Whose Hart?

J.J.’s intelligence and fearlessness give Jennifer a bad scare

The morning sun streamed through the bedroom curtains, waking five-year old J.J. Hart. Rubbing the sleep from her blue eyes, then yawning and stretching, she sat up in bed, pushing back the covers. Junior, aroused by her movements, stirred from sentry duty on the floor beside her and stood with his front paws on her bed to greet her. His rough tongue tickled as he lapped at her face.

“Bonjour, Junior!” she said through her laughter. “Get down, boy.”

She scratched him behind the ears, then pushed him back away from her so she could get out of bed.

Padding in a barefoot rush into her bathroom, she used it.

“Oooh,” she whispered in eye-rolling relief. “I just made it. I really had to go. Mommy said not to have any more water last night”

But as soon as her mother left her alone in the room, she had fixed herself a second cup.

When she finished her urgent business, she ran back into the bedroom and pushed back the sheer curtains of the window to peer down to the side driveway below. Spotting what she was looking for, a bright smile lit up her face.

           Daddy’s still here. 

His car was parked in its spot right beneath her window. She liked it when she got up before he left for work. He said he always had a good day when he got a good-morning kiss from her before he went to work, and she certainly wanted him to have a good day.

She ran back to the bathroom and climbed her wooden step stool at the sink to brush her teeth and wash her face. When she was finished, she stretched way up on her toes to inspect herself in the cabinet mirror.

           That’s good enough.

Back in the bedroom, turning up her nose as she did it, she bypassed the coordinated yellow sundress and matching pantaloons outfit laid out for her on the chair along with a pair of yellow leather strap sandals. Instead she went into her dresser drawers and pulled out a pair of red shorts and a white tee shirt. The shirt was the one her father bought for her after she read the words written on it aloud to him at the store.

She dressed herself after hanging her nightgown on a low hook in the walk-in closet. From the numerous pairs of shoes on the racks along the walls, she selected her favorites: white tennis shoes with the ‘Cat in the Hat’ embroidered on them. It took her a few minutes to get them tied. Then she went to the full length mirror by her dresser to assess her overall appearance. Everything looked fine except for her tousled, curly red/bronze hair, which she attempted to smooth with her hands.

After a few minutes, she gave up.

Mommy will fix it better later.

She pulled the covers up on her bed as best she could, pushed her dresser drawers back shut, and checked to see that she had put everything back in place in her bathroom. Then just before she opened her bedroom door to leave, it came to her.

I forgot my books!

Grabbing the two books from the night table next to the bed, she also got the empty cup that remained from the night before.

In the wide second floor hall with Junior, she stopped at the head of the main staircase across from the closed double doors of her parents’ bedroom. Junior had gone ahead of her to those doors where he stood fidgeting and whining.

“Viens-ici, Junior!” she scolded. patting the side of her leg to make her point. “Come with me.”

Junior was really her mother’s dog, but he slept in her room at night. Since it was no longer nighttime, he wanted to be back with her mother.

“She’s still sleeping, and you’ll wake her up! Viens-ici! NOW!”

If the doors were closed, J.J. never went into her parents’ room. Even when they were open, she always stopped at the doorway until she was invited in. No one ever told her she needed to do that; it was what she always felt she was supposed to do. If she really needed something and the doors were closed, she always knocked and waited to be admitted. Since there was nothing she needed, except maybe to have her hair brushed, there was no need to bother anybody inside. Her hair could wait, and so could Junior.

The two of them ran down the staircase and into the kitchen from the foyer. If it hadn’t been for the books and the cup, she would have taken the express route: sliding down the wide wooden banister, especially since her mother was out of the way, in her room still sleeping.

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Marie, the housekeeper, was in the kitchen, getting ready to prepare breakfast.

“Bonjour, Marie!” J.J. Hart called out to her as she and Junior ran in from the great room.

J.J. handed her a cup as Junior slid to a stop at his water dish in the corner.

“Good morning, sweetie. How are you this morning?”

“I’m fine. Mommy and Daddy are still sleeping.”

“Are you hungry?”

When she got up early, J.J. didn’t always want to eat right away. Most of the time, she preferred to wait to eat with her parents when they came down.

Marie watched as J.J. opened one of the lower cabinets, dug around, and came out with a dog biscuit shaped like a bone. She took it over the Junior’s food dish and placed it inside while he continued to lap at the water as if he’d just come in from a trek across a desert.

As she watched her, Marie reflected on how much she adored the little girl. J.J. was so cute and so smart with those bright eyes and that curly ponytail. Everything that she was, Max said that she would be. How he had known that the Harts would have a baby, and a girl baby at that, was a mystery that he took to his grave. But when she and Max, prior to his passing, had discussed her coming to the Harts and taking over his duties in their home in the event that his surgery wasn’t successful, Max had always referred to that future baby as a girl.

