Row after row of blouses in the women’s apparel aisle called Jesse Jonsen at the Bullseye Store in Edina, Minnesota. The movie theater would be packed tonight, and she needed to look good for Dylan. But not so fast. There was plenty of time, and besides, she was at work. Job first. Then fun. Isn’t that what her parents taught her?
Mom and Dad thought work was at Dairy Queen. Seriously, does anyone enjoy scooping out ice cream for hours on end? In a Dairy Queen uniform? Eew. Dylan had offered her a job exploring a different high school career. In business.
Tonight’s movie choices were Apollo 13, Batman Forever, or Die Hard with a Vengeance. The new Die Hard movie would probably be the most fun. Which meant she needed an outfit that said adventure.
The way Dylan explained it, they did retailers a favor by finding buyers for samples of their merchandise. And today, Bullseye Stores would compensate her with clothes. Or whatever else she wanted. Having Dylan as a boyfriend was just another fringe benefit of the job, especially on date nights.
She found a black blouse. V-neck with bell sleeves. Yeah, that would look nice. She tilted the hanger. Easy to spot later.
Now for some jeans. She needed a pair to show off her almost-seventeen-year-old curves. But not too much skin. That would be gross. She spotted a nice pair and picked it up. Size six.
“May I help you?” The clerk must have been in her fifties.
“No, just looking, thanks.” Jesse put the jeans back.
That made things more challenging. This one was new, but none of these clerks was worth beans. It was almost laughable, how easy they made it. She browsed around the store, watching for followers. That lady didn’t bother her. The other clerks didn’t seem to care.
She needed some lipstick. She zigzagged through the aisles, glancing at the ceiling for video cameras whenever she turned down a new aisle. The cameras were usually above the cash registers. Yup, there was a bubble. The angle could work.
She walked past the lipstick shelves and found a color she liked. Problem was, it was on an upper shelf. That would make it more challenging to block the camera. But not insurmountable. Still, just a dry run this time. Can’t be too careful.
One more trip around the perimeter to make sure nobody was watching. And to look for anyone undercover. They were so easy to spot. Usually some rough-looking cop pretending to shop in women’s underwear. Like, eew. But no creepy cops today. All looked good.
She made her way back to the lipstick shelves and picked up two lipstick packages, lightning-fast, just like she’d practiced. She turned her body away from the camera and dropped one in her purse. Now turning back where the camera could see her hands, she examined the remaining package, and then put it back on the shelf.
The trick was, don’t get greedy.
Now, back to the blouse and jeans. She picked three blouses and three pairs of jeans and made her way to a dressing room.
Inside the dressing room, she pulled off her floor-length dress and long-sleeved black shirt, and then took off her sweat pants and stuffed them into her purse.
She chuckled. Even when it’s hot, always wear a dark shirt. Dark covers light, but light doesn’t cover dark. It was a lesson she’d taught herself months ago.
She cut the tags off the pants and shirt she liked and put them on. Next, she put on her own dress and shirt over those and adjusted herself in the mirror. “Jesse Jonsen, you look hot.” She licked her finger and touched her butt. “Bssssh.” She smiled.
Back on the store floor, she put the extra clothes back on their racks and headed down the main aisle toward the row of cash registers and the exit. Just another day at work. Except, this time she would sample the merchandise.
Something felt wrong. Two guys stood by the door, trying to blend in. Her heart raced. She ducked into the lady’s room. Two other women were inside. She headed to a stall and closed the door. Just stay calm. If those guys are cops, I can always go to plan B. Trouble was, she had never tried plan B for real. That’s why it was plan B. But wait a minute; there was nothing wrong with wearing an outfit under her dress. After all, she came in wearing sweatpants. Sure. There’s a party tonight, she knew she wouldn’t have time to change clothes, and so she dressed this morning before school. Flutter the eyelashes, give her best charming look. Yeah, it could work. She took a deep breath. She was ready.
She emerged from the ladies room and strode through the door. The two guys made eye contact and exited behind her.
One raced in front of her and blocked her path. “We need you to come with us back into the store.”
“Because you’re wearing stolen pants and a blouse.”
“I am not. Who do you guys think you are?”
“We’re with store security and we observed you take three sets of clothes off the racks. You only put two back and left nothing behind in the dressing room.”
“I did no such thing.”
“I’ll give you two choices and five seconds to make your decision. Either you walk with us back into the store or we wait right here for the police.”
“Maybe I’ll run.”
“We’d rather not tackle you. Might damage the stuff you stole.”
Jesse shook her head. “Fine. But I didn’t steal anything.”
They escorted her to an upstairs room near the front of the store. A woman was waiting at a table. “Please, sit down.”
Jesse sat. The two guys sat on either side of her, across from the woman.
“My name is Lynette Richards and I’m in charge of store security here. We are recording everything that happens in this meeting on video.”She pointed to a video camera on a tripod, connected to a VCR in a corner. “Please empty the contents of your purse on this table.”
“I will not. And you don’t have any right to make me.”
“You’re correct. I’m not a police officer. But the police are on their way, and I suspect after we show the video of you in the store, they’ll find probable cause to search you.”
Lynette stared at her. Jesse looked away. “Fine.” She turned her purse over and dumped it on the table.
Lynette fumbled through Jesse’s sweat pants and other items. “It’s not here. We need to search your purse.”
“What is this, communism or something? Is this how you guys treat all your customers?”
Lynette smiled. “Do we do it or do the police do it?”
“What difference does it make?”
“If we do it without the police getting a warrant, it might help your case.”
Jesse shook her head and handed Lynette her purse.
Lynette examined Jesse’s purse. “You’ve been here before. Today, we watched you more closely than usual. You cased the store like a pro.” She opened a zipper pocket in the purse. “Ah, here it is.” She showed Jesse the lipstick tube, still in its shrink wrap. “You have fast hands. We watched you take two tubes of lipstick off the shelf and only put one back. Is a five-dollar tube of lipstick worth going to jail over?”
“Wait – I must have forgotten all about that. I’ll certainly pay for it. I have a credit card in my wallet.”
“How old are you?”
“How does a sixteen-year-old get her own credit card?”
“My parents got me one for emergencies.”
Lynette smiled. “Well, this certainly qualifies as an emergency. What’s the name on your credit card?”
Uh-oh. I don’t remember. Now, what? “Um, I don’t know. See, um, my parents have different credit cards in different names, you know, for my dad’s business and stuff.”
“Uh, huh. And what’s your dad’s name?”
“Ted. Ted Jonsen.”
“And what’s your name?”
“And your mom?”
“So, when you show me the card, it should have one of your parents’ names or your name on it. Otherwise, it belongs to somebody else. So, why don’t you show me this credit card.”
Sweat drops ran down Jesse’s neck. “I don’t think so.”
“Fine. We have more to discuss. I need you take off your shirt and dress.”
“No. Not with these creeps in here. And I’m not taking off my clothes in front of that camera.”
“No, I wouldn’t expect you to.”
The phone on the wall rang. Lynette answered. “Thank you.” She paused. “Yes, please send them up.” She hung up.
“The police are here.”
