But that's not what he finds when he looks outside.
At three-thirty, I drove to Lincoln High and got in the pickup line. I saw Adam talking with two other boys and honked my horn. He looked up and recognized my SUV, then ran over and got in.
“Hi, Rick! No bullying at school today. There’s a story going around that Arvin, Beazley, and Kilpatrick were suspended for one week and one day and will miss the next two football games, including tonight’s game and the one next Friday night. Did you do that?”
“I didn’t do it, but you and I helped it happen by our meeting with Vice Principal Cavalli and my meetings with the manager of the Taco Bell and with Principal Gibbons.”
“Has anyone said they were suspended because of what they did to you?”
“Nope. After wrestling practice today, I heard some of the football players saying they hoped the three of them would be off the team permanently. I guess they bullied guys on the football team, too. Or the other guys on the team just don’t like them.” Adam grinned. “Probably both.”
“Okay, I’m heading to Target so we can get you some clothes, so you’re not wearing the same things every day.”
“I have plenty of clothes at my house.”
“I know, but you don’t have a key to get in.”
“I don’t, but today I remembered that our next-door neighbor, Mrs. Billingsley, has a key. Mom gave it to her in case of an emergency. If you take me home, I can ask her for the key, then we can get into my house, and I can get enough clothes for when I’m at your house.”
“It’s good that you remembered that. Let’s see if she’s home now.”
“What’s the address?”
“I’m not sure of the house number, but it’s next door to ours, which is 1820 Clifford.”
Ruth Billingsley lived at 1824 Clifford Lane. We walked up to the front door, and before Adam could ring the doorbell, an older woman opened the door.
“Adam! How are you? I wondered where you and your mother had gone.”
“Where we’d gone?”
She ignored his question, instead asking him, “I suppose you want the key?”
“Yes, please, Mrs. Billingsley.”
Then she looked at me. “And you are?”
I handed her one of my business cards. “My name is Rick Decker. I’m with Child Protective Services in Pleasant Hill. I’m helping Adam with a bullying problem he’s been having at school.” I decided not to say anything about my temporary fostering of Adam or the problem with his mother leaving him alone for several days.
“Let’s get some of my clothes, then we can get back to your place,” Adam said. That caused a change in Mrs. Billingsley’s expression to one that worried me.
“Adam, can you wait a minute or two? I want to ask Mr. Decker a few questions.”
Adam grinned. “You want to make sure he’s not some sort of kidnapper or child molester, right?”
“Yes, something like that.”
Adam sat on her porch to wait for us.
She led me into her living room. She whispered, “That boyfriend of hers came first thing today and with another guy moved almost everything out of the house into the back of a big pickup truck. Adam’s mother, June, wasn’t with them. If Adam expects to find the house the way he saw it yesterday, he’s going to have a big shock. I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to let him go inside. If you agree with me, I can say I can’t find the key.”
“Oh my god, poor Adam!” I whispered in reply. “I agree with you that maybe you shouldn’t find the key. Did you go inside after Ted Loaming left?”
“Yes. All the beds and large appliances are still there. But everything in June’s closet and dresser, the kitchen cabinets, and the medicine cabinets in both bathrooms were cleaned out. The furniture that was in the living and dining rooms, the TV, and the stereo along with the CDs and DVDs are all gone.”
“What about Adam’s bedroom?”
“I don’t think they took any of his furniture. I don’t know about things like his clothes; I didn’t check the drawers in the dresser, and I didn’t look in the closet. I was in a hurry to see what I could see and get out of there in case they came back. I don’t understand what all this means. It’s like she’s moving out to be with that Ted fellow — he’s not a nice person! — and leaving Adam by himself.”
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“Hey, you guys finished talking?” Adam shouted from the front porch.
“Let’s do it,” I whispered to Mrs. Billingsley. “No key.”
We walked out of her house. “There’s a problem, Adam. I seem to have misplaced the key to your house.”
“Oh.” I could tell from his expression that Adam was unhappy.
“You’re going to keep looking for it, right?” I asked.
“Yes. It’s probably in one of my purses or one of the drawers. Adam, I’ll phone Mr. Decker as soon as I find it.” She held up my business card. “I promise that I won’t lose his phone number.”
