Seasons Victorian Home Page
The brilliant afternoon sun shone in through the windows of Seasons House, highlighting and glinting off the various things and people that passed through its rays. A homecoming was currently in progress, a not altogether infrequent event at Seasons.
"Where’s Art?" asked a tall, solidly built man.
"He had to go to Boston to consult on some case. He promised to be back tonight though, if you can stick around?" The answer, and question, came from another man; a man somewhat distracted by a wiggling red haired toddler.
"Well, I had planned to go back after dinner, but I missed Art the last three times I was here. Jane’ll start thinking I’m jinxed or something."
"I’m way out of practice, Ken. I need to up my exercise regimen if I plan to keep up with any more grandkids," the smaller man said, much to the amusement of his friend.
"Just take good notes for me. I hope to have the title of Grampa soon myself."
"Then you’ll need a better cardio workout, wimp." A tall woman strode through the doorway. The sunlight danced on her hair, contrasting the few strands of white with the mass of black hair.
"Hey G, this is the real me here. No therapeutic enhancements, and I’ve got the bald spot to prove it," Ken said, pointing at the top of his head as he moved to embrace the dark haired beauty and wife of his best friend.
"Darryl, Mom said to let you know she’d be here in a moment and that you should be prepared to be completely ignored while she lavishes attention on Ruthie here. I imagine that goes for you too, Ken."
Darryl looked around at the small group. His wife of many names smiled down at him. His best friend and brother by various rites of adoption took his attention off the wriggling child.
"What is it, Darryl? I know that look from somewhere."
"I was just wondering why you never bothered getting some hair put back up there."
"You liar," Ken replied with a snort. "I’ll tell you why if you’ll tell me what you were actually thinking." Ken paused. "It seems overly vain to me. Or maybe I don’t mind it. I guess I’m not really sure myself, sometimes."
"You had your eyes fixed, though."
"That’s because I like to see. I didn’t have the color changed while they were fixing them. Now, give it up."
"I was just noticing that we’re all in pretty decent shape, without a lot of medical help, and I was pondering it."
"What’s to ponder? We’ve spent about 25 years trying to keep up with her!" Ken said, pointing at Audrey.
Before Audrey could answer, Jane Thompson swept into the room, "Where is she?" she demanded, ending all other discussion. As Jane lifted the 11 month old girl to her, a tiny dampness showed in her eyes. "I never thought...I mean, when you all had kids of your own....oh, never mind," she finally said, hugging Ruth, who instinctively grabbed a fistful of Jane’s mostly gray hair. Smiling, Jane gently disentangled the girl and set her down on the floor.
"She’s beautiful, you two. I just don’t know what else to say."
"How about ‘I look darn fine for a great-grandmother!’" Audrey suggested.
"Uhm, Mom, I don’t know about letting her roam like that," Darryl said, taking a step toward Ruth.
"Nonsense, Darryl. Marie, Art and I spent the whole day baby-proofing when you called and there’s a box of toys in the closet. Ken, would you mind?"
"Not a problem," he said, heading for one of the hall closets.
"What’s bothering you, son?"
"Geeze, what is it with everyone today? Nothing is bothering me. I’m just a little overwhelmed, that’s all."
Jane smiled, certain that if her son needed to talk to her, he would. "I know travel is not nearly as taxing today as it used to be, but Marie is fixing a small repast. She has to do the work because she got to see Ruth first, " Jane smiled wickedly.
Darryl looked around for his granddaughter as the party moved toward the dining room. "Don’t worry, hon, I’ll get her," his wife told him, smiling indulgently as she remembered how much Darryl had fussed over their own children.
Marie moved only slightly slower than Darryl remembered. That was not unusual for these times. Medical science had not yet broken the twenty and one hundred year lifespan the human body seemed evolved, or designed, for, but it had made it possible to pack a lot of healthy, active living into those allotted years.
Smiling broadly, Marie graciously accepted help from Ken and Audrey as she set enough food out for a party three times their size.
"I’m always hungry after a trip," she told them. "And I have a funny feeling today too," she added, looking surprised she had mentioned it.