The Honorable Judge Latisha Williams looked over her bench out into the courtroom. “Ms. Jonsen, the reports on you say you’re an experienced shoplifter. You lied to your parents and faked a W2 statement from Dairy Queen. You were found with a counterfeit driver’s license, Social Security card, three credit cards, and even a fake passport. Planning on leaving the country?”
Jesse’s attorney stood. She gestured for Jesse to also stand. Her parents looked on next to her at the defendant table. “No, sir.”
“What do you have to say for yourself?”
“I’m sorry for taking those clothes. I don’t know what came over me. I, I guess I just wanted to fit in with some nice clothes for the party that night, and I guess I made a bad choice.”
“Well, you’re an enigma, I’ll give you that. Do you know what an enigma is, Ms. Jonsen?”
“An enigma is something or somebody difficult to understand. You’re a practiced thief with a line of BS as long as my judge’s robes, but you also get good grades. That shows you’re intelligent. You also pulled the wool over lots of people’s eyes. Including, as I understand it, your parents. And even here in my court, you’re trying to BS your way out of trouble. That suggests courage, even if misplaced.” Judge Williams reclined in her chair. “What would you do if you were me, Ms. Jonsen?”
Jesse thought about it for a few seconds. “Um, well, um, I guess I’d make you, I mean, me, I guess you should make me pay for the dress and the shirt. And the lipstick. I should pay for the lipstick too. And, then, maybe, make me enroll in some anti-shoplifting classes. And, um, maybe make me sign a statement that I don’t do it again.”
Judge Williams leaned forward. “As I understand it, your parents already paid for what you got caught stealing. And they’re voluntarily working out a plan to pay for what you didn’t get caught stealing. Let me ask you one more question. Are you repentant?”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“Do you believe you were wrong?”
“Oh. Yes, I do see that now.”
“Uh, huh. And there’s green cheese on the moon too.”
“Ms. Jonsen, I’ve been a Juvenile judge for more than ten years, and I’ve seen some whoppers, but yours might be the best yet. A clean looking kid with nice parents. And a criminal with a line of BS a mile long. If I put you back out on the street with a slap on the wrist, you’ll be stealing again within a week. But you’ll be on your own this time and when you get caught – and you will get caught – you’ll end up in prison. Or dead if you get in with the wrong people.”
“No. I promise. I’m done stealing. I want to reform.”
“I’m glad to hear that, Ms. Jonsen. And here’s
how I’m going to help you. I’m offering you a choice. I can accept the
prosecution recommendation that you spend the next six months incarcerated at
the County Juvenile detention center. You’ll have to make up your senior year
of high school in the future or get a GED. You might get into a college, but
you’ll have to explain why you didn’t graduate from high school with your
peers. Or you can finish high school on time by spending your upcoming senior
year at the Itasca County Group Home for Girls in Bigfork, Minnesota. It’s not
incarceration, but it’s two hundred miles north from here and you will be
closely supervised. Hopefully you’ll learn a few things. Talk it over with your
parents and your attorney and we’ll meet back here at 2 P.M. today with your
The trip north in the police van stretched for mile after mile after mile, with nothing to see but birch trees, lakes, and asphalt. Jesse looked out the back window again. Her parents’ car was right there behind the van.
“Turn back around.” The beefy deputy blocking her from the van door looked like a no-nonsense army commander. “If I have to ask you again, I’ll put you in handcuffs.”
Jesse rolled her eyes.
“What’s your deal anyway?” The girl on her other side looked like a crackhead, with frizzy hair and wild eyes.
“Workin’ on some project to learn how the other half lives?”
“No. It’s just a big misunderstanding.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet. Lemme guess. You thought your parents were sending you to summer camp.”
Jesse shook her head. “What’s your deal?”
“Me? Oh, let’s see. I was mistreated when I was younger. Yeah, a priest tried to nail me, but I wouldn’t let him. My dad’s a drug dealer and my mom runs an escort service.”
“What if I am?”
“Well, then I won’t believe anything you tell me.”
“Why do I care?”
Jesse shook her head. “Forget it.”
“That your mommy and daddy behind us?”
“What if it is?”
“Are they gonna tuck you in tonight and make you all comfortable?”
“I doubt it.”
“Then why are they following us?”
“They want to find out what Itasca’s like.”
“So, they are gonna tuck you in tonight. Maybe they’ll get a hotel in Bigfork so they can dry-clean your cheerleader outfit every day.
Jesse laughed. “Are there any dry-cleaners in Bigfork?”
“I guess we’ll find out. What’s your name, Preppy?”
“Jesse. What’s yours?”
“No it’s not.”
“‘Cause you’re as white as I am.”
“That’s just because my parents made me take a drug that bleached my skin.”
Jesse rolled her eyes. “What’s your real name? Or do I just call you Frizzy.”
“If you call me Frizzy, I’ll call you Preppy.”
“I don’t care what you call me.”
“Okay, Preppy it is, then.”
Jesse shook her head. “Nice to meet you, Frizzy.”
Birch and pine trees along US Highway 169 raced by. And after a few minutes, a sign: “Grand Rapids 20 miles.”
“Hey Preppy; think your parents might tuck me in tonight too?”
Jesse laughed. “Shut up.”
“Or maybe they’ll adopt me. They’ll get rid if you ’cause you’re a preppy who had everything handed to her and chose a life of crime. But me–I’m a poor, disadvantaged youth and they’ll want to rescue me. So they’ll dump you and adopt me.”
The smell of pine filled the air on State Highway 38, north of Grand Rapids.
Jesse studied Frizzy.
“What’cha lookin’ at, Preppy?”
“You don’t look disadvantaged to me.”
“Well, I am. One leg’s shorter than the other. It’s from the accident.”
“My boyfriend hot-wired a car. But the cops chased us and he wrapped it around a telephone pole. It killed him and maimed me horribly. After I got out of the hospital, the police sent me to Itasca and that’s why I’m here.”
Jesse chuckled. “I don’t know why I even ask you questions.”
“It’s ’cause you’re curious about me. You probably live a sheltered life and your parents are sending you up here for a week to learn how bad girls live. What did you do anyway, apply the wrong colored makeup?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
“You did not. I’ll bet you wrecked your parents’ Mercedes.”
“Nope. I told you, the whole thing was a misunderstanding.”
Ten more miles passed.
“Hey Preppy, wanna know why I’m really here?”
“Fine. The cops at Bullseye Stores said I tried to steal some clothes.”
“Well, did you?”
“Did I what?”
“Did you steal clothes?”
“So, why did they think you did?”
“I had some makeup in my bag I forgot to pay for. I offered to pay, but they’d already called the cops, and now I’m here.”
“You said they caught you stealing clothes.”
“I had an outfit on under my dress and it looked like one of theirs.”
“Okay, your turn. And what’s your real name?”
“I told you. Sha’Quonda.”
“You said it was Africa something earlier.”
“Well, I was putting you on then. My real name is Harlemisha.”
“But you just said – oh, forget it.”
Frizzy laughed. “Okay, truth. I’m here because a security guard at the Mall of America wanted me and I told him no.”
Jesse laughed. “One of these days, you’ll tell me the truth and your real name.”
“Maybe I already did.”
Jesse rolled her eyes. “So, why are you here?”
“I’m making lemonade.”
“You know. When life gives you lemons?”