“Let me write my personal cellphone number on the back of the card. Do you have a pen I can use?”
“Certainly. Let me get one for you.” She went back into the house.
“Maybe she’s getting old and forgetful,” Adam whispered.
“Don’t forget, someday you’ll be her age, too,” I whispered.
“Shhh! Here she comes,” he whispered.
“Here’s a pen.”
I used the porch railing as a desk and wrote my personal cellphone number on the back of the card. “Here you go,” I said, “and please call me as soon as you find the key.”
“I will. I’m so embarrassed.”
“Don’t be,” Adam said. “Sometimes I forget where I put things, too.”
“That’s very sweet of you, Adam. You are a very nice boy,” she responded.
“Mrs. Billingsley, may I have your telephone number?” I asked. “You can write it with your name and address on the back of one of my business cards.”
“Certainly, that’s a good idea.”
I handed her the card, and she wrote down her information then returned it to me.
“You might want to check the mailbox,” she said. “If you want, I can collect the mail until Mrs. Rios returns home.”
“Adam, is it alright with you to have Mrs. Billingsley collect your mail?”
“Sure. Lemme go check and see if there’s any from today.” He ran to the curb to collect the mail and returned with supermarket advertising circulars and an envelope from the cable company. I handed it all to Mrs. Billingsley.
“Is it alright if I throw away the ads?” she asked. “I’ll hang on to the envelope from the cable company and everything else that doesn’t look like an ad. When Mrs. Rios returns, I’ll give it to her.”
“That’s fine, Mrs. Billingsley. Thank you,” I said. “Okay, Adam, we’re off to Target like we originally planned.”
When we got in my SUV, Adam asked, “Could we get a snack at Baja Fresh first? It’s near Target. Maybe a taco?” he asked me.
“I think I can arrange that.”
We stopped at Baja Fresh. Adam ordered a grilled fish taco and a Coke. I told them to double the order, one for Adam and one for me. We sat outside and ate our snack.
We drove across the street to Target and bought him six pair each of boxer briefs, and socks; ten T-shirts; a mix of short and long-sleve shirts for school; several pairs each of jeans, sweat pants, and sweatshirts; three pair of sneakers; and a bathrobe and slippers. After Target, we went to Dick’s Sporting Goods and bought another pair of sneakers and seven sets of official Lincoln High T-shirts, shorts, and jockstrap sets with cups for PE. Adam already had the approved Lincoln High singlets, briefs, and shoes that he’d need for wrestling practice and meets. I paid for it all with my personal credit card.
When we got to my house I helped bring in the bags of clothes we’d bought for him. “You can use the closet and any of the dresser drawers you want for your things. If you need more space, you can move Eric’s things to the other bedroom.”
“Someday, I’ll have to meet Eric,” he said.
“I think the two of you would become friends,” I said.
“Boyfriends, maybe?” he asked, then wiggled his eyebrows.
“I’m afraid not. I’m pretty sure Eric is of the straight persuasion, and he’s four years older than you. But he doesn’t care whether his friends are straight or gay or bi, or younger. He likes people based on this,” and I tapped Adam on his forehead, “and that,” and I tapped him over his heart.
“I’m going to have to remember the ‘this-and-that’ tapping thing. It’s clever and it fits me, too,” he said. “It’s the way I always try to be.”
After he put everything away, he joined me in the family room. I was sitting in my recliner reading a science fiction story on my tablet. He sat down on the couch adjacent to my chair.
I looked up and smiled. “Yes?”
“My mom moved everything out of the house, didn’t she.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Why do you say that?”
“I know what happened. Mrs. Billingsley was whispering, but her living room window was open, and I’ve got perfect hearing. So I overheard her telling you about it.”
I looked at him and could see he was holding back tears. So I got up and sat on the couch next to him. I put my arm around him, and we hugged. That caused the dam to break, and he sobbed into my shoulder. I didn’t say anything; I figured it was better to let him cry it out than to babble meaningless platitudes that would be no help.
Adam held me as tight as he could, which was very tight.