J.J. was only five, but she could read, was bilingual, and had a strongly evolving sense of self. Thanks in large part to her mother, she remained blissfully unspoiled despite the many advantages that her parents could afford to bestow upon her. Mrs. Hart had her work cut out for her, though, when it came to working with her daughter’s tendency to be headstrong and fearless.

On the other side of that, Mr. Hart was a lost cause. That little girl already had him wrapped around all the fingers on both of her hands.

Checking out what J.J. was wearing, she could have sworn that the yellow outfit had been left out the previous night for her to put on in the morning. She concluded that J.J. must have picked out what she was wearing. It wasn’t a bad choice. Her hair still needed brushing, but that was a privilege the little girl reserved for her mother only. She smiled to herself at the mental image of J.J. ignoring the outfit on the chair. She could clearly envision her going past it with her nose in the air.

J.J. came back over to her.

“May I have some juice for now, please? I’ll eat with Mommy and Daddy later. After I finish the juice, may I go out back?”

“I think that’ll be all right,” Marie answered.

She poured the orange juice into a small cup and handed it to her. “But for right now, you stay up near the house. Wait until later to go down to the tree house. You can’t hear me call you to breakfast when you’re all the way out there, and up high like that.”

“Okay.”

J.J. swallowed the juice without stopping to take a breath. She placed the empty cup over in the sink and went out of the back door. Marie peeked over her shoulder to see how far she would go. J.J. took a seat on the patio steps and opened one of her books across her lap.

           Max, it looks like you aced all the bets across the board on that one.

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Jennifer woke with the feeling he was watching. As she opened her eyes, his solid, hairy chest came into immediate view where he was propped on one elbow, facing in her direction. Lifting her head to see into his face, sure enough, those eyes honed right in on hers.

“Good morning.”

“You’re staring at me, Jonathan.”

“I always stare at you. I love waking up before you so that I can watch you sleep. I especially like it when you’re dressed in what you’re wearing right now.”

“But, I’m not wearing anything,” she said. “You took care of that last night.”

Overtaken by a yawn, she stretched her arms and then her entire body to pull out the sleep kinks. He waited until she was finished and then leaned over her when she lie back on her pillows.

“I know I took care of it last night, but I’d really love to take care of it again this morning.”

She had to laugh. He never got enough. But then, she never got enough of him either. Wrapping her arms around his neck, and one long leg around his body, she whispered in his ear as she pulled him down to her, ” Well, there’s certainly not a thing between the two of us to stop you.”

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A short time later, they both came down to the kitchen together. She carried J.J.‘s hairbrush in her hand. Breakfast waited on the table.

“Is J.J. down here with you?” Jonathan asked Marie after they exchanged morning greetings. “She was gone from her room when we checked.”

“She’s out back.” Marie answered. “I’ll go get her.”

Marie went to the screened patio door, said something, and then opened it.

J.J. bounced in, running first to her father’s waiting arms. He picked her up and hugged her close.

“Mmmm, how’s my girl?”

He placed her on his lap, and she took his face in her hands. Squeezing his cheeks between her palms, she gave him a kiss on his pursed lips.

“Good morning, Daddy. I’m fine. I woke up before you.”

“Yes, I see you did, and I’m so glad. Now I can have a good day since I’ve had my kiss from you.”

She shimmied down from his lap and then came around the table to her mother who leaned down from her sitting position to take J.J. in her arms. Their interaction was much more composed. J.J.’s hug for Jennifer was quiet, but tight.

Jennifer gently broke the embrace and stood J.J. back from her. As if she knew what was coming next, the little girl squirmed in discomfort, scratching at her hair.

“J.J., is that what I put out for you to wear this morning?” Jennifer asked as she held her uneasy child about the waist, examining what she had on from shirt to shoes. “This doesn’t look to me like the outfit I left on your chair.”

“No, Mommy, it’s not. I just wanted to wear this today instead.”

J.J. looked up into her mother’s eyes as her mother looked down into hers.

“What was wrong with what I chose for you, J.J.?”

“Nothing, Mommy. But what’s wrong with what I picked? The colors match, don’t they? You said white matches anything. My shirt is white and my pants are red and my shoes are white.” She held one foot out to her mother. “I like the Cat in the Hat.”

Jennifer bit her lip and counted as, by the waist, she turned her daughter’s small body around so J.J.’s back was to her. On the other side of the table, Jonathan’s eyes twinkled with merriment as he took in the subdued power struggle unfolding before him. Jennifer carefully removed the band entangled in J.J.’s thick hair. Once she had it loose, she brushed the red curls smooth and put it back up in the band, and brushed it again to form a neat, sausage-curled ponytail.

