The Message Chapter 6
Author's Note: Thank you to all of you who have been taking time to give me feedback about the story so far. I have enjoyed meeting you through The Message! As I was writing this chapter, I realized just how fortunate I am to have a pal who is willing to give me an opinion during life's little ups and downs. Thanks, G! I'm sure some of the conversation between Jennifer and Janie will have a familiar ring! This story will eventually contain a "loving" relationship between two women. The characters, town and storyline are all products of my imagination. Although Tennessee is "really" a state!
January 2007 © J.A. Breeze
By J.A. Breeze
"Are you feeling better and ready to talk?" Janie asked when Jennifer returned.
"Yes, I think I'm as ready as I'll ever be."
"Let's sit over here at the table." The porch was furnished with a couple loungers, a patio table with four chairs and two wicker loveseats positioned for watching television. The entertainment center also contained a stereo system Janie used to play soft music when she and Alex relaxed in the evenings or on weekends.
"I absolutely love this place. I feel so comfortable and at home here."
"Thank you. You must since you fell asleep so easily," Janie teased.
"I'm not sure I fell asleep as much as I got lost in memories. I should warn you this isn't going to be easy … or pretty."
"Jenny, we've been through a lot together over the years. You are my oldest and dearest friend. Nothing you can tell me is going to change that. You know that, don't you?"
When Jennifer met her friend's eyes, it was like a damn burst and she couldn't stop the tears that began to flow.
"Hey. Come on now. This is not like you," Janie said as she moved to take her friend into her arms.
With her head on Janie's shoulder and locked in her friend's loving embrace, Jennifer began her story.
"I've really screwed up and made a huge mess of things."
"Then tell me what's happened and you know I'll help if I can."
"I know. I can always count on you. That's why I'm here," Jennifer said as she pulled out of her friend's arms and used a napkin to dry her tears.
"Here. Have a sip of this," Janie said as she offered Jennifer a glass of iced tea.
"Okay," Jennifer said after taking a sip. "I think I'm ready to start. But you should probably get comfortable because this may take awhile."
Once Janie had settled back in her chair, Jennifer jumped straight to her failed marriage.
"Michael has moved out and we're getting a divorce," she said bluntly.
"When did this happen? I thought you two had a decent marriage."
"It's been brewing for years but I made some choices recently that brought things to a head?"
"What happened? If you want to tell me."
"Janie, I … a … I had an affair," Jennifer stammered.
"An affair? You? That's difficult for me to believe. Now if it was Michael, it wouldn't surprise me."
"He's had his share through the years. I've always known that and overlooked it because I just didn't care enough."
"Who is he? The man you've been seeing."
"That's just it Janie. It's not a he; it's a she."
"A woman? But I thought that when you married Michael you had realized being with a woman wasn't right for you. That the thing with Nikki back in college was just a phase, a fluke."
"I convinced myself of that. I was faithful to Michael for almost twenty years and never considered being with anyone else. But then things changed."
"God, Janie. It's hard to say what changed. I think that as I've gotten older the hole in my life has gotten bigger. Lately I can't ignore it any longer. I mostly feel empty inside."
"So, this hole … what do you think you need to fill it?"
"I've got my kids and they bring more pleasure to my life than you can imagine. I would not trade them for anything. When I look at them, I know I did something good. And then there's my job. I've achieved my career goals and then some. Most people look at where I live, my clothes, the car I drive and think I have everything. I've tried to be satisfied with that. I really have."
"But?" her friend questioned.
"But when it comes right down to it, except for my kids, none of that really matters."
"What does matter to you, Jenny?" Janie gently questioned as she leaned forward to look her friend straight in the eye. "What would it take to fill the hole in your life?"
"The answer's actually kind of easy. I want someone to love who loves me in return. Someone to simply share my life and who wants me to share hers. So as you can see, I have an idea of what I need but—."
"You are a romantic underneath all that hard as nails publisher skin, aren't you?" Janie interrupted and gently teased. "So you met a woman? Tell me more."
"After I met you at the Third Street Bar those first few times, I went there alone. I liked being there. And I think I was looking for something, someone."
"Did you meet her there?"
"And you got involved and started an affair?"
"I've got to say, Jennifer, that doesn't sound like you—meeting a woman in a bar and having an affair with her."
"That's not the half of it. Believe me this gets rather complicated. And I'm afraid you're going to think I'm crazy when you hear the rest of it."
"Take your time and tell me everything you want me to know. I'm not going to push you but I can't promise I won't ask questions or have an opinion?"
"I know that and I wouldn't expect anything less from you. And to be honest, I really need to talk this through."
"Then tell me the rest of it."
"Her name is Tessa and I met her the second time I went to the bar alone. We danced that night and the physical reaction I had to her scared the hell out of me. I ran away from her that night when all I wanted to do was kiss her."
