Harts in Full Circle

J.J. learns a hard lesson about what being told to “grow up” really means….

She didn’t even look up from her what she was doing as she said it. “There will be no further discussion. You are not going, and that is the end of it.”

J.J. Hart stood before her mother’s desk, staring in disbelief as she continued working on the computer.  Her mother was not going to let her go to her best friend’s party. The woman was really not going to let her go.

The thought of not going to Marnie’s birthday party was unreal. She always went to Marnie’s parties. Who did Jennifer Hart think she was denying her that request?

“But Marnie comes to all of my parties.” She ventured to protest.

“I said,” her mother stopped her typing to look over her glasses, continuing in a tone that was  unmistakably final,. “more than once, that you are not going. The discussion is over.”

J.J. never talked back to her mother; she had been raised to know better. She and her mother never argued back and forth. Jennifer Hart had that infuriating habit of never raising her voice even when J.J. was sure she had taken her to the wall;  often, of late, deliberately pushing her there. The woman never lost her cool, and it was frustrating for J.J. that when she wanted to take it to the next level with her, her mother would turn into the ice woman.

J.J. considered herself a fighter, a winner, but her mother was proving to be a better one, and when it came to the two of them, it irked her that she was never the master of the situation. As she was getting older, she was becoming very aware of her gift for winning others over, and for getting others to see things her way.

Everyone that is, except her mother. Her mother was not playing by the rules at all.

She had been angry with her before, but never had she felt anything near like what she felt at that moment. Standing there, being first essentially ignored and then summarily dismissed, made her furious. Nobody was allowed to treat her like that- nobody– not even the imperious, elegantly unflappable Jennifer Edwards Hart.

She felt her face turning red and her frustration level rising. That lady was on every nerve that she had lately, and J.J. Hart had a whole lot of nerve.

Her eyes scanned the great room, taking inventory of the many art pieces displayed there, gathered from the family’s world travels. She fought the urge to pick something up, hurl it across the room somewhere near her mother, smashing it to bits, and shocking her out of her cool, unmoving skin.

But she knew better than that. That would get her killed for sure. Temper tantrums had never been tolerated. So, instead, she threw up her hands and growled in aggravation. Then she stormed out of the room, huffed through the foyer, and took the stairs to the second floor two at a time.

As she raced up, she could hear her mother go into a hard coughing spell, something she had been doing a lot for a couple of days.

“No better for her,” J.J. thought with some measure of satisfaction.

At least the all-perfect, almighty Queen of Harts had some human frailties.

Her father was coming out of the master bedroom just as she cleared the top two steps. Barreling past him, she kept on down the hall to her bedroom, slamming the heavy oak door as hard as she could behind her.

Jonathan stared, frozen in confusion, to his spot in the hall. Before he could even think to start in the direction J.J. had gone, Jennifer cleared the top stair. She, too, brushed past him, actually bumping him out of her way as she headed like a launched and lethal, red hot torpedo toward J.J.’s room. At the door, she stopped for a moment and seemed to gather herself before taking hold of the knob and pushing it open.

“Get up,” he heard her command, “and close this door properly. You are not old enough or grown enough to slam anything in this house. Is that understood?”

For a moment, there was no answer. Jonathan, watching still, could only partially see his wife standing there with her hands on her hips, her breathing coming hard and fast.

She took a step into the room, and he heard her say, “I asked you a question.”

Her tone had turned threatening, and he had to consciously suppress his natural inclination to head that way and to intervene.

There was a slight hesitation before, “Yes, Ma’am.” came as the reluctant response from the unseen party inside the bedroom. “I understand you.”

“Now,” Jennifer said, “If you want this door closed, then you come here, and you close it properly.”

She took a step back, out of the door frame and into the hall. The door was softly closed shut. She placed her hand to her chest, exhaled, and appeared to be trying to calm down.

“She’s not going to make fifteen, Jonathan,” she vowed, shaking her head as she said it. “One of us has got to go. I have age and experience on my side, and I’m letting you know here and now that I’ll be damned if it’s going to be me.”

Finally able to tear himself from the spot to which he’d been rooted, he walked over to where she stood, one hand on her hip, the other to her chest, her foot tapping the carpeted hall. Even though she was highly distressed, he couldn’t help but be turned on by her. For some odd reason, when she was was angry, he always found her even more alluring.

Tempering his libidinous desires, he spoke to her while massaging her tense shoulders.

“Fourteen’s a rough age, Jennifer. She’s not a little kid and she’s not a young adult. She doesn’t know where she stands right now. And it doesn’t help that she’s as stubborn as a mule. She’ll get over it. Do you think it’s going to be safe for me to leave the two of you here for four days while I’m in New York?”

Jennifer was still deeply attitudinal.

“I’ll be just fine. It’s your daughter that you had better be concerned about. She’s lost her mind. You might want to consider taking her with you. I thought I was going to have to wring her little neck the other day when she waltzed in here from shopping with Marnie and her cousin an hour after the time that I told the cousin to have her back. Rochelle said that J.J. and Marnie deliberately came up missing at the mall in order to get back late.”

He put his arm around her and steered her toward and down the staircase.

“Are you feeling all right?”

Her body felt unusually warm against his. He’d first noticed it that morning when she was lying next to him in bed.

“I’m fine. I’m just so angry with that girl right now that she’s got my blood pressure on boil. She knows perfectly well that I haven’t allowed her over to Marnie’s ever since her mother married Bernard Tolbert two years ago. I don’t think things are going too well for them lately, and J.J. is not going down there as long as he’s there. Marnie’s mother should have had the party at the Country Club like she’s had it every other year until now.”

She coughed a deep hard cough which he could feel wrack through her body as his hand rested on the small of her back.

“Look at this.” She fussed. “That girl’s got me winded from running up those stairs behind her. I don’t get winded like this ever!”

“Well, you know that whatever your decision is about this party thing, I stand behind you. We’ll just have to suffer the wrath of J.J. together.”

“Oh, she won’t be mad at you, Jonathan. You can do no wrong. I’m the big, bad ogre these days.”

He pulled her to him and kissed her. Her lips were unusually warm too.

“Not to me. You’re just as beautiful and wonderful as ever, and remember, I’m the one whose opinion carries any weight.”

_____________________________________________________

J.J. lie on her back on her bed with her running shoes propped up on the ornate antique wrought iron headboard. It was her hope that her mother would come in and see her like that. Maybe then Lady Ice would melt down and lose it.

The prospect of her mother going fully ballistic on her actually frightened her, but somehow the imagined spectacle was titillating to her adventurous nature. She didn’t understand why she was pushing for a confrontation, and she didn’t care that she didn’t know why.

