The Queen of Harts and Her Diamond

Introducing Miss J.J. Hart, from her mother’s perspective….

Finished with editing the section of the article she had been working on, Jennifer Hart put her things away on her desk and got up. She went into the kitchen via the great room door where the housekeeper/cook was working on the evening meal.

“Marie, I’m going to take a walk out back. I need to clear my head. Would you please tell that daughter of mine, if she shows up while I’m out, to get a shower, change into something clean, and be ready to have dinner with her father and me when he gets in.”

She continued through the room and went outside through the patio door that led to the rear grounds of the estate, Willow Pond, which she shared with her husband, Jonathan, their daughter, J.J., Marie, and their third generation mutt, Freeway III, nicknamed ‘Third’.

The California summer sun felt good on her skin after being cooped up inside in the air-conditioning, writing all morning. Fresh air was always preferable to manufactured. She breathed deeply, taking in the comforting earthy scents carried by the soft breezes playing across the acres of foliage as she made her way across the grounds. She loved being out there. The green, the colors, the serenity had a soothing, calming effect on her spirit when the writing gave her a hard time.  The current piece wasn’t going as smoothly as she planned, so feeling the twinges of a tension headache coming on, she took the mental and physical break.

The article was supposed to examine erosion of self-esteem in adolescent females in western culture, but she was having a hard time concentrating on the details of her research. Her thoughts kept drifting back to her own experiences and to what might lie ahead for her own child, J.J.

Her  daughter was twelve now, and for J.J.’s mother, the age was significant in that her own life had changed so dramatically at twelve. That was the year her mother, Suzanne Edwards, was killed in an auto accident. Her father, Stephen, found coping in the aftermath difficult.

While her mother had been living, her father spent a great deal of time traveling the world as an art dealer. It was their mutual understanding that Suzanne be principally responsible for raising their child. With the sudden loss of his wife, her father, Stephen found himself left with a huge intimately personal void as well as a prepubescent daughter he said he felt ill-suited and ill-equipped to raise on his own.

Subsequently, he enrolled her in a “proper” young ladies’ boarding school and immersed himself in his work with art galleries and museums around the world. He telephoned often and visited her when he could- or when necessity dictated it.

On holidays, her free time was spent with him at the house in Maryland or accompanying him on his far-ranging, never-ending trips for his professional work. Eventually, after a painful period of misundertsandings and strained relations, they were gradully able to develop a strong, positive bond. She grew to understand that her father loved her, and she in turn loved him, but her life had never been the same after losing her mother to whom she had been so close.

To further the resulting feelings of loneliness, emptiness and confusion; shortly after that twelfth year, she underwent a rapid transformation from a skinny, coltish redhead into a tall, curvaceous, striking young woman. The unruly red hair darkened into a wavy mane of shades of auburn, minimizing the sprinkling of freckles across her nose and cheeks.

Everywhere she went it, seemed, she turned heads, but she found it disconcerting rather than flattering. All of a sudden and out of nowhere, boys tripped over themselves to gain her attentions and affections. Never having been a boy-crazy teen, or one to actively seek attention, she had been totally unprepared for it. Her girlfriends tended to not understand why she did not enjoy the persistent entreaties of the young men who ventured from the neighboring boys’ school to meet her.

With no one to tell her how to handle it, she had essentially avoided it all by pouring herself into her studies, thereby giving herself time to figure it all out on her own. She focused on developing the things that she knew to be positive about herself: her intelligence, her love of people and life, and her ability to write.

Eventually, she learned by trial and error, by making mistakes and gaining insight from them. When she did date, she found that the guys she tended to attract usually turned out to be superficial, attracted to her physical beauty, or her father’s money; but not to her free spirit and her need for independence. The men to whom she was attracted tended to be seekers of adventure and excitement, but were not appreciative of that same trait in a woman. They all seemed to want to tame her and to make her be what they thought that she should be. It was during those years that she learned to distrust most men, their actions, and their motives.

That is, until she met Jonathan Hart, an American in London just as she had been.

Nursing her wounds after escaping her most disastrous and destructive relationship, the one with Elliott Manning, she fled Australia to return to New York. Dealing with Elliott had nearly broken her spirit, and she’d decided to make writing her career and her life. Traveling the globe, she became quite successful in her chosen line of work. After Elliott, who still left a bad taste in her mouth, she had come to believe that exclusive relationships and/or marriage were not in her future. Certainly there would be no children for her. She could not see or feel herself as a mother to anyone. Not ties for Jennifer Edwards. There would be no need to trust anyone but herself, and nobody to or for whom she had to be accountable- no guessing and no game playing.

