Jacob Morgendorffer, Esq.
An early June Friday Afternoon, 1988
Quinn vigorously returned Olga's wave as the young woman backed her car from the Morgendorffer driveway. Jake's wave, while not as energetic, was affable nonetheless for it. The idea of hiring a summer nanny for the girls was not his yet after two weeks he saw the wisdom of it. Daria and Quinn were able to stay at home in familiar surroundings and among friends instead of a day care center where the choice of companions and activities would not have be theirs to make. It was expensive but it was money well spent in Jake's opinion.
Olga, a Lawndale State University Junior-to-be, proved immediately popular with all four Morgendorffers. Jake and Helen found her conscientious and genuinely caring which eased their minds considerably. Quinn delighted in her because Olga seemed to know a thousand stories and games to amuse her and her friends. They did not even miss the television that Olga refused to allow turned on during the day. Daria liked Olga because, while she always invited her to join in whatever diversion she set up to occupy Quinn, she respected Daria's choice if she wanted to read, be on her own, or play with Jane just so long as she stayed near.
"Let's get your sister," Jake said as Olga disappeared down the street.
"She's at Jane's," Quinn replied.
"Of course," Jake chuckled. Coming home from work, he would usually find Quinn with of any number of little girls. Daria, however, was rarely in the company of anyone but Jane. Helen worried about that but it did not bother Jake. Mary, his older sister, never sought to be popular content with just a close friend or two growing up yet she was very happy. It helped that Mad Dog doted on her as much as he abused Jake.
Together Quinn and her father walked to the Lane house as she filled Jake in on her day with Olga the highlight of which was her and Stacy, a friend of hers from kindergarten, learning to bake oatmeal cookies in the Morgendorffer kitchen with Daria and Jane and inexplicably Jane's twelve-year-old brother Trent joining them.
"Trent?" asked Jake frowning.
"Uh huh," Quinn confirmed. "Olga said he did good."
"He did well," Jake corrected her.
"Uh huh, that too," Quinn said hopping onto the Lane's front stoop.
Jake knocked at the door. As usual, the front door to the Lane residence was unlocked. Jake, however, never could bring himself to walk into someone else's home unannounced.
"Hey, Captain" Trent drawled sleepily when he opened the door.
"Hi, Sport," Jake replied. "I came over to check on Daria."
Trent nodded leisurely. "Yeah, I think they're in Janie's room coloring or sumthin'. Come on in," he added when he realized that Jake was waiting for such an invitation.
"Thank you," Jake replied. "Is your mother still in Taos?"
"No," Trent hesitantly answered. "She called a couple of days ago saying she was going on to Mohave or Monterrey. Maybe Montana...I dunno, some 'M' place, Summer took the message. Mom said she'd be back in August or so."
Jake kept his disapproval to himself as he followed Trent up the staircase. That the Lanes were free spirits he understood, he certainly met enough of their ilk over the last couple of decades but the year in Korea re-enforced what he already knew, that Helen and the girls were his very life. How Vincent and Amanda could leave their children for weeks on end seemingly on a whim was beyond him especially leaving them in the care of Summer whom Jake would not have entrusted with a goldfish. Her own fatherless twin boys were hellions, running wild without a whiff of a parental boundary. Jake frankly feared for their future and they were only three years old.
Something nagged at Jake's subconscious as he continued up the stairs and down the hall. Something was out of place. He looked around. It dawned on him as they reached Jane's room. It was quiet, too quiet as went the old movie cliché.
"Hi, Daddy," Daria brightly said looking up from where she was lying on the floor, a sketchpad and colored pencils strewn before her.
"Hi, Captain," Jane said. "We're drawing."
"So I see, "Jake replied glancing quickly at the two drawings. He then took another, closer look. He knew that he was no expert but to him both sketches were startlingly good particularly for two little girls not yet in the second grade. It was a talent that the girls needed an opportunity to further. Jake made a mental note to check into local art programs for children.
"They're very, very good," he told them. "Each of them."
"Thank you, Captain." Jane said a slight blush creeping on to her cheeks.
"Really, Daddy?" Daria asked simultaneously.
"Really, Daria," he said before asking. "Where's Summer?"
"She left," Trent said.
Jane shrugged while looking over to her brother. Trent's shrug was nearly identical. "Dunno," he answered. "She told Penny to keep an eye on us and left with her new boyfriend."
"Where did they go?" Jake asked. "And when is she coming back?"
"I dunno where they went," Trent answered. "As to coming back, I don't think she is. She packed most of her clothes and took the boys with her."
"When was this?" Jake demanded.
"I'd like to talk to Penny," Jake said. "Is she in her room?"
Trent looked away while he shook his head. "She left yesterday. Said that she was sick of America and was going to live in Mexico."
"Okay," Jake said slowly. "Are you able to get in touch with your father?"
Trent shook his head again.