"So when did you see her again?"
"I told myself not to go back—to stay away from the bar and from her. But a week later I went there again because I wanted to see her. I had thought of nothing but her for a week and I was dying for her."
"What happened that time?"
"I couldn't believe how happy I was when she showed up. Seeing her and talking to her made me feel better than I had felt in years. And she asked me to dance with her again. I had just intended to see her and maybe get to know her. I really didn't mean for things to move as fast as they did. But once I was in her arms on a darkened dance floor, it was like someone else had control of my body. I couldn't keep my hands off her. And the next thing I knew we were leaving the bar together."
"So when do I get to meet her?"
"What? Why's that?"
"Because I ended things with her—at least I've tried to end things."
"I don't understand if you were that into her, why aren't you seeing her now?"
"Because the more time I spent with her the more I came to realize it was just about sex. I didn't have any real feelings for her. We weren't heading into a relationship."
"You said you've tried to end things. What did you mean by that?"
"She had become very demanding and controlling. She couldn't stand not knowing where I was and what I was doing every hour of the day. She became obsessive. She'd call my office and leave a dozen messages a day. She'd call my house and hang up if someone else answered. I couldn't live like that so I told her I didn't want to see her."
"I assume she hasn't taken that well."
"That's putting it mildly. She made repeated threats to tell Michael and ruin my marriage. But I don't believe she realized that Michael and I had already done that on our own."
"So you told Michael before she could?"
"Yes, but I didn't tell him how horrible things had gotten between Tessa and I—just that I had an affair with a woman but that it was over."
"How did he take it?"
"Not so well but more calmly than I had thought he would."
"I get the impression there's more to this."
"She has been calling me—telling me I'm hers. She says she can't wait to be with me again and that she knows I want her more than she does me. And now she's threatening to go public and tell everyone that I'm a lesbian if I don't see her. She says she'll ruin my reputation and cost me my job."
"My God! What kind of woman tries to blackmail someone into seeing her? She must be nuts! And, unfortunately, you and I both know that Wilmington on the surface is a very conservative place. She could hurt you professionally."
"I know that, but I've learned something very important from all this."
"That I may not want to be with Tessa, but I do want to be with a woman. I've lied to myself all these years. Back then it was because I was so used to doing what my parents expected—at least that was a big part of it. But I'm forty-two years old and I don't have to please my parents any longer. I've decided to be true to myself. It's time that I lived my life!"
"If this is how you feel, then you know I'll support you. As for this Tessa woman, tell her to fuck off and go to hell!" Janie said as she reached across the table to cover Jennifer's hand with her own.
"You always seem to know just what to say," Jennifer said as she released a laugh. "But I'm not sure that's enough and I have told her that several times."
"So what do you think she wants to gain from this?"
"I don't know for sure. I guess it's possible that she's truly obsessed with me and I'm what she wants. But I overheard a conversation about several key city and state officials being blackmailed as part of some conspiracy and I've been wondering if she somehow ties in with that."
"Have you been to the police?"
"No, but I've threatened to get a restraining order."
"Are you afraid of her?"
"I have considered her more of a nuisance than anything else up to this point, but she's beginning to say crazier things and she's following me around. She showed up at Courtney's recital the last night and text messaged me right after her performance."
"God, Jennifer. She sounds … well … creepy to me. I really think you should go to the police."
"I thought about that. But if I file a report it could get out and I'm not sure I'm ready for that quite yet. But I've got to do something. She's using Courtney against me now."
"How is she doing that? What did she do?"
"The text message she sent me at the recital was to tell me how much Courtney looks like me and how bad it would be if something should happen to her. Here it's still on my phone. Read it for yourself," Jennifer said as she took the cell phone from her jacket pocket and handed to Janie.
As Janie read the message her eyes widened in shock. "Oh my God! This woman is crazy! Jennifer you have to get help. If something were to happen to Courtney you'd never forgive yourself."
"I know. That's why I'm here. I want to believe it's all just talk. But what if it isn't. What if she means it? What if she really tries to do something to my daughter? The idea of her being anywhere near Courtney makes me sick! Janie, what have I done to my family?"
"Jenny, honey, there's nothing wrong with looking for happiness, for someone to love. There's no way you could've known she would end up being a whacko!"
"But I should have been more careful. I shouldn't have told her who I was, but I thought I could trust her."
"What do you want to do now? Do you know?"
"When I heard about the conspiracy involving city officials, I also heard that the governor has established a special taskforce through the Wilmington DA's office. I called and left a message for the assistant DA leading the taskforce. But I didn't give my name. When she traced my number and contacted me, I lied and said I didn't know what she was talking about."
"Jenny, I really believe you should talk to her again and tell her what's been going on. Whether it's related to the conspiracy she's working on or not, she'll be able to advise you about what to do to protect your family."
