But that’s not what he finds when he looks outside.
“Adam, when I went through your clothes, I didn’t find a house key. I looked but didn’t find one in your backpack, but I might have missed it. Do you have a key to get into your house?”
“No. I keep asking my mom for one, but she says she’ll think about it. But she never does anything about it. Sort of like the vice principal at school. All talk and no action.”
“How do you get to school?”
“I ride the bus. I have a bus pass. There’s a bus stop about four blocks from my house.”
“How do you get home from school?”
“I stay at school and do my homework and use a computer in the computer lab. I don’t have a computer at my house. My mom works at the outpatient clinic in the physical therapy unit. She gets off at five o’clock and picks me up on her way home. She gets Tuesdays off and works Saturdays. So on Tuesdays, I take the bus home.”
“What about today? It’s a Thursday. What did you do to get home?”
“When my mom didn’t show up at school, I took a bus. When I got home, I found the note she’d left me.”
“I found her note in the pocket of your jeans, and I read it. I hope that was okay with you?” Adam nodded. “When you ended up at my house, were you on your way to stay with one of your friends while your mother was out of town?”
“Sort of. Since it was raining and real cold, I figured that this was sort of an emergency. I was trying to get to a friend’s house. That’s Danny Cortez. I didn’t know if his folks would’ve let me stay over, but I didn’t know what else to do. I guess I got lost because it’s hard to see the street signs in the rain. I tried to ring the doorbell at a couple of other houses, but there was no answer. I saw your house, and the porch and the stairs to the porch were covered. So I decided to get out of the rain. I was tired, so I sat down instead of ringing your doorbell. And then you found me.”
“Adam, I’m approved to provide emergency fostering. That means I’ll be responsible for you until I turn you over to your mother. That means you can stay with me until your mother gets home on Monday or Tuesday. You can sleep in my spare bedroom until then. That’s the bedroom where you got dressed. Is that okay with you?”
“Yeah, that’s great. Thank you.”
“Which reminds me. As soon as they’re done, I’ll get your clothes out of the washer and put them in the dryer. That way, you’ll have another set of clothes to wear.” I looked at him and grinned. “A set of clothes that fits you.”
“Tomorrow morning, put on your own clothes, and I’ll take you to school. I’ll pick you up after school and take you to Target and get you some new clothes. Okay?”
“You don’t have to do that, Mr. Decker. I’ve got enough to wear with my stuff and what you loaned me.”
“I think you need some clothes that fit, not what you’ve borrowed from Eric, which are all too big for you. Also, please call me Rick. Mr. Decker is my dad, and I’m not that old.” I grinned.
“Okay. Thanks for offering to buy me some clothes… um… Rick. I’ll ask my mom to repay you.”
“You’re welcome, and repayment isn’t necessary. I have a fund through CPS for purchases like this. Now I might have some bad news for you.”
Adam looked concerned. “Bad news?”
“Maybe,” I grinned, then continued, “I’m sure you were assigned homework to do tonight. It’s time to get to work on that. Also, I’d like you to write down the names of the three guys who’ve been bullying you and give it to me. That’s so I’ll have it to take with us in the morning. What time is your first class?”
“First period starts at eight thirty-five on Fridays. I usually get there about fifteen minutes early because that’s when the bus gets me to school.”
“What is your first class?”
“Geometry. That’s my fourth period class.”
“Yes. We have block scheduling. Mondays, we have all seven of our periods, and they’re each forty-five minutes long. We also have brunch and lunch.
“Tuesdays and Thursdays, we have periods one, two, three, and seven. Each is ninety minutes long.
“Wednesdays and Fridays, we have periods four, five, and six. Each is also ninety minutes long. And on each of those two days we also have two extra periods, collaboration and academy.
“Collaboration period is an hour-long and starts at seven-thirty, right before fourth period. It’s when we can meet with our teachers or counselors because that’s when they each have their office hours. Or we can catch up on homework, study for a test, use the computer lab or the library, do research, whatever. Collaboration period is optional because it starts at seven-thirty, an hour before fourth period. Since it’s optional, we don’t have to come in. If we skip it, we can get an extra hour of sleep.