"You have an older brother, don't you?" Jake asked. "Wendell, isn't it?"
"Wind," Jane corrected him.
"Wind," Jake repeated. "Where does he live?"
"Here when his not in college," Trent answered. "But right now he's backpacking in Canada with his fiancé. I'm not sure when he'll be back before you ask."
Jake ran a hand over his close-cropped hair. He clamped his mouth shut to keep bottled the burst of profanity that so desperately wanted to escape. "So it's just the two of you here?" he asked Trent and Jane after a moment.
"Yeah," Trent tightly replied.
"Okay," Jake said quietly. "Trent, Jane, I want the two of you to pack some clothes. You'll stay with us until one of your parents return."
Jane smiled broadly. She and Daria scrambled to their feet and ran to Jane's bureau. An extended sleepover was right up their street. They were determined to get Jane packed before Jake changed his mind.
Trent, however, did not move. He belligerently stared at Jake for a long moment. Jake returned his stare abet with a far kinder one.
"Do you have something you want to say, Trent?" he finally asked.
"I can take care of my sister," he confidently said.
"Quinn, help Jane and Daria, please," Jake said before placing a hand on Trent's shoulder gently but firmly turning him toward the door. "Come on, son."
"Trent," he continued as they walked to the boy's room. "I know that you love Jane and you would do the absolute best you could to take care of her."
"I can," Trent replied.
"No, you can't" Jake said compassionately.
Trent whirled around anger burning in his eyes but Jake held up a hand before the boy could speak. "Please, Trent," he said. "Just do as I ask."
"What do you care?" Trent snapped.
"That's what neighbors do, Trent, they care," Jake replied calmly. "Now let's get some clothes packed and get you and your sister moved, all right? I need to get dinner started."
"No," he barked. "We don't need to go anywhere. I can take care of Janie."
"Trent," Jake began patiently but the boy interrupted him.
"I can take care of Janie," Trent sharply repeated.
"You can take care of Jane?"
"Answer me," Captain Morgendorffer said in a restrained voice that still demanded attention. "How much food is in the house, right now? Do you have money to buy more? Do you know how to do laundry? If someone broke into the house, what would you do? What about a fire? Do you have extinguishers? What sort of arrangement is there with the utility company? How much first aid do you know? What do you do for shock? Can you recognize a person in shock? Is Jane allergic to anything? What do you do in case of an allergic reaction? Can you drive Jane to the hospital if she got hurt?"
Trent opened his mouth several times but no words came out. He had no answers to Jake's questions. Suddenly, his shoulders sagged in defeat.
Jake draped an arm around him. "Sport," he began sympathetically. "You're a fine young man. The fact that you willingly shouldered the responsibility for the care of your sister shows me that you have the right stuff but it will be better for the two of you to stay at our house until your parents get back. Please, come on over."
Trent took a deep breath. "Thanks," he replied in a voice barely above a whisper. "I was scared but I didn't want Janie to know, ya know."
"I hear you five-by-five," Jake said.
"Huh?" Trent asked in confusion.
Jake chuckled. "Just a military term. It's like saying loud and clear."
Trent gave him a weak smile. "Cool, "he drawled. "As scared as I was, I was even more afraid of saying anything because Mom and Dad might get into trouble even though Summer and Penny leaving isn't their fault."
"Let's see if we can keep this on the QT until one of your parents gets back," Jake said. "Hey, a guitar. Do you play?"
Helen stepped from her minivan as the small parade rounded the cypresses. Jane and Daria each carried a bulging gym bag. Quinn awkwardly but resolutely balanced a small box covered with a multitude of bright stickers atop several sketchpads. Trent, with a half-filled duffle bag slung over his shoulder brought up the rear with Jake, a guitar case in one hand, beside him. Helen raised an eyebrow in question.
"Trent and Jane will be staying with us for a while," Jake responded.
"Good," she replied not bothering to hide her relief. She wanted the two young Lanes under her roof ever since their mother left last month. She even offered to take charge of them but Amanda declined. "Penny and Summer are here. They can watch them," she told her.
Helen barely stopped herself from giving voice to her opinion about either young woman. As far as Helen could tell, Summer's lack of parenting skills competed only with her lack of common sense and as the last year passed by, she came to realize that what she first took to be typical teen-aged hostility on Penny's part was in actuality a toxic personality. Disturbingly, while Penny seemed to pour her bile on everyone in equal proportions, Helen could not shake the feeling that the girl harbored a particular dislike for both of her younger siblings but she knew that saying such things to their mother would not have endeared her to Amanda.
"Is it all right, Mrs. Morgendorffer?" Trent asked.
Helen smiled. "Of course, Trent," she replied. "Why don't we get everyone moved in then go out for pizza."
"Sounds good to me," Jake replied over the cheering of the girls.
"Thank you," Trent said a world of meaning in one phrase.