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Chapter 41

“Shhhhh. Someone might hear you.”

Jordan moved closer to Skip on the courtroom bench so that he wouldn’t whisper so loud, but it didn’t help. He was an emotional and opinionated man. He was always whispering about the way people dressed, how they spoke to each other and the judge and her rulings.

Jordan noticed that the judge always had a smile for Skip too, and often thanked him for his work as guardian ad litem. Not many men took time off work to volunteer in court for hours. Jordan knew she had the best guardian in town. Sometimes she fantasized that Skip was her father. It wasn’t like she was being disloyal. Her own father had run out on them when she was a baby. Probably driven away by her mom.

Jordan knew she would get Skip’s full attention if she told him about Luke’s computer, the pages of her diary that he posted and the hidden camera in her room. Just telling Skip about how Luke leered at her and pressed his thigh against hers made Skip’s face red. He’d sputtered “that bastard.” It was the first time she’d ever heard him swear. He was the only one she’d confided in. On one hand Jordan hoped Skip would tell Judge Dahlen. Maybe that would put an end to the visits to her aunt’s house or at least any plan that she might have to live there. On the other hand, Jordan knew from sitting in court hours at a time that the judge might just instruct Luke to stay his distance away from her. Luke’s use of her diary and the hidden camera gave her more evidence, but she knew there was more on his computer. She’d seen him watching naked people. She knew she could get that evidence too. If Skip had that, they would put Luke away for good and she could go back to her foster mom.

Skip told her “I’m working, undercover like, with a detective who wants more evidence, something tangible and criminal. Then we can send the bast …the creep to jail for a long time. It shouldn’t take much longer. Be patient. In the meantime, I’ve got you covered and you can call me anytime you feel frightened. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Jordan knew that Skip wouldn’t risk her safety. If he knew about her diary and the hidden camera, he would go right to the judge. But that evidence might not be enough. She would keep it from Skip until she got into Luke’s computer. She knew that Skip would act on that evidence at once. That would lead to Luke’s arrest and her return to her foster mom as Aunt Erin couldn’t support her without Luke. A double whammy. Luke in prison, she adopted by her foster mom. She could make it happen. Skip didn’t have to know about the diary or hidden camera; but like he said, “be patient” and she could be to get what she wanted.

She trusted Skip, but she loved her foster mom and missed the weekends they spent together. Today was another so-called status hearing, so the judge could hear how things were going. Her foster mom was waiting in the hallway talking to the case manager, along with Aunt Erin and Luke. Nothing major was going to happen today. Jordan turned around to see how many people behind her were still waiting for their case to be called. Her eyes locked onto a skinny black girl in an orange dress with tightly-curled, short dreds, clutching a small blue denim purse in her lap. The girl was leaning against a white lady in a navy suit who held a file folder. Probably her caseworker, Jordan thought. She spotted a battered brown suitcase on the floor in front of the lady. Yep, sure sign of a caseworker. Then she turned away, embarrassed, because the girl was sniffling and wiping her eyes with a rumpled tissue.

It wasn’t unusual to see people cry in this courtroom, Jordan thought. But something about the girl’s tears seemed out of place. I’ve seen her before, somewhere. Maybe one of those group homes a few years ago?

“Mikayla Wright. Everyone come forward on Mikayla Wright,” Judge Dahlen announced from the bench. “This is an emergency hearing we set on the docket today because of a tragic situation.”

Jordan heard feet shuffling behind her as the girl and her caseworker left their seats to join other people at the podium. Mikayla—Jordan now knew that was her name—tripped over the suitcase on her way to the aisle, dropping her purse. She bent to pick it up but the caseworker pulled her along.

“Don’t worry. We’ll get it after the hearing,” the woman hissed.

Jordan recognized Mr. Gonzalez, the handsome state attorney, as well as Dr. Visconti, who gave Mikayla a warm hug as she approached the podium. Then something happened that Jordan had never seen before.

Judge Dahlen left the bench and came down to the podium to give Mikayla a big hug, too. Mikayla clung to the judge. Pressed up against her black robe, wearing orange, she looked like a lady bug at night.

