But that’s not what he finds when he looks outside.
After making our first trip to my house, it took less than twenty minutes to unload and another ten minutes to put the food away. Before we returned to the Rios’ house, I called Extreme Pizza and ordered a large ‘Everything’ pizza without anchovies and one side salad, each of which we’d share. It took us about ten minutes to drive to what had been his house.
About ten minutes later, I heard the doorbell. It was the pizza guy delivering our dinner. Adam had found a twenty-five percent discount coupon at his house that hadn’t expired, and I used that and my personal credit card to pay the bill and give the driver a tip. We pulled Adam’s desk away from the wall and sat on opposite sides. We opened the pizza box on the desktop and used it as an oversize plate we shared. We’d finished eating the pizza and salad; I’d eaten about one-quarter of both, and Adam ate the rest. ‘Teenagers and their appetites!’ I thought.
Just as I tossed the pizza box into the recyclables bin, which was in the garage, I saw something that made me wonder. We had used paper napkins I had found in the garage — from a whole case of paper napkins! I also found two cases of paper towels and four cases of toilet paper. I asked Adam about it.
“Mom liked to buy stuff when it was on sale at Amazon,” Adam explained when I’d asked him about it.
“But why four cases of toilet paper? For two people, that seems like a lot of toilet paper!”
“Maybe she wanted to be prepared for the zombie apocalypse.” He laughed. “So, what are we going to do with all that stuff?”
“Leave it here. It’s not yours. It’s your mother’s. We won’t need any of it.”
I looked around the garage, then at Adam. “Do you have a bike?” I asked him.
“No. Mom said she couldn’t afford to buy one. I’ve never had a bike. So I’ve never learned how to ride. Or a skateboard. I wanted a skateboard, but Mom said they were too dangerous.”
“Would you like to have a bike and learn how to ride it?”
“I guess. I’m not sure how hard it is to learn how to ride.”
“You’re a wrestler, so you probably have good balance. That will help you when you learn. The bike shops have training classes, and usually, they’re free if you buy your bike from them. If you’re interested, we can look into getting you a bike, and you can learn how to ride.”
“Who’s going to pay for the bike? CPS?”
“Not CPS. I’d buy a bike for you.”
“I don’t know, Rick. That sounds like a lot of money for you to spend on me.”
“We can cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, keep it in mind. Having a bike will make it a lot easier for you to get around, visit friends, go downtown, and maybe most important, to get to and from school.”
I heard the doorbell again.
I went to the living room and looked out the front window and saw a truck out front with a Keymaster logo on the side. It was the locksmith Mrs. Billingsley recommended; I opened the door and let him in.
“The prior owner has left and moved out of the area. We want to make sure that they won’t be able to get in since they might have keys for the old locks. So, I want to change all of the locks and add deadbolts on every door, and I’d like all of the doors keyed the same.”
“Let’s take a look, starting with the front door,” he said.
We toured the house. He pointed out that both the back door and the door into the garage from the house had low-quality locks that were easy to defeat. The door on the side of the garage into the yard had no lock; all it had was a door latch. “It’s strange,” he said, “because both doors in the garage are good quality metal fire-resistant doors as required by the building code. This door will let anyone walk into the garage from the outside. It shows how builders tend to skimp on little things that are important for security.”
He gave me a quote for the work to provide new high-quality locksets and deadbolts on all four doors. The bill came to just under six-hundred dollars. It sounded expensive, but it would be worth the cost. He went to work. When he finished, he said that he’d keyed all the doors the same and gave me eight keys. “Two keys come with each lockset, so you’re not paying extra for the keys. All of the locks can be locked on the inside without a key, unlike the original deadbolts. I also installed L-braces in the doorjambs to prevent someone from being able to kick the doors open, and I added them on the hinge sides, too.”
“Wow, that’s something I hadn’t thought about. I appreciate that you did all of that for us.”
“I did it to protect your son.” He looked at Adam and smiled. “Protecting our kids is the most important thing that parents — actually, all adults — can do. We need to remember that kids are our future.”
Adam smiled, and it was a big, happy smile.
“I agree. And I want to protect Adam from the time he gets home from school until I get back from work.
“I have another place and need an extra key for it. Can you duplicate this key for me?” I handed him the key to my house.
“Sure. It’ll take less than five minutes.” He went out to his truck and returned in under five minutes with my key and a duplicate.
“No charge for this. I noticed that you have an inexpensive garage door opener. They are easy to defeat.” He handed me a flyer. “This shows things you can do to prevent someone from opening your garage door without the remote. Also, you should check the instructions that came with the unit and find out how to change the code.”
“We don’t have the instructions. Do you install new garage door openers?”
“Yes. They aren’t cheap, but they are much easier to secure.”