Working as an investigative reporter, she was dispatched from New York to London to work, assigned to secure an interview with Jonathan Hart, the self-made millionaire from Los Angeles, California. There was a lot of unusual speculation as to why he was in London, and it was her assignment to find out the actual reason. After many unsuccessful attempts to contact him, it was only by pure chance that she happened upon the man that would so change her life.

From the moment she turned on that bar stool to meet his crystal blue eyes, she knew right away that Jonathan was indeed a different sort of man. Immediately something electric passed between them and connected their spirits.. No man before him had touched her soul with just one look as he had done that day. From the first time he uttered her name, “Jennifer”, she was his to do with whatever he wanted.

What she didn’t know was that he had already decided that she was going to be with him for the rest of his life, and what Jonathan Hart put his mind to, he usually achieved. She had been no exception.

Wrapping her arms around herself, she smiled at those fond memories. She stopped out there in the open and lifted her face to the azure sky. Closing her eyes, she allowed the warmth and light of the bright sun to bathe her.

Their first ten years together were pure magic. They married quickly and began an odyssey of love that carried them around the world several times, into adventures, danger, and intrigue. Jonathan encouraged her independence and her writing. She supported him in his business ventures and marveled at his seemingly insatiable need for excitement. He encouraged her to take chances and to trust him. She harnessed his restless spirit and kept him grounded.

And they made love. Wonderfully. Endlessly. Everywhere.

Jonathan’s childhood mentor, Max, lived with them then. He managed the estate, and looked after the two of them. It wasn’t easy for him. It was murder on his nerves because they often found themselves in tight spots due to her boundless curiosity and Jonathan’s nerve as well as his penchant for attracting danger. Quite often, Max found himself caught up in the middle of one of their escapades.

It was at the beginning of that ninth year that things began to change.

She had gone out into the field to do some in-depth research for  a story about a special medical evacuation unit that was being reactivated after years of dormancy. In the course of her investigation, she inadvertently discovered an illegal operation related to the history of the unit. In an attempt to get rid of the evidence that she had uncovered, the main suspect had gotten onto the estate and into the house. He set fire to her files and to her desk. As it happened, she and Jonathan had gone away for a weekend rest at their cabin, and Max, who remained behind, was fortunately outside taking their dog, Freeway Jr. for a middle of the night walk.

The house and all of its contents burned to the ground. Almost nothing could be salvaged. All that remained intact were the things that were stored in a huge vault under the house; pictures, Jennifer’s manuscripts, and some sentimental items, one of them being a hideous crystal vase that she never could stand.

The three of them rented a house at the beach until the house at Willow Pond could be rebuilt. It was there that Max became very ill. Jonathan arranged for the best doctors and treatment his considerable money could buy, but there was little that could be done other than to make him comfortable. Before he went in for his final surgery, Max called the two of them to his bedside .

“Jonathan, I just want you to know that you have been the son that I never had.” He said that ever-craggy voice which illness had softened to almost a whisper. “I couldn’a been prouder of you if you had been my own kid. You are what I’m leavin’ here after I’m gone to let everybody know that I was here and I done some good.”

Jonathan, unable to speak, leaned down and kissed Max’s cheek.

Max then took her by both of her hands, and at that moment something akin to a shock or charge flowed between them. At the time, she dismissed it as a surge of emotion brought on by the solemn moment.

“Jennifer,” He said. “You continue to stick with this bum. You are the best thing that ever happened to him- to both of us. You and him have taken each other to a lot of places since you’ve been together, but Jonathan’s gonna take you someplace you never thought that you’d go. But it’s someplace you need to go, trust me. Trust him. No matter what happens, you two get on with the exciting business of life. You got lots more to do yet.”

She could recall looking to Jonathan, and him returning the questioning look she’d sent. Max merely smiled and closed his eyes.

He didn’t make it through the surgery.

Stopping again, she wiped away the sudden tears which fell when she recalled the doctor coming out to the waiting room to tell them Max was gone. Then she resumed her slow walk, running her hands through her hair, pulling the stray strands the breeze had blown loose out of her face and off her neck, once more securing it all  in the clamp she had earlier placed in her hair.