"You aren’t the only one," Ken said, poking Darryl.
Conversation ranged over many topics. Work, of course, as each of them had excelled in their chosen field. The comings and goings of children and friends and Jane’s former students held their attention for several hours.
A soft chime sounded, breaking the mood. Marie looked at Jane, "Are we expecting anyone else?" Marie got up to look out a window facing the drive up to the manor house.
"Probably someone got lost. You wouldn’t know it was 2026 from some of the roads out here," Ken speculated.
Marie returned. "It is just one woman, in an older car. I’ll see to her."
"She did say she had a funny feeling today," Audrey reminded them. Moments later, Marie returned, looking somewhat pensive. Behind her came an attractive young woman, maybe in her middle twenties. The woman looked vaguely familiar, but Jane could not put her finger on the resemblance.
"Ms. Jane Thompson?" the woman asked before Marie could introduce her.
"It’s Mrs. Thompson-Phillips now, dear. Have we met?"
"I’m sorry," the woman gushed, coloring slightly. "My name is Jamie O’Connor," she said, extending her hand to Jane. "I’m sorry," she repeated, "I guess that doesn’t really mean anything to you either. My father was James Harris."
Jane’s eyes went wide and she sat down with a small thump. Darryl’s mouth opened, then shut with a snap. Ken looked at Audrey, who shrugged and returned her gaze to the newcomer. Only Marie seemed nonplused.
"Please sit down. You obviously have much to tell us," she said gently.
"But," Jane said, as confused as she had been in some years, "how? Why now?"
"I have so much to tell you," Jamie said. "I don’t know where to start."
"Start at the beginning," Ken said evenly.
"That can wait a few more minutes," Marie said. "It has waited now all these years. Introduce yourselves and let the girl have some tea." Jane’s longtime assistant turned to the woman. "Dear, I’m Marie, and I remember your father well."
"Oh my gosh," Jamie said, clapping her hands to her mouth, "I think I’m named after you! I was born Jamie Marie Harris." Marie smiled at the news, but took the added surprise in stride.
"Darryl Thompson-Phillips," Darryl said, extending his hand. "I also knew your father. This is my wife, Audrey and our granddaughter, Ruth." More handshakes were exchanged.
"Ken Roberts. Pleased to meet you, Jamie."
As the group settled back down, Jamie began her narrative. "My father was in the army when PG3 broke out. He had just made captain. He was in an armored division that did not get to the fighting right away because it took so long for their heavy equipment to get there. I don’t know all the stuff that happened before he died. I’m not even sure how long he was there before it happened. From his citation and from some other veterans I’ve talked to, his unit was pushing east toward Mosul to relieve a position that had been surrounded. He was wounded in one engagement, but pushed on. They relieved the surrounded men, but he was killed in the fighting."
"Jamie," Jane said gently, "I learned of your father’s death not too long after it happened. What I don’t understand is how I never found out about you?"
"Oh, I’m sorry," the woman apologized again. "Mom was pregnant with me when Dad shipped out." Jamie saw the expression on Jane’s face. "I don’t think he had a chance to tell you, before... In fact," she said, pulling a stiff, discolored envelope from her oversized shoulder bag, "I think that is what is in here." She handed the sealed envelope to Jane, who turned it over in her hands. The envelope was addressed to Ms. Jane Thompson, Thompson Academy, but the street and town were missing. "Go ahead, Mrs. Thompson-Phillips, open it."
"You may call me Jane, Jamie," Jane said distractedly as she opened the letter.
‘Dear Ms. Thompson,
I have a mixed bag of news for you. Everything is happening so fast, now. I am with the 3rd Armored Cavalry in the Persian Gulf right now. I expect we’ll be jumping off soon, too. But that’s not my biggest news! I’m going to be a father in about seven more months. I’d have told you sooner, but Penny wanted to wait until after her first doctor visit and then things got a little crazy.
We’ve already argued a little about names. You know how Penny is. I’ll write again soon when I have more time. In the meantime, here is a picture of me and two of my buddies. I’m the handsome one in the middle. Capt. Aaron Hollings is on my right and Capt. Jeff Smith is on my left. The sand you see behind us is Iraq, only slightly less desolate than Saudi. Until later!