“On those two days we have to check-in at the beginning of fourth period. Check-in is like homeroom at other schools. It’s to make sure we arrive at the beginning of school.
“Academy period is an hour-long and starts at ten-fifteen. That’s right after fourth period, and it can be used for extra-credit classes like robotics or some of the same things as collaboration period. But it’s not optional because we’re already in school.
“And, of course, we have lunch every day. I eat in the cafeteria. My mom buys me a meal ticket each month.”
“Sounds complicated, but I can see advantages to having longer classes. It’s like going to college.”
“Right! You got it! It is more like going to college. This way of having our classes will make it easy to figure out what’s going on when we get to college.”
“Okay. So tomorrow is Friday, so you have collaboration period at seven-thirty. When does the vice-principal get to school tomorrow?”
“Then, we’ll be there at seven-thirty.”
“Okay. If he’s not there, we’ll wait for him, right?”
“That’s right, Adam. Now, how about your homework?”
“Okay. Where’s my backpack?”
“In the laundry room. You can remove your clothes from the dryer and take them to the bedroom — and your shoes, too; they are on the floor on top of the heat vents. You can check them to make sure they are dry. And, you can use the dining room table to do your homework.”
“Thanks. I like doing homework. Even Geometry, which is my toughest class.” Adam looked at me and shrugged his shoulders.
“If you want, I can look it over when you’re finished.”
“Yeah, I’d like that.”
While Adam focused on his homework in the dining room, I returned to my home office and got online and retrieved information about the Lincoln High School staff.
The principal was Susan Gibbons, and the vice principal was James Cavalli. I didn’t know Ms. Gibbons; she had recently taken over the position when the prior principal retired.
But I did know James Cavalli. I’d had situations come up with him when over several months all foster kids transferred to his school were ‘automatically’ assigned to slow-learners classes, even though they had been good students in their former schools. I applied pressure, and he claimed the caseworkers had told him they were slow learners. I checked with the caseworkers, and they gave me copies of the documentation that accompanied each of the foster kids. None indicated they were slow learners. I returned to Lincoln High School and showed him the documents I’d received. I asked him to show me the paperwork he’d received from the caseworkers that described the kids as slow learners. He claimed he no longer had it. I reminded him that state law requires that student documentation must be included in each student’s folder and remain there while they are at the school. He apologized for a ‘paperwork mixup’ and arranged to have the students moved to standard classes the next day. I gave the documents to his assistant, and she put them in each student’s folder. There was nothing more I could do.
Now I had another situation, a different and more serious situation, to resolve, Adam being bullied. I looked forward to my meeting with Mr. Cavalli Friday morning.
I turned on the TV and watched the six o’clock news.
Adam completed his homework and came in to tell me. “Rick, could you check my homework?”
“Sure,” I said. We went back to the dining room and sat down. I finished checking his homework, and it all looked okay. Adam was obviously a smart kid.
“There’s one part of my homework I couldn’t finish. That’s my Digital Arts/Web Design assignment. I need to use a computer to get on the server at school. I’m using Photoshop Elements to design some art for my website. Do you have a computer that I can use that has Photoshop Elements?”
“Yes, about the computer; I have a laptop you can use. No, about the Photoshop Elements; my laptop doesn’t have that program. Instead, it has the current version of Photoshop.”
Adam’s eyes opened wide. “You mean your laptop has the complete Photoshop program?”
“Yes, the complete Photoshop program.”
“Wow, real Photoshop! Is it similar to Photoshop Elements?”
“Yes and no. The file formats are all the same, psd and jpg, and so on. It doesn’t have the organizer that’s part of Elements, but my laptop has Bridge and it can be used for saving and organizing files. Also, Photoshop has features that go beyond what you can do with Elements. I think you could pick it up once you use it for a while. Do you need to use the organizer?”
“No, I don’t need it, so I can get along without it. I’m working on a single psd file with multiple layers. The project is about overlaying multiple layers.”
