Introducing Miss J.J. Hart through the eyes of her father, Jonathan Hart
“Well, I have had it.”
Jonathan Hart pushed his chair back from the desk. “Enough. That’s it for today.”
The top of his desk was covered with papers he had been reviewing and signing for what felt like the entire day. Paperwork and writing had never been his thing.
He stood and stretched, attempting to pull loose the kinks formed from sitting so long. A chance glance down to Jennifer’s picture reminded him of her absence. She was in San Francisco for the day to meet with her agent. They had been together for decades, but he still missed her a lot when she was away, even if it was only for the day.
“Better check on the girls,” he thought, and he walked from his home office in the loft around to the master bedroom where the windows overlooked the driveway.
J.J. and her best friend, Marnie, had been out there playing and roller-blading most of the afternoon. He got there in time to see them skate up the drive and plop down on the bench under where he stood watching. With the window open, he could hear them talking.
“It’s five, Marnie. Your dad will be here soon to pick you up.”
“J.J., why don’t you just go up and ask your daddy if you can stay over to my house.” Marnie whined. “You know he’ll let you, if you ask him. I don’t want to spend the weekend with my father and stepmonster by myself.”
“Nope. Can’t do it. Jennifer Hart will not be caning me this evening. She said for me to be here when she got back, and that is exactly what she meant.”
“You know your mother doesn’t hit you. She doesn’t even yell at you. You are so lucky you don’t have to deal with stepparents. Just go ask him anyway. You know him. He can make her forget what she said.”
From above, Jonathan smiled at that.
Yes, Marnie, I probably could. But then again, maybe not, considering the subject.
“Not when it comes to me, he can’t,” he heard J.J. say. “I’ve been on her nerves all week. That’s why I’m here today. I was supposed to go with her to San Francisco.”
“What did you do to make her leave you at home?”
Jonathan watched J.J. adjust one of her skates, eager to hear her interpretation of the infraction.
“I wish I could figure out how to put a motor on these things. That might be fun,” she said, before addressing Marnie’s question. “Well, see, on Sunday night, I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and got on the Playstation. I wanted to finish a level of a game I was on, but there was a wire loose on the controller, and it kept shorting out, so I took the back off to fiddle with it. I was on the floor in my room. I had the light off, and was using the flashlight. I thought she was already asleep.”
Coming up from the skate, J.J. brushed tousled russet curls back from her face. “The next thing I knew, the hem of Jennifer Hart’s nightgown was standing right next to me.”
Marnie leaned in to J.J. “Wha’d she do?”
“She just reached down and took the parts of the control from me. Then she pointed to the bed.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“By itself, no.”
J.J. bent back down to tighten the strap on her other skate. “But the next day we had that math test. Since I didn’t rest well the night before, I guess I couldn’t think straight on the some of the items, and I made some dumb mistakes. When we got the tests back on Wednesday, I had got a C, and then Ms. Latimer made me take it home to get it signed by a parent.”
“So, why didn’t you just get your daddy to sign it? You always get A’s. He would have let one C slide.”
“Can’t. That’s a major Jennifer Hart rule. She has to sign everything that’s school-related. She says my daddy is putty in my hands, and I just run all over him.”
Jonathan grinned. Jennifer Hart was quite right on that one. J.J. Hart would be spoiled beyond redemption if it was left solely up to him.
J.J. continued, “And then you know she caught me on the phone at midnight last Thursday talking to you.”
For Jonathan, the moment remained vivid in his mind.
They had been making love, and Jennifer had moved, putting herself on top to work her special blend of hot magic. In the midst of it all, she somehow caught the bright red ‘in use’ light on the phone console. Without missing a stroke, she reached over to snatch up the receiver next to the bed.
“Hang… up… now” she demanded, in rhythm with what she was doing at the time.
He heard the click on the other end before Jennifer put the receiver back down. When she brought her body down to him, her soft, fragrant hair falling forward, brushing his face, she whispered in his ear, “Just plain incorrigible.”
His two girls, his wife and his daughter, they were so much fun.
The gate buzzer sounded, and he left his spot in the window to go answer it.
J.J. waved to Marnie as she and her father pulled off down the driveway. “See you!”
Then she skated to the front door, opened it, and slid into the foyer, closing the door behind her.
“You do know your mother is going to cut you off at the knees if she finds out you’ve been on those skates in the house.”