“Well, you can wear that for now,” she said as she used her hands to smooth the hair around J.J.’s face. “But if we go out this afternoon, Mommy wants you to wear the yellow outfit that’s upstairs on the chair.”

J.J. screwed up her face. “And the sandals?” She wrinkled her nose and pretended to gag as she climbed up into her chair at the table.

“And the sandals,” Jennifer affirmed as the red letters, spelling out “Daddy’s Girl” seemed to trumpet from the white tee shirt facing her.

“And when the time comes for you to change, I don’t want any arguments about it and no ugly faces, do you hear me, J.J. Hart?”

“You won’t get any, Mommy.”

J.J. closed her eyes and bowed her head to say Grace before eating.

When her parents’ eyes met across the table, he winked one of his, and she rolled both of hers.

____________________________________________

Jennifer sat working at her desk in the great room library. Having just gotten off the telephone, she was entering the information from her conversation into the computer. J.J. lie on the floor by the desk, looking at some books that she’d been reading all morning.  Being an only child, J.J. was fairly quiet, and she played well alone. Although she was only five, she understood that her mother was a writer, and that when she was at her desk she shouldn’t be disturbed because she was working. During those times, J.J. would occupy herself, but would position herself somewhere close by.

The books she had been perusing all that morning were books about monkeys. She had been captivated by the primates ever since her parents took her for the first time the month before to Riverbend, the wildlife game preserve they still sponsored in Kenya. On the flight over, her mother read to her from the Curious George series. The same stories had to be read over and over because J.J. loved them so.

While in Kenya, J.J. befriended a tame young chimp, which she named George. The two of them were inseparable. On more than one occasion, her parents found her attempting to climb the trees to follow George. On the way home, J.J. read and reread the Curious George books on her own. She studied the pictures in her mother’s books, which was what she was doing on the floor.

“Excuse me, Mommy.”

“Oui, Cherie.”

“What is a…a vista? Am I saying it right?”

“I think you’re saying it correctly. Let me see the word.”

Jennifer stopped typing and looked down to J.J. on the floor. J.J. rolled over with the book and pointed to the word and then looked up at her, paying close attention.

“Yes, that word is vista. A vista is- J.J., do you know how you can look out of the round window behind Daddy’s desk in his office, and you can see things for a long distance?”

“Yes.”

“Well, all those things that you can see within that distance make up a vista. A vista is a view. It’s the things you can see all around you.”

“Daddy’s office is up high. You can see a lot. Does a vista get bigger the higher you are when you look at it? Can you see more if you’re higher up?”

“Yes, if nothing is blocking your view.”

J.J. nodded, rolled onto her stomach and went back to the book that was open in front of her. “Merci beaucoup, Mama.”

Jennifer went back to her work. After a short time, J.J. got up and come to her side.

“Excuse me again, Mommy. May I go outside to the tree house?”

“Are you going up there to read some more?”

Jennifer loved that J.J. was always in a book. It was amazing to her and Jonathan that she could read so well at such a young age. Her hope was that their little girl would grow up to love the written word as much as she did.

“Yep.” J.J. answered, nodding. “I might draw me some pictures, too. I have my crayons and some paper up there. May I go swimming later?”

“We’ll see. If I get finished here early enough, then yes, I’ll be able to take you out to the pool.”

Even though J.J. was an excellent swimmer, she was not allowed near the pool alone.

“Go to the tree house, but don’t go any farther out into the yard than that.”

“I won’t.” J.J. called as she skipped from the room with her books under her arm.

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The tree house was a replica of the tree house in Kenya. Her father had it built for her as soon as they returned home from their trip. The round hut sat eight feet from the ground and was reached by climbing a sturdy wooden ladder. At its base was what appeared to be grass, but was actually several layers of thick foam padding in a shallow pit that was covered by the grass. J.J. Hart was prone to trying anything and was therefore predisposed to mishaps. Her father had gotten into the habit of being proactive when it came to her.

That play area had been built under a large old tree that was meant to provide more shade for her when she played there. Several of the branches hung low around the house giving it an even more rustic, exotic appearance and atmosphere.

Placing her books in a wire basket on rope, J.J. scrambled up the ladder and went inside. Grabbing hold of the knot at the end of a rope attached to a pulley at the ceiling, she pulled the basket with the books up to her through a flap that opened in the floor. She took them out and lie down on the thick matting and Egyptian cotton pillows to began reading again.

Rolling over onto her back after a while, her mind drifted back to the vistas she saw from her tree house in Kenya. It was so different there and hot, but pretty. Her mother said it was one of her favorite places in the world, and she and her mother and her father had spent such wonderful time together there.

