Chapter Seven:A Change In Plans
"I still don't know exactly what it is we're looking for."
Justin sat down on the end of Bertie's worn matress, casting his wife a look of confusion. "Jetta, stop rummaging through there for a minute and listen to me, huh? You barely slept a wink last night, and now you're hardly talking to me. What in hell was in that wedding certificate that's made you act like this, huh? I've never seen you this way before. Not even when you told me the truth about Jeremy's prison record and everything else, all those years ago. What's so damn terrible about being a Hawthorne, anyway?"
"Liars, cheaters, snobs." Jetta said emphatically, pulling a box out of the wardrobe and banging it down with a thump on the floor beside her. "Stuck up, no good, shallow rich people with agendas and obsessions beyond the law."
"Erm. Okay." Justin eyed his wife carefully, then, "I wouldn't have thought it was that rare a name, though. I'm guessing you've had an encounter in the past with someone by the name Hawthorne...yes?"
"Yes." Jetta shut the wardrobe door with a bang to emphasise her displeasure. "A long, long time ago."
"So I'm guessing they sucked pretty badly." Justin pursed his lips. "But you've no way under the sun of connecting that person to you...it's a name and it must belong to any number of families."
"So you'd think." Jetta said darkly. "But what was that wedding certificate stamped, Justin? Where did it take place?"
"Damned if I remember. I'm not real familiar with British geography." Justin shrugged, getting down on his knees beside her as she began emptying the aging cardboard box. "Enlighten me."
"Wissex." Jetta dropped a pile of scarves onto the floor, glaring up at her husband. "That's where."
"It doesn't bear thinking about." Jetta snapped. "Are you helping me or just asking stupid questions?"
"I'm helping you." Justin sighed. "What do you want me to do?"
"Go through those, and see if any of them are intact enough to send to a charity shop." Jetta nudged the heap of scarves with her foot. "They were Ma's an' some of them might be threadbare...but any that ain't can go with Pa's stuff."
"All right." Justin nodded. "And you?"
"I'm lookin' for that bleedin' missing photograph." Jetta said flatly. "If it fell out of the book, it must be 'ere somewhere. I squinted at the writin' again last night. It was a name. Trevor, I think. For some reason I know that name...I can't quite place where and 'ow, but it rings true inside of me. Like I should remember it. And know what I'm looking for."
"Jetta, now you're imagining things." Justin put a gentle hand on her shoulder, but she shook him off.
"I'm not hallucinating!"
"I didn't mean you were." Justin shook her head. "But if you were what, about a year old when your parents died...you wouldn't remember anything about them or any of the strangers in that book. It just isn't possible."
"I wasn't thinking about then." Jetta admitted. She sat back on her heels with a sigh.
And there's nothin' in here. No photograph. It didn't fall out. More likely it was removed."
"That's what I'm tryin' to put my finger on." Jetta creased her brow. "If I could remember where I know the name from, maybe I'd understand."
She sighed, casting him a sheepish look.
"I'm actin' possessed, ain't I?" She realised. Justin sent her a lopsided smile.
"Yes, a little." He admitted. "Obviously this has you upset somehow, but I don't understand how or why."
"I guess I owe you that much." Jetta sighed, shaking her head slowly. "It was a long time ago. I'm amazed your sister never spilled it to you. It seems like the sort of tale she'd be dying to share."
"Roxy?" Justin looked surprised. "She's involved in this too?"
"In a way." Jetta bit her lip. "When I first came to America, Justin, I wasn't myself. At least, I created a new persona. Different background. Different heritage. I was...someone else. Jetta. Not Sheila Burns. People believed it. They flocked after it. An' it got out of hand."
"I knew that." Justin inclined his head slightly. "Roxy did tell me, now I think about it, about a time when you masqueraded as the daughter of a rich family."
"Yes." Jetta lowered her gaze, discomfort clear on her face. "It's not an 'appy memory. But it's worse...this makes it worse. The culmination of the whole charade was 'ere in England. In Wissex. At the Hawthorne estate."