On the handset, she hit speed dial and spoke into it when her friend picked up.

“Marnie, she still said no. She makes me soooo sick.”

“Damn, J.J. That’s rough. It won’t be a good party without you here.”

J.J. thought she could hear Marnie’s voice break as if she were starting to cry. “Why is your mother saying no like this, J.? You always come to my parties.”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with her. She’s just being a witch. I’d substitute the first letter of that word for a more appropriate one, but it would be just like her to be on an extension, listening. I think she hovers over that console just to see when I’m on the phone. It would serve her right if she did hear it.”

“This is all my fault.” Said Marnie. “My mother said that I couldn’t have the boy-girl party I wanted at the Country Club because I got that low grade in Math, so she’s making me have it here at the house with just girls. A sleepover, like we’re little kids or something. Now you can’t even come. It won’t be any fun. If I had known that you wouldn’t be able to come, I wouldn’t have even had a party at all.”

“I am coming.” J.J. said casually into the phone, her tone slightly lowered.

“How?”

“I’m sneaking out.”

“J.J., she’ll kill you! You’ll be grounded for life.”

“Forget her. She can’t hold me a prisoner. I do what I want to do. And after I do what I want to do, I won’t care how she punishes me. I’ll have already had my fun by then. My mother is such a stick in the mud. She can be that if she wants to be; I’m going to have some fun in my life.”

“How are you going to get off the grounds? And it’s two miles past your house to mine on that road. How will you get here?”

“You leave that to me. I said I’m coming.”

_____________________________________________________

Saturday, was the day of the party. Her father had flown out the night before to go to New York. J.J. and her mother hadn’t spoken much since the blow up on the previous Thursday afternoon. In fact, her mother hadn’t said much of anything to anybody since her father left. Late that morning, Marie had come up to her room to ask after her.

“J.J., have you noticed anything strange about your mother today?”

“No, but I haven’t seen her much. What’s wrong?”

As she answered, J.J. was pushing the backpack she had been stuffing with toiletries and clothing under her bed with her foot.

“I don’t know, J.J. She’s been downstairs sitting on the couch for a while. She’s very pale, and she’s been awfully quiet.”

“We had sort of a fight the other day. She might still be bent out of shape over that. Daddy’s not home either, so that could be it. They get “Hart-sick” for each other when they’re apart.”

There was a distinct tone of sarcasm to her last statement.

As she was getting older, the more intimate nature of her parent’s personal relationship was becoming clearer to her. Her mother had always been frank and direct when educating her in matters of sex and love, and putting it all together J.J. had become aware of the fact that outside of being her parents, Jonathan and Jennifer Hart were lovers in every sense of the word. It was a fact that mortified her, but strangely, at the same time, it comforted her.

J.J. didn’t offer to check on her mother. As far as she was concerned, if Jennifer Hart was out of it, that was a situation even better suited to her plans for that evening.

Marie stood in the middle of the room, scratching her head.

“I’ve noticed it for a couple of days now.” She said. “She hasn’t been herself. I know that she’s been very busy running around with this last writing assignment, and she hasn’t really been eating very much. She hasn’t had much of an appetite since she got back from that day trip to Santa Barbara last week when she got soaked in that downpour. When I asked her just now if she felt well, she claimed that she did, but you know how she is. She’s not going to say when she doesn’t feel well.”

“She never eats a lot and she was well enough to keep me from Marnie’s party.” J.J. responded nastily. “She’ll be O.K. Daddy wouldn’t have left her if something was really wrong with her.”

Sighing, Marie turned to leave the room.

“I don’t know. I’m kind of psychic about her.”

Marie was a little put off by J.J.’s tone. Of late, she was getting somewhat beside herself.

“Don’t let your anger with your mother over something as trivial as missing a party keep you from seeing what’s right in front of you, J.J.” She went out closing the door.

Marie’s words touched something instinctive inside of her, but J.J. pushed that feeling to the side. She was going out of there that evening and nothing was going to stop her.

_____________________________________________________

Standing in the hallway, J.J. could hear the water from her mother’s shower running through the pipes in the wall. She knew that Marie would be in her room downstairs watching television. Her father had phoned her earlier and she’d already told him to have a good night, so she knew that he would not be calling back to speak with her any more that night. At that moment, her mother was apparently showering. When her father called again to speak with his wife that call would tie Jennifer Hart up for a large part of the night.

It was now or never.

J.J. crept down the back hall, around to her father’s loft and took the winding stairs down to the first floor. The screen saver on her mother’s computer was the only light from that corner of the great room. It was a picture of her father’s face with his chin on his hands as he was lying down on his stomach getting a massage, his clear blue eyes gazing out on whoever happened to be viewing the screen. J.J. was struck by a sudden stabbing pang of guilt.

“Forget you too. You love her so much. You stay here with her.” She said, waving at the screen and trying as hard as she could to erase her father’s accusing eyes from her head as she headed for the front door.

She stopped to retrieve her roller blades from the cubby under the front stairs on the way.

Sitting outside on the bench by the front door, she quickly strapped the skates onto her feet and the backpack to her back. The remote for the rear gate was in the pocket of her jeans. She patted her backside to make sure that it was still secure in there, and then she pushed off.

J.J. was the consummate athlete. She excelled in all things physical, especially things that involved moving fast. Crouching low, she flew down the concrete paths and driveways of the vast estate until she was approaching the back entrance. Timing it just right, she reached into her pocket, pulled out the remote, punched in the code and sailed through to the road as the gate opened just wide enough to allow her to pass. She deftly pushed the button to close it back, stuck the remote back in her pocket and began her journey to Marnie’s house.

Willow Pond Road circled half the perimeter of her home before branching off into another road that went to the other homes. Once she was out there, J.J. realized that she had never been on this road alone at night like this in her life. A thick bank of trees and brush surrounded the grounds, as well as an interior wall, which kept the inside lights from filtering out to the road. She’d never given any thought to what it was like out there. The only time that she had ever been out on this road at night, she was in the car with one or both of her parents. The estate itself was well lit on the inside, but out here it was pitch black.

Usually not one to frighten easily, she was now becoming a little uneasy. All the things that her parents had taught her about keeping herself safe from predators, she’d cast aside when she went through those gates. Heiress that she was, and as savvy as her parents were, they had always impressed upon her that there were people in the world that might harm her to get at one of them. They taught her all kinds of ways to get away from someone trying to take her against her will, but she knew that she was dead wrong for deliberately putting herself in harm’s way as she had.

Having second thoughts, she began wrestling with her conscience, which was loudly imploring her to turn back and go home. She had just about made up her mind to do so when headlights lit the road from behind her.