Her mother read to her from books about Kenya, that monkey, Curious George, and the man in the Yellow Hat, who took care of George. She remembered her mother laughing and telling her that she was a lot like Curious George and that if she was a man, she’d surely have a yellow hat.

J.J. liked when her mother laughed.

Together they had walked through the thick foliage, her hand held snugly inside her mother’s as she listened to the names of the different flowers, plants, and trees that grew there. It seemed as if her mother knew all of them. Some of the tamer animals on the compound came right up to her mother and let her pet them. Her mother loved animals, and animals seemed to love her back.

Her father took her out on the boat so that she could see the animals that came to the water for a drink. He took her for long walks, carrying her up high on his shoulders so that she could see everything around her as they went through the bush. Up in the tree house when it was just the two of them together, he taught her new games to play. Sometimes there were games with cards that had numbers and shapes on them. Some had brightly colored people on them. Her Daddy said that they were Kings and Queens and a guy called Jack. One game that she really liked was played with three shells and a marble. She had to guess which shell the marble was under after he mixed them up. He really liked it that she usually could find the marble on the first try.

Often the children who lived on the compound came to play with her in the evenings when it was cooler. The games they played usually involved running, jumping, chasing; things that she liked to do, and she was always tired at the end of each day.

At night, after everyone else had gone or were in their own homes on the grounds, her father would go out on the porch with her mother and she could see them as she stood looking out of her window when she was supposed to be in her bed. They would sit with their heads and shoulders together. Sometimes they held hands. Sometimes he would kiss her. Sometimes she kissed him. Them being together like that made her feel good, and she could sleep really well when she finally did lie down.

The idea of the vistas came back to her. The pictures in those books were pretty. She wondered how far she could see from that tree house. She hadn’t really thought about it before.

Going to the windows and looking out, she was dismayed to find that some of the branches of the big tree blocked her best clear view. She pulled one of the chairs from the table and chair set that stood in the middle of the tree house floor over to that window. Climbing up on the chair, she stepped off onto the sill, grabbed hold of a low stout branch securely with both hands, and pulled herself out of the window.

She shimmied up that branch toward the trunk, wishing that she had on jeans rather than those shorts. The branch was rough on her skin, but she was tough, too. Daddy said so. Recalling how George, the chimp would move from branch to branch, J.J. mimicked his movements until she was satisfied with her clearer view of the grounds. Settling herself on a thick, nubby branch, she was delighted that she could now see clear across the estate, all the way out to the back gate. She was also now about twenty feet from the ground.

She twisted, turned, and shifted, careful to hold on tight, trying to see all that she could. She had lived there on Willow Pond all of her life, but it was the first time she could see so much of her home all at one time. It was fascinating and lovely, different from the compound in Kenya, but pretty, too. After a while, she figured she should probably go back down and check on her mother.

But she could not. Somehow, in her shifting around, her shorts had become snagged on one of the sharper nubs on the branch. As she struggled to get free, she could feel it starting to scratch through the cloth and into her skin. Wiggling harder, she tried to get loose and almost fell. The shorts were wedged tightly and she didn’t want to pull at them any more for fear of yanking herself off balance or of  further injuring her leg on the scratchy wood.

Well, I guess I’ll just have to wait for Daddy to come home from his work and get me down from here.

____________________________________________

Jennifer finished what she was doing and saved it. Shutting down the computer and noticing the cup she left on the floor by the desk, it dawned on her that J.J. hadn’t come back in to her, which was unusual. Normally J.J. would go off, stay a while, and then come back to see what she was doing or if she was going to take her somewhere. J.J. loved going places with her, unless it was shopping. J.J. wasn’t all that fond of shopping. Jennifer got up figuring that J.J. was in the kitchen with Marie. It was snack time. She was probably there having milk and cookies, her favorites.

When she got there; however, Marie was alone in the pantry, working on a grocery inventory.

Jennifer stuck her head inside. “Marie, has J.J. come back into the house?”

“No, Mrs. Hart,” Marie answered looking up from her clipboard and over her reading glasses. “She went out with her books some time ago. She told me that you let her go to the tree house, but that she wasn’t to go any farther. I haven’s seen her since then.”

“I’d better go have a look.” Leaving from the kitchen door, Jennifer went out onto the rear grounds. J.J.’s tree house was located about a hundred feet from the main house, slightly to the right, and under the largest tree. As she walked out there, she called to her daughter, but there was no answer.