Jesse rolled her eyes again.
The van turned onto a narrow side street, took a left and then a right turn, and then another left turn onto a dirt road. Two miles of empty fields later, it stopped in front of a large house that looked like it came from an old western movie set.
“We’re here, ladies. Allow us to escort you
Jesse and her parents waited in an adjacent room while Frizzy went through her intake meeting in the director’s office.
“Mom, let’s just go home. I don’t like this place. It’s in the middle of nowhere.”
“You heard the judge. It’s either finish high school here or jail.”
“Dad, can’t you do something?”
“Even if I could, I wouldn’t. You let a lot of people down, Jesse.”
“Mom, why is he so grumpy? Just take me home.”
The office door opened. Somebody escorted Frizzy out of the office and farther into the house. A forty-ish lady appeared in the office door. “Please. Come in.”
“My name is Karen Adams and I’m the director here. Let’s cover a few ground rules. First is running away. We have security at the door twenty-four by seven, but we don’t lock the building at night. If you want to leave, nobody will stop you. But we’ll know it and we will call your parents or other responsible party.
“The nearest house is a mile away, and we’re in northern Minnesota. You’ll want to dress warmly in the winter. The bears hibernate in winter, but watch out for wolves year around. You can hear them howl; they’re beautiful. Overall, it’s a bad idea to leave this house at night. But sometimes our residents need to learn lessons about consequences, and this house is not a prison. And, so I hope you make the right choices.”
Jesse rolled her eyes.
“She doesn’t believe me.” Karen looked out a window behind her. “Ah. Lovely. Jesse, come here, I want to show you something.”
Jesse and her parents walked to the window.
Karen pointed to a couple of moving dots. “I love the view from this window.” She picked up a pair of binoculars. “Here, take a look.” She handed the binoculars to Jesse.
Jesse looked and then handed the binoculars to her mom. Mom and Dad both looked. Dad handed the binoculars back to Karen. “What are those?”
“Black bears. They weigh about four hundred pounds. You don’t want to surprise them and you want to stay away from any momma bear with her cubs.”
Jesse moved back around Karen’s desk and slumped in her chair. Mom and Dad also sat. Dad smiled.
“Jesse, if you don’t learn anything else from your time with us, I hope you learn there are consequences for your actions.”
Jesse shook her head.
We also restrict your access to the telephone and we watch your mail. Cell phones are becoming popular, but we don’t allow them here. And, even if we did, coverage is spotty at best. The only interaction any resident has with the outside world is with your responsible party. For you, that means your parents. And, of course, your teachers at school.”
Jesse rolled her eyes again.
Karen shook her head. “The next order of business is school. Let’s see.” Karen shuffled some papers. “Yes, here we are. You’re a senior. We’ll enroll you in our local High School for your senior year and you and your classmates here will have a nice graduation party next June.”
Karen explained the rest of the rules and went through an overview of the property. Jesse’s parents signed papers and had a few questions. Jesse’s mood grew blacker as the next minutes passed.
Karen stood and walked around her desk. “Jesse,
I know you don’t believe this now, but we’re trying to help you. Your life will
have nothing but sorrow if you continue on your present path. And now, let me
show you your room. I believe you met your roommate, Nadine Ladysmith, in the
van on the way up here.”
“Your real name is Nadine Ladysmith?” Jesse and Frizzy were alone in their room. Jesse’s parents had said their goodbyes and left.
“I’m gonna change it as soon as I turn eighteen.”
“Do I look like a Nadine?”
“I dunno. It’s your name.”
“You look more like a Nadine, Preppy.”
“My name’s Jesse. It’s my real name. And I’m not preppy.”
“Yeah you are.”
Jesse rolled her eyes. “So, whaddya like to do, Nadine?”
“Do me a favor, okay? Don’t call me Nadine.”
“Well, what should I call you?”
“I was thinking of maybe Chastity. Or maybe Serenity. Those sound like good names.”
“Nah, too long. Maybe something simple, like Candy.”
“Candy. Yeah, I like that. Candy Smith. That’ll be my name.” Candy’s eyes lit up. “Thanks, Preppy.”
“Okay, Candy, whaddya like to do?”
“I like to party. And guys like to party with me. And I turn lemons into lemonade. How about you, Preppy, what do you like to do?”
“If you want me to call you Candy, then you can call me Jesse. That’s my name, Jesse.”
“Fair enough. Jesse it is, then. Let’s shake on it.” Candy extended her hand.
Jesse shook her hand. “Deal. And, I guess you could call me a businesswoman.”
“Sounds exotic. What kind of business?”
“Clothes mostly. I sell designer clothes at a discount. And IDs. And other stuff sometimes.”
“Ooh, cool! So, could I buy a driver’s license from you?”
“Maybe. It’s a little more complicated than usual while I’m here.”
“How about a dress?”
“Those are tougher. Hard to get inventory.”
Candy laughed. “‘Cause you were busted for shoplifting, right?”
“It was a misunderstanding.”
Candy shrugged. “Huh. You like Vodka?”
“Too bad. It makes the parties better. Goes
good with lemonade, too.”
Two months later, whimpering woke Jesse in the middle of the night.
Jesse climbed out of bed and shook Candy. “Candy. You okay?”
Candy sat up. “Ohh. I had worst nightmare. It was my uncle. He tried to– I, uh, I don’t want to talk about it.”
Jesse sat on her bed. “He tried to, what?”
Candy rubbed her eyes. “Never mind. It was just a dream.” Tears formed in the corners of her eyes.
“Candy, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Let’s just go back to sleep. We have to be good little girls for school in the morning. That’s what my uncle used to say. After.”
“After; after what?”
Candy paused. “Never mind.”
“Wait — after what?”
“Jesse, they want me to come home for Thanksgiving. I, I can’t.”
“What did your uncle do?”
“Nothing. Let’s just go back to sleep.”
Two weeks later, Candy sat across from Jesse at lunch at school. “I’m leaving and I need your help.”
“I told you. I can’t go back home.”
“But you never told me why.”
“I just can’t, okay? How much would an ID cost?”
“You mean, like a Drivers’ License?”
“Yeah. That says Candy Smith. Born 1974, so I’m twenty-one years old.”
“When do you want your birthday?”
“How about July 4. Independence Day.”
Jesse laughed. “Okay. I could probably get you one for $125. But what would you do with it?”
“Turn another lemon into lemonade. And have fun with my boyfriend.”
“I’ll find one. How do you get your IDs?”
“I know some people.”
“But you can’t talk to ’em from up here.”
“Maybe you can find a boyfriend with a cell phone.”
“I like that idea.”
“He’ll also need a camera to take your picture. And he’ll need some postage stamps.”
“We’ll have to send your picture and half the money to my guy in Minneapolis. And then, the other half when the IDs gets here. Unless–“
“Well, unless there’s a way to open a bank account up here. Then we can do wire transfers.
“How do you know all this stuff?”
“Social studies.” Jesse laughed. “You’d better find a pretty good boyfriend.”
“That won’t be hard.”
A week later, Candy met Jesse at lunch again. “Jesse, I want you to meet my new boyfriend, Mike. Mike, this is my best friend, Jesse.”