_____________________________________________________

Part Two

The gravity of the situation jerked her back to reality; she was a young girl out on a dark road alone at night. She was also J.J. Hart, daughter of Jonathan and Jennifer Hart: a valuable commodity for trade on the kidnapping-for-ransom market. Either the occupant of the oncoming car was a neighbor who would no doubt call her mother and let her know that she was out there, or it was a stranger. The possibilities with that latter scenario were too alarming to deal with. She pushed off onto the dirt shoulder and dropped to roll into the brush. Pulling herself behind some low bushes, she pressed her face into her arms hoping that she would become invisible. She heard the car as it skidded to a crunching stop in the gravel and dirt on the shoulder.

“Oh God…” She prayed.

A door opened and thudded closed. She pressed her face harder into her arms and tried to make herself as flat as possible. Footsteps came toward her. Closer and closer they came, the brush moving and the dry grass crackling. Whoever it was, was coming directly toward her. She tried scooting farther back in the brush.

“Daddy, please help me!”

She didn’t think she had said that aloud. A hand closed like a vise around her arm and she was yanked her to her feet.

“Your Daddy is not here to help you, but once I tell him about this, I doubt that even he would care to help someone as reckless as you.”

It was Jennifer Hart, and she was shining a flashlight right down into her eyes.

“How could you be so irresponsible, J.J.? If nothing else, I always thought that I could trust you.”

Despite that controlled tone, J.J. could see the fire in her mother’s eyes and there was an odd, too-ruddy hue to her cheeks. Her hair was wet, and she was dressed in sweats which meant that she had to have just thrown that outfit on. Her mother only wore sweats outside for running. She wouldn’t be caught dead in them outside at any other time.

At that moment, J.J. was afraid of her, more so than she had ever been in her life. They were much farther out on Lake Mischief than she had ever taken her mother before. The woman was enraged to the point that she could feel her trembling as she maintained her hold on her. Still determined to be defiant, and in an effort to not let her mother see the fear in her eyes, she pulled her wrist from her grasp and slowly bent down to loosen the skates. She took them off and stood upright again. Nobody, not even her mother, was going to see her sweat.

However, when she was ordered to, “Get in the car.” And was pushed  roughly toward it, that is exactly what she did without any comment at all. She was, after all nobody’s complete fool; bravado only went so far.

On the second floor, once they returned home, her mother’s parting words to her before closing her in her room, were delivered in no uncertain terms.

“Do not leave this room until I come for you, I don’t care if it’s two days from now.”

_____________________________________________________

It was eleven o’clock in the morning and her mother had not yet come for her. Sitting in the bay window seat of her bedroom looking out onto the grounds J.J. was miserable. She hadn’t slept well. Most of the night had been spent wrestling with the fact that her actions had caused her mother to doubt her ability to be trusted. For a party, a stupid little-kid’s sleepover, she had finally taken things to the point that she had jeopardized her relationship with her mother.

Although lately she felt stifled by what she felt was her mother’s unreasonable rigidity and her exceptionally high expectations, still she loved her and cherished her affection and respect. Actually, despite her conflicting feelings about her mother, Jennifer Hart, the woman apart from her mother, had lately come to be a weird sort of fascination, eclipsing even her adoration for her father. She admired her mother’s intelligence, her effortless elegance and grace, her beauty, and her wicked understated wit.

Being an only child with few relatives, she’d  had occasion to morbidly muse over what might occur in the event that she lost one of her parents. Playing the painful scenario over in her mind, she finally concluded that losing her mother would most devastate her life.

Her mother, she felt, could probably go on without her father. She would pull it together and would devote herself to continuing to raise her daughter and to running Hart Industries as a testament to her husband. But if, on the other hand, something were to happen to her mother, she knew that would overwhelm her father and he would probably not be able to continue as effectively without her. Neither she nor her father would be anything near what they were with that guiding force gone from their lives. Her father lived for his Jennifer, and it was her mother who kept her from being the spoiled, rich brat that she would have been if her upbringing had been left solely up to her father.

Slowly, she rocked back and forth in the window seat, contemplating what was to come. It wasn’t the inevitable conversation that she was going to have to hold with her mother that she dreaded. It was dealing with the disappointment her mother was going to let her know that she felt in her. In her teenaged angst, she had not considered all the collateral damage her decision to defy her mother would cause.

She was supposed to be so intelligent. How come she couldn’t figure all that out before she pulled that stunt on the night before? What if that hadn’t been her mother in that car out there on that road?

Lacing her fingers even more tightly around her legs, she dropped her head down onto her knees. The thought alone scared her. And J.J. Hart was not one to frighten easily.

Soon it was going on noon and still nobody had come for her. Maybe her mother really did mean that she wasn’t coming for her for two days. She had been pretty upset with her. It would probably serve her right if she was forgotten about forever, but the reality was that she was getting pretty hungry.

If that was part of Jennifer’s plan, she could forget that. Little girls who lived in mansions, regardless of how bad they were, weren’t supposed to starve to death.

J.J. got up, went to the intercom, and called Marie down in the kitchen to ask if her mother was down there, or if she were even in the house.

“She hasn’t been down.” Marie answered. “I’ve had her breakfast ready for some time now. I was just coming up to check on her. Why don’t you go over and see.”

“I can’t, Marie. She told me not to come out of the room.”

Marie’s sigh was so loud that J.J. could almost feel the woman’s breath on her cheek through the receiver. “What have you done now, J.J.?”

J.J. took the phone from her ear and looked at it. Marie’s question was an odd one. Surely they had talked over coffee that morning. By that time, Marie should have been made well aware of the previous night’s escape attempt, and if so, she certainly should have been fussing about it..

“I’ll tell you when I come down, Marie. You’ll probably get the gist of it while she chews me out at the kitchen table anyway. I’ll go across and check on her, and then we’ll probably be down together if she hasn’t shot me in the leg for being out of the room without her permission.”

J.J. eased her door open and peered out. Third was outside her door. That was truly strange. Normally, he slept in her room with her at night, but he hadn’t been around at the time that she’d gotten closed in. When she wasn’t available, Third went with her mother. The dog was crazy about her mother, almost as much as he was about her. Surely he should have been with her if she were in the house somewhere.

Creeping out, easing up the hall, she found the double doors to her mother’s bedroom closed. Putting her ear to the wood, she couldn’t hear anything on the other side. She knocked. There was no answer.

She called. “Mom?”.

There was no response.

Going into the master bedroom without permission, made her uncomfortable. There was something about that one room in the house that she found foreboding. Even as a small child, she would stop at the doors until she was asked to come in. Lately it seemed that she was only called in there for something negative. As inquisitive as she was, it was the one place in the house where she actually preferred to remain on the outside.