Reaching the tree house ladder, she called up to J.J.. When she didn’t get a response, she climbed up thinking that  she might have fallen asleep inside, which wouldn’t have been unlike her; she’d done it before, once during a rainstorm, causing them both to get drenched when she had to go out there to retrieve her. Inside the house, the books J.J. had taken took with her were still open on the floor. She could see the basket she’d hauled them up in, and indentations in the pillows where J.J.’s body had been lying on them, but J.J. was not inside. Her heart began to beat slightly faster.

Where could J.J. be? She’d been told not to go beyond the immediate area. J.J. was normally not a disobedient child, especially not with her.

Like a lightning bolt, it struck her, the recollection of being asked about going swimming. Backing down the ladder, Jennifer raced across the vast lawn over to the pool with her pounding heart slowly making its way up into her throat.

The water of the pool was crystal clear and still, the tiles were dry, and J.J. was nowhere to be seen. She called to her again, and again there was no response. Jennifer’s mind was racing. J.J. always played out back, but she was always somewhere within sight or sound. For neither to be the case wasn’t normal at all.

Maybe she went back into the house and straight up to her room. Marie might have been in the pantry and just not seen her as she passed through the kitchen.

Jennifer ran back to the house, through the kitchen and up the stairs. J.J.’s bedroom was just as she’d left it that morning after she and Jonathan finished the job that J.J. began on her bedcovers. She checked inside the bathroom and the closet, then the guest bedrooms, the master bedroom, and back inside J.J.’s room again. The child was not there.

In exhaustions, she sank down onto the bed, her mind whirling and spinning, trying to think where that girl might have gone on her own. By this time, Marie, alarmed by the tone of Jennifer’s voice as she heard her calling for her daughter, had come up to see what was going on. She stood in the doorway of the bedroom.

“Mrs. Hart, is there anything that you need me to do?”

“Yes,” Jennifer answered as she fought to keep her composure. “Please have Mr. Timmons bring me the golf cart so that I can go look for her.”

Marie left her to summon the gardener.

____________________________________________

J.J. could hear her mother calling her, but she didn’t know what to do.

If her mother found out that she was in the tree, but that she couldn’t get down, she would surely panic. She was certain that her mother, a real lady, couldn’t climb up and get her down, so she would only be worried more. At that moment, her mother was only worried because she couldn’t find her. After examining the situation from all angles, J.J. decided that it was better for her mother to only be worried about one thing, so she remained silent, watching as her mother drove the estate in the golf cart, calling to her.

Daddy would be home soon, and then her mother could stop worrying. Daddy would make it all be okay.

____________________________________________

“Mr. Hart, Marie is on Line One for you.” Deanne’s voice spoke through the intercom.

“Marie?” Jonathan thought to himself. “That’s odd.”

He pushed the speaker button only to have Marie inform him that J.J. was missing. She said that J.J. had been gone for some time and Jennifer was worried sick looking for her. He was in his suit coat, and gathering his things before she finished that first sentence.

“I’m on my way,” he informed her when she finished the second.

____________________________________________

Jennifer was at the front door when he brought the car to a screeching halt in the middle of the driveway.

“I can’t find her anywhere!” She broke down and cried. “I’ve looked and I’ve looked, but I just don’t know where she could have gone. I waited until you got here before I called the police.”

He wrapped her in his arms as she sobbed. It was her greatest fear. Her concern the past five years was of something happening to their daughter. He had done everything he could think of to secure the estate, and they had been teaching J.J. to avoid strangers from the time she started walking and talking.

Taking Jennifer into the house, he began working out in his head the places on the estate that J.J. might find intriguing. Security around the perimeter of the estate was tight during the day. When the child was at home, the outer grounds were regularly patrolled during the hours that J.J. might play outside. He felt secure that she hadn’t left or been taken off the grounds. She was there somewhere, of that he was sure.

“Let me change clothes, Jennifer. I’ll find her. Hold off on calling the police. I know she’s here.”

He left her sitting on the bottom stair in the foyer while he ran up to change. He had a hunch that he would need to put on something loose.

Running back down the stairs, dressed in sweats, a tee shirt, and running shoes, he asked, “Where was the last place it seems that she went?”

“She told me that she was going to the tree house. But Jonathan, I went there and I called her. She wasn’t there. I drove all over calling for her. She didn’t answer me.”

“We’ve got to start somewhere.” He ran through the house to the kitchen and out the back door, headed for the tree house.

____________________________________________

J.J. felt herself growing sleepy. Never a child to fight naps when the need came upon her; she could go to sleep anywhere, and she did if she was tired enough. It seemed like she had been up in that tree for an awfully long time.

When is Daddy coming home anyway? I wish he would hurry up.

She was also having second thoughts about not having answered her mother’s calls. It sounded like she was crying.