J.J. looked up at the voice speaking to her from overhead. Her father stood grinning his Cheshire Cat grin at her from the railing overlooking the foyer.
“Get out of those things and come up here for a minute, will you?” he said. “I want to talk to you.”
She sat down on the bottom step and released the straps on her skates. After taking them off, she stored them away in the cubby closet under the massive oak staircase.
“Where are you?” she called out as she ran up the stairs in her socks.
“I’m in the library,” he called out in answer.
Her father sat at his desk in his office in the loft, which actually was a library. When she made it around there to him, he was moving some papers out of the way. She dropped down in the chair across from him.
“What’s up?” she asked, brushing the escaped strands of her wild red ponytail out of her face. “You wanted to talk to me?”
Jonathan looked up from his papers and smiled. How he loved her, his and Jennifer’s last minute kid. She never ceased to delight and amaze him. He leaned forward to look into that face so like Jennifer’s must have been at that age, but with his blue eyes.
“Tell me something,” he began.
“Why is it when you’re with your friends, and you talk about your mother, you refer to her as “Jennifer Hart” and not “my mom”?”
J.J. looked down for a moment and rubbed at her forehead. A sly smile tugged at her lips as she realized that she had been overheard. She shifted position in the chair, and her father watched her squirm.
“I’m just curious,” he reassured her. “I notice even with me, you don’t call her mom. You always say ‘My mother’.”
J.J. raised her eyes to him. She adored her father. He asked good questions, ones that made her have to think, and he always listened to her answers. She liked that he was smart, patient, and funny.
Actually the two of them were kindred spirits: clever, mischievous, perceptive, and persistent. They could see humor in any situation. They also shared a passion for electronics and technology.
And they both loved Jennifer deeply.
“It’s hard to explain.” She shifted in the chair again, ending up in a position where she was directly facing him with her hands holding onto the wooden arms. “Do you remember the time, a couple of years ago, when I was ten, and I had that real bad fight at school? You know, when you had to come get me, and they sent me home afterward?”
Another vivid memory.
Because Jennifer was away that day, he got the call at the office reporting there was a problem at J.J.’s school. Upon arrival in the principal’s office, he found his small, smoldering daughter sitting in one of those plastic, high-backed school chairs. The neatly-pressed navy blue uniform her mother had laid out for her before leaving was now a rumpled and disheveled mess. Her ponytail, neatly brushed when she left home, a tangled, tousled mess.
Her head was down at first, but upon hearing, then seeing him enter the office, she jumped up and ran to him. Instinctively, he dropped to one knee and folded her in his arms. Then he held her back some to check her for injuries.
“What happened?” he asked as he wiped her tear stained face with his handkerchief.
She leaned into him and hissed her answer into his ear. “I kicked Blake’s ass. That’s what happened.”
“Yes I do remember,” he said, suppressing a smile at the amusing recollection by placing his finger to the side of his face, and resting his chin on his hand. “And I also still recall you never told your mother and me what that was all about. You never told us what he did or said to make you so angry.”
None of the other kids who witnessed the fight that day claimed to have a line on what triggered J.J.’s outburst, despite most of them being seated at or near the lunch table where the disagreement initiated. He and Jennifer finally concluded that whatever happened, it must have been justified since there had been no backlash from the parents of the boy whose nose J.J. bloodied and eye she blacked.
J.J. waved her hand in dismissal. “It’s all water under the bridge at this point. I guess I can tell you now.”
She settled back in the chair, bringing her legs up to cross them under her body.
“See, my mother had come to our class for a visit, and she helped us with the yearbook that we were working on. Of course, everybody liked her and she was a lot of fun. The next day, we were at the lunch table, and some of the kids were asking me about my mother’s work. Blake Nichols starts up with how he heard his father telling some of his friends, while they were playing cards, that he knew my mother a long time ago when she lived in New York. Blake said that his father lived there too. I kind of figured he was starting something up, but I ignored him.
“He started talking about his father said that he had dated my mother back then. I knew that he was just trying to make me mad, so I kept on ignoring him. In the first place, Blake doesn’t like me because I’m a girl and I’m smarter than he is; no brag, just fact. I guess because I wouldn’t comment, he started telling the boys at our table how all his father’s friends started saying about how good my mother looks and everything. I still was trying to act like I didn’t hear him, but by this time everybody at the table was looking at me. They knew I was getting angry.
