“You know, Jordan, it’s about time you started calling me Daddy,” Luke Haller told her, holding the car door open while giving her shoulder a squeeze.
He slammed the door shut and Jordan turned to watch Cecelia drive away in her old blue Chevy Caprice. Her lips quivered. She pushed her curly red hair away from her eyes as a tear trickled down her cheek.
She wouldn’t look up at Luke. Through her narrowed eyes she could see his leather necklace with the little Indian pouch hanging down from it. Did he ever take it off? What was in the pouch that made it so important? She bent down to get her duffle bag then slowly raised her head, her eyes traveling over his green and blue plaid shirttails, a silver belt buckle and black jeans.
Pulling her closer to him, Luke walked her to the front porch of her aunt’s house. Jordan smelled his heavy cologne. She’d picked up and tested a spray bottle of Brute in his bathroom on the last visit. She’d never forget that scent.
Why was she thinking that? It really wasn’t Luke’s fault. He wanted to take care of her. He loved her Aunt Erin. She shouldn’t blame him. It was the law, the stupid law that would take her away from her foster mom. It wasn’t the fault of Luke and Erin. She vowed to be nicer to them. At least on these court-ordered visits. At least there were only visits, thanks to Judge Dahlen’s plan.
Luke grabbed the small navy duffle bag, the one she’d used as a suitcase bouncing around in foster care placements. She wasn’t bouncing any more. In fact, she hated the word “bouncing” because it implied something happy: a bouncing ball, a balloon, a trampoline. There was nothing happy about moving from foster home to group home to foster home. Call it something else, like eviction or foreclosure. Something forced upon you, something sad. At least it had ended. She had lived with her foster momma for three years now, and she didn’t want to leave. She prayed that the judge wouldn’t make her leave.
She and Luke walked up the rickety steps of the wooden house, its white paint peeling to the original grey.
“Watch the fresh paint. I painted the front door yellow this morning to give this dump a little color. We’ll be out of here soon enough, don’t you worry. Fresh paint on the front door is the realtor’s idea. First impressions and all that stuff.” Another squeeze to her shoulder. Jordan pulled away. She couldn’t help it. The guy made her nervous.
“It ought to be easy to call your Aunt Erin ‘Momma,’ cause you’re blood relatives. But you might need a little practice with me, so how about starting with ‘Dad’ if you don’t like ‘Daddy?’”
“I already have two moms. I don’t need a third one.”
“You bet you do,” he laughed. “One is a drug addict who’s never going to be able to raise you, and the other a foster mom, paid by the state to feed, house and clothe you, and probably making a little profit on you as well. Aren’t you the lucky one?”
Jordan grabbed one strap of her duffle bag and tried to turn back down the steps toward the street, but Luke wouldn’t release his hold. She glared at him as they played tug-of-war with the bag.
“Don’t you say another bad thing about Mom. She may be a foster mom but she’s the best thing that’s happened to me. I love her. I hope she can adopt me. I’m only here because the judge said I have to visit Aunt Erin on Saturdays.”
She jerked the bag away from him and plopped down on the front step. Tears trickled down her freckled cheeks. She didn’t bother to wipe them away. She ran both hands through her hair, twisting her tangled red curls. She wanted to make them into knots. Knots that would hurt when she brushed them out. The therapist said that was better than cutting herself. She’d promised to stop doing that.
Luke sat down next to her.
“Hey, little gal. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I won’t talk about your two mommas anymore. But I know for sure you don’t have a daddy in your life, so I’m just suggesting you start thinking of me like that. I won’t run off and abandon the family like he did, ending up dead in a drug shoot out.”
“Don’t you ever talk about my father,” Jordan hissed. “You don’t know a thing about him. Maybe he had a good reason to leave.”
He held up his hands in surrender.
“All right, all right.” He got up from the steps and grabbed the duffle bag again.
“Let’s go inside and fix a sandwich.”
“Where’s Aunt Erin?”
“She works an extra shift at the seafood joint on Saturdays. The tips are better and she said she’d bring us some fried shrimp and crab cakes for an early dinner. Also, she thinks she might have the day off on Thanksgiving which is a few days away. She’s hoping you’ll spend it with us.”
Not on your life, Jordan thought. Her foster mom cooked a great turkey for the holiday and invited her family. She felt a part of that family. No way would the judge order a Thanksgiving visit, she prayed.
He opened the bright yellow door, waiting for her to enter.