"Yes." Jetta bowed her head, obviously ashamed. "I got my folks involved. Got them to pretend to be Lord an' Lady Wissex, the Earl an' Countess. An' I almost carried it off, too. But...but there was more goin' on than I knew about. In the midst of everythin', the real bloody Earl showed up with Jem fawnin' all over him, an' between them they 'umiliated me an' destroyed the person I'd worked so 'ard to create. I 'ave never 'ated anyone so much as I 'ated them then, Justin. For what they did to me...for what they almost cost me."
She bit her lip.
"I always wondered 'ow Ma and Pa got the estate so easily, an' why they were so reluctant to 'elp me at first." She added unwillingly. "I can't bear to think that this might answer both those questions."
"That you really were a Hawthorne, after all." Justin said softly. "And they had connections you knew nothing about."
Jetta nodded her head, meeting his gaze with troubled grey eyes.
"So you see why I don't want it to be true." She said sadly. "Not that family. Any but that. It took me bleedin' long enough to accept Sheila Burns an' who an' what she was. To find out that that was all a lie too - that this...that those people who betrayed me an' turned me over were my own kin..."
She faltered, swallowing hard.
"I can't be a Hawthorne." She said at length. "An' we 'ave to find the papers that prove I'm not."
Justin pursed his lips. Then he shook his head.
"I think you're reading too much into all this." He said at length, pushing the scarves aside and moving closer to the box as, methodically, his wife started removing papers and keepsakes, examining each before setting it aside. "Whoever your parents were, you never knew them. It's never troubled you till now, and it needn't. It doesn't change who you are, or the woman I fell in love with. You're still that woman, you know. Regardless of whether you're a princess or a pauper."
"Perhaps." Jetta acknowledged. "But now the can's open, I need to find what kind of worms 'ave spilled out of it. Else I'll never know another night's sleep again. And nor will you."
"Well, in that case we'd better get to resolving it." Justin said wryly. He reached his hands into the box. "I...hey! There's another box down here. Right at the bottom...feels like metal."
"Another box?" Jetta's brow furrowed. "Shift, Justin - let me see."
Justin obediently drew back his hands, and Jetta slid her own in, feeling around for the smooth, hard surface her husband had discovered. Her fingers closed around it and, with a little tug, she freed it from the mound of scraps and paper that had concealed it, bringing it up to the light.
It was, as Justin said, a box of sorts, but more than that. Metal, and ornately guilded with patterns and flowers, it didn't take Jetta long to deduce that it was a jewellery box. Monogrammed across the top were three letters in a fancy script, and her heart caught in her throat.
"P.M.H." She whispered.
"Patricia May Hawthorne?" Justin asked. Jetta bit her lip.
"Maybe." She admitted reluctantly. "But it's locked, and I don't see a key."
She shook it, hearing something rattling around inside. "Got a paperclip or somethin'? I'll have to break it open."
"A paperclip?" Justin frowned, rummaging through the discarded bits and pieces on the floor. "How about a hat pin?"
"That'll do." Jetta held out her hand and Justin passed it over, a look of amusement on his face as he watched her set to work on the lock.
"I remember when you taught Nancy to do that." He remarked absently. "How to crack a lock, when people at school kept resetting her combination on her locker and messing with her bike's padlock."
"Always a skill worth 'avin'." Jetta agreed. She looked rueful.
"And another reason why I ain't no bleedin' ladylike 'Awthorne, too. Do you think for one minute any relation to the Earl of Wissex would know 'ow to pick a lock?"
"I guess we'll find out." Justin pursed his lips. "If you can crack that one, of course."
"It's stiff. Rusty, I think." Jetta admitted. "It don't look like it's been opened in years."
"Maybe it hasn't, if it belonged to your mother." Justin suggested. "She's been dead a long time, Jetta."
"Yes." Jetta sat back, her expression pensive. "I suppose she 'as. I suppose we really are playin' with ghosts."