“How much?” I asked, thinking over five-hundred dollars.
“Three hundred fifty dollars, including installation. I won’t be replacing the track and the drive chain and rails because they are all okay, and there’s already a power outlet, so there’s no electrical work that would otherwise have to be done. This is why it’s less expensive. ”
“Let me think about that. I’ll call when we’re ready.”
“I don’t have a unit with me anyway, so the earliest would be a week from Monday. Here’s my card.”
“Can I have three or four cards? I’d like to recommend your service to friends.”
He grinned. “Sure.” He handed me a small stack of cards along with his bill, and I gave him my personal credit card. What it cost for the locksmith wasn’t something that I could pay using my CPS credit card. But it was worth doing for Adam.
“Okay, thank you very much,” I said. “I feel much better about our security now.”
We shook hands, and he left.
I went into the garage and showed Adam how I would secure the garage door.
“We’ll need to open the garage door, so we can move stuff out and get back in, won’t we?” Adam asked.
“Nope. We can move out what’s left through the front door and into my SUV. All we’ll have left is your furniture: the desk, desk lamp, desk chair, side chair, and bookcase. Because we’ll disassemble the desk and bookcase, those pieces and the chairs should fit without any problem. We won't need your dresser because there’s already one in your new bedroom at my house.
“So, let’s go into the garage, and I’ll show you what we are going to do to secure the garage door.”
The first thing I did was turn on the lights in the ceiling of the garage. Then I used a ladder to climb up to the garage door opener and unplug it, which disabled the ability to open the door using the remote and turned off the light at the front of the opener unit.
“Now Ted can’t use the remote to open the garage door. But it’s easy to pry the door open from the outside using a crowbar under the bottom edge or to use a wire coat hanger to reach in through the top of the door to snag the emergency release. So, what we’re going to do is remove the emergency release and block the track on both sides.”
I used the ladder to climb up and untie and remove the emergency release.
I’d found some four-inch bolts and matching nuts in a bin on the workbench. I threaded two nuts about halfway on each of four bolts and tightened them together so they’d block the wheels on each section of the door that allowed the garage door to be opened. I pushed two bolts through adjacent holes on the track on one side and threaded two nuts on each bolt, and tightened them with a wrench. Then I did the same on the other side of the garage door. The wheels couldn’t move past the bolts, no matter how hard someone tried to pull the door open from the outside.
“Doing this wouldn’t be safe if you were living here, but since no one is living here, it provides security to prevent someone from trying to break in. Now Ted won’t be able to get in the garage without ramming his pickup truck through the door. There’s nothing we can do to prevent that. If he does something stupid like that, Mrs. Billingsley would certainly see it and hear it happening and call the police.”
“Yeah, I think she’ll be watching the house a lot closer from now on. If he tries something stupid like that, it means he’ll go to jail,” Adam said. “That’d be a good thing.”
“Let’s lock up and get going,” I said. “It’s time we get your furniture moved to your new bedroom.”
“Let me change the alarm code first,” Adam said.
“You’ll have to let me know the new code. And using the house number like the current code is a bad idea.”
“How about my age and birthdate? I’m fourteen, and I was born on August fifteenth, 2005. So, it could be 14081505. That’s eight digits; I think the code can have that many digits. Let me see if I can change it.” He entered the correct steps to store the new code. “Let’s see if it works.”
He enabled the alarm using the new code. It worked. He disabled the alarm using the new code. That worked, too. “I don’t think anyone would figure out this code — not even my mom — before the cops would show up.”
We disassembled Adam’s bookcase and desk, which took more time than I’d estimated. With Adam’s assistance, the parts for those two pieces of furniture were easy to move into the SUV because when taken apart they were mostly flat. I used the large beach towels Adam had in his closet to wrap the legs of the chairs, especially the desk chair, which had wheels and rotated on its base, so the parts from the desk and bookcase wouldn’t be damaged or scratched (any more than they were already) if the chair was able to roll around when we were driving to my house. We moved them into the back of my SUV. Then we made sure every door in the house was locked, except the front door. I enabled the alarm to make sure I remembered the code, locked both locks on the front door, and we drove back to my house.
I’d given Adam the job of creating an inventory list of everything we took from the house. That was important so we could avoid an accusation of burglary. Adam said everything we took was his or that he was the main person who had used it. That included the TV, the stereo including the speakers, CDs, and DVDs, and his desk and chairs and bookcase. We didn’t take the bed or mattress; there was already a king-size bed in the bedroom Adam would use at my house.
CPS has the right, when we take a child into foster care, to remove everything the child says is theirs if there’s no one present to claim otherwise. So once they move, they’ll have it to use. That’s why the things we removed from his mom’s house would be moved into Adam’s bedroom at my house.