“Can you let go a little, Adam?” I asked. “You’re very strong for someone who weighs 115 pounds.”
He must have realized how tight he was holding onto me, so he pulled his left arm away.
“You can still hold me if you’d like. Just a little looser, okay?”
I heard him chuckle. “More loosey-goosey, ‘eh?” He brought his arm back around my chest, but not as tight.
“Where did you pick up that old saying?” I asked.
“My grandma. She used to say it. She has Alzheimer’s now. I guess that’s a bad thing. The last time we saw her, she didn’t recognize my mom or me.”
“You’re right, Alzheimer’s is terrible. There’s currently research going on in laboratories and at universities to try to find the cause and hopefully a cure.”
“Too late for my grandma, I think. Rick?”
“Thank you for protecting me. Even though I heard about almost everything being taken out by that asshole Ted, my mom must have told him to do it. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have had the key and alarm code to get in. I think we should go to the house tomorrow and see what of my stuff is still there and move it here. Would that be okay?”
“You want to move it here?”
“Would it be okay with you if we did?”
“Absolutely,” I replied.
That started more tears, but before I could respond to them, Adam added, “I’m not sad. These are tears because I’m happy.”
“I’m glad you’re happy, Adam. It’s always better to be happy than to be sad.”
“I know. But sometimes it’s confusing. Like now. I’m smiling because I’m happy and that’s the way I feel, but I’m crying, and that’s what people do when they’re sad.” He sat back and wiped across his eyes with his shirtsleeve.
“I think we should get your key from Mrs. Billingsley right now and see what’s in your room,” I said.
“We can eat out after if that’s okay.”
“You don’t have to take me out to eat. We could eat at home instead. There’s chicken leftover from last night that you could warm up, and you could fix some veggies and a salad. I could help.”
Adam had said, ‘eat at home’ meaning my house. That was the second time he’d said something like that. I admit it gave me a warm feeling, and I smiled.
“Okay, I’ll phone Mrs. Billingsley. If she’s home, we’ll pick up the key and check out your room.”
I phoned Mrs. Billingsley. She said she’d be home, and I could pick up the key if we arrived before nine-thirty which is her bedtime. I told her we’d be at her house in about ten minutes.
After we got the key, Mrs. Billingsley said she’d come with us. She unlocked the front door, then entered the alarm code. I walked in, followed by Adam.
“Where’s your bedroom, Adam?”
“Down the hall on the right.” He led the way. “Lemme check my closet. Okay, it looks like everything’s still here.” He went to his dresser and opened the drawers. “Yup, I don’t think any of my clothes are missing.” Then he checked his desk. “Shit! I had some money in the back of the top drawer. Everything’s messed up, and the money’s gone.”
“How much was it, Adam?” I asked.
“I think it was almost a hundred dollars! I’ll kill that bastard!”
“Adam! Your language,” Mrs. Billingsley said.
“Sorry. I’m just so mad. I knew I should have hidden it better — wait a minute, wait a minute — I did hide it better!” Adam ran to his closet, scrounged around in a back corner, and pulled out a pair of black dress shoes. He reached into the left shoe and let out a big sigh. He stood up and held up a black sock. “It’s in this sock.” He shook the sock, and a wad of bills, held together by rubber bands, fell out into his hand.
“I forgot that I hid my cash in my shoe a couple months ago. I’d caught Ted coming out of my bedroom one day when Mom and I got home, and that’s when I decided to change where I kept it. Now I’m going to count it.”
He put each denomination in a separate stack, then went back and counted each stack. He looked up, grinning. “It’s more than I thought. I have a hundred and seventy-one dollars!” He put the cash in his pocket.
I decided that I’d suggest that Adam open a savings account to make sure his money was in a secure place, yet accessible when he needed it. That’s something I’d do later.
“Adam, let’s begin to gather the things you want to move to our house.” I realized what I’d said: ‘move to our house’ instead of ‘move to my house.’
“Okay. There might be some moving boxes in the garage unless Ted took them.”
We walked through the kitchen to the door into the garage. Adam opened the door and turned on the overhead light. “Whoa! Rick, check this out!”