After the funeral, according to arrangements Max made before his surgery and left for them in a letter that he had written to them, they went to Montreal and sailed up the St. Lawrence on a trip meant to heal them. The letter contained specific instructions that he wanted them to follow.

He set it up as sort of a scavenger hunt, and pursuing that had been fun; they ran into some trouble and got out of it, as usual. But, almost three months after Max’s passing and in the last days of that trip, she found she still could not get herself together. Listless and lethargic, and totally turned off by even the thought of eating anything, she attributed her symptoms to depression. It got so bad that she considered seeking professional help, thinking her symptoms  might be somehow related, somewhere in her subconscious, to having lost her mother as a child.

Jonathan became especially concerned when she started uncharacteristically sleeping for long periods of time during the day. He insisted upon her seeing her medical doctor before seeking out the psychologist.

During that visit to the doctor, they were informed that her ‘depression’ was actually a pregnancy smoothly progressing into its second trimester.

Pregnant? She would be forty the year the baby was born and Jonathan would be forty-five. After all that time, it couldn’t be a baby coming their way. She knew Jonathan always wanted children. Her position on the subject had softened somewhat, but that was mostly out of her love for him. They had decided after the fifth year of their marriage if a child resulted from their love, it would be fine. Nothing had been done to prevent a pregnancy, and when it didn’t happen, they accepted they were not meant to be parents and moved on with their lives.

Then there it was.

She remembered wondering then, as she still sometimes did, if that was the place Jonathan was supposed to take her? The place she needed to go of which Max had spoken? Was that what he meant when he said they weren’t finished with the exciting business of life? Had Max facilitated their conceiving when he held her hands that day? Had that been what she felt?

Their lives had definitely changed, but it was a totally new adventure. The baby, a little girl, was born just as the house at Willow Pond had been rebuilt and refurnished enough for them to move back in. Calculating back from the time she was born, it appeared J.J. had been conceived on that trip Max arranged for them.

Marie, one of Max’s good friends, had been the housekeeper on the Thornton estate next door. She told them how she longed admired them because she could tell that they were so genuinely enamored of each other. Max, she said, always spoke lovingly of them to her of their escapades. Marie seemed especially fond of her. She said she could tell there was even more joy to come for them. She and Max somehow knew a baby was in their future. There was too much love between them for there not to be a living legacy as testimony of that love.

A really nice thing to hear at such an otherwise unsettling time in her life.

Once Marie learned of their child-to-be, she terminated her employment with the Thorntons and came to work for them, per the arrangement she and Max had made, unbeknownst to them, in the event that he didn’t make it. The Thornton’s, their children grown and on their own, spent much of the year away from home, so she was not needed as much with them. Her presence in their home allowed them to raise their child while she took care of the house, the way they would have been able to do if Max had still been with them. The arrangement must have given Max much comfort in his final days. He had even written them a letter of recommendation for her. It wasn’t needed. Once she presented herself to them, she had been with them ever since, proving herself competent, trustworthy, flexible, and nurturing, a most welcome addition to their home.

Jonathan, thrilled at finally being a father, wanted to name the baby for her, Jennifer Justine. However, she insisted on reversing the names to allow the child her individuality. The baby was formally christened Justine Jennifer Hart, but had been nicknamed “J.J” by her father who thought her formal name a bit much for somebody so tiny. The nickname stuck, and as time progressed, it turned out to be an excellent fit.

From the beginning, J.J. had been bright, fun loving, mischievous, and adventurous. She resembled her mother, but had inherited her father’s twinkling blue eyes. Always full of energy, she was game for anything. She traveled extremely well, so they didn’t have to curtail their comings and goings much until J.J. started school. When that happened, she began to try to limit herself more to writing assignments that kept her close to home.

If it became necessary for her to leave to pursue her work, Jonathan would gladly rearrange his schedule to be at home. If that was a problem, she would simply take J.J. with her and schedule a tutor. As a result, J.J. was globally knowledgeable and like her mother, who spoke several languages, J.J. at twelve, was displaying the same talent. She spoke French and Spanish  fluently, was conversant in German, and they were currently working together on her mastering Italian.