Mike and Candy sat. “Nice to meet you Jesse. I heard you can get fake IDs.”
Jesse smiled. “What do you want a fake ID for?”
“It’d make it easier for a couple buddies and me to get beer.”
“I need a phone.”
“My dad lets me bring my cell phone to school. “
“You mean, like, you have one on you right now?”
“This is gonna be a beautiful friendship. Let’s go somewhere private. I need your cell phone. Got a camera?”
“Not on me, but I can bring one tomorrow.”
A week later, Jesse had a local bank account and a post office box. With his cell phone, camera, and car, Mike took care of logistics, and mailed pictures of Candy, Mike, and five of Mike’s friends to Minneapolis. Two weeks after that, Mike picked up the IDs from the post office box.
Jesse had just one more detail left. “Mike, I need to borrow your cell phone again.”
“I need to pay my partner in Minneapolis. First rule of business. Always pay your suppliers.”
Jesse called the local bank and made two wire
transfers. One to Dylan in Minneapolis, the other for $250 to her own bank
account. The one her parents still didn’t know about. The one that would be
waiting when she finished here. Not bad for a couple hours’ work. Even if it
took more than three weeks. Maybe later, she could start a business school for
Mike and his friends, and she could resell his stuff. Just like Dylan at home. Who
says crime doesn’t pay? She handed the phone back to Mike.
It was Thursday night and a November chill was in the air.
Candy sat on her bed. “Hey Jesse, I wanted to say thanks.”
Jesse fluffed her pillow and tossed it on her bed. “For what?”
“For the lemonade. Mike says those IDs are great. He’s taking me to Grand Rapids tomorrow after school. I’m not coming back.”
Jesse sat on her bed across from Candy. “You’re really going through with this?”
“I told you, I can’t go back home next week for Thanksgiving.”
“What will you do?”
“Mike’s parents are out of town and he has some money. We’re gonna check into a hotel and party like it’s 1999. And then on Saturday, I’ll start looking for a job and get an apartment. Mike says he’ll help.”
Jesse thought for a couple seconds. “But what about finishing high school?”
“I told you, I can’t go back home.”
Candy stood. “It’s my uncle, okay? I was his plaything.”
“Yeah. And you can’t tell anyone. Promise.”
“Promise. And mean it.” Candy paced back and forth.
Jesse followed with her eyes. “Okay, I promise. But Candy, you have to graduate. “
Candy stopped pacing. “No. I’m not going back because nobody at home believes me. I’m almost eighteen and then I’ll be on my own anyway. I’m not going back. And now that I have this ID, I won’t need to.”
Jesse stood. “I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too, Preppy. You helped me turn another lemon into lemonade.”
Jesse stood back and laughed through tears. “I’m not preppy, Frizzy.”
Candy laughed. “We don’t need to get sloppy. I’m not leaving ’till after school tomorrow.”
“What about all your stuff?”
“You’re putting some in your backpack and I’m
putting a bunch in mine.”
A staff member or Mrs. Adams herself always met the school bus at the edge of the property.
“Where’s Nadine?” Mrs. Adams’ voice had an edge.”
“Didn’t see her,” one girl said. Jesse looked down and hustled past.
“Jessica.” It was Mrs. Adams’ voice.
Jesse turned. The other girls walked past.
“Jessica, you’re her roommate. Where is Nadine?”
“I, um, I, I don’t know.”
Mrs. Adams’ eyes pierced Jesse’s brain. “Come with me.”
They walked into the building and into Mrs. Adams’ office. “Jessica, please, sit.”
Mrs. Adams sat behind her desk. Jesse sat in the same chair as when she first arrived.
“Jessica, it’s a safety matter. If Nadine is out on the street somewhere, she could be in danger. We are responsible for her safety, and so if you know anything about where she is, I need to know what you know. Right now.”
Jesse squirmed. “I’m sorry. I wish I could help.”
“Very well. We need to search your room.”
Mrs. Adams stood in the middle of Jesse’s room. “Most of Nadine’s clothes are missing. Jessica, what happened to them?”
“I don’t know, I swear.”
“I want you to think about every detail from today starting when you woke up this morning. Did anything stand out when you got ready for school?”
“No, nothing I can remember.”
“What about during school. You two usually eat lunch together, is that right?”
Jesse stifled a gasp. How did she know?
“What? What happened at lunch today?”
Jesse swallowed. “Um, it was nothing. Really. She was telling me about some stuff with her family. That’s all.”
“She made me promise not to tell.”
“Jessica, if there’s anything you know about Nadine that can help us get her back, you need to tell me. She could be in mortal danger right now, and we don’t know where she is.”
“No, nothing.” Jesse held her breath.
“Very well. If you think of anything, anything, no matter how small, I want you to tell me about it, okay?”
“And I’m calling an all-hands meeting in fifteen minutes in the living room.” Mrs. Adams left.
Jesse exhaled and took a few breaths. All she
had to do was keep quiet. She’d been in worse predicaments. That’s why she was
stuck here, two hundred miles from nowhere. Just keep quiet and everything will
be fine. She took a few more deep breaths to calm the butterflies in her
The next morning. Saturday, the one day she could sleep in, somebody knocked on her door. “Meeting in the living room in twenty minutes.”
“Another one? What for?”
“Just get dressed and be there.”
Jesse rolled over. But the knocking didn’t stop. Somebody was knocking on every door and the whole house was making noise. Jesse dressed and trudged to the living room.
A few girls were already there. A couple had a bowl of cereal in their laps. Mrs. Adams paced at the front of the room as more girls entered. Her eyes were red rimmed. Her hair, normally tidy and professional-looking, was disheveled.
After the last girl arrived, Mrs. Adams started. “Girls, I have an announcement.” Tears filled her eyes. “Nadine Ladysmith died early this morning in a car accident near Grand Rapids.” Mrs. Adams wiped her eyes. “She was in a car with a boy named Michael Norquist. I believe some of you might have known him. The police found two empty bottles of vodka in the car. If any of you know anything about why the two of them left from school yesterday and traveled to Grand Rapids, or how they came into possession of fake IDs, I need you to come talk to me in my office.”
Jesse’s heart stopped. Her stomach churned. She hurried back to her room and closed the door. She sat on her bed and stared at Candy’s bed. “Why?” She put her head on her pillow and bawled.
This wasn’t her fault. Yes, it was; she got the fake IDs. But she didn’t buy the liquor, Candy and her boyfriend did. But she sold them the fake IDs. So, what? Nobody forced them into whatever liquor store they went into. But she knew that was what Candy planned. Big deal, why was that her fault? Because she sold them the way to do it. But if she hadn’t, they would have found somebody else. Maybe. But she sold them the IDs.
“Candy, you weren’t supposed to die. You were
supposed to have a party and then be free.” Jesse buried her head deeper into
her pillow and bawled harder.
At school the Wednesday before Thanksgiving break, Jesse’s English teacher, Ms. Inglebertsen said, “Nadine’s death affected us all, and I want to tell you a story today. Pay close attention because this leads to your final class assignment.
