The Actress 2



DISCLAIMERS: This is alternative fiction involving two women in a caring relationship. There is no sex (yet), no violence, and only one word that might be considered offensive. All characters, other than Christine Lahti, are fictional and are either mine or used with permission.

"Are you nervous?"

"A little," the small blonde answered.

"Robbie, tell the truth"

"Okay, you know me too well. I am scared witless and I’m pretty sure I will probably stumble on the red carpet and fall flat on my face," Roberta Mackenzie answered her brother.

"It won’t be that bad, and if you stumble I am going down with you. Remember... just don’t pull a Christine Lahti and be in the restroom when they call your name," her brother teased her as he looked her up and down.

"So big brother-of-mine, are your ready to escort you favorite sister to the Emmys?" she asked with mirth in her voice.

"Considering you are my only sister, I guess I can do that," Michael chuckled as he extended his arm for her to take it.

Roberta Mackenzie was a writer for the syndicated cable show Mercy Hospital, and had never expected to be nominated for writing an episode for the show. In fact, her episode almost didn’t make the filming schedule but by a stroke of luck, the episode it replaced had legal issues arise. In a last minute decision, executive producer John Hall pushed the script through with very little editing being done on it. As she stood on the set the week of filming, she couldn’t believe the late night idea that she frantically typed out had come to life. As the week ended several of the cast members made comments to her about this was the best episode they had filmed so far that season. To be complimented by the actors had been reward enough for her, but when she was informed she had been nominated for the Emmy she was on cloud nine for days.

With the nomination had come many outside job offers to write everything from a commercial to a major film.

"I wish Cassie could be here to see this. It just isn’t fair. She was the inspiration for that episode and she’s not here to help celebrate!" Robbie lamented.

Michael gently wiped the tears from her cheek. "You’re going to ruin your makeup, Sis, and we don’t have two hours for you to start over. You know that Cassie is with you in here." With that, he placed his hand over her heart then held his arm out to escort his sister and best friend to the waiting limo.

Arriving at the Awards, Robbie waited nervously for Michael to come around and retrieve her from the car. She didn’t trust herself with the crowds and all the cameras flashing in her face. In spite of all the joking, Roberta really did have a fear of tripping. She was excited about the nomination, but thankful that she wouldn’t have to go up on stage. After all, there were four other writers nominated, all of which had much more experience. She would relax and enjoy all the trappings.

After safely making their way inside, Robbie and Michael were introduced to many of the rich and famous in attendance by John Hall, the producer. John made a point of telling everyone how he found Roberta’s script hiding in obscurity and just knew that it would be a winner. Of course, he carefully omitted the fact that he only considered it after another fell through at the last minute.

Roberta excused herself so that she would not be caught AWOL when her category was introduced. As she was washing her hands, she glanced into the mirror. What she saw there took her breath away. A woman…a goddess she vaguely recalled later…impossibly tall…dark hair loose and flowing over bare shoulders…eyes the blue of winter ice…all packaged in a stunning black dress revealing deeply tanned skin. Robbie knew she was staring, but she could no more tear away her eyes than she could prevent the flush on her fair cheeks.

"What are you gawking at?" the reflection growled in a rich contralto voice. With that, she turned and stormed out muttering "Stupid star-struck, obsessive fans. Can’t even go to the bathroom without running into them!"

Robbie was shaking her head, wondering what had just happened when the lights dimmed slightly. Quickly she returned to Michael and was escorted to her seat.

The show was dragging along with each winner trying to outdo the previous person with their acceptance speech. The next category was for Dramatic Guest Appearance. Robbie didn’t know any of the nominees, but when the winner was announced, she couldn’t prevent a soft gasp as the woman from the restroom stood and gracefully moved to the podium. ‘So that is Jasper Villante’ she thought.

Jasper quickly thanked the producer, cast and production staff for the opportunity to work with them and the fans for watching the episode she was in. Taking her award, she returned to her seat, sneering at the awe-struck blond from what she thought of as the ‘mirror encounter’.

The next category announced was Best Writer for a Dramatic Episode of a Series. Robbie listened as the five names were read and tried to guess which one would win. She was so busy contemplating her choice that she nearly missed hearing "and the winner is…Roberta Mackenzie, writing for Mercy Hospital." Michael released a loud whoop as he literally lifted her out of her seat. In a daze, Robbie walked to the stage and accepted the award.

Clearing her throat, she looked over the audience and started softly, then more strongly. "I would like to thank the producer John Hall, the crew on and off camera, and the fans. The person who should be here receiving this award, the inspiration for the script, isn’t here tonight." Holding the award aloft, Robbie said "To my best friend Cassie. I miss you and I’ll always love you." With that, she quickly left the stage wiping away tears to the sound of applause and whispering in the audience. As she approached her seat, her eyes were once again captured by ice blue. Lifting the trophy like a toast, she tilted her head and smiled, only allowing a slight sneer, to Jasper Villante. Jasper mouthed ‘Touché’ and quickly looked away, appearing to be in deep conversation with the handsome man at her side. An icy gaze watched as the small blond was lovingly lifted and hugged tightly by the taller blond man in her party. Though he only kissed her on the cheek, it was obviously a kiss full of tenderness.

The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur to Robbie. She laughed, danced, sipped wine, and just enjoyed being alive. Never thinking of herself as the life of the party, Robbie was amazed that so many would introduce themselves or try to draw her into conversation. All except one…the one she really wanted to talk to. Jasper Villante had managed to always be on the opposite side of the room each time Robbie looked around for her.

Finally, Robbie began to feel the effects of the excitement of the evening and the wine consumed. She asked Michael to summons the limo while she made a last trip to the restroom. There, she took a lingering, longing look into the mirror. She saw a faint image of a goddess with long black hair and eyes of ice. Was it the wine? Or was it a ghostly dream much like the famous Phantom of the Opera scene? Too weary to ponder it longer, Robbie turned and walked out to the waiting car. Her night in the limelight had come to an end. It was time to return to reality and to the love of her life.


"Robbie? Sis? Time to wake up. We’re home. Roberta Dawn Mackenzie get your buns out of this car right now!".

"Leave me alone, Mikey. Its not morning yet."

"Oh, Sis, you are in soooo much trouble now. I haven’t answered to Mikey in 10 years!" With that, Robbie found herself once again being lifted by Michael’s strong arms and carried into the home they shared. After depositing Robbie on the couch, he stopped by the sink and filled his hand with cold water, splashing it in her face.

"What! Where am I? Bro, you are going to pay for that!" Robbie yelled as she shook the water out of her short, blond tresses.

"Hush, Sis, you’ll wake up Jasmine."

"Too late, Uncle Mike" a sleepy young voice mumbled.

"Jasmine, look what we won, sweetheart!" Robbie said as she looked into sleepy blues eyes.

"We won! We won! I can’t believe it. Wait til the kids at school hear about this. Hey. You said you wouldn’t win, that just being nominated was a big honor." Jasmine accused her. "If I’d known you would win, I would have had a party for you."