Given her initial reluctance to take on motherhood, she was still sometimes amazed by her depth of feeling for that child. A mother’s love was something she heard and read about, had seen in her friends with children, but the actual experience proved phenomenal. Throughout the pregnancy, she harbored a silent fear there might not be room in her heart to love anyone other than Jonathan. For almost ten years, he had been her entire world. How could anyone else fit?

Acutely aware how much he wanted the baby, she prayed things worked out. She wanted it for him. What woman would not want his child? He was handsome, kind, generous, sensitive, sexy, wealthy, and all of the things that any woman would want in a man. Her most pressing concern lie in if she could be a good mother to his child.

Patricia Hamilton, her longtime friend, editor, and subsequently J.J.’s godmother, had been absolutely delighted about the baby and confused by her ambivalence.

When she called her in New York to tell her of the pregnancy, Pat’s initial reaction had been, “Well I’ll be damned.”

Then in her patent blunt and profane manner, she went right at it.

“What the hell took you so long?  If I had your sweet, sexy, handsome husband I would have had six or seven of his babies, and probably be pregnant again in all this time. Jennifer, you have to be the only woman in the world that would be worried about being knocked up by Jonathan Hart, and you’re his wife, for Christ’s sake!”

Recalling that conversation always made her laugh.

She remembered the nurse placing her newborn into her arms for the first time. Tired, drained, and sleepy after a fourteen hour labor, she looked down into that brand new face, the eyes open and looking directly into hers. They were already blue, just like Jonathan’s. When reaching to count her fascinatingly tiny fingers, the baby curled her hand around her finger and held on. Then, as if she knew, the girl turned her head to nuzzle at her bosom.

“She recognizes her mommy, Jennifer, and she’s hungry.” Dr. Kendall whispered down to her from where she stood at her side.

As instinctively as her daughter knew to turn to her, she intuitively moved her gown aside and placed her nipple to the baby’s mouth. J.J. closed her eyes and contentedly began to nurse. Jonathan had been standing over them watching. She could still feel his hand in her hair as he gently caressed the back of her neck. She looked up to him to gauge his reaction to witnessing Jennifer Edwards Hart actually nursing a baby.

Tears flowed down his face. His heart had to have also been full. That was his baby Jennifer Edwards Hart was nursing.

“I love you,” he whispered.

It was at that moment she understood what Max had been saying to them on the final day of his life. The three Harts had arrived safely at that place, and the exciting business of a new life had begun.

J.J. Hart, the crown jewel of their union. Jonathan adored her, and she adored her daddy. They were a lot alike in nature, so it became a constant effort on her part to keep the two of them reined in. Having grown up an orphan with nothing until he met Max, Jonathan tended to want to spoil J.J. in his effort to give her the world. She was only four weeks old when he commissioned her first diamond: a gold bracelet with her parents’ personal logo; the two intertwined hearts with “J” engraved on each. In the middle of these two hearts, at the place where they were joined, a diamond had been set.

“That’s you,” he said to his daughter, pointing to the sparkling stone, “a diamond made from two J.’s.”

That bracelet was still on J.J.’s wrist.

The product of an affluent home and background, she had witnessed first hand in some of her friends and acquaintances, the damage that overindulging a child could cause. She allowed Jonathan that bracelet, but not a whole lot more- at least not without a fight, at least on those things she knew about. She made it her mission to ensure J.J. grow up as close to grounded as possible, but with Jonathan Hart for her father, it was an ongoing daily struggle.

On their ranch and on her father’s horse farm in Maryland, places they visited more often since J.J.’s birth, the baby learned to ride a horse before she could walk. Jonathan began riding with the weeks-old infant strapped to his chest. J.J. delighted in it from the start. Shortly before she was one, despite her vigorous protests, he placed J.J. on the back of a pony. J.J. picked up the reins in her tiny hands and confidently rode with her daddy walking alongside. At five she could lead that same horse to the fence or a railing where she would climb up to mount him and ride off alone. Now, at twelve, she was absolutely fearless.

While she taught J.J. her letters, numbers, colors, and how to read, Jonathan was teaching her to recognize shapes and to do mathematics using playing cards. He taught her about probability using the racing forms and dice. And it was through her father that she learned the importance of being able to read people. She wanted her to dance the ballet, take piano lessons, and take delight in the opera. It turned out, however, that J.J. preferred going to Lakers’ basketball games, was a diehard Raiders fan,  played piano by ear, and liked nothing better than racing through the skies in her father’s airplane. She excelled in all things physical and had Jonathan’s strong competitive spirit. Ever-active, she played baseball, basketball, tennis, soccer, and to her mother’s consternation, football, the ponies and poker.