“I was a high school senior in 1975, just like you guys, and I lived in Superior, Wisconsin. One of our neighbors was a deckhand on an ore ship, and he used to give me tours. I loved watching those big ships go under the Duluth lift bridge, and I liked to imagine what it was like to work on one and sail all over the Great Lakes. Well, my neighbor gave me a chance to find out one day. It was a weekend run from Duluth to Detroit.”
She pulled down a map of the Great Lakes. “This was the route.” She traced across Lake Superior from the port of Duluth, through Whitefish Bay and Sault Ste. Marie, down Lake Huron to Sarnia, Michigan, and the St. Clair river to St. Clair Lake, and into Detroit.
“The plan was to drop me off at Sault Ste. Marie, and my parents bought a plane ticket to fly home. My parents told me it was an early graduation present. For me, it was the trip of a lifetime. I couldn’t wait.
“Unfortunately, or so I thought at the time, I came down with acute Appendicitis on Thursday. When that ship sailed early morning on Saturday, Nov. 9, 1975, I was in the hospital, recovering after they took out my appendix. We made arrangements for me to take another trip that spring. But I never went, because that was the last trip the Edmund Fitzgerald ever took. Our neighbor and my friend died in a horrible storm, right about here.” She pointed to a spot on the map near Sault Ste. Marie.
How many of you know about the song, Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot?”
A couple students raised their hands.
“He wrote that song in 1976. It’s a classic.” She played the song. It was boring. Who cares about the 70s anyway? But Ms. Inglebertsen’s friend died on that ship. Wow.
She turned her head toward Jesse. “I learned a
lesson from that experience. None of us know how long we’ll be alive, and so we
need to embrace life to the fullest. And that’s your final project. I’m giving
it to you now, so you have plenty of time to think about it. Before the last
week of school, write about the most important lesson you learned this year in
Bigfork, Minnesota. Have a great Thanksgiving break, think about your writing
assignment, and we’ll talk about it when you get back.”
Jesse’s parents were waiting after school to bring her home for Thanksgiving. Dad must have taken time off his precious work.
Dad had his usual fake questions on the trip home. “How do you like your school?”
“What are they teaching you?”
“Just stuff, alright?” Why is he so nosy?
Mom started with her ‘you’re my baby’ speech Jesse had heard a million times. “Jesse, we care about you. Your father only asked about your schooling.”
“My schooling was fine at home. It’s terrible up in the middle of little Scandinavia.”
“But Jesse, the judge gave you a choice and we talked about it.”
“You should have hired a better lawyer.”
Her dad shook his head. The rest of the trip was silent.
Jesse’s bed felt wonderful. The sheets and stuffed animals were exactly where they belonged. But she needed to talk to Dylan. After midnight, she sneaked into the kitchen and dialed his number.
“Dylan, I’m home.”
“Oh, baby, it’s great to hear from you.”
“I missed you.”
“Me too. But listen, can you call me in a couple hours? I’m right in the middle of something right now.”
“I’m not sure if I can stay awake that long, but I’ll try.”
“Dylan, I want to move in with you. I don’t want to go back to Bigfork”
“Um, okay, that’s cool. But let’s talk about it in a couple hours, okay?”
Something felt funny. Jesse padded back out to the kitchen and replaced the phone. She was asleep five minutes later. She woke up at 5 A.M. when the family cat jumped on her bed. She called Dylan.
He answered after several rings. “Oh, hey baby. I was asleep.”
“I’m sorry, I fell asleep too. What do you think about me moving in with you?”
“Um, that might not be a good idea right now. You’re not eighteen, yet are you?”
“You know when my birthday is.”
“Oh, yeah. But listen, we could both get in big trouble. But I do have something else we can work on together.”
“Well, tomorrow is Black Friday, and all the stores will be packed. What say you grab me some inventory tomorrow and maybe we’ll celebrate tomorrow night. We never went to that movie the last time.”
“I don’t know if I can do that. My parents are watching me pretty closely. And if I get caught, I could go to jail.”
“Yeah, okay. Well, maybe call me Saturday or Sunday before you go back.”
“Dylan, my friend, Candy, and her boyfriend died. They used the IDs to buy vodka and they died in a car accident.”
“Candy? Who’s Candy?”
“You don’t remember? Candy Smith. You made her ID a couple weeks ago.”
“Oh. Yeah. Candy. Wow.”
“Dylan, I don’t know what to do. I sold those IDs to them.”
“Don’t worry about it. Who’s gonna find out?”
“Nobody, I guess. But maybe not. Her boyfriend died with her but his friends still have theirs.”
“Think you could sell some more?”
“Baby, that’s one of the things I like about you; you’re resourceful.”
“I can’t sell more IDs up there. Mike’s dead and he had the cell phone.”
“Well, then, don’t worry about it. Listen, baby, I gotta go. Long day coming up and then it’s Black Friday. I’m in kind of a jam myself and I have to pay back some investors. You know how it goes.”
Jesse shook her head and blinked back tears. “Okay. Bye Dylan.”
“See ya, babe.”
Jesse replaced the phone and cried herself back
Back in school in Bigfork Monday, Ms. Inglebertsen asked all the students to write an essay about their Thanksgiving breaks and what they were thankful for. Which was the last thing Jesse wanted to do. How could she be thankful for anything? Her roommate was dead, her boyfriend had turned into a jerk, her parents were idiots, and she was stuck in Big Butthole, Minnesota, in a special-ed class with a bunch of ditzy girl convicts. Led by an English teacher who looked like a 60s hippie and wanted to be on the crew of an ore ship that sank on Lake Superior. She probably drove a VW van with a peace sign, just like the Woodstock pictures Jesse had seen in an old magazine someplace.
Why does somebody live in the middle of nowhere and teach English to a bunch of special-ed girls anyway? Jesse finished her essay and turned it in.
Ms. Inglebertsen handed the essays back the next day. Her comment on Jesse’s said, please see me after class. Oh, great, now what?
“You wanted to see me?”
“Yes, Jesse, why are you angry”
“Why are you angry?”
“I’m not angry.”
“Your writing suggests differently. I spoke with Mrs. Adams about your roommate, Nadine, and I want you to know, we all feel a sense of loss when somebody close to us passes.”
Jesse laughed. “Is that what you think? I’m mad because Candy died? I’m not.”
“Okay. But I have a problem. I can’t give you credit for this essay, because you didn’t address my question about what you’re thankful for. But you’re a good writer and I’ll honor what you wrote. So, instead of giving me an essay full of BS, I want you to write an essay about your roommate and how her death affected you.”
Jesse stepped back. “You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I’m not. I think you have a story to tell, and I’m offering you an opportunity to tell it. What I don’t know is, are you up to the challenge?”
Jesse smiled. “You’re trying some psychology trick on me, aren’t you?”
Ms. Inglebertsen shrugged. “Maybe. I also suspect you’re angry about Candy’s death, and maybe writing this essay will help you come to terms with it. Writing helped me when our neighbor died on the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
“What makes you think I’m angry?”
“Your reaction to my assignment, for one. And anger is also one of the stages of grief.”
Jesse looked down and then back up. “What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Why do you do this?”
“Why do you teach special-ed English to the girls from Itasca Group home?”
Ms. Inglebertsen nodded. “That’s a great question. And the answer is, after that ride on the Edmund Fitzgerald I never took, I made some choices I shouldn’t have. And then God stepped in, and now I think He wants me here.”