“Then Blake took it a step too far, Daddy.” Her face, by this time was crimson. “He had the nerve to say if his father dated my mother, then he must have done her,” She leaned forward and lowered her voice. “You know, had s-e-x with her. I must have just lost it because the next thing I knew, somebody was pulling me off him.”
Jonathan winced physically and mentally at the thought of his daughter’s humiliation and subsequent rage.
“Then,” J.J. continued, “after I wouldn’t tell you guys what happened, my mother put me on lockdown for ‘unladylike conduct’.”
J.J. raised her eyes to him from where she had been picking at her lap as she spoke. “Daddy, I just couldn’t tell her about that- about what Blake said that his father allegedly said about her. But, when I had time to think about it- during my period of unfortunate incarceration- I began to realize some things.”
“Well, maybe if you had explained to us-”
J.J. held up her hand to stop him. “It was okay. I had taken care of it; I beat him up, and that ended it right there. If his parents got wind of what he said to me, then he would have gotten into more trouble. That wasn’t necessary for me. If the principal knew, he might have gotten kicked out. I just told everybody to shut up about it. That way, he had to face me- look at me- every single day with everybody in school knowing that I beat the snot out of him in the cafeteria.”
Throughout that explanation, she nodded, staring off through narrowed, glazed eyes, likely replaying the incident in her head, relishing her plan for Blake’s ongoing humiliation.
“It was worth being on punishment just to have that satisfaction,” her voice morphed to a sneer.
She pulled off the scrunchee holding her ponytail, releasing all that hair, which fell thick and curly around her face, over her shoulders, and down her back. At the sight, a twinge of anxiety poked at Jonathan’s sense of well-being. For the moment, J.J. was in that awkward stage, thin and lanky, a mouth full of braces; but he could see she was going to be pretty real soon, just like her mother. At the moment, she seemed blissfully unaware of it. For a brief second, he worried that she would have to endure some the same pain that he sometimes felt Jennifer might have experienced because of her good looks in juxtaposition to her intelligence and strong spirit.
Then thinking back on what J.J. just said and how she said it, he reversed himself. J.J. was beginning to give him the impression that even though she looked a lot like her mother, she was made out of much different stuff than her mother.
“What did you realize?” he asked, intrigued by the thought of her upcoming explanation.
J.J. sat back again. “Well, I got to thinking to myself, if what Blake said was true, then there Blake’s dad was still talking about going out with my mother even though that had to be over twenty years ago. And Blake was going around thinking that his dad having s-e-x with my mother was a such big, outstanding deal. If any of it is true, and all of that means so much to somebody, then that must really make my mother something special, right? I mean, if they’re going around bragging about it. Like, what’s the big deal? Why my mother? What makes her different from anybody else’s mother? But, I got to thinking. It wasn’t just anybody they were talking about. It was Jennifer Hart he was talking about- not my mother. Lie or not….”
She took a deep breath and rubbed her furrowed forehead as if still working things out in her head. “I began to realize that my mother just happens to be Jennifer Hart. She is a person on her own, apart from you, apart from me. She is herself. And other people see her as special.”
Jonathan leaned back in his chair, watching his daughter process her thoughts. Her reasoning and perception had always fascinated him. Her superior intelligence was revealing itself to an even greater degree with each new day. For him, it was really something witnessing it all unfold.
“So, tell me, why am I always ‘Daddy’ or ‘My Dad’ to your friends and not “Jonathan Hart”?”
J.J. giggled. “Oh Daddy, you could be anybody’s daddy. You might be the man over at Hart Industries, but not here with us. You’re just Daddy here. All the kids would like for you to be their dad. It’s not the same with my mother.”
She pursed her lips and threw up her hands in frustration. “It’s so hard to tell you what I mean!”
Jonathan nodded, beginning to see the light. “So, keep trying. I think I’m getting the picture.”
“See, Jennifer Hart, the person, just happens to be my mother. The world has Jennifer Hart, but I’m the only one in the world who has her for a mother. She’s not anybody else’s mother, and she doesn’t pretend to be. She doesn’t try to be- not even to Marnie- and she’s here all the time. She’s only my mother. I’m her only daughter.”
