It’s tough to describe a “typical” day in the life of Harper Jennings because her life changes in each book. In Summer Session, she’s a happily married Iraq War vet/grad student at Cornell, but then her husband has an accident, a student commits suicide, and life turns upside down.
In Behind The Walls and Winter Break, Harper’s routines change again. In one, she works as a graduate archeology assistant in a creepy mansion; in the other, she’s on bed rest during a pregnancy. By the time we see her in OUTSIDE EDEN, she a mom with a PhD, traveling with her baby and husband, and joining an archeological dig in Israel. So a typical day? Depends on the book.
But for now, let’s join Harper right after OUTSIDE EDEN. Harper is back home in Ithaca, NY, where, until the next book, she can follow a consistent and comfortable routine.
Harper Jennings wakes up every day at 5, though some days she lingers in bed until 5:15. First, she exercises and performs physical therapy stretches to limber up her hip and left leg, injured in Iraq. As she exercises, she thinks about the explosion that caused her injuries and killed several in her patrol. Then she takes a ninety second shower, another ritual left over from the military. In Iraq, water was scarce and showers rationed. She became accustomed to the ninety-second duration. She suds up for thirty seconds, rinses for another thirty and luxuriates under hot water for thirty more. A longer shower would feel wasteful. She towels off with a hand towel; anything bigger also feels wasteful.
Her hair is cropped short, requiring little to no attention. She wears no makeup, only moisturizer, which she slaps on and smears in.
Her husband, Hank, is usually still sleeping when she comes out of the shower. But coffee is ready downstairs. A timer is an indulgence she allows herself, since coffee is a necessity and she doesn’t want to wait for it to brew. By the time Hank and their fifteen-month-old daughter Chloe wake up, Harper has finished her first cup. And, if weather permits, she may have even gone for a quick motorcycle ride on her Ninja.
Once Chloe is awake, Harper has little time for anything else. Hank fixes breakfast for all of them, so the three share time in the morning. He goes to the office three days a week, works at home the other days. The couple are renovating their rambling Victorian house; often, Hank is grouting, sanding, tearing up flooring or mowing the lawn. Harper helps him, but mostly, she tends to Chloe. They go exploring in the woods. They go to the playground and to “Mom and me” swim and music lessons. In the summer, she and Hank take Chloe on picnics. Harper is fully engaged in being a mom, fascinated by every phase of Chloe’s development. But she’s cautious, always aware of what might go wrong. Aware of her overly protective instincts, she forces herself to let Chloe take baby risks (like climbing the slide by herself.)
Despite loving her husband and baby, Harper is lonely. She has few close friends, but they work full time. (Her best friend, Vicki, is a dentist.) Now that she’s got her PhD, she misses the challenges of her studies and the companionship of her fellow students. She meets other moms but keeps a distance, feeling “different” due to her war experiences. War and trauma have shaped her; she feels incapable of discussing potty training, new teeth and the sale on cereal at the market. Also, she never knows when something will set off a flashback—It can be a sudden loud noise, a smell—especially of something burning. It can be flies buzzing, a child screaming–Any number of sensory stimuli. So she tries to be vigilant, always carrying a lemon with her (biting into it and tasting its sourness helps shock her senses into the present, fending off or interrupting flashbacks.) But socially, she feels like she doesn’t blend in.
Once a week, Harper sees Leslie, her therapist, who—except for Vicki—is her closest female contact. They talk about her past, her post-traumatic stress disorder, and her present issues concerning career, parenting and marriage.
At night, Hank cooks; she cleans up. She and Hank put Chloe to bed at 7:30, so they have time alone. Often, they share a bottle of wine on the deck Hank built. They talk about their baby, their hopes. They discuss whatever project Hank is working on, the Geology classes he’s teaching. Or what color to paint the family room. Harper doesn’t discuss her loneliness or her confusion about her career. She feels lucky to be alive and living in peace, grateful to have the problems of a mom and a wife.
When they turn in, they sometimes watch television or read side by side. More often, they steam up their room. Harper falls asleep pressed against Hank, lulled by his snores.
And she wakes up, without an alarm, exactly at 5.
Meet the author
Merry Jones is the author of the Harper Jennings thrillers, OUTSIDE EDEN, WINTER BREAK, BEHIND THE WALLS, and SUMMER SESSION, as well as the suspense novel, THE TROUBLE WITH CHARLIE, and the Zoe Hayes mysteries, including THE NANNY MURDERS, THE RIVER KILLINGS, THE DEADLY NEIGHBORS, and THE BORROWED AND BLUE MURDERS. Jones has also written humor (including I LOVE HIM, BUT…) and non-fiction (including BIRTHMOTHERS: Women who relinquished babies for adoption tell their stories).
Jones is a member of The Authors Guild, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers and The Philadelphia Liars Club. She lives with her family outside Philadelphia.
Books are available at retail and online booksellers.