“I figured you might be one of those religious nuts.”
Ms. Inglebertsen laughed. “Well, I’ve been called worse. But yes, I’m a walking, talking Christian and I believe everything in the Bible is true.”
“So, why not just go hang out in a shopping mall and hand out feel-good stories?”
“There aren’t any shopping malls in Bigfork.”
“You know what I mean. You could do it on a street corner here.”
“I don’t need to. I can teach you to write your own feel-good stories.”
Jesse smiled. “That’s pretty good. You got me there.”
“I want to see your essay tomorrow.”
“Alright. I’ll do your essay. But only if you tell me more about why you’re here.”
“That’s a good bargain.”
Jesse worked that night in her room. Of course she was mad. Candy was dead. Dylan was a snake. Her parents had sent her away. And she was stuck up here in North Butthole with a house full of misfits.
And how could Candy be dead? She fought tears, but the tears won. She couldn’t write why she was really mad. She’d have to make up something that sounded good. It was playing with fire, talking to Ms. Inglebertsen.
Somebody knocked on her door.
“Jesse, are you okay?” It was a staff member.
“I heard you crying.”
“I’m fine. I just need to be alone for a while.”
She started on her essay.
Ms. Inglebertsen made Jesse stay after class again. “Okay, you’re mad about Candy’s death. Why?”
“I wrote it down in my essay. I miss her, okay?”
“Why do you miss her?”
“Because she was my roommate.”
“Were you two close?
“Well, then why do you miss her?”
“I just do, okay?”
“I think there’s more.”
“Well, there’s not.”
Ms. Inglebertsen cocked her head. “Jesse, where did she and Mike get the fake IDs?”
“How should I know?”
“I think you do, and you’re feeling guilty.”
“Can I go now?”
“Yes. But I want you to think about how you
feel. And dig really deep. Your own life might depend on it.”
Mrs. Adams met her off the school bus. “Jesse, please come with me to my office.”
A man was waiting. Mrs. Adams walked around behind her desk. “Jesse, this is Detective Higgins from the Grand Rapids police. Please, have a seat.”
Detective Higgins started. “Jesse, Mrs. Adams and I have been talking about Nadine Ladysmith’s death. You know we found fake IDs in the car. We just got Mike’s cell phone records, and they show several calls to a Minneapolis number. You were her roommate. We were wondering if this number was familiar to you.”
It was Dylan’s number. Jesse’s heart raced. She put a hand to her mouth. “Um, no.”
Detective Higgins eyes bored into her head. “Your reaction suggests differently.”
“I, I’m sorry. No. It’s not familiar. Can I go now?”
Mrs. Adams and Detective Higgins exchanged glances. “Yes. But anything you can recall might be helpful. We need to get to the bottom of what happened for both of their families. Mrs. Adams knows how to get in touch with me.”
Jesse padded to her room and closed the door. She threw herself on her bed and bawled.
Somebody knocked on her door. It was Mrs. Adams. “May I come in?”
“I need to be alone for a while.”
“Jesse, please unlock this door and let me in. Or I’ll unlock it myself.”
Jesse trudged to the door and unlocked it. “Can’t you just leave me alone?”
Mrs. Adams walked in and sat on Candy’s old bed. “Jesse, two people are dead and we need your help to figure out why. You’re not in trouble, but if you know something about how they died, you need to share it. If you don’t share what you know, and the police find out another way, then you could be in big trouble. I don’t want to see that. You might not think so right now, but you have a lot to offer the world. I want to see you blossom and offer it. That’s why you’re here and not in a juvenile detention center.”
“I don’t know anything, okay!”
“I think you do.”
“Will everyone please just leave me alone?”
Mrs. Adams stood. “You know how to find my office. Or if you want to talk to Ms. Inglebertsen this week, that’s okay too.” She left.
Jesse closed the door, and then sat and cried.
Jesse felt sick Wednesday and missed school. She was worse Thursday. Mrs. Adams set up a doctor appointment on Friday, but the doctor could find nothing physically wrong.
Saturday morning, somebody knocked on Jesse’s door. “May we come in?” It was Mrs. Adams.
Mrs. Adams and Ms. Inglebertsen both came inside. They sat on Candy’s old bed.
Jesse sat up in her bed. “Ms. Inglebertsen, why are you here?”
“Because I’m worried about you, and Karen and I thought you might find this story helpful. Well, two stories actually.”
Jesse rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”
“Jessica,” Mrs. Adams said, “The doctor said there’s nothing physically wrong with you. And that means your problem is mental. We want to help, but we can’t do it without you. You and Janet have a bond and so I asked if she wouldn’t mind visiting for a few minutes. She’s taking time away from her own family to help you. I’d appreciate it if you gave her the courtesy of your attention.”
Ms. Inglegertsen smiled. “I do have a first name you know. In school, call me Ms. Inglebertsen. But here, this morning, you can call me Janet.”
Jesse rubbed her eyes. “Why are you doing this?”
“Karen just told you. We want you to succeed. We care about you.”
Jesse sighed. “Okay, I’m listening.” She pulled the covers away and put her feet on the floor.
Ms. Inglebertsen pursed her lips. “I want to tell you about two people. One was named Judas Iscariot. The other was named Peter. We don’t know Peter’s last name.”
“You mean, like Bible stories?”
“Yeah. Bible stories. But with an interpretation you may not have considered. And they’re relevant to your situation. May I continue?”
You know Judas and Peter were two of Jesus’s disciples, right?”
“And you know what a disciple is, right?”
“A helper maybe? Kind of a student?”
“Yeah, kind of like that. And you know how Judas betrayed Jesus. We see reenactments every Easter season. The religious leaders offered Judas money to betray his leader, Jesus. Judas took the money before they ate their Passover meal, betrayed Jesus, and the Romans eventually crucified Jesus. It’s a horrible way to die.”
“I’ve heard all this. What’s it got to do with me?”
“I’m getting to that. Is it okay to keep going?”
“Okay. At that last supper, Jesus told Peter that Peter would deny ever knowing Jesus three times on that very night, before the rooster crowed the next morning.”
“Yeah, I remember that story. So, what?”
“Well, now move forward a few hours. Judas betrayed his leader, the Romans are dragging Jesus away, and it’s pretty much pandemonium. Everyone’s scared. Peter and the other disciples think they’re about to get strung up themselves. Peter is standing by a fire and somebody says, ‘Hey, I know you. You’re part of that guy’s entourage.’ And Peter says, ‘No, I’m not.’ ‘Yes, you are.’ ‘No way.’ ‘Yeah, you are. I saw you with him.’ ‘Look, I don’t know who you’re talking about, okay?’ And right about then, probably close to dawn, a rooster crows and Peter realizes what he just did.”
“So, how do you think he felt?”
“I dunno. Bad, I guess.”
“Yeah, I suppose. He probably felt guilty.”
“I dunno. Maybe because he let everyone down?”
Ms. Inglebertsen smiled. “Yeah, that sums it up. A few hours earlier, he swore he’d stand by his master’s side and defend Him, no matter what. But then the situation got hairy and Peter choked. The Gospels say he wept bitterly. I think he might have even gotten physically sick.”
