Over the weekend we took Jane shopping for school supplies: pens, pencils, folders, a calculator, and spiral notebooks. At Bekka's suggestion we forewent buying a regular book bag and instead went to a military surplus store in Oceanside, where we found a strapped canvas bag the right size and shape. Jane began to personalize it by drawing the Crass logo on the upper flap. I personalized the Cutlass by putting an Operation Ivy sticker in the rear window.
"Big day tomorrow," Bekka said to Jane on Sunday. "Go to bed at a decent hour. Remember, your first bell is at 7:45. Set up the downstairs coffee maker tonight, so all you have to do in the morning is turn it on. What are you going to do for lunch?"
"Tomorrow at least, hit a drive thru. Lenny said he'd give me some money. I'm gonna buy a box of Snickers bars and a case of Slimfast, that'll cover my lunches for a while. And I remembered what I forgot to ask about Friday."
Jane sighed. "My textbooks. I don't know if they have extras in the classrooms or what, but I'll be flying blind through my first few classes. If I have to I'll go to the office and demand them."
Jane had spent the morning in a bikini, washing and waxing the Cutlass. She did an admirable job of reenacting that one scene from Cool Hand Luke. Once the car was dry, I rolled it into the garage and vacuumed the interior, then applied Armor-All to the tires and dashboard. There was no question that she would show up looking very sharp.
Her alarm went off at some ungodly hour in the morning. We got up long enough to wish her luck and give her a hug. She was headed in early in order to track down her textbooks. "If I can't get a hold of them today, I'll just find a cute boy in each class and ask him if he'll share with me," she said.
She got home a little after three that day, heading straight for my office so she could give me a hug. I was cooling it in there with Eddie the Big-Dicked Jew, one of my performers. He was annoying me by playing with a paddle ball he'd picked up somewhere.
"Hi Lenny!" she said, putting me in a clinch. Eddie wanted to know where his hug was, so I gave him a glare that told him to shut the fuck up. Jane gave him a hug anyways.
"So how did it go?" I asked.
"Wow. It's way more crowded than I'm used to," replied Jane. "I was able to get my textbooks out of the library before classes started, so that wasn't an issue. I was able to jump right into the lessons, all the material seemed familiar to me, like I'd already done it last year. What was weird was being introduced to everybody in each class. Six times today I had to explain that I came to California by myself, that my family is still in Florida, and that I have no legal guardian. That freaked out a lot of people. Whatever, people seemed nice enough. It's going to take me some time adjusting to the size of the place, and the number of other people.
"If today was any indication, I should have an easy time with my classes. Like I said, it felt like it was all material I'd covered before. I'm gonna talk to my teachers about any stuff I missed by starting school late, so I'm not screwing myself over grade-wise. My teachers seem nice enough, but dull. It's like any personality they had has been surgically removed.
"Oh! I love the car! I went out to the parking lot after school and there was a whole crowd of boys around it, and some of them were really cute. They were asking me questions about it that I didn't know the answers to, but that didn't seem to bother them. That car is a boy-magnet!"
"So long as they don't get caught in the undercarriage," said Eddie. "By the way, my name's Eddie, I work here. And you are?"
Jane extended her hand and said, "I'm Jane. I'm living with Lenny and Bekka right now. Speaking of, where is Bekka?"
"She's upstairs having sex with my girlfriend," said Eddie.
"They're filming a scene," I clarified.
"So are you performing here?" Eddie asked Jane.
"Ummm.... No?" she replied.
I said, "Eddie, Jane here has just gotten home from her first day at Carlsbad High. It will be another couple years before she could perform."
Eddie looked confused. "Wait, how old are you, sister?"
Jane looked demure and said, "I'm sixteen."
Eddie's jaw dropped. He pounded himself in the head and yelled, "Oy vey! I could go to jail for the thoughts I've been having! What the hell are you doing here, little girl?"
I explained, "Jane is a friend of ours from Florida. Her parents kicked her out, so she rode Greyhound cross country and now she's staying with us."