“This is an official hearing,” Judge Dahlen said, releasing Mikayla a bit, but still with an arm around her and looking right at her, “so we have to be on the record.

“This beautiful young lady, Mikayla Wright, lost her mother, her only parent, two days ago. They were recently reunited when Mikayla left foster care. I’ve been monitoring the case. I’m so, so sorry, Mikayla.” She squeezed the frail, trembling shoulders to her side again.

I know you are, Judge, Mikayla thought. You care. I know you do. The lady doctor cares, too. I know she does. But what good does it do me? Germaine cares, too. He loves me. But he got my momma back on those little pills. Maybe the pills that killed her. How can he do that if he loves me?

“Oh, my gosh, Skip. She lost her momma.” Jordan whispered this time, her hand clutching Skip’s.

Mikayla zoned out, half listening to the judge but mainly thinking of that awful time, just two nights ago. She remembered calling 911 and lying over her mother’s dead body, sobbing. The paramedics had to pull her away. She remembered taking the bottle of pills from her mother’s side and tossing it into the bushes. A day later, when the social workers took her back home to pack a suitcase, she retrieved the plastic bottle of pills. It had a phone number that Mikayla didn’t recognize scotch taped to it.

Let them think it was a heart attack, she thought. She had too many bad memories of days in court to talk about her mother’s drug problem. Now she’s dead. They don’t get to keep those pills, but I do. The pills were in her purse. A little plastic tube with a phone number scotch taped to it. It wasn’t Germaine’s number, she knew that. Maybe a “burner.” She knew his other girls had burners. Not her, though. She had his main cell phone number and could always call him.

Judge Dahlen turned to the caseworker. “All right, we’ve heard from the state and the juvenile probation officer. We agree this is a true emergency. What is the plan now? Where is Mikayla going to live?”

Wasn’t that always the question, Mikayla thought? Where can we shove the kid until she turns eighteen? She knew as well as the paramedics, that awful night when they found her momma. She knew her caseworker and the child protective investigators would be called immediately, and they were.

Even in her grief, the next morning she was able to pack a small suitcase with the few nice clothes she had. Even in her grief, she was able to slip away from the investigator to retrieve the plastic bottle of pills from the bushes. Even in her grief, she knew to put the pills in her purse and not her suitcase, which everyone seemed to think was the state’s property.

She turned back to the judge as she heard the babbling around her grow louder; discussions about a group home, or foster care. Blah, blah, blah. She’d heard it so often before. But her ears perked up when Dr. Visconti mentioned concerns for her safety.

“Mikayla,” Judge Dahlen concluded. “I want for you to be safe, secure, and as happy as you can be under the circumstances. I want you to have input into where you live, as you are fourteen years old. I’m instructing the case worker to take you to a couple of places, a group home, a foster home, to let you help make the decision.

“Wherever it is, we want you to commit to staying there. No running away. We are aware of some dangerous behavior you have engaged in, and I’m asking Dr. Visconti to meet with you in your new placement to counsel you about this matter. She may even bring a police detective with her. Is that okay with you?”

Mikayla didn’t look up, but nodded in agreement.

“What else could she do?” Jordan whispered to Skip. Talk about being put on the spot. Just then Jordan heard footsteps behind her. Someone was sitting down where Mikayla and her caseworker had been. Oh no, Jordan thought. The purse.

She slid off the bench, turned around and bent down to grab the purse, to hold it for Mikayla’s return. As she scooped it up, a lipstick tube and a plastic pill container rolled out of the open zipper and onto the floor.

“Shit,” Jordan said under her breath. Now Skip was staring at her, about to speak.

She scurried back to her seat, clutching the purse in one hand, the lipstick and pills in the other. Jordan pulled her sleeve back down over her right arm, concealing some healing scars from her cutting. It occurred to her, out of the blue, that she hadn’t been cutting lately. In spite of Luke’s behavior. Maybe she was getting stronger, thinking of putting him away.

Jordan thought Mikayla’s case was just about over, as Mikayla was making a move to come back to her seat. But then Judge Dahlen did something even stranger. Skip nudged her and smiled, as Judge Dahlen left the podium with Mikayla, arm still around her tight, and walked right to the gallery and stood silent, getting everyone’s attention.