“Well, the rest of Peter’s story is, he had a heart to heart talk with Jesus a few days later and he recovered. And he went on to become one of the most famous and powerful people ever in history.”
“How could he have a talk with Jesus when Jesus was dead?”
“He was resurrected. We’ll do details on that later. Or you can read about it. For now, I want you to see that Peter messed up. Badly. But he recovered.”
“What about the other guy, Judas?”
“His story is different. He also felt guilty. He tried to give the money back to the people who paid him off. But they laughed at him. And, then he killed himself.”
Mrs. Adams took Jesse’s hand. “Jesse, Janet and I have seen what guilt can do to people. You can let it ruin you or you ask for forgiveness and learn from it. Something’s eating at you about Nadine’s death, and Nadine’s parents have a hole in their heart. Sooner or later, the police will piece together what happened. For your own sake, and for Nadine’s parents, but mostly for you, you need to tell us what you know.”
Jesse closed her eyes and tried to blink back tears.
“Why not?” Mrs. Adams asked.
“Candy made me promise not to tell anyone.”
Janet took Jesse’s other hand. “Under the circumstances, I think Candy would be okay with you telling us.”
Jesse looked down. Tears dripped from her cheeks. “It was her uncle.”
“What about her uncle?”
“She was afraid to go back home because of her uncle.”
“Did she tell you why?”
“No. Just that she couldn’t go home. She said her uncle always told her after, ‘We have to be a good little girl for school in the morning.’”
“She wouldn’t say.”
“And, so that’s why she left from school and drove to Grand Rapids with that boy?”
“Yeah. She was gonna start out on her own.”
“How did she get the fake IDs?”
“I don’t know.” Jesse pursed her lips and crossed her toes.
“Okay,” Mrs. Adams said, “Thanks for sharing that. It’s important. If you can think of anything else—”
“Yes, I know where to find you.”
They left Jesse alone with her thoughts.
I need to tell them about the fake IDs. No. I’ll go to prison. But if they find out anyway, it’ll be worse. But they won’t find out. Dylan isn’t stupid. But how much of a boyfriend is he, anyway? Why couldn’t he see me over Thanksgiving? I did everything he wanted. And now, I’m stuck up here and he’s still free. But I can’t tell anyone about the fake IDs. I have to. No, I don’t.
Jesse lay back on her pillow. Her mind raced.
How many other kids my age have three thousand dollars in the bank? What happens to my money if I tell? But wait a minute. Dylan paid me five dollars for every item. What did he sell them for? Some of those things retailed for more than a hundred dollars. Dylan probably sold them for half that. And he paid me five dollars? And I’m here and he’s still making money.
She tossed and turned.
What will I go back to? Working for Dylan forever?
It had seemed so easy three years ago. The secret rides home from school, the ice-cream dates, the fun, the plans. They wouldn’t have to go to a job every day like her dad. They were going to be smarter than that. It was easy money. They were going to live on a South Pacific island after she finished high school. They’d planned it all out.
Or had they? “Whatever you say, baby.” That was Dylan’s line. Or, “sounds good.” I made all the plans. All he did was say yes. And he kept most of the money. Some partnership. What did he do while I was in school or out stealing? Who was he with?
Okay, maybe I don’t need Dylan. I can sell the stuff myself. But he knows all the buyers. Or, so he says. Maybe I do need Dylan to introduce me to his buyers.
She’d seen his gun. He carried it with him all the time. “Just in case,” he’d always said. In case of what? If I start selling what I steal myself, do I need to start carrying a gun? Who buys this stuff? Probably the kind of people you need a gun to be around.
I can’t go back to the way it was. And I can’t
tell them about the fake IDs. What do I do?
“Dylan, I’m home for Christmas and I don’t want to go back.” It was midnight.
“Good to hear from you, baby. Listen, want to get back in the saddle again?”
“I was hoping you’d say that. I figure I have a score to settle. I’m gonna hit every Bullseye Store in town. And then I want us to run away together.”
“I like that. When do you want to get started?”
“Today. I already have one dress. My parents didn’t even know I took it.”
“Oh, baby, you’re fantastic. I missed you. Bring it over. If it’s nice, maybe I’ll have you keep it and you can grab another one.”
Dylan opened his door and his face lit up. “Come in. Great to see you, baby!”
“It’s good to see you too.” They kissed.
“Now show me that dress you picked up today.”
Jesse took it out of her bag and displayed it in front of her.
“Mighty fine. Mighty fine. You still got a knack for this stuff. You got a good eye too.”
“Thanks. But I’m trying to figure out how they caught me last summer. You still got your camcorder?”
“Okay, good. I want you to video me.” She walked into his kitchen and found salt and pepper shakers. She walked back into the living room and set them on a shelf. “These are about the same size as lipstick tubes. I practiced this over and over and over again, but somehow they saw it.”
“Baby, can’t that wait? Let’s take care of some other business.”
“We will. But this has been bugging me. Let me practice and you watch. Just like before.”
Dylan chuckled. “Okay. Whatever you say.” Dylan retrieved his camcorder.
Jesse went through the motions. “Okay, now let’s play it back.”
Dylan stopped in the middle of the playback. “You slippin’ girl. Look at that.” He pointed to the screen. “Your hands are in the wrong place. They should be on this side of the camera. Your left hand needs to block the camera while you palm the second one with your right hand and put it in your sleeve. Or drop it in your bag if your body’s blocking the bag. But it’s better to put it in your long sleeve and then drop it in the bag later. The camera never sees you take it, nobody knows it’s gone.”
“Oh man, you gotta be kidding me. That’s probably how I got caught.” Jesse sat and put her hand on her forehead.
“Don’t worry about it girl. Everyone slips up.” Dylan reached to massage her shoulders.
Jesse shook her head. “I’m tired. I gotta go. Keep that tape, okay? I’ll want to watch it again later.”
“Well, do you want to practice some more?”
“No, not tonight. I can’t believe I did that.” She shook her head. “I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”
“Yeah. We’re gonna make some real money while you’re home.”
“Yeah. See you tomorrow.” Jesse left.
The lights were on at Jesse’s parents’ house when she arrived. She parked, took a deep breath, and walked inside. Detective Higgins and several other police officers met her at the door.
Jesse stopped and looked at each one. After a few seconds, Detective Higgins smiled. “You did good, kid. The Minneapolis guys are taking him into custody as we speak.”
“I was a little worried he’d find it when he kissed you,” the sound technician said.
“I had it covered. He wasn’t getting anywhere near your transmitter. Are we good?”
“We’ll keep our end of the bargain. We’ll still need you in court.”
Jesse’s dad was front and center. “I’m proud of you.”
Tears formed in Jesse’s eyes. Candy, we made
lemonade today. I miss you.
Spring break was over, most of the snow was gone, and Jesse needed to work on her final paper for Ms. Inglebertsen.
Jesse noticed a new computer in Mrs. Adams’ office. “Mrs. Adams, I heard Windows 95 has a really cool word processing program. Do you have it?”
“I do, yes.”
“May I use it to finish my English paper?”
“Why do you want to use a computer?”
“Because I want it to look nice.”
“It’s more than a school assignment for you, isn’t it?”