“The other stuff isn’t worth anything compared to the TV and stereo system and CDs and DVDs, and my furniture,” he said.
“Don’t forget all of your clothes and your books, too,” I reminded him.
We moved Adam’s desk into his room, and he helped me reassemble it, which took less time than disassembling it. Then we moved in his chairs and reinstalled the wheels on his desk chair. Finally, we reassembled the bookcase and put it along the wall next to his desk.
Adam unpacked his books and arranged them in the bookcase. Then we moved the TV and the cable box into his room. Fortunately, I used the same cable company that Adam’s mother had used, so there was no change in channel lineup other than I had Netflix, HBO Go, and the sports tier of channels. There was already a three-drawer dresser in the room, and the TV was fit on top. I hooked it up, and it worked. Adam was delighted that it worked. I was surprised that it worked; I’d never had a reason to test the cable connection in that bedroom.
I handed Adam the key to my house that I’d had the locksmith make for me.
“This is a key to my house, Adam. It’s yours. I set up an alarm code for you; the alarm in this house lets you set a different code for each person. For you, I used the same code you had picked for the other house, 14081505.”
Adam stared at the key, which he held in his fingers. Then he closed his fist around it as tight as he could. He looked at me and started to cry. “I like you, Rick!” He grabbed me in a hug, and I hugged him back. “I like you too, Adam.” We held the hug until his tears turned into laughter. “I’ve never been so happy!” he said.
I phoned Mrs. Billingsley.
“Hi, this is Rick Decker. How are you, Mrs. Billingsley?”
“Very good. I saw the locksmith was there tonight. Did he do a satisfactory job?”
“He was excellent. I’m certainly going to use him the next time I need a locksmith, and I’m going to recommend him to friends and neighbors, too.”
“I’m glad that worked out. Did you have him change the keys to all doors?”
“Not only that, but I had him change all of the locksets and the deadbolts because the ones in Adam’s house were cheap builder’s grade units, and it would be easy for someone like Ted to break in. Now it will be very difficult. I also prevented anyone from opening the garage door by disconnecting the opener and bolting the tracks on both sides so the garage door can’t be opened, even with a crowbar.
“Mrs. Billingsley, if you see anyone trying to break into Adam’s house, and that includes Ted Loaming or anyone else, please call the police. They’ll want your name, address, and phone number. Please give them my name and phone number as well, and tell them that I’m with Child Protective Services, and I am fostering Adam Rios, who resided in the house next door to you.
“If June Rios contacts you, either by phone or in person, tell her she has to contact me at Child Protective Services and give her the main number, not my cellphone number. Okay?”
“I’ll do that,” she replied. “But I hope it’s not going to be necessary. Well, it’s time for me to get to bed, so if it’s alright, I’ll say goodbye.”
“Thank you for all of your help, and goodbye, for now, Mrs. Billingsley.” We ended the call.
I went into Adam’s bedroom. He was sitting on his desk chair watching TV. It was a rerun of CSI, and he was enjoying it.
“Did you finish your homework?”
“Yes. All I had were some geometry problems and to read a chapter in my World Geography textbook for a quiz on Monday.”
“Are you hungry, Adam?”
“No, I ate lots of that pizza and salad, so I’m still stuffed.”
When Adam finished watching his TV show, we both ended up in the living room where I had my large-screen TV. I turned it on, and at almost the same time, I heard my cellphone’s ringtone. The caller ID showed that it was Jared Wong. I stepped into the kitchen to answer the call.
“Hi, Rick. Let me put Brian on the phone. He can tell you what he told me. Then if it’s okay with you, he’d like to talk to Adam.”
“Hi, Mister Decker. My dad told me what you told him about Adam. I feel bad about the problems he’s had with those bullies. They oughta be expelled. He never told us what was going on, so we didn’t know about it.
“Also, I don’t know why Adam thinks the guys on the wrestling team sit at tables based on what grade they’re in. All the wrestlers sit together at lunch. I think maybe Adam felt kind of like an outsider because he’s the only freshman on the varsity team. He should be sitting with the rest of us. We want him to sit with us. We’re always talking about wrestling stuff, which he needs to hear about and participate in.” He chuckled. “It’s sort of funny. We thought he wanted to sit with other kids who are freshmen.”
“I’m glad to hear that you want him to sit with the wrestling team at lunch. Your dad told me you want to talk to him. I think that’s a great idea. Should I call him to the phone now?”
“Yeah, but I’ve got a question to ask you first. My dad said he told you that I’m gay. Did you tell Adam?”
“No! That’s strictly personal, and it’s up to you if and when you want to tell anyone. Should I call Adam to the phone now?”
“Sure! And thanks for not telling him.”
“You’re welcome, Brian. I’ll call Adam to the phone now.
