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For The Strength of Youth

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Submitted by Steven ODell on 5 July 2007 - 11:46pm.

Chapter 7

It was the knock at the door that woke them. Jenna was startled and seemed to be confused about her surroundings for a few seconds. They had fallen asleep in one another’s arms, having never felt the need to speak another word. Reclined against the arm of the sofa, Tom was Jenna’s pillow and bed for the night. It had felt so right and had been so wonderful. Now, the morning after, would either of them feel awkward? She had only seconds to consider, for he kissed her as passionately as the night before and then released her as the next knock came at the door.

“Jenna? Are you there?” It was Denise.

“Yes, just a moment.” Tom watched her as she rose and walked to the doorway. Words seemed inadequate to describe all that flooded his thoughts and senses. He was one hundred percent smitten. There was no doubt. Slowly, he sat up straight, never taking his eyes from her for a moment.

Smoothing her hair and her dress first, Jenna then opened the door and blinked in the bright sunlight.

“Jenna, are you just getting up? I saw your car still here, and usually you are off to school by now. Is anything wrong?”

“No, no. Everything is fine. Wonderful.” The smile as she said it brought an immediate look of bewilderment to Denise’s face. She had so recently heard the tale of horror regarding the night before.

“Okay, now I’m totally confused,” and she looked every inch the part.

“Denise, come in. I want you to meet Tom.”

At this news Denise’s eyes grew wide in disbelief. She whispered, “You know nothing about him. Did he stay the night? Listen, you’ve been through a lot and this is not…”

Jenna held up both hands as if to stop any further outburst. “Just come in, will you? He’s a perfect gentleman, I assure you.”

Still looking uncertain, Denise followed her friend into the front room where they had talked just the night before. “Denise, this is Tom. Tom, this is Denise Jameson, a dear friend and neighbor.”

Tom had already risen to his feet as Denise entered the room. He found himself hoping his hair and clothes were presentable, having not thought to take care to straighten them when Jenna did. “I’m pleased to meet you. Any friend of Jenna’s is a friend of mine.” He took her hand gently and nodded his head in a sort of implied bow that only made him more charming to Jenna.
“Tom came over last night to console me. I called him and he sat with me all night to be sure I was safe.” She emphasized slightly the word ‘sat’ to assure Denise that nothing of an inappropriate or untoward nature had taken place. “In fact, he arrived as Perry was leaving.”

“What?! What was he doing here?” She was absolutely incredulous.

“He brought my purse to me. I’d been so upset and disoriented that I forgot it.”

Tom interrupted, “Perry…Perry Rollins? I thought I recognized him, but wasn’t certain.”

Denise was now more confused than ever. If Tom and Jenna had talked of this, why was the name Perry such a surprised? She looked questioningly between them both, and Jenna caught the meaning.

“We didn’t talk much last night.” Judging by the now more intense look on Denise’s face, Jenna knew that she could not just leave the matter there without explanation, so she proceeded. “We just sat, and he consoled me.” Tom, too, was now catching the drift of meaning beneath the conversation’s surface and began to look apologetic in his manner. “Oh, no…I assure you, Ms. Jameson, that I would do nothing questionable. I hold Jenna in much too high regard to do that."

"I hope so. And it's Mrs., not Ms."

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Jameson," he corrected.

"No matter; what do you know of this Rollins?"

They went to sit and discuss the matter more in detail and Jenna again recalled the coffee she'd made and allowed to get cold. "Would anyone like coffee? I can make some fresh, if I have any." None did, so Jenna relaxed, knowing she would likely just forget to serve it for a third time.

Tom began to explain what he knew regarding Perry Rollins. "He has quite a reputation around here, I’m told. I am honestly surprised you didn't know anything about him. He’s a prominent individual in the community."

"I've only recently moved here for my studies," Jenna replied.

"And I've been a bit slow getting to know much about the town, I’m afraid. Perhaps too much a recluse and homebody for my own good," Denise added.

"Alright, then—from the beginning." Tom began a tale that Jenna thought would have no surprises, but proved instead to be replete with them. Perry's father and grandfather had both been real ‘Casanovas’, leaving a trail of broken hearts wherever they went. Women were often attracted to their money and good looks, but were then used and thrown aside once they had filled their purposes. In the cases of both earlier Rollins', even the marriages lasted only long enough to have an heir, then some trumped up charges were made in order to be granted divorces, with custody assigned to the fathers and no money left to the ex-spouses. Tom had little doubt that this pattern would soon repeat with Perry. "He also has the reputation for being truly ruthless in order to get what he wants. Not to scare you, but I think he wants you, Jenna. That means trouble for us. I include myself because he made it clear that he was warning me off. I don't scare that easily, but I do take seriously his threats."

Jenna decided it was time to fill Tom in on what had taken place the day before. "I never got to tell you, Tom...he drugged me and tried to brainwash me against you."

Tom bristled at the thought and would have immediately exacted revenge if the opportunity were presenting itself at the moment. "The snake!" he spat the word through clenched teeth, showing a distaste that could not be hidden.