She threw up her hands again. “I can’t explain it, Daddy! Okay, look. See, she’s a writer. She’s a keynote speaker. She’s the chairperson of all kinds of committees. She’s part of Hart Industries. She’s known for being very pretty. She’s your wife, a good hostess. Those things make her Jennifer Hart. But she’s mother just to me- not even you. She’s my mother. That’s who she is to me, my mother.”
There was almost a reverent tone to her last statement, heavy emphasis on ‘my’.
Jonathan did understand.
As much of a woman as he knew his wife to be, and as many admirable qualities as she possessed, maternal was not a term he could attribute to her, not before J.J., and not too far beyond J.J. Before they married, their views on a future family definitely differed. He knew he wanted children. She said she didn’t think she wanted any. After a few years of marriage, he again broached the subject with her, hoping their deep love for each other had changed her position. She then consented to maybe just one child, since it would be his child. She didn’t sound too enthused, and voiced her apprehension at the changes they would have to make in their lives to accommodate a child. They agreed to let nature take its course.
Max, his former mentor turned trusted friend, was living with them then. Max, who was aware of his desire for a child with Jennifer, encouraged him on more than one occasion to let her know his heart. But he had been reluctant to pressure Jennifer into something she really did not want to do. He wanted to spend his life with her even if they never had a child.
Then Max became seriously ill. Before his final surgery, he called Jennifer to his bedside and told her that she would going somewhere that she needed to go in order for them to get on with the exciting business of life. At the time they couldn’t fathom what he was trying to tell them.
Max didn’t survive the surgery, and with his passing, Jennifer seemed to grieve much harder and much longer than even he had. She had no energy and no appetite. When she began sleeping all day, thinking she might be suffering from some form of depression, he insisted that she see a doctor.
The diagnosis was a well- established pregnancy. It turned out that she had been pregnant for almost the entire length of time that Max had been gone from them. It was a complete surprise, one which elated and at the same time, terrified him. As much as he so desperately wanted the baby, he was fearful that Jennifer would only be going through the motions for his sake. Throughout the pregnancy she never complained, even when she was as much as forty pounds heavier than she ever had been in her adult life. Not overly excited or outwardly anxious, she seemed to just accept being pregnant as a fact of life, and he didn’t know what to make of it since he was too fearful to ask her how she really felt.
In gratitude to her and in preparation for their changing lives, he threw himself into having the house at Willow Pond rebuilt after the devastating fire which leveled it. They were living in a rented house at the beach at the time, and the work on their burned-out home had been started, but he had stopped it once Max became so ill. Upon learning of the pregnancy, he determined that their child would be raised in the loving environment that was their home, so the rebuilding was stepped up once again. With the construction often going twenty-four hours, five days a week, the house was completed in time for them to bring the baby home to it. Through it all, Jennifer was so beautiful; he couldn’t tell her enough times or in enough ways.
Enduring fourteen grueling hours of trying to ease his baby into the world, she maintained her quiet, never once crying out. He stayed by her side. With each strong contraction, she used him, squeezing down on his hands until she was actually hurting him, but as it was happening, he hadn’t felt any of it. Heartache was his only conscious sensation because there was nothing he could do to ease her pain. Even if he had possessed the ability to help her, she wouldn’t have known it. For most of the time, she was somewhere deep inside herself, concentrating on doing what she had to do.
He was right there to meet J.J. as she left her mother’s body to enter the world. It was a moment he would never forget. He wished for a daughter, and he got one. It was a bonus for him to see right off that she had her mother’s features and her red hair.
But, it wasn’t until J.J. was actually in Jennifer’s arms for the very first time that that he truly relaxed.
After the little girl was safely delivered and washed up, the nurse wrapped her in a pink blanket and handed her to her mother. He and Kate Kendall, Jennifer’s doctor, stood on either side of the bed. The baby appeared to settle herself in Jennifer’s arms, opening for the first time her blue, blue eyes to look up at her. It was as if she knew Jennifer was her mother.
“Oh, Jonathan,” Jennifer finally whispered, her voice raspy as she uttered her first words in nearly an entire day. He could see that the baby had curled a tiny hand around one of her mother’s fingers. “She is absolutely beautiful.”
As Jennifer held her close, the baby began pushing her face toward her bosom.
“I think she recognizes her mommy,” Doctor Kendall smiled down at them, “And she’s hungry.”