"I really didn’t think I had a chance. Honestly. There were all these famous writers there and they picked me. I don’t understand it." Robbie admitted. "Besides, just getting a hug from you is enough celebration for me." she added gently brushing the long strands of stray hair from Jasmine’s face.

"She would be so proud of you, you know." The child quietly stated.

"I know, angel, she would have loved all the hoopla tonight. At least I get to share it with you."

Michael observed the two as their mood became more somber. He was determined to lighten things up. After paying the babysitter, he started telling Jasmine funny stories about the people and events of the night. Robbie was the first to fall asleep. Soon Jasmine curled up with her head in Robbie’s lap and joined her in the realm of Morpheus.

* * * * * * * * *

As the weeks passed, the excitement from the Emmys died down and the Mackenzie household returned to its routine. Mornings were hectic with Jasmine, Robbie, and Michael all trying to leave at the same time. Days were busy with endless writing sessions or rewrites for Robbie and school for Jasmine. Everyone rushed home for the evening meal then it was off to the soccer field for Jasmine’s practice or games. Though yet to see her tenth birthday, Jasmine was already as tall as Robbie and was developing a talent for sports. ‘Not at all like me’ Robbie mused from the bleachers as she watched Jasmine and her teammates run up and down the field.

Roberta Mackenzie had never been ‘athletically inclined’. While her height kept her from being selected for playground games, it was her interest in words that ultimately drew her in other directions. As her friends scored with baskets and goals, Robbie made her points with verbs, nouns, and dialog. After all, would not the great feats that occurred on the fields of competition be quickly forgotten without someone to record such events in words and images? Robbie sought more than a mere recording of facts, however. She sought to record humanity with all the nuances that make us individuals in the midst of our commonality.

To Robbie, it was in the ordinary daily lives of ordinary people that the greatest dramas often played out. It was this understanding that had lead her to write her award-wining episode of Mercy Hospital.

As painful as it was to remember, it would have been even more painful to forget.


Her best friend.


The sister she never had.

It was Cassie’s death…or rather her life…on which Robbie had based the Mercy Hospital episode. Instead of focusing on medical procedures and heroic life-saving techniques, the script showed the human side of the story such as the impact the various tests and treatments had on Cassie and her loved ones. And it revealed how the hospital staff became an integral part of her extended family during that last year and how that same staff dealt with her worsening condition and finally her death.

Loud cheering and screaming brought Robbie’s attention back to the present as Jasmine kicked in the winning goal with seconds to go. As the buzzer sounded, Jasmine was the first to shake hands with their opponents and to thank their own coach. At 9 she was one of the youngest players on the team, but the other players looked up to her. Literally! By the time she hit her teen years, she would probably be almost 6 feet tall.

Walking in the front door, they heard the phone ringing. "I’ll get it." Robbie yelled. "Go change your clothes. And your uniform goes in the laundry hamper, not beside it!"

A muffled "yes ma’am" was heard from down the hall.

"Mackenzie residence."

"Robbie, is that you?"

"Hey, Fred. What’s up?"

"Are you busy tomorrow? Someone wants to discuss a possible deal for a pilot script."

"I thought that’s why I pay you those big bucks to be my agent, Fred. You know I hate the business end of show business."

"I know, sweetie, but this is something big. They want a face-to-face with you. In fact, they won’t consider signing without it."

Robbie sighed as the weariness of the day caught up with her. "OK, Fred. What time and where?"

"Why don’t I pick you up around 9, after you get Jasmine off to school?"

"OK, Fred, sounds good. I’ll see you tomorrow at 9."

‘Wonder what that’s all about’ Robbie mused as she started the nightly routines. Lunch ready to pack, clean clothes picked out, critters fed. All that was left was to tuck in Jasmine and then herself.

The next morning, Michael was putting the finishing touches on breakfast. Jasmine was scrambling around trying to get ready for school. "Where’s my other shoe," she yelled.

"Under your equipment bag." The sleepy blonde grumbled as Michael put a mug in her hand. "Oh….coffee…thanks Bro."

"Morning Sis."

"Did I ever tell you that you are my favorite brother?"

"I’m your only brother."

"Yeah, yeah. Whatever! Jasmine, your ride is here. Don’t forget your lunch."


By 9:30, Fred, Robbie, the studio rep, and the agent for the star were settled around the table.

Clearing his throat, the other agent started. "Ms. Mackenzie. Thank you for meeting with us on short notice. I’m Thomas Farley and Roger Houston is here representing the studio. My client is interested in a feature length pilot with a series to follow if the pilot is successful. She’s funding most of the pilot project herself, but the studio would be responsible for the series."

Roger took over. "The studio was impressed with the freshness of your recent scripts. We’d like you to consider writing the pilot story for us."

"OK, so what’s the catch?" Robbie asked.

"The catch?" Thomas asked.

"Yes. Why is the studio requesting my services if your client is footing most of the bill?" Robbie asked.

Thomas, Roger, and Fred all looked at one another nervously. Fred finally cleared his throat and answered for the group. "It seems that the studio has more confidence in your ability to produce a good script than Thomas’ client."

"Oh," Robbie said. "Sounds like Jasper Villante" she muttered under her breath.

"How did you know?" Thomas gasped.


"Yes, how did you know that my client is Jasper Villante?"

"The attitude!" Robbie admitted.

"You know Ms. Villante?"

"No, not really." Robbie stated. "We met briefly at the awards ceremony. I don’t think she much cares for me. Sorry, I guess this was a waste of time."

"Please wait, Ms. Mackenzie." Roger called as Robbie stood to leave.

"Yes?" came the cautious reply.

"Would you be willing to submit a story line—just a paragraph or so. We will show Ms. Villante 3 or 4 possibilities, including yours, and see what she thinks?" Thomas offered.

"What protection do I have that no one will take my story line if she doesn’t pick me?"

"You’ll hold the copyright, of course, unless we buy the story." Roger quickly answered. "That’s only fair since there is no advance payment for this."

"Has Ms. Villante given any indication of what kind of show she’s looking for?" It seemed like a reasonable question to Robbie.

"Umm, not really. She wants a vehicle to demonstrate her acting skills in a variety of settings. I think she’s interested in a family audience which means something 8-14 year olds and their parents can watch."

"That’s interesting. Did she say why?" asked Robbie.

"Well, she doesn’t want to do merchandise, which you just about have to do if you target young children. And once they turn 14, they are more likely to be out with friends instead of watching TV during prime time."

"Makes sense. So, when do you need this story line?"

"Yesterday?" Roger laughed.

"Could I have a few minutes with my agent, please?" Robbie requested.

"Certainly. Thomas and I will go get coffee for everyone."

The room was silent as Roberta Mackenzie did what she does best…weave a story in her head. Soon she was scribbling furiously as the ideas flowed. About five minutes later, she placed the pen on the table and stood, shoving the pad over to Fred.