Before Justin could respond, there was a click and the lid of the box gave way. Jetta pushed it open, smiling grimly as the hinges creaked and groaned their objection. A faint smell of old perfume mingled with the musty scent of storage drifted up from inside as she did so. It was lined on the inside with a soft velvet that had faded in places, but it did not hold jewellery. Rather an assortment of small items wrapped in tissue and a multitude of papers.
"Well?" Justin moved to peer over her shoulder.
"Bits and pieces." Jetta touched the contents of the box gingerly. "More paper. I'm almost afraid to touch them, after what the last one yielded."
"Do you want me to?"
"I don't know." Jetta bit her lip, then, "No. No, I'll do it. It's why I came here, after all."
Carefully she tipped the box out onto the floor, spreading the contents out in front of her. A faded passport bore her late father's name, and another bore that of her mother, stamped many times across the back pages between 1958 and 1960. A small square photograph of a man in naval regalia had the name 'Frederick' looped across the back, and Justin scooped it up, frowning.
"Me uncle." Jetta said without looking up. "Albert an' Patricia's elder brother. He died young...'e was in the Navy too. It was 'ow Patricia supposedly met this rich bloke - through her brother's connections. Pa told me as much. I've seen 'is photo a thousand times at Grandpa's 'ouse, when I was growin' up. Apparently 'e was somethin' to shout about, before he copped it. He died on manoeuvre, but I don't know where."
"Oh, I see." Justin set the photograph down. "So there were three Burns kids, then? Your Gran and Grandpa had three children?"
"Yes." Jetta confirmed. "Freddy, Bertie an' Pat."
She sighed. "That side of it stays the same...regardless of what we find out today, all three of them are blood to me."
"Yes." Justin agreed. "And we know Patricia was your mother...don't we?"
"I think so." Jetta nodded, sifting through several faded sheets of paper for one with legible print. "From those photographs. An' that's what Pa said. That I was Patricia's daughter."
A humourless smile touched her lips.
"Considerin' everythin', I seem to have somethin' of a curse with boats." She observed absently. "My uncle died in the Navy. My real father died in a boatin' accident. An' you...I almost lost you when that boat blew out in Lake Michigan all those years ago. No wonder they've always given me the jitters. It's like they're there to mess up my life or somethin'. Like they're my own particular hoodoo."
"Coincidence." Justin said firmly. "And superstition isn't like you. You said yourself that your uncle died in action, but you don't know how. It doesn't mean he died aboard ship. And accidents happen. Mine didn't kill me."
"No..." Jetta tilted her head to look at him, a strange expression in her eyes. "But I know how my Mum must've felt. My real Mum, I mean. Left 'ere by herself...an' with kids to raise. If you 'ad died, Justin, I would 'ave 'ad to face 'avin' Aaron alone...or bigger decisions about whether to even keep 'im. A widow. Pa said she died of a broken 'eart, you know."
"Grief is a funny thing." She added, more to herself than to her companion. "Who knows? Perhaps it did kill her."
"Dwelling over these things isn't going to get us anywhere, and it'll just make you maudlin." Justin scolded. Jetta sighed, looking sheepish.
"I know." She admitted. "But going through her stuff...makes me wonder. History was almost repeated...ain't it weird to think?"
She flicked through the remaining papers, pausing as she caught sight of an official stamp on one of them. A frown touching her lips, she brushed the others aside, pulling that one to one side and carefully unfolding it. As she did so, she let out an exclamation, then a curse, dropping it as if it was on fire.
"What?" Justin was immediately alert. "What did you find now?"
"You read it." Jetta pointed at the sheet of paper. "I only saw me Ma's name...but I know what it is. It's a birth certificate, Justin. I don't want to read it. You look at it. You tell me...if it's mine."
Justin shot his wife a look of concern, noting her sudden pallor and the slight trembling of her fingers. He nodded, reaching over to pick it up. His expression became thoughtful.
"You want me to read it aloud?" He asked at length.
"Is it mine?"
"Yes. Oh yes, no doubt about that." Justin nodded. "The year...the date...March fifteenth...the name, too. It's yours all right, Jetta. Your mother's name and your father's name..."
He paused, eying her carefully.