“My mom’s car is gone.”
The garage was empty except for boxes stacked up along the far side, and a pile of empty boxes that were flattened and scattered on the garage floor.
“Let’s bring in some of these empty boxes to pack the things in your bedroom,” I suggested. “Do you know where there’s some packing tape?”
“I think there was some in the junk drawer in the kitchen. I’ll go see if I can find it.”
I made a stack of empty boxes and brought them into Adam’s bedroom. Mrs. Billingsley was already there neatly folding and stacking his clothes on the bed.
“I assumed you’d want to move everything,” she said. “Where will Adam be staying?”
“I activated my emergency fostering license. He’ll be staying at my house until his mother returns.”
“He’s lucky that he met someone from Child Protective Services. I feel good about him staying with you since it says on your card that you’re the district manager.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Billingsley. I hope June Rios returns soon so Adam can return to his own home. Also, thanks for folding and organizing Adam’s clothes. They’ll be easier to pack and unpack this way.”
Adam walked in. “I found two dispensers of packing tape and a marking pen, too. I’ll start making up boxes and putting my stuff in them, and I can write what’s in them on the top and sides of the boxes.”
“I’ll continue folding and stacking your clothes,” Mrs. Billingsley said. I’ve emptied the drawers, including your desk. Now I’ll start on what’s in your closet.”
Adam and I taped the bottom of several of the packing boxes, and the three of us finished packing Adam’s clothes and the contents of his desk drawers and his bookcase. He didn’t appear to have any electronics other than the cellphone he had with him.
“Adam, did you have a stereo or radio or any other electronics?”
“Just my alarm clock. When Mom would go out, I’d listen to music on the stereo in the living room. She never liked to listen to music or even watch TV. After she met Ted, they’d go out dancing and drinking almost every night. When she was home, I’d use my cellphone as a music player and I’d put on my headphones because she didn’t want me to listen to music in the living room. She said it was too noisy.”
“So, you don’t have a video game player?”
‘Nope. We’d play video games when I’d go to a friend’s house and use his system.”
“What about the charger for your cellphone?”
“It was on my desk.” He looked in the box with the contents of his desk. “Yeah, it’s in here. I’ll put it in my pocket, so I’ll have it when we get home.”
“Mr. Decker, I think you should keep the house key,” Mrs. Billingsley said. “That way, if someone asks me for it, I can say that I don’t have it.” She handed it to me.
“Alright. That’s probably a good idea. Do you agree, Adam?”
“Sure. It makes sense to me. Uh… what about those boxes that are each taped closed and stacked in the garage? They weren’t there before. Maybe some of the things from my mom’s room and the living room and kitchen are in them. We should take a look.”
“Good idea,” I said. The three of us went back to the garage. I opened one of the boxes.
Adam looked into the box. “These are towels and stuff from the linen closet in the hall,” he said.
“We won’t need those,” I said. I taped the box closed.
The next box was heavy. “CDs and DVDs from the living room. I’m the only one who listened to music CDs or watched movie DVDs. I want to take those,” Adam said.
The next box had the components of the stereo system from the living room. “I want that, too. That way, I can play the CDs and DVDs.”
“That’s enough for now,” I said. “It looks like Ted didn’t have enough room in his pickup to take everything.” I looked up at the garage door opener. “We should disconnect the garage door opener so it can’t be opened with the remote, if you’d like me to do that, Adam. I can block the track so it can’t be forced open from the outside. Then, if it’s alright with you, I’m going to call a locksmith and have all the locks changed, and we’ll take care of that later this evening. Is that also okay with you, Mrs. Billingsley?”
“I like that idea,” Adam said. “It means that someone can’t get in if they have the old key. That’s good.”
“Exactly. And I think we should change the alarm code, too. That will be a good security precaution.”
“I know how to do that,” Adam said. “Enter the old password, press star-star, enter the new password, press star-star, then enter the new password a second time. It’ll be enabled, so you have to enter the new password again to turn it off.”
“Is the alarm connected to an alarm service company that will call the police and fire departments?” I asked Mrs. Billingsley.