"Well, what do you think?"

Fred quickly skimmed the document and grinned widely. "I think you’ve got a winner! Shall we make them sweat a bit more?" he chuckled.

"Let’s see if they bring treats or just coffee. If it’s just coffee, tell them we’ll be in touch."

Roger entered the room carrying a tray of donuts and pastries. An hour later, Robbie had explained her concept and polished off the treats. She and Fred parted after handshakes and promises from Roger and Thomas to be in touch soon.


Two weeks later, Robbie was working at home when the phone rang.

"Ms. Mackenzie?"


"This is Jasper Villante."

"umm…hi… I mean…hello. What can I do for you?"

"We need to meet about the script."

"The script?"

"Yes. The script for the pilot."

"Oh, I wasn’t aware that my idea had been accepted." Robbie said in confusion.

"It hasn’t. I had some questions before I make my decision."

"I see," Robbie said in a flat tone. "You do realize, Ms. Villante, that until a contract is signed, I’m working without pay. I can’t afford to do that for long. When did you want to meet?"

"Would 4:00 this afternoon be OK?"

"Do you like soccer, Ms. Villante?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Do you like soccer? I have to be at the Northside soccer complex at 4 today. We can meet there while I watch Jasmine play."

"Well, given the script idea, I suppose that might be appropriate," came the hesitant reply.

"Great, I’ll see you at 4 then. We’re the purple and gold uniforms. The Xenites. And Ms. Villante, you may want to dress casually."

At 4 pm sharp, a tall raven-haired denim-clad figure looked nervously into the stands. The bill of her cap was pulled low and her eyes were hidden behind dark shades. Robbie had been watching for the woman and quickly waved her up.

As Jasper settled beside her, Robbie introduced herself nervously. "H…Hi. I’m Robbie Mackenzie. Pleased to meet you Ms. Villante."

"Relax, Ms. Mackenzie. Contrary to rumors, I don’t bite," Jasper replied while rapidly glancing around.

"Neither do I, Ms. Villante. And please, call me Robbie."

"OK, Robbie, so why are we meeting here in such a public place?"

"What’s the matter? You afraid your magnetic personality will attract too much attention?" Seeing the stiffening of Jasper Villante’s shoulders, Robbie quickly apologized. "I’m sorry, Ms. Villante. I’m not usually like this at all. We seem to bring out the worst in each other." Taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly, Robbie said, "You wanted to meet at 4. I never miss Jasmine’s games. There they come now."

"I’m sorry. I should leave now. I didn’t mean to intrude in your family time." Jasper apologized as she quickly stood to leave.

Robbie placed a gentle hand on her arm saying "Please don’t go. You can help me cheer Jasmine’s team."

"I don’t do ‘family’ very well, Ms. Mackenzie. Or should I say Mrs. Mackenzie?"

"You were right the first time, Ms. Villante. I’m not the ‘find a man and settle down’ kind of girl" Robbie admitted.

‘I wonder what that means’ Jasper wondered to herself. Aloud, she simply said "Me either. Now, Ms. Mackenzie, who is it we’re cheering for?"

"Robbie. It’s Robbie, and we’re pulling for the Xenites in general, and Jasmine in particular. She’s wearing number 22. The tall kid with dark hair that looks just like…" Robbie’s voice trailed off as she turned to look at Jasper. Shrugging, she continued "well…you’ll see after the game." With that, she turned back to the action just starting on the field.

Jasper leaned back against the bench behind them and stretched her legs over the seats in front of them. Robbie had picked a little-used area high in the stands to ensure some privacy for their negotiations. As the thoughtfulness of this act became evident to Jasper, she felt herself relax a bit. Hopefully no one would recognize her and she could enjoy being herself for a few minutes. Whatever that meant.

As Jasper’s acting career took off, her time, actions, even her personality had become just that…an act. Now that she was in her late 30’s, she had begun to wonder just who is Jasper Villante? It was about this time that Jasper had decided to take control of her career. She was tired of someone else choosing the roles that would provide the most growth potential for her net worth. She wanted to do something significant, that might touch other lives while showcasing what she perceived as her many skills. Which brought her back to the purpose of this meeting…

"Ms Mackenzie…I mean Robbie" she quickly amended as Robbie turned to glare at her. "I wanted to discuss this idea you had for the pilot. It sounds interesting and I was wondering if you could tell me more about it."

Robbie nodded then suddenly stood up and yelled "Get em Jasmine!".

Turning back to Jasper, she said "Sorry about that. Well, your agent indicated that you wanted something to…how should I put it…’showcase’ your varied talents. And he thought you wanted to reach the family prime-time audience. The concept I’ve proposed will allow you to do serious, comedy, heavy, light, relaxed, and dramatic all within one show."

"OK. I can see that portraying an actress will allow me to play various roles…kind of a story within a story. But why a family? Why the kid?"

"I just thought that a lot of people find themselves in the situation of being a single parent having to work for a living. Their jobs may not be as glamorous as yours, but the challenges should be very similar. Time management, parenting, work versus family demands, finding time for your personal growth and down time…you name it. The concept can go just about anywhere." Robbie suggested.

"But why a 10 year old?" Jasper asked hesitantly, but Robbie didn’t seem to notice.

"Honestly, I’m not sure. Except that Thomas said the 8 to 14 year old market plus parents is what you were looking at. A precocious 10 year old could appeal to all those ages. The child would be able to interact with adults but would also have enough child-like characteristics to remind the audience what’s really important in life. I suppose I was thinking of Jasmine when I suggested the role. I mean, she keeps me honest. She’s a real strength just when I seem to be at my rope’s end. But at other times, she needs the nurturing. She needs …" Robbie suddenly stopped and stood up as the crowd hushed.

Out on the field, there was a pile of bodies near one of the goals. Purple and gold mixed in with yellow and black as players from both teams tried to untangle limbs and stand. As the last player slowly stood and turned to the stands yelling "I’m OK, see?", the crowd laughed and Robbie released the breath she’d been holding.

Jasper watched Robbie closely during the entire incident. With a pensive expression on her face, she said "Excuse me a minute" and moved to the end of the bleacher as she removed her cell phone.

"Thomas, this is Villante. Sign the Mackenzie woman to write the pilot script. Make sure she understands that I get final say, though, on any changes, dialogue, and casting."

Closing her cell phone, Jasper told Robbie that she had enough information to make her decision and that she needed to leave while the crowds had their attention elsewhere. The two women shook hands and as the stiff-postured actress walked away, Robbie called out "It was nice to meet you, Ms. Villante. I hope you find what you are searching for."

Jasper paused mid-step then continued as though she hadn’t heard.

With a sense of loss and disappointment, Robbie returned her attention to the game. Obviously she wasn’t good enough for the snooty actress. For a while, she thought maybe they were beginning to understand one another a bit. Oh well. "Take it all the way!" Jasmine’s number 1 fan yelled as the girl took the ball from one goal to the other. The kick went in the net just as the final buzzer sounded.

