The Escalade’s brake lights didn’t blink. Not once.
As the sleek new SUV disappeared from sight, Sue Quinn stuffed fists into the pockets of her jeans and bit back a string of words that could have torched every clump of sagebrush in the entire Oregon outback, then turned her attention to the lanky, dark-skinned girl rooted to the bottom step. The kid probably didn’t need to hear what Sue thought of the occupants of the retreating vehicle, the couple who had so proudly signed on as parents and eight months later changed their minds. Like someone changing their mind about a box of cereal in their grocery cart at checkout. Oh, sorry, they’d say to the checker, I guess I don’t want this. Could you put it back?
With a sigh, Sue looked the girl over. Cambodian or maybe Vietnamese, about twelve or thirteen. She would have to rely on her best guess since the girl’s intake paperwork was probably a maze of lies and inconsistencies.
“Well, Jasmine . . . you hungry? Need to use a bathroom?”
The girl continued to stare at the long, empty driveway leading away from Juniper Ranch. The ribbon of dust stirred up by the departing Escalade continued to rise and spread slowly, drifting in the noonday sun, bound to settle, eventually, in another place. A matching pair of Barbie-pink suitcases flanked her feet on either side like bookends, price tags still attached.
Sue blew out a long breath. “All right, let’s get your stuff inside. I’ll give you a hand. We’ll get you all set up in your new room.”
Jasmine turned then, eyes almost level with Sue’s. No surprise there. At five foot even, Sue was long accustomed to meeting the older kids eye to eye. She studied the girl’s face. Nothing remarkable, a face some would call plain. Wide nose, small eyes. But no abnormalities, no cleft palate, no physical handicap that Sue could perceive. None of the deformities that usually gave Mr. and Mrs. Disenchanted an excuse to terminate an adoption, which further fueled Sue’s suspicions. Once she had a chance to go through this kid’s original adoption paperwork, she would no doubt find the photo sent by the orphanage to the parents. A photo of a much younger, lighter-skinned, prettier child. The photo they showed off to family, the one that invoked the admiration of friends because they were doing such a charitable thing, bringing an underprivileged child to the US for a better life.
“I no need room.” A frown creased the girl’s brow. “I no . . . I not staying here.”
Sue nodded. How many times had she heard that one? “Well, we can discuss that. Just not here on the front porch. Okay?” She let the question rest on a raised brow, but gave the girl her infamous, Dead Steady Eye-to-Eye.
Jasmine’s frown deepened. Then the tears pooled, turning the dark eyes glittery.
I hate this part. I really do.
A choice four letter bomb rose, but Sue clamped her lips and instead, drew in a lungful of high desert air, reached down and grabbed one of the bags. She motioned toward the door with her head. “This way.” She pushed through the door and marched inside without waiting for the girl. If she looked back, it wouldn’t work. She started up the staircase without hesitation, holding her breath, straining to hear. Fourth step. Sixth. Ninth.
As the temptation to look back reached a cresting point, she heard light footsteps, the soft click of the front door. Sue let out her breath, turned, and gave the girl with the pink suitcase a half-smile.
“C’mon, slowpoke. Follow me.”