As a last resort, she took a deep breath, twisted the knob, and eased open the door. With her other hand, she kept Third back so that he couldn’t run in.

“Sit. Stay!” she commanded in a whisper. He did as she said.

“Mom?” She called again, her voice soft and tentative as her instincts stepped up their insistence that something was wrong.

Stepping inside the room, she closed the door behind her and looked around.

In the sitting area, she could see her mother lying on her back on the fainting couch, propped up by several pillows. She was still in the sweats from the night before with a light blanket over her legs that didn’t quite cover her bare feet.

Her heart clogging her windpipe, J.J. tiptoed across the wood floor.

“Mom?”

Jennifer didn’t open her eyes, and she not respond to J.J. calling to her. Judging from the unusually curly texture of her hair, J.J. could tell that it had been allowed to air-dry. Her mother normally used a blow drier on her hair to smooth it out into its customary soft waves. Closer up on her, J.J. could see fine beads of perspiration peppering her mother’s forehead. Her face and her neck were glazed with it.

J.J. dropped to her knees, next to her.

“Mom?”

The heat radiated from her mother’s body like a force field, and J.J. involuntarily flinched back away from her.

“Jeez! You’re burning up.”

J.J. first gently shook her by the shoulder, calling to her. “Mama?”

Then she took hold of both shoulders to shake her even harder. “Mom. answer me!”

Astonished when her mother didn’t open her eyes, but murmured something unintelligible about her father, with a terrified start, J.J. realized that she was lying there as good as unconscious.

“Oh my God!”

Her survival training from camp the summer before came to her in a rush. She jumped up, racing back into the bathroom. She grabbed one of the thick Turkish towels and a washcloth from the shelf. Throwing them into the bathtub, she ran cool water over them. At her father’s shaving cabinet, she took out the rubbing alcohol and used it to pour over the towels, also. Then she wrung them out, and hurried back out to the bedroom. She pulled at the sweatshirt her mother wore, yanking it off over her head. Then she knocked the pillows under her head onto the floor. Pulling the blanket off, she went to the other end, grabbed her ankles, and tugged until she had her lying completely flat on the couch. The facecloth, she placed on her forehead and the large towel, she draped over her torso.

“I’ve got this, Mom. Just hold on!” She pleaded kneeling next to her, smoothing the towels while patting her cheeks and placing small kisses on her hot face. “I love you. Please, just hold on!”

After covering her again with the blanket, J.J. shifted into autopilot. Everything she needed to remember was coming to her in a flash. Jumping up again, she ran to punch the intercom button on the console next to the bed, summoning Marie.

“Marie, my mother’s sick. I’ll call Dr. Kendall. She’ll call for an ambulance. You phone Daddy. His hotel number is on the fridge. You have all the others- his pager, his car phone, Liz’s number- they’re all down there too.”

Switching over to phone mode, she punched up her mother’s doctor/friend. When she told the receptionist who she was and stated the nature of her call, she was patched right through. As much as she disliked preferential treatment based on her name, this was one time that she was grateful for it.

“Where is she now?” Dr. Kendall wanted to know.

“She’s here in her room, but she’s really hot, Dr. Kendall, like sizzling. I put cool alcohol towels on her to try to get the fever down, but she’s still not coming around. She’s not really conscious. Marie’s calling my father.”

“Where’s your father?”

“He’s in New York.”

“You’re doing a good job, J.J. Keep those towels on her and stay with her until the ambulance gets there. I’ll meet her at Memorial.”

“Dr. Kendall, tell those ambulance people that I’m coming with her. I’m not going to have anybody telling me that I can’t come because I’m a kid. This is my mother, and I am staying right there with her.”

“I’ll take care of it, J.J.”

_____________________________________________________

J.J. sat in the private waiting room where Dr. Kendall arranged for her stay. Marie had remained behind. Her father had not been in his hotel, his pager was turned off and his phone was on voice mail. He must have been in one of his meetings. When he called the house, as soon as one of the voice or text messages marked ‘urgent’ got through to him, Marie would be there to take his call.

A stupid party. The sentiment kept running through her mind.

Marie tried telling her that her mother was ill, but she wanted to get to that stupid party worse than she wanted to check on her mother. It had been right there in front of her face, the coughing, the lying around; just as Marie had said, and she had overlooked it.

She sat on the couch, her shoes off and her knees pulled up to her chin, contemplating all that had happened. Her selfish, willful behavior had forced her mother into the night air straight out of a shower, her pores open and her hair still wet, to come and find her.

J.J. closed her eyes and held back the tears. There was no use in crying now. What was done was done. The phone next to her rang and she picked it up. It was Marie.

Having had second thoughts about leaving her mother, it turned out that her father had already been on his way home from New York. He told Marie, when they were on the phone, that he knew that she wasn’t well when he left, and for the whole time he’d been away, he’d worried about her. His plane had already touched down at LAX, and from there, he was being flown by helicopter to the roof of the hospital.

J.J. thanked her and hung up. For once, she was in no hurry to see her father. She was going to have to tell him everything, and she wasn’t looking forward to that. Again pulling her knees up to her chin, she put her head down to think some more and to wait for him.

It was funny how her father seemed to always have the right hunches. He often told her that she had inherited the same ability. It had worked when she picked that perfecta for him and got the racehorse from him as a reward. Yes, she could pick horse races, and she could play cards and do math like a wizard, but she certainly hadn’t had it this time for her mother. But, she was forced to admit to herself, that had been because that wasn’t what she wanted to have at that moment in time.

_____________________________________________________

“J.J.?”

The next thing that she knew, she was waking up, and her father was sitting next to her with his hand on her arm, calling her name. Ever since she was a little girl, she had always been able to fall asleep just about anywhere if she was tired enough.

“Daddy!” She put her arms around his neck.

It felt so good when he hugged her. Nobody made her feel as secure as he could, except of course, her mother.

“What’s going on?” He asked. “They still have your mother back there with Dr. Kendall. They asked me to wait here for her. You tell me.”

J.J. sat back and lowered her eyes from his.

“She’s just sick, Daddy. She was real hot, and she wouldn’t wake up when I called her. She was saying something about you, but it didn’t make any sense.”

“She was unconscious?” J.J. could hear the immediate alarm in his voice. He was panicking on the inside. That hunch she had about him was correct; he could not do without his beloved Jennifer.

Neither could she.

“At the time, she was.” She said to him, trying to keep her tone reassuring. “It was the fever. I’m sure that once Dr. Kendall gets it down, she’ll be all right.”

She took his hand in hers and held tightly to it.