She forced herself to stay awake, afraid that if she did go to sleep, she might lose her balance. Then she would really be in trouble: up in the tree, couldn’t get down, didn’t answer her mother, and then fell and got hurt. That was just too many things to get into trouble over in one day.

In an effort to stay awake, she began to sing to herself a song her mother often sang to her:

Hush little baby, don’t say a word,

Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird,

If that mockingbird don’t sing,

Daddy’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.”

Her mother’s diamond wedding ring came to mind. It sparkled so brightly all the time. Daddy said he bought that for her when he married her. He said he bought it because he loved her.

“J.J.!”

Her head snapped up at the sound of his voice, and the drowsiness went away.

Daddy! Finally.

She could see him through the branches, on the ground, standing under the tree. She was glad that he came home before it got dark outside. By then her mother would most certainly be upset that she had been gone so long.

“Daddy!” She called down to him. “Daddy, I’m up here!”

Jonathan thought he heard her.

“J.J.?”

He climbed the ladder to the tree house. She wasn’t inside. He called her again.

“J.J.!”

“Daddy!” She called a little louder. “I’m up here.”

That was when he noticed the chair by the window.

She couldn’t have-

Crawling on all fours inside the tree house, he stuck his head out of the window and looked up. High above, he could see a small pair of white sneakers attached to two thin legs.

How in the hell?

“J.J., hold on tight! Daddy’s coming to get you!”

He backed out of the tree house, down the ladder to the ground where Jennifer stood waiting.

“She’s up there.” He said, running past her in the direction of the tool shed.

“Up where?” she called. “I didn’t see her in there.”

“Not in there! Up in the tree!!” He yelled.

Using the gardener’s ladder, Jonathan climbed the rungs, picking his way through the branches and up into the tree. Jennifer and Marie stood at the bottom. Timmons, the gardener, stood with them, bracing the ladder. Finally Jonathan reached his daughter. She grinned, laced her hands around his neck, and kissed him.

“Daddy, I knew you would come and get me down.”

“Sweetheart,” He said kissing her back and then visually checking her over. “Why would you climb up here if you were going to be too scared to come back down?”

Abruptly removing her arms from around his neck, she gave him a scornful look.

“I am not scared!” She declared with her hands on her little hips. “My pants got stuck to the tree, and I couldn’t get back down, that’s all.”

Just as she said, when he tried to lift her, the shorts wouldn’t budge. He tried tugging, but the branch scratched at her skin, and she flinched in pain. Afraid that too much jostling would cause one or both of them to lose their balance, he finally instructed her, “Hold on tight to Daddy’s shoulders.”

When she did, he took the shorts by the waistband, at the side seams, and ripped them from her legs.

“Now I want you to put your arms around Daddy’s neck and get on my back. I’ll help you. Then I want you to hold on to me as tightly as you can with your arms and your legs.”

She did as he told her, and he maneuvered her around so that she was on his back. She held on tightly with her arms around his shoulders and her legs around his midsection. He marveled at her strength and at her nerve as they made their descent. The little red shorts remained behind, stuck in the tree. They would be there for years, a little red flag, reminding them of that day.

“Is Mommy mad?” She whispered in his ear on the way down.

“I think you scared her more than you made her mad, J.J.” He answered.

He felt her lay her head on his back.

“She’ll be mad about my pants.” She sighed. After a few moments, she concluded. “Well, at least my panties are still clean. She can’t get me for having dirty panties.”

Upon reaching the ground, J.J. silently reached for her mother who carried her in her arms into the house after thanking everyone for their help. She saw her mother’s tears. As they walked away, Jonathan caught J.J.’s eyes peering at him from over Jennifer’s shoulder. She waved a tiny wave and mouthed, “Thank you, Daddy,” and she blew him a kiss.

Marie saw her, too. As he and Timmons retracted and removed the ladder, she said to him, “She’s a sweet little thing, Mr. Hart”

“They both are.” He answered.

____________________________________________

J.J. was in bed looking at her books when her father came in to say goodnight to her.

“Daddy, do you think Mommy will be mad at me for a long time?” She asked, putting the books aside when he sat down on the side of her bed.

The light from her bedside lamp illuminated her face. She was getting those freckles across her nose like her mother and had tiny diamond studs that sparkled in each of her ears.

The earrings had been his doing. After she told him that she wanted earrings just like her mother’s, he had been the one to take her to get her ears pierced for the sole purpose of buying her first pair of diamond earrings. Even though he thought he was going to die while the procedure was being done, J.J. sat grinning excitedly throughout it, never once flinching. He liked that she was tough.