Saturday mornings were reserved for Jonathan to take their daughter up for rides in his Piper. It delighted J.J. to no end that her father flew his own airplanes. However, she also suspected that Jonathan and Frank their personal pilot on the Hart Industries jet, of teaching J.J. to fly the Piper. They spent far too much time in those planes with that girl to just be flying around with her as a passenger.

J.J. also shared her father’s talent for manipulating electronics and locks. It was only by circumstance that she learned that her, then eight-year-old, knew how to override the security system on the estate.

There had been an electrical storm, and she and J.J. found themselves locked outside of the malfunctioning massive front gates. After a slight nervous hesitation, J.J. asked her for a nail file and a credit card. Looking in question at her after getting the suspect request, she saw something in J.J.’s eyes that said she should indulge her. She dug into her purse and handed her the items for which she asked. J.J. got out, picked open the locked circuit box, and after a little maneuvering inside of it, the gates hummed and swung open. J.J. got down off the bumper and slid back into the car without a word, handing the file and credit card back to her, avoiding her questioning eyes completely.

“Your father?” she asked as she drove in.

J.J. remained silent. She never did answer that question. It didn’t matter; she didn’t have to say a word because it was evident who was playing. J.J. and Jonathan didn’t tell her everything, which was probably for the best.

__________________________________________

Jennifer could see Third nosing about in the brush and flowers around the gazebo, and she figured  J.J. was likely sitting inside. The two of them were seldom far apart when they were at home together. As she approached gazebo, she noticed what appeared to be two figures through the heavy lattice. Third ran up to greet her, brushing himself against her legs, begging to be petted, and she obliged him by reaching down to rub his hairy head. She continued around to the opening of the gazebo, where to her complete surprise sat J.J. engaged in a kiss with a friend of hers, Tommy Steele, a frequent visitor to their home.

She cleared her throat, “Ahem,” and stopped directly in front of the gazebo with both hands on her hips.

The children jumped apart, eyes wide with shock. Tommy grabbed his football and bolted from the gazebo, gingerly sliding past her without saying a word, leaving J.J. frozen to the bench, her eyes glued to her mother.

__________________________________________

When her mother crooked her finger at her, J.J. got up. They walked back toward the house, child following mother, Third following them both. J.J.’s mind whirled, unsure what was coming next, but certain she was in big trouble. Her heart racing, her entire being hot, then cold, and then clammy, her stomach doing backward flips, she fought the urge to puke.

“Just stay calm,” she told herself while watching her mother’s back as they continued through the yard. “Just wait for her and follow her lead. Oh God, I am so dead…”

They reached the house. Jennifer stood aside and held the kitchen door open for J.J. Then she closed the door behind her, leaving Third outside whimpering in confusion.

“No witnesses,” J.J. noted to herself. “I am totally in for it.”

She dared looked up at her mother, searching her face for any sign of things to come.

But her mother merely shook her head and motioned with her hand for her to continue to follow her. They walked through the house in that manner, passing Marie who was watering the fresh flowers in the front foyer.

As she continued her work, Marie managed to catch J.J’s eye. J.J., still behind her mother, could only lower her head and throw up her hands in silent surrender as she walked past.

Mother and daughter continued up the front staircase to the master bedroom.

“Please, please,” J.J. silently prayed,  “please don’t let my daddy be in there. I can’t take a double-teaming on this one.”

Upon entering the room, she didn’t see or hear her fahter. But she did hear her mother close the door behind them.

“Oh God, please….”

__________________________________________

After leading her back into the dressing room, Jennifer gestured for J.J. to sit down on the bench at her vanity.

When the girl was seated, she took the thin shoulders in her hands and turned her daughter so she was facing the mirror. She watched J.J. look into her own reflected smudged face and terrified eyes. Then, in one quick move, she reached down to J.J.’s waist and pulled the dirty tee shirt over her head and off, which left her undeveloped chest exposed.

“Mom!” J.J. whined, quickly crossing her hands over her bosom to cover her nakedness.

“Oh puh’leese” Jennifer said softly, gently moving her daughter’s hands down to her lap. “Even if you had something other than those two dots up there, I am familiar with the territory. Besides, it’s just us in here.”