"You're probably right. I just don't know. She did come to see me the other day. She told me she wanted to help and gave me her private contact numbers. She seemed like a very caring and compassionate woman."
"Then why not start with her? In fact call her now," Janie encouraged her friend.
"It's Friday afternoon and I'm sure she's trying to get away from work for the weekend. Tessa gave me until Monday evening to meet her. I can talk to the assistant DA Monday once she's in her office."
"Jennifer, I really believe you should call her now. You may not have time to develop a plan if you wait until Monday."
"Let me think about it. I guess I could give her a call in the morning."
"Yes. Do that. Call her in the morning and try to set up an appointment to talk to her over the weekend."
"I hate to bother her on a weekend."
"Did she ask you to call her anytime?"
Did she give you multiple ways to reach her?"
"Then I believe she was serious and wants to help you. Give her a chance."
"Okay … okay. I get it. I'll call her tomorrow."
"Good. I'm glad."
"But in the meantime, I should get home. The kids will be there soon and I have to break the news to them that Michael has moved out."
"Good Lord. You do have your share of stress today. Don't you?"
"It does seem to be a bit piled on right now but the worst part is knowing that I brought most of it on myself by making some really bad decisions."
"Jenny, beating yourself up over this isn't going to do any good. Now it's time to think this through and get help! Protect your family. Is there anything I can do?"
"You've already done it by being my friend and listening."
"You'll let me know if you need me?"
"Yes, I'll call. I promise."
"I know talking to Courtney and Brandon is going to be tough for you. Do you want me to go with you?
"Thanks, Janie, really, but I believe things with them will be okay. They already sense something is going on. And fortunately in spite of being a workaholic, I have a great relationship with both my kids."
"There's no doubt that you're close to your kids. Every mother should be so lucky. So they already suspect something is wrong. Kids are smart that way, aren't they?"
"Yes, they are and Courtney more than most."
"And you'll call the DA first thing tomorrow?"
"Yes, I will and now I have got to hit the road," Jennifer said as she moved toward her friend.
Jennifer pulled Janie into a tight hug and held on for a few minutes without saying anything.
"Thank you for being my friend and for wanting to help without judging. I don't know what I did all those years you were on the road. You can't imagine how much it means to me to have you back in my life."
"Oh, I think I can imagine because I feel the same way. I love you, Jenny, and I'll always be here for you."
"I love you, too. Now, let me go so that I can get home," Jennifer said as she pulled out of her friend's arms.
In spite of her demanding work schedule Jennifer enjoyed cooking and found it relaxing and almost therapeutic to spend time in the kitchen. She also didn't want her children to fall victim to the unhealthy habit of eating out all the time so she had schooled herself to cook at least three evenings a week. Their housekeeper, Christine, took care of the three days she worked which left one day for dining out or bringing home takeout. Michael rarely helped out unless he was working the grill while entertaining friends.
Jennifer had made it home from Janie's before Courtney and Brandon got home. She was in the kitchen preparing dinner when they came through the door.
"Hey, Mom. What's cooking?" Brandon asked.
"Your appetite seems to always be the first thing that greets me," she told her son with a swipe to his shoulder that let him know she was teasing.
"Sorry, Mom. But what's for supper?" he asked with a grin.
"Well, I know what I'm good for," she bantered back.
"Who said anything about your cooking being good?" he tossed out as he took a step toward the stove to peek. Just as he reached out a hand to lift a lid, he felt a dishtowel pop against his butt. "Hey! What'd I do?"
"You, Mister, can just stay away from my no good food and go wash up."
Courtney shook her head in amusement. Her mother and brother had similar personalities and they could go on with total nonsense for hours once they got started.
"If you two are finished with your game of what's for dinner, how about we get ready to eat? I'm hungry."
"Ever the practical one, aren't you sweetie?"
"Not practical, Mom, just hungry."
"Okay, I get the message. You two get ready and we'll eat. Want to set the table for me?"
"Sure, I can do that," Courtney replied.
"Where's Dad. Is he going to be late?" Brandon asked.
"Your father isn't going to be here for dinner. That's actually something we need to talk about, but how about if we get our food together first?"
At their mother's words, the brother and sister gave each other curious but knowing looks. Courtney took silverware and napkins from a drawer started to leave the kitchen to set the table in the family dining room next door.
"I'm going to take my backpack up to my room. You want me to take yours, Court?"
"That would be great. Thanks, Bran."
The brother and sister left the kitchen together. Once they were away from their mother, Brandon stopped his sister with a question.
"What do you think is going on with Mom and Dad? Do you think they're calling it quits?"
"I don't know Bran, but I think that's a possibility. I mean we both saw how Dad looked this morning and Mom looks like she's been crying and trying to hide it from us."
"Yeah, I thought so, too."
"Bran, how will you feel if they are splitting up?"