"You were born in Mayfair." He added. "At least, that's what the certificate says."
"Mayfair?" Jetta's eyes became huge, and her voice was barely more than an incredulous whisper. "Are you bloody kidding me? I ain't never even set foot near Mayfair! It's where all the blinkin' posh nobs hang out! Where all the decked out private school kids would come from, when we'd stop under the bridge an' throw things at them after school! Mayfair? No way!"
"That's what it says." Justin shrugged his shoulders. "I'm no expert on London, Jetta, but it makes sense to me that you'd be born in a well-to-do area of the city, if your family were wealthy."
"Well, at least it isn't bleedin' Wissex." Jetta said dryly. "I am a Londoner, then. That much is for sure. Though Lord, I don't speak right for Mayfair. I'm too common. I swear too freely. Noone in their right mind would call me a posh bit of goods, and that's the truth!"
"I've never heard you use that word before." Justin pursed his lips.
"Oh." Jetta shrugged. "Well, it's true. I never 'ave learnt to speak nice an' proper an' Queen's English like."
"Though you're right - it never actually occured to me at all until now, till we're talkin' about rich parents an' bein' born in bloody Mayfair. Like it even matters. I don't know what got into me then. I don't want to speak all posh, anyhow. It ain't who I am."
She cocked her head on one side, eying him speculatively.
"So are you going to tell me?" She asked eventually.
"The name on the certificate."
"Oh. I thought I already did." Justin looked sheepish. "I'm afraid it's Hawthorne, Jetta. Sheila Rose Hawthorne."
"Oh well." She said at length. "It still doesn't prove it's that Hawthorne family. I mean Mayfair...it ain't Wissex, like I said. I wasn't born in Wissex. So what if my parents married there? Don't mean anything. It could just be a coincidence that they went there for the ceremony. Maybe they liked the area. It's supposed to be pretty. If, you know, you're a posh so and so an' you like trees an' 'edges an' all that crap."
"Where's this supposed to be?" Justin set down the birth certificate, picking up a photograph that had fallen to the edge of the pile of papers. "Any ideas, Jetta? I don't know enough about English countryside to know where it was taken - but it's a nice house, and that's for sure. Maybe it was your home. There's some people in the photo but I don't recognise them."
Jetta took the picture, then muttered a curse under her breath. She shook her head.
"Sheila Rose Hawthorne." She muttered. "Bloody Wissex Hawthorne!"
"That's the estate. The Wissex estate. The one the Misfits and I crashed years ago." Jetta told him flatly. "Standin' outside it, that's some bloke I've never seen before, but he's the spit of that bastard Earl who came down on me and damn near ruined my life, so I'd guess 'e was the old Earl. The one before. And the bloke with 'im...that's my bleedin' grandfather."
"A day visit?"
"Too many friggin' coincidences." Jetta was near tears again, but she fought them back, scowling. "I won't belong to their freak show family, Justin. I've had enough of this - of all of this! We should never 'ave come to England. We should 'ave let Laura an' the council see to Pa's stuff an' kept well clear of it. I didn't expect all of this...an' now I don't know how to deal with it. I don't know if it's true or if it's all just bad ideas...bits and pieces, that's all I have. Bits and pieces of a life an' family taken away from me an' I still don't know which life or what family! Not really. Circumstantial, that's all...an' the more I think I don't want to know, the more I know I 'ave to!"
"Shh." Justin leant over to put an arm around his companion, hugging her tightly. "Listen. Seems to me that there's only one way to resolve this, and put all the pieces in place."
"Oh?" Jetta stared up at him. "And what might that be?"
"We need to visit Wissex itself." Justin said simply. "And find out if there ever was a Jeremy Wilson Hawthorne and if so, whether he married a city girl called Patricia Burns in 1958."
* * * * * * * * * *
Stefana padded out of her hotel room, yawning as she tied her dressing gown around her waist. "It's barely half seven - I thought we weren't doing anything this morning? We didn't get back here till gone two...is Sophie trying to kill us?"