J.J. returned her eyes to the mirror, watching her mother’s eyes which were now looking into hers.

“I just want you to watch,” she said.

J.J. did watch as her mother pulled loose the band that held her messy ponytail. She picked up a hairbrush from the counter and began slowly brushing and smoothing her daughter’s hair. It was thick and lush like Jonathan’s, and curly like hers used to be at J.J.’s age. She pulled back and smoothed the loose curls fallen into her face.

As she watched her mother in the mirror, J.J.’s thoughts raced. “Is she mad at me? What’s she going to do to me? What are her eyes saying?”

As if she could hear her, Jennifer repeated, “Just watch.”

J.J. shifted to checking out her mother’s face in the mirror as she continued brushing and pulling her hair away from her face. J.J. noticed her mother’s auburn hair was also pulled back, held there with a clip, exposing her entire face. Usually she wore it down, in soft curls that swept across her forehead, framed her face, and rode her her shoulders as her father preferred it.

They both watched the mirror.

Starting at the top, J.J. began comparing. Her own hair was red with flecks of bronze and gold. Her mother’s was red, but a couple of shades darker with the same bronze and gold highlights. They had the same hairline with the pronounced widow’s peak and the same high forehead. Both faces bore the same clearly defined dark eyebrows. J.J. stared into her mother’s honey brown eyes with her own similarly shaped blue eyes. There were the same cheekbones, the same nose with its sprinkling of freckles, the same slight cleft in the chin, and since she was too scared and confused to smile, her mother’s mouth.

“Mom, am I beginning to look like you?”

“You’ve always looked like me.”

J.J. never paid too much attention to her looks. At twelve she thought herself average- looking and kind of skinny. She tended to focus more on what she could do. Could she be the fastest runner? She usually was. Could she help her team out-play the other team? Had she done her best in school? Did she make her daddy laugh? Her mother smile?

She had long been aware that her parents were wealthy, important people-her father an industrialist and her mother a well-known journalist. To her, they were just her parents. The other things could be embarrassing at times, especially when her daddy drove his Rolls Royce to drop her off and pick her up from school. For her, the less said about money- and them outside of being her parents- the better.

What she was more acutely aware of, had always been aware of, was that her mother was pretty.

She had seen how people noticed her when she entered a room, especially when she was all dressed up. She caught it when her father’s important businessmen friends turned stupid when her mother came around them. She noticed how her father’s gaze sometimes fixed on his wife as if she were one of those exquisite works of art they often took her to see. She herself had been captivated watching her mother when she was with her father; she seemed to almost glow, and he acted like he was with someone very special when he was with her.

Having a beautiful mother had always been a source of private pride for J.J. At that moment, watching her mother’s face watch hers in the mirror, Jennifer Hart was kind of scary beautiful.

“Do you see, J.J.?” she heard her mother ask as she held the hair she’d gathered in her hand.

“That I’m going to look just like you?”

“Your eyes are going to make your face a lot more interesting.”

“Mom?” J.J. tilted her head slightly to the side, while keeping her gaze locked on her mother’s. “How come you got me sitting here with no shirt, as naked as a jaybird?”

Jennifer smiled and sat down next to J.J.

“Two things,” she began. “First, I didn’t want to be distracted by that filthy shirt; your dirty face is enough. Secondly, I wanted to tell you that I was just as flat up there as you are now when I was twelve.”

J.J. discreetly allowed her eyes to travel to her mother’s reflected bosom.

“For real?”

She wore a knit tip with a low cut neckline that tastefully displayed cleavage.

“For real, Justine.”

They sat together, side by side, in silence for a moment. Then Jennifer asked, “Do you remember when I told you about having a period?”

“Yeah, how could I forget,” J.J. said, her face morphing into a frown. “I’m still disgusted.”

“Well, get used to the idea. It could happen any day now. When it does, my little love, all of it begins to happen, and overnight you are going to be a physical beauty.”

“Mom!” J.J. protested, instantly turning red.

“It’s a fact. I say that to you not because you’re mine, but because you will be. That is a reality. It’s not meant to be a compliment.”

Jennifer turned to straddle the bench and take her daughter’s hands in her own. She pulled J.J. around so they were facing each other. Placing a finger under the small chin, she lifted J.J.’s face so the two of them were eye to eye.