Without hesitation, as if on instinct, Jennifer pushed aside her gown and gave the baby her breast. That caught him off guard. During the pregnancy, Jennifer never once discussed breast feeding. In fact, she had bottles at home for the baby. It was at that moment he realized how significant a gesture that was. It signaled Jennifer’s acceptance of their baby into her heart, as accepted as she had been in his from the moment he learned of her. As he stood over them, watching the two of them bond, his chest burned; he’d been holding his breath. Watching his brand new daughter with Jennifer, the two of them so at ease with each other, he finally exhaled.
Having J.J. in their lives brought out undiscovered facets of his jewel of a wife when he thought he knew all that he could possibly know about her. She was wonderful with J.J., always loving, patient, consistently firm, but fair.
Even in naming their baby, Jennifer was careful to be fair. His plan had been to name her for her mother, Jennifer Justine. It was Jennifer who insisted upon reversing the names to allow the child her own identity. As a result, she was christened Justine Jennifer Hart. Thinking her much too small for such a regal, big-girl name, he tagged her with her ‘J.J’. They had once owned a prize winning race horse of the same name, and although it hadn’t been his intention to name his daughter for it, the name turned out to be a fitting one for their fleet-of-foot, future track star daughter.
At age four weeks, he had fastened a gold bracelet about her tiny wrist; two intertwined hearts with engraved J’s to represent the love which had resulted in her, with a diamond set in the middle of both those hearts. As she sat in before him, he could see that same bracelet sliding up and down her thin wrist as she used her hands to help her talk. It had become her prized possession; she only took it off to have it resized, and then it went right back on.
Jennifer was teaching J.J. to be a woman of substance in everything that she did with her. Their relationship was their own, apart from what he shared with either of them. Although J.J. could be mischievous and trying at times, Jennifer seldom raised her voice with her. It was fascinating to watch her communicate with her daughter through a look, a raised eyebrow, a touch of the hand on a little shoulder. J.J. Hart was a handful, but Jennifer Hart got her full attention, at all times- always. And although J.J. frequently had friends over, it was clear that Jennifer was mother to only one. She was always kind and gracious, welcoming all who came, but the only child allowed completely inside her personal space and heart was J.J.
He, on the other hand was, just as J.J. said, everybody’s daddy. All the kids felt free to be the kids they were with him. One of J.J.’s friends, Tommy, had earned a special place in his heart. He spent a lot of time with the fatherless boy as well as several others of J.J.’s wide ranging assortment of friends. When visiting they relaxed and had fun. But there was something about Jennifer’s presence in a room that brought out the best behavior in even the most unruly hellion. Only J.J. knew her well enough to separate Jennifer Hart from ‘my mother’ and occasionally push the envelope.
He clearly understood what she had been trying so hard to tell him
“I just wondered.” Jonathan finally said, leaning back and folding his hands behind his head, marveling at the intelligent, insightful child on the other side of his desk, his only one in the world.
J.J. sat forward, this time placing her hands on the desk, a look of concern clouding her face.
“You don’t think it’s disrespectful, do you? For me to call her that? I don’t mean to be.” Her voice had dropped to a near whisper. “I’ll stop if you think it is.”
Jonathan leaned in to her and took her hands in his, squeezing just enough to make his point.
“Now that you’ve explained yourself, I think it’s very respectful. If that’s how you see your mother, then that’s how you see her. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
She exhaled in relief and then smiled that marvelous smile.
“Now, I smell Marie’s dinner.” he said. “You had better go get cleaned up.”
Winking at her, he released her hands. Instead of leaving, she jumped up, leaned across the desk and rubbed noses with him.
“I love you, Daddy.” she grinned. Then she ran off to her room.
Jennifer’s face smiled at him from inside the gilt frame on his desk. He picked it up and traced the outline of her face, then her lips with his finger, wishing that she would hurry home to him. To them.
“Darling.” He spoke to the image before him. “It’s been a while since I’ve said it, but I’m saying it again. Thank you for trusting me enough to finally have my baby. I gotta tell you, she’s wonderful and sort of… ruthless. I think she’s bears watching.”
He put the picture back in its spot and leaned back in his chair again. Closing his eyes, he pictured his wife in his mind. Those honey brown eyes, the flowing red hair, that smile which always warmed and melted his heart.
Now he had two.
How, he wondered, could a guy be so lucky in one lifetime?