Jennifer had really carried on that day about how much he indulged that little girl. Looking at her looking up so earnestly at him, he thought to himself with amusement that J.J. must resemble how Jennifer looked like as a little girl. Outside of Jennifer, J.J. Hart was his world, a precious little diamond herself. But, there was concern in her eyes that night. He could tell that she had been worried about the situation with her mother all evening.

“Why do you think she’s mad at you, baby?”

“She didn’t talk at dinner to you or to me. Then she gave me my bath really fast, and she didn’t talk to me. She fixed my leg, though.”

She pushed the covers back, rolled over, raised her gown, and showed him the two Band-Aids high on the back of a red place on her left thigh. “See. She put some stinging stuff on it first, but I didn’t cry or anything.”

“And then when she put me to bed,” She continued, rolling back into a sitting position. “She just kissed me, but she didn’t talk to me then either. I don’t like when she doesn’t talk, Daddy.” She said shaking her head. “You can’t see her hand, just like in cards. You don’t know what she’s thinking or what she’s going to do.”

He suppressed a smile at the comparison of reading her mother to reading playing cards, noting to himself that she was sharp; she caught on to concepts quickly. He made mental note that he was going to have to be more careful about the things that he taught her. He knew that she was smart, but she was showing definite signs of being quite clever too.

“You scared her, J.J. She doesn’t want anything to happen to you.” He said, brushing the damp strands of curly hair from her face which was freshly washed and had been towel dried. “What made you go up there?”

“I wanted to see the vista. Mommy said that you could see more if you’re up higher. It was so-o-o-o-o-o pretty up there, Daddy.”

“Didn’t you hear Mommy calling you? You heard me right away when I called you.”

She was fiddling with the diamond in her bracelet the way that she always did when he talked to her and she was listening to him, and was considering her response. She stopped and looked up at him.

“I did hear her calling me. But, I didn’t want her to worry about me being stuck. I knew that she was already worried about not being able to find me. If she knew that I was in the tree, and that she couldn’t get me down, she would be even more worried about me, so that’s why I didn’t say anything. I thought when you got me down, everything would be okay.”

Then she lie down on her side and curled up into a ball. He could feel her distress radiating up to him. “But it isn’t, Daddy. She’s still mad.”

“Mommy will be all right in the morning, J.J. Don’t you worry about it.”

He smoothed her hair one more time and kissed her forehead. “Go to sleep, sweetie.” And he turned off her light.

____________________________________________

Jennifer was also already in bed when he came from J.J.’s room. She had her back to him. Standing and watching her for a moment, he saw it when her body shuddered.

“Jennifer, are you crying?”

“No.”

But she was.

Both his girls were in distress. He came around to her side and sat down next to her. He brushed the hair from her face. too. They both had the same thick, dark red hair.

“Jennifer, she’s here. She’s safe. You don’t have to be upset any more.”

“It’s not that.” She sniffed, wiping at her eyes.

“Then what is it?”

“Why is she like this, Jonathan? She’s so stubborn and so fearless on the one hand, and then so bright and beautiful on the other.”

“Now who does that sound like to you?”

She smiled despite her tears. To her ears, it did sound somewhat familiar. Her own Pa, she knew, had gotten her out of more than just a few scrapes up at school after her mother died

“All right, all right.” She conceded. “But she had to have heard that I was calling her. She had to see me looking for her. Why didn’t she answer me? When you called her, she answered you right away. Why wouldn’t she wear the outfit that I laid out for her this morning? She only does these things to me, Jonathan. She does whatever you tell her without a fight.”

He wanted to laugh, but he didn’t. As astute as she was, Jennifer really couldn’t see it.

“Jennifer, how many times do you have to tell her to hold your hand in an airport? How many times does it take for me? And then after all those times, does she do it? No. I have to put her on my shoulders to keep up with her. How much fight does she give you over vegetables? If you aren’t there, if it’s just her and me, she feeds them to Junior with me sitting right at the table with her. She loves you, Jennifer. She just loves you very differently than she loves me.

“Little girls automatically love their Daddies. It’s a given. I’m fun, so yes, she does what I tell her because it’s usually something she wants to do anyway. But she listens to you. Along with loving you, she respects you, and she desires your respect in return. That’s why she switched the outfits on you, and then why she agreed to your choice for later after you accepted hers.

“She told me that she didn’t answer you because she thought that you couldn’t climb up and get her down. She didn’t want to worry you about her being stuck in the tree and not being able to help her down, on top of your already being worried about not being able to find her. In her mind, her being gone was enough for you to handle. I know it sounds silly, but she’s only five, Jennifer. She’s smart, but she’s still only five. She really was thinking of you all the time.”

Jennifer contemplated what he was saying.