“Photoshop should work very well for your assignment. Let me bring the laptop in here, and you can begin reviewing the Photoshop interface. There’s a tutorial; it comes up on the startup screen, so all you have to do is click to access it. Where’s the file you’ve been working on?”
“It’s on the Blackboard system at school. I can open it in Photoshop and save it back when I’ve finished. You’ve got internet, right?”
“Yes. So, while you work on your project, I’ll start on dinner. What do you like to eat?”
“I eat everything. I even like vegetables.”
“How about chicken. I have a whole roast chicken in the refrigerator I can warm up, I can bake a potato for each of us, and there are carrots or cauliflower, whichever you prefer, and a salad.”
“Wow, that sounds great! I like both carrots and cauliflower.”
“Then we’ll have both.”
I brought my laptop into the dining room and set it up for Adam at one end of the table. That way, we could eat dinner at the other end, and there’d be plenty of room for both uses of the table.
“I’ll set up an account for you on my network, and you can get started.” I did that, gave him a note with the login ID and password that I created for him, and he logged on. I showed him how to access the tutorial that covered the Photoshop interface and features, and he got into it right away.
I selected two half-pound baking potatoes, washed, oiled, and salted them, then put them into the oven at 400 degrees and set the timer for forty-five minutes. I washed six carrots and a half head of cauliflower and cut them for cooking. I had pre-washed salad greens, and I added a cubed a tomato and set aside an avocado for the salad. That finished the prep work.
“Adam, would you like something to drink now?”
“What do you have?”
“Calistoga fruit drinks, Coke, root beer, iced tea, milk, and water. Which would you prefer?”
“I like Calistoga. Do you have either orange-lime or grapefruit?”
“I have both. Which would you like, and do you want it out of the bottle or in a glass with ice?”
“Orange-lime, in a glass with ice, please.” I gave him his soda.
“It’ll be about fifteen minutes before I put the chicken in the oven. How do you like Photoshop? Is it working okay for you?”
Adam looked at me and smiled. “It’s great. The features I’m using work the same as they do in Elements. I think I’m going to be able to finish my project in less than an hour.”
“Remind me, what’s your project?” I asked.
“It’s to take a series of pictures and overlay them to form something completely different.”
“That seems like a rather advanced task for a high school freshman.”
“I took a digital art class in the eighth grade, so I understand how to use some advanced features of Elements. Those features are pretty much the same in Photoshop. The only difference is how I get to them. The Digital Arts/Web Design class is for tenth grade up, but I talked to the teacher and showed him some of the things I’d finished in the eighth grade, and he wrote an approval letter so I could register for the class. I’m the only freshman in the class.”
Just then, the timer on the stove chimed. It was time to put the chicken into the oven, so I got up and went into the kitchen, and Adam followed me. I opened the plastic container that the chicken came in, put the pre-cooked bird in a baking pan, and then into the upper oven. I set the oven temperature to 350 degrees and set the timer for 20 minutes. I put the cauliflower and carrots in a pot of water and turned on the burner.
Adam returned to the dining room and continued working on his project. After about twenty minutes, I let him know that dinner was ready. Adam’s stomach growled, and he laughed. “You must think I’m mostly stomach,” he said.
“No, I know what it’s like when you’re a teen. Your body needs constant nourishment, so you’re hungry all the time. You need even more nourishment because you’re on the wrestling team. You also have to watch your weight and body fat carefully.”
I returned to the kitchen and put the vegetables in a bowl and finished the salad. I showed him where the dishes were and Adam set the table, and I put a baked potato on each of our plates, sliced the chicken and put it on a serving platter, and brought out the bowl of vegetables. We were ready to eat.
Adam ate like he hadn’t eaten all day, and when we were finished, he belched. He was embarrassed and blushed, and he said, “Sorry.”
I chuckled at that. “In some contries a belch is supposed to mean you enjoyed the meal,” I said.
He grinned and nodded. “I did. Thanks for dinner and everything else, too.”
