, just the same, she remained a little anxious. Her hope was the impulsiveness Marnie mentioned she saw in them didn’t derail the plans in place, which was part of the reason she had Teddy bring her home earlier than her usual curfew time. The other part of it was, as on the low as she had been struggling to keep it, she was tired.

Probably just the time change, but I do need to get some sleep if I’m going to be on my game tomorrow.

“Justine, are you decent?”  The unexpected voice startled her from her thoughts.

Thought she had gone to bed.

After all, the two of them were on the couch, looking as if they had been dozing, when she made it in. They tried acting like they weren’t waiting up for her, but she knew better. Their one child was out on the rare genuine date with a boy in what amounted to a ‘strange city’. Until that child was back inside that hotel suite, no way were they going to bed.

… at least not to sleep.

“It’s fine, Mom. Come on in.”

The bathroom door pushed open and her mother entered. She was dressed for bed and had an envelope in her hand that she held up for her see.

“Your father had this,” she said. “He said he thought it was yours.”

She placed the envelope in front of her on the counter. It was her formal invitation to Teddy’s prom.

“What was Daddy doing with it?”

“He said he found it on the table on the plane when he went back to make sure we had taken everything from the cabin.”

“Oh, I must have left it. I had it stuck inside the book I was reading.”

Her mother, standing behind and over her, smoothed a hand over her hair and asked, “You mind?”

Not sure if there was more to the visit than the delivery of a piece of older postage and curious as to what else there might be, she handed the brush over her shoulder. “Have at it.”

By the time her hair was been brushed all the way out, J.J. had leaned forward to rest her chin on her folded arms. It wasn’t until she felt the separated sections being gathered in preparation for weaving weaving into a final single braid that her mother spoke again.

“So did you and Teddy have a nice time this evening?”

“Yes,” she said through the threatening haze of sleep.

And she waited for the request to elaborate that didn’t come. Instead, her mother finished the braid and  tapped her shoulder.

“Come on, so you can go to bed,” she said. “You need your rest. Big day tomorrow.”

They left the bathroom to return to the bedroom where J.J. climbed over into the bed and her mother pulled the covers up over her.

“You know,” she said, “seventeen years ago, I put you to bed and kissed you goodnight for the very first time.”

“And here you are still tucking me in, but  I guess I’m too big and too old now for a kiss goodnight, huh?”

Jennifer pressed a soft kiss to her forehead. “You are nearly grown, my love, but no matter how old you get to be, you will always be my baby, and I will always be your mother. Remember that. Always.”

She turned off the night and left the room, closing the door behind her.

J.J. rolled onto her side and settled in, thinking how the Duchess had once again thrown her for a loop. A small one, but a loop nonetheless.

Had she really come in to bring the card, do up her hair for the night, and put her to bed? Surely she wanted to know more than ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on if she had a good time while out with Teddy. Didn’t she want to know the details of what she and Teddy had gotten into while they were away from everyone?

Then again, maybe she didn’t. Maybe she is finally letting me have some of my own business….

… cutting me some slack…

Or making a little more room in the noose?

… hmmmm….

… I don’t really know how I feel should about this particular turn of events….

But sleep took her before she could consider the matter any further.

Continue to “The Big Night”: Part Two

6 Responses to Principles: Part Three

  1. Lesa says:

    Love that Pat got on Ramona about phone sex. She is so funny. Poor Jonathan. He will be a wreck all weekend. JJ can handle what comes her way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Paula says:

    Great job!!! You are very very talented.

    Like

  3. Tricia FLowers says:

    It really is awesome to see how JJ is becoming a young woman. She is making her own decisions and I must say doing a great job at handling herself in all her situations and she is learning just how lucky she is to have the support of her family. Poor Jonathan… I think he really feels for Teddy and I’m afraid he won’t be kind to the Mother is he gets a chance. Thanks for another wonderful update. Looking forward to more stories.

    Like

  4. Jen web says:

    Wow, our little girl is growing up:)

    Like

  5. nikki says:

    I missed my Harty girl!

    Like

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