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Chapter 41: Jeannie's Decision

Jeannie's glove slammed into the heavy bag with a satisfying thump.  A left cross followed.  Right uppercut, left hook, uppercut.  She stepped back and let loose a roundhouse kick.

"Hey, take it easy."  Jeannie stopped in the middle of another punch.  Behind the bag, her roommate, Shivaughn Flowers, was shaking her arms.  "It's one thing to ask me to hold the bag steady for you; bruises are another thing.  You're bashing this thing like you're Muhammad Ali."

"Sorry," Jeannie said, realizing how much she had been taking her anger out on the punching bag.  She had worked up quite a sweat on the treadmill, but even that had not been enough.  She let Shivaughn help her remove the boxing gloves, grabbed a towel, and began drying off.  She remembered something her stepfather had once said: Girls don't sweat, they perspire.  Well, that had been one of many things that son-of-a-bitch Philip had been wrong about.

Shivaughn handed her a water bottle and then began to massage a spot on her arm.  Jeannie almost pointed out that nobody would be able to detect a bruise against the dark brown of her roommate's skin, but said nothing.  She waited until Shivaughn spoke first.  "You want to tell me what sent you all Rambo on that thing?"

That was the big question, wasn't it?  Jeannie knew the answer.  Her mom was sick, she had learned a lot of things during her visit in Los Angeles, and her dad was a bastard.  Where did she start?  Rather than get into a lot of explanations, she just said, "Sorry, it's just I'm worried about my mom."  That would satisfy Shivaughn, who knew about Kim's condition.  There were some things you just couldn't keep secret from a roommate.

"You can't dwell on it," Shivaughn said.  "There's nothing you can do from here.  So how 'bout we change the subject?"  They began walking toward the locker room to change.  "Are you going to interview for that company in Salem?"

"Yeah, I'm going to give them a call tomorrow," Jeannie responded, but then she saw her roommate give her a sour look.  "What?"

"I don't get it.  Why go to Salem when you could probably work for any judge in the country?"  Shivaughn added.  "Half the profs are dying to write your recommendations."

"Hey," Jeannie protested.  "Titan's not small time.  It's huge and I could learn a lot there.  Besides, clerking for a judge would be a volunteer job.  I'd kind of like a paycheck."

"Give me a cotton-picking break."  The southern accent that Shivaugn usually covered started to poke through.  "You're the last person who needs a paying job for the summer."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Jeannie asked.

Shivaughn crossed her arms.  "You're hardly a charity case, Jeannie.  Your family is rolling in it.  Or did you think everyone here drives a Beemer and has a closet full of designer clothes and handbags that they don't even use?"  Jeannie flushed a little.  She knew Shivaughn's family ran a restaurant in rural Mississippi and her roommate subsisted on student loans and work-study to make ends meet.

"It's not like that."

"Yes, it is," Shivaugn said.  "Or are you afraid that your rich daddy, the movie producer, is going to cut you off?"

"He's my stepdad," Jeannie said, sharply.  "Actually, my ex-stepdad, and he didn't pay for anything."  They had entered the locker room, and Jeannie realized that several of the women inside were looking at her.  This was not the place for an argument.  She quickly unlocked her locker, tossed her clothes in her bag, and pulled her coat on over her workout clothes.  "I'm going to get cleaned up in the dorms."  Before Shivaughn could really respond, Jeannie bolted out of the locker room and headed for the exit.

The February air bit her as she stepped outside.  She wrapped a scarf around her face and began fighting the wind as she walked the few blocks to the law school and its dorms.  She heard someone calling her name from behind, obviously Shivaughn, but Jeannie ignored her and continued walking.

She knew she was behaving like a child, but she didn't care.  She felt that she had a right to sulk.  This past week had been brutal, with her trying to focus on classes and this job possibility, all the while she wanted to be in Los Angeles with her mother and Andrew.  She reached the side gate, glad that it entered the small courtyard by the law school dorms and not the main building.  The last thing she wanted now was to run into any professors and classmates.  Behind her, Shivaughn called again.

"Wait up."  Jeannie stopped.  If she continued through the gate, she would effectively be slamming it in her roommate's face.  She held the gate open as Shivaughn entered the courtyard and demanded, "What the hell's going on?"

"Look, I just don't want to talk about it," Jeannie said, as she let the gate slam shut and they started crossing the muddy courtyard to the entrance of their  dorm.  "You just hit a nerve back there."

"That thing I said about your stepfather?"  When Jeannie gave a curt nod, Shivaughn added, "I'm sorry.  I didn't even realize he was your stepfather, which was stupid since you don't even have the same last name."

Jeannie opened the door to the dorm, allowing them to enjoy the warmth from the radiators, and they climbed the stairs to their third-floor room.  "It's okay.  I generally considered Philip more of a father than my real dad.  At least, Philip was around most of the time."  Reaching their room, she unlocked the door, tossed her bag onto the floor, and sank onto the sofa in their common room.  Damn, the thing was uncomfortable.  She and Shivaughn had agreed they should get a sofa that converted into a bed, but Jeannie hated sitting on it.