Meanwhile, in an expensive SUV with darkly shaded windows, eyes the color of winter ice watched as Robbie made her way down to congratulate the hero of the day. Jasper knew she was spying on what should have been a private mother-child moment, but she could not tear her eyes away. Finally, with a deep sense of overwhelming emptiness, she whispered to the empty car "that could have been me".

By May of that year, soccer season was over and softball was in full swing. Robbie had completed the first draft of the script after recovering from the shock of getting the contract. There had been no more contact from Ms. Villante though Robbie thought she’d seen her SUV at some of Jasmine’s games. And a few times while she was working on the script in the studio-provided office, Robbie had felt that she was being watched though she never saw anyone.

One evening Robbie stopped by her office to pick up some re-writes to work on. Jasmine went with her to raid the small fridge she knew would be stocked with ice cold Dr. Pepper. Thomas stopped in to see how things were going. "Hi young lady. Are you here for the auditions?" he asked.

"Auditions, sir? I don’t know what you’re talking about." Jasmine answered.

Hearing voices, Robbie looked out of the doorway. "Hi Thomas. What’s up?" she asked.

"Hello Robbie. I was just asking this young lady if she was here for the auditions. Is this your kid?"

"Well, I claim her part of the time." laughed Robbie.

"Hey!" yelled Jasmine. "I heard that."

"What auditions are you talking about, Thomas. Jasmine and I just stopped by so I could pick up the re-writes. We both need a shower after that practice game."

"Well, tonight’s the auditions for the show. We’re casting the kid. Why don’t you let Jennifer was it?"

"Jasmine!" the two women said at the same time.

"OK. Jasmine. Why don’t you let Jasmine try out for the slot. You’ve got to admit there is a resemblance."

"Well, I don’t know. I’m not sure I want Jasmine to be exposed to all that showbiz hoopla…or to Miss High and Mighty!" Robbie grimaced. "Besides, she’s got school and sports to fill up her time. Still…I suppose its up to Jas. I don’t even know if she would be interested. What do you think, kid? Wanna try your luck at show business?"

Jasmine had to think about that. Acting was not something she had ever considered as a career. However, she did like the idea of meeting her idol. After all, people often thought they looked alike. Heck, she even wore her hair the same length as Jasper Villante even though shorter hair would be easier to manage on the ball field. What if she made a fool out of herself in front of the actress though. Finally, Jasmine squared her shoulders and stood up straighter. "Sure. Why not? I’ve always got sports if this doesn’t work out. But what kind of kid am I supposed to be? Good. Bad. Stuck-up. Just give me a clue."

Thomas laughed and said "You’ll do fine, kid. Just be yourself. Here, get your mom to fill this out and sign it then you can get a number and wait your turn. Any problem with that Robbie?"

"Nope." Robbie replied as she read over the form then signed on the Parent/Guardian line and dated it. Turning to Jasmine, she said "Break a leg, Kid!"

"What? How could you say that? If I break a leg I’ll be out all season!"

"Relax, Jasmine. Its just a saying…a wish for good luck that’s used on stage." Thomas informed her.

"Oh. Well, OK. I guess I’m just a little nervous about all this. Sorry. Which way do I go?"

Thomas pointed the child in the right direction then turned to Robbie. "You wrote this part for her, didn’t you?" The voice was not accusing…but gentle and fatherly.

"For her, no. About her, yes. I’ve tried not to use any identifying characteristics, just viewpoints. Its hard to live with a 9 year old and not have a different view of life." Robbie sighed. "I had no intention of having her anywhere near the production or Ms. Villante. In fact, I didn’t even know she liked Villante’s work!"

"She’s a bright, well-rounded child, Robbie. She has the looks, the athletic skills, and the intelligence to accomplish anything she wants to. More importantly, she has respect for herself and others. You’ve done a wonderful job with her. You should be proud."

Thomas’s compliments stunned her. She wasn’t expecting such kindness from someone who worked with the likes of Jasper Villante. "Thanks, Thomas, but I can’t take the credit for that." In an attempt to move the conversation away from her situation with Jasmine, Robbie hurriedly asked, "How does a kind, thoughtful person like yourself survive working for someone like Villante?"

"Things are not always as they seem, Ms. Mackenzie. I guess I was able to look beyond that arrogant, protective shell to see the talented young woman underneath. It brought out my fatherly tendencies, I’m afraid. It’s not any of my business, but please…look beneath the surface. The truth, Robbie, is in the eyes." With that, Thomas tipped his imaginary hat and walked away.

Robbie stood in the shadows in the back of the audition room. There was a stage area with bright lights and props for a family living room near the front. In the ‘audience area’ were chairs clumped together occupied by overactive children and their anxious parents. The children ranged in age from 6 or 7 up to what Robbie estimated to be 16. The sizes varied almost as much as the hair color and demeanors. It was amazing how much you could learn about a person if you observed them in a stressful situation. Most of the children Robbie dismissed right out as being inappropriate for the show. There were a few that had potential, though, as she observed their reading of the segment opposite of Ms. Villante.

Finally, it was Jasmine’s turn. Robbie was hoping that there were no major delays so that she and Jasmine could get home. She really needed that shower plus her grumbling tummy told her it was past time to eat.

"OK Ms. Anthony. Here is the section we want you to read. Take a minute to look over the script and the stage directions. When you are ready, approach the stage in character."

Jasmine quickly read the scene to herself. She put the paper down then shook her hands and shoulders to loosen the tension in them. After closing her eyes and taking a calming breath, she approached the stage. As she did, an eerie quiet filled the studio. Not seeing anyone on the set, Jasmine called out "Hi Mom, I’m home. What’s for supper? You wouldn’t believe what happened at school today!"

Approaching the doorway from behind stage, Jasper answered "Knowing you, it could be anything, dear. Do you have any homework?"

"Just some computer stuff for technology class. How was your day? Anything funny happen on the set today?" Jasmine asked as she dumped her imaginary book bag on the couch and plopped down, resting her feet on the coffee table.

"Nope. No hysterical happenings today and get your feet off the coffee table young lady!"

"How…how did you know? You’re just like my Mom" Jasmine huffed forgetting to stay in character for a moment.

Jasper chose that moment to stick her head through the doorway and got her first look at Jasmine. What she saw caused her to freeze for a moment, for there, looking back at her, was a mirror image of herself as she looked 30 years ago. Except for the eyes. Instead of winter ice, Jasmine’s eyes were a mix of blue and green, much like the color of the Caribbean sea. As Jasper shook herself back to the current moment, someone off stage called out "Thank you Ms Anthony. That will be enough."

Bashfully Jasmine approached the still silent actress. Sticking out her hand, the girl said quietly "It’s such an honor to meet you, Miss Villante. Good luck with your new show." As a stunned Jasper shook her hand, Jasmine laughed and said "Sorry I didn’t get to shower after practice. Have a good evening." As she walked away, Jasmine heard a softly spoken "Thanks. You too."