Jonathan looked down at his daughter. She was something else. There she was at fourteen trying to help him get through something that he should have been easing her through. Each day that went by she looked more and more like her mother, but it was just as evident that at her core, she was evolving into a very different type of female. There was a side to J.J. that would not be completely tamed to Bel Air standards. She was restless and fearless, non-conforming, just as much so at fourteen as she had been as a very little girl. Although she was getting older, that part of her had not changed, and he was glad of it.

Once, he’d overheard her talking with Marnie after another difficult moment between herself and her mother. She had been describing to Marnie the difference between herself and Jennifer.

“She’s cognac and I’m Jack Daniels, just like my father. You can’t change what is to what you want it to be.”

Why she used that particular analogy was a question for another day, but she had been right on the money with it.

Yes, indeed, J.J. was what she was, and there was probably not going to be much changing of that. Some refining, some adjusting, but not much changing. Sitting there with her legs drawn up, her knees to her chin, wearing that ponytail, she was still the little girl that he so loved. But she was as stubborn as hell and growing in it, and that was causing big time friction between her and her mother.

He knew that Jennifer had been ill when he left, but he at first thought it just a cold or something. She had gotten soaked to the skin in Santa Barbara, and had driven all the way home in that state, but she always took such good care of herself, and had such a strong physical constitution. Outside of the headaches she sometimes got from the eyestrain caused by her constant reading, hormones, or from the stress of pushing herself too hard, she was never ill. But after making love on the morning that he left for New York, she’d had a particularly bad coughing spell while lying there with him.

Skin to skin with her, he could feel her temperature suddenly spike, and she said she felt dizzy for a moment. But in the end, she laughed it off, attributing her symptoms to his ‘considerable’ skills as a lover. He wanted to stay home with her then, but she persuaded him to continue with his plans, telling him that she would take something for the cough, drink the recommended “plenty of fluids”, and rest.

Talking with her late the night before, he could hear her laboring to breathe, and when he asked about J.J., she immediately changed the subject. That evasion on her part sent up an immediate flare. When he was away, and they talked together, there was always some amusing anecdote to relate about their child. In the middle of an afternoon meeting, when he couldn’t get Jennifer off his mind, he decided to come home.

Sitting there with J.J. and reading her body language, he could sense that there had been some trouble at home other than Jennifer’s illness. The sketchy, suspiciously evasive details he got from Marie hadn’t added up either.

“J.J., how long had your mother been up there in that room like that? What time was it when you found out that she was sick?”

“It was around noon. I don’t know how long she’d been in there.”

He took note of her nervous apprehension; the evasive eyes, the sudden flushing of her cheeks, the tensing and releasing of her laced fingers.

As inquisitive as J.J. was about her mother, he was sure that Jennifer being holed up in her room for that long a time was something that J.J. would have checked out under normal circumstances. She would never have let her mother remain upstairs that long without at least knocking to say good morning to her. It was an odd thing with her. Even when she and Jennifer were at odds, J.J. would do things to keep herself near Jennifer or would periodically make sure to go to where she was, even if only to pass by her with her nose in the air.

“And why don’t you know?” He probed. “Your mother never sleeps that late. You don’t either for that matter. You didn’t think that it was strange that she hadn’t come down, and it was noon?”

She looked up at him in a way that practically answered his question without her uttering a word.

“Do you have something to tell me, J.J.?”

“I told you, Daddy. She was just sick. I didn’t know that something was wrong with her.”

“J.J.”

There was an insinuation of warning in his voice that neither of them had heard him use with her before.

She put her head back down on her knees.

“I didn’t know because I was on lockdown.” She admitted. “My mother told me not to come out of my room until she came for me. It wasn’t until I called down to Marie to find out why she hadn’t come in to me that I found out that she hadn’t been out of her room.

“See, I sneaked out of the house last night to go to the party after she told me not to. I was on the blades going down to Marnie’s, and she came and got me off the road. When she found me I think I was about halfway there. I tried to hide because I wasn’t sure who it was that was coming, but it turned out that it was my mother. She came into the woods by the road and pulled me out from where I was hiding. She had just gotten out of the shower and her hair was still wet. She grabbed me up, and she pushed me. She made me get in the car with her and come home. That’s when she told me to stay in my room.”

When he didn’t say anything, she finally peeked up from her misery.

The look on his face shocked her. His eyes had gone sapphire and his brow was one deeply cut trench. The expression conveyed to her that he was having a hard time swallowing what she was telling him. She could tell from his uncharacteristic glare that her father was angrier with her than he had ever been in her life.

When he spoke, his voice was cold, each word razor-edged. “What she should have done, is beaten your little ass right on the side of that road when she caught up to you.”

It was as if he’d slapped her, making her see stars and stunning her into dumbfounded silence.

Neither of her parents had ever raised a hand to her in anger or as punishment. The closest she had ever come to being physically disciplined was on the previous evening when her mother pushed her to the car.

His unrelenting stare speared her heart, pinning it, pulsating in fear, against the back of her chest.

“If I had been the one to come after you last night, little girl, I would have taken this belt off, and right there that is exactly what I would have done. J.J., you’d better be glad that I was in New York and not anywhere near Los Angeles. If she had told me about this last night when I talked to her, I would have come home right then and taken good care of you.”

Clearly agitated, he got up and began pacing, one hand in his pocket, the other brushing back his hair. Finally, after a couple of quick, angry, back and forth trips, he stopped, standing directly over her. Involuntarily, her head retreated as far down between her shoulders as it could go.

“Do you realize the danger that you put yourself and your mother in?”

“Yes Daddy,” She murmured. ” I-“

“Be quiet, J.J. I don’t want to hear any lame explanations. She told you that you couldn’t go, yet you defied her. Not only that, but you went out on that unlit road alone in the dark. We’ve done everything that we can in your life to keep you safe, but in your desire to get to a damned party you threw all of that to the winds.

“On top of that, your mother had to come out in the night air to find you- in the dark -by herself, sick, and putting herself out there too. What if that hadn’t been your mother? What if it had been some rapist or a kidnapper or a murderer looking for some silly, hardheaded girl like you to have his way with? Then what? How would your mother have felt then? How would I have felt? Did you think about that? What if in looking for you, someone got to your mother and hurt or killed her? How important would your party have been then? How damned important would your party have been in that case?”

By that time, he was yelling, and she was desperate to make him stop.

“No Daddy,” She pleaded.”It-“

But he was too angry to come down or to desist in saying what he had to say.

“No, J.J., it wasn’t important, and you didn’t think. All you thought about was yourself. It seems that’s all that concerns you these days.”

For a moment he continued to tower over her, both hands on his hips, glowering down on her in a manner he had never taken with her before, and her body trembled under his intimidating presence. It didn’t matter about being seen sweating at that point. His being angry was something to sweat about.