"Don't get that thing all sweaty," Shivaughn warned, as she took a seat in a chair across the room.

"Don't worry," Jeannie said with a laugh.  "Any sweat I had is long since frozen.  Can you tell me what possessed me to come here?  Stanford has a damn fine law school, and it's probably 60 degrees and sunny right now."

"And how many US presidents have gone to Stanford Law?  Or Supreme Court justices currently on the bench?"  Shivaughn did not wait for the answer.  "So stop changing the subject and tell me what's bugging you."

Jeannie did not consider herself a self-reflective person.  She believed in living in the here and now, but the past week had been driving her crazy and the people she usually would talk to, her mom and Andrew, obviously did not share her views about her father.  Maybe unburdening herself to Shivaughn would do some good.

"If I tell you something, do you promise you won't say a word to anyone?"

"Of course," Shivaugn answered.  "Scout's honor -- and I was a girl scout for about 5 minutes until most of the white girls in the troop threatened to quit if I didn't leave."

"And that's why you're going to make one hell of a civil rights lawyer," Jeannie said.  "But for now, let's practice keeping client confidentiality."  Neither chuckled at the attempted joke.  "Fine, here's the story.  When you made that crack about me not needing money and about Philip paying for everything, it pissed me off, because it made me think about my real dad."

"He's the one paying for school?"

"Well, more or less," Jeannie explained.  "He set up a trust and that's what covers school."

Shivaughn leaned forward.  "So your dad's dead?"

Now this was going to get complicated, Jeannie thought.  "No.  Well, maybe.  Actually, probably."

"That's three answers, Jeannie."

"I know, I know," she said, curtly.  "Let me try to explain that, and maybe the rest will make sense.  My dad was in the ISA."

Shivaughn's eyes widened.  "He's a spy?"

"He was.  When I was a kid, he was always on some mission, and then he got pretty high up in the agency."

"Wow."  Shivaughn let out a low whistle.  "So what's the big deal about that?  It sounds pretty cool to me."

"Yeah, to you and my brother Andy."  Jeannie gave a rueful smile.

"You mean the hot soldier in that photo on your desk?"  Shivaughn winked.  "I'm sure that's not the only thing I'd find in common with him."  At Jeannie's look, she shrugged.  "Your brother's hot, what else can I say?  But I digress.  You were saying about your dad?"

"Yeah, about my dad, well, the last thing it was was cool," Jeannie finally said.  "Do you have any idea what it's like to never see your dad when you're a kid?  To not know if he would show up for your birthday -- or even remember to send a card or present because he was too busy with work?  At least when it came to me.  He never seemed to miss out on Andy's stuff, just mine."

She fell silent as she recalled something from her conversation with Andrew.  There had been a moment, the point when he mentioned "Uncle Cal" and Jeannie thought he was saying that she was not Shane Donovan's child.  The strongest feeling she had felt at the time was shock, but looking back, she realized she had felt something else -- an undercurrent of relief.   If she was not really a Donovan, it would have explained so much: the distance she had always felt between her and her father; his obvious preference toward Andrew; his repeatedly missing important things.  In a way, that would have easier to take than trying to understand how he could actually be her father and not give a damn about her.

Shivaughn had said little, but she finally just said, "I guess that would suck.  When you're a kid, you don't really understand those kinds of things."

Or as an adult, Jeannie thought.  "You want to know my earliest memory of my dad?  It was at his house in Salem.  My folks had divorced by then, but we were staying there -- Andy, me and mom.  Andy and I were playing, and my dad was there.  I remember running up to him, wanting him to lift me up, and you know what he did?  He said no.  I was probably two or three, and he refused to pick me up."  She shook her head and let out an ironic laugh.  "It's funny what you remember, but that's what I remember about my dad.  It's kind of fitting, sums everything up.  He just couldn't be bothered."

"Then tell him to go to hell," Shivaughn said.  "It's not your fault if your dad's an asshole."

Jeannie began to laugh.  Leave it to her roommate to put it so succinctly.  "You have a way with words, Shivaughn.  I just wish I could tell him that.  Unfortunately, good ol' dad's disappeared, so I can't tell him."

"What do you mean, 'he disappeared'?"

"Oh, I didn't explain that part.  My dad left the ISA a few years ago to go into some private business.  I don't exactly know what, but about a year ago, I get a call from him.  Some random 'Hi, how are you, let's talk when I get back from this business trip.'  Except he never came back, and nobody knows what happened to him."  Jeannie looked down at her hands.  "I guess he's probably dead.  That's the logical thing to assume."

"I'm sorry."

Jeannie chewed her lip a little, trying to deny the little spark of emotion she felt.  "Why?  That's the life he chose.  He certainly didn't care about his family when he was running around playing superspy.  But I guess I'm supposed to be grateful that he left money to paying my tuition."  She shook her head at the absurdity of the whole situation, then paused, as an idea came to her.  "You know what?  I'm not going to take it any more.  I don't want his money; I don't want anything from him ever again.  For all intents and purposes to me, my father is dead, or better yet, he never existed."