The stage voice was heard once again thanking everyone for coming for try outs. Calls would be made the following week after all of the audition tapes had been studied.

A few days later Robbie was typing away on the computer making more changes to the script. She was nearly through with the second, and hopefully final draft. Her door suddenly flew open and an obviously furious Jasper Villante stormed in. "What kind of fool do you think I am? Think you can just trick me into using your daughter in the show by using a different last name? You think I’m stupid or something? Or were you too stubborn to marry him or is he some famous jerk that won’t pay you unless the kid has his name! Well? I’m waiting" the angry woman demanded.

Robbie stood facing her tormentor. How dare this woman say such things. She didn’t know anything about Robbie or Jasmine. Or about love and caring for another human being. That much was obvious, no matter what Thomas had said. Knowing that nothing she said would be right, Robbie instead slowly gathered her things, saved her file, shut down the computer, and hissed "Have a great life, Ms. Villante" through her clenched teeth. She then walked out of the office and away from the still seething woman.

The sun was hiding behind increasingly dark clouds as Robbie stood looking out over the cliffs. She knew it would storm soon, but nothing would match the storm brewing in her soul. How dare Jasper Villante accuse her of deliberately being sneaky or doing something unethical by letting Jasmine audition. It wasn’t even their idea. Thomas was the one that suggested it. Robbie paced faster and faster as the anger rolled through her in waves. How could such a cold, hateful woman ever appear so human on screen. Guess that’s why they call it acting, huh Mackenzie? She continued to pace as the wind kicked up and the waves started crashing against the rocks.

Its bad enough that she attacked me, but Jasmine. How could she have…if she says anything to hurt her, I’ll….I’ll…. With thoughts of Jasmine came all the pain. Robbie could take no more and collapsed in tears just as the first band of the storm reached shore. She heard, saw, and felt nothing except the memories storming inside her head.

Cassie and Roberta had gown up together. Like opposite magnets, the two had stuck together through thick and thin. In elementary school, Robbie tutored Cassie and helped her keep her grades up while Cassie helped Robbie get to know the other kids. In high school, Robbie taught Cassie about dangling participles and understanding poetry while Cassie taught Robbie the social skills to overcome her shyness.

They spent many nights talking about the meaning of life, who was ‘hot’ at school, who was cheating on each other, their favorite music, and the numerous other topics teens find so interesting. When the time came to share about their first crushes, Cassie had accepted Robbie’s interest in the head cheerleader without judgment. In fact, Cassie jokingly suggested a double date: Robbie with the cheerleader and Cassie with the quarterback of the football team.

When Mr. And Mrs. Mackenzie were killed by a drunk driver during Robbie’s senior year of high school, her older brother Michael moved back home so that she could graduate with her friends. It was Cassie who helped Robbie survive that horrible time in her life.

After graduation, Robbie went to college and Cassie stayed home. Cassie and the quarterback, Todd Anthony, were married a year later. Robbie even wore a dress in the wedding. What more proof could anyone ask of their friendship! The wedding was beautiful and as Todd in his dress blues and Cassie in her bridal gown danced together, it was obvious that they were very much in love. After his tour of duty, Todd joined the Reserves and worked for his father’s construction firm.

On the day Robbie graduated with her Master’s in Journalism, her brother Michael was joined by Todd, Cassie, and a beautiful baby girl. Jasmine had darker skin, probably from Todd’s Mediterranean heritage. It was love at first sight. Jasmine responded to Robbie’s childish antics and Robbie loved the gurgles and coos directed her way by Jasmine. When Jasmine was christened, Robbie and Michael were named godparents, a role both took seriously.

Jasmine and Robbie continued to bond as the infant grew into a precocious child. Cassie joked that she had TWO children to raise because Robbie and Jasmine were always getting into something.

Two years ago, after all of the terrorist activities, Todd’s unit was called up for war games and anti-terrorist training. Robbie and Michael kept Jasmine for a few days so that Cassie and Todd could have some time alone, joking that they were going to work on getting Jasmine a little brother. After Todd left, everyone settled back into a routine with Robbie spending as much time as possible with Jasmine and Cassie. Then came the call that all military families dread. Todd had been killed in a ‘friendly fire’ incident. Robbie now stood by Cassie as Cassie had done for Robbie back during senior year. Cassie never got to tell Todd about the new life growing within her.

About three months into the pregnancy, Cassie started having sharp pains and other complications. At first, everyone thought it was the stress of losing Todd. During the fourth month though, Cassie lost the child, a son. Complications led to emergency surgery which revealed ovarian cancer. For nearly a year, Cassie fought bravely, with the help of her parents, Robbie, Michael, and Jasmine. When it was time to say goodbye, Cassie asked Robbie to raise Jasmine. Despite Robbie’s protests of inadequacy, Jasmine and Cassie both made Robbie promise. Michael agreed to help Robbie.

So, Jasmine moved in with Robbie and the three of them became a family. So how dare that woman say that Jasmine wasn’t loved or that Robbie wouldn’t give or do anything in the world to make Jasmine happy! What did she know about love, anyway. No spouse. No children. No commitment. Nothing. Just one first-class, cold-hearted bitch.

And why didn’t those angry thoughts bring any comfort or pleasure to the woman crying in the rain on the storm-battered cliffs that afternoon?

Mentally and physically exhausted, Robbie pulled herself up from the rain-soaked ground, finally noticing the chill. She headed home feeling sad and empty.

That afternoon, Jasmine came home from school. The house was quiet. She tip-toed through the house finding Robbie in bed buried under quilts and comforters. With concern, she approached the bed and noticed that Robbie’s cheeks were red and when Robbie looked at her, the green eyes had a glazed appearance. Jasmine remembered when her own mother’s eyes had looked like that. Near the end, when she was too sick to talk to Jasmine. With fear in her heart, the child turned and left the bedroom as quickly as possible.

Later the phone rang. Jasmine answered as she had been taught "Hello. Mackenzie residence."

A deep rich voice said "Hi Jasmine. May I speak to your mother?"

"My mother? Who is this?"

With a sigh of exasperation, Jasper Villante tried to be patient with the child. "This is Jasper Villante. I need to speak to your mother, please."

"My mother is dead, Ms. Villante. I think you mean Robbie." Jasmine explained as though she had said the same thing a hundred times before, which she probably had.

"Robbie isn’t your mother?" the confused actress stammered. "But the form…for the audition…I …I thought…." Uh oh. "Umm, Jasmine? I think I’m in trouble here. Could I speak to Robbie? And maybe you better not tell her its me before you hand her the phone."

"I don’t think she can come to the phone right now, Miss Villante." Jasmine said softly. "I think….I…she’s…" Odd, the child sounded as though she were trying not to cry.

"What’s wrong, Jasmine. Is Robbie OK?"