She waited, attempting to mentally steady herself for whatever was to come.

But instead of continuing to yell, or snatching her up like she expected, he turned away from her. He went out of the room, closing the door behind himself, leaving her alone once again.

When he was gone, she dropped her head back onto her knees. This time, there was no stopping the tears.

_____________________________________________________

It was a while before the door opened again. When it did, it was Dr. Kendall, bringing a glass of milk and a sandwich. J.J. hadn’t eaten all that day, but she had been too worried about her mother and then depressed behind her father to think about food. She was glad that she was finished crying. That wasn’t something that she wanted anyone to see her doing no matter what the reason.

“Hey Sweetie.”

The doctor put the sandwich on the table near her and then came around to sit down on the couch next to her, handing her the glass.

“Hey Dr. Kendall. How’s my mother?”

J.J. took up the glass and drank the milk. “Thank you.”

She didn’t think she could stomach the sandwich.

“Your mother has pneumonia. It looks as if she’s been walking around with it for a while, and it finally caught up with her. You did a good job of getting that temperature down when you did. Where did you learn that?”

“Wilderness survival camp last summer. My mother made me go. She said that her father used to make her go some summers because they traveled so much. We travel a lot too, and she said that I have to be prepared for whatever. Is she going to be okay, Dr. Kendall?”

“She’s still pretty sick, but I think that she’s going to be fine over time. Jennifer is a pretty strong lady. We’re going to keep her here for a few days, though, to get that temperature down to normal and to get the medication into her to fight the infection in her lungs. She needs a lot of rest and quiet. Your father agrees that her staying here will be best for her. Now tell, me what’s going on with you?”

“With me?”

“Yes, you. Your father says he thinks the two of you need a break from each other. That’s another reason why she’s staying here. Why is it that he feels that way?”

“A break from each other? Daddy wants her away from me? He said that?”

“Yes, J.J., he did. That’s a first, isn’t it? So what’s going on between the two of you?”

J.J. couldn’t believe it. She had really messed up if her father was talking of keeping her mother away from her.

Dr. Kendall watched as J.J. hung her head.

It was she who delivered J.J. into the world. She’d watched her grow from an adorable infant, to a cute, precocious little girl, into the intelligent, but complex adolescent seated next to her. Although outwardly J.J. appeared to be closer to her father, she recognized that Jennifer and J.J. had always shared an intense, very private bond. It was one that she couldn’t be sure that either of them recognized or understood for what it was, or maybe even that it was.

But J.J. was beginning to become a person separate from her parents, especially from her mother. There were characteristics of their two personalities that Jennifer and J.J. had in common, but, at this point, in many ways they were more like oil and water.

Jennifer had been brought up by her father to be refined and to show restraint, although during her years with carefree Jonathan, she had opened up a bit. As an orphan child, and then in the charge of a single man during his adolescence, Jonathan had to wait until he was grown to go flying by his coattails like he dreamed of doing as a child.

During their childless years together, he and Jennifer had formed a unique, enviably loving partnership based upon mutual trust and respect. J.J. had come to them late, when they were more mature, and more understanding of life and of themselves. They were were raising their daughter as a freer spirit than either of them had been allowed to be as children. That spirit, at fourteen, was feeling ready to take wing, but wise Jennifer still had J.J. firmly attached to that tether designed to keep her from flying headlong into the flames to which she was so attracted. Gradually she was lengthening the string over which she maintained control; but she was not letting go completely, and apparently not fast enough for young Miss Hart.

Once she sent for him, and he was allowed to come to Jennifer’s room to see her, the fear and apprehension had been evident in Jonathan’s eyes. With Jennifer sleeping, he took the opportunity to take her outside the room to inform her of what had transpired between Jennifer and J.J. on the night before. He was, of course, very concerned about Jennifer’s physical condition, but he was also extremely distressed about J.J. and her troublesome behavior.

As he spoke, it became apparent that even though J.J. was his daughter and he cherished her, she had crossed the line with him. Nobody, not even his only child, was allowed to hurt Jennifer or to put her in jeopardy without answering to him; the bond between him and his wife was just that strong and impenetrable. It was admirable, but at the same time, frightening. Speaking with him, she had the presence of mind to hope that nothing ever happened to Jennifer to take her away from him in his lifetime. If it did, he would be jumping right over into the hole they lowered her into, to be with her.

While he had gone back into the room to return to Jennifer, she had come out to get J.J.’s viewpoint on things.

Jennifer was her friend as well as her patient. Recently, J.J. had become her patient, as well. She found both of them engaging, spirited, and intelligent. Jennifer had become almost like a daughter to her and J.J., a precious, delightful granddaughter. Jennifer had been so anxious and unsure at the prospect of suddenly becoming a mother after so many childless years, but it had all turned out so well for the two of them. Jennifer sometimes ran things past her where they concerned her rearing of J.J. As their friend, it would not do to let a permanent rift form between them at this difficult time in both of their lives.

“Why does your father feel like that, I asked you?”

J.J. spoke quietly. “I guess I’ve been a little bitch, lately. Excuse my language, but that’s the most accurate description of my behavior. Sometimes you have to cuss to get as close as you need to be.”

Dr. Kendall chuckled. The girl had always been a forward, straight-talking little mess.

“What have you done to make you say that?”

“Dr. Kendall, sometimes things just get on my nerves. I don’t know why they do, but they do. Then, I have to admit, I do things that get on my mother’s nerves. I know that they do, but I do them anyway. I don’t know why.”

“J.J., there has to be some kind of reason in your head for why this is happening. Talk to me. Tell me what you think.”

J.J. sighed, scratched at her head, sighed again and then sat back against the arm of the couch.

“Well, for starters, Dr. Kendall, she calls me a tomboy. She’s on me all the time for that. She’s such a lady all the time. That’s so boring to me. I like sports and running and wearing pants and stuff. For her, everything has to be just so. She’s always on. She always looks good, she’s always smart; everybody always likes her and respects her.”

“So what’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing, I guess. That’s all good, but sometimes, it’s just flat-out boring being the kind of girl she says I should be. I guess I get mad at her because she expects me to be like her, but I can’t do that. Not all the time like she can.”

“Who asked you to? Does she say that she wants you to be like her?”

J.J. hesitated before she answered. The doctor could see her thinking.

“Well, I guess nobody really said it.” She finally admitted. “It’s just that I can’t live up to what she wants.”

“What do you think she wants you to be that you can’t be, J.J.?”

“I- I- I can’t be good, I guess.” J.J. replied after thinking on it a few minutes. “I do stuff that gets on her nerves, but it’s the stuff that I like to do. The things that she’d like for me to do bore me to death, I swear it. I’ve tried, but I just die. I put on a dress and go to church, then she has to pinch me and all of that to get me to act right. I hate it. I have to hide the things that I really like to do from her.”