After eating, we put the dishes in the dishwasher. I washed and dried the pots and pans, and it was time to discuss Adam’s mother and her boyfriend.
“My mom is okay, I guess,” he said. “I tell her what’s going on with the bullies at school, and she gets upset about it. She tells me she’s proud when I get good grades. She knows I’m gay, and she says that’s okay. I guess she doesn’t care. She came to school to complain to the vice principal about the bullies who’ve been attacking me. And she phoned him a bunch of times, too.”
“Has she ever left you like she did today?”
“No, This is the first time she ever left me alone. I guess she thought I’d have a friend where I could stay. Trouble is, there aren’t many kids in our neighborhood. It’s mostly young couples with little kids and old retired people with no kids at home. Besides, I don’t have a lot of close friends where I could stay. I didn’t find out she’d left until I got home, and the note was in an envelope taped to the front door.”
“Where’s your house located, Adam?”
“It’s at 1820 Clifford; it’s east of here.”
“I know where Clifford Lane is. It’s a cul-de-sac off Brook Street, right?”
“Uh-huh. It’s a nice place to live. We have a view of Mt. Diablo from our back yard.”
“Were you trying to get to a friend’s house when you ended up at my front porch?”
“Yeah. I thought Danny Cortez lived near here. I’d been to his house a few times, but with it raining so hard, I guess I got the streets mixed up and couldn’t find it. I couldn’t remember his address or phone number. It was so cold and I was so wet that when I saw that the roof covered your front porch, I decided to rest for a while.”
“How long were you on my porch?”
“I’m not sure. Seemed like an hour, but it probably wasn’t that long.”
“Would you prefer to go to your friend Danny’s house?”
“I’d like to stay here, if that’s okay with you.”
“Sure, it is. Now, tell me about your mother’s boyfriend, Ted. You said that his house is in Chico? That’s a long way from here.”
“It isn’t his house. I mean, it is, but he doesn’t live there. He has an apartment around here somewhere. The house in Chico is where his mother lived until she died a few years ago. He told my mom that he wants to refurbish it, and he’d move there with my mom and me. I don’t know why it was all of a sudden a big rush to fix up that house unless it was a mess.”
“You have a smartphone. Did your mother call you or leave you a text message that she was leaving?”
“No. I checked my phone a few times. She never remembers my cellphone number. She has it written down on a pad near the phone in our kitchen. But she wouldn’t have that pad in Chico.”
“Did you try to call her?”
“Yes. I guess she’s out of the area. Her phone doesn’t have roaming. She says she doesn’t travel enough to pay for a more expensive plan. She doesn’t have a smartphone, either. She says she’s too old to learn how to use one. I think that’s just crazy. She doesn’t even know how to save a phone number in her phone. I told her I could do it for her, but she said she probably wouldn’t be able to find it even if I did. She’s no good with computers. Or the stereo and the TV, either.”
“Where does she work?”
“She’s a physical therapist. She works at the John Muir Outpatient Clinic.”
“How about Ted? What does he do?”
“He’s a manager at the Sports Channel store that’s in Oak Grove Centre in Fairfield.”
“Adam, are your mother and Ted planning on getting married?”
“Not according to my mom, and that’s perfectly okay with me. She doesn’t want to get married. She wants a boyfriend ‘and no other commitment,’ she says. Ted told me it’s so she can have sex.” He spit out that last sentence like it was as foul-tasting as it sounded.
“That’s rather harsh, and a rather brazen thing for you to say,” I told Adam.
“What’s that mean, brazen. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that word.”
“It means disrespectful. Normally you wouldn’t repeat something like that about your mother to anyone, especially to someone who doesn’t know her.”
“Well, I’m just telling you what Ted told me.”
“Still, it’s not something you should tell anybody about her.”
“It’s true, though, that people want to have sex, that she would want a boyfriend to have sex. Even I want to have a boyfriend so I can have sex!”
I shook my head. What kind of monster had I unleashed here?
“Let’s change the subject,” I said.