"I don't know, Court."
"Me either. I think we should probably hurry so we can get dinner over with and find out what's going on."
While Brandon headed upstairs with their bags, Courtney hurried to set the table.
Jennifer overheard her children's conversation although they had attempted to whisper. "Please, let me handle this right," she mumbled as she began to fill plates with food.
"Mom the table's set. Need me to do anything else?"
She couldn't help but notice how hard her daughter was trying to make things easier for her. She squeezed Courtney's shoulder as she passed by her to take milk and tea from the refrigerator. "Thanks, Court, but there's nothing left to do but fill our plates and eat."
Brandon came back in the room just as she poured the drinks. "Milk or tea?"
"I'll take milk, Mom."
"Don't you always?" his sister teased.
"Well, I am a growing boy and I plan to be taller than you in another year," he taunted as he posed beside his sister taking measure of how far he had to go.
"Reaching my height is nothing to brag about, little bro. You might want to shoot for something a little well … taller!"
Courtney didn't just inherit her mother's blonde good looks, she also got her body shape and size. At eleven Brandon was just about an inch shorter than the women in the family. At the rate he had been growing he would pass them with ease in the next few months.
"Don't worry, Court, in a couple more years I plan to pat you on the head as I walk by."
"That will get you in trouble regardless of how tall you get, little brother! I'd suggest you remember that I will always be your big sister!" she said with her hands on her hips and giving him mock glare.
"Oo, I'm so scared!"
"Okay guys. Everything's ready let's eat," Jennifer said putting a stop to their playful exchange.
They each took a plate filled with food and a drink and headed for the dining room. Courtney had set three places at one end of the table that seated six. She knew that her mother preferred they sit close. Jennifer took the end seat with her children on each side.
I love you so much. Please, God, let me do this right.
"Mom, this chicken is great," Brandon said around a mouthful.
"Thank you. But don't eat so fast."
"So where's Dad?" Courtney asked abruptly. She had decided she didn't want to go through a meal pretending nothing was wrong.
"Why don't we wait until we've eaten and then I tell you what's going on."
"Mom, we already know something is wrong. We aren't stupid. Did Dad move out?" Brandon offered in an exasperated tone.
Jennifer reached over and patted his hand as she said "I know you're not stupid, honey. I would never think that. I simply thought we should finish dinner first."
"Mom, we can handle it. Go ahead and tell us." Courtney said.
"Okay then. Yes, Dad has moved out."
"Is this for good? Are you going to get a divorce?" Brandon asked.
"Your Dad and I haven't been happy together in a very long. That doesn't have anything to do with the way we feel about you guys. You know that, right?"
"Of course we know you guys love us. Lots of our friends tell us how lucky we are," Courtney said.
"Are you getting a divorce?" Brandon asked again.
"Yes, honey. We are." Jennifer said as her eyes filled with tears. She felt like she was telling them a member of the family had died.
A silence settled over them. Even though they had seen it coming having their mother confirm their fears caused Courtney and Brandon to struggle to control their own tears. They glanced at each other with uncertainty and then at their mother who had her head down watching as she moved the food around on her plate.
"Mom, would it be okay if I go to my room for awhile? I'm really not hungry right now." Brandon broke the silence.
"Sure, honey. If you get hungry later, let me know and I'll make something for you," Jennifer said as the misery on her son's face caused her heart to break. "I'm sorry. I didn't want the two of you to be hurt by all this."
"I'll be fine, Mom. I just want to be alone for now," Brandon said as he prepared to leave the room. When he reached the door, he paused to ask a question. "Mom, do you know where Dad is?"
"No, honey. I don't. He said he would call to talk to you guys some time tonight."
"Okay," he said with such a broken voice that his mother buried her face in her hands as he left the room.
As she struggled to control her emotions, she heard her daughter push her chair back. To begin with she thought Courtney was simply leaving the room but then she felt her daughter's arms wrap around her from behind. Courtney rested her chin on her mother's shoulder and just held on for a moment before speaking. "We'll be okay, Mom. Don't worry about us so much. And you'll be okay, too."
"How in the world did I manage to be so blessed? You are amazing. Did you know that?" Jennifer asked through her tears as she turned to take her daughter fully into her arms.
As a blonde head rested against a matching blonde head, Jennifer let the love she had for her child wash over her. She could feel the tremors going through her daughter's body as she let her tears go. I cannot possibly let anyone hurt you. Why did I even think about trying to handle this alone? Casey Jarnigan, I hope you're available for a talk this weekend. I'm going to need your help!
With that decision made, Jennifer continued to hold and gently rock her sixteen-year-old daughter who had settled on her lap. Anyone seeing them would probably have found the sight humorous, but for Jennifer it gave her the courage she needed for whatever would come her way in the days ahead.
I will not allow anyone to hurt you!
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