Jane looked up from the letter, speechless for one of the very few times in her life. She held the photo in her left hand, pleased to see that her hand did not tremble with the emotion she was feeling at the moment. "Here, Jamie, you might want to keep this," Jane said, handing the photo to the woman who silently took it and looked at it.
Jamie said, "That letter was in a box of Dad’s stuff I found in the attic. There were other letters and some journals. Dad tried to keep a journal, but he didn’t always stay on top of it. There were letters from you and from Marie," she said. "You knew my father, even if it was so long ago. What can you tell me about him?" By the time she asked her question, Jamie’s voice broke raggedly and tears slipped from her eyes.
"James came to us because he was in trouble," Jane said after a moment. "He was in trouble with the law and with his family. I don’t know how much of this you know, but our school is, was, I’m at least semi-retired now, a last alternative for certain young men and women before they ended up in jail or worse."
Jamie nodded her head. "That’s what I thought. I always heard what a hell raiser he was when he was a teenager and some of the things he wrote mention it. They also talk about this place and you and how you helped him."
Jane stood up. "Perhaps we can walk around while we talk, visit some of the places James had been. Each of us that knew him can take a turn and tell you what we remember." Jane turned to the others. "Make yourselves comfortable. This way, dear," she said to Jamie as they walked out into an adjoining hallway. Darryl picked up the photo from the table where Jamie had left it.
"Do you remember him?" Audrey asked softly. Darryl looked up, surprised that his eyes remained dry despite all the intense emotions flooding around him.
"Yes. I remember him. He was the student here right before the place got shot to hell by my brother’s old gang. Do you remember, Marie? He was the one that grew about two feet while he was here." He looked back at the photo. "You know, if Mom still has that reprint machine, we could copy this picture. We could at least scan it in for her."
"You three go ahead, then," Marie said. "I will handle petit Ruth," she said as she lifted the obviously sleepy toddler from the high chair.
"Thanks, Marie. You’re a champ."
"This isn’t what I expected at all," Jamie said after Jane showed her the conservatory and the library.
"My students never expected it, either," Jane said with a smile. "They had to learn manners and social grace here. We taught them how to act in proper society so they would have to keep their temper and their other baser impulses in check themselves."
"That must have been very trying for you and your staff?"
"We learned to be selective. My methods were not for every unruly teen. For the ones that we felt we could help, we were almost always successful." They walked in silence past Jane’s office and towards the stairs. "I do not mean to pry, Jamie, but I learned of your father’s death within a few months of it happening. I tried to write to your mother, but the letters all came back. Finally, I decided to let it be. Could you shed some light on this?"
Jamie looked embarrassed. "I don’t think Mom liked you. I never knew why. One of Dad’s journal entries is about the arguments they had about naming me. Mom wanted to name me after Dad or her own mother, depending on what sex I turned out to be. Dad’s first choices were to name me Penny Jane or James Thomas.
"I don’t really understand what her problem was, but I think she saw you as a rival for his attention or affection. Mom was funny that way. Don’t get me wrong, she was very loving and a wonderful mother, but she could be possessive too, sometimes."
"You say ‘was’, Jamie. I take it your mother is deceased?"
"Yes, just this past winter. That’s how I started out on this little odyssey. I found a lot of Dad’s stuff that Mom either forgot or never had the heart to throw away."
"What happened after James died?"
"Mom packed me up and moved back to West Virginia where her family lived. She got a job in Wheeling and stayed there until she retired. She’d still be here now if she hadn’t fallen off that stupid ladder trying to change a light bulb. I mean, people can live to be over a hundred now, it’s not fair!"
"You are angry with her, then?" Jane asked softly.
"I seem to remember reading what a good psychologist you are," Jamie said, her anger dissolving. "Yes, I am mad at Mom, but she wouldn’t have been the same person without that stubborn streak that made her do things like fix stuff around the house."
"She never remarried?"
