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Chapter 34

Jordan threw her duffle bag on the stairs and went straight to the back porch, Luke’s computer room. For a change, Aunt Erin had been there to greet her at the curb. Luke had some kind of appointment and wouldn’t be home until dinner, she told Jordan.

“I’m gonna lay down for a while, honey, if it’s okay with you. We were really busy last night and this morning at the restaurant. Thanksgiving’s over and a lot of tourists are here.”

Jordan sympathized as she watched her aunt slide into a worn out recliner, slowly remove her shoes and massage the arches of her feet.

“I’m way too tired to be much company. Wake me up when Luke comes home. He’s supposed to be bringing us some baby back ribs and a few sides from the Fire Pit. Get yourself a soda from the fridge and some chips if you want them. Maybe the three of us can go get a Christmas tree after dinner.”

She yawned and limped to the master bedroom

“That’s okay, Aunt Erin,” Jordan called after her. “I’m fine. I can wait until dinner. I’m kind of tired today, too.”

Jordan looked up from the computer. She must have sounded distracted and overly polite. She could have made a smart crack about “some family visit, you asleep most of the time,” but she’d already opened Luke’s computer and his e-mail. Nothing was password protected, just like he’d said. Jordan would have bet that a touchy-feely guy like Luke with shifty eyes and wandering hands would have locked up his computer. She tapped the keys quickly, excited about having full access to the computer while he was gone.

She opened some of Luke’s e-mails, especially the ones with attachments, but found nothing but technical computer talk, mostly between men. She scrolled through his list of files, opened a few at random, and found they dealt with insurance clients. Boring stuff. No wonder he didn’t worry about her reading it.

She opened her files, using the password she’d created: PIKS (Skip spelled backwards) and skimmed through them, noting that they looked the same as when she’d left them. He hadn’t touched those either, and he hadn’t asked her to share her password. She scrolled down to the file she’d created that needed a second password: terces yraid. It too looked just like she’d left it.

She stood up and listened for Aunt Erin’s snoring from their bedroom next to the kitchen. Great! She was all alone, so she could get started. She found Aunt Erin’s purse in the kitchen and took out her red lipstick, eye shadow and eye liner. Using her reflection off the TV screen as a mirror, she applied the makeup, smacking her lips, rolling her eyes and batting her eyelashes. She fluffed her red curls to give them some height and opened the top three buttons on her green blouse. Okay, so it was a triple A training bra. No one would notice. She no longer looked thirteen.

Jordan found her aunt’s phone, switched it to camera setting and took a selfie. She quickly tapped in the e-mail account Luke had created for her and sent the selfie there, deleting it from the phone when she heard the whoosh.

She ran back into the computer room just as the e-mail hit her inbox. She opened up the picture. “Oh my God.” It looked more real on the computer screen. You could see the tops of the little buds that were her breasts, but not the nipples. It was just what she wanted.

“Dear Diary,” she typed.

“This picture is how I feel inside. Older than my age, which is thirteen, because of all the experiences I have had in life, mostly bad, and because I want to grow up fast so that I can make my own decisions, and not have adults make them for me.

“Yes, dear diary, as you probably guessed, those decisions include meeting a special boy and maybe even having a boyfriend. I think I’m ready to date, or hook up, like my friend Cherise calls it, because I feel so much older.

“Please keep this a secret, diary. I know you will. More later. Nadroj”

Jordan read it over three times, pleased with herself and especially the picture. Then she shut down the computer. She didn’t think Luke had broken her password yet. It was a pretty harmless message and if he did, well…

It was time to head upstairs for a smoke. With her aunt around today, it might be her only time. Emboldened, Jordan stuck her hand in her aunt’s purse, felt the cigarette pack, and took out a whole one. She skipped up the stairs, holding the cigarette in front of her. No stubs this time. My lucky day all around, she thought.

Jordan opened the upstairs bedroom window a crack and decided to lay down on the bed, cigarette in one hand and a saucer for an ashtray balanced on her stomach. Her English lit papers lay beside her. She’d get to them as soon as she finished the cigarette. She puffed slowly, not wanting it to end. She felt so sleepy.

The white ash that burned through her tee shirt woke Jordan up, before she smelled the smoke from the English papers, now on fire. She leaped off the bed, ran into the bathroom for a towel and began stamping out the small flames. She put the fire out quickly, but smoke filled the room. She opened the window further and tried to fan the smoke out with her hands, but it drifted toward the ceiling.

“Oh, shit,” she hissed softly, looking up. There in the middle of the bedroom ceiling was a smoke alarm, probably about to go off. She knew about those from her group homes. If there was one thing the state was good at, it was putting smoke alarms everywhere teenagers slept. They didn’t want the publicity of a burned-to-death foster child. However, disabling smoke alarms was a popular prank with the foster kids.

Jordan dragged an old wooden desk chair to a spot right under the smoke alarm. She put her blue duffle on top of the chair, and climbed on it. Reaching as high as possible, she could just barely touch the smoke alarm to remove the battery. That was easier than finding the off switch.

As she reached around the black box for the battery, she nearly fell off the chair. Instead of a battery, the front of the smoke alarm was a round camera lens, pointed right at the bed where Jordan had been sleeping.

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