“Hey, Adam, can you come to the kitchen?”
He walked in, and I handed him my cellphone. “Someone’s on the line, and he wants to talk to you.”
Adam took the phone and looked at me for a few seconds.
“Uh, hi, who’s this?” he said tentatively.
“Brian? Wow, how’d you know I was here?” There was a pause, then Adam said, “You do? Really? Yeah, I’d really like to sit with you guys at lunch.”
I returned to the living room, assuming the call would go on for quite a long time.
After about fifteen minutes, Adam joined me in the living room. He was smiling, and he looked happier than I’d ever seen him. He walked up to where I was sitting and stood there, smiling at me. Then he handed me my cellphone.
“You did this, didn’t you!”
“Sort of. Most of it was Brian’s dad. He’s the attorney for the CPS Pleasant Hill office. I needed his approval to renew my fostering license and have you assigned to me. He reviewed the report I’d prepared outlining the bullying problems you were having and saw that you’re on the wrestling team at Lincoln High. His son Brian is also on the team — as you know already — so we talked about you. I mentioned that you said the wrestlers sat with kids at lunch based on the grade they attend. He said, based on what Brian had told him, that’s not how it worked. So, one thing led to another, and he said he’d ask Brian about it, and I said call me as soon as you find out. So, Brian’s dad called me tonight and put Brian on the line, and he talked to me for a couple of minutes, and then I called you to the phone and, based on your smile, I think you’re going to be sitting with the wrestling team during lunch from now on, and that’s a-okay with you. Am I right?”
“Yes, yes, yes, and YES! Thank you, thank you! You know this probably wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t fostering me. Brian said they thought I wanted to sit with other freshmen during lunch, and I thought that’s what they were doing for kids in other grades and….” He paused, so I interjected, “How about that! You know what it’s called?”
“A failure to communicate.”
Adam thought for a few seconds, then nodded. “That makes sense. If I’d asked them if I could sit with them, or if they’d asked me if I’d like to sit with them, none of this would have happened.” He smiled again. “Nevertheless, nothing but good has come to me since I met you.” He put out his hands, and I let him pull me out of my chair. Then he hugged me, and I hugged him.
We sat down and decided there wasn’t much good on TV. Adam seemed to want to talk, so I let him.
“You know, it seems like it’s been over a week since you rescued me off your front porch. But that was Thursday, and this is Friday. That means it was yesterday. Yesterday! That’s only two days! I don’t understand. So much has happened so fast. It almost makes me dizzy thinking about it.”
“You said it was yesterday, but it was actually last evening. That means it’s closer to 24 hours, and that’s only one day. So a lot has happened, hasn’t it? You seem to be happy, Adam.”
He looked at me. “I can’t remember ever being as happy as I am now. Part of it is because you’re like my dad, so we can talk to each other about things. Part of it is because you don’t talk to me like I was a little kid. You explain why you’re going to do something and how you’re going to do it, like blocking the track on the garage door. And part of it is because I think you trust me, too. That’s important.”
“I do trust you, Adam. Trust is a two-way street. I can trust you, and in return, you can trust me.”
“Did you ever have kids?”
“No. I was married, and Donna, my wife, contracted cancer. We’d only been married for two years when she died.”
“You never wanted to get married again?”
I shook my head. “No. Maybe it’s because I don’t ever want to lose somebody like I lost Donna. Maybe it’s because I’ve buried myself in my work. Maybe it’s because I’ve never met anyone that I’d want to get serious about. There are all kinds of reasons. Most of them are probably excuses. But I’m happy with what I do. I like protecting kids. The locksmith said something that I believe in: ‘Kids are our future.’”
“Do you like me, Rick?”
“Yes, Adam, I like you very much. I like having you here. I like talking to you and listening to what you say. I like seeing you excited about learning. I can tell that you like school.”
“I like you very much, too. I could never have had this kind of conversation with my mom. There’s a word I learned that I think describes her: Aloof. I don’t think she knew how to cope with having a kid. Maybe it’s because I’m a boy, and if she’d had a girl, it might have been easier for her. I think she was lonely, too. I think that’s why she got together with Ted.” He paused for a moment.
“And now, for something completely different — that’s from the old Monty Python show on Nick at Night — anyway, would you like some ice cream? If so, I’ll dish it up.”
“Okay,” I said. “One scoop for me, please.”
Adam got up and went into the kitchen. A few minutes later, he returned with a bowl for me with one scoop, maybe a larger scoop than I’d take for myself, and three scoops for him. He included spoons and napkins for each of us, too.
“I forgot to ask if it’s okay to eat ice cream in the living room. Is it?”
“Sure. Just be careful that it doesn’t get on the furniture or the carpet.”
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