“Like what? I’m not understanding you.”

“Okay, for example, she likes the Country Club and teas, writing conferences, the opera and the ballet. I hate that stuff. I like pool parties, dancing to loud music, and the beach. She likes designer houses and going to fittings and fashion shows for her clothes. I like going to the mall with my friends. I like betting on horses and cards. I like shooting craps, and I do it too when I think I won’t get caught at it. She’d have a royal fit if she knew that. I like going to the fights with my father and going to the games: basketball, football, hockey, it doesn’t matter. I like it all. When we go, I like sitting in the stands; I like to be right out there in the mix. She prefers being up in the Hart Corporate Box with wine and cheese. I’d wear jeans and boots or shorts and sandals every day of my life if she’d let me, only she won’t. None of these things agree with her.

“Lately she’s been all over me about the things that I do. If I’m on the phone late, she’s on me. If I want to go out, she has to know where, when, with whom, how long. By the time she gets through with me, I don’t even want to go anymore. I can fly the plane, Dr. Kendall, but she doesn’t know it and don’t you tell her either. You’re the only person I’ve ever told. That’s something else that I have to hide. If she knew, she wouldn’t have let me do it, and now I wouldn’t know how.

“I went out shopping last week with my friend and her cousin. I got back later than she said, and you would have thought that I’d stayed out all night with a boy. Last night, my best friend had a party, and she wouldn’t let me go to that because she doesn’t trust my friend’s stepfather. I was so mad at her that I decided I was going to go anyway. I left the house last night without permission, and she came looking for me.”

J.J. took a deep breath, as if she were gathering herself.

“Dr. Kendall, when she came looking for me, she had just gotten out of the shower and her hair was all wet. It was night and kind of cool out. She was really mad at me, too. Was that what made her sick?”

Dr. Kendall smiled and reached out to take J.J,’s hands apart before she rubbed them raw.

“No Darling, she was sick before that. She’s been sick for a while, like I said in the beginning. Your mother pushes herself too hard sometimes. She’s always been that way. Last night probably didn’t help, though. It may have speeded things up. But you did all the right things once you found her, and you found her in time. Marie says that you acted very maturely, that you didn’t panic at all. I admire you for that.”

As J.J. remained quiet, Dr. Kendall watched her. She was going from cute, but awkward, into definite pretty, just like her mother. Yet there remained about her an untamed air, sort of like a sleek, spirited thoroughbred colt. It became her, and she didn’t think that it was ever going to be completely brought under control. Perhaps Jennifer was trying too hard to fix something that wasn’t really broken. Maybe it only needed refining, and refinements didn’t happen overnight. It was a thing she would have to talk with Jennifer about later.

She placed her hand on top of J.J.’s bent knees.

“J.J., I don’t think Jennifer wants you to be exactly like her. She’s smart enough to realize that no two people are alike, and that you’re going to be your own person. And you don’t have to feel like you need to be just like her. But she is your mother, and she’s supposed to know where you are. You’re supposed to make your curfews, and you don’t need to be on the phone all night. There’s not that much conversation on God’s green earth. And I don’t think you can blame her for not liking some of the things that you’ve mentioned, like shooting craps for instance. Please.”

“It’s fun, Dr. Kendall. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. It’s paid for my lunch on more than one occasion. I’m pretty good at it.”

Dr. Kendall tried not to smile at the child’s sincerity. There was only one side of the family from whom that particular back-room tendency could have come.

“Isn’t there anything that the two of you like together?”

“Yeah, I guess so. We like the theatre, art, and some music. She doesn’t like rap or songs with hot sex lyrics; I do, not all the sex lyrics; I like some of them, but sometimes those have the best beats so I ignore the lyrics that are too nasty. And I guess we like making each other laugh. She can be real funny sometimes; so can I. She likes that I do well in school; I do too. It feels good to know that you’ve done your best.”

“Those are some good things to have in common.” Dr. Kendall smiled. “You listen to your mother, J.J. She’s the best friend you’ll ever have. She’ll be there when nobody else is. I know that sounds like just something that grown people say to children to get them to mind, but you don’t know how lucky you are with her.”

Despite it all, J.J. knew that the doctor was right. There was just one of her to whom her mother had to give her attention. Her father was right too. She should have had her ass kicked for that stupid, reckless stunt. She resolved to never do anything that crazy again, at least not as long as she was living at home.

_____________________________________________________

The doctor left her after demanding that she eat the sandwich and standing there with her until it was gone. It wasn’t long before her father returned. His disposition had mellowed somewhat, but he was still upset, she could tell.

“Someone wants to see you.” He said. “But before she does, I want to talk to you.”

He took the place on the couch that he had been sitting in before he left her. He sat leaned forward, looking into her eyes. It was the look he gave her when he wanted her to listen and to understand the information he was about to impart.

“Dr. Kendall and Marie have told me that you did all of the right things and that you kept your head. Now, that’s my daughter, not that nasty little brat I’ve been living with for a while.”

He put his hand under her chin and lifted her face so that they were eye to eye.

“My daughter is responsible, and she thinks on her feet, like you did this afternoon. I’m proud of you for how you took care of your mother. That temperature of hers had gotten up to a very dangerous level, and your quick thinking brought it down and kept her from being any worse than she is. That renews my faith in you and I love you for it. You’re a very smart girl, Justine Hart. But don’t you ever do anything again like you did last night, do you understand me?”

“Yes, Daddy.”

“I couldn’t stand it if anything happened to either of you, don’t you know that?”

“Yes, Daddy.”

“You’re all the family that I have.”

“I know that, Daddy.”

“Now give me a hug, J.J.”

“Yes, Daddy.”

She rose to her knees, wrapped her arms around his neck, and cried when he hugged her back.

_____________________________________________________

He took her to her mother’s room, and led her inside the door. When she looked around, though, he was closing the door behind her leaving the two of them alone.

J.J. was uncomfortable in hospitals. She rarely had occasion to visit them, so they made her nervous. She felt especially anxious with her mother being there because she was sick. She wondered if her father was going to call her grandfather, and if he did, if her grandfather would try to come to California.

She loved Stephen Edwards, and they had bonded well on her last visit with him, but he had a rigid way about him that was ten times worse than dealing with her mother on the worst days. If he found out all that had happened and came to California, she would be in a dress with her hair down, being “Justine” until whenever he left to go back to Maryland.