"I don’t know. She’s in bed all covered up like she’s sick. And her face is red. And when she looked at me her eyes were like glass. It’s like she didn’t know me. Like my Mama was just before…." Jasper could hear the soft sobs now even as the child tried to hide them.

"Jasmine." There was no answer. A little louder this time…"Jasmine". Still no response. "Is anyone there besides you and Robbie?"

The only response was a weak "No ma’am. Uncle Mike is away on business right now."

‘This is not the way this was supposed to go’ Jasper thought as she paced the floor. Her thoughts were interrupted with a quiet plea. "Please, you’ve got to help her. I can’t lose her, too. Please!"

"Isn’t there anyone else you could call, Jasmine? Her parents or someone?" Surely there was family nearby. Didn’t everyone have someone to help them? ‘You know the answer to that Villante. Look at your own pathetic life’ she sneered to herself.

"No ma’am. Mike and I, we’re her only family." Jasmine was afraid. She’d never felt truly alone before. Even when her own family died, she had Robbie and Michael. "Please help me." She sobbed once more.

Just then there was a loud noise from the bedroom. "Robbie!" Jasmine yelled, dropping the phone. "Robbie….what are you doing on the floor? Get up. Robbie, what’s wrong? Help me. Somebody please help me." the child cried, holding onto Robbie as best she could.

Jasper hung up the phone. After looking up Robbie’s address, she called 911 then headed to Robbie’s house. She could hear the sirens in the distance as she drove up. Jumping out of her SUV, Jasper ran onto the porch, grateful that the front door was unlocked. As soon as she was inside she started calling Jasmine’s name.

"Jasmine? Honey? Where are you? It’s Jasper. Jasper Villante. Where’s Robbie?" Getting no response, she started walking through the rooms, pausing when she heard soft crying. Following the heart-breaking sounds, Jasper found Robbie collapsed on the floor with Jasmine desperately holding onto her and trying to get her up.

"Jasmine" she said gently, trying not to startle the child. " It’s going to be OK. Help is on the way. Here, honey. Let me see Robbie. Please. Let me help her."

Slowly the dazed girl looked up at the face that looked so much like her own. Jasper barely had time to brace herself as the frightened child threw herself at the woman, clinging desperately. Without moving Jasmine, she reached over to uncover Robbie, afraid of what she might find. The red skin nearly burned her as she carefully pushed the blonde hair away from the face. She also noticed that Robbie’s breathing was shallow and raspy. What had happened to Robbie after their fight?

Hearing the paramedics entering through the open front door, Jasper called out to let them know where to come. She stood up still supporting Jasmine who refused to let go. They watched as Robbie was placed on the stretcher and prepared for transport. On the way out, the medic said "We’re taking her to Mercy ma’am. That’s the closest one."

"We’ll meet you there, sir. Thank you. Jasmine, listen to me. I need your help. Do you know where your Mom…I mean Robbie…keeps her wallet? They’ll need her insurance card."

With a task to focus on, Jasmine let go of Jasper and looked for the things they needed. The two then headed out to Jasper’s car. They arrived shortly after the ambulance. Finally, after what seemed like hours, the doctor came out to talk with Jasmine and Jasper.

"She’s going to be fine. She has a high fever and the early stages of pneumonia. We need to keep her here at least overnight to give her oxygen and strong antibiotics. By tomorrow, we should know if the medication is working. As soon as we get her settled in a room, you may see her. She’ll probably be out of it the rest of the night, though."

"She’s not going to die is she?" a small voice asked, still unsure even after hearing the doctor’s report.

"No miss, she should be fine soon. Wait. Aren’t you Todd and Cassie’s girl? Jasmine isn’t it? I’m Dr. Stedman. I helped take care of your mother. Why don’t you and your friend"


"Pardon me?" the doctor asked.

"Villante. My friend’s name is Miss Villante." Jasmine said.

"Well, why don’t you and Miss Villante come with me. I bet you didn’t get any dinner, did you? Let’s raid the cafeteria and see what we can find. By then, Robbie should be in her room."

It was after midnight now. Jasmine was curled up, having finally fallen asleep on the small couch in the private room. Robbie’s fever was already coming down, and her breathing, though still labored, was not as shallow. Stretching, Jasper walked to the window thinking that she should be somewhere or letting someone know where she was. With startling clarity, she realized she had no one to call, no where to be, and most importantly, no where else she’d rather be. She also realized that sadly, she probably would not be welcome here either once Robbie was awake. How had this happened? How had she become the person she was today…strong…famous…rich…stoic…self-sufficient…and utterly alone. When did it all change? Well, she knew that, at least. It all started after…no, she wasn’t going to even think about that. It was so long ago. But the pain was still so fresh. Pain so intense that she had vowed never to let anyone get close to her again.

"What…umm…where…cough…where am I?" Robbie asked. Her voice was so raspy that Jasper could barely understand her.

"Shh. You’re OK. You’re in the hospital. Just rest now. Everything will be OK." Robbie didn’t question the comforting voice; she just allowed the reassurance to encircle her as she drifted back to sleep. Sometime during the night she reached out and clasped the hand that rested on the edge of her bed. Neither woman realized what they had done until Jasmine gently shook them awake the next morning.

Jasper immediately released the hand, stood and backed away so that Jasmine could be next to Robbie. Green eyes opened to see two pairs of blue eyes directed at her…one pair the blue of winter, the other the aqua of warm, tropical waters. Both reflected concern and caring. Robbie pulled Jasmine to her in a tight hug. Eyes full of questions looked up at Jasper.

"I think I’m going to go find some coffee. I’ll be back." And with those quick words, Jasper was gone. Jasmine climbed up on the bed and was excitedly telling Robbie about all that had happened yesterday. And that’s exactly the way Dr. Stedman found them a few minutes later.

When Jasper returned, Robbie was propped up in bed eating a small breakfast. The oxygen tube and IV were gone. Jasmine was happily watching cartoons.

"I’m sor…" "Thank y.." Both women started at the same time.

Blushing, Robbie said "You first."

Jasper gathered her courage. Looking directly at Robbie, she said "I’m sorry." Dropping her head, she continued: "I had no right to say those things to you. I was just beginning to trust you, then I thought you were trying to sneak something by me. It was stupid. I was stupid. Its just that I was betrayed by someone I thought was a friend, a good friend. It was a long time ago, but I still can’t …it’s still hard to not feel like someone is using me."

Things are not always as they seem, Ms. Mackenzie. I guess I was able to look beyond that arrogant, protective shell…but please…look beneath the surface. The truth, Robbie, is in her eyes.’ A hand reached out and gently lifted Jasper’s chin. Thomas was right. In those eyes were fear, pain, and concern. Behind the callus façade was a lonely, caring woman.

Robbie glanced over at Jasmine then said to Jasper "Thank you, for helping both of us. Jasmine told me what happened yesterday. I’m sorry we messed up your plans for the day, but you’ve got to admit you kind of messed up my day, too."