"Well, her message was cryptic enough." Madeleine observed from her seat, setting down her glass of orange juice on the polished oak table. "She just said to make sure everyone was up and about before eight because she had something important to discuss with us. It could be anything. Perhaps she's had a call from Rory."
"That's never good news." Stefana grimaced, reaching in her pocket for her cigarettes and her lighter. "And I'm almost out - anyone else notice how goddamn expensive ciggies are in this wretched country? It's almost ten bucks for a box of twenty. Daylight robbery!"
"Maybe they're trying to encourage people to stop." Clay put in dryly from the doorway of his room. "Sophie not here yet?"
"No." Madeleine shook her head. "Are Mari and Luca up?"
"Luca's in the shower. He chased me out of it ten minutes ago." Clay said ruefully. "And why would I know if Marissa is up?"
"Well, if you don't, who does?" Madeleine asked playfully. Clay pulled a face at her.
"Funny. In a hotel suite? With you folk around us? Not a chance."
"Not a chance of what?" At that moment Marissa herself entered the small sitting room, casting a smile around at the assembled musicians. "Did I miss something?"
"Maddy and Clay were just discussing your sex habits. Nothing major." Stefana said lazily, exhaling a cloud of smoke as she eyed her friend's expression with amusement.
"You what?" Marissa stared at Clay, who snorted, shaking his head.
"Ignore her." He said firmly. "She's winding you up. Mad just asked if you were up, and I said I didn't know. That's all."
"Oh." Marissa grimaced at the guitarist, getting a wicked smile in return. "Not funny, Stef."
"I thought it was." Stefana responded unrepentantly. "And there's the knock at the door. Anyone want to let Sophie in, or shall we leave her outside?"
"I know which I'd prefer, but I guess we'd better open it." Clay sighed, getting to his feet. "Someone go get Luca out of the shower, huh?"
"I'm here, I'm here." Luca pushed open the door of his own room, his thick dark hair wet from the shower and a towel draped around his shoulders. "Don't panic."
"We weren't panicking." Stefana assured him. "Though the thought of having to forcibly drag you from the shower isn't a pleasant one."
"Well, I'm glad to find that this order you at least managed to obey."
Before Luca could retort, Sophie had stepped into the suite, casting a glance around at each of the musicans. "Bon. It saves much time if I don't have to chase you around."
Her nose wrinkled at the smell of smoke, and she cast Stefana a frown.
"You shouldn't do that in here, cherie. The hotel is strict about being a no smoking environment."
"Well, sucks to be them, then." Stefana shrugged her shoulders. "I'm a celebrity and if I want to smoke, I'm going to. They can put up and shut up. After all, we're publicity for their little enterprise, aren't we?"
She took a drag on her cigarette, flicking ash onto the edge of the table. "What's the urgent news?"
"We have a change in schedule." Sophie sat herself down in an empty chair, setting down in front of her the group's intinerary. "I have spoken to Rory and he has agreed that this is something we should pursue, so I have fitted it into our plans."
"Another tour date?" Luca looked curious. "I thought we'd sold out pretty much every venue going - and that they were all booked up like mad for the season anyway."
"Yes." Sophie inclined her head. "And this is not the normal kind of venture we would enlist you for. But in the circumstances - in the atmosphere of your tour, both Rory and I felt it was an opportunity we should not miss."
"So where is it, then?" Madeleine asked. "You've got me curious now, Sophie - where are we playing? And when?"
"This weekend is the Wissex County Show." Sophie raised her gaze to meet Clay's, a challenge in her dark eyes. "I have received a personal invitation from the Earl for our band to play there. The invitation has been accepted, and Diablo will perform."
"What?" All colour drained from Clay's face, and he shook his head. "No way. No way, Sophie! I am not going to that place!"
"Well, if you don't, you can stay here in England when we return to the States." Sophie said acerbically. "I voiced your discontent to Rory, and he made it clear that dissent was not to be tolerated. If you consider yourself a part of this group, Clayton, you will play a part in all the scheduled tour dates. This is your career, not a personal tour of the country's highlights."
"Are you threatening to kick me out?" Anger edged Clay's tones. Sophie spread her hands.
