We're bombing towards Evelyn's in the Fleetwood, Jane leaning over the front seat so she can talk. Our dinner date is set for 5:30, and I don't want to be late. Bekka is giving me a smirk, prompted by my appearance. I'm wearing a tie. Jane is also amused by this. She is in the same clothes she went to school in, a Road Warriors t-shirt and her black leather pants that look like they were sprayed on. She says, "I've never seen you in a shirt with buttons."
"I like to think I clean up nice," I reply. "For your sake, I'd just as soon make a good impression with Lance's family."
"Lose the tie, Lenny," says Bekka. "It's Evelyn's, they're used to seeing you in a t-shirt. They'll think you just got out of court."
I moor the Fleetwood in a space and the three of us stand in the parking lot, finishing our cigarettes. We're stressed. We considered and rejected the idea of hitting the bong before leaving to relax, figuring it would be best to play things straight at this little meet-up. "Oh!" says Jane, and unrolls her pack of Newports from her sleeve, stashing them back in the car. "I shouldn't have those with me in front of a cop, huh?"
"Good point," I say. "Especially not in front of this cop."
We head in to find the Grisham/Ross family already waiting in the foyer. When we walked in, Detective Ross stood up and said, "Lenny, Bekka, what are you two doing here?"
"I believe we're here for dinner with you. You're here with Lance, right?"
"Yes.... I was under the impression we were here to meet Lance's girlfriend's parents."
Lance tugged at Ross's sleeve. "Richard, I told you Jane's folks are back in Florida, and she lives out here with her friends. These are them."
Ross's face settled into a scowl and stayed there. "You two are harboring a runaway minor?" he asked me and Bekka.
"Legally, she's not a minor," said Bekka. "She's been emancipated by the state of Florida, and now has most of the legal rights of an adult. That's how she got back into school. Detective, meet Jane."
Jane stepped forward and put her hand out. "Hello, sir."
"Hello. Tell me, they allow you in school with your hair like that?" asked Ross.
"They haven't said anything so far," Jane replied.
"I think it's cute," said Lance.
I said, "Why don't we get our table and order drinks. We can complete the introductions there."
We took our table and were introduced to Vicky, Lance's mom, and her daughter Haley, who was nineteen and a freshman at UCSD. I would come to be surprised at her enrollment at such a school, as she struck me over the evening as being a supreme airhead.
Our drink orders were taken: double Johnnie Walker for me and Bekka, Miller for Ross, and soft drinks the rest of the way around. We already knew from experience that they would serve Jane, but since she was a high school girl sitting with a cop, she refrained from ordering a glass of Chardonnay. Like her cigarettes, it was best to keep things subtle in this situation.
Ross, the cop that he was, began grilling Jane. "So how did you come to be in California?"
"Greyhound," Jane replied.
"Do you parents know where you are?"
"They do. They have the address and phone number, and can contact me whenever they feel like. If they feel like it."
"How did you come to be living with these two?" asked Ross, gesturing at me and Bekka.
Bekka filled in, sipping at her Johnnie Walker. "We met Jane a couple years ago, while we were on honeymoon in Fort Lauderdale. We hit it off and carried on a correspondence. When she got out here, she looked us up."
Vicky asked, "So what do you two do for a living?"
Bekka and I glanced at each other. I said, "I run a video production service. Do you work, ma'am?"
Ross interjected with, "Yes, I know about the videos you make, Lenny. Donner told me all about them. If you were in Encinitas city limits I'd have you shut down. Do you think it's right for a teenage girl to be around that kind of environment?"
Haley said, "What kind of environment?"
Ross finished his beer and said, "Lenny and Bekka here make adult movies."
"Oh my gawd!" tittered Haley.
"You haven't answered my question," Ross pressed.
"Jane is kept away from all aspects of production," I said. "Nothing questionable has ever happened around her. In less than a month we're locating to our new house on Neptune Street, and it will be a moot point."
"I can still use the pool at the mansion though, right?" Jane pleaded.
"As long as one of us is there, yes. Jane is quite the swimmer," I said.
"How come you didn't go out for the swim team?" Lance asked Jane.
"Without alligators to chase me, I'm afraid I wouldn't turn in very good times."
"Wait, alligators?" said Haley.
Jane explained, "I'm from the Florida swamps, that's where I learned to swim. Realizing you've got a gator in the water with you is nerve-rattling, and you head for the nearest piece of land you can find before he catches up. It's why I picked up the nickname Gator Bait."
"Back to the subject at hand," said Ross. "Jane, do you consider yourself to be in a safe environment living with these two?"
"Of course," Jane responded coolly. "I have my own room, I'm fed, Lenny and Bekka have bought me clothes, they even bought me a car to drive."
"Yes, I've heard about your car. A Cutlass hot rod, is it?"
"That's the one. I love it."
"You don't think it's unusual that they'd buy you a car? Like, they don't expect anything from you?"
Bekka said, "All we expect from Jane is for her to hit the honor roll each semester, and to help around the house, just like any normal living situation. What else should we expect from her?"
I got mad. I said, "I know what you're getting at, and no. Jane will not be working for us. That's illegal, for one. Also, by the time she'd be old enough, she'll be in college, hopefully UC Berkeley. Jane is in a safe and healthy living environment. Do you have more questions along those lines?"
Ross sniffed and said, "Yes, but I'll leave them for now."