“Okay. I’m sorry I said those things, but it makes me mad that Ted would say something like that to me about my mom. But I know it must be true because they sleep together in my mom’s bedroom when he comes over.”
“Ted doesn’t sound like a very nice guy.”
“He isn’t. I keep wondering why she wants him to be her boyfriend.” Adam giggled, then clasped his hand over his mouth like he was trying to keep from saying something. Then he laughed. After that, he turned away, but I heard him softly whisper, “I bet it’s because he has a really big one!”
I didn’t respond to that. This whole conversation had become something far beyond circumspect. Another thing, this Ted guy was skirting child abuse if he had made that statement to Adam about his mother. If this were a fostering situation, which it isn’t, we’d file a stay-away order against Ted. That means he would be restricted from going to the Rios’ home. Or, Adam would be moved to a foster facility until a foster family was available.
But that wasn’t the issue we faced. The issue was bullying at our meeting with James Cavalli, the Lincoln High School vice principal, tomorrow, Friday morning.
“Would you like to see my graphic art project?” Adam asked, fortunately diverting us from the overly personal discussion we’d been having. I was glad he made the suggestion.
“Sure. I’d like to see it,” I said.
Adam sat down in front of the laptop and turned it so we could both see the screen. “I took some pictures of my mom with my phone last week. Some I asked her to pose, others she didn’t know I was taking pictures. So, my idea was that I’d overlay them in different ways with each image on a separate layer. If there were a background that I didn’t want, I’d use the lasso tool and outline that part, create a mask, then with feathering turned on, tolerance and opacity set low, I’d soften the masked area with the magic eraser tool.” He looked at me and grinned.
“And what year are you? A freshman in college?” I joked.
“I’m impressed. You learned all of this when you were in the eighth grade?”
“And a lot of it this year, too. Anyway, here’s where I am so far. It’ll take a little more editing for the final result that I’ll turn in tomorrow.”
I looked at the detailed image he’d created using overlays. He showed me the images he was overlaying and how he was working with them.
“That looks great, Adam. How much longer will it take to get your final result?”
“Maybe half an hour,” he replied.
“Well, I’ll leave you to it. When you finish, would you like some ice cream?”
“Sure. What kind do you have?”
“Vanilla. I have caramel syrup if you’d like it.”
“Sure, that sounds good. I’ll let you know when I’m done. Then could I show it to you again?”
“Absolutely. I’d like to see your finished project.”
While Adam worked, I went to the laundry room and checked his shoes. They were still damp inside, so I put the rack inside the dryer and set it to run for fifteen minutes at medium-high temperature and in air-dry mode. I returned to read a book on my tablet, and when I heard the dryer signal, I got his shoes out of the dryer. They were dry inside, so I removed the rack and took his shoes into the dining room.
“Excuse me, Adam. Your shoes are dry. Do you want to put them on now?”
“No, thanks. I’m fine with these gym socks until I go to bed.”
“Okay. I’ll put them in your bedroom. I emptied a drawer in the dresser for you. Eric doesn’t use pajamas, so I don’t have them for you to wear to bed. Is that okay?”
“Sure. I usually wear a T and boxer briefs to bed, so I’ll just wear the ones I have on. I’ll finish my graphic art project and be ready for ice cream in about fifteen minutes, if that’s okay.”
“Absolutely. How many scoops would you like?”
Adam grinned. “How big are the scoops?”
“Big,” I replied.
“Then two is okay.”
“We’ll eat at the kitchen counter. You can put the syrup on yourself.”
“Great. Thanks. I’m doing one last pass on my image.”
I dished up two scoops of ice cream for Adam, one scoop for me, and put the bowls in the freezer so the ice cream would stay frozen. I put the jar of caramel syrup on the counter, along with spoons and napkins. After about ten minutes, Adam joined me, and we sat at the kitchen counter with our ice cream.
“I love ice cream,” he said.
“Me too,” I responded. “Trouble is, it’s not part of my diet.”
“Fortunately, it is on my wrestler’s diet,” he said.
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