J.J. was growing into a bright, but complex child. But those were qualities that made her so interesting and such a joy. Her intelligence did often belie her actual age. She wanted to do all the right things by their child, but as little as she was, J.J. seemed to have her own mind and her own way of seeing things. She had the distinct feeling that her daughter was not going to be the type of girl that she had envisioned a daughter of hers one day being. But, after all, she did love surprises. Time would tell. It was just a matter of getting it all channeled. After all, who was running the show, her or J.J. Hart?

Jonathan got into the bed behind her and wrapped her in his arms.

“You don’t need to worry about Miss J.J.” He said to her as he held her close. “She’s picked her role model, and she couldn’t have done it better. She has excellent taste. Don’t you realize that’s why she flips back and forth between French and English? And why she’s learned to read so early, and why she reads all the time? She’s mimicking the things that she admires about you.

“She went up in the tree in search of that vista that you told her she could see better if she went up higher. Regardless of what she has you thinking, J.J. hears everything that you say. She’s not going to be everything that you are or that you might want her to be; some things she’s going to do her own way regardless of what we try to teach her. And that stubbornness, I don’t think that’s a personality thing. I believe that if they check both our DNA, they’ll find it’s a genetic marker for the Harts.”

She snuggled down into his embrace.

“Jonathan, how did you get to be such a smart father? You started this parenting thing at the same time that I did, but you’re light years ahead of me.”

“You think so?”

He smiled and held her close, burying his face in her hair.

She just could not see it. Didn’t have a clue. But he and J.J. did.

____________________________________________

Early the next morning there was a small knock at their bedroom door. Jonathan, already awake, and in the bathroom shaving, went to the door and opened it.

There J.J. stood in her nightgown with sleep-tousled hair and bare feet. She was holding a single red rose in a bud vase. He recognized it as one of the prize-winning Jennifer Hart roses that Max started out in the garden years ago, and that Marie and Jennifer continued to nurture in his memory. J.J. loved those flowers, especially since they had been named for her mother.

“Is Mommy awake yet?” She whispered, looking way up at him.

“Nope, but I don’t think she’ll mind if you wake her up.”

He stood back to allow her to enter.

As she tiptoed across the room to her mother’s side of the bed, he noticed that the hem of her nightgown was wet and slightly dirty.

J.J. stood and leaned, one foot on top of the other, against the bed to watch her mother sleep.

“She’s pretty.” She whispered to her father who stood watching her from the door.

He nodded, “I know.”

As usual, Jennifer could sense the presence of someone near her. When she opened her eyes, she was surprised to see that it was J.J., not Jonathan, standing there. Her little girl stood right at her eye level staring directly into her face, her blue gaze penetrating her sleep just like her father’s blue gaze did on many mornings.

“Good Morning, Mommy.” J.J. said when she opened her eyes. “I’m sorry I made you scared. Are you not going to talk to me today, too? “

Jennifer could see that J.J. was holding something behind her back. She raised herself up and sat back on the pillows. Getting settled, she crossed her arms and looked sternly back down at J.J. who was still leaned against the bed watching her and waiting for an answer.

“You wouldn’t talk to me, J.J.” She replied, pretending to sound hurt. “Why should I want to talk to you?”

J.J. began trying to make her understand, but her mother’s nasty attitude was beginning to make her angry. Mommies were not supposed to carry on like that. They were supposed to listen and act nice.

“Because when you don’t talk to me, you’re just trying to hurt my feelings. I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings. I was trying to make you feel better when I didn’t answer you. You’re not trying to make me feel better. You’re just being mean.” She dropped her head, and said in a significantly lowered tone, “And.…..I said I was sorry.”

She brought the rose from around her back and held it out to her mother. “Marie helped me get this for you. It’s a Jennifer Hart, and it’s pretty just like you.”

Having had the olive branch of sorts extended to her, Jennifer felt badly for playing with J.J. like she had; J.J. seemed genuinely sorry. She reached down and gathered her into her arms, pulling her onto the bed with her in a huge hug.

“You are my sweet girl, aren’t you?” She sat her down on her lap facing her, noticing too late that her gown was wet and dirty.

It didn’t matter. Accepting the vase and the flower, she placed them on the night table. Then she turned back to her child taking the little hands into her own.

“I am going to talk to you today. But you have to promise me that whenever I call you, from now on- no matter what- that you’ll answer me. Do you promise?”

“Oui, Mama, I promise!”

J.J. reached up and hugged her mother again, so happy to be back in her good graces.

Jonathan, still watching, could see his daughter’s face over her mother’s shoulder. She winked at him and gave him the ‘okay’ sign with her fingers.

“Oh yes,” he thought, “she is well on her way to being an incorrigible, but undeniably cute little clown, Jennifer.”

And he winked back at his cute but incorrigible child.

End

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