J.J. found her mother’s eyes disturbing at times, especially when she had gotten herself into trouble with her and they changed to that grayish color,  but she was compelled at that moment to look into them as she obviously meant for her to do. They hadn’t turned colors yet, so she wasn’t that angry. When her mother spoke, she listened.

“J.J., physical beauty is a blessing, but it can also be a burden. You see, when something is not so appealing on the outside, you don’t want too much to do with it at first. You tend to move away from it. If you come back to it, it’s because you’ve discovered something good about it that you like despite your not finding it physically attractive initially. Beauty, on the other hand, tends to attract immediately. When you’re physically attractive, people want to be with you whether they know the real you or not. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

J.J. nodded. “I think so. It’s like when people find out who your daddy is, or where you live, then they all of a sudden want to be your friend.”

Jennifer nodded. “That’s right.” Then she asked, “Why were you kissing Tommy out there?”

J.J. blushed again, and she tried to look away, but Jennifer brought her face back around with her finger. “I want to know.”

“He- he- he said he wanted to kiss me.”

“Did you want to kiss him?”

“I don’t know. Sort of…well…yes…I guess so. I hadn’t ever kissed a boy before.”

Jennifer rolled her eyes. There it was, that damned Hart need for adventure…

“What were you and Tommy doing before he asked to kiss you?”

“We were playing football.”

“Um-hmm. Tackle?”

“He wasn’t supposed to,” J.J. said, sounding a little confused. “It was supposed to be touch…”

Jennifer shook her head. “And so it begins,” she thought. “Jonathan’s whole head is going to be silver.”

She took J.J.’s hands in hers again.

“J.J., Tommy is your friend. He has been your friend for a while now, but today he wanted to kiss you  because you are a girl, a pretty girl. That’s what he sees and what I wanted you to see in the mirror. You have a lot blessings that will make people want to be with you. You will have to be careful that people want to be with you because of you-not your looks, not because of who your father is, not your material things-just you.”

J.J. surveyed her mother quickly from head to foot.

“But didn’t my daddy like you because of your looks?”

Jennifer smiled, remembering that very first meeting, those blue eyes and that infectious smile.

“Yes, I think so, and I liked his looks- at first. But that’s not what’s kept us together all of these years. We love each other because of who we are and what we do for each other.”

Looking into that precious perplexed freckled face and thinking about that article she was working on, she squeezed J.J.’s hands. “I just want you to be a happy, fully finished person- not just a pretty face. I want you to grow up understanding that the lovely package will require you to be smart and perceptive about people and their motives. Take your time, J.J. and kiss only the people you want to kiss. Be sure of the reasons why you want to kiss.”

J.J. dropped her eyes down to her mother’s hands still holding onto hers. “I shouldn’t have kissed Tommy, should I?. There wasn’t a right reason.”

Her heart melting at the sight of that bowed head and the softly delivered question, Jennifer pulled her daughter to her. She held her close, resting her chin of top of the child’s head. It still sometimes hurt that her own mother had not been able to be there for her. Pa tried, but it just wasn’t the same.

“You’re a little young yet,” She said.. “Wait a little while before the next kiss. You wanted to see what it was like. Now you know.”

“Yeah, well it wasn’t all that,” J.J. admitted. “In fact, I really don’t see what all the hype is over kissing boys. To tell you the truth, it was really kind of icky.”

“Good,” Jennifer thought with some relief.

J.J. wrapped her arms around her. She heard her sigh and felt her finally relax. The heart beating fast and hard against her told her J.J. had been terrified for the last few minutes. Feeling sorry for her and really wanting to laugh, she instead rubbed J.J.’s back and slowly rocked to calm her.

This was not one of those things to be shared with Jonathan. She suspected there would be a lot more mother and daughter secrets to be kept between them in the years to come. This one she would have to laugh about by herself later. And maybe with Pat.

This day would be a beginning in helping J.J. make the transitions she would soon face. Or maybe not. One thing was assured, as long as it was within her power to be there,  J.J. would always have her mother to turn to when she didn’t understand what was happening to or around her. Nothing would be too difficult to discuss.

J.J. Hart was hers, her own personal adventure in the exciting business of life.

           Max, you were so right.

She held J.J. closer, kissed the top of her head, and closed her eyes sending her a mother’s love, heart to heart.

For the first time in a long time, her own mother’s face briefly appeared inside her head.

She was smiling.

 Continue to the next story

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