"Can you tell me what happened yesterday afternoon? You weren’t sick when you…when I…well, you know."

A long sigh escaped as Robbie tried to decide what, if anything to tell Jasper. Finally, she decided on the truth. "You hit some really raw spots. I know now that you thought I had deliberately mislead you. But never once did I lie to you. We did not plan for her to audition. We had just stopped by to get some papers so I could work at home since you were in such a hurry to get the re-write finished. Thomas saw us and asked if Jasmine could try out. I finally gave in and let her. The form I signed said Parent or Guardian. I am Jasmine’s guardian so I never gave it a second thought. She’s never acted or indicated an interest in acting. I probably would not have given in except that Jasmine said you were her favorite star. I don’t believe in subjecting stars to autograph hounds so I knew this would probably be her only chance to ever meet you."

"After you…"

"After I said all those hateful things, you mean."

"Yeah. After that, I wanted to hate you, to hit you, or something. Instead, I just ran away. I couldn’t listen to any more. I know I’m not Jasmine’s mother. It would be easier if I changed her name, but I want her to always know the people who gave her life and raised her to be the person she is right now. Cassie, her mother, was my best friend since we were small children."

"Um, Robbie? You are STILL small." Jasper couldn’t resist taunting her. ‘My God. Was I just flirting with her? I couldn’t be. No way.’

"Hey, I resemble that statement!" that patient replied indignantly. ‘Was she flirting with me? No way! And did I flirt back? Geesh’

"If you two don’t hold it down, they are going to kick us all out. And you people think kids are loud!" grumbled Jasmine.

"Actually, that might be a good idea, Jasmine" smiled Dr. Stedman. "I just got the lab results back and things are definitely looking up, Robbie. How about it, you want to stay with us another day or would you rather go home and play with your own toys?"

"Yes" Robbie grinned. "I’ve got tons of work to catch up on…laundry, cleaning, bathing the cats, and re-wri…well, I guess I don’t have to do that since I quit my job yesterday."

"Robbie" came the growl. "I don’t think Dr. Stedman meant WORK since he mentioned toys. I think he meant things like pillows and remote controls and lots of rest!"

"She’s right, Robbie. You are still weak and very vulnerable. You need to let that brother of yours take care of you for a change and get lots of rest…bed rest! Otherwise, you’ll be right back in here."

"OK" came the pout. "I promise to behave. No more playing in the rain or working when I’m supposed to rest."

"That’s what happened. You were out in the storm yesterday, weren’t you! "

Robbie didn’t answer. She didn’t have to. As Thomas had said, the truth was in the eyes. Jasper felt even worse. Not only had she deeply hurt Robbie, she had endangered her life with her callousness and false accusations. ‘I’m make this all up to you Robbie. I don’t know how, but I’ll find a way.’

"There’s just one small problem, Dr. Stedman. Michael is out of town. I know I’m stubborn and Jasmine is a great kid, but I’m not sure I can take care of both of us right now."

Without taking time to think about it, Jasper offered to stay with the two until Michael returned. "That is, if you’ll let me" the suddenly shy voice said.

Later that day everyone was settled in and life moved on. Jasper would get Jasmine ready for school then she and Robbie would work on the script and staging notes ‘assisted’ by two very happy cats. To say that everything was perfect would be misleading. All survived however and soon Michael was home and Robbie was almost as good as new.

By late May the production began on the pilot. That meant lots of long hours for everyone. The on-set chemistry between Jasper and Jasmine was so natural that they often ad-libbed or embellished their lines. After the long days of shooting, the three of them would often grab something to eat then head to the ball field to watch Jasmine play.

Near the end of the pilot show, there was an intense scene built around the child’s birthday. The character, Jessie, was to hear about a number of grown-up issues during the scene, including the birds and the bees. As Jessie puzzled over this information, she was to begin questioning how she came to be since she had no father.

"But Mom, I thought you said there had to be a man and a woman to have a baby."


"OK. So who is my daddy?"

"Do you really want to talk about this right now?" A vigorous nod is given in response. "Well, I don’t know." No one noticed the strain in Jasper’s voice as she gave her lines.

"What do you mean you don’t know? How could you not know! Unless….unless…you aren’t really my mama, are you?"

"Yes, Jessie, I am your mama. I may not have given birth to you, but I was there the moment you took your first breath. I was the first person to hold you other than the doctor. And I have loved you and cared for you ever since that magical moment when I gave my heart to you."

The tears were real and added to the intensity of the moment. They were supposed to stop filming at that point, but no one was willing to interrupt.

Jasmine reached out and wiped the tears from Jasper’s face. "You mean, I’m adopted? You put up with everything I do because you want to, not because you have to?" The child reached out and hugged her on-screen parent and said "Wow!" .

After another span of silence, someone finally remembered to yell "Cut!".


While the set was being prepared for the birthday party scene, Jasmine, Jasper, and Robbie retreated to Jasper’s office to practice the ‘computer encounter’ scene. On set, the birthday girl was to get a new computer. Mother and child would set up the computer and do a little web surfing together. The script called for the daughter to ‘teach’ the mother how to search. Since Jasper spent very little time on-line, the scene would be pretty authentic.

"Hey Jas, you want to do some practice searches?" Jasmine asked.

"Sure, Jas" Jasper returned the favor with the nickname.

"Great. I bet I can find out when your birthday is! Let’s see. I’ll just type in your name and see what the search finds. Here it is. Hey, cool. You are a Christmas baby! Bet you got lots of gifts since that was your birthday, too!" Jasmine was too busy to see the sad smile that crossed Jasper’s face, but Robbie didn’t miss it. They would talk about that later.

"OK. Lets see what I can find out about me. Hmm. That’s strange. It shows my birthrate, but when I try to see more details, it just says Private. Why would it do that? I thought they only did that when kids were adopted!"

Jasper pulled a chair up beside Jasmine and said "Let me see, sweetie. Where is the info?"

Jasmine pointed out the sketchy details. "See, right here is says that I was born at Mercy Hospital on May 24th, 1993 at 7:39am. But there’s no….Jasper? Jasper! Jas, are you OK? ROBBIE! Something’s wrong with Jasper!"

Robbie rushed over and grabbed Jasper who was very pale and looked as though she could collapse at any moment. "What happened, Jasmine?"

"We were just looking at my info on the computer, Robbie. Honest. She looked at my birthday and the name of the hospital and quit talking!"

Slowly Jasper emerged from her stupor. Her whole body was shaking and she couldn’t figure out why. "Wow. I must be coming down with something. I think I’ll head home." As she tried to stand, she found her legs to be like rubber. "Then again, maybe I’ll just site here for a while." She said as she smiled weakly.

"Nope. I don’t think so. You’re coming home with us. It’s the least we can do after you took such good care of us. Come on. I’ll just tell the crew that we are leaving."