"No. She never did. As far as I know, she never even thought about it," Jamie said as they turned down another hall and back downstairs toward the kitchen. Marie heard them coming and met them at the door. Marie put her finger to her lips and pointed at the sleeping form of Ruth, cuddled with a blanket and pillow on the floor in the dining room.
"Come with me, Jamie," Marie whispered. "Jane, the other children are in your office I think." Marie led Jamie through her own domain, explaining how students had to help clean and serve and sometimes prepare if they had any talent for it.
"That must have been a sight. Didn’t they ever put up a fight?"
"But of course they did! Jane always reminded them that far less pleasant alternatives awaited them on the other side of our door. In the end, they almost all decided that Jane was better than jail, or losing an inheritance or some other loss they would rather not face."
"Your letters almost always talk about music. Was Dad into music?"
"Not anymore than teens usually were, and still are today, I suspect. I am the one ‘into music’ as you say. Sometimes, as a treat for good behavior and when Jane was out of the house, I would turn on a stereo while we worked on cleaning." The pair made their way outside to a small herb garden Marie still kept. "James was more physical, as I recall. He liked to swim and he liked to run. The thing I remember about him is his growth spurt. Did you ever hear about this?"
"No, I don’t think so."
Marie chuckled softly. "I think James must have grown five inches while he was here with us, plus his shoulders grew also. I think that helped him grow up inside as well, though it drove Jane nuts at the time.
"So," Marie said, changing the subject, "you think we are namesakes?"
"I think so," Jamie said. "I can’t prove it, but it’s not a family name on either side and I know Dad picked out a few names that were connected to this school." She shrugged. "That’s all I know."
Marie hugged her. "That is enough for me." Releasing Jamie, Marie said, "Let’s go find the others."
Jane, Darryl, Audrey and Ken had gathered again in the dining room. Audrey had moved Ruth to a crib upstairs. The little radio on the table broadcast the sounds of her rhythmic breathing.
Darryl joined Jamie at the door. "Audrey, feel like a walk? If you don’t mind, Jamie?" Darryl asked.
"That would be nice," Jamie said.
"Great, I’m getting restless," Audrey said with a smile. Together, the three of them walked out onto the grounds.
"I didn’t know James that well, Jamie. I wasn’t a student here when he was."
"You were a student here? I thought you are Jane’s son?"
"I am, of the adopted sort. She adopted me later, after my tenure as a student here."
Jamie fumbled in her bag for something. Darryl watched as she opened a notebook to a yellowed newspaper clipping in a plastic envelope. "Was there really some kind of shootout here?"
Uh-oh, Darryl thought to himself. "Yes, but that happened the summer after James left."
"This clipping calls this place a girls school. I always wondered about that."
"It used to be. Mom never changed the name even after she started taking hard cases. It was one of the little things she did to bug them."
Jamie laughed. "That’s rich. I’ll bet it worked, too."
"Oh, you know it," Darryl said. "Back to James, though. I met him in the weeks before he left. He could be very serious, sometimes. Once he got past the mistakes of his younger days, he set the bar very high for himself."
"Mom used to blame his sense of honor when she got depressed."
"Yes, I think he was already developing a strong sense of honor, even before he got here." Darryl stopped for no apparent reason and looked around, talking to himself under his breath. "Right around here somewhere," he said loudly enough for everyone to hear. "James camped out right around here, somewhere."
"He camped out. When he was ready to graduate and move on, he told Jane he wanted to ‘rough it’ to get ready for some kind of boot camp style training he was going to take when he left here. She didn’t think too much of that notion, but she let him do it. He spent a couple of weeks exploring the grounds and taking the paths," Darryl smiled at Audrey. "He liked to run too, but the scenery wasn’t as nice when he was here."
"Inside joke," Audrey said to Jamie, who looked a little puzzled.
"You look familiar, Audrey," Jamie finally said. "I’ve been trying to figure it out since I first saw you."
Darryl laughed, "It was the cereal commercials, I’ll bet."
"Ignore him. I was in the Olympics way back when. You might have seen me on TV or something."
Jamie nodded, perhaps a little awed. The three made their way back to the manor house. When they got there, they found that Jane had moved the group out of the dining room and into a more proper setting for adult discussion.