Bekka said, "And how was your day, Detective Ross?"
We went out into the parking lot en masse after dinner. Jane and Lance were holding hands and giving each other moony eyes. We stopped behind my car. Ross looked it over.
"A brand new Fleetwood, Lenny? That must have set you back some."
I shrugged. "I've got a friend who owns a Cadillac dealership up in Anaheim. Even with the extras, he got me a hell of a deal."
"What extras?" asked Ross. Vicky and Haley were peering through the windows.
"Well, I got heated leather seats, instead of the usual velour. Also, it has bulletproof glass all the way around, and a hot motor. And anti-sway bars to help with the handling. I'll have this thing for a while."
Ross cast a suspicious eye on the Fleetwood and stepped up next to me. "It's like something a pimp would drive," he said in my ear.
I kept my cool. "The next time I meet one, I'll have to ask," I responded.
Ross herded his wife and stepkids to their minivan, and took off. We watched them depart, then all three of us lit cigarettes. We needed them.
"There, that didn't go too bad.... Did it?" said Jane, dragging on her Newport.
"Detective Ross intimated that he thinks I'm your pimp," I replied.
"He didn't!" said Bekka.
"It could have gone worse. At least he seemed relaxed over dinner. I think he may have smiled once."
"I could use a bong load right about now."
"Me too," said Jane. "Or whiskey."
Bekka said, "No whiskey, it's a school night. You can have a bong load, though."
We got in the Fleetwood and I piloted us home. We'd no sooner settled in the conversation pit and flipped on the TV when the phone rang. It was Lance.
"Hey sweetie," Jane said into the phone. "How's things? He said what? I can't believe him.... No way.... He'll have to fucking deal!.... Okay, good.... Okay, see you tomorrow."
Jane hung the phone back up and sighed. "Well, Lance's stepdad liked me well enough but he hates you two."
Bekka laughed while loading the bong for Jane. "We expected that from him," she said. "He's operating off a lot of bad information."
"What does he know?" asked Jane, accepting the bong.
"Oh, he knows exactly what we do for a living, for one. And his former boss told him about the shooting trouble we've been in, plus the one he was present for outside out the new place. He has us marked. How much of that is carried over to you is entirely up in the air."
"He'd better leave you alone," I growled. "The most he could make on us is allowing you to fuck his stepson. I'll admit, we're not the best adult influences you could have. We buy you cigarettes and we get high with you. We won't even discuss the Ecstasy. You gotta keep all this under your hat."
"I'm not stupid," said Jane. "I know I'm getting a lot more leeway here than if I was living with normal adults. I appreciate it." She began firing through the bong load.
Bekka said, "With them, just like at school, you gotta keep things subtle. We're just the adults you live with, and our lives don't affect yours. Get it?"
Jane passed the bong back for my load. "Yeah.... But it's hard. I've said before, it feels like I'm so much older than the other people in my classes. What do I tell them about how I live?"
"You don't tell them, or at least keep things subtle. You're living a very different life from your peers, and you'll have to adjust to that. Like what we're doing now, can you imagine your classmates doing the same thing with the adults in their lives?
"Exactly. We're treating you like an adult, and we expect you to live as one. That means keeping things low key."
I said, "Having you here is a blessing for all of us. We don't want to fuck that up, okay? Just keep things sane with Lance and your classmates. What they don't know won't hurt them. Does Lance know you get high with us?"
Jane said, "I've never brought it up. He's kind of anti drug, so it seemed like the bad thing to discuss."
"Good. So far as he's concerned, you're on the straight and narrow. No beer, no weed, no whiskey on the weekends, and most of all no Ecstasy. Especially no Ecstasy."
"I can do that."
I said, "Good. I'd hate you missing your weekend whiskey. It's fun hearing you get all Southern when you drink."
Jane punched me in the arm. "Hopefully that's something that will disappear the longer I live in California."
"It's cute," I teased, and went through my bong load. Bekka took the bong back and set up her own load. Then we settled in to watch TV.
Around two in the morning there was a tapping on the door. I slid out of bed and answered it.
Jane stood there, shaking. She whispered, "Can I sleep with you?"
Bekka propped herself up on an elbow and asked, "What's going on?"
Jane said, "I'm feeling really scared. Can I sleep with you guys?"
I invited her in and had her sit down on the side of the bed. She said, "I had a bad dream. I was back at my house in Gainesville, and my parents were coming after me, only they weren't my parents, they were monsters, and I couldn't get away from them...." And Jane began began doing something I thought I'd never see, which was to start crying. From fear. I realized the girl was terrified.
Bekka said, "Here, get in between us." She scooted over and pulled back the covers.
Jane slid into bed and squeezed up against Bekka. "Thank you," she said.
"Not a problem," I said, getting back in bed. "Ain't no monsters getting in here."
Bekka kissed Jane's neck. "Listen pet, as long as me and Lenny are around, nothing will ever hurt you. Ever. Capiche?"
"Okay." Jane snuggled down deeper into the covers, and wrapped an arm around my waist. "I love you both."
"We love you. Now make with some sleep, you need to be up for school in a few hours. I'll set my alarm so you're not late."
Bekka put an arm around her shoulders and gently stroked her head. Soon Jane's shivering stopped, and she began to lightly snore. I cuddled up against my adoptive teenage daughter and fell back to sleep.