"That might describe him adequately for most folks, but it isn't near strong enough for me," Denise interjected.

"I think I would have to agree," Tom corrected himself.

"Is there anything else I need to know?" Jenna asked.

"I don't know what to add at this point. This act is a new low for the Rollins family, to the best of my knowledge. That would also assure me that Perry is far more dangerous than his predecessors." Tom looked worried, his eyes roaming the floor and walls, as though searching high and low for a solution to this threat before them.

"Would it do any good to notify the police?" Jenna asked.

Denise was quick to respond. "I am afraid it would be your word against his."

"That's probably true, ladies, but it would at least put the police on alert that there could be more trouble. I don't think his money could have bought much influence on the force. There should be no love for the Rollins family among them. From what I hear, they despise him for what he and his family have done in the past. Still, the upper crust, the would-be elite and the wishful thinkers make sure to include him in their circles. Not so much for their admiration of him, but for fear of his reprisals, I hear—he does seem to pull some weight at the local newspaper. No one knows just why, but he could easily ‘tar and feather’ anyone in print, if he chooses to do so."

"Okay, we'll just have to be on our guard then.” Denise now abruptly changed the direction of conversation. “Tom, Jenna has told me all she can about you, but you’re still a man of mystery to me. How about you filling me in?"

Tom chuckled softly, then looked fondly at Jenna with love quite apparent in his eyes. "I dare say I am still a ‘man of mystery’ to Jenna, as well. We've had little chance to get acquainted as I would have liked." He then turned back and asked, "First, may I call you Denise?"

"Yes, please do." She felt more at ease with him now—perhaps by contrast with what she now knew of Perry.

"Thank you. First, I want to assure you that Jenna's protection is foremost in my mind. I can feel your concern, also, and I sense that you’re a no-nonsense type of lady. We both want the best for her."

"I picked up that no-nonsense attitude from a life-long friend and from some extreme experiences recently in my life. Life is too short and fragile to waste time in bantering words."

"I agree completely. I admire that quality, especially in a woman. So, without further ado, I will uncover the mystery for you. My name is Thomas Baird. I've been in this area for about five years now. I'm a writer by choice—various fields. I'm a researcher by need, being that I like to eat."

"How did it happen that you took notice of Jenna?" Denise was very direct and felt no need to apologize, having sufficiently explained her concern for the younger woman. Jenna, too, looked quite interested in the answer, but whereas the older woman bore a somewhat interrogating look, the younger wore the face of a woman who was beginning to discover the object of her affection.

"Oh, my…how do I say this without sounding like a stalker?" The raised eyebrows of the women caused him to wince visibly and look very uncomfortable. “Wait, don’t worry….”

"You've been following me?" Jenna asked with worry written plainly on her countenance. Not another nightmare to add to the first, she hoped.

"No, it's not like that at all. This is going to be hard to explain, but I assure you it’s entirely true." Denise's offensive stance, arms folded and leaning back from him in her chair told him it might be more difficult to explain it satisfactorily than he imagined. "Just don't rush to judgment until you've heard the entire story, okay?" His eyes pleaded with Jenna to be fair and she relaxed and nodded her head.

"Alright." He paused for a deep breath before proceeding. "Strange as it may sound, I've been dreaming about Jenna for years—since I was ten years old."

"Oh, please!" Denise was now too angry to be amused and showed it in every way possible, but Jenna waved to her to be patient.

"It's true. I can show you the journals I've kept for several years now. And the details are irrefutable—it’s Jenna I’ve been dreaming about. She said that she's recently moved here, yet all the things I've dreamed about her before-hand have come true …at least up to the point where we met and I saved her life. I didn’t dream about those things.” He turned to look squarely at Jenna now. “I can't help but wonder if I was the cause of her endangerment, though." His looked ashamed and embarrassed.

"You said you’re a writer. Maybe you fabricated the journals." Denise was not about to budge.

Jenna whirled about to stare at her, open-mouthed. "Several years worth of them?"

"Jenna, all you have is his word. You didn't even know his name until...when, today?"

Tom stood and spoke emphatically. "She's right, Jenna. I'm going to go get my journals and bring them back. If I'm a phony, I would be stupid to return empty-handed. If I’m telling the truth—and I am—the journals will vindicate me. Fair enough?"

Jenna sat speechless and confused, but Denise showed no such hesitation. "That's fair. I assume you will be back today?"

Tom looked hurt at the insinuation, but said only, "You can count on it. In fact, I'll be back within the hour." With that, he turned and left without being seen to the door. His resolve was evident, whether to escape or to complete his mission.

Jenna went to the window and stood watching as he left. "What do you think, Denise?" She sounded pensive and quiet as she stared after him.

"Strange as it may seem, I believe him, Jenna. At least I want to."

Jenna said nothing, but watched as Tom removed a note from the windshield of his car and read it. He looked intently down the street and then crumpled the paper in anger, throwing it to the pavement before he got into his car and drove away.

Jenna easily guessed—it was from Perry. She was also certain she knew the gist of the note. It was without any doubt a threat.

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