"Did you have a nice walk?" Jane asked.
"Yes, very much so. This is such an amazing place. Thank you all so much. You have been very kind."
"You are welcome, Jamie. You are welcome back anytime, as well. Sit with us for a moment, please." Jane paused as Jamie sat. "You are married now, I see," Jane said, gesturing at Jamie’s left hand.
"Oh, yes. Patrick is on Dawn patrol."
"Dawn patrol?" Kenneth and Audrey said in unison.
"Our daughter, Dawn," she said laughing, "I’m so used to people being in on our little jokes. I wanted to do this on my own and Patrick understood, so he stayed home with our little girl. We live in Philadelphia right now. Patrick’s holding down a job and doing a lot of work around the house while I try to finish a degree in chemistry. Except for falling in love and then getting married, we’ve done everything else backwards. When I get done, he may go back to school, he hasn’t decided. There’s so much work for him in the east right now though, he might just keep working."
Jamie bit her lip, looking like she had just made a decision. "I have something I want to leave here with you," she said with a rush. Pulling a black case out of her bag, she passed it to Jane, who opened it, already suspecting what was inside.
"I can’t do that, Jamie," she said, looking at the Silver Star and Purple Heart that rested inside the box.
"Of course you can. You knew him. You helped push him in the right direction. You keep them here and when I want to look at them, I’ll come visit. Next time, we’ll all come visit. Here’s the citation that goes with them." Jamie said, handing a folder to Jane.
"I need to get going now," she said. "I need to absorb all this and I’d like to be alone while I do it. I’ll keep in touch."
"You do that," Jane said. Her sentiments were echoed by Marie as well. Good-byes were hastily made and Jamie left the house, eyes brimming.
An awkward silence fell over the group as they watched the car head back toward the road, sun glinting off its windows.
Ken broke the silence, "Are you still feeling funny about today, Tante Marie?"
"Oui, the day is not done with us yet, I think, but it will be good news, I’m sure."
Later that night, while Jane, Art, Marie and Ken were rehashing old times, Darryl and Audrey walked through the gardens and on the paths of the estate.
"You’re not going to give me down the road about lying to her?" Darryl asked his wife suddenly.
Audrey snorted. "Of course not. She came to find answers and recollections, not questions and uncertainty."
As the couple approached the brightly lit manor, Darryl spoke again, as though the conversation had not paused. "He might have been a little pissed. James hated being lied to."
"I didn’t hear any lies," Audrey answered. "You told the truth. The truth that is at the heart of what you and Mom did here, anyway."
"Yeah, I guess I did," Darryl said as he opened the door for Audrey. As Audrey paused on the threshold, the couple could hear the phone ringing inside.
She smiled, "Let’s go see who that was." Darryl followed her inside, closing the door softly.
I told you I couldn’t resist. The germ of this story came to me originally as part of the plot for a wake at the funeral of Jane. I am way too attached to tragedy. But I wanted to do something really short, so having a bunch of characters from Seasons past come back to pay their respects was just too much. And Jane deserved to have this one little mystery explained while she was alive to appreciate it, so everything else got cut and Jamie’s visit to Jane and company was what remained. As to what other good news might have been received that day; that is another story.
It was hard not to elaborate too much on the setting. What will the future hold in another 25 years? In trying to write a short story and still develop a character or two, I had to resist the temptation to wax on about my picture of the future. Of course, some things are just plot devices that I tried to keep consistent with one possible vision of the future. Hence the development of medical science to the point that at or about the age of 80, Jane is still a healthy and lively woman, as is Marie. Of course, someone had to die, and from Season of Fear we know that James planned to be a soldier, so imagining a 2nd and 3rd Persian Gulf War was not that hard, especially the way the world is today.
For those of you interested in this kind of detail, I took Jane and Darryl’s given ages from the story where Darryl meets Chastity Audrey GiGi Rocky Rockwell and added about 30 or 32 years, if I recall. I actually did the math on piece of scrap paper that I can’t find at the moment and I’m too lazy to do it again.
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