She made her way to the side of her mother’s bed. Looking down at her, she looked small, not at all like the formidable woman who snatched her from her hiding place on the ground on the night before. Her eyes were closed and a tube was feeding something into her left arm from a bag of liquid suspended from a rack above her bed. J.J. averted her eyes from that arm; the needle taped to it was disturbing. There was also something up her nose that was connected to another tube that led to a large machine next to the bed. She assumed that was to help her breathe.

Thinking that her mother was asleep, she sat down in the chair next to her bed. She didn’t know what else to do, but she wanted to stay there close to her. Easing the chair as close to the bed as she could get it, she leaned forward resting her forehead in her hands.

“What are you doing out of your room? I thought I told you to stay there until I came for you. Are you defying me still?”

J.J. smiled.

“I was starving to death, Mom. Besides the smoke detectors don’t register fevers, and you were about to set the house afire.”

It was Jennifer’s turn to smile.

“Your father and Dr. Kendall told me what you did for me. I’m proud of you, J.J., and I wanted to thank you. So, you stripped me, I understand?”

“Just your top. I gotta tell you, you’re still buff. All that working out has paid off.” J.J. said nodding, and then adding naughtily, “And you still have a lot more up there than I do, but I’m working on catching up. Nice bra, by the way. Wonderbra?”

“Wonderbra? For your information, I don’t need artificial enhancement, little girl. And in about another year or less, neither will you. But aren’t you glad that I took the time to put a bra on?”

“Oh jeez, yeah, I’d probably have to go into therapy if not.” J.J. shook her head at the thought and had to chuckle. After a thing like that. I’m telling you, that would really have been something.”

“Come here.” Jennifer patted the bed next to her, pleased that they could still banter like that after the past few ugly days they’d experienced.

She took the device from her nose.

“Are you supposed to do that?” J.J. asked.

“You do as I say and let me worry about that.” Jennifer answered.

J.J. got up and sat down in the spot indicated. Her mother’s eyes were open now, looking up at her. Jennifer Hart was still good looking, she noted with pride. Despite their differences, she had always been proud of her attractive, well-dressed mother.

“J.J., what are we going to do? We can’t keep on like this. Why are you so angry with me all the time?”

“I’m not angry with you, Mom. I just feel so crazy sometimes, like I have to be doing something risky all the time. I don’t know what it is. Sometimes it’s like I can’t breathe or something. Honest, though, I don’t know why I mess with you like I do. I do things, but for real, I only get angry with you when I feel like you’re not being fair.”

“When am I not fair with you, J.J.?”

“You wouldn’t let me go to my best friend’s party. I always go to Marnie’s parties. She always comes to mine. You get after me for everything, it seems.”

J.J. slid off the bed and pulled the chair up close. It felt unnatural being over her mother in the way that she was sitting. She preferred being next to or below her. Leaning forward in the chair, she took her hair down from the ponytail to talk seriously with her mother. She did that at times when they talked. It seemed that the band that held the ponytail got to be too tight to think and talk at the same time.

“Mom, all the things that I like to do seem to get on your nerves. I feel like I’m never going to be good enough for you sometimes.”

Jennifer reached out and stroked J.J.’s hair. The girl had always had such a wonderful head of hair.

“J.J., you are wild sometimes,” She said. “but I love you just as you are. Even when you’re naughty I love you. I‘m just trying to teach you to regulate it. There are times that you have to listen, and you have to be on time. You have to put down the telephone, the parties, the racing forms, the cards, the dice, the footballs, baseballs, and all of that. Of course some of that foolishness that you get into, you should never have learned in the first place. But then Jonathan Hart is your father, so some of that isn’t entirely your fault. There are times, J.J. that you have to be a lady. You have to project the image of being a lady above everything else. Maybe not as much of a ‘sissy-Mary’ as you seem to think I am, but a lady nonetheless.”

That ‘sissy-mary” reference brought a smile to J.J.’s face. Her mother remembered everything that she said and could reference conversations they’d had from days, months, or even years ago. She was a very good listener.

“You’re getting older, J.J. You’re not a baby any more, and whether you like it or not, you are a young lady. There are more times now when you must be a lady, and nothing else will do. You have this thing that you say about people showing their hands: letting other people know everything about them. Well you can be and do all the things that you like and want to do, but you don’t have to show your hand. Everyone doesn’t have to know from looking at you, all of your business. Keep some of it to yourself. It makes you a lot more interesting when you keep people guessing about you. You’re that way about your social status. Now it needs to extend into your more personal life. I could tell you some stories about me that would stand all of this hair of yours on end.”

J.J. cut in “Please tell me one!”

She figured her mother for holding some juicy stories in the bag. Nobody could be that good all of their lives. It would be nice to know that she once got into trouble with Pa like she seemed to do all the time lately with her. Had she, at one time in her life, been so angry and confused for no real reason, too?

“Another time, leibchen. You’re far too young for any of my stories yet. But, you must listen to me when I tell you that there are things that you cannot do. I’m honestly not trying to make your life miserable. Just like you and your father get hunches about things, I get them too- about you. When I have a hunch that something isn’t good for you, I’m not going to let you do it, and that’s all there is to it. You must not defy me ever. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”

J.J. lay her head down on the bed, and her mother continued to stroke her hair. She could hear her laboring to breathe, and it made her feel badly all over again about everything that had happened.

“Je comprends, mama. I’ll really try to do better. I won’t disobey you again, and I will listen. But you’ll listen to me too, won’t you?”

“If I think you have something to say.” Jennifer answered, refitting the device back into her nose.

_____________________________________________________

When Jonathan returned, he found the two of them sleeping. J.J.’ s head lie on the bed at her mother’s side, one arm extended protectively across Jennifer’s legs. The bracelet that he had given her as an infant was still there on her wrist; she had worn it ever since that day. It only came off to be resized and then it went right back on her arm. Jennifer’s fingers were entwined in J.J.’s hair, which had fanned out over her arm and the bed.

Standing over them, his mind returned to that day so long ago at the cabin when Jennifer sat before the fireplace with J.J. asleep in her arms, rocking her as she stroked her fine golden red curls.

He decided there and then that when Jennifer was released from the hospital it would be good to take them back to the mountains so that she could rest in the country air and J.J. could spend some quality time getting back with her mother. He and his daughter could ride out and watch the dawn together in the mornings. To this day she loved when they did that. J.J. was still his baby girl: as smart, headstrong, and incorrigible as they made them.

He ran his hand over both red heads. They were beautiful together as they slept, as beautiful as they had been in the beginning.

You, J.J. Hart, are a very lucky girl. I hope you understand that. Your mother truly loves  you. It’s obvious that you love and respect her too and that’s good. There’s no better person for you….

… or for me.

I love both of you with all of my heart.

End

Continue to Age Fifteen

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