The large mass of people—parents, kids, relatives and friends, caseworkers, mental health and drug counselors, guardians waiting for their hearings to be called—quieted down. The judge winked at Skip, then bent down to Mikayla, whispering.

Mikayla said nothing for a long minute, then nodded in agreement, and wiped her eyes with her crumbled tissue.

“This lovely child, Mikayla Wright, knows how her mother died. From an overdose of pain killing prescription drugs, specifically OxyContin. Those drugs were responsible for Mikayla being in foster care for years. Those drugs were responsible for Mikayla’s mother not being able to care for her. Those drugs were responsible for Mrs. Wright’s terrible relapse, where she succumbed again to Neverland and the oblivion produced by these powerful, addictive drugs.

“Thank goodness, our attorney general, Barbara Palmer, has put in place a state registry so doctors can check for prescription drug-shopping patients, pain killer salesmen and addicts who both use and sell. Mrs. Wright’s death, we hope, will be the last in a period of drug abuse so notorious and widespread that Florida has become the prescription drug abuse capital of our country. People flock in from other states to illegally buy these drugs. Kiosks are set up in airports, for the affluent to fly and buy, and take these drugs to their home states.

“It is shameful, and thank you General Palmer for putting measures in place to stop this epidemic. Of course, its success relies on physicians checking the data base, and those physicians must be the responsible, ethical ones, not the ones in cahoots with the dealers.

“Now, I couldn’t leave this opportunity to speak to all of you without mentioning another drug; an old one. Heroin has insidiously claimed its place as a replacement for pain killing opiates. Heroin, delivered by needle or in opiods, is the next drug epidemic Florida will face. Guard against it, I ask all of you. We don’t need one of Mikayla’s good friends having a mother or father rotted or killed by heroin addiction. Right, Mikayla?” She squeezed her again.

Mikayla nodded again, hugged the judge, and followed her caseworker back to her seat. Jordan couldn’t believe what she had seen. It was so powerful. Skip was clapping in appreciation as the entire courtroom rang out with applause and people stood to give the judge a standing ovation.

Mikayla walked back to her seat, looking far less tearful. Jordan quickly stuffed the lipstick into Mikayla’s purse and was going to put the pill bottle in when she stopped short. She saw a torn piece of paper taped to the container. A telephone number, written in ink, had been wrapped around and scotch-taped to the bottle of small while pills..

Jordan gasped. She recognized the phone number. Skip watched, curious, as Jordan stuffed the pills and the lipstick into the purse and reached behind her to give the purse to a smiling Mikayla. Just then, Judge Dahlen called her case and they all approached the podium. Jordan stood in between Skip and her foster mom. Aunt Erin and Luke huddled around the case manager.

“All right,” Judge Dahlen said at the end of the short hearing. “Nothing has changed. Jordan and her stepmother still want an adoption. The guardian ad litem approves that. But Aunt Erin and her paramour want custody, citing a preference in the law for blood relatives. I guess we are going to have to set this for trial.

Luke and the judge scowled at each other. Aunt Erin looked downcast.

“Now,” the judge said, eyes scanning all of them, “I get tired of all this warfare. Tell me something good, something nice that happened over the holidays.”

Jordan jumped at the chance to say something. She grabbed the hands of Skip and her foster mom.

" Judge,” she said. ” My foster mom and Skip gave me the best Christmas present ever ! Sailing lessons at the Pass-A-Grille Yacht Club. I’ve already had two lessons and it’s really fun.”

" Why, Jordan,” the judge said. “That’s a wonderful gift. I thank them both for giving you that opportunity. My ten-year-old son Anders takes sailing lessons there too. They have a great program. I’m happy for you. ”

Jordan left the courtroom with Skip and her foster mom. Arrangements were made with the case worker for the next weekend’s visit to Aunt Erin and Luke. When the group broke up Jordan tugged Skip’s sleeve impatiently.

" Yes, yes, what is it?”

She started to tell him that she recognized the phone number on the pill container, but changed her mind.

“Thanks again for those sailing lessons, Skip,” she smiled up at him.

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