Jasmine helped get Jasper settled in the guest room then pampered and entertained her for the rest of the evening. Robbie had told them that she had some work to do in her home office. Finally, Robbie sent Jasmine off to bed.

Sitting on the bed, holding Jasper’s hand, Robbie spoke gently. "Now, do you want to tell me what really happened?"

"I already told you. We were just playing on the computer and I sort of zoned out. I’m doing OK now."

"You know, Jasper, Jasmine was just a baby when I graduated from college. She was so tiny. I never thought about it then, but how could Cassie have given birth then travel half-way across the country 5 days later? I wasn’t around much during those years, but I would have thought that my best friend might have mentioned being pregnant. Especially since I know how much they wanted a child. Anyway, I decided that maybe it was time for me to go through their personal papers. I kept putting it off because it meant that they really, and truly were gone and would never be coming back. I found this in a yellowed envelope. Do you know what it is?"

Taking the paper gently in her trembling hands, Jasper met her past head-on. All the pain, the doubts, the self-loathing, the awful sense of betrayal by one she trusted. It was all there. And there was no denying the truth this time. Jasmine looked so much like Jasper because Jasmine was the daughter Jasper had given up at birth.

"Are you going to tell her?" Robbie barely whispered.

"I don’t know. I honestly don’t know what to do. I don’t want to destroy her memories of her mom and dad. I don’t want her to hate me like I hate…like I…like I hate myself!"

Hearing the self-loathing in Jasper’s voice, Robbie couldn’t help but reach out for the woman and hold her close as the pain of years was shed tear by tear. Gently she ran her hand through the raven hair then traced comforting patterns on Jasmine’s back. "Do you want to talk about it? I’m here if you do."

As Jasper placed her head on Robbie’s shoulder, both women felt the bond between them…a bond that gave each strength and courage…the courage to love. Robbie almost bolted off the bed when she realized that she did, indeed, love Jasper Villante. Did Jasper feel the same way? She could only hope and pray.

"I really don’t know for sure who the father is" came the soft answer. "I went out with friends, but I wasn’t drinking. I remember feeling tired, but nothing else."

"The next thing I remember was waking up in my own bed. Alone. But I could tell that someone had been there. I couldn’t tell who. I had some bruises, but none of my friends seemed to know how I got them. They joked that I must have fallen out of bed or something. They said I left early that night and that I was alone. I quit going out or doing anything other than working. Then a few weeks later I found out I was pregnant. I was scared and all alone. I knew I couldn’t give a child the love and life they deserved. I went through a private agency. I didn’t want to know anything about the family. Nor did I want to see the child. I knew it would be too hard and I had to do what was right for the child."

"Are you sure that’s when it happened? I mean, did you date a lot?"

"Of course I’m sure! I never dated. I only went out with groups of friends. I’ve never…umm…well, I’d never been with anyone. And I haven’t since. I just don’t know what happened then and it scares me. I was afraid to let anyone get close to me again because it had to be one of my friends. One of them had to have drugged my Dr. Pepper or something. How could someone I trusted have done that to me? And how could someone so beautiful have come from that terrible beginning?"

Jasper was again sobbing in Robbie’s arms. The pain of years of loneliness and fear eased under the gentle and loving motions as Robbie comforted the older woman. Eventually both women fell asleep still desperately holding to one another.

And that is how Jasmine found them the next morning. Smiling, she turned to walk away. Her two favorite people in the whole world and they finally figured out that they belonged together. Sure. She was only 10, but even she could see how each completed the other. Now if only the three of them could be a real family somehow.

Trying to sneak out of the room, Jasmine heard the crinkle of paper under her foot. She reached down and picked up the yellowed envelope. The familiar slant of the writing brought a moment of sadness and longing, but her curiosity was soon stronger than the pain.

Court papers,’ she read to herself. ‘Why would Mama and Daddy need court papers?’ After debating with herself about whether she should look inside or not, she decided that her parents’ papers were hers, now. She pulled out the papers as quietly as possible. The first was her birth certificate. ‘Wonder why they kept that in with court papers? Nothing special there.’

The next document was several pages long, but it was the title that got her attention: Decree of Adoption. The stunned child didn’t notice the sleepy green or blue eyes watching her as she read the words she could never have imagined…the birth mother, Jasper Lynn Villante, relinquishes all parental rights and privileges to Todd Anthony and his wife Cassie Anthony. From this day forth Todd and Cassie Anthony will be known as the parents of Jasmine Anthony. All records will remain private until such time as …

She couldn’t go on. Her whole life had been…had been what? A lie? Beautiful? Too good to be true? What? No. Her parents loved her. They took care of her when she was sick. It was Mama that hugged her when she skinned her knee. Where was Jasper when all of that was happening? Why didn’t Jasper want her? Did Jasper hate her? Did she want to take her back now that Mama and Daddy were gone? Would Jasper take her away from Robbie? But Robbie and Jasper like each other. They wouldn’t do that, would they?

Jasmine felt someone watching her and looked up into two pairs of scared, tear-filled eyes. Her heart felt as though it were breaking as she looked directly at Jasper and asked "Why didn’t you want me?"

"No. Oh baby. No. That’s not what is was." Jasper cried as she got tangled in the covers trying to reach the girl. Her girl. Her child. With all the guilt of abandonment holding her back, she knew that she had to reach Jasmine somehow. She had to let the girl know the truth. Know that she loved her too much to trap her in the despair that was Jasper’s life.

Finally, reaching hesitantly for the child, Jasper said "No, Baby. I loved you too much to keep you. My life was a mess. I wanted you to have a chance…a chance I couldn’t give you."

Jasmine slid away from the reaching arms, hugging herself and shivering.

"Please, Jasmine, don’t push me away. You don’t have to love me. And I know I wouldn’t be a good mother, but please let me be your friend!" Finally, Jasper dropped her arms, resigned to the lonely life she had made for herself. "I’ll leave now. I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt anyone." Jasmine watched as Jasper untangled the covers and gathered her few belongings. The woman stumbled blindly toward the door. With a hand on the knob, she turned to Robbie. "I warned you I wasn’t good at this ‘family’ stuff! I’m so sorry, Jasmine. Goodbye."

"Mom?" came the muffled cry. "Mom!" the girl yelled as she launched herself at the unsuspecting actress. Both found themselves tangled on the floor once more as Jasper’s legs gave out. "Please don’t leave me again" she begged. Tears gradually turned to laughter as hugs became tickles. Finally, whispering could be heard and suddenly two sets of blue eyes turned to look at Robbie.

"Well, are you gonna sit there all day or join us?" Jasper asked.

"Yeah, Robbie. Come on. You’re my family, too!" laughed Jasmine.

Robbie knew that it wouldn’t be easy, but she was determined to make this work. ‘Well, Jasper, you wanted a demanding role!’ Robbie thought as she hugged the two most important people in her life. Aloud, she said: "Welcome to the family, Ms. Villante!"

The end…or the beginning?

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