"Not threatening." She said calmly. "Repeating Rory's opinion in this matter. He will not tolerate employees who don't give their everything to their group. If you refuse to play at the Fair, Clay, he has given me authority to terminate your contract. Here and now. The choice is yours!"
Clay fell silent, rage flooding his features at this. Marissa bit her lip.
"Clay, no." She begged. "Please, it's just a show! Your Dad probably won't even be there - don't people like him always get called away to other things, anyway? And you wouldn't have to speak to him. Please! I don't want to be in Diablo without you."
Clay cast her a glance, pursing his lips. A conflict of anguish and fury flickered in his eyes, but at length he nodded his head.
"Fine." He said softly. "I'll play. But I don't think it's right or fair. I know what you are doing. Both you and Rory. You want me to play to hype up Diablo's press...the prodigal son coming home to his titled father's estate. Well, it's not going to happen for you. I will play. But I will not stay on that land one second longer than I have to. As soon as our set is finished, I'm leaving."
Sophie eyed him thoughtfully for a moment. Then she shrugged her shoulders.
"As you wish." She said quietly. "Then it is settled. You will discuss amongst you the songs you wish to play. I have another pressing engagement, and you have surely not forgotten that you have another show this evening. I will leave you to yourselves to work things out."
She stood, heading towards the door, but as her fingers closed around the handle, she turned to meet Clay's eyes.
"You skate on thin ice, mon cher." She said softly. "Be glad it is I with whom you banter your terms. Rory would not be so lenient."
Then she was gone, and, as the door clicked shut behind her, Clay brought his fist down on the table with a loud bang.
"Damn Rory Llewelyn!" He exclaimed. "Damn him!"
"It's just like him." Stefana snorted. "He'll threaten to kick you out because he thinks it gives him power over you. He's done it to me enough times and he's never succeeded in dropping me yet. I'd just boycott, Clay. Hell, maybe we all should. Teach that stuck up popcorn head and his slut a lesson. I don't like new additions to the schedule anyway - God knows we're already overbooked."
"We can't." Marissa looked troubled. "Stef, Sophie meant what she said. Whether she issued the threat or it came from Rory, we can't take the risk that one of them might act on it if we don't play at the Wissex Fair. Clay's British. Rebel Records controls his paperwork. Without it, he can't come back to America with us."
Tears touched her eyes.
"And I won't lose him." She added in tones no more than a whisper. "Even if it means I have to play the entire show by myself."
"Noone is being lost." Clay reached out to grip her hand. "I said I'll play the damn show and I will. I don't go back on my word. But I meant what I said, too. I'll play the songs and then I'll be long gone. Whatever press opportunity Sophie and Rory think this is, they'll be sadly mistaken."
"Did anyone else notice what Sophie said about it, to begin with?" Madeleine looked thoughtful.
"Huh?" Clay looked confused. "What do you mean, Maddy? What did she say?"
"That she'd received a personal invitation from the Earl." Madeleine twisted her fingers together idly in her lap. "Not a typed note from the estate...but a personal invitation. From your father. Doesn't that make you wonder, well, why?"
Clay's brow furrowed, and he nodded.
"It does." He agreed. "Now you mention it, it really does."
"Perhaps he just wants to meet his long lost son." Luca suggested. Clay muttered something unrepeatable under his breath.
"I'm not his son, and he's never wanted me before." He said flatly. "No. Something else. Maybe he's in league with Madame and our asshole boss...maybe it's about publicity. Who knows? But it's disturbing. Yet another reason why going there is a bad idea."
"Luca might be right, you know." Madeleine pursed her lips. "Sometimes people avoid issues or meetings for other reasons than disinterest."
"What are you suggesting?" Clay frowned. Madeleine shrugged.
"Well, take me for example." She said matter-of-factly. "I haven't been to visit my mother in years, because I know the minute I do, I'll get all the hints about marriage and babies and settling down like my sister. And I can't do those things. At least, not safely. But I can't bring myself to tell her the truth. So I don't go. What she doesn't know can't hurt her - and I know it would hurt her very much, if she knew."