Mrs. Adams smiled and nodded. “Okay, I can appreciate that. Do you know how to type?”
“Um, well, no, not really. But I can learn.”
“Let me show you how to use it.”
Jesse teared up. “Thank you.”
And after a few minutes of introductions from Mrs. Adams, Jesse spent the next six weeks working on her paper. She wrote about the nice clothes, lying to her parents about the job at Dairy Queen, Dylan, stealing, getting caught, Candy, the fake IDs, the money, all of it. By mid-May, she was finished.
Just one more thing left to do – click the Print button and it would all be there on paper for Ms. Inglebertsen and everyone else to see. And then the criminal chapter of her life would be over.
An amber light flashed on the printer, but nothing came out. Jesse checked the paper tray; it was full.
“Mrs. Adams, why won’t my paper print?”
Mrs. Adams fumbled with the printer for a few seconds. “I see the problem. It needs toner.”
She removed a toner cartridge from its box. “Jesse, it’s a little bit messy to change these. Would you mind doing it for me? I have a parent meeting in the conference room in a few minutes.”
“No problem. Just show me how.”
Karen opened the printer and showed Jesse the toner and collection bottle.
“Is it okay if I print two copies?”
“Good idea. Why don’t you print a third one for me? I’d like to keep a copy too.”
After dinner, Jesse asked if she could raid the pantry for a butterscotch pudding.
“The dishes are done, so use a plastic spoon,” a staff member said.
Jesse sat on the couch in the TV room with some other girls and ate her pudding. It was a boring show, and so after finishing her pudding she headed to her room for the night.
“Hey Jesse — what’s your deal anyway?” one of the girls asked. “Too good to hang out with us now?”
“No, just a big day at school tomorrow. My
paper’s due. Good night.”
When Jesse turned in her paper at school the next day, a million-pound weight lifted off her shoulders. Stealing never made her feel this good. The world was filled with possibilities. She smiled the whole bus ride home. Nobody wanted to sit next to her. She didn’t care. She would make something out of her life. She’d do it for Candy. And Candy’s parents. From now on, she would find a way to turn every lemon in her life into lemonade.
A police officer met her at the front door. “Jessica Jonsen?”
Jesse’s heart skipped a beat. “What’s wrong?”
“Come with me, please.”
Jesse followed the police officer down the hall to the conference room opposite Mrs. Adams’ office. The same room where she sat with her parents and met Mrs. Adams last fall. Now she was back again. Escorted by a police officer.
Mrs. Adams was waiting. “Jessica, please sit down.”
“Two hundred dollars was missing from the cash drawer this morning. Somebody left a note on my desk claiming you took it. What are your thoughts on this?”
Jesse’s eyes widened. “Um, I don’t have any thoughts.” This couldn’t be happening.
“Jessica, if you know anything about this, now is the time to speak up. I can’t help you if you don’t help us.”
“What do you want me to say? I don’t know anything about it.”
“You know those funds pay for necessities for the girls who live here. Losing that money hurts us badly in many ways. We need you to come clean and help us resolve this.”
“Wait a minute! Isn’t all that money in your safe? Isn’t the safe locked?”
“Yes, and I filed the combination in the computer I let you use for your school paper.”
“How would I know that? I don’t know what happened to your money. You want to search my stuff?”
“We were hoping you would volunteer for that, yes.”
“Well, be my guest.”
They walked to Jesse’s room and the Police Officer began searching. In the top drawer of her dresser they found ten $20 bills folded under some socks. Jesse dropped to her bed.
“I have no idea how that got there.” Fighting tears, Jesse folded her hands and looked down. One day after closing that chapter in her life — and now this?
She squeezed her eyes as hard as she could and tried to breathe calming breaths.
“Jesse, stealing two hundred dollars is only a misdemeanor and you’re still a minor. We can help you, but first, you have to come clean.”
Jesse looked up. “Look, anyone could have done that. You said you have a note from somebody, right? Can I see it?”
Mrs. Adams showed Jesse the note. It was on a blank piece of copier paper. The hand-written message said, “If you want to find your missing money, talk to Jesse Jonsen.”
Jesse studied the note for a few seconds before handing it back. She wiped her eyes and stood. Time to make lemonade. “That note is almost right. You found your missing money and now I’ll help you find who took it. It wasn’t me, but somebody wants you to think it’s me and that pisses me off.”
By now, several girls were gathered near the door to Jesse’s room. “Can we go back to your office?”
The group walked back to Mrs. Adams’ office and closed the door.
After more discussion, the police officer said, “She’s right. We don’t have proof she took the money. It’s just as likely somebody else took it and wrote that note to get Jesse in trouble.”
“Can I go now?” Jesse asked.
“Yes, you can go. But please don’t talk about this with the other girls.”
The old toner collection bottle was still in the office trash can. “Is it okay to take this old toner collection bottle?”
“What do you want it for?” the Police officer asked.
“I have an idea for a little project that might help find who took your money.”
“You know that toner makes a mess, don’t you?” Mrs. Adams asked.
“I’m counting on it. Can I get a roll of duct tape from the office supply cabinet?”
“Okay, go ahead.”
“And I’ll need a couple of plastic spoons.”
“What did the cop want with you?” and “Why did they search your room?” were on everyone’s mind at dinner that night.
Jesse figured out an easy reply to all their questions. “They think I took some money but they can’t prove it.”
A few girls cackled. “You think you’re better than us, don’t you?”
Jesse didn’t sleep well that night.
The next day, a different police officer met her at the door as she came in from school and led her to another meeting in the conference room with Mrs. Adams. Jesse’s heart raced, but this time she was prepared. She invited them to search her room again, but warned them to be careful opening her sock drawer.
“What are you hiding in there?” the Police officer asked.
“Can I borrow your flashlight?”
“You mean, may I borrow your flashlight?” Mrs. Adams said.
“Whatever, just loan me your flashlight for a minute.”
The Police officer loaned Jesse his flashlight. Jesse carefully slid her drawer open by about 1/4 inch and shined the flashlight inside.
“Well, will you look at that,” she said, handing the flashlight to the Police officer.
“Impressive,” he said, as both the Police officer and Mrs. Adams looked down at the drawer.
Jesse slid the drawer open the rest of the way. The socks were gone. Two spoons, duct taped together into a T shape, and taped to the inside-front of the drawer, were partially dislodged. The upside-down toner bottle hung crookedly from the stationary top, and toner was all over the inside of the drawer. Along with another $180, covered with toner particles.
“Look for a girl with black around her
fingernails,” Jesse said. “That’s who took your money.”
Eight years later, an older and wiser Jesse Jonsen relived that memory as she waited in the lobby for her job interview with the Bullseye Stores Fraud Department. Even after four years of college and three grueling years of grad school, she was still most proud of that high school paper and a burst of invention brought on by necessity after she made a decision to change her life.
Both copies of her paper were yellowed by now, but the red A on the front and “I love this paper!” from Ms. Inglebertsen were still an inspiration. She kept one more set of souvenirs from that girls’ group home. An empty laser printer toner collection bottle and a couple of plastic spoons, still duct taped together in an offset T shape, from the first time she turned lemons into lemonade.
“Jesse?” called the receptionist. “The manager is ready for you now.”