Jane expanded, "I'm staying here legally, I'm emancipated. I'm just lucky Lenny and Bekka took me in. I literally showed up on their front porch."
Eddie nodded. "You're underage. You're the reason those damn notes showed up on the stages telling everyone to put on clothes when they go out."
"Bingo," I said. "We're trying to keep things as discreet as possible until we move into the new house. Understand, Eddie?"
"Got it. No frightening the novice performers with my putz until after you guys move. No problem."
"Wait, how are you frightening performers?" asked Jane.
I said, "Eddie here is, ah, large. Some women would say uncomfortably large. Girls that are new to the job aren't expecting to have to deal with someone as large as Eddie, and they panic. Basically, Eddie flashes the novices, to their terror and for his own amusement."
Jane had a perky look on her face that I was starting to recognize. "Some of us like that kind of challenge," she said.
Eddie grinned and said, "Really. Tell me more."
"So, how's Elspeth today, Eddie?" I muttered.
"Fine, fine. So, sixteen, huh? In a lot of countries you'd already be past the age of consent."
"Eddie? Do you see this pencil? Do you know all the sorts of hellish things I could do to you with this pencil? You're getting closer to finding out what they are, every time you open your mouth."
Jane got up from her chair and came around to my side of the desk. She gave me a kiss and said, "I gotta go up and start dinner. I'll tell you more about school when we eat."
"Okay, talk to you in a bit, pet," I said. She went out towards the stairs.
"So, you have an underage Florida hottie show up on your porch, and you just invite her in?" Eddie exclaimed. "Schmuck, if the cops find out she's here, they're gonna rip your head off and shit down your neck."
"Got that covered," I said. "She's been legally emancipated, sorta like a teenager getting a divorce from her parents. Legally she's now an adult. Obviously there are some things that supersede the emancipation: she can't smoke, she can't drink, she can't be a performer. But in a lot of legal ways, she is fully independent. Hell, she enrolled herself in school."
Bekka came into the office wearing her kimono robe. She pushed my office chair away from the desk and plopped down in my lap, reaching for my Marlboros and lighter. She lit up, looked across the desk at Eddie, and said to him, "Your girlfriend just finished eating me like a pie."
"Really," Eddie responded.
"Oh yeah. Why the hell do you think I want a Marlboro so bad? She really shook my rafters."
Eddie looked frustrated. "You mean to tell me that I could have been upstairs watching that, and instead I was down here staring at your ugly husband?"
"You got to meet our ward," I pointed out. "Oh babe, Jane is home from school and is upstairs getting dinner ready."
"What time are we eating?" Bekka asked.
"She's cooking in the crock pot, so probably around eight."
"How was her first day of school?"
"Pretty good, I guess. She was happy."
I shrugged. "She didn't mention any. And she's happy with her car. It has the ability to draw boys like flies to shit, and apparently some of them rate as cute."
Bekka leaned her head on my shoulder. "Oh god. We're going to have to deal with irate parents at some point, aren't we? All pissed off that Jane corrupted their darling baby boy."
"What's the story with the car?" asked Eddie.
"I picked up a '71 Cutlass, one with the 442 motor and hood scoops. It's a serious hot rod, exactly the sort of thing that would attract a teenage boy's attention. We gave it to Jane to be her daily driver. Hell, you heard her, she's overjoyed the way dudes flock around it. It's out in the driveway, go take a look if you want."
Eddie said, "I believe I will. I want to see the current vehicular fashion for teenage punk rock girls." He swept out of the office and towards the front door.
"The shoot went okay?" I asked Bekka, lighting my own cigarette.
"Yeah. Steve is happy with the footage. By my calculation, we have two more fuck scenes to shoot, then do all the exterior work. You got all the permits taken care of?"
"Oh yeah. We get to block off Fourth Avenue between Cedar and B so we can do the vehicle scenes. They're giving us a forty-five minute window to work in, so we gotta move fast. You're sure you can put the Plymouth into a sideways drift on that hill?"