"Are you suggesting that my father has ignored me because he's somehow trying to protect me?" Clay looked incredulous.
"Maddy could be right." Marissa murmured. "Remember what Grace said to you?"
"Who's Grace?" Luca looked lost. Clay shook his head.
"Never mind." He said, in tones that forebore further questions on the subject. "I dunno, Mad. You love your Mum to death - we all know that. You write to her and email her and send her photos of our shows when you can. Press cuttings. All those kinds of things. So you don't go see her, so you can avoid the awkward issues...I understand that. But still, you are in contact with her. You haven't just written her out of your life."
"No, true." Madeleine acknowledged. "But perhaps it's worth finding out why your father invited us to Wissex, and what his motives are before you make a judgement on them. Just in case they're more benign than you think."
* * * * * * * *
"And that's as much as she told you?"
Laura sat down on the old sofa in the front room, casting her companion a worried frown. "Poor Sheila. I knew something 'ad 'appened back when, of course...but I didn't know the details. An' you think it's likely she is hooked up to this Hawthorne family? Really definitely?"
"I think so." Justin nodded his head, sitting back in his own chair as he reviewed the morning's events. "She's shook up, Laura, and honestly, I think she's overreacting a whole lot too. Like it even matters who her parents were! It's never bothered her to find out, even since Bertie told her the truth and that was years ago now. This has just knocked her for six, that's all."
"She never forgets a slight to her pride." Laura pursed her lips. "I guess all we can do is be there for her if she needs us to be. Did she say what she intended to do about it?"
"I suggested she visit Wissex and settle the ghost once and for all, if it really matters to her." Justin sighed. "I don't know whether I persuaded her. She went kind of quiet at the thought, then put everything back in her mother's box and changed the subject. We spent the rest of the time there cleaning out furniture and other junk in the attic...and she never said another word about the Hawthornes."
He spread his hands.
"She did say, though, that she needs to know everything now or it will eat away at her." He added. "I'm just going to wait and see what she decides, to be honest. If she has things she needs to settle, it would be better if she did it before we flew home, but if she needs the time and space I don't mind us coming back here and doing it at a later date. It's her issue, after all. I'm not gonna push her to do anything she doesn't wanna do."
"No." Laura nodded gravely. "It's funny, though. When you think on it."
"Sheila, bein' from that kind of background."
"She thought it somewhat surreal herself." Justin admitted. Laura shook her head.
"No..not quite what I mean." She replied. "When we were kids, Justin...it's 'ard to explain it. I mean, Bertie an' Flo, they were nothin' special as parents. In fact, they barely gave a damn what Sheila or Jeremy got up to most of the time. There was always yellin' an' naggin' whenever I went to 'er place to call for 'er. She used to escape to her Grandpa's, but when 'e died she didn't 'ave that any more. She grew up like we all did - not much money, not much to speak of in the way of 'ouse or special trips or anythin' that way. In a lot of ways she was just like all the other kids I grew up with. She finished school an' never thought of university. She got a job workin' long 'ours in a place she 'ated, to 'ave most of 'er money go on board an' cigarettes an' nights out at the pub playin' darts an' all that. But..."
She pursed her lips.
"When it came to it, Sheila jus' wasn't like the rest of them." She admitted. "She saved up 'er money to buy a saxophone, even though she couldn't afford lessons an' 'ad to keep it a secret from 'er Ma an' Pa in case they pawned it to gamble on the nags. There was somethin' else, even then. She was always determined to set apart from that world...to get out of it somehow an' do somethin' more with her life. An' now, knowin' all of this...well. It makes me wonder."
"Maybe blue blood does speak."
"More likely she just had a strong sense of self and good friends like you who supported her in what she wanted to do." He said firmly. "I don't believe in all this stupid class nonsense and I pretty much called Jetta on it earlier when she called herself common, too. It's nothing to do with it, Laura."
