*set shortly after Facing Fears Parts One and Two. The usual disclaimers apply. Thanks to Anne for her help with dialog and to Ermintrude for the story inspiration*
Late-Night Talks and Chocolate
4247 Maplewood Avenue
Friday, August 23, 2002
Jenna sat up in bed, her breath coming in gasps. Her heart was racing and she could feel damp tears on her face. Slowly she looked around the still-lit room, taking comfort in familiar objects-her posters, stuffed animals-even her well-worn Pocahontas rug that she'd gotten for her seventh birthday and didn't have the heart to throw away.
"Only a dream," Jenna whispered those words to herself. But part of her could still feel Rudolpho's hand on her shoulder, his grip bruising her arm as his voice taunted her-Jenna tried hard to erase the image from her mind. Her breathing was still quick and shallow-making her feel momentarily light-headed. Jenna closed her eyes and fought to control her breathing, using the technique that Dr. Pfaff had shown her last week. He'd called it 'calm breathing'.
Breathe in, hold for five, Breathe out….breathe in—a sudden scratching noise outside her window broke her concentration and her eyes opened. Could it have been an animal? A branch? Jenna was afraid to look. She knew for sure the window was locked-she'd checked it twice already. Dad had told her that the alarm would go off if anyone tried to get in, but what if it failed? The scratching noise came again, this time accompanied by a distant rumble of thunder.
Nothing to be afraid of, Jenna thought, feeling her fingernails dig into her palms. Nothing at all.
Another rumble of thunder, this time followed by a flash of lightning. At that moment Jenna's nerve failed her completely-she slid out of bed and went downstairs. The sound of the television floated in from the family room. Francine was sitting there on the sofa, her eyes fastened on the screen.
"What're you watching?" Jenna asked. Francine gave a little jump and turned around, her face displaying relief as she looked at Jenna.
"Just some movie," Francine said. "Are you all right? Can I get you anything?"
"No I'm fine." Jenna realized that after that nightmare she probably looked like anything but. "Can I sit down here for a little bit? I can't sleep-you know- with the thunderstorm."
"Sure," Francine said. "Your parents should be home before too long anyway."
Jenna sat down on the sofa, pulling a cushion to her chest and trying gamely to concentrate on the TV screen images in front of her. A bunch of people seemed to be running around a hotel, opening doors, going in and out of rooms and shouting at each other.
"What's this about?" Jenna wondered.
"I wish I knew," Francine said. "I thought it had a plot at the beginning but now-" They watched as one man on the screen pulled a television cable out of the floor because he couldn't turn the set off any other way. There were sparks as the carpet and then the nearby curtains caught fire.
"Could that really happen if you did that?" Jenna asked.
"Probably-I wouldn't recommend trying it."
Jenna watched as a woman in a towel showed up in the window-she'd apparently been out on the ledge. A woman with red hair began screaming hysterically at the sight, while the man who'd started the fire in the first place just walked away, apparently fed up with the whole thing.
"What was that other girl doing out on the ledge in a towel?" Jenna asked.
"Tough to tell-the whole thing's just silly now." Picking up the remote Francine turned the set off and then turned back to Jenna. "Maybe you should go back to bed—you look absolutely exhausted."
"I'm not that tired." Jenna thought fast as she looked around the room. " We could-um-we could play UNO."
"With only two people?"
"Sure, Lisa showed me how." Jenna picked up the deck from the nearby coffee table. "What you do is you count reverse cards as skip cards, play another turn right after a skip card or a draw two or a wild card."
"Well I'd ask you to repeat that, but I think I'd only get more confused the second time." Francine smiled. "Don't worry, Jenna; I'll pick it up as we go."
"Okay." Jenna dealt herself and Francine each seven cards, shuffling the rest and putting them in a pile, turning over the top card for the discard pile. There was another rumble of thunder, the sound rattling the house, followed by another burst of lightning. The lights flickered for a brief moment but didn't go out. Jenna picked up the cards she'd dealt herself, fighting to stop her hands from shaking. More lightning, momentarily lighting the sky up and making the night seem like day.
Maybe the scratching at the window really had been something, Jenna thought to herself. If the power went out the alarms would go out too-they'd be helpless-what if someone was out there and they cut the power and climbed in to get them?
"Jenna!" Francine's voice cut into Jenna's thoughts. Jenna looked into Francine's concerned face.
"Are you all right?" Francine said. "You kind of zoned out there for a minute."
"I'm okay," Jenna said. Francine looked skeptical. "Really."
"It is a little late for you to be up." Francine said. "Are you sure you don't want to go back to bed?"
"No," Jenna said. "I just don't--I really don't want to be by myself right now."
Francine was silent for a minute, just looking at her. "Know what I do when I get upset or worried?"
Francine reached for her purse, unzipping it. Pulling out two Cadbury chocolate bars, she handed one to Jenna.
"Chocolate?" Jenna said.
"Always helps me." Unwrapping the bar, Francine took a bite. Jenna did the same-she didn't know about it making her feel better but she did like chocolate anyway, especially Cadbury's. The thunder rumbled again-lower this time.
"I hope Mom and Dad get back before this storm gets worse," Jenna said.
"I'm sure they'll be fine," Francine said. "Who goes first in this game, anyway?"
"Usually you draw a card to pick but you can go first if you want," Jenna said. "Where did they go? I asked Dad but all he said was that it was a milk run."
"Well that's really all he can tell you," Francine said. "Need to know."