Bekka smiled. "Piece of cake. As near as I know, ours will be the first porn movie with vehicle action in it. So long as there's enough space between me and Ellen's Grand Am, we'll be fine. Who's driving the Grand Am?"
"I am," I said. "Remember, we only have five blocks to play around in, so we gotta get moving fast and stop even quicker. And let's avoid swapping paint, no matter how cool it would look."
"Why don't we use the Cutlass instead of the Grand Am?"
"Naw. It's gotta look like a car a regular joe would be driving. The Cutlass is too fancy. The Fury works for a tough private eye's car, it's mean looking. Maybe the next time we shoot an action sequence we'll use the Cutlass, but not this time."
Eddie walked back into the office and announced, "I swear, you two are obsessed with fast cars. How quick is that hot rod, anyway?"
I grinned up at him. "Quick enough. You gotta watch yourself leaving stoplights, otherwise you burn out."
"And you gave it to a sixteen year old girl to drive?"
"Why not? She's a good driver, she'll be well protected with all that steel around her, and personally everyone's first car should be cool. Mine wasn't, so I get the vicarious charge of handing a hot rod to some other teenager to enjoy. I'm glad Jane likes it."
Bekka stood up. "I'm gonna go take a shower and say hi to Jane. You coming up soon?"
"Yeah, in a few. I'm gonna talk to Small Steve, get his feeling for today's video."
Eddie said, "As soon as Elspeth comes down, we're taking off. There's a bluegrass bar in Lakeside she wants to visit, and that's quite a hike."
I shooed Eddie out and locked up the office. Small Steve bumped into me in the hallway of the second floor. We talked briefly about the day's shoots, all of which he was happy with. He headed downstairs to do his rough edits.
Up in the penthouse, Jane was merrily chopping vegetables and putting them in a crock pot. We were having stew. "You guys have a good spice rack," she said.
"Any homework tonight?" I asked.
"Some. It shouldn't take me more than forty minutes to do everything. Like I said, this is material I'm already familiar with, so it should go fast."
Jane sighed. "It's weird. I'm in my junior year of high school, but I feel like I'm older than everyone else there."
"No big surprise," I said. "You're living away from your parents at age sixteen, you're on the other end of the country from them. You're living independently. You've had a court in Florida declare you an adult. And you've taken on quite a bit of responsibility."
"Yeah. Nobody else there went through what I went through to be in high school. That's what it is, everyone else are still living like kids. They can count on their parents to sort out all the heavy shit. I mean, I'm lucky. You and Bekka take really good care of me. I don't have to worry about working a job while I go to school. But I'm still on my own, you know?"
I kissed her forehead. "Remember, you got me and Bekka to help. We love you, and we'll help you with your problems. Okay?"
"Okay. Hey, do you want biscuits with your stew?"
She smiled and said, "Then I need you to run to the store and get some Bisquick. And a pound of butter. Is that cool?"
"Yeah, no problem. Lemme wait until Bekka is out of the shower so I can tell her I'm taking off. Mind if I take the Cutlass?"
"Go ahead. The keys are on my bed."
I heard the water stop running, so I went into the bedroom and told Bekka I was headed for the Safeway, and did we need anything?
"Beer," she said.
I got the Cutlass in motion and cruised down the hill towards El Camino Real. It was a wonderful afternoon, the sort of weather that makes Minnesotans puke with jealousy. For fun, I opened up the Cutlass down El Camino Real, dodging through traffic.
I considered briefly. For somebody who had to live with a gun under his arm, I actually had a pretty blessed life. I had the love of a beautiful intelligent woman, and also a sort-of adopted little sister whom I also loved. My career flourished. I didn't want for anything.
Finding myself living with a teenage girl was a challenge, but helping her was the right thing to do. With luck, our collective dream of her going to UC Berkeley would come true. From there, she could do anything she wanted. We would help her on her path from youth to adulthood. And despite her current aspirations, she wouldn't go into porn to make money.
Right at that moment, I couldn't think of a single thing to complain about. That felt warm. I relished it.