“Now get your butt in here and make us some sandwiches. Then we’ll start the computer lesson where we left off last time.”
“Some family visit,” Jordan muttered, following him inside while purposely scuffing the edge of her sandal on the fresh yellow paint. Aunt Erin’s never here and I get to make the lunch.
Three hours later Luke shut down the computer. Jordan rose from the bench where they’d been sitting, stretched her arms and back and took in the whole room. It was out of place in the run-down little house. Luke had commandeered the back porch, installed all-weather windows and a room air conditioner and set up his late model Apple home computer, printer and a separate station for a traveling lap top. One bookcase was stacked with manuals and DVDs about learning computer skills, software options, word processing and exploring the Internet. On the opposite wall black plastic crates were stacked, serving as file cabinets. They were labeled Insurance, State of Florida, Projects, Instruction and Personal.
Jordan had to admit that Luke knew an awful lot about computers and he was eager to share it with her. The time passed quickly. He showed her how to research her history lessons, work on her honors English semester essay and create files for each of her classes, as well as her basketball schedule. He set up an e-mail account so she could communicate with friends, teachers, her therapist and even Skip, her guardian ad litem.
Her foster mom didn’t own a computer, although she never complained about taking Jordan to the city library to go online. Also, she was trying to get the case manager to authorize payment for a laptop for Jordan. Skip volunteered to buy one for Jordan, but her foster mom wanted the State to buy one before Skip shelled out his own money. It got so complicated, Jordan thought. So many people were involved in her life, and now Aunt Erin, Luke and the judge.
The computer screen went dark as Luke rose from the bench. “Time flies when you’re having fun,” he said, pinching Jordan’s cheek. “You pick this up very quickly. One of my best students, I would say.”
“I think I’m your only student,” Jordan said, pushing his hand away. “I have to work on my essay for honors English.”
“Ah, that’s all work, little girl. Important, yes, school always is. But I want you to have some fun on the computer too. Games, chat rooms, maybe even creating a secret diary.”
“I thought you told me nothing was secret on your computer? You gave me your passwords. You said I could use the computer or laptop anytime I wanted. How am I supposed to have a secret diary? I have a little diary with a lock and key at home that Skip gave me, but I haven’t written in it yet.” Jordan glared at him, hands folded across her chest.
“Of course not, how old fashioned and boring. A paper diary with a lock and key. I’m going to show you how to create a special file for your own personal diary. You can choose your own password and I promise you can keep it a secret. That’s an exception to my usual “open computer” access. You can feel free to unload on that diary, how you feel about people, boys in your class, who you might like to date, your first kiss…”
“Whoa,” Jordan said, backing away. “I’m not sure my life is that interesting.”
“Come on, you’re a teenager. Life is filled with excitement and…”
Jordan walked away, grabbing the duffle bag left by the stairs.
“Aunt Erin should be home soon. I think I’ll take this upstairs to my room and change clothes. Thanks again for the computer lesson. You did teach me a lot.”
Jordan sat on the narrow bed next to the open window in the tiny room upstairs that had been designated hers. Aunt Erin encouraged her to think of ways to decorate it, choose a paint color or a special bedspread. Jordan didn’t want to go there yet. It felt too permanent.
Couldn’t she just visit Aunt Erin and Luke after her foster momma adopted her, like she was doing now? She really needed the computer lessons. Aunt Erin was sort of sweet, and she was getting used to Luke, and not afraid to slap his hand away. Her guardian, Skip, agreed with that plan. Why couldn’t the judge see it that way? Couldn’t she make an exception to the dumb law?
Jordan ran her right hand over the faint scars on her left wrist. Another couple of weeks and they wouldn’t be visible. No one would know she was a “cutter,” unless, of course, she did it again. At the thought of it, she reached in her purse for a cigarette stub and match. She’d found both in the night stand the first time she’d visited. The stubs had lipstick on them, so she could only assume they were Aunt Erin’s and that she was hiding them up here because Luke didn’t tolerate smoking. Luke again. Aunt Erin’s house, and he doesn’t allow her cigarettes?
She lit up, vowing no man would ever act that way with her, and leaned out the window to get rid of the smoke. Beneath her, she saw Aunt Erin at the front door in a white and blue waitress dress and sturdy-looking white shoes. She held take out bags of food in one arm and fiddled with her key, yelling.
“Hey, you two. Open up and let me in. I’m juggling dinner in both hands. Luke, open up. You must have had visitors today. One of them took a big chunk of paint out of your new yellow door.”