"Perhaps you're right. It just makes me wonder." Laura looked self-conscious. "I'm not a snob, Justin...you do know that, right? But when I think of some of the kids I went to school with an' some of the kids my kids went to school with - you 'ave to understand what it's like to be a part of a world you don't even see 'ow to get out of. It's not about bein' common or otherwise. Just...well, you can be as bright as you like. It don't matter one jot if you are or if you're not. If you're born in the wrong place...if you ain't gifted money or prospects, well, that's where you'll stay. Yet Sheila never let that stop 'er. She was always different in that respect an' she got no end of flack for it from 'er folks an' other people, too."
"And what about you?" Justin raised an eyebrow. "Jetta's led me to believe Ruislip's not a bad part of the city to be living in. You've a lovely house with a beautiful garden. You've four kids doing well for themselves and a husband who's well thought of in his line of work. I still say it has nothing to do with blood. It's entirely down to who you are yourself."
"Maybe." Laura grinned. "But then, I was influenced a lot as a kid by a certain young lady with jet black 'air, who used to get me into the wildest scrapes without me thinkin' twice about them."
"One of these days, we need to find time to properly discuss those." Justin's eyes twinkled. "I'd love to know how she terrorised the town as a girl...it's a side of her that she hasn't really shared with me, to be honest. I think there are a lot of things she's wanted to put behind her, so it just hasn't been the time to talk about them."
"I might 'ave known you'd be talkin' about me." At that moment Jetta pushed open the sitting room door, her thick dark hair wound up in a towel and her dressing gown tied at the waist. "Justin, some things are sacrosanct...includin' the things your wife got up to as a girl."
"Oh, but there are some good memories." She said playfully. "Good shower? There was enough 'ot water?"
"Yes, fine." Jetta dropped down onto the sofa. "Though all the water in the bleedin' world couldn't clear out my 'ead."
"Justin told me a rough outline of what you found today." Laura's face became grave. Jetta shrugged her shoulders.
"He thinks I should go to Wissex an' see." She said. "I'm in two minds about it, though. I mean, I think I need to know now, Laura. Just to put an end to it so I can box it up an' push it away an' not 'ave questions naggin' at me for all time. But then there's no way I can go bargin' into the estate unannounced askin' questions about the family when the blessed Earl will probably be there. Lord knows if he'd remember me, but it's not really a chance I want to take. I'd feel exposed...goin' there an' speakin' to 'is family one on one."
"You wouldn't have to, you know." Laura reached out to pick up the newspaper, flicking through the pages and then holding it out to her friend. "I was reading this earlier, and it caught my eye that the Wissex County Show is this weekend. I've never been - well, never 'ad any reason to go before, an' I'm not really a rural girl with any interest in big fancy 'ouses. But this puttin' a different slant on it...maybe we should go. It can't be more than an hour and a 'alf drive from here to the estate an' we could easily do a day trip. Whilst you're 'ere, it seems the perfect opportunity to poke around an' find out the answers you want without anyone even noticin' you. It's well known that they open up the 'ouse to tourists durin' the show. You'd just be another visitor...we all would be."
"And if we're talking what, thirty years ago since you last met this Earl...the chances are he wouldn't know you from Eve." Justin added. "It seems like a plan, Jetta...what do you think?"
"Well, I 'ave to know one way or another, and I guess it's as good a plan as we're goin' to 'atch." She acknowledged, resignation in her tone. "All right. We'll go to the County Show an' see what we can find out about the Hawthorne family. I jus' hope I'm not goin' to live to regret this!"
Prologue: London, England
Chapter One: England's Rose
Chapter Two: Delving
Chapter Three: Wissex
Chapter Four: Grace
Chapter Five: Revelations
Chapter Six: Facing Shadows
Chapter Seven: A Change In Plans
Chapter Eight: County Show
Chapter Nine: Trevor Hawthorne
Chapter Ten: A Sea Chest
Chapter Eleven: Binding
Chapter Twelve: Homecoming
Chapter Thirteen: Hawthorne Blood
Chapter Fourteen: Mayfair
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All events in the stories on this site are based on original ideas and are not rooted in any existing Jem fiction nor in any real life event or person.