"I know that," Jenna said. "But what's a milk run?"
"Just a routine assignment with multiple stops," Francine said. "Don't worry, it's not dangerous."
"And you're like the boss?"
"Well no, I'm Section Chief. Billy is actually the head of The Agency-he became the head after Dr. Smyth died." Francine drew two more cards from the pile.
"Dr. Smyth?" Jenna said. Something about the name sounded vaguely familiar to her, even though she wasn't sure why. Francine got a funny look on her face.
"Well you met him once," Francine said. "But you were only two and you probably don't remember."
"I know I keep asking a lot of questions," Jenna said as she put another card on the pile.
"Jenna I really don't mind," Francine said. "It must have been a shock when they told you."
"It was—I still can't quite believe that my parents are spies." Jenna said. "It's so weird-especially my Mom."
Francine smiled. "Well the way she got into this profession was certainly unique."
"She told me all about the package and the train," Jenna said, taking another bite of the chocolate bar. She didn't know if it was the chocolate or the talking, but she was starting to feel a little better now. "And that at first Dad didn't want her as a partner."
"Well at first I didn't think your mom would make a good agent," Francine said. "But she certainly proved us wrong there. Your dad really changed for the better when he met her."
Jenna was going to ask what her dad was like before when lightning flashed again-there was a brief hum and suddenly she couldn't see anything at all. There was a thump-from outside, or had it been inside? She wasn't sure. In her head she could imagine footsteps coming downstairs, closer and closer-staring hard into the darkness she could almost imagine that she saw a shape there-Jenna's chest was starting to hurt; her heart pounding so hard that she worried it might go right through her chest. Someone kept calling her name over and over-it took her a moment to realize that it was Francine.
"Jenna I just lit some candles," Francine said. "It'll be okay, I'm sure the lights will come back on in a minute-Jenna?"
"I'm-" Jenna tried hard to think of what else to say.
"You have chocolate all over your hands," Francine said. Jenna looked down and realized that she was clenching her fists-the chocolate bar was squished and melted all over her palm and the UNO cards had been squished too. She felt Francine wiping at her hands with a damp cloth.
"Sorry," Jenna whispered. Her heartbeat was beginning to calm a little. The flickering candlelight made weird shadows on the wall but at least it was some light-better than nothing.
"It's okay," Francine said. "Let's just talk, you want to talk? I can tell you stories-it'll be fun-like we're camping or something."
"What kind of stories?" Jenna asked.
"How about stories about your parents?" Francine said. "I know dozens of those."
"Like what?" Jenna said.
"Like—well—oh I know." Francine said. "One time the power went out in the safe-house and so this house had to be made up to look like the Russian Embassy in order to fool this man who was trying to sell secrets to the Russians."
"Didn't he guess from looking at the outside?" Jenna said.
"Well he was drugged when he was brought here, and the entire house was changed- the furniture taken out, different paintings- even the walls were repainted this gray color."
"Mom wouldn't have been happy about that," Jenna said.
"She wasn't," Francine said. "But your Dad and Emily persuaded her."
"Emily?" Jenna said. "Wait a minute-Aunt Emily from England is a spy? With The Agency?"
"No, with MI-6." Francine said. "Your dad and Emily go way back."
Jenna shook her head in disbelief. Mom, Dad, Francine, Billy, and now Emily. Was there anyone in her life who wasn't a spy? Philip and Jamie weren't—at least as far as she knew. Grandma? That thought was too strange to comprehend. Thunder made the windows rattle-Jenna jumped slightly at the noise.
"Any other stories?" she asked.
"Sure-there was the time in Munich where your dad had to rescue a chemical formula- that was before he met your mom. Oh and the time he was in a limo with two women—"Francine's voice broke off. "But I can't tell you that one."
"Why?" Jenna said, curious now. "What happened?"
"Nothing much," Francine said. "Really. Let me tell you another one about the time when your parents ended up in Tegernsee…."
SMK SMK SMK SMK
The power was back on by the time that Lee and Amanda got home. Francine was sitting on one end of the sofa reading a magazine and Jenna was curled up at the other end sound asleep.
"How did she do?" Amanda bent over her daughter, pulling the afghan over her sleeping form and brushing a stray lock from Jenna's cheek.
"Mostly fine," Francine said. "She had a little moment when the lights went out but after that she was fine. And the milk run?"
"No problems," Lee said.
"Mom?" Jenna murmured, her eyes half-opening. "Dad?"
"We're here, munchkin," Lee said, bending over to kiss her forehead. "How was your night?"
"Fine," Jenna said. "Francine was telling me stories about you,"
"Oh she was?" Lee said, straightening up and looking at Francine.
"Yeah," Jenna said "And Emily, and something that happened in Tegernsee- oh and something about two women in the back of a limo-not sure what that was."
"A limo, Francine?" Lee said.
"Relax, Scarecrow," Francine said. "I didn't tell her the whole story."
"That's good," Lee said, "Because there are many stories I could tell Jenna about you—about the Turkish gunrunner or that one time you took cooking lessons. Remember that, loose lips?"
"You wouldn't," Francine said. Lee just stared. "Would you?"
"I might," Lee said.
"What are you two talking about?" Jenna said.
"Here sweetheart," Supporting her, Amanda helped Jenna to stand. "Let's get you into bed now, okay? You'll be much more comfortable in there."
"Okay," Jenna said, looking at Lee and Francine. "But I will find out sooner or later."