“Yes. It was installed by the same locksmith as my alarm system. I’ll give you their phone number. You should call the alarm company to make sure they have my cellphone and your cellphone numbers to contact us if the alarm is tripped.”
“I have the phone number for the alarm company,” Mrs. Billingsley said. “I’ll get it for you when we’re finished here.”
“I’ll have pizza delivered, so we have something to eat while we wait for the locksmith. You’re welcome to join us for pizza, Mrs. Billingsley.”
“Thank you very much, but pizza is not on my diet. I’m trying to lose some weight. Let me get the information for the alarm company. I also used the same locksmith when I moved here, and they did an excellent job, and their price seemed reasonable. I’ll get you their phone number, too. I’ll be right back.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“Yeah, thanks, Mrs. Billingsley,” Adam added.
The interesting thing was we found the TV, the cable box and DVR, and the FM tuner. They were behind another stack of boxes.
“We’ll take the TV for your bedroom.”
“Hot damn!” Adam said. “That’ll fry that idiot Ted’s butthole.” He looked at me and sneered like he was daring me to say something. So, I did say something.
“Watch your language, Adam. Mrs. Billingsley might hear you and decide that she doesn’t like your language and maybe won’t be as cooperative.”
“Yeah, sorry about that. It’s just that I hate him so much! Everything was fine with just me and my mom. Then she brings him home.”
“We’ll leave the towels and sheets, the boxes of napkins and toilet paper and other stuff here because we don’t need any of that when you’re at my house. I’ll supply all of those things. We’ll take the things that you used at home, and that you will use while I’m fostering you. I’ll lay the back seats flat, and we can take the most important things first. Your clothes, DVDs and CDs, the stereo equipment, and the TV. We’ll put your clothes, the TV, the stereo equipment, CDs and DVDs, and your books in your bedroom.”
“Okay!” He was eager.
“You know, maybe we should go into the kitchen and check the refrigerator and cabinets for food that might end up spoiling.”
“Okay. That sounds like a good idea.”
We went into the kitchen. The refrigerator was full of food.
“Let’s get some boxes and take the things that are still good. Anything that’s starting to spoil, we’ll put in the green trash can,” I said.
“Tomorrow’s trash pickup day,” he told me. “I’ll move the cans out front.”
We brought several boxes in from the garage, and Adam taped the bottoms, leaving the tops open. We packed the food from the refrigerator. There was some wilted lettuce, a tomato that was spoiling, and some leftovers. I found a paper grocery bag and put those items in it. Adam took the bag outside and dropped it in the green can; then, he moved the three trash cans to the curb. The rest of the food was okay, even the plastic half-gallon container of milk. There was a pint container of vanilla ice cream in the freezer along with a stack of those one-person frozen meals.
“Adam, how about you make a list of the things we’re taking from here. That way, if there’s anyone who claims we took things that we shouldn’t have, we’ll have a detailed record of what we took.”
Adam nodded. “Good idea! There’s a spiral notebook in the box with my desk stuff. I’ll use that.”
We loaded up the SUV, and then I looked at Adam’s desk. “The desk and the bookcase look like they will disassemble pretty easily. We can do that so you’ll have them in your bedroom, along with the chair you have at your desk and the side chair.”
He was looking at me, and I could see that his eyes were misting.
“My bedroom? You said that a few times. You mean that?”
“Yes, until your mom gets back. We’ll have to finalize that your custody is now with CPS, and the emergency protective order is in place for me to foster you until we can find a permanent foster home for you.”
“A permanent foster home? What’s that mean?”
“This is going to be hard for you to hear, Adam. Your mother said that she didn’t want you and that CPS could keep you.”
I was surprised that he didn’t cry. Instead, he grinned and said, “That means you are going to take care of me?”
“I don’t want it to be temporary. I want to stay with you. I don’t ever want to go back to my mom. Especially after she and Ted got together, then she never seemed to like me anymore the way it was when we were by ourselves.”
That was so sad. Here’s a friendly, smart kid. His mother said that she didn’t want to have any responsibility for him. I couldn’t understand why.
“Okay, let’s lock up and get the stuff unloaded at my house then return to get your furniture before it gets too late.”
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